Dear Auntie… stop using the third text message!

Angry emojiDear Auntie, could you please stop your continual use of the third text message? I know what you’re doing and it won’t work.

Like yesterday. I told you I was going out, so you sent me a message.

Have a nice day out. Hope you enjoy the zoo x

That was fine. That was a nice message. So, I texted back and said,

Thank you. I will x

The exchange was over. No more was required. Everyone knows that. We had a democratic dialogue. One message each. Adult to adult. But then my phone beeped and you sent:

Enjoy x

Why would you do that? There was no need for a third text message. There was no question in my reply. We were done. But now I felt patronised. So, I sent,

Will do

No little x. You’re making me hate myself. Why am I so small-minded? But then, back came:

Excellent. And a smiley face.

Oh, that was mean. A full stop. As if you’re the parent in the conversation and it’s your job to close it down. Making me the child. But you’ve revealed yourself with your passive-aggressive manoeuvre.

So, I sent a thumbs-up.

And back came a line of emojis – a zebra, an elephant, a lion, a tiger, some kind of rodent and a seal with a ball on its nose.

Cunning. So, I sent you a laughing face with tears coming out of its eyes and a picture of a dolphin, a penguin, an ostrich, a pelican with a fish sticking out of its beak, a lizard…

You do know I never got to go out? The whole day I was on the phone, backwards and forwards with you until it got dark and I gave up. Is that what you wanted?

Don’t answer that. Stop trying to control everything.

Your loving nephew. xxx


Image courtesy of Pexels.

Happy Family: bloggers’ reviews

Screen Shot 2020-01-27 at 18.07.26Happy Family has completed its blog tour and the results are in. Huge thanks to all of the book bloggers, and to Anne Cater who arranged the tour.

Blog tour reviews:

You can read other reviews of Happy Family on Goodreads and Amazon – and if you have read the book, please leave a review too. They all help.

Happy reading.

 

Facebook school friends: let’s move on

Version 3After 40 years I am in contact with only two of my schoolfriends. By contact, I mean we actually meet face to face – until COVID, that is. For everyone else, either the bonds weren’t strong enough or I was simply too lazy or antisocial to keep things going. But having more past than future can make one twitchy, and I recently found myself reflecting on what happened to everyone and what life threw at these people, some of whom I met when I was five.

Inevitably, finding out was just a few clicks away: a Facebook group dedicated to my school’s alumni. There they all were (well, most of them), my classmates: the good, the bad and the extremely naughty; all grown-up.

Joining the dots between then and now can be a sobering exercise in existentialism. Judging by the tone of the posts, they haven’t aged at all – but the Facebook photographs suggest otherwise. We look like our parents and some of us look like our grandparents. Especially me. Gravity takes its toll and the weight of years has led to dodgy knees and bald heads – or is that just me again?

DEQIE7754

Not everyone in my year has joined the group and most of those who have, dip in and out. Interestingly, those with whom I have kept in touch don’t appear in the group either. I’m not sure what that says but I think it says something. Perhaps we died and no-one told us.

There are, however, a few who post comments all the time, feeding memories with an enthusiastic regularity. The irony is I remember these people as being the keenest to leave school. Perhaps it is a way of being young again; the posts a verbal avatar through which we can again be teenagers – fit and strong and fearless with an endless horizon stretching before us.

I suspect a few might prefer who they once were to who they are now – or maybe it’s vice-versa, that they see a chance to rewrite history by replacing their old self with a modern version? Time, the great leveler. Be nice now and people might forget what an awful shit you once were.

That’s a bit mean, but friends I remember being pushed to the fringes of playground society are now in cheerful discourse with those who pushed them there. That’s good and long may it continue, but I wonder if this social re-balancing would last were we all to be physically reunited for more than a day or two. It’s hard to imagine Piggy sharing rose-tinted memories with Roger and Jack on their post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies Friends’ page. ‘Do you remember that lovely time you stole my glasses and then dropped a boulder on my head?’

Talking of Piggy, I was hoping to find some posts about me but disappointingly my name seldom crops up. I am so absent I had to check I actually went to that school. It seems I left little or no impression on anybody which is odd because I have a clear recollection of being extraordinarily popular. Too bad that’s a memory nobody else shares. Not even my friends.

