On the road


The weather these last few days been so good, especially for October. So I decided that I was going to get out for a decent walk.

I always find that a long walk gives you time to think, and without people constantly bothering me it’s great for getting rid of stress. I even left my phone at home.

Admittedly that was by accident, I just forgot it, but as it always travels switched off, it didn’t really make any difference.

I decided to get the train to Cark and Cartmel station and walk home, which is, in theory, about 20-22 miles depending what route you follow. I’ve done it before, in the heat of summer, and that got tough. So my idea for today was that I’d play it by ear, I could always get the train home at Ulverston if I was feeling particularly weary.


Technically I’m supposed to be winding up to do some book promoting because I’ve got a new story coming out, but I’ve subcontracted all that to Tallis Steelyard who said he’d do it for me.



So with a light heart and an easy conscience I set off. I got a good start, I was walking out of Cark at about 9am and it’s a long slow climb for nearly an hour up the ridge that runs to Bigland Tarn.




From there you drop down onto the bottoms and across the footbridge to Greenodd



(By the way, these are, as usual, borrowed pictures. I still don’t possess any form of camera. Which is another great saving in time and effort)

Here I got a bite to eat in the coffee shop before going over the tops and down into Ulverston. I decided to keep going at that point but somebody noticed me wandering along a couple of miles further south and gave me a lift home so I obviously looked suitably lost and pathetic. So I probably did fifteen or sixteen miles.

In the first three hours walking I must have seen perhaps four people. In the next bit it was almost crowded, even outside the major conurbations of Greenodd, Ulverston and Urswick I probably ended up saying hi to half a dozen people.

But this area must surely be one of the most unspoiled and empty areas in England, especially at this time of year.

But what did strike me was just how cheerful, friendly and generally nice people were.

So at this point I really must apologise for writing a blog without the obligatory rant. I know I have to do better, and I promise I will try, but frankly after a day like today, meeting people like those I was meeting, it gets awfully difficult to rant.

Casually discarded Calvin Klein Underwear and the risks every white witch must face.


091010460060All right, they may not have been casually discarded. But discarded they obviously were.

I suppose at this point we may need a context. I was walking down the road heading for town. There are various parts of my route which are scenic, and there are other bits where the nicest thing you can say for them is the verge is very wide.

There at the side of the road, not really on the verge, not really on the road, was a pair of discarded Calvin Klein underpants.

I suppose it’s one of those things that can provoke thought. How exactly did they come to be discarded? After many years of experience I can say with confidence that when I’m fully dressed it is pretty well impossible for them to fall off by accident.

What is the drama behind this incident? Have we a case of the wandering, kilt-clad Scot who suddenly getting back in touch with his inner manifest destiny, to the skirl of pipes played by a piper heard only by himself, cast the offending garment away and walked off without them, kilt swinging proudly and only a little chilly.

Or was our Scot a man so thrifty that he kept them until the elastic finally gave up the ghost, and rather than abandoning them, they abandoned him?

Or has news leaked out that Calvin Richard Klein has done something, sponsored somebody or whatever that the wearer of these pants found so offensive that before the news broadcast had even finished than he tore his trousers off, removed the offending underpants and cast them contemptuously aside.


One of the advantages of living in a rural area is that you see aspects of people they never display elsewhere. I was checking young stock one morning. This involves walking from field to field meeting and greeting. I climbed over the gate from one field to walk along the lane to the next field and there, in the lay-by, was an assemblage of female underwear plus a pair of long boots.

After some thought I decided that I’d better mention it to the police, because you never know. A WPC came down in a car and I showed her to the place. She surveyed the underwear, bra, pants, and the really long boots.

As the WPC said, it wasn’t the underwear of a lady who should casually discard anything structural.

But they’d not had any disappearances reported and nobody had reported the clothing missing.

The only clue was that the clothing had been rained on, so it had to have been discarded the previous evening. After some thought the WPC came up with the suggestion that actually what we had was evidence of a white witch who had been dancing sky-clad to bring on the rain.

