El Gringo

What has this rakish fellow got to do with this week's blog post?

What has this rakish fellow got to do with this week’s blog post?

There’s a book on Amazon.com with 2,149 1* comments. (At the time of writing.) On Amazon.co.uk it has only 437 1* comments. Only! Ha! Can we just take a minute to imagine how the author feels about those stats. I’ve had a few 1*comments and they used to hurt me, like hammer blows to bare feet. But if I had that much scorn poured on one of my writing projects would I wonder about giving up writing? Before we get too carried away in a tidal wave of sympathy for the ‘poor’ author, please, read on to give the stats their proper context.

The title in question is also #1 bestseller on both sides of the pond. On Amazon.com it has over 26,000 comments (5,000+ on AmazonUK). That is a lot of feedback. It also signifies a hell of a lot of downloads, if normal ratios of comments to downloads of my books is anything to go by. I check the charts fairly often when I’m procrastinating and I’ve never seen another book with so many comments. I wonder if anyone else has. I’d be interested to know. This author’s publishers must wake up and pinch themselves every morning with those sorts of figures. Can you guess what the book is? (Clue one: The title of this blog-post is an anagram of the title of the book. Clue two: the photo (a bit cryptic). If you can’t work it out or can’t be bothered to try, the answer is at the bottom of the page.)

In one of my less serious bouts of contemplation I thought about trying to write a book with the sole purpose of garnering as many 1* comments as possible; I wanted to write a book that has a consistent Amazon average rating of 1*. I thought it would be such fun to put something out there masquerading as something serious and inspiring a frenzy of negativity and vitriol. Every 1* comment would make me laugh at my little joke. I thought about the ‘ingredients’ I would need to include to give the book the best chance of disappointing readers. How about this for a speculative list?

  • Price it high.
  • Don’t have it proofread. (In fact go out of my way to make clumsy mistakes that would have even the most benign readers reaching for their keyboards.)
  • List it under the wrong genre. (Contemporary romantic fiction? See next.)
  • Include a great deal of swearing. (See previous.)
  • Make the plot deliberately confusing.
  • End the book halfway through the story (maybe include a hundred blank pages) and invite readers to purchase part two separately. (Price it even higher.)
  • Include lots of bad and unnecessary sex. (Maybe with animals or the dead, for starters.)
  • Shockingly bad formatting.
  • Make the dialogue really clunky and long winded.

(Before any smart arse out there comes back with, ‘But you’ve already written a book that meets these criteria. It’s called insert book title of mine here, I like to think that because I’ve beaten you to it you won’t be so funny.)

Why would I want to do something like this? Well, apart from being my idea of fun, I would also be testing a theory. I believe that prospective downloaders of ebooks are drawn to books that have low ratings. I’m not saying that we buy them, but if I see a book with an overall rating of three stars and it’s had dozens of reviews, I’m usually going to check out some of those comments. I want to know why this book is regarded as so substandardly shite. Done cleverly this could turn into a hook to get readers to part with a bit of cash. (It would need to be done very cleverly, obviously, to get people to pay for something that everyone condemns.) The old adage, there’s no such thing as bad publicity springs to mind.

My latest writing project is going fairly well. I’m 30,000 words in. From its inception I found the story difficult to pigeonhole genre-wise. (What should I list it under when the time comes to self-publish?) And if I was mildly confused then I’m positively bewildered now. It’s part utopian, part dystopian, part love story, part western, part political, part contemporary fiction. And I’m only on chapter five. What it isn’t and doesn’t look like being is part crime, part mystery, part thriller, which is my usual line of writing country. Still, I’m enjoying myself. I might try to fit an alien invasion in there somewhere for a full house. In for a penny and all that. Hey, maybe I’m writing that really substandardly shite book I was thinking of. The subconscious works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.

I just learned something. My WordPress stats tell me that someone from Lesotho viewed my blog today. Lewhereo? I’d never heard of it. Now I know it’s a landlocked country in Africa that gained independence from the UK in 1966. (If whoever you are reads this, please get in touch. I’m totally intrigued to know who you are and what you are doing there.)

(Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Did you get the picture clue for an extra point?)

