2016 Rang, It Wants Its ‘Shittest Year of the Decade’ Crown Back

Right, 2019, you need to get your act together. We’re approaching 2016 levels of fuckery and I’m starting to get suspicious and slightly paranoid. Fred had a seizure and died last week. When I stop having horrible flashbacks and feeling guilty for not doing more for him, I’ll probably feel philosophical about the circle of life and reflect on how he enjoyed 13 years of stealing food, leaping from second story windows and unwrapping Christmas presents… but I’m still in shock and I can’t believe two of my best friends died within six weeks of each other, so at present I want to run away to an island somewhere for several months.

This is definitely one of those years where a lot goes on, and we’re only half way through. I know people who are dealing with illnesses in the family, or illnesses of their own, or who generally have A Lot Going On. Don’t even get me started on how you switch on the news and it’s a barrage of the-UK-is-falling-apart-nuclear-war-might-happen-next-week-the-planet-is-dying-and-it’s-to-late-to-stop-it-by-the-way-Trump-might-get-a-second-term. I’m getting a bit paranoid that my grandmother’s going to have a fall, or an earthquake’s going to hit Zante when my family’s out there, or nuclear war might actually happen but the planet is actually dying so does it matter. I know this is a black hole way of thinking, so I also keep thinking, ‘let’s find an excuse for a huge party! Let’s go backpacking! Let’s put the whole of The Princess and the Dragon on the Internet for free! Let’s retrain in something useful like ecological management! Is ecological management even a thing?’

I don’t think ecological management is a thing. I think I’m thinking of those people who look after forests and lobby Parliament to ban single use plastic. Eco warrior? It’s too early for compound phrases. You know what I mean. Sometimes life forces you to put things into perspective.

What a cheerful post this was. Here are photos of Fred from a few years ago. He was  quite hard to photograph until he got elderly, because when he was younger he only had two modes: asleep and Doing Stuff. You’d aim for the picture on the left and get the picture on the right.

Legitimately the nosiest dog who has ever lived. I think I’m going to Google ‘ecological management’ now.

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In which I’ve become an eco-warrior

Does anyone else do this thing about a week before they go on holiday where they look at their pre-holiday to do list and a piece of  their soul melts irreparably? I’m spending five days in Zante from Monday and I’ve never been more pleased with Past Francesca’s holiday-planning judgement, although if I’d known I was going to leave my weekend job sooner than I planned, I would have booked longer than five days. On the plus side, I don’t have to faff about with checked luggage.

Seriously though, I do not know why I thought I could, in the week before I go away, do the following:

  • a week of regular work plus work for the week I’m away because holiday pay is a foreign concept
  • organise my dad and my brother’s birthday presents because they both have big birthdays the week after I’m back and the gifts I’m making are going to be legendary if I actually pull them off except I forgot about an essential supply UNTIL THIS MORNING
  • wear in the fancy shoes I bought for the party they’re having the weekend I’m back
  • put together plans for a blog tour for The Princess and the Dragon
  • do my last ever shift at my weekend job (I was even thinking of asking my colleagues out for a drink woops there went the time)
  • get my nails and toenails done; a leisurely exercise that cannot be rushed and may require me to drive home in flip flops; a potentially strenuous activity given how much trouble I have operating a clutch
  • iron every piece of clothing I might possibly need when I’m home even though I guarantee I will need the same four items I wear every single week
  • epilate my leg hair

Something’s going to give. It’s going to be the leg hair. Not sorry.

I probably shouldn’t be so hard on myself for being knackered. The last time I had more than one consecutive day off was… March? I think it was when Brexit was about to happen then didn’t. Only having one ‘day off’ a week doesn’t bother me much (it’s not like I’m working at a desk 15 hours a time on the other days, I can take afternoons off to relax and stuff) but I have had a lot on my plate between then and now. I’ve taken on another client, one of my best friends died and yesterday a fly sat in my hair for about two hours. I shit you not, I was at my desk and thinking ‘god my curls are really spiky today, I can almost feel them moving’ and then I got up and what fell out of my hair? An insect.

