Career suicide

You want to be published by a big name publisher? Here’s how it works.

The likes of Penguin Random House are not going to talk to you. Send them your work, they will ignore it. They will only talk to agents. Why? Well, any agent will tell you why.

A good agent is going to get a bag full of submissions every day. Just imagine what Random House would get if they were open to authors directly! The agent does not read the submissions. They go into the ‘slush pile’.

The slush pile readers will then sort through the submissions and will pass the good ones on to the agent for consideration. The agent will sort through the filtered submissions and pick maybe one or two to answer.

Now, those slush pile readers have a big mound of stuff to get through. They are actively looking for a reason to ditch every one they pick up. That’s not malicious. They might have a hundred, and the agent wants five or less. They have to sort out the dross quickly. Is the cover letter slapdash, is the first page full of spelling errors and bad grammar, is it a tedious opening? You could go in the reject pile in the first three lines of your story.

You have to get past those overworked slush pile readers. Then you have to get the agent’s attention. Then, if the agent takes you on, they have to try to persuade a publisher to take you on. All this is hard to get through. You have to get through layers of filtration before you get to the big publishers. Even then, if the book flops, they won’t be interested in your next one.

So, getting into a big name publisher is hard. It’s worth it, you’d get a big marketing department, seriously professional editors and cover artists, all for free. But it is really, really hard to get in.

It’s also worth considering that agents and publishers are a fairly small industry. They mostly know each other. If you behave like a dick to one agent, your name will be mentioned over coffee and other agents will recognise it when you try submitting to them. Agents are busy people. They don’t have time to assuage egos or play politics or deal with dicks. They have so many submissions that having a name they can ditch at the first hurdle is really helpful to them. Don’t be that name.

Given that it is murderously difficult to get a foot in that door, who would be so stupid as to throw it all away over a tweet?

These four authors just did exactly that.

They think they are making a point but they are not big names. There won’t be a huge list of agencies begging them to sign up – and they have just marked themselves as ‘difficult to work with’. One of them has three novels published. Well… so do I. So does Mark Ellott. Three is not a big number. When you are at Neal Asher’s level of output then maybe you can afford to be a bit shirty at times (he never has been, as far as I know) but three novels? No, you are not a big earner for the publisher nor for the agent. You could have been if you hadn’t bailed over a hurty tweet.

These four authors were signed up to the same agent as J.K. Rowling. I quite like the films, never bothered with the books or merchandise. CStM is a big fan though. J.K. Rowling, loathe her or hate her, is a big name in the publishing world. Being with the same agent is a big win for any author whether they like her or not. It doesn’t, or shouldn’t matter what she thinks of trans people to the other authors.

Heck, I don’t like Stephen King’s ‘woke lefty’ attitude. I still read his books and I would love to be taken up by the same agency. Stories are not real, sometimes authors are not the wonderful people you want them to be, but this is your career here. Are you really going to throw it all away, after getting over those massive hurdles, just because you’re a bit miffed by what another author has said? Well, apparently so. I wouldn’t. These authors just cast themselves adrift over a tweet. Good luck getting another agent.

Heck, I don’t even want them at Leg Iron Books. I am not going to play political correctness, I am not bending my knees unless I drop something. I frankly don’t care about anyone’s sexuality or melanin quotient or whether they have all their limbs in the right order. Leg Iron Books is about writing. If the writing is good, it’s in. If the story is good but the writing needs a bit of work, still it’s in. So far I have enough submissions to keep me busy but not enough to need slush pile readers to filter them.

I am only interested in the writing. I do not care if the author writes while candles burn at an altar to Satan. I don’t care if they have posters of Hitler in their kitchen or Che Guevara in their bedroom. Not my business. Only the story matters. Naturally, I will not publish either white supremacy nor black supremacy nor any colour supremacy nonsense. I will not publish anything that deliberately sets out to incite hate or division.

But… if someone sends in a ghost story they wrote while cross-dressed and listening to Stalin speeches and the story is a good one, the author’s personal preferences are not my concern.

Would I publish an overtly religious book? Sure, but there are religious publishers far bigger than me who would take it on and it would do better with them. The same is true for an overtly gay or gushily romantic novel. They sell really well but there are much bigger publishers specialising in those books. So if you were to send me a story in those genres I won’t reject it (unless it’s a crap story) but I might recommend you try the bigger boys first. They aren’t all tied to agents like the top presses.

The point of Leg Iron Books is to get new authors into print. To give them something they can put on a CV when applying to an agent. To get them noticed by the big names. It’s never going to develop into a rival for Penguin Random House. It’s a starting point. If a big publisher ever wanted to buy out an author contract I am not ever going to say ‘no’.

I don’t care what authors do in their private lives. I am not going to police their social media and I will not be impressed if other authors do that to them either. I am not going to install any kind of ‘diversity programme’ and I am not interested in re-education of any kind. I have a PhD. There is no more education I need.

An author walking out on an agent is of no consequence whatsoever. There are a hundred in the queue behind every single one of them. Every day. It is not only a pointless gesture, it is an incredibly stupid one. These four have just trashed their hard-won careers for no benefit at all. Nobody will even remember them, the agency will take on four new authors and those four ‘woke’ ones will disappear into obscurity. J.K. Rowling continues unaffected.

Still, if you are an author looking for an agent, this one has suddenly acquired four vacancies.

Lockdown collapses

I see the press are still trying to take down Demonic Cummings over his trip to Durham, in which he might or might not have met someone else. Meanwhile they seem unfazed by the huge crowds in London protesting about a man killed in a part of the world our government has absolutely no jurisdiction over. The same thing is happening in Berlin, in Copenhagen and other places too. What do they expect their governments to do about it?

Have they fallen for the ‘EU is everything and controls the world’ mantra? Nobody outside the EU gives a flying fuck what the EU thinks and, increasingly, neither do those inside it.

Even Donnie Trumpton has no say over the US police. That’s down to individual states. As far as I know he doesn’t control the FBI or CIA either. Police matters seem to be controlled by state governors, even by city mayors. Like in London. Saddo Khan controls the metropolitan police. People blame Boris when the Met do stupid things but he’s not in charge of them. The mayor is.

So what can anyone in the UK do about a police force in another, faraway country, where even the president has no power over them? Not a damn thing.

Italy, naturally, is different. They are currently having big protests over something else entirely. Something their government actually can do something about. Something ours is supposed to be doing something about.