The curse of being a writer.

curse

I couldn’t find an image with pencils.

Last week WordPress told me we’ve been in a relationship for two years now. That’s longer than some of my marriages have lasted. But then WordPress doesn’t insist on me declaring my undying love to it on a daily basis; WordPress doesn’t get jealous when I spend hours with other Internet sites; WordPress doesn’t complain if I don’t talk to it for a few days; WordPress doesn’t get mad if I spell its name wrongly; WordPress is always ready to do what I want; WordPress doesn’t wake me up in the night to ask if it shut down would I take up with another blogging site and WordPress didn’t call me a pervert when I gave it some sexy add ons.

What a curse it is to be a writer. Being a writer ruins everything. Really. There’s this romantic idea, I think, that being a writer must be so…what’s the word? I don’t know so I’m going to say cool. That’s bollocks. Being a writer is a burden. A cross to bear. Sometimes I feel like I’m being punished by a higher authority. Writing is an obsession and like all obsessive habits it’s nigh on impossible to stop. Five years in and I’m only just beginning to realise that.

Being a writer is something of a cruel mistress because it doesn’t matter whatever else you’re doing, whatever wonderful treat life has in store for you, if you’ve got a writing project on the go you would rather be sitting at the computer getting on with it. Sometimes even eating a meal irritates me so that I want to punch something because I feel like I’m wasting my valuable time. (I went through a phase of eating my dinner sitting in front of the laptop until I spilt gruel in the keypad, and then the b,n & m keys didn’t work properly.)

As a writer it’s so hard to be entirely satisfied with what you produce. If you can be easily satisfied with your writing you’re not a ‘real’ writer, you’re just playing at it (or maybe you’re just crap or deluded). Real writers are obsessed with finding the next level of their ability, even if they have to change themselves to do so. The need to improve, to write better stuff is all consuming. And so bloody irritating when you can’t find a way to punch through the paper ceiling. And there’s nothing that brings that home to me more clearly than reading great writing.

To be a writer you must be a reader, but being a writer can ruin you as a reader. Gone are the days of reading only for pleasure because everything you read you’re comparing the quality of your own writing to it. It’s not easy to relax. You read for inspiration as much as entertainment and when you read something great it is like a double-edged sword. You love the writing for its sublime invention, for its originality of phrase, for its clever plotting, the best words in the best order. But you hate the writing (and the writer) because the quality of it seems beyond you as a writer, and what’s worse you feel that it always will be. It’s so frustrating. Being a writer undermines my enjoyment of reading for these reasons.

In the last week I’ve read ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ by John Le Carre, which I absolutely loved. But which also made me want to start punching things and Le Carre. It’s really, really good. I hated it.

I’m also listening to an audio book on the commute: ‘Heart of Darkness’, which everyone must surely know. It’s read by Kenneth Brannagh. How I hate that book and his reading of it. Because they are both so bloody fantastic.

Just to cheer myself up after that, when I look back on this diary entry in years to come I might wish to remember a couple of school incidents from this week. In one lesson I was asking the kids what they had for breakfast and one girl answered ‘crap’, which I thought was remarkably honest and knowledgeable for a five year old. (It never occurred to me where she picked up that kind of language.) She didn’t seem too bothered by it though. I abandoned the lesson on possessive pronouns so that we might have a class discussion regarding how important it is to eat the right foods for health, especially with the most important meal of the day. It was only at the end of the lesson that I discovered the girl meant ‘crepe’, which is a type of pancake. It’s something in the vowel pronunciation.

In grade two we had something of an incident that despite my pleading had to go into the the school accident book. There had to be a first, I suppose. We were making headgear for decorating and wearing. We used coloured card, coloured pens, cotton wool and glue and stuff. When it came to securing the finished article around the children’s heads the instructions said use glue sticks. Well that was a waste of time. They kept falling open and then off under the attentions of their fiddling before the glue was dry. So, out of frustration and desperation I decided to staple the ends of the card together to hold them in place. The best way to do this was with the card wrapped around the individual’s head. At least I thought it was until I managed to put a staple right through one little sod’s ear. Looking back on it now, it serves him right for not keeping still. I didn’t realise the skin at the top of the ear held so much blood.

