Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I'd hoped to update this blog a little more in the week leading up to Christmas but simply haven't had time in the welter of running around, packing, gift wrapping, getting stuck to the ceiling with sellotape, shopping, shopping and more shopping.

I finally seem to have finished all the preparations now, though, so have time to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, a good relaxing break, and a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

I'll be back in a day or two, once I've finished stuffing myself stupid, snoozing on the sofa, and watching terrible old films on tv.  Well, it is Christmas...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

National (theme) park

You'll remember my posts about the Lake District National Park and their love for chopping things down over the past few months.  Well, it seems as though I'm not alone in being less-than-impressed with their methods.  This is the somewhat caustic response from the Westmorland Gazette's resident cartoonist, Colin Shelbourne.  I should warn you that following the link is likely to damage your computer screen and keyboard when you spray coffee on them.

Making Plans for Brockhole

My own favourite of the collection is the one about invading Brantwood, which was so completely unexpected it made me shout with laughter - so loud that Dave came scurrying downstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

It would be nice to think that the powers that be at the LDNPA would listen to nice people like Mr Shelbourne poking fun at them, but somehow I doubt it.  They appear to be on a Mission From God to turn the Lake District into a giant theme park.  A depressing thought.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Instagram photo sharing

A quick word of warning to anyone who uses Instagram, the photo sharing arm of Facebook.  Facebook are looking to use it to sell users' photos to advertisers, without warning, and may also sell on other information such as cookies, log-on data etc, following a big change to their privacy contract.

You can see the whole story here, but this paragraph is particularly worrying:

"Facebook's photo-sharing site Instagram has updated its privacy policy giving it the right to sell users' photos to advertisers without notification.  Unless users delete their Instagram accounts by a deadline of 16 January, they cannot opt out."

In other words, if you're away or taking it easy over the holiday period and don't switch on your computer, you're likely to miss the deadline.  So, unless you want your private photos to be sold to companies you know nothing about, and used for purposes you might not even approve of, I suggest you opt out now.  And please pass the information on to anyone you know who uses Facebook.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Slippers, lilies and mince pies

The other day I wrapped up in several extra layers of clothing and braved the arctic blast to attend a talk by local author Deborah Swift at Windermere library.

Ms Swift writes historical novels set in the seventeenth century, and has had two published to date - The Lady's Slipper and The Gilded Lily.  Unlike many other historical novelists, she writes about ordinary people rather than royalty/aristocracy, and her books have been partly or wholly set in the Lake District, which is why I wanted to go along and hear more.

The talk, which concentrated on research and the processes of writing the books rather than the books themselves, lived up to my expectations and more.  It was fascinating to hear about the differences between researching daily life in London and Cumbria in the seventeenth century, for instance.  Apparently, although there are far more records for London, that in itself is limiting because everything is already known, so there's less scope to shoe-horn new characters, events or places in.  In Cumbria, which was very rural and had far fewer records, there's more space for artistic licence.

It was also fun to learn the differences between British and American readers' perceptions of book covers.  Britain prefers warm, vibrant colours, lots of gilt, and large script that stands out on the shelf, but all of those things spell 'trashy' to American readers who expect small fonts and dull colourson the covers of any books percieved to be 'literary'.

The whole event lasted for nearly two hours, and although the group was quite small, that made it all the more chatty and interesting, as the audience were able to participate - asking questions and comparing Ms Swift's experiences to our own - far more than if the room had been full.  And considering we got all that, plus tea/coffee and a mince pie, and an opportunity to buy books and have them autographed, all for the princely sum of £1, it was an afternoon of exception value and enjoyment.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mmm... chocolate...

Christmas is fast approaching and as usual we seem to have left everything to the last minute, so on Saturday we drove into Kendal determined to make a start on the present-buying.  Needless to say, we couldn't find anything we wanted, and came away with three 2013 calendars for us, and nothing for anybody else.

It was bitterly cold out and after an hour we were so frozen we decided to call in somewhere for a coffee to thaw out.  There are simply masses of cafes and coffee shops in Kendal, and we trip over new ones every time we go.  This time we spotted a blackboard outside a wonderful old building on the steep lane leading out of the market place, which advertised tea, coffee and all manner of chocolate goodies.  Hardly surprising as the shop is called The 1657 Chocolate House and specialises in, well, chocolate.

Inside it positively creaked with character - squeaky floorboards, wonky walls, low ceilings and beams.  The coffee was lovely, and although we couldn't face chocolates or gateaux at half past ten in the morning, the aforementioned goodies looked very tempting.  I suspect we'll be back at tea time one of these days to sample some of their wares.

We're still puzzled by the name, though.  Reading a brief 'biography' on the back of the menu suggested the building dated from the 1630s, and the chocolate shop itself can't date from 1657 because it's had all sorts of other uses in the meantime.  So why 1657?  Answers on a postcard, please...

