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Wednesday 30 May 2012

New Story

I set myself a writing challenge last week inspired by 'The Protest'. I began with great intentions, pulling together various characters involved in my imaginary protest march and telling their story as I went. It got away from me. It became more and more convoluted and I found myself looking for excuses to do something else instead: ironing, gardening, I even cleaned the windows. I have no discipline whatsoever!
Anyway, this week I decided to start again, concentrating on just one character. It's worked out a lot better. Sometimes simple is the way to go. The resulting story is up on the Quirky Tales website. If you fancy a read, here's the link:
http://www.quirkytales.co.uk/stories/holdingtheline.php
Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Knowing Your Rights

BBC News ran a story this morning reporting on the dodgy tactics bailiffs have been using to trick people into allowing them entry to their homes. One couple interviewed had a very unpleasant encounter with a bailiff whilst they were, perfectly legally, disputing a parking ticket. He gained entry to their property and then refused to leave, despite being asked to do so by the police.
The trouble is, the law as it stands is loaded in favour of the bailiffs. Having gained entry to your property once, they can then enter by force on subsequent visits. I find that quite terrifying, especially as they have been shown to be masters at manipulating and tricking people into allowing them inside on that first visit.
The video of the report can be seen here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18246950
It's also worth having a read of the UK rules governing bailiffs, so that you know your rights in the, hopefully unlikely, event that you are visited by these people:
http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/MoneyTaxAndBenefits/ManagingDebt/DebtsAndArrears/DG_10034289
Interestingly, they are not permitted to gain entry by blocking the door with their boot, but they can gain entry through a door or window left open.
Hopefully it's advice you'll never need, but mistakes are sometimes made. It's always good to know your rights.

The Nocturnal Gardener

We had long suspected that the garden was playing host to a mysterious nocturnal visitor but, aside from a slowly emerging path beaten through the undergrowth close to the fence, we had no evidence. Then the other night, whilst standing outside trying to catch a glimpse of some nearby fireworks, I heard a persistent rustling.
He who fixes the computer was dispatched to find a torch and, after a good deal of crawling around and peering through foliage, we spotted our timid guest - a hedgehog! The poor chap seemed rather bewildered to find himself, quite literally, in the spotlight, and tucked himself in against the fence to try to evade capture. The only capture made was a quick snap on the camera, then we left him in peace to continue constructing his little 'roadway' through the garden.
It's nice to know that our postage stamp sized garden is providing a safe home to the local wildlife. I'm just secretly relieved it wasn't a rat!

Monday 28 May 2012

Thrill Seekers

I spent many hours as a child attempting to fly by jumping off the climbing frame the wise one had built for us. I eventually reached the depressing conclusion that science was right after all: humans are strictly land-based creatures. So I have certain ideas about sky-diving which perhaps don't really chime with today's adrenaline junkie, thrill seeking culture. But really, if you're in a perfectly serviceable aeroplane why the devil would you jump out of it?
One 80 year old lady in the USA is probably asking herself the same thing right now. She decided to give it a go, only to change her mind at the last second. The video can be seen on the Telegraph's website, but be prepared, it'll have you clinging to your seat! Suffice to say, both she and the instructor survived, but I don't know how:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9290711/Pensioner-left-clinging-to-instructor-at-13000-feet-after-skydive-goes-wrong.html
I'm not sure who was at fault really, the instructor for not letting her back out, or the woman for not thinking it through properly. But all credit to the instructor and camera man for somehow getting her to the ground in one piece.
As for me, I'm staying on terra-firma. I survived sky-diving from our climbing frame, that's enough excitement for anyone!

Friday 25 May 2012

An Unusual Delivery

The doorbell rang this morning. At the risk of sounding like Johnny No Mates, normally the only time the doorbell rings during the day is when someone wants me to buy something: new soffits and fascias, fresh tarmac for the drive, tea towels of dubious quality, luxury apartments in the middle of Spain, etc., etc.. So it was with a sense of resignation that I tramped through to the lobby to answer the door, only to find our lovely post lady waiting there with a flower box from Jersey.
This was unusual. I do sometimes find myself presented with a bunch of flowers, but I can't remember the last flower delivery. Fearing there might have been a mistake, I snatched them from her quickly before she realised her error.
No mistake! The flowers were for us! They were from the wise ones, thanking us for our support this week. So that's probably the fourth, maybe even the fifth, time they've reduced me to tears this week!
Wise ones, you don't need to thank us, ever. We were there because we love you. But the flowers are gorgeous and smell divine!
Thank you.

