Why I’m never saying ‘it can’t be any worse than last year’ ever again, and other assorted ramblings

Sorry for the radio silence this year. It’s been an embarrassing amount of time since I checked back in here, and longer still since I’ve done any proper writing, but rather a lot has been happening! (When, since 2019, has rather a lot *NOT* been happening to everyone around me? I think I must be cursed).

So in March this year, Mr Lowe suffered a heart attack. Fit Mr Lowe. Healthy Mr Lowe. Works in a physical job six-days-a-week Mr Lowe, goes to the gym every night Mr Lowe. (He’s over twenty years older than me but he puts me to shame when it comes to looking after myself).

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was watching TV with my dad, who’d come round for his bi-weekly visit. Myk had gone to work as usual that morning and nothing was amiss, as far as I knew.

Then I got the phone call. Myk’s number. “Hello?”

“Right,” he says. “Don’t panic but…”

I can hear the sirens in the background.

“I’m having a heart attack.”

Every single part of me went cold. “You’re what?”

“I’m having a heart attack. But don’t panic.”

I am obviously now very much panicking. It turns out he’s in the back of an ambulance on his way from Leicester Royal Infirmary to Glenfield Hospital, which is the local specialist cardiac facility. I’m handed to the paramedic who tells me Myk is in good hands and is stable. I’m told not to go to the hospital yet as he’ll be going straight into surgery to have a stent fitted, so to wait for them to call me. I’m handed back to Myk. I’m crying. A lot. He tells me he loves me and I can hear in his voice how frightened he is. I tell him I love him too and I’ll see him very soon.

I hang up and try to tell Dad, between sobs, what has happened.

“Oh,” he says, looking at his feet. “You’d better take me home then.”

That’s it. No hug. No reassurance. No well-meaning platitudes. He wants to go home and he wants me to drive him. In this state.

(I’ve written about my dad in other blog posts so I won’t cover any more about that here, except to say that he’s a useless profane word for lady parts).

So I drive Dad home, managing not to kill anyone in the process (just). The wait is excruciating. Eventually I can’t take it anymore and call the hospital. “Oh yes,” I’m told. “He’s had a stent fitted. He’s back on the ward now. In a bit of pain but he’s okay otherwise.” I ask if I can visit and they book me a one-hour slot: apparently this is how visiting in UK hospitals works now.

The journey to Glenfield is a fifteen minute drive. I’m very slightly calmer after hearing he’s made it through the op okay but I can’t wait to see him. I’m not quite prepared for how poorly he looks when I arrive. When they said he was in ‘a bit of pain’, they weren’t quite telling the truth. He is in *excruciating* pain and the staff don’t seem to know why or how to make him any more comfortable. They’ve already tried morphine. They bring in the portable x-ray machine to make sure it’s not related to his stent. Nope, it all looks okay. They keep doing tests and bringing tablets but nothing is working. Eventually my one hour slot is up. I don’t want to leave him but I don’t have any choice, it’s late and I’m the only visitor left on the ward.

I call Sunday morning to see how he is and am greeted by a nurse who does nothing but sigh at me. The tone of her voice suggests I’m being a nuisance by daring to ask how my husband might be doing after his, you know, LIFE-THREATENING HEART ATTACK. He’s still in a lot of pain, apparently. I book myself a visiting slot and yes, he is still in a lot of pain and still hasn’t eaten or slept a wink. It appears they’ve given up trying to figure out what’s wrong. They probably think he’s malingering but I know better, he isn’t that sort. A nurse comes to check his vitals and goes through a checklist of ‘things you’ve had done’, including a covid test and a perineal swab for MRSA. “I haven’t had either of those,” he says. The nurse is adamant he must have. “You wouldn’t be allowed on the ward if you hadn’t had them.” Myk insists he hasn’t had them, so she goes to check. Myk is correct, they’ve failed to carry out both tests. Concerned about the standard of care he’s getting, I outstay my visiting slot and eventually get shouted at by a nurse. (I’m not exaggerating, she proper balled me out. But they’re all fucking angels, yeah? Oh, and have I mentioned yet that when he called 999 and they ascertained that he was indeed having a heart attack, they told him an ambulance would be SIX HOURS, but to call back if it got worse. Worse as in dead??? Thankfully somebody drove him the two minute ride to A&E).

Ahem. Anyway. Mustn’t get too down on that sacred cow we call the NHS. They did at least save his life before they tried to kill him. Read on…

He gets worse overnight and I figure they realise that something is indeed very wrong. They produce a blue pill. He takes it and promptly falls asleep for a few hours. When he wakes up, the pain is almost gone. At about 3am they move him to a ward because they need the bed in the critical care unit. I book my hour slot and I don’t stay a minute over time. He’s still looking very poorly but at least he’s feeling somewhat better and has eaten something, although the guy in the next bed has been hallucinating and yelling all night and nobody on the ward got any sleep. I notice Myk eyeing his pillow with intent but say nothing.

Days pass and they are doing more tests. Myk has a temperature. Then we get the news. He has contracted sepsis.

It’s a very bad case of sepsis. I forget what they measure in the blood, levels of infection or something, but a bad case is in the eighties and his are at 360. He’s put onto broad spectrum IV antibiotics and now we just have to wait. The weird thing is that he doesn’t look poorly and he says he doesn’t feel ill other than the temperature and croaky voice. What he doesn’t tell me on the Thursday when I visit is quite how poorly he really *DOES* feel, and he will go on some weeks later to tell me he suspected that night that he wouldn’t be coming home again.

