Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Ten – Positivity

I’ll admit it, I’ve been unusually down in the dumps for the last couple of days. Normal service is now resumed thanks to a dose of cheerful songs and a ‘count my blessings’ session. Supportive partner who can make me laugh however grumpy I may be, close family, a wonderful group of friends, my health, my freedom – I have them all. Next year I’m going to take the advice of a Facebook friend and write down every good thing that happens to me on a post-it note. I’ll keep the notes in a jar, and come New Year’s Eve I can read them all and reflect on how fabulous life is.

Isn’t that a lovely idea?

One song always lifts me up, and I’m going to share it with you today.

Here is a sunrise, Ain’t that enough?

Teenage Fanclub – Ain’t That Enough.

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Advent Calendar 004Today’s advent calendar picture: A house in the moonlight.

Alison’s Advent Calendar Days seven, eight and nine

Oh, chirpy-chirpy cheat-cheat – rolling three advent calendar blogs into one! My excuse? One very hectic weekend, about which I have mixed emotions. Unusually for me I may actually bare my soul a little during the course of this blog, so be warned. It could get emotional…

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Donkey Common marquee on the right.

Saturday 7 December was Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge, and I was delighted to secure a stall at this hugely popular event. By Saturday morning I was also very nervous, mainly about the logistics of transporting one hundred hardback books, sweets (for unashamed bribery), Christmassy bits to send out a subliminal message that books make excellent gifts, and all the paraphernalia I’d decided I’d need to get me through the day. Luckily, with the help of my taxi driver partner and a robust sack barrow, the transportation process was relatively painless, despite the fact I failed to notice my stall right next to the entrance, and therefore had wheeled my heavy load from one end of the marquee to the other and back before I found it.

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My stall

With my stall set up an hour before the fair began I had time to relax. While stall holders arrived in an increasing state of panic the closer we got to the fair’s grand opening parade, I had a stroll around, cup of coffee in hand, to have a look at everything else on offer. I’m glad I took this opportunity, as I certainly didn’t get another one once the fair began.

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Setting up the marquee

As 10.30 approached I heard the opening parade heralding the start of the fair, and people started to arrive in their droves. It was only then that an unwelcome thought wormed its way into my head.

What If I didn’t sell one single copy?

My stall was sandwiched between a group of lively youngsters giving out free copies of local magazine Cambridge Edition, and a lady called Chloe selling slippers from Nepal. That’s what I love about fairs: the wares on sale are so random. Naturally the free magazines proved very popular, and possibly my biggest success of the day was an invitation to be featured in a future edition. My books didn’t fare so well. To begin with I had difficulty even giving my sweets away, as a gift wrapping service at the entrance was getting in first, so people were already munching on chocolate by the time they reached me. Remembering the advice of fellow Book Guild author Ian Johnson, I mingled as much as possible in the crowded marquee, offering my sweets and chatting to people about Dory’s Avengers, but it took almost and hour and a half to actually sell a copy.

Chloe was doing a lot better than I was; her slippers were proving very popular. I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps people didn’t want to carry a book while they were browsing, and would return later on to buys loads. Yeah, right! Book sales (or lack thereof) aside, I had a wonderful day at the fair. Chloe was good company, and the Cambridge Edition people were hilarious, competing with the Citizens Advice Bureau to see how many of their helium balloons would end up clinging to the roof of the marquee. Sadly the helium ran out long before the end of the fair, so the ‘Silly Voices’ fest we’d planned for later in the day never materialised.

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The fair in full swing

By lunch time the fair was in full swing, I’d sold a couple more copies of Dory’s Avengers and was beginning to really enjoy myself. There was plenty to watch, and plenty to amuse. Just outside the marquee was a children’s climbing frame, which had a fully-grown adult bloke hanging from it every time I glanced that way. One little girl came up to my stall, looked at the sweets, noticed at the ‘£10 a copy’ sign, and walked away looking rather disappointed. A couple of minutes later she returned, £10 note in hand, and asked if she could buy a sweet. The expression on her face when I told her the sweets were free was priceless.

