Mainly about writing this time

Something a bit different this week – a blog mainly about writing.  In theory the last few years should have been good for writing.  It’s been quiet and we are fairly isolated so there’s time and space to focus.  Well, space anyway.  Anyone who has read some of these posts will know we’ve been pretty busy.  There’s the house needing work, the wood, the rampant garden and all the necessary adjustments around such a drastic move.  I’ve been thinking about the writing and we’ve been talking round writing too.  I’ve even actually done some but there are some big issues arising from the whole business.

I never did expect to make a fortune writing.  It’s a nice idea but really, it doesn’t happen to us ordinary writers.  Like most fiction authors my dream was much more prosaic.  Not even a living wage really, just enough of an income to know my books reached a decent sized audience.  This may have happened at one time or another but I’ve little evidence of it.  It’s impossible to check the numbers with any accuracy, even on Kindle.  The publisher is supposed to gather the numbers of physical books and I know these weren’t done fully.  One year I officially sold a dozen books, even though I personally signed over 30 in one afternoon at a single festival! 

Most people are amazed to discover how low royalties actually are.  On an average paperback, the amount is calculated on the net price – after discounts etc are given to distributors and shops.  This can be as low as 20% of the price paid by the reader, from which the author gets maybe 10%.  This is 2% of the cover price (2p in the £1) – not a lot for over a year’s work.  Even this is paid over a year after it is earned and often withheld against other costs or even not paid at all if it is below the publisher’s minimum payment.

The other source of income is the PLR – Public Lending Right.  This is a small (less than 1% of the book’s price) payment paid per loan from libraries.  Now, this is a very welcome idea but has two flaws.  Firstly loans are only counted from a limited number of (mainly large) libraries.  This is despite the widespread use of computer systems that automatically capture all loans.  Secondly only official libraries can submit figures.  With the closure of so many council libraries, the new community libraries are a welcome stop-gap but – they deprive all authors of even the pennies in income.

All of this is not helped by the awful state of the publishing industry at present.  Rather than making reading more popular (and more productive for us all), COVID has forced many small and medium publishers, shops and writers out of business.  As the victim of one publisher who borrowed against the business and lost it all I know of a number of writers who have just given up completely.  The winners seem to be sure-fire sellers especially celebrity authors, some of whom can actually write a novel but others who use a ghost writer and sell their name.  The market is currently saturated at present, especially with “celebrity” biographies, with little money left to explore and support new writing.

COVID has also had a big impact on book distribution and hence availability for many writers.  With several of the main companies closing down post-pandemic, the remainder often will not handle small press or self published books.  Special orders have to go through a bigger shop that may not deal with that press, or not at all.  Many books are picked up from a local shop or a kiosk at the station or airport – or they used to be.  Now there’s little chance of this, and no chance for a local author just starting out, because of the distribution monopolies.

Soon only those rich enough to live on their own means or better-off retired people will be able to afford to write and what a dreadful loss this will be.  All the young, poor, disadvantaged, minority voices gone, lost for a generation.

All of this seems inherently gloomy for which I apologise.  I’ve been struggling with it (and other aspects like agents –NOOO! And publicity – Yeah, right) for some time.  With a lot of encouragement and help from Jacqui I’ve ventured out into self-publishing for “Puppy Brain” and will probably do the same for the fifth Alex Hastings book.  This leaves the thorny problems of costs and especially publicity to be handled.  The latter, especially, is not anything I thought about when I began all this.  Like most aspiring authors, it was mainly about writing.  A whole part of my brain is still focussed mainly on writing but the other issues keep forcing their way in which is rather distracting.  It’s hard sometimes to work on a story and wonder if anyone will ever see it.  Despite this I finished “Puppy Brain” and hopefully will live happily ever after.

I leave you with a recent experience a friend from Teesside posted on Twitter.  Will Nett is a clever, funny and thoughtful writer as well as a thoroughly nice man.  Three days ago he posted this:

“I got stopped by a fan and asked for a photo earlier. I used to be   someone…..REPEAT….I USED to be someone!”

Hope you enjoy the sunshine now summer’s arriving at last.

Thank you for reading and I hope to have some country tales for next time. 

Not everything new is a good thing

My apologies for the brevity of this episode, but there are very good reasons for it.  I am currently struggling with “the new”.  Specifically, the new Google that has imposed itself on the website I use.  It has been sending little messages for several months now about “sun setting” some elements.  I should move to the new platform as soon as possible.  Google did offer to set up a basic blog site automatically when their timer ran down.  Good, I thought. Go ahead, please. 

So I opened the page today to find a huge digital countdown across it.  Six weeks to go, ticking down in seconds.  That’s enough to spike your blood pressure!  I clicked on it, hoping it would go away but – no.  I stared at it for a few minutes as the seconds rolled over.  I swear it was mocking me.  Finally, reluctantly, I clicked on the “easy set-up” button.  That was definitely mocking me – it lied.

