Friday, December 27, 2013

The best laid plans

There I was on Christmas Eve, all set to add a post wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and happy New Year.  And found my keyboard had died.  It was working just fine the previous day, but there wasn't so much as a spark.  It's a wireless thing so we assumed it needed new batteries, found out how to get inside and fitted those.  Nothing happened.  We tried hitting the 'reconnect' button on the keyboard and the connector.  Nothing happened.  We tried rebooting.  Nothing happened.  We jumped up and down on the keyboard.  Nothing... well, you get the picture.

By that stage we simply didn't have time to rush out and buy a new one, and of course all the shops are closed on Christmas Day.  So I dug out an elderly netbook and thought I'd manage on that.  Wrong!  It's loaded with Windows XP and an old version of Internet Explorer, which Google in its wisdom no longer recognises.  I tried logging onto my blogger account. Nothing happened.  I loaded Firefox instead and tried again.  Nothing happened.  Finally, I've given in and loaded Chrome, which I already hate but which has at least given me access to my own blinking account.  So here I am, only two days late, to say 'Happy Christmas'.  Hope it was a good one.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Another one bites the dust...

Sad news in yesterday's Westmorland Gazette - the Henry Roberts bookshop in Kendal is closing its doors for the last time in January. 

The reasons given: the shop can no longer compete with either the internet, or cheap books in supermarkets, and has been running at a loss for some time.  I'd noticed that lately it was operating more as a discount store than what you might call a 'proper' bookshop, but the news is still quite a shock.  And apparently the branch in Hawkshead has already gone.  I didn't notice last time we visited the village, but I'm really sad about that.  I can remember buying books in that shop years ago, and I liked it, dammit.

I don't know what can be done about this issue, short of begging people to support their local book shops.  Yes, they can be a pound or two more expensive than the supermarkets, but they have a vastly wider choice of books than the 'top ten bestsellers plus the latest celebrity cookbook' offered by most branches of Tesco and Sainsburys.  And the staff are often deeply enthusiastic about their stock and can suggest books, order books, talk about books - which you'd never get from Amazon.

But progress is progress, I guess, even if it takes out familiar landmarks and much-loved stores in the process.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Another good review...

...of the Shapeshifters anthology can be found here.

Unlike some reviews, which follow the well-worn formula of the book's blurb plus three lines on 'why I liked/didn't like it', this one sounds as though the reviewer had read - and quite possibly enjoyed - every word.  It's always nice to see one of my stories described as a 'gem' and the other stories get glowing write-ups as well.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Milder and settled, eh?

We're fed up with Xmas shopping so on Saturday we treated ourselves to a day out and drove over to Keswick.

Big mistake.

The weather was much worse to the north of the fells; it was windy, speckling with sleet and *bitterly* cold. We shivered our way round the market, which had some really nice things, but it was too cold to linger over them so we shot into a café to thaw out over a cuppa. When we came out, the speckles had turned to heavy sleet and the wind had got up even more. (So much for the forecast of 'milder and settled'. Ha.)

We trudged round the rest of the town centre but we weren't really dressed for the conditions and by that time I was the colour of woad. So we got back in the car and came home.  Naturally, the sleet followed us, and it was too cold, dark and generally miserable to go anywhere else.  So we spent the rest of the day doing Christmas cards and the first of the wrapping. Oh joy.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Wild weather

The predicted first winter storm hit us in the wee small hours yesterday, and howled and shrieked and shook the house for about seven or eight hours.  It was deeply unpleasant while it lasted but both I and the house came through unscathed.  Thank goodness for 120 year old slate cottages, is what I say.  They built them to last back then!  The worst 'damage' we've suffered is the loss of a lid off one of our recycling crates, which shot off up the road at half the speed of sound.  I searched, later, once the wind had died down a bit, but there's no sign of it.  I expect it's in Hull by now.  And Dave couldn't get home last night because the trains right across the country were screwed - two hour delays as far as the Midlands, and no trains at all anywhere north of Preston.

But it could all have been much, much worse.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The drums, the drums

This weekend seems to have revolved around drumming of one sort or another.

On Friday evening we strolled down to the Old Laundry Theatre in Bowness for a performance by British taiko drumming group Mugenkyo.  We've seen them twice before, once at an open air event in Leicestershire and once at a concert in Solihull, and been bowled over, and this was no exception. 

The theatre is absolutely tiny, but all the more intimate for that; it only seats about 500 people and in order to get from the entrance door to the seats you have to walk across the performance area.  In this case, that meant walking straight past the drums, and being able to see and even touch them close up.   And this seems to have set the tone for the entire performance.  In Solihull it was much more formal.  Here, the group alternated the drum pieces with chat; fascinating historical information about the instruments, the music and taiko in general; and even a bit of slapstick.  The last thing you expect is for one of the drummers to appear on stage strumming 'When I'm Cleaning Windows' on a banjo, for instance.  It was all great fun and added to our appreciation of their skill on their chosen instruments.

On Saturday afternoon we made our way to Windermere station for the start of the Christmas lights switch-on ceremony.  Because the town is only small (okay, tiny) we half expected this to be a bit of a damp squib, with half a dozen kids and somebody's dog along for the ride.  In fact, it was amazing.  The lights themselves aren't the most elaborate, but that doesn't matter.  What was so lovely was the level of support, and the sheer warm-hearted enjoyment brought by everyone there. 

The event began with a procession of at least a couple of thousand people (including us!) which wound its way down through the streets behind a fire engine decorated with tinsel, a couple of real reindeer, Santa on his sled, and a marching carnival drum band.  Yes, those drums again.  In the town centre we all stopped while Santa made a speech (sadly inaudible), then there was a count-down and the lights popped on.  After that, the procession carried on along the back streets to the local park, where another few thousand people had already gathered, and we were treated to a short but surprisingly good free firework display.

We'd been promising ourselves we'd go to the event for the last 3 or 4 years but never made it.  This year, we're delighted we made the effort.  It may be a small town, the lights may only be bulbs on bits of string, but this is the most Christmas spirit I've seen in years.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Shapeshifters review

I've just spotted what may be the first review of the Fox Pockets Shapeshifters anthology, at the 'Tony's Thoughts' review site on Wordpress.

I'm sure he won't mind me nicking a couple of his comments and reproducing them here:

"There is more to this book than werewolves. It explores the mythology of various cultures from South American to Northern Europe to give a distinctly global feel to this collection of stories."

"Every story is different but they are all dark and predatory in places. It is well worth a read..."

He seems to have liked it!

You can catch the rest of the review here.  Don't forget the paperback is available from Lulu at the remarkable price of only £4.50.  A nice idea for a Christmas stocking-filler, perhaps?

Monday, November 25, 2013

What's in the fox's pocket?

Just a quick line to say that the Fox Pockets series now has a video trailer available on YouTube.  Not only for the currently available Shapeshifters and Piracy anthologies, but also for various other titles due to hit the book shelves later this year and early next.

In case you've been on Mars the last few weeks and haven't noticed, I have a story called The Boyfriend From Hell in the Shapeshifters volume.  The paperback is available on Lulu right now and the ebook should be coming soon.

You can see more about the book here, and watch the video trailer here.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gleams at Waterstones online

Like most writers I mostly have my head in the clouds so it can take me a while to catch up with new developments.

However, whilst rummaging around on the Waterstones website, I discovered that Gleams of a Remoter World is fully available on waterstones.com - and *cough* probably has been for quite some time.

Pop along to my website for further details and the all-important buying link!

I'm still working on getting the print book into Waterstones book shops.  There are lots of forms to fill in, letters to write and information to look up so it's taking longer than I hoped.  And of course, all that only goes as far as their central buying committee, who may still say no. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tentacles at the ready

Great news today - my latest story is out in the Shapeshifters anthology from Fox Pockets.

The Boyfriend From Hell is a daft little tale involving aliens, birthday presents and showers - and tentacles, of course.  Lots of tentacles.  And if you think your other half is bad, leaving the loo seat up or eating all the biscuits and putting the wrappers back, then I can assure you, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Want a giggle before Christmas?  Then look no further than Lulu, where the book (featuring an impressive sixteen short stories by a range of authors) is available for the very reasonable price of $7.64 (approximately £5).