Update on my writing. Acer #3 is still in post-production. B&C #2 has now had a couple of read throughs and some alterations that make me fairly happy with it. I’m ready for my daughter (my greatest critic) to read it.

The new project is where all my energy is going now. I have a title and twenty thousand words. I think this could be my magnum opus. I really think this could be the one that takes me to the next level. I also think I’m going to have to change my habit of making stuff up as I go along and set about some planning. It’s a bit complex for my limited brain capacity.

To f**k or not to f**k, that is the question.

Mmm...could I spice this up a bit?

Mmm…could I spice this up a bit?

(Warning: this post contains some fucking bad language.)

Clearly, I’m looking like shit these days. Or at least (oh God I can hardly bear to think it let alone write it…old). Apart from the mirror, how do I know this? Because at work this week the on-site nurse, in her starched white uniform with matching jackboots made from the hide of some unfortunate albino creature, visited the staffroom clutching clipboard and forms to her ample bosom. She was offering flu jabs to teachers of a certain age. Surely, I blustered, there must be some mistake – in England flu jabs are only offered to the sick and elderly. I was told that this is the case in Turkey also. I was asked if I wanted one. There was some sniggering from the young bloods in the corner. I declined, maintaining a degree of composure and dignity, although inside I was crushed. (Male vanity). Besides, I wouldn’t trust this lot not to inject me with a fatal dose of something that wouldn’t show up in a post-mortem, so they could get rid of me without a fuss. (I think everyone has had enough of me throwing up on  the commute. There are only two of us left on the long journey now – me and the driver. And he’s stopped trying to make conversation. I can see that before long I’ll be driving the school bus myself.)

As part of last week’s blog-post I wrote and included the first line for my new writing project. (A bit gimmicky, ne desperate, even for me.) For those of you who missed it it went like this: ‘Will someone please tell me exactly how the fuck that happened?’ (I’m not even sure whether it should have a question mark at the end. And I’m an English teacher.) I’ve now written the first chapter and the opening line hasn’t changed.

I had a comment on the blog-post on this use of the ‘f’ word in the opening line of a book, which made me think about how opening lines of other landmark novels (other?) might have been affected for better or worse if the author had shown some mettle and spiced them up a bit by dropping an ‘f’ bomb or two.

Because the Internet is amazing I was able to punch a few buttons and within seconds I was presented with a website that contains the first lines of one hundred famous books. I was then intrigued to see whether inserting the ‘f’ word into any of them would make me want to read them. I wonder what you think, dear reader. Here is a selection.

‘1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my fucking landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.’ Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a fuck.’ Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

‘Lolita, fuck of my life, fire of my loins.’ Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

‘It was a fucking cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ 1984 by George Orwell.

‘He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fucking fish.’ The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway.

‘It was a fucking pleasure to burn.’ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

‘This is the saddest fucking story I have ever heard.’ The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.

‘I am a fucking invisible man.’ The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

‘The fucking sun shone, having no fucking alternative, on the nothing fucking new.’ Murphy by Samuel Beckett.

‘It was another fucking beautiful morning on the Island of Sodor.’ Thomas the Tank Engine: Thomas Saves the Day by Rev. W. Audry

