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Monday 24 December 2012

Best Wishes from Quirky Tales

Wishing you all 
a very Merry Christmas

and a Happy and
Prosperous New Year!

Thanks for your support in 2012.

Friday 21 December 2012

New Story!

There's a new story on the QT website today. I couldn't let a day like today pass without some sort of mention, so I've written a story called 'Apocalypse Delayed', which gives a pretty good clue to the plot.
Hope you enjoy it. Stay safe out there and watch out for spaceships!

Thursday 20 December 2012

CGI and Santa

Well, that's a relief! It wasn't real folks, you can step outside without fear now. Both eagle and child were fakes! Apparently the video on the Telegraph's site yesterday was a CGI student project. I hope they get an A, because it looked scarily real.
Perhaps more troubling news is that NORAD will be using Bing rather than Google for this year's Santa Tracker. I'm worried. I like Bing as a search engine, but its maps are rubbish. Fingers crossed it'll be alright because, I have to say, Christmas Eve would not be Christmas Eve without up to the second data on Santa's whereabouts.
Ooh, I just looked at the website! Three days and twenty one hours before he sets off! I must go and find my 'Santa, please stop here' sign. I'd hate for him to miss me!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Monsters Everywhere

There is a story on the Telegraph's site today that brings to mind fantastical stories by the likes of Roald Dahl. It's a story that takes me back to childhood nightmares of monsters and great slathering beasts all of whom saw me as an easy snack, inspired no doubt by the fact that I was small and nearly everything else seemed to be huge.
That's certainly true for the child in the video in the Telegraph's article. The toddler is quietly minding its own business, sitting in a field wondering where all the toys are, when out of a clear blue sky comes an eagle at top speed. It picks the toddler up by its coat and makes to fly off with it. Thankfully, it dropped the poor child after a second and, though understandably rattled, he or she was unharmed, but may go on to develop a lasting mistrust of birds.
I can feel the first whisps of a fantasy story wafting around in my head: giant bird, small child, amazing/ terrifying new world accessible only through the eagle's eyrie ...

Tuesday 18 December 2012

And Now for the Mews (Vacancy notice: new headline writer required)

The news is despicably gloomy. Apparently the media magnates and hacks of the world are completely oblivious to the fact that this is supposed to be the time of good will, which gives me precious little to blog about, other than to say I have almost finished the second story for the third QT Anthology (as yet to be named).
So, feeling the need for a little light relief, I'm turning today to a dependable source: Simon's Cat. There's a festive compilation of four cartoons of the mischievous cat's adventures on offer. If he can't put a smile on your face, I stand no chance!

Saturday 15 December 2012

Hidden Treasures

Lookout! Make way! Coming through! I knew it! I knew it all along! I mean, I was joking when I suggested that I might find a couple of million down the back of the sofa to buy Spitbank Fort, but clearly, deep in my psyche, I knew I was on to something. Well, at least I did if the story of Norman Hore is anything to go by. He found eighty five quid down the back of his, and all he was looking for was a lost plectrum! The best of it is, he only bought the sofa secondhand two years ago for £250, so most of it probably wasn't even his!
So far down ours, I've found an old tissue, a sweet wrapper and a small mountain of crumbs. I wonder what they'd fetch on Ebay.

Wednesday 12 December 2012


There's a video on YouTube of a badly signed junction. I know, sounds really boring. What it shows is a time lapse of the approach to the Rosslare ferry port and it's a pretty funny account of what happens when road layouts aren't properly signed. The approach splits into four lanes, one to the terminal, the other three to the ferry, but one of the lanes is, unaccountably, closed. To say it causes confusion is an understatement. In fact, several drivers appear so bewildered by it all that they give up entirely and go back the way they came. Whether they ever made it to the ferry or instead decided to cancel their holidays and stay at home is unclear.

Tuesday 11 December 2012


Ahem! Not that I'm preening or anything so vulgar, but I managed it! QT now has a Christmas Library! I didn't break it. Okay, it was a near thing, and there might have been a puzzled call to he who fixes the computer on a minor issue, but I got there! I now have a migraine forming thanks to too much studying of lines of HTML code, but it was worth it!
If you want to admire my handiwork (please don't get too excited) take a look at the Stories page on the QT website. So, now if you're feeling festive, or maybe if you're struggling to get into the spirit, all the Christmas quirkies are in one place.
Now, where did I put the ibuprofen?

New Story!

We're nearly halfway through advent already, so it seems only right to add another Christmassy type of story to the website. This one is called 'Compliments of the Season' and is about two brothers discovering the magic of a toy shop at Christmas. Just the thing if you fancy a bit of nostalgia, a healthy slice of sentiment, with a just a little seasonal twist.
I seem to be accruing a few Christmas tales now, so I'm planning on creating a new area in the library just for the seasonal quirkies. You have been warned. Anything could happen to QT as I don't totally know what I'm doing with HTML yet. But fear not, if I break it, he who fixes the computer is also pretty handy at fixing websites!
Hope you enjoy the story.

Monday 10 December 2012

Anyone for Stollen?

There was a story in the news over the weekend that left he who fixes the computer drooling. I refer to the BBC coverage of the Stollenfest in Dresden, where a humungous stollen cake is wheeled through the town on a horse drawn carriage. I've got to be honest, it doesn't do it for me, I can't stand the taste of marzipan, but even so, it all looked very jolly and if the expression on the little boy's face at the end of the article is anything to go by, it certainly seems to have found an appreciative audience there.
It makes the Stollen bites I bought for the computer fixer look a bit pathetic really. Perhaps to make more of a deal of them I'll stick them all together with butter and sugar and wheel them through the house in the wheelbarrow. (I don't know about anyone else, but I feel ill at the thought!)

Friday 7 December 2012

Fantasy Fort Episode Three

Okay, so in my fantasy world, I've found a few million quid down the back of the sofa, convinced the owners of Spitbank Fort to sell it to me, and I've purchased my vital escape craft. Now I can turn my attention to the more interesting elements, such as sitting up top with the firepit roaring, a nice glass of wine, watching all the ships sailing gracefully by.
But one of the irritations with watching the ships is working out who they are, what they carry, where they're going etc. Marine Traffic Live Ships Map to the rescue! This website uses the ships' AIS transponders to track their position. Clicking on a ship brings up a window with information about the vessel, its speed and course, and usually a picture. One word of caution, it's pretty addictive if you have any interest at all in ships.
Hm, I wonder if they have cable internet on the fort.

Thursday 6 December 2012

Emergency Exit

Yesterday I was getting all excited by the idea of living of Spitbank Fort, today I've found vital safety equipment for it. See, I'm getting organised. The shopping list has started, now I just need to find some cash and convince the owners to sell. Anyway, today's item should warm the hearts of the health and safety types as it's all to do with emergency evacuation, in the form of a freefall lifeboat. I know, nothing new about that, but this one has been tested dropping from a record breaking 200 feet, so it should be more than able to cope with a launch from the fort.
I couldn't get the sound working on the video on the Mail's coverage of it, but the footage pretty much tells its own story. I particularly like the way the boat bounces back to the surface - I do like a boat that wants to float!

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Location is Everything

I love the south coast. One of my favourite places is Portsmouth, if for no other reason than I can see so many of my other favourite places from there. You also get some close-up views of the ships passing the Isle of Wight on their way to Southampton.
Located in the channel between the island and Portsmouth is Spitbank Fort, one of four built to defend the Solent against invasion. It's been privately owned for many years now and I've often pondered it, considering the merits and hazards of living in the middle of a busy shipping channel. On the plus side the views must be amazing, on the downside it must be a complete pain when you run out of milk.
The fort was sold a couple of years ago (sadly I couldn't afford it) and the current owners have turned it into a high class B&B. A night's stay sets you back £350 which is rather more than I typically pay (by around about £300!) but it looks stunning. Not that I'd spend much time looking at the interior, I'd be up top the whole time watching the ships.
I'm hoping it might be back on the market by the time I've made my fortune.

Monday 3 December 2012

Feeling Glum?

If you're feeling a bit glum today, take a look at the photos of Charlie the boxer dog on the Daily Mail's site.
You'd have to be seriously gloomy not to smile at that face.

The Return of the Bells

While writing the stories for the second QT anthology I happened across the story of a village forced to silence its much loved church bells after two new residents complained. The idea of someone moving to a house near a church and then grumbling about the bells was so absurd that it sparked a story called 'Outbreak of Bells'. I turned my take on the story to my own satisfaction, but often found myself wondering about the real Somerset village bereft of its bells. Well, I am happy to report that the abatement order has now been withdrawn, and the bells are now ringing hourly, less than before, but at least they're ringing.
On the subject of the anthology, it's been brought to my notice that there is an issue with giving ratings. It would seem that ratings prompted by your Kindle device at the end of the book are not making it to the Kindle store. I'm trying to establish why, but I suspect it's something to do with the UK site. So if you feel inclined to rate 'Unseen Stories', I'm afraid it has to be done online rather than from your device. If I ever get a definitive answer I will, of course, let you know.