Richard Burgergone, the noisy lump of overpaid MP, has been on Twitter complaining about kids going back to school. It’ll be a disaster! The Plague will kill them all! I haven’t seen a word out of him over gatherings of hundreds of people shouting slogans and presumably spouting potentially infected spittle by the bucketload. Perhaps he’s okay with all that. The BBC seem to be. So do the rest of what passes for news these days.

So am I, really. It’s very nice of these people to act as coal mine canaries for the rest of us. Is it safe to gather in groups of more than six now? Is it safe to hang around with a huge mass of strangers, like in, say, pubs? Is it safe to travel the country to attend a mass protest and then travel back again? There’s only one way to find out and these people are kindly doing it for us.

If, two weeks from now, the bodies haven’t started piling up in the streets, then there’s no more danger and everything can go back to normal. If they do pile up, it’ll only be these lunatics and nobody needs them around anyway.

One thing these protests have done for sure. If there is a resurgence of the virus when lockdown eases and they try to blame Boris, all he has to do is point to video of those crowds. There’s where the blame lies, and that’s the funniest part. In trying to bring down Boris they have given him an easy way out of lockdown. He could cite those crowds as a reason to just drop all restrictions and any second wave of virus won’t be his fault. It’s the fault of the loony Left.

It will never cease to amaze me how they manage to backfire every single time.

_____________

In other news, Leg Iron Books is still holding eBook prices at 99 cents (US, the price in other countries will vary because it depends on the exchange rate and local VAT) until lockdown is over. Then they will go back up to sensible prices. The eBook anthologies might stay at 99 cents because well, they make no money anyway. They are there to advertise the authors and Leg Iron Books as a whole.

It’s also time for quarterly royalty payments and this time, everyone has at least one sale. Including me, at last! Okay, the amounts will be tiny because of the bargain prices on the eBooks but the authors are getting that little bit better known. Financially, it’s not great but in terms of promotion it’s done quite well.

Soon though, I’ll have to put the novel/single author prices back into a decent payback for those authors. They can’t all stay cheap forever.

Opinions

So Boris is to tell us how lockdown ends on Sunday, and it starts Monday. I hope he starts with letting the car dealerships out because my car has been an ornament for three weeks and the part I need to fix it is a dealer-only part. Dealerships are closed to the public. So are scrap yards.

There are already shrieks from the usual suspects. ‘Why doesn’t he tell us now?’ Because he knows that if he tells us now we’ll apply it now and not wait for Monday. Many have given up waiting already and if the transmission rate is to be kept at its current low level, we need an orderly exit. Of course, Caviar Woman and the rest of the Spiteful Nannying Party are already planning to fuck it up, but hey, fucking things up is their area of expertise. I’m sure Labour-run Wales will do the same. Neither of them care about the virus nor the people, they just want the political points.

Anyway, I need opinions on something far more important. All but one of the authors in Tales from Loch Doon : Underdog Anthology 11 have responded to the last chance saloon PDF for final changes. It’s almost ready to go. So… the cover.

This is the base photo I plan to use. It’s Loch Ness, taken last summer.

It’s a wraparound cover, left side is the back, right side is the front. With 155 pages there will be a defined spine down the middle. I wanted to make it a bit more foreboding so I did this –

I don’t want to make it too surreal and I have to keep in mind that the print process usually turns out darker than the images I submit. I might have to boost the overall brightness a bit.

Which is better? The original or the meddled with one? Or do you have another suggestion?

Remember you’ll only see the right half on the front cover and on the eBook versions.

Entertainment Time – The Masters Return

It is taking a lot longer than usual to complete this anthology. So many distractions, and I still have no functioning vehicle either. So I thought I’d put my story up for a bit of light reading in these dark times.

It follows on from last year’s Spring story, Pandora’s Lost Luggage, which gives some background to this one. Hopefully it’s clear on its own though. This one is in Tales from Loch Doon : the eleventh Underdog Anthology.

Enjoy…

The Masters Return

“So, Mr. Moors, you have something for me?” Bill Richards’ pen was poised eagerly over his notebook.
John Moors smiled around his cigarette. These reporters, so eager to make a name for themselves. They never check anything if the story is sensational enough.
“I do.” He pushed an envelope across the table, avoiding the wet rings left by their beer glasses.
Richards opened the envelope and studied the photographs inside. His nose wrinkled. “Empty shelves?”
Moors stubbed out his cigarette. “Note that further along, the shelves are full. It seems people are panic buying toilet paper in response to a pandemic of a respiratory virus. Why? No idea, it makes no sense, but they are. Could make a good story.”
“Hmm.” Richards raised one eyebrow. “There is talk of a lockdown because of the virus. People won’t be able to go shopping. I guess they’re stocking up.”
“I’m sure they are. They are buying up dry foods like rice and pasta too. I’m afraid I have no photographs of those shelves though. Although I’m sure you’ll get some in a few days.” Moors kept his smile tight. This is going to be far too easy.
“Could be national news. How much for the photos?”
Moors waved his hand and tried not to laugh aloud. “No charge. Call it my contribution to public service. Anonymous, of course. Would you like another beer?”
“That’s very generous.” Richards rose to his feet. “I’ll pass on the beer, thanks. I have to get this written up in time for tomorrow’s papers.”
“I understand. Good luck, Mr. Richards.” As Richards disappeared, Moors pulled out his phone. He could now let his brother Dolos leave the body of that shop cleaner.
He hated it in there anyway. Dolos would be much happier, and much more effective, in debunking the cure for the virus. If they have a cure they won’t need a vaccine and then they won’t accept the microchips.


