A Week in the Life of an Author/Freelancer/Stationery Shop Owner ft. Chronic Pain

When I was doing the quarterly income post I remembered that the life of a creative person/student (well, not a student now my work is handed in) is a bit opaque. I’ve had people tell me I don’t have a job, or don’t work, so I figured, let’s keep a diary of a week in my life. This was a good week to record, because it’s the first I haven’t had a single college commitment since I started my diploma back in September, so I was trying to figure out a new routine. I had Patreon work, stationery shop work, and writing. Well, Continuing Professional Development, in the end, more than actual writing.

It was also an up-and-down week in terms of my health – I’ve spoken about my chronic pain before. This is it in action! I have fun little spells of depression, too, which I wasn’t initially going to include but then I thought, fuck it. We should talk more about this stuff, if only because it gets in the way of the rest of my life. I left out some details, because this isn’t a gossip column, but otherwise this is a pretty accurate look at the menagerie of work I do on a daily basis. I’ve split the days into sections so you don’t have to scroll forever. Enjoy!

Monday

6:30am

Awake. Ish. My new year’s resolution was to spend an hour every morning ignoring the rest of the universe, aka not using the internet. It’s evolved into making a cup of coffee to take back to bed, doing some meditation on the Headspace app and maybe having a read. Then I make more coffee and go for a walk. I’m on chatting terms with multiple neighbours. I can’t tell if the whole routine is very pretentious or very hippie, but I don’t care. It’s nice to go to work with a clear, news/social media-free brain. Also, today I saw some ducks.

8am

Sit down to some writing. I’ve been working on this one story for months and I’m not sure if it’s dragging because I need to focus or I’m dragging because the story lacks focus. Give in trying to figure out which is is, have breakfast.

9am

Remember I have not showered. Shower.

9:30am

My hands are aching so I do some very exciting physiotherapy with some putty and a squishy ball. Physio gets boring quite quickly, especially when you have been doing it for eight or nine years, so I have a read – Bertrand Russell, get me – while I’m using the ball. I learnt the hard way that putty requires your full attention, or it gets everywhere. It’s like the ectoplasm in Ghostbusters meets playdoh.

10:15am

Walk to my nan’s for coffee with her and my mum. Three of us are inside! Having coffee! So weird.

11:30am

Do some freelance work for a long time client.

11:45am

Work on my next newsletter and some blog posts. Break for lunch and come back rejuvenated. Well, less hungry. Post today’s blog, about getting the second Covid vaccine. Work on this post.

2pm

I’m trying to build in more breaks and not sit at my desk for long periods, so I list some clothes for sale online and organise some laundry. Between 2pm and 5pm I’m mostly useless, so I try and make that the time I do non-work things.

3pm

Work on the Do Something Directory. Trying to figure out a new page. It’s going to look great.

3:30pm

Take a walk, because it isn’t raining.

4pm

Fuss about online for a bit, checking sales for the paperback of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes. They could be worse! My biggest fear was that no copies would sell. End up on a YouTube Q&A with a mortician (verdict: I’m not sure I fancy being embalmed). Poke about on Goodreads, because I’m smug I’ve read a lot of excellent books this year. Find the page for my favourite novel of the year so far. Some of the reviews are terrible. I don’t mean to be rude, but what did these people read? It was a masterpiece. Read the book in self defence.

4:30pm

Do some physio – knees and back this time. I live large – and pack an order from my stationery shop. Read the news: apparently a man in Spain has been found dead, trapped inside a papier-mâché dinosaur. It’s thought he dropped his phone inside, climbed in to get it, and got stuck. How appalling.

5pm

I lied. I’m not productive yet. Do some ironing in front of A Place in the Sun. What is one without the other? Read the news (terrible). Get an email from my critique partner (good). Give up on the day and make dinner (better).

7pm

Waste time chill out on YouTube, which is almost productive because I’m also messaging a friend, S, who’s working on the Do Something Directory with me. Fuss about on writing groups.

8pm

Remember that today is the anniversary of the day my littlest dog, Adonis Wheezeface Bean, passed away. It’s somehow worse than last year. Also, the news is still shit. Someone’s body washed up on Southend beach this morning. It shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Today becomes is what we in the mental health department call a Bad Day. There’s not much to do when one of those descends, so I spend the rest of the evening on a clothes swap group – bye my purple jumpsuit that doesn’t fit, hi to a new wrap dress that hopefully will – and on Reddit. Learn that David Yoon, the author, is lovely.

10pm

Do a Pilates routine I found on YouTube because I’ve been sitting down for ages. Bed.

photograph of a webpage with squares showing photographs and words overlaid, including 'LGBTQ+', 'Children & Young People', 'Environment & Climate Change' and  'Mental Health'

On Getting the Second Covid Vaccine (Side Effects, Getting AstraZeneca, Long Term Impact)

Ah, the end of a series. And the beginning of long term immunity! Hopefully! (For anyone new, here is my post about getting offered the vaccine and having a small existential crisis over it, and here is my post about getting my first dose and the side effects.)

