Indie Author Of The Month; Paula Harmon

Welcome to another Indie Author of The Month post! This time please welcome the marvellously versatile and prolific indie author Paula Harmon. As well as writing fantastic novels and short stories, Paula was also one of the wonderful people behind Blandford’s first ever literary festival last November. I was honoured to be asked to get involved and it was a fantastic event I hope they are all very proud of. I can’t wait for the next one! Here Paula talks about where her ideas come from, what her writing process is and more. Enjoy.

  1. Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?

The Wrong Sort To Die’ will be out as an e-book on 30th June 2020.

It’s a historical mystery set in June 1910.

Fighting her corner in a man’s world, Dr Margaret Demeray works as a pathologist in a London hospital for the poor. Suppressing her worry that she’s breaching confidentiality, Margaret gives a stranger called Fox information about a dead down-and-out, in the hope he’ll use it to raise awareness of bad working conditions.

But when a second man appears to die the same way, Margaret starts to wonder why the enigmatic Fox keeps turning up to ask ever more complex questions.

She decides to work alone, uncertain of his motives and wary of her attraction to him.

Once she starts investigating however, her home is burgled, she’s attacked in broad daylight and a close friend becomes distant.

Fox offers the chance to forge an alliance, saying he knows why the men have died but needs her to find out what is killing them and who is behind it.

Yet how come the closer she gets to him the more danger she faces? And how can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths?

Margaret must discover the truth before someone – known or unknown – silences her for good.Margaret Demeray was a minor character in the Caster and Fleet series set in the 1890s where she first appeared as feisty teenager. There was no chance she was going to let her older sister get away with all the fun. It would be suitable for anyone who enjoys writers like Ann Granger, Anne Perry, Clara Benson and like a strong-minded female lead.Tell us about your publishing journey so far.

2. Tell us about your publishing journey so far.

I published two collections of short stories in 2016, followed by a memoir about my father in 2017. In 2018, I published my first novel ‘Murder Britannica’ which is a historical mystery set in Roman-Britain in AD190. The sequel ‘Murder Durnovaria’ set the following year in Roman Dorchester came out late 2019. I published a joint collection of short fantasy stories called ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’ with Val Portelli. With Liz Hedgecock, I co-wrote the Caster and Fleet series – six historical mysteries set in 1890s London which start with ‘The Case of the Black Tulips’. They’re about two young women, frustrated with the restrictions in their lives who end up in partnership solving mysteries.

3. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was very small, if I was sent to bed early as a punishment I was always quite glad as it gave me the chance to tell myself stories. (For as long as we shared a bedroom, I used to drive my younger sister up the wall by doing this under my breath when she was trying to go to sleep.) Creative writing was my favourite subject at school and I’d always meant to be a writer. Earning a living, then having a family got in the way to start but I thought I’d finally have time and space when my youngest child started school.  However, a relocation and change of working pattern meant my dream was dashed. Then in 2015, someone encouraged me to enter a competition and join a writers’ group. After that I sort of thought ‘if I don’t just get on with it whether I have time and space or not, I’ll never do it’ and I did.

4.What is your typical writing day like?

I work full-time and writing tends to have to fit round work. I try to write for one day at the weekend as well as fitting in an hour a day otherwise. I’d write on train journeys as I did a lot of commuting up till March. The current Covid-19 situation makes things less easy since, although I’m still working, I spend that ‘hour after work’ catching up by video with my mother and sister. But on the other hand, I’ve had nowhere to go at weekends and been able to get on with writing instead. Although, as for many, the coronavirus situation itself has a scrambled my brain a little.

5. What is your writing process? (how do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc)

I tend to start off with a short scene in my head – a person or people in a location doing something apparently ordinary and then I have to work out who they are and what’s extraordinary about it or what’s going to happen next. I usually start with two characters and seem to end up with a million – really not sure why! Once I know who the people are, I then work out where they are, when they’re living and what time of year it is. If it’s set in another era, I’ll do a little light research to find out what was going on at the time in case I need to factor that in.  Generally once I find the ‘shape’ of the story, I know how it will start and end and roughly who wants what and what is stopping them from getting it. I usually write that down and then an outline of what ought to happen roughly at each stage of the book. Then I just start and see what happens. I quite often end up completely reorganising the middle, though the beginning and end don’t usually change. I find out more and more about the characters as I go long – they become ‘real’ and that sometimes alters what the core of the story is about in terms of what they learn about themselves or their world.