So I wake up on the Friday and it’s my 40th birthday. Not the birthday I was planning but never mind. I have a text off Myk. He was quite sweaty in the night but he’s okay and will see me later. Happy birthday, sorry for fucking it up, etc. I ring the ward and book my hour slot and before I leave I do my obligatory lateral flow test.

And oh fuck, it’s positive.

I do another just to make sure but yes, there are those two pesky fucking lines. I text Myk the news. I am devastated that I can’t visit him and will be unable to see him now until I get a negative test. I am still acutely aware of how serious sepsis is and the thought that I may never see him again is lurking on the edge of my thoughts. I try to ignore it and be positive. I tell him I don’t know where I could’ve caught it other than the hospital, even though I was fully masked and PPE’d up. He tells me it has been spreading through the ward and that lots of patients have it. I spend the night of my 40th sitting on my own in front of the TV. My nose has started running. I go to bed early.

Covid hits me properly over the weekend. It’s not as bad as the first time I caught it, more like a bad cold. I do an online grocery order and a friend calls around in order that I can throw a bag of clean clothes at him through the open door, which he takes to the hospital in exchange for Myk’s sweat-drenched rags. His temperature has broken and his infection levels are coming down but they are still far too high for him to come home. As far as he knows he still doesn’t have covid (those italicised words are doing a lot of heavy lifting at this point – read on). He tells me on the Saturday night there were only two nurses on duty to cover the whole ward. There must’ve been over twenty people on it, a conservative estimate. Is that kind of staffing level normal?? Or safe??

Anyway, Myk continues to improve and they allow him to come home towards the end of the week. I am still testing positive but he doesn’t care, he’s leaving, so I drive to the hospital to get him and there is an emotional reunion in the car park (socially distanced from everyone else, of course).

He remained extremely tired for weeks and had lost a lot of weight. When the cardiac unit called him a week or two later to see how he was doing, they dropped into the conversation that he’d also had covid whilst in hospital, so now I know who I caught it from. Nice of them to tell him eventually, wasn’t it?

And that is more or less the heart attack part of the year in a nutshell.

And then it was the spring Whitby Goth Weekend. Myk was still feeling weak, having only been out of hospital a short time, but he insisted we were going and promised he would take it easy. Luckily we had booked accommodation in the same building as the events we were booked to attend, so going to and from gigs involved a short elevator ride. There was light drinking and strictly no dancing. It was a subdued festival for us but at least we were there and together. It could’ve been so much different.

We even made it down into the town, although on WGW you can’t even do something as innocuous as eat an ice cream without a photographer stealing your image to exploit for his own profit. Sorry. I mean, take your picture.

Real goths in Whitby! Picture found in a Facebook group. Credit: some guy who didn’t bother asking if he could take this. Rude.

As the weeks and months go on, Myk starts to feel more like himself and his recovery is going nicely. We’re just starting to get back to something like normal when, around the middle of June, Myk starts to feel a pain in the back of his leg. As sciatica sufferers will know all too well, this is an early warning sign of an imminent attack.

He carried on working, eventually needing to use a cane to get around. We even made it to the inaugural Bats in the Attic festival in Morecambe, although Myk spent most of his time lying on the floor of the flat we were staying in. We did make it to the Eric Morecambe statue though, and managed to enjoy two nights of gigs with the strategic use of taxis, a cane and a bar stool.

When we got home it became clear that Myk’s sciatica was only getting worse. His doctor prescribed various painkillers but, due to other conditions, he couldn’t take the anti-inflammatories that may have made a proper difference. He had to stop working, and spent the whole of September and most of October horizontal on the floor and housebound. Towards the end of the month, things started to slowly improve and, yet again, we made it to Whitby, this time for the Halloween Goth Weekend, by the seats of our pants. It was another quiet one for us, spent mostly in our rented cottage overlooking the Esk and the abbey, but we did at least manage to see our favourite band Fields of the Nephilim, who were playing at the Spa on the Friday night.

Myk went back to work around mid-November, taking it easy whilst the sciatica abated (or as easy as a self-employed motor mechanic can). It’s now early December and (fingers crossed), life is once again returning to normal. It has been (another) stressful year and my writing has (again) suffered because of it. I haven’t written a single piece of short fiction and progress on the novel has been sluggish. I’ve continued to work on my friend John’s memoir and, despite a laptop meltdown in which I had to transfer the entire manuscript from Scrivener into Google Docs, it is almost ready for publication. Barring any further health emergencies, deaths or pandemics, I hope to get my head down on the writing front and use the coming year to get back on the proverbial horse.

Because, let’s face it, 2023 can’t be any worse than…

Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow. Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand. You can find her online at www.kateloweauthor.co.uk

Tiny tales of horror, the perils of book reviews & getting over COVID-19

So I’m a little late to the party in promoting this (for reasons I’ll get to) but ‘666’, a Dark Drabbles anthology by Black Hare Press was released at the end of August. Lurking amongst the pages is my story ‘Mourning Son’ (yes, I did borrow the title from a Neph track). It’s available from that evil Amazon place or direct from the publisher. Inside you’ll find hundreds of tiny but perfectly-formed tales of horror, and myself, my fellow authors and the publishers would all be delighted should you wish to make a purchase.

Shameless self-promotion over with, what else have I been up to? Unwittingly upsetting other authors, apparently. Oh, and catching Covid, which was all kinds of fun.