I had the second dose on Friday morning and it was all right, all things considered. I got a bit headachy and tired later in the day, but I didn’t just go to sleep like I did last time. My arm didn’t feel as heavy as before, either, which was nice. Now I’m feeling physically normal and mentally… more relaxed? I know I’m unusually lucky with the timing, but I do feel a bit more confident about socialising in groups now. I think I’d be very anxious about the lockdown easing if I hadn’t had at least one dose. Last week, pre-second dose, I hugged about five people. Five! And I sat indoors in a café! Twice! (Aside: how weird is it being indoors with people you’ve never seen before?) I was a bit nervous, but between the first vaccine and a negative Covid test, I felt prepared? And now I’m fully vaccinated I’m definitely happier to mingle.

Well, not happier. I didn’t like mingling before all this. But now I’m not worried that I’ll accidentally kill a vulnerable person if I breathe too closely to them.

So what have we learnt, reader? Other than reaffirming that I am constantly anxious about all things? Well, if you’re hesitant about getting the vaccine because you’re worried about side effects, I’d say take a deep breath and just do it. A couple of days of feeling shitty is nothing compared to a stint in intensive care, or long Covid. If you’re worried about blood clots due to the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, then I hear you. I don’t think the risks of AZ were known when I had my first dose; I did panic when I saw the news. But I’m fine – I think I’d know if I had a blood clot? – and the risks really are low, especially when compared to the chances of dying from Covid. Plus, young people are getting a different vaccine now anyway.

If you’re bad with needles, I’d say tell the nurse you’re bad with needles. I’m fine with them as long as I look away and talk incessantly while they’re administering the thing. But it was genuinely more of a scratch than anything else. I’d say it’s less uncomfortable than having blood drawn, but your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about needles and your experience with blood tests and surgical stuff. I’ve had multiple hospital stays and my hands are covered in needle scars, so I’m probably more relaxed than most people.

filled-in vaccine card for Oxford AsteaZeneca vaccine

All in all, I’d say the whole experience has been all right. The two vaccine centres I visited were forensically organised (shout out to my mum, who used to work at one of them). The staff were lovely. I’ve been thinking back to side effects to past vaccines and feeling grateful that this jab was pretty much the same as previous ones: I felt rough for a few days, but that’s it. It’s more than worth the hassle for the peace of mind.

It’s a bit of a catch-22 that I qualified for an early vaccine; I was simultaneously so relieved and guilt ridden. When the blood clot thing happened, I wished I’d been in a group that didn’t qualify yet. I’m still not completely sure why I did qualify, but on balance I’m grateful. I was never particularly worried for myself in all this – well. I was worried, but not paralysed with fear twenty four seven. Just in those moments when I let myself think about it. I was worried twenty four seven for all the vulnerable people I could potentially infect. Knowing that I’m contributing to the nation’s general immunity is nice. I can’t remember how much the vaccine reduces your risk of spreading the disease, but knowing I’m potentially less infectious also gives me peace of mind. I’m still hand washing and mask wearing (although I will be honest with you that I am still finding it hard to keep track of what is and isn’t allowed. If hugs are still illegal, ignore everything I wrote earlier).

I’m off to bask in my vaccine status. By which I mean, do some work and, most likely, make a cup of tea. OH THE EXCITEMENT. If any of my posts have inspired you to look into getting vaccinated, or have helped you feel more informed or less anxious about the vaccine, let me know! I wrote the series to add to the voices encouraging vaccination. It’s infuriating that vaccine hesitant people can so easily become anti-vaccination when prayed upon by those with political goals and persuasive branding. It’s devastating that vaccine hesitancy can lead to deaths, not just with Covid but with things like measles. But a conversation about those things is for another day. I reckon we’ll come back to it time and time again, though.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Quarterly Income Round Up (January – April 2021)

Darlings. Pending resubmissions, my diploma is finished, and I am trying to remember how to be human again. It was going well until I did a Covid test this afternoon. I don’t have Covid, but I did sneeze out most of my brain while I was swabbing. What a word, swabbing. Anyway, onto business: I promised (well, threatened) to start doing income round ups, because most people don’t really know a) what self employment or freelancing or executive producing books looks like, or b) how well those things pay. I also want to be transparent with my readers. Not transparent enough to tell you what I spend my money on, but open about the realities of Author Life. Money is very much still a taboo in western culture, and it shouldn’t be. Do we have time for me to rant about how it’s in multinational companies and landlords and politicians’ interests that we’re too polite to talk about finances, because if we knew how little people were earning we’d rise up and demand better rent control and fairer wages? No? Fiiiine.

So let’s settle in for a deep dive into my earnings! Be nosy! Be judgemental! It’s a longer post as I’m introducing different income streams and explaining why I’ve earnt X or Y amount. The next one will likely be snappier. This post is concerned with the final fiscal quarter of 2020-2021, from 6th January to 5th April 2021. I’ve been self employed my entire adult life, so the season isn’t split onto seasons, it’s split into financial quarters. Here we go.

