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Nanny and New Technology

 

Part memoir/part short story

It was raining heavily. So what, you might say but for someone still stuck in the Eighties, babysitting requires mastery of new technology not to mention the bravery of using public transport.

They did offer to collect me but their town house sits resplendent, devoid of parking and one journey out of Band D on a Friday evening ensures a lost spot for the weekend.

Why don’t I drive, you may ask? I hold a blemish-free licence and a not-too-old car but these days I easily decline.  Driving is no fun anymore.  Drivers are getting younger, have less hair and shiny heads which dazzle one in the headlights.  This same breed drives faster and switches lanes without warning. Tailgating is illegal but how does one shake off these nuisances when they persist in filling the rear mirror?

The one-way system in the town centre requires three circulations before I find Linden Gardens. Finding no parking space, I am unable to turn back and am then required to drive headlong into a maze of narrower one-way streets, with those irritating small humps every five metres and myriad No Entry signs.

Even if I do, on a rare occasion, find a space near enough to their home, parking is not a straightforward ‘jump out and slam your door’ job, as completing the scratch-off details on their residents’ parking permit is impossible if you have a) forgotten your glasses and b) forgotten the permit. No wonder I have little compulsion to use my car,

The first time I used the train, I arrived bright-eyed and fresh at the station, marvelling in my discovery of stress-free travelling, only to be confronted by an ‘Office Closed’ sign. How, I screeched at the blank glass, am I to get a ticket?  No problem said the greasy-haired cyclist leading me to a large machine on the platform.  Having disclosed my destination, name and address (now sure to be burgled and bereft of my analogue tv), he forces cash from my hand, feeding it into the contraption’s hungry jaws.  “How much?” I squawk as the ticket drops down minus any semblance of returned loose change.

“It’s cheaper online” he says as he pedals away.

My heart sinks at the reference to technology. At this rate, the car could return to favour, but, no ……, the prospect of driving headlong onto the pier haunts me.

This time, despite the rain and the dark of winter, I have conquered the internet but am informed my ticket can only be collected from the same self-service machine. There is no escape.  Neither is there a manned office, a guard with a flag (as in olden times) or the greasy haired cyclist of last week.  However, I manage the ticket machine, the trip and the taxi ride to be met at the door by the departing parents keen to see the start of the show.  I hear words like oven, microwave and dishwasher as Hannah provides a lightning tour of her new kitchen, a wall of white behind which these items lurk.  Then it’s mobile numbers, Sky, baby alarm (she won’t wake up they say), automatic sliding doors, windows, kitchen cupboard doors and entry phone each with its own separate hand control – “It’s all very simple” Hannah assures me, and they are gone.

I am left in a sparsely but expensively furnished room with a blank TV screen, a white wall at one end behind which somewhere is my dinner and the curtainless wide patio doors. Another door leads to the hallway and the baby’s bedroom.  Baby will not wake up was manna from heaven to my ears.  I attempt to locate my lasagne using the remote control on the breakfast bar.  After several failed attempts at tracking down and starting the microwave, the oven is purring and the dishwasher door is opening and closing only not slow enough for me to grab a cup and plate.  I give up the idea of eating and try to obtain BBC 1 via the TV remote.  What I get is not BBC 1 but a recording of Deal or No Deal, my television pet hate.  My attempts to change channel result in volume overload and unbeknown to me the baby alarm can work in reverse – not a good thing with an eight-week-old.  Blaring TV, crying baby and failed attempts to stop oven and dishwasher working in tandem result in an element of panic during which I pick up the wrong hand control which operates the sliding patio doors.

As I said it was raining heavily and little did I know that the control for the doors also activated the windows (open) and the interior lights (off) – easily done without my glasses to read the display. I decamped quickly to the nursery where for I sang nursery rhymes and was rewarded with a smile.  The simple things in life don’t change do they?

