Sunday, January 31, 2010

Oooh, shiny

I'm typing this from the right side of an upgrade to Windows 7. My pc had been running Win2000 with IE6 for a couple of years, but it was getting slower and slower, and so many of the big sites (Google, YouTube, MySpace) are getting ready to stop supporting IE6 that I thought it was time for a change.

So far, it's gone quite well. Even after a full system backup there's still more than a few of those heart-stopping moments (where's my writing files? have I lost my favourites folder?) but for the time being the biggest nuisance is that you can't use Outlook Express. This has been my stand-by ever since I first had a home computer with e-mail capacity, way back when, and I liked it, dammit. Dave has found me a freebie replacement (Mozilla Thunderbird) which works just fine, but everything is in a different place and I'm having to poke around for the simplest function. I'll get there, it's just frustrating while it lasts.

Most of my other programs seem to be running so I can still browse the internet, update my web page and (most important of all) write. I think I'd have spontaneously combusted if my copy of WordPerfect hadn't worked. That really is an old and trusted friend. ;)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Special offer - one day only!

Aspen Mountain Press are holding a 10% off day until midnight tonight (Thursday).

For those of you who haven't already bought and read Shifting Perspectives 1 and 2, complete with my two pigeon shapeshifter stories (plus other great stories from Emily Veinglory, Sharon Maria Bidwell and TA Chase), this is a fantastic opportunity to get them cheaper than usual.

Simply pop along to the Aspen Mountain Press catalogue following the links below, and quote code NYC2010. Please note this code will only work today, 28th January, so don't delay, do it today!

If you're not sure whether you'd like the books or not, pop along to my website to check out the details.

Find the books here:

Shifting Perspectives 1

Shifting Perspectives 2

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

100 Stories for Haiti

This is a very worthwhile project to produce a charity anthology of short stories in aid of the Red Cross Haiti appeal. The deadline was originally 25 January but has just been extended to midnight on Wednesday 27 January, which is great news for me because I only found out about the anthology earlier today and thought I'd already missed it.

You can find full details including submission guidelines at the official 100 Stories for Haiti blog.

I was really keen to take part so I've sent them a very short and very silly flash about a man who always wanted to fly. I won't be entirely surprised if they choose not to use it since they want stories that are full of hope and compassion, which Is It a Bird? isn't really - but hopefully it'll make someone laugh. If it isn't accepted, I'll post it in full on my blog next week and ask readers who enjoy it to make a donation to a Haiti appeal charity of their choice.

And if you have a spare story kicking around, please consider donating it. But do it NOW, because there's not much time!

Writing proverb

I came across this lovely Chinese proverb today:

I hear and I forget;
I see and I remember;
I write and I understand.

Not only does it sum up one of the fascinating concepts of writing - that the more you write about something, the more you get to grips with its complexities - but it also emphasises the differences in learning methods between China and the west. According to my tai chi tutor, in the west we're very dependent on hearing - on a teacher explaining something to us. But in China most learning takes the form of 'watch me, copy me', which is very sight-based, and there's much less explanation. Presumably the Chinese find it harder to remember something that they've only heard, not seen, whereas we find it harder to learn something we've watched.

In other news, I was Very Peeved this morning when the cashier in the building society asked me if I was at least five years older than I actually am. I know she was trying to save me money but ouch! I've always looked younger than my age and honestly thought I still did but she obviously thought not. I'm reaching for the face cream as I type, and busy booking appointments at hairdresser for new hair style and opticians for new specs. Vain? Me?

And wasn't yesterday the Official Gloomiest Day of the Year, or some such? I know a few years ago someone worked out that there was one Monday towards the end of January when Christmas and New Year were a distant memory, the weather was crap, the days were still short, and the next holiday seemed like a lifetime away. If so, yesterday certainly made the grade!

Monday, January 25, 2010

More submissions

Just before Christmas I noticed that I had no outstanding submissions whatsoever - I'd heard back on every story I'd sent out during the year. It's hard enough getting work accepted at the best of times but it's impossible if you never send it out, so one of my New Year's writing resolutions was to get posting and emailing.