Income

  • Book royalties: £5.59
  • Income from the No. 1 Readers’ Club on Patreon: £111.44
  • Income from miscellaneous writing/blog work, e.g. Kofi and PayPal one-off donations, WordAds on this blog, Amazon affiliate links*: £0
  • Shop ‘royalties’: £60
  • Freelance work: £99
  • Total: £276.03

*Amazon affiliate links and PayPal one off donations weren’t set up until the end of April and beginning of May respectively, but I want to include everything I can possibly think of so in future I can copy-paste the list. Continuity, innit.

If you’re thinking ‘that is quite depressingly low, I am starting to understand why you live with a parent,’ then welcome to the inside of my head. My mum has been helping me out while I’m at college, and I pay my dad miniature rent, instead of full sized market-rate rent. If that wasn’t the case, I’d be living in a homeless hostel and/or would have starved to death by now. Funnily enough, if I hadn’t been a student, I’d have been eligible for universal credit, but I was so… I wasn’t.

(If you’re thinking ‘don’t students get loans to live?’ you’re thinking of university students getting maintenance loans. I enrolled in local college, on a diploma for learners aged 19-plus (aka not dependants). The diploma is considered ‘full time’ despite being about 15 hours of class time each week. You aren’t allowed universal credit if you’re a full time student, presumably because the powers that be assume you’re eligible for a maintenance loan. I learnt this the hard way when I claimed UC last September, thinking I was still eligible for support (I’d been on it since Covid, well, Covid-ed the majority of my freelance work). I had to repay September’s amount a couple of months after they cancelled my claim. It isn’t fair that adult, not-university-level learners slip through the system because we’re in the weird space between mandatory education and university (old enough to work while we study, studying so we qualify for better paid jobs and pausing or cutting down work if we feel we need to devote more time to those qualifications, ineligible for financial help even though we’ll pay more tax when we earn more down the road). Not a lot about the education system in this country strikes me as meritocratic these days, though.)

So, yeah, I made less in a quarter than most people pay in rent or on their mortgage per month. This was a particularly pitiful time to be fair, as I wasn’t really freelancing but the book royalties hadn’t trickled down yet. Good thing it was illegal to go anywhere, eh. Here’s how and why it’s worked out:

How it all works

Book royalties:

The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes ebook was released in the previous quarter: early December 2020. There was, what, three weeks left of that quarter when it came out? I don’t know how many ebooks sold in those three weeks, because apart from Google Play (which is where that £5.59 came from), another company (We’ll call them Third Party) does all the admin for me. It’s a very slow process, because consumers can return ebooks up to 30 days after purchase, so you can’t take the money out before then, in case customers want it back. The purchase is processed by Amazon or Kobo or Apple Books, which takes their cut, and is then processed by Third Party (currency conversions are accounted for, etc). Third Party takes 20% of whatever’s left after the retailers are paid, instead of charging me a flat fee.

I don’t have access to sales figures, so I can’t do a best-guess as to what will come to me. The ebook is available on multiple platforms, which all have different systems with varying fees, and they’re often in different currencies. I might receive the December 2020 quarter royalties during the quarter we’re in now (April-June 2021). I might not.

That £5.59 from Google Play is one book sale, in case you’re wondering, and the buyer paid £7.99; Google Play’s cut is approximately 30%. The customer paid in GBP so there was no currency conversion fee. If there had been, or if Third Party had done the admin, I’d have earned about £4.50 from it.

Why do I let Third Party do all that admin when 20% is quite a lot? Well, if you’re agented, your agent takes 20% of your earnings – instead of you paying them a set fee each for each publisher they get interested in your book, or for each event they get your involved with, et cetera, they just take a cut of your earnings. It’s a good system, because a decent agent will always work in your interests to ensure you get the best deal possible. So, yeah, 20% is normal. But also, I hated setting up one book on Google Play. It took maybe half an hour from start to finish, but I don’t have time to do that with Kobo, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all the others. I think that 20% is quite a reasonable exchange for the time I save by not doing it. It’s like having an accountant. Sure, I’d save money if I dealt with my self assessment admin myself, but I’d stress myself out worrying if I’d forgotten to declare something or was claiming too many expenses. I’m paying for the luxury of a night’s sleep.

Income from the No. 1 Readers’ Club on Patreon

I can’t remember if this was the amount I actually got as a wage or the amount I withdrew from Patreon; I usually put aside about 20% to pay for member rewards (stamps for their letters, the odd piece of merch) and writer life admin stuff (website domains, Microsoft Office, book promotion costs).

Miscellaneous writing and blog work

Here is what I made from WordAds, running on this site, from January until March this year (it won’t show me April yet as it’s still processing):

LOOK AT ALL THAT MONEY

What can I say: website advert profits are pitiful unless you’ve got a gazillion views each week. WordPress only pays out ad revenue when it hits $100… I did the maths and I will be in my eighties when that happens, assuming views continue much as they have been. I told this to one of my cousins and she suggested that $100 in 60 years’ time will probably get me a Freddo. There’s a comment there somewhere about the housing market, millennials and avocado toast.

