Positive discrimination for Suffolk

Southwold on a typical summer's day ©Dylan Hearn 2013

Southwold on a typical summer’s day ©Dylan Hearn 2013

According to the Guardian today, the comedian Dara O’Briain has “hit out” at a BBC ban on men-only panel shows. For those of you who are either a) not from the UK; or b) from the UK but have better things to do than worry about the make up of panel shows, a senior member of the BBC has put out an edict banning all men panel shows in an effort to rectify gender imbalance. The fact that such an imbalance exists should be no surprise to those of us who watch QI, Mock the Week and the like. The problem is, according to Dara O’Briain on Twitter, he has said no such thing. What he actually said was that it was wrong to make the edict public, because now talented performers who would have been chosen to be on the show through talent alone, will now be seen as the token woman. He has a point.

Sexiest ginger on the planet - Suffolk's Ed Sheeran (image source: banging-edsheeran.tumblr.com)

Sexiest ginger on the planet – Suffolk’s Ed Sheeran (image source: banging-edsheeran.tumblr.com)

This, though,  got me thinking. Because there is another, much more under-represented group that should be on TV: people from Suffolk. Now you may scoff but name me one person who originated from Suffolk that appears on a panel show. Stumped? Me too. In fact you will do well to name anyone from Suffolk on TV at all. This is a travesty. How could a county that produces talent the likes of Ed Sheeran and er… Bernie Ecclestone be subject to such discrimination? It’s not like the media have never heard of Suffolk, they own most of bloody Southwold after all.

And it’s not like other parts of East Anglia are under-represented. Norfolk, happy to look down on the people of suffolk due to our lack of city status, have their own regional television centre in Norwich, complete with it’s pro-Norwich City Football club version of Pravda – Look East. Norfolk is also the birthplace of Stephen Fry, the charming polymath; actor, comedian, and host of another allegedly mostly misogynistic all male panel show QI. Essex do even better. Because of it’s closeness to London, Essex often appears on television, usually in one of the summer holiday ‘let’s go to the seaside’ episodes of Eastenders where the whole cast end up in Clacton for the week. And of course, they have their very own TV series – The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE for those who struggle to remember a string of five words. Yet for Suffolk, other than the TV series Lovejoy – starring Ian ‘f*%$ing’ McShane of Deadwood fame – which finished 20 years ago, and Bill Treacher (Arthur Fowler) who left Eastenders 19 years ago, there is nothing.

Well I’ve had enough.

It’s about time us Suffolk-folk did something about it. To start with, I have a number of suggestions for TV shows based in our beautiful county that could showcase our creativity and talent. For example:

A stunning sea view - Sizewell B (image source: www.bbc.co.uk )

A stunning sea view – Sizewell B (image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk )

The Glowing: a paranormal mystery about strange glowing creatures set in Dunwich, just down from the Sizewell nuclear plant

Bury St Edmund: A gameshow where every week two teams fight it out for the opportunity to lay Noel Edmunds to rest – in Bury St Edmunds

The Pickwick Paperchase: A team of people run around Ipswich, who’s people and streets were the inspirations for Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, trying to find the person most like the round-faced and portly Samuel Pickwick

Lavenham - catnip for wattle & daub junkies (image source: www.britainexpress.com)

Lavenham – catnip for wattle & daub junkies (image source: http://www.britainexpress.com)

The American Tourist – Local people from Lavenham see who can tell the most outrageous tale as historical fact to American Tourists and be believed

You see, we have the talent, we have the ideas, we have the connections – usually blocking the bar at the Lord Nelson, Southwold; there is no reason that the people of Suffolk should carry on being discriminated in this way. If there is enough support, you can expect to see my petition on Change.org soon

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Second Chance: Prologue

Second Chance

The Past

The life that they knew was gone. Nothing would be the same. Not now. Maria stared out into the storm, her window thrumming as wind flung rain hard against it. Part of her wondered why they were even bothering to carry on. It didn’t look as if their work would ever be needed. There were bigger things to worry about.

“Maria, I think you should look at this.”

The climate had finally delivered on its promise. Incremental changes had led to this point, but despite warnings of what was coming they hadn’t been prepared. Even now, days after the storm’s peak, the malevolent clouds remained, spitting misery over the country. She’d heard that the evacuation of London had finally started, far too late for the thousands already dead. And still parliament remained divided on how best to deal with the crisis. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.