I spent nearly four hours opening multiple web pages, reading strange and barely comprehensible sentences and instructions that directed me to previous pages, new forms and then demands for my bank details.  These, by the way, were just in case I ran over the “generous free space offered”.  No chance of that as I couldn’t enter a single word before hacking through the thicket of acronyms, URLs and hot links.  I’m not an IT idiot – I began on the net in 1986 and have repaired and upgraded machines for years.  This, however, is deeply confusing and really rather horrible, not to sat f#*%ing hostile.

After managing to complete four of the ten stages, including installing new plug-ins (why??) and extra links (leaving out 90% as I don’t do most social media) I finally got something like a recognisable blog screen.  So here I am, writing a short update and hoping it will post.  I will use the next two weeks to crack this infernal system and give a proper update then, I hope.

In the meantime I find myself muttering, as I do when my programs offer an update.  In my 37 years of experience I have rarely found an update improves anything.  It just makes everything slower, more complex and less biddable. In many cases “update” actually means “bloatware”.  So I leave you to lapse into full Luddite mode : Not everything new is a good thing!

Thank you and I hope to be back soon.

When one door closes another may open

This last fortnight there has been a sense of one door closing behind me.  A lot of this has to do with writing as well as events in the UK leaving me with a feeling of – not helplessness but certainly being limited in what I can do.  Several people we care about have suffered losses or awful accidents and we can only send virtual love and let them know we care.  We knew when we moved we were leaving for good.  That door was firmly closed behind us as we sold up, gave away possessions and looked towards something different.  Different we certainly got.  There are many small differences in Ireland – it is not just “England with a funny accent”.

Adjusting to these differences can be enjoyable.  The space around us is utterly liberating.  People are very friendly in the main as well as curious about our lives and choices.  A lot of people know our names even after meeting only once. The weather is wetter but milder than the north of England, the occasional “100 year” freeze excepted.  There are more public (bank) holidays and life is generally more relaxed. Spring comes earlier and is exceptionally beautiful.  As the UK door closed another opened for us.

It is harder to adjust to some differences.  Roads are generally narrow and can be in very poor repair, which doesn’t stop some drivers speeding heedlessly round blind bends.  Especially one particular bin firm who trumpet their green credentials.  I’ve written about the infrastructure before – or lack of it.  Whilst it holds up (just about) there are numerous power cuts out here which can be disastrous for any IT work.  Light, heat, cooking facilities, internet, television and water can all vanish in a second.  Would we swop our new life for the relative stability of services in the UK? No. Even if there’s no weekend post, some courier deliveries never arrive and breakdown services are totally useless.

I have felt one door closing this last month and it is hard to see one opening, though we will try.  When my publishers declared bankruptcy last year I hoped I would be able to rescue my books and republish them myself.  I did manage the rescue and thanks to a couple of very good friends will have the remaining copies soon.  The republishing is more problematic.  No publisher is likely to touch an existing series for all kinds of reasons.  Self publishing, done properly is actually very complex and the alternatives can be expensive.  There are all the problems associated with publicity – bad enough for a small publisher but almost impossible for an individual. And then I encountered something unexpected and potentially disastrous.

Many self-published writers rely heavily on local, independent bookshops.  Good for readings, signings and spreading the word.  Only now, following Covid, several of the largest distributors of books are gone.  The main firm left does not supply small bookshops as it’s not “economically viable”.  Big, mainstream stores focus on best-seller lists and sales figures from – you guessed it – this distributor.  If they don’t supply the small independent shops it can be impossible to get that “foot in the door” to attract the large booksellers. There’s still Amazon, of course, but not much else.

The second door that closed last month came as a result of the shaky electrical supply.  We have lost four computers since moving, mainly due to repeated power failures and fluctuations in supply.  I have been working on another Alex Hastings book, number 6, and had written almost half when my PC crashed.  I was sure I had saved the file – I email myself and put the work onto USB sticks regularly.  However, after removing the hard drive and running it as an external I found it was blank. 

Several frantic searches through email and USBs also came up blank.  I have the first 18,000 words – and nothing more.   On top of everything else it feels as if the last 10 years work may have been for nothing.  I’m hoping to publish “A Long Shadow” (Alex Hastings 5) this year but at the moment I feel this may be the last in the series.  I’ll keep you posted.

Trying to be positive, as this door closes maybe another opens.  Hunting through the USBs I found a lot of earlier writing including two partly written novels.  A lot of the research and notes were also there.  I am quite hopeful I can pick up and carry on, polishing my earlier efforts as I go.  And I am already working on “Seeking Schroeder”, the second book in the “Puppy Brain” trilogy.  So, I’ve not given up, even as one door closes.  It’s just a bit hard to get going again.

So, thank you for reading and all good wishes for a happy few weeks.  Enjoy the coronation if that’s your thing.  Or enjoy the day’s holiday anyway.  Tomorrow is May Day and a national holiday here so I’m taking mine early!