I tend to leave book reviews on about 95% of the books I read, since I know authors, agents and publishers are keen for readers to leave them as it helps with book sales, bumps books into special promotional areas of Amazon etc. The 5% I don’t leave reviews for are usually books I DNF or persevere with despite not enjoying them because…

Anyhow, I was scrolling absentmindedly through Twatter (not a typo) the other evening and came across a Tweet that a publisher I follow had liked. The Tweeter (Twitterer???) in question was an author. I wish I could show you a screen-grab but after what transpired she deleted said Tweet and so I’m working from memory. It was something along the lines of how she wished readers would understand that characters’ opinions don’t reflect those of the author, whilst bemoaning a review she had read whereby the reviewer complained about ‘goths of all things!’ This was complete with a face-palm emoji and was accompanied by dozens of comments by fellow authors giving her some shoulder pats and telling her how utterly stupid this moron was.

It was very clear to me that the review in question was the one that I had left some months before. I toddled off to Goodreads just to refresh my memory and found that whilst I hadn’t really enjoyed the book (I’d only bought it to support an indie press), I had stated very clearly at the start of my review that there was some great writing there and the author had a real talent (she’d somehow failed to Tweet about that though). Further down my review, I did have a bit of a rant about the mention of a ‘doom-obsessed goth’ and went on to point out that this is a very annoying stereotype and that we’re mostly really happy people despite all the black clothes and melancholy music.

She clearly had a very valid point though. There was no reason for my having said this in a review, since this had come from the mouth of a character and not the author. I didn’t realise at the time of leaving the review that I’d been triggered by this phrase and went somewhat off-piste when I used it as a reason to deduct a star from my rating. I absolutely hold my paws up to this. My bad, and I will be wise to this in future. The author could have also chosen to contact me directly and privately via Goodreads to discuss the matter with me, instead of publicly airing her views on social media, but maybe, like me on the day I left the review, she was having a particularly difficult day.

Anyhow, I couldn’t not respond, so I politely informed her this was clearly me she was referring to and that whilst I apologised for the goth-related comments I mistakenly made, that I had also left some very positive comments on her writing that she’d failed to communicate to her audience (I chose not to include a face-palm emoji here). I signed off by apologising if I’d upset her and left it at that. A short period of silence followed. Then, about twenty minutes later, I got a response.

She said that I hadn’t upset her (I think I clearly had as she’d taken to Twitter to rant about it) but reiterated that authors weren’t their characters and that ‘she used to be a goth once too’. I responded by stating that, as I’d been writing for over 20 years myself, I was saddened that she felt the need to explain that to me (and boy was I annoyed with myself for even doing it). Just as I hit send, I got a message saying the Tweet was no longer available. Then she Tweeted a short while later that she had deleted the last one as she thought it made her come across like a bit of a bitch (not her words but I forget what she actually wrote) and that was very much not like her at all. I suspect if I’d not replied to her original Tweet, she would’ve happily left it up there, along with all the pointing-and-mocking of her fellow authors. She has certainly since shared similar tweets from other authors about readers confusing authors’ views with those of their characters.

Anyhow, I’ve since deleted my entire review of her novel along with my ill-judged comment, and I will certainly be thinking very carefully before writing any future reviews of anyone’s work!

In other news, guess who caught Covid?

After 18 months of working through the pandemic, shopping as normal, going out to pubs and clubs when they were open, going on holiday and generally trying to carry on as usual whilst socially-distancing and wearing muzzles when required, me and the other half were convinced we must have had asymptomatic cases and were just two of the lucky ones. Also, we were both double-jabbed so we’d done all we could to protect ourselves and others.

Then Myk came home from work with a cough and sore throat. He didn’t think it was that bad but I made him do a lateral flow test, which was positive. We did a second. Also positive. I had no symptoms at this point but we isolated and off he went to get a PCR test the next day, which confirmed he had Covid. A day later and my nose began to run. I kept testing negative on the lateral flows but I got a PCR and that too was positive.

Long story short, we both got through it OK and only had what we considered mild symptoms. Myk had a cough and a slight temperature for a few hours, and I had a runny nose and sneezing. My resting heart rate went up dramatically for a few days but then came back down, and now I’m unusually fatigued and keep falling asleep like a person of advanced years in a staring window. I also lost my sense of smell and taste for a few days but those are both coming back now. We still don’t know where we caught it from as all of our contacts tested negative, so it’s just going to be another one of life’s endless mysteries.

Book-wise, I’m currently reading my 60th book of the year, which will complete my Goodreads challenge with 3 months to spare (it’s been that kind of year, right?). I recently discovered John Bude via the British Library Crime Classics series, whose 1930s detective stories I really enjoyed, and am now working my way through this little pile of beauties that I picked up on my first trip out post-quarantine to a local charity shop. ‘Ghostly Companions’ by Vivien Alcock is a masterclass in short story writing.

And that’s about all folks. I’m off to have a nap before I get up to eat my mostly-tasteless dinner and then I might have another nap before I go to bed.

Thanks for reading and stay safe all!

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow. Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand. You can find her online at www.kateloweauthor.co.uk

Spring cleaning, a joint venture and ever-shrinking opportunities

Okay, so I know it’s technically summer but I’ve just carried out a little overdue spring cleaning and removed my self-published Riley Pope novelettes from Smashwords. They’ve languished there for years, the first four installments of what I imagined to be a twelve book series that I’d eventually self-publish in one volume.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

The books were all free and had around 100 downloads each, give or take. The first iteration of Strange Weather (The Case of Walutahanga) made it to number 15 in the Amazon UK Urban Fantasy charts, which I was quite proud of at the time, although I’ve since discovered via other authors just how few purchases / downloads you really need to make it into those charts (a large group of willing friends and writing acquaintances really makes a difference it would seem).