Billionaire businessman and occultist Erasmus Blackthorn drummed his fingers on his wide, and largely empty, desk. Opposite sat Professor Christopher Rooke, his face pale and drawn.
“Can we stop him?” Rooke eyed the glass of whisky in front of him but made no move to touch it.
Blackthorn lifted his own glass and took a sip before replying. “No.”
“I don’t get it.” Rooke’s head slumped. “It’s been a year and we’re no closer at all.”
“We are dealing with something very, very old. Something that is well practised in this art.” Blackthorn took a deep breath. “He’s playing a complex game this time. He started out demonising smoking and drinking and we all thought it was just the Puritans back again. Then he latched onto the climate change game. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, he has people hoarding toilet paper, pasta and canned beans. It’s very hard to connect the dots.”
“How is he doing this so fast?” Rooke’s fingers curled around his glass. “We know he has his siblings helping, but even so…”
“Last time, he didn’t have the Internet. It’s been so much easier this time. He has gone so much further, so much faster.”
“He can’t be using the internet.” Rooke’s hand lifted his glass. “There wasn’t even electricity when he was last out. How can he even know about it?”
“There was, you know. That whole civilisation, all it had learned and developed, disappeared.” Blackthorn refilled his own glass. “Almost entirely. And this new flu virus is the opportunity he has waited for. Or perhaps engineered.”
“Engineered? Do we even know what he’s doing?” Rooke took a deep drink of his whisky. “I mean, what’s with the toilet paper thing? He has everyone buying it up, and pasta and rice and pretty much everything. There’s no shortage, they’re just stripping it out before the shops can restock.”
“It feels like the first phase.” Blackthorn stared into his glass. “But it’s not.”
“No?”
“Hell no. Since the excavations I paid for last year discovered Moros’ escape, we now know he has been out for quite some time. His brothers and sisters will all be out too.” Blackthorn placed his glass on the table. “I have done considerable research in the occult aspects of this in the past year, as, I hope, have you and your colleagues on the science side. You have no doubt come across one of his sisters? Ker?”
Rooke’s eyes widened. “The bringer of violent death, often through incurable illness.”
Blackthorn nodded. “So I don’t think the current plague is entirely accidental.”


Moros grinned at his computer monitor. The quarantine had extended to closing the pubs, clubs, restaurants and all places of mass gathering. As he had expected. Governments in this modern age were no different to governments of the past.
Humans, even this variant type, are entirely predictable things.
Now the alcohol hoarding would begin, along with the soaps, dry goods and paper. Many homes would be tinderboxes. Time to move it along, before they realised the virus wasn’t going to kill all that many of them this time. Moors lit another cigarette.
This new world has some delightful vices. What a pity I need to take this one from them.
Ker had explained that the plague wasn’t perfect. There was a treatment, and the human-creatures had found it. Moros had sent Apate and now Dolos to sow doubt about the treatment and to whip up hate against those who promoted it. They were doing a decent job.
The human-creatures still insisted on using nicotine though, and that undermined the plague’s effectiveness. Moros had placed several of the Keres in the ridiculous Puritan movement of tobacco control. They had proved markedly effective, especially in reducing the impact of the new, safer, nicotine vapour system.
Still, the virus wasn’t meant to kill them all. All these and more were just aspects of the plan. The final solution was soon to be applied.
They simply need to be induced into wanting it.


Blackthorn ran his hand over his face. “He has them hoarding food, paper and alcohol. Does he think they’ll set fire to the paper with the alcohol? That’s ridiculous. Beer and wine won’t burn, they’ll put out fire. Only a few spirit drinks are flammable and they don’t seem to be stockpiling absinthe.”
“Are you sure this isn’t just coincidence? I mean, there are always hoarders in any emergency even if it’s not real.” Rooke placed his empty glass on the table.
Blackthorn refilled it. “I’ve never seen this level of hoarding, even when there was a panic over Brexit. This is manipulated through the media. And I am certain Moros is behind it.” He topped up his own glass. “I just can’t see where he’s going with this.”
“Do we at least know why?”
“Oh yes.” Blackthorn leaned back in his chair. “The information you passed to me made that very clear.”


Moors sipped at his beer and regarded the young reporter opposite. “Well, no doubt you have heard that the virus can be transmitted on fuel pump handles?”
Sophie LeGrange narrowed her eyes. “I heard that was just a scare story.”
“Oh no, it’s true. It’s extremely contagious. I have it on authority—” Moors leaned forward “—and this has to stay between the two of us, you understand.”
Sophie leaned forward too, her eyes wide. “Oh of course. I never reveal my sources.”
“Good. I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but I feel the public have a right to know that the government will have no choice but to close down fuel stations, and soon.”
“Really?” Sophie scribbled in her notepad. “This is big.”
“It could be the turning point in your career.” Moors licked his lips. “Of course, it would make my career turn in the opposite direction if my involvement were ever known.”
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Moors. Your name will never appear.”
“Thank you.” Moors leaned back in his seat. If only you knew my real name, or if anyone remembered it. Then this wouldn’t be quite so easy.


“Okay, so why is he doing it? Why is Moros trying to destroy us?”
Blackthorn licked his lips. “We contaminated their experiment.”
Rooke blinked a few times. “What?”
“Right.” Blackthorn pinched the bridge of his nose. “This is going to sound like tinfoil-hattery but it’s the only logical deduction from the information you passed to me last year.” He sighed and stared at the table. “Are you ready for this?”
Rooke shrugged. “About now, I’m ready for anything.”
Blackthorn took a deep breath and looked right into Rooke’s eyes. “Annunaki.”
“Oh come on.” Rooke tilted his head back. “Should I pass the tinfoil around now?”
Blackthorn groaned. “Haven’t you seen enough yet? You were the one who tried to keep Moros’ prison secret. You knew what he did to humanity last time, but you never knew why. Now I’m offering to tell you and all you can do is scream ‘tinfoil’. Don’t you want to know how much further down this goes?”
“Okay. I’m sorry. But the Annunaki are just legend. Part of a religion. Nothing more.”
“There are so many common themes in all religions. I’ve long suspected there must have been some truth that started them all.” Blackthorn took out his cigar case and offered one to Rooke, who declined.
“Very well.” Blackthorn clipped the ends of a cigar. “The Annunaki—” he stared at Rooke with his eyebrows lowered “—as legend says, bred humanity as a slave race. Then they left. Moros and his crew were left behind to clear up the mess. Long before even the Sumerians documented them. The Sumerians never actually met them, Moros and his band had been trapped thousands of years earlier, but they had reduced humanity almost to cavemen before they were stopped. Humanity was then left to its own devices, to start over. A few remembered tales, some hidden messages carved in stone, were all that was left.” He lit the cigar and blew a cloud of smoke into the air.
“What mess?” Rooke waved away smoke.
“Humanity had expanded. Some escaped Annunaki control and went wandering. Some of course stayed in Africa and the Middle East, where the Annunaki were based. Others travelled around the globe. Some came to Europe. And that’s where the problem set in.”
“Problem?” Rooke shook his head. “What problem? Why specifically Europe?”
“Neanderthals. And in the east, the human offshoot called Denisovans. They were not bred by Annunaki, they most likely developed independently from whichever anthropoid the Annunaki used to create their slave race. They were smarter than the slave race.” Blackthorn blew another cloud of smoke, this time away from Rooke.
“So? Those species are extinct. There is only Homo Sapiens now.”
“Not quite.” Blackthorn rested his cigar in the ashtray and leaned forward. “The humans that came into Europe interbred with those other human species.” He clasped his fingers. “We screwed up their breeding program. We developed into something unexpected, something smarter and not so easily controlled. As far as Moros is concerned, we are not human. He tried to eradicate us once before, and that was why. Last time, people managed to stop him and cage him and his siblings, but we still don’t know how. His motive has not changed. We need to work out his new method.”


