Monday, 29 April 2013

Saying Thanks: For The Generosity Of Friends and Neighbours

This is the last time I’m going to mention our flood; it’s all water under the bridge now (both pun and cliché definitely intended) and I realise many people, both in UK and elsewhere, suffered far more than we did. But before I finally move on, I’d like to say thanks to the wonderful people in the town of Chudleigh who showed us what it’s like to live in a small community (a novelty for this pair of city folk).

When we arrived home and found our house sitting in the stream, rather than picturesquely on its banks, I texted a couple of friends with whom we’d spent the evening. As we sat in our neighbour’s house drinking tea and trying to take it all in, there was a knock on the door — and then another. Groups of friends arrived, knowing there was nothing we could do at that point, but just wanting to give us a hug. They left behind flasks of hot water, coffee — and, bizarrely, a couple of novelty pens presented to us by the town’s local comedian.

First thing the next morning, with the water subsided, the mop-up brigade arrived. I found one friend on his hands and knees scraping up the red Devon mud covering everything; he called in his mate, an electrician, who sorted out the power supply before joining in the mud bath. Another couple of friends, with two children in tow, formed a human chain to move the entire contents of our ground floor up to the spare bedroom. We put one of the children in charge of stacking everything neatly on the bed and the floor. He did a wonderful job, bless him, although I’m still finding things now that were neatly hidden away that morning.

Someone arrived with a dehumidifier, piles of old towels — and advice on where to buy decent mops. One brave soul spent two days in our kitchen, drying soggy papers in the oven.

My two sisters visited from afar the following weekend and helped us clear the mudslide from the garden. They also recognised our need for a nest, somewhere we could go and hide when it all got too much; sitting on the landing with a picnic table just wasn’t good enough. They sorted out our attic library, installed the TV, and made sure we had comfortable chairs to sit on. It was so homely, we’ve decided to keep this nest, even though the house is now back to normal.

And then there was the food: people arrived on our door-step with cake, quiche, a beef casserole; and offers of meals out. If anyone so much as breathed the words “you must come round for supper one evening”, we would grab our diaries and start reeling off the dates we were free: “tonight, tomorrow, in fact any day this week!” The owner of our local sweet shop gave us free chocolate. We spent many evenings eating with our neighbour who lost much more than we did, but still had a working dining room. Her wonderful brother spent the day after the flood clearing her basement on his own and then cooked a huge curry for all of us. We took pickles, poppadums and dessert — plus a bottle of champagne to celebrate the fact that: nobody died; nobody got hurt; and it’s only stuff!

Maybe it’s the British reserve, the desire ‘not to be a bother’, but when someone offers to help, the natural reaction is to say “no thanks, we’re fine, we’ll manage”. We learned very quickly that there are times when that is NOT the right thing to say; times when every offer of help is accepted with open arms. We lost count of the text, emails and phone calls we received in the days after the flood, but I wrote down every offer of help and called on people when we needed them. Clearing out the garden room / office / writing room at the bottom of our garden was a task I’d been dreading; we had to wait three days for the water to disappear but then, another group of friends formed a human chain and we shifted everything in less than an hour.

For a couple of months afterwards, every person we met wanted to know how we were getting on and give us a hug. Sometimes we were able to respond; sometimes it was one explanation too many and I’d ask them, eyes welling, to change the subject. For weeks, every time it rained heavily, we would get texts asking if we were OK, if the stream was behaving itself.

And finally, we were heavily involved in preparations for the town’s Christmas Fayre, held just ten days after the event we christened Chudflood. My wonderful organising committee took the whole thing away from me and just got on with it.

So to our friends and family, especially the people of Chudleigh: a huge thank you for your generosity and support. Now, shall we change the subject? 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Saying Thanks: For The Generosity of Writers

I’m sitting in my newly-refurbished writing retreat, aka the garden room, across the lawn from the house. It is the first time I’ve worked in here for five months, following the flood in November that changed so much, and this is only the second blog posting I’ve written in that time. I’ve done quite a lot of writing, published an ebook and finished a novel, but it’s all been done in the tiny space on the attic landing that I carved out for myself in the days after the mopping up finished and the waiting(for drying) began.

