Thursday, October 19, 2017

The end of my story...

The fourth and final part of the story is the part about the writing of Grumpy Old Teacher's "A Friendly Guide to Exam Success". (Why I used that nom de plume - which I gave to myself, please note! - is a whole other story, and I won't tell here!)

I was a teacher of ICT at my second school with no more than six years' experience of teaching and learning. But I saw the need for this book, and I started to write it. I could find no other like it. I put chapters of it on the school's intranet as each was completed, and I continued to refine it all, adding new content as it was conceived, and students read it and used it!

I don't know now how many years passed before I pulled the lot together into a book. Ebooks hadn't been invented at the time, so paper publishing was the only way to go. I didn't really have the time to hawk it around publishing houses. Furthermore, I knew what a difficult, soul-destroying task that could be. So it had to be self-published, and that looked easy enough. I signed up with, and uploaded the documents. I had to buy a proof copy, and I was really quite excited when it arrived, shiny blue and smelling new. I read it through, checked for errors, found it to be fine, and pressed the "go for it" button on Lulu's site.

Then I discovered the factor I'd left out of the whole process. In my enthusiasm, I'd overlooked the need to promote the book. I didn't have a publishing company to do it for me. And I didn't have a clue how to do it. It wasn't on to try to sell it to my students. I was already being paid to teach them, and, in fact, I was already passing on to them and developing with them the techniques that appear in the book. Getting anything reviewed in the Times Educational Supplement was nigh-on impossible. So I had to rely on Lulu members searching for books to help kids revise for exams, and on word of mouth.

I think I sold seven books altogether. And one of those was bought by a friend who felt sorry for me. One of the problems, I think, was that the price was far too high for the slim book it was. I can't actually remember now just how much it cost, but I do remember thinking it was too much to expect people to pay. I wasn't really in control of the price. Lulu set it entirely according to the book's size and how much it would cost to print it singly on demand. And my royalty was paltry. I didn't ever expect the book to make me rich, but what I earned on my seven books was laughable.

I withdrew it from print.

In 2015, Kindle was on my mind. I'd bought a Kindle Reader, and I was writing "Life with..." with Kindle publishing planned for that. I thought about my Friendly Guide, and I did the totally wrong, completely stupid thing. Convinced that Amazon's CreateSpace service would be far better than Lulu, with a bigger market, better author support, a better royalty... everything simply... better!.. I uploaded pretty much the same documents as I'd used for Lulu, and published it yet again, yet again as a paperback.

And I wrote and published my three boaty ebooks, as already told. And I looked at the paperback, and smacked my head again. I do that quite often. Paperback again? Why had I done that? I counted its sales on my CreateSpace dashboard - it didn't take me very long - and took it off their virtual bookshelves. Then I gave it a new title, a new cover, a new price, and a revised, updated, improved, and really pleasing rebirth as an ebook.

In truth, it was a difficult birth. The delivery was expected to be in the week before schools started their autumn term, but that was not to be. There was a defect. All of the pictures in the book had been replaced by a warning triangle with a ! in it. The midwives and doctors of the Kindle Support Unit had no idea what was wrong. When the birth was four weeks overdue, I finally managed to solve the problem myself. I quickly delivered the infant book to its Kindle shelf, very annoyed that it had happened so late, but relieved that the book was safe and unharmed. Mother was shaken and tired but recovering.

I sent Kindle my bill for services rendered on behalf of their staff.

And there it sits today, proud alongside the three boaty books on my Author Page. My first book, and very likely to be my last, because I'm really feeling booked out now!

Dear readers, if you have a son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, niece, nephew or cousin who is working towards GCSE exams - or even A-levels - then please take a look at this brand new book that's full of tried-and-tested techniques for studying and preparing for interim tests and final exams. And buy it for them! There's something in there for all exam students. Like all Kindle ebooks, mine can be read on any device - Kindle readers, smart phones, tablets, PCs and Macs.