“Maria?”

She got up from her workstation. “What?”

Josh’s screen was covered in blooms of pulsating light. She watched as he expertly manipulated the neural recording, diving into the three-dimensional model, heading down towards the brainstem before spinning back. Neural activity ebbed and flowed across the twin hemispheres of the brain. From this viewpoint it was similar to ghost lights shimmering across the Arctic sky.

Even though she had been studying neural recordings all her adult life, Maria had only a vague idea of what this subject had been thinking. By sight she could read core emotions—whether a person was happy, sad, fearful. What she couldn’t do, looking cold like this, was understand what had caused those emotions. As she’d explained to Josh when he’d first arrived, the human brain wasn’t a book with each word identical from copy to copy. When an individual thinks of an object, that object is intertwined with a thousand other factors. If a person had once owned a dog as a well-loved family pet, when they thought of the word dog the pleasure centres of their brain would activate; if they had been attacked by a dog as a child, fear and pain centres would fire. Maria had spent her life capturing thousands of neural recordings to see if she could identify a common brain language, but after many years of trying she had come to realise that each had its own vocabulary, related but separate from one another, as unique as a fingerprint.

“Have a look at this recording and tell me what you see.”

Maria snapped back from her thoughts and studied the screen. The clarity was truly astounding; each individual synapse captured as it fired. Josh panned out to make the whole brain visible and a familiar pattern emerged. “The subject is thinking about something painful,” she said. The pattern would have looked very different if the subject had been experiencing actual pain.

“Now look at this.” Josh brought up a second recording. “I’ve run analytics and it’s identical to the first.”

The pattern appeared to be the same, although it was impossible for her to tell for sure just by looking. “OK, so they were thinking about the same event. Perhaps somebody repeated a question.”

Josh turned to her, excitement lighting up his face. It was the first time she’d ever seen him smile. “You would think so, but the first is a recording and the second a simulation. I fed the set of recordings into the neural simulator and this is what it produced.”

“I don’t remember saying you could use the neural simulator.” She regretted snapping at him as soon as she had spoken. He shouldn’t have used it without asking—the neural simulator was her baby—but she also knew that Josh had no comprehension of why he would need to ask her permission. There were some things he just didn’t understand.

“I wanted to know if the level of detail captured in these recordings could make a difference to what we’ve been able to produce so far.” He brought up another set of recordings, oblivious to her annoyance.

The second set looked less distinct than the set they had just seen, not as clearly defined. “This information came from our old scanning technology. I fed the data into the simulator then ran both the recorded and simulated processes side by side. As you can see, the two veer away from each other over time.” He brought up another set. “If you look at this recording and simulation using the new scanners, you can see that the patterns of the two feeds remain consistent. The synthetic brain matches the biological one.”

Maria tried to contain her excitement. “How often have you run this test?”

“Five times so far, all from different points in the recording. I know I need to do further tests, but I’m confident they’ll just confirm the results I’ve already seen.”

Had they done it? Had they finally produced a fully functioning neural simulator? Her mind raced at the implications. They would no longer be reliant on human test subjects. They could run millions of simulations simultaneously, condense years of research into a few days.

“Run those tests. I’ll need further confirmation before we can publish, but it looks like you’re on to something. Well done.”

Energised for the first time in months, Maria turned to leave but Josh grabbed her arm, pulling her back. “Wait, I haven’t finished.”

He was pointing at the screen. “I’ve known for a while that the simulator works. All it needed was the right quality of information. That isn’t why I called you over. This is what I wanted you to see.” There were two new recordings running side by side. From a first look, they appeared the same, synaptic blooms ebbing and flowing as if synchronised. “These two sets are identical. The one on the left is the original, the right is a simulation. The analytics say they are the same down to the synaptic level. The point is, they were instigated from two different start points.”

“So the simulator is able to reproduce a known pattern?”

“No, you don’t understand. I started the simulation from a point two minutes before the original subject suffered a fatal stroke. As the simulation isn’t affected by biological weaknesses, it kept running. It’s been going like this for days, way past the point where the original subject died.”

“I don’t understand the excitement. It’s great that the simulator can reproduce patterns that have already been seen, but it just means that the simulator is doing what it was designed to do.”

