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Wednesday 30 November 2011

New Christmas Story

I visited the garden centre yesterday and went goggly eyed over the decorations. I came away with a rather festive advent calendar and am beginning to feel just a little more Christmassy, so this story is probably a reflection of that.
It's the story of a little girl soaking up the Christmas sights, smells and sounds on a shopping trip with her mother. If you'd like to take a look, here's the link:
Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Publishing and E-Publishing

E-publishing is the huge news of the moment. Amazon's Kindle is probably the dominant force in the market, and offers what is becoming an increasingly viable alternative route for authors who cannot find a way through the firmly closed doors of the traditional publishers.
A visit to most of the big publishers' websites, and even a depressingly large number of agents, will reveal there are a vanishingly small number of opportunities for the debut. A deluge of rejections has always been viewed as a rite of passage for new authors, but the message coming from the industry nowadays is almost 'don't even bother'. Dispiriting indeed.
I have a raft of material just sitting in my computer, not being read, gathering digital dust. I don't expect to be the next J.K.Rowling, but I would like some readers. I'm beginning to seriously consider taking the e-pub route. Sadly, that mental image I have nursed since early childhood of my story on a shelf in the bookshop may have to undergo some adjustment.

News Archives

A new project has gone live today providing an online archive of British newspapers. It looks like one to bookmark and I imagine it will be a terrific resource for writers everywhere.
It will either be incredibly useful, or a great way to fritter away several hours! Sadly, having spent a little time exploring the site, I have to say that no struggling author could possibly afford to use it!

Monday 28 November 2011

Lost in my own Kitchen

I spent some time this morning rearranging and cleaning my kitchen. Now I can't find the bread and have a headache from walking into open cupboard doors.
It seemed like such a good idea when I started out this morning. Nothing seemed to be in the right place, electrical equipment mingled nervously with the pasta and rice, and the kitchen-waste bin lurked in the bottom of the larder, which struck me as unhygienic. I had a plan. I was going to shunt the crockery to that cupboard, the cereals would shift to there, all those electricals would decamp to one corner, the waste bin would be relegated to beneath the sink etc., etc.
The execution turned out rather differently. The bread maker was too tall for the spot I had chosen, as was the Kenwood mixer, we have far too many jars of home-made jam and bottled pears, and I still haven't found my favourite paring knife (I think I must have thrown it out with the peelings).
I have a sneaky suspicion that my time might have been better spent writing. At least then I'd be able to find my lunch.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Second Time Lucky!

The company behind the rather sudden fireworks display in Oban is making a return to the town tonight to put on a free five-minute display. The first one was supposed to last twenty minutes but a technical hiccup saw it all go up in 50 seconds, so I'm wondering what will happen tonight if the same glitch occurs. It could be over as soon as it starts!. It might be wise to avoid blinking, just in case!
Hope it all goes well and that the company and the good people of Oban have a fantastic and trouble-free display tonight.

Friday 25 November 2011

Public Sector Bashing

There's a lot of excitement in the news today about the planned public sector strike next week. What spin the story is given depends, needless to say, on individual publications. The Guardian offers support and sympathy, the Daily Mail, that champion of the new national sport of Public Sector Worker Bashing, offers spiteful and rather ill-informed sniping, the BBC, bless it, is so frightened of accusations of left wing bias, that it skips about uncertainly between the two extremes.
The truth is, the public sector is important to us all. We all use its services on a day-to-day basis, and we're all pretty much stuffed without it. Our roads would fall into total disrepair, we would have no street lights, no refuse collection, no education, no healthcare, no national security or defence, the list is endless, we take it for granted. 
Within their ranks are technologists, engineers, scientists, who earn a fraction of what they would earn in the private sector, thanks to a rather ill-conceived system for equal pay. Their salaries are a nonsense, which is why the public sector is haemorrhaging specialists and technologists at a terrifying rate.
The only perk the public sector offers is its pension. Remove that, and you're left with low pay and the warm feeling of doing something for your country as reward for public sector employment. It might be enough for some, but I suspect most would opt for high salary, bonuses, shares options, etc.
We should be very careful what we wish for. We may find that low pay and a diminished pension does not actually deliver the economically sleek, super-efficient public sector we dream of.

Thursday 24 November 2011

London's New Attraction

When does the next train leave for St Pancras? They have a wonderful new installation - a Lego Christmas Tree! I want one! More than that, I want the job of going around building them! What a job that would be!

