Friday, November 30, 2012

Armed and Dangerous

This year has gone by in a blur, what with moving house and having two books published in the space of six months.  And somewhere in the chaos I seem to have completely missed out on the fact that Paragraph Planet published another of my 75-word ficlets back in April.

The story is called Armed and Dangerous, it's a very tongue-in-cheek little piece about a raid on a pub, and you can still catch it at the magazine's April archive if you'd like to take a look.

Better late than never, I suppose...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Raining veg?

I know the weather has been atrocious lately, with months' worth of rain falling in a handful of days and half the country affected by floods. 

But I was still startled to see the Daily Specials board in a Kendal cafe the other day, which offered the interesting dish of "Leak and Potato Soup".  Ten out of ten for honesty, perhaps, although we didn't dare ask if it tasted like dish water...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Riptide selling print

Year-old publishers Riptide are continuing to spread their wings, and their latest development is to sell paperback versions of their books from their own catalogue.  Previously they've only sold e-books directly and readers have had to order print books from third party distributors.

I suspect this won't make a huge amount of difference to UK readers since the cost of shipping from the US will probably outweigh any benefits.  However, for readers in America it makes a lot of sense, since any purchases, whether print or electronic, will qualify for the various discounts, deals and offers on the Riptide catalogue.  Currently, for instance, all paperback books are on sale at 20% off list price, so readers might want to take advantage of that while it lasts.

Books that are available in print include longer works (novels over around 60,000 words); anthologies; and the most popular titles.  Both 'Riptide Rentboys' (including my novella Necessity's Door) and Gleams of a Remoter World are included in this list, so if you want to buy a print copy of either and benefit from the discount, now's your time!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Gallows humour

Those of you who know my writing also know I possess a mischievous, even macabre sense of humour at times - so you won't be surprised to find that this slightly gruesome video really hit my funny bone.

'Dumb Ways to Die' was originally a safety video issued by an Australian train company which has now gone viral.  Proof if proof were needed that it's possible to get a serious message across using humour and a catchy tune.

That tune really is catchy, by the way.  I make no apology for the fact that you may get it stuck in your brain for the next 364 days....

Monday, November 26, 2012


When we had the kitchen done we loved pretty much everything... except the cupboard and drawer knobs.  I'd ordered a rich, darkish oak, but when they arrived they were very pale and we've never quite shaken the suspicion that the supplier palmed us off with beech, which is a much cheaper timber.  We've managed with them for a year because they worked perfectly well and weren't broken, but they did look a little strange with the rest of the kitchen.

So I was delighted to find the website of Wooden Knobs & Handles recently.  They're relatively local, and they make all their knobs to order from a range of beautiful timbers, in a huge variety of shapes and sizes.  I chose walnut, ordered half a hundredweight since there's a lot of cupboards and drawers, and they turned up within days.  We swapped them out over the weekend and they look really smart, and it didn't even cost very much.  A great way to get a cheap make-over.

While we were at it, we decided to re-oil the wooden worktops.  You're supposed to do it every month or so, but we've had so much going on that it's kept slipping our minds and they had started to suffer.  Dave hauled everything off every worktop - microwave, toaster, kettle, loads of storage jars and general junk - sanded them down where they needed it, and applied a couple of coats of Danish Oil.  Then we opened the window to get the stink of fish and varnish out, and settled back to wait for it to dry.

And waited.

And waited....

By the time six o'clock came round and I needed to start cooking the evening meal, the worktops were still too sticky to put anything down on them.  That meant I had nowhere to prepare anything, chop veg, peel spuds; nowhere to put utensils during cooking; and nowhere to serve out the meal.  We considered juggling things in mid-air, or preparing everything in the dining room (which was already full of all the stuff we'd moved out of the kitchen), and in the end we realised it wasn't possible.  So the local Chinese take-away came to the rescue... and then we found we couldn't even do the washing up!