“But it isn’t just matching the odd pattern. The original recording was taken from months previous. The neural simulator is matching activity seen in the original but never sent through as part of the data transfer. And not just once or twice but hour after hour after hour.” Josh looked at Maria, the smile back on his face. “I don’t think it’s a simulation any more. I think we’ve brought the subject back to life.”

The novel, Second Chance,  is available in paperback or ebook format from Amazon. To order, please click on the appropriate link:

To order your copy from the Amazon USA store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon UK store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon Germany store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon France store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon Spain store please click here

© Dylan S Hearn 2014

It has arrived

copyright Dylan Hearn 2014

copyright Dylan Hearn 2014

Yes, my copy of Second Chance has arrived and I’m incredibly excited. One of my life’s ambitions achieved. Right, I’d better get on with the next one…

 

To order your copy from the Amazon USA store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon UK store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon Germany store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon France store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon Spain store please click here

 

Top tips for self-publishing your first ebook

tunis_press

It’s been a few weeks since the launch of Second Chance and what a few weeks they have been. From the highs of publishing and selling my first copies through to the lows of those sales sinking fast, back to the highs of great reviews and feedback and the lows of less positive feedback (which, thankfully, have been rare so far). What it has been overall is a learning experience, so before I forget anything I thought I’d share my top tips with you so that you will benefit from learning from both the good and the bad decisions I made.

This is not a step by step guid on how to publish via KDP. If that is something you are looking for I would recommend a great guide for Scrivener users here and another guide for Word users here.

Exclaimer – I wrote my novel in Scrivener and published via KDP. Any advice I give is based on my experience of using these processes only. I will update post once I start using other platforms (e.g. Smashwords)

1 Don’t rush the process

My first mistake. As I have written previously here, my first attempt at getting published was through the traditional agent / publisher route. However, once I’d made my mind up that I self-publishing was a better fit for me, I wanted to publish my book as soon as possible. This was both a good thing (I was motivated) and a mistake (I didn’t think through each step of the process as thoroughly as I should have).

2 Write in Scrivener

There are many reasons that I would recommend Scrivener from a writer’s point of view (its ease of use, the ability to write in scenes and then easily swap scenes around without cutting and pasting, it’s ability to save constantly so you lose nothing etc. etc.) but one of its biggest features is that it can create your ebook file for you very easily, with all the menus and links built in. I am aware that Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) can create an ebook file from Microsoft Word but I have heard it takes a bit of playing around with before you get it right. With Scrivener I had no problems at all.

3 Hire an editor

There are three reasons people want to go down the traditional publishing route. The first is to get an advance, the second is to gain access to lots of distribution but as important is the third – access to good editing. Editors come in all shapes and forms but there are three basic types: a creative editor – who helps shape your novel’s structure, a copy editor – who helps correct grammar and shape your prose, and a line editor – who goes through each line looking for typos. If this is your first book it is very unlikely you will be able to afford to hire a creative editor, but if you do have a bit of money I would recommend you hire either a copy or line editor. One of the biggest complaints about self-published ebooks is the number of errors in each book. Yes, you can find errors in traditionally published books but they are so much fewer than in a self-published book.

The best books are ones you don’t even realise you are reading, instead you see everything in your imagination as you read the prose. Each error takes the reader out of this state, lessening the enjoyment of your work no matter how brilliant the story. This is why being error free is so important and why hiring an editor is good use of your money.

4 Proof read thoroughly

Now, if this is your first book there is every chance that you can’t afford to hire an editor to help polish your work. Even if you do hire an editor the responsibility of providing an error free ebook is down to you. I am lucky enough to know a copy editor who agreed to edit my manuscript. He did a fantastic job, finding many errors and helping correct some dodgy prose. My mistake was believing that a quick read through after editing was enough. Thankfully I gave my ebook to my wife to read and she found a number of additional typos (either missed by my editor or added as I made my corrections) which I was able to correct before publishing.

