Gandhi and the Resting Bitch Face

The following story is told of Gandhi, but it could have happened to any luminary of his kind of elevation.

A mother brought her little boy to Gandhi and begged him to tell the child to stop eating sugar.  She explained that her child would respect him more.  Gandhi looked at the boy and told the mother to come back in a month.

A month later, the mother was at his door again with the same request.  Gandhi turned to the boy and said, “You must stop eating sugar.  It’s bad for you.”  The little boy nodded, impressed.

The mother challenged Gandhi:  “That was easy!  Why did I have to wait for a month?”

“Ah,” replied Gandhi with a smile.  “A month ago, I was still eating sugar myself.”


… and the one thing we are usually not aware of when nobody points it out, is our “resting bitch face”.

Quick, take a selfie.  But with your face relaxed, without making any effort to make it a “profile pic”.  Then take a good look.


That is what you look like most of the time!  (Scary, right?)

When I was writing the Solar Wind series, at one point my 8-year-old son came to me and asked, “Mommy, why are you so angry?”  I looked up in surprise.  Angry?  I wasn’t angry at all!  I had only been concentrating.  Turns out I have a terrible resting bitch face.  I’m sorry for all the people who thought I’m angry, or a superbitch, or basically just a scary, nasty woman.  Maybe one ought to exercise one’s face.  Because after a year and a half of dreadful mourning, my face looks even worse than before… older, more lined, more intimidating.  With a face like this, I could become the most hated world dictator.

Actually, what an opportunity!


But I suppose, the best antidote to this is to smile instantly whenever someone enters the room.  Do this consciously until it becomes a subconscious habit.  Maybe I can recover my friendly face before I die.



How NOT to write a submissions letter

It always amazes me how much wind is made around formalities.  (And that, dear friends, is why I’m a rebel!)

Let’s look at this:

A contract is an agreement between two parties.  Everything else (necessity for witnessing, authentication of signatures, etc etc etc) is really just a series of measures to ensure that both parties will stick to the agreement.  But anything (within legal boundaries) can be agreed on, as long as both parties agree.

A writer is a storyteller on paper, or a teacher on paper (depending if it’s a fiction or non-fiction book).  An author is the originator of something authentic.

An agent is a person or company that takes your cat and sells it to your neighbour, and as a reward takes on average 15% off your profit for their effort.  Really good agents could probably afford to charge a lot more, because their high success rate still makes it a good deal.

And a publisher is a person or company who takes your authentic work and puts it into a format and into places in which it can be publicly accessed and bought.   He/she brings your authentic work into the public marketplace.

All these people want you to sign a contract with them, so that they can be sure they will be rewarded for doing this for the author.  On the other hand the contract is really good for the author too as you can expect certain things from your agent / publisher:  To pay you your royalties and not short-change you; and NOT to run off with your cat and sell it as their own.

So writing a submissions / agent query letter should really be very simple.

Imagine you were writing your subs / query letter to your best friend.

“Heya Jim!  I know I’ve been quiet for a while, that’s because I’ve been working on a novel, and guess what, tonight I wrote “THE END” under it!  Now I know that you’ve been (Jim thinks: ‘Uh-oh, here it comes’) agenting some people’s novels, and I was wondering if you could do the same for mine?”

What do you think Jim will ask next?  Right:  “What’s your book about?”

So you answer.  Don’t rewrite your whole book to him in your answer.  It’s well worth learning how to write a “pitch” for your book…  c’mon, fellas, it is not that difficult.  I know we’re writers, not salesmen, but your book already prods buttock, all you need to do is make it wear the pointy boots!  You need to put the plot into one single, peppery paragraph.  Use salient words.  Engage the senses.  You know how to make a reader taste a lemon.  Make them taste lemons!  But do it – shorter.


You know, there was a twitter campaign out there in 2009 – doubt it’s still going, because haha – it was self-defeating, and I’m so glad I never found it back then because I would definitely have shot my mouth off – called #queryfail.  It was a campaign where agents vented about the query letters they got from authors.

Seriously?  You can immediately see what’s wrong with the picture.  And one agent worded it beautifully in his blog, saying something to the effect of “you will never see me do that”.

It doesn’t matter how stupidly expressed a query letter may be, how pompous an author may word his request – a fellow author reads the ridicule on #queryfail and thinks, “well, I won’t risk querying that agent!  What if I get it wrong and get my letter ridiculed here?”