When the rain actually came, (pretty heavily if I remember correctly,) She’d just shrugged on a few clothes, dived into the car and had driven off, forgetting the rest. Certainly she couldn’t have put the boots on in a hurry.

Well it made as much sense as any other theory that I’d heard.

Fine for October


Here October has been fine, and there have been some nice days. Given that my Saturdays seem to revolve around sheep feet and worming, I’ve not felt at all guilty taking a couple of other days off.

On Sunday afternoon I walked out to Foulney Island. From our back door, it’s an hour to the far end of the island, at low tide. At high tide it’s further because you’ve got to walk to the end of the causeway rather than cutting across the sands. It’s an amazing place, sticking out into Morecambe Bay, with a sky that goes on for ever and an endless expanse of sea.

Not only that but even in October it was shirt sleeve weather, I didn’t need to put a jumper on until 4pm. Yet looking north up into the Lakes you could see clouds with amorphous rainbows showing that there were showers working their way south.

Today I escaped again. Walked into town, got the train up to Foxfield, walked via footpaths to Broughton to collect stuff from the vet and then back via Angerton Moss to Kirkby in Furness where I picked up the train again.

The East side of the peninsular and the Angerton bottoms is almost like a lost world. I walked for an hour along quiet lanes and saw nobody. You look over wet woodland, moss, or sheep pasture toward the Lakes and the Furness Fells.



It’s funny. As I was setting off this morning I was pondering something my youngest daughter mentioned, that up until they’re aged about five, dogs and children are at a comparable stage of development. Obviously in the case of the Border Collie, at this point they can reach a level of world weary cynicism that it takes humans another forty years to master. But actually if you have a properly trained child and a properly trained dog, they’re pretty well made for each other.

And in the way that chance so often does, I was on my way back home when I saw a small child with a puppy on a lead and a mother following close behind who was struggling to stop herself laughing out-loud at their antics. It’s nice to see parenting done right.

And last night, wandering across Barrow I was near some sports fields where some lads were kicking a ball about in the gloom. A car screeched to a halt by me and a young mum, with two other children in the car, leap out and shouted, “Ryan, you get yourself here now. You are going to so catch it when you get home.”

At this point, realising that she’d almost blown my cap off with the force of her shouting she looked at me and said “Sorry.”

I just smiled, told her I’d had children of my own, and anyway, it was good to see the job being done properly.

And it was. She was out there looking for the little beggar and ready to haul him home rather than just sitting about whinging about the kids of today.

And with a big of luck, because somebody smiled and congratulated her on doing it right, she might not have given Ryan the ‘what for’ he probably deserved.

And as I walked back through town from the station this afternoon, there in Barrow’s premier shopping street was a shop hiring out Scary Clown costumes, complete with bloodstained cardboard chainsaw. Yours for £55 for the night.

Oh Joy.



So I went to Fantasycon



It seemed a good idea at the time, so I signed up for a table at Fantasycon, it’d give me a chance to sell my books etc.

Finally the great day came, I loaded the car and drove the four hours it takes me to get to Scarborough, arriving in time to grab one of the last cheap car-parking places. So far so good.

I grabbed something to eat, then signed in, was escorted by red-shirts to my table on dealer alley and started to, quite literally, set out my stall.


So the con itself?

Well run, there was always plenty on. At times as we lounged at our tables on dealer alley it was a bit like being back at school. At the turn of the hour you’d see everybody pour out of one workshop or interview and scurry down the corridor to the next, clutching bundles of books, notes, freebees and suchlike as they went.

Watching from the semi-detached position of a dealer, it was obvious that there was a lot going on and there was plenty for people to enjoy. To be honest, from the dealers’ point of view, a couple of periods of tedium, relieved by retail therapy, could have been useful, but I’m not sure that’s a suggestion that would meet with much widespread enthusiastic acceptance.

By Saturday afternoon people were starting to flag. We were on the balcony and at one point I looked over to the entrance hall below to see arm chairs filled with dozing convention goers.

One small sadness for me, I saw very few cosplayers.