At various intervals I’ve attempted to resurrect the series by penning book five, but could never get further than the first few pages. I’ve now admitted to myself that I’ve moved on in terms of what I want to write about and, to be brutally honest, have lost interest in the character and the story I was trying to tell. So goodbye for now, Riley Pope. Who knows, you may yet make a return one day.

In other news, I’m currently working on a project with my good friend John Commons, occasional TV star (Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Four in a Bed etc) and landlord of the Vic Bikers Pub in Coalville, Leicestershire.

Over the past few years John has been writing a memoir about his life prior to, and after taking over, the Victoria, and the first draft is now with me for editing and proofreading. I’ve never written or worked on non-fiction before so it’s quite the learning curve, particularly because we’ll be self-publishing so it won’t be going under the noses of a legal team! It’s certainly a challenge but has also been a joy to read. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in so many places but also touches on grief and loss. It’s going to take a while to get it shipshape but we’re both looking forwards to getting this as-yet-untitled memoir into the hands of the thousands of friends and patrons of this legendary venue.

As for the WIP, I’m still plodding on. I don’t mind admitting that the pandemic and the stress that has come with it has made writing (along with many other things) a challenge. I have, however, been making steady progress and I still enjoy writing it, so that must be a good sign. One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is this horribly divisive, virtue-signalling world we appear to be living in right now. For whatever reasons, be they well-intentioned or otherwise, certain organisations and individuals seem to be bending over backwards to accommodate particular groups to the detriment of everybody else.

Take for example the UK publishing market. There are hundreds of competitions and they used to be open to all, encouraging submissions from under-represented backgrounds, and rightly so. In the past year though, something has changed. I see ever more comps and opportunities stating they are only looking for submissions from (insert the current in-vogue label). It’s hard enough already to break into the market. Celebrities dominate, with contracts handed out to household names before they’ve even put fingertip to keyboard. Seeing them humble-brag all over Twitter when they’re not-yet-in-bookshops debut has just topped the bestseller list (Yvette Fielding comes to mind, although I still think she’s awesome) makes me want to take a massive sledgehammer to my laptop. It’s disheartening, but we trudge on, because we’re writers and this is what we do.

But it is getting harder. Harder to pick myself up mentally when what I see from the market I’m trying to break into, and the wider world in general, is that nobody wants to read a story from a person like me: white; straight; a nobody from nowhere. If they do, then why am I being excluded from writing competitions and agent’s query windows just because of the colour of my skin or my sexual preference (which is my damned business anyway)? And I’m not saying the publishing industry hasn’t shown prejudice in the past because I’m damn sure it has. It’s certainly unwelcoming to working-class writers, though some indie presses are working their bums off to change that (at least this is one ‘label’ I have going for me!)

In writing this, I hope I don’t come across as bitter or prejudiced, but undoubtedly there will be some who take my words and twist them to suit their own narrative: that is, unfortunately, the world we’re now living in – I may even be cancelled, and if I am then so be it. I just find it really, really sad that in our efforts to promote diversity, we’re actually marginalising whole groups of people, stifling their right to express an opinion and ultimately breeding resentment.

So anyway.

Allow me a moment to slink from my soap box…

BOOKS!

I’m currently reading my 40th and 41st books of the year, One for Sorrow – A book of old-fashioned lore by Chloe Rhodes, and Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist. I’ve never read any of Feist’s work before and am enjoying it so far, although inevitably it does feel quite dated. One for Sorrow is a fascinating book about the history behind some of our most popular sayings. Me and the better half were discussing what a clout was the other day, as in the traditional saying, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’, and now I know – a clout in Old English was a piece of cloth, and evolved to mean a piece of clothing, so the saying means ‘keep your winter clothes on until June’. Which, in the maddeningly unpredictable UK climate, is a damned good piece of advice!

I’ve recently also finished The Ritual by Adam Nevill (well-written but I preferred the film – the book is like two novels in one and felt like it got a bit silly with the death metallers at the end. Why does everyone think us alternative lot are Satan-worshipping nut jobs???); A Stranger In Town by Kelley Armstong (not my favourite installment in the Rockton series, it felt a bit confused with all the various groups in play, but I still enjoyed it); and various non-fiction works of fortean interest covering ghosts, werewolves, strange ancient laws of England and the sinister side of old Nottingham.

Photo by Kevin Escate on Unsplash

So that’s all from me for now. On one final note, if you’ve read my previous blog post about Erwin Saunders and his quest to find the Morsu pixies, he’s recently posted some new videos! Enjoy!

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand. You can find her online at www.kateloweauthor.co.uk

Drabble success, a competition longlist and 2020 part 2: what a f***ing year

It’s been a while since I last checked in so thought I’d drop a quick update. As per most people everywhere, 2020 has been a quiet, if not also horrendous, year. Whitby Goth Weekend was again cancelled so no holidays for us this year, the nightclubs and venues were closed so no Spellbound goth nights in Leicester or gigs at Nottingham Rock City, and the pubs, for the most part of this year, have been closed, so no weekends out with our friends at the local biker pub. All of this has made me realise how much I, and we as the human race, value social contact. Fingers crossed that next year will be a better one in so many ways for all of us.