One last word. A fellow writer and two readers suggested that I publish this one as a paperback! They said that it could be useful for kids to make their own notes in it as they worked through it, and I can't deny that. So the paperback version finally got its way. There was no keeping it down. It costs twice what the ebook costs, and my royalty is significantly smaller than that for the ebook. But I couldn't refuse the request, it was totally reasonable. So, you have the choice - electronic or good old-fashioned print. Whichever you go for, I trust the reader will put it to full use, and benefit enormously.

Me? I'm going to rest!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

I'm all booked out! (continued)

The year before, when "Feet 1" was ready to meet its readers, I had suddenly found that there was a horrible problem with the "online gallery of almost 2000 photos". Having been a user of Flickr for several years, it was to me the obvious medium for hosting the pictures I'd selected to accompany the book. Putting it all together had been pretty time-consuming, but I thought it was well worth it. There was no way I could add even half the photos to the pages of the book itself; it would have made it huge. And anyway, a lot of Kindle readers have devices which only display black on white. Furthermore, what other ebook had used the web in this way? I was a pioneer in the field, surely!

Except that Flickr wasn't having it. I was using (still am) the free version, and this has the nasty habit of putting large adverts up on the screen whilst you're browsing the photos. I didn't know that, because I have an ad-blocker on my laptop, and that... blocks the ads! I only discovered that this was happening when I chanced to look at the gallery as if I were a reader, and I used Grace's laptop for that. She doesn't have an ad-blocker. I was horrified, mortified, and bloody annoyed with myself!

There was nothing I could do short of postponing publication, and I couldn't do that because of all the promotion I'd been doing on social media over the previous couple of months. A lot of people knew about it, and they were expecting to hear that it was ready to buy (even if they weren't going to buy it themselves), and I was going to look like a total plonker for failing. All I could do was put an apology on the first screen of the gallery, promising that I would find a better host for my photos as soon as I could. There were several other possibilities rattling around in my mind, though the same mind was quaking at the thought of the enormousness of the task ahead.

To cut a long story a bit shorter... There was no other web-based solution that met all of my criteria for presenting my photos. So then, of course, I would have no suitable way to do it for "Moving home..." either. This was my art-stopping problem. It had been hanging over me for almost a year. I just had to crack this one!

And, thank God, I did!

I smacked my head when it dawned on me that I had worked on Blogger in the writing of two blogs over the past twelve years, yet I'd not considered using it for the books' photo galleries! Picking myself up off the floor, I quickly set to work building them; first for "Moving home...", which was the easier proposition, and then for "Life with...", which took far, far longer because of the need to re-select from my thousands of photos on my computer exactly the same ones and in exactly the same order as those in Flickr. (My heart had leapt when I discovered I could download the whole lot from Flickr. It sank to previously uncharted depths when I discovered that it had no concept of order whatsoever! I deleted the account in disgust.) Back to the originals...

Regardless of the mind-numbing time it took to do these, the result in Blogger was very pleasing indeed. I hope you readers agree with me! Now I could get both books published.

It wasn't long before "Moving home..." got its first review - Towpath Talk again, bless them!

But this is a story of four parts. The first part actually started back in the late 1980s, and it's only just finished. But it'll have to wait for another day to be told.


Monday, October 16, 2017

I'm all booked out!

I had to do it, and I'm very glad I did, but now I'm all booked out!

I first conceived the idea of "Life with our feet under water" after about two years of living and travelling on Kantara. This blog had a lot of regular readers, so there was at least some interest in this boaty life of ours. I had to try it. I love writing, I love the sound of my own voice on paper (I'm not too keen on it "live"), and I loved the challenge. What seemed like ages later, I published the book on Kindle, did a bit (or was it a lot?) of promotion, and sat back to see what happened. I was delighted by the result, and despite a few one-star, one-liner reviews (from people, I reckoned, who had clearly not read the sample pages provided on Amazon before buying), it seemed that folk were really enjoying it.

Riding on the euphoria of that, I had to see if a sequel would come equally easily to the pen keyboard, and started to bash my way through that. In truth, though, neither one of them was as easy as I had expected them to be, and it was during a time of writer's block (aka would-be writer's what-the-heck-do-I-do-next?), that I felt compelled to commit to print the collection of bits and pieces of advice we'd picked up over the past few years, and the useful stuff we'd learned from our won experience. This was going to be a much shorter book, and wouldn't take nearly so long to prepare, so I put "working-title, Feet 2" aside, took a break from my bogged-downness, and launched into this fresh, new project.

