The Voodoo Viewpoint: Is new media stealing our souls and memories?

Halloween bookshelf

I haven’t blogged for a while, having had new things to deal with through the summer and autumn along with writing, and waiting for other things to be resolved – everyday life has got in the way, and all of it worthy of my time – so I can honestly say I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not procrastinating online too much.

This post has been on my mind for a while over the past year, and I’ve turning it over further in my mind since a topic came up on Facebook regarding the well-roasted old chestnut of ebook vs. print books, and what might supplant them in the future. When I made my comment, I didn’t realise how much of an observation it really was. But the thought of it keeps returning to me, so I’ll attempt to dissect it further now. (I’ve used ‘Voodoo’ in the title as I was originally going to post it as Voodoo Spice first – but there is another relevance to the reference).

My comment on the post was:

I think real books will stick around for another reason – the same reason as real music disc collections, and real movie DVDs, and real photo albums. The death of these things will mean the end of being able to remember lost loved ones. Imagine going into an elderly relative’s last residence, and instead of shelves full of their favourite media that you can pick up and read and smell, and admire, all that’s there is a computer tablet full of password-protected cloud-storage erotica. Supposing they’re survived by 20+ family members all wanting a memento? Will they have to take turns hacking into his or her tablet to read their, erm, favourites???

It’s not only the issue of having physical objects with which to remember a loved one, though. When you first make a new friend, visit their home for the first time, you see immediately by their books, music, film collections, and photographs what you have in common. Without those, it takes far longer to define. How do you learn about a person who wears nothing on their sleeve in real life? Are they hiding something about their personality, their cultural and entertainment tastes, behind password-protected anonymous digital storage products? How much of their social media persona is genuine – do they really like Top Gear, or do they just ‘Like’ it on Facebook? How long does it take to make early judgements of compatibility when all you see in their home is the faceless packaging and housing of technology? Is this creating the hacking, snooping, prying, suspicious culture that troubles present-day relationships?

Are we sacrificing our personalities, our ability to connect with one another in real life without the social media screens, in favour of electronic packaging?

Back to the subject of bereavement and memories, there is another agenda surfacing to consider.

Electronic media itself has no re-sale value. The tablets and electronic devices can be re-sold, but they lose value in the very short term. Unlike physical books, vinyls, cassettes, picture frames, CDs, and DVDs – when you buy anything in digital format, to watch, read or listen to, its solvency value is zero. So even if your descendants, friends and family don’t want to share the digital tablet and know your passwords to enjoy your *ahem* favourites, they can only sell the tablet itself. Even if you have bought 70,000 books, movies, and songs in your lifetime, they do not add up to £70,000 worth of house clearance on ebay to divide among the mourners. They add up to zero.

They money you spend on electronic books and media to fill your device has gone for good. You cannot donate the products to an Oxfam bookshop after you have enjoyed them in order for others to benefit. You cannot have a yard sale or a car boot fair stand of portable entertainment to fund a party, or to pay a few bills. You have not invested your money in anything physically reminiscent that can be enjoyed as part of the soul of a lost loved one, or liquidated as an asset in the future.

The money has gone for good, into the great black hole of the business that also sold you the device to enjoy it on, or to store in some online cloud.

So in the future, without personal possessions for family and friends to remember us by – not even the chance to flick through the same books and photo albums we held, and no idea how to access our family photographs and music – and more and more social lives being conducted online – how will anyone remember their grandparents and great-grandparents beyond faces on a screen?

Will the youngest family members have the sense of identity and individual heritage that children before the digital age grew up with?

Will old people just die and disappear, leaving nothing behind but an online account full of media they spent thousands on, which is worth precisely nothing to their descendants even if they have the ability to access it? Will their living memories and personalities evaporate the second you tap on ‘Confirm shut down/log off device’?

Will folk start leaving clauses on their departure, that no-one is to hack into the tablet at all to avoid finding out how much porn and erotica they downloaded to keep them warm in their old age?