‘Once upon a time two or three weeks ago, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man decided to record for posterity, exactly as it happened, word by word and step by step, the story of another man for indeed what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal, a somewhat paranoiac fellow unmarried, unattached, and quite irresponsible, who had decided to lock himself in a room a furnished room with a private bath, cooking facilities, a bed, a table, and at least one chair, in New York City, for a year 365 days to be precise, to write the story of another person—a shy young man about of 19 years old—who, after the war the Second World War, had come to America the land of opportunities from France under the sponsorship of his uncle—a journalist, fluent in five languages—who himself had come to America from Europe Poland it seems, though this was not clearly established sometime during the war after a series of rather gruesome adventures, and who, at the end of the war, wrote to the father his cousin by marriage of the young man whom he considered as a nephew, curious to know if he the father and his family had survived the German occupation, and indeed was deeply saddened to learn, in a letter from the young man—a long and touching letter written in English, not by the young man, however, who did not know a damn word of English, but by a good friend of his who had studied English in school—that his parents both his father and mother and his two sisters one older and the other younger than he had been deported they were Jewish to a German concentration camp Auschwitz probably and never returned, no doubt having been exterminated deliberately X * X * X * X, and that, therefore, the young man who was now an orphan, a displaced person, who, during the war, had managed to escape deportation by working very hard on a farm in Southern France, would be happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to come to America that great country he had heard so much about and yet knew so little about to start a new life, possibly go to school, learn a trade, and become a good, loyal citizen. Fuck!’ (OK, so I broke the rule there by putting the ‘f’ word after the first sentence but it just seemed to be crying out for it.) Double or Nothing by Raymond Federman. (I think the gentleman who does my proofreading and editing might have something to say if I opened a book like that. And I bet he’d use the ‘f’ word in his first sentence.)

Before I go, I just have to relate a totally surreal reading experience I had on the mini-bus home today. (This is a true story.) I’ve just started reading Animal Farm by George Orwell. So there I am reading the story on my Kindle in the front seat of the bus and I’ve got the window down because the weather is still pretty good here. We’re in the centre of Istanbul which is just cars and concrete as far as the eye can see. And I’m about four chapters in and at a place where the animals are in the barn being spoken to by Napoleon. And I can actually smell the farm animals. (The scent of livestock is unmistakeable for me because I was born and raised in the country, with a farm down the road from home. I’d know it anywhere, blindfolded.)

My first thought was, holy crap what a writer – I can actually smell the scene. How can he do that with words? Can you imagine? I’m not exaggerating anything. I think my mouth was hanging open. And I looked up, and in the parking area of whatever-the-place-was the other side of the fence from where we were stuck in traffic there were cows and pigs and a big pile of soiled straw. In the middle of Istanbul! I’d have been less surprised to have seen Elvis. This will now be my prime example when I have conversations about coincidence.

Work smarter not harder.

If they stay there will be trouble. If they go it will be double.

If they stay there will be trouble. If they go it will be double.

There goes another week of my lives – my real life and my second, authorial life. Even though I’ve extended my ‘waking’ week by ten hours compared to last year, my lives seem to be flying by quicker than ever.

I remember being concerned that the new job would take its toll on my second life, my writing life. It’s not turned out that way, yet. I’m still managing to get a couple of hours a day in front of the computer. Something I hadn’t factored into this year is my son starting Kindergarten full time. He’s not getting the lunch sleep he was and his new routines are obviously taking it out of him. Consequently, he’s usually sparko by eight instead of last year’s half-nine, which means I get to slump at the writing table that much earlier.

This week, I’ve been working on Booker and Cash #2. I’ve read the ‘finished’ first draft through twice making alterations as I go. All I ever want from the books I write in each of my three series is that each subsequent title is considered a worthy addition to that series by readers who’ve enjoyed them. I think that B&C #2 meets that success criterion.

Started and quit three more ebooks this week on the commute and was reminded of last week’s reading lesson for me as a writer. Each was a freebie for a few days as the author or his/her agents did some promotional work. Each is by an author with either their own tame agent/publisher, a load of great reviews on Amazon and high chart places for other books of theirs, or both.

I’ve only read two authors lately who’ve sucked me into their stories from the first pages. Neither author would claim to write erudite prose, I’m guessing, but both of them have a writing style that is so easy to read. And they write engaging stories, of course, which is surely what it’s all about.

Work threw up something this week that has me a little excited. We had four brand new table-tennis tables delivered. I last seriously picked up a bat over twenty five years ago. I used to play a lot. When I was a junior I represented Kent. (Only once and I lost both my games, but I literally got the T-shirt). So I toured the academic departments today looking for anyone who reckoned they could play a bit. I want to get back into it. And it turns out that one of the men in the PE department was representing Turkey internationally only five years ago. He’s promised to take it easy on me.

Now, I’m going to try something. I wonder how it will turn out. It’s really only for my own amusement, so you might as well go and get on with something important, if you haven’t already done so.