So far I've done quite well. I've sent out seven stories, with an eighth due to go out later this week, and it's not even the end of January yet. Of course one came back almost immediately which puts me back down to six, but that's still better than none.

Stories I've submitted include a paranormal romance novella to QueeredFiction, that minotaur story I was so pleased to finish, a gritty contemporary to the Mslexia short story contest (where it's got about as much chance as a snowflake in a volcano, but still...), and The Boyfriend From Hell to Flash Me Magazine.

The results should start bouncing back to me in a few weeks' time and as usual, I'll let you know.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Weekend away

Just back from our latest trip north, mainly to check that the cottage was okay after the recent cold weather. Good news is it's survived more-or-less intact in spite of temperatures plummeting to -15c and snow that lay around for weeks, so that's a relief.

We did one or two more chores including hanging some curtains and putting up a blind, but yesterday it was such unexpectedly gorgeous weather that we said 'sod it' and went out for a walk instead.

Of course the minute we got the car out we ran into freezing fog but it looked very pretty and atmospheric so we went for it anyway and were really glad we did, because we soon climbed out of the mist and found ourselves in lovely, and surprisingly warm, sunshine. There was still the odd patch of snow on the path but mostly it had cleared and wasn't too wet underfoot, although clearly the fells have suffered damage from both the floods and the recent snow. There are places where the tracks are almost washed away, or where stone walls have been brought down by the weight of water, or patches of hillside slipped.

The walk we did was a favourite of ours from Ambleside to an ancient packhorse bridge called High Sweden Bridge. It's at the foot of Scandale, a relatively unknown valley/pass which is wild, remote and utterly beautiful, even at this time of year. This time we only went as far as the bridge but still thoroughly enjoyed it - and the incredible views of snow-patched mountains looming out of the mist. Sadly, my lovely Panasonic Lumix camera, bought only a couple of years ago, has developed a fault and the photos hardly came out. Here's a couple, just to give you a taster of what it was like:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My ears are bleeding!

Our new hi-fi turned up yesterday and in the evening we hauled it out of its box, plugged the various bits together with reams of wire, and switched on. We tried out a couple of cds that we happened to have lying around and the results were spectacular to say the least.

This time round we chose to buy Denon. They're not a make we've had before but listening to the same track on various different systems in the shop suggested that Denon gave out the best sound. And oh boy, does it ever. We could hear layers on the cds that we'd never noticed before, and even with the volume turned down the bass was impressive - but without totally swamping everything else.

Of course, we went a bit mad and played Pink Floyd at top volume most of the evening, until my ears started to pound. I'd been sitting in my usual place but the new speakers are so much more powerful than the old that it was really affecting me. Will have to either turn the sound down a bit or more likely, shove the speakers on brackets and fix them higher up on the walls. Either that, or I use the bass-reduction foam plugs they supplied as earplugs...!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nice to get out...

The snow has finally gone, apart from a few small patches in areas that never get the sun. Everything looks dismal and scruffy and very 'after the storm' with all the detritus that was caught in the snow strewn all over the roads and pavements - and the potholes have to be seen to be believed - but at least it isn't slippy.

Dave and I celebrated by spending as much time out of the house as possible over the weekend. On Saturday morning we headed into the city centre and spent an hour browsing in the library, mostly for a particular British Standard he needed for work. We also had a lovely oriental soup lunch at Eat and a good look round the last few scrag-ends of the sales. In the afternoon we trotted round to the local high street, bought a few bits and bobs, got a quote for a new pc from the local computer supplies shop, had tea and a sticky cake in one of the organic cafes, and enjoyed the positively tropical temperatures (5c, since you ask).

Yesterday we had a successful but rather expensive shopping trip to Solihull. We treated ourselves to a new mini hi-fi system, and then I bought a new motherboard-processor-memory bundle as my pc is overloading and getting steadily slower and more unreliable. Dave liked the look of the bundle so much he got himself one too, and then we picked up a copy of Windows 7 each in Tesco. My wallet and Dave's credit card were uttering protesting squawks but we haven't updated our systems for some time and in the case of my pc I need it behaving itself for work.