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Cambridge Edition clearing up before heading to the pub.

A good hour before the fair ended the Cambridge Edition people had given away all of their magazines, and the balloons (apart from the group on the ceiling), so were heading to the pub. By this time I was very cold and a little disheartened, having only sold five copies of Dory’s Avengers despite my best efforts, so when the Cambridge Edition people invited me to join them I was dangerously close to abandoning my stock and accepting the invitation. Instead I stayed with Chloe, both of us starting to zone out a little after five hours running our stalls. It took all my will power to stop myself starting glassily at people as they arrived – would you buy a book from a zombied out author who never blinks?

Well, some people would as it turned out. The final hour of the day was by far the most successful for me, and by the time the drum beats of the Fair’s closing parade sounded from Mill Road I’d sold a whopping – nine copies. I’d also claimed possession of a free ‘Jimmy’s‘ calendar and an abandoned Cambridge Edition balloon. Once I’d packed away my stall, said my farewells to Chloe and her sister, done battle with Christmas shoppers and parked bikes, and rendezvoused with Andy I was shattered, and gasping for a beer.

Beer won the day. Sunday morning I awoke severely hungover and too sick to attend Cambridge United‘s FA Cup game against Sheffield United. Cambridge lost 2-0 which didn’t improve my mood, but my day got worse. I made the mistake of going on Facebook – I always seem to see something deflating on Facebook when I’d feeling pretty disconsolate anyway.

I had stood in the cold for six hours on Saturday 7 December to sell nine copies of my debut novel Dory’s Avengers.

The author whose advice prompted me to mingle with my potential customers spent two hours on the same day in the York branch of Waterstones, and sold ninety-five copies of his book. I’d love to be magnanimous. I’d love to lift my head and say I’m pleased for him; after all his novel, The Witcher Keys, deserves every success. However, the truth is I read his jubilant Facebook post, sank my head into my hands and cried.

Live and learn, as wise folk say. My next book is going to be so… damn… marketable!

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Advent Calendar 004Advent calendar picture day seven: Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem.

Advent calendar picture day eight: An owl.

Advent calendar picture day nine, and antidote to my sombre mood: The running reindeer huffing clouds of steam from his nose. Hah!

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There he is. Huff huff. Ha ha…

Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Six – The Nerves are Kicking In

Unusually for me I have nothing to say today. Nothing whatsoever. This is due in no small part to the fact that I’m terrified! Tomorrow I’m going to be taking Dory’s Avengers to Mill Road Winter Fair in Cambridge, which is probably my best opportunity to date to market the hard copies of my book, and I’ve managed to sink into a rather negative mind-set. I now have nightmare images of lugging 100 hardbacks to the fair, only to endure the shame of not selling a single copy and having to lug them all home again. This mind-set is as unusual for me as having nothing to say; I’d certainly class myself as a ‘glass is half full’ sort of person generally, but not at the moment. I know I’ll be back to my usual optimistic self as soon as my first customer of the day arrives tomorrow – if they arrive. Then I’ll be okay. Then I’ll know I only have to lug 99 copies home…

I think I’ll shut up and stop moaning!

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Advent calendar picture day six: A child and a squirrel.

Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Four – Shopping

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Petty Cury, Cambridge.

Wednesday is late night shopping in Cambridge, and the thought fills me with horror. In many ways I’m not a stereotypical woman, which is evidenced by my loathing of shopping. I hate it! My approach to shopping, when I have to do it, is to know exactly what I want to buy, exactly where I’m going to buy it, choose the quietest time possible, execute my dash-buy-dash home manoeuvre, retire to the nearest pub/café, and relax. Yes, there’s no getting round it; I shop like a bloke – apart from the fact I don’t leave my Christmas shopping until an hour before closing time on Christmas Eve!

There was a time I used to get caught up in all the consumerism surrounding Christmas; consumerism I now despise. The pressure put on people, especially parents, to spend a ridiculous amount of money grows with each passing year, and I can almost understand why many people now claim to hate Christmas. Really, advertisers, who can afford to buy their family and friends an iPad each for Christmas? Oh, and what are their contact details?

