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Saturday, 27 December 2014

I suffer from a terrible lack of dates, and stamina jelly. Which isn't a thing, but should be.

When I was young..ahem, I mean younger obviously, I used to think that the days between Boxing Day and New Year didn't have any dates attached to them.  Not dates like
despite this being the period when these things are all that stand between us and scurvy, or some kind of turkey-induced coma, but the kind of dates that give the year a nice rounded shape.  I thought that we sort of stopped counting at December 26 and there was a blank on the calendar until we resumed with January 01 of the next year.  But then, I also thought that 'stamina' was the jelly stuff in dogfood (not my fault, in my defence, the adverts said Pedigree Chum was 'packed full of stamina' and I just made the slightly dodgy deductive leap - hey, I was about four and I had no idea what 'stamina' was...).  So this period between the overeating of Christmas Day and kicking off the New Year always became known as the Dead Days. 

The time when there's usually no work to go to (if, like me, you work in a school, I know that shop workers have it harder, and loads of service industries are beavering away), there's still far too much chocolate loitering around and usually an undiscovered tub of Cheesy Footballs rolling around under the bed, and a kind of heavy stupor about the days.  Every inch of me knows that I should be using this time productively (hey, I've got a book to finish) but my brain refuses to co-operate because it knows that there's another box of Orange Matchmakers behind the sofa and it will not work until every last calorie has been hoovered up.  By which time, of course, my stomach has come to the party and insists that it can't possibly do anything further until it's had a nice lie down and, possibly, a cup of tea.  Whereupon my eyes agree that they are shutting up shop for the day.  So, quite frankly, getting my outlying regions to work together for long enough to produce this blog post, is a bit of a triumph.
Roughly how my body feels right now. Except the willy. Ignore the willy.
So I think I might just give in to the whole 'lie down and eat' thing. Just for a few more days... I mean, there aren't even any real days yet, are there? Once I can start counting down 2015, I promise I'll do some things, but until then...pass me the Matchmakers and put the kettle on, would you?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Very Merry Christmas to my follower - I celebrate the season by watching thumping to music...

You may remember that some time ago I was persuaded to go to the ballet.  Yes, yes, I know you know that I only went because there was chocolate and nothing on the TV..  Anyway.  I was fairly traumatised by the experience of sitting watching men's groins going up and down (I know that, for some of you, this is verging on being a hobby, but I am a person of taste and decency...well, taste. Well, all right, neither of these, but men's groins are for life, not just for Christmas) and vowed never to return.

I was never a ballet kind of girl, you see. I've always had the kind of shape that makes a house brick look aerodynamic, and all the natural grace of a pebble in a pond.  I went for the horse-riding side of girlhood, where being five feet six inches tall meant that I should have ridden horses but having legs that make up a little less than one-eighth of my height meant that I had to ride little tiny ponies, otherwise I looked like a pea on a drum, with the result that, in fact, I looked like I was into equine oppression. 

Well today I made the return trip, somewhat against my better judgement. This time it was to see a performance by the Bolshoi ballet, relayed live to our local Arts Centre - yes, all right you cheeky bugger, we have Art here in Yorkshire!
Art. This is us, having it.
 
And, do you know, it was rather lovely?  Made me feel all Christmassy, bordering on jolly and, right at this minute, that is a pretty tough thing to do.  What with the house needing cleaning from rafters to floorboards, the tree having only been purchased this morning, presents still needing to be wrapped and all that. Plus, this is the Winter Solstice and I should be out there lighting a fire and feasting and celebrating the return of the sun, but I've barely got the energy to turn on the electric blanket, dunk a biscuit in my tea and wonder whether it's going to rain again or not.

So.  From my electrically heated bed, I raise a HobNob to you all and wish you a very Happy Festive Season - may you get everything you ever wanted, and if you don't, I hope they kept the receipt...

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Go easy on the gin. x

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A little pre-Christmas panic

Okay, okay,  No, I can do this... Just breathe.....ahhhhhh. No, not like that, that makes me look as though I'm blowing out candles whilst massively constipated...

Ahhhhhh....

That's better.  Yes, as if my self-imposed calmness hadn't already alerted you, I have just realised that we have slipped, as if on a buttered banana skin, into the festive season - ie, sideways, arms flailing and shouting 'whhaaaaahhhhh!' It is that time of year again when we become inexplicably obsessed with getting that strange 'thing' off the back of the cooker that has been there since The Great Baking Incident of last May, steam cleaning the carpets and baffling the dog by attempting to dust down the back of his bed.  Never mind the buying, wrapping and dispersal of gifts, decorating the tree and sending the cards, Christmas, for me, is mostly associated with stain removal, dusting and other elements of housework which I am sure have names but with which I am insufficiently familiar to be able to identify.

Nope, no idea.  Anyway, yesterday was the day of our RNA Chapter Christmas meal, which took place at the home of the lovely Lynda Stacey. And her house is beautiful! It smelled of Christmas and had a trifle in it... I mean, the trifle was on the table, not like it was standing in the porch greeting allcomers, because that would be odd...but anyway TRIFLE, people!  I feel towards trifle much as I do towards HobNobs and Tony Robinson, although I mostly have my 'trifle feelings' around Christmas, whereas Tone and the HobNobs are pretty perennial.

So, anyway, there was trifle.  And crackers and hats.  And then I remember that, not only do I not have any trifle around for Christmas, I don't have any crackers. Or food. And I haven't dusted down the back of the dog's bed, and there's only ELEVEN DAYS TO GO - ten, if, like me, you stop counting on Christmas Eve and take to your bed with a sherry bottle and a family-sized pack of mince pies. The Day Job (hereafter known as TDJ. not to be confused with RDJ...

..because there are absolutely no points of symmetry AT ALL, sadly) ends on Friday, which gives me a total of five (or four, if you discount the 'day in bed with sherry') days to get everything done! And now I'm making that noise again, so, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and bake something random, whilst polishing the mop bucket, to give myself an air of control over the whole thing...

 
 
 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

An Interview with Liam Livings, who is a most pleasant young man, even if he doesn't like big dogs...

This week, to give you all a bit of a break from my constant whittering, which you bear manfully, I am giving you a treat! No, it's not chocolate. No, it's not kittens either - it's an interview with the truly fabulous Liam Livings.
So, once I'd got him strapped into the Questioning Chair...what?  Doesn't everyone have a Questioning Chair?  If not, why not, they are most valuable for exercises such as this.. I asked Liam some questions about his latest novel 'And then that happened'.


Firstly, introduce yourself...

I’m Liam Livings, I write gay romantic fiction, with British humour and lots of sparkle.
I’m a cat lover, an amateur baker, a classic car enthusiast. I love camp trashy films
http://www.liamlivings.com/blog/my-top-10-camp-classic-films and dramas that
make me cry (Brothers and Sisters, Six Feet Under, Broadchurch, Walk Away And I
Stumble) I love to read *widely* from escapist glitz, some gritty(ish) crime, celebrity
autobiographies and popular romantic fiction. I live in the Essex Golden Triangle
– made popular by TOWIE. And I embrace all of its highlights, fake tan, handbags
on one arm, designer hairstyles (that’s just the men) whole heartedly. I have family
connections there so when we moved here from central London it was a bit like
moving home. Mum worked as a trainee hairdresser in the salon five minutes walk
from where we live now.
You can connect with Liam:
Twitter @LiamLivings
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/liam.livings
blog http://www.liamlivings.com/blog

I have no idea why Liam's bit is so..well...paragraphular.  It's not like he talks, you know, all those spaces... anyway, onwards and upwards.

Now give us the 'elevator pitch' for your book...

It’s 1999 and 28-year-old Dominic’s carefully planned suburban life with his boyfriend
Luke is perfect. His job as a nurse, his best friend Matt, his relationship with his
parents, everything is just right. He and Luke have been together ten years, seen
each other through friends’ deaths and their parents’ ups and downs, and even had
a commitment ceremony.
Gabe isn’t happy with his boyfriend, but he stays with him, because, well it’s
complicated.
Fate throws Gabe into Dominic’s life. And then that happened. Gabe’s open
relationship, impulsive nature, enthusiasm for life and straight talking advice are
fascinating to Dominic. They’re friends, they click over a shared love of Goldie Hawn
and Gabe shows Dominic there can be more to life than planned and safe. So why
can't he take his own advice?
And Then That Happened is about finding a new kind of happiness, even when what
you have is already perfect. And how sometimes perfect isn’t quite what it seems.
It's available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

So I want all of you to rush over there directly and purchase said book, right?

Dog or Cat?

Cat. I love dogs, but only small dogs (see my answer later). But there’s something
about cats, their only wanting to be affectionate on their terms, and on special
occasions that I admire. When a cat sits on your lap after it’s been fed, that’s a really
magical moment, I think.

Huh.  Liam has, I think you can tell, never met my dogs. Or my cats, either - nothing magical about Zach sitting on your lap, just a faint, indefinable smell.

Favourite T shirt slogan?

Hello Sailor! (in pale blue on a grey T shirt I bought at Brighton Pride many years
ago. It always got looks whenever I wore it.) I’d like one that said ‘I’m Liam, fly me’
but I think that would have worked better when I was single, and in the first flushes of
youth...

What would you spend a million pounds on?

I’d buy a slightly larger house (making sure it was mortgage free) a bit further into the
Essex countryside with a barn and ‘carriage’ driveway (yellow crunchy gravel and my
initials in the gates – it’s Essex obvs) and I’d buy some classic cars – a Citroen DS,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_DS Citroen SM http://en.wikipedia.org/
wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_SM (I like my cars, weird, seventies and French). I’d give my
brother and sister in law enough to buy them a house without a mortgage. I’d take
me, Mum and my brother on holiday with our partners. And I’d put the rest in the
bank (if I were in charge of spending, rest assured there would be some left for the
bank.)

Dairy produce, absolute necessity or food of the devil?

Let me put it to you this way – I don’t smoke, I hardly drink, but I have a chocolate
crate in the under stairs cupboard. It is *always* stocked with various chocolate
goodies, biscuits, Crunchies, Fry’s orange creams, Dairy Milk Tray, etc. So without
dairy products I’d not be able to have all that. So an absolute necessity. I always
have organic full fat milk – I like to live a bit dangerously you see ;-)

Look, here is a man who has a SPECIAL CHOCOLATE CRATE!! Never mind buying his book, we should have him framed...

When expecting short-notice visitors, where do you hide the mess?

I very rarely have short-notice visitors – I think it’s a London thing. People in London
never ‘just pop in’ on people, it’s always planned. The only person who’d drop in
short notice-ish is Mum, who’s 2hrs drive away, and I’d leave any mess around
because 1) she’s family 2) her house is hardly a show home from the Ideal Homes
Exhibition.

Acres of wilderness or busy city?

Halfway between the two – suburbia. Mum lives in the New Forest in a tiny village,
but it’s only 20mins from Southampton or Salisbury. I’m an hour from central London,
or a short drive to open countryside of Essex. Compromise is my watchword, I feel.

Would you prefer to meet an emu or a moose?

An emu – I’d want to see how small its head was and how long and powerful its legs
were.

If you were a dog, what breed would you be?

A Papillon – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papillon_%28dog%29 a toy spaniel. Fancy
looking, playful, lots of running about.

Cocktails or straight up vodka?

Neither – I make a terrible drunk. I usually end up in tears or doing a multicoloured
yawn onto the floor, or both. So I seldom drink, and rarely drink to get drunk. I may
have a snowball with a glace cherry or a frangelico at Christmas, but apart from that
a half of bitter and I’m done.

Why write romance?

Because those are the stories that come to me. I enjoy writing about human
relationships, love, loss and that’s what *I think* romance is about.

Here is the cover of Liam's Latest...

..which I trust you are rushing out to buy right at this moment, in fact..oh.  They've gone.  Let's hope they've gone to Amazon and are not, right at this moment, attempting to gain access to the chocolate crate...

Sunday, 30 November 2014

An 'interview' with my hero, Coming Soon stuff, and ...look the book is out tomorrow, I'm distracted. Just ..you know, be gentle with me.

The next couple of weeks are going to be a little bit different around here...

No, no, I'm not going to suddenly start talking sense or stop posting pictures of my kittens or anything, that would be mad.  But firstly, I've been tagged or 'dropped in it' as we technical people say by two of my Choc Lit mates to do a character post about my hero and, since the book comes out as an e-book TOMORROW, PEOPLE, SERIOUSLY!!!, I thought this would be a good idea.  And next week, as a little treat for you, I'm interviewing the totally fabulous Liam Livings about his new release (if you want to read up about it first, go here, and there will be pictures and a proper interviewy type thing and everything and you'll get to hear about someone who isn't me, which I am sure will come as a great relief to you all.  Plus Liam is lovely, so, you know. Not me.

Now.  In honour of the release of 'How I Wonder What You Are' (click to purchase and everything...) I am following the unutterably gorgeous Chris Stovell (click all you want, you can't buy her, but you can see her books and her blog) who writes books so atmospheric you can smell the sea as you are reading, and  Angela Britnell, whose latest book Celtic Love Knot is set in Cornwall, where I used to live, and I know is also full of the smell of the sea but in a good way, not like seaweed and old mackerel or anything.


These are they.  I don't know how to make them go side by side or I would.

Now I'm supposed to tell you things about my hero from 'How I Wonder What You Are', if 'hero' is the right word for a slightly neurotic, phobic astrophysicist with control issues and more brain than he can safely be left in charge of.

1.  What is the name of your character?

Phinneas Baxter.  Doctor Phinneas Baxter, PhD, thank you very much.  He worked hard for that doctorate and he's bloody well going to use the title now he's got it.  He's more usually known as Phinn, although his friend Link calls him Bax.  Or 'dickhead' for short. 

2.  Is he fictional or an historic person?

Oh I sincerely hope he's fictional, because someone this accident-prone running through history is going to cause an awful lot of wars.  And explosions. Although he's absolutely fine with everything that's more than a million miles away, he's a bit...well...klutzy with anything that he's in actual physical contact with.

3.  When and where is the story set?

It's very much in the here and now, and set in a fictional village called Riverdale, up on the heights of the North York Moors.  Steep hills, brooding moors, lots of bracken and heather, with a river running through it, crossed by a medieval pack horse bridge.  It's like Wuthering Heights without the consumptive coughing.

4. What should we know about Phinn?

His parents are two of the cleverest scientists on the planet. He was conceived as a thought-experiment, brought up travelling the lecture circuit and then dropped in a slightly-less-than-top-range pre-prep school aged four, where he met Link, and the two of them have been practically inseparable ever since.  He's good looking, in an academic sort of way, funny, sensitive, and, since his wife died in tragic circumstances, a widower.  All in all he sounds like quite a catch, doesn't he?  But Phinn is afraid of so many things....

5.  What is the main conflict?  What messes up his life?

Phinn is his own conflict, and he messes up his own life.  He, and our heroine Molly, have a lot of personal issues to sort out, both alone and together, before they can ever contemplate any kind of relationship.  He's so clever it hurts.  But that's not always enough, when it comes to liking someone.

6.  What is the personal goal of the character?

Like most of us, Phinn is just trying to get by.  He's come to Riverdale to hide, to escape, to lick his wounds and possibly to write a book.  But squatting in a house with no electricity, no running water and only a dubious septic tank between him and typhoid is probably not the best thing he ever did with his life, particularly when the Universe seems to think that he and Molly should get together.

There.  I hope this whets your, not inconsiderable, appetites for the book.  As I said, it's out tomorrow as an e-book and, hopefully, in early May as a paperback.  Now, as I am The Place Where Memes Go To Die, I don't have anyone to tag to follow me, but I would like to draw your attention to all of my fellow Choc Lit writers anyway.  Go over there and check them out, we've got fantasy, paranormal, historicals, time-slips, contemporaries - if you can't find a shed load of books that you love, then I'll...well, I'll.... I'll be very surprised.  And I shall probably come round and shout through your letterbox.
http://www.choc-lit.com/

Sunday, 23 November 2014

No man is an island. Except, I suppose, the Isle of Man. Why writers need friends...

Now, it's a matter of record that I spend most of my waking hours being curmudgeonly but, at the same time, very enthusiastic and outgoing.  It's probably best if you think of me as a sort of Golden Retriever with a thorn in its paw. 
My approximate face
Also, I spend an enormous amount of time on my own, talking to people who don't exist and yet have very firm and definite views on things and who, in some extreme cases, talk back.

I think you will agree that neither of these states is ideal and that, left to myself, I would wear my pants on my head even more than I do.  I would like the pencils up the nose and the hopping to be taken into consideration in this.  So, you may ask, but probably from a safe distance, what keeps me hanging on to the tiny little bit of sanity that is left to me, by my fingernails and a short, but snappy, amount of knicker-elastic?

Friends, basically.  Work friends, writing friends, old friends that I have known for more years than any of us like to count, but we remember the days before photocopiers, when school handed out Roneo'd sheets that were purple and smelled of alcohol.  RNA friends. New friends.  People whose names I am not certain of, (actually, given my tendency to forget almost anything that isn't written down on the back of my hand, these also occur in the aforementioned groups too...) but whose dogs I know.  People who see me in the street and ask after my writing, or the most recent book and whose faces I vaguely recognise, but cannot remember whether they are friends of friends who I might have met at a party, or someone who serves me in the Post Office.
These are some of my children.  I include this picture to remind myself what they look like in case one of them asks after my writing.  One of them is also a writer.  See if you can guess which one...
Writers need friends.  We need people who will sit and listen while we recount our latest plot ideas in great...great detail, and will occasionally ask pertinent questions.  People who will smile gently at us when we are wandering around talking to ourselves, and wave (again, usually from a distance, it's safer).  We need people we can e-mail, phone or text when life deals us  a hand so disgusting that you wouldn't want to shake it with thick gloves on, people who will give quiet sympathy and not mention that it's two thirty in the morning and they have to be up for work in three hours.  We need people who will discuss man-titty cover designs over wine, people who will sympathise with our general impecuniosity and give us biscuits.

I know I am lucky, because I have all these things.  Friends, I mean, not the biscuits and disgusting hands.  And being friends with a writer is not an easy task (see above, re curmudgeonly, pants on head, talking to self, etc), so if you find yourself inadvertently being friends with a writer, just remember the following points:

Speak slowly (and sometimes fairly loudly)

Make no sudden movements

Carry chocolate at all times

Be prepared to listen to long, long....long and sometimes rambling discourses about the behaviour of people you have never met and may not exist.

If you ask how the writing is going, be prepared to run very fast.  Chocolate is a handy distraction here, a writer cannot pursue you whilst stopping to pick up a large bar of Dairy Milk

Never ask why they haven't given up the day job yet.

And to my friends, thank you.  You know who you are.  Even if I don't.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Kittens. No, really, a whole post about kittens. With PICTURES! Also, how I accidentally came to have five cats.

I am neither a cat person, nor a dog person.  I've done all those on-line tests that pretend to tell you which side you come down on, and they've had to invent a whole new category for me, I think it was called 'Curmudgeonly Bugger', now I come to think of it. 
A Dog, picture courtesy of DD1 Vienna.  He's actually very intelligent, not that you'd know from this.
Despite this, I am the loving owner of two dogs, three hens and, accidentally, five cats.  We never meant to have five cats, five is a number dangerously close to 'insanity' when it comes to cats.  One cat is a cute lap-ornament.  Two cats are company for one another even if they spend all their down-time either glowering or fighting.  Three cats and your neighbours start looking at you in a funny way and any more than that and you spend all your time trying to keep them out of the butter dish and you can never put your laptop down without coming back to find all your documents deleted and 'fahtwohjdnjadsngio#' typed across your screen.

We had three cats, you see.  Well, we did have four, but we lost our little black and white Maggie-cat two years ago, of old age.  Now we were left with three boys, big, burly things, two of them that look like fists wrapped in fur and one huge, orange cat who's afraid of the other two and who eats broccoli and cucumbers if they are left unattended.  My daughter wanted a kitten.  Something cute and loveable and cuddly.

So we went to a farm and brought home this little bundle.

Who instantly hid behind a cupboard, coming out only to cry piteously between the hours of 7pm and 4 am.  My daughter, after experimenting with names that would fit and disregarding my suggestions of 'Invisible Entity' and 'Untouchable Noise Machine', called him Corvo.  Honestly, it was like having a teenager in the house; we never saw him. he emerged only to eat enormous quantities of food and he made an indescribable amount of noise during the hours of darkness.

So, what did we do?  Yes, people, we got another kitten.  Ostensibly to keep Corvo company.  In reality, so that we actually knew we had a kitten on the premises and weren't just being haunted by something that filled the litter tray.  So now we also have

cat number five.  Also known as Zac.  And, despite being a litter-mate of the unseeable Corvo, he is the complete opposite.  Zac, you see, is a People Cat.  He is also a Dog Cat, a Cat Cat and will, once he is allowed outside, no doubt prove to be a Chicken Cat.
I am sure you can see the drawbacks here. 

Corvo continues to be elusive, but has now emerged from the cupboard and is known, occasionally, to wind around my daughter's legs, purring.  He still won't come out of the room, but he and Zac are great friends and sleep together on the bed.  He must wonder where it is that Zac goes to when he leaves the room for long stretches of time, only to return smelling of cooked chicken and tuna and burping slightly, dragging a mouse on an elastic string, but he shows no sign of wanting to join these epic journeys.  So, I suppose you could say that we're less of a five cat household and more of a four and a half cat household.

Just never show us a Cats' Protection League leaflet. There's only so much the dogs can take...

Sunday, 9 November 2014

I discover that Peter Capaldi is thicker than he appeared before. I mean three-dimensionally thicker, not stupid. He's not stupid at all, I don't think.

I want to know if this is A Thing, right...

Yesterday morning, up I jolly well woke from a pleasant dream of one of my workmates burying bodies in my garden (and me saying 'you'll have to bury them deeper, I've got dogs, they dig', which was realistic if not very helpful.  I could have got a shovel and helped dig) to thoughts of furniture.

My living room and dining room are, let's face it and not beat around the bush, just one big space.  My house is, basically, a corridor.  It's virtually impossible to put furniture anywhere without it being in the way of the fireplace, a door, the dog, other furniture, etc.  So we've been living with two sofas facing one another and the TV on one wall, the fireplace opposite. Imagine, if you will, something like a doctor's waiting room, only with a proper TV and a fire that's sometimes lit.  Which has meant that only two people at any one time could actually watch the TV (those two at the furthest end of the sofas from the TV).  Anyone else was sitting sideways on and had to sort of watch over their shoulders.  Add the fact that there was nearly always a dog sitting on one or more sofa cushions, and you have a recipe for disaster, or, at the very least, sore necks.
This is more or less all you can see.
So yesterday we had a grand rearrangement.  Honestly, we moved everything, including the dogs.  In consequence, last night I could watch Doctor Who face-on (I always thought Peter Capaldi was very very thin, turns out it was the way the screen bent.  He's normal sized if you watch him from the front), with a satisfactory fire burning, also in front.  Dusting was also perpetrated but don't worry, this won't happen again, it was only because we had to move a cabinet full of DVDs, most of which we can't remember a) buying or b) ever watching.
Much better than the thin black line I'd been watching.

So, is it an age thing?  Rearranging the furniture?  Like when you're pregnant and start nesting?  Or was I just properly sick and tired of only seeing half of Peter Capaldi?  Anyway.  We now have one three seater sofa, one four seater and one two seater, all in the same room and, by some fluke, they are all green!

If anyone knows how I can stop the five cats we now possess from occupying every single cushion, I'd be grateful.  By the time the cats and dogs are all sitting down, there's only two seats left...

And I have to sit on the floor.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A fabulous night at The Whitby Bookshop, where lack of planning means I am Recently Deceased, and a lovely picture of my melons.

Planning is not really my thing.  I mean, I'm lucky to get to work with my pants on, my trousers done up and not wearing my slippers, so anything more advanced than that is hard on me.  Which accounts for why Halloween arrived, the shops were all sold out of pumpkins, and I had two daughters desperate to do pumpkin lanterns.  Not that the daughters were part of the 'not planning' thing, they were born years ago, it's not like they just popped up or anything.  So, we did our best with a couple of melons and some scented candles - honestly, they made great lanterns and our neighbourhood smelled of Sandalwood for ages!

And then, last night, I was off with Kirsty Ferry, who's novel Some Veil Did Fall is just out and is set in Whitby, to do a little bookie-thing at the lovely Whitby Bookshop. It was Goth Weekend, so we were all set to dress up spectacularly but, owing to my aforementioned lack of planning ability, I found myself with full costume but a lack of make up which meant that, instead of the full Vamp Glamour I had intended, I was equipped only with one tube of foundation and a four pack of eye make up and had to go more for the Recently Deceased look.  Don't worry, you don't have to imagine it, there are pictures...
Yes, it's a corset.  Yes, I couldn't breathe properly, and, yes, I do look like someone stole my cab.  But there I am, with Falling Apart (not very aptly named on this night, since, with that corset on I could have been falling apart all over the place but everything was kept Most Firmly In Place).

Kirsty and I.  She looked all lovely and Gothic and everything, and had fabulous boots on, while I looked like a Victorian chimney sweep.
We were signing copies of our books and generally chatting to the passing populace, fuelled not inconsiderably by the wine and chocolate supplied by the bookshop.  That glass didn't empty itself, you know. Neither did the other one.  And you can see the whole 'Corset Effect' in action...
And now you can see the folly of trying to do something with one tube of foundation and a four pack of eyeshadow. No, not the curtains... those are real.  Oh dear...

Now, to cheer you up, here's a picture of my melons.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Gradually graded graduations and, do iPhones bounce? Plus a rather lovely photo of my daughter...

This post may well be truncated because I might just have to throw my laptop out of the window. Bear with me a moment, while I take you on a long journey back into the dark ages.....
(did you just get that 'whooshing' noise, or was that only me?)

In the days of yore, well, all right, about ten years ago, but in technology terms that's pretty much the Paleolithic, I got a mobile phone.  And golly did I feel all trendy and swish!  It looked like this...
although a little bit less swish, being black and white and having no redeeming features at all apart from being able to be dropped repeatedly without breaking.  Anyway.  My children finally became so irritated with my not being able to Tweet at all hours of the day and night (if I'm away from my laptop, as I often am what with having a proper job and everything) that, when my daughter upgraded her phone, she gave me her old one.

Technology and I do not get on.  My children, who all grew up with iPhones and suchlike, tried to show me how it worked by going 'oh, it's easy, you press this this and this, then this, log in to this, press this twice, swipe the screen, and there it is'.  I am sitting there, like that Stone Age man, with my mouth open and my fingers twitching reflexively, completely unable to follow what they are talking about.

So, to the point of this blog.  Yesterday I travelled down to Oxford, for DD1's Graduation Day. She got into her robes and mortar board and received her degree and I was duly proud and properly tearful and everything, and took lots of pictures.  Which are now, I regret to inform you, sealed good and proper into the New Phone.  I tried to iCloud, logged in and everything, but whenever I try to upload (or, indeed, do anything) it tells me that Information is Missing and I have to go back to Apple Log In and start again.  Which I do. And have done.  Repeatedly. With the same result every time. Fortunately I can report that I did, eventually, manage to e-mail a picture to myself, although it would have been faster for me to reproduce the event in crayon.  Look.


And while this may just be a picture to you, this represents many hours of swearing, searching my computer, downloading, losing it, downloading it again, losing the whole folder, throwing the phone, throwing the laptop, and cursing.

Oh, and three years of tough study, lots of essays, many words and late nights and much despair on the part of Vienna.  So, well done her!

And a quietly smug me. I beat technology. So there.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Why not post a review and spare an author from getting stuck in velvet? Plus, gratuitous llama...

Anyone who isn't a writer probably imagines an author's response to reviews to be something like those 'actors receiving the review of the critics' that you always get in a certain kind of film, usually from the 1950's.  You know, where everyone sits up all night and then sends out for the first editions of the newspapers.  They all sit there, smoking and drinking coffee and biting their nails until someone else bursts through the door waving The Times and shouting 'Darlings! They LOVED us! Well, except you, Daphne, but it wasn't your fault that the dog did that with your wig.'

I hate to break it to you, but, for writers, it isn't like that at all.  I mean, yes, we do the whole 'coffee and biting nails' thing, but that's just general and we don't do it waiting for reviews, it's just our default setting.  Also, dogs could do absolutely anything to our wigs and nobody would notice, it's one of the perks of working alone and only going out after dark. Plus, sending out for the newspapers would be a waste of time for most of us, who can only dream of being so much as name-dropped in The Western Daily Pan-Handler in the small ads. You know, underneath the 'hutch wanted for large rabbit' and 'sofa for sale, some stains, mostly explicable'.

No.  We authors sit at home and, if we read reviews of our books at all, we read them alone. Some of us may wear smoking-jackets and hold our cigarettes in ebony holders whilst we are doing it, but since I am usually wearing pyjamas and holding a chocolate HobNob firmly between my fists, I cannot vouch for this.
Like this. Allegedly.

And mostly reviews are completely fine.  I don't even mind the bad ones - as long as they justify why they utterly hated and despised the book, that that is perfectly okay, everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all.  There are always one or two odd reviews of any book, things like 'I didn't enjoy this at all, it was far too slippery and smelled of jam', but that is okay too because we generally assume that the reviewer just pressed the wrong button and was really intending to write a review of the cheese sandwich they had recently eaten.
'Disappointing. The hero and heroine were unbelievable and took too long to get together. One star.'
But generally, writers are pathetically grateful for any reviews.  They prove to us, you see, that people are reading our words.  Books sales don't mean much, I mean, someone could have bought forty thousand copies of our Great Work in order to build a wall to keep the llamas out of the onion shed and, whilst the money received from this venture would be sincerely gratefully banked and spent on food and heating and things, it's still nice to know that those lovingly hand-crafted words have been appreciated by someone who isn't a camelid and can hold a pen.
Cute, but inexplicably scathing about inconsistent character motivation
So, if you've read a book lately, why not pop by a review site and let the author know? He or she has probably been in the smoking jacket for weeks just waiting for feedback, and authors smell funny at the best of times, so, you know, do them a favour...

Just don't tell them it smelled of jam.  Even if it did.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A few little insights into the forthcoming book. Yes, I know, another one! Crept up on me a bit, too... But it's nearly here!

I woke up this morning and thought "I've got a book out in two months!"

I don't know why it came as a shock, I mean, I wrote it and everything.  But somehow I've been burbling along, fiddling with edits as they came through and sending them back, occasionally stroking the image of the front cover, but the fact that it's going to be a REAL BOOK and available for other people to read in less time than it takes my mother to cook sprouts...well, it just seems to have crept up on me a bit.

This is the one...

So I thought, in honour of this book's canter towards appearing in public, I'd give you a few little hints as to what lies inside this beautiful cover. Apart from words, of course, there are lots and lots of words, and maybe a little bit of crayoning if anyone has left me unattended with it and a packet of Crayola....

There's a horse called Stan, who has the build and temperament of a hall table and eats everything that isn't nailed down.  And sometimes things that are...  He can generally only be steered by getting off, running round to the front, and leaning hard against him, which, now I come to think of it, describes my car pretty well too.

The hero is an astrophysics PhD called Phinneas Baxter, who specialises in plasma physics.  He's about as far from being a womaniser as any man who deals in plasma can be - which is quite a long way - and when we first meet him he's naked, unconscious, and out on a windy hillside in March.  Which, I think you will agree, is not a natural resting place for PhDs, unless you live somewhere a lot more interesting than where I do.  And probably warmer.

Phinn has a best friend and general hanger-on, called Link.  He's a trust-fund millionaire who put the 'ass' in harassment, but he's loyal.  He's not honest, and he's not trustworthy, but he's the nearest thing to a brother that Phinn has, which isn't always a good thing...

The heroine is Molly Gilchrist, who writes for a magazine, rides Stan out on the moors, and generally tries to keep herself invisible and out of trouble.  Her fiancĂ© called off their wedding and left her under particularly humiliating circumstances, and she's sworn off men and resigned herself to a future of solitary wine-drinking and Stan.  But, you know, haven't we all, on occasion?

And Molly has a friend, Caro, who devotes her time to trying to get Molly to open up her life.  She's Stan's real owner, but has pretty much disowned him because of the above mentioned tendency to eat things that aren't meant to be eaten.

And, as the latest in the 'Yorkshire' series, it's set on the North York Moors (one day I'm going to do guided walks. Point out all the settings for my books, and ending in a really nice tea shop - I think this could be a goer....). The setting for the first chapter looks a bit like...

this.

So. I hope I have whetted any part of your enthusiasm that might have needed whetting.  Or wetting, I make no judgements upon you, oh lovely, if slightly dessicated,  reader.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A workshop where I am NOT dressed as a penguin, but a leather ostrich does appear.

On Saturday, the delightful Rhoda Baxter and I were in charge of a workshop over at Beverley.  It was not the kind of workshop that turns out exquisitely designed things made from other things or, at least, it was, but the things that became other things were ideas, if you see what I mean.  We were leading a workshop on Writing Romantic Comedy.

It looked like this

Or at least, some of it did.  I didn't loom like some black-clad stick insect all the time (although I am delighted that I look so thin in this picture.  I have no idea why, I think it must be something to do with the way I am standing sideways on. I am a lot thicker if you look at me head on, although usually bits of me stick out a lot more sideways. On this occasion they are not, and so, for that, I am grateful).

As you can see, there were a number of delightful people present, all of whom laughed in the right places, so I didn't have to do the thing where I stand and raise and lower my hand to indicate when laughter should result.  Which is good, because it always makes me look as though I am giving hand signals to a distant, yet obedient, dog.  So I didn't have to do that.

We talked, and people asked interesting and engaging questions and seemed to enjoy the resulting answers. I always love Q&A sessions, especially as this one, when the questions are well thought out and are not 'where do you get your ideas from?' or 'why do you smell indefinably, and yet unignorably, of mature cheddar?'

And then, when we had finished our workshop and signed a few copies of our books which had been bought by the perspicacious and even more delightful attendees, we went and stood by an inexplicable ostrich.  Because Beverley Library has, in its possession and foyer, an ostrich made of leather.
The ostrich is the one in the middle, for those of you in doubt.  It is staring wistfully at the opposite wall, maybe as though to distance itself from those peculiar writer-types, which is a bit rich since we are not the ones made of leather and nailed to the floor.

But I suppose there is no accounting for leather ostriches really, is there?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The education aspects of injury. And carthorse-ankles.

This has been an educational week.

Now, I'm not pleading for sympathy or anything, but this was the week of the Injured Ankle.
Exhibit one
It's not even that bad, just some kind of tendon thingie, not broken, not sprained, just painful to walk on.  And yes, that is my very own foot there, in that fetching support bandage, I did not employ a stunt-foot just for the photo-shoot.

And why, I hear you cry, as you rush about trying to send me consoling boxes of chocolates and soothing ice packs, was this educational?  Well, my little hootaninnies, the educational aspect came in the way that an injury slows you down and makes you consider how lucky you are to be able of body and sound in wind and limb.  That latter statement generally applies to horses, but could, of course, be used to describe a tree, I suppose. Anyway. Generally I am very sound in wind (often a kind of trumpeting, but let us pass swiftly by that topic) and my limbs bear up very well under the duress of having to lug my carcass at speed around the countryside and I tend to consider this state of affairs to be ongoing and normal.

But this foot problem has acted upon me much as, I imagine, would stapling me to the floor.

 And don't think people haven't tried, I get uneasy at the sound of the wall stapler in action at work...

I can't run. I can't hop either, but since hopping isn't something I am called upon to do on a daily basis (thank goodness I didn't take that job at the Hop Skip and Jump centre all those years ago...), it's mostly the ability to move at speed that I am missing.

Now, in my current WIP, entitled 'Crush' if we are being formal about it, or 'the one with the bloke with the birds of prey, and the teashop' if we're not, my main character, Amy, lives with her grandmother.  Her grandmother is...eccentric, shall we say.  Not zany-eccentric, matchmaking her with blatantly unsuitable males or talking loudly about her sex-life at inopportune moments, as tends woefully to be the way of the elderly in many forms of fiction. No, this grandmother mostly just accuses Amy of having visitors in the house when she's out (the grandmother, not Amy, it would be hard to have visitors when you weren't actually present), and messing about with the teaspoons. But she is also physically restricted in her movements, because of being nearly eighty.

My injured ankle has given me a valuable insight into what it's like to REALLY not be able to climb stairs at speed, and to take most of the best part of an afternoon to get from one end of a corridor to another.  Honestly, whilst walking to the far end of the garden I've had to have a sit down and tea and biscuits to give me the energy!  And also a knowledge of the frustration involved in knowing that you can't do those things you should be able to do without a five minute preparation time and a run-up.  Also having to wear a sincerely and deeply unflattering leg-sock, which gives me the ankle of a carthorse.
Compare and contrast...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

A few more theories on Authors, my tattoo could mean trouble, and an unrepeatable Fan Club title...

I watched Doctor Who last night, and it gave me a revelation - although that could, of course, have been the half a pound of fudge I was eating at the time. I am usually kept away from all foods with a high sugar, fat, colouring and e-number content, which means that I generally just eat organic grass and am occasionally allowed to suck a HobNob, if I promise not to swallow, but yesterday was Fudge Day.  I'd also eaten three fresh doughnuts and half a pack of cinder toffee, so that probably explains most of the content of this blog - and also why it's being typed from the ceiling, at four hundred miles an hour with ninety fingers I don't have.

I didn't eat quite this much, but only because I'd passed out somewhere round the fourteenth lump.

Oh, you want to hear about my revelation?  Well it comes with something of a background story. Are you sitting comfortably?  No, neither am I, I think it's all the fudge, but we'll be all right if we keep to the cushioned areas...

When I was small...I mean very small, before I'd learned to read much, my aunt gave me a doll.  She asked me what I was going to call her (by 'she' I mean my aunt of course, my family may be bordering on 'horror film' but they haven't indulged in talking dolls yet). I said 'Amelia'.  This puzzled both mother and aunt, and I remember my mother asking me where I'd heard that name, because as far as she was concerned I'd never known anyone called 'Amelia'.  And do you know what my explanation was? 'The inside of her head smells 'Amelia'.

Yep.  Well, you know, the Horror Film thing starts early with us.


Now of course I know that this was synaesthesia (which is where things get mixed up in the brain, colours appear as numbers, smells are sounds, that sort of thing). I largely grew out of it, but I was reminded of it during the Doctor Who episode, because of the augmented human character, who's name was Si. At least, as soon as people started calling him Si it was almost as if his name popped up in big letters whenever it was said.  Which may be because I have a friend called Si.

Imagine, then, my shock and horror when the titles rolled and the character's name was revealed to be spelled as Psi!

Augmented human. In case you were wondering.  And this made me wonder, briefly, in the dark, stilly watches of the night - is being a writer somehow linked to an ability, maybe even a lost one, to see images as words? Or images in words? Or to create words to fit sensory input?

Answers on a postcard...

And now I have another problem, of course, if, as I suspect, Psi becomes a companion to the Doctor.  On my left wrist I have a tattoo of the Greek letter Psi, and the letters psi underneath.
Okay, break it to me gently. I am going to look like the stalkiest stalker ever to walk the earth, aren't I?  It could only be worse if I'd had ADRIC tattooed across my forehead... (true horror, for all those Old Who fans out there...)

Talking of fan clubs, last night I was outside with my SO, gazing at the stars (not in a romantic way at all, you understand, more because we were watching the lasers from the fairground across the fields).  He decided (in his infinite wisdom, probably laser-invoked), that we should form a Brian Cox Fan Club, and came up with the title for it.  I absolutely refuse to have it printed on a t shirt, or indeed anything which might be worn in the vicinity of the 'Loveleh' Mr Cox.

The title?  Wait for it...

The Cox Massive.

I know.  I'm going now...
And, Brian, I'm very sorry.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Things NOT to say to a writer...

This week, just a few little pointers to help make life for writers a little easier, whether you have a writer in your life, or just visit them when they are out in public.

1. "Why is the house such a mess? You've been at home all day, sitting in front of that computer - you could at least have hoovered."

SAY INSTEAD: "How many words have you written today? Well, 250 is quite a lot, more than I could..oh. Never mind, I expect they weren't right anyway. How about a takeaway and then I'll hoover while you think of some better words."

2.  "I've got a great idea for a book." (followed by lengthy story that isn't even a story-idea or an anecdote, more of an implausible rant) . "Now, how about you write that up as a book and I'll give you 10%?"

SAY INSTEAD: "Let me buy your book. Actually, I'll take fifty copies, it looks like the sort of thing all my friends and family would enjoy. Don't worry, we'll all leave Amazon reviews..."

3.  "How much money do you make, then? I bet it's thousands, that J K Rowling is a multi-billionaire, isn't she? Bet you've got a posh house, haven't you?"

SAY INSTEAD:  Nothing, at first. Just gently pat writer's shoulder, while s/he sobs. Offer food. Then, when tears are dry, say, "Let me buy your book. Actually, I'll take fifty copies, it looks like the sort of thing all my friends and family would enjoy. Don't worry, we'll all leave Amazon reviews..."