Monday, November 11, 2013

Walking weekend

Last weekend a combination of bad weather and sheer laziness meant we spent most of the time cooped up indoors.  This weekend we were determined to Get Out, no matter what.

On Saturday we started our Christmas shopping in Kendal.  It seemed as though everyone else in south Cumbria had the same idea since the town was heaving, but we got some cards and a few other bits and pieces which is a good start.

The weather had gradually been deteriorating, and by afternoon the skies had gone black and the heavens opened in a series of torrential, thundery downpours that included hail and even sleet.  Not the best conditions for walking, but we both had twitchy legs so donned boots, waterproofs and brollies and set off past our local waterfall (which, needless to say, was roaring in a very impressive way) and then back by various footpaths.  It isn't exactly a country walk but the autumn colours are spectacular and in spite of getting soaked we rather enjoyed it.

Yesterday was a glorious day from start to finish, so we decided to hang the chores and get our boots back on.  We drove round the other side of the lake to do a walk Dave discovered when he was preparing for the Coast to Coast a couple of months ago.  This starts in the little village of Far Sawrey (not Near Sawrey which is famous for Beatrix Potter's former home, Hill Top) and follows a stream through some idyllic countryside to a cluster of tarns on the hills above the village.  These have the most wonderful names - Moss Eccles and Wise Een - and are surprisingly little-known, which is a shame because the walk is lovely and the reward at the top well worth it.  Moss Eccles Tarn was dark and moody, surrounded by trees with only a brief glimpse of the Coniston fells in the background, but Wise Een Tarn was set like a jewel in open heathland with spectacular sweeping views of most of the central fells, from the Langdale Pikes right round to Wetherlam.  And the highest tops were dusted with snow.


The view from Wise Een Tarn - although the weather was a little different!

Dave had kept very quiet about the view so it was a complete revelation and rather wonderful.  I snapped a load of photos, then we plodded back down the path and called in at the local pub, The Cuckoo Brow, for a nice Sunday lunch.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Yahoo Groups update

Many thanks to a friend who pointed out a way to rescue the situation I blogged about yesterday.

As far as I can tell, the mobile phone requirement is still mandatory, but you can now postpone it.  Whether you can go on postponing it indefinitely I'm not sure, but it will at least give you access to your own Yahoo groups again.

Here's what to do if you find yourself in the same situation:

1.  Log out of Yahoo (not just a group, but Yahoo itself).

2.  Log back in.  At the screen where it asks for your mobile/cell phone number, click 'remind me later'.

3.  This should take you back into Yahoo, but with one notable improvement - you now have access to your groups again.

I'm thinking Yahoo may have responded to a welter of criticism, because the log-in screen I saw today was subtly different from the one I saw when I tried to log in last weekend.  No matter.  I can now access my groups again, and even if it's for a limited period I can at least warn the moderators that I might suddenly vanish in a puff of smoke!

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Yahoo Groups and mobile (cell) phones

If you're a member of any Yahoo Groups, not least for business or professional reasons, then read on, because this will apply to you.

Apparently Yahoo have just changed the terms of membership for Yahoo Groups. They kept this remarkably quiet so I've only found out about it through trying to discover why I couldn't get into my own groups any more!

Basically it's now mandatory to give them your mobile (cell) phone number. No mobile phone number, no membership. There is no way round this, no let-out clause, nothing. Which seems a little... draconian, but presumably they want phone numbers so they can sell them on for advertising. Google also ask for a mobile number from time to time, but they at least have a 'don't want to give it' box you can tick. Yahoo don't. You can't even give a land-line number instead; apparently someone tried and it came back with 'invalid number'.

Last time I tried to log into my groups I got a dialogue box asking for my mobile number. I sure as heck wasn't going to give some vast creepy multinational organisation with a reputation for getting hacked regularly anything as personal as that, so I tried leaving it blank. It took me back to the same box. I tried again, same result. Eventually, in tiny print under the box I noticed a link saying "I don't have a mobile phone", so I clicked that. I was in a hurry and not taking much notice, but I'm pretty
sure (aka 99% certain) that there were no terms and conditions, no warnings, no mention of any penalties.

By clicking that link, I have automatically downgraded my membership to 'mailing list only' rather than full membership of any Yahoo Groups. I am no longer a member of any of my groups, including two groups run by my publisher. I can send and receive email, but that's all. I can't even access my groups to change my email preferences, or to leave the groups. I will never be able to do so.  And there appears to be no way to re-access that mobile phone dialogue box, enter the number of (say) an old or non existent phone, and get my membership back again.

I'm not sure all this is even legal - there was no notification that they would be doing this, and no explanation or warning on screen when they asked for the mobile number. But do it they have, and I just wanted to warn everybody else because it will eventually apply to everybody in Yahoo Groups.

Sorry for the rant!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Gleams on the shelf

My previous attempts to have Gleams of a Remoter World stocked by local bookstores have met with polite but firm rebuffs, so I'm doubly delighted to announce that as of now, print copies are available from The Carnforth Bookshop in Carnforth, Lancashire.

This is a complete Aladdin's Cave of a shop selling books old and new, books fiction and non-fiction, maps, guides, stationery, gifts, calendars, cards, and even more books, in over 14 rooms on three floors of a lovely old stone building on Market Street.  The proprietor has kindly agreed to make a little space on his overflowing shelves for a few copies of Gleams, which he said would stand out on the shelf thanks to the stunning cover art and 'unique' content.

So, if you'd like to explore the shop and pick up a copy of my book while you're at it, the address is 38-42 Market Street, Carnforth, Lancashire LA5 9JX.  Phone number is 01524 734588, and the shop has its own website.

You can even combine the trip with a visit to the Carnforth Railway Heritage Centre, a fascinating museum based at the railway station, which is best known for the fact that they filmed Brief Encounter on the platform.  They've recreated the old ticket office and refreshment room, piled every nook and cranny high with railway and movie memorabilia, and they don't even charge to go in.  We went for the first time on Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Police sex loophole closed

The legal loophole that allowed British undercover police officers to sleep with their targets, or those close to them, is to be closed under a new code of ethics, according to this story on the BBC website.

This is good news for anyone who found themselves on the wrong side of the sheets during an undercover police operation, through very little fault of their own.  However, it's bad news for me because it was this very loophole that formed the basis of the plot in Necessity's Door.  I felt I could get away with using it because it was such a grey area.  Officers who slid into temptation whilst working undercover could always claim it was aiding their cover.  They weren't, technically, breaking the law.  Which meant that although my hero Jake sailed pretty close to the wind, he never became a criminal. 

That won't be the case any more.  I won't be able to use the idea in any follow-ons, sequels, or future stories, because if this new code comes in, it'll be quite clear that officers who sleep with their targets are in breach of the rules.  Of course, the police are as human as the rest of us, and it's always possible one or two will still bend those rules.  But if they do, they'll no longer have immunity from prosecution.   The change in law will clear up that whole grey area.

Less confusing all round, even if it does take away the fodder for future stories...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book launch with a difference

On Sunday we had a rare treat - a trip out to a stately home to celebrate the launch of local author Deborah Swift's latest novel.

Unlike previous events I've attended, this was very much not an official Book Launch (capital B, capital L) with the author 'on duty' and umpteen representatives from the publisher scattered about.  Deborah did read from the book, and a lady from Macmillan came along from the ride, but apart from that it was more a gathering of family and friends, to celebrate an exciting new arrival.  In fact, it had more in common with a christening than a launch!

Deborah writes historical romance, concentrating on everyday folk rather than the kings and queens so beloved of other writers in the genre like Jean Plaidy or Phillipa Gregory.  So it was entirely appropriate that she'd hired a local 'Big House', Leighton Hall, for the afternoon.  The Hall isn't one of those grand stately piles so beloved of the National Trust, where vast echoing spaces are roped off, so the visiting hordes can 'ooh' and 'ahh' from a safe distance.  Instead this is a family home, occupied in one form or other, by one family or another, for over eight hundred years.  The most recent owners are the Gillow family, famous for furniture manufacture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who have turned the place into a comfortable, welcoming home stuffed with interesting examples of their work.  Because of this, and a memorably entertaining guide called Pam, the tour was fascinating.

