Katherine Hayton | 2015 February
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February 2015

I’ve signed up in the past for a couple of giveaways on Goodreads. Great fun, and lots of people who possibly will never get around to reading a book written by me add it to their “To Read” shelves so it makes it look tres popular.

As a result of opening these competitions up worldwide I’ve had the pleasure of sending my books to the far corners of the globe. Portugal, Lebanon, Montenegro, USA, Canada, and the UK at the last count.

It’s rather exciting to send books out to the far corners of the globe and wait to see whether or not people enjoy them. However, the one thing I’ve had little luck in finding out is how people in my own country feel about these things.

Therefore I’m happy to announce that I’ve now created a new Giveaway on Goodreads which is restricted to the good (and bad, I don’t want to be too restrictive) people of New Zealand.

The only drawback to this is that there are five books to giveaway. At the moment I have ZERO entries. Granted, it’s only been ten minutes since the giveaway launched, and chances are the peeps of middle earth have already tucked their little selves into bed with an existing book, but it does give me a bit of cause for concern.

So I send this heartfelt entreaty to the people of my land, please enter my giveaway. Please tweet or face or link or pin or plus or (insert any social media outlets that you use but I haven’t mentioned here) or otherwise share to your social networks and make sure that I don’t end up with pavlova in my face.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Skeletal by Katherine Hayton

Skeletal

by Katherine Hayton

Giveaway ends February 28, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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After attending the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular on Sunday I came away with wondrous memories of horrible horrible monsters, and a bit of tool envy.

Every time a Dalek attempted to exterminate the assembled human hordes little kids whipped out their sonic screwdrivers and forced them back.

And what did I do? I sat there and watched them.

Useless.

Therefore when the twenty minute interval came about I took out my phone and searched for a price on a sonic screwdriver. I was definitely just interested in a price range. Yip.

Did you know it takes less than five minutes to sign up as a new customer, fill out a profile and make up a password, and then order a sonic screwdriver modeled on the twelfth doctor’s version?

Well you do now, and so do I.

It arrived this morning and I have such plans for this little beauty. Pretending to wave it in front of locked doors while surreptitiously swiping my access card. Pretending to scan people who come to my desk just to freak them out a little. Using it to control the order of speakers inside a Team Leaders’ meeting when I’m the facilitator.

Such fun.

And if a Dalek just happens to swing by at any particular point in time, I’m ready for it. Whom shall exterminate whom?

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16 Feb / #Jeffwecan

Ten years ago I smoked the last of my tobacco, ran all my smoking appliances under water before throwing them away, and never smoked again.

I did actually mean to give up smoking before I turned thirty, but my will wasn’t behind it, and I kept putting it off for just a few more months, and just a few more months, and then almost two years.

What finally tipped the balance, apart from having wanted to quit for at least five years, was the fact that on hot days I couldn’t catch my breath anymore.

Breathing is such an elementary thing that you don’t notice at all while it’s working – apart from when it heats up as you trudge up a hill – but the minute it starts to go wrong it takes over your life.

It reminded me of an article I’d read when it said that you should ignore the lung cancer statistics, the real cost of smoking can be found in the hospital wards in the guise of emphysema, COPD and chronic bronchitis. Dying of lung cancer is certainly no picnic, but it’s also still quite rare. Loss of lung function leading to complications from flu or cold viruses, or a chronic breathing problem that leaves you tethered to a machine without the ability to move freely through your life, were the far more common result of a nation’s smoking habit.

I didn’t want to end up tethered to an oxygen tank, or so tired I couldn’t even perform the rudimentary athletics of office work, so I quit. Cold turkey.

My breathing problems worsened into asthma; my skin flamed into a dozen patches of eczema; my weight ballooned into obesity and beyond, but I never regretted it for a moment.

Apparently smoking does protect you from some things. I discovered that the minor cases of eczema and difficulty breathing when there was pollen around that I’d experienced as a child and a teenager were actually full-blown anti-immune disorders that smoking ten or twelve times a day successfully sublimated. I also may or may not have lost the protection that smoking offers or doesn’t offer (I love medical science, it’s always so decisive) against Alzheimer’s disease.

On the other hand, after getting past the first year of asthma I’ve never experienced another moment of breathing difficulty except when exercise related (the hills again!) And my skin turned down a few notches into irritation and annoyance which easily resolves with a few week’s holiday in the sun.

I’ve never felt angry at tobacco companies for my smoking addiction. I’ve never felt angry at alcohol manufacturer’s for my alcoholism.

And then I watched Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and started to feel angry. I know why I took up smoking – I liked the way it made my head spin and I liked the fact that I could buy them even though I wasn’t meant to – but although I can assign a certain rationale to my own fourteen year old self, I can’t do the same with a two year old Indonesian.