Forty Years On

Today, April 16th 2023, is a beautiful day after several weeks of rain, cloudy skies and strong winds.  It is also exactly forty years since Jacqui and I met, in a discotheque in east London.  Yes, I really am that old, and who goes to a disco now?  Or even calls them that? Forty years on from that date we are at a place we never could have imagined.  Still together, for a start as we met on the rebound and decided we both needed some nice times for a change.  We would stay together as long as we were having fun.  Well, I guess we still are.

Time is a funny thing, simultaneously objective and subjective with whole years collapsing in the memory but tiny events glittering like fireflies in the dark.  It seems as if there have been mountains to climb, over our life together and in the last three years.  We both learnt the benefit of focussing on smaller tasks, partly from the Open University and partly from bitter experience.  A six or eight year course of study is impossibly daunting.  One year at a time seems possible. 

Our Saltburn Lantern Light

Our first year in Ireland – the first nine months or so – we were trying to unpack.  We had to adjust to lockdowns in a strange place, making the house comfortable and coping with the losses and damage from the move.  This was very hard as we kept finding broken items or things with pieces missing, not to mention some precious items gone completely.  This included most of the power tools so many small problems became one big problem.   Already in a state of exhaustion and shock, this made everything much, much harder.  The next year we were recovering from Jacqui’s heart attacks and beginning to make small changes in our surroundings.  We have pictures up – lots of pictures.  We have (partially) tamed the lawn in the back garden.  With a lot of help we have made improvements in the wood, gaining a magnificent wood store in the process.

Now we have more energy and are making plans again. In small steps this last week we got the mower out and did a quick service.  Now the grass is less jungle-like and hopefully the little frogs will retire to the wood again.  I drive very slowly round, peering ahead to spot them jumping away.  I’m very proud of the fact I managed to reverse the mower into its shed which is narrow and dark.  I was too nervous to do that last year but as we plan on hiring a mini-digger soon I thought I’d better widen my skill set.  Where the Leylandii trees were Jacqui has fixed tubs on the stumps for flowers. Ireland is very green – lots of yellow and green mainly – and the painter in her craves brighter colours.

The side garden, “Betsy’s Garden”, is coming on nicely too.  The chrysanthemums were glorious last autumn so we are adding more, in different colours.  The soil obviously suits them and they are comfortably low maintenance.  We are looking for native honeysuckle plants to grow against the wall.  They’re not much to look at but the scent is wonderful.  I had a bed-sit in London with a honeysuckle hedge out front and forty years on I still love the scent.  And the trail cameras have captured some colour pictures as the sun rises earlier.  The badger continues to boss the wood but the pine marten shows great cunning.  He’s taken to running along the back fence, a defensible route that leaves little scent.  Clever Mr Pine Marten!

Of course, not everything goes to plan.  The main shower has been playing up, getting decidedly cool, so I tried to get a replacement thermostat bar.  This was only available in a complete set (of course) and had no instructions at all enclosed but, undaunted, I tried the repair.  This involved a lot of running back and forth to turn off the water, then on, then back off again.  It leaked, of course.  I worked back towards the wall to discover the olive was missing on one pipe.  When I removed the final plate it seems the water pipe is glued into place so I can’t get behind it.  Now it’s back to trying to find a real plumber.  I was going to replace the toilet seat but after yesterday I’m not so sure.  I have a sneaking suspicion we might end up with just a hole in the floor.

We used to be quite musical and as we packed our instruments ourselves they made the journey unscathed.  It’s a long time since we’ve played anything much and we have stiff fingers (me) and a wobbly lip (Jacqui).  We’ve joined an on-line quiz group however and part of it is a musical interlude or two.  Wanting to contribute something, we’ve unpacked and polished up the saxophone, glockenspiel and tenor recorder and are doing our best to produce something that doesn’t make the dogs bark.  Forty years on, I can still remember the fingering for a number of tunes.  I just can’t manage the actual playing so well.  Undaunted (if accompanied by Tibetan Spaniels) we will press on.  It’s another return to normal at last.

So here we are, having taken a journey one step at a time, with occasional leaps into the unknown.  We will have a quiet dinner tonight and raise a glass to this most improbable but wonderful life together.  When we met Jacqui wrote out the lyrics to Bob Seger’s “Little Victories” for me.  As a plan for life it seems perfect.  Much of what we do we celebrate as a “little victory” and they add up over the years.

I think the same can be applied to efforts to help others.  No-one can right all wrongs or help everyone.  Instead we choose an individual or a family, and the impact can be lovely.  One of our favourites is a tiny non-profit project in Kenya run by a friend.  Called “Lighthouse – family matters”, this supports a family with several special needs children providing a house, water, medicine and the means to grow food.  You can find them on Facebook, at  Truly a “little victory”.

Here’s to Forty Years On.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all again in a couple of weeks.

