KU pages read stats – a new obsession

reading-over-shoulder

image source: bookriot.com

When Amazon announced they were changing their Kindle Unlimited payment scheme from ‘flat rate per loan’ to a payment for each page read there was a lot of debate about its impact on publishing. One thing missed, however, was its impact on authors themselves, specifically being able to ‘see’ people read your work.

When Amazon KDP launched their new scheme they also launched a report allowing authors to see how many page reads were captured per day, and like KDP’s other reports, this one is updated on a regular (hourly?) basis. For many authors, especially those selling at reasonable volumes, the report will show the thousands or tens of thousands of pages read per day in a steady stream. For those of us with more modest sales, the experience is very different.

It took a couple of days before I received my first KU download under the new system. I’d seen the sales rank bump – because I monitor my sales more often than is healthy – and waited with excitement to see the pages read appear on the new report.

And waited.

And waited.

Nothing happened. Perhaps the report has a few teething problems, I thought, or the reader is finishing another book before starting on mine. I tried not to let the lack of activity bother me, but the lack of activity needled me more than I wished to admit. Then, on the second day, the graph had changed. It registered 51 pages read from the day before. Somebody was reading my book!

The most logical thing to do at this point would have been to close the report and get on with my life, but no, I had to know more. So I tried to work out the exact point they had read up to. The Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) for Second Chance is 524 pages. The print book has 305 pages so at roughly 1.72 KENPC per print page I deduced that the reader had stopped at page 30 or the start of chapter 5. I was thrilled, it’s the point where the multiple threads of the opening chapters start to pull together. They were clearly enjoying the story.

At the same time, another emotion surfaced, one I hadn’t expected. Most authors will recognise the emotional rollercoaster when somebody you know reads your book. On the one hand you’re desperate to find out if they like it but you know it’s bad form to ask – there’s nothing worse than a needy author badgering you for your thoughts on the mine of their book to put you off a story. So whenever you meet your friend you deliberately don’t mention the book but at the same time you hope they bring it up in conversation to satisfy your need for validation.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, watching somebody read my book remotely elicited similar emotions, but this time I had both more and less information to go on. I believed I knew exactly where they’d read up to but had no visual signals, no reassuring smile to comfort me. All I had was the data, so being a story-teller I built my own narrative. In my head they’d loved the book so far and couldn’t wait to read on.

The next day I registered a KENPC of four, the day after that eleven and then a big fat zero. I was mortified. What had gone wrong? My imagination went into overdrive. When I’d first published Second Chance, a number of friends mentioned that it took four or five chapters to get into the story and then boom, everything started to fit together and they were hooked. Yet this reader had got that far and stopped. Did that mean they hated what I’d written? Had they given up and moved onto another book? Had they found it – god forbid – boring? It was torture. What had started as a wonderful new experience to remotely bond with my audience had turned into ego death by a thousand cuts.

Before the new payment process was introduced, all I had to worry about was whether I sold (or rented out) a book or not. Clearly I wanted the reader to enjoy what they’d bought as I had another book for sale and a third on the way, but once a sale was registered, it was a sale. It was a small piece of success, a balm for my ego.

Not any more.

Now I had the agony of watching somebody dump my novel for something more interesting. It took me back to my youth, bringing back feelings of dating the most beautiful girl in high school only to lose them to the football team captain the very next day.*

I woke the next morning and immediately checked my report. I had a KENPC of 485. Woo hoo! The football team captain was clearly a jerk and she loved me all along. I knew it. I’d always had faith in the wonderful, anonymous reader. Doubts? Pah!

Since then my KENPC graph has taken along the look of the Himalayas, with high peaks of many hundreds of pages read to low troughs of none. And it makes sense. For a start, many people don’t read every day, and even if they do they may not necessarily connect their Kindle to the internet until they’re ready to download their next book, only then passing on the data of where they’ve read up to. At the same time I’ve picked up more KU downloads, so it’s become almost  impossible to build a narrative as I’ve no idea whether I’m seeing one person reading 300 pages or one hundred people reading 3 pages (actually, I know it’s not one hundred people at a time – I wish – but you get the point). The point is, my short-term obsession has waned, settling down to monitoring my KENPC score as often as I do my sales (which is still far too frequent than is healthy).

Although it’s early days, I’m finding the new KU payment scheme is much better for me than the old one. I’m only halfway through the month, have had similar downloads than previous months but have made over three times as much money (if the $o.oo6 per KENPC figure widely publicised is correct). I’ve no doubt things will change as the scheme settles down but for the moment I’m happy.

The best part, though, was seeing my first reader, having enjoyed Second Chance so much they’d read it in three days, move on to Absent Souls and do the same thing. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve built in my head and it’s one delusion I’m happy to maintain.