On the writing front, I’ve had a horror drabble, ‘Mourning Son’, accepted for Black Hare Press’s upcoming anthology entitled 666. More news on that when available, but please click here to find out more about Black Hare Press and their brilliant range of speculative fiction. I also submitted a page of my novel-in-progress to Louise Walters Books Page 100 competition, and couldn’t believe it when While The City Sleeps made the longlist! I’ve since received the following feedback from Louise, which I hope she won’t mind me posting (as I’m over the moon with it and just have to share! Hurrah!)

“I really enjoyed your Page 100; it almost made the shortlist, so I hope that’s encouraging. There’s a no-nonsense crispness to your writing and story-telling. There’s humour here, and I think vulnerability? I warmed to the narrator and wondered quite a lot about her, curious about her story and what has led up to this page, and what may come after. There was a definite sense of a three-dimensional character here. not just words on a page. Great.”

Louise runs a fantastic indie press with a great selection of authors and books, so please have a gander at her website here and help support our brilliant indie presses in these difficult times. She is also running the Page 100 comp in June 2021, a good one to add to your writing calendar.

I’m currently reading my 69th book of the year, Sue Grafton’s P is for Peril, (which I’m technically re-reading, but it all still counts). I’ve also just finished Lee & Andrew Child’s The Sentinel, the latest Jack Reacher instalment, which was ace and is highly recommended. Non-fiction wise, I’ve recently finished David Wilcock’s eye-opening The Synchronicity Key and Deepak Chopra’s thought-provoking The Book of Secrets. I find myself very much in a spiritually-enquiring frame of mind at the moment, which is probably not surprising given the last eighteen months. Times are hard for all right now but I honestly feel that we’re on the home stretch. Stay safe, stay strong, be kind to yourself and others. We will get through this.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy festive season

Love and light

)o(

Grief, little folk and 2020: a brief history so far

At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, I remember saying that the new year couldn’t be any worse than the last.

Ha bloody ha. If only I had known, eh?

So the bad stuff first:

Just a month after my last blog post, and almost a year to the day since losing my Mum, we lost my beautiful Nan to pneumonia.

nan

She’d been ill for months and her quality of life was non-existent, reliant on carers to do everything for her – I know that she absolutely hated it. The last time I saw her was a few weeks before she passed, as we had been instructed to shield the vulnerable at that point, and the only contact we had with her after that was via telephone. She was taken into Leicester Royal Infirmary on the Sunday afternoon and died a few hours later, with no family by her side as Covid restrictions meant no-one could go with her. It took almost two weeks for the death certificate to be issued, with a doctor apologetically informing me via telephone that Covid-19 was being put on the certificate, even though she never had symptoms and tested negative for it at the hospital (don’t get me started).

As per my experience when Mum died, those who could have assisted chose not to, and I was left to administer the estate and organise the funeral on my own. We were only allowed to have ten people at her funeral, which was a bizarre socially-distanced affair at the local crematorium. I can only imagine what she’d have thought of it!

Meanwhile, in the world of the day job, myself and my only remaining colleague were dismantling the fixtures and fittings & closing accounts ahead of the company’s relocation two hundred miles north. We had been made aware of the move around Christmas but it all got very real when colleagues I had worked with for years found new jobs and the building started emptying around me. All this during lockdown too (we’re classed as an essential service). What fun, eh?

Along came June and another blow: my beloved cat Welford, who had been poorly for some time, became so ill that I took him to the vet for the very last time. Blood tests suggested leukemia and the vet advised it would be the kindest thing to let him go (oh man, I’m crying as I write this!) He went to sleep on June 18th and is buried in the garden beneath a plaque that bears his name.

IMG_0136

I go out to see him every day and say hello, and I still haven’t stopped expecting to see him when I get up in a morning. Maybe I never will. Love you Mr Man! Until we meet again.

wel 1

July arrives. We hand over the keys to the office building and I am now officially working from home on a permanent basis. It has its pros and cons but I’m making the most of it. Meanwhile, my other cat Voldemort (Mort, Mortus Tortoise, Morty-Fa-Torty, Fatty, Fat Bum, Fluff Mort, Grump Mort, Pasty Cat – she is a cat of many names but answers to none lol) had been losing weight for no obvious reason. Blood tests diagnosed an overactive thyroid, which we’re managing now with medication and she’s back to her roly-poly self, if not quite so hyperactive!

mort

August brought us more awful news. My better half’s sister-in-law passed away after a brief battle with cancer. We then discovered that his brother in the US had contracted Covid, although I’m glad to say he appears to be over the worst of it, if not thoroughly exhausted.

Oh, and I qualified as an Achology Counselling Practitioner at some point in all of this!

So that’s my year so far. I’ve somehow managed to keep on writing through it, editing / revising / rewriting the WIP when the mind and body would allow. I’ve tried to write a couple of short stories in between but I’m sorry to say I didn’t get very far. Thanks to the lockdown, I went without my maintenance massage for my dodgy neck / shoulder for nearly five months and ended up in permanent pain again. Life has gotten back to some semblance of normal, and two treatments in I’m getting better and am able to spend more time at the laptop.

According to Goodreads I’ve read nearly 50 books this year so far! I’ve recently been reading up on Leicestershire folklore and legend. I’ve just finished Stephen King’s Elevation (still not sure what to make of it tbh), with The Institute and If It Bleeds to follow. Bill Bryson’s The Body is also on my TBR pile, along with a couple of occult titles on spells and witchcraft.