Cross the river before you abuse the crocodile

This has been a rather odd few weeks with some fairly frantic activity mixed with slow periods of waiting, perfect for reflecting on life.  Sometimes the delays in events can be infuriating and I have to speak sternly to myself.  Life is generally lived at a slower pace here in Tipperary and there is a lack of workmen in many areas.  Everyone takes on several jobs, moving from one to another like a juggler spinning plates.  Coupled with the ever-increasing difficulties in ordering supplies from the UK this can lead to a lot of frustration.  But it is counterproductive getting angry or rude.  Skilled people are to be valued, and not just because they can choose to go elsewhere so I take out one of my proverb mugs each morning and remind myself.  “Cross the river before you abuse the crocodile”.

Old African proverb – still wise today

Having said that, when things are finally completed it feels like a huge boost.  The roof is done and despite some seriously heavy rain the kitchen is warm and waterproof.  We had an unexpected bonus this week too.  The empty buildings up the road are sold (finally) and we have neighbours.  The property had no water or power and they have been waiting over nine months for connections.  Well, after three visits, to put up posts, then string wires and lop the tops from our trees, we had a new connection too. 

Happiness is a large metal box!

This time we have our own transformer and it makes a huge difference.  Previously we were at the end of a line with several other properties drawing power.  This explained why when we switched on the kettle the lights all dimmed.  Atmospheric but not exactly helpful. Also as the supply fluctuated it may well have contributed to the failure of three computers since our arrival.   It did mean we spent two days in one week sitting in the dark as they were working on the coldest, wettest days of the month.  It was worth it though.  The joy of being able to boil the kettle and switch on the microwave at the same time is priceless!

One of those dark days coincided with the 24 hour blood pressure test.  I cannot condemn this enough, on all levels.  If you’ve had one you need no explaining and if you haven’t then you are very lucky.  Not only does it interrupt your life every 30 minutes (and then 3 minutes later if the reading is high), it makes it impossible to sleep.  It also left me with bruises, a roaring headache and frozen shoulders and neck.  To no-one’s surprise my readings were high.  Pain, shock and exhaustion can do that to a person I guess.

I didn’t make it through the full 24 hours, ripping the cuff off at half past seven the next morning when it tried to inflate for the seventh time in an hour.  We took it back to the doctor’s surgery and it was still huffing and swelling away in the bag.  It was like some malignant creature from a horror story that refused to die.  Jacqui had an even worse experience when in hospital, tethered to leads, drips and heart monitors as well as the fiendish device.  Her room was very cold, intentionally, and she was watched through CCTV the whole time.  She was exhausted and a mass of bruises and plasters covering needle marks when I got her home, but at least she came home.

I am firmly of the opinion you need to be strong and healthy to survive many aspects of modern medicine.  My mother had cancer for over eleven years and underwent numerous different types of chemotherapy.  As she got sicker the regimes were harsher with more side effects, a sign of their desperation I think.  I remember sitting with her one afternoon when she said, “Sometimes the cure is worse than the complaint”.  I waited, thinking she was going to refuse any more treatment.  Then she added, “Still, it does mean you can occasionally change the outcome”.  That’s why I’m as compliant as I can be. I’m not going to abuse the crocodile until I’ve crossed the river.

With powerless days and no workmen I’ve been reflecting on times past, especially on Saltburn where we lived for 30 years.  Despite delays, lockdowns and struggles over finance the “Real Meals” team held the first Cheese Festival last weekend.  This is a new venture, designed to compliment the summer Food Festival which is returning this year.  This was one of the high spots of the year in town and it’s wonderful to see it back again.  I also returned to Saltburn, at least virtually, with the Book of the Month pod cast last Friday.  Jenna Warren, owner of “Book Corner”, the independent book shop in town, has published an excellent debut novel.  It is called “The Moon and Stars” and it is a great read. I can thoroughly recommend it.

Mr Fox about to stake his claim
Mr Badger is not amused

In the wood there have been some developments showing on the trail cameras.  Whilst the badger obviously feels he owns this little patch of land, the fox is starting to challenge him.  Last week I captured foxy coming in, stamping around and then peeing on the trees to mark the path.  A couple of hours later badger came out and sniffed around, looking for whoever dared to do this.  It is very interesting stuff but I hope I don’t check the cameras and catch a full-on badger/fox throw-down one morning.

Coming along nicely now

So there we are, moving into spring with birds, insects and all manner of plants gracing the land around us.  Jacqui is out now putting more plants into Betsy’s Garden and we are clearing the cut tree branches. We now have plans for the first fruit trees and bushes later in the year.  We are also hiring a mini digger and have a friend who will show us how to drive it.  Why should Ireland tremble?

Despite health issues, some continuing problems with the house and other little stumbling blocks we are happy here.  Life flows on and we are adjusting – not abusing crocodiles but learning to be patient. 

Thank you for reading.  If you are interested in the review for “The Moon and Stars” you can download it here:

Have a good few weeks and I hope to see you in a fortnight.

