Raised in a Barn: Martha, My Deer

I do not hunt. I never have (I’m not against it in a general way–it’s just not where I want to put my energy since I don’t rely on hunting to put protein on the table). But I grew up around (minor) weaponry. We had BB pistols and 22 rifles, as well as bows, arrows, and an archery target on the lawn to the side of the patio at the Barn. My brother and I were, um, desultory archers at best; my father was much better. I was an okay shot with the 22, but the rule was no shooting when Dad wasn’t there to superintend, and he was elsewhere a lot of the time. So, while I’m not averse to weapons, they weren’t a huge part of my growing up experience.

Dad had this idea about hunting bow hunting; we had rifles in the house, but if there was a pest to be dealt with he often opted for the bow. In at least a couple of cases the pests in question were porcupines, which set up camp on the lawn across the driveway. If the porcupines could not be encouraged to go elsewhere, it meant that letting the dogs out off-leash was not going to happen. Despite several faces-full of quills, our dogs could be persuaded to leave the big, slow-moving prickly things alone. So Dad would deploy the bow and arrow, which was effective at a distance, and provided a useful lever, post mortem, with which to move the corpse. But what Dad really wanted to hunt was deer.

Every December when deer season arrived he would gather his bow and a quiver of arrows, stuff his pockets full of Baker’s German Chocolate bars, and take a Thermos of coffee up the mountain to sit in the cold (often in the snow) waiting for a deer to amble by. I think he only loosed an arrow once or twice a year, and he never actually hit a deer, but there was something about the man-vs.-the-elements thing that appealed to him.

Still, we had a mounted deer head in our tack room. How did this happen?

I think I was eight or nine when Dad went out with a local guy who routinely took tenderfoots (which is to say non-locals who did not hunt) out in deer season. I’m not sure what kind of rifles they used, or whether the four or five guys used their own or had them supplied by the local guy. What I do know is that Dad got spectacularly lucky: he took down two deer with one shot. The one he was aiming at he hit amidships; the other one was behind that deer and running for her life; the bullet went through Deer One and caught Deer Two from behind, hitting her right under her tail. If he’d tried I don’t think he could have accomplished it. Pure fluke.

The rules around deer hunting at the time were that you could only take one deer–well, Dad had only meant to take one deer, but fortune had handed him a second. So someone else took home Deer One, and Dad brought home Deer Two. What this meant in practice is that the deer were handed over to someone who butchered them and dispatched the rest of the body to a taxidermist, who mounted the head and processed the skin. Out of this my father got a doeskin vest, which he wore with pride, many pounds of venison which went promptly into the freezer to be consumed on special occasions, and the deer head, which was christened Martha.

I cannot find a photo of Martha, who hung in the entry room to the Barn. She was beautiful: no points (which is to say, no antlers), but with a graceful tilt to her head, and a pacific, thoughtful expression. As a kid I was disappointed at the rather coarse feel of her fur–something that graceful and beautiful looks like it should be soft and velvety, but Martha’s fur was functional: meant to protect her from the elements, not to please the tactile requirements of a 9-year-old. 

On those Occasions of State when venison was served (chops, ground meat, a roast, and on one occasion a crown rib roast!) my father would go down to the freezer, bring up a well-wrapped chunk of meat to defrost, and announce proudly “We’re eating on Martha tonight!” Okay, macabre. But totally in character for my father; in his way I think it was a way of acknowledging the deer, and a wish to use all of the gifts that it had provided.

When the Beatles’ song “Martha, My Dear” came out, she was thereafter Martha, My Deer. My father took his opportunities as he found them.

Minority Cultures

I asked on Facebook if anyone wanted a short essay on how to check if something is reliable for the group that it’s attributed to and why it matters to let me know and they did. It was a good thing to write early into my New Year.

Today is when I introduce the wider issue. Over the next year, I’ll focus on specific cultural elements and, gradually, I will introduce cultural relativity, so that anyone following the series can understand the difference between how they see a given culture and what that culture is, in reality. Today, I shall use an Australian Jewish example in honour of the year 5784 and also because what happened in Australia over the last week is a really good introduction to why cultural relatively and precision is important.

What happened in Australia? A major public broadcaster in Australia formally celebrated Jewish New Year only on their Hebrew radio channel, according to their own search engine. SBS has a Yiddish channel (which has a report on antisemitism that I’d love to hear… but my Yiddish is very small, and learned as an adult) and a Hebrew channel that contains most of their publicised Jewish content. These two radio shows are the focus of programming for SBS for those they identify as Jewish Australians.

