At Rio

Four years ago, on this blog, I wrote a post entitled Heading for Rio. At that time, having been inspired by the Olympic Games in London, I set myself the challenge of writing a novel and finding a publisher for it by the time the next Olympics rolled round in 2016. I also mentioned my habit of wasting time on Twitter and Facebook instead of spending time writing. As I write, the Rio Olympics are coming to a close and I’ve been revisiting the goals I set myself in 2012.

In 2012, I wrote this:

What I want to achieve by 2016 is not only to have written the book, but also (no doubt after many rejections) to have found a publisher and got it published… my aim is to finish the book in 2014, two years from now.

Significantly reducing the amount of time I spent on social media certainly freed up time for other things, including writing, and since 2012 I’ve written two and a half novels, as well as a number of short stories. Back then I also wrote this:

I know that I can do something difficult if I put my mind to it and want it enough, but in order for me to have any hope of achieving it I have to have those two elements: determination and desire.

I very much wanted to prove to myself that I could write a novel. Keeping going was a struggle at times, but I had the determination and desire to carry me through to the finish. What I hadn’t given so much thought to was how I would feel when I had finished writing it.

Since completion, the first novel has undergone numerous revisions and edits, processes I found neither easy nor enjoyable. In some cases, I had to re-read the same passages many times in my quest to sharpen them up and make the story flow. It was laziness that made the task so difficult, but putting in the effort did give me some satisfaction.

By the time I had spent a year or more editing and re-writing the first novel, after taking a break to write the second, I began submitting the book to agents, and then to publishers. Most of them replied to say they weren’t interested, and one or two of them didn’t reply at all. It’s now nearly three months since I last submitted the book to anyone, and I haven’t had a reply from that submission.

Although I found the first rejections difficult, I was determined enough to keep on trying. After a while I branched out from submitting exclusively to agents and started sending the book directly to publishers instead. I hoped this change in approach might yield better results, but it has proved no more successful.

This leaves me wondering what to do next. I’ve looked into self-publishing but it’s not the route I want to take at the moment. If I were an outsider giving myself advice I might tell myself to keep going and never allow the dream to die. There’s nothing wrong with that opinion and, indeed, I can fully see the sense of it. To have dedicated so much time and effort to the project already makes it seem only sensible to refuse to give up until I find a publisher.

In order to do that, however, I need to have some motivation, a real desire to find a publisher, whatever it takes. At the moment, the motivation isn’t there. Who knows if it might return, perhaps it will after I’ve taken a break to do other things, but until I get it back I don’t think I’m going to make any progress on that front. Far from feeling sorry about this, I feel surprisingly content.

Watching the Rio Olympics, I possibly have even more admiration for the athletes now than I had in 2012. Even if they don’t get a medal this time around, many of them – having already dedicated years to training – will keep on trying and hope for better things at the next Olympics in 2020. Maintaining such long-term goals, with an unrelenting desire to succeed, are character traits I stand in awe of. To want something so much that you’re prepared to wait however long it takes to achieve it is quite mind-boggling.

All of the top athletes I’ve heard interviewed in Rio have given their own reasons for wanting to succeed, citing different motivating factors that have driven them on. Mo Farah, the British runner who last night got the gold medal in the 5,000 metres, after achieving the same in the 10,000 metres, winning both in London before repeating the feat in Rio, has often said that his children are what motivates him. He has four children and now has an Olympic gold medal for each of them. For Usain Bolt it was the chance to do something no other athlete has ever done before, getting gold in three track events at three separate Olympics. That desire to be possibly the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen has driven him on and got him through the tough times because it was something he wanted so much.

My own desire to become a published author is a far more modest ambition, and yet from my point of view it will take something of the same sort of drive and determination to achieve it. Without that determination I’ll find it impossible, so do I still want it enough? The past four years have taught me many things about myself, some of which were completely unexpected.