I realised I’d knocked its leg off and felt bad because it was really woozy, so I fed it some leftover hot chocolate because I’ve been paying attention to 30 Days Wild and we need to look after our planet, thank you very much, and left it to sit on my orchid overnight. I didn’t realise that flies have giant schnozzles to hoover up liquid. This morning I put it on a leaf outside. Its wing was a bit damaged too so nature has probably taken its course by now.

Anyway, my point is that if I wasn’t mildly eccentric before I spent 10 minutes spoon-feeding a fly, I probably am now. Which takes me back to my question about melted souls. PLEASE GO AWAY, RESPONSIBILITIES. If you never hear from me again, I hired a boat in Zante and sailed to somewhere with no wifi.

You know, I’ve had that Pirates of the Caribbean gif set on my computer since Johnny Depp made good films. This blog is old, my dudes.

A Shitty Week ft. the Coolest Illustration I’ve Seen All Year and Probably Ever

Morning. Or, Morning! if you’re feeling perky. I was until I sat down and now it’s just like an earlier version of the two o’clock slump which is not how I was planning my day off.

I’m not sure how many regular/committed readers there are still here, but if you’ve been following my posts as they go out, I suppose there’s an elephant in the room. Well, small dog. Well, small dog no longer in the room. We had Donnie put to sleep the week before last. I know that not everyone is particularly bothered about their pets, but I am not one of those people. Not having him around is strange and horrible and I keep forgetting and looking for a second dog and I’m paranoid Fred is pining and it’s odd only feeding one dog and I miss how he used to bark at literally everything and snore with his eyes open. I don’t miss the last couple of days of his life when it became abundantly clear that he had had enough. A lot of people say they fell guilty for making the decision to end their pet’s life, but I think I couldn’t have lived with myself if we’d made him hang on any longer when he couldn’t really walk and didn’t want to eat anything.

But I’m more interested in remembering the snoring and the ridiculous woofing, so maybe animal euthanasia is a subject for another day.

A non-sequitur that’s actually absolutely relevant if you live inside my head (a non-non-sequitur?): the next chapter of The Prince in the Tower, from The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes is available to patrons today. It’s relevant because a) there’s a dog called Bean in The Prince in the Tower, named after Donnie. He used to do this dancing, jumping thing every time he was about to go for a walk or get fed, so I used to call him a jumping bean. Which became Bean and then Bean Sprout, then Sprout and honestly what is up with pet owners and nicknames. Anyway. Point b) is that I got to hang out with my friend Tatchiana the day before Donnie died and she gave me a very cool illustration from The Princess and the Dragon that was a huge bright spot in an appalling week. Spoiler alert there’s a dragon:

girl facing giant blue dragon in cave

So you guys who aren’t patrons need to become patrons so we can make an ebook from this story and I can commission more artwork because it is seriously the coolest, coolest thing seeing your story interpreted in someone else’s art! It’s very nice knowing that I can support someone else’s work at the same time as doing something fun and promotional for my own work. It feels very eco-system-y. (I am paying Tatchiana for the piece, although she wasn’t convinced I needed to which is very friend-y. When I am feeling less bereaved and more awake we should have a conversation about paying friends for work. It’s a lot like euthanasia in that no one wants to talk about it but we’d probably all be better off if we did. God what a sentence). Oh, I’m also paying Tatchiana using money from Patreon. From your investment in my fairytale. How cool is that? We’re starting to accrue enough to pay my proofreader, Maria, as well. THE PLAN IS WORKING.

You can find links to Tatchiana’s other work here and buy her coffee (please do!) here.

Right, I’ve got patron letters to write and some Etsy orders to package. See you soon.

Let me introduce you to a friend

I want to tell you all about a friend of mine. He moved to England a few years ago for a better life, but he speaks very little English, hasn’t yet found a job and has never, as far as I’m aware, paid any tax. He sits around a lot and his efforts to integrate with neighbours have been sub par; he’s quite antisocial to be honest, which I’ve always put down to trauma experienced in childhood.

dav

I’ve been meaning to make that joke for about 4 years. Originally it was going to be a YouTube video where I lift him up to the camera, but it’s hard to make a fuss of one dog without making a fuss of the other and although  Adonis has always been easy to pick up, trying to get too close to Fred is like trying to wrestle with an octopus.