Friday 30 November 2012

The Good Cop

I spend a lot of time trawling through the news sites, looking for stories that might inspire me. A lot of the time what I find depresses me beyond belief. Occasionally I find one so touching it brings a tear to my eye. There's one such story featuring on many sites today.
It's the story of a New York cop who bought a pair of winter boots for a barefooted homeless man. I'm linking to the Daily Mail's coverage of the story because, as is so often the case, they've given the story the most coverage.
For the cynics out there, from what I can gather having read the story on various sites, the police officer didn't know he was being photographed, he was just genuinely concerned for the poor guy.

Man's Best Friend

It snowed! Admittedly only a teeny bit, but still. We woke up to a smattering of snow! Last weekend the country was in the grip of howling wind and driving rain, this weekend it's frozen!
And it would seem that the UK is not alone in facing weather issues. A storm in the Netherlands left firefighters wrestling with a dangerously damaged tree. Their attempts to haul the tree safely to the ground with a rope seemed to be failing, until a passing dog came to the rescue.
I swear, they couldn't have done it without him!

Thursday 29 November 2012

New Story

There's a new story with a seasonal flavour on the Quirky Tales website today. It's called 'Crackers', which either describes the story or possibly myself, take your pick. In short, Christmas dinner turns up some unexpected treats for the family. There's no deep message in it, just a little dose of sentiment.
Hope you enjoy it.

Health and Safety Made Fun

The words 'health and safety video' typically inspire a feeling of dread and images of a rather dreary man in a hi-viz jacket speaking woodenly into a wobbling camera. It would seem that the Aussies do it rather better, however. Metro Trains Melbourne has come up with a cartoon designed to help people understand that dicing with their trains, trying to beat level crossing gates and not taking care on platforms are actually pretty dumb things to do.
I feel I must issue a couple of warnings:
  • for those of a sensitive disposition: the film depicts cartoon characters in scenes of extreme peril and even suffering grizzly ends
  • you're going to be singing that darned song for the rest of the day

Wednesday 28 November 2012

An Unusual Sort of Home

We have a cowbell hanging up at the back of our house, a clichéd memento from a trip to the Alps. For the most part, I forget it's there, normally receiving an abrupt reminder when I clonk my head on it en-route to the garage. But recently we've been having some strange experiences in its vicinity. For instance, the other day when I blundered out there to unlock the garage door, I was shocked to hear a frantic fluttering of wings, mere millimetres from my ear as I walked by the bell. Now, admittedly it was getting dark, but I was pretty sure I would have seen any bird perched on it. I mentioned it to he who fixes the computer and he confirmed that he'd had similar experiences. Our suspicions rose as further incidents occurred.
So today when I went out to unlock the door I kept a careful watch on the bell. I'll confess right now, I did jump, and I may even have gasped, but as I passed by, a bird (we've since discovered it's a bluetit) flew out from inside the bell. Dry, impossible for predators to get inside, the enterprising bluetit has obviously decided it makes the perfect shelter.
I've yet to work out how he perches inside it. I have visions of him tying himself to the clapper so he can nod off without falling out. However he does it, he's definitely claimed our Alpine memento as his home.
Now, I must remember not to accidentally walk into it when going to the garage.

Crazy Coaster

Those of you who have been following this blog for some time might remember a post about a You Tube video of a guy haring down a monorail in Austria. The guy was David Jellis, the single-pipe coaster was the Mieders Alpine Coaster, and the video was of him riding the rail without using his brakes.
Well, David Jellis is back, this time on a slightly larger coaster, still abstaining from brakes. The coaster this time is the Imst Alpine Coaster, but his attempt to break the record descent time is foiled by his friend riding the car in front who, clearly thinking of a future beyond the next two minutes, has taken a slightly more cautious approach.
It's worth running the video just to listen to the insane giggling.

Monday 26 November 2012

The Dreaded Ideas Clog

I was staring at a blank screen, tapping out sentences that I immediately deleted, fighting every word that tried to make the perilous journey from brain to keyboard. It was hopeless. I couldn't write. Ideas disintegrated, narrative became clumsy, dialogue absurdly laboured. At last in frustration, I got up and walked away from the computer taking my notepad and pen. Suddenly the ideas were flowing faster than I could get them down. My pen nib was at breaking point as I scrawled down a story plan, trying to capture all the key points before they vanished.
It added poignancy to the report on the BBC news site last week suggesting that some people favour old fashioned typewriters as they force a writer to focus so much more. The lack of an easy delete, or a swift peek at the internet, or the emails, or a You Tube video, means the ideas box finally creaks fully open and the brain is allowed to focus on that one task.
Maybe I need to restart my internet diet, turn off the radio, close the curtains, and pretend my worn out Comfort Curve keyboard is an old style Brother. While I'm at it, I might see if I can find a sturdy prop for my ideas box. Mine keeps slamming shut just as I'm reaching in.

Sunday 25 November 2012

A Grand Finish

We might have to buy a new television, I think I've screamed our old one into oblivion. But it was worth it. Sebastian Vettel won the Formula 1 World Championship! For the third time! Despite driving backwards for part of it along a damp race track, with racing cars hurtling towards him at race speed!
Congratulations to Vettel on a richly deserved title win. Congratulations to Team Red Bull, for their championship team win. And congratulations to Jenson Button, for a supreme piece of wet-weather driving all the way to the race win.
Now I'm off to Comet to see if they have any televisions left.

Friday 23 November 2012

Returning to Strategy

Home computers started their march into common parlance while I was still in school. I remember well the excitement of owning a ZX Spectrum. I also remember well the frustrations of copying out lines of code on that awful keyboard only to find the resulting programme was so full of bugs that, had it been a dog, it would have been euthanised by a compassionate vet. But despite it's limitations it became quite a cult in my school, with games and pokes being swapped at breaktime. I have fond memories of Manic Miner, Jet pac and that hit and miss business of stopping the tape at just the right point to add the line of code that gave unlimited lives.
I continued as a gamer for several years, becoming something of an addict with the advent of the Myst series. No pokes, no tapes, just an awesome game that challenged the intellect. I adored those games. Sadly, they are no longer made. Gaming moved away from beautiful settings, puzzles and escapism and descended into anarchy, shooting, maiming and killing. I hate what's happened. Games like Myst were a force for good. I came away from playing them feeling calm, contented, intellectually elevated. I don't think anyone could honestly claim to feel that when they play Call of Duty. I know it's unlikely that the cut-throat business of gaming will return to such expensive and detailed productions, but I lament their passing all the same.
I still play SimCity 2000 on my creaky old Windows laptop. It's flaky at best, the graphics frequently struggle, at times it locks up completely, and I've played it so many times now that I know all the tricks and fixes, so it hardly represents a challenge any more. Which is why I was delighted to hear that a new version is due to be released. This version looks to be graphically intense. A new laptop will certainly be required to handle the processing, but if this signals a return to a more strategic type of gaming, I'll raid the kitty, sweep the streets, and take on a paper round to raise the money for a new machine. It will, to me, be worth it.
For anyone interested, video footage of the new far more interactive game is available on the SimCity website.
I'm waiting with baited breath for the return of the Myst series. Please? Anyone?