One of the influencing factors in the way I view things now has been what happened to my eldest brother, Fergus, in September 2014. He was a highly intelligent and enthusiastic person, and although he suffered from various mental health problems for many years he worked hard to fight depression. He made a considerable effort to join a variety of groups, and gave a lot of his time freely to help other people. He was 51 when he went missing in Switzerland, and nothing has been heard from him now for nearly two years. I have come to the conclusion that he suffered a fatal accident in the Swiss mountains and, sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never find out what happened to him.

Fergus achieved a great deal in his lifetime, and I’m sure he could have gone on to achieve a lot more. Having been made acutely aware of how fragile life is, I might have expected Fergus’s experience to make me more determined than ever to achieve my own goals while I still can. In fact, it’s almost had the opposite effect. I realise how lucky I am to be able to enjoy each day and get something good out of it, even if I do nothing of earth-shattering importance. I would still like to become a published author one day, but my attitude to life, and a possible future, has changed. To appreciate what I have today, seems to me far more important than striving for a position I might or might not attain in the future.

That isn’t to say I’m giving up on goals and dreams, far from it. I’m still hugely inspired by Olympic athletes, and indeed anyone who sets themselves difficult goals and achieves them through grit and determination. I still dream about the future and imagine the things I would like to do if the opportunities arise, and it’s these dreams that keep life exciting and inspiring. Inevitably, I sometimes think about what will happen to me if I don’t achieve my writerly ambitions, but I try not to dwell on such thoughts. There will always be things I wish I had done, or still want to do if I get the chance, but being thankful for what I have today makes the present a blessing, whatever the future holds.

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Sir Terry Pratchett

Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the phenomenally successful Discworld novels, as well as a number of first class children’s books, died yesterday aged only 66.

I was first introduced to his writing nearly twenty years ago when a friend recommended the Discworld book, Reaper Man.

reaper-man-1 I loved it and have since read many of his other books, including some of his excellent children’s novels.

His first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971 and he went on to write more than 70 books in the next 43 years. That is pretty extraordinary by anyone’s standards.

In an interview in The Internet Writing Journal in 2000, Terry Pratchett had this to say about writing:

Everyone finds their own way of doing things. I certainly don’t sit down and plan a book out before I write it. There’s a phrase I use called “The Valley Full of Clouds.” Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree. At this stage in the book, I know a little about how I want to start. I know some of the things that I want to do on the way. I think I know how I want it to end. This is enough. The thing now is to get as much down as possible. If necessary, I will write the ending fairly early on in the process. Now that ending may not turn out to be the real ending by the time that I have finished. But I will write down now what I think the conclusion of the book is going to be. It’s all a technique, not to get over writer’s block, but to get 15,000 or 20,000 words of text under my belt. When you’ve got that text down, then you can work on it. Then you start giving yourself ideas.”

I’ve read quite a lot of advice about writing, much of it from accomplished authors, but Terry Pratchett’s attitude particularly inspires and enthuses me.