Joking aside, I now turn my back on the Christmas consumerism, and find my festive season a lot more relaxing as a result. As I said, I do feel sorry for parents, whose children are bombarded with temptation every time they tune in for their favourite television programmes. My partner has three young granddaughters, and of course we buy presents for them. I’m not so old that I can’t remember the excitement of seeing lots of brightly wrapped presents sitting under the tree on Christmas morning – most of the ones addressed to me containing Lego. I’m saddened to see Lego now marketed as a boy’s toy. Really? Lego was my saviour when I was a little tomboy; rescuing me from the boredom of dolls and bead sets, and introducing me to an exciting world of creation usually only offered to the boys. How I used to beg Father Christmas for a boy’s toy during pre Christmas visits to his Grotto, but to no avail. Another bead set was added to the jumble sale pile, as I looked on in envy at the neighbours’ three sons playing with toy cars, water pistols and cowboy hats. Bah!

In my quest to avoid the Christmas rush as much as possible, I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of online shopping – although that comes with problems of its own. Despite the fact I only work part time, and am therefore at home a lot more than most people, the delivery always seems to arrive when I’m out. Then I have to make my way to the sorting office, which is – you guessed it – in town.

So, with my non-commercial Christmas just over the horizon, surely my minimal shopping is all but completed. Let’s see, shall we?

  • Children’s presents – bought.
  • Partners presents – not saying if he’s getting any!
  • Cards – bought.
  • Wrapping paper – bought.
  • Christmas booze – advisable to leave this purchase until the last possible moment!
  • Mince pies – bought, eaten, bought again, eaten again…
  • Made a list – not yet.
  • Checked it twice – I’ve not made it yet, dumb arse!
  • Created Christmas play list on iPod – weeks ago.
  • Listened to it – lots.

Good luck to anyone heading into town for late night shopping. I won’t see you there.

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Advent Calendar 004Today’s advent calendar picture: A little bird with a Christmas card.

Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Three – Music.

I read a lot of blogs by fellow writers about the role of music in their lives, and most say that music plays a major part in influencing their work. Music certainly does that for me.

How can that be? Surely I don’t listen to music while I’m writing? Well, I have been known to have my iPod on while I’m working – usually when the other half has the telly on and I’m attempting to drown out the irritating adverts. Music doesn’t distract me like endless offers from PPI experts or legalised loan sharks do, but it doesn’t help me while I’m writing either. The inspirational side of music kicks in when I’m away from the computer.

It’s fair to say I don’t suffer from writers’ block (I’d better go and touch some wood, quickly!). In fact, it would be fair to say I sometimes wish my imagination would shut up and let me sleep. However, I do get to the stage after a few hours at the computer where my eyes have white dots in front of them, and my brain turns to mush – and as a result my work turns to mush too. It’s at times like these I recall the words of Monty Python – ‘And now for something completely different.’ For me, the ‘something completely different’ might be ironing, or cleaning, or a stroll to the supermarket (man, I know how to live!), and I always have my iPod on.

Music never fails to lift me up, and my raised spirits kick my imagination back into gear. As I’m ironing, or cleaning, or walking, ideas for various storylines flood my mind, all to a soundtrack of my favourite tunes. I imagine scenarios, often involving me being far more cool than I am in real life, which play out to whatever track I’m listening to at the time. If the scenario is particularly satisfying I’ve been known to play the same song over and over again,  all the way from home to town two miles away. I probably look a bit batty, skipping along the riverside path, grinning and chuntering to myself, but I really don’t care. In between the daydreams about top film directors falling over themselves to turn Dory’s Avengers into a blockbuster, and my acceptance speech as I pick up an ‘Amazing Screenplay’ Oscar for said blockbuster, some of my most creative storylines have come as a result of my passion for music. I can’t write music, but I can write to music.

Here’s one of my favourite tunes: a festive song I find extremely evocative. It’s the lovely Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders with ‘2,000 Miles’.

The children are singing; it must be Christmas time…

Cue goosebumps.

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Today’s advent calendar picture: a little bunny in the snow looking up at a star. Ahh!