Monday 28 March 2016

Egg Hunting (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

For the last week Little G has been focused on Easter. Sadly, the religious significance of the death of Christ, the empty tomb and the Resurrection has proved to be a tad outside her mental remit. I have explained some of it - because, like Christmas, I do think that she needs to know what we are celebrating and 'indoctrination' cuts both ways.

She has however, managed to grasp that chocolate is involved in the celebrations and that there will be an Easter Egg Hunt after her lunch here on Easter Sunday. This is a definite step-up on last year, when both religious significance and chocolate related activities passed her by completely.

In the interest of keeping onside with You must be mad, who has an ambivalent attitude to stuffing Little G with chocolate - forgetting her own joyous Easter binges, I have confined the hunt to three small Lindt bunnies, one large Lindt bunny and a chocolate ladybird of strange and terrifying proportions.

A pink tin bucket has been bought from a local charity shop. If the weather is fine, we will be hunting in the garden, if not, we will confine our search to the house. I am currently getting throwbacks to my own childhood, when we also had an egg hunt every Easter. My parents could never remember how many eggs they'd hidden, so we used to find them in odd places for weeks after the event. Good thing I have a little list ...

To be continued ...   ....

Saturday 26 March 2016

NEW! Read All About it!

Before I started writing the Victorian Detective Series - which wasn't ever meant to be a series but that's another story, I wrote modern stories, teenage and YA fiction. I've decided to go back to writing some modern stuff, and run it alongside the historical novels, to give all you lovely readers who aren't too keen on historical novels something else to enjoy (I hope).

The Final Virus is a 'long novella' (46 thousand words) and will shortly be self-published by Little G Books on Amazon as an ebook. What is it? Well, it could be YA Urban: the two main protagonists are seventeen and live in a city. It could equally well be Sci-Fi: it is set in a future world run by a computer programme. It could be Fantasy: the world I have set it in is not like the world today. 

It could be an extended political allegory like 1984: the scenarios of ruthless governmental control posited are all nascent in our own time. It could be a Romance: Will and Amber's relationship develops over the course of the book. It could be Dystopic: the universe is on the brink of catastrophe.
You will have to decide for yourselves what it is if you choose to read it .... and it is coming soon.
Meanwhile, here are the main characters, as we meet them in the first two chapters: 
''The summer afternoon was fading fast. The sun was already sinking westward into a pink and golden sky. A little breeze cooled Will's face. He pushed back a lock of sun-bleached hair, and wiped his damp forehead with a tanned forearm. His shoulder muscles were aching again. For a moment he squinted up at the sky, his blue eyes remote and thoughtful. Then he attached the bucket to the makeshift rope pulley.
            ‘Haul away,’ he commanded. Sam pulled up the bucket, tipped the earth out and sent it back down. It was better with Sam helping, Will thought. Before his arrival, he had to shift the earth himself.
            ‘Look, I know it's a stupid question,' Sam began.
            ‘Go on.’
            ‘Why exactly are you doing this?’
            Will dropped a spadeful of earth into the bucket. ‘Geography project,’ he said abruptly. He didn’t look up. He dug the spade in the earth again, shovelled some more into the bucket.
            ‘Geography project?’ Sam frowned. ‘We gave that in last week.’
            ‘Biology, then.’
            ‘Respiration in mammals?’
            ‘Yeah, that.’
            ‘Respiration,’ Sam repeated the words slowly and emphatically, ‘in .... mammals. You don’t have to dig a hole. Specially a big one.’
            Will stopped digging, and looked around him. Sam was right. Dead right. It was a big hole, as holes went. And as holes went, it was going well. The hole is always equal to the sum of its parts, he thought. Some of its parts were boredom, anger and frustration. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. The not-allowed outness was getting to him big time. The hole, which he'd started some time ago to get soil samples for a school experiment, had become an outlet for his pent-up feelings. A way of two-fingering the system: if he couldn’t go out, he would go down. Nobody could stop him doing that. Could they?
            ‘Mate, you are crazy, you know that,’ Sam shook his head sadly.
            ‘Maybe ...’
            ‘What’ll your mum say when she sees this?’
            ‘Nothing,’ Will resumed digging, ‘because she won’t see it.’
            Not in a million years, he thought. She never came out into the garden. Not since his dad had gone. He’d been the gardener. And the rest. Always pottering around after work. Therapy, he'd called it, getting in touch with his roots. His mum had little interest in the garden then. None whatsoever now.
            That was the other reason for digging the hole: the great gaping void in his heart that couldn’t be put into words. A sadness so vast and deep that the only thing he could do to block it out was exhaust himself. When it first hit him, the pain of loss, he’d gone running. He ran miles, head down, his breath ripping out in rags, feet pounding the unforgiving streets. Until the night he was picked up by the police at two in the morning running round the perimeter fence outside his dad’s work. Now he was grounded. Temporarily. So the only way to tire himself out was to dig. Maybe it was stupid. Maybe Sam was right. But at least he slept nights.''

''Amber. Am-buh. It was a stupid name, she thought. Why on earth had they given her such a stupid name? Amber sighed. As if she didn’t know, she thought. As if they hadn’t told her. Time after time after time until she could repeat it like a mantra:
            It is the name of a precious stone (“it is very beautiful.”)
            It has magical powers (“it releases negative energy.”)
            It is very rare and expensive (“we spent months finding the right clinic.”)
            Chosen child.
            Miracle of genetic engineering
            Tuesdays, Amber thought to herself. She could never quite get the hang of Tuesdays. This Tuesday followed the same pattern as the others. She woke at six after another nightmare-ridden sleep. It was the one about the world coming to an end and the four horsemen again. This time it had been so real that when she opened her eyes, she could still hear the drumming of hooves, still see the colours of the four riders; so clear that she could hear the sounds of the battle, the high-pitched screams of the dying.
              Amber had woken suddenly. For a few seconds she had lain, dislocated, in the pale primrose light of dawn. Her heart beat wildly and fear held her in its icy grip. It was always the same after waking from this one: a deep terror, a feeling that the world was ending around her and that she could do nothing to prevent it. Then she saw the familiar outlines of her bedroom. She had rolled onto her back, arms folded behind her head, letting the horrors of the night fade away.
             Amber left it until the very last minute before she got up, showered and dressed. She shrugged into her clothes, which were the same ones she’d worn the day before. She ran a brush a couple of times through her long black hair, which she always left loose and hanging down her back. The other girls in her class were currently into braiding every tiny strand of hair, before decorating it with ‘natural found objects’, feathers or flowers or tiny stones with holes, but Amber had neither the time or the inclination to do her hair like everyone else. 
             Nor was she bothered about what she wore. Any old top and trousers sufficed. Amber went downstairs. She got her own breakfast. Her parents left for work early. She would get her own tea too. Probably she’d be in bed long before they arrived home. It was lonely being chosen.''

The cover has been designed by Michael Lindley (@fruitbatwalton). The editing is by Mr Detail. There may be a sequel.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Post Buggy Blues (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G has a new buggy. It's is one of those easy-peasy drop down ones that you can get on and off buses and trains without having to haul it up and down steps or do life-changing damage to your shoulders. It folds down at a touch. It can be stowed on luggage racks.

It is unlike the state-of-the-art purple buggy with a mind of its own that I have been using since Little G and I began our adventures together. THAT buggy is now being stored for her new little brother (expected arrival: end of April).

I remember being presented with the purple buggy for the first time. I wrote a diatribe about its various contradictions and complexities here but now that it is being taken away, I am in mourning. Life is not going to be the same any more.

No more waving and smiling to the three other owners of similar buggies as we gingerly manoeuvre the cumbersome things along the narrow pavements. No more running it up close to traffic lights so that Little G can press the button for the green man - the new buggy is much lower.

But mainly, I am going to miss the face-to-face chats. The new buggy is the other way round. Little G can see where we are going, but I can't share her reactions. No more smiles, no more jokes, no more pulling funny faces at each other and mocking our various gestures (she loves to imitate me looking at my watch).

 No more making up silly songs and rhymes as we head for Morrison's at 7.30 to buy my paper and her croissant. Yes, we can chat, but it's not the same holding a conversation with the top of her head. I never thought I'd ever say it, but I Want the Purple Buggy Back!

To be continued ...  ....

