Nothing in Life is Free (except for this audiobook version of Michele W. Miller’s The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery)

The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

For certain people and in certain situations, there are exceptions to what many believe to be the infallible rule that nothing in life is free. Another exception is the copy of the excellent audiobook version of Michele W. Miller’s hugely entertaining novel The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery, which I have the pleasure of giving away.

This is an actual giveaway. Of an audiobook. For free. That is, for no charge. Without cost. Gratuit. Libero. Kostenloss. Saor in aisce. Besplatno. Zdarma. Illiure. Libre. Ledig. Wolny (And free in many other languages that don’t use letters easily available on my keyboard).

If you become the lucky recipient of this free audiobook of Michele W. Miller’s The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery, I will not ask for anything in return. I won’t turn up at your house with a saw and scalpel, claiming that you have unwittingly agreed to donate two of your limbs and a small intestine to the cause of scientific research. I won’t ask you to tick a box claiming that you have read and agreed to fifteen pages of terms and conditions when clearly you have not, because who does? And even if I did ask you to tick such a box, I would leave it for at least ten years to claim ownership of the home you signed over to me as a result of your immense negligence. (What were you thinking? Don’t you listen? ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT!)

I had the pleasure of reviewing The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery on my review blog, the Reluctant Reviewer. If you would like a free copy of this wonderful literary achievement rendered in high-quality audio by a terrific actor (and you really, really should want this), answer the question below and send in your answer using the contact me page on this blog. The winner will receive a voucher to download a copy from

The question is:

Which actor narrates the audiobook version of Michele W. Miller’s The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery?

I will pick the winner’s name from a receptacle of my choosing, possibly a hat (but only if I can find one that isn’t a bobble hat), on Wednesday January 14, 2014, some time after lunch.

Good luck!

My Fear of Flying Is Not What It Seems – So Please Stop Trying to Help Me Cure It


After a previous blog post, Why Jeff Bridges is Responsible for My Fear of Flying, in which I may have given the slight impression that the actor of that name is the reason why I am somewhat jittery whenever I am forced to get on an airplane, I received quite a substantial number of communications from people offering me lessons in overcoming this “irrational” fear.

Now, irrational fear is just that, irrational. To my mind, there is nothing irrational about the fear that several tons of heavy metal being held in the sky by pure momentum may, with very little prompting, suddenly cease to remain in the sky. And the added component of that fear, that the subsequent transferal of this heavy metal object from sky to ground is likely to be a harrowing experience for anyone inside, or indeed in its way, as it hurtles inexorably downwards, also seems to me to be quite reasonable.

In truth, to call what I have a fear of flying is misleading. The flying bit is great. When I get on an airplane, flying is exactly what I am hoping it will do. What I am afraid of is that gravity will have a good look at the airplane as if endeavors to push its way into the atmosphere and point out, with a gentle tap on the fuselage, that large heavy objects are supposed to go down, not up. It is not the flying I am afraid of, but the crashing.

“Ahah,” the anti-phobics say, when I politely repel their offers to overcome my fear of flying with a variety of solutions that have variously included hypnotherapy, counseling, Benadryl, gin, and chocolate, “but far fewer people die on airplanes each year than are killed in car crashes, fall of cliffs, or eaten by giant worms.”

As a strategy to help people to overcome fear, quoting statistics about other potential threats always seems to me to be counterproductive, but it is what people invariably do. All that such statements achieve is to add to my fear of flying a fear of driving in cars, taking cliff side walks, or visiting giant worm emporiums.

So thanks for the offers, but I do not wish to spend 450 dollars or euros on a course of five lessons to overcome what I perceive to be quite a rational response to the laws of physics. I will continue to drag myself onto airplanes, making sure that I have written a will beforehand, sending any last messages I have for people I know before frantically switching everything to airplane mode as soon as the Switch off Laptops light comes on, compulsively checking for the position of the emergency exits and gauging the number of steps it will take to get to them in the blind and smoky panic of one of the innumerable plane crash scenarios that play out in my head.

No, this fear is not irrational at all.

From Twitter, with Love and Gratitude


Three weeks or so ago, Twitter e-mailed me to congratulate me on the one-year-anniversary of my Twitter account. I was impressed that a faceless corporate body had taken the time to remember such a thing (albeit most likely via an automated computer program), especially in light of the fact that I hadn’t remembered the anniversary at all.

So, imagine my surprise, when I returned to my house later that day to discover that Twitter had also sent me a large bunch of flowers, thanking me for putting up with so many irritating updates to the Twitter app, the kind that change your settings so that the app wakes you at two in the morning with the news that three people you have never heard of have just followed someone with an egg for a face and the twitter handle @fjfjs84jf74jdu.