Anyway, the reason I’ve finally got my arse into gear is that Donnie no longer looks remotely as happy about life as he did in that photo, which I think was taken last summer. He’s got prostate cancer (ironically given that I was writing a similar post about 6 years ago about leishmania) and the prognosis, a few months ago, was a few months. And I hate it when people make a fuss of friends and loved ones after they’ve died but not before, so. HAIL DON THE WHEEZE. One time he was so intent on killing a fly that he almost knocked himself out on a wall. Occasionally he falls off a bed and has to get up before anybody can see him. If you’re playing with Fred and he wants your attention, which is every time you’re playing with Fred, he sticks his head under your arm so you look down and see a nose sticking out of your armpit. It is a source of some regret that I’ve never managed to capture the phenomenon on camera.

blurry dog with very happy human
I was going through photos the other day and I can conclusively say that this image is probably the one that best sums up my relationship with my pets. I think I must have ambushed him while he was doing something, unless I was going through a phase of doing squats at every opportunity.

One day I might write both my dogs into a set of short stories or something, and fully retell the legendary tale of the time Donnie nicked a carrot from Fred while it was sticking out of Fred’s mouth, but I was cleaning up canine vomit at 6:30 this morning and at the vet at 8:30 listening to options regarding dehydration treatment and using phrases like ‘keep him comfortable’ so today is not that day. Have I ever mentioned that Donnie really likes the vet? He actually slipped his harness when we were in there once and escaped out the back to say hi to the nurses. It’s only because he makes a beeline for anyone who might make a fuss of him. What an embarrassment.

Anyway. Say hi to your pets from me. Say hi to your pets from you while you’re at it. Next time I write here I will almost definitely be one dog short of a pair, which is shit. They’re both my best mates, excepting those two or three epic fights they’ve had over the years, and Fred has leishmania (the irony of this entire year is starting to itch) and the thought of being entirely dogless by Christmas is completely appalling and look just say hi to your friends. I saw this bullshit Twitter post once that said something like ‘a dog might only be part of your life, but you are their entire life’ and terrible graphics aside the phrase has stayed with me. I’m aware this post has become kind of a downer and not the joyous celebration I was aiming for, so here is Fred wearing a Pilates mat. I was in the process of practising Pilates when he decided that he might like to take up the exercise as well. Spoiler alert I put up with him for a bit then gave up.

dog wearing a pilates mat

I think he was probably judging me on my downward dog.

In which Southend is less shit than we thought!

Afternoon. You might have noticed I’ve redecorated the blog and changed the theme to something else white and blocky, although by the time you read this I might have changed it twice more and/or back to how it was.

I’ve hit a mid-afternoon slump and can’t actually remember what this blog was supposed to be about, so let’s talk about dead kings! Or princes, as the case may be. Or may not be. Who read about the Prittlewell Princely burial and felt a mild stab of pride at being from Southend? It was a fleeting stab – kind of a twinge? – but YES HELLO THAT’S A BIT OF VERGE I RECOGNISE. I’m going to the exhibition as soon as I can.

I actually remember, albeit vagually, visiting an exhibition about the burial in either Southend Museum or Prittlewell Priory 12 or 15 years ago, when it was quite a new find. I don’t remember being hugely excited but take two should be better, mostly because I now know how to read.

It occurred to me ages ago that it might be quite fun to do a series of posts about things in and around Southend that are actually quite nice (there are some excellent shops and a few interesting historical places and/or haunted places), but I never got around to it. Maybe I should start with the exhibition? Or the bit of verge under which the Saxon king/prince was buried for several centuries? The Aldi across the road is staffed by lovely people, but we might have trouble getting photographs that don’t feature traffic. Or tarmac.

no spoilers but I couldn’t be bothered to properly finish this post

Evening! I don’t particularly have anything to say, but I ate a snack quite late so I’m sleepy but I feel like lying down would be quite a bad idea. Sooo…. hello. How was your April? Did you enjoy the mini heatwave? Have you got hayfever yet? I had this monster cold with such bad congestion that I’ve still got scabs inside my nose, so bring it on, pollen. On the plus side, I was so ill I took a day off and slept through a lot of finally watched Line of Duty. My favourite part of the programme thus far has been the evolution of Steve’s waistcoats.