Watching and waiting

We have spent a lot of the last few weeks watching and waiting for things to happen, or change. No sooner had I posted the last blog than the (hopefully) last of the winter storms swept through Ireland.  It is generally much milder here than in northern England but we woke to snow – real snow, not just a light dusting.  We stayed at home as the roads are rarely gritted, especially out in rural areas.  Where we live even the towns are still rural areas so ice and snow settle and freeze overnight.  It was rather beautiful and the dogs enjoyed it, being originally bred for the conditions. 

Rather unseasonal for Ireland
Coloured willows in the wood

It did help to put paid to the roof work, of course.  The new slate runners were still “on order” and it wasn’t possible to work in the icy conditions anyway.  This meant the house got very cold again and we were mining the log pile every other day.  It amazed us it didn’t seem to shrink at all.  The snow faded away after a couple of days but was followed by heavy rain that occasionally turned to sleet.  This was much less popular with the dogs, especially as the garden is all churned up and very slippery.  After a week the runners arrived and work resumed full tilt, starting with another layer of insulation in the roof.  This has made a real difference even though the job is not finished yet.  We are watching the skies and waiting for the last stage, hopefully this week.

Fearless pheasant
Nosy little wagtail

As the snow faded away we found ourselves being watched as the birds are returning and are exceptionally nosy this year.  I’d already disturbed three female pheasants in the wood one morning.  Then later that week I watched a young male walking back and forth outside our kitchen window.  He’s been there almost every day, peering in for up to half an hour at a time.  We are used to robins and blackbirds landing on the sills and commenting on our décor but now we also have a couple of pied wagtails using the scaffolding as a viewing platform.  The birds seem to have decided we are relatively harmless and unless we run about or shout they ignore us.  Maybe one day the buzzards will come when called – but probably not.

I’ve been a bit shaky the past few weeks.  Actually, these past few years if I’m being honest.  I thought it might be a form of long Covid but I have been getting very tired and have most unflattering rings under my eyes.  Finally I went to the doctor, with extreme reluctance, as my strategy of watching and waiting was not working out.  There was a long chat about the stresses in life at the moment, from the roof to the ongoing water problems.  Then he took my blood pressure.  Unsurprisingly it was high – very, very high. 

Now I’ve another appointment next week for blood tests and the possibility of a 24 hr pressure monitor.  I’m not keen as one measure with the “automatic” machine left me with a bruised arm and numb hand.  And as I’m extremely needle-phobic I’m not sure the test will give an accurate reading!  I shall, of course, make this point in a quiet and respectful manner.

Mr Badger’s highway

Despite the occasional gloomy bits life here is still delightful.  The wood is coming into bud again and the ash trees we had to cut down are sending out little shoots.  I don’t know if they will come through infected so we will talk to Fergus.  It would be good if we could keep some, at least for a while.  The main actor in the wood seems to be the badger that comes and goes most nights.  We hope to get the path round the wood dug in a week or so and I will make sure we disturb his track as little as possible.  The bird tenement at the back is filling up again and the bird song is wonderful in the mornings.  It actually echoes around the wood. This is truly a beautiful place to live and we know how lucky we are.  

And St Patrick’s Day passed off peacefully this year. Hooray!

Well, that’s us for another fortnight.  Thank you, Jacqui, for the snow pictures and thank you all for reading. If you are a new arrival to the blog you can get all episodes, beginning in March 2020, on this site.  I am also recording two at a time for Southside Broadcasting and you can catch them here:  Then put “Tipperary Tales” in the search engine.

Slow but steady progress

Hooray – February is finally over!  Universally loathed as a “beastly month”, the arrival of March suggests Spring is just around the corner.  We will be very happy to see that as at present we have almost ground to a standstill on some important jobs.  The most pressing is the roof to the kitchen.  This was making slow but steady progress after a fit of over enthusiasm on the first day.  The men set up scaffolding, scrambled up and ripped it all off, throwing slates down into the garden and hauling them away.  Then they did some covering up and left for the day.

Rain in Ireland – who’d have thought?

Alas, a very wet patch rolled in, the rain came down and water began to run through the ceiling.  That was an absolute low point.  We used every spare towel, mat and durry as the floor is like glass when wet.  All the furniture had to be moved, lights off and appliances unplugged.  It eased off after about four in the morning and I emptied the buckets and went back to bed.  There was no serious damage but it was not a pleasant experience.

Dry – but cold

There has been some slow but steady progress since with roofing felt and new battens fitted.  It is at least fairly watertight but a cold spell means the house is much cooler than before.  The new slates with special runners have arrived at last so work should resume this week.  Keeping everything crossed as a final icy blast is due according to Met Eireann. 

The flood evening came as we were taking part in our first on-line quiz game.  I’ve never done a quiz before – well, once at a conference 20 years ago.  This is a small group of “local” people, some of whom are currently residing elsewhere.  Despite the dodgy infrastructure and water coming through the ceiling it was quite fun and we joined in again the next week.  It’s a good way to get to know people even if some are remote.  And it feels as if we are slowly but surely settling into the area.