Two days later, a card arrived, expressing Twitter’s appreciation for me having put up with promotional tweets appearing on my Twitter feed, distracting my attention from all the riveting tweets from writers trying to get me to buy their books. (On that note, if writers want to sell their books, why do they follow other writers? Has their experience of the writerly profession not taught them that this is the one social grouping most guaranteed to have no money whatsoever?)

You would have thought that Twitter would have shown their affection for me enough at that stage, but the next day, I was again surprised to receive a gift from them of a brand new Google smartphone, replete with a 46-inch display and all apps and numbers replaced by a direct button connecting me to Google headquarters, on the theory that all I have to do is tell Google what I want and they will do it for me. A tiny card from Twitter accompanied the gift, informing me that this was in appreciation of my having ignored over 1,000 needy direct messages from Twitter users thanking me for following them and asking me to like their Facebook pages as well. The card explained that people ignoring so many of these requests was responsible for a certain drop in usage of a rival social network that made the people at Twitter very happy indeed. Twitter users who ignored over a million DM requests of this nature, it pointed out, were rewarded with small blue ticks and Hollywood mansions (or Killiney ones, if you would rather have Bono as a neighbour than Justin Timberlake).

A week later, two executives arrived at my house, offering to clean my windows, make dinner for a week, and drive the kids to school. This, they explained, was in appreciation for my having propped up their organization to the tune of over 3,700 tweets. They explained that they felt that this was the least they could do given the substantive imbalance between their immense salaries and the annual income of the average Twitter user.

In case the reader is either deluded or possessed of an unusual abundance of optimism, especially in relation to the corporate sector, I probably do not have to explain which of the above events actually took place. If you are in either of the categories I mention, I leave you to enjoy your happy optimism/delusion. Who am I to get in the way of such happiness.

A letter to my good friend, Discredit Means

“hello!,I really like your writing very a lot! share we keep in touch more
approximately your post on AOL? I need an expert in this area to resolve my problem.
Maybe that is you! Looking forward to peer you.”

I recently received the generous comment above from a person named Discredit Means. Now, there’s a name. If you are a celebrity, and you are about to give birth, take note. If the names of all the bridges, countries, states, terrorist organizations, football teams, and characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are taken up, Discredit Means is the precursor to an inexhaustible supply of noun-verb combinations. Other options include Humiliation Procedure, Ignominy Agency, Ill Repute Mechanism, and Stigma Channel.

When Discredit’s parents were naming him (or her – the message does not make the gender entirely clear), they clearly had his (or her) future in mind. “Our dear son (or daughter),” they said, “may one day wish to become a Bond villain or a private detective in the mold of a cheaply made 1950s crime melodrama. If so, he (or she) will need a name truly fitting this role.” Alternatively, they may have sensed in their son (or daughter) a criminal instinct, and being people of an ironic bent, felt that such a name would offer some small glint of humour in an otherwise dreary day in court.

If only because of the name, I decided to give the comment the lengthy reply it deserved.

Dear Discredit

So glad you like my writing so very a lot. I look forward to our approximate keeping in touch on AOL. I am not sure how approximate keeping in touch works in general. Do we almost send each other e-mails but change our minds at the last moment? However, I am interested in seeing it put into practice. Maybe you could post some examples on your website:

Your problem sounds very bad if you may need my expertise to resolve it.  Gosh, maybe that is me. It seems I will have to peer you to find out for sure. Not sure what peering you involves, but I respect your earnest commitment to the practice.

Kind Regards

Compliment T. Paucity

The Plastic Schoolbook-Cover Rebellion

Rant of the Week

Plastic Schoolbook Covers

It is time for my kids to go back to school, and this year, as always, the pressure is on for me to spend half a day trying to wrap their school books in clear sticky plastic sheets that are impossible to apply. The more claims manufacturers of these irritating products make about the supposed ease with which they will slip onto the covers of schoolbooks, the more likely I am to find them stuck to my fingers, nearby chairs and household pets, instead.

Even worse than this is the fact that there is never enough of them and they are extremely expensive. In order to afford enough of this useless junk to cover every school book, we would probably have to give up something quite important for a year, like eating.

Why do I have to do this? The books HAVE covers. Publishing companies don’t operate on the supposition that everyone will add a new cover once they purchase a book. If anything, publishing companies are rather more inclined to add superfluous covers than take away necessary ones. I am constantly wrestling to maintain the outer sleeves of hardback books, which seem to exist only to try to escape. These covers cower needily on bookshelves, trying to bond with every other book but the one to which they belong. Their other favourite spot is the middle of the kitchen floor, where they return time and again, presumably with the intention of causing someone to break their neck.