And this morning I've had another trip into town to pick up an order from Argos. It's lovely to have the freedom to go out whenever we feel like it. I'm making the most of it because they're (whispers) forecasting more snow for later in the week...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

First rejection of the year

Not the minotaur story, thank heavens, which duly went off to QueeredFiction for consideration for their Love & Fables anthology.

But the other day I submitted a short very dark story about a down-and-out to Neon Magazine, a literary British online zine which specialises in dark fiction. Their guidelines say they want stories which concentrate on "isolation, post-modernism, technology, dislocation, apathy, the apocalypse, memory, Kirk Cameron and urban decay". My story involved at least five of those themes and was gritty and, I felt, reasonably well-written. But the editor rejected it in a little over a day. Aaargh. Rejections are depressing enough at the best of times but somehow it always seems worse when you don't understand quite why the story has been sent back.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Story finished

The inspiration worked. Yesterday I finally finished that minotaur story - at least to first draft. It'll need a thorough read-through and lots more work (I suspect the ending is very rushed) but I'm so pleased and relieved to have finally got the thing down on paper.

It fought back every inch of the way, mind you. Sometimes I can tap away on the keyboard with barely a break for hours; this time I was typing four words and deleting three. But I got there in the end, minutes before Dave returned from a horrible trip back from Kent (fire on the rail line, trains delayed etc etc).

In other news, the Big Freeze has at last given way to the Big Thaw. It actually rained this morning and the snow is in full (if slow) retreat. Everything looks disgusting - slush, rotting ice, and great pools of filthy water - but the pavements are clearing and I'm hopeful I'll soon be able to get out and about easily, without fearing for my life and strapping on my fell-walking boots just to get to the front gate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Isn't it strange when, where and why inspiration strikes? I've been working on a short story that's (very) loosely based on the legend of the Minotaur. It's something I've been fiddling with for several years now, with various attempts and rewrites, but it's never quite come out right and I've never quite managed to finish it.

Yesterday I suddenly realised, out of nowhere, what the problem was. The particular ending I'd been working towards just didn't 'gel'. It didn't convince me, and if it doesn't even convince the writer it sure as heck ain't going to convince the readers. Again out of nowhere a different ending presented itself, one that's much more probable and will make a better story. On the back of that I wrote another 600 words straight off and am hoping to finish the story (at the tenth time of asking!) later in the week.

But where do these flashes of inspiration come from? I'm grateful of course, but ever so slightly baffled. One minute I'm hacking around in a sea of words and can't see my way clear, the next everything opens up and I'm thinking 'Oh, of course,' in a braindead sort of way. And wondering why on earth that particular solution hadn't occured to me months ago. It's an odd business sometimes, being a writer.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wot no Time Team?

You've probably guessed by now that I'm not a big fan of winter. I don't like the long dark nights, I don't like the cold, and I especially don't like ice on the roads and pavements. Roll on spring. One thing that usually makes this time of year bearable is the reappearance of Time Team on Channel 4. It's one of my favourite programmes and I always look forward to the new series starting in early January and running until March, by which time the weather is usually better and the nights starting to draw out.

But this year there's no sign of it. I've searched the tv listings magazines in vain, I've scoured the Channel 4 website, I've even been onto some of the tv forums online. And apart from vague rumours of a new series, there's not a single peep - and nothing at all from Channel 4 themselves. It's very odd. Assuming there really will be another series this year, you'd think 4 would want to advertise the fact, even if they've delayed showing it on tv for some reason.

I feel an email enquiry coming on. "Where's my Time Team? What have you done with it?"

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Vote for me (pretty please)?

It's that time of year again and the Preditors & Editors poll is open for voting - but only until 14th January.

This year Queer Dimensions, the sf anthology containing my short story The Visitor, is included on the list and last time I checked was doing quite well.

I realise there are many, many great books to choose from but if you enjoyed The Visitor, or any of the other stories in the collection, please consider trotting over to the Preds&Eds anthology category and casting your vote.

Don't forget - you only have five more days to do it, so do it now before you forget! And thank you! Any votes are much appreciated.