Programming outside these two radio shows includes the occasional recipe on the food site, news about antisemitism, news about Israel (often showing a worrying bias) and, from time to time, aspects of Jewish history and life as part of regular TV. There is an upcoming series that talks about how a part of Australia nearly became Israel, and has a Jewish presenter (whose father I once made laugh, but that’s another story). A Jewish comedy thing has just been shown, and I’ll get to that in the next paragraph.

The capacity to product culturally fair and supportive material lies within all this, but SBS gets things wrong, almost every time. Late last week, for instance, it advertised a new show with a Jewish theme. “Just in time for New Year!” I thought. I was prepared to admit publicly that I had been entirely wrong in my assessment of SBS.

The show is all about things that happen at, as the promo explains, “a funeral service.” When I looked at the detail about the show, it’s not a funeral service… it’s what SBS thinks is a Jewish funeral service. And it’s a comedy. Programming that includes anything Jewish is rare and special, but a comedy that revolves around death is not appropriate as the sole Jewish offering for the Jewish New Year. It’s the time when we celebrate life and talk about the living future.

What else has SBS done that includes Jewish Australia but also hurts it? SBS had a report on the first Australian cookbook (I’ve written about it elsewhere, Abbott’s heavily plagiarised volume) and mentioned the Jewish recipes… but the presenters had no knowledge that the recipes were all plagiarised from a very famous Sephardi London cookbook. The most crucial aspect of Jewish Australian history represented in the book was missed. This aspect is that Jews have been in Australia since the First Fleet, that nineteenth century Australian Jewish culture was heavily from London ie from an entirely different corner of the Jewish world to current stereotypes, which are mainly American.

I asked SBS themselves about their Jewish programming, a while back. They sent me to the Hebrew radio show. The languages of those two radio shows (Yiddish and Hebrew) support the stereotype that all Jews are sufficiently other that, regardless how long someone’s family has been in Australia (in my case, between 105-158 years), English won’t be their mother tongue. That became a bigger problem when the broadcaster itself sent me to the Hebrew radio show when I asked about Jewish programming. When I asked SBS about why they’d sent me to Hebrew programming, I also asked them if they sent all their Catholics to Latin radio shows. They did not reply.

The whole of the Australian multicultural broadcaster sets up a view of Jewishness that applies only to a minority of Australian Jews. The view does not reach past stereotypes or challenge racism or accept Jews as fully Australian, and they do not know how to culturally focus. They don’t even have a 101 in this: when I looked up “Jewish New Year” in the food section, I found recipes for long, plaited challah. It is not a New Year dish. We eat a round, white challah at this time of year, because we want to have a good and sweet year. This challah is readily available in those supermarkets that stock kosher food, so it’s not that hard to find out about. The problem is not the challah. It’s the conflation of search terms and the assumption that Jewishness is simple and doesn’t need focus.

The lack of focus on what Australian Jewishness is, leaves out the wider Australian community. Most people who rely on SBS and who do not speak Hebrew have no idea that it’s New Year for us. The article in a Canberra newspaper this year was inaccurate, but interviewed a Jewish local leader, so reflected some aspects of Judaism better than the publicly-funded national broadcaster.

Why is this so important? And why do I appear so consumed by it?

I used to advise government bodies on these issues (not just on Jewishness, but how to see and devise sensible government policy for multicultural Australia and its many different communities ie how to get past stereotypes and into reality), but they told me I was not someone they wanted advice from. This was when the Howard government came into power. The Howard government left a legacy that later governments took up. When I worked with SBS (on a different issue, but this subject came up in discussions) they were very aware of issues that they now ignore entirely. Some communities are more visible and have better representation than others. Jewish Australians are now part of the othered groups, and we’re a very good canary in the cultural hate coalmine.

SBS’s lack of understanding is a good template. It demonstrates a wider problem. That lack of focus, of seeing people for who they are, applies to many cultures in novels, in music, in TV, in cinema, in news reports. Given this, the skills I used to teach – how to see outside one’s own cultural boundaries and how to do this respectfully – may be handy again.

I’m going to find some of my old teaching materials, and work, bit by bit through them here, on this blog. I’ll also do interviews of writers, but not as many as I had planned. And this is my New Year promise to you. There will be silly posts, and lazy posts, but there will also be some very useful ones, that take up my past work and update it, and present it to anyone who needs it. It’s not the same as the day-long workshops or than the consultations that are in my past, but if my posts help even one person not create the sort of mess a very well-intentioned public broadcaster has made, a mess that unintentionally supports antisemitism through its support of stereotypes, then that’s a good outcome for a New Year resolution.