Dedicating your life to fulfilling and enjoyable work (which, ideally, produces a nice income) is one of the things that makes life worth living. Terry Pratchett loved writing, and people loved reading what he wrote. It was the perfect scenario.

~~~~

A life stripped bare

I recently finished reading the book, “A life stripped bare”. The author, Leo Hickman, is a journalist at The Guardian newspaper and this book came about after his employer set him the challenge of trying to see if he and his family could live more ethically over the course of a year.

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He began his experiment by inviting three auditors into his home, to assess his family’s green credentials. The auditors consisted of a director of Friends of the Earth, the founder of the Planet Organic shops in London and a researcher at Ethical Consumer magazine. These three people went through Leo’s home, pulling things out of his kitchen cupboards, reading the labels on cleaning products and probing him about all aspects of his lifestyle. As I read the book I felt mighty glad that nobody was rifling through my cupboards in a similar manner, but some of the what they said was certainly relevant to me.

I admire people who make big changes to their lives in order to lower their carbon footprint or try to live in a more community minded way. My brother Fergus, who went missing in September, was one such person. On his website he recorded his thoughts about a variety of ethical concerns, some of which caused him a great deal of mental anguish. He suffered from depression, and in his darker moments felt overwhelmed by the huge scale of many of the world’s problems. He didn’t just worry about them, however, but made a concerted effort to do something practical in response. A lot of what I read in this book reminded me of him. It also made me think more about which aspects of ethical living instinctively appeal to me, and which I’d find much harder to take on board. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing, for example, that I don’t know where my bank invests its customers’ money, or if the companies I choose to interact with have a poor track record when it comes to human rights or environmental issues. Those things should matter to me, but because they don’t impinge on my day to day life I find it easy to put them to the back of my mind.

On the reverse cover of the book are the following three questions:

How often in life does convenience triumph over ‘doing the right thing’?

Can you really make a difference?

What does ‘ethical living’ mean anyway?

I now have a better idea of how to answer those questions for myself and I imagine most people would agree, in theory at least, that it’s worth trying to live more ethically by making choices that cause less harm to ourselves, to others, and to the local and global environment. An interesting aspect of the book is the inclusion of letters that were sent to Leo from all over the world. Although he did receive a few discouraging messages, the majority of correspondents were positive and encouraging.

The main message I took away was that although none of us can do everything to solve the world’s problems, we can each do something, and something is better than nothing. As Leo Hickman says, “you can’t save the world single-handedly, but you can make more of an effort than you did yesterday.”

I think I have now become more aware of what is meant by ‘ethical living’. If all we do initially is to give a bit more thought to our actions, we’ll be in a better position to have a positive effect on society. I hope I can not only keep that message at the forefront of my mind, but get into the habit of applying it in practical ways. I don’t think this book would have had the same impact on me had I not witnessed first hand someone deliberately living as ethically as they could. For that, I have Fergus to thank. Unfortunately, I can’t tell him about this in person but it’s a comfort to know that he’s left such a positive legacy.

List of books read in 2014

In response to a request from Connie in my last post, this post contains a list of the books I read last year.

Divided into fiction and non fiction, they’re listed in the order that I read them (although I jumped about between fiction and non fiction throughout the year).

Although the oldest non fiction title was published in 1997, about half of the fiction was published before that. The oldest fiction title on the list is Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim”, which was first published in 1901. This edition (below) was printed in 1957 and belonged to my grandmother.

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It’s probably not very difficult after skimming the list to guess that Agatha Christie is one of my favourite authors. I had previously read all of those on the list, bar one. I’m extremely grateful that she was so prolific, because I can read and re-read her books without returning to the same ones too soon after they were last read. There are 12 of her books on my 2014 list, and I fully anticipate devouring a similar number this year.