So what about you? Are any of your books in Kindle Unlimited and have you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts about authors being able to remotely look over your shoulder and see what you and other readers have read? I’d love to hear from you.

*This never actually happened in real life, but I’ve seen enough movies to empathise.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

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This May Be My Last Post

Zombie

Image licensed under creative commons. Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dhollister/

 

This may be my last post. At 19:00hrs BST I am being shipped to a disused US Airforce base here in the heart of Suffolk, to be chased by zombies as part of a friend’s birthday celebrations.

I may not come out of it alive, but if I do, I’ll classify it as research, like everything else in life.

Wish me luck …

5 things I hate about being an indie author

Writers block

Image by nate at https://www.flickr.com/photos/okaycity/ licensed under creative commons.

 

Think indie publishing is all flowers and glitter? Think again. Here are the top 5 things I hate about indie publishing*:

*warning: there may be satire ahead

1 Up to the minute stats

They say ignorance is bliss, and in this case ‘they’ are right. How am I meant to be able to concentrate when the lure of the KDP stats screen is there to feed the procrastination monster. How I yearn for being in the dark about my sales, not knowing how my book’s performing until I receive my monthly / quarterly / annual statement. How much easier it would be to sit down and work on my manuscript without the stats screen singing my name, beckoning me to take just one look to see if anyone has bought in the last hour.

2 I’m forced to write exactly what I want

Part of the fun of being a writer is trying to guess exactly what trends commissioning agents are looking for from their submissions. It’s become a lot easier recently with these agents taking to social media and letting people know the type of books that turn them on, but as many authors know, by the time you’ve written one of those books, the trends have changed. What a great game this is! Being an indie author robs me of that fun. I can choose to write whatever I want, publish whatever I want and then let the paying customer choose if they want to buy it or not. Where’s the fun in that?

3 It’s too easy to update my book

The hardest part of writing is letting go, right? But when you work with a publisher you have a cut off point. Once a book is published, the text is set in stone. Not so with indie publishing. If I want, I can change anything I want post publication. I can change my cover, my blurb, I could even replace the whole text with a completely different version if I want to. And get it sent through to the reader’s kindles automatically. It’s too tempting. How am I ever going to start a new book when I can work on my old book forever?

4 Losing the anticipation of publication day

Another great thing with being traditionally published is that feeling of anticipation while you wait for your book’s scheduled slot to arrive. Anticipation is a very undervalued emotion. At it’s best, it’s nearly as good as the actual moment you’re anticipating. I’m sure the submissive in my readership would agree with me. But being an indie published author robs me of that moment. Where’s the fun of waiting for something when you’re the one doing the withholding? You can push that publish button whenever you like, and in your heart of hearts you know that sending yourself an email explaining that due to scheduling issues your book won’t be out for another six months is just fantasy.

5 I can’t blame anyone else

The book was marketed wrong, not marketed at all. The book was targeted at the wrong audience. The cover didn’t sell the book. They just care about . They made me change my story. The great thing about working with a traditional publisher is that when things go wrong, there is always someone else you can blame. But if my books aren’t selling well, I can’t blame anybody else because I made all the decisions. How nice it would be to have somebody I could pass on all responsibility to (or if it’s an editor, to whom I could pass all responsibility), but I can’t. I wrote the book, I made all the decisions and the buck stops with me. It’s not fair!

 

Joking aside, there are negatives to being an indie author but these aren’t them. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and nodded in agreement at any of these, then maybe indie publishing isn’t for you. Hopefully, however, they gave you a bit of a giggle.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Unless you have spent the last month on a desert island, there is a good chance you have heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It is a craze that has spread around the world, where people are challenged to pour a bucket of ice water – the icier, the better – over their heads, all on film. The participant then nominates three others to take undertake the challenge. Where this craze differs from other internet memes is that it is designed to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – known as motor neurone disease in the UK – as well as raise money for the charities involved in supporting sufferers and looking for a cure. Each participant donates money to the ALS Association in America, or the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK, and if a nominee refuses to take part, they are encouraged to pay a fine.

ALS or motor neurone disease is a terrible, debilitating illness that causes the sufferer’s muscles to weaken and atrophy over time until they are eventually unable to move or look after themselves. There is no known cure.

As with all crazes, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has attracted its share of criticism, from participants being accused of taking part as a means of self-aggrandisement, to other media commentators like William Foxton from the Daily Telegraph describing the challenge as “a middle-class wet-T-shirt contest for armchair clicktivists”. The cynic in me can understand these points of view to a certain extent, but there is one aspect of the craze that cannot be argued.

According to Time Magazine, since it started, the campaign has raised over $50 million in the US for the ALSA. It is estimated over £8 million has been raised in the UK. This is an incredible amount for these previously little-known charities, and will provide a welcome boost in both the support for sufferers and the ongoing search for a cure.

