Flowers, tax return and competitions

This week

It’s been hot, no getting away from it, and like everyone, I’ve been trying to keep cool. Fan on, blinds down, curtains closed – only my computer screen to illuminate my activities. Litres of water to drink and the occasional wet flannel on the head. Cool the brain, to help with coherent thoughts and accurate writing.

Worried as I was about the straw-coloured lawn in the front garden – no hose pipe, the bedding plants seemed to be doing all right, with the aid of a few splashes from a watering can. As Mr L had created a new border and planted a rich variety of plants, I thought I’d record his horticultural achievements, in case the plants didn’t survive the mega heatwave expected. I’ve used some of the images as ‘wallpaper’ on my phone – changing the picture according to my mood.

Hollyhock with Cheeseweed Mallow
Lavender and white roses from the garden with accompanying Tesco carnations
Wonderful foxgloves from Botanic Nursery Garden (winners at Chelsea) – lovely ‘Limoncello’

Completed my tax return as a self-employed writer. Last year was a good year with the foreign rights for the Chinese translation of Survivor of the Long March – book and ebook. This year there were the usual modest royalties from my books and payments from ALCS (The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) and PLR (Public Lending Rights).

I learned from my PLR statement that 361 people borrowed Survivor of the Long March and 232, The Little Book of Wiltshire. Thank you to those who still visit libraries.

Original hardback cover left, and new paperback edition right

There was an increase in sales of The Little Book of Wiltshire, perhaps due to a very popular Eric Ravilious  – Downland Man exhibition at Devizes Museum. My book was on sale in their bookshop and proved popular, particularly with visitors from across the country. The cover, which displays a Ravilious-style design of the Westbury White Horse, probably helped.

I was amused by the payment of £0.23 from the Irish PLR and £0.26 from ALCS for WOB (World of Books) share out of money for sales of second-hand books. How will I spend my 49p?

* “Authors’ earnings are in decline. As reported last June, the median earnings for primary occupation authors (writers who spend more than half their working time writing) are £10,497 a year. Accounting for inflation, this represents a 42% drop since 2006 when ALCS carried out its first survey of author incomes.

There is considerable inequality of earning power amongst authors, with the highest-earning 10% of writers taking home about 70% of total earnings in the profession. Meanwhile, most writers need a second job to survive, with just 28% of respondents making a living from writing alone without a second job, down from 40% in 2006.”   (May, 2019, The Society of Authors)

No gravy train for writers

My research on Violet Charlesworth continues and I’m still finding more information about her and her family with every new article I download.

Another of Violet’s many deceptions – that she was Scottish and wealthy and lived in a Highland mansion  (rented but not paid for). She mostly lived on credit and the occasional success on the Stock Exchange but most of all from conning money from suitors and friends. An Edwardian version of Anna Sorokin

The problem with my subject is that the material is 98% from newspaper reports, which include a number of interviews with Violet – not the best way to get at the truth of events (eg her motor car accident and faking her own death). Honesty and integrity were not in Violet’s DNA.

Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.

George Orwell

Violet (whose name wasn’t Violet but May)  had been deceiving people – aided by her mother and family, who benefited from her skills of getting people to part with their money or supply goods on credit. This eventually contributed to her debts which amounted to millions, in today’s money. Research  is grist to the mill: no material, no book. But isn’t it time I got on with writing the book.  Keep my nose to the grindstone. My job is to sort all this stuff out, make sense of it and present it in an interesting and entertaining way to attract readers. I have the Orwell quotation at the beginning of the book along with some others pertinent to the topic. Yes, I have written some outline chapters on which to build the rest of the book. It’s a matter of not spending too long on blogs and scribbling a short story or two – tempting distractions. Because… prizes!

A new round of short story competitions has made me review my stock of stories – some regularly sent out with the firm belief that this is the time my story will be chosen for a prize or at least placed in a shortlist. There is still life in some of them with a tweak or two to update or match the word count. I’ve managed to edit a 1300 word story, which was short listed in a comp a few years’ ago, to the 1000 word limit  for entry to the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. It is all the better for it: succinct, crisper and more dynamic.  When the prize money is high(£500 to 1000), it’s worth investing in entering competitions – a sort of literary lottery, I suppose. If you don’t buy a ticket (entry fees range for £5 to 10 these days), you can’t win. But, of course, it helps to have a super-mega-brilliant-unique story to submit. Time will tell if I do.