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Monday 23 December 2013

Book Promotion Adjustment Bureau

True to form, there's been a slight hitch with Lucky Dip's free promotion, but it's okay, I've managed to put together an even better one. Lucky Dip will now be free on Christmas Day and Boxing Day instead. At least the Kindle elves worked fast and have added Lucky Dip to my Author Central page already.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Big Christmas Book Promotion

Don't forget my Big Christmas Book Promotion is now underway. My whole collection is on offer this weekend (21st and 22nd Dec 2013) and Lucky Dip is on offer all weekend and Monday as well (21st, 22nd and 23rd Dec 2013).

(Please note, Lucky Dip hasn't appeared in my Author Central page yet - I forget to add it! This is currently being rectified and the Kindle elves are beavering away as I write, adding it to my page. Apparently it might take them five days - well, it is a busy time of year for them. If you can't find it, here's the link, or click the book to the right.)

Merry Christmas everybody!

Friday 20 December 2013

Christmas Promotions

I said I'd be back. I know, you don't hear anything from me for weeks, and then I post two in one day.

This is my book promotion schedule:

My entire collection will be on free promotion this weekend, starting Sat 21st December 2013, and ending Sun 22nd December 2013. In addition, Lucky Dip will have an extra day, Mon 23rd December 2013. Here are the links to make it easier:

Lucky Dip
Billy of Boldre Wood
Billy and the North Oakian Alliance
QT Anthology, Unseen Stories
QT Anthology, Stories From the Web

Just to say Merry Christmas to all my readers and wish you all a happy holiday and a fantastic New Year.

Advent Update

Good grief, it's been a long time since I posted anything! I have no idea where the last few weeks have gone, but a quick look at Billy 3 reveals that a good deal of it must have been spent writing! So, to the books: I am planning another promotion, if possible for the whole collection, but certainly for Lucky Dip, so anybody in receipt of a Kindle for Christmas (or a tablet, don't forget, you can get a free Kindle app!) can add it to their library.

Shameless, or more accurately, slightly awkward plug out of the way, I had to share this news story with you. I found it on the BBC news site, and it's another Lego one, always a favourite at QT HQ. This one is big, in fact it's an entire car. And it actually goes! On air! Now, I realise it's probably too late for this Christmas, but ...

Actually, scratch that idea. It has no roof, and there is apparently a possible exploding Lego engine issue which I think might ratchet up the insurance premiums. Perhaps I'll stick with my conventional car for now.

I'll post again once I've sorted out the Kindle promotions, but in the meantime, Happy Advent!

Wednesday 27 November 2013

A Musical (ish) Interlude

My remarkable progress with Billy 3 could be about to hit a speed bump. Perhaps more honestly, it has hit a speed bump. It's not my fault. Well, okay it is, but I'm going to blame as many others as possible. You see, it's really my desk's fault. When I bought my desk I had to say farewell to my beloved Technics organ. There wasn't room for both and in a fit of uncustomary maturity I announced I needed a desk more.

I might have been wrong. I can't tell you how much I've missed that organ. True, it was old, the contacts on the bass pedals had to be periodically scraped clean with wire wool, and it had none of the modern niceties like touch sensitivity and infinite control over reverb and resonance, but it was a good friend. Added to which, its full rich sound covered a multitude of errors and musical ineptitude on my part. The old chap was a real trouper. So yes, it's very definitely the desk's fault. Or possibly the builder who made a house too small for a person to have both an organ and a desk. What was he thinking?

Anyway, back to the speed bump. My fingers have been itching lately. With the coming festive season I should be practising carols and Christmassy tunes, but the desk is woefully lacking in voice, bass, and rhythm, though it has to be said it has excellent timbre. (I do apologise, no more, I promise.) Anyway, the long and short of it is, I went out yesterday and bought myself an early Christmas present in the form of a Yamaha keyboard.

Now, I think one or two people may have been expecting an instant return to normal musical service. There was, I suspect, a degree of disappointment at my baffled stabbing of buttons and muttering over the manual, but it's rather more complicated than my old pal. I'll get there, but there's going to be a short intermission while I figure out how to turn the new beastie on. Working out voices may take another week or so. Figuring out how to control reverb, resonance, chorus, attack etc. may take a while longer. Give me a couple of years and I'll have it sorted.