One of the best finds for me last year was Eric Ambler (1909-1998), who wrote spy stories. After reading “Cause for alarm”, which I came across by chance in the library, I sought out some others and three of them are on this list. I did start a fourth one that he wrote later in life, but I couldn’t get through it.

Another highlight last year was reading two creations by fellow bloggers, Shona Patel and Annie Oliverio. Shona’s book is a fictional story set in India and Annie’s is a non fiction guide to caring for someone who’s dying. I found both of these books outstandingly well written and compelling.

Fiction

“Hector and the search for happiness” by François Lelord (2002)

“Mutiny on the Bounty” by John Boyne (2008)

“Maskerade” by Terry Pratchett (1995)

“Seven dials” by Anne Perry (2003)

“Murder in the museum” by Simon Brett (2004)

“The curious incident at Claridge’s” by R T Raichev (2010)

“The scheme for full employment” by Magnus Mills (2003)

“A judgement in stone” by Ruth Rendell (1997)

“Miss Buncle’s Book” by D E Stevenson (1934)

“Teatime for the firefly” by Shona Patel (2013)

“The collected stories of Rumpole” by John Mortimer (2012)

“The affair of the bloodstained egg cosy” by James Anderson (1975)

“Five star billionaire” by Tash Aw (2013)

“The island” by Victoria Hislop (2005)

“The witness at the wedding” by Simon Brett (2005)

“Second time around” by Marcia Willett (1997)

“The house on the cliff” by D E Stevenson (1966)

“Sleeping murder” by Agatha Christie (1976)

“The best man to die” by Ruth Rendell (1969)

“Shroud for a nightingale” by P D James (1971)

“The behaviour of moths” by Poppy Adams (2008)

“Easter Island” by Jennifer Vanderbes (2003)

“Sleeping Tiger” by Rosamunde Pilcher (1967)

“Dumb witness” by Agatha Christie (1937)

“Deadline” by Barbara Nadel (2013)

“Cause for alarm” by Eric Ambler (1938)

“Cover her face” by P D James (1962)

“The good thief’s guide to Vegas” by Chris Ewan (2010)

“Skios” by Michael Frayn (2012)

“Kim” by Rudyard Kipling (1901)

“Journey into fear” by Eric Ambler (1940)

“The Bad Quarto” by Jill Paton Walsh (2007)

“Every man for himself” by Beryl Bainbridge (1996)

“Epitaph for a spy” by Eric Ambler (1938)

“Gaudy night” by Dorothy L Sayers (1935)

“The bride’s farwell” by Meg Rosoff (2009)

“Devices and desires” by P D James (1989)

“Trent’s own case” by E C Bentley and H Warner Allen (1936)

“The pale horse” by Agatha Christie (1961)

“They came to Baghdad” by Agatha Christie (1951)

“The body in the library” by Agatha Christie (1942)

“A pocket full of rye” by Agatha Christie (1953)

“A murder is announced” by Agatha Christie (1950)

“The Thief” by Ruth Rendell (2006)

“The moving finger” by Agatha Christie (1943)

“The Sittaford Mystery” by Agatha Christie (1931)

“Blood at the bookies” by Simon Brett (2008)

“Destination unknown” by Agatha Christie (1954)

“Ordeal by innocence” by Agatha Christie (1958)

“And then there were none” by Agatha Christie (1939)


Non-fiction

“Pirates, Plants and Plunder” by Stewart Ross (2005)

“The idle traveller’ by Dan Kieran (2012)

“The lost city of Z” by David Grann (2009)

“A terminal illness primer for caregivers” by Ann Oliverio (2014)

“Mindset” by Carol Dweck (2006)

“Sea legs” by Guy Grieve (2013)

“59 seconds” by Professor Richard Wiseman (2009)

“Affluenza” by Oliver James (2007)

“Arthur Conan Doyle – beyond Sherlock Holmes” by Dr Andrew Norman (2007)

“Up with the larks” by Tessa Hainsworth (2009)

“Quirkology” by Professor Richard Wiseman (2007)

“Seagulls in the attic” by Tessa Hainsworth (2010)

“Round Ireland with a fridge” by Tony Hawks (1997)

“The mould in Dr Florey’s coat” by Eric Lax (2004)

“Screw it, let’s do it” by Richard Branson (2006)

“Himalaya” by Michael Palin (2004)

*   *   *   *   *

This morning I finished a non fiction book I started reading a couple of weeks ago. Having got into the habit of keeping a note of books last year I might as well carry on and see if I can do it for two years running.

Thanks to Professor Richard Wiseman, my year got off to a spooky start with the book below. I like a bit of the paranormal now and then, so I’m hoping for a few more ghoulish surprises in the next 12 months.

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New Year’s Resolutions

Around this time last year I did a post in which I stated that one of my new year’s resolutions was to give away 365 items throughout 2013.

At the time I had every intention of fulfilling this aim, indeed I felt utterly determined to achieve it.

However, as is the norm with resolutions, it started off well and then tailed off after a while.

I didn’t manage to record the expulsion of 365 items, but I did make it to 111, a mere 254 short of my target.

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Funky necklace with matching bracelet – two of the items I managed to put someone else’s way in 2013.

This year I am again contemplating resolutions, although I have no reason to believe that I’ll be any more successful with them than I’ve been in the past.

For a period of about three months in 2013 I made a concerted effort to note down the books I read in that time, including the title, author and a short review of each one. Despite only doing it for three months I found it quite an effort, which makes me seriously question the advisability of making a resolution along these lines.