5 Buy a decent cover

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but readers do, especially when browsing the Amazon website. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your writing is, if your cover is lousy then it is unlikely anybody will buy your book. If you don’t believe me, look what top-selling author Ed James has to say here. The good news is that you don’t have to pay £1000s to get a good quality cover. I bought mine from James at Humble Nations, who offers lots of pre-made covers at very reasonable prices. He also converts provides a service to convert his ebook covers to be used for createspace printed books if you plan to go the paper route later on (and no, I’m not getting paid to promote his service or receiving a discount). Other good quality covers can be found here, here and here (though I can’t comment on service or satisfaction).

6 Proof read thoroughly

You remember the story I told you earlier? Well it gets worse. After I published my ebook a couple of good friends who had bought my book mentioned there were a number of typos. I was mortified. I had tried my best to catch them all but some had slipped through. I kindly asked them to let me know where they were and they both sent through a list of errors. A long list. There were 88 in all. I’d proofread, my editor had proofread, my wife (who is particularly good at spotting typos had proofread and there were still 88 errors. My advice is that before you publish, send your manuscript to any friends you know who are good at spotting errors – other writers are also usually a good bet – and ask them to see if they can find any errors. The more readers you use, the more likely the errors will be spotted, because as you will see later correcting the errors is not that easy.

7 Think about which platforms you wish to use

There are lots of different routes to publishing an ebook. By far the biggest single outlet is Amazon. When you publish an ebook through KDP it automatically becomes available through all of Amazon’s stores globally. However, there are other routes to market and they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Smashwords though am yet to use them. Smashwords allows you to publish your ebook through some of the other major ebook retailers (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo to name but a few) but not Amazon. I decided to go solely with Amazon because in my home market, the UK, it almost has a monopoly, but I will aim to publish via Smashwords in the near future.

8 Use Categories and keywords wisely

The hardest part of self-publishing is not getting published but getting read. There are millions of ebooks with hundreds of thousands of new books getting added each year. Getting noticed in this avalanche of titles is incredibly difficult. This is where categories and keywords come in. A category is the type of book you have written. Fiction / Non-Fiction being the first big category, followed by subcategories (Thriller, Romance, Science Fiction etc.) Keywords are what Amazon use to help connect your book with a reader’s search. More importantly, categories and keywords are what Amazon use to create their Top100 charts and careful use of categories enables you to appear in these charts.

To appear in the Top100 Fiction charts you have to sell a lot of books, almost impossible for a novice write. The same for Fiction/Science Fiction sub-category. But there are fuser subcategories available. On the first day of sale, Second Chance went into the Top 30 Fiction/Science Fiction/Dystopian charts and Top 10 Fiction/Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering, and stayed in the charts until relatively recently – all on relatively modest sales.

9 Pricing

I priced my book at £3 for UK customers, the upper-middle of the price range of my competitors as I believed my book to be a quality product. Most of the feedback I received from people who bought the book was: is that all? Yet I’m sure I have lost sales because some people think £3 is too high a price to pay for an unknown book. There is no right or wrong answer on pricing. My view is that if you have pride in your product you should price it accordingly. One extra tip to note, UK & EU prices are subject to tax, so the price you put in the system will end up higher on the Amazon site (my KDP price is set at £2.91 to get the £3.00 retail price).

10 Send to reviewers prior to launch

Another way to get noticed is to have somebody review your book. There is a risk involved – you have no control over what they write – but if you have confidence in your book this is a great way to pick up new readers. There are many review sites out there that are happy to review self-published books, usually targeted at specific genres. However, I learnt to my cost that they often want to review books prior to launch to enable them to be the first with the buzz about the latest books, so if you want to go down this route, plan ahead.

11 Push hard on launch day

As mentioned before, your best chance of getting noticed is through the Top 100 charts system, so on launch day make sure everybody you know is aware that they can buy your book. Blog about it, Facebook, email, Twitter – get as many people you know to buy your book because then it becomes visible to others, and with visibility comes sales. This initial promotional push, allied with good choices of categories and keywords, can send you high into these specialist charts with relatively modest sales.

12 Reviews are your friend

It is a rare reader that will buy an ebook off Amazon from an unknown writer based on a nice cover and your promotional blurb. The one thing that will change this prospective customer into a customer is a raft of positive reviews. This is where your friends come in. Ask/beg/plead for your friends to give a review. Never ask for a good review, just an honest one, because if word gets out that you are gaming the system, it can be disastrous. If you are clever, give your friends preview copies and then ask them to review on the day of launch (something I didn’t do.) That way you can marry a high chart place with positive reviews to attract new purchasers.