But as evening arrived everybody seemed to get their second wind. I was unchained from my table and unleashed on the convention. One nice thing about this event is that dealers were welcomed into the events. I’ve been to some where a dealer badge allows you to your table and that is it. But I had a chance to attend a number of fascinating interviews and readings during the evenings.

I also gave a poetry reading. Now whilst I am not a poet, I took some of the verses penned by Tallis Steelyard and read them. They were politely received by a courteous audience.

I had also been booked down to do a reading from one of my books. Given that this reading was at 11pm, I was a bit worried about whether there would be anybody else present, and if present whether they’d be both awake and sober.

Fortunately I was sharing the slot with Kit Power. If anybody doesn’t know Kit, check him out on his horror column at http://www.gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror.html


He read a cracking story which is available in the anthology ‘Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Easter-Eggs-Bunny-Boilers-Anthology-ebook/dp/B01AMSYLUO/


Free on kindle so if you’re into horror get it now.

Anyway Kit is much better organised than I am and fetched with him enough sober and wide awake people to pass as a respectably sized audience. Our readings went well, nobody threw anything, and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Sunday, exhausted, I packed up my stall at 1pm as dealer alley closed for the last time and loaded everything into the car for the long trip home.


A good weekend, met a heap of nice people, sold a decent number of books and had a lot of fun. I recommend the experience.

Sorting the monkeys at your circus, all for a Werther’s Original.



You know what it’s like, I’d just go for a walk, nothing special, just round and about. But it meant that I somehow misplaced so much time chatting to people that I had to change my route which in turn led me into chatting to another couple of people. And one of the interesting things about being a churchwarden is the questions people ask you.

OK so some of it is technical stuff about when the sheep are going back into the churchyard to keep the grass down. But a lot of it is far deeper than that.

We had a couple of funerals. An elderly couple, the husband died and the day after the funeral they found the widow dead. It was sad, they’d no family, their son had died years ago and the husband had already been buried with him. They had good friends and kind neighbours but they’d lived for each other for over sixty years and she didn’t want to go on. They found her drowned in the dock.

So then it’s her funeral. If anything she got more people than her husband, and it was tough because they felt guilty. It’s that nagging question, “What could I have done?” Frankly they couldn’t really have done any more; her community had supported her as much as they could without trespassing on her dignity and independence.

And then at the end of funeral somebody comes up to me and asks if she’ll go to heaven, what with suicide and stuff.

So I just looked at him and explained gently, “I’m sorry, I’m just the churchwarden, you really want to speak to him at the front, he decides these things.”

“Oh, you mean the Vicar?”

“No, I mean the chap nailed to a cross on the stained glass windows. He’s the one who decides that sort of thing; it’s above my pay grade.”


And then today I get asked whether I approve of Gay marriage in church! I’m sitting on a roadside bench dressed in my working clothes with wellies and flat cap. Now it might be that this is the standard garb of the working theologian, in which case it’s an obvious mistake to make.

So we discussed the matter. I explained that various denominations had had a problem with ordaining women. I coped with this by just listened to him at the front. He said, and I briefly paraphrase, “A good tree can’t bear bad fruit. And a bad tree can’t bear good fruit…………You can tell each tree by its fruit.”

So I just watched those women I knew in the ministry and looked at what came of it. Well it was pretty obvious that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing so I wasn’t going to get in the way. Same with gay clergy, it’s just the case of having the humility to shut up and watch what’s going on.

Well the chap I was talking to seemed to think that this was sensible, but didn’t cover gay marriage.

So I asked him what he was, what summed him up? He thought a bit and said, “I think I’m a walker.” He looked to the lady who was with him for confirmation and she agreed.

So I said, “So you don’t define yourself by your heterosexuality?”

I’m afraid that for me, the first question to a wedding couple should be ‘who are you, what sums you up?” I’d hope that they would answer that they’re Christians, rather than telling me their sexuality.

You see, if they’re Christians, part of the Church, part of the community, known for the work they do and the help they give, then it’s obvious that they’ll want to marry in their parish church and I think that the parish, knowing them and loving and respecting them for what they do, will want them to be there.