Moreover, if I may gripe a bit more, I have already paid quite a substantial sum for the schoolbooks, and the supposition that I am prepared to shell out more cash and spend about thirty minutes per book, just so they can look like something my youngest son creates when he plays with sellotape, is too much. This year, I am not going to do it. I am going to have a cup of coffee instead. The books will have to try their hardest to remain intact.

Facebook, I Don’t Care How Jennifer Aniston Stays Fit

Finally Facebook, you have stopped filling my newsfeed with ads for weight loss pills, liposuction services and botox injections.

I will say, I like Jennifer Aniston. She is a talented person whose abundant acting skills appear to have been trumped by an ability to pick roles in the worst imaginable films. But Facebook, it has taken you an inordinately long time to realize that I have absolutely no interest in how Jennifer Aniston retains her unarguably slim and youthful physique. Nor do I care about the fitness regimes of a whole range of other celebrities, most of whom I’ve never heard of (I mean, do you make these people up?).

Nonetheless, it’s good to know that you have moved on from that kind of lazy demographic targeting. I’m interested, do you use people’s age and gender as the sole deciding factor when choosing targets for these ads, or do you peruse their photographs, trying to figure out who could afford to lose a few pounds?

Having realized that I have no intention of clicking on those ads, ever, you are now intent on making me travel, which is a nice thought, very kind of you. I’d love to spend a week in a four-star hotel in the Maldives. Give me the money to do so, and I’ll get booking straight away.

Also, you are now trying to make me sell things on Facebook, because if I’m online, I might as well, right? To save you any more time and effort in this department, I would like to point out that I will sell things on Facebook when hell freezes over, and since I don’t really believe in hell (appealing though it is to imagine certain well-known geopolitical figures swimming about in the Dantean swamp), that is going to take a hell of a long time to happen.

Excuse that terrible pun, but seriously Facebook, in the words of Father Jack Hackett, “Feck off.”

When Writing is Like Juggling (but Without the Financial Rewards or Job Satisfaction)

A little while ago, when I had the luxury of only writing one book at a time, a fellow author and book blogger asked me to describe a typical writing session. I gave her this. I hope it doesn’t put too many people off writing as a career. It’s laugh-a-minute really. And the chocolate biscuit cake is delicious.

A Typical Writing Session:

Having dropped my youngest son at Montessori, I make a cup of coffee and sit at the kitchen table. Chocolate biscuit cake would be an added bonus and helped me a great deal when I was writing The Galian Spear (chocolate is great for the imagination), but the sequel is going to be much longer, and I don’t think my heart and blood sugar levels could withstand that level of abuse again.

I open the laptop and have just scrolled down to chapter three, when a beep indicates that an e-mail has arrived. I open it. The publishers of a book I am editing are asking for some minor changes. Thirty minutes later, having made and dispatched these changes, I open chapter three once again. Before I start writing, I think to myself, “I’ll just check my Twitter account very quickly.” I do so, and discover tweets from several fellow writers asking me to retweet their latest book promotions. Having done this, I notice an interesting tweet from a friend. I respond to it. The friend responds back.

Fifteen minutes later, I open my writing program again. My phone beeps. A text has arrived from my son’s school telling me that his soccer practice has been cancelled. I return to the table. The phone rings. A member of my family has rung for a chat. In as affectionate and calm a manner as possible, I remind them that I am working at the moment and will call them back later. “Working?” they say in obvious disbelief, “What are you working at?” “I remind them that I am writing a sequel to the book I published last year. “Oh, of course, they say, “How is that going?”

Five minutes later, I manage to hang up. I look at the clock. I have one hour and forty five minutes left for writing, maybe just about enough time to finish the first draft of chapter three. I begin writing. Five minutes later, the phone rings. It is the school telling me that one of my children is feeling unwell. Putting the laptop on the shelf so my dog doesn’t decide to chew it in my absence, I get in the car and go to collect my child. When I get home, I get the invalid a warm drink, a book and a blanket and make her a bed on the sofa.

Returning to the table, I discover that the dog has chewed up one of the sofa cushions and knocked my cup of coffee onto the floor. I spend ten minutes clearing up piles of brown, damp fluff in which tiny shards of china have become concealed. Then I search for plasters for the cuts I now have on my palm and fingers. I eventually find the plasters, not in the medicine cabinet as I expected, but in the drawer that normally holds our collection of old remote controls and defunct mobile phones. I treat my wounds, take the laptop down from the shelf and open it up.

