Stack of multicoloured envelopes shared by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

PO Box Alternative for UK Writer’s Newsletters

I’d complained previously about how EU privacy laws and US anti-spam laws involve having to publicise your address on every email newsletter you send out, even if it’s your home address, or risk a fine of $42,530 per email under the US’s CAN-SPAM Act or a max fine of €20 million or 4% of your global turnover, whichever’s higher, under EU rules.  That giving out my home address per-email would be a breach of GDPR is a bit of irony, I guess.

While I can see the logic, kind of, it’s… not something any LGBT person feels safe doing.  Nothing like hanging a big sign over your door and yelling “hey, here I am” by handing out your home address willy-nilly, right?  I’m only a writer who barely sells a couple of books a year, not a massive company like Facebook who, incidentally, have already begun appealing their £500,000 fine over Cambridge Analytica, not something I think l’il old me could get away with.

The advice most often given on sites is “get a PO Box.”  Unfortunately, it’s advice usually given by American writers who have a massive range of variable prices for them, ranging from as little $34/year (£26) for little ones in small towns to ~$150-200 (£115-154) for larger areas.

In contrast, a Royal Mail PO Box in the UK if you travel out to pick up any mail yourself; you’re screwed if you don’t live near an accessible delivery office is £270 ($351) a year.  If you want them to forward your mail on to you, it’s £342 ($444) a year.

So… bearing in mind my stunning book sales, that is… well, bluntly, it’s one hell of a rip-off.

So I figured that was it, I’d just give up.  As the Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock said, “If at first you don’t succeed, quit, quit at once.”  (Pretty sure Homer Simpson is the more memorable version.)  It’s galling though, when everyone bangs on about how ‘every author needs a mailing list’ but it’s out of your reach because of pricing and privacy issues.

Well, I can’t remember what I was irritably Googling last night, but I remembered the whole thorny problem and eventually stumbled over UK Postbox, a non-Royal Mail PO box with a wide variety of plans including crucially, one that gives you a PO Box and only charges you for the mail you receive (£1.20): they open it and scan it for you (£1.20 per letter) and you can decide if you want it forwarding on to your home address.

As it’s priced per letter it could easily add up to be expensive if you were expecting a deluge of post, but as I suspect that at even ~£2.40/letter it’ll be under £12/month, the Pay As You Go tier is the best for me.  There are other prices available, as well as other services (you can pay to have a fancy London address, for example, should your audience be more on the snobbish side) and on the whole it beats having a Royal Mail PO Box.  Particularly as, with the price of petrol (or indeed frequently-extortionate public transport costs, depending on where you’re going and how) I don’t think I’d actually be saving money on fetching the post myself.

Unless I suddenly become massively popular and end up needing a proper PO Box, but if that ever happens then I’d hope the book sales might, just might, cover it.

Until that day so distant on the horizon it might as well not exist… at least this is another thing now out of the way.

A nighttime park in black and white by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

By The Street Light

Unlike her preteen classmates, Emma had never feared the night. Instead of closing in sleep, her eyes lifted to the skies and the stunning scatter splashed across a midnight canvas, and as she grew older and her classmates discovered sex, Emma flung herself into her hobby instead. It would never amount to anything. Just a bit of fun. Just Emma alone with her telescope on long, cold nights.
She shoved her hands deeper into her pockets and shivered as the wind curled icy tendrils around her. In the haze the park’s haloed streetlights blotted out the stars, but she stared up regardless. Not long now.

Estraya stood out from the start. Painted metallic lips, bobbed silver hair like a bad Sixties sci-fi; the most beautiful face Emma had ever seen. Not the usual kind of girl she found at the bar.
She hadn’t found many girls at the bar; she needed bravery for that.
Bravery Estraya had in bucketloads, in one broad wink, and Emma fell hard.

They met again, and again, and again. Never at the bar, but instead in stranger, more mundane places: halfway from work, going in opposite directions; in the nearby coffee shop at lunch; and, most often, in the park at night. Estraya always greeted her with a hug, lingering longer each time. The faintest whisper of lip against her cheek, a fresh scent that set her pulse racing.
“How do you do it?” Emma asked once. Seated beneath the streetlight their arms never quite touched, but Estraya still warmed her.
“Do what?” Estraya had beautiful dimples.
“Find me.” Whenever I need you, but Emma didn’t dare say the last part aloud.
Estraya’s smile grew. Her hand grazed Emma’s. “Magic.”
With anyone else, she’d dismiss it as flippancy. Estraya made her believe it.

A deep thrum shivered through her bones, easily rationalised as a low-passing helicopter. She bathed in a white beam.
Emma wasn’t brave, but she was patient.

“I have to leave,” Estraya announced abruptly.
Her hand had crept into Emma’s the evening before. Emma never wanted to let it go again. “Why?”
“It’s complicated.” There were no dimples. Not today. “I don’t want to, but I’m needed.”
Emma thought. “A family thing?”
The shade of a smile grazed Estraya’s lips. “Sort of.” The bench creaked as she leaned back to survey the invisible stars beyond the streetlight. “It’s far away.”
Grief stalled Emma’s heart. “You’ll come back?”
Estraya’s smile blossomed. “Do I have a reason to?”
Emma wasn’t brave, but her patience was as infinite as space, and Estraya’s cheek tasted as sweet as she smelled. “I don’t know. Do you?”
She discovered Estraya’s mouth tasted sweeter still.

​Robed in light, Estraya descended regally, but her warm hands, so at odds with the void beyond, held Emma’s tightly and her magnesium kiss burned brightest of all. “Come with me.”
A year ago Emma would have demurred, but Estraya had bravery enough for both of them; Emma needed only one word.
“Yes.”