Today is a pivotal day in the history of the UK. I’m going to make it a significant date for me too. I’ve mentioned before that I’m going to try writing in another direction – something that is not a crime novel. I haven’t written a word of it yet, but I’ve been giving it some thought and I’ve done some research. I’m going to start it this evening because the date has a special significance. What will tickle me greatly is that if I manage to finish the project I will be able to say quite truthfully that I wrote the first sentence, thereby getting the project under way, on the 18th Septemeber, 2014.

And here it is, provisionally and for posterity.

‘Will someone please tell me exactly how the fuck that happened?’

(It amuses me that I’m killing two birds with one stone here: I’m writing my next book and I’m churning out another blog post. Work smarter not harder.)

A slow news week.

 Get it?


Get it?

This is my writer’s diary. Because it’s a diary I have to make weekly entries. It’s that kind of diary. The entries must have something to do with my second life as a writer. Sometimes there is not much to report to myself.

I have been working on the first draft of Booker & Cash #2. I reported last week that I’d ‘finished’ the story and now I’ve gone back to the beginning. Reading and pruning.

I’ve blogged about my new commute ad nauseum. It’s funny what you get used to. I suppose that’s one of the things that makes the human race so successful. We can get used to pretty much anything and life goes on; we adapt and get on with it. I’ve been using the hour and a bit each way to do some reading on my Kindle. Naturally, being a tight git, I downloaded as many free titles as I thought would appeal to me. Verdict? A mixed bag. I’ve had some good reads but several of them I’ve only given about 10%, and that includes all the necessary guff before the opening chapter. It’s given me a lesson though. In the ebook era when 1000s of titles can be stored on a device it is crucial to hook the reader early. It’s just too easy for people with short attention spans, like me, or too little reading time in their lives, like me, or a virtual mountain of ebooks waiting to be read, like me, to tap a button and move on the next freebie in search of something… sufficiently engaging. I wonder if I would be so intolerant if I only had physical books to read. Probably not. Probably I’d give the books more of a chance.

I did read one brilliant book this last week: 1984 by George Orwell. I’ve been meaning to read it for years and found it online as a PDF document being offered for free. The guy was a prophet. But more than that (and the man’s creative genius of aside), based on the evidence of this book, he was, in my humble opinion, simply a brilliant writer. Full stop. Loved it.

Something else I’ve been doing over the last few weeks is some research for a new series of books I think I might move on to next. I brought half a dozen reference books back from the UK after the holiday and I’ve been working my way through them. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, although I often enjoy it when I do. To be reading books in the name of research for a fiction book I want to write has brought an extra tickle to the reading experience. I think that as soon as I have He Made Me how how I want it, I might make a start. I have the opening scene in my head.

Oh, and this week I got in touch with the nice man who does my covers asking for one for He Made Me. Looking forward to seeing how he realises the fairly scant information I provided for this one.

Interesting statistic for the week: as I write, Rope Enough has 666 reviews on Amazon.co.uk. Ominous?

Best wishes to all.

 

 

Fame at last…

 

Amazing what they sell in Mothercare these days. Cross my heart. I took this pic on my phone at my local branch. (Of course they have Mothercareless in Istanbul.)

Amazing what they sell in Mothercare these days. Cross my heart. I took this pic on my phone at my local branch. (Of course they have Mothercareless in Istanbul.)

Part 1:

This week I found myself in the same room as David Hewson, (Mark?) Billingham, (Val?) McDermid and (Steve?) Mosby, among others, all traditionally published writers of fiction who’ve done quite well for themselves. And I wasn’t dreaming. It’s probably the only time I’ll be rubbing shoulders with such company. And who do I have to thank for this? Stephen Leather, another big name and hugely successful writer of fiction. What am I going on about?

I was recently alerted by a cyber chum that she’d come across my name in a short story by Stephen Leather in his book of short stories: More Short Fuses. (I’m assuming it’s me. If my name were John Smith I probably wouldn’t leap to such conclusions, but, as far as I’m aware, I’m the only Oliver Tidy on the planet – I’ve looked – and Stephen Leather has dropped by and commented on my blog before so he’s come across the combination of my first and surname.)