2007-9 was a weird era

When I started submitting to publishers in 2007/8, I was all at sea how to write those letters.  I must have read dozens of blogs and ebooks on how to write a synopsis, how to write a query…  and here’s the thing:  They all contradicted each other!  One thing they all agreed on though:  Your subs letter should reflect your “writing voice”.

What?  Really?

“Dear John Sullivan*,

Perdita stared at the twenty-first century relic of a word processor that had been placed before her.  She gave a little snort of derision, then flexed her dainty hands that were so adept at handling a gun, and drummed out a paragraph on the old-fashioned keyboard, outlining her demand to be published.  In Spanish.  She could have written it in Danaan too.  ‘Carajo!’ she muttered under her breath as she hit the ‘send’ button.

And now began the nail-biting two weeks of waiting for a response.  Perdita started mulling over whom she could assassinate.

Best regards


(*I made that publisher up.  No resemblance to actual people.  And so on.)

Other sources gave examples of “most successful query letter EVER”, showing off a man who flashed his entire military history, medals included, before justfying that this was the reason he was the best person to write… the novel he had written, which was authentically based in one of the wars he’d fought in.

We respect our veterans, but why does that particularly make him a good author?  Without knowing more, it might just be another blood-and-guts style memoir.

Grovel (“oh mighty publisher, I know I’m only a humble author, would you please please…”) or brag?  (“As a home-schooling mother of twenty-seven children, I should know best on this topic because I know best on everything!”)  Write the sub in your writing voice??

No, and no!

And here’s the third No:

One of the lines of ridicule on #queryfail discussed how an author had the audacity to approach an agent 1) anonymously and 2) didn’t think it was important to have a huge social media following.

Hold on a minute?  The job of the agent is to take the cat – the book – and put it over the fence to the publisher; the job of the publisher is to make it publicly accessible; the job of the author is to provide authentic content!  Not, to have the entire marketing platform in place!  That is the battle of the publisher.  Not even of the agent. And to demand (after GDPR we understand this so much better, don’t we) of an author to strip himself of anonymity (anonymosity?) and do a publicity circus act (and possibly, as some authors are somewhat shy, run the huge risk of being ridiculed, which for some souls is so serious it may end in suicide – no kidding, statistics link public shame to suicide)  – peeps, is that in any way still reasonable?

No!  We don’t need to grovel, brag, do cart-wheels and circus tricks, “demonstrate our writing voice” in our synopsis (our novel is not a synopsis, this is why readers enjoy the actual book), flash our qualifications, demonstrate marketing skills and a huge social media following, or anything of the sort!

We only need to be authentic.

There you have it:  Authentic.  Honest, sincere.  And writing under a pen name is not “dishonest”, it is millennia-old custom among authors.

For that reason, and that reason alone, I have once again put patronizing “subs guidelines” on our website – in case an author feels lost how to go about it.

(Aside:  You could also approach our associate agent instead, Bookseeker Agency.)

The guidelines outline what genres we accept; they give an address where you can email your submission; and they disambiguate what you need to (and don’t need to) write in a query letter.  We’re uncomplicated.  Doesn’t matter if you are pompous or grovelly in your approach, if you are a decorated star in your field or someone too shy to give her real name.  If you have 7000 followers on Twitter or none at all, on any antisocial media.  If you’ve done a whole lot of marketing for us or nothing.  It’s not about that.  We want to know about your manuscript.

Should we decide that (for whatever reason, and it will not be your query letter or synopsis) your work doesn’t fit in with our concepts, we’ll let you know – respectfully, because for all we know we may be making a mistake and the next publisher will make a lot of money from your book.

About mass submissions

And here’s another thing.  If you address us with “Dear Sir/Madam” and know nothing about our company, and have copied 23 other publishers into the same round-mail…

… let’s be realistic.  Writers write.  Agents do the market research of who’s who in the publishing world.  Writers write.

I feel it is unrealistic to expect of any author (who would much rather be writing a new novel or the sequel) to sit and in-depth study 900 publishers and agents, for their company history, eating habits and dental records.

Because, 900.  Hold onto that figure.

That is the amount of submissions (give or take) it took JK Rowling to get her “Harry Potter” published.


Do you honestly think she had the time (between writing 6 massive sequels) to research 900 publishers and agents, submit to them one-by-one, and wait 2 weeks for an answer from each before addressing the next?

The year has 52 weeks. Half of that is 26.  900/26 = 34.62.  It would have taken her 34 and a half years.

And every publisher wants to publish the next JK.  Every agent wants to agent her.  Do you really think you’ll get her if authors can only drip-submit?  It works the other way as well!  If you are agent 20 on that author’s list, you will have to wait 40 weeks for your next quality submission that you could have had right now!

