Responsible Self-Publishing

I got ‘book mail’ today, and I am excited – a couple of books have arrived which I can’t wait to get stuck into. Both are self-published. Both look awesome. I read a wide variety of genres, styles, and authors. I love everything from Jane Austen to Terry Pratchett, via Elly Griffiths, Mick Herron and Dawn O’Porter. Traditionally published or Indie, I don’t mind.

Actually, that’s not strictly true.

I don’t mind the origins of the book. What I mind about is its quality.

There is no doubt that self-publishing is an awesome step forwards for the book world. It gives the reader a whole treasure-trove of literature which would otherwise never see the light of day. And there are loads of excellent self-published books and amazing Indie authors out there. Plus, I know lots of hybrid authors, who supplement their publishing deals with the freedom that self-pubbing brings.

However, there’s a ‘but’… (Isn’t there always…)

The other day I read a self-published book by a debut author and marked eighteen punctuation errors in a double page spread, as well as four sentences which, frankly, made no sense. I flicked through two-thirds of the book hoping for improvement. It didn’t come. On the back page, the author thanked his editor. I couldn’t help myself. I laughed.

The thing is this. Self-publishing provides tremendous opportunity, but it should come with an equally tremendous dose of responsibility to get it right. Not only for your fellow authors, but – more importantly – for your readers.

It shouldn’t be a way to foist a sub-standard product onto an unsuspecting audience.

Readers are intelligent and perceptive. They want to be entertained, to submerge themselves in the worlds which books create, to escape reality for a little while. To see different points of view, to experience life through another’s eyes, to go on adventures not possible for them in the real world. But nothing turns a reader off more quickly than typos, bad punctuation, and weird layouts. The human brain is amazingly good at making subconscious corrections. And every book ever published contains a few typos. But once a reader begins to notice errata, they have already been sucked out of the story and will inevitably focus on the wrong aspects of the book.

In other words, you’ve lost them.

And if the errors keep on coming, the next stage is for the reader to become annoyed. After all, they have given up time to read what they hoped would be an entertaining story. They’ve paid money for it. A contract has been entered into – the reader gives their money and time in what they assume will be an exchange for entertainment and attention to detail. If they don’t get that, they feel cheated. Rightly so.

Not every reader will like every book. Obviously. We’ve all got ‘did not finish’ books lurking in a pile somewhere. But there’s a difference between disliking a particular storyline of a well-written book and feeling like you’ve just been mugged.

I am going through the process of editing my debut novel, due for publication this autumn, and am on round two of the publisher’s editing process. After ploughing my way through most of the aforementioned book, whose edits I think – if I’m being uncharitable – feel like they might have been completed whilst author and editor were enjoying a heavy night out in a pub, or perhaps even during a visit to a strip club for the amount of concentrated effort which went into it, I began to count up the number of edits my manuscript has been through. It’s already on edit/rewrite number seven (and that’s a conservative estimate).

The first draft went to a treasured beta reader for her initial thoughts. I revised accordingly. Then it went for critique to a fantastic scheme run by the RNA. I rewrote accordingly. It was read by my local writers’ group and was edited as a result. It went for a mentoring edit – and was rewritten again. It was picked up by a publishing house (more about that in future blogs) and I completed a pre-edit for them. I am now working on its second round of content editing with my assigned editor, and I continue to be amazed by the fine-tuning involved. The basic story and characters might be exactly the same as the ideas which turned my brain into a racetrack when I initially wrote it, but there is so much more to creating a novel than writing down the story.

At every stage of what might look like a daunting process, I have learnt something new. I have taken my abilities further. It has been more than worth the effort.

In the not-too-distant future, my book baby will leave my control. It will enter the final stages of its journey to publication, with line edits and copy edits, formatting and quality reviews taking place – another host of different eyes checking for slips and errors, another group of people aiming to produce the best quality product possible.