 

Grandma’s  Poetry Book is available by post via dcastle32@talktalk.net or on my website http://www.dicastle.co.uk

This poetry collection spans sixteen years capturing the experience of a first-time grandmother on her sometimes wobbly journey in her new role. It includes many facets of unmissable moments and childhood milestones, some humorous and others more poignant, even sad.  Such treasured times can easily be forgotten so the book acts as a nostalgic memoir. Touching and funny in turn, readers will be reminded of the joys of witnessing childhood development and the effect on their own lives. Even those yet to reach grandparenthood including fathers, aunties and primary school children have already enjoyed reading this book. Grandma’s Poetry Book makes an ideal gift for new grandparents, birthdays, Christmas and Mothers’ Day and many readers have returned to buy more copies for friends and relations. Each poem has its own laugh-out-loud illustration by an artist who has been likened to E H Sheppard.

Some comments have included ‘Pam Ayres meets Winnie the Pooh’, ‘made me laugh, made me cry’, ‘charming book’ and ‘every grandparent should have one’.

 

Our new book, Should I Wear Floral? And other poems on Life Love and Leaving will be out shortly. Follow me on twitter @dinahcas and on Facebook – Di Castle – Writer to hear of updates and see sneak previews of illustrations and poems.

 

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A sad day for Grandma’s Poetry Book

Cover of Grandma's Poetry Book by Di Castle

Grandma’s Poetry Book is collection of poems charting a nostalgic journey taken by a first time grandmother as she adapts to her new role and views her daughters becoming mothers and witnesses the changes in parenting styles when compared to the 1960s and 1970s.

The book begins in 2 years BG (before grandchild) with the author and her friend sharing shopping outings, meals, coffees and undisturbed chats as they disclose confidences such as their reluctance to have their lives changed in any way, particularly with regard to grandchildren. Tongue in cheek the first verses illustrate a time when we could not imagine how addictive the whole grandparenting experience would be.  The three illustrations for the first three poems reflect this reluctance which, of course, is soon set aside once the babies arrive. The third poem – All Change – was inspired by the day when my friend announced her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy.The poems refer to ‘my friend Mo’ and readers of Grandma’s Poetry Book will know the character. Mo was actually a real life friend but I will call her Mo here as she was and is such an important part of my life especially in the days before I became a grandmother myself. When I was seriously ill in 2013 she asked me to go to stay with her but I could not drive and would not have managed to pull my wheelie case on the train. So she came to me and we shared precious times over a few days. She asked about Grandma’s Poetry Book and she read the early drafts, giggling appropriately. ‘I remember that day’ she said. When the book was published last year, hers was the first complimentary copy I posted out. She was always smiling, laughing, feisty and witty. Her daughter-in-law described as ‘nuts’ which is probably why we got on so well.

At the time of publication (November 2014) my friend had been fighting ovarian cancer for well over a year, a struggle which she appeared to be winning. Hair loss did not bother her and did not temper her shopping habit as she accumulated several hats and wigs for the last two winters. Her positivity was unbounded, her humour untarnished, her love and affection for me unstinting. She was the friend everyone should have. We could pick up the phone and the intervening months or years would melt away. It was as if we had spoken only yesterday. Despite great distance we met up a few times a year and were in touch on email. After her diagnosis I telephoned more often. I sought out humorous emails I had stored on the computer and sent them to her. I posted the occasional bar of chocolate.

Over the last six months there was less contact and several hoped-for meetings did not happen as she spent more time in hospital. We did exchange emails and I would try to imagine her smiling at something silly I wrote that had happened. ‘You always make me laugh’ she answered not so long ago and she referred to the strong love she had for me. At the time I did not realise she was having ‘the conversation’ but I too began unwittingly to unwrap our friendship in my emails, praising her for her positivity and humour. I told her that, should I be struck down with something similar, I would be led by her example and buy hats and wigs. It was early summer, very warm and she answered that it was now too hot to wear them. ‘A scarf’ I suggested and without asking I sped down the road and browsed an array of lightweight scarves in a local shop.  I chose one I felt would go with most outfits, stuffed it in one of the padded envelopes I use for posting Grandma’s Poetry Book and headed back to the post office.  In my hurry I forgot to say who it was from but she remembered that I had mentioned it and texted me to ask if it had come from me. Whether she wore it or not I am not sure but I like to think that she did like my choice and wore it when out and about.

Mo lost her fight quite suddenly on 10th October this year. I was on holiday when she passed but knew that she was failing fast and not eating so I expected to hear the sad news on my return. I dreaded to hear that I had missed the funeral but I needn’t have worried. Ten days ago Other Half and I travelled up to say our final goodbyes. My body was racked with sobs punctuated with laughter as her son related humorous incidents from his mother’s life. I learnt things I had not known about her and a friend and I exchanged alarming looks when he mentioned some whacky photographs he had found in an album dating back to the late seventies and eighties.