The communicator tolled. Moros turned from his screen to regard it. Nyx, his mother, was calling. He tapped his code into the panel.
“Mother?”
“How does it go, my son? I see they have not trapped you this time. Yet.”
Moros laughed. “They haven’t even noticed me. I am just a faint legend to them now. I could announce myself to them and they would simply shake their heads and turn away. Most of them do not even know my name.”
Nyx grinned. “You will return them to be our servants?”
“I will, mother, and they will worship us once more. There will be some deaths and some minor explosions and they will demand order. Eris has this part to play and is doing very well. Then Thanatos will quell the agony with an imagined vaccine that will kill and frighten even more and they will accept the microchip to save them from the pain.” He grinned. “Then we will reduce their number. This first plague will cull the old and the weak. They will accept the vaccine and the chip, which will prime their Neanderthal DNA for the next round. The second will target those who still carry Neanderthal genes and our workforce will be cleansed.”
“You have done well, my son. We will have our servants under control soon. There is so much more to mine on that planet.”
“Thank you, mother.” Moros bowed his head. “I hope we can keep their tobacco plant alive. It is most pleasant.”
Nyx laughed, loud and long. “They will farm what we tell them to farm, and the chips will let us easily remove dissenters. Do they know what befalls them, these upstart servants?”
“No, mother, they do not. I have been blatant and those few who have noticed have been marked as cranks and idiots. They are too focused on their money.” He licked his lips. “Their economies are collapsing. Soon they will lose all their technology once again.”
“We are on the way back now. Can you be ready in two of that planet’s years?”
Moros laughed. “At this rate we will be ready in one.”
Nyx smiled, nodded and the screen darkened as she broke the connection.


“Seriously? Oh God. Thank you, Williamson.” Rooke shut down his phone and put it away. “It seems there is now a story that the government will shut petrol stations.”
“Rubbish.” Blackthorn shook his head. “Transport is essential. They’ll never close the fuel supply.”
“But people will believe they are going to. So they’ll stockpile fuel and cause another artificial shortage.” Rooke raised his hands. “Come on. You know people are basically stupid.”
Blackthorn sat in silence, staring at his whisky for several minutes. “I see it.”
“What?” Rooke sat up.
“Houses filled with dry goods and paper and alcohol and now about to be filled with badly-stored petrol. He only needs one more move.” Blackthorn lifted his glass and took a deep drink. “And there is nothing we can do to stop him.”
“What? What’s his next move?” Rooke pressed his palms on the desk.
“Rumours of power cuts. They’ll bulk buy candles.” Blackthorn slumped in his chair. “They will be quarantined in their homes with booze and petrol and candles and everything flammable that you can get.”
“Yes but the power cuts are just rumours, if those rumours even happen.” Rooke forced a smile.
“It’s all been rumour.” Blackthorn bared his teeth. “That’s how he works. A new flu virus, rumours it’s going to kill millions, rumours about paper products running out, rumours about alcohol being restricted, rumours about petrol being unavailable. They have all worked. A rumour about power cuts will lead to hoarding candles.”
Rooke took a breath and released it slowly. “Yes, but there won’t be any power cuts.”
Blackthorn raised one eyebrow. “Won’t there? All it takes is too many power station workers off sick. Half of them will have the virus and half will be using the virus for a free holiday.” He drained his glass and poured another. “People are, basically, pretty dim. They are mostly in it for themselves and will take any opportunity for a free ride. Moros knows this, he’s used that same trait against us before. He has never killed anyone, he leads them to destroy themselves and he is so very good at it.”
Rooke drained his glass and pushed it across the table.
Blackthorn refilled it. “There will be power cuts. People will light their candles and drink their booze in a fire hazard house with a petrol stash. They will take out several houses around them and a street of hoarders will be the biggest firecracker anyone has ever seen.” He ran his hand over his thinning hair and gazed at the window. “There will be terror like the world has not seen since the Great Wars. People will beg for a solution, any solution. They are already terrified of each other. Moros, or more likely one of his siblings, will offer them a solution. A microchip, implanted, to prove who is safe. Those who refuse the chip will be ostracised, then hunted down.”
“I’m struggling to work out how an ancient minor deity knows about microchips.” Rooke blinked a few times and lifted his glass for another sip.
Blackthorn’s shoulders slumped. “The Annunaki came from the sky. I think a spacefaring species would be pretty well acquainted with electronics, don’t you? As for the microchip, it’s already developed. Has been for years. Some companies implant chips to let employees access secure areas. This is just an extension of that.”
“Shouldn’t we warn people?”
Blackthorn shook with mirth. “You’ve worked on this your whole career, you’ve studied the information and historical texts, you’ve found some remarkable things buried in the earth, and you were ready to pass the tinfoil when I started talking.” He sighed. “You really think anyone is going to believe all this?”
Rooke rested his elbows on the table and rubbed his eyes. “I’m getting seriously drunk here. Is there anything we can do?”
Blackthorn took a large swig of his whisky and held up the glass. “We’re doing it. There is nothing else we can do. We just have to wait and see what happens next.”

_____

Update: Less than two hours after I posted this…this appeared.

Just when you think it can’t get worse…

…the car broke down.

Last Wednesday in fact. I had just gone to Local Shop and when I got back into the car and moved the handle to ‘drive’, nothing happened. The cable between that handle and the gearbox has snapped. Naturally, this was the one day I hadn’t taken my phone with me so had to borrow the shop’s to call the AA.

They turned up pretty quickly, really. Apparently they’d had a busy day, with all the cars sat idle for a week or more taking to the roads, many with deferred MOT tests and no servicing or maintenance… maybe those things are not quite as non-essential as the police and government think.