I understand that not everyone has access to this level of editing. But there are plenty of books out there on the subject of writing, and on the art of editing. (I should know, I’ve read quite a few of them). There are plenty of writer’s groups and free websites set up by authors wanting to help fellow writers. Help and support is out there. And any serious writer is going to need it, because creating a novel isn’t an easy task. It shouldn’t be easy. There is a phrase which regularly pops up when I am taking courses or listening to established authors – ‘Easy reading takes hard writing’. In other words, something which is silky smooth on the page has taken a shedload of work to appear effortless. Think majestic swan on the river with its energetic paddling below the surface. It takes grit and determination to write well, along with time and thought and patience and self-doubt and rejection and rebirth and trial and error and skill.

I made a conscious decision a few years ago to pursue this challenge to its limits, and in doing so try to learn as much as possible about the process of writing. Like many things in life, the more you begin to understand a skill, the more you realise there is yet to learn. The higher the mountain you’ve decided to climb becomes. Few will ever reach the summit. That’s not what this blog is about. It’s not about getting to the top of the mountain. It’s about not sticking your flag in the ground and calling it done when you’ve barely scaled the foothills. Aim a bit higher than that. Go for it and self-publish, but don’t be content with being an ‘uploader’. Because at the end of the day readers can spot that a mile off, and they won’t ever bother to come back for more.

Remember the badly edited, error-filled book at the start of my blog? That kind of book is the reason readers decide that self-published books aren’t for them. In one fell swoop, that writer will have frightened away an audience. And not just for his books, but for all the Indie authors who fall into the same genre category. That’s why getting it right matters.

So here, for what they are worth, are my top tips for things to do before you think about pressing the ‘publish’ button…

  1. Read loads of books in the genre you write. Try to define why they ‘work’ – or indeed don’t. Apply the same logical approach to your writing. (If you find you don’t have the distance from your own stuff to be able to see that clearly – and if you’re like me, you probably won’t – see tip #2).
  2. Join a local writing group, or an online one. There will be writers at all stages of their journey. The guy running my local (free to join) group is multi-published and is happy to offer advice. I belong to lots of online writing groups, all were free to join. One offers a critique-swap between members (you send your stuff; someone sends you theirs – you swap thoughts on what you read). Costs nothing but your time and gives useful pointers from an independent reader’s viewpoint. Find some like-minded writing buddies and talk about your writing/critique one another’s stuff. If you can, pay to do some professional courses, run by established writers. They are worth their weight in gold. Above all, don’t go it alone.
  3. Don’t be in a rush. Write your manuscript. Put it away for a minimum of a few weeks (a few months is even better). Return to it with a fresh perspective and read it as if you’d bought it. Preferably when you’re in a bad mood. Still uber-impressed with it?
  4. Edit HARD. Don’t be kind to yourself, because readers won’t be. Stephen King talks about ‘killing your darlings’. He doesn’t just mean characters who fulfil no real purpose, he’s talking about pet phrases which you love but don’t enhance the story, parts of the novel which do nothing but fill up pages, the use of too many adverbs, filler words. Too much ‘telling’. The list is endless. (And if you’re not sure what’s on the list – you’re not ready to push the button).
  5. Be aware that what you think is your very best work today, will probably look like it was written by a seven-year-old when you review it at some future time. This is normal. It is part of the process. (Refer to tip #3). I have four complete manuscripts which were written before the one I refer to in this blog. I cringe when I look at them. I still love the stories. I don’t love the way I wrote them. I am eternally glad I didn’t self-publish them, because I now know I can do a much better job for those characters, when I finally get around to rewriting them.
  6. Know that every speck of effort you put in now will pay dividends later. Your future author-self will thank you, that much I promise you.

As with many things, Stephen King probably sums it up the best, so I will leave you with a quote from his writing memoirs.

“If a writer knows what he or she is doing, I’ll go along for the ride. If he or she doesn’t… well, I’m in my fifties now, and there are a lot of books out there. I don’t have time to waste with the poorly written ones.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


The Case of the Mysterious Disappearing Blog

During lockdown my focus has been hard to maintain. My mind flits off in all directions, making creating anything meaningful a challenge. The writing of blogs completely disappeared from my mental ‘to do’ list. I mean, everyone’s got enough on their plates, right now, without me wittering on as well…

But the other day I got all keen, wrote a blog about whether or not we’re getting a handle on the virus situation (not really), or whether we are like those people at the beginning of pretty much every apocalyptical film I’ve ever watched. You know the ones, carrying on as if nothing is wrong whilst the massive tsunami builds, or the volcano ramps itself up, or the zombies gather in a disused quarry hemmed in by little more than a conveniently placed burnt out car.