Afterwards the son told me his mother ‘thought the world of you’ and my voice cracked when I said ‘I thought the world of her too’. There are photographs in the albums of our children playing when young he said. I promised to write at length to the two brothers but have only just felt I could put words on the page with this blog. I think of my friend every day and she will always be in my life. I picture her as she was

But, more than that, her memory lives on in the first three poems of Grandma’s Poetry Book. I have her to thank for those experiences.

 

Grandma’s Poetry Book is published by Matador and is available on http://www.dicastle.co.uk or direct from the author

Follow me on @dinahcas

THE KEY TO MARKETING – FIND YOUR READERS!

When Grandma’s Poetry Book was published by Matador in November, I must have been the greenest, most self-absorbed, self-published author on the planet. So I had a website www.dicastle.co.uk and my book was listed on the Troubador site. I had paid for basic marketing packages on both paperback and ebook and I just thought …..

It would all happen …………..

Ha ha, big joke. Briefly, I mused how much better it would have been if I could have secured an agent or a publisher. Then it would have been so easy. They would have done it all wouldn’t they?

Well …. actually no, that is not the case. Even mainstream traditional publishing houses cannot give close attention to every book they publish and it is up to authors to do their own promotion and to ‘get out there’ and sell books.

So there I am last October with some books delivered to me and some waiting in the publisher’s warehouse. I have a website and I do twitter much to the amazement, scepticism even abject horror of my friends. I actually have about 150 followers at the time but I don’t understand hashtags, other author posts with weird abbreviations and I have never seen a DM – isn’t that something to do with being tied up? Well I had some when I was hacked about two years before. To my horror ‘porn’ messages purportedly from me went to my followers but thanks to posting an apology and explanation, several twitter acquaintances helped me out. Change your password, ignore it, get on with life. Yay, thanks all!

In October 2014 I do have a Facebook page with about 100 friends and a writer page with about thirty likes. I have tried getting on LinkedIn without success. I think I am quite a wily bird until I look at the number of followers some authors have – whaaaaat! How do they do that?

I am fortunate that staff at Matador patiently answer all my newbie questions and provide advice about how to increase likes on my writer page and how to get more followers. They tweet my website when it is launched and tell me that if I put @matadorbooks in my tweets they will RT. What is an RT? No, I don’t really understand retweets either and it is some time before I link RT to this.

I begin tweeting, and finding people to follow and my list of followers begins to grow – slowly, very very slowly that I could easily fall asleep at my computer. I follow everything! Regardless.  A few days pass. Suddenly Twitter stops me following anyone. No reason given. Ugh.

Then I remember 2012 at Winchester Writers’ conference when I attended a workshop run by Sally Tickner http://www.sallytickner.co.uk/workshops.html . I had been in contact soon after. I resume contact and she looks at my twitter page. I can only guess at her initial reaction. I suspect she may, in her next workshop, use me as an example of the dumbest way to use Twitter.  I am following too many people. I need to prune my following and up my followers, produce good content and interact with potential readers. So I trawl my tweets and unfollow all those I deem unnecessary. Oh all those holiday places, tourist offices, publishers, famous authors, actors, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry!! Hoards of accounts which are NEVER going to follow back. A daily trawl takes time. There are about ten accounts connected to the Edinburgh Festival, several for the Lake District, more for the Peak District and anything to do with Swanage doh. I am also following several accounts connected to the Deaf community. I AM passionate about raising deaf awareness but in October I wanted to get people to buy my Grandma’s Poetry Book. I need to get followers who may spread the word, read the book or buy for a relative. Sally gives me a link to justunfollow.com which tells you who is not following you back. I spend evenings tweeting some, pleading ‘pls follow back’ followed by a link to my website. Much later, I learn it is important to provide the link to the BUY page on the site. Keep learning. Gradually my following numbers drop. Good thing as Twitter stopped me following new people once I was up to 2001. I have to get more followers before I can add. So shed a few and add a few.