4. (Whilst in bookshop, during signing, usually when writer is behind huge pile of own books and in front of large poster of own face) "Do you know where the ..................... (insert either books by latest celebrity or 'toilets') are? No? Well you're not much use, are you? Why are you here, then?"

SAY INSTEAD: "Let me buy your book. Actually, I'll take fifty copies, it looks like the sort of thing all my friends and family would enjoy. Don't worry, we'll all leave Amazon reviews..."

5. "Oh, you are lucky to be able to sit at home and scribble. I'd write a book, if I had the time." (often followed by (2) above).

SAY INSTEAD: "Let me buy your book. Actually, I'll take fifty copies, it looks like the sort of thing all my friends and family would enjoy. Don't worry, we'll all leave Amazon reviews..."

6. "I hear that (insert celebrity, usually known for either boobs/fake tan/stupidity/being all over media for no real reason) has just had their book turned into a film. Why don't you get your books made into a film?"

SAY INSTEAD: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just keep walking, quite quickly. Honestly. Writers can aim a shoe at the back of your head like nobody's business if you even begin to utter this sentence.

Writers are sensitive creatures, but if you love them and feed them well and leave them largely to their own devices, they will reward you with pages of notes about your bizarre behaviour and habits. And hardly ever bite you.




Sunday, 31 August 2014

A few wintery things to look forward to...

Sigh.  It's nearly September already, and we all know that means it's practically Christmas, and that the next time we look up it's going to be dark, and probably 2015.  And, since winter is quite clearly the longest season EVER, and manages to last at least sixteen months of any twelve month period, I thought we should take this opportunity to look forward to some of the more pleasant things about winter.

No, me neither.

Oh, no, wait, I've got one.  Winter is the only time you can legitimately, and without being ill, retire to your bed at 5.15 pm with a well-angled lamp and a packet of cashew nuts, to read a book.

Try doing this at the height of summer and you will a) be constantly disturbed by the feral pack of local five year olds playing 'kick the can around the street and yell at the tops of our voices', b) spend at least half your time wondering whether you're missing something more exciting that may be going on downstairs - barbeques, ice cream runs, visits to local places of interest and c) boiled.

There is something about nights that start at 4pm, when you draw the curtains to block out the sight of the cats' faces pressed against the window as they try to claw their way back indoors, despite the fact that they have a perfectly comfortable bed in the garage which is, not to put too fine a point on it, several degrees warmer than the inside of the house.  Making a mug of hot chocolate - merely, we all understand, a vehicle for the whipped cream and marshmallows, but a mug of whipped cream and marshmallows alone does tend to attract stares and clicked tongues, and taking it upstairs.  Settling oneself under a snuggly duvet and on top of an electric blanket which has been switched on to maximum at least an hour earlier and is currently causing your valence to smoke.
Not dissimilar to this, but with more dust, fur, dropped clothing, paperwork and books

Getting yourself into the perfect position under the duvet, so that enough of you sticks out to make turning the pages possible without an arctic-level of draught getting in and to gain access to the hot chocolate.
And possibly listening to either the wind, snow or rain falling outside.
There. Now, are you all looking forward to the winter?


No, me neither.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

A quickupdate

I'm sorry.  No, really, I am. Very, very sorry.

I have been absent, you see, just lately.  There were reasons, I didn't just fancy a few days under my duvet with only my nose poking out and enough room to insert a Giant Chocolate Button where my mouth should be.No, I have been accommodating family, who regard my particular part of North Yorkshire as a pleasant place to spend a couple of days, and also dealing with a recurrence of my Old Trouble, which is not, as you might imagine, being visited by a geriatric wrongdoer, but a playing up of my shoulder problem.

In consequence, I have not been typing much lately.  Having an arm that seems to have all the animation of an old log is not conducive to writing, and having a house full of people is even less so, but that was all right because if I wasn't typing I might just as well be entertaining, so I did.

Also, this
Hopefully next week things will be back to normal. Or have less drunk dog in them.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Wharram Percy - Peasant Farming for Fun and Profit.

Writing progress 23,000 words yada yada, but you don't really want to know about that, do you?  You want to know about my trip this week to a Spooky Deserted Medieval Village!  Yes, you do.  No, running away with your fingers in your ears won't help.  Anyway, it counts as research, so there.

Not far from where I live, as the crow flies anyway, is the Wolds.  Are. Is.  Not sure if the Wolds are singular, as in there is only one of them but it's very big or there are many different Woldishnesses all welded together and therefore being plural.  I learned, long ago, just because something has an 'S' on the end, it doesn't have to be plural, when I had a friend called Tess, of whom there was only one.  So, anyway, these Wolds...  Upon them (or it, the jury is still out), there is a well-known and much explored village that was periodically deserted.  Not because of plague, although I'm sure the more picturesque sites would like you to believe that, but for the far more mundane reason that the lord of the manor (who I can't help but picture in a monocle and spats, even though those hadn't been invented) wanted the place cleared so he could keep sheep, which were more profitable than peasants.  I think he probably just hadn't got the whole 'peasant keeping' thing down and that's why he wasn't making money out of them, maybe he should have tried free-range peasants, but anyway.

So I took a representative sample of the young people who currently clutter up my house, two dogs, a picnic, and set forth for the Deserted Village.  And here are the photographic results. Pictures 1, 3 and 5 were taken by me, pictures 2, 4 and 6 were taken by Vienna, who is much better with a camera than me.

Vienna and Will survey the ruined church. They weren't, on this occasion, responsible for the ruination, although I docked their pocket money anyway, on principle.

One man and his dog. Actually, one scheming, conniving probable criminal and her boy.

The church. Still ruined.

Dylan swimming in the reconstructed fish pond on the site.  This is probably frowned upon, although there was nobody there except us to frown, so we let him.

Vienna, staring wistfully into the middle distance,  Behind her are some of the lumps that used to be medieval tofts, crofts and..errr...bofts.

On the way back we did some Urban Exploration.  This is the Wharram Percy Chalk Works as was.  Very atmospheric, if you like the atmosphere of terror.