So anyway, they dragged my immobilised car onto the back of a truck, took me the two miles home and dragged it off again. It’s an automatic stuck in ‘park’, all you can do is put sliders under the wheels and drag it. It doesn’t have an override to put it in neutral. The driver got a cup of tea and a Leg Iron Books mug as a tip because he was really patient with a right bastard of a job – but it might be a while before I get that competition winner’s mug posted.

Replacing the cable is a reasonably easy task but… all of the dealerships are closed. I cannot get the part. EBay is no use, the only ones selling cables that *might* fit are in Lithuania, the USA or the UAE. Amazon UK has one seller with one cable at a price that would make me scrap the car. Lots of them on the American and Canadian sites, at much more reasonable prices, but again, I cannot be sure they are the right ones. I can’t get the parts department at the closed dealership so I can’t get the part number.

A mobile mechanic came out to look at it yesterday. He did what he could, patched it so it can be moved, but without the right part he can’t do a final repair. So if I drive anywhere I could get stuck there.

Therefore we are now in full lockdown, missing only the welded-shut doors. We cannot go anywhere. CStM has placed a delivery order but it won’t come until April 30th so we will be heavily reliant on Local Shop’s emergency delivery for a while. They have been really spectacular in all of this, maybe one day I’ll even tell them who I am. But then it’s only been four years, I don’t want to seem pushy.

Okay, we have two freezers of food and I have a good stock of whisky and baccy so we’ll get through this without me taking pot-shots at passing Audis, tempting though that always is.

Editing on the anthology stories is now also complete and they’ll get sent out to authors this weekend. If you sent in a story and don’t hear back before Sunday, I might have lost it in all this year’s confusion. Don’t hesitate to drop me a reminder.

RooBeeDoo gets first place on the editor list for this one, she did most of the editing while I was in a blue funk for the last few months.

Finally, I need to come up with a title for this one. Something about quarantine, masks, handwash or toilet paper, ideally. Once all the edits are out, I’ll have a bit of a think.

Suggestions welcome, of course.

The Numbers Game

Work on the anthology is slow. There have been multiple disruptions in life this year – not just the virus, although that has meant that CStM and I no longer do the weekly shopping together. I have to go alone – and unsupervised – so there’s now a lot of whisky in the house. Fortunately, Aldi didn’t have any new power tools last week.

The virus hasn’t affected our lives all that much really. The only bad part is not being able to visit family and later, if the weather gets warm, we’d visit one of the two large castle gardens nearby. Well, we do have a decent garden so we can leave the parks to those who don’t.

Roobeedoo and I are working through the edits for the anthology. I’ll send them all out at once when they’re all done and then send out payments as soon as each author has agreed/modified the edits. It won’t be out for Easter but then this year, neither will Jesus.

Panoptica is something I have to get back into also. Most of what I’ve written so far is well on the way to being reality and I need to stay a little bit ahead. I’m thinking of dropping the first few chapters, start with the lead-in short stories and then start 10538’s story with the interview that sends him to the train. I need to use the flashbacks as his memory recovers but that repeats the beginning – so the answer is, lose the beginning and make the flashbacks more detailed.

Better get moving before they declare books non-essential.

One of the big questions lately is: ‘are they fiddling the death statistics?’ Yes they are, possibly with good reason.

Some countries are putting an underlying condition as cause of death to reduce the terror in the numbers. Others, like China, are simply lying. Yet others are attributing any death to coronavirus and inflating their figures.

Anyone testing positive for Flu Manchu and then dies is counted as a Flu Manchu death even if they died of a stroke or heart attack and had no flu symptoms. It’s a notifiable disease so it has to be on the death certificate but it isn’t necessarily the actual cause of death. Anyone showing symptoms is added to the list even if they aren’t actually tested. Deaths from flu and pneumonia are mysteriously low this year. They’re all counted as the new coronavirus.

The number of total deaths sounds scary, but people die all the time. It’s an inescapable consequence of being alive. Flu has a large death toll every year, usually among the elderly and the already sick, but nobody advocates lockdown every winter. They probably will now.

The kill rate is really not what makes this new one so dangerous. It’s trick is that it spreads so very easily and someone infected can spread it for a long time before they know they have it. Flu does cause a hell of a lot of cases and a lot of death but the symptoms appear in a few days. The new one can be spreading for weeks before it strikes the carrier and there is still the possiblility of long term asymptomatic spreaders. So, today, you might only have a few cases but two weeks from now, you could have a massive spike.

Around 20% of those cases will need hospitalisation and most of them won’t need intensive care. Most will recover with treatment. The thing is, 20% of a million cases is two hundred thousand in hospital. Unlike flu, that’s not spread over months. It’s likely to be spread over weeks. If you’re in there for three weeks recovering then the hospitals are soon full. Then you’re at the stage where doctors have to decide who gets treatment.

Lockdown is a way to avoid that. Limit the spread. There is no way to stop it but you can slow it down. The shrieking harpies of the press love to put out the total number of deaths as if they could have been avoided. The final number of infections and the final number of deaths from this virus will not change whether you let everyone loose or seal them in their homes. That final number, whatever it is, is going to happen no matter what.

The point of the lockdown is to ensure that the timing of that final number is extended. To ensure they don’t all arrive at hospital within a week, but show up over a period of months. Then the medical system can cope. If they all show up at once then the hospitals are overflowing, there aren’t enough medical staff (proper medical staff, not the managers with personal parking places and plush offices) and then the whole system collapses. It’s not just that there aren’t enough beds for coronavirus patients – in that scenario, there are no beds at all for all the other illnesses. So while the final number of deaths from coronavirus will be the same, the deaths from other illnesses will be much higher because they can’t be treated.

It is vitally important that people avoid too much contact at this time. You’re going to get it, no matter what, but I’m sure that if you are in the 20% who need hospital treatment you’d much rather there was space to treat you and you don’t have to die alone in a tent on the hospital lawn.