Watching the Australian court battles with Tobacco Company Giants just reminds me all too well that my own country is about to be launched into the same battlefield with the same perpetrators when, or if, we implement it.

Why our public health policies are up for debate with foreign companies is a tad confusing. Much like the websites that sprung up in opposition to the bill for plain packaging when it was opened up for public debate. Some websites strenuously asserted that plain packaging shouldn’t go ahead, it would cost us money to fight court battles, there was no proof that it worked to reduce the numbers of people smoking. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that many of these “public” websites were funded by overseas tobacco companies who ‘were just making sure that every viewpoint of the New Zealand public was given a fair hearing.’

And of course there’s always the threat that we won’t be able to negotiate free trade agreements with countries who contain these companies.

So thank you very much John Oliver for putting a nice little campaign within easy reach of the general populace of New Zealand.

So I would like to lend my smoke-free voice to say #JeffWeCan

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I’m tied up with the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular at the moment, partaking not performing, so here is a blog post I prepared earlier.

At my real job we have a system for new staff where every piece of work they put onto our computer system is checked until they achieve a level of 90% accuracy (as worked out by our system – it’s more like 99.5% across all possible fields on a risk.) Once they attain that exulted level we then put them onto ‘Buddy Signing’ and this is where we sometimes strike problems.

When you’re new at a job, especially one that involves attention to detail and memorising great swathes of information, you expect someone with more experience to tell you when you’re doing things wrong. Nobody likes it, but you deal with it because – duh – it’s your job.

You also take criticism from direct customers. You got something wrong on their policy, you handle the phone-call to explain why and what you’re going to do about it. Again this is perfectly fair and exactly what everyone in any type of customer service role expects.

The problem with ‘Buddy Signing’ is that you’re being judged by someone who doesn’t have more experience. Nor do your errors have a direct impact on their policy.

The problem with a buddy, is that they’re exactly like you.

And that means that when someone in the same boat as you pours criticism, even well-deserved, even well-meaning, even expected, on your work you feel belittled. Because they’re no better than you. By their very nature they are your true peers, with no more and no less experience than you have, so where do they get off telling you what to do?

What does that do to a nice working relationship? It causes havoc. We have buddy signers whose work we have to go back to having an experienced processor check because their error rates sky-rocket. Is this because they suddenly become useless? No – it’s because they pick on every little thing as a tit-for-tat measure against their buddy.

We also have buddy signers whose rates of output freefalls dangerously close to absolute zero. Why? Is it because they suddenly have the task of signing someone’s work in addition to their usual duties? Not often. It’s usually because they’re spending every minute of the day compulsively checking their work in case they’ve made an error, because so-and-so marked them down for one the other day and it’s knocked their confidence level to nil.

Or we have buddy signers who start processing so much work that no one can keep up with their output. This is okay because their errors decrease along with the increase in output until they are fully proficient members of staff. They also become self-signing. This is actually the thing we’re trying to achieve whilst often managing instead to drive the behaviours above.

It’s this third one that everyone joining a critique group thinks they’re going to get. Well, you’re not. As soon as you realise that everyone in your critique group is in the same position that you’re in they’re going to pick on option one or two and you’re all going to drive each other crazy. Yes, you’ll feel great when somebody compliments your work, but often in groups there’s a rule (even if unspoken) that you don’t hand someone criticism unless you also hand them encouragement.

When I was a team leader this was the way we were originally taught to give feedback to staff on their job performance. It’s called sandwiching, and it’s meant to ensure that you don’t pump up a staff member so much they’re not aware they’re making errors, but also not dragging them down so low that they feel they’re not getting anywhere and start to think about jumping ship and trying something new.

It doesn’t work.

The best practice we now teach is that you hand staff members ONE piece of feedback. If it’s good it’s the only good thing. If it’s bad it’s the only bad thing.

Why?

Because people who are overly complimentary about their own standards of behaviour will never hear bad feedback when it’s sandwiched with good feedback. And people with low confidence will never hear good feedback when it comes parcelled with bad. So you tell people, as soon as the feedback incident occurs, what your opinion is. Good or bad, but not both. So they actually hear what you’re saying.

If you’re in a critique group try to keep that in mind. Remember that if you’ve got one piece good, one piece bad, it doesn’t convey meaning. Not without knowing if they had to spend three hours trying to find something good to say about your work. Not without knowing if they thought the whole thing was fantastic but felt they had to criticise something because, well because that’s the point of a critique group, isn’t it?