After that we trooped into the Music Room for a reading from Deborah's novel, A Divided Inheritance, a seventeenth century romp involving feisty heroines and wicked cousins.  Although historical romance isn't really my cup of tea, the reading was light-hearted and entertaining, and felt very much at home in a cosy room with a real log fire blazing on the grate.

And after that, we all trooped off again, this time to the restaurant for a free (and groaningly generous) afternoon tea.  Scones, jam, cream, sandwiches, cake... what more could a girl ask for?

We had to leave early as Dave was heading for Manchester airport later in the evening, to try to beat the incoming Great Storm of St Jude.  (He made it to Manchester okay, but the flight's another story.)  So I missed Deborah's second reading involving wicked Cousin Zachary.

All in all, though, this was a lovely afternoon with friendly people in a beautiful setting, and something I'll be remembering if I ever get to do a book launch of my own.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wet weekend away

We've just got back from a long weekend away in the wilds of the Yorkshire Dales - Swaledale, to be precise.

Dave walked through here on his marathon Coast to Coast slog, and liked it so much he wanted to take me back to the area to show me some of the sights.  Which might have worked really well if the weather had been kind enough to let us see the sights...  It started raining the minute we crossed the Yorkshire border, and carried on raining almost without a break until we crossed back over the Cumbrian border on Sunday, coming home.  When it wasn't actually raining, it was thick fog or thunderstorms, sometimes all at once. 

We never did see much of the scenery, but we had a lovely time anyway.  On Saturday morning we sloshed round the quaint old town of Richmond, then in the afternoon it cleared up just long enough to allow a brief walk onto the moors at the back of the village where we were staying.  The terrain is fascinating - full of industrial archaeology from centuries of lead mining, as well as even more ancient features including earthworks and hill forts.  And grouse.  There are lots and lots of grouse, comical birds which flap off into the undergrowth, squawking, at the least sign of danger.

On Saturday evening we ate in a pub in the village of Reeth, unofficial 'capital' of Swaledale, which watching thunderstorms sweep across the hills.

By Sunday it was pouring again, and although we'd hoped to cross over into Wensleydale to have a look at that, there really didn't seem to be much point.  We came home early, and arrived with gritted teeth in glorious sunshine.  The picture above shows the sort of stunning scenery we might have seen if we could have.  We've already decided to go back and have another go some time next year.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Special offers

To celebrate their second anniversary, Riptide Publishing are running all sorts of deals and special offers throughout October, so keep your eyes peeled.

Both my books are included.  Necessity's Door will be available at a massive 40% off catalogue price, for one week only, between 6-12 October, whilst Gleams of a Remoter World will only cost $3.99, also for one week only, between 20-26 October.

I'll post reminders a little nearer the relevant times, but you might want to stick the dates in your diaries if you don't want to miss out on these great discounts.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fifteen authors

Thanks to fellow author Sharon Bidwell for providing the inspiration for this.  Apparently it's part of one of these mass round-robin affairs where bloggers tag one another to fill in questionnaires.  In this case I wasn't tagged, but Sharon's blog post got the old grey cobwebs drifting about and I thought I'd have a go.

Basically you have to come up with a list of fifteen authors who have inspired you over the years - and preferably without thinking too long or too hard about the names.  I found this surprisingly difficult.  The first half dozen came to me very quickly, but after that I had to scratch my head, dredge up old memories, and even trawl the internet to track down one or two.

The end result, in no particular order, is as follows:

1.  J R R Tolkien.  A massive influence on me from the age of about eleven onwards.  I love the vast narrative sweep, the sheer scope of both world-building and language, and his ability to keep track of every single detail and loose end over three volumes' worth of writing.  Sheer brilliance.

2.  Mary Stewart.  Some of her holiday romance books are a little lightweight but I adore her Crystal Cave/Hollow Hills trilogy which tells the tale of Merlin and Arthur from Merlin's point of view; and I'm also a sucker for any of her books which contain hints of magic.  The Ivy Tree, Touch Not the Cat, and Thornyhold are my favourites, adding to a lifelong love of anything subtly supernatural.

3.  Mary Renault.  I first borrowed one of her books from the library and was gobsmacked that a woman writer had written books about gay men (albeit in the Greek and Roman worlds) and even better, had them published.  A real source of inspiration.

4.  Philippa Pearce.  The author of one of my favourite children's books, Tom's Midnight Garden.  This may well have kicked off my love of time-travel and the unexplained.  The book's atmosphere stays with me to this day.

5.  Patrick Gale.  A more recent discovery and one that almost never fails to immerse me in his worlds, and above all his characters.  Rough Magic is a particular favourite.

6.  Andrew Lang.  Not really an 'author' as such, more of an editor, but I devoured his series of 'coloured' fairy tale books as a kid and loved them all.

7.  Douglas Adams.  His books are brilliant, inventive, and laugh-out-loud funny.  I quite often find that I've been unintentionally using some of his phrases; they have a habit of burrowing into your brain and staying there.

8.  Georgette Heyer.  Although I've read many of her historical novels, and still have a passing fondness for some of them, it's her crime novels that inspired me - especially romps like Why Shoot a Butler and Footsteps in the Dark.

9.  Daphne du Maurier.  I'd give a lot to be able to write like her.  Some of her earliest (and best known, oddly) works are a little too melodramatic for me, but The House on the Strand would be high up on the list of books to take to a desert island.  Again, it's that element of other-worldliness, time travel, and general not-quite-knowing-what's-going-on that does it for me.  That and the brilliant writing, of course.

10.  Dorothy Dunnett.  Each of her Lymond Chronicles novels is my idea of the perfect book to get lost in.  Historical fiction but with a level of research that's quite staggering; you almost get the feeling she lived through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries herself.  And Lymond is a wonderfully flawed hero.

11.  A E W Mason.  Considered quite old-fashioned these days but his yarns were a window to another world when I was growing up and I adored The Three Gentlemen, with its staggering (for the time) premise of reincarnation.

12.  Anne Rice.  I went off her later books but the Vampire Chronicles, and particularly The Vampire Lestat, have been firm favourites for years.  Lestat is a wonderful character - egotistic, hedonistic and impulsive, yet somehow Rice manages to make him sympathetic.

13.  Lynn Ellison.  Included for one book only - a Young Adult title called The Green Bronze Mirror  about a young girl time-travelling to Ancient Rome.  I read it as a young teenager and although I promptly forgot the title and the author, the basic story and atmosphere have stayed with me for over thirty years.  Sadly, I believe the current edition is almost unreadable due to the number of typos and errata; a shame, as I'd quite like to re-read it at some point.

14.  C S Lewis.  I enjoyed nearly all of his Narnia novels (with the exception of The Last Battle, which was just too distressing), probably more than Tolkien at the time.  Sheer escapism for a rather dreamy child.

15.  Last but not least, Leslie Charteris.  The author of the original The Saint books.  Many of them were first published in the 1930s and the style is a little old-fashioned now, but his early titles are a scream - full of action, with a distinctly unheroic hero and flashes of truly hilarious humour.  The television series (both of them) just didn't do Simon Templar justice.

So there you have it.  There are probably all sorts of wonderful authors I've forgotten about, and I might have to come back and tweak the list from time to time.  But that should give you some idea about the sort of books I like, and the sort of writers who've influenced my own work.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Playlist for Gleams

Brit-grit writer Paul Brazill's fascinating guest post '10 Songs From Duffy's Juke Box', listing the tracks that helped to inspire his latest book Roman Dalton - Werewolf PI, struck a chord (if you'll forgive the pun) with me.  I came up with something similar for a guest post during my blog tour for Gleams of a Remoter World, but never got round to posting the list on here.  So here goes.  I couldn't, in the end, come up with ten songs, but here are six that would provide a bit of extra atmosphere if you had them playing in the background whilst reading the novel.