6. What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?

Hearing that people enjoy what you’ve written – that it’s touched them or made them laugh – is wonderful. But for myself, even if I write something that not many people read, somehow tapping into the part of my brain that demands to write stories is a wonderful mental release.

7. What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?Marketing is very hard work. Most writers by nature are rather introverted. I’m not sure I always come across that way at work, but the minute I start talking about my books, I’m overwhelmed with shyness. It always feels like I’m exposing a part of myself, which I suppose I am – since most characters have elements of the author in them. (That’s a little alarming when I think of some of my characters.)

8. Who is your favourite character from your own books and why?

That’s really hard to answer and tends to depend on what I’m working on at the moment! Margaret Demeray’s outgoing and determined nature leads her to want to make the world a fairer place, but it hides a vulnerability. She’s drawn in part from some of the rather feisty women in my family, none of whom let anyone tell them what they could or couldn’t do. But I confess her tendency to lose her temper and say the wrong thing when she does is definitely me.

But I can’t help loving Lucretia – one of the main (and from her perspective) most misunderstood characters in the Murder Britannica series. It never ceases to astound her that people don’t realise just how important she is, but she remains full of hope that not only will she become even richer very soon but that she’ll find if not love then passion – it’s just annoying that people around her keep dying in suspicious circumstances.

9. Where do your ideas come from?

I really don’t know! They just turn up. I’ve always had very vivid dreams and quite often that’s where they come from, and I’m also a terrible day-dreamer. I love places of transit like stations where you can think ‘what if I got on a different train and went somewhere else entirely? or what if the train went back in time? or what if an old friend/enemy sat down next to me? or…’ I sort of apply that in other contexts and see what unfolds. ‘Murder Britannica’ started as a paragraph where Lucretia is having a snide and critical conversation with her daughter-in-law. It just came to me one lunch-time and I wrote it down. It was years before the rest fell into place. With ‘The Wrong Sort To Die’, I started knowing that Margaret had qualified as a doctor in about 1898 and wondered what she’d done after that. I knew she’d have a thirst for justice and equality but also suspected she wouldn’t be much good at bedside manner, so wondered what she’d do and decided she’d probably work in a charitable hospital in the pathology department. I decided what year the story would take place in and by chance, saw something on TV about that era which gave me a germ of a background for the plot – most of the general public thinks they’re living in a golden age of peace with new inventions and social change but meanwhile, the government is preparing for war. What might that mean for the people Margaret wants to help?

10. What can we expect from you next?

Next on the list will be the third in the ‘Murder Britannica’ series. While ‘Murder Durnovaria’ was set in Roman Dorchester, the third book is set in a small town near a river which is roughly located where modern day Blandford is. It’s midwinter and Lucretia’s nephew Fabio will do anything to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage, even look into strange goings on in a small town where it’s hard to know who’s on whose side.

11. Tell us three fun facts about youI can make something out of next to nothing whether it’s a meal or a costume; I don’t take myself remotely seriously; according to family legend I have a medieval ancestor who caught a ‘whale’ off London bridge.

12. What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?

Don’t give up. Keep writing things even if you don’t finish them, they may come into their own one day and if not then they’re worth it just for the practice. Maybe today is the right day and maybe it’s not. One day you’ll just get on with it, regardless of whether you really have the space or time. Everything you experience, witness and live through can inform your writing whether it’s serious or funny or thought-provoking. Within legal limits – be a people watcher!

Thank you so much to Paula for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog! |If you would like to find out more about Pauls and her books, her bio and links are below!

Paula Harmon was born in North London to parents of English, Scottish and Irish descent. Perhaps feeling the need to add a Welsh connection, her father relocated the family every two years from country town to country town moving slowly westwards until they settled in South Wales when Paula was eight. She later graduated from Chichester University before making her home in Gloucestershire and then Dorset where she has lived since 2005.

