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Two articles in RedStar Magazine - China

This month I've had two articles published in RedStar Magazine in Hangzhou China. This is a print and online magazine for local expats.

The first one is Age? Its all in the mind.

Age? It’s all in the mind.

The first time I really realised that age was an issue in China was when I was visiting the Dinosaur Park in Changzhou. I was with friends and we decided it would be fun to go into the Ghost House. I had fond memories of similar amusements at travelling fairs in the UK. As we moved towards the entrance one of the numerous attendants asked how old I was. Laughingly, I said sixteen as it was blatantly obvious I was not and I was slightly confused as to why she was asking me such a question. A frown crossed her face when misunderstanding “sixteen” for “sixty” she pointed to the regulations which stated people aged sixty and over were not allowed to enter this particular house of horror. I quickly backtracked and said “No, No, No, I’m fifty-six.” She stepped back and smiled and allowed me entrance into the darkness that awaited beyond. At the time I was sixty-two and happy to say that the mediocre horrors that lay within did not cause me to have a heart attack, or any other ailment they might think it caused an older person, nor did my hair get any whiter.

I was an old recruit to China barely scraping in under the age sixty ceiling for teachers. I had accepted voluntary redundancy from the university where I worked and a future of stacking shelves in a supermarket beckoned. I didn’t want to go out feet up watching Wheeler Dealers so I came to China. I took heart from believing the hype that Chinese people respected their elders. Indeed, I found out later that Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist teaching places high regard on the respect for one’s elders. So why was it okay to call me old (and fat) and comment on how white my hair is?

The most serious aspect of being an older foreigner is how it restricts our ability to find employment. As I have noted most teaching job adverts will blatantly require candidates to be “young” (and lovely) or for the most part under fifty-five. While my employer in Nanjing was able to continue applying for my work permit and residence well after my sixty fourth birthday, it all came tumbling down when they were investigated by the PSB (The Police). The agency swiftly got rid of me because they had achieved my ‘legal status’ via guanxi. Every school I applied for after that turned me down because of my age. Fortunately, my PhD is my ace in the hole and I was able to secure my current university job on the back of that as it trumped my age.

On the positive side, many of the local attractions do advertise discounts for those of us over sixty and we are not discriminated against once we show our passports and prove that indeed we are what we say we are. Locally, I have also noticed some of the hairdressing salons are offering cheap haircuts for those of us who have any left. However, I was a little more circumspect when I recently joined a gym. I was pretty sure that if told them my correct age (sixty-six) they would be loath to let me join. Of course, this might be my own prejudice as I am still smarting at being questioned at the Ghost House five years ago. So I told them I was fifty-eight, then when they put me on a machine to check my BMI I forgot (not age related!) and told them I was sixty-two. They seemed to be so impressed that when they asked me to try out sparring (boxing) I was photographed and used as a WeChat Moment to advertise the gym with something to the tune of “Hey look at the 62-year-old foreigner, he’s still got it.”

And yet, as I stand in the lift watching the advertising on the ubiquitous screens, I see silver haired gramps and grandma’s, who are probably younger than me in actuality, being delighted at the gift of a tin of powered milk scientifically formulated for the elderly from their glowing children and Stepford grandkids. It was in that self-same lift where a young kid was forensically explaining to those of us wedged in there about how old I was, and how white my hair was in a loud voice with no sense that I might feel somewhat chagrined at being described as such. (This was all in translation by my Chinese wife, who recounted it with much pleasure at my discomfort––the traitor).

Mark Twain tells us “age is a case of mind over matter; if you don't mind it, it doesn't matter! Or as the Chinese might have it.

怕pà 人rén 老lǎo 只zh ǐ怕pà 心xīn 老

Do not be afraid of being old; only be afraid when your spirit becomes old.

Jiayou! - 加油- add oil…. Fish oil - we need that omega-3!

The second is Paperback Writer

Paperback writer

Everyone has a novel in them, that’s the old adage. I didn’t think I had a novel in me, until I wrote it. I remember where the idea came from as well. I was walking the dog and looking at my iPhone and wondered if iPhones could get possessed and how would the Apple geniuses sort it out? Strange idea right, but I finally self-published Meditations on Murder in 2017. Why self-publish you ask? Why not go the traditional route and find a literary agent and a publisher? It sounds so easy doesn’t it. Write the best seller and like J. K. Rowling sit back and watch the money come rolling in (pun intended).

Once you are in the writerly circles on social media, the well-worn panacea for not finding an agent or publisher is that even Rowling’s Harry Potter got rejected 12 times, I did try but eventually decided to be the master of my own fate as many authors do. Regardless of whether you are going to opt for the traditional route or self-publishing the first thing you have to do is write the blooming thing. Traditional publishers are not interested in ideas, or the first draft of the first chapter, they will want a complete, finished and polished manuscript. If you are taking the self-publishing route, you have to take it upon yourself to do the polishing whereas traditional publishers have editors. This will cost money. Publishing a book is not cheap, unless you want your finished product to be cheap, full of typos and generating 1-star reviews on Amazon and not creating any readers. (Notice I haven’t said “income.”)

Polishing your final manuscript means first you have read it a hundred times yourself, editing, proofreading, looking for plot holes, checking the tenses, wondering if you’re showing not telling, deleting the info dumps, and generally beating it into shape. There is help out there if you need it in the form of writer communities. I used a website called for all my novels. Once joined you have to earn five karma points to enable you to get your work critiqued. You do this by critiquing other authors work, proofreading, editing and so on. Then when you post your work you get a minimum of 3 critiques back–– I found this be a huge learning curve for my writing. This takes time, another cost!

Once you have done that you might want to search for beta-readers, you can find beta-readers on some Facebook pages and the GoodReads website. A word of advice is don’t ask your family to beta-read because you’ll never hear from them again, despite being really supportive, and really, really, wanting to read your book. So if/when your beta readers get back to you what’s next?

Finding an editor is where your “hobby” (it’s best to look at it like this), starts to cost you serious money. There are different types of editing services ranging from proofreading, copy and line editing and developmental editing. For my latest novel The Twelfth Rune I had a copy and line edit done for around £600. This is where you need to be careful because I have seen editing services for thousands of dollars. At the other end of the scale is where I purchased a proof read of some work (one chapter) and the provider actually added mistakes to my work to make it look like they had done a good job. I got a refund.

Another important step is the cover art which can run into thousands of dollars if you are not careful or cost you nothing. With a plethora of online tools, it is possible to design your own cover and KDP does provide you with free basic cover designs. You can use websites such as to create covers, these tend to look a little “homemade” or you can use a (expensive) graphic artist. I used a website called which provide one off artist designed covers from around $60.

Once you have polished your work and you are happy with it. Then as an independent author you have to decide which platform you want to use. Personally I use Amazon KDP but there are a number of available platforms which you can find online. More money needs to be spent on ISBN numbers although KDP does provide free ISBN’s if you wish to go that route – which limits you to only using their service.

My final words of advice: do not spend more thousands on copyright – your work is in copyright as soon as you save it on your computer which time and date stamps it. Also watch out for predatory vanity publishers, authors do not pay money to publishers or agents – the money comes to you, not away from you.

Good Luck.


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