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If books aren’t your thing, perhaps you could master a new skill in 2014 (you might need to click on the picture to read the quote on the bookshelf).

Despite already having more blogs than I can keep up with, I’ve created another new one, Lorna’s Books, where I hope to record every book I read in 2014. (You can get to it by clicking on the blog name, but there’s not much there yet.)

Although choice of reading material is a very personal thing and what I say about a book might be of no value to another reader, I quite enjoy reading other people’s book reviews and so I suppose there might be the odd blogger who would be prepared to read mine.

This project is mainly a test for myself, to see if I have the self-discipline to achieve something I’ve tried and failed to do on several occasions in the past. At the moment I wouldn’t bet on success, but you never know.

In order to avoid feeling depressed if my resolution fails, I should perhaps also set myself an easier challenge, such as eating a scone and drinking at least a pint of tea every day.

The only problem is it would lack any real challenge.

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A stollen scone: one of the delights of the festive season.

Words of wisdom

As I’m sure many other people do, I write down quotes that amuse me.

Many of these come from the mouths of the two delightful assistants, aka my mum and dad, and I record them in this book:

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A plain burgundy hardback notebook – it doesn’t look much from the outside but there are treasures within.

It’s quite old, this notebook. In fact, it dates back to the 1960s, when it belonged to my dad.

He had the idea of using it to record the books he’d read and the first 18 pages have a book title on each one.

This is the very first entry, showing a book that was read to him in 1967 (by my eldest brother, he thinks), and then read by him on three more occasions before 1970. He must have really liked it.

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Page one of the burgundy notebook.

I’ve tried to do this sort of thing myself, but I invariably forget to add some books as I finish them and eventually the project dies a natural death.

Much more successful has been my recording of quotes.

Over the years my dear pater has been getting deafer and deafer and some of the quotes that tickle me most are those involving his mishearing of things other people say. The quotes that follow will probably appeal to my immediate family more than anyone else, but you might be able to imagine the amusement caused.

My sister: “I want to see your receipt.”

Dad: “My feet?”

My sister: “RECEIPT!”

Dad: “Oh. I thought you were thinking about getting me slippers for Christmas.”

Mum: “There’s three bags to take to Flora’s.”

Dad: “Did you say something to me about teabags?”

My sister: “I meant to bring slips.”

Dad: “You met Prince Philip?”

Dad: “I think I”ll have a wee sit down.”

Mum: “I think you should have a big sit down.”

Dad: “Yes, I think I will have a biscuit.”

Recently my mum’s started to mishear things occasionally, too, such as the time when there was excavation work being done in the garden and one of the diggers (a JCB) got an oil leak.

Lorna: “Dad gave a hand towel to Derek, the boy with the JCB.”

Mum: “What boy who died of TB?”

Both of the parents can be quite droll.

Lorna: “I know a trick with a cake.”

Mum: “Do you? It’s called the vanishing trick. You vanish with the cake, is that right?”

My brother Fergus: “The Tay and Forth bridges were closed.”

Mum: “Entirely closed?”

Dad: “No, just half way across.”

Mum: “You really are looking slimmer today.”

Dad: “I’m wearing a tight vest.”

Lorna (to Dad): “And what made you change your mind?”

Mum: “Common sense.”

Dad: “Or a nagging wife.”

Mum: “It comes to the same thing.”

If you’ve read this far you’ll be needing a picture by now. Here’s an apple and cranberry scone I had earlier this week at Gloagburn Farm Shop and Tearoom:

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A festive apple and cranberry scone at Gloagburn, surprisingly flavoured with vanilla. Delightful assistant no.1 wasn’t too struck by the vanilla addition but I enjoyed it.

In addition to the book of quotes I’m thinking of collecting together my mum’s wise sayings. These are statements that she comes out with now and then, and in which she appears to believe completely and utterly. For example:

“It’s easier to get a fat person thin than a thin person fat.”

“The hours before midnight are more beneficial than those after.”

When I was at university one of my chums was entertained by the fact that I often wrote down word for word the things our lecturers said. My lecture notes frequently had things scribbled on them in quotation marks, and after seeing me do this she began doing it herself.

Little did I know that she was transferring them into a notebook which she eventually gave me for Christmas, on the front of which she had written “Lorna’s little book”.