Cluster Writing

Café ThreeZero is already working on the next of its anthologies. This time we each came up with an idea, or a start for a story, which we submitted to the pot. We were then assigned each others ideas, under the appropriate working title 'Random'.
It's an exciting approach, but I'm in trouble already as I'm really struggling with my writing at the moment. I know roughly what I want to do with the idea I've been assigned, but I've been struggling to get it into any sort of order. Then one of my fellow CTZers told me about using Cluster Diagrams to nail down my thoughts. It sounded a little strange but I decided to give it a go.
I won't attempt to explain the technique, others are infinitely more qualified, instead I'll provide a link to a useful webpage for those who want to know more:
http://www.gabrielerico.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=69
I found it quite difficult. I'm apparently not very good at allowing my sub-conscious free rein, but it has helped me put my plan into some sort of order. However, planning is one thing, writing ... well that's another matter altogether!

Thursday 24 May 2012

Young Adventurers

I'm told that when I was very young, I once took my beloved rag doll and set off on a walk, all by myself. I was found after a frantic search, trundling happily along the road chatting to 'Looby'. It apparently caused much excitement, I just wish I could remember it! The most surprising element of the story was that a driver had pulled up alongside a by now rather desperate wise one to ask him if he was looking for the little girl with a rag doll he had seen walking along the road. It was only later, once the drama was over, that the wise ones had chance to wonder why the driver hadn't thought to stop and keep me safe until they could be located.
Still, it pales in comparison with the adventure of one little boy in China who, deciding he'd had enough of being with his grandad, jumped on his electric toy scooter and set off in search of more interesting entertainment elsewhere. His journey took him across a frankly terrifying multi-lane junction, right into the path of head-on traffic. Happily, he was unharmed and was escorted back to his grandfather by bemused police officers. But in a startling echo of all those years ago, not one of the drivers steering their vehicles around him had stopped and taken him to safety!
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9284220/Toddler-on-tricycle-navigates-rush-hour-traffic.html
By the way, Looby is still around. She is enjoying retirement now, spending her days snoozing on the bed. She wishes me to make it absolutely clear that our adventure was not her idea and that she did everything in her power to stop me.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Restorative Powers of Ice Cream

I've never seen the wise one eat ice cream before, but following medical treatment after a long 'nil by mouth' wait he was finally permitted to take food and drink. Two tubs of vanilla ice cream were duly delivered. He poked at it a little uncertainly for a moment then, the next time I looked, it had gone! In its place was a smiling and much happier looking wise one.

The wise one's boss was flagging a little after several dramatic and frightening days. She'd left the car at home, as parking at the hospital is a cut-throat business during visiting hours, and was now stoically insisting that she would make the long journey home by bus. Like we'd allow that! We bundled her into the car, took her home, and promptly caused utter chaos in her formerly orderly kitchen by 'helpfully' cooking her a meal that I'm not at all sure she wanted. We managed to mostly restore order before we left, but I still felt rotten leaving her. Hopefully today normal service will resume. I just hope she has a good stock of ice cream in her freezer!

Whilst hunting for a happy news story to cheer everyone up this morning, I stumbled across one that's in keeping with the chilly theme. The Daily Mail website has a story today involving a very cute young penguin who decided to investigate a travel blogger who happened to be passing through. Not funny as such, but it will make you smile:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2148142/P-p-pleased-meet-Amazing-video-curious-baby-penguin-meeting-human-time.html

Tuesday 22 May 2012

A Bit of Humour for Medicine

The wise one gave us all a scare yesterday. Apparently we hadn't been paying him enough attention and to remind us all that he's still around he resorted to a high speed dash to hospital. He was pretty poorly, but modern medicine demonstrated its wonders and he should soon be back on his feet. For future reference, Wise One, a simple 'Oy' will be enough to get our attention.
Anyway, I know he, amongst others, will appreciate the story on the Telegraph's website today featuring a particularly cruel trick played upon an unsuspecting chap on his stag do. Blindfolded, strapped into a safety harness attached to a bungee, then steered to the perilous edge of a platform, the resulting drop turned out to be rather different to expectations:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newsvideo/weirdnewsvideo/9279219/Stag-do-bungee-jump-prank-goes-viral.html
Get well soon, Dad!

Saturday 19 May 2012

Brighter News!

Kindle are running another promotion for Billy today. If you're interested in taking a look at the first in the trilogy, here's the link: Kindle Billy of Boldre Wood
Here's hoping Billy finds lots more new readers!