Because Gleams is a ghost story, it's perhaps not surprising that so many of these tracks feature ghosts or otherworldly experiences.

1. Delerium: 'Innocente (Falling in Love)'.  A great introduction to the novel.  Quiet, atmospheric, and the first line ("It's the rain that I hear coming, not a stranger or a ghost") would be strangely appropriate to the very first scene in the barn.

2. Mary Black: 'Leaving the Land'.  For Chris's first visit to the ruined church and abandoned priest's house. The whole tone of the song is a poignant elegy to a home that's been left behind, and a perfect accompaniment to the roofless buildings and toppled stone walls that Chris and Jo find.

3. Japan: 'Ghosts'.  I thought of this during the scene where the ghosts first appear to Chris. The lyrics ("The ghosts of my life Blow wilder than the wind"), and the incredibly spooky vocals of lead singer David Sylvian, still send shivers up and down my spine!

4. Gregorian Chant 'Procedamus in Pace'.  This is the specific track quoted from when Chris visits the ruined Celtic monastery so it would be the perfect backdrop to his experiences there, as well as being beautiful enough and tranquil enough to suit the scenery and the poignant site of the monks' home.

5. The Specials: 'Ghost Town'.  "This town... is coming like a ghost town."  I had this song running through my head when I was writing the scene where Chris goes to Paulie's Liverpool home to try to track him down. The main chorus would be a wonderful refrain to his increasingly frustrating search.

6. Abba: 'The Day Before You Came'. Some people laugh at Abba but their later tracks are often exceptional, both musically and lyrically, and this has long been one of my favourites. The contrast of the singer's dull everyday life with the promise of what happens the day 'you came' would be a great backdrop for Chris as he lives his solitary life in Ireland towards the end of the book. I'm not saying any more for fear of spoiling the surprise!

As far as I know all these tracks are available on YouTube, so why not load them on your pc or e-book reader, and play them during the appropriate sections while you're reading the novel?

Happy listening, and happy reading!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Coast to Coast ps.

In a nice little postscript to my entry about the Coast to Coast walk, it was announced yesterday that The Wainwright Society have raised money for a plaque to Alfred Wainwright, which has been put up at the end of the walk in Robin Hood's Bay.

More details on the story here.

Dave is still plodding and has reached the Yorkshire Dales...

Friday, September 06, 2013

Cross country... and then some

The house is strangely quiet all this week and next, because Dave is away doing the famous (or should that be infamous?) Coast to Coast walk.

For those of you who don't know, this is a 190-mile trek across northern England, from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire.  On route it passes through some spectacular scenery in not one but three national parks - The Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors.

The walk was devised in the early 1970s by the late great Alfred Wainwright, and to find out more about both him and this rather arbitrary cross-country route, head over to my post at The Britwriters Blog where I've explained in much greater detail. 

There are even pictures!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Coming soon

The owner at Fox Spirit tells me that the Shapeshifters anthology should be making an appearance this month, complete with my short story The Boyfriend From Hell.  This is something of a departure from my usual genres - a slightly bonkers little tale about aliens. 

Think you've got the ultimate boyfriend from hell?  One that leaves the loo seat up all the time, or eats the biscuits and puts the empty packet back in the tin?  Believe me, compared to the heroine of this story, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The book is currently 'in production' and I'll post on here the minute it's available to buy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Guest post: British crime author Paul D. Brazill

Today for a complete change I'm pleased to welcome fellow Brit-grit author Paul with a little something about his latest book release.  (I'm actually reading the book as I speak and will review it once I've finished it.)  Over to you, Paul.

Who The Hell Is Roman Dalton?
When a full moon fills the night sky, Private Investigator Roman Dalton becomes a werewolf and prowls The City's neon and blood soaked streets.

Paul D. Brazill’s Roman Dalton - Werewolf PI
is a short, sharp collection of vivid, interconnected noir/horror stories featuring the werewolf PI and the denizens of The City.
The stories are:

Drunk On The Moon
The Missionary
Black Moon Rising
The Brain Salad Murders
She's My Witch
Before The Moon Falls
The collection is available as an eBook from Amazon and Amazon UK.
Roman Dalton even has his own blog:
And Facebook page.
Check them out to see what’s happening with the grizzled cop turned grizzlier private eye.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Last chance

Don't forget, the Riptide special offer period runs out at midnight (US time) tonight.  So if you want to get your paws on a copy of either of my books (Necessity's Door or Gleams of a Remoter World) at a whopping 60% off the list price, hurry over to the Riptide website and stake your claim!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Riptide relaunch and special offers

Riptide Publishing have unleashed their updated, new-look website today with a pared-down look, better search facilities, and a whole host of special deals and offers.

These include both my titles, which are available for one week only at a massive 60% off their usual cover price.  Necessity's Door is included in the 'Red Hot Rentboys' bundle together with three other stories involving various types of prostitution, while Gleams of a Remoter World is included in a brand new 'Read Across the Rainbow' bundle of works involving lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans* main characters.  (Chris, the hero of Gleams, is of course bisexual, although the main focus of the story is still very much the ghost hunt he and his partner go on!)

To check out the new website, or to take advantage of these amazing offers before the closing date of 12th August, hurry over to Riptide Publishing now!

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Windermere as you've never seen it

Last night we went to the cinema to see The Wolverine.  Great film (at least until the ending) and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening out.  Apart from one thing.  During the preliminary adverts they showed this:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_VAMHJjQJU

It's a promotional video for Windermere Reflections, a local environmental pressure/action group who are trying to clean up the lake and its surrounding catchment area.  They have the best intentions, but if you haven't already seen it, be warned.  It may very well be the worst, most amateur, most embarrassing video ever produced.  I've seen things by primary school children that were better, and less likely to make viewers want to hide behind the nearest cushion.  Goodness knows what any visitors to the area thought, if indeed they were still capable of thought after three minutes of this.

Both Dave and I watched between the fingers of our hands, and were highly amused to see the couple in front of us (who also turned out to be local) doing exactly the same.

So go on.  If you want to see Lake Windermere as a blue cardboard cut-out being worn by a female singer while she poses in front of local beauty spots, watch the video.  I can guarantee you won't get the image (or the irritating 'Windermere song') out of your head for hours.  'Dumb Ways to Die' it ain't...

Thursday, August 01, 2013

As red as a...

I did love this story from the BBC local news website for the West Midlands, about a punter's colourful excuse when caught with a known prostitute in his car.

Now I'm wondering if 'buying tomatoes' is going to become the latest euphemism for paying for sex, in much the same way as 'niece' is used to mean 'bit on the side'...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Riptide website overhaul

Just in case anyone is desperately trying to access the Riptide website over the next few days, here's advance warning: the site will be down for a few days while they overhaul their entire site and catalogue.

The end result will be pared down in terms of style, but vastly improved in terms of speed and searchability, with all sorts of new tags, databases and what-have-you to help the reader find what they want.

This apparently entails much poking about in virtual entrails so the website will be 'down' for three to four days at the beginning of August.  I'm told there will be no access from 1st August through to 4th August, and the new site will launch, fully fledged and raring to go, on 5th August.

So if anyone is trying to find out more about my books, or anything else for that matter, please bear with them for a few days.  It sounds as though it'll be worth the wait.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Storms...

The recent spell of hot weather has gone out with the proverbial bang; violent thunderstorms this morning which fried several sets of railway signal equipment and brought down part of a church tower near Manchester.  We didn't have anything quite that dramatic here, but it was quite noisy for a while and the rain came down in buckets for about an hour.  The tall white daisies in the back garden are now mostly horizontal and one or two other things are looking rather sorry for themselves, but after 3 weeks with no rain and hour after hour of blazing sunshine, I can't really complain.

And there's more on the way this evening, apparently.  It's certainly looking rather threatening in the south, and feels like a tropical greenhouse.