The operating system has chosen this moment to install a series of complicated updates at the exact same time that our Internet connection has decided to operate at a speed that would have been considered slow in 1991. I spend twenty minutes looking at a black screen and a message that says “Do not switch off your computer until the updates have finished installing.”

When it has finished, I get myself a fresh cup of coffee and open up the computer again. This time, I switch on the writing program immediately and begin to read over what I had written the last time I had a few scrambled minutes available. Twenty minutes later, I have to collect my son from Montessori. Another writing day is over.

Why Jeff Bridges is Responsible for my Fear of Flying


In the next couple of days, I will be boarding an airplane for the first time in about seven years. This delay has been completely intentional.

Oh, I’ve used a lot of excuses: pregnancy, my smallest son being too small to enjoy the flight, lack of money, isn’t Ireland just gorgeous in the summer, won’t a week in Kerry be just as nice as Spain (it isn’t: not when its drizzling, grey and 10 degrees). That kind of excuse.

They were nonsense. The truth is, and I have mentioned this elsewhere, I am terrified of flying. What I have not mentioned is that it is all Jeff Bridges’ fault.

Years ago, I flew frequently and with blithe disregard for any potential consequences rather than the obvious one of getting where I was going, I flew to England, America, Germany, Spain, France, Austria, without giving it a second thought. I descended on Glasgow once in a minute plane called a Focher that bounced around like a toy being waved about by a small and somewhat boisterous child. I didn’t, as they say, turn a hair.

Now, thanks to the film Fearless, I am filled with panic at the mere thought of flying. Even as I write, my stomach feels as if it is full of snakes.

Let’s be fair to Jeff Bridges. He didn’t make Fearless. Peter Weir was the director, but Peter Weir is not the person who features in my imagination every time I even think of getting on a plane.

In Fearless, Jeff Bridges is traumatized by a plane crash, and spends much of the film trying to overcome that trauma, most notably by getting into a car with Rosie Perez and driving into a wall.

With all due regard for the substantial talents of Jeff Bridges and Peter Weir (who directed The Truman Show, one of my all-time favourite films), Fearless is not a particularly good film. But, its depiction of the plane crash scared me witless.

The most frightening bit, the bit that flashes into my mind whenever I even consider leaving the country, is the bit with Q. Or rather, John de Lancie, the guy who acts Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not to spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn’t seen Fearless, Q (sorry, John de Lancie) is sitting beside Jeff Bridges when the plane goes belly up; but where Jeff Bridges somehow survives, Q loses his head. Graphically. Chillingly. Horribly.

What I see, whenever I think of being in a plane, is Jeff Bridges, sitting beside a headless John de Lancie.

This is why I cannot fly. Or at least, not without the help of some serious sedative, which I will look up on the Internet as soon as I finish writing this (only joking).

But I am going to Sweden, because my brother lives there, and even if he didn’t live a plane journey away, I would be getting on an airplane this year. The world is a big and fascinating place, and I have run out of excuses not to visit it. I cannot show my fear, either, that wouldn’t be fair on my children, who have never seen Fearless and hopefully never will.




Urgently Needed: A Friend for a Lonely Hen

Silkie the Lonely Hen

Not long ago, Silkie the hen had four friends. Princess Leia sadly succumbed to old age, and Dorothy Vader may have been the victim of a fox, mink or rebel blaster ( it is hard to tell which… all we found of her was a few black feathers). Red-feathered Freddie Weasley (probably still mourning the ironic demise of her twin sister, Georgina) wondered off into the wilderness (the field beside our house) and never returned. Luke Skywalker is still alive. She comes back occasionally, pecks around disdainfully and goes away again. We think she has a clutch of eggs hidden somewhere and clings to the mistaken belief that they may one day hatch.

In the meantime, Silkie, the sole inhabitant of a once lively hen house, is lonely. She pecks around the garden disconsolately. She arrives at the front door each morning and stares up at our windows, giving the occasional mournful cluck. She stands on the porch and makes us feel irrationally guilty every time we get into the car and drive off without her.

Silkie’s loneliness is such that she has taken refuge with the goats. When she is not laying guilt trips at our feet, she sits with them, sometimes sharing their food and probably discussing the fickleness of hens named after fictional characters.

I am writing this, because I am tired of feeling responsible for a hen’s social life and would sincerely like to get Silkie the companion she needs. If anyone has a hen, or knows a hen that needs a new home, please let me know. I will point out that I live in Offaly, Ireland, so offers of hens more than 30 miles away are unlikely to lead anywhere, although the thought is gratefully appreciated.

A hen that lays eggs at least sometimes would be preferable. After all, eggs are why we got the hens in the first place. I feel the irony of that statement every time I buy a carton of them in Aldi.