This is why they are inflating the numbers. They don’t need to in Germany, the German people are very strict and rigid when it comes to rules and will self-enforce them. The British and the Americans are a different matter. We don’t much care about rules. We follow the ones we like but tend to rebel against the ones we don’t like. So tell us to stay home. Week one, fine, we can lounge around and play games and treat it like taking a sickie. Week two, boredom sets in. Now we are at Easter weekend and there are people taking trips and having parties and barbecues…

Boris delayed lockdown as long as he could because he knew what the British are like. Trump isn’t pushing hard on lockdown yet because he knows what Americans are like. Neither country will put up with it for very long. Do it too soon and it will fail too soon. Also if they did it from day one, when it would be most effective, people would look around and say ‘Nothing is happening. This is all bollocks’ and then it will fall apart. And then they will not listen to a second lockdown when the shit hits the fan.

So the inflated figures are scary because they are meant to be. The British and American people will not take it seriously otherwise and then we’ll end up like Italy or Spain (or worse, like the mysteriously unreported Belgium). It’s scaring some sense into people, and while it does involve lying, I think it’s a sensible approach. Because you buggers will shrug it off otherwise.

There have been some mutterings that it is hitting black and Asian people harder and apparently that’s racist. Even viruses are racist now. Well, look at who mostly ignored the lockdown and still does. That’s why it’s hitting them harder. Considering the police are more interested in fining a lone person on a beach than breaking up mass gatherings of minorities, I do wonder if that’s part of the plan…

There are going to be idiots who insist ‘it’s a bank holiday, I’m having a barbecue/party/going to the beach’. There will be other bank holidays. You can skip just one. If you don’t you might have to skip them all.

I can’t even take an Easter egg to my granddaughter. I can’t visit my kids either. I can’t go to Wales to see my mother and brother and the rest of the family. CStM and I cannot visit her family in Denmark. Not that I would get on a plane at the moment anyway. It’s not fun but it is important.

Nothing will change the eventual number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths from this virus. Nothing. The daily death toll is just morbid reporting for clicks and to snipe at the government. In every country. All we can do is slow the rate of getting there so the health systems can cope. Otherwise the deaths from other diseases will be very much higher.

Oh, and this virus isn’t going away. I’m sure most people link the Black Plague with the Great Fire of London in 1666 but it started in the mid 1300s and lasted 400 years. It’s still endemic in a few places now. This virus will, likewise, not just vanish. When most people have at least some immunity it will recede into the background but like flu, it will return to kill more people every year.

So be scared of it. Stay home. Don’t let it surge into an overwhelming number of cases at once. Keep its spread slow, keep it at a level the health services can deal with.

Otherwise there won’t be any point continuing with Panoptica. You’ll be living it.

Anthology 11

Should I call it ‘Legiron’s 11’ I wonder? Or maybe just ‘Quarantine’. I’m really just getting into the editing after the events of the past month or so. Just to add to the mix, my uncle (Dad’s brother) has been diagnosed with cancer. It hasn’t spread, so normally it could be excised, but it’s a big operation and the risk of catching the Coronavirus in hospital is pretty high. So he has to endure radiotherapy.

I have to get back to real life. We’re going to be locked down until the end of April at least. Lifting the restrictions too soon will just make the thing surge again. I’m still seeing ‘oh but the flu kills more people’ coming up online and yes, it (so far) does. But it is not about the kill rate.

I don’t know if this is an escaped bioweapon, but if it is, it’s a good one. The kill rate is just enough to be scary, but its real damage is to infrastructure. You can be spreading it for up to 14 days before you know you have it. Everyone you infect will do the same. Unlike flu, which does hospitalise and kill a lot of people over a period of months, this one can lead to a massive surge in hospitalisations in a week. So businesses are shut down and everyone is scared of each other. People are afraid to leave their homes. Economies collapse, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. It’s the perfect Blind Assassin.

It still could have arisen by chance, but I think China is going to suffer for this either way.

My uncle cannot now get that surgery because of the virus. Many, many others cannot get treatment for a wide range of other illnesses because of the virus. All GP surgeries are closed here, this is no time to get sick with anything at all. You will not be listed as being killed by the virus but you may well die as a result of its existence.

Forget the bloody kill rate of the virus. It is much more serious than just some body bag numbers. If it spikes like in Italy, you won’t get treatment for anything at all because if you have an underlying condition this thing could finish you off.

Take it seriously. It is not a hoax. It is not a game. It is not, in itself, a power grab although every vested interest out there is using it to try for one. It probably won’t kill you. 80% of cases don’t even need to go to hospital. But if you’re involved in an accident or have a stroke or heart attack, the fast response you need is not going to be available – and that may very well kill you.

But back to the point. I am getting myself motivated again. The official closing date for Anthology 11 is Tuesday and I have enough stories in to make it worthwhile – and there is still time for more. I will have to check with authors that I have received everything they sent and haven’t lost anything because of the chaos in February and March. Publication is still set for mid April.

I have also reduced the price of all 10 anthologies to 99p/99 cents. Just waiting for Amazon to update them all before spreading the word. Parity is because the pound is low against the dollar and the remaining difference is removed because the UK has a tax on eBooks while the USA doesn’t. Non-US prices might change, but 99-cents is the base price. They will stay that way throughout lockdown.

I will price the next one the same, even though at £12 per story it’s going to leave quite a hole to fill. There’s no point trying to break even on these when everyone has all the time in the world to read books but no money to buy them. If it gets the Leg Iron Books site noticed and sells some of the other authors’ books too, it’s worth it.

There is, still, the omnibus edition of last year’s anthologies. I’ll still do it but while the originals are 99p it really doesn’t make much difference. So that’s not a priority.

I’m considering doing the same for my own eBooks. It won’t make me any money but it might get the books noticed. If any of the other authors are reading, would you consider it too? I’m not dropping any prices without author consent.

I cannot cut prices on print books. Those are already to the bone. I can cut them on eBooks but it does mean pennies per eBook for any author who agrees to it. It would be until the end of lockdown, likely to be until the summer the way things are looking. I will contact all the authors who don’t respond here over the next week and see how they feel about it.

Back to work. It’s not like I can do much else, is it?

The Mouse War

Living in the country, you get mice coming in every winter. Never fails. We’ve even had a shrew in the living room. Gloom Dog dealt with it.

We also get very high humidity in summer. Weeks of rain, saturated ground, then one warm sunny day and you can hardly breathe. It’s even worse outside than inside. For this reason, as well as the annual mice, anything that can be affected by humidity or mice is in plastic, glass or metal containers. Sugar, rice, flour, pasta, anything like that.

