Saturday 22 March 2014

Things I Have Learned Recently

By 'eck our Cyril, this grandmothering lark is hard work, nah then sithee lad. You think you know what you are doing because you were discovered in possession of a baby many years ago, but guess what? That was in the Bygone Era. Things have changed. It is a wonder that any baby survived in those far off days, what with being put down on their sides, unswaddled and not monitored for constant breathing activity.

The first thing you learn as a new grandmother is how little you know. Actually you know nothing - well no, you know an awful lot but that was then and this is now. The word on the street is: shut up. Those of you who are on more than just blog-reading acquaintance with me will appreciate how difficult it is not to chip in with My Opinion every few minutes. I am learning. (If you would like to read the ''Letter' I wrote to my lovely granddaughter on her birth, you can do so here )

The baby is nearly four weeks old and there have been some very funny incidents. As part of the ''baby box'' I made, I bought a lovely grey bodysuit with bones on it. Skeleton Baby - hahaha. What neither I nor DD realised was that the bones glowed in the dark. Slight shock then to awake at 2am and spot a small luminous-boned figure lying next to her. Help, my baby's gone radioactive. That was the same night New Dad had the dream that the baby was stuck on the ceiling, sat bolt upright in bed and tried to get her down.

Away from the babyfest, my Harpenden Independent Partnership - possibly fielding two candidates in the upcoming District Council Elections in May, have started campaigning. We have brilliant leaflets, thanks to Designer Dave who did my book cover. Sadly, as we are self-funding, we do not have enough brilliant leaflets, so are only able to cover one ward completely and one partially.

It is the first time ever there have been two truly Independent candidates possibly standing here and not before time either. There is one councillor who calls himself independent, but it is more a case of: kicked-out-of-the-Tories-for-being-a-pain-in-the-arse rather than truly Independent as we are.

The scale of countrywide ''corruption'' in local government is jaw-dropping. Our two people recently attended a training day, where they met others hoping to get elected in May. One lady disclosed that she was fighting a greenbelt development on her doorstep where the head of the council was also on the board of the development company. Same political party as the one that holds sway here, funnily enough.

I haven't leafletted since before my Town Green Application went to Public Inquiry and had forgotten how interesting it was. A re-learning experience in so many ways. I now have painful scrapes on my fingers from letterbox bite-back. Also slight knee pain from bending down to stuff leaflets through low-lying letter boxes. And at least 2 leaflets were Consumed by Dogs.

But the response has been heartening. So many people have said they will vote for us. Including Harpenden's only known Communist. I know a verbal promise isn't worth the paper it's written on, but we have taken note of their addresses and like Arnie, We Will Be Back on polling day. Yes indeed.

If you would like to read a sample of my novel Diamonds&Dust, A Victorian murder mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.

Saturday 15 March 2014

An Attack of the Freebie-Jeebies

Picture c/o Herts Advertiser

So once again your friendly local writer has been asked by somebody to ''donate'' a book to a blog giveaway. This is happening more and more and I am getting a tad fed up of it. There is too much wanting summat for nowt out there, as my late Yorkshire father-in-law might have said.

As some of you know, I have my own views on the ''Free book/Ebook'' promotion thing. My views being that it creates the expectation in readers that something you sweated blood over for years is worth less than a small cappuccino. Happy to retweet your promo if you insist on doing it because you are a friend, but Hell will freeze over before I voluntarily choose to join you. And from what I gather, some of the nastiest reviews on Amazon come from people who acquired your book for nothing. Go figure.

Interestingly, in one of those plot lulls that occur at about 42 thousand words, I sat down last week and actually worked out my hourly rate if I were to regard writing as a business, and pay myself a wage from what I bring in via book sales. Let us just say that there is no way I shall be awarding myself a £3 million bonus at the end of this financial year.

What I think some of the freebie people fail to realise (if they are not writers themselves) is that the cover price for a book falls far short of what the writer of the book actually receives. (For breakdown on earnings, see post on Agents here). Currently the selling price of the paperback edition of Diamonds&Dust (£6.99), after all necessary bookshop discounts, supplier discounts, printer discounts and contractual obligations have been taken off barely gives me 44p a copy. Shocked? Thought you might be.

Entirely self-published writers are slightly different, but are unlikely to charge as much as ''publisher'' published books. Unless they are very well established. By which time they have probably been snapped up by a publisher anyway. Mind, all our books are discounted on Amazon, so you are unlikely to ever pay the full price should you go down that purchasing route.

There seems to be this myth abroad that writers write for the sheer love of writing (we do) and that somehow, that should be sufficient reward in itself. Sadly gentle blog reader, it is not so. Food, heating, petrol and life generally impinges upon the creative impulse, bringing with it terrible thoughts of maybe throwing in the literary towel and getting a job in Asda to make ends meet.

So at the risk of someone pasting a label saying Mrs Curmudgeon on my forehead, let me reiterate: I will not hand out books to all and sundry like sweeties because right now, I can't even afford sweeties. If you want to read my work (and I'd be honoured if you did) BUY it!

I don't ask or expect my plumber/electrician nor the lovely consultant who performed my 2 cancer operations to work for free. Nor should you, dear readers, expect writers to do so either.

If you'd like to sample Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.

Friday 7 March 2014

The PINK SOFA welcomes Val Poore

Right then. Carol's off doing very important granny things, so she's asked me to hold the fort - or rather hold the turret up here in the ivory magnificence of Hedges Towers.
It's just you, me and the Pink Sofa. That's right. we've snuggled up together, I'm going to tell you all a story. Yes, a proper story.