Rude Rejection

I had another rejection for 'Lucky Dip' today. The agency concerned shall remain nameless, but the manner of their rejection was quite simply staggering.
Firstly they advised me that the women's fiction market has collapsed, whilst including a postcard advertising the latest work of a women's fiction author they represent. How charming - 'we can't sell women's fiction, by the way, please buy this women's fiction novel from one of our authors'!
Secondly, they didn't even trouble themselves to find a fresh piece of paper, choosing instead to scrawl a barely legible reply on the bottom of my own letter to them. Still, I suppose they should be applauded for not wasting resources!
Thirdly, they advised me that first person narrative is 'so restrictive'! Some of the best novels I have read have been in the first person. There is nothing like the first person narrative for really taking your reader into the heart of the character.
Rejections are never fun to receive, but this bordered upon rude. I suspect I would have found it impossible to work with them, even if they had thought my novel was wonderful!
Hey ho! 'Lucky Dip' is still being considered by other agents. I haven't given up yet, I just hope that future rejections are rather more mannerly!

Friday 18 May 2012

Clearing the Block

Well, I managed to fill up some of the screen yesterday. The idea worming its way through my brain when I woke up turned into a story that I've decided to add to the anthology. The only problem is, that now means I have thirteen stories - very unlucky! Now I shall have to write at least one more!
I woke up with another idea this morning. It's too early to say that I'm through the block - I've had false dawns before - but it's nice to be feeling a resurgence of inspiration again. There's nothing better than having that sudden desperate urge to get to a computer or a notebook to get the ideas down before they slip away.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Blank Screen

I'm having a bad time of it, work-wise. I just can't seem to get my writing muscles working. I have a story to write for Café ThreeZero's next book, 'Random', a story that was running through my mind when I woke up this morning, ongoing editing of Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy, as well as an urgent need for more stories for both the website and the second anthology. Plenty to do, so why have I been sitting here staring at the dreaded blank screen?
He who fixes the computer advised me to jump in the car and go for a drive, or take a wander into town and sit in a coffee shop for an hour or so, anything rather than sit in front of an idle computer all day. He's right. I know he's right. But I can't bring myself to do it. It would skiving, sneaking out of work, pulling a sickie.
Maybe if I get the story I was thinking about this morning onto paper, it'll clear whatever blockage I've got! Watch this screen! Hopefully it won't be blank for too long!

Cops and Bollards

We've all done daft things at times, things we know we shouldn't, or things we did when we weren't paying attention, but I cannot help but feel sorry for the motorist in the story on the Telegraph's website this morning. Bad enough that you've driven over a rising bollard, only to have said bollard punch clean through you car. How much worse is it when you're a police officer, in an unmarked car, in the middle of a busy city surrounded by amused shoppers armed with camera phones?
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9269803/Armed-police-write-off-squad-car-in-traffic-bollard-collision.html
I would suggest that the unmarked car is now, quite definitely, marked. I also suspect that a certain silver 5 series BMW might be making its way to the auction room quite soon. After all, every crim in the area now knows it's a cop car!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Banksy's Artwork

Popping up across the internet this morning are stories of a new work believed to have been created by graffiti artist Banksy. Appearing on the wall of a Poundland shop, it features a small boy making Union Jack bunting on an old Singer sewing machine. Seeing as Poundland have recently been forced to launch an investigation after it was found that a 7 year old boy had been working in a sweatshop producing goods for their stores, its location is obviously no accident.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/the_queens_diamond_jubilee/9266505/Banksy-Diamond-Jubilee-graffiti-springs-up-overnight-on-London-street.html
I heard a rumour that the bunting has since been stolen - which in itself would be something of a social commentary!
More photographs of Banksy's work are available on:
http://www.banksy.co.uk/index.html
If you have a few minutes, take a look. You'll find plenty there to make you smile, and a lot more to make you think.

Monday 14 May 2012

Taking the Sleeper

The Daily Mail is running a story about the man whose bungalow was built by his father - around an old railway carriage. From the outside it looks like an ordinary bungalow, but inside is a beautiful 130 year old train carriage. Apparently, the carriage was there first and the planners wouldn't permit its removal, so Mr Higgins senior decided to simply build around it.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2143802/Is-strangest-home-Britain-The-bungalow-thats-built-real-railway-carriage.html
I suspect that Mr Higgins probably has a lot of very envious male friends!

Kindle Promotion

Kindle ran a promotion for Billy of Boldre Wood over the weekend. Consequently, he's made a sizeable jump up the charts. From amazon.com alone there were over 120 downloads! It's wonderful to think that Billy will be reaching a larger audience. He has a great story to tell - it's nice to see him getting the chance.
Thanks Kindle, for giving him a boost, and thank you to everyone who's purchased the book. I hope you enjoy it.