Meanwhile, poor Billy is tapping his foot in the dark recesses of the Boldre Wood directory, awaiting the conclusion of his story with increasing frustration. Sorry Billy. But you see, it really isn't my fault.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Lost Cuddly Companions

My gorgeous daughter lost a sheep when she was small. The fact that it was a Beany Baby sheep rather than a real one made the loss no less great. I retraced our steps in a desperate bid to find him, without success. I struggled to find meaningful words of comfort for her. She missed him and she was worried for his safety, but I wasn't sure that telling her he had probably been found by someone kind who was taking care of him was really what a grief-struck two/ three year old wanted to hear. All these years on, I still occasionally find myself looking for that lost Beany Baby.

So the plight of poor Ruby who lost Mr Rabbit in London on Saturday struck a chord with me and, it would seem, several others. Ruby's mum tweeted a plea for help in locating her daughter's lost companion, and now thousands of people are looking out for Mr Rabbit. Indeed, a rabbit was found but turned out to be an impostor, but it's surely only a matter of time before the real one is found.

If only Twitter and Facebook had been around when Lamby went missing. Still, better late than never: if you happen to have found a small beany lamb in Scarborough sometime around 1994/5, probably in the general area of Falsgrave, I know a certain person who would be very pleased to hear from you. Sadly I can't find a photograph of him, but use your imaginations. He was white (ish), fleecy, and stuffed with beans, and he sort of resembled a sheep in a rather fluffy and well cuddled sort of way.

Friday 15 November 2013

An Evening With Reginald D Hunter

I am still here, honestly! I've been writing intensively for the last few weeks and, as such, haven't really had any news to add to the blog. The good side of that is that progress of third book of the Boldre Wood Trilogy is moving apace and I'm pretty pleased with how it's all coming together. The bad side is, I haven't had time to write any short stories for the QT website.

I did take some time off yesterday because we managed to get some tickets to see Reginald D Hunter at the Town Hall. I've only previously seen him on television and I've always enjoyed his humour, but some of the reviews of his 'In The Midst of Crackers' tour had been pretty scathing. Some commenters seemed utterly appalled and outraged by his material. It led me to wonder if the genial, gently intellectual funnyman I'd seen on TV morphed into an obnoxious, foul-mouthed, chauvinistic monster when on stage. I was pretty nervous taking my seat last night.

The warm-up act was Canadian comedian Peter Johansson. He was great, and he has an interesting admiration for bears - I could never do this credit, you'd have to hear it for yourself. Then Reginald D Hunter took the stage. Far from being a monster, he was thought-provoking, funny, deep, the kind of man you'd like to spend a whole evening just listening to. It was an uplifting and inspiring evening, and I'm even more of a fan than before.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Hunger Pangs

Toast. I smelled it as I walked past the industrial estate this morning. Hot, caramelised, buttery toasty toast. In one sniff I was eight years old sitting at the breakfast table with my family, facing the horror of another day at school with a dilemma about what to spread on my toast. Marmalade or treacle? It never got easier. Both had their plus points. The marmalade came in a cool jar and was studded with jewel like gems of peel. The treacle was sweet and golden. That choice was a lot to ask of an eight year old girl depressed about going to school.

Nowadays I've simplified matters. I have jam. Blackberry jelly for preference, for even more preference, homemade blackberry jelly, though Tiptree's comes a close second.

How on earth did I end up here? It's not even a toast day. It's a porridge day. Damn those factory workers on the industrial estate. They have a talent for making you feel hungry when you're not. If you chance to pass by later in the day you'll find yourself hankering after soup, or possibly steak pie, or a healthy portion of sticky curry. First thing in the morning it's toast. And the smell gets everywhere. I can still smell it now.

Hmmm, toooooaaaast!

Friday 1 November 2013

Typing Class

As a writer I can well understand why someone would feel the urge to grab a typewriter when confronted with a scene of beauty, shock or fascination. That need to capture the moment, to pin down the feelings evoked in text is something I can relate to. But I've never thought of capturing scenes on a typewriter in quite the way Keira Rathbone does. She uses them to 'draw' the scene. It's truly astonishing to watch her work in this BBC video, and the resulting images are incredible.