Never mind what to do with Granny, the last Will and Testament says we have to burn her Kindle first… aptly named device, if ever there was one. I see a new business opportunity looming – the “Kindle Crematorium” where dirty old reading habits go after you die…

It’s a mystery that leaves me very curious. I already find houses without books, music, photograph or film collections very odd – rather like pictures of home interiors in advertising, with no identity of the occupants visible. Sterile, like a showroom to sell a product or furniture lifestyle – not a working, living home. And if that is what remains in the future, when individuals die, what is left to know of them? An indentation in the sofa, perhaps – where they sat while playing Candy Crush Saga online?

So never mind that a computer tablet doesn’t provide the same decorative impact as a bookshelf, or provide the same soundproofing from your neighbours. Never mind that it’s a good way of hiding your reading habits, and a bad way of storing your nekkid selfies. It’s also a good way of spending your children’s inheritance – permanently. Throwing your small change onto the Kindle Fire (literally), never, ever to return as second-hand small change, ever again. Quite possibly thrown away along with the material potential for any of your descendants to remember you for more than one surviving generation…

Happy Halloween! 🙂 xxx

If you want to learn to how to format a print-on-demand book, publish and distribute for free, click here for my tutorial. You can also learn how to format ebooks and multimedia booksIf those still light your candle 😉 x

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Worldbuilding in SF – Advice taken from the great Terry Pratchett

Photo of Sir Terry Pratchett from Wired.com

My last post about the London Book Fair 2012, and attending the panel talk on Science Fiction in China, reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s talk I went to at the Barbican. It must have been in 1999, because DS-10 was still in the cable-knitted hoodie with feet attached that I made for her, and not quite walking yet, strapped to me in the stripy baby-sling. And of course she tried to participate in the seminar as much as our illustrious speaker, until she went to sleep, thankfully, and stopped trying to mug the poor man sitting next to us in the crombie coat and Doctor Who scarf.

Yes – Terry Pratchett’s talk attracted a huge crowd of SF/Fantasy fans, and wannabe authors of all ages, although I think I had smuggled in the smallest and most disruptive one. Sorry about that, Sir Terry 🙂

It must have been around the time that Science of the Discworld was emerging, because the discussion was on ‘world-building’ in science-fiction and fantasy. Now this term, popular nowadays, refers to the creating of your imaginary world in which your narrative, or story takes place. The world in which your characters dwell. You can’t just give a man in a dress a magic wand and talking horse, and expect the world around him to be immediately perceived by the reader as the next best thing to Mordor. It’s the genre where taking the reader on location with you is of primary importance.

In current everyday general fiction, you say a story is set in Paris, or in Hollywood, or in London, and folk pretty much know what you’re getting at. You don’t need to go off into lengthy descriptions of the scenery or the weather. Readers today have seen it all on TV, and the internet, and you don’t want it to sound like the travelogue of a backpacking journalist. Fixing the location in your reader’s mind saves you a lot of word-count and drives your story faster to the heart of the action (and hopefully the hearts of your characters).

Some authors do travel-writing in fiction well, because they have been there, or are seasoned travel journalists already (such as Belinda Jones). Their writing style is recognisable as such. Reading Belinda Jones novels, to me, is like going on holiday, when I’m stuck at home, in weather that (against all news items to the contrary) suggests an Ark will soon float past the bottom of the garden. I read them for the escapism, the descriptions of the beaches and hotels, and occasionally the fit entertainment…

Ahem. However, with SF and Fantasy, unless you’re writing a fairytale of Bognor Regis, generally you’re creating a world for your characters to inhabit, whether it’s on board a colony ship in a space opera, or an enchanted island in a children’s story. So you can’t just say it’s “like a Boeing 747 in space” or “Disneyworld Florida but the puppets are real” – well, you could, but your readers will feel cheated (especially if they’ve never been on board a plane, or visited Disneyworld). You’ve got to say more about the place your characters inhabit, than you might do if you’re used to writing kitchen-sink drama, or chick-lit about handbags and shoes.

Terry opened the discussion on mapping your created SF/fantasy domain with the unforgettable statement: “How does the shit get out, and the clean water get in?”