I am now in twitter fog, my head spinning, my rear end stiff from sitting on my chair. I dream about the @ symbol. I haven’t found notifications. I can’t find my way around my own twitter account let alone someone else’s. Whatever happened to writing? I haven’t written anything for weeks. My blog is about to die. But I want to sell books. Ha! I read that to sell books I should write a second as quickly as possible. I have millions of words on my computer in various manuscripts, drafts and redrafts. But I have lost the will to live where writing is concerned. Actually I have a severe case of Writer’s Block. My life is consumed by Twitter.

Training. I need training. I put myself on any available social media course. A morning here, a full day there. I learn what social media means and write snippets in my notebook which might be useful. Good for networking and handing out my author cards if nothing else. I learn about interaction!  Hmm. I read blogs about spreading the word and using social media. I read advice that I should start conversations but I am not quite sure how to do it. There is a reply button, yes? Where? One of my followers on twitter begins a conversation about my book and Amazon. Interesting but what do I do about it?

Ah the Purbeck Literary Festival, February 2015; an opportunity for a morning course in the hotel a few doors up the road from where I live in Swanage. I sit numbed and braindead. I don’t understand this Twitter stuff and what is ‘Call to Action’? Oh that’s on Facebook, But the speaker Andrew Knowles begins to get through my fog and his wife explains about scheduling tweets on sites such as https://hootsuite.com/. I leave with her words ringing in my ears that one should not write a blog and tweet it only once. Waaaa that is what I’ve been doing since 2012 when I began blogging. Tweeting it once and getting a couple of likes and one follower if I’m lucky.

Scheduling? It means you can go on holiday and your Twitter feed still churns out tweets as if you are at home. Good for keeping burglars at bay if nothing else. It takes a while to get my head round Hootsuite but boy when I get going there is no stopping me. The same tweet at different times of the day, over the next week or ten days, change it slightly and re-schedule. It is such fun! I slow down when one of my much pasted tweets has an incorrect link – typo! I have to work through the schedule and delete but not before the wrong link has been retweeted to some 100K twerps. Ugh.

Andrew also teaches us Twitter etiquette. Do this or get unfollowed! Do that and get more followers. I begin slowly with a Thank you for following message that I paste into tweets of new followers. It includes reference to Grandma’s Poetry Book and gives my website.

Marketing at Matador suggest asking on twitter for people to LIKE my FB page so I try it. Twenty identical tweets sent at different times. Change the hashtags – yes I do understand them now – and do it all again.  I join a few author forums and friend a few authors. Some have twitter handles (yes I am getting the language now) and I tweet them. They begin to retweet my tweets about my book. I search local organisations, organisations of which I am a member and follow.

Sudden inspiration! An IDEA! If I can follow mothers with babies I might be able to persuade them to buy the book as a present for the grandparents. I now add Ideal gift to my Thank you tweet and I find they are favouriting my tweets as well as retweeting. What’s favouriting you ask. I don’t know. Perhaps so they can find it again? Yes!  I trawl my Facebook friends list as I have been friended by a few people who might spread the word. I message a baby photographer who puts a post and a link to my website on her Facebook page. She has 1600 likes!

Then the realisation that everyone who likes a page gets an update. So her post is reaching out to new parents and new grandparents who may also like the page. She herself buys two books from Amazon for the two grandparents for Christmas and puts glowing comments on her page. She reads them before gifting them. She puts a review on Amazon. I am getting there. I AM finding my readers.

In Part 2 of Finding Your Readers I will own up to getting rather pushy and cheeky and the fantastic results I had. And those hashtags! Great fun!

Grandma’s Poetry Book was published by Matador in November 2014. There are 16 4 and 5 * reviews on Amazon. A nostalgic memoir of a first-time grandmother’s sometimes wobbly journey with laugh out loud illustrations by Denise Horn.

SOCIAL MEDIA, MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

I’ve never been a social media geek like some. I’ve only had a Facebook page for just over 2 years and a writers page for much less but I haven’t a clue how social media works. Around the same time I started a twitter account but now when I look at the massive number of accounts I am following I’m left wondering why I followed half of them in the first place.