13 Update if you find you’ve missed typos

It is always better to catch typos before you publish (see points 3, 4 & 6). However there is a good chance that you will miss something, especially if you are on a tight budget. The good news is that you can always upload a new, improved version of the ebook. Amazon will make new versions available on request and if the changes are big enough email those customers who have already purchased the ebook (and automatically update those who have chosen the auto-update setting on their Kindle). In  my case it only took a week from updating the book to Amazon sending the update out, which is great, but bear in mind that you may have already lost a potential long-term reader by this point.

14 Never miss a chance to promote your book

Did I mention Second Chance, the 5-star rated thriller set in the near future is available to buy from your local Amazon store? You can buy it as an ebook or as a paperback from Amazon.com (paperback / ebook) and Amazon.co.uk (paperback / ebook).

15 Don’t give up your day job

As mentioned here, at launch Second Chance debuted as high no.21 in the Amazon.co.uk Science Fiction/Dystopian charts and no.9 in the Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering chart. I was ecstatic. To generate these fantastic results I had sold 35 copies in two days. After those heady first few days my sales gradually slowed. Now they come like drips from a slightly leaky tap. One. At. A. Time. Yet each time I sell one extra copy I break back into the Science Fiction/Genetic Engineering charts, giving me visibility once more.

I’m hoping that once people have finished my book, those that enjoyed the story will start telling their friends about it. Word of mouth buzz is essential if you want to turn that drip into a torrent. I will also be attempting to get more reviews to bolster prospective readers. What is clear is that selling books through self-publishing is a long game. If you are lucky, and if your product is good enough, your sales will eventually pick up. For most people this is not the case. I’ve not put a payment down on that Aston Martin quite yet.

Second Chance: now available in paperback

Second Chance

I am very pleased to announce that Second Chance is now available in paperback from Amazon in the USA, UK and Europe. I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. I will post a picture of my book in pride of place on the bookshelf as soon as it arrives.

Thank you once again to everybody who has supported me so far in this endeavour and I hope you all enjoy reading my novel in the new medium of paper!

To order your copy from the Amazon USA store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon UK store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon Germany store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon France store please click here

To order your copy from the Amazon Spain store please click here

Sadly the paperback is currently not available in Australia due to Createspace publishing not selling there. As soon as this changes, I will let you know.

An apology

Over the past couple of days I have received feedback that unfortunately a number of typos were present in the first edition of the Second Chance ebook. I can only apologise for this. When writing Second Chance I did my best to deliver it error free, with both an editor and test readers helping to reduce any errors that inevitably appear when writing such a large book, but unfortunately some slipped through the net (88 at the last count). These have now been corrected. Anybody who buys an ebook or the paperback book as from yesterday will have the new, updated edition and I am working with Amazon to ensure that the updated edition can be made available free-of-charge to everybody who has bought an ebook to date. As soon as I have any more information I’ll let you know. Once again, my apologies if this has spoilt your enjoyment of my book.

The future – today

The hover board, arriving next year - according to Back to the Future (image source: http://www.digitaltrends.com)

The hover board, arriving next year – according to Back to the Future (image source: http://www.digitaltrends.com)

One of the joys of writing a novel set in the near future, and one of the biggest challenges, is to predict what the future looks like. This is particularly difficult when your novel is set in the near future because events in real life can quickly overtake you.

Predicting the pace of change is incredibly difficult – just ask the writers of Back to the Future; there are a lot of people looking forward to buying hover boards next year. At the same time, Peter F Hamilton has mentioned his frustration at coming up with the idea of a type of fax you carried with you for instant communication in his Greg Mandel series, only for his idea to be superseded by smartphones just a couple of years later, leaving the books feeling – to him – dated (I disagree, they’re great books if you like Sci-Fi thrillers). It is not by chance that all his novels since have been set many years in the future.

I completed the first draft of Second Chance over a year ago and  I’ve spoken before about how I believe some parts of our lives will be completely different in the future, whilst others will be virtually the same. I based some of my predictions on trends I could see happening today, others were completely made up. However, since writing my first draft, some of my predictions have already started to emerge into our world today. Here are 5 of them.