365 Days in a Year

Bear with me here.

• On January 12, 1932, Hattie Caraway becomes the first woman elected to the US Senate.
• On February 7, 1497, followers of Savonarola burn art and books–even cosmetics–in what becomes known as the Bonfire of the Vanities.
• On March 23, 1857, the first elevator is installed at 488 Broadway, NYC (yes, designed and installed by Elisha Otis).
• On April 30, 1492, Christopher Columbus is given his commission of exploration by the crown of Spain, named “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” and viceroy and governor of any territory he discovers.
• On May 9, 1946, actress Candice Bergen is born.
• On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, news reaches the slaves of Galveston, Texas, that they are free (and have been for two years).
• On July 5, 1810, PT Barnum was born.
• On August 20, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture debuted in Moscow.
• On September 11, 1609, Henry Hudson arrives on Manhattan Island.
• On October 28, 1818, Abigail Adams dies.
• On November 17, The crew of Japan Airlines Flight 1628 sight a UFO over Alaska.
• On December 15, 1161, After a military defeat, officers assassinate emperor Wanyan Liang of the Jin dynasty.
• And not to skip leap years: February 29, 1940: Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American to win an Academy Award, for her performance in Gone With the Wind.

There are 365 days in a year (okay, 366 every four years). And noteworthy things happened on all of them. Births, deaths, assassinations, political coups, technological triumphs, victories for humanity and victories for oppression. Books published, paintings finished, plays debuting, cathedrals built, sculptures completed.

My birthday is December 7, a date that Franklin Roosevelt cited as a Date that Will Live in Infamy. Growing up, I heard about this–the big jokes (“December 7: two bombs, Pearl Harbor and Madeleine,” because grade school kids are so clever and subtle). And I’m writing this on September 11, another day which will live in infamy. I have a friend who called me after 9/11 because it was his kids’ birthday, and he wanted to know how I’d coped with having a birthday on a problematical date. By the time he asked, December 7 had been gentled by time, but I did point out that there’s only so many days in a year. Good and bad things are going to happen on each of them. 

I do not downplay the horror or the tragedy of either Pearl Harbor Day or 9/11, both of which led to war and more tragedy and horror. But it’s good to remember that in addition to those infamous events, there were also perfectly ordinary births and deaths and graduations and brisses and promotions and quinceaneras and baseball games and dance recitals and first steps and last breaths. So much life. I hope I can always remember the losses and the terror and the outrage of terrible events, never lose sight of the joys any day can bring.

Turning problems into plot

This week my post is for writers. This post is just as handy for readers (since, by reading this, you are a reader and yes, this is a day for bad jokes) but if you want to think of it from the reading perspective you need to look backwards to translate. We see the results of all these writing decisions as readers. This post is about those decisions themselves. It’s like taking a picture of a mountain and imagine you’re standing on that mountain looking down, rather than standing below the mountain taking its picture. Right now, I am sitting in a room at the foot of a mountain and typing. I can’t see the mountain, but I know it’s there. How I see it is the critical question. What view am I describing for my readers?

The view of characters changes depending on where we stand. But that’s not the only discrepancy. What do we know about the private lives of the characters we  invent? How do we explain them when we write? Are there any discrepancies between those private lives and their public selves? And how do we see and interpret all of this, as a writer? I’m not talking about personality. Your character might be a raging genius in public and terrifyingly incompetent around the home. That’s fine. But not today’s subject. What I want to think about today is the difference in culture between someone’s culture in the home (idioculture, private and personal and only really shared properly with people who belong in that small group – think of the Brontë children and their private invented worlds and secret shared language) and how they share or don’t share or are not permitted to share with the rest of a community.

This is as much about privilege as privacy. Where one’s private life matches public expectations of that private life, for good or ill, people know how to interpret it. That’s privilege, because, even if that active interpretation is unkind, we know we’re going to have to deal with it so we can develop tools to deal with it. Knowledge about such things is power over one’s life. Your character can benefit from being treated well because they live like someone important and are seen as someone important. This enables them to fight the racism and prejudice they see, if they see it. Your character might become a suffragette or fight for access to modern washing machines if they know that the vote or the machine will improve their life.