To be honest, that’s all I’ve got to say. Turns out I’m ‘about to crash with laptop open’ sleepy and I can’t even be bothered to source a gif of Steve in a waistcoat. I bet there are loads. I had a look on Twitter and a cursory scroll of @bbcone indicates there are some hardcore fans out there, but I think that particular rabbit hole is one for another day. Is there a directory for fandoms? So I could type in ‘waistcoat evolution’ or ‘steve’ and filter to British TV>Line of Duty and tadahhh Kaz from Hull has a crime drama Tumblr with 12 posts about wardrobe evolution. It would save a lot of searching, I’m just saying.

Phuket & the Soi Dog Foundation, Thailand, ft. DOGS

I’ve been eating a lot of curry lately, because there is almost no limit to what you can put in a curry except perhaps cabbage, and between that and that one part of The Umbrella Academy that’s set in Vietnam, I feel like South East Asia is calling to me. My bank account isn’t on my side, so I might as well share pictures of dogs at the Soi Dog Foundation in Phuket, which I highly recommend to the whole of humanity because DOGS.

So I virtually live blogged the 40-odd hour journey out of Laos into Thailand. We took such a weird route out of Vientiane because one of the places on my list to see in Asia was the Soi Dog Foundation. Originally established by Dutch expatriate Margot Homburg, in 2003 she joined forces with British expats Gill and John Daley, who wanted to do something about the estimated 70,000 stray cats and dogs on Phuket. It’s grown into an internationally-renown shelter dedicated to sterilising and re-homing strays and, if I remember correctly, helped eradicate rabies from the island of Phuket completely. It was also instrumental in helping the abandoned pets and strays left over from the Boxing Day tsunami and is campaigning against Asia’s dog meat trade – I first heard of it from an online petition.

Phuket is a lot bigger than it looks, and the Soi Dog Foundation was way further from our hostel at Karon Beach than I realised. It took the entire morning to get there by bus – but Phuket is a lot like Spain in that it’s virtually set up for tourists, so the roads were fabulous, especially compared to Lao and Vietnamese roads. Also, Thai motorists drive on the right. So do the Maltese. Sensible people. Anyway, the shelter is a bit hidden from the bus stop, so I got a lift on a motorbike from a volunteer, which was useful as a local dog, ironically, was doing a great job of nipping the back of my legs when the bike pulled up (get your vaccinations, kids, rabies eradication or not!).

 

If you’re going to Soi Dog hoping to get your fix of dog cuddles, you’ll be disappointed (I was). These dogs see humans all day, every day, they do not give a shit when another one walks into their home, although most were more than happy to come and say hello. The shelter is separated into sections: old dogs, puppies, cattery, specially-designed dog hospital (they play the dogs music!), non-human-friendly dogs, etc. The staff, who are mostly volunteers, take you on a tour and do a fantastic job of explaining how everything works.

 

Can we have these posters in England too please?

 

I visited not long after Gill Daley died (her husband John is still involved full time) and really got a sense that this is the sort of place people come to volunteer at time after time, because it’s a lovely place to work. I wish I could have spent more time there – I didn’t realise how long the journey would be – and really recommend you take the time to visit if you’re on Phuket on holiday, or if you’re thinking of getting involved with stray dogs or opening a shelter (hint hint Zakynthos).

There wasn’t a lot else on Phuket that we wanted to see – there were, like, children with their parents and forks instead of chopsticks and I was in Peak Shitty Backpacker Mode at this point – so after saying hi to Big Buddha, Maxim and I headed to the islands, where we split up to look for clues see different parts of Thailand.

 

I think they are planning to paint Buddha eventually?

