Thursday 31 December 2015

I am resolute

That's right.  You read it here first.  I am admirably purposeful, determined and unwavering.  The only problem is that I'm not sure exactly for what.  But I shall be resolute about it.  For at least the first five minutes of 2016.

I am terrible at New Year resolutions.  In fact I think that I am quite possibly against them.  I am what I am.  As a ghost I will be what I was.  My morphological state of being has been set and is highly unlikely to change significantly no matter how many 31st of Decembers I state that I shall become X, Y and Z.

That said I do strive towards one thing and that is happiness.  It's tricksy and wicked and false but allegedly it can be found if you don't look for it and most definitely if you resist the urge to analyse it when you find it.  It's the elusive rainbow pooping unicorn of myth and legend.

I do have goals for 2016 but I am resisting the end of year urge to state that I shall achieve them all within the next 365 days.  Let's not get carried away with additional pressure and timeframes and wotnot.  It's the wotnots that can kill you.  They're sneaky.

And so to actuality.

I will be changing abode in 2016.  I am very much excitedly looking forward to that with the same kind of bottomless dread that goes hand in hand with never knowing exactly what it is that you are going to 'do' with the rest of your life.  And there may be gainful employment options.

In opposition to sanity I shall be starting Insanity tomorrow.  Can I get a 'Hell Yeah'?  I'm thinking that I might need picking up off the floor on the 2nd of January.  But it should provide some humourous moments when I face plant on press up number two and spend the rest of the week in painful muscle spasms.

I will finally stop procrastinating around and write the goddamn query letter to the list of 55 literary agents I have researched about my book and stop being so unsure about the whole thing and just get on with it.  There will be a website.  And there are two other projects in the pipeline.  Plus a sequel. Plus some poetry because why not.

Finally I hope there will be friends and family.  New friends and maybe even new family.  Visits and fly bys.  Large, confused roast dinners and tipsy evenings playing board games.  Long distance drives in the rain met by cups of tea and homemade cakes.  Cutting and sticking and gluing and painting and glittering.  And big comfy chairs with lots and lots and lots of books.

Here's to your 2016 - cheers x

Monday 14 December 2015

Christmas Mania

'I put my tree up last week.'
'Well, I put mine up last month.'
'I never took my down from last year.'

'I've already made my Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mincemeat and seventeen other delicacies only eaten this time of year.'
'I've imported only the finest ingredients for my Christmas feast and have a hamper being delivered on Christmas Eve with the very best the festive season can supply.'
'Well, I've already made Christmas dinner, freeze dried it and sent it up to the International Space Station so they can eat a meal that's truly out of this world.'

'I've already written and sent all my Christmas cards.'
'Oh, we aren't doing Christmas cards this year.  We are making a charitable donation and then using every possible social media platform to let everyone know about it.'
'Well we are visiting everyone personally to sign carols at their door.'

'We've bought our child the same action figure in six different colours.'
'That's nothing, we bought the entire second floor of Hamleys for our six month old child.'
'I hear what you're saying but we tracked down Santa himself and have him working in our basement on a series of truly original toys for our child.  It mean he misses delivering presents to everyone else but we're so self absorbed we're totally fine with it.'

It seems that Christmas mania and the desire to out-do everyone else is running rampant this year.  Or perhaps it's because this is the poorest I've been this festive season.  Or maybe because I have my little monster and I'm feeling the pressure (rightly or wrongly) that I haven't bought him the latest anything.  I just want to enjoy Christmas like I used to when I was a little monster.  With that in mind I am trying very hard not to get too sucked into the blatant capitalism fest December has begun.

I also dislike all the memes etc I've seen telling us to get into the Christmas spirit and be present, giving and loving without spending a fortune.  It feels like I'm being told how to behave, that is something I feel I have the write to decide for myself.  Besides, if the internet is telling me to act a certain way for the benefit of my soul perhaps it's in more danger than I thought.  And yes I appreciate that Christmas should be a christian celebration of faith but that message got lost a long time ago - fair play to those of you who do attend church on the 25th December.  

I hope we get to spend a stress free couple of days with family and celebrate being together, regardless of how packed the stocking is or how many different types of stuffing were made.  Oh and Santa?  I've been good - honest!