It's been baking in my little study all day, but rather to my amazement I settled down with some writing this afternoon, and added part of a new scene to a novella I'm currently working on.  It was only a few hundred words, but still more than I was expecting so a useful bonus.  Here's hoping it's a bit cooler (and a bit less crash-y and bang-y) tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Missed her!

In spite of the heat I was all set to trot down into Bowness just after lunch to join the throng waiting to see and greet the Queen.  All the bumf about the visit I'd seen said she was due in the 'early afternoon', which I took to mean some time between 1pm and 2pm, perhaps later if she'd been held up anywhere.

Just as I was finishing the last few bites of my sandwich I noticed a steady procession of people past the front window: mostly children, some clutching Union Jack flags.  And they were heading away from the lake, not towards it.  Which means the royal party must have arrived not much later than 12 noon, and I missed the whole thing.

Rats...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Royal visit

Exciting times this week as the Queen is due to visit Kendal and Bowness on Wednesday.  I've only ever seen Her Majesty once (as I came out of a job interview in Birmingham city centre many years ago) so I'll probably creep down the hill to see what's going on.  Creep being the operative word, as we're in the middle of a heatwave and it's due to be another scorching day.  On Saturday the temperature briefly rose to the dizzy heights of 31c in our back garden (we took a thermometer out into the shade) and we just about fell over.  After four or five dismal summers on the trot (not to mention last year's effort when it started raining in April and didn't stop again until Christmas) we're just not used to the soaring temperatures.

I just hope the Queen brings a parasol and the sun-screen, because it sounds as though she's going to need them!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Book treat

I've been a fan of Louise Welsh's wonderfully dark fiction for years.  Her writing isn't perfect, but it does break the mould when it comes to thrillers, with main characters that are anything but stereotypical.  I adored The Cutting Room, and although I didn't think The Bullet Trick was quite as amazing, I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  I hadn't realised that she had a new(ish) book out, but a chance encounter with the single book stand in our local supermarket introduced me to The Girl on the Stairs and I bought it on the spot.  A quick skim of the blurb tells me it involves a young woman in Berlin, with suitably intriguing suggestions of dark deeds and ghostly goings-on, literal or figurative.

I can't wait to start reading it...

Monday, July 08, 2013

Things you don't expect to see...

...in a supermarket car park.

Number one - an oyster catcher.  One flew overhead, squawking, as we were loading the car with goodies at the Morrisons in Kendal yesterday.  Quite an unexpected sight, given that we must have been a good ten miles from the nearest coast - and it was heading inland.  Since I had no idea these sea-birds fed or bred away from the shoreline, I feel a bad joke coming on.  Why did the oyster catcher cross the car park?  Answers on a postcard, please.

Friday, June 28, 2013

No names, no jackets

Many thanks to Riptide Publishing for pointing me in the direction of this new(ish) website, which combines a promotional tool for writers with a lot of fun for readers.

Basically writers or publishers submit the first chapter of a book, which is displayed on the site with (as the name suggests) no further identifying details.  No author name, no bio, no cover, just a genre tag and the writing itself.  Right at the end of the excerpt, there's a small link to 'find out what the book is and where you can get it', so at least if you've dipped into something and enjoyed it, you can follow up.

As they themselves say: "No Names, No Jackets is a blind taste test for books, backed by a StumbleUpon-style lucky dip system and a total and deliberate lack of star ratings, likes and reviews. Whether it’s your first book or you’ve written dozens, whether they’ve sold thousands or none at all, whether your cover copy is woeful or superb, whether your jacket design is jaw-droppingly awesome or looks like it was made by a child using MS Paint, all that matters here is the writing..."  You can't help feeling they have a point.

The site is searchable, but only on a randomised basis - either a totally random choice, or a random choice by genre.  This means you can't just go in and search for your favourite author, but you can discover gems that you would never have come across before.  On a whistle-stop tour I found a short story by an author I'd never heard of, and like it enough to follow it back to her web page.  So this really can work, both for readers looking for new reading material, and for authors looking for new readers!

Want to join in the fun?  The pop along to No Names, No Jackets and hit the 'random pick' button at the top of the page.  I believe both my Riptide books (Necessity's Door and Gleams of a Remoter World) are on there somewhere, though it might take you a long and strangely rewarding time to find them.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Does my blog look pink in this?

I've been working away from my usual desk the last few days, using a laptop with a very different screen from my normal pc.

And I've noticed something odd.  On my pc, this blog is all in shades of muted beige and brown, and the background to the invidiual posts is so pale as to be almost invisible.  But on my laptop, that background has a definite pink tinge, which in some lighting conditions looks dark enough to be classed as light red.

It's a little baffling because it's not a colour I've chosen or set in the Blogger controls, and it can make the posts harder to read.

So, does this blog look pink to you?  Is the background getting in the way of the text?  Does it look as though the whole thing's been washed through in strawberry juice, or blood?  If so,  please, please let me know, and I'll go and hack about in the controls again and see if I can tone it down.  I don't want to make anyone queasy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Books theme for Win 7

Anyone who loves books and writing might like the desktop theme on Windows 7 that I've just discovered.  It's probably been available for ages, but then I haven't checked for new themes for ages, so hadn't realised it was there.

There are thirteen different pictures of beautiful old books and architecturally stunning libraries from around the world.

It's in the 'Art (Photographic)' category and is called, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Beauty of Books.

Now, if I could just find a writing-themed template for my blog that was anything like as attractive, I'd be a happy bunny.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pill Hill Press closes

Last week I noticed that my link to Pill Hill Press no longer worked, and that their website appeared to have been removed from the internet altogether.  Further investigation revealed that the press actually closed its doors back in January, although unfortunately nobody had told me.

I had a number of stories in Pill Hill Press anthologies: The Other Side of Silence in their 'There Was a Crooked House' collection; and four separate flash stories in 'Daily Flash 2012'.  So I wrote to ask for clarification on what was happening with rights, sales and the like. 

Normally when a publisher goes under, all rights automatically revert to the relevant authors.  All digital and POD sales cease immediately (or at least as immediately as the owners can let the various distributors know); and print copies only continue to be sold until existing stocks run out.  But when I checked my point of sale links, I found both books appear to still be available in a variety of formats, which isn't ideal.

The owners assure me that all the books will be removed from Amazon and the like in the next 'month or so' - on top of the five months since the press formally ceased trading - and obviously I'll be keeping an eye on things to make sure that happens.  In the meantime, if you happen to see a copy of either book for sale anywhere, might I respectfully request that you don't buy it?  I wouldn't be getting any financial reward and it could well be in breach of contract...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sunday afternoon stroll

One of the nice things about moving to a more rural area is being able to go for long country walks quite literally from the doorstep.

Yesterday we went for a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll without even touching the car, and hit open countryside after less than ten minutes of street slog.  And what countryside!  It might not be the high fells, but the scenery is a stunning mix of woodland and fields, heath and open fellside, criss-crossed by streams, stone walls and ancient tracks.  The path meanders up and down; there are farms with fascinating names like Matson Ground and Old Droomer, and less than two miles from the town you could be in the middle of nowhere.

As to the wildlife, it was pretty spectacular too.  Loads of flowers at last - the warm weather a week or so ago seems to have brought everything out at once.  But also signs of some less common creatures: a raven flapping and croaking overhead; deer tracks by the tarn at Matson Ground; and a strange animal scent nearby that put us in mind, rather forcibly, of big cats in zoos.  There've been tales in the past about a big cat roaming the countryside at the back of Bowness; could this have been proof?  Or just otters in the tarn?  We'll probably never know, but it made for added interest on the walk.

We covered about four miles in just under two hours with frequent photo stops.  The picture here isn't one of mine (I'm still waiting to download my SD card) but shows Old Droomer farmhouse - a perfect example of a seventeenth century Lakeland farmhouse hidden in the back lanes behind Windermere.  Sadly, the farm it used to be attached to is now derelict and it's pretty much surrounded by a modern council estate, but still retains its charm.  If anyone knows where the name comes from, I would love to find out!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ask us a question

You might remember I posted a few days back about the revamped Britwriters Blog.  Now fellow British author Sharon Bidwell has added a new feature to that blog - a page where people can ask us questions about Britain and the British way of life.