However, other, darker, memories are posted. Complaints of casual racism, chronic bullying and punitive abuse by teachers. But just as casually, any attempt to discuss these traumas are closed down with comments such as ‘that was then and this is now’ and ‘it’s best to move on.’ Best for whom, one wonders? And move on to what? Voices unheard all those years ago remain unheard; the idyll is not to be broken. I am reminded that it is dangerous to be different. That is true now and it certainly was then.Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 12.24.37

And so the posts return to safer ground with questions such as ‘who was your favourite teacher’ and ‘what music did you dance to’. I liked to play air-guitar to progressive rock with my head in a bass speaker, but that’s not something I want to share with the group. Or should. We all have our murky secrets and surely one benefit of getting old is to turn the page hurriedly on embarrassing teenage foibles.

I have a platonic relationship with the past. I don’t want to forget it but I also don’t want to relive it. I would jump at the chance to be sixteen again (knees permitting), but only if I could take my current mind with me. I suppose like most people I am trying to walk up Time’s down escalator.

And being social media migrants means we should be careful about getting too carried away in an online world. We might forget this jaunt down memory lane is in reality a public and open forum. Feelings can be hurt, confidences broken, libel laws breached. Worse still, we might encourage each other to wear cheesecloth again.

One day we will all know everything about everyone. There will be no secrets and the past will sit side-by-side with the present. Only the future will remain unknown and unknowable, as COVID-19 has demonstrated. But that’s how it should be. ‘That was then and this is now’ is indisputably true, but it’s tomorrow that interests me. Especially as I hope to be in it.

A few comments on your response to my complaint

From: James Ellis
To: <Customer Care>
Subject: Re:
Complaint – unused deposit taken [ref:_99DFT6200_gtDDS529:ref]
Date: 10 Mar 2020, at 08:27

Dear <Customer Care> – a few comments on your response to my complaint. From one writer to another.

Best,
James.
—————————–

From: <Customer Care>
To: James Ellis
Subject: Re:
Complaint – unused deposit taken [ref:_99DFT6200_gtDDS529:ref]

On 9 Mar 2020, at 15:03, <Customer Care>  wrote:

Hello James Ellis !

JE – An exclamation mark! Did you just leap out from somewhere? It does make it look as if my name has been automatically inserted, though. And seriously, neither of us are that excited. Go for a comma, or a full stop (period). Or even (heaven help us) a semicolon. Anything but an !

Thank you for contacting <Customer Care>.

JE – Well, that’s okay. But I would have preferred not to have had to. This is where you need to insert your apology.

The inconveniences you experienced are not acceptable to our standards.

JE – Nor mine. This is going really well. But it would have been better if you actually referred to my complaint here. Can you automate that in some way?

I want you to know that the comments and suggestions we receive are taken seriously.

JE – And I want you to know I expect nothing less. But strictly speaking, it’s neither a comment nor a suggestion. It’s a complaint because you have taken my money unnecessarily. And, in my opinion, the ‘I want you to know’ is too intense.

They tell us what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong and how we can improve.

JE – Yes, but it’s not all about you. It should also tell you I am dissatisfied. See above comment. This is now revealing itself as a generic response and the initial goodwill I had is receding. No mention of my specific complaint yet.

Your willingness to share your recent experience is genuinely appreciated.

JE – If you’re trying to mollify me, it’s coming across as me being patronised.

Please accept my sincere apologies.

JE – Hey, there it is. But it’s buried. This should be at the top of the email.

Be assured that any and all of the issues you’ve raised will be addressed, and that appropriate action will be taken. I have opened a Customer Service file, to document your comments, which will be reviewed by the department in charge to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.

JE – Great. This is what we want – some action. Please can I see your Customer Service File after it’s been reviewed so I can see how you will ensure this doesn’t happen again. That is, taking my money unnecessarily and the 5-10 working days to repay it. If I can’t see it, then you need to rethink the purpose of this paragraph. And I’d be careful using the word ‘ensure’. Someone might hold you to that.

If you should need any further assistance, please feel free to reach out to us again by replying to this email.

JE – See comments above. Hope they are of some help.

Kind regards,
eye

Happy Family book launch: James Ellis in conversation with Germaine Kiecke – Saturday April 25th

I am very excited. The London launch of Happy Family will be on Saturday, 25 April at the brilliant independent bookshop, Nomad Books. It will start at 18.45.

The reason I’m so excited is because as part of the launch I am going to be interviewed by Germaine Kiecke – art academic, TV journalist and lead character in Happy Family. As you can imagine, getting someone with Germaine’s credentials to appear in person is a real coup, and I am indebted to Hannah Robins-Frank for helping Germaine make the unusual journey from fiction to reality. I absolutely cannot wait.

After the interview there will be some Q&A and a short reading. Alcohol and refreshments will be available – and I have no doubt we shall repair to a local pub later on for more launching.