Saturday 5 December 2015

Homeless in a Year

In November 2016, the Barking & Dagenham Council have decided, in their infinite wisdom, to knock down a series of flats on the Gascoigne Estate.  Our flat happens to be within that series.  We are private renters - some of our neighbours own their flats, others are council tenants.  All the council flats were recently given brand new bathrooms and kitchens.  Now they are all to be demolished so that a regeneration scheme can be put into place whereby the council will be building....flats.

If you are a council tenant the council will give you a couple of grand, pay for your moving costs and find you new council housing.  If you own the flat the council will buy it from you - happy days.  If you are private renters like us then, basically, jog on.

So let's review our options.  Our rent is actually ridiculously low for which we are eternally grateful to our landlady however it does mean that as we look for a new place to live we are practically outpriced everywhere.  When I rented a single room in a shared house I payed almost £500 which is the same amount we pay for our two bedroom flat.  I know.  Extremely lucky.  To rent a two bedroom flat in Barking & Dagenham will cost you about a grand.  Strike one.

To be eligible for council housing you have to claim benefits or be at risk.  We don't qualify for any benefits (bar child support) because hubby has a decent job.  We're not at risk because neither of us are abused or disabled.  The council might decide to put us at the bottom of their council house list, if we're fortunate.  Last time I checked the number of people waiting for council housing in the Barking & Dagenham area was about 14.000.  Strike two.

Why not get on the property ladder you ask.  Well . .  it's that pesky deposit.  When you live hand to mouth - month in, month out, it's difficult to save up £50 let alone £20,000.  The bank were extremely polite when they told us we could get a mortgage for £158,000.  If we look real hard, we might be able to find a one bedroom flat above a takeaway for that.  Certainly not a two bedroom flat and with a minimum of three and maximum of five people needing an abode then a one bedroom isn't really going to cut the mustard.  Strike three.

The government's Help To Buy scheme is available.  They will give you up to 20% of your mortgage and you pay nothing for the first 5 years.  Then they want repayments.  An estimate we received based on a £200,000 house was a mortgage around £800 per month with an additional £200 payment each month after 5 years.  Point one - we can't afford that much mortgage in the first place and point two - in five years time I doubt very much our wages will be robust enough to take on that additional payment.  So why not just sell up in five years.  Well.... the government will still take their slice and then once we've repaid the mortgage we could potentially be in the negatives and we still need somewhere to live.  It's not an option I feel remotely comfortable with.  Strike four.

Barking and Dagenham have very helpfully set up a affordable housing scheme for those people who can't afford to buy yet don't qualify for council housing.  Hoorah you say.  After a lengthy paperwork finding mission to register and become eligible we discovered that two bedroom flats on the scheme are £960 a month.  Hardly affordable.  Strike five.

Share to buy then - what about that one.  Two bedroom properties in the share to buy scheme in the Barking and Dagenham area start at about a grand a month with 500 on rent and 500 on mortgage. To be eligible for share to buy in a different borough you have to have lived there for a couple of years before you can apply so no opportunity to move to a cheaper borough.  Strike six.

Surely if the Council is making you homeless they have to rehouse you, you may ask.  Apparently they are under no obligation to do anything until we have the eviction notice in our hands with literally nowhere to go.  Then they can put us in a hostel.  I am not living in a hostel.  Not with my baby boy.  Please.

The key issue here is lack of money and high property prices.  Get better jobs?  I confess I don't work and yes, a second income would be amazing but who will look after the little man?  Nursery - right - at about a grand a month for full time care.  That would probably be the bulk of my wage.  Nothing left for contributing towards housing costs plus I don't see my family anymore.  Hardly a solution.   Plus with a husband who works a five-week shift pattern with different days off each week having him look after the wee one isn't feasible either.  I could work nights.  But with a toddler who no longer sleeps in the daytime and demands a lot of one-to-one, how long would it be before I burnt out?  Perhaps I am just finding excuses, I don't know.

In the New Year we will be trying to move.  We have to consider hubby's ability to get to work and public transport links in order to go pick up his children.  And yes - we also have no car.  That is an unaffordable luxury.  Early indicators show that there are flats available to rent for £650 a month in the Southend area which puts us closer to the children with a viable transport link for hubby's job. The only issue now is to find an additional £150 a month.  We could always take it out of the food budget - who needs to eat anyway?