Your characters have got to drink, eat, and shift by-products, so the design of Ankh-Morpork, on the Discworld, starts with the river (and what a river – that’s a lot of by-products, which it would be, for a heaving great city). Would a city on top of a mountain work, or would only a small village last in those conditions? How would a city in the clouds function, in plumbing terms? Your readers will want to know these things, and if there aren’t any satisfactory answers, you and your readers are both missing out.

A community functions on the basis of sanitation services, and provisions of food and water. Say, for example, you have a nomadic tribe living on a desert moon, who raise herds of giant herbivorous quadruped working-animals the size of double-decker buses. What are these herds of great land-creatures eating? Sand? Air? Where is their poop going? How are they kept from wandering off at night and trampling their biped masters in their sleep? How is the animal husbandry and midwifery managed? Enquiring minds will want to know.

Terry took a question from one of the younger audience members – not DS-10 of course, whose conversation at the time was limited to ‘Digger’, ‘Tit-rings’ (which was how she pronounced ‘Tinky Winky’ from the Teletubbies) and ‘Towel’ (which was actually ‘Kyle’ from South Park). The question from the more expressive young audience member was: “What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a science fiction or fantasy author?”

Terry’s thoughts on this were strong.

“Don’t read too many books already published in your chosen genre. You don’t want to be writing imitations of what’s already out there. Read geography. Read history books. Read about science.”

…Research how worlds function, what shapes them, geologically and politically. How they progress through technology and learning, arts and culture.

It was this answer that stuck with me as I headed home, while DS-10 discovered the joy of playing lucky-dip in other people’s pockets on the London Underground, then completely charmed an elderly couple in the train seat opposite, on the long journey back to Hastings.

When I read SF/fantasy, I want that world to be somewhere real I can picture – whether it’s the likes of Greg Bear taking you on a new physiological journey in the familiar world (Blood Music) or humanity as we (sort of) know it living in an extraordinary one (The Discworld series). So definitely, don’t throw out the laws of physics and chemistry, or natural history, and think you’ll get somewhere starting from scratch. You’ll either make too much work for yourself and the readers, by re-inventing everything from the ground up (no stone or S’mak!abl! left unturned), or you’ll gloss over what could be fascinating detail by talking to the readers as if everyone in the real world already grows their own Fnargle and participates in the Great Wibbly Jai Ho before bedtime.

It’s also easy to make the same mistake with character names. An unusual name is not a qualification. Calling your lead character ‘Stumpy Jack’ or ‘Great Wizard Shazam’ is no excuse for skimping on personality traits. Considering that he’ll just be known as ‘Jack’ or ‘Shaz’ to his friends, you’ll need to find some things that those friends will have intimate knowledge of about him – not just that he has a stump, or is a Great Wizard. The same goes for Fantasy stories, where the character’s parents have forgotten to put the vowels on their birth certificate. If your reader is mentally tripping over the name Knrrph’vngyllr’kk every time it appears in the narrative, it slows down reading enjoyment, and just like the Great Stumpy Wizard examples above, it’s not a qualification either – you’ve still got to give the awesome Knrrph’vngyllr’kk a sparkling personality. I would say, as a rule of thumb, never give your charismatic hero a name that his love interest is unable to shout out ecstatically in bed without sounding as though she’s inhaled a pillow-feather.

So anyway, ever since, I’ve applied the academic research idea to writing all fiction. I sort of write about the real world, but at the same time sort of don’t – my worlds hover between extremes of reality and SF/fantasy, and SF/fantasy is where my own evolution into becoming a writer started, so it wouldn’t surprise me to find myself going full circle eventually. I’ve read so many textbooks it shows – one of my novels has been tagged ‘self-help’ already, no doubt from the amount of psychology I read up on, over about fifteen years of its development. I even added an ‘academic and popular references’ bibliography to my latest version of it on Kindle, because I felt the research deserved the credit for a lot of my character’s make-up (and my own progress, while doing the research – power of the object over the observer).