1. Datalenses

This was less of a stretch. Google Glass, whilst not launched at the time of my first draft, had been known about for a long time. What is more interesting is that since launch they have provoked some extreme reactions, both on how fashionable they are but more importantly on privacy. The privacy aspect was one reason why I decided not to allow datalenses to record what the wearer was seeing. However, I also realised that the authorities would use other means to get the information they wanted.

2. Driverless vehicles

Again, centrally controlled driverless vehicles have been a staple of science fiction for many years and it was a no-brainer that they would be introduced as an important part of a more environmentally friendly future. I still think that driverless systems on public roads are a few years away from being commercially available but it’s clear that they are coming and Nevada became the first authority to provide a licence for their use in May 2012. As of today, driverless vehicles are legally allowed to drive on public roads in four US states. Whether they will become widely adopted without any form of legislative push is another matter.

3. Internet security

At the time I wrote my first draft most of us believed that the biggest risk to internet security came from criminal hackers and computer malware. Then came Edward Snowden. Now we are aware that government security services have been hoovering up our internet activity on an industrial scale; collecting metadata allowing them to track our every move, recoding who we communicate with and how frequently; even collecting information on our sexual orientation through social media and by hacking the apps we use or games we play. What is even more surprising is that, apart from a prominent few people, the news has been greeted with a shrug by the majority of people. In my book I foresaw the internet growing into disuse as its neutrality became compromised by government and commercial organisations, to be eventually replaced by the datasphere. With the widespread use by activists and criminals of the Tor network and the growth of the dark net, this is already starting to happen.

4. Memory transfer

One of the areas I thought most about during the planning of the book was how it would be possible to transfer your personality elsewhere in the event of your death. This year a group of researchers from the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics successfully planted a false memory into a mouse’s brain. This means that one of the basic building blocks for memory transfer – planting the memory – has already been proven to work. We’re a long way off transferring whole personalties and a lifetime’s worth of memories, but it’s a start.

5. Environmental Catastrophe

As I speak, my country is experiencing the 3rd month of what feels like solid rainfall. It is unprecedented. January was the wettest recorded since records began. That we are going through a period of rapid climate change is not in question. I also believe the cause is also not in question, though others disagree. For me, the most interesting part is our failure as a country to be adequately prepared. Over the past few years short-term political expedience has superseded long-term planning. It is one of the key themes from my book and has sadly been proven correct. Whether this winter’s problems will provide a wake up call I don’t know, but looking at past behaviour, I doubt it.

On your 40th Birthday

40mph-sign

Dear friend,

Congratulations on reaching your 40th year. As somebody who passed that mark a short while ago – well, it feels a short while ago – I thought I ought to offer some advice on how to deal with this landmark event, as I can tell it is sitting uneasily on your shoulders.

Let us start with the number. For many this number looms on the horizon like some monstrous precursor to infirmity. Yet the difference between being a 39 year-old and a 40 years-old is not one year but one day. For the vast majority of your life you have gone from day to day without noticing any changes. Today should be no different. It is just a label, a category; something we affixed to ourselves when young and forgot to remove when it became of no consequence. You are one day older, that is all.

Now let us move on to how you will be treated by others. You may receive the odd wry smile or sympathetic look from those close to you, but these people will only be reacting to you and your demeanour. Show them that you are happy and they will be happy for you in return.

For some however, today will be an opportunity to tease you relentlessly, especially those who have yet to reach this glorious point in their lives. Take this as a sign of their immaturity and rise above it as only the wise can. Being 40 is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to embrace. It may have been the start of the slippery slope half a century ago, but life is much easier now. Your body is unlikely to have undergone the same hardships as your forebears meaning that this is the prime of your life. You still have the energy and ability to do whatever you please combined with the knowledge and experience to choose wisely. If someone younger than you laughs at the fact you are 40, laugh back; both because you know how wrong they are and because karma has a tendency to be a right bitch on these matters.

It’s also easy to get to this point in life with regrets, to look where you are and wonder what could have been if you had made different choices. Don’t. You are not Sam Beckitt and this is not Quantum Leap. You cannot change what has happened in your life so you should accept it. Some people act in denial, trying to cling to their past by staying ‘down with the kids’. Others look to abruptly change their lives to behave as the person they wish they could be. This is another path to mockery, because while there is nothing wrong with new things, you are not being true to who you really are. You are 40 years old, the best of ages. You have no need for pretence, just be you, and if being you means a pony tail, leather trousers and a Harley Davidson, then go for it.