Mr Badger, late home
Mr Pine Marten, still shy
Mr Fox

There’s some good news about the trail cameras.  After weeks of wrangling, cursing and getting pictures of waving grass we’ve got something.  You may remember the badger’s bum from last time?  Well, he is certainly a big lad and we’ve pictures and a short video of him waddling off for a night out.  The very nervous pine marten has finally made an entrance and a couple of days ago we got our first fox too. If you click on the pictures you can enlarge them. Look for the eyes!

 It is one thing to know (or suspect) we have wildlife using the wood but quite another to actually see it, and to be able to share with our friends. It’s a bit of a clamber through the wood at present as the ground is still uneven.  The brambles are making a comeback already and I’ve several nasty scratches.  We hope to get John, the digger man, back this month to smooth a path.  Once the stumps, holes and rocks are shifted we can use the mower to keep it clear.

No, not 25 metres away

The water analysis came back and one reading, for nitrate, is only just under the threshold.  This is almost certainly due to agricultural fertilizer and slurry that has been applied ten feet from our well.  The dogs are back on bottled water as all three have had some health issues.  We have another set of bottles ready and will be retesting 24 hours after the next slurry.  This could be the major issue this year and I’ll let you know what happens.

Ah Pollock…

As it has been cold throughout most of the house we’ve been using the fire in the snug a lot.  This room is well named and being in the centre it does warm a lot of our home.  We’ve been enjoying some of the more eccentric offerings from Sky.  The Discovery Channel is re-showing “Alaska Homestead Rescue” which is most enjoyable.  We have little to complain about compared to some of these people (though what were they thinking?).  I’m fairly sure I’m not going to check the cameras one morning and find a bear or a cougar staring into the lens!  Jacqui is working on a crochet jumper – very impressive.  I am the epitome of slow but steady progress as I work on the impossible Jackson Pollock puzzle.  Maybe in a few months I’ll finish it…

Kindle edition is listed under Jem’s name!

I’ve had a couple of queries about the Kindle edition of “Puppy Brain”.  It’s listed under Jem Cooney if you are looking for a copy and very reasonably priced at £3.99.  The paperback is currently on special offer at £8.24, 25% off so grab a cheap copy if you’ve not got one.  Work on the next book last week and I have the plan set out.  I also took the first big psychological step and wrote the first page so I’m going to be a busy bunny this summer.  In other good news, the first option for the TV production was up last month but Jon has taken up the second.  This is a huge vote of confidence on his part and I am pleased and so grateful to him.  May this year be good to us all, especially the writers!

Well, it’s getting very cold up here in my room as we’ve not begun our daily assault on the huge log Jenga.  I’m next to the stripped off roof and there are draughts galore so I’ll sign off now.

Have a good few weeks and I hope to see you in a fortnight. 

Thank you for reading.


Well, there’s always something

I’ve been reminded these past weeks of one of those brilliant one-liners from a film.  In the movie “Carrington”, the title character is warned against getting involved with the critic and writer Lytton Strachey. “Dora dearest, he’s a terrible old queen!” says a friend, in much less PC times.  “Yes,” replies Carrington, “But there’s always something, isn’t there?”.  So as we move towards the third spring in our Irish home, steps forward are mixed with stumbles, trips and even occasional falls. 

It has been an interesting fortnight that began rather inauspiciously with our attempts to get the well tested.  There is a 25 metre exclusion rule for private wells and some activities inside this put the water at risk.  We sent for testing bottles and followed the instructions carefully.  It was quite a rigmarole – disinfect hands, wipe tap, run water, wipe again, run water, take samples.  These were wrapped in sterile plastic, put in a cold bag and we set off on a 200 km round trip to the lab.  But there’s always something, right?

Less than 4 km into the trip a front tyre burst.  Despite trying to call out the AA we were stuck for over an hour before a friend came to our rescue.  The tyres had all taken a bashing on the roads recently. They’ve been torn up by rain and tractors and we didn’t feel happy risking the journey with no spare.  Jacqui went off to get it replaced and I rang for another set of testing bottles.  The second time we did make it to the lab in the time limit and are now waiting for the chemical analysis.  The biological result was okay so we can drink the water, after a week of using bottled supplies.  Even the dogs were on spring water for a while.

Animal or Vegetable?
Definitely Animal!

When our friends visited last month we set up a trail camera to spot any visiting wildlife.  This has been a process of trial and error – mainly error, I have to confess.  First there’s the need to find the right location, with somewhere suitable for camera mounting.  Then there are a lot of settings to adjust, from motion-delay to number of shots in a burst.  One evening we got 58 pictures of grass waving in the high wind – not what we wanted.  Another day there were 5 consecutive shots of what could have been mammal eyes peering out of the undergrowth.  Or maybe just a grass hummock stirring in the breeze.  Then there were 2 real shots – a large mammal moving into view.  That’s when I set the camera to take 5 in a burst.  Hopefully next time we will get more of the badger than its bum.