The affiliate links didn’t exist yet and I don’t seem to have the sort of audience that goes in for the ‘one off PayPal/Ko-fi/blog-button-at-the-end-of-each-post’ type thing. Feel free to prove me wrong if you’re reading this, though.

Shop ‘royalties’

Fun fact: until this year, I never took a wage from my stationery business. Everything I made went back into the business to keep solvent. So I didn’t see a penny for about… seven years. (This is also normal, and why most people say ‘don’t quit your day job’ when you start a business.) Anyway, 2020 was surprisingly good sales-wise, because the shops were closed and everyone had to buy online. I did one event pre-Covid, so I didn’t have as many big costs as I normally would. And ta-dahh… cash flow is good. I can skim a little off the top to keep myself in smokes. Not that sixty quid buys you a lot of cigarettes these days. (I also don’t smoke.) (Do I strike you as someone who can afford to, on less than three hundred quid a quarter?) (I wish I had chosen a different expression.)

Freelance work:

Officially, I stopped freelancing at Christmas to focus on my diploma. Unofficially, I have some lovely friends and colleagues who occasionally have me post a blog or schedule a Facebook post. That said, 70% of my earnings this quarter were what I was owed from work I did in December. Delayed gratification is very much a theme in my career. (When I say ‘unofficially’, I’m lying: everything listed here is declared earnings. I just emailed my clients and said ‘I’m off to focus on academia for a bit.’)

There you have it. It looks bad, because it is, but we were in lockdown for the entire quarter, so my outgoings after rent were essentially limited to toothpaste and shampoo. I probably could have ditched the shampoo, now I think about how few people saw my face… next quarter will be snazzier assuming I get some more royalties through – I have the paperback of The Princess and the Dragon now, too – and if those lovely colleagues are happy for me to trot over to Facebook and schedule some posts for them. I can’t wait to show you guys the non-existent WordAds revenue every quarter until either I die or reach my eighties. Ooh, now I want a Freddo.

If you found this halfway interesting, let me know! Ask questions! Get judgy in the comments section! Okay, not too judgy. I don’t bitch about your life choices to your face. Students and writers are meant to be fiscally insecure, it’s basically a rule. It does feel strange to talk about money so publicly, but I do feel like it needs to be done. Not because I want readers to feel bad for me – I chose to work in the arts and I chose to go back to school – but because not enough people talk about what those things look like in reality. I’m off to daydream about Freddos and continue my Raven Cycle reread.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Pre-Empting Burnout and Turning Off the Internet for a Bit (except not here, here is nice)

This time a month ago I wrote about feeling like we were all living in the Nine of Wands. I still do, but the end is in sight. Or if not sight then it’s around the corner and down the road a bit. My diploma is almost finished. This stage of lockdown is almost finished. I got my eyebrows waxed yesterday and I feel like I can finally do my sarcastic eyebrow raises with precision. My final hand in date is the same day the lockdown eases up, which I only realised last week. It’s all a bit… soon-but-also-not-soon? Time has moved so differently since the pandemic began. Except for my eyebrow hairs, which have continued their mission to become one single eyebrow. (No shade to the Frida Kahlos of the world; I wish I had your gumption but I was brought up in a time of tweezed brows and the societal damage has been done. Also I really love that slightly sharp look that comes with a well defined brow. All the better for expressing my distaste for idiots without saying a single word.)

Point is, I’ve got a few important things to do – finish my final project, reread the entirety of the Raven Cycle and the Dreamer Trilogy before Mister Impossible comes out, repot some of the more substantial courgettes – and I reckon it’s time to do the smart thing and go on an official holiday, so I can focus properly and not collapse into a heap when something minor sends me into a tailspin. If you’re a colleague and you’re expecting to hear from me next week then ignore this completely: I’m a) not going anywhere and b) really just turning off my social media. I can’t afford to stop working. I’m thinking of this as more of a break from other people’s voices, even if those voices are really funny on Twitter. I’ll pop in a few times a week to check my messages but otherwise I’ll only be posting on this blog, my Patreon or sending out my monthly-ish newsletter. This blog doesn’t feel like work (and I have lots of posts I want to write up!) and Patreon technically is work but is also mostly me doing tarot readings and telling short stories. Which I will have more head space to do once I’ve turned off all the Twitter voices, handed in this soul sucking, brain eating final project and remembered what it is to be a human being again. I might… go to the shops. WITH NO PURPOSE EXCEPT TO BROWSE.

The thought makes me dizzy.

If you need me urgently, hit me up at francescaswords [at] outlook.com. I’ll get back to you within three business days. I’m not sure when I’ll be back to posting regularly on social media: maybe June? July? I will set up some posts to feed the algorithm, but if you need me… check back here, I guess. Here is a picture of my life post-diploma:

spine photograph of Maggie Stiefvater's UK editions of 'The Raven Cycle' series plus 'Call Down the Hawk. Partial showing of Iris Murdoch's 'Existentialists and Mystics' and Brandon Sanderson's 'The Final Empire', also in paperback.