You can always learn new things, and get excited about learning new things. And at the end of the day, if you’re writing SF and Fantasy, that’s what you want your readers to experience, when reading your books. Give them your enthusiasm for what you learn, and what you want to show them of your own insights through learning. Because that’s where your originality lies – in your own inner journey.

L xxxx

http://terrypratchett.co.uk

Happy 13th Birthday, Gargle!

Dear Gargle,

I’m so pleased you’re 13! Now, have you had your HPV vaccination? I wouldn’t want you to catch anything from all that webcrawling.

Now you’re a teenager, it’s likely that you’ll start telling people that you know everything, and feeling quite self-assured generally. A certain amount of swagger will find its way into your general demeanor. Especially now that your rival, Farcebuck, is starting to show early signs of insecurity, and going through more image makeovers than Madonna did, between 1984 and 2008.

There’s nothing better than arriving in your teens, and looking forward to all the grown-up stuff that is now almost within your reach. But there will now, more than ever, be questions cropping up which aren’t nearly as easily answered as those classroom ones you’ve had to deal with so far.

Why do matching socks always part ways? How do red things always end up in a white wash? And what is the proper etiquette for disposing of unopened, out-of-date condoms? (Recycling, biohazard, household waste, stretched over Farcebuck’s pint glass on a night out?). How much gel (or texturising mousse) can effectively conceal dandruff? If you notice a spot on your forehead while out with friends, should you squeeze it in the toilets and risk being noted for absence of said zit, or keep it and behave as though you would never stoop to tampering with your delicate skin in public?

Most of all, the questions of fashion and hygiene will be foremost in your mind for the forthcoming decade or so. You want to court popularity, and attract lucrative networking opportunities. You also want to avoid scandals and a bad reputation. You want to be seen at the cutting edge of technology, but you don’t want to be seen boasting about the next Betamax.

Like most teenagers, it seems like a time when you want to rush out into the world announcing that you, Gargle, are now a TEENAGER, as if no other individual has achieved the same status before. You want to party. You want to be the leader of the pack.

My advice is, like other teenagers, invest the next decade wisely. Get a good education. Research is the key, as is attention to detail. Start thinking about your future security – not just what adventures you could go on, but how those adventures could improve your life and the lives of those around you. And how you’d like to make the world a better place.

Celebrate your special day. It’s the beginning of many.

Happy birthday, Gargle 😉

I had a dream…

Not the scary kind of dream, where you have no concept of reality, and cats in snorkels try to convince you that your hairdresser has stolen a priceless hovercraft and vandalised all the school toilets. Terrifying, because at that point what you most need is a working lavatory, not a hovercraft designed to save the world. Let alone a decent haircut.

Nope. I was sort of dozing, because there was no Q.I. on Dave, and DS10 had fallen asleep after her booster jabs to protect her from future Youtube-transmitted diseases (for those of us whose social life consists entirely of the internet, we’re all quite literally fully protected from everything except carpal tunnel syndrome). I’d been pondering in my diary the concept of being able to do anything I wanted with my life (as opposed to waiting for Mr. Right, who so far doesn’t exist, or settling for Mr. Wrong, who isn’t interested and doesn’t know I’m alive anyway). And out of this attempt to expand-my-consciousness exercise (not as easy as it sounds, without committing to a church, or well-intentioned cult), the idea popped into my head of hula-hooping on rollerblades. As if trying something ludicrous-sounding and potentially dangerous would be a start, at least.

I can’t rollerblade. Well, I can, only on carpet or lino, i.e. indoors. So wobbling around trying to keep a hoop aloft outdoors on the patio (it’s the only space there is to swing a hoop nicely, unless I stand on the living-room coffee-table when it’s raining – and with wheels on too, I’d bump my head on the ceiling) – sounded to me like a shortcut list of broken wrist-bones. I promptly forgot about this, and fell asleep, which wasn’t easy either as I couldn’t be bothered to wake up DS10 and tell her to get in her own bed. Seeing as she’d been a medical pincushion already that afternoon, and earned the right to sleep during hours of darkness – instead of inventing new demons to summon while the rest of the country sleeps.