We all need to remember one thing.  The whole book industry wouldn’t even exist without writers writing.  So now the question is:  Would you (as publisher, agent or author) rather keep feeling important or would you rather make a lot of money?

There are no wrong answers here.  It’s all good.  (Dr Phil: “And how is that working out for you?”)  Recognition.  Much has been said about it.


The tricky part is learning to tell whether you’re actually approaching a publisher who wants to talk business, or whether you’re just feeding someone’s ego.  And I guess a real short-cut is the mass-submissions letter.  You will be guaranteed to weed out those who want to be worshiped, and only get responses from those who are interested in your manuscript.  But it goes both ways.  If you don’t get a reply from any of them, don’t take that as an offense to your ego.

A passing thought on synopses and blurbs:

It helps immensely to have another author who has beta-read and enjoyed your work, write it for you.  You can trade favours that way.  Because (my 2 pence) the author is too close to her own work to write a really pack-a-punch book blurb or a good synopsis.

Hope this helps, and hope you none of you will ever join a career-suicide campaign like #queryfail (or similarly risky “#agentfail”).  I know I would have been dumb enough.

Inferno Award


This dropped into my mailbox today.  I want to weep!  But for me, too much is happening in the next 15 days to quickly thrash out another 45K word horror novelette.  I know of only one author I could challenge to this…

C’mon, M, grab it and run with it!!

For only a $600 advance cheque for the winning entry, I don’t know if it’s a deal a self-respecting poet and novelist would even blink at, but the challenge itself sounds too delicious to miss!  Besides, if it is horror, it should be from your pen…

In case you bloggies forgot the unforgettable, here is the result of the previous challenge:


“A great adventure book that will keep you reading and wanting to know more.” (Nikki Mason, BestChickLit)


Google Cookies, the GDPR and – the 8th Amendment

Dear Readers:  WordPress wishes to alert you that they use cookies on their websites and dashboards (i.e. if you’re reading this or any other WP blog, you’ve been infested with tracking cookies).   To find out more, click this link:

I am impressed.

Whenever there was some big monkey theatre going on, Hubbs would always say:  “What are they trying to distract us from?”

So all of Ireland was in the throes of voting yay or nay to the abortion issue, on Friday.  With all of Europe watching in suspense.  Why on Friday?  Because, coincidence (?), Friday was also the day the much more boring GDPR came into force.

Yay or Nay

Sentiments were running pretty high.  As my daughter and I walked home from an awards night we’d been attending, a lady grabbed her sleeve and stopped us.

“Are you voting tomorrow?”

We’ve had abortion forever.  Women in the middle-ages would consult a herbalist (back then known as a “witch”) if they wanted to lose an unwanted baby.  Also, in stone-age Germania, there were clearly social rules…  they found bog-mummies of young women and their babies. These young girls and their babies had been drowned by the community to “get rid of it”;  “it” being the problem of the unwed mother.  Significantly, it was the mother and child who caught the community’s wrath, not the boy who caused the situation.

What am I saying?  It’s not a cut-and-dried issue.

… and the Internet changes while we aren’t looking

Abortion legislation is monkey theatre.  BIG monkey theatre.  Everyone is up in arms, emotionally het up…

…little realizing that the way their personal (private, public and professional) data that websites guzzle from them…  via tracking cookies and other methods… this affects ALL of us…

Interruption: Data is or Data are?

Datablog at The Guardian writes:

“For what it’s worth, I can confidently say that this will probably be the only time I ever write the word “datum” in a Datablog post. Data as a plural term may be the proper usage but language evolves and we want to write in terms that everyone understands – and that don’t seem ridiculous.

So, over to Guardian style guru David Marsh, who makes the rules in these parts about language use. He says:

It’s like agenda, a Latin plural that is now almost universally used as a singular. Technically the singular is datum/agendum, but we feel it sounds increasingly hyper-correct, old-fashioned and pompous to say “the data are”.

And the Guardian style guide expresses it like this:

Data takes a singular verb (like agenda), though strictly a plural; no one ever uses “agendum” or “datum”.

… that your personal data is now being processed “differently”.

How, differently?

Well, brilliant news:

You have more rights now!

(So why on Earth would someone want to distract you from this?)

And websites have more obligations, and more limitations on what information they can ask of you, what it is used for and how long it can be kept.  And where it can be kept.  And who can access it.