Coder at Work

A few years ago, when our daughter started in the sixth form, he who fixes the computer designed an add-on for Firefox which would allow her to toggle her computer settings between home internet and school internet at the click of a button.
He made it available to the wider community where it proved popular, with most people giving the add-on glowing reviews. There were the odd one or two who seemed to think a free add-on to toggle internet proxy settings should also be able to boil the kettle, walk the dog and service the car, but you always get folk like that. The one criticism was that the button was in the status bar at the bottom of the page rather than in the toolbar.
He who fixes the computer hadn't a clue how to put the button in the toolbar and lacked the time to figure it out, so the button stayed at the bottom. He recently found a bit of time and so began the research, the experimental coding, the mumbling punctuated by the occasional outburst of slightly manic laughter. Last night it didn't appear to be going well. He's not a man given to foul language, but it seemed to be a close thing at times. But then he started punching the air. He has it figured. The button is on the toolbar. He has a bit of dotting and crossing to do before it's available to the user, but it was a happy computer fixer strutting and preening around the house last night.
Hopefully the users will be pleased with the results, though no doubt there will be someone who thinks it should now be able to predict the lotto results, pinpoint the location of Atlantis and stop all natural disasters. They'll have to wait a bit longer for that.
Toggle Proxy is available on the Firefox add-on site.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Pothole Art

The roads around these parts are in a bad way. Negotiating one particular junction close to our home requires a sturdy 4x4, ropes, a couple of planks and a steady nerve. I heard a rumour that a Smart car was lost in the ravines there the other week and has never been seen again. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but only a little.
It's not just that all the potholes and ruts and bumps make for uncomfortable journeys and additional repair bills, they're unsightly too. So much so that one artist/ gardener/ photographer has set out on a project to turn potholes into little gardens. He says he's not trying to make a point, he just wants to make people smile, so he fills potholes with grass and plants and even miniature benches and accessories.
He photographed his 'gardens' and compiled a book available from Amazon, called 'The Little Book of Little Gardens'.
If it ever stops raining I might head out with my trowel and see about beautifying some of our local potholes. Just don't tell the council!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Torture by Bacon

My morning walk takes me past a house where breakfast of choice is bacon. Every day. Every - single - day. Even on a wet and windy day like today, with every house buttoned up against the weather, the smell of frying bacon stretches out, through the letterbox, across the front lawn, and all the way down the road. It's enough to drive you mad. One day, I'm going to turn up on their doorstep with an empty plate and a pleading look. It'll serve them right for torturing me every morning.
So when I sat down at my desk this morning, tummy rumbling and thoughts of bacon resolutely fixed in my head, the story I found on the Mail's website was almost too much to bear. It's the story of a beautiful model train. It's absolutely stunning, every detail exquisitely rendered, each part as close to technical perfection as possible. So why, I hear you ask, did it excite such a reaction in me? The entire thing, right down to the fruit in the bowl in one of the carriages, is made of chocolate.
The rumbles from my stomach are now practically deafening. Bacon. Chocolate. Bacon. Chocolate. Coming soon to a social networking site near you: a photo of me gnawing determinedly on a corner of my desk.

Monday 19 November 2012

When Santa got Stuck .. in the Shopping Mall?

Okay, I told you I'd keep my eyes open. Here's a funny:
Father Christmas arrived to switch on the lights at a Reading shopping centre. To make his grand entrance it was decided he should abseil in - apparently sleighs are out this year. Unfortunately he reckoned without his beard and got stuck, 15ft from the ground, his whiskers firmly entangled in his ropes.
To all the good children out there, do not be alarmed. Father Christmas was eventually rescued and now has his feet, and his beard, safely back on the ground. I think next year he plans to stick with his old fashioned sleigh.

Today's Roundup

There are some good news stories out there at the moment but you have to dig to find them. Possibly the most exciting news comes from the scientists who have reversed paralysis in dogs by injecting them with cells from the lining of their noses. It's a long way from offering a treatment for paralysed humans, but it's still a huge breakthrough.
There is also of course the news that the annual BBC Children in Need appeal raised even more money than last year, achieving a record £26.8m. I think I must be getting old and cranky because I found myself switching off after about fifteen minutes, my tolerance for the amateurish antics of some of the presenters failed me - bring back Gabby Roslin, please! Nevertheless, it's a fantastic achievement and the money will be put to the very best use helping children in desperate need. Donations are still being collected on the Children in Need website.
On the home front, we received some bad news about the endowment mortgage so we have chosen to be sensible and not use the savings in the purchase of a motorhome. Once we're finally rid of this rotten mortgage we can spend our money how we choose, but until then the house has to come first.
After a break from the writing I'm now back in creative mode and have started a new story which will hopefully find its way into the third of the QT Anthologies. Book Two still proudly sports its five star review, and I've received some fantastic comments and feedback from readers. If you have any questions or comments about any of the Unseen Stories, please feel free to comment on this post and I'll answer as best I can.
Meanwhile Christmas preparations are going well, though I know I'll have a meltdown in a couple of weeks and descend into a flat panic.
So that's todays roundup. My eyes are peeled for funny news stories to share with you, but supplies seem to be running low. Watch this space!

Thursday 15 November 2012

A Tall Story

There is a man from Dundee who dresses in a giraffe costume, made by his mother, who goes out and carries out good deeds for total strangers. Sometimes he hands out bananas, sometimes he gives out coffee, he's helped clean a beach and cages at a cat and dog home, and he's given out vouchers to new mothers, all while dressed in his giraffe costume.
He busks to raise the money to fund his good deeds and hitchhikes to his chosen destinations, though only in convertables because, clearly, a giraffe just wouldn't fit in a conventional car.
According to the BBC's story of the 'Good Giraffe', he chose to be a giraffe because they're his favourite animal. He also admits that, like giraffes, his head is in the clouds but his heart is in the right place.
I'm normally a bit spooked by people in costume, but the Good Giraffe looks so funny and is obviously such a lovely guy, I could be persuaded to overcome my phobia.

Wednesday 14 November 2012


On my daily prowl through the BBC news site I came across a story that really got me thinking. It's the story of an Iranian professor who's photograph was mistakenly used by the Western media in the coverage of the brutal death of a young woman at a demonstration in Tehran.
The two women had similar names, the professor was Neda Soltani, the murdered demonstrator was Neda Agha-Soltan, which led to the professor's image being taken from her Facebook page in a case of spectacular misidentification. The rest of the media then followed suit and the unwitting and entirely uninvolved professor's image became the face of the story.
She quickly found herself having to answer to the Iranian authorities, who initially wanted to use her to counter what they saw as Western propaganda. When she refused things really got ugly and she was forced to flee the country.
Had she stayed, there's a good chance she would have been executed as a traitor, but fleeing meant giving up everything, her home, her family, her friends and her career. All because someone didn't care enough to check they had the right person.
Mistaken identity, extraordinary consequences, the total lack of understanding or concern by the media - I'm a little uncomfortable by how this story has inspired me to write, but I suppose we can't always be inspired by daffodils.
For more on this story, here's the link to the BBC's website.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Defying the Odds

You might think that reaching your 106th birthday would be enough cause for celebration, but for one Flintshire man it has even more significance, since he was declared dead 76 years ago. Injuries resulting from a serious disagreement with a motorbike led doctors to believe that Sam Ledward had died. Thankfully as he was wheeled to the morgue the porter noticed a slight movement and rushed him straight back to the ward. He now puts his long life down to sheer luck, but I reckon the porter deserves some of the credit.
Wishing you a very Happy Birthday, Mr Ledward!

Friday 9 November 2012

Purrfect Delivery (sorry!)

I believe I may have mentioned before on this blog how much I like receiving parcels, but I've decided that from now on I want them all to be delivered by Rudi Saldia. Before he who fixes the computer flies into a jealous rage, I should point out that while Mr Saldia is a handsome young man with a very cool moustache, what makes him so attractive as a delivery man is his ever present assistant. Mr Saldia is cycle courier from Philadelphia and his assistant is his cat, MJ, who accompanies him by riding on his shoulder. The Mail website has plenty of photos as well as a video of MJ and Rudi in action, from which it's clear to see that MJ and Rudi adore each other. MJ seems very contented perched on her owner's shoulder, and I don't imagine there is a cat anywhere else in the world that gets more fuss and attention.
I wonder if they could be persuaded to deliver to a small village in the UK ...

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Ian Rankin on Imagine

I just watched the BBC programme 'Imagine' featuring Ian Rankin and his writing process. I found it fascinating and was stunned by so much of what he said about writing: the panics, the research, the ideas, the gnawing fear. In my case, I have all of those, but then I'm not there yet as an established writer. He's a bestselling author and he still doubts himself.
It was enlightening to watch his process, beginning in January with a trawl through his folder of ideas, to thumping out the first draft on his laptop - how does he type so fast using only two fingers? I was interested to see that he took a road trip to reassure himself of the geography of his book and how being in those places inspired new lines of narrative.
The programme has left me feeling slightly more hopeful, though perhaps not altogether optimistic about my chances of coming up with the winning formula in my writing. He had a hard time initially getting people interested in Rebus, perseverance was the key. It's hard to persevere when you're not at all sure you have any talent to start with, but still, I do now have a five star review!
I also realised we even share an approach to dealing with the endless PPI Claimline calls - though of course I would never use such colourful language, honest Mum!
It was an inspirational programme and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in writing, or the work of Ian Rankin.


