October 2018: heavens – is it really a year since my last words above? In some ways it seems like only the other day. Certainly the time has sped by, mostly with audiobooks; these included hefty doses of Henry James and Trollope, a little known Thomas Hardy, the letters of Abelard and Heloise, two by the explorer and travel writer Wilfred Thesiger, several Italian and Portuguese works and two disturbing and not for the faint-hearted classics by Baudelaire and the Marquis de Sade. There were even some opportunities for my vocal contribution (one of which involved more than 450 headings for Samuel Richardson’s mammoth epistolary novel ‘Clarissa’). Additionally, crosswords and puzzles for The Connexion, and of course new stories to follow up on last year’s stocking filler ‘Seven Simple and Slightly Silly Stories’.

So how did that first venture into self-publishing go? Extremely well, and though sales were not exactly overwhelming they did spark some interesting comments (one buyer of several copies, while highly complimentary, did suggest the title should include the word ‘sinister’). The only negative one came at a Christmas fair in Blackheath: a buyer on the verge of handing over her money noticed that the blurb on the back cover included a sentence beginning with ‘but’. ‘Oh, I can’t possibly buy that,’ she said. I, of course, should have replied, ‘if beginning with “but” is good enough for Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible…’ but I was too slow.

All in all, reactions were enthusiastic, including from a 10-year old in Azerbaijan, and this one: ‘Sorry that I couldn't find a sixth shiny star to rate this book! Utterly delicious in every way ... I devoured it, as has my entire family now. It's beautiful; it made me laugh out loud; it even made me cry.’ Generous words from one of a number of Amazon buyers, and thank you! But Amazon? Ah, a necessary evil these days; however much I might dislike that devouring behemoth (it is; I do) I have to have a presence there. Sadly, therefore, I’m just as complicit in its success (and its rather dubious practices) as everyone else. The question is not why do they do it (the answer’s obvious) but how do they get away with it? Never mind the tax question, it’s all the other bits, inaccuracies, hugely differing prices, numerous sellers, etc., but maybe this is not the place or time…

Throughout the process of finalising ‘Another Seven Simple…’ I am delighted to have enjoyed once again the expertise of the team at Spiffing Covers (particularly the indefatigable Stefan Proudfoot), and also once again the quirky talent of Grant Cathro, who never seemed fazed by my requests for tweaks or – as in the case of the drawing below – a substantial rethink.

goingup

Although the woman clutching a bottle in a merry state on the floor of a hotel lift was apt for a New Year’s Eve celebration in one of the stories, it did raise concerns about the suitability of such a depiction, especially with the involvement of a charity and the fact that children might see it. Finally, I decided to err on the safe side and offer something less provoking to the PC brigade.

Writing stories – particularly silly ones such as these – is a never-ending source of fun, and surprise. Often kick-started by a word, a phrase, an opening or even closing line, the process begins in one direction only for it to change, sometimes out of all recognition, so that by the final full stop there’s little left of the original germ. This happened in at least three of the tales in this new collection, and has already begun in what I hope will appear in the next collection, ‘Still More Simple and Slightly Silly Stories.’