In a nutshell, Facebook and a partner of theirs were caught with egg on their faces when the data collected from Facebook users in fun, online “personality tests” was mined to predict people’s political opinions and therefore the users were being targeted with political ads.

Blogpals, why was nobody surprised?  The surprise was that it made big news!  We all knew Facebook is a huge data-minefield data goldmine.

The upshot:

Websites across the interwebs now have to ask your permission to mine your data, and they have to (if you ask) disclose what they are using it for.  (Wow!)

And most importantly:

You have a right to be forgotten!

You can ask (and they have to comply) for the deletion of all data a website, business or in fact anyone holds on you.

This is what the thousands of updated privacy policies in your inbox are about.  And the fact that you can’t turn left or right on the internet without cookie notices being pushed into your face (I’m getting really hungry here).

What it means for P’kaboo:

(who are primarily concerned with protecting our authors’ copyright) :

Dear P’kabooleans, we have always been compliant!

  • We don’t use cookies.  (Sorry.  Got to bake your own.  Recipe above.)
  • We know about client confidentiality.  What data we have on you, is safe.


What we haven’t yet done, which has been rectified now, is to have a comprehensive privacy policy document on our site.

Click this link to find our privacy policy.

Our privacy policy complied to the laws and best practices at the time:  We very simply promised our users and visitors that 1) we wouldn’t mine data from them that they themselves didn’t give us, and 2) we would never abuse their data to either spam them with advertisements or – horrors!! – sell it to a third party for whatever reason under the sun.

In fact, our users’ data was treated by us with the confidentiality of a doctor’s office.  (That’s something to do with my background.  I worked in medical diagnostics for quite a number of years.)

I don’t like duplicity.

Be aware that no matter how stringent privacy laws are, there’s a caveat that people are very seldom informed of.

A court of law can override any data protection law.  Even your most trusted doctor has to hand over your confidential data file if ordered to by a court of law.

So these laws are literally there to keep untrustworthy businesses in check from doing a rip-roaring B2B trade with your personal data.

Oh, and have you noticed?

Places that ask you to agree to their use of cookies, now have TWO options you can click.  You can choose to reject the use of tracking cookies.

Sorry, Edit:  Some places have two options.  Clearly WordPress and Google don’t.  Thanks for the heads-up, Chris. 🙂

I’ve done it already 5 times today.

Does it mean you cannot then enter that website?  Here’s the surprise:  No!  The website opens for you just the same, they still want your business…  only that they don’t have a way of bullying you into accepting cookies any longer.  (Remember how those dreadful pop-ups would never close until you clicked “OK”?  Well….)



Time rolling by


When I was 10 I read a book.  (Okay, I read a number of books.  But you know what I mean.)  This book talked about the brothers “Lion Heart”.  The older brother saves the younger brother during a fire, but dies himself as a result.  He promises his little brother as he dies, “don’t cry, little brother:  We’ll see each other again in Nangyala.”

Some time later the younger brother dies from a disease.  He transitions to Nangyala, where his big brother is waiting for him, and they have many adventures together.  Eventually the younger one dies while saving the older brother, but he puts him at ease:  “Don’t cry, big brother – we’ll see each other again in Nangilima.”  And Nangilima appears to be a place full of light.

Feels to me as though Iain transitioned straight to Nangilima, while the children and I moved to Nangyala.  The rules in Ireland are so vastly different from South Africa, it might as well be a parallel universe.  When we arrived here, it felt as though the plane travelled through a time portal, or some interdimensional portal (yes, I know, it all just looked like pretty clouds and circular rainbows…).  Even colours are different here, and the temperatures – they are a completely different story.  25 degrees used to be comfortable, spring temperature.  Here, it’s a heat wave.  A heat wave in South Africa is upwards of 38°C.

Children are more versatile than authors and they have found their balance by now.   I haven’t yet – studying the systems like crazy, and apparently running in small circles.  But – put on my grinning face and meet every new plot twist as though it were my Big Break – because for all I can tell, it might just be.  Nangyala is weird that way.

Tomorrow my son graduates from 4th year.  That’s the “transition year” between junior and leaving cert.  We’ve been here a whole academic year.  It doesn’t feel like it.  I’m amazed.  Time moves differently too – but I think that has more to do with my head and the task at hand than with anything here.  Some days I wonder if I’ll ever normalize.

I’ll keep you posted.  (Sirens in the background… could it be the people with the white jackets…)

“Lose Like A Human” at Bookseeker Agency


“Last weekend, the 19th and 20th May, the Hyperdrive Festival took place in Hailsham, Sussex. Twenty-five films were shown over the two days, including Lose Like a Human, written by Luka Vukos and Fergus Doyle, and directed by Luka Vukos. You’ll remember that we mentioned this project – Luka’s directorial debut – in an earlier update here.”