She is a civil servant, married with two children at university. Paula has several writing projects underway and wonders where the housework fairies are, because the house is a mess and she can’t think why.

https://paulaharmondownes.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/pg/paulaharmonwrites

viewauthor.at/PHAuthorpage

Murder Britannica

It’s AD 190 in Southern Britain. Lucretia won’t let her get-rich-quick scheme be undermined by minor things like her husband’s death. But a gruesome discovery leads wise-woman Tryssa to start asking awkward questions.

Murder Durnovaria

It’s AD 191. Lucretia last saw Durnovaria as a teenager. Now she’s back to claim an inheritance. Who could imagine an old ring bought in the forum could bring lead to Tryssa having to help local magistrate Amicus discover who would rather kill than reveal long-buried truths.

The Wrong Sort To Die

London 1910. Dr Margaret Demeray is approached by a stranger called Fox to help find out what’s killed two impoverished men. How can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths? And how come the closer she gets to Fox the more danger she faces herself?

The Cluttering Discombobulator

Can everything be fixed with duct tape? Dad thinks so. The story of one man’s battle against common sense and the family caught up in the chaos around him.

Kindling

Secrets and mysteries, strangers and friends. Stories as varied and changing as British skies.

The Advent Calendar

Christmas without the hype says it is – stories for midwinter.

The Quest

In a parallel universe, Dorissa and Menilly, descendants of the distrusted dragon people, are desperate to find their runaway brother in a fog-bound city, which simmers with unrest and deceit.

The Seaside Dragon

For 7-11 year olds. When Laura and Jane go on holiday to a remote cottage, the worst they expect is no wifi. The last thing they expect is to be battling strange creatures with an ancient grudge.

The Case of the Black Tulips (with Liz Hedgecock)

When Katherine Demeray opens a letter addressed to her missing father, little does she imagine that she will find herself in partnership with socialite Connie Swift, racing against time to solve mysteries and right wrongs. (This is the first of six Caster & Fleet Mysteries)

Weird and Peculiar Tales (with Val Portelli)

Short stories from this world and beyond.

My 2019 Writing Goals Vs The Reality

At the start of 2019 I wrote my yearly post setting out my writing goals for the year ahead. I only gave myself six goals, so how did I get on? In what has now become a tradition, I will go through them and see how many I achieved! Next week I will set out my 2020 goals.