Mercifully everything has dried overnight so I've spent the morning putting the kitchen back together, and the worktops do look stunning.  Memo to self, though - don't expect two coats of Danish Oil to dry quickly in the winter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Short, sharp interview

For some strange reason I seem to have completely missed blogging about my recent interview over at fellow Brit-writer Paul D Brazill's site.  Paul specialises in gritty crime and noir and I first 'came across' him via Byker Books, since he had stories in a number of the same Radgepacket anthologies I had.  He runs a very popular blog called You Would Say That, Wouldn't You? and often features fun little interviews with other authors writing in similar genres.

You can see my feeble efforts at Paul's blog, dating from a few weeks ago now.  Apologies for not passing on the link sooner - either Blogger ate my original post or in the words of the Queen song, I'm going slightly mad...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Truth is stranger than...

The case which provided some of the inspiration for Necessity's Door has just come to court, and some of the details now being revealed are more lurid and hair-raising than anything I could have invented.  You can read the full report on the BBC web page, but basically the allegations involve several police officers who, whilst working undercover, are said to have befriended women, tricked them into having sex, and in one case apparently even attended a family funeral.

I suspect this case will run and run.  The Metropolitan Police want it held behind closed doors, for obvious reasons.  (Nobody likes it when their employees are accused of nefarious practices, least of all when those employees are themselves supposed to be upholders of the law.)  The women who were allegedly wronged, on the other hand, want every last detail made as public as possible.  They say this is to highlight the issue of "police misconduct and the extent to which police officers can invade the personal, psychological, and bodily integrity of members of the general population"; although you can't help wondering, cynically, if they're also trying to win themselves larger amounts of compensation.  (And of course, they're quietly ignoring the fact that if they hadn't been involved in illegal activities themselves, they would never have been targeted by the undercover officers in the first place.)

It's all rather sleazy, and does indeed raise interesting issues about just how far the police should go in pursuing criminals, but it's going to be fascinating watching the case unfold.  If nothing else, reading about all the salacious details might just sow the seeds for another book... 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Death of the bookstore?

The other day I gathered my courage in both hands and asked at my local book shop whether they'd be willing to carry a few copies of Gleams.  The owner was both charming and deeply apologetic, but the answer was a firm 'no', and here's why.

He's been running the same store in the same location for over twenty years.  Currently his annual rent is somewhere in the region of £25,000 (which probably equates to around $35,000 or even $40,000 for those of you across the pond).  And thanks to the rapid emergence of e-books, Kindle and the like, he simply can't sell enough books to make ends meet.  He told me he honestly doesn't know how much longer he can keep going, is unlikely to still be there next year, and for that reason can't commit to carrying any additional stock, even if it's from a local author.

Particularly galling for him is that more and more people are using him as a sort of 'shop window'.  They go in, scan the covers of the books they want on their mobile phones, and then go out again without making a single purchase, to order the books more cheaply online.  Fair enough, vast online stores are always going to be cheaper - they don't have the same overheads as a small, one-man-band operation.  Even so, that does seem a little... I don't know... underhand.  The least they could do is buy a single paperback, or even a bookmark or a birthday card, while they're in the store.

I have a feeling that the next five years could see the end of the traditional book store here in the UK.  It's a crying shame because they are wonderful places, full of opportunity to browse the shelves, find new authors, be transported to a magical new world.  When was the last time you discovered a completely new book or writer on Amazon?  It's far more likely you go online with existing details, and simply buy the book you want.

However, change happens, and I do think that the owners who manage to adapt their book stores to the current economy (perhaps by offering coffee, or an internet cafe where buyers can order their books online) are the ones who are going to survive.  In the meantime, I wish my local book shop all the best, and can only hope it lasts longer than the owner thinks it will. 

And that I can find other places to stock my book...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Comets and curry

Sounds like a weird combination, doesn't it?  But actually, it was the highlight of a weekend away to celebrate Dave's upcoming ::ahem::ieth birthday.