 

Sort of can’t believe how good my tan is in that photo. Also can’t remember if the statues were especially large of if I’ve just got to get used to the fact I’m smaller than I think I am…

I’m going to make another curry. Come back in 6-8 months to hear about Koh Tao and Koh Samui, and then one of my favourite parts of the trip: Chiang Mai and Pai.

Meet THE PRINCESS AND THE DRAGON AND OTHER STORIES ABOUT UNLIKELY HEROES.

It’s time to introduce you to dragonnovel. After 3 years of writing and plotting and editing and re-plotting, 3 months of unsuccessful pitches to agents (followed by a much-needed edit) and approximately 14 uses of Google to double check different shades of the colour blue, dragonnovel’s done. In the can. Would it be even better with another 6 months of edits? Maybe. Would it have benefited from a professional editor alongside a mishmash of read throughs by my friends and critique partners? Definitely. Do I want to leave the current manuscript on my computer while I wait around for an editor to magically appear? Nope! Oh, here’s the blurb:

This is a book of fairytales, but not of happy endings.

Welcome to the Three Kingdoms.

Princesses hatch plans; princes embark on quests; the forces of evil gather in dark corners like spiders in an ancient tower. There’s an ancient tower. Don’t expect to fall asleep to sweet dreams when you’re done.

So here’s how we’re doing this: you guys remember my Patreon page? I’ve been sharing dragonnovel 1.0 on there for a few months (this is dragonnovel 2.0, by the way. Now you get why I call it dragonnovel). Anyway. There are 24-ish chapters in The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, and the first three plus the prologue are available for the entire universe to read here. They’re also on FictionPress and Archive of Our Own and deviantART and Wattpad; go and read at your leisure. The remaining 21 chapters will be shared with patrons once a fortnight until roughly January next year. Chapter four is actually up now.

I’ve decided to use Patreon to share the book for two reasons. Firstly, I want to share the novel in a fun book club-esque way, kind of like how I used to post fan fictions chapter-by-chapter and watch readers guess what would happen next (helloooo god complex). Secondly, and more practically, if enough people join in with my Patreon between now and next January, there should be enough money in the bank to make a proper ebook and commission my illustrator friends to do some cool drawings. There might, maybe, even be enough for a hardcover copy that I can hide in coffee shops and send to charities that give out free books. Perish the thought, I might even be able to make some money off them… let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. For now, I just want you guys to meet a princess called Amelia. She has a dragon infestation issue and absolutely no intention of being married off.

cover for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes by Francesca Burke

Membership of my Patreon page (we’re gonna call it the Dragonnovel Book Club or something really snappy) starts from $1 per month. Depending on which side of Brexit we’re on when you read this, that’s about 78p. If you stick around for a year, you’re getting the whole book for about £10 which is quite a bargain for 56,000 words.

Here’s the basic breakdown of where your money goes:

  • 20% Patreon and bank processing fees; costs associated with running a membership platform
  • 40% The Bank of Francesca, because I don’t currently have the financial security to take the time to write (or research or plan) the next book
  • 40% The Make Dragonnovel a Proper Novel Fund, with which I can pay my proofreader and buy ISBNs and convert my files into e-reader files which it turns out is actually quite complex (this page on my new shiny website breaks it all down.)

You can read  about the different membership tiers (and their rewards!) on my Patreon page, as well as see how close we are to reaching the Holy Grail, aka an ebook.

Here’s a thing I need to say before we start. There will be absolutely no hard feelings if you’re a longtime reader of this blog, or a friend, or a family member, and you don’t join this little book club. I can’t tell you where to put your cash. But do not, in a year’s time, ask me why I still have a weekend job. Do not ask me why I haven’t finished the next book yet. Do not ask me why I’ve canned freelancing for a 40-hour desk job (and antidepressants). Do not, under any circumstances, ask when your free copy of The Princess and the Dragon will be in the post. Do not sit around at parties and tell me, or your kids or friends’ kids, to do what they love while they’re young and have nothing to stop them. This is me, doing that.

Now that’s been said, LET’s PARTY. And by party I mean read the chapters, join Patreon and tell all your friends to do the same. Oh and let me know what you think of the story, it will be nice to hear from you.

Update with links to other blog posts about the novel, illustrations, etc.: