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).


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!