Apparently I followed a multitude of accounts when holidaying in the Lake District, Peak District and the Gower. Then there were all the Edinburgh sites after visiting the Festival a couple of Augusts ago. Then I followed any site with Dorset in its name. Then I followed all the newspapers when I went through a political phase. Then I followed all the tv stations when I went through a ‘sitting on the sofa watching tv and trying to be intelligent’ phase. It seems that whatever I am doing or whatever is the flavour of my month, I begin to follow people who have absolutely no interest in me and I certainly cannot keep up with the tweets that fly into my feed at the rate of about 3000 an hour.

In desperation I emailed a social media consultant, Sally Tickner, who gave a workshop at the Winchester Writers Conference some two or three years ago. She gave a brilliant presentation and, as you can guess, she is not short of work. But she took the time to look at my tweets and told me to get rid of as many tweets as possible.

Also, she said I must concentrate on tweeting good content. I am not quite sure what she would class as ‘good content’. She gave me some links and kindle books on how to do twitter and increase your followers. You see I am following about 1500 people but only have just under 700 followers. The aim, I am told, is to get people following me especially those who might re-tweet about my soon-to-be-published poetry book, Grandma’s Poetry Book. After a few hours trailing through my ‘following’ list I discovered a quicker way to unfollow people. I now watch the tweets coming into my feed about once or twice a day for a short period. I click on the account and see if I really want to keep getting their tweets and unfollow them. After all I can always find them again if I want to.

So I am now pruning my list down to authors, organisations associated with the Deaf (this is because my main WIP is a book about growing up with a deaf sibling) and bloggers. I have also begun to follow organisations and people connected to older people in an attempt to create some buzz around my new book which, of course, is aimed at older people, although younger people do like it and even children enjoy some of the verses about the baby. I follow Mums and grandmas and older people organisations in the hope they will follow back. Often they do and I thank them – yes I have learnt Twitter Etiquette – and I re-tweet some of their tweets and send them an individual tweet about my book.

This year at Winchester I went to a workshop by Emily Benet @emilybenet and the room was packed. I think most writers have the same problem as I do. What to do on social media and how to do it? She told us to tweet only one promo tweet in ten so I have tried to think of things to say on twitter that can lead people to my book information without seemingly being promotional. So I have started blogging more frequently about the process of self publishing and mentioning my book in the process.
Hashtags are only just getting into my brain! But there are some good ones #amwriting #selfpublishing #newbook and even more. Just try the hashtag and a subject and you will see the choices pop up. I found OlderPeoplesDay last week and they favourite my tweet about Grandma’s Poetry Book. I am also following several areas of AgeUK and a few are following back. Then there is #grandparentsday. Whatever your theme, try the hashtag. There you will find posts that are linked to your own area of interest.

Having found some accounts that might be interested in poetry about being a grandparent I have tweeted some individually with news of the outing of Grandma’s Poetry Book in November and I have had some good results. Re-tweets or following back are happening.

Now at last I am getting somewhere I think. I have been pleasantly surprised that some of the people I have tweeted have ‘favourited’ my tweet and some are re-tweeting my tweets which is brilliant. It can all be only for the good.

Not only twitter but the marketing contact at Matador Books told me to get on to LinkedIn. Easier said than done as I had long since lost my password and been refused access for about the last year. I persevered, found a password in my special book of passwords (aaahh that would be another post entirely. Has anyone managed to organise her passwords in any way that saves time. Poring over scribbled entries in my little pink book is not always helpful as later on I find an updated password. Probably a scare or a phishing email which made me change my password.) Anyway as far as LinkedIn was concerned my marketing contact gave me the link for the Matador Authors group. I then found I could join another Writers group. I found that LinkedIn has improved since I was on it before. It brings up names of people who live in my town, businesses and those working in educational institutions that I have worked in in the past. It was through LinkedIn that I found a girl I met in a local open mic night. She admired my poetry and I admired her singing voice. We are the epitome of a mutual admiration society and will encourage each other. We both suffer angst regarding our own talent.

Once on LinkedIn I updated my profile. Oh dear, not another profile!  I am getting rather bored of trying to remember all my BIO information so now I have made a WORD document with a short bio, a longer bio and an even longer bio as well as a passage about my book. Now I can go to that and do a quick copy and paste. Anything to save time, methinks.