It was a lot of fun. It was easy, and I was very proud of it. And I called it "Hints and tips for life with your feet under water", which I thought was a clever title, not realizing at the time that its length was rather unruly. It, too, was published on Kindle, and sat proudly next to its big brother on my Amazon Author Page, cheaper and thinner, but just as worthy. And it started to sell, too, though not as well as the other; largely, I thought, because its appeal is to a smaller potential readership; "Hints and tips" is aimed at those who have already embarked on a life which involves a lot of time on a narrowboat, or are currently considering doing so. "Life with our feet under water" is written for those same people, but also for anyone who simply has an interest in canals and boats. And since they don't need canals for readers to appreciate the book, it also sold in several countries where there are none.

In due course, both books got really good reviews in Towpath Talk, for which I was very thankful.

Much encouraged by all of this, I was propelled back to "working-title, Feet 2", I decided on its final title, and was eventually ready to publish "Moving home with our feet under water". I was wanting to release a second edition of  "Life..." (it was at about this time that it occurred to me what stupidly long titles my beloved books had) at the same time. I'd made some small textual changes, and given it a new cover.

But there was still a problem with it.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

That end of the year feeling...

Regular readers will know that this year has been a strange one for us so far, difficult for several reasons, frustrating for many. A lot of our time's been spent waiting for something to happen; not vague, always something specific. Our time out on the cut has been limited to just 36 days, and that's been a great disappointment. The 36 days were very enjoyable, however!

Now here we are in the middle of October with 12 jobs to do ourselves and one waiting for a mechanic to fix. All of the jobs need to be done to make Kantara ready for a much longer time out next year. Or rather, to satisfy us that she's ready. She'll be fully cruiseworthy as soon as the thermostats in the engine have been replaced. But there's no chance that we'll be taking Kantara anywhere now except the 30 metres to the service platform. And back. So it feels at the moment that we've already reached the end of 2017.

But it's autumn, not yet winter. And we've had torrential rain, phenomenal wind, everything that one expects from the season. And more. Today, the weather's positively hot, though the wind has been bad enough to postpone that trip across to the diesel pump.

A visiting boat tried earlier this afternoon, and crashed his stern hard into ours. We rushed out to see what was going on, and he was clearly struggling, though his approach to the problem was all high revs and big movements, and he lacked the experience that brings finesse with it. Having shaken Kantara heavily, he had a go at Emma Jane, too, and didn't miss. Eventually, with a good deal of noise and thrashing water, he high-tailed it out of the marina, and no-one ever found out why he was here in the first place.

It's going to be a very busy, exciting five weeks for Said the Maiden. They've just completed their last set at the Costa del Folk in Portugal, and they're flying home tomorrow.

Then their album promotion tour starts next Saturday.

Grace and I are combining attending five of these venues with some sight-seeing, and we've booked into hotels to give us a day or two either side of each of those gigs for... well, seeing the sights! Imagine Whitby at the end of November! The sea, the sand, hey-ho for the wind and the rain! We'll have a blast! The weather might, too!

I hope this post doesn't make you think I'm feeling down, but I have to admit that this end of year feeling isn't helped by the fact that I have a flipping cold. I haven't had anything worse than a snuffle for years, but I think I picked this one up from Naomi and Jess when we were back at the house last week, and they'd been nurturing it nicely for some time before passing it on! I'm glad to say that Grace is resisting it nicely.

Enough of feeling sorry for myself. I'll finish now before I become really maudlin!