I have on occasion attempted to tap out the odd symbolic image in emails and letters, you know, Christmas trees, stars, hearts, soppy stuff like that, but the finished products have been fuzzy, loose, and requiring a hefty degree of imagination on the part of the observer. Keira can draw people and complex scenery with remarkable accuracy simply by adjusting the paper and overlaying the letters. It's absolutely ingenious.

I'm desperate to have a go myself, if only I could remember where I put my old typewriter.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

It's a Cat's Life

There are a lot of cats around these parts. I've no idea where most of them live, but they seem to spend their time making themselves free with everyone's gardens, ambling across the roads, sitting on walls and fences, and just generally hanging around doing not a lot.

They would do well to learn from the cat featured on the Mail's site today. 'Graham' sets out each morning for the local pet store, where he waits to be admitted at opening time, then spends his day checking out the fish, hamsters and cat toys. The pet store welcomes him with open arms, not least because he's having a positive effect on sales. He is, in effect, a member of the marketing department. I do hope they give him a Christmas bonus.

Monday 28 October 2013

Weather Woes

There are certain clues that tell you when you've had an extreme weather event. Police signs announcing that a normally tranquil and well-behaved country lane is closed might provide a hint, particularly when coupled with fallen branches and a thick layer of leaf sludge. But I think perhaps the clearest indicator so far would have to be the seagulls swimming on the cricket pitch. I'm keeping a careful watch for passing dolphins.

Good luck to everyone caught up in the storm.

Friday 25 October 2013

Gingerbread Display

Look, I know it's early, but I just had to blog about Selfridges' Christmas window. I know, it's only October, but it's impossible to resist. It's made entirely of gingerbread! Well, excluding the cotton wool snow, and the Golden Syrup tins, and the model train set trees, and ... oh, you get the point. It even has a Golden Syrup river with a paddle steamer trundling along it. It's a Christmas scene you can eat, could it get better than that?

It's also as good an excuse as any for me to remind you that there are a couple of Christmas window stories in the Christmas library of the Quirky Tales website. Alas, they're not edible, but they're fun anyway.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Slumped Sponges and News Hacks

Tuesday evenings won't be the same now that Great British Bake Off has finished. Still, at least there'll be no more tears and breakdowns over slumped sponges and soggy pastry - I do get so emotional! We've watched every episode and, whilst every contestant won our hearts, I have to admit to rooting for the youngest, Ruby. 

That puts me at odds with the news hacks and tweeters and trolls, who really took against her. They were cynical about her tears, accused her of flirting with Paul Hollywood, and even the normally mild-mannered Raymond Blanc had a go at her for being too thin to enjoy food. He did apologise later, but seriously, RB, I'm surprised at you.

Throughout the series the contestants have been nothing but supportive of each other, helping each other out when disaster has struck, and forming collective sobbing huddles at elimination time. It's refreshing to see a gentle TV competition without any of the modern nastiness, mind-games and general backstabbing. Shame the commentators don't seem to get it.

Anyone for cake?

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Time Shift

We're trialling a new schedule in our house. We're starting the day earlier and ending it later in order for he who fixes the computer to build up more flexi-hours. Today is the second day of the new regime and I'm not convinced. It's true that by ten o'clock I'd changed the beds, cleaned the bathroom, done the washing, the ironing, downed two cups of coffee and cleaned the kitchen, but now, when I should be sitting down to some serious writing, all I can think of is curling up in bed and going back to sleep.

I've heard of writers who work through the night, going to bed at four in the morning and rising at midday. As a distinctly non-morning type of person that regime has a certain allure, seeing as it misses out morning altogether. Or would the afternoon just become morning, and the evening just become afternoon, and ...

Stronger coffee. That's what I need. Stronger coffee with a side order of paracetamol. And while I'm at it, I might just shift all the clocks an hour forward.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Recommended Reading

I had to chuckle this morning when I checked my email. Lurking amongst the usual invitations to enhance various aspects of my anatomy, reduce others, open my bank account to assorted con artists, and many inducements to spend money I don't have on things I don't want, was an email from Amazon with a list of books I might be interested in purchasing. Top of the list was Lucky Dip.