Speaking of esoterica, there was a wonderful article in a recent copy of the Fortean Times on the pixie-hunting videos of Edwin Saunders. Nobody knows who Edwin is, why he made the videos or where he is now, but they’re utterly fascinating and I can’t urge you enough to watch them! Here’s a link to the first one. Enjoy!

Keep on keeping on, folks, and remember: don’t look back because you’re not going that way.

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Dark drabbles, small victories and trying to stay positive

Kinsey Millhone meets a working-class Discovery of Witches, minus the unnecessary yoga.

If it sounds like the kind of book you might like to read, I’m with you. Please bear with me as I try to get it finished. Current working title: Conspiracy of Silence. This will undoubtedly change another two-dozen times before I’m ready to submit again, possibly in the year 2040 when we’ll all be driving hover cars, which is what we should have been doing in 2020, but instead we’re all learning how to wash our hands whilst singing Happy Birthday, twice.

In brighter news.

Success! In my last (quite a while ago) blog post, I mentioned I’d tried my hand at drabbles (drabble: a short work of fiction a hundred words in length, which are harder to write than they sound). I submitted two of them to Black Hare Press and one of them, ‘Cybele’s Lament’, has been selected for publication in their upcoming anthology Hate: Dark Drabbles, which is available now in paperback for £12.99 or in ebook format on 17th March for £2.99. You can order / pre-order by clicking the shiny links above 😉

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Dark tales of hate and revenge in bite-sized chunks!

This will represent my first and only published work of 2020, my output over the past twelve months having slowed considerably for reasons previously blogged about. I’m seeing this as my small victory and am going to attempt to write some more, alongside plodding on with the WIP.

Reading-wise, I’m on my sixteenth book of 2020. Stand-outs to mention are Blue Moon by Lee Child (a vintage Jack Reacher story and one of Child’s best), Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill (one that will stay with you for a long time), Anthony Horowitz’s Daniel Hawthorne series (this man never writes a bad book) and No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill. I’m new to Adam Nevill, and the only reason I haven’t snapped up more of his work is that No One Gets Out Alive terrified me more than any horror I’ve ever seen or read and I’m not sure I need more terror at the moment given what’s going on in the world right now.

Stay safe everyone. Be kind.

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Breaking radio silence

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MISERY

I felt the need to break radio silence as it’s been a while since my last blog post. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to write anything.

The novel I completed last October got a handful of rejections from agents & publishers, most of them generic, a couple with feedback that I ought to try elsewhere. I contemplated sending it out to more agents as it was, but realised that if it wasn’t even generating the tiniest spark of enthusiasm from any of the six that I’d selected then I ought to revisit it and see what needed polishing.

Soon after making said decision, and as per my last post, I lost my Mum to cancer. The days and weeks that followed were a learning curve, an endless stream of form-filling, phone calls and funeral plans. Already both mentally and physically exhausted, I had to pick up her things from the hospital, sign my name in triplicate on this form and that form, dig out her proof of ID so I could register the death, let a million different government organisations know, make an appointment with the bank to close her bank account, visit the funeral home and pick out some flowers and a coffin and a gown and some words for the notice in the paper and some twee little anecdotes the lay preacher could recount at the funeral…

When all you really want is five minutes where you don’t have to think about what happened, in the absence of a person who is willing to share the load, you’re not allowed to think about a single thing else.

I didn’t have a clue how I would make it through the funeral, not because of how I would be feeling on the day but I hate being (excuse the crass phrasing) the ‘centre of attention’. To sit in the back of a big flashy car and have to walk behind Mum’s coffin into a church full of people, to do the same again at the crematorium and then have to be sociable at the funeral… it really was all my worst nightmares combined.  I’m sure that my Mum, being just as shy as me, would’ve sympathised.

It’s weird when the funeral of a loved one is over. You’re glad you got through it, but then, what happens next? Well you go back to living life as normal, apparently. You work and you eat and you sleep and you don’t ever talk about THE THING because it’s over now, isn’t it, and nobody wants you to talk about THE THING because it makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve discovered this is common to the recently bereaved, that you’re more than aware that there’s nothing can be done, no words to be said that can make it all better, so you go out of your way to make sure that other people aren’t uncomfortable around you. It’s bizarre!

A few weeks after the funeral, another immediate family member fell ill and was taken into hospital. Between then and now they have been in and out of various hospitals three times for different reasons. All have been extended stays, all have required regular visits. For weeks on end I was getting up early, doing an eight hour shift at a job that is doing nothing to help my mental health AT ALL, then driving an hour-or-more round trip to whichever hospital they were in. I was getting little time to myself. I was stressed. I was exhausted. I was worried about said relative. Every time I approached the hospital, I started to feel panicky. A hospital was the last place I wanted to be so soon after losing Mum, but there was no way of avoiding it. Even in the short periods when they were back at home, we were receiving regular calls for assistance. They are now at home and doing much better but I’m constantly on edge and I dread the phone ringing. Add to this the various stages of grief that I’m trying to process.

