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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 ...

Tuesday 21 August 2012

New Story

A new story has joined the library on Quirky Tales today. It's called 'The Holiday' and was inspired by a writing challenge from Café ThreeZero. It's a light-hearted tale of a camping holiday that gets off to a very shaky start. If you fancy a look, here's the link: The Holiday
Hope you enjoy it.

Revisions for my Dream House

I sometimes get taken by the urge to move house, find somewhere with a bit of land, grow our own vegetables, maybe even keep chickens. My dream house is old, added to and adapted by various owners throughout the ages. It has stairs leading to random rooms, with forgotten cupboards. It's littered with nooks and crannies. Oh yes, and in a dark attic I uncover a forgotten library of old books, and maybe even one of those old library chairs that flips over into a set of steps - oh wait, I might have strayed into the opening scenes of 'National Treasure' now. Still, you get the idea.
It would seem that my imagination may have been lacking.
Widely portrayed across the internet at the moment is a house on the market in Nevada. The house itself is your typical luxury 6 bedroom mansion, no real surprises there. What makes it a bit different is the outside landscaping. The garden is a waterpark complete with waterfalls, a secret grotto (I want, I want!), bridges, waterwheel and a 'lazy' river. It also has mountain views, a tennis court and an 8 car garage. Yours for £1.9m. I've already formulated a savings plan. I should just about have enough by autumn 2097.
If you'd like to know more, there are lots of photos in the Telegraph Gallery.

Monday 20 August 2012

Better Than Telly!

Our tiny garden plays host to a surprising array of wildlife, something we have actively encouraged. We've even provided a lido for the local birds - okay, it's an oversized blue ceramic plant pot saucer, but the sparrows haven't figured that out yet. In fact, they form a rather riotous queue on the roof of the nearby arbour seat for their turn at the weekly bath. Of course, they have to defer to the blackbirds, for whom it's less bath than bar, with the exception of the young ones who seem to take great delight in just paddling in it.
Come dusk the evening shift takes over in the guise of an aerial display by the local bats and a floor show by a small hedgehog. He's become a firm favourite, so much so that we've now taken to putting out some of the birds' favourite seed for him, as well as three or four grapes. Why we bother giving him so many I don't know. He only ever eats two, then stands on the rest. I'm not sure if he's trying to tell us something or if he's just clumsy.
Last night, however, just when we thought the show had concluded - two grapes eaten, one squashed, the other overlooked - a great disturbance broke out in the undergrowth. We fell silent, awaiting developments, when to our considerable surprise a second, much larger hedgehog emerged at top speed and dashed the short distance to the lido/ bird bath/ plant pot saucer. The monster hedgehog drank deeply for several minutes until, apparently satisfied, it turned tail and charged back the way he had come.
So, not only does our pocket sized garden support a cast of birds, bats and a small hedgehog, but it's also the watering hole of a monster hedgehog too.
I might be more cautious about going out there after dark in future!

Friday 17 August 2012

Trying Working Conditions

The people up the road are having their garden landscaped, so for the last few days I've been treated to a low-level, background thrum of hard working machinery, occasionally punctuated by a high-pitched scream of a grinder cutting bricks. It's driving me nuts.
But when it comes to working in trying conditions I'm a lightweight. Just imagine, you've set out your market stall, all your fresh produce is lined up for the punters, business is good, then suddenly a siren wails and you have to pack it all up, pull in your canopy, and cease trading to allow a train to rattle past. Take a look at the Mail video of Maeklong Market 
What's so impressive about it for me is the calm acceptance of the traders as they patiently wait for the train to pass before speedily reassembling their stalls. I guess you don't argue with a train.

Thursday 16 August 2012

The Driver, the Moose and the Bear

Don't you hate the days when you dodge a moose only to hit a bear. What seems at first glance to be a glib metaphor was, for one Norwegian driver, all too real. Having swerved to miss a wayward moose, he then found himself confronted by a bear. The driver and the moose escaped unharmed, the bear is still at large, no doubt avoiding roads at all cost.
For the full story, click the link: the driver, the moose and the bear

No Funnies, Just an Angry Billionaire

The news has lost its way since the Olympics ended. There are few funny or heartwarming stories about, unless you're looking for cute animal stories - sweet, but samey.
There was a debate earlier in the week considering the impact the news media has on the national mood. During the Olympics, the news was largely positive, happy, celebratory even, but there was a fear that the end of the games would see a return to a preoccupation with bad news. It seems that fear has been realised.
Large in the news is Richard Branson, furious with the government's handling of the bid for the contract on the West Coast rail line. He lost the bid, he claims unfairly. Now, he may have a point, but he begins to risk sounding like a two year old throwing a tantrum because he lost out in a free-market bid. Though if I'm being honest, I'd side with Branson over the government every time.
It's an interesting story, but it's laced with vitriol, conspiracy and contempt. You read the story and, whichever side you take, your blood pressure rises. I'd like to appeal to the various news agencies to bring a little balance to the national mood. Let's have some funny stories, some happy stories, some positivity. They're better for our health!

Tuesday 14 August 2012

QT Anthology Update

Some time ago I mentioned that the second anthology needed one more story, to avoid jangling my superstitious side by publishing a collection of 13 stories. At last, I have story number 14! There's some work to do on editing and conversion, but The QT Anthology, Unseen Stories is now very close to launch.
In other news, I am continuing the read-through of Book Two of the trilogy. I've found a few things I want to change, just to add the final gloss to the story, but I'm well over halfway through now and am confident it won't be long before I announce the launch date of 'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance'.

Coming soon:

An Old Friend

I've decided to take a break from my Mac keyboard. I was suspicious of it when we first got it, but it's sleek and small and looks tidy on the desk, and I hoped that with use I would grow accustomed to the flat, low bounce keys. I suppose I did to a degree, but recently I've found myself missing my old Microsoft curvy keyboard, bought as a leaving present by my former colleagues.
It's like welcoming an old friend back into my life. I've tapped out the better part of three books on this keyboard. The high traffic keys are so worn that anyone unable to touch-type would find it impossible to navigate. In fact, a closer inspection reveals the only letters still reasonably untouched are Q, F, G and B!
I have to configure it to work fully with the Mac - when I figure out how. At the moment I've lost some of the keyboard shortcuts, but even so, it's good to be back on the curve. Here's hoping it re-ignites my creativity after the excitement of the Olympics.

Monday 13 August 2012

London 2012 Closing Ceremony

WARNING: You may want to stand back a little for this post, I plan on being effusive, possibly even sentimental, though I hope to stop short of gushing, because that's just embarrassing.

Wow! Wow! Wow! I didn't think the opening ceremony could be topped, but then came the closing ceremony!
London landmarks, a London rush hour, music performed from the backs of lorries, Bentleys, mopeds and taxis, and Timothy Spall in the guise of Churchill, emerging from the top of 'Big Ben', with Stomp doing their thing in the background.
The start was good, the concert that followed was epic. So many great artists: Elbow, Pet Shop Boys, Madness, Annie Lennox, Jessie J, Kaiser Chiefs, Brian May, Muse, George Michael, Take That, The Who, even Freddie Mercury and John Lennon contributed. The opening bars of 'Wish You Were Here' got me all excited, until I realised the only Pink Floyd member present was drummer, Nick Mason - David Gilmour, wish you'd been there.
And then there was Eric Idle, the human cannonball - I'm going to be whistling 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' for days now!
I'm going to have to buy the DVD of the evening, because our recorder only recorded erratically. He who fixes the computer confessed it was his fault for using the quick programme (? There are different programmes?) but he hastened to point out that a professionally edited recording would remove all trace of the annoying BBC presenters' banal interruptions.
Hope you all enjoyed it, and I hope I avoided gushing!
It's all finished to perfection with Team GB's own production of 'Don't Stop Me Now'. Loving Chris Hoy, and Victoria Pendleton as a tiger, and the Brownlee brothers, duelling it out with water pistols!
Thanks and congratulations Team GB!

Friday 10 August 2012

This Christmas's Must-Have Toy

It's getting around to the time when I need to begin thinking about my Christmas list. Yes, I know it's only August, but I like to be prepared. To be honest, there's not much I really want right now, apart from a publishing deal, which I'm assured is beyond Father Christmas's powers, but I did see something today that looked like fun.
I've mentioned before on this blog my love of model making and my appreciation of the skills of those craftsmen who create exact miniature replicas. What I stumbled across today is not actually miniature, but it is a model, albeit 1:1 ratio. I suspect Father Christmas may think the price tag a little high, and I doubt we could find room for it, even though we do now have our SuperShed, but a girl can dream:
1:1 Airfix Style Model
What's the betting you still get the standard inadequate little tube of glue with it?