I'm not sure if that's a pass or a fail on their part. Clearly they have a fairly accurate measure of my tastes, but at the same time their software failed to pick up on the fact that I'm the author of the book. Either way, thanks for the plug Amazon!

Monday 14 October 2013

Lucky Stars!

Lucky Dip has a five star review! I'm sorry, for those at the back who might not have heard: LUCKY DIP HAS A FIVE STAR REVIEW!

Ahem! Excuse me for shouting. But it puts a bit of a spring in your step to receive such lovely feedback. Thank you so very much! I'm so happy you enjoyed the book, and I'm delighted to have another member of the Bentley Appreciation Group, or BAG for short.

Saturday 12 October 2013

A Week of Dinos and Apps

It's been a busy week, which is my way of excusing myself for not posting more frequently on the QT blog. Firstly, I have finished the Dino 101 course. I'm happy to report that the half point I dropped near the beginning of the course remains a solitary lonely figure, well, partial figure, and that I spent a good deal more time studying for all the subsequent tests. One of the many things the course taught me is that I don't know very much at all, so watch this space for details of the next course I'll be signing up for.

Having completed Dino 101 I turned my attentions to the third book of the Boldre Wood Trilogy. After my slight hitch with the Card Index app, I made good progress, taking extreme care of course not to inadvertently press any of the disaster buttons. The plan is more or less complete, but the story is complex and the ending may need minor adjustments, so I've begun to rewrite the story according to the new plan and I shall make final decisions about the ending when I'm closer to it. All in all, I'm pleased with its progress, though I could really do with sitting down for a fortnight, uninterrupted, no internet, no phone, no TV, no birds in the garden, no shiny things, just to get the whole thing written while the ideas are fresh in my head. I believe I've mentioned before on this blog how easily I can be distracted.

So the message for the coming week is Focus! By the way, did I mention I bought a new Terry Pratchett book ....

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Undo! Undo! Undo?

Aaargh! I had just completed my 54th card of my plan for Billy 3 using the Cardboard Index Cards app when ... disaster! I hit a wrong button - I don't even know which one! - and the whole layout was rearranged! There was a moment of utter silence, followed by a pained howl and a frantic search of the menu and help options. I couldn't find a button that would restore it to my original order, and there was no convenient Undo button. How can such an app not have an Undo? Everything has an Undo. It's an essential function for incompetents like me. I suspect there is an option somewhere but in my panic I wasn't able to find it.

Thankfully I had taken several screenshots as my plan progressed, so I've managed to use the pictures to re-order the cards manually, but now I'm terrified of accidentally catching a button and sending my plan into disarray again. Perhaps I ought to nip out to the stationers and buy some old fashioned index cards, some pins and a corkboard. Though I've noticed they don't have an Undo button either.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Planning the Planning

I have been attempting to formulate my plans for the third book in the Boldre Wood Trilogy. I've created several documents which now add to the general confusion of my Boldre Wood directory, I've scribbled copious notes in assorted notebooks, most of which I will never find again, and I've spent many hours puzzling and imagining. None of which has really moved me any further forward. It was obvious I needed a plan for tackling my plan.

Knowing the value of my Samsung tablet, I decided to investigate appropriate writing apps. Firstly, there aren't that many or, maybe I should say, there aren't that many good ones. My tablet came with the excellent S-Note, which allows me to handwrite, type, draw, and import pictures, pdfs and charts. It's hard to find anything that offers more. But what I needed was a way to move my ideas around which, whilst not impossible, is not straightforward with S-Note.

I eventually uncovered a rather nifty app that allows you to create index cards, in different colours if you choose, that you can move and swap about however you please. I think this might be the answer. I've begun by noting on separate cards scenes that must feature in the book. Once I have them all, or at least a good portion, I can begin ordering them. After that it's just the simple matter of rewriting the book to suit. (Cue slightly disturbing hysterical laughter.)