Dave has always been a huge fan of astronomy and all things 'space' oriented, so as a special treat I booked two nights in a local hotel and two tickets for a special event at Herstmonceaux Observatory science centre in Sussex.  It meant another almighty drive (the third to the south-east corner in a couple of months) but boy, was it worth it. 

The hotel wasn't up to much, mind you - booking over the internet can be a hit-and-miss affair - but it was cheap, reasonably comfortable and only a couple of miles down the road. 

We had the opportunity to explore the area on Saturday, having never visited East Sussex before.  Hastings turned out to be a big disappointment (although I think we might have missed the more insteresting Old Town) but both Eastbourne and Lewes were amazing.  So much so that we've said we must come back, have a holiday in the area, and trawl through the sights at our leisure.

The crowning event, though, was the Comets and Curry night at the Observatory.  We rolled up just before 7pm, had some time to look round the exhibits (mostly in the form of child-friendly experiments but still great fun), then trooped into a geodesic dome in the grounds for our plate of curry and complimentary glass of wine, followed by a fascinating talk about the origins of comets and meteorites by one of the Observatory staff.

After that, we were let loose on the telescopes.  Herstmonceaux was used as the Royal Observatory for a period after the second world war, and has six separate observatory domes as a result, each housing an amazing and (in several cases) very old telescope.  As part of the evening, we went into four of the domes, not all of which are open on a regular basis.  We saw the copper-clad roofs rotating to line the telescopes up with different areas of sky.  We saw one dome raise its own floor so we could reach the huge telescope which is so heavy it's easier to move everyone up to it, than to move it down to ground level.  We looked through three different telescopes and were able to see Jupiter and four of its moons, Uranus (not visible with the naked eye), and even the Andromeda galaxy.  We talked to members of both a local astronomy society and a local amateur radio society.  And we saw several shooting stars - the result of the annual Taurid meteor shower.

Remarkably, since it had been raining all day, the skies cleared and everything was pin sharp, and because the Observatory is sited out in the countryside there are fewer lights around to cast everything into an orange glow.  I was delighted to be able to see the Milky Way, and individual stars in the Pleiades cluster, both for the first time.  And Dave was like a small boy in a sweet shop the entire evening and enjoyed every second.  Which, after all, is why I did it in the first place!

We're back at home again now, tired from the travelling, heartily sick of motorway service stations, but very, very happy that we made the effort.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Want to help victims of Sandy?

Then you could do worse than buy a book or two from the Riptide online store.  The staff at Riptide have been personally affected by the aftermath of the hurricane, and have taken the unanimous decision to donate 25% of all their onsite proceeds this week to the American Red Cross, to help pay for the clear-up efforts.

The offer stands until 10 November (Saturday) so if you'd like to do your bit, hurry along to the Riptide store and place your order.  Any book you buy will qualify for the donation, be it large or small, one or many. 

Thanks for listening, and thanks for your help.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Tree petition fails

All efforts to save the beautiful monkey puzzle tree at Brockhole Visitor Centre failed yesterday, when it was felled without notice - ostensibly on health and safety grounds, but more likely to prevent protestors gathering at the site.

I'm really sad about this.  Over two hundred people had signed an online petition to keep the tree; a recent survey by the Lake District National Park Authority showed that only one out of 1000 people asked was in favour of the felling; and local people in general were horrified at the idea.

And yet the LDNPA has disregarded the feelings and wishes of all of the above and cut the tree down, on the dubious grounds that it 'wasn't in the original plans for the gardens' at the house.  Well, nor was the zip-wire tree-top trek they've just opened, but I can't see them getting rid of that any time soon.

It's a crying shame, and leaves me nervous about the fall-out.  The LDNPA are the local planning authority for all properties within the National Park, and up to now they've been quite severe about refusing to let mature trees be chopped down on a whim.  But how can they refuse permission for other land owners when they've gone ahead, in the face of strong local opposition, themselves?  It doesn't bode well for the local landscape.

I've removed the link to the online petition as there's no longer any need for it.  Sadly.