Read the whole post at the link below

via ‘Lose Like a Human’ wins prizes at Hyperdrive!

Another lucrative list for short-story authors


Once again, this list comes from Freedom With Writing.

I suggest every serious writer bookmark the link…  they send one opportunities.  Nope, they’re not paying me to promote; I’m shamelessly using their info to entertain you peeps.

Dreams, goals, visions and callings.

I’ll leave you with those keywords, because really, everything I could write in a post for you concerning those four has already been said.  Maybe the key part of it all:


Good luck with the submissions!  🙂

(Oh, and anyone looking at that image…  does the thing that bothers me about it bother you too?)

Authors Special :)

In the spirit of helping and boosting authors (P’kaboo’s mission, next to publishing), here is another ace list from that beautiful site, “Authors Publish”.

15 Literary Journals With Fast Response Times

The whole idea is to get your work out there fast.  A number of these publish flash fiction, which is ideal for grabbing readers’ attention and building a following.  Of course, also, the pay won’t exactly hurt your pocket.

So go on, I challenge you… submit to these and then drop me a line in the comments to share how it’s going.  🙂


The 5 Levels of Practising

Violin Tricks

I can’t remember if I’ve posted on this before.  It is in fact one of the most misunderstood principles of learning to play.  Get this one wrong and you sound like a learner.  Get it right and you’ll sound professional, no matter at which level you are playing.  It is an attitude thing.

Basically, getting to know a piece of music is like discovering a world.  A fantasy world that will take you on an adventure – if you let it.  And the sheet music is the map to the treasure.

Knowing this gives you power.  Here is a 5-level method of perfecting a piece (& moving beyond perfection to a really moving performance) :

Level 1:  Sight-reading

Let’s presume you are starting a piece you’ve never heard before.  You play through it; depending on your ability, you play it note-by-note, bar-by-bar or phrase-by-phrase.

The important thing here is to…

View original post 1,030 more words

Breaking the Law


Philosophy Alert.

(Which means I’ll share my thoughts the way I see them, without bowing to any particular philosophical or religious – or lack thereof – flavour.)

There are ways in which people inadvertently breach the Universal Law.   I have understood a few of those recently.  Christians, a score for you:  A number of these Laws are mentioned in the Bible.  They are also noted in other places.

1. Judging others.

We’ve had our share of being judged and even slandered, following the death of my Hubbs.  Like that is what we needed.  I have come to a point where I am deaf on that kind of ear.  I’m also pretty judgemental myself, as anyone who reads my blog will discover. But I’m aware of it and am working on changing it; bad habits die hard, but I’m trying.

If you judge others, you are breaching a Universal Law.  The Law states that we all are different, and that we have Free Will; and it states further (this in the Bible) that God will judge us, and only God – and he reserves his judgement literally until the last day, Judgement Day.

We all do it.  But should we?

2. Manipulating / blackmailing others.

If someone blackmails you, they are elevating themselves above God and breaking the Universal Law of Free Will.  You have Free Will and even God respects this.  If a fellow human overrides your Free Will, they are breaching a Universal Law.

The next time you realize you’re being manipulated or blackmailed, take a step back and ask yourself:  Will I allow this?  Because the person doing it has less than no right to do it.  How do they even get away with it?

I can happily say that not everybody tries to manipulate others. Those who do, can be “healed” of this behaviour, but only by you taking a very firm stance and not allowing it.  No compromises.

3. Time wasters.

This is subtle and ouch.  It is not as overt a breach as judging or manipulating; but if someone is wasting your time (e.g. by not honouring an appointment), they are literally trashing what is your most precious commodity – the minutes of your life.

This is not a matter of value in money.  It’s value in breaths you take, in moments you could have spent with loved ones instead, of the golden minutes of your life running away like sand through your fingers.

I used to be horrible with keeping on time.  Teaching 1:1 violin taught me the importance of being on time.  If a lesson is going to be only 30 minutes and 7 are missed due to tardiness – that is 1/4 of the lesson!

I am inclined to go the extra mile and give students more minutes than they actually paid for, but this is voluntary and a gift, in the line of service.  But only if they want it!  Otherwise, no matter how much value I offer in those minutes, I’m wasting their time.


So.  That bit of philosophy, way after midnight.  Maybe tomorrow I will understand why I had to write it.