Friday, December 07, 2012

The tottering reading pile

I've just finished reading 'The Sparrow Conundrum' by Scottish crime author Bill Kirton.  I won the book as a prize a good few months ago now (ahem, probably last year) but I'm always slow to finish e-books because I'm not good at reading long passages on screen.  I really wish I'd read it sooner, though, because the book is tremendous fun.

Unlike the author's other works this is pure spoof, as a gaggle of gloriously inept secret agents bungle their way round Scotland inventing silly codes, shooting themselves in the feet, and generally failing to accomplish their missions in a quite spectacular way.  I don't think I've giggled as much in a very long time, and the postman and the exploding rose bed were pure magic.  I did guess the identity of the super-secret agent taking everybody and everything over, but it didn't detract at all from the mayhem or the entertainment.  This is definitely one to re-read, preferably on a miserable winter Sunday afternoon when I need cheering up.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

New story accepted

I had some good news the other day as Shotgun Honey, the online crime/noir specialist magazine who published my short story Gran Torino last year, have now accepted another little tale.

The Swimming Lesson is a dark, even chilling tale of a holiday fling where all is most certainly not as it seems.  It was inspired in part by a photograph of a man standing up to his knees in a beautiful blue sea and beckoning to someone on the shore, but the twist at the end is the product of my own, er, twisted imagination.

The story should be appearing in the magazine in February next year, so I'll post a reminder and link nearer to the actual date.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Next Big Thing blog hop

The Next Big Thing blog hop has been proliferating over the internet like a measles epidemic lately and now it’s my turn to be suckered... oops, I mean tagged, by fellow British author Sharon M Bidwell. Thank, Sharon. I think.  Heh.

The questions are all aimed at discussing my latest work in progress, but I tend to prefer not to say too much about projects while I'm working on them. Partly this is to avoid tempting fate - gabble on endlessly about how exciting it all is and you can almost guarantee I grind to a sticky halt a few days later. Partly it’s also a little more selfish than that - the novel I’ve just started work on is rather unique and I’m reluctant to spill the beans too soon in case someone else nabs the idea! So, I’ve cheated. I’m going to talk about a novella I finished a couple of years ago instead. It’s not a complete cheat, mind you, since I have yet to find a publisher for the book, and in any case I suspect it needs more work. Which, um, makes it a work in progress, doesn’t it?

So, on with the questions:

What is the working title of your book?
"Got Ghosts?" after the name of the television programme featured in the book, where a film crew investigate a haunted house over a single weekend.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Watching some of those awful daytime tv programmes about haunted places, almost all of which are formulaic, filled with manufactured tension, histrionic mediums and screaming presenters, and obviously faked for the cameras.

What genre does your book fall under?
Paranormal comedy romance, with roughly equal parts paranormal and comedy, and a little romance on the side. It's a weird mix, but someone has to do it!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?
This question seems to be flavour of the month but it's a tricky one to answer, for me at any rate. I don't write my characters with specific actors in mind, and trying to match one to t'other afterwards isn't easy. There are plenty of actors who are good enough to take on the roles, of course, but nobody who really looks and 'feels' exactly like what I had in mind. If I had to choose, though, I'd say that Ben Whishaw, who played Q in 'Skyfall', would suit Adam's kooky personality, and Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter movies) would be perfect as the demented medium Stella.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
Scatterbrained Adam's cosy yet haunted world is turned more upside down than usual when the Got Ghosts? film crew come to call.

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?
Neither.  I have nothing against self publishing but feel that a good publisher has access to more markets than I would ever be able to; whilst I've still never plucked up courage to approach agents.  So I'll be submitting it to publishers myself the same way I always do. Whether any of them accept it or not is another matter!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It's hard to remember now because it was a couple of years ago, but it would have been at least a year. I do tend to work quite slowly - my recent novel Gleams of a Remoter World took me almost ten years to finish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Hard to say really since it's fairly unique. It probably has a similar 'feel' to some of Georgette Heyer's dafter crime novels - especially Footsteps in the Dark - but the plot and characters are all mine.

What else about your book might interest the reader?
It's set in an ancient English country house full of hidden passages, secret chambers, ghosts good and bad, and eccentric characters - from the dotty vicar to the artistic Great Uncle Alfred.  Unlike Gleams of a Remoter World, the setting isn't based on real locations, but is a hotch-potch of many places I've visited over the years - and the staircase which features towards the end is loosely based on the one in my grandparents' house!

And now for details of my own victims... oops, I mean willing volunteers.  Many thanks to both Cameron Lawton and Erastes for agreeing to take up the baton and run with it.  Don't forget to check out their blogs in one week's time, on Wednesday 12th December, to see how they tackle these questions.

Cameron Lawton