I published the blog, went to check how it looked, and ‘pouf’ – it was nowhere to be seen. I expect I did something wrong, pressed the wrong button or whatever. It’s probably hovering in the ether somewhere, wondering why nobody loves it. But I love a good conspiracy theory, so you can imagine where my thoughts went next.

To cheer myself up, I watched ‘World War Z’. I mean, there’s nothing more uplifting than realising things could be so much worse. Plus, it stars Brad Pitt (with too much hair, in my opinion. And his jaw isn’t quite Rob Lowe chiselled, but I made do…)

And then I went to the wholesalers, and stocked up. Just in case. We now have enough rice for about five years. The dog has Bonio treats galore, and I couldn’t find a bigger pot of hot chocolate powder in the place.

I did leave the powdered milk on the shelf. I didn’t want to be totally fatalistic. I mean, they’ll sort this thing out, right?

Maybe I should have got the milk…


My First Blog Post

In the Beginning…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

The blank computer screen with its blinking cursor is intimidating enough when I’m starting to write a new novel. Chapter 1, Page 1. Gulp. But that’s nothing compared to staring at this blank page…

Fiction is a walk in the park compared to trying to decide which aspect of real life I want to write about. When I’m writing fiction, I can have my characters do just what I want them to do. Waggles eyebrows in a dictator-like fashion. It’s the best fun. Except when my characters tell me, in no uncertain terms, that they don’t want to conform to my plan and proceed to tell me what they intend to do instead.

Hmm. Perhaps this blog thing won’t be so different, after all.

I’ve spent the majority of my life listening. I’m the quiet one. I’m the one set on receive, rather than send. I’m happy like that. ‘Introverted’ appears to be the official title, but I like to think I’m more complicated than a label. And my forty-something (clears throat to hide exact number) years on the planet has proved to me that most things about life and people are more complicated than we are led to believe.

So, I suppose that is what my blogs will be about. How nothing is straightforward. How, just when you think you have a handle on something, the sands shift and the goalposts move and it’s a mystery again. And how that’s fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Trust me – I know that’s right, because I heard someone say it.

Writing, Award Ceremonies and Comfort Zones

Sometimes I can be a bit slow on the uptake… No, I hear you cry, not you – you’re the epitome of quick-wittedness. Nothing gets past your razor-sharp brain…

Well, sorry to disillusion you, my lovely reader, but sometimes I totally allow things to slip the net.

I’ve never been one to stand in the spotlight. I’m definitely happiest in a crowd (or failing that, alone on a beach somewhere. With a dog. Maybe an ice cream? Or as I am now, just me and my laptop in perfect synchronicity and my fave toons on in the background) and so being the partial centre of attention last month left me a bit bedazzled.

Because I was up for an award – I know…right? Craziness… But my debut novel – The Valentine Retreat – was one of the contenders for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award at the recent RNA Conference.

My novel didn’t win – let’s just get that out there right now. No TV drama attempt to drag out what should be a simple reveal into something needing another whole season of episodes to get to… No. I didn’t win. Someone else did – and she’s lovely. Suzie Hull, with her debut novel called In This Foreign Land (if you like historical novels set in the First WW – check it out).

But in my need to control my urge to run away and hide my introverted self, I kind of turned the entire weekend into a dream-like blur. And only now, with some space and distance (and having recovered from the trauma of seeing how horrible I looked in Every. Single. Photo), only now am I beginning to appreciate what a great time I had.