I remembered this idea again at around 5pm today, while clearing old storage boxes in the spare room. My first thought was the horrified one, along with the perceived future of comminuted fractures such a venture might bring. But then quite suddenly, some quote, or half of the quote, turned up in my brain:

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

Now I knew I’d heard this quote somewhere, probably one of those dozens of self-help books that function even when unread, as soundproofing on shelves around my home. So I thought, cool. Let’s put those rollerblades on and see if I fall over.

Well, I didn’t fall over. And after a few slow starts, managed to hoop for about an hour. When my shins got sore from the boots (my blades are two sizes too big, because they were cheap, but it makes for pretty good stability and lots of sock room) I went back to my usual trainers and found I could move around far more with my hoops than previously – so my normal stability and confidence improved by trying something much more challenging. So I carried on and did another hour and a half, through the Jamiroquai and Timbaland albums.

I thought I’d see if I could find what this quote is, so typed the bit I remembered into Google. It’s from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). So many quotes are credited to him, he most likely pre-empted Twitter, along with everything else.

What is curious to me though, at this point in time, is why I’d channel a famous writer, thinker, artist and scientist in order to motivate me to put wheels on my feet and twirl a sparkly tube around my body?

Maybe it’s a physics experiment I’m not yet aware of…

Day four in the Diet House

Luckily, I’ve found something I wrote when dieting in 2009, that confirms I was losing 1lb a week – so I know what the expected progress is. It’s strange, because I remember in terms of dress sizes, there was a ‘suddenly’ moment when I fit into jeans two sizes smaller than I started out, but realistically, that moment happened about four months in to dieting. It’s about making a permanent lifestyle change, not a quick fix.

I did wake up starving today, with my stomach making those noises it can only make while hinting that it ought to have food inside. So I’m sitting at the computer now with my strawberry diet shake, made with coconut milk in today (another low-calorie alternative I’ve found more digestible than dairy). I’ve taken my vitamins – I take loads, including multi-B, Evening Primrose, and Omega fish oils.

Mostly what I’ve been obsessing about over the last couple of days, is books and storylines. I’m doing all right with a few sales here and there and a few words written here and there on my sequels, I’m not making any money yet – so for me it’s definitely going to be about finding something of mainstream-publisher interest to write about.

While avoiding interfering with further surgery on myself – I did attempt to remove a keloid scar with nail scissors. Please don’t do this at home. There are very understanding doctors out there! Looking forward now to seeing what new kind of scar appears from under the scab. I pierced my own ears aged 12 – successfully, the holes are still functional – but I do know the risks. My rogue keloid scar was the result of squeezing a spot which then refused to heal for two months – so it’s been a reminder not to abuse my skin, and for something so small, the cause of quite a lot of negative thinking recently. Strange how tiny things can cause us so much aggravation. In a ‘how stupid was I?’ way.

It’s just one more thing that makes me realise, I’m not cut out for a relationship yet. If I’m still customising myself, in terms of image, body-weight, whether I’m someone with a large appetite for food or a small one, what I do for a job, what I choose to write about, what I wear, what I watch and listen to, or what I identify with, I can’t be pinned down yet as a defined human being that another would recognise as being their mate. I don’t fit into a paperback demographic of a potential partner.

I wonder how closely our concepts or imprinting by fiction influences us while looking for a love interest? I wouldn’t know, not having found one yet. But perhaps my own voice gives that away by looking for stereotypes, or trying to fit into one. My only examples are in fiction. But if fiction is all escapism, those examples don’t even exist in the real world.

Like today, waking up starving, wondering whether a diet shake was enough incentive to get out of bed. What’s it like for people who have someone to meet up with, to get out of bed to spend time with? To go to bed with, for that matter?