My darlings. I haven’t read The Raven Cycle since 2019, since before Call Down the Hawk came out. Soon, my precious, battered, non-Insta-friendly paperbacks, I will inflict more spine damage and probably use you as coasters. Can’t bloody wait.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

In which I am becoming a plant mum (post one of, possibly, hundreds)

Afternoon! I’m drafting a post in which I take the piss out of some of my old school work, but I’ve been editing my final project for my diploma so I’m not quite up for being witty this weekend. My braincells are sort of hanging onto life with the grim determination of someone who knows that a holiday is right around the corner. I don’t want to frighten them. So I thought that I’d talk about something nice instead and what is could be nicer, on May Day, than plants?

Okay, maybe more reliable weather and a gin but let’s not quibble. HERE ARE SOME PLANTS I’VE BEEN GROWING.

Let’s start with some courgette sproutlings. I don’t know the name for vegetables once they’ve stopped being seeds but before they look like the things you buy in the supermarket. These little dudes started growing ridiculously quickly. This was day two or three:

tiny courgette sprout

This is them on days, I don’t know, seven or nine? They got real bolshy real quickly. I was reading Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem’s Swamp Thing around now and I definitely started to wonder about the extent to which plants are sentient.

Last Monday I separated them out and I’m kind of hoping the weather gets better before they grow too much more, because the next size of pot is going to be way too big for a windowsill:

This is them today:

I am so glad I’ve hoarded old, broken mugs for the last year or so. This is why I can’t be a proper minimalist. I’ve also just noticed the bird shit on the window. Yay nature!

I like telling them how I’m going to eat them. They don’t seem to mind. All right, next plants! I can’t photograph most of them, because they are either gifts or being propagated as gifts. Might get awkward. Anyway, here is what is going to become, hopefully, a pot of peppers.

I planted them this afternoon. I’ll keep you updated. I’ve been sending my mum daily courgette photos so you guys can keep track of the peppers. Okay now for something inedible: my aloe veras! (Aloe verae?)

I’m saying that they’re inedible like I have any idea if you can eat aloe vera. Some people probably do. The one on the left is a plant I’ve had for… four or five years? It’s grown like the clappers and keeps sprouting. A couple of offspring are on the right. To be completely honest, I’m not sure if they’re going to make it: I think they got a bit too much sun when I first repotted them. Fingers crossed though. Also, points to me for using an old candle holder as a plant pot. That shelf, the one with the aloes and [redacted, because it’s a gift] is right by my windowsill. It also holds my speakers, so I’ve put as many plants there as I can fit partly for the light and partly because sound is good for plants. You’re meant to talk to them I think? I reckon that between me talking to myself, Radio 4 and my MCR CDs, they’re enjoying a balanced diet.

All this plant/food talk is making me hungry so I’ll leave this here. Oh, if you entered last week’s giveaway to win a signed copy of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes then unless you are Sonia Marie you haven’t won. Sorry. I let a computer generator thing chose the winner, so it wasn’t based on the strength of anyone’s fairy tale-related comments. I loved all of them! If you are Sonia Marie, CONGRATULATIONS.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Psst, Paperback Edition of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes Available Now!

Surprise! My baby is now available in corporeal form. A few weeks ago I asked on social media how people feel about audiobooks versus physical books (you guys were unanimous, physical it is). I’ve been wanting to test the waters for a print copy for a while, not least because my Ultimate Dream is to have a iridescent, map-on-the-front-pages, probably-linen-bound hardcover. With a little ribbon for keeping your place. You know the type of book I mean: the type that is a work of art.

Anyway, those are expensive and since I’m self published, I’d have to figure out some sort of pre-order system to gauge demand before committing to a print run. I don’t fancy being stuck with books I can’t sell, even if they are linen bound with a ribbon. So I thought, let’s do the smart thing and have a sort of soft opening using Amazon’s print on demand system.

I’m pretty sure I’ve bitched about Amazon on here before, but if I haven’t: it’s an unholy trinity of bad packaging, ethically questionable business processes and is at least partially responsible for the devaluation of the book industry.

Unfortunately for the high street but fortunately for my bank balance, Amazon does print on demand really well. It took me about half an hour to upload my files, less than 72 hours for Amazon to check the details and tah-dahhh. You can now order a paperback of the world’s best YA fairy tale. It cost me zero pounds, because I downloaded a Photoshop trial to design a back cover and spine. The book is priced exactly as the ebook at £7.99 (well, it is until Bezos discounts it to 89p). I will make about £2 on each copy, assuming they sell at full price, so I need to sell about a thousand copies to afford a posh hardback. Less if I’m willing to put all the money toward the hardback, but I’m quite invested in earning a wage. This is probably a good time to mention that after 11.5 years of blogging, I’ve joined the Amazon Affiliate programme with the strict goal of scraping every last penny from this paperback as I can… the links in this post are all affiliated. I think a lot of you would have to click and buy for me to hit the minimum payment threshold of £25, though, ha.