What chuffed me as much as anything was that I’m an SPN (self-published nobody) and all the others are ‘names’. Yeah, I know, he’s just come across a name on the Internet and used it because he’s written so many books with so many characters and, like me (even though I haven’t written so many books with so many characters) he probably struggles for new names from time to time. But still.

It’s pretty surreal to read your name in a story that’s been written by a somebody in the industry. The story was an enjoyable read with a good twist and he didn’t cast me as a paedophile (which I was worried about when the role call of authors (allegedly) was unveiled because if memory serves there might have been some online argy-bargy with at least a couple of them and Mr Leather). All in all a positive experience. Maybe one day I can return the favour.

Part 2:

I have good news for myself this week: I’m pretty staggered to report to myself that I have finished the first draft of my second Booker & Cash story. It seems like only last week I was worrying about reading through the half of it what I wrote before the summer holidays and not really remembering much of what I was reading.

Things came back to me, I had a few sessions of staring at the monitor wondering how the hell I was going to straighten things out but ideas occurred and I’m really quite happy with how it feels.

At just under seventy thousand words, it’s a little shorter than the first one, which was eight-five thousand words, but if the story has run its course I don’t believe in padding it out just for padding it out’s sake.

I remember I had a bit of a struggle finding a title for the first B&C. Not so with this one. I’ve had it, I think, from the beginning and I’m still happy with it, especially its ambiguity. It shall be called He Made Me.

In the spirit of generating some reader interest for the forthcoming release of this title I have decided to release the first word of the first sentence of the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Chapter 1

Of…

(I know. It’s exciting, isn’t it? Next week: word two. Oooh, I’ve just had an idea for anyone that wants to play: guess the sentence. Each week I can release another word in the first sentence and if a reader wants to have a stab at guessing the sentence, and gets it right, I can provide a prize. I still have lots of signed photographs left. Lots and lots, actually. Not the demand for those that I anticipated. No limit to the number of guesses and entry is free! What an innovative and simple way to get folks in a tizz of anticipation.)

The stuff of nightmares.

Does this strike anyone else as odd?

Does this strike anyone else as odd?

More on this later.

It seems to be the fashion in ebook publishing these days to release books in parts. Give away part one and charge for parts two, three, four and five. I’m not like that (yet). You can get all parts of this blog for free.

Part One:

One of my earliest memories is of having my head in a newspaper-lined bucket being violently ill. As a young boy I suffered horribly with travel sickness. I’d only need to be in the car for five minutes before I started turning green around the gills. Ten minutes and I was breaking out in a prickly sweat. Any journey over fifteen minutes and you could bet a month’s pay I’d vomit. Hence the bucket was always in the car. In the end I think it became psychosomatic. I’d only have to see a newspaper-lined bucket, I’d only have to smell it and my gorge would be rising. Even if the car was stationary on the front drive. I know because my parents insisted we try it once.

My parents tried sitting me everywhere in the car. I tried the back seat, the front seat, and my dad’s lap when he was driving. I even made a few journeys in the boot. (It was a Fiat 127 hatchback and they took the parcel shelf out so we could still talk to each other.) Nothing helped because I suffered from travel sickness. And when you suffer from something it doesn’t matter where you sit.

Anyway. I grew out of it. Eventually. Travel sickness is not something that has troubled me for over forty years.

Last week I blogged about my enjoyable and varied commute across Istanbul. But it was only for the orientation week. This week, I started at my new campus which, it turns out, is one hour and eleven minutes away by school minibus. On a clearish run. Can you guess what’s coming up? Apart from the contents of my stomach on a daily basis?

It started on Monday. I have to get up pretty early now and I don’t have time for breakfast. I get picked up at the top of the road just before seven. (Insane!) And then I have the journey.

I want to share with you a video. It’s not of my actual morning commute across Istanbul but it’s pretty close.

(It took me until the ninth viewing of this video to see that the dad says he feels sick before they take off and then, when he pukes some of it goes in his daughter’s face and then she looks like she’s going to throw up, too. I haven’t laughed so much for ages.)