So I don’t think critique groups give you accurate feedback without slanting for retribution, lowering your output, or leaving you confused as to which way you’re heading. But I would still recommend you join one.

The one thing they’re really good for is exposing you to other people’s opinions, and helping you to grow a thick skin. You’ll be getting a lot of one, and needing a lot of the other, if you’re releasing anything into the wild.  

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‘How do you get a job as a booksale bear?’ Scruffy Bear asked. ‘That looks like right proper fun.’

‘It’s not all fun and games,’ Curly Bear warned. ‘You have to work long hours, and make sure you’re always looking good and smart. You need the proper T-shirt too.’

Scruffy looked downcast for a moment, and Curly felt a bit mean. He knew Scruffy only had a plaid tie to his name. He’d been unemployed for a while now, and it was hard to get by when you didn’t have the money for upkeep.

‘Why don’t you lend him yours?’ Fluffy asked. ‘He could try it out, and you could teach him a few ropes.’

Curly tried to say the word no, but Scuffy looked at him with such enthusiasm shining from his normally beady eyes, that he couldn’t.

‘Here,’ he said instead, pulling his T-shirt over his head and handing it across. ‘It should be about your size.’

Curly tried not to wince as Scruffy pulled the shirt down. It fitted perfectly. Better than it fitted him.

‘Now what?’

‘Now you’ve got to take a posture,’ Curly said. ‘Try putting your paw out here, and make the book look like it’s nice to touch.’

‘Oh, that’s good,’ Scruffy said as he tried it out. His head was pulling a little bit higher; his chest puffing out a little bit further. ‘This feels real natural.’

He did look good. Curly felt a tug of fear at the thought. Was his job really that easy?

‘You’re a natural,’ Fluffy said with a short nod of approval. ‘I think you’ll do well.’

‘You’ve had a try,’ Curly said. ‘But now I need to go back to work.’

Fluffy and Scruffy stared at him.

‘You can’t work here,’ Scruffy said. ‘You’re naked.’

Curly work with a start, his breath coming in short, hard pants. It was the same nightmare again. As he turned over in bed and tried to get back to sleep he wondered where it came from. A fear of unemployment, or a fear of nudity?

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‘No one even sees us anymore.’

‘What’s that?’

Fluffy bear cleared his throat. He hadn’t been meaning to speak aloud, but now that he’d broken the silence with his innermost thoughts he may as well continue. ‘No one even sees us anymore. Remember the first day we were up here?’

‘Last Monday?’

‘No, the Monday before. It was the 26th here, but in the States it was the 25th, remember?’

Curly Bear nodded his head yes. He remembered.

‘People kept coming by and giving us a pat on the head. They’d stop to have a look at the books, pick them up and read the back.’

‘Yeah, yeah. There was that one woman picked me up and gave me a squeeze!’

Fluffy Bear laughed. ‘That’s right. I thought I was never going to see you again.’

‘I don’t think she even bought a copy.’

‘No,’ Fluffy Bear said. ‘I don’t think she did.’ He thought for a second, then laughed. ‘She certainly wanted to buy you, but.’

‘I’m not for sale,’ Curly Bear stated, sticking out his chest.

‘And now they just walk on by. It’s like we don’t even exist.’

Curly Bear nodded his head. Fluffy Bear definitely had a point. He remembered the tight grip of the woman. The warmth of her arms, and the sweetness of her perfume. She’d put her nose down into his head and sniffed him deeply. Snuggled him under her chin.

‘Maybe we should hold a sale? Maybe if we dropped the price they’d come back?’

‘Maybe we could give them away for free?’ Fluffy Bear mocked, and then held out a paw when he saw how Curly Bear’s face dropped. ‘Sorry. They’re already a bargain. Signed too. We can’t devalue her work that way.’

Curly Bear nodded his head. No way did he want to ever devalue her. She was the light of his life; worth a thousand sweetly scented cuddles.

‘What’ll we do then?’

Fluffy Bear shrugged his shoulders. ‘Dunno. Maybe we should pack it up for a week or two. Maybe they’ll notice when we’ve moved on.’

‘We could always come back though, right?’ Curly Bear’s voice rose a few notes on the last word. He stared at Fluffy. ‘It’s nice here, isn’t it?’

Fluffy Bear nodded at him. Maybe it wasn’t a lie. ‘Sure we will,’ he said, his voice cracking on the last word. He cleared his throat and tried again, ‘Sure we will.’

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10 Feb / Cankles

Another trip up to Auckland today. Another one and a half hour meeting had. Another trip back home to Christchurch.

I don’t know about you, but it seems as though the three hour commute either way is a little bit of a stretch as a regular occurrence.