Anyway, and probably inevitably, I’ve become ill myself and have been referred for tests. The doctor thinks it’s stress-related (surprise surprise) but the tests are to rule out other nasties that I can’t even begin to think about. I’m tired, uncomfortable, on the verge of tears ALL THE F***ING TIME and quite royally fed up. I’ve forgotten what happy and healthy feels like. I keep seeing all of these productive writers sharing their stories and successes on Twitter and it makes me want to scream. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write!  My current output is one evening a week spent editing the never-ending WIP, I spend the rest of my free time sleeping or reading (at least I’m keeping up with that — Kinsey Millhone is my new fictional heroine!). In an attempt to complete a piece of writing, I composed a few drabbles last week and submitted them to the good people at Black Hare Press for anthology consideration (yet to get any feedback so watch this space). I have never written a drabble in my life and to be honest, I don’t enjoy reading them myself, so I’ve no idea if they’re any good or not. I think I managed to convey an idea / concept in each, so fingers crossed. On the plus side, the tablets I’ve been put on seem to be helping and it’s been weeks since I’ve thrown something across the house in a rage or curled into a ball and sobbed. It’s also Gothtober and Whitby beckons, hurrah!

So that’s where I’m at. I hope normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Tom Hardy overprinted with some well-meaning words.

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Writing on in spite of it all

It’s fair to say this has possibly been the worst month of my life.

My previous blog post began with some ramblings about this being a year of change. Little did I know how much it would change for me when on April 11th I lost my Mum to cancer.

She had been feeling ill for a few weeks but only received her cancer diagnosis 6 days before she passed away. It’s an understatement to say it was a shock and it all still feels surreal to me. Due to reasons I shan’t go in to, I have had to (again) be the responsible, level-headed one of my very small family, balancing the grief of watching Mum slip away with the handling of the practical arrangements that follow a sudden death.

We are now in the lull between the death and the funeral, in which time me and the better half are going on our pre-planned holiday to Whitby for the Tomorrow’s Ghost Spring Goth Festival. I am of course looking forwards to the break and to catch up with friends but as the main point of contact for everyone, from family to funeral directors, I will no doubt be called (or called upon) at some point over the extended weekend to answer some question or finalise some detail or other. Needless to say, my writing effort over this period has dwindled.

I did find time to do a little editing over the weekend and am pleased with the rewrite of what was previously called Chasing Shadows (new title pending, shortlist being compiled as inspiration strikes me). I also received a rejection from Jo Fletcher Books but they did include an encouraging note that the market was tough at the moment and that I may find success with other publishers. In between this post and the last one I have written and submitted a short story to Writing Magazine for their character-driven short story competition, and I’ve also done a lot of reading (and some reluctant savaging of bestsellers on Goodreads – if A Discovery of Witches can sell in the millions then there’s hope for us all!)

Prior to April descending on my head like a ton of bricks, I had started work on a writing-related non-fiction project that I’ll be self-publishing later in the year. I’m also currently studying to become a certified Counselling Practitioner, partly because I’ve a massive interest in psychology and counselling, but also because the protagonist in my Hexen series (of which not-called-Chasing-Shadows-anymore will be the first novel) will eventually be going down that route herself.

So that’s it for now folks. I shall endeavour to enjoy my break in Whitby (weather forecast: rain and wind for the entire time we’re there – surprise), and tackle my writing afresh next month.

TTFN     )O(

Decisions, revisions & rejections, oh my!

Good evening all, and a happy belated new year.

It appears 2019 is going to be a year of change for me, whether I like it or not! I don’t deal well with change, especially when it’s forced on me, but developments in the day job mean more responsibility and a great big stumble beyond my comfort zone.

Oh the joys.

In other news, I’ve had my first rejections on the novel. Three, to be exact. Generic and uninspiring. After careful consideration, I’m afraid that Chasing Shadows isn’t for us / doesn’t fit with our publishing schedule / is a steaming pile of horse shit.

OK. So nobody said it was shit, but generic responses are not what I’m looking for.

I could just press on and find another six agents / publishers to sub to, but what’s the point in that? Another round of rejections and another set of people that I can’t re-submit to.

I know from reading others’ experiences that if an MS shows promise then some form of encouragement is usually included in the response from the agent, even if it’s still a rejection.

I thought about paying for a literary consultancy to assess Chasing Shadows, but what’s the point if I’m already having doubts that my MS isn’t all it needs to be?

So instead of forking out for an assessment, I’ve invested a small sum of money in a book on the editing process, written by the owner of a leading literary consultancy. I’ve read the book cover to cover, and whilst it’s not a cure-all and a surefire way to make my MS a bestseller, I can now see Chasing Shadows wasn’t even close to being sent out to agents.

#FML

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So first things first, I’ve gotten rid of the prologue. Apparently, prologues put a lot of agents off, as it looks like you haven’t got a strong enough opening. Also, my prologue was written from a secondary character’s POV and not my protagonist. Also it was basically just backstory. Also… well, there was a lot of things wrong with it and removing it hasn’t detracted from the novel.

Secondly, my protagonist’s emotional arc needs a lot more development. The issues she deals with are personal to me and I suppose I’ve been frightened to ‘bleed onto the page’ so to speak. But if I want her experience to sound authentic, if I want my potential readers to sympathise and pull for her, then I have to put my fears aside and tell it how it is.

Thirdly, although I believed I had a handle on the infamous Show Don’t Tell thing…. I really, really hadn’t. I tend to write naturally in first person viewpoint, and whilst Chasing Shadows was written in multiple close third person (by necessity of the plot), I’ve used the opportunity, subconsciously, for my characters to provide a running commentary on proceedings by way of their thoughts, instead of being subtle and using the way they interact within the scenes to simply hint at their thoughts and emotions, allowing the reader to fill in the rest.