Saturday 19 March 2016

The PINK SOFA meets writer, baker & gardener Anne Brooke

Ann and I met via social media. We share a love of cake and God, tho' perhaps not in that exact order. We also both have allotments, though she is far more proficient than I am. Anne is a bit of a Renaissance woman: she writes erotic fiction, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Harry Bowling Prize (for novels set in London) and the Royal Literary Fund Scheme. The PINK SOFA is enjoying the luscious cake she made for this post, and may possibly leave a couple of slices for you. Or possibly not.

The Allotment Wife Has Her Say

''I never wanted to own an allotment – it was my husband’s idea (honest, gov) and I only went along the first time just to support him. Not that I was really that convinced by it all as we’re both working, we have no spare time, and most of all neither of us know a thing about gardening, let alone the mysteries of an allotment.

However, allotments have a strange ability to worm their way into your heart, and ours in particular was a lovely set up: eight raised beds, a shed (a man-cave for two!) and a soft fruit area. So it didn’t take long for me to be as keen as my husband about the joys of tilling the land (or scratching it with a trowel and sometimes with my bare hands anyway …), and maybe even more so. Because you don’t have to just grow veggies in an allotment. I’m a total flower tart but I hate cutting flowers from my own garden as it means I can’t gaze at them when I’m drinking my champagne on the lawn of an evening (dream on, eh). As a result, the concept of turning some of the allotment beds over to cut flowers was very exciting indeed. I left it to my husband to beat the veggies into submission.
So I began to write a blog on allotments and how much (and how quickly) they can take over your life: A Year in the Allotment (A Beginner’s Guide to Losing the Plot) grew (ha!) out of this seedling blog and is the story of our journey from total gardening ignorance to slightly less total gardening ignorance – well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a year is a mere drop in the ocean of gardening time. Along the way, we discovered we couldn’t tell the difference between celery and spinach, nobody really knows when a courgette turns into a marrow, the carrot fly is the Work of the Devil, and beetroot doesn’t have to be red.

I also fell in love with my rhubarb patch and became something of an expert in rhubarb crumble and even rhubarb cake – which I happily added to my weekly cake baking schedule. Yes, I really am a 1950s housewife writ large, but without their sense of style, sadly. There was also the rollercoaster ride of the Village Allotment Show  and whether our onions would ever be big enough (oo-err, missus …), not to mention Mole-gate and just how rude asparagus tips can look in a bed (an allotment bed I hasten to add – I’m not that strange. Well, not in public anyway ...)

So, get your pruning shears out and come and learn how not to lose the plot – happy allotmenteering to all!''

Find Anne and (for fantasy fiction).


Monday 14 March 2016

Busted! (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Little G is not one of nature's sharers when it comes to her snacks, treats or toys. The number of times I've asked her for a bite of something, to be told : 'No, MY croissant.' Annoyingly though, she is brilliant at sharing stuff you'd rather she didn't.

I discovered this the first time I 'encouraged' her to finish her lunch at Wagamama (where we go every Wednesday) by offering a small chocolate penny as a reward. One super-clean plate and one spread-all-over-the-face reward later, we were on our way back when You must be mad phoned for an update.

Given her strict instructions NOT to give Little G sweet stuff, it was a tad awkward to have my carefully edited report of our day so far backgrounded by ecstatic cries of 'I had a chocolate penny!'  L-Plate Grandad is currently helping me mind her in between jobs, and last Wednesday, he was caught out in exactly the same way.

After visiting the swings together, he and Little G went to a local cafe. He had a coffee and she had a babyccino, which she adores. At least, that's what he told me they both had. Going back to her house in the car however, a slightly different version of events emerged.

I was running through Little G's day with her, as we always do in preparation for You must be mad's return. 'You went to the swings, and then you had a babyccino with Grandad, didn't you?' I said. 'And a chocolate brownie!' the little blabbermouth announced gleefully.

I caught L-Plate Grandad's eye in the driving mirror. He had the decency to look slightly ashamed. 'Believe me, you won't get away with that,' I said.
And believe me, he didn't.

To be continued ...    ......

Saturday 12 March 2016

Of Mice and Moan

Every now and then Hedges Towers is invaded by mice. They come in from the cold, like in a John le Carre novel. Unlike in a John le Carre novel, they then find themselves face to face with a small tortoiseshell cat with a rodent fixation. They do not survive long. Unless I get out of bed at 3.35 in the morning and rescue them. Or as the cat thinks: join in the fun, but then selfishly take the small furry toy away.