Halloween is over, Fireworks night/ week/ month, is gone, and now the UK prepares for its annual day of Remembrance. It's always a poignant day, but particularly so this year as it falls on Sunday, Armistice Day.
As part of its commemoration of this sombre time, the BBC has produced a video of the Poppy Factory. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of the symbol of our remembrance and well worth finding a few minutes for.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Fighting Back After Sandy

The reassuring clonks from the heating pipes, as well as the odd gurgle from the radiators (they need bleeding!) were welcome sounds this morning as our part of the UK woke up to a thick frost. Even with the heating on I can feel a slight chill in my fingertips, but I'm not going to complain when, with the weather turning ever colder, so many people in the States have lost their homes and so many more still have no power following the destruction caused by Hurricane/ Storm Sandy.
And yet, amidst the chaos and misery, emerge stories of the best of humanity.
There are tales across the internet of people who still have power, feeding out cables and inviting people to charge their phones. There are stories of bands of neighbours working together to clear fallen trees from nearby roads. Donations of money, food and clothing have poured in to the relief fund. Then there's the man who's become known as 'the coffee guy' because each morning he goes out and fires up his outside gas grill to make coffee for neighbours and emergency workers. Not to mention all the eateries in New York providing free food and the sports clubs offering people free exercise, shower and phone charge.
It's amazing how often you can find the good stuff beneath a bad news story. Best wishes to all those caught up in the current difficulties. Wishing you all a speedy return to normal, and no more rotten weather.

Monday 5 November 2012

QT Anthology Success

It's been an exiting weekend. The launch of the second of the QT Anthologies was a great success, with a healthy download rate that saw it ranking high on the first page of anthologies. So, a huge thank you to all the readers out there who downloaded the book.
And to 'andy', I haven't been able to wipe the five star smile off my face yet. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to leave feedback, not just for the five star review of Book Two but also for the four star review of Book One.
Book Three is still on the drawing board. It's taken a back seat lately while I've been completing other projects but I plan to get to work on it in earnest in the next few weeks. I've been working on a longer story, a thriller, that I hope to include in it but it's already topping the scales at 30,000 words. It may be that it's too long to warrant inclusion in a short story collection, but if I can balance it out with the other stories it might work. I'll post progress reports here every so often.
The other bit of excitement this weekend was a mini step forwards in the motorhome hunt. We travelled down to look at a van advertised on a dealer's website, anticipation turning to dismay when we saw the state of it. I should perhaps stick to diplomatically saying we won't be parting with our savings on that one! But whilst there we saw another van, much newer, a better layout, pristine and beautiful. It was too expensive, but we put in a tentative offer and await news. It's only a teeny step, but it's a step nonetheless.
So, a good weekend all round. Thank you again to all my readers. I hope you're enjoying the anthology. And to anyone who missed out, the collection is available from Amazon. Clicking the book on the right will take you to the relevant page. The free promotion may have ended, but it's still a bargain price!

Saturday 3 November 2012

Just a Reminder

Don't forget that the launch promotion for the second of the QT Anthologies is still running. If you haven't already downloaded the collection there's still time to get it for the bargain price of ... nothing! My favourite price! The promotion ends sometime tomorrow, so don't delay.

Friday 2 November 2012

Fisher Dog

There is a short video on the Telegraph's website today showing footage of a flooded river in Washington. The flooding is, perhaps unexpectedly, causing problems for the local fish. The river burst its banks and covered a nearby road, leaving migrating salmon facing some previously unknown hazards i.e. road traffic and, as the video demonstrates, pet dogs!
I love that dog. He looks so happy with his fish. But he's going to be so disappointed when the floods recede.

Go for Launch!

The Launch Promotion of The QT Anthology, Book Two, Unseen Stories has now started! The book is available, free of charge, from now until Sunday 4th November. 

Thursday 1 November 2012

QT Anthology, Book Two

The second of the QT Anthologies is now ready. I'm launching it this weekend with a free promotion running for three days, starting Friday 2nd November, ending Sunday 4th November. I can't be specific about start times as they do vary, so please do check that it's on promotion before you download.
Here's the product description:

The second of the QT Anthologies comprises fourteen brand new stories of varying length and genre. Featuring the light-hearted experiences of a night school cleaner, the fable of Jack Frost, a thriller set in the mountains, storms, villains, and heart-warming tales, there's something in this collection for everyone. To help you choose which story to read next each title is listed with its word count, ranging from 500 words to 10,500.

And here's the link to the Kindle page: The QT Anthology, Book Two, Unseen Stories
I'm pretty proud of this collection. There are some short and silly ones, but there are also some much longer, more thoughtful stories. I had a lot of fun writing them and I really hope you enjoy reading them.

Helicopter Hero

There's a great story on the Mail's site this morning. It features a tree, a helicopter and a remote controlled plane. Two men were in a helicopter when the pilot noticed a boy flying a remote controlled aeroplane. As they watched, the boy crashed his plane into a very tall tree and presumably thought it was lost forever, but the pilot decided to come to his rescue. Scroll through the article to the video at the bottom. It'll put a smile on your face.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

New Story

Well, the weather might be about to take a turn against Halloween. Maybe I won't have to fend off the hordes of trick or treaters after all, but perhaps the event could be marked with a bit of spooky story-telling instead.
With that in mind, I've added a new story to the QT website today. This one is a teeny bit creepy, just right for reading this evening by the light of your Jack-o-Lantern! If you fancy a look, it's called Black Dog.
Hope you enjoy it. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

As I'm sure everyone is aware, a super storm is currently battering the east coast of the USA. The footage on the news is horribly reminiscent of the film 'The Day After Tomorrow'. My thoughts are with all those caught up in it. Let's hope the damage wreaked is nowhere near as bad as feared.

Halloween Preparations

With Halloween looming, I've been looking for easy ways to prepare for the onslaught. Normally I look forward to it, but last year we had so many trick or treaters that within an hour we'd been stripped bare. It was like swarming locusts out there. I know, I know, Halloween is supposed to be scary, but this truly was the stuff of nightmares.
Maybe I could take inspiration from Marc Hagan-Guirey, an artist who recreates scenes from horror films using painstakingly cut and folded card, kirigami (like origami but even harder). Stunning they may be, easy most certainly not.
So, I suppose our carved pumpkin and coloured light bulbs will just have to suffice. This year we've bulk bought sweets from the local cash and carry. As tempting as it is to just to set them out at the front door and leave the trick or treaters to fight over them, a degree of effort has come to be expected of us. So no doubt I'll be knotting black wool into a giant spider's web in the porch again this year.
One year I'm going to go all out and make the house so incredibly scary that the little darlings will be too terrified to approach. I suspect it might take a bit more than folded card and a black wool spiders web.

Monday 29 October 2012

Changing the Clocks

On my morning news trawl I came across the story of a couple who have lived the last six years on British Summer Time. They no longer alter their clocks in Spring and Autumn. It began as an experiment to see if it would help tackle a medical condition, and they insist it works so well they've stuck with it. I find myself doubting. It sounds good, and as someone who finds the time change infuriating, not to mention pointless, I should be all for it. But how could you realistically live your life an hour ahead of everyone else?
I suggest we all just drop the whole nonsense of changing the clocks and keep the whole country in summer time all year round. And don't give me that rubbish about changing the clocks to give us more hours of daylight - the sun doesn't stay in the sky longer because we change the time. You get the same amount of day, just an hour earlier, which means night arrives an hour earlier. I've never worked out how that's supposed to be better.

Blogs of Note

The observant among you may have noticed a discussion between Richard and myself in comments on the post about working for your pension. In closing we both agreed that the topic would be a good one for 'John', which may not have meant much to most of my followers. 'John's' creator/ author, Jim, uses his character to ponder current affairs and political botchings, usually in the setting of a variety of taverns, fuelled by a bewildering array of ales. I'm delighted to say that Jim now has a blog up and running. He only has three stories up so far, but I'm sure he'll be adding more in the coming days. So if you're in the mood for some wry bar room politics, check Jim's blog.
While I'm on this subject, I'd like to put in another shout for Richard's blog. Richard's humour is legendary among the Café ThreeZero members, and is usually much in evidence in his short stories and poetry. Look out for his sea stories - they say write from experience, as a former sailor, these are definitely his speciality.