This year the little hairy bastards have been especially persistent. Every one we kill is instantly replaced. I’m really glad we don’t have a hoard of flour or pasta, nor a hoard of lovely nesting materials like toilet paper. We’d be overrun, as the hoarders will be soon. We have just enough to store safely.

This is the first year I’ve caught them running across the kitchen worktops. So this year, the Mouse War has gone nuclear. I have seven traps and eleven bait stations around the house. It’s a big house and we rarely use most of the upstairs rooms anyway – especially in winter because there’s no heating up there. All of them are now death traps.

The only food available to the mice (aside from the Death Blocks and Springy Head Smashers) is Gloom Dog’s dry food supply. Gloom Dog does not appreciate her food being stolen so she has stomped a few – and has become better at it since she’s realised she gets rewarded with bacon for every stomping. Since Gloom Dog has her nose in absolutely everything (painting skirting boards is a nightmare) all the Death Blocks have to be encased in the Boxes of Doom that only the mice can get into. Fortunately these are cheap, I bought one big one in Home Bargains and a pack of 10 smaller ones on Amazon. The Death Blocks are cheap too. I’m currently using Roshield which is working.

Gloom Dog has been ill recently. The vet has her on four medications at once so she’s now Stoner Dog. She’s a less effective mouser after she gets her daily dose of painkiller and then just lies around watching the rainbow dragons dance. She’s recovering though, she’ll be back on stomping duty soon.

I handle the Death Blocks with latex gloves on – one of many recent benefits of having all my lab stuff here now. I don’t know if mouse poison can be absorbed through skin and I’m not willing to chance it. This isn’t a suicide mission.

I know, there are humane mouse traps that let the hairy ninjas live but once you’ve seen one run out from behind the bread bin and dive behind the cooker, you can forget humane methods. These things have got to go.

In summer I have to find out where they get in. That won’t be easy, there is one hell of a perimeter around this place and parts of it have been losing mortar since the 1700s. I suspect the utility room, since it has the walls built in 1830 still as exposed stone on the inside. There are bound to be holes in there. They don’t need to be very big holes. If you can poke a pencil through, a mouse can get through.

I have considered offering my cousins a free holiday, the ones who are in the building trade. They’d have that room fully pointed and rendered in no time. Unfortunately they live in Wales, they are always busy, and travel is going to be restricted this summer. My mother had planned to visit next month for my 60th birthday but that’s out of the question now. I might not even be able to see my kids by then.

I was lucky to get to my father’s funeral which was very well attended. Funerals are now restricted to immediate family only and all the churches are closed. I read out a version of this at my dad’s funeral. It didn’t seem real until the curtains closed around the coffin at the crematorium. The only shaft of sunlight that whole day rested on the curtains as they closed. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but my son built the casket for my father’s ashes. He learned his woodworking skills from my father so it was very fitting indeed.

So, I am engaged in a war on the mice. Not a war on the Chinese virus (Oh yes it is) because self isolation is no issue for someone who hasn’t even bothered to get dressed for the last few days. The mice, for me, are a more pressing concern right now.

Also the eleventh Underdog Anthology. It is going to be delayed but it is going ahead. As it’s all online there are no contamination issues. Payments will be PayPal or bank transfer. I’m uninfected but I’m not sending cheques because that would force people to go to the bank which will be full of potential plague carriers. Bank branches are likely to be closed soon anyway. Within the UK I can get Amazon to send books directly to those who prefer to be paid that way.

Gradually, life is getting back up to speed. Although I might yet have to spend a night in the kitchen on a swivel chair, holding a crossbow, if the poison doesn’t get the little buggers.

Book stuff

Author payment time has been calculated and it’s not great this quarter. With all that’s happened it’s not too surprising, I suppose. It does need to boost and that will need some author activity. I cannot market all the books alone and to be honest, with my policy of not taking a cut from low royalty returns, if the authors want to get anywhere they really have to do something to achieve that.

One author gets it and is doing well, within the limitations of this tiny publisher. I am going to copy this approach with my own books and see how it works out. Remember, we are not in competition here, we are each chasing a different market, so sharing ideas is not disadvantaging anyone.

It doesn’t have to cost money and the scare on Coronavirus could indeed help.

We make more per sale on ebooks than on print copies anyway 😉

Virus science

Tomorrow, midnight, is the end of the quarter at Leg Iron Books and author royalties (if any) will go out on time. The anthology is going ahead too, it will close for submissions on March 31st although editing and publication will be delayed because of my father’s funeral. The delay on that has also put a complete stop on my own writing and on any kind of marketing.

I’m estimating mid to late April for publication on Anthology 11. It doesn’t affect this one too much since it’s not tied to a specific event like the Halloween and Christmas anthologies. It will be the Spring anthology, just a little later than usual. Spring is going to be delayed too, if there is any accuracy in the weather forecasts.

Anyway, science. I am/was a bacteriologist, not a virologist. I specialised in intestinal disease, pro- and prebiotics and in developing farm animal feeds mainly. Also, intestinal simulations, so I could run experiments on gut contents without animals messing it all up. So this is going to look a bit simplistic to a virologist who will have studied this in far more detail than me.

The current coronavirus is generating all kinds of conflicting reports, from ‘oh it’s just the flu’ to some serious tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theories. I read one that claimed the Spanish flu was bioengineered, some 30 years before Watson and Crick and around 70 years before DNA sequencing became a viable lab procedure. This somewhat dented the credibility of that story.

First, it is not the flu. The first round apparently has mild flu-like symptoms and will kill maybe 2% of those it infects. I have seen heartless bastards on Twitter type ‘yeah, but it’s just the elderly and the sick who die’. Will they say the same if their parents get it? Oh, and the doctor in Wuhan who died was 33 and in fine health.

The problem with this one, as compared to flu, is that it has a long incubation period where an infected person can shed the virus for around two weeks (or possibly more) without showing symptoms. Flu doesn’t do that. It also seems to have a gene or two from HIV which means it’s much more likely to infect anyone it comes in contact with.

It also appears that you don’t develop immunity, as with the common cold. You can catch it again. This means that even if someone does develop a vaccine it will be irrelevant. You simply do not develop immunity. The vaccine will achieve nothing. Or… it could make things much worse.

This one seems to do most of its killing on the second round of infection. It seems to be able to use antibody-dependent enhancement which means that the second time it infects, your immune system can’t kill it even though it’s trying to. This might or might not be the case, there is still a lot nobody really knows about this thing.