But if they’re just a couple who want a pretty building so that they get ‘better’ wedding photos, why on earth are they bothering with a wedding service where they make vows in the sight of a God they don’t show any signs of believing in?


Anyway I think the couple liked the argument, the lady gave me a Werther’s Original

The advertisers are now the ones in charge?

Rule one, “He (she or it) who pays the piper calls the tune.’

There are other rules which you might want to keep in mind.

Rule two, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”

Rule three, “Pay peanuts, hire monkeys.”


These are all simple, while tried, maxims which have stood the test of time and are bitter and cynical enough to survive even into the internet age.

But it’s the internet age that is now showing how, deep down, these three rules still count.

As well as my time consuming professions of farming, writing books and suchlike, (all guaranteed not to put too much strain on my amateur status) I also do freelance journalism.

And here again we’re seeing a field of endeavour evolve in front of our eyes. When I first sent copy to magazines, I typed it using a typewriter, double spaced, and kept a carbon copy for myself. The good copy I put in an envelope and posted it, courtesy of the Royal Mail, to the editor.

Then we had fax, which probably wasn’t a particularly big advance.

Then we got word-processors and email.

Now the editor is the important person, the editor is the one who decides what is wanted, so as a freelance, you aim to write stuff in a style that the editor will like. He or she is the customer (editors are rarely ‘it’) and your job is to keep the customer satisfied. From the publisher’s point of view the editor should know their readers and ensure that the periodical is optimised to appeal to those readers, but that’s their problem. For the freelance it’s the editor who commissions, it’s the editor who decides.

Anyway over a similar period, magazines and newspapers got caught up with technology and went onto the web. The web is fabulous, provided you don’t want to get paid. Some stuff goes behind a pay-wall and I suspect a lot of people are like me, if google leads me to an article behind a pay-wall, I just go back to google and take the next suggestion that doesn’t.

But for magazines the web offers a possible future. You get rid of two big costs, printing and distribution. So you can make your product cheaper and still make the same money. But how do you collect the money?

If the reader isn’t willing to pay who do you turn to? Well a lot of print magazines and newspapers have relied on advertisers for many years. Some have entirely relied on advertisers, giving their paper away free. OK the reader gets a free paper but editors get remarkably nervous about upsetting advertisers and the editor can find his advertising department giving him a timetable showing what sort of articles they need to go with the adverts they hope to get. Even if the advertiser doesn’t realise it, doesn’t want it and would be horrified by the prospect, the advertiser can be dictating the content.

And now I’ve come across another model. Rather than having your readers come to the webpage where the advertiser can tell how many visitors click on their stuff, you post the periodical out attached to an email. You then tell the advertiser that you’ve sent it out to 10,000 (or however many) people. You’re telling the truth and the advertiser hasn’t a clue how many of them read it.

But along with this I’ve known publishers decide that, actually, there are plenty of people out there who will write stuff for nothing, so rather than employ professionals, you just need an editor who will tidy up the free stuff (often press-releases issued by companies you hope will advertise) and frantically rewrite stuff found in blog posts and other strange corners of the web so it’s not easily traceable. This is a lot cheaper than actually paying people for independently produced content.

Now the reader might not like this, but unfortunately the reader is largely irrelevant, because the editor isn’t putting together a magazine to please readers and get more of them to buy, the editor is putting together a magazine to please advertisers and to convince them that their advertising budget is well spent.

And because they’re the ones paying, one can only assume that advertisers will get the publications they want.

Getting the most from Twitter with an underwear model

seeing eye people crop


One constant problem for authors trying to promote their books is to work out what is effective. You have only so much time in which to write, promote your work, and to live whatever passes as your normal life. This time has to be managed properly to get the most out of it.

So how does Twitter fit within your timetable?

I have no hard figures, but I’ve put together some observations which I can back with some numbers. Firstly Twitter is not some magic wand. Just having more people seeing tweets about your book doesn’t necessarily increase your chance of selling.