I tracked their current invasion to under the kitchen sink. There is a square hole where the water pipes go out. After the last invasion I'd blocked it up, but fitting a new outside tap meant it had been unblocked. Re-blocked and applied peppermint oil. Cat then spent two nights staring fixedly at the cupboard door, like a replica of that old HMV advert with a small dog and a wind-up gramophone - but  this time with a cat and a cupboard.

Sadly, misfortunes like buses always arrive in pairs. I now discover that I must expend a shedload of money on new glasses.This is because our nice local optician told me on Wednesday that my glasses had basically 'had it' - I think she used some technical word, but the bottom line is, they can't bend them back into shape any more without the whole frame breaking apart. And the little nose thingies have split and cannot be replaced.

Most of the damage has been done over the years by me putting them down to do closeup reading and then lying on them. Or dropping them off various surfaces and then stepping on them while trying to find them again. The rest of the damage has been done by Little G. Apparently grandchildren are a HUGE source of glasses damage. Who knew?

So a frustrating hour was spent trying on alternative glasses - frustrating because I basically want The Identical Frames and they no longer make them. And I am so flaming short sighted that I can't 'see' myself clearly in new frames without coming within licking distance of the mirror, which is undignified on so many fronts.

The frames I like (the ones where you only have actual bits at the sides, I refuse to channel Irene Apfel) cost over £350 - I have an unerring knack of picking out the most expensive stuff. And the lenses - don't go there. Trouble is, no glasses, no life. Currently we are scrabbling around down the back of the sofa and tipping out the penny jar.

So, if anybody with a mouse problem wants to hire a small tortoiseshell cat - completely unreasonable rates, but mouse problem pretty well guaranteed to be solved, please apply. Elderly myopic writer needs new glasses to write blockbuster to pay for new glasses.

Friday 11 March 2016

Could YOU write the next 'Bestseller'?

So the brand that is 'Richard & Judy's Book Club' is running its literary competition once more. The accompanying letter states:

''If there’s one thing we’ve discovered in picking winning titles for our Richard and Judy Book Club, it is just how many fantastic new writers are out there. Since forming the club with WHSmith, we are proud to have launched the careers of a host of exciting debut authors.

So now it could be your turn to see your book in print. Together with  XXX we’re on the hunt for talented new writers, and when we find one of them we’re going to put them firmly on the road to a £50,000 publishing deal. (My italics)

Are You our next bestseller? We want to meet you.''

This latest competition is cross-making on so many levels. Firstly, the equation of writing with money is misleading as it suggests that there is very little kudos or purpose writing a book unless you intend it to join the 0.00000001% of those that have attained ''bestseller'' status.

...  nowhere is there any definition of what defines a 'bestseller'' apart from the implicit subtext that it equates with money: £50,000 ''advance'' is offered to the winner, plus 'advice' from an agent and a publisher. This advice will inevitably involve rewriting the whole thing, then altering and tailoring the book to fit the zeitgeist of the publisher's list. In other words, many such books are not written, they are created in-house.

You don't believe me? Most of the 'bestsellers' from 50 Shades to Harry Potter have achieved fame thanks to re-writes, coupled with the carefully structured publicity campaign of a crack marketing team. Some aspect of the writers' lives or experience has been seized upon and a narrative built around it. Exposure is everything. The classic example of this? My former editor at Usborne was one of the 25+ to reject the unsolicited mss of Harry Potter, before Ms Rowling got an agent, who was able to place the book. The editor did not even remember reading it. Go figure.

Sadly, the blurb makes no mention of the fact that many popular books have achieved their position solely on word of mouth. You read it, like it and recommend it to a friend. The buzz grows, the book sells, and suddenly the writer is topping Bookseller or Amazon lists. Nobody can set down the formula for that. Nor for the 'slow burn' book that might take years to rise from the general pool - though this is less likely to happen today, as publishers want fast results.

Nor is there any mention of the hard work most writers put in day by day to publicise their book. Sales do not happen by themselves. There is also not a single mention of the fact that writing a 'bestseller' is by no means the end of it. Once fame and fortune has beaten a path to your door, you will be under immense pressure to write the ''next'' bestseller, followed by the one after that.