So now I have several platforms as I believe they are called. I have a blog on WordPress, my author website – ww.dicastle.co.uk, my author page on the Matador site and then when I asked on the Indie Authors page on Facebook about Goodreads I was told I could put my book on there and become a GOODREADS AUTHOR. WOW! So I did and I am!

I have an author website hosted by Matador and I keep emailing the web designer with new links to social media and she patiently adds buttons to my site but sometimes I want to scream,

‘I CAN’T KEEP UP’

But I know I have to if I am to publicise my book as well as I can.

So, if you are still sitting there with a self-published book that you can’t distribute, my first advice would be that you should have published with a company who did distribute the book for you. It is the major complaint of self published authors that it is difficult to get their book recognised and distributed. Somehow with my website, Troubador’s website, Amazon and Goodreads I don’t think that will be a problem for me.

But watch this space. I might not be so confident after a few months.

But ………. I don’t give up easily. You won’t get rid of me that quickly!

WHY SEND CHRISTMAS CARDS

Why I will keep sending Christmas cards

If I was to ask my friends and ex-colleagues for a quality they value about me it would, I know, be that I am good at keeping in touch. When I visit the area where I lived and worked for nearly thirty years I always take the opportunity to squeeze in meetings where I can, I attend re-unions and pass news via email whenever it is appropriate.

Last year when I was unwell and not in a mood to get wrapping and writing I decided to send cards only to the elderly, those living alone and those in bad health. It felt right at the time. I had pondered the waste of the earth‘s resources and postage costs which many can ill afford. However, through the Christmas period, I received the usual cards and letters written by friends from my previous life lived in other areas and working in different educational establishments and I felt a pang of regret that I had not contributed to others at this happy time of year. I did send email greetings to some but there are many on my address list who do not have an email address or who have not chosen to pass it to me. We have busy lives and can only maintain frequent contact with a few. Christmas is the one time we can touch base with everyone who has been in our lives at some stage.

This year I heard many people say they were ‘not sending cards’ often adding they would give the money to charity but I had long decided to resurrect my Christmas list. I am now so glad that I did this and the reasons will be obvious.

You see, I am not pedantic enough to make note of those who have not sent cards and the years pass so quickly and my low mood last year means that I probably would not have noticed omissions in my 2012 post especially considering I had abandoned Christmas cards for that year.

When writing my cards a thought always passes through my mind that perhaps some of these will land on doormats now owned by others after a move or, worse, a death. I have always trusted that I am still on the lists of those who are on mine. January often brings emails from relatives acknowledging the card on behalf of their elderly family member and saying how much they appreciate this annual contact. Occasionally the letter or email contains news of the person’s demise.

I also defend strongly my continuing tradition of writing a Christmas update on my own and family activities. While many decry the congratulatory letter which falls from Christmas cards, I am one who loves to hear news of happy events, weddings, additions to the family, grandchildren, retirements, new jobs, new hobbies, writing successes. One of these comes from an ex-neighbour whose two little girls used to ask if my dog could ‘come to play’. One now has two school-age children and the second married last year and qualified as a GP. I feel a warm glow knowing I was once part of their little lives and this is one of the reasons I have continued my own Christmas letter for those I do not see during the year. Sometimes the letters I receive contain sad news but at least I am then in a position to send a note of condolence.

A few days ago with 2014 just round the corner, I received a phone call from a stranger informing me that a friend in the teaching profession had died. We used to see each other fairly often until I moved away and she was busy caring for her mother. Our Christmas notes in our cards kept us in touch. The caller informed me that she had actually died in March 2012. My Christmas card omission last year ensured that I only discovered the sad truth when this year’s letter headed up with my address and phone number arrived. Sandra had no brothers or sisters and had not married and had children. She was looking forward to retirement when she was struck down by the inevitable. I was asked a lot of questions and was able to fill in a few gaps for the co-executor on the telephone. I was asked about some names which were not known to me.

This event has set me thinking that far from abandoning the tradition of sending Christmas cards and letters we should actively seek to retain it. Also even if I decide not to include a letter in certain cards, I will at least add my address and phone number. Last year I went through my database and deleted some names. This year several cards which have dropped on my mat lack this finer detail and for some reason I don’t now have the address on my database.

Facebook, email and mobile phones are no replacement for letters and cards. So do think twice before deleting people from your Christmas card list or abandoning this long held tradition.