I can ask these things now without having a meltdown because I’m not looking for one. But the not-looking seems to have opened a whole new series of questions. Stuff I hadn’t even thought about before while just being depressed that I didn’t have the one thing I always wanted. And now don’t want. Not because having the expectations that I would get it let me down, but because I’VE let me down, by not being the person I want to be who gets a relationship. I’m not thin or tidy or organised or earning a decent living or having a regular social life, or energetic or being a model parent while DS10 summons demons alone in her room, instead of doing normal teenage things like hanging out with gangs of predatory girls between WHSmith and Superdrug, ogling boys. At least then I’d have something to empathise with other parents about.

But I’m happy so long as she’s happy. If the other demons arrive, they can help with the housework.

Have you had your shots?

First Aid Advice

I live in rural U.K. It’s the time of year when campers and caravanners come in their droves to our tiny townlets, paddle in the rivers, pat the wild animals, barbecue outdoors and live the good life.

Generally speaking, they do everything that the locals don’t do. So it’s not as if they’re getting in the way. It’s all very jolly and very Ealing classic comedy, except when they find once they get out here, for a week or so, that they have to drive to the nearest large town to get a phone network or decent 3G signal. Small beans for the price of a good getaway.

However, whether you are in the countryside or the city, if you and your kids are playing outdoors in the dirt, getting grubby, building up that sluggish immune system supported only by cola, McD’s and KFC, particularly if you are knocking back the more-than-usual pint of White Lightning, Bailey’s, or Chateauneuf du Pape, there are things to keep at the back of your mind that us bumpkins who were brought up on bouts of outdoor-related jungle bottom, projectile vomiting, vermin encounters, bites and splinters of varying sizes, are used to, as par for the course.

Get tetanus shots. They’re free. You won’t get lockjaw. You won’t feel terror when you get scraped by that rusty nail climbing over the stile. If there isn’t a stile, you could be on private property. Make sure the owner knows they’re expecting you, as the countryside often comes with large dogs, licensed firearms, and occasionally bored bullocks who like a challenge.

That black thing stuck in your skin may be a tick. They hate neat tea-tree oil – a few drops applied directly will kill it overnight, or loosen it enough to remove with tweezers. Don’t throw it back in the grass. Flush them down the toilet or put them in the garbage. Horrible things. If a red mark is still visible after a week to 14 days, go IMMEDIATELY to the doctor for antibiotics, as this may be the onset of Lyme Disease – common in areas where there are deer, such as the New Forest.

Leeches are easier to remove, and range from the long black wiggly sort, to little red threads, to small brown leaf-shaped things. Can be found in both saltwater and freshwater locations. Less likely to transmit an infection, but treat any ongoing residual marks or inflammation as you would a tick bite – see your doctor. It is not necessary to bring the culprit with you as evidence, and the doctor might not appreciate this either.

The best way to avoid insect bites is to take Mosi-guard, Autan or Jungle Formula – any good recognised insect repellent – and USE it. Mix it in your sunblock cream to save time if you must, and apply every morning, and before bed – I found this worked brilliantly when I was in Rhodes, where the mosquito is rampant. Anywhere with ponds, lakes, fishing is likely to be a mosquito haven, as the larvae mature in water.

Horsefly bites are very unpleasant. They can inflame an entire limb up to the joint, and cause infections. Make sure you take plenty of Savlon and antihistamine/Piriton with you. Savlon and Germolene also come in handy for those burns sustained while cooking on an unfamiliar stove, or outdoors, especially one-handed while trying not to spill your beer/cider/Jacob’s Creek.

You are unlikely to encounter a giant pirahna while holidaying in the U.K. I would like to quash any rumours that anyone known to me has released one into the wild after outgrowing its tank. It can be seen happily re-homed at a Reptile Centre in South Wales. And it only eats cucumber mostly. In fact I believe it was a Pacu.

Your children may be mixing with other children during the holidays. Hooray! Discreet nit-comb checks may remove another added concern before returning home, unless your child has spent the summer under a sports hoody.