I still have that book and some of the quotes inside it are from a rather eccentric chap who taught Behavioural Ecology. He was a bit absent-minded but very sincere and liked to make sure that we understood what he was trying to get across.

“There’s a meeting for those studying biological sciences. That’s biological science students.”

(on describing the behaviour of bee-eaters) “A bird is cleaning out a hole. You could call that hole-cleaning.”

“They move around in groups of one, which isn’t really a group at all, is it?”

Back at Gloagburn, before I ate the scone pictured above I had a very filling and tasty sandwich. If I were to ask you to guess the filling I wonder what you’d say:

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What’s in the sandwich?

The sandwich filling was, in fact, curried banana chutney with cheese.

Lastly, here’s something my dad said to a nurse at the local medical centre recently when he was going for a general health check. I can imagine him speaking in his usual confident manner, and the nurse looking astonished. He says her eyebrows shot up as he was speaking.

Nurse: “How tall are you?”

Dad: “I can’t remember it in metric but I do remember the feet and inches: 8 ft 5. When I went into the army they measured me and said they’d build me up. Do people shrink as they get older? Because I think I’m smaller than I used to be.”

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The delightful assistants: smaller than they’re prepared to admit.

A competition for using your imagination

In 1997 a book was published by an unknown author living in Edinburgh.

It was to become a publishing sensation, but since nobody knew that at the time the first print run consisted of a mere 500 hardback copies, most of which went to libraries.

The book was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, by J K Rowling.

harry-potter book jacket

Image from boingboing.net

If you want to buy a first edition, first print run, copy of the book today you’ll need to have several thousand pounds to spend on it, and if it’s a signed copy you’ll need several thousand more. The copy above apparently sold for $29,875 in 2011.

Then again, if you just want to read the book you can get the hardback in a new edition for less than £10 and the paperback for about half that on Amazon. If you’re lucky you might even pick one up in a charity/thrift shop for much less.

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A good rummage in a shop like this might just produce a Harry Potter bargain.

When I self-published a little guidebook to tearooms last year I had no idea how many copies to order, but I found out from the printing company I used that the more I ordered the cheaper each book would be.

Taking a complete stab in the dark and lured in by the lower cost price if I had lots made, I plunged in and ordered 2000.

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A small sample of my book stock.

Had I known then what I know now about the sort of quantity I was likely to sell, I would have paid more for each copy and ordered far fewer, but such is the benefit of hindsight.

On the plus side, lots of lovely customers have shelled out for this small tome, for which I am most grateful, and who knows I may even sell a few more before they become completely obsolete.

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New book by local author in the window of The Bookshop, Blairgowrie, last year.

I was chatting to my sister about this today, and telling her that I felt I’d like to do something with some of the remaining copies.

The only idea I’ve come up with is to make them into some sort of art installation, but beyond piling them up, sticking them to a lamp-post, or arranging them in a sculptural manner, I’ve had little inspiration.

She suggested I ought to have a competition for people to propose things I might do with them, and that made me think about writing this blog post.

This reminds me of a situation my dad was in a few years ago, when he was lumbered with boxes of a book that wasn’t selling (he was running a book stall at the time). I remember leaving a copy on a train once, and on a bus, and I think possibly even on a park bench. I hoped that in each case someone might pick the book up and read it, or give it to a second hand shop or something, but I really don’t know what became of them.

I could do the same with my book, except that I am still selling it online and in a few shops, and I don’t want to upset anyone who’s recently purchased a copy.

The longer I have it, however, the more out of date it becomes, and I’d like to work towards putting it to another use.

If you happen to come up with an interesting idea for what I might do with, say, a box of 100 copies, perhaps you could leave a comment below. There might well be a teatowel for the winning suggestion.

Since I haven’t yet broken even on the cost of producing the book, I’d like whatever I do with spare copies to cost nothing. I have given quite a few to libraries, but I don’t want to offload more onto them when the book is getting a bit dated.

I’ll be putting my own thinking cap on again, and if I come up with anything of interest I’ll post about it anon.

Perhaps I’ll try wearing a pancake like this beautiful rabbit, to see if that proves more inspiring.