As Sharon says, "Want to know about everyday life, our towns, our countryside, our petrol prices, whether tea is as popular here as the jokes would have you believe? Which side of the street we drive on, or what dialects are spoken around the country?"  If so, ask away on the Ask Us a Question page at the blog.  No question is taboo... as long as it's legal, decent, honest and truthful *grin* and we'll always do our best to answer.  Writers basing books in the UK may find this feature especially helpful, but we're happy to answer anyone else's burning questions as well.

You can find the Ask Us a Question page here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Newts, herbs and water wheels

The weather has been far too nice lately to hang around indoors.  Saturday was brilliant from start to finish and we took one look at the chores, shrugged, got the car out and headed up the motorway in the general direction of Penrith instead.  Once there we turned off into a maze of country lanes in the most gorgeous countryside in the Eden valley, and finally ended up at Acorn Bank garden.

This is another National Trust property but unlike most of theirs round here I'd never actually been, and all the pictures looked idyllic.  Sure enough, there was a 'big house' in lovely old red sandstone basking in the sunshine, surrounded by immensely pretty gardens.  The first area included an old garden pond which was absolutely swarming with newts - something I haven't seen for years - and a sprawling rockery.

There's far more to the garden than flowers, though, because it's known as a nationally important collection of herbs and medicinal plants, containing over 300 different varieties.  We saw a sign to the herb garden and thought 'oh yes, parsley and thyme', but there were plants from every corner of the globe, many of which we'd never even heard of, let alone seen growing in this country.  The collection is divided into sections depending on the part of the body they treat (head, heart, skin etc) and it was fascinating to see Medieval childbirth remedies cheek-by-jowl with plants used in ultra-modern chemotherapy drugs.

We could have wandered round the garden (which also included old orchards, beehives, wild-flower
meadows etc) for hours but after a nice salad lunch in the tea room we set off through the woods to the old watermill on the banks of the delightfully-named Crowdundle Beck.  There's been a mill here since about the twelfth century (the original is believed to have been owned by the Knights Templar) although the current building and workings date from about 200 years ago.  While we were there the volunteer miller opened the sluice on the mill leat, diverted water along the newly refurbished chute, and got the waterwheel working so we could see the machinery turning.  Originally there were three separate wheels, each connected to different workings with a different job to do, but only one remains.  It was still fascinating, though, listening to the clunk-creak as it span lazily round, and imagining how it would all have looked and sounded a century or so ago when they still used the building regularly to grind corn.  Swallows buzzed in and out of the windows just above our heads, chickens pecked and scratched in the farm yard at the back, and it was all so Yesterday's Rural Idyll it practically hurt.

Lovely place, though, and well worth a visit.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Gleams is award finalist

I'm even more delighted to announce that the judges at the Bisexual Book Awards included Gleams of a Remoter World in their list of finalists.

The winners were announced on Sunday and Gleams didn't quite make the grade on the night, but I'm not entirely surprised.  One of the main judging criteria (along with quality of writing) was 'quantity of bisexual content' and if I'm brutally honest, the main character's sexuality is only referred to a handful of times, so it's hardly a wonder if the judges felt other books had a stronger claim to the award.

I'm still glowing, though, because being an award finalist makes all the hard work worth while.  Many thanks to the Bi Writers Association for selecting the book and including me.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Boyfriend From Hell

A fun title for a fun new short story.  The Boyfriend From Hell is a tongue-in-cheek romp involving aliens and tentacles which has just been accepted by British micro-press Fox Spirit for their new Shapeshifters anthology.

The collection forms part of their Fox Pockets range, a set of themed anthologies designed to introduce readers to the scope and style of their work.

No word yet on a release date as the stories have only just gone into the editing mill, but I'll post more details as soon as I have them.  In the meantime, you can see the full contents list here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Award nomination for Gleams

I'm delighted to announce that Gleams of a Remoter World has been nominated for a writing award.  The book has been entered in the Best Bisexual Speculative Fiction category at the inaugural Bisexual Book Awards, organised by the Bi Writers Association.

Winners will be announced at the awards ceremony/dinner in New York on 2 June, so I'll be keeping everything crossed until then.

Wish me luck!  (And if you'd like to buy the book to see what all the fuss is about, then feel free to visit my webpage to find out more.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Islands and, er, intrigue

Forgive the long silence but we're just back from a week-long cruise around some of the wilder parts of Scotland and the northern coast of Ireland, operated by National Trust for Scotland (NTS).  For some reason this was billed as 'Islands and Intrigue'; the first bit is fair enough since we visited three separate Hebridean islands (and would have gone to a fourth if the weather had been kinder) but we're still scratching our heads over the 'intrigue'.  Never mind, it was a super break and allowed us to get to some remote and stunning places that we'd never otherwise have seen:

Greencastle, a small village on the Inishowen peninsular on the north coast of the Republic of Ireland.  This is mostly a stopping-off point for bigger attractions such as the city of Derry/Londonderry, and the Giant's Causeway.  Given that it bucketed down all day, we decided against sitting on a coach in the rain for four hours and stayed local, pottering round the Maritime Museum (a delightfully quirky collection of bits and bobs including whale bones, boats and amateur rockets) and then walked as far as the ruined castle on the edge of the village.  Getting on and off the ship's tenders in a force eight gale was, um, interesting, and some of the passengers had a really hairy time of it, but we made it safely and enjoyed a quieter day.

Islay:  One of the inner Hebrides, this is best known for its whisky distilleries, of which there are still about 8 or 9 operational on one small island.  Dave is a big fan of Scotch whisky, so we walked the two miles from Port Ellen to Lagavulin, one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, for a fascinating guided tour.  Unfortunately there were absolutely no refreshments on offer (I even had to beg a glass of water) and part way back my blood sugar began to suffer.  Luckily a guardian angel, in the shape of Fabian, a young German we'd befriended during the guided tour, came to the rescue as he gave us a somewhat illegal lift back in his car - Dave on the front seat and me on Dave's lap!

St Kilda.  This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site twice over (almost unheard-of) as well as being a National Nature Reserve.  It's now owned by the NTS and almost uninhabited since the original inhabitants asked to be re-housed on the mainland in the 1930s.  The old village, much of which lies in ruins, stretches in a crescent just above the main bay with volcanic peaks at its back, and apart from a small army base and some NTS scientists and rangers, the only inhabitants are rare Soay sheep and thousands upon thousands of sea birds.  I don't think I've ever seen such breath-taking scenery and we were lucky enough to get ashore, explore the village, buy a teddy in the tiny gift shop, take about six million photos, and then have a circumnavigation of the islands in the ship once we were back on board.  A truly magical experience.

The Isle of Lewis.  The biggest of the Hebrides (as far as my geography takes me, anyway) and an intriguing if somewhat bleak landscape of dark moorland and inland lochs.  We joined an organised tour by coach to the famous prehistoric stone circle at Callanish (very atmospheric) and an early medieval stone tower, or broch, at Carloway.  This was the only time we ventured on a tour on the whole holiday and we were glad we had, since the only other option was to trudge round the dull streets of Stornoway, the main town on the island.  As it was, we saw more of the island, and had a fascinating talk by a tour guide who really knew her stuff since she was a qualified archaeologist.  I've wanted to see Callanish for years so this was a real treat for me.

Inverie, a tiny village on the ultra-remote Knoydart peninsular on the coast of Scotland.  The whole of this peninsular is cut off from the mainland road system; the only way to reach it is by boat, or by a sixteen-mile slog across some very difficult terrain.  I was expecting the village to be primitive to say the least but actually it was a glorious surprise - pretty, welcoming, and set like a jewel in the most amazing surroundings of mountains, woodland and coast.  We did a 'Knoydart in a Knutshell' walk from a leaflet, around two and a half miles taking in some of the varied elements of the area, then had a really nice lunch in the local tea shop, before setting off for another two mile hike along the coast, dodging frequent heavy showers of sleet.  The icing on the cake was hearing several cuckoos trying to out-cuckoo each other in the surrounding woods.