Yesterday, I was nominated to take part in the challenge by my step-brother. I thought long and hard about taking part. There is an element of self-centredness in taking part, especially in the posting videos. There is the risk that those taking part feel they have “done their bit” and sit back while other worthy causes lose out. But it would take a hard-hearted person not to see the benefits from the Ice Bucket Challenge far outweigh these criticisms, both in money raised and in much needed exposure for this horrible disease, so I decided to take part.

Here is the video of my Ice Bucket Challenge:

If you are in the US and would like to donate money to the  ALSA, please click on the line here.

If you are in the UK, you can donate to the Motor Neurone Disease Association by clicking here.

5 Reasons why the British should celebrate 4th July – Redux

Come on, let's celebrate together

Come on, let’s celebrate together

I love America. I have close family living in Colorado and California, many old work friends in the Pittsburgh area and whenever I have visited the US I have never been treated with anything other than complete kindness and respect. As you may know, tomorrow is Independence Day in the USA, a day in which our cousins across the pond celebrate the founding of their nation by drinking beer, letting off fireworks, having barbecues and watching sports. It is a time where people think of family, freedom and the american way.

It is also a day of some awkwardness for us Brits. You see, we don’t know what to do. We try to remain unfailingly polite but in the back of our minds we know that what is being celebrated is the humiliation of our forebears. It doesn’t help that whenever I have a conversation with American friends about Independence day, it usually goes one of two ways:

Conversation no.1: We kicked your ass!

Conversation no.2: Do the British celebrate Independence Day too?

Of course, the answers to these points should be 1: You did, and 2: Have a little think about that (see conversation no.1). The thing is, I believe the British should celebrate Independence Day. Not because of the potential for an extra day off work but because there are strong reasons why losing the american war of independence was good for us too.

English: Thomas Paine statue, Thetford, UK

English: Thomas Paine statue, Thetford, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1: It was our idea

This will come as some surprise to many people (especially in the UK), but one of the strongest advocates for an independent USA was Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England. In 1776, Thomas Paine had only been in the US two years when he wrote the book, “Common Sense”. It was one of the first books advocating colonial America’s independence from the UK and became a best-seller. The book was so influential that John Adams said “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”  So technically we lost but we also won. Sort of.

2: We got to keep Canada

Well, when I say we got to keep Canada, I mean the Queen is their head of state, and when I say Canada is ours, it is ours in the same way that Jaguar is ours (owned by Tata of India), Land Rover (Tata), Rolls Royce & Bentley (VW of Germany), Harrods (Qatar Investment Company). But you get the point. Canada remained part of the British Empire and then the Commonwealth.

It is unlikely the British would have been able to retain control of the American colonies and fight off the French in Canada at the same time. If it hadn’t have been for the war of Independence,  William Shatner, Neil Young, Jim Carrey and Terence and Phillip from South Park among many others would all have spoken French as their mother tongue. Could you imagine “Beam me up, Scotty” in Quebecois?

3: Curry

By allowing the USA to declare Independence*, we were able to concentrate on our other colonies, including the jewel in the crown, India. It can be argued that without the wealth generated from our colonies in India, there would be no Great in Great Britain, but for me the most important point is that if the old imperialists hadn’t been able to focus on India, there would be no Chicken Tikka Masala, the UK’s favourite dish**, so thank you, you American militias!

4: It’s the only date in the calendar year Americans pronounce correctly

It was recently pointed out to me by a friend that it is only on Independence Day that Americans pronounce the date correctly. For 364 days in the year, our American cousins say April Sixth, or February Eleventh. It is only on this special day that the date is pronounced correctly: the fourth of July. Now if only  we could only persuade our cousins to honour our standardised way of spelling.

5: We retain some shred of dignity with our most important sport

In the early american colonies, cricket was by far the most popular sport. Following the War of Independence, Baseball increased in popularity. Participation in cricket diminished and eventually slowly died out, much to the relief of millions of British cricket fans. Why? Well it’s bad enough being beaten by Australia, India, The West Indies and South Africa at cricket on a regular basis. Can you imagine how dominant the US would be if all 400 plus million people loved the game? It’s not like they take football (soccer) seriously yet they still did better than England this World Cup.

So, rather than ignoring the 4th July in the UK, we should embrace it. We should ignore the rain, start up our BBQ’s; pour a nice warm pint of bitter and light the fireworks to give thanks to our forefathers for screwing things up so badly that they turned a happy, contented colony into a hotbed of revolutionary zeal. Despite everything, it was one of the best things they ever did.

OK, this is a lie (see conversation no.1)

** Chicken Tikka Masala was created in Glasgow and is as Indian as Spaghetti Bolognese is Italian

 

This original of this piece was posted 4th July 2013. It has since been re-edited to add more jokes and bring it up to date.