It only occurred to me the other day that I should blog about the Conference, about the fact that I was supposed to go to my first IRL one in 2020, but of course the ‘virus which shall not be named’ put paid to that idea. That the progress in my writing career between 2020 and now has totally changed the landscape over which I walked when I attended this year. Back in 2020, I was a wannabe author, loads of first drafts to my name and not much else. Scroll forward to July 2022, and I have a debut novel out in paperback, its sequel with the publisher’s (Champagne Book Group) editor, and another two-book deal with a different (and soon to be revealed) publisher signed and sealed…

Okay, that was a bit trumpet-blowey… But as it’s not something I do very much, please allow me that little fanfare…

I suppose the point of this blog (other than the trumpet-blowey bit) is two-fold. Firstly, it’s about comfort zones. There’s no way I could have told my 2020 self that pushing myself out of my comfort zone sufficiently enough to book the conference (and then feeling a guilty level of relief when it was cancelled) was only the beginning. And that the ‘being out of your comfort zone’ thing never really goes away. All it does is change. Which is fine. Sometimes it’s worth remembering we can do very little to control situations, only our reactions to them.

So, while I stood on the stage and smiled and managed (I hope) to look composed, inside I was willing myself not to fall over, inadvertently vomit, or have a sudden Tourette-moment and scream something inappropriate at the, frankly, enormous crowd. Comfort zone most definitely vacated until I slid back into a group of people and again became happily anonymous.

And the other point of this blog?

Is that I had an absolute ball at the RNA Conference. People had told me what a friendly and welcoming place it would be. I didn’t totally believe them, but by the time this year’s event rolled around I had made enough connections with fellow conference goers to know I wasn’t going it alone, that I would have people to latch onto and hang around with – whether they wanted me to or not 😉 – but it truly was a fantastic experience. Loads to learn, loads of goodies and free books, the venue – Harper Adams University – was excellent, and the friendly thing was on an unparalleled level. Such a wonderful group of (mostly) women. Added to which, there were also scores of football players staying at the same time as us, playing in some tournament or other (proper football players, not the sculpted hair and sensitive shin bones of the overpaid professionals) – so added blokes to sneak a sideways glance at. Win-win…

If you live in the UK, and write novels with a romantic element, I urge you to check out the http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org

If you’re already published and fit the criteria, you can become a regular full member. If you’re yet to be published – grab the chance to join the New Writers’ Scheme when the opportunity next rolls around. I did. I learned so very much from the RNA, from the critiques gained as a member of the NWS, from their online learning courses…

With their help, a handful of years after joining you too could be standing on a stage trying not to vomit onto the onlookers… What’s not to like about that thought? xx

Staying in with RNA Joan Hessayon Contender Laura R Leeson

I’m ‘Staying in With’ Linda Hill today – relaxing while we chat all things eighties music, slippers, cocktails… oh, and books!

Linda's Book Bag

Having been a recipient of a Romantic Novelists AssociationMedia Star award in the past, I’m delighted to feature contenders for this year’s Joan Hessayon Award here on Linda’s Book Bag. Today I’m delighted to welcome Laura R. Leeson to stay in with me to chat about The Valentine Retreat which has been shortlisted for the award.

First, let’s find out more about The Joan Hessayon Award:

The Joan Hessayon Award

Sponsored by Dr. David Hessayon OBE in honour of his late wife, Joan, who was a novelist, RNA member and supporter of its New Writers’ Scheme, the award showcases a variety of debut novels within the romantic fiction genre. The novels are judged by a panel of published authors from the RNA and publishing industry professionals. Previous winners include Jo Thomas, Charlotte Betts, Lorna Cook and Caroline Day.

The New Writers’ Scheme provides support to unpublished writers of…

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Hello! It’s Been A While

It’s been a while – but I fully believe there’s no point in blogging for the sake of it. That it’s worth waiting until there’s something to say. And today I have – got something to say, that is.

Because last night it happened…

For the first time since I signed a publishing contract in 2021 middle-of-a-pandemic-land, I introduced myself to strangers at a party as being an author – and they were instantly excited and impressed. They were keen to find out what I was working on at the moment, when it would be published, how the writing process works…

In short, I experienced the thrill of being viewed first and foremost as a writer.

I’ve had a great deal of support from my friends and family, plenty of excitement about my publishing deals from them all, and I love them all the more for that – but they all knew me before. And, due to lockdowns etc etc there haven’t been huge opportunities to meet new people over the last couple of years. However, there’s something totally exciting about being face-to-face with a stranger and describing yourself as being an author.