Scream if you Want to go ...erm, Slower?

If you've just had your breakfast you may want to leave it an hour or so before you take a look at this video! It features a single-pipe coaster in Austria. Normally this coaster is taken at a more sedate speed but the thrill-seeker in the video decided to resist his brake for the duration.
I especially liked the bouncing toes and occasional heartfelt 'Wo!' as he hurtled over the bumps and curves.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Google Doodles

I'm opening myself up to accusations of having too much time on my hands here, but the truth is, I love the Google Doodles, and today's is possibly the best one yet. This one takes a bit of time, but it's worth it, though I have to confess, I have no idea what it's really about, other than being a tribute to Stanislaw Lem.
I hardly need publish the link to Google's homepage, I'm sure you all know it, but here is a useful link to the archive of all their Doodles, for anyone stumbling across this in the future who wants to know what I'm waffling on about!
My thanks to the rather brilliant student who emailed me this morning urging me to find the five minutes necessary to run the animation.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Young Offenders

I stumbled across an article on the Guardian's website today written by Amelia Gentleman. She offers an insight into life in a young offenders' institute. It's a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece and, whilst it may not be typical of the funnier side of life that I typically look for, it's well worth a read.
One article can't change the world or offer up solutions to a perennial problem, but if it opens minds and makes people think a little then it has definitely done its job. Having read it, I'm uncertain which side gets most of my sympathy, the staff for doing a thankless and sometimes dangerous job, or the young prisoners, many of whom might have fared rather better if they'd been given a better start in life. I was also struck by the fact that some of these boys have committed such serious crimes.
Some time ago I wrote a story that ties in with the subject of youth offending. It was perhaps a rather optimistic piece, but after reading this article you might be ready for something a little lighter. If you fancy a look, here's the link:

Monday 21 November 2011

Richard's Riting Blog Puts the Economy Right!

Apparently my link to the BBC's explanation of world debt inspired one of my fellow authors! Richard has written an excellent piece, offering sage advice for our baffled world leaders:
Let's hope they read it and take note, Richard!

Fishy Handbags

I'm probably not the best person to be offering an opinion on the story that I'm featuring today, as I'm one of the few women I know of who seems to have missed out on the handbag gene. I hate handbags. I hate carrying them. They always slide off my shoulder, or flop down into whatever I'm looking at, or get stuck in doors. Besides, they severely hinder my ability to run and climb fences - not that I often need to, but I like to know that I can if necessary!
This story is about the M&S handbags that smell of fish. Now let me see, I hate handbags, and I hate fish. This is not a combination that's going to have me running to the nearest M&S store! Anyway, a lady apparently purchased a silver handbag for her poor unsuspecting mother, only to find that she can't bear to use it because of the stench.
My advice, buy a coat with big pockets and, of course, don't ever, ever buy a silver handbag, whatever it smells of.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Gender Approach to Chores

Housework is something that I typically do in a frenzied hour on a Monday morning. Today, however, I found myself with some time to spare and decided to get the chore out of the way so I can crack on with writing tomorrow. Wielding my polish, I was sprinting around the house terrifying even the hardiest of dust into submission, when I was approached by my bewildered other half who nervously asked how he could help. I suggested he could take the vacuum for a spin if he liked.
Lesson learned. In future, the house will have to make do with its usual high speed assault. There is a very marked difference between the male and female approach to a vacuum cleaner. The female sees it as a necessary tool to get the job done as fast as possible. The male sees an array of attachments to be experimented and played with, hence he takes at least twice as long to complete the job. The result is, I must confess, a much more thorough clean, even in the crankiest of corners, but I still prefer to get the housework done at breakneck speed and get on to much more interesting occupations.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Hot Hot Christmas

The Christmas Market is in full swing in our town now. We took a slow stroll around to kill time before an optician's appointment, but it felt all wrong. I was wearing a summer jacket, people around me were in shirt sleeves, the sun was shining. It's hard to feel Christmassy when it's so warm. It should be cold, nose red, fingers numb, threat of snow, cold.
I didn't find any Christmas presents there. I don't know anybody who has a particular yearning for a set of Russian dolls, pretty though they were, nor can I think of any use for the strange metal animals, beaded necklaces, novelty hats or felt bags on offer. I was, however, rather taken with the idea of bratwurst, curry sauce and accompanying gluhwein!
Perhaps I'll go back if it ever gets colder here and try to find my Christmas spirit!