There should be some sort of rule. Something along the lines of – the travelling time for a meeting is only allowed to be equal or less than the overall time of the meeting – doesn’t that seem fair?

If this rule was in place then perhaps people might try to arrange everybody they need onsite for one entire day worth of meetings, rather than one tiny meeting every week involving six hours of my life to attend. I’d much rather be hellishly bored for an entire day, than hellishly bored for a tiny bit every week forever.

Hellishly bored with BIG FAT ANKLES, BIG FAT FEET, AND BIG FAT LEGS due to water retention caused by the flight up to Auckland, and manifestly worsened by the flight back.

So, purely to save the company money I recommend this strategy to all and sundry.

Longer meetings, less travel, and slimmer legs. Who doesn’t win out of this one?

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09 Feb / #DoctorWho

Well, beam me up Scotty! The Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular is almost in town. Only 5 more days and in lieu of celebrating Valentine the Saint we’ll be flying up to Auckland for a VIP pass introduction to the Doctor.

Full details of the night have just been forwarded, and the night broken down into hour-long segments.

For the first hour we can arrive, check-in with tickets and photo ID, and receive in return a laminate VIP pass and a bag of merchandise.

We then move through into the main area for some cocktails (or mocktails in my case) and some canapes. For an hour. Really? Okay, okay. I’ll ‘socialise’ for an hour. I feel dirty just thinking about it. Or awkward.

Then we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close to the talent who bring Doctor Who to life, hosted by comedian and huge Whovian, Rob Lloyd.

Fine, good. Sounds nice.

You will hear from some of the Creative and Production team behind both the TV show and Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular live show including Orchestrator and Conductor, Ben Foster.

Great, great. I’m sure they’ll be interesting and everything.

Finally,

Yes..?

Finally,

Yes..?

Finally, fifth Doctor Peter Davison will take to the stage for an exciting Q&A.

OMG. OMG. OMG. OMFG!!!

I feel like a teenager.

Apparently, later we get a sneak preview of the full dress rehearsal. I’m sure that will be good too.

Oh, and last of all there’s some sort of show on Sunday. We may attend.

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My darling goes for a walk almost every weekday lunchtime.

He crosses the quagmire of parking lots and slow moving traffic that decorate Tower Junction, en-route for the beautiful Hagley Park. He skirts around the edges of the park until he’s used up half his allotted time, and then he turns around and heads back from whence he came.

I’ve known for many a year that he has a walking companion. Somehow only ever referred to by a nickname assigned since she likes to watch DVD boxsets. Oh, did you guess it? It’s DVD |real first name suppressed|.

You know how it is when your partner talks at length about a group of people that he knows deeply and well by virtue of working alongside them for eight hours a day five days a week, and you don’t know at all really by virtue of not? Your mind tries to pick out the relevant action details from a morass of names and descriptions that clutter up the storyline.

It doesn’t help that I have trouble with names at the best of times. A few years back we performed a series of short fun activities in our workplace, to help liven the otherwise stifled atmosphere. One of the games was to stand in front of a person, ask them a question, and write down their name and answer.

So what, if it doesn’t sound like fun. It was. Anyway I hadn’t finished. After that, you got to take three steps to your side to end up face-to-face with another staff member and answer a question. See? High octane fun in the workplace.

Anyhoo, before I was so rudely interrupted, I wrote down the answer of a staff member that I’d worked with for six years. Not in the same team, but still worked with for a long time.

Couldn’t remember her name. Went to write it down, knew that I knew it or should know it or had known it, couldn’t find it anywhere. That name filing cabinet is a shocking mess, and I think someone’s spilled some hot chocolate down the back of the PQR file draw. Luckily she understood my blank expression and provided it aloud herself.

So back to my darling and his walking companion. I’ve known it was a woman, I knew they went for a walk together most days, I cared about this only as much as I felt happy that he was having a nice walk while I was sitting in the breakout area sculling Coke.

This morning we went on a nice walk on the Port Hills far above Christchurch. A nice deep dark forest walk at the beginning, then joining up with Victoria Park and going on a nice open-air path around the side of a hill, and then back.

As we were crossing the road to join back up with the forest walk a nice fit blond lady on the other side of the road waved. I waved back in true exerciser code of conduct fashion (return the greeting with which you’re greeted, and if necessary point out through the use of bad language that their dog isn’t on a leash and should be) while my darling waved and said ‘Hi’ in a true I-know-that-person greeting.

‘Who’s that?’ I asked when we’d passed them by.

‘DVD *****’

‘You never told me she was blond.’

I swear. That’s all I said. If my darling somehow turned this into a restriction on who he can and can’t see, and who he can or can’t go on lunchtime walks with, that’s on him.

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