Honestly, these Turkish drivers are crazy. They all think they’re Sterling Moss and have divine rights over other road users, even when the other road user is driving a twenty ton construction lorry. For a joke, I suggested we have a sweep stake on how many accidents we have this year. That didn’t go down well in a highly superstitious culture. Lots of mumblings from the Turkish natives. I caught the word ‘jinx’.

So back to Monday. I’m in the fourth row of a packed minibus. The trapped air is stale and stifling. The morning sun is low and its heat pounds on the glass and metal of our oven on wheels. (Remember, in Turkey one can’t have windows open because of the airborne viruses that will flood in and kill us all.)

We hadn’t gone a couple of miles of erratic stop start Turkish driving before a dim and distant memory was stirred. And then the previous night’s kebab. I got very hot and I could feel myself turning pale.

‘Blimey, you don’t look so good, mate. Are you going to be sick?’ said the arsehole next to me.

That helped. I’m trying not to think about being sick in the school minibus that happens to be full of teachers – people who I don’t know yet and he’s talking about it. To me.

I remember dry retching into my hand and what do you think my ‘concerned’ colleague did then? Yes. He shoved his morning newspaper under my nose and said, ‘Catch it in this.’

It’s Friday. I’ve been sick three times this week. All on different days. There’s nothing I can do about it. One good thing – with my vomiting and jinxing, over half the teachers have decided to make their own way to work, so I get the whole back row to myself. Lying down helps. Only another eleven months to go.

Part Two: (That you don’t have to pay for.)

Back to that image.

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After my initial shock on discovering this facility at my new place of work, I wondered whether it was simply a refreshingly liberal approach to the unisex toilet concept. It’s not. It’s just for men. But that doesn’t make this particular juxtaposition of urinal and bog any more understandable, to me.

On a more personally meaningful level, walking into this lavatory fairly took my breath away, and it had nothing to do with the bloke standing at the sink, washing his hands and grinning.

This image is one of my repeating nightmares physically realised; a horror of my darkest subconscious brought to life. In my nightmares I’m desperate for the toilet (usually number twos) and the only toilet I can find is one in plain view of everyone. But no one is around and I’m so desperate I have to go. And I do. In my dreams, I’ve just reached the point of no return: I’m in the act of releasing the hounds – their leads are off – when the room starts filling with people. That’s usually when I wake up, sweating, gasping for breath and fumbling around in the bed sheets to learn whether I’ve crossed a line. (For the record I have never followed through, so to speak, with my bodily functions in my dreams.)

Back to this toilet. I have no intention of using it, no matter how desperate I am. (There is no lock on the door to the room, which opens onto a busy corridor.) I don’t even think I’ll use the urinal. I mean, can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to be making use of either item of sanitary ware and someone walks in to use the other? (Note roll of bog paper on the floor indicating someone is using it already.) You’d have to acknowledge each other. Eye contact would be inevitable. And then how could one not say something. If I was standing there taking a piss and someone came in for a dump I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from bursting out laughing. Even if I didn’t know them. It would be so embarrassing to have to stand there listening to them evacuating their bowels. And the smell. No, it’s not right. I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of those involved in the process of planning to installation. It reminds me of the wheelchair access ramp fitted at my old school. (Always worth including my favourite image of all time.)

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Good news for me this week is that I’m back doing what I enjoy most – making up stories and then writing them down. Monday evening, after the Halfling had finally succumbed to sleep, I opened up a bottle of wine and then the file on my computer that holds the second Booker & Cash. I had fifty thousand words done before I stopped for the summer break and couldn’t remember much of it. (Probably not a good sign, I thought.) But I like it a lot. It made me laugh in a couple of places. Most of the unfolding plot surprised me as I was going along, which was nice to experience, although, again, as the author mildly disturbing.

As well as a couple of deliberate chuckles I came across a couple of accidental ones that I think are worth sharing here.

We were almost at the car when I let out a loud, ‘Shit!’  (Need to be careful with the punctuation on that one.)

A man clutching a couple of straining black bin bags came struggling up the stairs from the basement flat. He spared us a cursory glance as he tossed his load into a wheelie bin.

On second thoughts maybe I’ll leave them in.