This blog is supposed to be weekly, and often features articles on writing as a small business. I don’t feel qualified to comment on the art and craft of creative writing, as I’m fairly new to the whole scene and am definitely still learning. However, having run my own small business for the past twenty-odd years, I do feel I have something to give to writers who are more interested in getting their words onto paper (and hopefully into print) than in maintaining records  or keeping the tax authorities happy.

I will return to my musings on business systems in a couple of weeks’ time. In the meantime, I hope you will indulge me in two personal postings, both about generosity. Next week I will focus on the help and support we got from friends and neighbours during our ‘spot of bother’ with the weather. This week, I want to talk about the wonderful community I have found since I started writing.

Earlier this month, I brought out an ebook Parcels in the Rain and Other Writing and we had a party, online, to celebrate the launch. It was the third time I’d done this. The first, in March 2012, was a quiet little affair. I ran it via our Facebook page, with links to my website. Trying to keep things going in two places at once was a difficult juggling act, but since very few people came, it wasn’t too much of a problem. The second launch, in November 2012, was more successful. We had an all-day Facebook event; I managed to get my internet-phobic co-author online for a while and we kept the whole thing going for twelve hours. But it still wasn’t the raging success I’d hoped for. People stood around, unsure why they were there (well, in a virtual sense anyway).

This month’s party was a totally different affair; and the difference was made by the help and support from other writers. I posted news of the event on Facebook; my writing friends shared and commented. More than seventy people came to the party at some point during the day; many of them were writers taking a break from their latest WIP. I ran a silly game, which I pinched, with her permission, from Sally Quilford’s launch party: post three little-known facts about yourself, only two of which are true; my writing friends threw themselves into the task with gusto (well, I guess crafting lies is what we do best). Writers with more experience in this sort of event contacted me during the day and suggested ways of improving publicity via Twitter. When I had to leave for a while, the party carried on, with other writers posting more (virtual) food and fizz when stocks ran low. These are all little things in themselves, but indications of friendship and support. My thanks go to all my writing friends who helped to make the day such a success.

I wanted to run a prize draw during the party. So I approached some of my published colleagues and asked if they would donate a copy of their book as a prize. Every single one said yes and some donated more than one book. I had assumed they would all send ebooks, since the cost of providing a ‘freebie’ is minimal. Some did, but others preferred to provide paperback copies (yes, we do still produce physical books as well). They even paid the postage themselves. I was blown away by the speed with which I gathered an impressive list of prizes for my draw. So, this is a public thank you to all the authors who donated books to the draw:

R C BridgestockWhite Lilies
Tina K BurtonEclectic Dreams
Maggie CobbettHad We But World Enough; Anyone for Murder?
Sophie DuffyThe Generation Game; This Holey Life
Margaret JamesThe Golden Chain
Peter JonesHow To Do Everything and Be Happy
Madalyn Morgan: Foxden Acres
Kate SermonDark Sleepers
Terry TylerDream On; You Wish; The Other Side; Nobody’s Fault
Jane Wenham-Jones: 100 Ways To Fight The Flab; Perfect Alibis
Sarah PJ WhiteThe Last Angel

The world of an author is a strange, wonderful, interesting one — and it is undergoing huge change at present. Many of the writers on this list are self-published. Several of the books are available as ebook versions only. Even the authors with publishing contracts have to do much of the marketing themselves. There are thousands of new books published every week. It’s definitely a buyers’ market these days.

So, this is my plea to all readers, on behalf of my writer friends: when you finish a book that you have enjoyed, don’t just put it down and move on to the next one. Tell your friends and family about it. If you bought it from a bookshop, tell them how good it is or offer to write a review for them. If you borrowed it from the library, ditto. Write a review for Amazon, for Goodreads, for other review sites. I put my reviews on the specific book page on Amazon (and remember to hit the ‘like’ button at the same time), but also on my book blog. And don’t forget to talk to the author too. We all suffer moments of self-doubt; it really helps to hear from readers who have enjoyed our writing. If you can’t find contact details in the book, you will often finding us lurking on Facebook or Twitter (all in the cause of research, naturally). Drop by and say hi; writers are a really friendly crowd and generous too.