My final piece of advice is enjoy it. You are only 40 once and time moves ever onwards. Be proud of being 40 and make the most of your day, because no matter how you feel now you will look back on this day in ten years time and think how wonderful it was to be forty. And ten years after that you will feel the same about fifty, and ten years after that you will feel the same about sixty…

I’ve never been too good with names

big-bang-07

“I’ve never been too good with names but I remember faces” – It’s a shame about Ray – The Lemonheads

I went to a pub quiz last night. We started out as a team of three which became six by the time various waifs and strays arrived. I like pub quizzes. I’m one of those people that is able to keep hold of what, on the surface of things, appears to be useless information. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve been this way all my life. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago I moved to Germany and had to learn the language in order to do my then job. It was very hard work, not helped by my age or the complexities of German grammar (I mean, is it really necessary to have 12 variations of the word ‘the’?). But there were certain phrases that stuck in my mind straight away. It started when a German friend ordered a shandy (beer with lemonade) on a night out. I explained to him that in England, a shandy drinker was another term for somebody who wasn’t manly and asked if they had the equivalent in German. Yes her replied, and then told me about:

  • Weicheier – a soft egg (the traditional term)
  • Beckenrandschwimmer – the type of person who only swims in the shallow end
  • Warmduscher – The kind of person who has warm showers
  • Schattenparker – the kind of person who parks their car in the shade
  • Handyamguerteltraeger – the kind of person who wears their mobile phone on their belt
  • Charterflug Landungsklatscher – the kind of person who claps when the plane lands

It was these phrases, rather than terms that would have been more useful, that threatened to emerge during my German lessons from then on in. All from one conversation.

So, back at the quiz, I was in a positive mood. With my ability to regurgitate useless facts I would be in my element. The first round was film and television, another area of knowledge that I take pride in. This was going to be easy. We were going to win. Or so I thought.

Can you give the first name and surname (half a point for each) for the main characters in Big Bang Theory?

I could feel the blood drain from my face and the first flutter of panic. I love Big Bang Theory. It is one of my favourite TV shows. It consistently rides that fine line of both loving and taking the mickey out of it’s subject matter – science geeks – without denigrating them. Each of the main characters has their own distinct personality and is given time to grow in your affections. It is brilliant. Yet as soon as the question was read out my brain froze. Why? Because I have a terrible memory for names.

Not all names. I can recite the 2005 Ashes winning side to you, I could probably give you the names of the majority of the 1978 FA Cup winning Ipswich Town side, but most of the time I have real trouble remembering people’s names. It’s not like I walk around oblivious to people I know. I rarely forget a face, I just happen to have a lot of friends called ‘mate’.

I sat there, mouth open, desperately trying to dredge a name, any name, out from my mind, but only one came out.

“Penny!”

This probably also says a lot about me. I could see the characters, tell you jokes they had cracked, let you know who was the engineer, who the physicist, who the biologist who loves dissecting brains, and the number of belt buckles another of them owns, but not a single name came to mind. We had lost before the first round was even halfway through.

When it came time to mark the answers, it all came flooding back.  Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, the two physicists; Penny, a waitress and aspiring actress; Howard Wolowitz the engineer and Rajesh Koothrappali, the astrophysicist who becomes mute in front of beautiful women.

How could I have forgotten their names, especially Sheldon? Why was it that these names, like so many others, escaped me? Yes, we did manage to claw some pride back in getting the highest score in matching the fast food slogans to the company (have it your way – Burger King) but even that came with a loss of dignity as our poor dietary habits were exposed.

I’ve been told that forgetting somebody’s name is a sign of lack of interest, but in my case this isn’t true (at least, not for Big Bang Theory). It’s a weakness, one of my a chillies’ heels (although given the number I have, a chillies should have been a millipede). Still, it could have been worse. I could have been friend who turned up late, halfway through the quiz. By this point we were close to the lead, but enough points back that the leading team needed to fail badly for us to have had a chance (they didn’t). When my friend was asked if he knew the names of the characters in the Big Bang Theory he reeled them off, one after another.

So he got the blame.