Friday 18 November 2011

News Round-Up

There are some curious stories in the news today, from Boris Johnson's pollution glue, to the horror of Berlusconi's decision to release an album of love songs, to the dog who has broken records by appearing in the stageshow 'Annie' for ten years - apparently he's paid in cheese and sausages.
One story on the BBC website that caught my eye was the chart explaining who owes what to whom. I was mystified by it at first, I hadn't realised that you had to click on the countries around the circle to get to the data - in my defence, I hadn't had my first coffee of the day at this point! Once I got my brain in gear, it actually turned out to be quite an interesting demonstration, albeit slightly terrifying!
I've no doubt there's some terribly sensible reason why we can't rebalance the debt, leaving just the net owing, I'm sure banks and financiers are involved somewhere, they have a way of twisting even the straightest of thinking, but when you see all those arrows to-ing and fro-ing you can't help but think it's all really rather silly.

Thursday 17 November 2011

New Story!

Well, the escaping cow did the trick! It tickled my funny bone and prompted a story. If you fancy a look, here's the link:
Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Extreme School Run

I used to grumble about walking to school, in part because I was lazy, probably more because I hated school! My perilous journey was a mile along a chaotic A-road, which seemed more than dangerous enough for me, but it would seem it could have been so much worse.
This story is about a group of children in a remote village in China who have a two day journey to their school at the start of each term. They traverse mountain passes and raging rivers, which makes the A41 seem a little tame by comparison!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Mooo-ving On (sorry!)

One of the cows in the field down the road escaped this morning. Apparently no wire cutters or pole vaults were used, nor did she dig a tunnel. Instead she chose the possibly more obvious route - she went for a paddle up the river!
I've no idea if she's been persuaded back to the fold, or if she's still wading determinedly upstream, but I'm staying inside with the door firmly closed in case the very large bull she shares her field with takes it into his head to follow her!

Monday 14 November 2011

It's a Cat's Life!

Well, the working week begins with the news that Larry the Downing Street cat is under fire for not maintaining proper control of the rodent population at the Prime Minister's digs! I shall avoid unnecessary and predictable politician jokes and merely say that I'm happy to hear that Larry is in no danger of losing his position, despite any deficiency he may have as a mouser! Perhaps he's related to my own less than successful bird control cat who has still to prove his worth.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Gadding About!

It's been a busy couple of days, which is my way of offering up an excuse for not posting! It's also been a very enjoyable couple of days, as we got to spend a little time with our beautiful daughter and her boyfriend, who I'm sure will not mind not being described as beautiful, handsome yes, beautiful probably not! They live in a wonderful part of the country and it's always so great to spend time with them, that I'll forgive their slight oversight in forgetting to order decent weather for Friday! Plenty of hugs with my precious girl compensates for anything!
Then today we visited Frances Whitman at her art exhibition. Her creations are stunning, tigers and leopards that you can almost see breathing, every hair painstakingly drawn by hand. It seems that the exhibition had drawn a fair crowd, and I'm sure there were many very happy customers leaving with some extremely special Christmas gifts.
The day was of course topped off by Hamilton winning the grand prix - great to see two British drivers on the podium!

Thursday 10 November 2011

Animal Story of the Day

To meddle, or not to meddle. In this case the decision was taken to very definitely MEDDLE! And how could they not?
Nothing like a heartwarming story to set you up for the day!

Tales From the Café - Volume One

Today's the day! Tales From the Café Volume One is now available on Amazon. And very good it looks too thanks to their brilliant designer.
An awful lot of work, late nights, and, usually, good natured debate has gone into its creation.
Great job guys!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Soppy but Sweet!

This story is everywhere, and rightly so! It's a terrific good news story at a time when the news is full of gloom. So, cast aside your cynicism and take a look at this:
And if you're anything like me, you'll want to have a box of tissues close to hand! Good luck to them both!