A couple of years back, purely by chance, one of my books managed to trigger some sort of ‘bot-alert’ and was picked up by five people who tweeted to their followers to buy it. Checking up on those five people they were all Americans, and if their photographs were anything to go by, they were people my late Mother might have described as ‘underwear models.’ Interspersed amongst their tweets about their lives, things they’d heard etc were tweets suggesting their followers might find a particular thing worth buying on Amazon. Anybody clicking on the link and buying would of course buy through an Amazon affiliate link.

Over a period of a couple of days my book was tweeted a couple of times to 250,000 people in the USA. In that week and the week that followed I sold one book in the USA. Sheer volume of followers is meaningless.

Over the last few years I’ve come across a number of businesses who claim to help you promote your book. This they do by tweeting about it to their many followers, claimed to be enthusiastic readers.

I’ve never used their services but I’ve monitored their effectiveness by watching the books they’re promoting on Twitter. Each book on Amazon that has any sales has an ‘Amazon Bestsellers Rank’. Crudely put, when somebody buys a copy the book goes up in Rank, (say from 300,000 to 200,000) and when nobody is buying copies the book slips slowly back down the ranking again. So I watched the Amazon Bestsellers Rank of books these companies were promoting, and used my own books as a control. Frankly their much vaunted Twitter promotion had no meaningful effect, the books being promoted slipped slowly down the rankings at the same speed as mine did when I wasn’t promoting.

Then look at your own Twitter page, examine your followers carefully. One thing Twitter does is suggest people who appear to be similar to you and who it suggests you might like to follow. Unfortunately for aspiring authors with books to promote, the people Twitter most commonly suggests appear to be aspiring authors with books to promote. Whilst writers do read, my experience is that writing eats into their reading time and they’re hardly the best market.


So how do you promote on Twitter?

I have talked to a number of people who have no interest in promoting books but who have vibrant Twitter pages and up to a thousand followers.

  • The first thing they do is post almost constantly. During every waking hour they’ll send at least one tweet, something funny, witty, or at least something that is interesting. Effectively they almost live on the phone, checking it regularly. Given that I only ever access my Twitter account on this desktop machine, by the time I think to look at it, an endless stream of babble has scrolled past since the last time I looked at it. Fourteen tweets I’ve not looked at since I started this article.
  • The second thing these people do is to ostentatiously not sell things. One commented that when she did send out a couple of tweets about a friend’s new book, she lost two hundred followers. We might have joined Twitter to sell, but very few people join Twitter to be sold to.


So how do we do it then?

Like all social media, you can only get out of it what you put into it. You have to create a community around you that you can talk to. But you’ve got to listen and respond to people who respond to your tweets.


  • Do the simple things first. If you have a blog or a Facebook page you can set up the systems to that they automatically post to Twitter whenever you post anything on them. Hopefully this allows you to get interesting content out there and people are drawn to you. All without having to waste time doing something.


  • Live on your phone. If something happens, somebody says something, tweet it. I wouldn’t recommend you sink to the level of tweeting photographs of your meals, unless there is something newsworthy about them, but if the barista cracked a joke as they served you coffee, tweet it. The aim is to get people following and enjoying your tweets. Then when you slip in one along the lines of, “Really chuffed, got a new review for my latest book” with an Amazon link, it’s a natural thing.


  • Respond to your followers. Engage them in banter. If one of your followers says something witty, profound, or newsworthy, like it and retweet it. Don’t be afraid of promoting somebody else. It helps people realise you’re not some self-absorbed ego-manic, but a real person who is happy to help somebody else.


All this can be done without knowing anything about the mystery that is hashtags, taking part in wider discussions and getting involved in the trending debates. I openly confess to being in two minds about these. Yes posting a tweet in a discussion which ten or twenty thousand people are following might get you some more followers who fall under the enchantment of your wit. On the other hand it could get you involved in a flame-war or lose you some of your existing followers who never realised that you were a misguided idiot who held bizarre opinions on the EU referendum.


Finally, remember people follow you because it’s fun. They have fun reading your posts. Ideally you will have fun posting your posts. You’re trying to create an atmosphere where these people think of you as fun and interesting and might well feel that your books could also be fun and interesting. If you’re not enjoying doing it, frankly, don’t do it. Life is too short.