How not to promote your book on the radio

"Ah, Gordon, I know exactly how you feel" (image source: mostlyrandomphotoseh.blogspot.com)

“Ah, Gordon, I know exactly how you feel” (image source: mostlyrandomphotoseh.blogspot.com)

 

So, last Thursday saw my maiden journey into the weird and wonderful world of radio promotion. It wasn’t my first time on radio – my voice had been broadcast on Radio 4 singing at the Aldeburgh Festival (with a few others) way back in the mid-1980’s – but it was my first time as a guest in a radio studio.

I was nervous, as I may have mentioned previously, but I’d had a good chat with Shane – one of the hosts and the person who had written the lovely review I posted last week – and felt fairly comfortable. With ten minutes to go I still had no idea what would happen and was yet to meet one of the hosts, but I wasn’t worried. Some friends had contacted me before hand to give their support. The most common piece of advice I received was “you’ll be fine, just be yourself,” or less politely “you talk a lot and have a face for radio, what could go wrong?” As I walked into the studio I felt I was ready.

The good news

I really enjoyed the experience. Both Shane and Neale were very friendly, kept me involved during the full two hours of the show, and even allowed me to play some songs that had inspired me during my writing process. I managed to promote one of the musicians (the wonderful Stephen Hodd) and my friends who run an excellent music night in my village (Live at the Cottage). I also didn’t make a complete fool of myself (at least, I don’t think so) and I didn’t freeze in front of the microphone, which I’ve been told happens a lot. I was even told by one of the listeners that I sounded around 25 which was a bonus.

The bad news

I was pretty rubbish at promoting my book. Yes, I know, it was the reason I was there, but as soon as we went on air all the lovely plans I had in my head disappeared. It wasn’t a complete car crash, but from a promotional point of view, it wasn’t great. Worst of all, the only person to blame was me. So, in case any of you have the opportunity to go on the radio to promote your book, here are my 5 top tips.

1) Don’t forget to promote your book

It seems an obvious point. How could you forget to promote your book? But the thing is, once you become embroiled in the conversation, you forget what you are there to do. It wasn’t like I didn’t have the opportunity. Shane kindly set up a a number of different questions about the book of which I failed to take advantage. I forgot to mention the four intertwining stories, the fact that event though my book is set in the future, it’s really talking about today and where we are heading. I didn’t mention that the book deals with modern politics (and politicians), the privatisation of state services (like policing), abuse of power and how even the highest ideals can be corrupted over time. I didn’t mention the themes of love, loss and its impact over a lifetime, or the fact it raises questions about what makes us who we are? So the people who listened in had no real reason to buy my book.

2) Remember, it’s their show, not yours

As mentioned before, both Shane and Neale were very accommodating, but it is their show. They have regular listeners who are used to the show being run in a certain way. I had to fit into how they worked, not they had to change the show to accommodate me and my book. It may sound naive but I thought I may have been given a bit more space to wax lyrical about the book, but of course they are looking to entertain. The show is built around a ‘banter’ style of presenting, where the hosts riff off each other. What this meant was that I had to be quicker on my feet than I was. I’m still thinking up snappy retorts I never said.

3) Work out before hand what you are happy to reveal when promoting your book, and what not

Another problem for me was that I was so terrified of revealing too much of what happens in the book that I hardly revealed anything at all. I should have worked out beforehand the information that would attract potential readers to my book without spoiling the story.

4) Take pre-prepared answers to obvious questions

It seems obvious but my mind went blank when asked the question “what is the book all about.” I had prepared an answer in my head but as soon as the question was asked I was grasping at smoke. Instead of reeling off my elevator pitch, I froze momentarily, before reverting to self-deprecatory mode – which is fine amongst friends but comes across as lacking confidence in your own book to strangers.

5) If it has been a while, re-read your book

The other problem I had is that I’m now two-thirds of my way through writing book 2. For me, the characters have moved on, new characters have emerged and what was understood to be the truth in Second Chance may not be as simple (that’s as close to a spoiler as you’ll get). But I was there to promote Second Chance, so despite thinking I knew it all (because I’d slaved over it for so long), the details were’ fresh in my mind. I should have re-read the book in the days leading up to the show, from start to finish.

This may sound like I regret going on the show but I don’t. It was a great experience and I can’t thank Shane enough for giving me the opportunity to take part. Yes, as a book promotion it was a bit of a flop, but as an experience it was fantastic, and one I can’t wait to have again – though hopeful better prepared next time.

To hear the full show in all its glory, click on the link below.

Update 15th April 2014: Sadly my radio debut has gone to the big radio graveyard in the sky and is no longer available. Part of me is very sad, another part relieved.

 

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

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.