Occupation and Capitalism

Occupy camps are springing up all over the country, in fact, all over the capitalist countries of the world. It's hard, in the light of the current economic turmoil, not to have some sympathy with what they are saying, but there is always that undercurrent of extremism that makes the average person feel a little uneasy.
I don't have a problem with saying that the system is far from perfect. It's certainly true that the rich run the show and have a vested interest in making themselves richer and keeping the rest of us in our dutiful place, where we have little choice but to do the necessary donkey work. It's also true that many of the super rich don't pay their fair share, using every loophole to escape taxation, whilst the rest of us are hounded for every last penny.
But is capitalism itself to blame? Would things be better if we all earned the same? Would quality of life be better if we gave up our ambition to improve our lot? Surely not.
Life would be better for the majority if the minority who take the lion's share had been taught not to be so greedy when they were children. Life would be better if directors experienced some sense of shame for taking colossal pay rises whilst at the same time telling their staff to take pay cuts.
Sadly, I don't think there's any way to legislate that into society.

Monday 7 November 2011

Oban Lights up the Sky!

So eager were the performers in the Oban Community Fireworks Display that they flat refused to await their cue, all jumping into action within seconds of each other. My heart goes out to the organisers, it must have been devastating to see all those fireworks going up in one minute instead of thirty, but I'm sure it made for a pretty awe-inspiring, albeit short, show.
Hope you all had a great night, however long or short your display was!

Saturday 5 November 2011

Toffee Apples and Rockets

I trust everyone has made sure they have a fresh supply of ooohs and aaahs in! Bonfire Night just wouldn't be the same without them! The shops today have been frantically promoting their stocks of fireworks and sparklers, as well as all manner of tooth rotting delicacies, like toffee apples, popcorn, chocolates etc. Okay, okay, I succumbed to the popcorn - got to have popcorn (toffee coated, naturally!)
So, to everyone celebrating tonight, hope the weather holds for you, looks like it should, stay safe and have fun. Oh, and be sure to brush your teeth after all that sugar!

Friday 4 November 2011

Salute to the HGV driver

Last night in the wee small hours our village was visited by three articulated lorries. I realise that articulated lorries are hardly a rare species, but when they arrive in our village, particularly in the middle of the night, they cause a degree of excitement. They only ever venture along our narrow roads by mistake, normally when they have been diverted off the motorway, or miss their turning for the industrial estate.
I have to admit, I curse the lorries on the motorway and mutter and grumble when I get stuck behind one on an A-road. But when I see a driver reversing a huge car transporter through the jumble of a car dealer's forecourt, or a lost driver turning their behemoth around in a small village in the dark of night, I feel nothing but admiration.
So, to all the HGV drivers out there, I'm sorry for being grumpy when I'm stuck behind you!

Thursday 3 November 2011

Tales from the Café

It's an exciting time for the e-publishing group Café Three Zero. Our collaborative short story book is nearing completion and is almost ready for release. This is thanks in no small part to the work of a small team of dedicated individuals who have slogged away in the small hours preparing the material. We are all greatly indebted to them for their efforts. The book is entitled 'Tales from the Café - Vol. 1' and features short stories from a variety of authors, myself included. I'll update again when a release date is confirmed, but for further information about the group, as well as progress updates, take a look at the Café Three Zero website:

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Squirrel Cam

I swear I'm not looking specifically for funny or cute animal pictures when I plough through the news sites each morning, but sometimes they're hard to resist. What caught my eye today were the pictures taken by retired post lady, Kathy Pruyn, in Tampa. Apparently she has lots of peanut butter and time on her hands - I'd say she's putting both to excellent use!
It's silly, but I like it.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Halloween Hordes

I thought we were prepared. I'd been collecting yoghurt pots for months, the ones shaped like cauldrons, and we'd sprayed them black, then filled them with gruesome sweets. We had loads - we thought! This year though the trick or treaters were roaming in packs. Each time we opened the door there was another horde!
It's always a good natured affair around here, and they all make a massive effort with costumes and face paints, so I felt properly miserable when we ran out of cauldrons before the last couple of groups!
Next year I shall be less ambitious and go back to bags of party size sweets, cookies, and of course, jelly eyeballs! To those who arrived too late this year, I really am very sorry!

The Tiger and the Toddler

I seem to be developing a thing for tigers lately - maybe I should upgrade my failed bird catcher cat! - but I stumbled across this story that's circulating at the moment and had to share it.
Amazing pictures, though I do wonder what the tiger was really thinking. It appealed to me because the little girl made me think of my own little girl, who isn't so little anymore. She would have reacted exactly the same way at that age, totally fearless!