Rum.  The last day should have involved a trip to the island of Rum, one of the so-called Small Isles.  Sadly the weather had deteriorated hugely with a Force Nine gale, lashing sleet and snow showers, and a heavy swell on the sea.  The captain tried to moor and launch one of the tenders but was beaten back, and every other port he tried was the same story.  Even places that are normally dependent on (desperate for) tourists told him to stay away, so in the end he chose a route for the most scenic sailing tour he could find, including a circumnavigation of Rum itself, a sail-by of Fingal's Cave on Staffa, and a cruise up Loch Linnhe as far as Oban.  The latter was quite sentimental for us since that's where we spent our honeymoon, but we'd never seen it from the sea before.

All in all a wonderful experience and one we'd quite happily repeat.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Britwriters Blog

Several years ago now a group of British writers, including yours truly, set up The Britwriters Blog as a place to showcase Britain, the British way of life, and (of course) British writers.  Gradually we all got busy with other things and the blog lapsed, but given the recent boost in interest in all things British after last year's Jubilee and Olympics festivities, we've decided to try to resuscitate it again.

After much messing about with defibrillators and the kiss of life, there are now some new posts on the site.  So, if you'd like to read more about all things British, as well as finding out about us and our books, then pop over to The Britwriters and feel free to poke about in the archives and leave a comment.  Topics range wildly from Tolkien to M.I.5 so hopefully there's something of interest for everyone!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Beating writers' block

There was an amusing article in The Guardian yesterday about how writers get past writers' block.  It was less a 'how to' manual, and more a look at the weirder methods employed by some well-known writers.  Dan Brown, apparently, hangs upside down on a special frame while wearing gravity boots.  When I told one of my friends, she said it explained a lot.  I'd better not comment on that one, except to say that if I tried hanging upside down I'd either get a headache or fall off and break my neck.  Neither of which is all that conducive to writing.

So how do I find inspiration?  Well, sometimes a soak in the bath helps.  I'm not sure why, unless it's the total relaxation that frees up my brain from all those little everyday worries.  Other than that, it's just a case of plodding along.  I'll leave the hanging about to the bats.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Sutra

Not the 'kama' one but something very different.  Last night we went with our friends to Birmingham Hippodrome to see the dance troupe Sutra perform.  Sutra are the brainchild of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and feature set designs by Anthony Gormley (of Angel of the North fame) and seventeen ShaoLin buddhist monks.

At its most basic level you could say the performance was a bunch of men pushing wooden crates around a stage to some rather discordant modern music.  In reality it was so much more than that.  The boxes created patterns, objects, even stories (men jumping from a cliff into a boat; a lotus flower opening) whilst the monks' mixture of kung fu and tai chi was awe-inspiring - by turns graceful and explosive.  There were even some lovely touches of humour.

The performance only lasted a little over an hour but the level of physical effort involved in lugging the boxes round the stage and doing martial arts in, around and over them was so extreme that we really couldn't have asked for more.

An unusual evening but a very rewarding one.

At a glance I can't find a website for Sutra but you can see more details at the Birmingham Hippodrome webpage here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And the first book is...

The brand new public library in Birmingham is getting ready to open its doors later this year and staff have already started transferring the contents from old to new building.  It's a Herculean task - apparently they will be moving over 1,000 crates of books, papers, journals, cds, maps and gawd knows what else across every single day for the next three months.

It's an exciting time all round, and to involve the public a little more, the library ran a poll to choose the first book to be reshelved.  There were some interesting choices on the top ten including, unsurprisingly, The King James Bible, as well as classics like Alice in Wonderland, 1984, and Paradise Lost.

But the book that won, and that was carefully placed on a shelf all by itself by council leader Albert Bore, was Tolkien's The Hobbit.  It's particularly fitting - not only is it a great book that appeals to adults and children alike, but the author had strong links with Birmingham for much of his life.

I just wish the new library building was as endearing, or likely to prove as popular for future generations.  I can only think of concertina wire whenever I look at it.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Town walls and tulips

We've just got back from a trip away to the Netherlands.  Dave had business meetings out there and for once I went with him, as a colleague offered to put us both up for a few nights.

We had a smashing time.  The colleague's apartment is in Brielle, a small town on the coast just south of Rotterdam.  The surroundings are a little lunar and industrial - mile after mile of refineries and docks - but the town itself is old, pretty, and fascinating.  It's mostly built inside an old 'star fort', with high town walls and a network of moats and canals, and many of the buildings date back to the 15th century or even earlier.  There's a colossal church, an arsenal, a windmill (well, this is the Netherlands) and lots of very pretty houses, shops and restaurants.  The picture above shows the main square, with The Hooftwacht restaurant where we had a wonderful meal, and made friends with the local cat, one night.

I had great fun poking about while Dave was at work, and then on Tuesday came a real treat, as another colleague's wife was also visiting and also kicking around on her own.  The two of us jumped in a car and drove over to the world-famous gardens at Keukenhof, and boy, was it worth the effort.  On the way we passed some of the famous tulip fields, where vast swathes of countryside are lit up in improbable shades of pink, yellow and blue as the bulbs come into flower.  And the gardens themselves are magnificent, with acres of bulbs, woodland, water features, and pavilions stuffed with what looks like every known variety of tulip in the world.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around on a lovely sunny afternoon, treated ourselves to coffee and cake and even sat outside to eat it. 

I took simply heaps of photos at the gardens (some of which even came out) and a few more around the streets of Brielle.  I'll try to post a few of the best on here in the next few days, so watch this space.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Broadband wobbles

A quick word of warning that I may go off air rather suddenly, and not come back for a day or so.  This is the week that we're finally swapping internet providers, and although it all sounds straightforward enough, my betting is it won't be.  One, the new router needs to arrive.  Two, Sky will switch off the old service... sometime... during the day... with no advance warning of when.  Three, the old router needs to be unplugged and replaced with the new one, with all the right wires in all the right sockets.  And four, BT will then switch on our shiny new service... sometime... during the day... with no advance warning of when.

And Dave's away.

I foresee difficulties - the router won't have turned up, or Sky will kill the old service at midnight and BT not set theirs up until 11pm, or I won't be able to get the new router to work.

So if I do suddenly vanish mid-post, it'll be because of that, and not because I've just been kidnapped by aliens.  On balance, the aliens might be less trouble...

Friday, April 12, 2013

How much??

Every now and again I check availability on some of my older book titles, just to be sure the links aren't broken and I'm not leading readers up the garden path.

Imagine my surprise earlier this week when I checked Amazon for 'Men of Mystery', the anthology containing my short story Any Means Necessary, only to find the hardcover version listed at a staggering $9,999.63.  Yes.  That really is nearly ten thousand dollars.  It's not a typo or a misprint. 

I'm not even sure the book was ever available in hardcover, so what the heck is going on?  The answer, rather surprisingly, turned up in a back copy of Dave's New Scientist magazine.  Apparently sellers on Amazon use software to track and out-price their rivals, often on a daily basis.  Seller A spots that seller B is offering a book at a slightly higher price than s/he is, so uses the software to set a higher price accordingly.  Seller B's software then raises his/her price, so seller A has to raise his/her price again, and so it goes on.  Readers of New Scientist had come across books, apparently legitimately for sale at quite ridiculous prices.  One copy of Recent Advances in Epilepsy, for instance, clocked in at a whopping $59,780,802,831,736.00 - which according to New Scientist is "...nearly four times the US national debt".

I'm pleased to see that no countries will have to bankrupt themselves to buy a hardcover copy of 'Men of Mystery', but for any readers out there tempted to try to order it, I'd have to say I advise against it...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Gleams on special offer

STOP PRESS - Riptide Publishing are holding a massive spring backlist sale to celebrate, well, spring.  All the books on their catalogue that are more than three months old are discounted by between 30-50%, and that includes Gleams of a Remoter World.