I’m going to call it for how it felt – it was a dream come true. There. I said it.

It’s easy to be down on ourselves, to feel defeated or worthless, or to begin to believe it’s never going to happen – in whatever aspect of life you are striving to make achievements. And sometimes we need to take a moment, to walk away and reassess the costs involved (and I’m not talking monetary ones). However, I firmly believe that if you want something enough and you’re prepared to work at being the best you can be at it, then you can and will achieve.

A short one today – I need to get back to work on my current WIP…

Because, did I say? I’m an author. 🙂


I’m not American, and I have never been to New York (although it is scrawled on a bucket list of places to visit, somewhere in between New Zealand and the Canadian Rockies).

I didn’t know anyone working in or visiting the World Trade Centre or any of the people on the planes, and have never met any of the emergency service personnel involved. I have no first hand links of any of those terrible events.

The last thing I want to do today is upset anyone who has close links – which is why I am putting my thoughts here, rather than being another post on the overwhelming rolling feed of Instagram or Twitter. And yet… I can’t let today pass without some sort of a comment. A recognition. A note to say ‘I remember’ – no, more than that. A note to say ‘no one will ever forget.’

But I still feel the cold stab of horror, the incomprehension of what I was seeing as clearly today as I did twenty years ago. It’s as if I can taste the dust and ash. Tears well up simply at the thought of those events.

And I don’t ever need to see the pictures again, because they are branded into my brain. For ever.

I have no recollection of where I was or what I was doing when the planes went into the Twin Towers – my day-to-day existence paled beside what was happening. My entire consciousness became filled with pure disbelief, then horror, then immense, overwhelming sadness. My emotions were slowly replaced by the countless tales of ultimate sacrifice and bravery, the stories of messages left on the phones of loved ones by people who knew they were going to die, the guilt felt by survivors…

Nothing can change what happened on 9/11/01. But if you are lucky enough to have loved ones – today has to be a day to give them an extra big hug. Today is the day to reach out and connect with the people who matter. To do something you enjoy. To stand for a moment in the sunshine. To appreciate life.

How Hard Can It Be?

I remember thinking this when I decided to write a novel. It was about five years ago, I had a block of a few hours every afternoon to myself and I’d always fancied having a go at writing a book.

As it turns out, my naivety knew no bounds…

But we only know what we know. None of us is gifted with knowledge past our own experiences. And so, I had no way of comprehending just how hard it is, when I sat down to write that first ‘novel’. I didn’t know it when I sent that first draft away for critique, or when the critique came back suggesting I should go away and learn how to write a novel. I had a stab at a rewrite, then put it in a drawer and began something new.

I didn’t even grasp how hard it can be when I sent part of my third ‘novel’ away for a multiply published writer to take her hatchet to. And, boy, did she ever totally eviscerate my writing and get unnecessarily personal whilst she was at it. Her criticism was extreme. It was enough to make me consider turning tail and running for the hills. Taking up crocheting instead. Or chess. Or deep-sea diving. But I’m very determined when I want to be (some might say bl**dy minded…) and I managed to separate emotion from advice, absorbed the useful bits and sallied forth with a determination which had deepened, rather than waned.

Even when people began to tell me my stuff was good, I hadn’t grasped it. Because throughout all these formative experiences I still had no idea how little I truly understood about the world I was getting into. There was too much ‘I’ and ‘me’ involved in the whole thing. I hadn’t grasped the nettle of what I was trying to achieve – and for whom.

And perhaps the question I should have asked myself back then was how hard can it be to write a decent novel? Because it isn’t difficult to string 90,000 words together into a story and call it done. What is hard is to craft it into something entertaining and fulfilling for the reader. To leave them with more than they had before they opened the cover. To make them smile, or sigh, or laugh, or cry. To leave them thinking about the characters long after they close the pages. To make them want to come back to your books time and again…

I’m edging towards understanding, I think. My first novel (of publishable standard) is a little over a month away from its launch date. I’m building a solid foundation from which I hope to develop, with the help of my wonderful publishers, Champagne Book Group.