In more positive news, Jacqui has completed the cardio exercise program, with good results so far.  We breathed a sigh of relief at losing the two early starts each week but, well there’s always something.  The good news was the local (18 km away) hospital can do her ECHO test.  No trip to Limerick – hooray!  The bad news was another early start as it has been tacked on to the stress test. That’s the final part of the rehab program.  I’m not sure about the reasoning behind doing the ECHO first and then putting a patient covered in ultrasound jelly on a treadmill but they’re the experts I guess.  

We’ve been keeping an eye on Charlie, our youngest dog, as he’s been very itchy recently.  The vet did a good set of blood work and apart from a slight marker in his liver readings he seems fine.  He has just finished a short course of anti-allergy pills and they seem to have helped.  He’s also been off all his biscuit and Markie treats, something he’s a bit upset about.  If the irritation returns we will at least be able to give him treats as we look for the source of the problem. 

With better weather on the way he can get out more too which should help his mood.  He’s a real wimp about the rain and stands in the doorway, peeing on the step if I let him.  There’s quite a lot of rain around in Ireland so roll on spring!  When we get the grass cut we have some basic agility equipment for him to try out.  I did a bit of agility with one of our Tibetan Terriers before I snapped an ankle ligament.  We hope Charlie will enjoy it and find it interesting.  And I’ll be a bit more careful this time.

Think the path needs some work
So does the herb garden

There’s a definite stirring in the wood now and we are preparing for the burst of growth all around.  This year we have plans, with the mower ready to go and the makings of raised beds for planting.  We hope to get John, the digger man, back to run a proper path around the wood. If he can, maybe carve out a bit of the bank behind the house for the greenhouse.  This year we plan to grow more than the herbs and the “cut and come again” lettuce in the bath.  They have been wonderful but a bit limited.  We’ve been assembling the materials and cleared the land several times now. Frustratingly we can’t proceed owing to delays from other people.  Hopefully this year we will finally make a start but we know there’ll be a few bumps along the way.  After all, there’s always something, isn’t there?

Thank you for reading and for all your feedback.  It really is appreciated. 

Have a good few weeks and I hope to see you in a fortnight.

Beginning the third year

The seasons are rolling around again and it is one day shy of our initial move into this little house.  As we begin our third year here we can reflect on all we have done – and all that has happened.  It seems fair to say there have been a few surprises along this journey.  And a few bumps on the way.  But despite this we are still very happy here and feeling more settled than we have in years.

Sometimes it takes a new pair of eyes to highlight what we have managed to achieve.  We look around at the wood, better than it was but still needing so much work.  The house could do with painting, the roof needs fixing and the electrics are better but still dodgy. (I’m sure it’s not usual for the lights to dim when the kettle is on).  Last weekend our friends, Helen and Adrian, arrived and were delighted with “how much” we’d done.  Like the best visitors in the world, they were eager to add their contribution and cleared, trimmed and lifted with gusto.  We now have our mower safe under cover and a lot of the rocks are cleared away from projected mowing areas, thanks to them.

Buzzard on the lookout

Hard labour is not compulsory however.  Any visitor who just needs to relax, enjoy the peace and sleep late is also welcome.  We had one very clear night and spent some time looking at the night sky.  Despite the full moon it was still dark enough to see Mars, Venus and Jupiter as well as the Milky Way unfolding overhead.  We are now blessed by our own murmuration – over 200 starlings and growing.  They’ve settled in the trees opposite at night and take off with an audible “whoosh” in the morning.  They fly in a cloud across the fields, making some wonderful shapes and patterns.  This attracts the attention of the buzzards but so far the flock seems to have the upper hand.

Mammal Highway
A Gift – From Whom?

The undergrowth has died down in the wood over winter and there are some very clear tracks weaving across it.  The mammal gates are a great success from these indications and we are curious to know who is using them.  We know animals trek through the drive and wood as they trigger the security lights.  Occasionally we find a little offering on the front step too. Trail cameras are a good option I think.  Some of the paths are quite wide, with several larger flattened areas.  One patch in particular looks as if there was a small animal rave one night.  It is reached by five different diverging paths and opens out into a rough circle.  A mammal party perhaps, or (more sinister) the fairies coming visiting?  I’ll let you know if I find out.

With “Puppy Brain” now ticking away in shops and platforms like Amazon I decided to try some different writing.  When I began after the MA I decided to try entering competitions to see if I was actually any good.  This proved to be remarkably successful leading to an international award (Lit Award of the Ruhr, runner up) and publication of “Death of the Elver Man”.  This time I looked around for something different, away from fiction, and found a competition for memoirs.  I’ve never written one before but it seemed like a suitable challenge.  I managed the 5000 word entry in January and then spent a week composing and polishing the synopsis.  Having judged writing competitions, I know this is absolutely crucial – and so often neglected.  I don’t expect to win but I enjoyed the challenge and I’ve learned a lot from stretching myself.

Oh the joys of dyslexia!