Friday, January 08, 2010

First submission of the year

This morning I've been beavering away getting my first submission of 2010 - a gay paranormal romance - ready to send. The publisher is asking for the first 3,000 words, the last 1,000 words, and a summary. The first two weren't a problem but I suck big time at synopses and can never, ever seem to break my work down into its salient points while still making it sound exciting. Too often I end up with a series of 'then he did this' and 'then he said that's which must be deadly dull to read.

For my novel, Roses in December, I actually binned my synopsis and wrote an extended blurb instead. I included several brief quotes from the book and kept the ending pretty much under wraps. That wasn't an option this time, though, as the publisher said they wanted to know the ending. Describing the end of a book is one of the hardest things I've ever come across - you either end up with a row of exclamation marks or make the whole thing sound like a total let-down. I'm worried I've done the latter but hopefully it doesn't read quite as badly as I think it does.

Now I sit back, chew my fingernails and wait to see if they want to read the whole manuscript. Fingers crossed...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snowy Christmas pics

A small selection of photos I took in Windermere a few days before Christmas. This was just after the second snowfall but before the third (and worst).

The hills across the lake blotted out by another shower:

Our cottage is under there somewhere!

The war memorial, looking Alpine:

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

More snow

There's been another dollop of snow in the UK and like most places, Birmingham hasn't escaped. It snowed most of yesterday evening and some of the night and is still going this morning, with around 4-5 inches lying on the ground. It all looks stunning, but one of my friends says the pavements are already treacherous and with temperatures set to plummet to -10 overnight, and not rise above freezing for several days, I'm not a particularly happy bunny.

On the good side, Dave's meeting in Kent tomorrow has been cancelled so I'm hoping he won't have to travel. He could probably get down there in one piece today, but I'm less confident of him getting back again.

This winter is now apparently the 'longest cold spell' in almost 30 years - right back to 1981. I don't remember that as a particularly bad winter but I do remember the stories Mum told me about 1963, when she had to cling to the washing line whilst pegging clothes out to dry because of all the ice in the back garden. I'm just hoping it doesn't start breaking those sort of records this year.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Filmed on location in....?

Last night we were happy to see a new series of 'Hustle' on BBC1. It's usually very entertaining and we were particularly interested because a few months ago I saw an interview with one of the stars, the veteran US actor Robert Vaugn, who said it was being filmed in Birmingham.

We switched on, eager for shots of the Bull Ring or Centenary Square, and were somewhat baffled to see the usual panoramas of Westminster, the 'Gherkin' and the Houses of Parliament. Until we looked more closely. We know Birmingham very well, and London fairly well. We know enough about London to be certain there isn't a garden square with a church in it within a stone's throw of the Gherkin - a garden square with a church in it that bore a startling resemblence to St Paul's Square, right here in Brum, except for that famous skyscraper in the background. Even closer inspection revealed what we think their secret is: they've filmed in Birmingham and then either unfocussed the footage so you can't really tell where it is, or digitally spliced shots of the London skyline into the background.

It's a shame, really. Why go to all the trouble of filming in Birmingham if you're going to pretend it's still made in London? Presumably they think the 'foreign market' will only recognise Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, but why not take the opportunity to introduce a whole new city to fans living abroad? As it is, Brummies will be annoyed to see their city 'adulterated' whilst Londoners might be left scratching their heads at the strange juxtaposition of famous landmarks.

The episode was still great fun, though.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year!

Just dropping by to wish all my friends, family, readers and passers-by a very happy and prosperous 2010.

We managed to get snowed in over Christmas and had no tree, almost no decorations, and only as much food as Dave could carry back by hand from the village, slithering all the way. We made the best of things but it wasn't quite what we'd intended and we had to come home early the minute we could dig the car out because there was more bad weather on the way. I'd always thought that being snowed in would be terribly romantic but as with most things the reality is very different and it was all rather a worry, especially as we had to put off our friends who were due to spend New Year with us.

Luckily they managed to book us into a local Thai restaurant on New Year's Eve instead; we had a wonderful meal and then staggered back to their place to see the new year in. It might have lacked the sheer romance of the Lake District but it was still a great evening.

I'm trying very hard to buckle down to work but my study is freezing and it's hard to concentrate when you have numb fingers and icicles hanging off your nose...