  • Submit some writing-related articles –  I’ve written some well-received articles for Author’s Publish in the past and have quite a few drafts of potential articles. I’ve just not had the time to polish them up and submit them! I need to get back into doing this. It’s fun, it’s great for exposure, it improves writing skills and it pays! I should have more time in 2019 with my youngest finally in full-time school.
  • REALITY; I did this! I think I had three articles accepted by Author’s Publish this year, but I would need to double check that’s correct. But anyway, this one can be ticked off as achieved!
  • Continue To Work On The Six-Part Series, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and release parts 3 and 4 early in the year – This was a surprising thing that happened in 2018 and pushed some other plans out of the queue. I reworked and revised the original novel into two parts and re-released in 2018. I then wrote a brand new part 3 and reworked what was the sequel This Is The Day, into what will serve as part 4. I then penned a very rough part 5 in a notebook and planned part 6. I know how it will all end and I’m so excited to get it done! In 2019 I aim to release parts 3 and 4 very soon as they are almost ready, and get part 5 to second or third draft status.
  • REALITY; I did this too! In fact, I did more. I released parts three and four at the start of 2019, finished part 5 and wrote part 6! Currently I am working on parts 5 and 6 side by side, and we are at draft number four. I am very happy with how these have turned out and can’t wait to release the final two books probably towards the end of 2020 once they have been fully polished up!
  • Publish A Song For Bill Robinson – this book is ready and has been waiting very patiently for over a year! I spent all of last year polishing up Elliot Pie and getting side-tracked by The Boy series. This YA novel should see a release in 2019. I may try a few small press publishers first and if no joy, I will publish it with Pict and release probably late spring, early summer.
  • REALITY; I did this too! A Song For Bill Robinson was released on 6th December this year. The second book in the trilogy, Emily’s Baby will be released Spring 2020 and I am currently writing the first draft of the third book, The Search For Summer.
  • Continue to work on YA post-apocalyptic series and get first draft of the first book completed– This is another thing that keeps getting pushed back, but I have got to Chapter Twelve now in the first draft of book one. If I can get that first draft done in 2019 I will be very happy.
  • REALITY; Nope, didn’t achieve this. I did work on it now and then and I think I’m at Chapter 20 or something similar. I haven’t worked on it for a while now because A Song For Bill Robinson and Emily’s Baby needed so many more edits/proofreads in the last few months, plus I’ve dedicated every evening to working on The Boy series parts 5 and 6. I hope to get back into this series in 2020.
  • Continue to work on the various writing projects under my Community Interest Company, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – There are two on the go. One in planning stages. Lots and lots more I want to do, but in 2018 time and fear really got in my way…I’ve decided I really need to get braver and more pro-active with all of this. I started the business in 2015 and became a CIC at the end of 2017. 2018 was my first year as a CIC and I’ve felt out of my depth the entire time. I’ve been on the verge of quitting more than once. I really, really want to do it. Not just the community writing project, but the school project and another project I have in mind. I think about them all the time and feel so passionate about it…yet it all seems too hard sometimes. I’ve decided the main problem is I am all alone. I do have a treasurer and a secretary and they are wonderfully helpful and supportive, but other than that, I’m juggling it all alone. I need to buck my ideas up this year and get things done. I need to work harder and faster and with more determination. And I really really need to work with others!!
  • REALITY; Mixed results on this one. None of the projects I was working on have been launched yet, but one is getting closer and my dream of not working alone all the time came true! For one big project I am working with The Red House Museum and the manager Laura has really been like a mentor to me this year. I also took part in a literary festival this year, giving a talk to teen writers. And I started more writing clubs! I have three new clubs starting after Christmas, and three on the go, so if they all take off, there will be six regular writing clubs. Two for adults, two at schools, and two for home-educated children. It’s still very much an up and down thing for me, but I have got more confident this year and received the kind of feedback and praise I really needed to keep going. Encouraging other writers is my big passion and my company will continue to look into ways of doing this!
  • Work on short story/poetry/blog collection – I would love to say I’ll publish this in 2019, but I think that’s too ambitious, and I know it will get overshadowed by The Boy series and Bill Robinson…Still, I do hope to work on it a bit more. I had so many short stories lying around (some new, some from a previously released collection) that I decided it was time to get them all together and release another collection similar to Bird People. I’ve polished up a few and have loads more I need to work on. I’ve also got some old blog posts I want to include and even some poetry. Eeek! Yes, that’s a bit scary. I’ve always been intimated by poetry, reading it and writing it. But the thing is, my head is so constantly full of words it gets hard sometimes, and I just want to expel some. We will see what happens,  but to release another collection would be really, really fun.
  • REALITY; I didn’t release a collection but I had admitted that was ambitious. I have been working on a collection throughout the year though and it’s really coming together. There are still some stories I need to write and the poems just keep coming. I’m not sure I will release this in 2020 as I don’t get much time to work on it. I think I will just keep adding to it whenever I feel like it and release it when its big and good enough!

So, I didn’t do too badly at all. In fact, if I look back, it has been a pretty good year for my writing and for my company. Everything is heading in the right direction, which is all we can ask for, I guess. I feel positive about these goals and how I tackled them. In other ways, for other reasons, this year has not been easy. When I write my 2020 goals next week you might notice that they are not entirely writing related for the first time.

But over to you! Did you set any goals at the start of 2019? How many did you manage to achieve? Are you going to set any for 2020 or just go with the flow? Please feel free to share and comment!

Book Launch Plan!

Launching a book is scary! So scary in fact that I’ve been putting this one off for months, maybe even years. As is the usual with me, I tend to write a first draft in about 3 months and then go into subsequent drafts and rewrites and edits that last for years…I then procrastinate about how ready the book really is, worry endlessly about whether it’s had enough beta readers and generally do everything I can to put off actually releasing it.

Why? I think because in writing a book, you put your heart and soul into it. You immerse yourself in it, become obsessed by it, fall in love with it and in releasing it, you hope to have some kind of recognition of that, in sales and reviews, and as most indie authors will know, this is by no means easy. If you have money to spare, it helps. Money will buy you an editor, a decent front cover and an advertising campaign. High sales and plentiful reviews are still not guaranteed but you’ve got a better chance. For writers who don’t have a single spare penny? It’s a much harder and more frustrating process which at times barely seems worth it.