Friday 26 October 2012

Three for One

I couldn't choose which story to share with you today, so I'm going to share three. Go on, they're only small, and it is the weekend.
I'll start with the slightly sad one, which is the news of the closure of Ford's Southampton and Dagenham plants. The BBC has put together a short gallery of Ford Transits through the years, which is a rather nice way of paying tribute. I especially like the one carrying the dinosaur - transits must have been around even longer than I realised.
Next is a cute one. A bus driver was plagued by a strange noise on his bus, even his passengers noticed it, but he couldn't track it down until he pulled the panels off his dashboard. There, curled up fast asleep, was a kitten who had apparently clocked up some 120 miles as a stowaway. The kitten has now been adopted by a member of the bus company. When you look at the picture of the bus driver holding him, with the kitten's tiny paw on his arm, it's not too hard to see why.
And the last one is a funny. A reporter, whose wardrobe choice for presenting a piece to camera from a small boat is highly questionable, went into a panic when the fish she was holding suddenly started thrashing. She reacted in the only sensible way possible: she fell over backwards, into the arms of a startled official, leaving them both in an undignified heap on the floor of the boat. Sadly, I don't think it ended too well for the fish but, as that wasn't the original intention of those involved, I'm prepared to forgive them. The video clip is at the bottom of the Mail's article.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Working for Your Pension, After You've Worked for Your Pension

Lord Bichard has come up with an idea so typical of the governors of our society that it would be hilarious, were it not for the fact that he appears to be in earnest: he suggests that retired people should have to work in order to continue receiving their state pension.
Bear with me. I'm taking a breather here while I order my thoughts.
Okay, the first thought is: haven't retired people have already worked for their pensions?
Second thought: most retired people I know already help their younger relations with childcare, and their older relations with health care, often leaving little or no time for themselves, or any voluntary work imposed upon them by the distant and rather clueless elite.
Third thought: don't we all look forward to retirement in the hope that we might have a few years of decent health left in us to at least do some of the things we've always wanted to? If we're forced to spend three days a week volunteering, we're not going to have a lot of time left for the hobbies we've always dreamt of.
And lastly, I'd like to deal with the suggestion that the younger generation is subsidising the older generation by paying the taxes that fund their pensions. Erm, I thought that was how it worked. Didn't the current pensioners do that for the previous generation? When you work, you pay taxes that fund pensions, benefits and public services. When you retire, your reward is your own not exactly spectacular pension.
I despair. I'm trying to think happy thoughts. Cute fluffy bunnies. Parties. Christmas lights. Vicar of Dibley. Cake. Aaaagh! It's not working!
Sorry, I was so exercised by the story, I forgot to post a link: pensioners should work for their pension.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Doodles to Artwork

There's something about picking up a sharpened pencil and a fresh clean sketch pad. I love to draw. I'm not especially talented, I don't kid myself about that, but I still find a sketch pad and a good 2B pencil hard to resist.
Having seen the Mail's article about Ramon Bruin's creations, I suspect I shall be raiding the landing cupboard for my art materials this evening. He draws snakes and monsters that appear to leap out of the paper, moving from one sheet to the next. They're fantastic.
To be honest, I used to draw in a similar fashion, admittedly not to the same standard, in my science books at school. For some reason my teachers seemed to lack an appreciation for my particular art, but I maintain to this day that the odd snake or hand reaching out from some of the less exciting aspects of the endocrine system adds much needed interest.

Friday 19 October 2012

Digging out the Happy News

There's been a lot in the news this week, but very little of it has been cheery enough to warrant a mention on the blog. There seems to be an endless supply of gloomy economic news, the ongoing shock revelations about Jimmy Savile (let's be honest, is anyone really surprised?), and ever more tales of the police making mistakes (I don't doubt that they do make mistakes, but the media has a nasty habit of judging hardest those people doing the toughest jobs).
Added to which, there's been absolutely no news on the motorhome front: the dealer websites haven't produced the gem we're looking for yet, meaning that particular thread of discussion remains dormant.
Thankfully the Mail has produced a heartwarming story to cheer everyone up for the weekend. It concerns paddle-boarder Charlie Head, who paused in the middle of an arduous row from Cornwall to London to rescue a poor stranded dog. How 'Bam-Bam' came to be stranded on rocks as the tide came in is a mystery, as is the location of his owner. Thank goodness the hero of the story happened to be paddling past at the right moment.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

My Next New Career

That's it. I'm done with writing, I'm finished with office work, no more computer graphics. I've finally decided. I'm going to be a vicar. Mother, pick yourself up off the floor.
You see, one of my favourite sitcoms is the Vicar of Dibley. If I could move to Dibley, I would. But there is a village that seems to be remarkably similar, and they're so desperate for a vicar they've put together a video advert. It's rubbish. They can't act, they can't hold the camera straight, and at times they can't even stay on their own feet. Basically, they're my kind of people.
I'm off to Google theological college and practise looking holy.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Motorhome Hunting

We recently decided that saving every penny we had to limit the damage caused by our useless endowment mortgage was using up the best of our productive lives. Our other investments will hopefully deal with any overhang from the mortgage, but right now we want to return to motorhoming while we're still young and healthy. It was a momentous decision, more so for me I suspect, as I'm one of nature's worriers.
Since reaching our decision, we've poured over dealer's websites, magazines, even Ebay, searching for that perfect van. We've seen plenty of horrors, a couple of beautiful vans that were just a little too expensive, and a glut of mediocrity. It's taken us a long time to save this money, mediocrity just isn't going to cut it. So, we're still saving, we're still looking, and we're hoping that with winter coming, the dealers might start to lower prices or be more amenable to offers.
One van that is far from mediocre is the Terrawind amphibious motorhome. It's huge, it's ridiculously glam, and you can drive it into a lake and float around in it. The reasoning behind it might be a bit hazy, and the price tag certainly puts our mortgage woes into proper perspective, but once seen it's hard to forget.
I wonder how amenable they'd be to an offer ...

Friday 12 October 2012

Bleeping Alarms

It was a bad night last night. Our burglar alarm kept blipping, waking us up at intervals. Then, having been woken by the blipping alarm, we became hyper-aware of a high pitched whistle coming from the industrial estate across the fields. You know how it is, once you hear a noise, you can't unhear it. We spent some time trying block the sound out, but it was one of those determined whistles that can find its way through double glazing, two pillows or even improvised cotton wool earplugs. Consequently, we didn't get as much sleep as we're used to.
So, when I was doing my usual trawl of the news sites, albeit a very bleary eyed trawl, one story had a particular resonance. It's the story of the couple who spent a year (a year?) being driven batty by a persistent bleeping. Finally in desperation they paid a builder £300 to knock down a wall to try to find the source, only to discover it was a forgotten smoke alarm buried in a drawer.
Now, this raises a couple of questions: first, why didn't they do a more thorough tidy up to try to locate the source before calling in the builders? and second, why would you pay someone else to take a sledgehammer to your wall? Quite honestly, after just a couple of disturbed hours last night my temper was reaching a tipping point. If I'd had a year of bleeping, no wall would stand a chance.
Be that as it may, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish Mr and Mrs Henry many happy, peaceful and entirely bleepless years.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Classic Car

Among my many happy childhood memories are those surrounding our adventures in Mum's 2CV. On our first outing in it I was nearly gassed in the back (I forget why, I just remember feeling peculiar). Then Mum suffered the embarrassment of not being able to get it into reverse at a petrol station - the spare tyre was pressing against something, which was stopping something else moving, which meant she couldn't change gear (apologies for being vague, I didn't really understand it at the time, but it was a deficiency in the car, not Mum's driving).
We did a London to Brighton run in a convoy of 2CVs. We charged around Dorset with the roof rolled back and us kids sitting with our heads out, waving to everyone, until a police officer firmly indicated that we should stop. And then there was dustbineering, the 2CV equivalent of off-roading - it was impossible to get a 2CV stuck anywhere: mud, snow, the steepest gradient, in fact it turned out the only thing that could stop a 2CV was new emissions legislation.
But the 2CV is defiantly clinging on. Its doting fans still bolt on new panels as old ones rust, they lovingly polish the bright paintjobs and patch up torn roofs. And, as documented on the Mail's site today, a company in Bradford, 2CV City, is doing its bit to keep the 2CV on the road, making steady business out of refurbishing them.
So, the tin snail, the upside-down pram, the deux chevaux, call it what you will, is now a classic car, albeit slightly more affordable than a Rolls Royce or Bentley.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Offensive Public Electronic Communications

A 19 year old man has been sent to prison for three months for posting offensive comments on Facebook about the missing girls, April Jones and Madeleine McCann. Now, I haven't read his comments, nor do I wish to. The Guardian offers an insight into what was posted, and it sounds pretty repugnant, but should he be in prison?
A couple of points strike me about this story, the first being the staggering speed with which this case was tried. Normally the justice system moves at little above glacial pace, and yet Mr Woods has been imprisoned within just a few days of the committing of the offence.
The second point is the disparity in the dispensing of judicial sentences. Let's face it, there are a lot of people out there who have committed serious offences, even violent crimes, who have escaped custodial sentences.
We have comedians working in this country who regularly push the limits of decency in their acts, seemingly striving to shock and even appall their audiences in order to secure career success. With that in mind, should this young man, albeit clearly a small-minded individual lacking in common decency and sense, have been jailed?
This is my public forum, my equivalent of a Facebook page. I'm mindful of my audience, and I hope I'm never offensive, I would certainly never wish to be, but I find myself this morning wondering if having a public forum is wise. After all, as a people we have never been quicker to offend. As careful as I am about what I write, I may inadvertently offend someone in a way I hadn't considered possible. And I'm really not sure I'd do too well in prison.