Looks like 2016 is going to be a fabulous year.

Image result for flat demolition barking

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Author Day Review

Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend Author Day organised by The Bookseller and Future Books.  It was one of those events that I just happened to see the email about at the exact right time and just happened to get a place - funded by my local library.  Three cheers for them.  Otherwise it would have completely passed me by and that would've been a real shame.

It was so encouraging to spend the day listening to movers and shakers within the publishing sphere talk about the issues faced by the writer - and indeed the publisher - and how those issues could be addressed.  Yes, there were a few horror stories and yes, negative aspects were mentioned but despite that, there was an air of positivity and excitement for what the future holds.

The host for the day, Porter Anderson from Futurebooks, was excellent - introducing each speaker with great warmth and interest, making you want to listen and find out more and become truly engaged with the day.  And it was a long day but I did my best to use my dusty old brain to soak up as much as possible and try not to think about my husband at home with our toddler - alone - all day - including meal times....

To be honest, I didn't really have time to panic about them.  I was too busy listening.  Nicola Solomon, Chief Exec from The Society of Authors gave a passionate opening talk about the state of the author in traditional publishing.  She raised all the scary details and then explained ways these could all be improved.  It seemed that there was a real drive by her, and others, to make these things happen.  And how did I not know about The Society of Authors?  Writing is a very isolated profession.  I often take far too much pleasure in the news that my other half has to work late when I have ideas bubbling in my head.  It means I can be alone and I can write without any disturbance. But that very isolation has meant that I know nothing about The Society of Authors or indeed the Alliance of Independent Authors and yes I know I can Google but I am supposed to be focused, not procrastinating.  I am already very good at that.

Prior to this conference, independent publishing was something that I viewed with vague discomfort and concern.  Surely if I were to publish independently then no-one would take me or indeed my book seriously.  Orna Ross, Founding Director at Alliance of Independent Authors and Jane Steen, an independently published author, dispelled those negatives feelings.  In fact the whole day made indie publishing much less scary and much more desirable.  The next time I hear someone tell me 'you don't want to publish independently' I will tell them that they really should do their research. Obviously it's not for everyone but if you're driven and passionate about self promotion including dancing with social media then indie publishing is certainly a very positive direction to take.

It was so interesting to hear the different viewpoints and experiences from the two authors Jane Steen and Kamila Shamsie.  Kamila focused on her trad publishing journey in her talk on industry unity and spoke with warmth about her editor.  I wish I had made more notes because I remember enjoying her talk immensely and yet my toddler atrophied brain will not let me recall every fine detail.

I do remember Authors Anonymous telling us about the common doubts authors have - it is comforting to know that you are not the only one having negative thoughts.  Harry Bingham's survey of authors was interesting in that whilst most authors had the same grumbles they also had loyalty to their publisher.  Ian Ellard for Faber Academy received an extremely enthusiastic round of applause when he suggested an end to unpaid internships and Emma Barnes from Bibliocloud & Snowbooks highlighted something I have seen many times in my previous career life - the tools are there for publishers to streamline and improve admin etc but the understanding is not and self-made databases will NEVER get the job done.

The second portion of the day was given over to panels, with one before lunch and two after.  Literary agents and authors spoke to us about their current experience in the industry and again I was left with an overall positive impression that despite challenges there are opportunities to improve. The fact that agents and publishers and authors were so willing to come together at Author Day and voice their opinions so openly can only be a good thing.  Lunch was amusing.  I had expected sandwiches but oh no, we were given a delicious hot buffet.  I had chicken with gnocchi and weirdly, cauliflower cheese.  I wondered whether such a yummy lunch would then encourage the mid afternoon snooze but the afternoon panels remained well attended and even though I missed a portion of each due to pitches, I think I got the general gist.

We must always remember that writing a book does not begin and end with the author.  True, they do wrestle the words into submission but often there is an unsung hero in editing, a massively talented illustrator and should you go international the translator who is very often unmentioned and those are only a few of the potential team behind you.  The general feel for the day, in my mind, was that we are all in this together and so we should stand tall and fight for equality and fairness across the board. I still feel like the tiny goldfish in the big lake but at least now I know a little more about this monstrous industry I want to be part of.