Most people face invisible prejudice, and this is harder.  Think of a character who uses a wheelchair. They might be left out of group activities because of the assumption that people in wheelchairs cannot enjoy them. Or think of a character who faces bigots and is being attacked (quietly, privately) by others. There are no simple ways of explaining what’s wrong because, from the outside, they look helpless or angry and the attackers are playing the long, slow, quiet game. Everyone seeing this from outside tangles things and turns bad to shockingly worse because they assume the victim is the problem. Then there are cultural differences: where your Australian Muslim character has far more in common with everyone else than the Christian characters think, but said Christian characters invent differences anyhow.

This kind of everyday (and it is everyday – some of it is literally my everyday, some of it is the everyday of friends) is really handy for plotting and planning a novel. It can explain why the reader knows and understands something, but other characters don’t. It can give a reason for betrayal, for social activism, for rebellion.

Know the discrepancies between your character’s home life and how they are seen in public and your story blossoms.

Auntie Deborah’s Writing Advice

What would you do if you found out that someone had stolen your idea for writing a book and published it under their name?

First of all, ideas can’t be copyrighted, but I must add—with emphasis—that there are vanishingly few original ideas. What makes a book uniquely yours is what you do with that idea. The vision and skill in execution that make it personal.

So what would I do? I’d cheer them on for having a great idea and for having gotten it in print. And then I’d write my own interpretation.

The best short story rejection I ever received was from a prestigious anthology. The editor loved my story but had just bought one on the same theme (mothers and cephalopods, although mine was with octopodes and the other with squid)—get this, from one of my dearest friends, a magnificent writer. Did I sulk? Did I mope? No, I celebrated her sale along with her! And then sold my story to another market.

In other words, be generous. If you do your work as a writer, this won’t be the only great idea you get.


 How can you tell if a book needs an editor or a proofreader?

It does. Trust me on this. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the story is or how many books you’ve written. None of us can see our own flaws, whether they are grammar and typos or inconsistent, flat characters or plot holes you could drive a Sherman tank through. Or unintentionally offensive racial/sexist/ableist/etc. language. Every writer, for every project, needs that second pair of skilled, thoughtful eyes on the manuscript.


 How do I get a self-published book into libraries?

If your book is available in print, the best way is to use IngramSpark and pay for an ad. Libraries are very reluctant to order KDP (Amazon) print editions. Same for bookstores.

If your book is digital only, put it out through Draft2Digital (D2D), which distributes to many vendors, including a number that sell to libraries.

Submit review copies to Library Journal. Consider paying for an ad if your budget allows.

Now for the hard part: publicizing your book to libraries. Besides contacting local libraries, assemble a list of contact emails for purchasing librarians (there may be such a thing already, so do a web search). Write a dynamite pitch. Send out emails with ordering links.


Is it better to title my chapters, or should I just stick to numbering them?

There is no “better.” There are conventions that change with time. Do what you love. Just as titles vs numbers cannot sell a book, neither will they sink a sale. If your editor or publisher has a house style, they’ll tell you and then you can argue with them.

That said, as a reader I love chapter titles. As an author, I sometimes come up with brilliant titles but I haven’t managed to do so for an entire novel, so I default to numbers. One of these years, I’ll ditch consistency and mix and match them. Won’t that be fun!


Raised in a Barn: Playing with Blocks

(Another story from my weird upbringing, originally published in 2015 or thereabouts.)

Part of the reason my father wanted to own a Barn was so that he could experiment with it. Try things out. Like trapezes.  Or gardens.  Some of his experiments worked brilliantly; some of them, not so much.  One of the more interesting ones was a floor treatment, if that’s what you could call it.  Dad cut one-inch slices of 2x4s to use as tiles in the front entry room, what we called the tack room (in the days when the Barn was a working barn, it was where various animal-related gear had been stored).  It was a good experiment, a sort of prototype. Dad had big plans, see.  For the kitchen.

The kitchen, as I have said elsewhere, was big: maybe 30 feet by 40 feet. And Dad wanted to use blocks for the flooring. But not 2×4 slices. Dad ordered a huge number of slightly smaller wooden blocks–3″ x 1 1/2″ x 3/4″ deep–made of oak, stained a dark brown and chemically treated to be fire retardant. When the blocks arrived we “seasoned” them–which is to say, stored them in huge stacks in the living room for months, until the chemical smell of the blocks gentled a little. Dad had ordered 40,000 of them, so even in tidy stacks it was a lot of wood. Continue reading “Raised in a Barn: Playing with Blocks”

Three years ago, this was my hometown

August is a hard month, full of difficult memories. This was the view looking toward our place. The brightness on the horizon is the oncoming blaze. Our home survived through luck and the hard work and courage of firefighters, including those who stayed behind the lines to set up water tanks (Note: As grateful as we all were, this is highly dangerous and not recommended.)