Monday 8 October 2012

Another Lion on the Loose?

You may recall the story of the Essex lion. If you don't, in short, people spotted a large cat in a field and thought it was a lion, prompting a widespread operation by the Essex police. No lion was ever found, but suspicion turned on a domestic cat named Teddy Bear.
Well, now there are reports of a lion on the loose in Bedfordshire, with one spotter claiming to have come face-to-face with the beast whilst walking her dogs.
Teddy Bear, what have you been up to?

New Story on QT!

A writing challenge on Café Three Zero prompted a new story for the Quirky Tales library. The theme was 'regeneration'. The resulting story is a cautionary tale for the sellers of hair restorer. If you fancy a look, here's the link:
Hope you enjoy it.

Friday 5 October 2012

Flash Mob

Okay, I don't want you being too sad for the weekend following the tragic tale of Vicky and Bertie, so here's a soppy one to cheer you up. Cruise ship entertainer Danny Burns planned a flash mob proposal for his girlfriend. There's a lot of these around now, apparently flash mobbing is this season's style for proposals, but what makes this one stand out is that it would seem the entire cruise ship was in on the secret, and the proposal took place in St Mark's Square, Venice, complete with both Mums!
Stick with 'The Proposal' til the end, even if something starts getting on your nerves. If you're anything like me, one of the credits at the end will make you laugh out loud.

Bertie the Love-Rat

Among the stories of broken relationships, cheats and cads, today's break-up story is surely one that will tug at the coarsest of heartstrings. Vicky, in her prime, a nice home, comfortable lifestyle, has been dumped by fickle hearted Bertie, and now a long standing tradition is in peril.
Eh? Well, Vicky and Bertie are, or rather were, the resident swan couple in the moat at Bishops Palace in Wells, and the tradition is the ringing of the bell. The swans in the moat are trained to ring the bell whenever they're hungry, calling the caretakers to throw food to them from a window. It would seem that Vicky and Bertie had struggled with the concept, as well as being rather put off by the resident ducks, and it all became too much for Bertie. He's scarpered, dumping poor Vicky and leaving her to deal with the ducks on her own. The race is now on to find a more faithful suitor for her, or she may have to be rehomed, leaving no swans on the moat to ring the bell.
Oh Bertie, how could you?

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Intergalactic Twinning

During our recent travels, we passed through many towns and villages proudly boasting signs announcing they were twinned with other towns and villages across the world. It prompted a discussion about the value of twinning. On the one hand, it probably does encourage people to look beyond their own restricted borders to the wider world beyond, but how many residents would actually have visited the places their home was twinned with? We drew the perhaps rather cynical conclusion that twinning was more about giving the local councillor an excuse for a jolly to foreign parts than it was about fostering global links.
A story released today has made me rethink, however:
The remote Scottish village, Glenelg, is to be twinned with a valley on Mars. That goes several steps further than fostering mere global links. However, before any diplomatic trips can be undertaken, the Glenelg councillors will need to find a way to transport themselves to Mars, keep themselves alive for the duration, and find a fuel source once there in order to facilitate the return voyage. They might also find the welcoming party a little lacking.
Maybe this is one instance where twinning isn't all about jollies for councillors.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Good Luck J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling has released her first novel for adults. Amidst strict security, legally binding contracts forbidding journalists from revealing details before the book's release, and the mother of all PR machines, 'The Casual Vacancy' was already a bestseller before it even hit the shelves. So far, so good. But from there on the news has been less favourable.
Reviews have been at best, mixed, some have been scathing. As an unknown writer who can only dream of a BBC interview, endlessly repeated on the news channel, I should probably confess here to a degree of jealousy. I'm also ashamed to say that there was a part of me that revelled in the fact that the book might be less than great. Seriously, if even J.K. Rowling can stumble, there's hope for the rest of us. But I also wonder if that's part of the problem. Maybe it just wasn't possible for her to produce a book that wouldn't be ripped to shreds and analysed at the deepest level. How many writers could withstand the kind of scrutiny and expectation she labours under?
She's also come in for criticism for insulting the middle class inhabitants of her childhood village, for being too left wing and prejudiced, and now the Sikh community is apparently deeply offended by her portrayal of a Sikh girl. It's all descending into madness. The idea that authors should tiptoe about the issues, stifling their creative impulse to avoid offending anyone is absurd. Think of the great works that would never have been written if every author worked that way.
The creator of Harry Potter was probably always destined to have a hard time moving on to other projects, not because she is in any way lacking in skill and ideas, far from it, but simply because the media are hellbent on picking fault. So, for all my embarrassing professional jealousy and schadenfreude, I hope 'The Casual Vacancy' continues to sell well and that J.K. Rowling goes on to write many more books. She is, without question, a brilliant writer, and the danger is that if her work is continually subjected to unbalanced examination, we might just prevent her from releasing a story that could rival Harry Potter. That's not something we can afford to do.

Friday 28 September 2012

Lost in the Post

Many years ago, back in the early days of married life when money was something only other people had, all our outgoing Christmas cards went missing. I had spent hours writing them out, used the housekeeping to buy stamps, then posted them in a postbox in a nearby village. The cards never arrived, and I was forced to dig deeper into the housekeeping to buy more cards and stamps. I never could understand how every single card could simply vanish. There must have been some mischief at work, surely?
Well, maybe not. Bizarrely, it seems the Post Office does sometimes entirely forget about whole post boxes, in one case for twenty three years! According to the story on the Telegraph's website today, workmen renovating Birmingham New Street Station discovered a post box, still full of letters awaiting collection: Forgotten Train Station Post Box
The Post Office are now endeavouring to deliver the letters, but I wonder how many will find their intended recipient after so long. Thinking back to our Christmas cards, most of the recipients have moved house since they were sent, some, sadly, are no longer with us.
The idea of receiving a letter from the past is an intriguing one: where is the sender now? did they fall out with the recipient over the lack of response to the letter that didn't arrive? were deals lost? did someone miss an urgent call for help?
A whole post box of twenty three year old letters - how many stories are in there?

Thursday 27 September 2012

Promotion for Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy

Kindle will be running a second promotion for Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy, Billy and the North Oakian Alliance, this Saturday, 29th September. I can only give approximate times, but the promotion is scheduled to run from 12:00am Pacific Standard Time until 11:59 Pacific Standard Time, although Kindle cautions that this can vary.
Either the link above or the blue book cover to the right will take you to the relevant page on Amazon.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

And Further Afield ...

While I'm at it, I might just carry on 'til I reach Australia. Another feelgood story on the Mail's site today is that of the surfers at Bondi Beach who received an impromptu lesson in the best use of the waves by a group of dolphins. I wouldn't mind being taught to surf by a dolphin!
Bondi Beach Dolphins

A Short Walk to Garda

We took a family holiday a few years ago, crossing the continent using the excellent EuroCamp. We travelled by car through France, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany. It was an amazing trip that took us as far as Venice, saw us getting sun burnt on the Grossglockner, trotti-biking in Switzerland and swimming in Lake Garda.
I was reminded of the trip by the story on the Daily Mail's website today of the Shropshire couple who decided to walk all the way to Lake Garda after their daughter gave them a pedometer. (Note to that certain special someone - don't get any ideas!) Here's the link if you'd like a look: Short Walk to Garda.
1424 miles in a car was tiring enough! But even so, when I saw the photos of the couple enjoying the sunshine in the Swiss Alps and striding along together looking blissfully happy and disgustingly healthy, I was ready to dig my walking boots out and grab my passport. As they rightly point out, they had none of the stresses of driving, and they got to enjoy seeing the seasons play out as they travelled.
Yup, I've definitely got twitchy feet now!

Monday 24 September 2012

What Email Bird Are You?

Important research conducted by the University of the West of Scotland and Glasgow University has revealed some valuable insights into our email behaviour. Apparently our conduct can be likened to particular birds. I'm not sure how this really helps, but I read it anyway: Email Bird Research story.
Nor am I sure why the Telegraph chose to use a photo of a woman reading a piece of paper to illustrate an email story - maybe they couldn't find one of a woman shouting at her computer.
I've narrowed my own behaviour down to Compulsive Woodpecker, with a strong element of Hoarding Magpie.
You might have noticed that I'm struggling to limit my online time!

Oh L

Spotted on our travels:
It would appear that 'L' didn't heed his own sign:

But did he fall or was he pushed?