Now...many of you know I spend an inordinate amount of time sploshing about in boats and talking to the ducks. Indeed, I've spent so much time doing this, I've even managed to write two books about it, so it'll come as quite a surprise to you all to know that I loathe being wet, detest being cold and the worst thing of all is a combination of the two. So yes, you've got it. At all! But you live on a barge, I hear you say. Very true, I reply, but I live on it and in it, not under or around it. That's for the ducks. Not me. story is about the time I got arrested by the Water Politie for supposedly trying to hurl myself off a bridge in Rotterdam. Now keep what I have just told you about my predilection for keeping dry and this will make you laugh. It still has me chuckling and it's twelve years down the line.
The way it went was this: When I first came to Rotterdam, my erstwhile husband and I (sounds like the queen doesn't it? Only hers isn't erstwhile - not yet anyway. Neither is mine, actually. He's just not mine anymore) decided to buy a barge to fix up. Which we did. A very beautiful and graceful one it was too. 

Now he and a few others went off to collect said barge from a harbour in Amsterdam, but because I had to go to work, I couldn't go too. The arrangement was that they would let me know when and at what time they were approaching Rotterdam and I would go down to the river to see them in. The other part of the plan was that they would pull in close to the river wall before sailing into the harbour, and I would jump on board and do the last half a kilometre with them - just for the fun of it.

Well that was all well and good as a plan. In practice, it didn't happen that way.
The thing is it was late November, so the evenings were dark. Added to that, my husband and his crew were late. By the time I got the call to go down to the river, it was already about eight o'clock. And very cold.

So, I wrapped up warm, but just in case I emptied all my pockets of anything of value. I was going to jump on board the barge, see, so I thought I'd better not have anything that I didn't want to lose just in case I dropped it or things fell out of my pockets.
Please note that at no time whatsoever did I think of anything like going swimming either accidentally or on purpose.
So, off I trekked down to the riverside. I found my way to the appointed place, a quayside next to the harbour entrance (see pic - Imagine me on opposite bank), and there I waited - in the dark.

It was pretty darn cold, I have to say, so I started pacing up and down on the quay, every now and then peering over the edge to see if I could see any barge lights approaching. Nix, nada, nothing. Not for ages. I waited and waited and paced and paced.

But then I did see some lights. A boat was coming hurtling towards me at great speed. As it approached, I saw it was a police launch. Then I saw another one and they both seemed to be inordinately interested in me. I was a bit worried. Maybe they thought I was - you know - a lady of ill repute. I tried moving along the quay, but they followed me. And then back again. Then after walking away from the side a bit, I noticed they just stayed put, which unnerved me even more. Why oh why were they watching me?
After playing 'follow me' up and down the quay for a few more minutes, I decided enough was enough. 

Our new barge was nowhere in sight, so I thought I'd better just go back to the harbour and wait there. Anything was better than this rather disturbing standoff. I waving jauntily at the water cops (hoping they'd be happy to see me go), backed up the steps quickly, ran across the road and headed back along one of the harbours.

No sooner had I gone fifty yards or so, than a couple of police vans came screaming up the road towards me. Then another one came from behind and blow me down, a whole regiment of policeman leapt out and grabbed my arms.

The ensuing conversation was too bizarre for words:
"Good evening, mevrouw," said one. "Can I see your ID?"
"Why?" said I.
"Well, mevrouw, we had a report from a bus driver that a woman was trying to jump off the Erasmusbrug."
"Really? Well that wasn't me."
"But you were there, yes?"
"Yes, but I was waiting for someone...coming by boat."
"By boat." Note cop's first cynical grin.
"Yes." Note my earnest affirmation.
"So why were you waiting there for a boat, mevrouw, there's no, how you say, jetty there."
"No," said I, "I was going to ju...." 
Oops. Better shut up now.
"You were going to what?"
"Erm, I was going them on board."
"Where is your ID, mevrouw?
"I'm sorry, I don't have it with me because I was going to ju..... join them, that's it...join them...and I didn't want to risk ...."
Note cop's second cynical grin.
"And you weren't going to jump in the river?"
"No. It's true," I said. "Look," I went on frustrated now, "Anyone who knows me will tell you I'd never do that. Never!"
"But we don't know you, mevrouw, and the bus driver said..."
 "Look, I don't care what he said. Why don't I phone my husband and you can speak to him. He'll tell you. I would NEVER do that!"
"Do you have a phone, mevrouw?"
" left it at home...with my ID..."
"Because you were NOT going to jump in the river. Is that right mevrouw?" I blushed.

By this time I was surrounded by about ten policeman, all vying with each other to hold on to me and make sure I didn't make a break for it and hurl myself into the adjacent canal. If only they'd known. I would never, ever, top myself that way. Far too cold, wet and uncomfortable.

But in the end, though, one of them had a phone and so I was able to give him my husband's number to call. I wasn't allowed to speak to him myself. Oh no. They had to do it. Hubby, of course, thought it was an absolute hoot, and nearly got me locked up for a lark, but in the end, he confirmed my story. 

Apparently he'd come into the harbour from the other end, but he'd forgotten to tell me. Brilliant eh? The upside was that the police gave me a lift to the harbour, still not really trusting that I wasn't going to go late night skinny dipping.

So this, friends, was my baptism into the world of the Oude Haven. Fortunately for the cops and for me, it wasn't a wet one, but I'll never forget that's how it all began.

Okay, Carol's fans, story time is over. The Pink Sofa and I are now going to partake of some tea and cheesecake - pink cheesecake - but if any of you would like to read some more of my stories about life in the Oude Haven, click on the link below. My two books, Watery Ways and my new release, Harbour Ways are full of anecdotes from my barging life.

Here's my blog too:
And my twitter handle is