Occult Detective Quarterly #5

Occult Detective Quarterly #5 – because I’ve got a soft spot for both the occult and detectives

Finished the excellent Occult Detective Quarterly #5 today, which was kindly sent by one of the editors as a bonus for backing the ODQ #4 Kickstarter. Honestly, I’d have happily backed a Kickstarter for this one too. Both issues have a great range of stories from various authors, and some of them lodge pretty firmly in your thoughts. There’s a couple here I’ll still be turning over in my head in a couple of weeks’ time. Particular highlights are teenage lovers sneaking into an old church, a twist on the ‘girl on a highway in the rain’ and a rock band with a distinctly unnerving studio.

You can pick up either an ebook version (Amazon US or Amazon UK) or the paperbacks (Amazon US, Amazon UK).

Lost In Translation

I own a copy of the Oxford Latin Mini Dictionary — because why not.  Flippancy aside, it’s handy in many ways, not least because I’m finally writing the story about the Roman soldier that’s been in my head for ages and it’s handy for finding quick cognomen for side characters.

But one thing’s always confused me about it: in the pronunciation guide, there’s this weird little section.

Latin has five different simple vowel sounds, each of which could be long or short:


a short, as in English cup (not as in cap).

Does that leave anyone else a little bit confused?  Not just me?

It’s taken me over a year to realise why this is so weird.

You see, the thing is, in the UK southerners speak with a different accent to northerners.  Well, all regions speak with different accents to one another, but there’s something southerners do in particular: they elongate certain vowels (barth instead of bath, for example) and they do something particularly weird with their Us.  It’s most noticeable in words like butter, which seems to come out from southern mouths like “batter,” only not quite as harshly as if they’re talking about a cricketer.

And clearly the only people who would ever be interested in speaking Latin (according to Oxford University Press) … are southerners.

I’m half-tempted to send them an email about it where all short ‘a’s in the email are replaced by ‘u’s and we’ll see how they​ like it.


* If I sound like I’m implying southerners are a totally different breed to northerners…  I guess I pretty much am.
Don’t worry, it works both ways; they treat anyone north of Watford Gap like they’re an alien species too.  As a reminder: the Midlands is not the North, it’s the middle.

All this just from considering crocheting a small cloak

I reckon Lirio is probably good with a crochet hook.  Not immediately — at least, not immediately for crochet, I’m sure he probably instantly devised four inventive methods for murder with one — and that lack of immediacy would rankle so much.  He’d always had a talent for picking things up quickly, although, again, mostly in the field of murder, so to struggle would be a nasty, unpleasant feeling and Ais would’ve found half-started projects being hurled past his head on a regular basis.  (“Please stop trying to kill me, love.”)  Lirio’d quit it, start it and quit it again four times in the space of a day, but having nothing else to do would drive him to keep trying (and failing).

In the end, it’d probably be Ais introducing him to someone he knows who could teach Lirio that’d turn things around (and make home life much safer for Ais again).  ‘Cause not only could they teach Lirio to crochet properly, but they’d be the spouse of one of the people who gut fish on the harbour, which gets Lirio a job to get him out the house and utilising his knife skills again, and probably precipitates his little … well, I guess it’s a detective business too.

The Sky Is Falling, Chicken Little

Something’s been bugging me for weeks now and I’m lacking anywhere else to have a little rant.  Here’ll do.

Lately certain indie authors have been throwing their hands up and running around going “Britain is leaving the EU! This means doom for UK book selling!”  And I’m just sitting here scratching my head and wondering where the fuck they’ve been for the last four years and why they failed to notice the damage the EU has actually done to indie publishers?

Did the entirety of 2015 pass them by, when the EU insisted that digital products — books included — had to suddenly abide by an esoteric and complicated new VAT structure that included raising the VAT rate on digital books from 3% to 20% (since many large companies are based in Luxembourg, which meant passing on the tax saving to the buyer)?  Or the way it screwed over indie book markets who now have to calculate VAT based not in their home country, but on the country of the consumer?

Presumably they didn’t have to sit down and go through the process of working out whether or not they needed to raise their prices to offset the fact VAT was no longer added on top of a book’s list price but was suddenly taken out from their earnings instead.

No wonder people flocked to Amazon, who did it all for them; if you had your own small storefront, but didn’t earn enough in the UK to be VAT registered, guess what?  It didn’t fucking matter.

2. If you are not UK VAT registered, and you are not using a digital platform, store or marketplace to supply digital services, then you will need to:
• Register for VAT in each Member State that you supply digital services, or
• Voluntarily register for VAT in the UK and then use the MOSS

Oh, and, just for added shits and giggles:

3. You will need to determine if your customers are 'taxable persons' who are in business and have provided you with their VAT Registration Number (VRN), or other information that they are in business, because if this is the case, you will be making business‐to‐business (B2B) supplies which will be dealt with under existing EU VAT rules, rather than B2C supplies.

HO THERE FINE CUSTOMER BUYING MY BOOK FROM MY WEBSITE, ARE YOU A SMALL BUSINESS?

​Bit personal.

Of course now people are falling over themselves to say, “but, but, but … the EU says people can reduce the VAT rate of ebooks to match printed ones! If we leave the EU we won’t be able to do it!”

Uh, says who?  And this is the same EU who, in 2014 when Malta and Italy did exactly that, decided it was illegal and threatened to prosecute them.

Oh no.  What will the UK book market ever do without the EU?

Maybe, possibly, become more fucking stable, that’s what.  (But let’s be honest, that’s unlikely because Bureaucracy.)

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