Sunday 23 September 2012

Tech Free Week

I've been considering taking a complete break from technology/ internet/ computers for some time now, just to see if the constant deluge of information was clogging up my creative gears. I wasn't sure I could do it, the lure of the computer is, for me, very strong: the quest for up to the minute news, the need to be in the loop, the ease of finding answers at the click of a mouse button - hard to resist.
Well, I did it! Though I should probably confess here, being in a cottage in the depths of Kent with no internet access was a big help! I also have to confess to using my phone to find a couple of items, when I could get mobile signal. In my defence, the signal was so flaky and 3G so hit and miss, that mostly I gave up searching before the answer appeared anyway! The important thing is, I survived without internet access, mostly, for a whole week.
So, did I miss it? Well, not especially. We had BBC News to satisfy my need to keep up to date, though their habit of repeating themselves endlessly, covering the same story over and over, was infuriating. And exploring Kent and Sussex proved sufficiently mind-occupying to keep the internet pretty far from my thoughts.
I think what I've learned from this is that I should limit my time online. Allowing my mind to figure things out for itself, to feed itself on the world around me, did seem to unblock my creative side a little.
I'll let you know how I manage. Hopefully at the very least my experiment will lead to a few more short stories for the website.
I'm off now to stare at the rain and not think about computers! Don't think about computers ... don't think about computers ...

Thursday 13 September 2012

So is Sock-Puppeting Bad?

Christopher Howse has written an article for the Telegraph suggesting that we are all becoming over-exercised by the sock-puppeting row. He suggests that such practices have always abounded, citing Walter Scott as an example. He also seems to say that anyone conned or outraged by them is naive and deluded.
That writers have often been found to have provided fake reviews (sock-puppeting) for their own work is probably not open for debate. Regrettably, I think many have, and continue to do so, though I give my word here that it's not something I shall ever indulge in, no matter how desperate I become to sell my books. But what Mr Howse overlooks in his article is the fact that RJ Ellory was pillorying his competitors' work in fake reviews: he was deliberately sabotaging their business. It wouldn't be tolerated in any other sphere, so why is it okay in writing?
Many readers have commented on the article, and it's heartening to see that the vast majority do not share Mr Howse's opinion. It's also worth remembering, as one commenter points out, that most Kindle books offer a preview, so you can read a sample and make your own mind up rather than place all your trust in the reviews.
This row, I suspect, will rumble on for years. The anonymity of the internet makes it impossible to police review systems, and the willingness of some writers to pay for reviews will always skew results. My personal opinion will hardly come as a surprise to those who follow this blog: yes, sock-puppeting is bad.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Animal Magic

In the matter of animals taking a surprising interest in photography, there are pictures on the Daily Mail's website today of some marmots who look for all the world like they're in debate over how best to frame the shot, what f/stop, what aperture. The accompanying article describes them as usually shy, then goes on to explain they were snapped on the Grossglockner pass in Austria. When we visited the Grossglockner, our daughter and I spent most of the time admiring and photographing the marmots rather than the beautiful views, much to he who fixes the computer's annoyance. I can report without any reservation that they were anything but shy!

Cheap Kindle

I hope you'll forgive this piece of very self-serving advertising, but as a Kindle publisher, I have something of a vested interest in persuading as many people to have the e-reader as possible. Amazon UK are now selling the basic, but still fantastic, Kindle for £69, £20 cheaper than before.
I have to say, I still love reading an old fashioned paper book, but the Kindle is great for compiling a huge library of books that you can carry with you and read anywhere. Before getting mine I had been worried that reading from a 'screen' would give me eye-strain, something I suffer with from my computer, but the e-ink technology is every bit as good as they claim, and because the screen isn't backlit it's just as easy on the eyes as conventional paper printing.
I assume the lower price is a reflection of the fact that they are now pushing the more complicated, all-singing and dancing versions, but seeing as you're buying it simply to read books I'm not sure all the expensive extras are really necessary.
And of course, if you get one you could also download books one and two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy!
Okay, shameless plug done. Normal service shall now resume!

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Red Squirrels

Many years ago, when holidaying in Scotland, we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse of a red squirrel. It was beautiful in its summer coat with a gorgeous blonde tail, but it was also elusive. As I recall, despite the entire family creeping through the woods with what was, in all honesty, the stealth of a herd of startled wildebeest, we never managed much more than a couple of blurry photographs. And we were proud of ourselves to have got them.
Our efforts look rather paltry compared to the stunning pictures captured by photographer Alan Wennington. Mr Wennington clearly had more patience than us and over the course of several visits, managed to win the confidence of a family of red squirrels. So much so that one of them actually decided to take a closer look at his camera. Now had that happened to me, I would have been so excited I would have forgotten to take a picture. Thankfully Mr Wennington kept his emotions in check and captured the moment.
Of all the websites currently running the story The Daily Mail seems to have the most impressive collection of his pictures.

Monday 10 September 2012

Summer's Over

It was a sad weekend, as our daughter headed back to university after the long summer break. Lectures don't start for a couple for weeks yet, but apparently it's essential to be in place for pre-freshers and freshers weeks, as there are good opportunities for snapping up freebies. Who am I to argue with that? Besides, she's been missing her friends (and probably her independence, though she's far too diplomatic to say so) so she was anxious to get back.
I know I will adapt to a tidy house, I know I'll grow to like not having rock samples, computers, maps and weighty geological tomes full of words I can't pronounce spread across the living room floor, but right now it's hard to imagine. And it's altogether too quiet.
That quiet was relieved somewhat last night by the magnificent Coldplay, rounding off the Paralympics with an epic closing ceremony. As Chris Martin charged around the arena, belting out some of the band's most popular numbers, live (no pre-recorded miming cheats are Coldplay!) he who fixes the computer observed that it was no wonder he carries no excess weight. The final count was five changes of sweat-soaked t-shirts. He must have shed at least a stone during a show that saw the band performing alongside the fantastic British Paraorchestra, Rihanna and Jay-Z.
And so now the house is quiet again. I know once I make the mental adjustment I'll enjoy the arrival of autumn, my favourite time of year, and before I know it, we'll be putting up the Christmas Tree and the house will once more be filled with noise, laughter, music and rock samples.

Billy and the North Oakian Alliance

Thanks to all those readers who have so far purchased the second Book of the Trilogy. Saturday's promotion seemed to go well, so hopefully Billy's story is spreading.
I'm working on book three now, so watch out for news of the full dramatic conclusion of the trilogy.

Friday 7 September 2012

Promotion Reminder

Just a reminder to everyone that Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy will be on offer on Kindle tomorrow. I can't be precise about times, as Kindle runs on Atlantic time and I haven't got to grips with it yet. If you want to get your copy, as ever you can click the blue book cover to the right, or click here.

Our Friend, Robin

Most of the plethora of fledgling birds have left the garden now, booted out by their exhausted parents to go and find their own way in the world. The fluffed up young sparrows and the enormous baby blackbirds no longer pester the adults for scraps, and a calm sense of order has returned to the birdbath.
The only youngster who has decided to stay is the feisty little robin. He now sports a very handsome red bib and has spent most of the summer endearing himself to us with his cheeky curiosity. He has taken a great interest in our activities, watching from close quarters, normally under our feet, as we have trimmed the hedges, built the shed, had water fights, washed the cars (an activity that caused him no end of excitement as it washed out all the spiders, though he did get sprayed a couple of times), and he has claimed a prime spot in the chocolate vine above the patio table and chairs where he can listen in on our conversation when we're sat out there.
He's become ever braver as the weeks have passed, so much so that yesterday I turned around from my desk to see him standing in the open patio door, watching my every move. He remained in place as I obediently hurried through to get the pot of bird seed, then fluttered out onto the patio for his snack.
But if that was a surprise, it was nothing to the shock he gave me today when he hopped right into the dining room and was well on his way to the kitchen when I came around the corner. I gasped, he gasped (I think, though I don't speak robin), I stepped backwards and he took to the wing and flew outside, where he waited by the door for some more seed.
Speculation is rife about what he'll do next, though I think the idea of a robin hammock next to a radiator for him to over-winter in might be going a bit too far!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Kindle Promotion for 'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance'

I'm happy to announce that Kindle will running a promotion for Book Two of the Trilogy 'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance' on Saturday 8th September.
To reach Billy's Kindle page, either click on the blue book cover to the right, or click here. Hope you enjoy the second book. Book three is under construction as we speak!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

The Next New Story!