Anyway, I am already in profit, because a few members of the No. 1 Readers’ Club have bought some copies (this is why you should join the No. 1 Readers’ Club). I haven’t forgotten about doing a quarterly income round up, by the way! The last quarter ended a few weeks ago but I have diploma work to finish, so I’ll probably get the post done in a month or so. My ebook royalties aren’t in, so it’ll be a short post.

As with the ebook, I’ll be paying it forward with three copies: if you or someone you know wants a copy but cannot afford it, hit me up and I’ll order you a copy to to your mailing address. I’m also doing a giveaway right here on this very blog! To win a signed copy of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, comment on this post and tell me your favourite fairy tale or folk tale. Mine changes all the time, but Femlore Pod recently did an episode on Lieutenant Nun, who is fascinating. The contest ends on 30th April at 11:59pm BST, it’s open internationally, and I’ll pick a winner at random the next day.

Oh, one last thing:

If and when a hardcover run becomes a reality, I may pull this particular paperback. Ideally, one day I’d like this book to have a permanent home with a publishing house that can do hardcover, paperback, audiobook et al and handle all the logistics (and ensure that Amazon is not the only paperback retailer). That would mean a different ISBN, different blurb and spine and whatnot. So there’s a distinct possibility that in twenty years’ time, this particular Amazon offering will be like first printings of MCR’s first record: rare and sold on eBay for inflated prices. That’s actually already happening to an extent; the book’s been live for a week and someone’s already selling ‘used’ copies at a premium. What they’re actually doing is drop shipping: buying new copies and sending them straight to the customer, because they are [censored because it’s too rude even for this blog]. Anyway, if you’d like to be a part of history, just saying, the book is here.

'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes' paperback on shelf
Much love to my cousin Ellen for taking The Princess and the Dragon‘s first ever shelfie!

Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Minimalish: Six Month Brick Phone Review with a Small Detour into a Quite a Large Consumerism Rant

Sooo if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know I swapped my smart phone for a brick phone late last year. I did a one month review and thought, since it’s now been about six months, I’d do a proper, Which?-esque write up, especially as a few people have said they’d love to ditch their smart phone. Here’s what the phone looks like:

Nokia Brick phone next to a gold foil bow

Good things about the brick

To be honest, the best things about the brick are not the phone itself. As a device, it’s mediocre. But as a metaphor conduit thing to help me concentrate, it’s bloody brilliant.

  • Since buying it, I think I’ve developed a reasonably better attention span.
  • I think I’m less twitchy and less likely to pull out the phone for something to hold and stare at and poke when I’m in an awkward situation which, considering we are living in the End Times and my natural state is extreme twitchiness, feels like a big achievement.
  • I’m definitely more likely to look at things now, rather than snapping a picture of that thing and never look at it ever again.
  • Having a very boring screen has helped me realise that lots of apps and notifications stress me out. My mum’s phone has three screens of apps and just looking at the screen makes me anxious. She has all her notifications on too. It’s like having an insect buzzing around your ear, except more annoying because at least insects contribute to the eco system. I did cut down my notifications and apps on the smart phone, over the course of a few years, but it’s been lovely to look at a screen with absolutely nothing enticing apart from the odd game of Snake.
  • I charge it about once a fortnight and I’m smug about it.
  • Because the internet is a non-event, I pay a pound a week for my data, minutes and texts. A POUND A WEEK. I’m smug about that too.

Less good things

  • It’s so easy to lose a small device in your pockets! Like I said before, do you know how difficult it is to lose something in women’s cut pockets?
  • I have occasionally replaced mindless smart phone scrolling with other bad behaviours, like mindless scrolling of Reddit, so maybe don’t do that (but I am working on the social media thing. More on that another time).
  • The brick phone doesn’t have certain apps I use a lot, like WhatsApp, banking and Headspace, so I’ve kept my old, rickety smartphone. Because we’ve been in lockdown, it’s no hassle to swap between the two.

So the brick phone is here for life, right?

Not quite.

Some nuance and adult considerations

Having lived without one, I feel like I have a new appreciation for the fact that smart phones are great. That giant computer Alan Turing came up with plus the cassette tape Lou Ottens invented, plus the camera (I do not know who we consider to be the inventor of the camera), plus interactive maps, plus texting, plus a little torch, oh and plus a telephone, tucked in my pocket. There’s a reason they’re ubiquitous and that reason is that technology is great. Mobile phones, and smart phones specifically, represent innovation and, in many ways, social equality: about five billion people own mobile phones worldwide. I couldn’t find stats on how much of that is made up of smart phones but it’s probably a fair bit.