It’s been good to focus more on writing as I’m losing the routine and need to start working more regularly.  Also I suspect I’m getting more dyslexic in my later years.  We often notice unfamiliar signs or buildings whilst out or in town.  I spotted a sign for the 750 year old Franciscan Friary recently.  Imagine my delight in reading it was, at one time, the Chief Irish Fairy. 

We have a new public holiday on Monday, to celebrate St Bridget’s Day.  Bridget is dubbed the “Matron Saint” and celebrated for many years. Some more devout households make cornstalk crosses for their doors. 

Ah Pollocks!

We’ve had a very busy few weeks and have another few coming up so will enjoy a quiet day at home.  I always used to make puzzles on Bank Holidays when younger so I’ve taken up the challenge of the Jackson Pollock once more.  It must be the most fiendish puzzle ever.  Even the 3D jigsaw and Esher’s “Waterfall” are easier but I will finish it this time.  You can see how hard it is – the plain white border is the easiest bit.

So that’s us, beginning the third year.  There are things going on in the background that need some resolving but – hey, there’s always something.  Every day brings a smile and we can look around and feel we are making a home here. 

Thank you for reading and a happy St Bridget’s Day to you all.

Hoping for a better year all round

Well, January has certainly shown its teeth here in Ireland and I think the same – if not worse – in the UK.  In the last few weeks we’ve had the big freeze, complete with frozen pipes and no water before Christmas.  This was followed by some torrential rain and a leaky roof.  In my last post I was hopeful about the roof but, alas, my optimism was unfounded.  When the rain returned in the New Year so did the leak.  Faster, longer and much worse this time.  Morgan came back to inspect the damage and his joke about a new roof was no longer funny. We had hoped for a better year but it is starting with a serious, and very expensive, problem.

Absolutely useless!

We have also had a few issues in the bathroom (the ball cock fell off last week!)  This shouldn’t have been too much of a problem but we couldn’t turn off the water.  There is a penny valve on the pipe, but it is facing the wall with less than 2 inches clearance.  Sometimes I almost despair at the small glitches that lead to big difficulties. 

Spot the moorhen

The cold returned last week and because it is so damp it feels much worse than the thermometer indicates.  The pond over the road froze for a couple of days but is back again and so are the birds.  The geese flew in last week, honking and wheeling overhead and yesterday I saw a heron gliding over the house.  There are a couple of moorhens enjoying the open water too.  The sun is still low for much of the day but the colours in the trees and bushes are very beautiful.  I think I’ll need to move my desk away from the window.  It is too much of a temptation, gazing out and drifting into a daydream.

Puppy Brain in Easons

I need to focus more as I’m finally returning to writing seriously.  I’ve several projects in hand and some deadlines, which concentrate the mind wonderfully.  These include editing and publishing the fifth Alex Hastings book, “A Long Shadow”.  Although it was accepted by Impress way back in 2021 nothing came of it. The new owners floundered and finally bankrupted the company.  Now I have it back and can get it ready for launching towards the end of the year.  I’m also plotting out the next book in the “Puppy Brain” trilogy, working with Jem to move the story forwards.  Jem’s still smiling after seeing his name on a real book and has some good ideas for the next one but with spring and the show season heading our way will probably take more of a back seat this time.

I have managed to recover a number of Impress books, saved from pulping.  The first lot are on their way and the second are hopefully being located next week.  I don’t know how many there are or which titles either yet.  If anyone wants any of the earlier Alex Hastings books please let me know and I can arrange to sign and send direct.  “Puppy Brain” is doing well, both paperback and e-book. The paperback is currently on offer at Amazon with 20% off so why not grab a copy?  Thank you to everyone who has bought it.  An even bigger “thank you” to the readers who have added a short review and rating.  It makes such a difference to the availability as this is set by an algorithm.  Perceived expressions of interest lead to more publicity and orders which drive sales.  What a strange world we live in.

With postal strikes in the UK and very inclement weather in both countries we are still receiving notes and cards intended for Christmas.  This means we haven’t been too worried by longer silences.  However I’ve had a number of messages from old friends in the past week.  It seems the last year has been very unkind to many.  We are still extremely tired, for longer than we expected following the efforts of the move.  Although we are recovering, this is slow and not helped by delays and problems in the house.  We are lucky compared to some of our friends however. 

A sunrise to make you smile

There has been a lot of ill health, some but not all Covid related.  People have lost relatives and loved ones. It feels almost as if half the world has PTSD from the past three years.  There’s a general air of weariness, a dusting of depression surrounding so many people.  I feel it will take a long time to recover from recent events.  We are lucky, living in such a beautiful place.  Even the freezing mornings give glorious sunrises.  The birds are singing, flying in formation through the wood and occasionally peering in through the windows.  We are meeting some new people and making friends despite still being quite isolated.  The roof will be a pain but is necessary.  There’ll be more insulation too so next winter shouldn’t seem so cold, looking on the bright side.

We are hoping for a better year ahead, for us and for all our friends and readers.  May you all recover, keep safe and prosper.  May some of your dreams come true.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you in two weeks.