My heart goes out to friends and strangers on Maui. I’ve been searching for words to say, “You’re not alone, I’ve been through something like this” without in any way diminishing their experience. This disaster is not mine, but theirs. I want to give them the space and attention to grieve, to rage, to recover from their terrible losses. In other words, to keep the focus on them.

At the same time, for my family and neighbors, and folks who survived the Camp Fire and so many others, what happened in Lahaina was triggering. Nightmares recur, with the taste of smoke at the back of the throat. Some thoughts are private, but for others, we heal when we share.

How might we do that while being respectful of the people of Maui?

It’s been clear to me that pain isn’t fungible. It isn’t measurable in units of any kind. No one benefits from comparing one person’s loss with another’s. Loss is loss, pain is pain. About the best I can do on most days is say, “My heart goes out to you” and leave it at that. The details can wait for another conversation, if at all.

Medical Neep

I’m weirdly fascinated by medical neep. This goes back, probably, to having my tonsils out when I was 5 (I was so excited that I fought off the pre-op sedative, to the point where they had to take me down to surgery and pipe ether into me, because I wanted to see everything that was happening). I discovered medical non-fiction–the terrific “Annals of Medicine” series by New Yorker essayist Berton Roueché–when I was in middle school, and I’m always looking for non-fiction work about medical history. I love Lisa Sanders Diagnosis column for the Sunday NY Times Magazine. When I used to watch House M.D., I would be collecting symptoms and yelling my diagnoses at the screen. I gobbled down John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza pre-pandemic (and went back and read it again in the early days of COVID, and found much useful information in terms of staying healthy when everyone around you is dropping like flies).

I must add that this fascination never moved me in the direction of becoming a doctor. Continue reading “Medical Neep”

Trojan Planets, Diamond Stars, and Other Astronomical Wonders

1st known ‘Trojan’ planets discovered locked in the exact same orbit around a star

Astronomers have discovered the first evidence of ultra-rare ‘Trojan’ planets: two sibling planets bound on the same orbit around the same star.

The potential co-orbiting planets, dancing around the young star PDS 70 roughly 370 light-years away, consist of a Jupiter-size planet and a cloud of debris — possibly the shattered remains of a dead planet, or the gathering building blocks of one yet to be born.

Trojan planets get their unusual name from the two asteroid clusters seen around Jupiter, which, upon their discovery, were split into Greeks and Trojans (the opposing sides of the mythical Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad) based on their proximity to the gas giant’s gravitationally stable Lagrange points.

Lagrange points are places in a solar system where the gravitational pulls of a star and an orbiting planet balance out the motion of an object’s orbit, trapping the object so that it moves in lock-step with the planet.


White dwarfs are truly strange objects. After a lifetime of billions of years of fusion, they transform themselves into something else completely different. They transition from blazing balls of plasma to degenerate lumps of carbon that eventually crystallize into diamonds that last for unimaginably long time periods.

It takes a quadrillion years for a white dwarf to crystallize, and since the Universe is not even 14 billion years old, astronomers will never spot a fully crystallized one. But this research removes some of the mystery by finding one that’s just starting to become a cosmic diamond. Curious astronomers will study more of these bizarre stellar remnants, and one day, we may know exactly how and when something so strange can happen.

A skyscraper-size asteroid flew closer to Earth than the moon — and scientists didn’t notice until 2 days later

Now dubbed 2023 NT1, the roughly 200-foot-wide (60 meters) space rock sailed past our planet on July 13, traveling at an estimated 53,000 mph (86,000 km/h), according to NASA. However, because the rock flew toward Earth from the direction of the sun, our star’s glare blinded telescopes to the asteroid’s approach until long after it had passed.

Astronomers didn’t catch wind of the building-size rock until July 15, when a telescope in South Africa — part of the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS), an array of telescopes designed to spot asteroids several days to weeks before any potential impact — caught the rock making its exit from our neighborhood. More than a dozen other telescopes also spotted the rock shortly afterward, according to the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

Hundreds of ‘ghost stars’ haunt the Milky Way’s center. Scientists may finally know why

“Planetary nebulas offer us a window into the heart of our galaxy and this insight deepens our understanding of the dynamics and evolution of the Milky Way’s bulge region,” University of Manchester astrophysicist Albert Zijlstra said in a statement.