Please come along and if you have a copy of the book, bring it along too and I can sign it. If not, there will be plenty on sale. Let me know if you can make it.

The shape of something

I have an idea, elusive and shadowy, but definitely there. The shape of something. The right something. It needs to be pushed and prodded (gently), given substance by being handled. Coaxed into the light so I can see it more clearly. A story. A novel. A something…

I am not a plotter. At least, not yet. Let the characters talk. Get a flavour of their voices; the tone of their behaviour. For now leave the ‘plot’ up to them – the sequence of events and the order in which those events unfold.

The crafting and honing and structuring and arcing and three-act-versus-fiveing, and the sanding and polishing and waxing and editing and proofreading and welding and cutting and turning and trimming and changing and sewing and betareading and previewing and wrapping-up-and-tying-in-a-bowing and serving-up-on-a-dish-for-your-delectationing, all can wait.

The things I want to write down, to capture wholly, comprehensively, exhaustively and to my satisfaction, are caught up in that twisting tumbling shape. They are the shape. They are to do with being and not being; the little things and the big things; things I’ve seen and known and things I wish I had; moments and continuums.

An Other’s Look has another title

After much discussion the working title of my second novel, An Other’s Look, has been changed to Happy Family.

I love this title because it works at so many different levels. The book is scheduled for release in early 2020 and it has now been through two rounds of developmental editing, a full line (copy) edit, and a full proofread. And some very nice things have been said about the book along the way – here are a few examples:

‘The novel feels extremely fresh and contemporary … One  of the clever things about the novel is that it shows how rather than bringing families together in the same way that board games such as Monopoly, Battleship, Cluedo etc used to, AR games can be used to drive families apart and further isolate the individual from society.’

‘As a comment on the way modern day game development could affect the whole idea of the happy family, and its invasive potential repercussions for vulnerable players, it is a sobering piece of work.’

‘Its imagined snapshot of the huge part AR may have to play in the future, and the hefty price tag consumer expectation versus reality may come with … is both fascinating and terrifying in equal measures. A particularly effective scene showing the disconnect between reality and the imagined world is both perfectly imagined and genuinely frightening.’

‘Could you please tell the author that I really enjoyed this book … I could even picture the characters… and who should play them in the film!’

I can’t wait to see the cover design.

Cartoons

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s of the last century (oh that feels bad) I had a brief but rewarding period drawing cartoons for a magazine called the Freelance Informer. Sadly, that fine magazine for the IT contracting industry has long since published its final issue but it remains a treasured memory.

I drew six panel cartoons and five strip cartoons. They are dated – this was a time when desk top publishing (DTP) was a new thing, and ‘cutting and pasting’ still meant just that (I have kept my scalpel) – and, to be honest, they’re not that funny or even that good. This was never going to be a career because I can’t draw. But I was young and immortal and knew no better. And I liked them.

Looking at them now I’m struck by their innocent air and clean finish. I remember taking great pains to remove all the working lines. and simplify the outlines as much as possible. That minimalistic approach, the polishing to hide the hard work, rears its deceptive head in almost everything I do these days. Blame the 60’s and the cartoons of Hergé and Schulz and Mad magazine. I do.

Foolishly, I didn’t keep copies of the entire magazines, only the pages on which my work appeared – again, my youthful vanity – but I do know the volume and issue numbers, so if anybody is out there that knows the dates please do share them with me. Specifically, they are:

  • Volume 5 numbers 8, 11, 12, 14 and 15
  • Volume 6 numbers 18, 23 and 24
  • Volume 7 numbers 8 and 13

Weeding words (not in an Elmer Fudd sense)

This is my incomplete but sometimes useful list for when I am down in the weeds of editing. I’m sure you will have your own lists but these are the words, phrases and elements of punctuation that regularly get the secateurs treatment.

Words:

  • actually
  • almost
  • appeared to
  • by (unwanted passive writing alert)
  • could
  • definitely
  • hopefully
  • in fact
  • just
  • less (vs fewer)
  • little
  • perhaps
  • quite
  • rather
  • really
  • seemed to
  • so
  • while
  • with (see ‘by’)
  • would

Plus:

  • any adverb
  • American spelling or not (depending on where you’re standing)

Punctuation

  • too many commas (or too few) – I, over-comma
  • hyphens – I over–hyphen
  • semi-colons – I love semi-colons; too much;
  • double full stop at the end of  a sentence or paragraph..
  • double  space following a full stop
  • missing full stop at the end of a paragraph
  • “” vs ‘

Feel free to add your own items in the comments box below.

Frome FM (96.6FM)

If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.

I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!