Monday, 16 February 2015

Ready Steady Go!

Kicking off what turns into a whistle-stop of a fortnight, Ma’s blood pressure goes through the roof due to a misunderstanding over her medication. Tom’s dad – suffering from a troublesome infection – is required to take a sample to hospital, but as he and Tom’s mum cross the road to get there my mother-in-law misses the kerb, falls flat on her face and ends up in A&E. Then Rose rings to tell me she’s tried a spot of self-trepanation by slipping against the corner of her car door and boring a hole in her forehead.

As fate would have it, we have a funeral to attend in the south east which means we can do an extended relly-check while we're there. From west Wales we drive to Surrey to see Ma, who’s back in rude health (very rude, eh Ma, with that naughty quip!) and looking very perky. We then drive to West Sussex to find DiL on the mend, but poor MiL looking very bashed about. The following morning we drive to Canterbury for the funeral, Herne Bay for the wake and then to Tooting for a curry to catch up Rose, Si, Stepson Two and Girlf before returning to MiL and DiL's. The next day we set off for lunch with dear friends in Fareham then dinner with Lily in Cardiff before finally heading home and collapsing into bed just before midnight. All in all, we’ve covered some 800 miles - no wonder our cars take a pounding!

While all this is going on – between the numerous phone calls to nearest and dearest - I’m interviewed by Bethan Marsh of the Carmarthen Journal following my chat in Tesco to the newspaper’s editor. It’s lovely to have great support from a local paper, although the words, ‘when are you in for our photographer?’ make me feel a bit wobbly. Nevertheless, we agree a time which is all fine and dandy until I come in from a vigorous run to a message that the photographer is in the area and would like to pop round earlier than arranged. As in, ‘within the next hour’. ‘No problem,’ I reply – foolish words as I spend the next forty minutes employing every weapon known to womankind trying to transform myself from sweaty-Betty Cavewoman into someone vaguely camera- ready. I might look calm in the photo – but it was utter mayhem in the minutes leading up to it!

And finally, it’s only three weeks until the Llanelli Half Marathon so my aim is to try to stay lurgy and injury-free. Tom, however, is not so lucky – an early-morning scuffle with a chest of drawers leaves him with a black, probably broken, little toe… I do hope that’s the last of the current run of accidents.

The painting is 'Coast - Winter's Day' by Tom Tomos

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Value of Nothing

A small group of women is gathered by the entrance of our branch of Tesco armed with copies of a widely read west Wales newspaper. ‘Half price Carmarthen Journal?’ they offer, ‘only 37p today?’ When we decline, one of the women introduces herself as the editor and asks why we’re not buying to which we explain that we can read most newspapers, including theirs, free online. 

As we walk away to do our shopping, it occurs to me that it’s a sign of the times when a newspaper editor is standing in the freezing doorway of a supermarket trying to drum up interest so I pop back for a quick chat. I explain that I can’t get this particular store - my local Tesco - to stock my books (central ordering), that - like her on this wintry day - I’m also constantly trying to find new and innovative ways to reach readers and finally that the main effect of giving digital content away is that consumers have come to expect it.

In the early days of Kindle, a special offer on one of my books was pretty much guaranteed to boost sales; here’s the heady moment, for example, when Turning the Tide first entered Amazon’s top 100 bestsellers.

But when Follow A Star was picked as a Black Friday deal, albeit very late in the day, it hardly flickered – why would it when there are now more daily and monthly deals and special offers than most folks have time to read? New EU rules in respect of VAT and the resulting increase in ebook prices will only make consumers baulk even more, especially when ebooks are often perceived as being cheap to produce despite the fact there’s still the author fee, editing, cover art, typesetting, marketing etc, etc which have to be covered. And of course, some people aren’t happy no matter how little they pay; ‘wish I hadn’t wasted my money’ complains one dissatisfied reader who paid 99p for Only True in Fairy Tales. Oh well, that’s what happens when you put your work out there - everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

In low moments, I wonder why I bother, all those months of work for so little return. Yes, I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been traditionally published and there are all kind of joys, like seeing physical copies of my books on my shelf, or receiving cards from people who’ve enjoyed them that I can’t put a value on. But a minimum wage would be good, let alone a living wage. What’s to be done? I wish I knew. There’s no turning back the digital tide, that’s for sure, but how about a bit of ‘paying it forward’; write reviews for little-known books, spread the word about new authors and admit that unless we want a race to the bottom some things are worth paying for.

And to end on a more cheerful note, I’m delighted to see Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, a book that I’ve been banging on about for ages, winning the 2014 Costa book prize in addition to the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction that it won last November. In a month where the film of Fifty Shade of Grey will see EL James novels dominating the charts again, it makes me very happy that a beautiful, haunting, lyrical tale of grief, loss and training a goshawk can still shine.

The painting is Rain Setting In, Pembrokeshire Coast by Tom Tomos