A Smashwords Milestone

Over the weekend, Book One of the Quirky Tales Anthology passed fifty downloads on Smashwords! I have no way of measuring the downloads from the website and the blog, but traffic has been significantly higher in the last few weeks and hopefully, take up of the free book has been strong.
Thank you, everyone, for your support. I hope the anthology has provided you with some entertaining reading.

Friday 11 May 2012

KDP Says No!

Well, Kindle Publishing have given me a definitive answer about offering the first of the anthologies free. No, they won't do it. It's fair enough, they are there to sell books not give them away. Still, it leaves me with a rather large problem. This first book was always supposed to be a freebie, with a small charge being made for subsequent collections. The material in the first collection is freely available to read online from the website, so I feel awful about anyone being charged for it.
So, if you're interested in the first book of the QT Anthologies, you can download it free from this blog - see the links to the right - or from the QT website http://www.quirkytales.co.uk/, or from Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/157151 but if you go to Kindle, you will have to pay 77pence, or 99cents, depending upon your location.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Driving Lessons

There's a person, I'm assuming it's a young man but I could be wrong, who screams through the village on a very noisy motorbike at around 5:30 most mornings. It's annoying to put it mildly. On weekend evenings, the familiar sound of squealing tyres rings out as the boy racers, or they could of course be girl racers, indulge in a little high speed entertainment in their Clios and 205s. For the most part it's met with little more than gentle eye-rolling, possibly accompanied by a sigh or a pithy observation about the intellect of the individuals involved.
In one Polish village however, residents became so exasperated by the antics of a local boy racer they decided to take action. The young man was somewhat surprised to find that his neighbours had parked his car for him ... in a tree! Nobody in the village is actually owning up to the 'hoist' and the local police seemed to be of the opinion that it was the young man's problem, and might serve as a good lesson for him.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2141818/A-case-special-branch-Boy-racers-car-tree-neighbours-fed-bad-driving.html
Now, where can I borrow a crane?

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Miscommunication

Aaaargh!

Quite frankly, that probably makes more sense than the email I received from the Kindle Publishing team this morning. It certainly sums up my reaction fairly succinctly and has the added advantage that it needs no warning of bad language, although there may have been a little of that this morning, if I'm being completely honest.
My efforts to convey to Kindle that I want the first of the anthologies to be free have so far failed. Epically. I can feel myself nudging towards the point of despair now. I'm sure I'm using plain language, I'm pretty sure I'm explaining the situation succinctly, and I'm almost sure I'm using the right method of contact. Yet, from the responses I'm getting, I might as well be trying to communicate in Arcturian, using an abacus to explain the finer points of Atomic Theory - which incidentally, I couldn't possibly do on the grounds that the Arcturians dispute many of the basic principles of the theory. (By the way, I have no idea if that's true. Perhaps any Arcturians reading this could enlighten me, though preferably in English, and face to face with lots of diagrams!)
I do realise that Kindle Publishing are there to make money, but book one is about marketing for the coming series of anthologies. Hopefully the subsequent books will make money, but only if I can pursue my planned marketing strategy now.
I haven't given up. I've contacted them again this morning, using hopefully even plainer language. Third time lucky?

Tuesday 8 May 2012

The QT Anthologies

The second of the QT Anthologies is nearing completion. It's made up of ten completely new stories, some short, some longer, plus three quite lengthy pieces. I'm quietly pleased with the collection, but it's always nerve-racking making your work available.
The first of the anthologies seems to be going well, with steady downloads from the Smashwords site. I'm having trouble communicating to Kindle Publishing that I want to make the collection available free on their site. I can't morally charge for the first book in the series as all the stories are available to read free online.
I've asked them to price-match with Smashwords but the reply I received this morning suggested they thought I was a potential reader trying to get them to give books away free, rather than the author making a perfectly reasonable request on the pricing of her book. Sometimes it's frustrating to only be able to communicate via email!
Book Two will be simpler as I plan to make a very small charge for that - Kindle, understandably, prefer to sell books rather than give them away.

Monday 7 May 2012

Cold Sweat

It was December 22nd, and I had done next to no preparations for Christmas. A small pile of cards waited on the dining table, written and stamped, but for some reason not posted. I picked them up and flicked through them, noting with dismay that I had missed out half my list, including some of the closest family. It was a disaster! What on earth was wrong with me? I used to be so organised, the cards would all be written at the beginning of December, ready for posting at the start of the second week.
And the presents! My usual hiding places were bare. I had not bought a single present, nor even thought about what I should buy. How had I ended up so hopelessly disorganised? How could I possibly have forgotten to prepare for Christmas?
And that was when I woke up. Don't you hate those ultra realistic dreams? I have an overwhelming urge to start making Christmas cards now, just so I'm ready.