My issue with them – everyone’s issue with them, right? – is that they are lotus-eaters, designed to wriggle into your brain and whisper that you need never leave this brightly coloured screen. I can’t not think about the hours I’ve lost to Twitter threads, the Instagram browsing page, news sites and Facebook posts by people I don’t even like. I hate how reliant I used to be on one device. When was the last time I had to use my brain to figure out a route instead of consulting Google? I can tell you: Chiang Mai in Thailand four years ago, when my battery died and I found my way through badly lit streets using my memory and the map in a guide book. Can that really be the last time I used my braincells? No wonder my memory’s shit and my confidence is shot to pieces; I needed that bright, cheery screen to find my way out of bed.

But those things aren’t the smartphone’s fault. They’re mine, because I let the phone make the easy choices for me. Use my memory or consult Google Maps. Have difficult conversation face to face or have it over text. Converse with sort-of-friends-who-I-don’t-really-like or escape to social media, where I can look at content by people I’d actually like to be friends with. Think through response to email in a sensible, measured way or fire off an angry response because the message is right there. That was all me, letting the phone make my life easier in the short term even if it made me an anxious, irritable insomniac with bad communication skills and worse coping methods in the long term.

I don’t like how we always assume people own a smart phone, either. Getting Covid tested was a bit of a faff because I couldn’t scan my app thing, but I’m still pretty tech-savvy and could fill in all details with the staff. There was a story this week about older people being discriminated against because they don’t own smart phones and can’t use apps to order from tables in pubs, etc. My great uncle got a mobile a couple of years ago not by design but because one of his neighbours had a spare. He’s barely a telly bloke. He deserves to pop down the pub should he fancy, and not be turned away because he can’t scan himself in. If I remember correctly, he did something with radios in the Royal Navy. Could I do that? No. The digital divide is real and it’s not fair. Us Bright Young Millennials are going to be confused as fuck when our children start uploading their brains into the cloud. If tech isn’t working for one lot of society, is it working for all of us?

Then there’s the cost of smart phones. People are putting down a grand for a phone like it’s normal behaviour? My dudes. These phone companies are fucking us all over with their shiny marketing campaigns and their addictive screens and their insidious whisperings that you need to take out a payment plan or use your credit card to purchase a device that will be obsolete in two or three years’ time.

Don’t even start me on the social and environmental impact of the tech industry. Actually, I’ve started. Smart phones pollute. They are made from metals mined in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias often control the mines. Both those articles are a few years old; I’m not sure what the stats are at the moment. But my soapbox has been stood on: our consumerism is killing the planet and harming people we’ll never meet.

Cinderella uggghhh GIF
from giphy

This took a slightly angry turn. Back to my phone shite.

Things I quite liked about my smartphone (when its battery wasn’t dying, my brain wasn’t melting and the microchip wasn’t recording my every movement for the lizard people)

  • Usability. Tapping the ‘3’ key three times to get the letter F on the brick can be annoying. Making 6 clicks to activate silent mode is a moderate inconvenience when you’re trying to check your phone won’t go off in a meeting. The speaker, which isn’t brilliant, is a bit irritating when there’s background noise. Smart phones are just so easy to tap, man, and they’re so… solid. Well, other than that Samsung that used to catch fire if you glanced at it the wrong way.
  • Apps for boarding passes. I know it’s a non-issue at present but I love waving my phone at passport control. I don’t love carrying around bits of paper. It’s more stressful knowing that losing one item means loosing access to all your paperwork, but it’s less stressful keeping hold of one object than a file of papers.
  • Banking apps/Headspace/WhatsApp (basically the unholy trinity of my life ahaha).
  • The camera. I am so, so grateful I have about a thousand photos of my dogs from before they died. Do I look at all one thousand images every day? No. One day I may even find the strength to clear out duplicates. But for now, my folders of dog photos are important to me.

So. I will likely get a smart phone at some point now the world is opening up. I love not having to faff about with papers at the airport; I love that I can check my bank balance in five seconds. I want to take photos of my friends, and of cool things I do, and of other people’s dogs! I don’t love that the brick disappears into the folds of my trousers.

But what type of smart phone? My ideal device would be one that’s basically a Nokia 3310 I have now but with some app functions, and a bigger screen and better camera. I like the Light Phone for its simplicity (its screen uses the same tech as e-readers, so no irritating bright colours that keep you awake), but it doesn’t have apps like Whatsapp. So I guess my best option is to get an actual smartphone and just keep it in night mode forever, and be strict with myself about apps and notifcations? I try to follow a one-in-one-out rule with accounts I follow on social media, clothing and general stuff, and it’s done my mental health wonders; maybe I should do the same with apps (I think this whole Minimalish series is just me saying ‘my brain is cluttered and less physical items helps it be less cluttered’).

I’m not sure how much I’ve learnt, or how much sage advice I’ve passed on in this post. In the last couple of days I’ve finished an assignment, filmed, failed to edit and scheduled a video for the No. 1 Readers’ Club, phoned PayPal because my Patreon money is stuck in my Patreon account (it is still stuck) and done a cool thing with The Princess and the Dragon that I’ll share with you next week. So I’m ready to close the lid on the week and regain some human-ness. Wait, I wrote that sentence before I learnt that Helen McCrory died. I think I want to have a gin and watch Peaky Blinders. I was just thinking about Aunt Polly today. Stop taking nice things, 2021.