What I’m saying is that nothing worth doing is easily achieved, in any field. And that’s as it should be. Finding things hard to achieve is what makes the achievement worth holding close to our hearts. Never give up. Never give in.

These days I have an alternative question for that naïve version of myself…

Why would you want it to be easy?

Oh- and why puffins? Well… Why not? 😉

Plus, I couldn’t work out how to import the picture I really wanted, and rather than destroy something in frustration, in this instance I am taking the path of least resistance, instead…

Austen in Lockdown

A while ago, I entered a short story competition – the inspiration being Jane Austen’s 465 word short entitled ‘The Beautifull Cassandra’. I didn’t win – boo, hiss – but that means I get to put it on my blog instead… 🙂

I hope you enjoy it:

‘ Mrs Reynolds bustled in, placing the day’s post in front of me with what I liked to think was a curtsy, of sorts. I thanked her, setting down the novel I was much enjoying.

That, and the cup of tea which stood at my elbow, would have to wait.

I sorted the pile, taking my time. Allowing the anticipation to build. Would today be the day his letter would arrive? Mine, posted five days previously, would have reached him in plenty of time to be able to expect a reply by today, latest. My hopes had been dashed yesterday, and I wasn’t sure I could take another disappointment.

With no further interest in the day’s news, Mrs Reynolds took herself into the kitchen, where I could hear her consuming her customary beverage without much propriety.

I set to one side items of no immediacy, circulars went into the fire, and I was about to give up hope when, second to last in the pile – there it was. A cream envelope, with the now-familiar handwriting sprawling its way across the paper.

I’m not embarrassed to admit my heart jumped, and my stomach lurched in a similar way to the first time I travelled by boat.

Peeling back the flap, I retrieved the folded contents. Strangely intimate, to hold the piece of paper he had held, to run my fingers across the words he’d written. To press the paper to my nose, and hope for traces of his scent. To wonder how long it would be before I could hold him, rather than his letter. I settled back to read.

The letter, when all is said and done, was a little on the short side.

‘Dear Elizabeth. You are bonkers. Why can’t we just speak on the phone, like normal people,’ it read.

Mrs Reynolds bustled back into the room. I touched her briefly on the head before she flopped down in front of the fire. She was asleep and dreaming of recalcitrant rabbits within seconds.

I picked up my mobile and dialled William’s number. He answered instantly.

‘We do speak on the phone,’ I said. ‘But you can’t beat getting a letter in the post.’ I glanced at the sheet of manilla. ‘If you can call that a letter.’

‘You got it, then,’ he said.

‘Could you go for more than a one-liner, next time?’ I asked. After my outpourings of affection, my regaling of events, my secret messages hidden within my words, it seemed only fair to expect more in return.

He laughed. ‘How is it that I meet the woman of my dreams three weeks before lockdown – on top of which, she turns out to be the only person on the planet who still wants to communicate via paper and pen?’

I fingered the cover of my copy of Pride and Prejudice, the spine so worn it was difficult to make out the title.

‘I miss you,’ I said.

‘I miss you, too,’ he replied. ‘

Virtual Hugs

I never realised how much I need to give and receive hugs until this week.

The automatic step forward to hug a friend, the arm raising itself to touch another’s shoulder, such small insignificant everyday movements which now have to be curbed and turned into a step back instead – very hard to process.

I understand the need for it, obviously. I get it. I’m not blind to the seriousness of the situation. But I do think ‘Social distancing’, whilst being vitally important in slowing the spread of Covid-19, is going to leave us with a raft of other problems, deep feelings of isolation and loneliness. Depression. Problems which will linger in the psyche far longer than the virus.

What I’m saying, I think, is that #bekind has never been more important than it is right now. But we need to be kind to everyone. Everyone. We need to be prepared to listen to what everyone’s worries are – however small and petty they might seem against the backdrop of this pandemic. Otherwise people will get swept away in the tide of ‘your problems aren’t big enough to worry about’. And some of them won’t have the energy to swim back.

We are all facing the possibility of life never quite being the same again. We are all facing the possibility of losing people we love. I am not making light of these things, they are real. But we all have smaller, more immediate things happening to us right now which are causing us sadness and worry, too. The things that need a good hug and chat with a friend to put them in their place. And without the ability to get that hug, or see that friend – those things become so much harder to deal with. It makes the need to be sensitive to others even more vital than ever before.

Just such a thing exists in my life, today. It is related to the virus, but not because anyone I love is ill. It is not earth shattering, or life altering in the long term, but it matters to the people it is happening to today. It is something which is not their fault but they will never be able to get what they will lose back. And that makes me sad for them. Luckily I will be able to hug one of them – if she’ll let me. She is a teenager after all. But she’s my teenager, so I’m sure it’ll be okay.

And for anyone else facing something big, or small, which feels as if it’s a little bit too heavy to bear – I am sending you a pile of virtual hugs to apply as and when. Not as good as the real thing, but it’s a start.

How you know when you’ve hit middle age…

We have just enjoyed a very family-orientated Christmas – the format is one day with his family, the other with mine, in an uber-fair yearly rotation. And luckily we all get on well enough for the days to proceed without the need to spill anyone’s blood.

This year, however, was the first time I truly felt like I an no longer part of ‘the’ generation. We are still the ones who make things happen, who are ‘in charge’, but I get the feeling we won’t be that for much longer.

My nephews and nieces are careering headlong through their teenage years, with a whole new sub-language all of their own. Of course they have – we all did that, although most of the words we used to describe things are now so totally non-PC there would almost certainly be a social media storm of epic proportions should any of us attempt their use in this day and age… (The Pogues ‘Fairytale of New York’ springs to mind just now). But for the first time I realised that whilst my parents didn’t have a scooby what ‘pengting’ meant (my mother kept asking why my niece was talking about paintings) and that the ‘olds’ bemusement was a source of comedy for everyone around the table, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what the words meant, either. For the first time, I felt out of the loop, excluded purely because of my age. And that gave me pause. Made me feel a bit awks, to be honest. (I think I’m still allowed that one).

Whilst the conversation proceeded at breakneck speed, with words cascading from teenage mouths faster than water down the Niagara Falls; whilst the oldies gave in gracefully and concentrated instead on nailing the sprouts on their plates; I felt a desperation to keep up. To be ‘in’. And, if I’m honest, I haven’t felt like that for a very long time. Because I’ve felt like I, and my peers, have been the constituent parts of the ‘in’ group and that others needed to keep up with us…

How the wheel turns…

And on top of that, I was given an Echo Dot. The ridiculously easy way in which I set it up and started ordering Alexa about made me feel a little bit insecure about how cool we thought we were, back in the day, to have something like a Walkman, for example. How amazing it seemed that you could just slip a cassette in and pop the equivalent of a tele-sales person’s headset on and be listening to an album, or a compilation (maybe Now That’s What I Call Music 6 or 7), or even a tape you’d recorded and compiled yourself. Might as well have been impressed by my ability to crack a nut between two large stones…

Perhaps I should just cling onto the happy knowledge that at least I still have the ability to set up a piece of modern technology. Perhaps I should cling onto the purple Quality Street sweet of knowledge that the ease by which the Dot came to life is a reflection on all the work we put in, rewinding cassette tapes back into their casings with pencils when the machine chewed it up; deciding that it was a rubbish way to listen to music and there had to be a better one. Creating it.

But, as I sat at that table, I realised that in just a few year’s time it will be those pengting teens who will be taking the lead, deciding how the human race takes itself forwards. That my generation will be surplus to requirements. Spent. We will be replaced, just as the tiny little circular speaker housing a very middle-classed sounding lady situated on the kitchen worktop has replaced a cd player and boxes full of discs. And the radio. And the weather forecaster. And the news channels. And the Encyclopedia Britannia. And probably loads of other things I haven’t even found out about yet.

I’m not going down without a fight, though. As I write this, I’m listening to Abba whilst munching my way through what’s left of a box of Quality Street – both of which have been around forever and show no signs of fading out of the picture. So, neither shall I. I just need to have a piece of paper and a pencil at hand the next time the offspring are around, so I can take notes. Or perhaps Alexa can do it for me…

Oh, and by the way, I hope you all had a very pengting Christmas. 🙂