So I have much revising to do. Starting with a total rewrite of at least the first two chapters.

Have I already said FML???

The only thing keeping me sane is that I’m confident my plotting is sound. Until I decide that it isn’t.

FML!

The sound of silence, goth weekend comedown, and please can I have a new shoulder?

 

“But my words, like silent raindrops, fell…”

As a scribbler who needs near-as-dammit total silence in order to write productively, I covet peace and quiet. As an introvert who values her ‘alone time’, this is doubly true.

However.

The vacuum I am currently enduring is excruciating. It’s been weeks since I subbed Chasing Shadows to a handful of carefully-selected agents and publishers, and whilst I’m aware that it’s going to take months for these crazily busy folks to get to my baby, it doesn’t make the waiting any easier. I’d like to say work has continued apace with the planning and plotting of the follow-up novel, but then I’d be lying (not through lack of ideas or enthusiasm, thankfully – other things, as you’ll see shortly, have just gotten in the way). I have written 3/4 of an Infernal Kindred short story that takes place between the first and second novels, though, and I’ve already found a market to sub this to (deadline of December so I’d better hurry up).

Speaking of subbing stories, if you haven’t already seen the update, I have a reprint of ‘A Dish Best Served Cold’ in the Halloween edition of The Siren’s Call, which you can download for free by clicking on the link. If ever you’ve fantasised about murdering a work colleague, then this may be for you. As for me, I couldn’t possibly comment 😉

Update on The Riley Pope Case Files – a friend asked me recently when no.5 was coming out, and the answer is… when I’ve written it. I know, I know, get your finger out, Lowe! The good news is that the title and the cover are pretty much sorted (but yet to be finalised), so here’s a sneaky preview:

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The story will see Riley trying to solve her latest case whilst dealing (or not, as is the case with Miss Pope) with the emotional fallout from Stepacyk’s assault in Blue Ben. I can’t promise a release date yet but I will certainly get to work on this before the end of 2018, failing body and other distractions allowing, of course.

The particular part of my failing body I speak of is my shoulder, which I damaged whilst attempting to perform some ridiculous backwards crab manoeuvre (and they say exercise is good for you) about two years ago. Something substantial tore, and when the pain and burning in my shoulder eventually subsided, the agony and limited movement in my neck began. After 6 weeks of perseverance, I accepted it wasn’t getting better on its own and went to see the doctor, who told me to give it four weeks (I had already allowed for six, don’t forget) and – I kid you not – to ‘Google some neck exercises’.

As you can imagine I was not particularly impressed with this advice and so I spent some of my meagre savings on a course of chiropractic therapy which involved stretching, massage and manipulation and, after about a month, it was a whole lot better.

But then it got slowly but progressively worse again, to the point that I can no longer look to my left without turning my entire body. I’m in constant pain, it’s impossible to get a decent night’s sleep and the only exercise I can do without wanting to cry is moderately-paced walking. Sitting at a computer all day only makes it worse, except that is what I do to pay the bills, so I have no choice in the matter. Luckily I can work on plotting the next novel (which goes by the working title of Telling Secrets) via my corkboard / sticky note system, but I can’t avoid the laptop completely. Needless to say, productivity, both writing- and reading-wise, has dropped. An NHS physiotherapy self-referral appointment is pending. They told me the waiting list was four weeks. After seven weeks of nothing I rang to politely enquire if they’d forgotten me, only to be told I was two weeks away from the top of the list. That was three weeks ago. I’d wearily shake my head if my neck would allow it.

The other distraction from writing was our recent jaunt to Whitby for the goth weekend. We arrived on a sunny Thursday and left on an equally clement Monday, and the weather inbetween was…

You remember that scene from Mary Poppins where all the other nannies are swept up and blown down the street? Well it was something like that, but with rotund men in top hats and women in varying degrees of outlandish Victorian-esque garb being blown into the Esk (the actual goths were in the pubs out of the way of it).

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This was me and the windswept better half after a particularly perilous journey from the Metropole to our cottage after attending another outstanding Marquis Masquerade on Friday night:

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Saturday evening brought the very sad news of the Leicester City helicopter tragedy. It was also the first of two Fields of the Nephilim gigs we would be attending that week, so my usual joy at witnessing my heroes play live was tinged with sadness at the loss of Khun Vichai, who made the impossible dream come true. To be amongst that insane crowd on Victoria Park is an experience I’ll remember for a lifetime.

Sunday brought slightly better weather, and a shopping splurge (occult-esque earrings, Poison of Dracula plum brandy, a Nosferatu glass chopping board – because who doesn’t need one of those babies?), and then it was off to a Joy Division tribute, followed by a night of goth classics, to which we danced our little socks off.

And then we came home, and have spent the days since mourning how quickly it all went whilst chopping things on Nosferatu’s face.

Thanks to the shoulder / neck thing, I haven’t been reading as much as usual, and so my Goodreads challenge of sixty books for 2018 is starting to look somewhat unachievable. I’ve recently finished M.R. James’ collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary though, which you can download for free from Project Gutenberg, and I both thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Nobody tells a horror yarn quite like M.R. James! Currently on my ‘to be read’ pile is Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (which I’m devouring as quickly as my stupid neck will allow – man, I’ve missed Harry Dresden!), and Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Past Tense (my first author-signed book!).

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So that’s all for now folks. Have a great weekend. I’ll leave you with a video from (in my humble opinion) the best damned goth band of all time, Fields of the Nephilim. Take it away, Carl McCoy…