Let me know if this has inspired you to swap out your tech use, or put you off the whole idea of brick phones. Let me know your Helen McCrory memories. Let me know how much gin is the right amount for a Friday night in sort of-lockdown with a livestream and some laundry.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)

Living in the Nine of Wands

Morning lovelies. (It is not might not be morning by the time I publish this, but I’m trying to stay optimistic.)

I thought I’d chat about things being not-quite-finished today. The Nine of Wands, if you will. I have a couple of meaty blogs in the works (a brick phone update and a post about the school work I found when I was clearing out recently. Some of the pieces I found are historic treasures aka completely ridiculous and deserving of photographic preservation for future generations. A one page biography of Frank Iero in French, anyone?) but they deserve a bit more polishing. I’m working on a couple of short stories too, and some dragonnovel stuff, but they too need more polishing before I can justify an entire blog post… or even a tweet, to be honest. Not-being-quite-done feels like a bit of a slogan at the moment. Lockdown is not-quite-done. Covid is definitely not done, but with a few bajillion more vaccinations we might be able to stop using the phrase ‘R rate’ with such regularity. My diploma is not-quite-done, but it’s close enough that I want to skip the final three assignments and be finished.

I don’t love that feeling where the end’s in sight but too far to see the details. Stop taunting me, deadline days! I overworked myself in spring term, spent all of Easter in a not-quite-sleeping-properly-because-I’m-still-stressed-from-the-last-deadline fog and now the deadlines are closer but I have no energy to open a document and talk about presenting business data.

It does not help that two of these last assignments are very boring (yes, one topic is analysing and presenting business data. The subject itself is quite interesting, but the assessment is a kind of academic vampire hellbent on sucking the enthusiasm out of it). One assignment is less boring but very long winded. Except you can’t spend too long on it, because the word count is absolutely miniscule, but you’re so limited with space that you have to decide which parts of your research are worth including and which aren’t when, actually, they are all worth including and the assessment criteria is nonsense.

Oops, I was not expecting to one-sentence that. I am not friends with these last assignments. I want to yeet them into the Suez Canal then spend approximately six weeks on a tropical island, eating noodles and doing Pilates outside. I want spring to come back! Why did it snow when we just had a heatwave? Why did I put away my big scarves? I’m not even sure if I’m on speaking terms with my career at the moment. Why can’t I finish a short story in forty five minutes and have it edited within two days? Why am I assuming that a forty five minute story is even possible for someone who uses 8,000 sentences in every piece of work? Seriously, what was I thinking washing and putting my woollen garments away after two days of sunshine? Oh, and the anxious bit of my brain is freaking out because I’m under 30 and had the AstraZeneca vaccine. The contraceptive pill I’m on carries a risk of blood clots and I’ve happily eaten that for several years, and the vaccine risks are miniscule compared to the ‘dying of Covid without immunisation’ risks , but does my brain know that? No.

So I think it’s fair to say I’m a bit overwhelmed. That’s the thing with Nine of Wands: it’s not the Ten. It literally represents being ‘nearly there,’ or ‘enough that you could stop now if you really wanted to.’ I don’t really want to stop now. I want to yeet those assignments into their respective upload boxes, smug in the knowledge that I’ve completed every part of my diploma, knowing I’ve polished each assessment until it shines. I want to stop using the word yeet as though I’m a 15-year-old who knows how TikTok works.

I think the solution might be a cup of tea. It usually is, innit. I know that in a few weeks I’ll have most of this diploma finished, those short stories will, for better or worse, be floating around my patrons’ inboxes and we might stop talking about snow? Oh, and we can go about beautifying ourselves again. I’ll probably feel better when my eyebrows don’t look like Troy Tempest’s and my fringe is cut properly. I just have to hang on until then, and try to find coping mechanisms that aren’t a) mindlessly reading Reddit or b) coming on here to talk about tarot. It’s just occurred to me that the whole of civilisation is sort of living in the Nine of Wands. There’s a route out of this pandemic, but the road is winding and some people are in cars driven by imbeciles. Some roads are tarmacked and some are full of potholes and bad lighting.

I’m going for a cup of tea. I can’t believe I’ve turned a post about ‘feeling a bit tired’ into a metaphor about governments as terrible drivers.

Thelma and Louise car driving off cliff gif
I don’t know where this came from but it feels relevant

What are your coping mechanisms for when you’re burned out and struggling with motivation? I know most students have some form of deadline approaching. Except for GCSEs and A Levels? They’ve cancelled those, haven’t they? Have they? God, no wonder I’m all over the place. Anyway. Tell me how you’re coping! If you have a work deadline on the horizon, or you’re barely clinging to sanity while you wait for lockdown to ease, I want to know how you’re doing. Let’s cling to sanity together.


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like (if you’d prefer, you can use PayPal or Ko-fi). If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers and as a paperback from Amazon. (That link’s an affiliate. Gotta scrape every penny from Bezos, you know?)