If your children have been enjoying one another’s company in town, our cities do have vermin, and it’s wise to know what they may have come into contact with while exploring. In the U.K, bubonic plague and rabies are virtually unknown, but rats do carry something called Weil’s Disease or Leptospirosis – which is passed via the animal’s urine, so the animal itself does not need to be present for infection to occur. It need not be said that skip-diving and rummaging in garbage is probably not a healthy holiday pursuit. It can lead to kidney failure, and in a few cases, has been fatal. Starting with flu-like symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor immediately that any contact has been suspected.

Cat offerings left in dirt, and pets in general, come with their own pets, ranging from bitey things, wiggly gastrointestinal-tract things, to fungal things. Ringworm or Dermatophytosis is awesome to look at under your doctor’s special light which will make you believe you are turning into a werewolf at full moon, but a pesky itchy thing that won’t heal up, so if you can’t find your mum’s extra-strong Canesten, the GP will give you some nice fungicide to clear it up. Highly contagious, rather like impetigo, and may need a second treatment as it can recur – being a spore-based infection.

Spider-bites and adder-bites are EXTREMELY rare, but do occur. Go immediately to the nearest major A&E – smaller hospital MIUs (Minor Injury Units) are not equipped for this. Although our local spiders are not known to be vicious, some do have venom, not to mention those that have somehow avoided the Reptile Centre and are currently ‘between owners’. The same is to be said for ‘hobo’ pythons, and escaped tigers, the Beast of Bodmin, that black thing photographed stalking sheep in Aberdeenshire, wild boar (which always have right of way on ANY footpath), and cows. Cows do not have a reverse gear. If you come across cows, either on foot or en vehicle, it is considered polite to give way. A solitary cow is a rather smelly trampling machine. A herd is the equivalent of a road-roller. Nothing is that important that needs to be arrived at quicker, than your destination not covered in hoofmarks and cowpat. And contrary to appearances, females HAVE been known to stampede, or charge, and can be as territorial as bulls.

If you come across something of man-made origin, such as a discarded hypodermic needle, metal or glass of any kind, remove IMMEDIATELY if possible, and wash the wound under soapy running water. Cover and bandage the area with gauze, and if unable to remove object, pad around it and do not flex if at a joint – keep immobile, and cover lightly with gauze without touching point of entry. Take the item bagged-up with you if removed, and go directly to a major A&E. Any suspect item may need to be tested for substances.

The summer of 2011 has already had a lot to answer for. Don’t let a little untreated scratch ruin yours.

L xxx

Solo a mano

I have no idea what that technically translates as, but it might be construed as rude. 🙂

Anyway, today, I’m officially self-employed, having left my previous job with no savings, almost £4 over my small overdraft limit, no work-related social life to miss, and no workplace relationships. I’ve never gained a holiday through working, or earned enough to buy a house, never started any big credit purchases… so it makes me wonder, what the fuss was all about?

Here’s my circumstances. I’m a single parent of a 12-year old who schools at home. I do that, so I’m her unpaid tutor. I pay for all the books, all the trips, all the projects, and all the internet she hoovers up with her global blogging phenomenon.

She was bullied at school, has no friends, and might be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s on the wait-and-see list. We both have counselling, which is free on the NHS.

In the meantime, I write novels or do illustrations, or design covers, whenever I’m sitting down trying to watch TV. My laptop gets in the way of the TV, and sometimes she talks me through the finer points of CSI or NCIS. I’ll get paid my tiny royalties for any that sell on Amazon some day, or when pigs fly – whichever happens first.

I’ve also taught individuals blogging and tweeting, and shared info on self-publishing for cups of tea and laughs.

If I call the Jobcentre and ask for money to live on though, I have to be available for and actively seeking work. Which I’m not – I can’t go out and leave DS10 alone to form her own anonymous internet review empire instead of doing schoolwork. So I have to work from home around what constitutes schoolwork.

So I’m not eligible for those benefits as an individual, which in fact makes it easier to get on with working. No worries about what status to declare, or justifying all the books I’ve written. The only worry is what we’re going to live on until I start making any profit from writing and tutoring people, both big and small.

Being self-employed is straightforward. If you earn less than £5000 p/a, you can apply to be exempt from National Insurance contributions. You can still get help with Housing Benefit and Council Tax by giving your income details, and also get Working Tax Credits. You can do your own accounts, unless you become very successful and require the help of an accountant, particularly if you become so successful that you need to delegate and employ other people.

You deduct your outgoings the same as running any other business. It’s amazing what it costs to work for yourself. Last time I was self-employed, as nightclub security. I kept having to deduct figures from my income to replace my watches. Comes from buying cheap ones to start with, but every time one gets smashed, full of blood, or disappears, they need to be replaced – and away from that job, I never wore one. So it was a uniform expense.

So anyway, I really am starting from scratch financially. But there’s a lot of freedom in that which I’ve gained. Freedom to work, freedom to study, freedom to teach, and freedom to parent with responsibility.

Countdown to going solo…

Lisa Scullard on Amazon

Just so you know it's me. 🙂

Hello! Long time no see! Well, actually, it probably isn’t that long, especially if you’ve just popped in from Twitter or Blogspot to find out what’s new with this particular renegade mercenary writer now.

Well, having been tutoring the use of WordPress to a fellow writer, I’ve realised how much fun it is, and rather than besmirch my other blogs with being myself on them, decided to set up one of my own and blather on about whatever takes my fancy, whether it has anything to do with writing or not.

If you haven’t guessed so far, I’m Lisa Scullard. Gosh, that sounds weird. Just Lisa Scullard on its own. Not Lisa Scullard the NHS Health Care Support Worker, or Lisa Scullard the patient announcing arrival for a hospital appointment, or Lisa Scullard the door supervisor taking your details for a First Aid nightclub incident report. Not even Lisa Scullard the author, desperate to sell some books so she can justify writing some more, LOL! 🙂

It’s been a long time even since I had to say, Lisa Scullard the parent. Not in an official capacity. Since my holiday-romance baby, now nearly a teenager, has been registered as schooling at home, there’s a refreshing lack of red tape around the whole issue of parenting. Still a small amount, but it doesn’t revolve around school spam mail, charity begging letters, uniforms, shoes, P.E. kit, lunchboxes, clock-watching, sports day blackmail, ransom demands in the form of requests for official sick notes, pointless phone calls in which teachers apparently never SEE bullying occur, and reminders that ‘your child is a representative of the school’ even when they’re walking home in their own time, with their shirt untucked, kicking a football. Well, it doesn’t seem fair that way around. What about the school being representative of the child? Such as sticking up for their rights, to learn in a classroom where they’re not being excluded and bullied?

Anyway – not our problem anymore. But I have to say, it’s not something to be taken lightly. I’ve found through various jobs and hours and shiftwork over the last eight years, that it doesn’t really work out for me being a single parent trying to work and fit in home education – unless you’re earning enough to pay for private tuition – especially when there’s the added consideration of ongoing counselling, and special needs assessment for Asperger’s Syndrome also in the pipeline.

What I’ve found works best in this scenario is working from home. Writing – ideal, especially when your own child then reviews your books on their blog. 🙂

I always thought I was being a role model for my child by going out to work, without realising how much we were missing out on and she resisted it. But when she said she wanted to read my book I’d written and published in my spare time, and told me how great it was, and that if she goes back to school she’ll be able to say I’m an author and show other children my books – I realised that the thing she was most impressed by was that I had a creative hobby. Not that I went out and saved lives, or broke up fights between drunk people, or worked in a hospital tucking old people into bed. She was impressed by something I did right at home, watching the TV, with my cold cup of tea, and a pile of laundry on the chair next to me, where she could get one of her five-hugs-a-day on demand.

So I’ve given in my notice, guessing that there’s more to life than what I thought were good standard examples of ‘lifestyle’ or ‘work’ – whatever they are. I’ll just have to call it self-employed, and wing it. 🙂

I took her to see Shakespeare performed outdoors last weekend, without a clue whether she’d enjoy it or not – and she’s already asked to go to another one. And I got to be there with her while she laughed, and joked, and had such a great time. That’s something I definitely wouldn’t have missed.