Please note that another update to "Hints and tips..." has been added to the Addendum Blog.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Five on a boat to Oxford - part 9

Saturday was my 66th birthday, and a beautiful day it was, too, as we made our way down to Braunston. Mike was at the tiller for much of the day, making the most of his last opportunity to be skipper. Down to Braunston Turn, and turn right...

and up to the locks. Rather alarmingly, the pound above bottom lock was very low, and NB Wagtail, a hire-boat with only a few days' canal experience, was aground at the bank. I hurried up to the next lock. The pound above that is bigger than the one below, and, though its level was noticeably lower than it should be, I reckoned it could afford to donate some water to the depleted one, so I let a lockful and a bit down, and the stranded boat floated within a few minutes. Kantara came up to meet her, and the two boats shared the rest of the locks up the flight. Despite the shallowness of the water all the way up, there were no more problems, and it all went smoothly.

The four men on Wagtail were very much into learning, and had lots of questions all the way up. The four women were very much into Prosecco...

Then came Braunston Tunnel. Wagtail was rather anxious about this - and not without reason - and their fears were realized half-way through. The skipper of an on-coming NB Huffler  chose to switch off his tunnel light as he was passing us. To avoid dazzling us, he said. Unfortunately, however, the man at Magpie's tiller had already been dazzled, and now had no way of knowing where the unlit boat was. They crashed rather noisily.

With Mike taking the tiller again, we carried on to Norton Junction, where he executed a perfect turn. We learned later that 70-foot Wagtail got themselves jammed across between the banks.

We joined a crew of three at the bottom of Watford Locks, with NB Bothar ahead and Wagtail coming in behind not long afterwards. The female crew were now totally blotto, and hadn't even noticed the collision in the tunnel. The 90-minute wait gave us plenty of time to have lunch, then Bothar led us up the locks. The last boat down before we went up was NB Brutus Maximus, with whom we went down into Liverpool last year. Enthusiastic shouts and waves were duly exchanged!

Again, our locking crew of three was able to assist Bothar and Wagtail in a smooth, sociable and fun ascent. The weather was warm, bright and beautiful.

Then Crick Tunnel and Yelvertoft Marina with miles of sunlit canal between. Beautiful.

118 miles and 94 locks, and a great trip!

Christine and Mike treated us to a lovely meal at The Wheatsheaf in Crick, and we played a final evening of cards. They left before 10:00 the next morning, with a long trip to Torquay ahead of them. We had a lot of washing and tidying to do!

Monday, October 09, 2017

Five on a boat to Oxford - part 8

Friday awoke as a beautiful morning, almost cloudless under a bright sun. The peace of the canal and the surrounding farmland was almost tangible. We cast off and made our way to Napton Top Lock, aka Marston Doles. Unsurprisingly, we joined a queue. Christine and I went down to the lock to see if we could lend a hand or four. We could, and we gently hastened the passage of a couple of other boats before bringing Kantara in.

As we approached the next lock, something was not quite right. The queue here was longer than the one we'd joined at Top Lock. Being really clever people, we figured out that there must have been a problem. We went to investigate. There was a boat in the chamber, descending very slowly. People were gathered at the bottom gates, so we joined them. Faces were glum.

The problem was that one of the bottom gate paddles didn't work at all. The other one worked just enough to open six inches. And, needless to say, the top gates had the usual leaks, so emptying the lock was going to slow everyone. Fifteen minutes per boat, it turned out. OK, we weren't in a hurry, but the hirers were; they had time pressures that we didn't.

And so we carried on down the flight, a favourite one of mine, the crews of each boat working with those in front or behind so that we all made good time.

We stopped at the bottom for services and shopping as the rest of the convoy made its way past. There was mooring space for us just around the corner, so we pulled over there for much-needed refreshment. The shop that says it's "Open every day" (except Tuesday) was now found to be "Open every day" (except Tuesday and Friday).

We had hoped to moor overnight at Braunston, though there's always a chance that there will be no available space, but that hope was thwarted by the two extremely slow hire-boats we caught up with very soon after we left Napton. Neither one of them stopped to let us pass, though I suppose they wouldn't know we wanted to pass unless we did the boat equivalent of bumper-hugging, and we don't like to do that because we feel it's ill-mannered. So we dawdled our way through the rest of the afternoon, having plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, and finally we stopped at bridge 100 to moor for the night. We just couldn't take any more!

The Oxford is truly a beautiful canal.