Anyway, I digress. There are many reasons I delay book releases and fear of failure is the biggest one. I don’t have massively high hopes but I do hope and dream of decent sales and positive reviews. And if I put off the release? Well, I delay the fear and can sleep better for longer.

But! The time has come. I am currently nearing the end of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part 6, and when that’s done, I will have five unpublished books waiting for release dates. Five!! That’s insane. I think that says a lot about my relationship with writing! Endless ideas, addictive/compulsive tendencies and then utter fear and denial. It also explains why I’ve written my whole life but only starting publishing in my mid-30’s.

So, with that in mind, one of those five books will be released in December! I decided on December as it’s a good time to release a book, when people are thinking about Christmas presents and it’s dark and miserable outside and people want a book to curl up with. That gives me almost three months to plan the launch. I’m already daunted, although I have done this before. I am tired just thinking about it.

Having already ruled out a physical launch (as an indie author I am too afraid no one will come and very good at self-sabotaging myself) I do need to make a plan and stick to it.

So, this post is my book launch plan for YA novel A Song For Bill Robinson, potential release date Friday 6th December. I will probably add to and revise this plan as time goes on and as always, please feel free to comment! If I have missed anything, let me know! Any good ideas? I’d love to hear them!

  • Decide on release date
  • speak to cover designer again to prompt first sketch of ideas
  • go through book again for final typos etc
  • decide on a good tag line for promo etc
  • make a list of ARC reviewers and ask in Street Team and Facebook page
  • contact possible ARC reviewers
  • send book to agreed ARC reviewers
  • organise a blog tour
  • revisit Pinterest board and add to/revise/work on
  • start making release day and release countdown graphics on Canva
  • organise advertising, free or paid, decide!
  • contact similar genre authors to organise giveaways and/or blog spots/interviews
  • start making quote graphics on Canva and start sharing to Instagram etc
  • contact YA booktubers!
  • contact YA book reviewers!
  • put print copy together to release on same day as ebook
  • organise Amazon or Goodreads giveaway?
  • create a Facebook launch day event and a separate Instagram one?
  • invite other authors to event to share posts/books etc
  • create graphics for online launch events
  • create launch day competitions for Facebook and Instagram
  • Put together a series of blog posts to release up to launch day about the book
  • set ebook at 99p for one week only
  • invite people to Facebook event and hope they come!
  • submit the book to competitions/awards!
  • drink lots of wine and remember that at least I tried!!!

The Temptation to Do Nothing

No one ever said that being an indie author would be easy. It’s not. It’s hard work and I made my peace with that a long time ago. I never expected to sell thousands or even hundreds of books. I’ve always reminded myself that to sell anything at all is a massive achievement, and I still believe that.

Over the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve had a bumpy ride, full of highs and lows, expectations and dreams, disappointments and achievements. Again, I remind myself when I feel thwarted, or dispirited, to look back and see how far I have come. And it works. Mostly. I do sell books every month. I have never had a month without sales since I started in 2013.

Every now and then though, I feel the need to stop, take stock of what’s going on, what’s bothering me or making me anxious, and do nothing. I don’t mean stop writing. I could never do that. If there is one thing I am certain of it’s that I will never ever stop writing and releasing books. I’m desperately addicted to writing, it’s who I am, it saves me on a daily basis, makes life worth living, fulfills me in so many ways, and allows me to release what is inside of me. I love it, and if you follow this blog, you will know that.

It’s trying to sell books that I often consider quitting. Trying to sell books is stressful. Without money, it’s almost impossible. I feel I have worked really hard over the years to build my author platform. Building up this blog, my facebook author page, Instagram, newsletters, you name it. Writing articles for Authors Publish and more. There is nothing I have not tried. Nothing free anyway.

And I guess, to some extent it works. I get sales every month. Some months are better than others and I can never work out how or why. No one ever said that selling books was easy either.