So do I think you should not aim high? Absolutely not. I believe you always write looking at the stars, but aware that your feet are planted on the ground. Would I have liked to have written a ''bestseller''? Maybe when I started out being published, yes. Now, with 16 published books and many more unpublished ones, I really don't care any more, deriving much pleasure from a reviewer that ''gets'' the book, or someone who has enjoyed reading it and takes the time to tell me.

However, if you want to go in for the competition, go for it. Good luck, but keep a tight hold on your integrity.

Monday 7 March 2016

Talk the Talk (Adventures of L-PLate Gran)

Little G has started speaking in scribble. You must be mad and I are not sure whether this is a sign of great intelligence, or just a crafty method of ignoring us. I suspect it is her way of defying the numerous 'no's' and prohibitions that now arrive in her life on a daily basis.

She's sticking up the toddler two-fingers to the silly adults that refuse to let her go out in the freezing cold clad just in her vest, bunny slippers and pink sparkly ballet skirt. Or demand she has a nap when she doesn't want one.

'Gdnoty blurns fnadzin imbana,' she says, staring me in the face while making extravagant waving movements with both hands.

'Do you want a banana?' I ask.

She shakes her head.

'Blnrr rnhhststs abcdondly,' she says, giving me a palms-up.

I frown, shake my head. She is delighted. The one-sided conversation continues with Little G chatting away in fluent rubbish, and me tailing along verbally in her wake, feeling inadequate. Role reversal, that's what it's all about.

Mind you, thinking about the illogical stuff I catch myself saying to her, I can see why she has decided to launch a verbal counter attack.

'Unless you put your socks on, there won't be any ice cream after lunch,' I say.

'Stop wasting that fruit. Apples don't grow on trees,' I say.

'Don't pull Grandma's hands or they'll fall off,' I say.

See what I mean? Multiply that by whatever nuttiness You must be mad comes out with when I'm not minding Little G, and you can quite understand why, it's all gdnffgry imbdilly drncklow ... can't you?

To be continued ...   ....

Friday 4 March 2016

Writerly Advice: Don't Give Up the Day Job!

I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. Yep, I know that sounds heretical, but from a writer's point of view bookshops are the reason we are bottom of the financial food chain, even though WE are the reason they exist in the first place. It is unfair and I am miffed about it.

Bookshops do not have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 48% discount. This means that for them to stay in business, publishers in turn offer writers such measly returns on books (10% - if you are lucky, and that's on the discounted figure) that it just isn't worth bothering. The growth of ebooks is as much the greed of bookshops as it is the development of technology.

I was recently in a blog discussion about small publishers and royalties, and one of the participants (Dr Teika Bellamy: @MothersMilkBks) helpfully provided the following breakdown of costs:

On a £10 RRP (please note, these are approximate figures)

50% retailer (£5)
10% distributor (£1)
10% author (£1)
20% printer (£2)
10% publisher (£1) ← That 10% needs to cover things like ISBN costs, advertising, free books that are sent off to reviewers (and postage and packaging), illustrator’s costs, editing, proofreading, typesetting and all the various running costs of the business (including salaries if employers are paid).  
Based upon this, the writer at the bottom of the pile ends up with so little for all their years of hard graft that they might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).

Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. And most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous/hyped authors' because I can't get beyond page 9, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.

My local Waterstones had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. Now it has reinstated it, but they won't take my Victorian Detective books as I am self-published. More evidence of discrimination. Even though the quality of Createspace books rivals many other publishers' stock (and they frequently resort to POD companies anyway). Same policy with WH Smith. Same with most independent bookshops. Same with their suppliers.

I am lucky in that a local gift shop takes my books (at a slight discount) and sells them like hot cakes as I am not in competition with shelves and shelves of other titles. Now I am, let's face it, at the latter end of my career. And most of my sales now come from Ebooks.

But for a writer just starting out, full of expectation and hope, I'd have to say: Be realistic. Love what you do, be proud of your end product, but don't give up the day job. As a fellow writer remarked: 'unless you sell gazillions of copies, writing books is mostly for pleasure, or a little income to subsidise what else you have.'