Café ThreeZero set a writing challenge of 'Choices' this week, which prompted a short short. It's called 'The Choice Shop' and, well, we've all been there, haven't we?
If you fancy a look, here's the link: The Choice Shop
Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Models in Weekly Parts

While watching television the other night, he who fixes the computer started muttering and doing some lengthy multiplication out loud. 'That's over £800!' he cried, at last, startling me so much I spilled my coffee.
The source of his outrage was an advertisement for a magazine, subscribers to which will receive parts of a model of the 'Sovereign of the Seas' in weekly issues. The first issue, to entice potential model makers, is offered at the bargain price of £1.99. Subsequent issues will cost £5.99 and there are, apparently, going to be over 135 of them.
The Telegraph has calculated the model will take two years and seven months to build, longer than it took to build the original, full scale and fully functioning version, and will cost £804.65.
Telegraph magazine article
Even with the interesting and informative articles in the magazine, that's a pretty eye-watering figure, and if experience is anything to go by, at least one issue will never turn up, meaning the end result will be missing a mast, or a chunk of hull, or the sails.

The Ongoing Fake Review Row

Various high profile authors have come forward to add their voices to the campaign against the practise of fake reviewing, or 'sock puppeting' as it's known. Ian Rankin, Lee Child and Val McDermid are amongst many who are appealing to both Amazon and fellow authors to seek an end to the practise.
It's thoroughly dispiriting to an indy author struggling to find a way into the market. If I'm to make it as a writer I want to do it honestly and on merit, but the honest author is at an automatic disadvantage when others are either creating their own false identities to promote their own work and undermine that of their rivals, or are paying others to do it for them.
I'm not sure what the answer is. For now there is no real pressure on Amazon to change its system: as far as they're concerned, reviews work. I suppose it will only change when the end consumer demands it.
For more information, see the stories on the Telegraph and Forbes websites.

Monday 3 September 2012

The Problem of Reviews

As an indy author publishing on Kindle, I know very well the power reviews have in the selling of a book. Having a bad review that slates your narrative, your dialogue, your plot, basically trashing months and months of graft in the space of a single paragraph, can mean that your book is doomed, even if the slating is totally unwarranted. On the flip side, a five star review that heaps praise upon a possibly rather shaky work can see it soaring up the charts.
It's a cruel business, because anyone can write a review, anonymously, with or without even reading the book. As such, as a buyer I've learned to treat reviews with scepticism, but for many they're still what clinches the deal.
An example of the abuse of the review system is playing out in the news today, with one of my favourite authors being forced to apologise after being exposed as a review cheat. Using various false names, RJ Ellory has apparently been posting reviews, glowing ones for his own works, terrible ones for the works of his rivals. If it's true then it's a thoroughly despicable thing to do. Selling books is hard enough, without fellow authors conspiring to derail your efforts by underhand means. It's cheating. No other word for it.
The good news is that a story such as this exposes the inherent problems with the review system. I just wish it hadn't been an author I've admired so much that had been caught.
Telegraph RJ Ellory Story

Saturday 1 September 2012

Travel Dreams

There are many places in the world I should like to visit, among them the Grand Canyon, Maine, Yosemite, many parts of Australia, Canada, along with so many places closer to home. Now I have to add Africa to the list, thanks to a Telegraph gallery: Telegraph Africa Gallery
The first picture alone would be enough to get me over my fears of flying and into a helicopter. The wise one would go for picture number nine - he does, as he oft reminds anyone listening, like elephants!

Friday 31 August 2012

Billy and the North Oakian Alliance

The adventures of Billy of Boldre Wood continue in the exciting second book, 'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance', now available on Amazon for Kindle:
The Carintheans have stepped up their interests in Boldre Wood, making increasing forays to the shore. But at a time when the people of Boldre Wood should be working together to defend their homeland, the North Oakian Council remains stubborn, refusing to form an alliance with their old foe Angloak under any circumstances.Billy, struggling to settle once more to normal life on Floor 14, uncovers a conspiracy during a homework assignment that could help the two tree nations overcome their difficulties. 
However, before he can expose the scandal he must evade a powerful family determined to stop him by whatever means. As he sets out across the Great Lake bound for North Oak, he is followed by an enemy that has no intention of giving up without a fight, even if it means sacrificing the whole of Boldre Wood. 
Can Billy make it to the North Oakian Council chambers to present his evidence, and if he does, will they or anyone else listen?
Here's the link to Billy's second Kindle page: Billy and the North Oakian Alliance
Go Billy!

Thursday 30 August 2012

Paralympic Opening Ceremony

We watched the Paralympic Opening Ceremony last night. I had planned on seeing the British team come into the stadium then sloping off to bed, but I stayed til the end. Goosebump inducing music, colours, flying athletes, lights, umbrellas, dancing - how could I resist. I'm pretty tired now though, so I feel for the athletes competing today who attended the ceremony last night.
The only bugbear for me was the constant ad breaks. If only the event had been covered by the BBC, even with their annoying presenters burbling away all the time, we wouldn't have missed anything. Channel 4 really let the side down by cutting away for commercials. It seemed so disrespectful.
So, a big raspberry to Channel 4 for not understanding the importance of the event, but at least the Telegraph has a fairly comprehensive Paralympic Opening Ceremony Gallery for anyone who missed it, or simply wants to admire the spectacle again.
Very good luck to all the Paralympians.

Another New Story

There's a new story in the Quirky Tales library today. It's called 'Convergence' and is the result of another writing challenge from Café ThreeZero. The challenge was 'Time', which inspired quite a few ideas in my imagination. The end result is somewhat different to my usual style. It's the story of four different people, from four different towns, converging at the same destination at the same time. If you fancy a look, here's the link: Convergence
Hope you enjoy it. Feedback is always very welcome.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

The Man's in the Post

I love getting surprise parcels - it doesn't happen often, not that I'm hinting or anything so crass! I've often come across stories of people sending surprise gifts to their loved ones, but none have made me chuckle quite like the story on the Mail website today.
A man, in a fit of romantic enthusiasm, decided to post himself to his girlfriend. He clambered into a large cardboard box, had a friend tape it up and then arranged for the box to be delivered to his girlfriend's office. So far, so sweet, if a little strange. The plan only fell apart when the courier company lost the address and delivery was delayed by three hours. Consequently, when he was finally delivered, far from leaping out of the box for a happy reunion, he was unconscious and had to be revived.
Good job he didn't try that over here. He could still be in a distribution depot off the M1!

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Antipodean Superhero

Sometimes the world needs a superhero to fly in and right the many wrongs and injustices, to plug the exploding volcano, to stop the tidal wave, to rescue stricken ships and falling aeroplanes, and, of course, to beat back those dastardly wheelclampers!
Yes, Australia has a superhero: Wheel Clamp Man, complete with his own super costume - well, green lycra, black speedos, a red Zorro mask, fake moustache and a green hard hat, not to mention his trusty angle grinder. His enemy is the wheel clamp. His nemesis, the Western Australian police, who are less than appreciative of his heroics, regarding them instead as criminal damage. They have called upon the public to turn him in so he can be dealt with - spoil sports!
Telegraph Wheel Clamp Man Story

A Lion Called Teddy Bear

The news that there was a lion on the loose in Essex over the weekend caused a good deal of excitement and speculation. Perhaps disappointingly, the police have announced they are no longer in pursuit, presumably because they took another look at the photograph and realised it looked nothing like a lion. In fact, it has been suggested that the real culprit was a Maine Coon cat named Teddy Bear, or possibly a ginger cat called Tom. I have an abiding image of Teddy Bear and Tom's owners, upon hearing that a lion was on the loose, fearfully keeping their beloved pets indoors for their own safety. In fact, it would seem the owners realised the truth straight away, and no doubt Teddy Bear and Tom were free to continue their rampage through Essex, even while the police helicopter was circling overhead.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Second Book of the Trilogy

I've finished the read-through and have to make a few changes before the story is ready for release. There's nothing major, just a little polishing here and there, so it should only be a few more days to launch!
I'll announce the release date here, once it's confirmed.

Keyboard Evolution

I recently mentioned that I have returned to a conventional Microsoft curvy keyboard, as I was tired of the flat low-bounce keys of the Mac board. I've always had a thing about keyboards. My first experience with a keyboard was in the form of a ZX Spectrum. It was terrible. The rubber keys gave so little feedback you could never tell if the key strike had registered.
Then came word processors with their clacky keys and infuriatingly tiny screens. Next was the age of the PC, where a keyboard fell under the heading 'peripherals', and could be changed to suit individual tastes.
Now we're in the era of the tablet, where a keyboard is an image on the screen - no feedback beyond an annoying synthetic click and a constant uncertainty about its position. But someone has already moved the game on again, or perhaps more accurately, they've moved it backwards. According to the Daily Mail website, someone has devised a peripheral keyboard for the iPad which has the appearance and feel of an old fashioned typewriter.
The accompanying video could be an entry for the slowest and most incompetent typist competition, which makes me wonder if the designer is not entirely sure that the little hammers striking the screen of his iPad are really such a blinding idea:
iPad Typewriter Article
I'm just going to check the date on my calendar. I'm pretty sure it's not April 1st, but ...