Running Pains

As part of our efforts to stay healthy, he who fixes the computer and I go running together. Sometimes it's enjoyable, sometimes it's a struggle, sometimes it feels like torture, and I find myself slogging along in my fitter other half's wake, scowling enviously at those far more sensible women cruising past in their air-conditioned cars.
Having seen this particular news article, however, I have made a private promise not to moan too much the next time I'm pounding along the local roads with sweat dripping down my back and my lungs threatening to pop. The story in question is that of the American relay runner, Manteo Mitchell, who broke his leg halfway into his 400 metre stint, but still carried on to help his team to qualification for the final:
US Sprinter Breaks Leg During Race
What an absolute hero! Now that sums up the spirit of the games. Wishing you a speedy recovery, Manteo.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Parking Problems

As a mum I've had reason to sit for many hours in car parks waiting for my daughter. Even though I sometimes got frustrated by the time spent, sitting, waiting, at the whim of someone else's time keeping (or lack thereof), there was nearly always entertainment to be had in watching other people attempting to park their vehicles. I was even inspired to write a short story about it, free to read in the QT library. In all those car park hours, however, I never witnessed anything as spectacular as the incidents recorded in the Telegraph's gallery today:
Telegraph Bad Parkers Gallery
I particularly liked the Lexus in the wet concrete; there was something aesthetically pleasing about the highly polished bodywork set against the smooth fresh concrete. It could almost have been an art installation. But I bet the driver was thankful for the tinted windows!

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Slight Hitch With Book Two

The conversion of Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy went well - that's not the problem. The stumbling block is me. I've been proof-reading the book on my Kindle and have decided that whole paragraphs need to be wiped out. I've also spotted some very obvious typos that somehow made it through three edits! It's amazing how reading the book in different media allows you to see it in different ways. Edit, edit, edit and apparently, edit again! Still, this one shouldn't take too long. Most of the work is done, now it's just polishing it to the highest possible shine, so all being well, a launch date should soon be forthcoming.

Am I a Social Misfit?

A story that's playing out across the internet today is the suggestion that an absence of a Facebook account is regarded as suspicious by some psychologists and employers, some even going so far as to say that shunning the social network may be a sign that you're a psychopath. In other words, if you don't have a Facebook account you could find yourself being rejected by potential employers, who regard resistance to the social network as a clear sign of social disfunction.
Hm. There's so much to shout at with this idea that I'm not at all sure where to start! To begin with, I find the idea of laying my entire life out online to be, in itself, rather suspicious. Surely I don't need dozens of people to 'friend' and 'like' me in order to assert my mental health? Besides, given the repeated warnings that we should be mindful of protecting our personal data, mixed with Facebook's reputation of tinkering with privacy settings, it could be seen as a sign of prudence not to have an account.
I've always been contrary, which is no doubt an indication of a deeper psychological issue, but I can feel my heels digging in whenever anyone tries to force an idea upon me. I have a feeling that my Facebook account is even further away now than ever.

Monday 6 August 2012

Olympic Heroes

I haven't spent much time in the company of my computer these last few days. I've been acting as labourer and second consult in the construction of the new shed (which is nearly finished at last), and I've also been rather distracted by the Olympics.
The latter has led to a whole new set of ambitions:
       Firstly I'm going to be a cyclist - though not in the velodrome, that looks scary
       Then I'm going to be a champion rower - not paddler, as I suspect I would probably do the
             entire canoe slalom upside down and I believe they deduct quite a lot of points for that
       Next I'm going to be a long jumper, high jumper and hurdler
       I'm also going to become a crack shot at Skeet Shooting
       And a trampolinist, a swimmer, a weightlifter and ....
So, the London Olympic aim of inspiring a generation has worked, though I have a feeling the inspiration would have worked better for me had it struck thirty years ago.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Boris and the Zip-Wire

In further Olympic (ish) news, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, took a turn on a zip-wire yesterday as a publicity stunt. It worked rather better than he expected, because he got stuck halfway and now every news site in the country is covering the story.
Now photoshopped pictures of the incident have been appearing all over the internet, showing Boris dangling precariously, in one example, above an enormous shark:
For me, it's the flags, badly fitting helmet, and ankles that really make the whole thing work.

Team GB Strike Gold

He's done it again - the sideburns cruised to victory in the Olympic cycling time trial! Congratulations to Bradley Wiggins on his gold medal, the perfect accompaniment to the yellow jersey. And while we're on the subject of gold medals, congratulations to Helen Glover and Heather Stanning for their emphatic win in the ladies rowing pairs at Eton Dorney, earning themselves not only the first gold medal for Team GB, but the first lady's rowing gold medal since the sport was included in the Olympics.
Good luck to the rest of Team GB.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Boldre Wood News

'Billy and the North Oakian Alliance', Book Two of the Boldre Wood Trilogy is nearly ready! The edits are done, we're now starting the conversion, then there'll be a final read-through and then, finally, it will be ready for launch! I'm really excited about this book. The story is really moving now, with Billy leaving his native Angloak and getting into all kinds of trouble on the Great Lake en-route to North Oak, all set to the underlying story of the increasing threat posed by the Carintheans.
I've begun the re-write of Book Three, 'Billy and the Carinthean War', in which the people of Boldre Wood are forced into an epic battle for their homeland. Further updates to follow.