I’ve seen so many indie authors quit over the years. Announce they are closing their blog or their Facebook page, that it’s too hard and they can’t justify the time and effort anymore. I get that totally. But that will never be me, not while I still have so many books lined up to write.

Selling books is hard if you are naturally an introvert. You’re drawing attention to yourself. You’re saying, hey look at me! Look over here! Buy my books! You’re sending out free copies with your newsletter. You’re offering people ARC copies of upcoming releases. You’re contacting reviewers and bloggers for help. You’re messaging friends and relatives to see if they’re interested. You’re setting up street teams and asking for help. Introverts do not like asking for help. Introverts will do everything themselves and then cry about it. There’s a martyr inside every one of us, I swear.

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It makes us uncomfortable. And then come the rejections. Of course, you’re used to rejection if you’re a writer. You’ve got the scars from endless rejections from agents and publishers. You put on your big girl pants and went solo. Became an indie. Fab stuff. Only now there’s no one to help you, you have to force yourself to be brave, day in, day out. Put on a big professional sunny convincing smile when really you just want to climb under your duvet and hide.

I’ve had a lot of disappointments lately. I’m not going to go into them, because I really don’t want this to be a pity party. I hate it when authors moan on social media about being an author and not getting sales. I don’t want to be that person. This isn’t really about sales either. This is about being tired.

I’m tired of doing everything I can only to have it not make an impact. I’m tired of giving away free books that people don’t then review. I’m tired of the expense of sending out paperbacks that people don’t then review. I’m tired of asking and hoping and suggesting that people share my posts, comment, read or review. I’m tired of feeling like I am wasting my time. I’m tired of sharing my books on Twitter and Facebook when I know there is no point. Every time my finger hovers over the share button I’m so tempted to do nothing. And every now and again I let it win and I go with the temptation to do nothing and I hide away I write my books and my blogs and my poems and I hide away from sharing and trying to sell.

Maybe it does me some good every now and then to have a little retreat from the business of selling and just focus on the writing. I am so tempted to do that again right now. But then I feel guilty about my books, and I so want people to read them, I don’t want to quit or be a quitter. Maybe I just need a rest. A chance to refuel and come back stronger.

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Because if you don’t try, you can’t fail. There’s nothing to lose. But if you do try, and try and try, then you have to deal with the inevitable disappointments. It’s tempting not to try, believe me. And I’ve been here before. I didn’t try to publish my books until I was in my mid-thirties. All those years I wasted because I was too afraid of failure to even try. I got over that somehow, and I’ve moved on. But there it is again, the urge to do nothing. If my books don’t sell, it’s because I’m not trying and that’s easier to deal with.

But then I got thinking and I remembered a quote from a song that I once decided would look good on my gravestone. This is the full quote;

Not everyone grows up to be an astronaut,
Not everyone was born to be a king,
Not everyone can be Freddie Mercury,
But everyone can raise their glass and sing.
Well I haven’t always been a perfect person,
Well I haven’t done what mum and dad had dreamed,
But on the day I die, I’ll say at least I fucking tried.
That’s the only eulogy I need,
That’s the only eulogy I need.

(Eulogy, by Frank Turner)

It struck a chord with me the first time I heard it, and I laughed and joked that I’d have those words on my headstone. At least I fucking tried…

Some days that doesn’t feel like enough.

Other days, calmer days, sunnier days, it really, really does.

Because it’s pretty fucking brave to keep trying.

It would be so much easier to quit. And I’m going to have those days. I’m always going to have those days. I’m going to wallow in it some days. I’m going to cry about it on others. I’m going to seethe and fret and grumble and moan. Mostly to myself. I’m always going to have days where self-doubt gets it claws into me and won’t let go. I’m going to hear those voices in my head that have been with me for so long…you’re rubbish, you’re stupid, you’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re a joke…

But that’s okay. That’s being human. Deep inside, we all want attention, we want validation, we want to know what we’re doing is worthwhile and appreciated, and when we don’t quite get that, we turn on ourselves pretty viciously.

But I suppose the thing is to let those days run their course, as they will do, again and again, but then come out of the other side and just keep going. Just keep doing it anyway. Because at least you can say you gave it your best. So for now at least, for me, it’s business as usual. The temptation to do nothing has not won.