Want a treat but sick of chocolate after one too many Easter eggs?  Then why not buy yourself the e-book at only $3.49 - at that price you've got no excuse not to!  Print versions are discounted too.  To get your sticky mitts on one, hurry along to the Riptide catalogue before the offer ends.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Time Team petition

Time Team has long been one of my favourite programmes on television.  Over the years they've made some remarkable discoveries, and been realistic and brave enough to admit it when they haven't.  So it was with great sadness that I heard a few weeks ago now that Channel 4 wouldn't be showing any more episodes, after a wonderful thirteen years.

It seems lots of other fans of the programme feel the same way, and some of them have set up an online petition to save the programme, either by encouraging another channel to pick the series up, or at the very least have all episodes released on dvd (something I didn't realise hadn't already been done).

If, like me,  you're passionate about archaeology and think Time Team was easily the most intelligent, down-to-earth programme about the subject on television, you might want to add your name to the growing list (nearly 4,500 when I signed a few minutes ago).

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/time-team-should-continue-on-tv.html

Friday, April 05, 2013

Amazon buys Goodreads

Or should that be 'Amazon buys English'?

There's been a lot of media coverage the last few days about the news that Amazon have just acquired social networking/review site Goodreads.  Most of the coverage is pretty negative - readers worried they'll lose their ability to post impartial reviews, authors concerned that poor or misinformed reviews will now follow them onto Amazon.  But amongst all the soul-searching there was one spark of humour, in this brilliant bit of sarcasm/satire by Michael Bourne on The Millions.  It gave me a much-needed lift and I'm still giggling at the ending. 

Many thanks to Sharon for passing it on.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Easter shivers

Easter Day can be a bit deadly if you're not particularly religious - everywhere shuts and there aren't even any Christmas presents to open.  The last couple of years we've been badly caught out, deciding to go somewhere only to be greeted by locked gates or car parks with their barriers down.  So this year we prepared a little better, and came up with a shortlist of local places to choose from.  On Sunday, we picked one at random and popped out for the afternoon to Coughton Court.  It's a spectacular Elizabethan manor house, owned by the National Trust, which we hadn't visited for years.  In fact, the last time we went I'd been seriously ill and was creeping round like an elderly sloth.  We thought it would be nice to see it properly and enjoy it more.

If only it had worked out like that.  Of course, National Trust properties are pretty much the only places open on Easter Sunday, so half the West Midlands had descended on the place. We got one of the last overspill parking spaces (muddy field, glad of the 4x4), then had to queue for ten minutes in a draughty shed for a 'ticket' even though we're members.  Then they told us there was an hour and a half wait to get into the house.   That's fine, we said.  We'll find something to do while we wait.  Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea.  The shop was packed, the second hand book stall was packed, the restaurant was so packed people were practically sitting on each other's laps, and the only other thing to do was walk round the gardens and grounds.  In a temperature of 3 degrees celsius.

We tried, we really did. We went all round the garden twice, then found a woodland walk and a riverside walk and plodded along those, then went in the little estate church. And there was still over an hour to kill, and we were frozen to the marrow and a bit fed up. There wasn't even much to look at in the garden because all the plants are so far behind. So I'm afraid we told the staff we'd had an urgent phone call, surrendered our tickets, got back in the car and came home again.  So much for Easter Sunday out.  Next year I think we'll give up and go abroad!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tolkien quiz

Yesterday was Tolkien Day, apparently, and to celebrate The Guardian ran a fun Lord of the Rings quiz.  All you have to do is read the selected passages and decide where the characters were at the time or what was about to happen to them.

I'm amazed to say I got eight out of ten right which must earn me the right to swank.  Then again, I've been reading Tolkien since I was ten years old and can still quote chunks from Lord of the Rings, so I'd have been embarrassed if I'd got any less than that!

You can find the quiz here - good luck.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What happened to spring?

The official first day of spring was a couple of days ago now.  According to the weather reporters, it was three whole weeks ago.  And yet winter keeps on keeping on.

The forecast for overnight and today was terrible - four inches of snow, strong winds, blizzards on the hills, even the motorways struggling to cope, let alone the ordinary roads.  In the event, it isn't quite as bad as predicted... or at least, not yet; but it's not exactly pleasant.  It's been snowing since the early hours, and has settled in parts.  Some of the high-level routes in the county are already closed.  It's blowing a gale which is sweeping the fallen snow into drifts.  And it's 1 degree celcius.  At the end of March.  (As a useful comparison, a year ago the temperatures got up to 20 degrees.)

As I type the snow is intensifying and starting to settle more.  I've got a feeling that before it gets better it's going to get much, much worse.  Luckily the house is warm and I've got enough food in to survive for several days, even if the town gets cut off.  It would be nice to see even a glimmer of sun, though, or go outdoors without seven layers of clothing and heavy boots.  It would be nice if spring were just, well, spring.

Even my daffodils have got snow on their heads!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sweating blood

Just how can something so short be so difficult?  The other day I spotted a call for submissions for a 'pen portrait' - a description of a particular type of character in around 200 words.  The piece needed to be in either second or third person point of view and the subject of this particular call was 'hypochondria'.

Most of my family have been obsessive about their health one way or another, so it seemed like a rich seam to mine.  I recalled one particular incident, which was brief but quite dramatic and illustrated the theme quite well, and managed to reproduce it in just under 200 words.  And thought I was happy.

This morning I've had another look, and have come to the conclusion that it isn't in second person point of view at all.  That particular style is notoriously difficult to pull off, and clearly I haven't pulled.  What I seem to have done is wandered into first person point of view, but addressed to 'you' as the other character.  So I decided to shift it into third person, which is at least easier to use, and work from there.

And even that hasn't worked!  It's in third person, but parts of it are still from another character's point of view and I can't seem to shift it.  I'm going to have to think very hard about this one, because the magazine I want to send it to is pretty picky and I need to get it right.  You wouldn't think 200 words could be so tricky...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sky broadband update

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I was grumbling about our terrible broadband service under Sky Connect, and the fact that they'd secretly applied 'traffic management' (ie slower download speeds) to us at busy times.

Well, we've switched providers!

BT have been widely advertising their new 'Totally Unlimited' service (almost certainly in response to news and/or grumbles about Sky's policy) so today Dave phoned them and said, could they absolutely guarantee that they would never apply traffic management to the service, even by invoking some loophole in the small print.

And they said yes, they absolutely could guarantee it. Under no circumstances whatsoever will they limit our broadband service, operate traffic management at busy periods, or do anything else that will adversely affect our download speeds. So we've gone with them. It'll take a few weeks to set everything up, but by mid-April we'll be shot of Sky and hopefully have decent full-speed broadband in the evenings and at weekends.

Sky really aren't doing themselves any favours with this one...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Password aggravation

I'm on so many different sites these days, all with different passwords and log-in details, that I've completely lost track and can't remember *any* of them.

Last week I thought up a really good new password, totally personal to me (but without the usual birthdays or husband's names etc), that nobody would ever be able to guess in a month of Sundays. Today I thought I'd set about changing one or two of the odder ones to this new one.

Talk about frustrating. So far I've tried two. Google (for this blog and various other sites) wouldn't accept it because it was 7 digits and they insist on 8. I had to add something silly to get it to accept it, so now I probably won't be able to remember it any more than the old one.

Then I tried Wordpress and they were even worse. They didn't mind the 7 digits, but refused utterly to accept the new password because it was 'too weak' even though it's already a mix of letters and numbers. Kept telling me I *had* to have a mix of upper and lower case letters. In the end I gave in and made one of the letters upper case, even though that would have been harder to remember again. It came back with more red stuff on the screen, saying it was *still* too weak and I had to have 'special characters' (like ? or £). It simply will not accept anything without. I had to give up in the end, and keep my old password, which is also 'weak' by their new definition, and much easier to hack or guess than my new one would have been.

It seems utterly mad that you can't now change your own password to something that you, yourself, will be able to remember and re-use. Make it too weird and you simply have to write it down somewhere to memorise - and where's the security in that?