Friday 4 May 2012

New Story

I finally had a bit of time (and inspiration) yesterday afternoon to write another story for the website. It's called 'Tell Us What You Know' and tells the story of Theo, who has little choice but to give his tormentors the information they demand to secure his freedom. If you fancy a look, here's the link:
http://www.quirkytales.co.uk/stories/telluswhatyouknow.php
Hope you enjoy it!

Me First!

As a child my favourite place in the whole big wide world (or at least, what I'd seen of it) was Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight. Blackgang Chine was basically a huge playground, with dinosaurs, and a maze, and a pirate ship (with an actual captain's cabin and rigging, the works!) and a wonderful cowboy town with a saloon with swinging doors you could swagger through, and a jail, and a post office. There was a crooked house, and a Jonah's whale you ran through, being squirted with water the whole way  - it was a land of wonder to a small girl with an active imagination.
Most playgrounds, in contrast, are pretty basic, a rudimentary slide, a couple of broken swings, a roundabout that barely turns. I've often suspected they're so awful because they're designed by adults, but Danish designers Ole B. Nielsen and Christian Jensen send a torpedo through that theory. The Daily Mail ran an article featuring pictures of their work, their website, of course, shows more. Check them out, and then take a look at your local playground and just imagine!
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2139062/Giant-spiders-wobbly-castles-rocket-ship-slides-Introducing-best-childrens-playgrounds-world.html
http://www.monstrum.dk/en

Thursday 3 May 2012

Capturing the Action

The editing of the second book of the Boldre Wood Trilogy continues, throwing up one or two issues that I shall have to deal with before I go too much further. The wise one (Dad) suggested I beef up the action scenes in the second book and, although there is already a fair bit of action, it has given me pause for thought.
Delivering fast paced drama, whilst still adequately describing a scene is a difficult art. Too much description and explanation interrupts the flow of the drama, slowing the pace and reducing the excitement. Too little description renders the scene unfathomable. It's also important to remember that some people like lots of blood and gore, while others are offended and distressed by it.
I plan to finish editing this draft, then I shall return to the action scenes to see how they could be improved. It's a tricky balance between too much and too little, but I suppose if it was easy it wouldn't be much of an art.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

cc: Theresa May

I'm not sure about Theresa May. I should probably be honest here, I'm not sure about any of the current occupants of the ministerial seats, not least because they keep insisting that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they feel our pain. I stubbed my toe this morning when I was stumbling about half-asleep trying to get dressed, I'm pretty certain that neither Mr Cameron or Mr Osbourne were suddenly struck down by an attack of sympathy pain in their right big toes, though I find the idea intriguing. I suspect if it were true, there would be a shocking increase in incidents of self-harm.
I've slipped from the subject, let me get back to Theresa May: Home Secretary, can't read a calendar, got her famous stiletto heels stuck in the Downing Street pavement, wants to know what we're all saying to each other so has decided that all our emails and communications should be made available for scrutiny.
People are somewhat animated about that last one. In fact, one person was so incensed he issued a call for everyone to cc their emails to Theresa May on May Day. He reasoned that since she was so desperate to snoop, we should just let her get on with it.
I haven't been able to find any official response to the action, although on the campaign's Facebook page there is a quote that seems to suggest emails were problematic for the Home Secretary yesterday.
http://www.facebook.com/pages/National-cc-all-your-e-mails-to-Theresa-May-Day/155277607840980
I don't suppose it will make any difference in the long run, but it was an inspired way to protest.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Fingers Crossed for Tewkesbury

It has rained, a lot, in the last few days. For one of my favourite places, Tewkesbury, it's a very worrying time. In 2007 the flooding there was disastrous, and a lot of homes and businesses have only just cleared up the mess, so the persistent rain and rising waters they're experiencing now must be the stuff of nightmares. The local news website has some pretty amazing aerial photographs of the situation yesterday:
http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/pictures/Aerials-Tewkesbury-flooding/pictures-15960348-detail/pictures.html
Good luck Tewkesbury. Fingers crossed the waters don't rise any higher.

Smashwords

He who fixes the computer kept telling me I needed to put the anthology on Smashwords but, for some reason, I was reluctant. There were some formatting issues that bothered me, but they turned out to be far less problematic than expected. Mostly I think I was intimidated. I can't think what was wrong with me. Smashwords is brilliant! They accepted my book without fuss, placing it on the front page of the free section so that it did at least get a small chance of being spotted - it's slipped down a little now because other books have been uploaded, but for a short but glorious time my book was top of the list!
Anyway, if you fancy a look, here's the link:
http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/157151