Studying 136 planetary nebulas in the thickest part of the Milky Way, the galactic bulge, with the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the team discovered that each is unrelated and comes from different stars, which died at different times and spent their lives in different locations.

The researchers also found that the shapes of these planetary nebulas line up in the sky in the same way. Not only this, but they are also aligned almost parallel to the plane of the Milky Way.

On the Bookish Life

I spend two hours a day exercising. This will not make me slender or muscular or fit or fabulous. It will, however, enable me to get out of bed safely, to walk up the street, to cook, to work. On a bad day, I do at least a half hour. On a good day, whenever I need even a 3 minute pause in work, I do stretches. Some bodies require greater effort than others to do the everyday. Mine is one of them. Every day I do these exercises means less pain the next day. Each day I give in and stay sitting at the computer or the television or talking on the phone or lying in bed means that the next day will be … not good.

Why am I telling you this? I increasingly notice a problem with the way people who have invisible disabilities are treated. We need to talk about it. A blogpost is a good way of beginning a conversation when one is limited of movement. This is that post.

I use a walking stick mainly so that the rest of the world can see that I’m not capable of the things they think I ought to do. I can’t run a 100 metres at breakneck speed the way I did as a teen. On a bad day, even walking to the bus is a vast endeavour and it really helps when the bus doesn’t stop 100 metres away from the bus stop. It takes me time and effort to walk that 100 metres and… some buses don’t want to wait that long. If the driver can see the effort by looking at the walking stick, then they will stop where I’m waiting and both the bus driver and myself are happier.

Today I wish that the walking stick principle applied to my letterbox. It was bitterly cold this morning and I entirely understand the post office delivery person wanting to move as quickly as possible, but the card they left me in lieu of ringing my doorbell means I have to walk for over a kilometre to retrieve a parcel. Then I have to walk back again.

The walking stick is a critical piece of equipment, and so are the exercises. I shall do them assiduously every day until I’m able to walk up the street and get that parcel.

Every day is a set of calculations. Can I do this today? What do I need to do in order to be able to that the day after tomorrow? The more I exercise the fewer of these computations I have to make. The more I am willing to label myself as visibly disabled, the more condescending many people are, and the more I am actually able to do stuff.

I don’t get many face to face gigs any more. My writing income is significantly reduced as a result. This is rather annoying side effect of the walking stick announcement. So many organisers begin asking the most physically capable people on their lists for their events. The most physically capable of us get the work, they get the income and they get the book sales. I am still asked for online gigs (sometimes even with money attached!), but face to face in my own locality? Rarely.

It’s not that people hate me. Audiences, in fact, really like me. It’s that a lot of us are described as ‘difficult’ because we can’t do all the things, all the time. My local bookshop made up excuses when I asked them for a book launch two years ago. My audiences are good and my sales are good with those audiences (in one case there were 83 people and all the books sold out within ten minutes) but the bookshop (and writers’ centres, and community centres, and a lot of local community groups) like to organise events with someone who will come to meetings face to face. If you can’t, but can still come to the event, it’s considered not good enough. This is especially true for free events. If I’m willing to give my time but not able to meet all the other demands (“Come in today for a meeting, please”, “Can we do this online?” “No, not really. Besides, you’re local. It’s no effort for you.”) … I’m not asked again.

This is interesting for other reasons. One of the booksellers in question actually told me I should accept reduced royalties because the 50% of the cover price they got wasn’t enough for all their overheads. They were being paid for the function in question: I was not. The function promoted my books and writers are simply expected to work without pay for the vast majority of promotional events. Without pay and usually without meals. If the book launch is during a meal time, I’ve been asked to cook food for the audience, but I can’t eat myself because … it’s a performance and I need to be available to answer questions and explain the book and… all the things.

The disabilities are not the only problem then. The heart of the matter is that writers are expected to have day jobs or other sources of income. Most people see us as kind of serious amateurs, rather than as professionals.

This changes the way we do things. For me, there’s a rather special side effect given by these experiences. Since I worked out why my local income was way less than it should be and my local presence is way less than it should be, I can’t buy all the books I want. I simply don’t have the money. I prioritise what I buy. Where there are two books I want to read and I can only afford one, I will buy the one where the writer faces similar obstacles to me. Or where the writer is from a country where they have to fight an entirely different range of obstacles.

There is a really good side to all of this: my book collection sparkles with exciting work by authors who ought to be well known but are not.

I need to get back to those book posts and introduce you to some of them!