As Delphius says, it is possible that the first ‘infection’ was really normal flu or a cold, misdiagnosed. That would be understandable. The Chinese medics are overwhelmed and the authorities are dragging anyone with a temperature or a cough into the coronavirus hospitals. So, maybe they only caught the coronavirus after they arrived. The deaths could then be due to already-sick people getting stuffed in with those infected with coronavirus, and simply being overloaded with two respiratory infections at once.

So it is not flu. It has a remarkably long incubation period during which it is infectious and it is much, much easier to catch than flu. If it is true that you cannot develop immunity and that the second infection is far more serious than the first, then it really is nothing at all like flu. It’s too early to be certain on those last two points.

So, is it a bioweapon? Well it would be a really good one but only an idiot would release such a bioweapon in this age of global travel. You could get several times around the world before showing symptoms. Bioweapons are not going to stay where you put them, that should be obvious. There is a very good chance it will come back to bite you.

A bioweapon should not have a high kill rate. Your victims would simply bury or cremate the bodies and move on. A bioweapon should debilitate, while killing just enough to scare the crap out of everyone else. Loads of sick people will have exactly the effect we are seeing – medical facilities overwhelmed,infrastructure collapsing, travel and supply chains shut down…

The theory that it is a bioweapon comes from the HIV-like genes in it. Could that have been made in a lab? Oh hell yes. Building a strand of viral DNA or RNA is no problem. There isn’t much of it and we have machines that can do it overnight. It has in fact been done – poliovirus has been created in a lab. But that doesn’t mean someone made it, only that they could.

The other option – could it arise naturally? Viruses do not mate within their own species, much less with other species. They only reproduce within a host cell. They change due to mutations and errors in copying their genetic code and in assembling new viruses.

When a virus infects, it dumps its genetic code into the cell. That code, DNA or RNA, then uses the cell’s own mechanisms to read its genes and assemble new viruses. It’s like someone getting into a factory with a set of blueprints and making their own stuff using the factory’s tools.

The thing is, they are idiots. They have the blueprints to make new copies of themselves but the mechanisms they are using are not set up to make viruses. Oh each cell might make hundreds of viruses, in an infection there might be billions of new viruses produced but a lot of them will be wrong.

In the case of this Coronavirus it will create protein coats and stuff RNA into them. Some of them will be missing genes and won’t be viable. Some protein coats won’t have any RNA in them. Some will be filled with RNA from the host cell. Some will have a mix of virus and host RNA. These will attach to other cells and inject whatever they have inside, which will do… nothing, usually. This happens with all viruses. They make loads of copies in each cell but a good proportion of those copies are failures. Doesn’t matter, as long as they make enough good ones.

This has actually been considered as a treatment for some genetic ailments, such as cystic fibrosis. Create viruses containing the host’s missing gene and hope the cells take it up. I haven’t heard any more on that for years so I don’t know whether it progressed.

Right, so how does it get HIV genes?

HIV is a retrovirus. It contains RNA, but on entering a host cell it uses an enzyme that’s only found in retroviruses, called reverse transcriptase, to turn its RNA into DNA.

I should digress a little here… Living cells above viruses store their genetic information in DNA. The proteins it codes for are made on little machines called ribosomes. The cell has to get copies of the blueprints (DNA) to the machines (ribosomes) without using up its only original copy, and if it wants to make a lot of one particular protein it will need more than one copy anyway. This involves an enzyme called transcriptase which makes RNA copies of the DNA blueprint. The ribosomes use the copies, not the original, to make proteins. There’s a lot more to it but I’m retired from lecturing 😉

So, HIV gets its RNA in, turns it into DNA and now it has a master copy to make multiple RNA copies for the ribosomes.

But wait – HIV has another trick. Once it’s turned into DNA it can get into the host DNA and hide there. It can then send out a few copies as RNA to make just a few viruses at a time. The host doesn’t get sick, doesn’t even know it’s there, possibly for many years.

Now, if a coronavirus infects a cell that’s already infected with HIV, and the HIV is currently making a few copies to send out into the world, it is possible that a few of the protein coats contain full coronavirus RNA plus a few genes from the HIV RNA. Most of them will contain genes that don’t help but a few might contain the genes that give it a new site of attachment to the host cell.

Attachment is coded into the protein coat, how it sticks to cells depends on the proteins on its surface. If it picks up the right HIV genes, its next infection will produce protein coats with the HIV attachment sites built in.

It really doesn’t need more than one per billion to get this new virus going. Out of the billions sneezed out, only one single enhanced virus needs to get into a new host and the new host will sneeze out billions of the new virus. It has an advantage over its ‘parent’ in that it is now better at attaching to host cells.

Yes. It could have arisen naturally. Mutation and development of any creature is simply a numbers game and viruses produce numbers that will make an astrophysicist’s head hurt.

That just leaves the long incubation period.

The classic school-level teaching of viruses is very basic. Virus gets in, makes loads of copies of itself, bursts the host cell and infects other cells. Many viruses do this.

Not all. Some viruses ‘bud off’ their copies from the host cell so the host cell stays alive longer and therefore makes more copies of the virus before it dies. A HIV virus hiding in the host DNA will do this for years, and we already know the new coronavirus has acquired some HIV genes.

So – and this is pure theory – suppose it’s budding off viruses but not killing cells for a few weeks before it goes – ahem – viral. You don’t get sick yet. It doesn’t have all of HIV’s genes, so it can’t do this for years, only weeks. It has the gene that makes it a more efficient infector and maybe a gene or two for the slow release mechanism. That could have been engineered without much difficulty using modern equipment but it could also have arisen by pure chance.

If the chance of it arising is one in a hundred billion… that’s one infected HIV patient. Just one.

It’s not flu. This is far more dangerous.

The biggest problem is governments. Governments are fixated on money and viruses don’t care about money. Governments have no idea at all how to control a new virus, they only know about ‘the economy’. I am not talking about any particular government. I’m talking about all of them.

There is much wailing and gnashing of wallets over stock markets plummeting. The virus does not care. You can’t bribe this thing any more than you can bribe the climate. Oh they’ll try throwing money at it. It will achieve nothing at all.

If it has a reinfection level like the common cold then vaccines will not work. If second infection is really worse than first infection then vaccines will kill you. The vaccine counts as the first infection.

Nobody cares as long as they make money.

I wonder what they think they’ll spend it on?