Screenshot taken from the app's page on the Google Play Store

The app is 'Cardboard Index Cards' by Lean Self, and is available on the Google Play Store. They also do a 'Novels' version, but I'm unclear how it differs.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Down at the Front

My search for strange homes received an unusual boost today from the BBC's newsite. They have a feature on the work of artist Alex Chinneck, who has created what can be best described as a house whose frontage has slipped. It's that simple, though I'm sure it wasn't! The facade of the house in Margate gently slopes down towards the road as though lowered like a blind. I love it, though I do wonder where you'd end up if you tried to go through the front door.
Alex Chinneck has more examples of his work on his website, plus additional images of the slippy house named 'From the Knees of my Nose to the Belly of my Toes'.

Monday 30 September 2013

Promo Weekend Success

Despite a few technical glitches, the promotional weekend was a success. Lucky Dip proved popular, as did the first two books from the Boldre Wood Trilogy, which is great news. It's also great timing because, whilst out blackberrying, I had a lightbulb moment so bright it was probably picked up by NASA. I now know how to resolve the issue I was having with the end of book three. So, not only do I now have a good stock of blackberry jelly, but I can also finally finish the trilogy. I must go blackberrying more often.
Watch this space for updates on the progress of Billy.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Sorted! Promotion Live!

Hooray! Lucky Dip is now available FREE! Get your copy now!

Thank you Kindle for resolving the issue so speedily.

Happy reading. Hope you enjoy it.

Promotion Day

Okay, slight hiccup with Kindle: all promotions are supposedly in progress, but Lucky Dip appears not to be on free promotion. All my other books are free at the moment, so if you're interested in them and haven't already downloaded them, now's a great time to do it. As for Lucky Dip, the whole reason for the promotion, I don't know what's going on at the moment, but I'm investigating. I shall keep you informed. Hopefully it will be on the free list shortly. My apologies for any confusion, I'm endeavouring to contact Kindle to find out what's going on.

Friday 27 September 2013

Keep on Running

The Mail online today features two stories concerned with running. Such stories always draw my eye as I am, in my imagination at least, something of a runner myself (true, if you've ever seen me lumbering through our twice weekly 4.5 mile run you might be justified in snorting derisively, but I'm sure you wouldn't be that unkind).
The first article is a rather sneering and contemptuous piece about the Chief Police Constable for Cleveland who in a show of solidarity with her officers took, and promptly failed, the fitness test. Embarrassing, but kudos to her for giving it a go and let's not forget, she's unlikely to be sprinting through the streets after miscreants in the line of her duties. Nevertheless, her street cred would recover some ground if she could get fit in the next few weeks and subsequently ace the test.
The unfortunate Chief PC might take inspiration from the other story in the Mail concerning the activities of grandmother of two, Mimi Anderson who is something of an endurance race legend. Not content with completing the Badwater Ultramarathon, running 135 miles through Death Valley, then turning around and doing it all over again, she now plans to undertake the Spartathlon, running 153 between Sparta and Athens, then back again.
As much as I admire her, I can't help but think she ought to arrange for a friend to give her a lift back to save her that return run.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Countdown to Promotion Weekend

No, I'm not talking about football, about which I remain appallingly ignorant. I refer, of course, to the promotion which will run this weekend to celebrate the publication of Lucky Dip. Lucky Dip will be on promotion on Saturday 28th September, the day after tomorrow (if you're reading this on the 26th), whilst my wider collection will be on promotion all weekend, the 28th and 29th.
So please, join in the celebrations and download the books. They're on me! If I could provide balloons and cake I would, but Kindle make no provision for such frivolity.

Dino 101

Well, I've now completed four of the tests on the Dino 101 course and have only dropped half a mark so far, a fact I would be prouder of if it weren't for the extreme revision and replaying of lectures I've put myself through before each one. Apparently I've reached a time in my life where fresh knowledge can only be acquired and retained through repeated exposure. Nevertheless, it's been worth it. I have learned, even if I've had to hammer the knowledge in, and I've developed a new interest.
So, you may see me scrambling around the exposed rock faces of the South West, with a notebook in hand and a determined, if slightly baffled, look in my eye. Don't mind me. I'll just be trying to figure out which layer of rock was formed during the Mesozoic.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Go for Launch!

We're there! Lucky Dip has been published for Kindle. It's available now, but if you can bear to wait, it will be on promotion this Saturday 28th September. All my other books will also be on promotion throughout the weekend (28th and 29th) in celebration of Lucky Dip's launch.

Monday 23 September 2013

Dino 101

In between working on the final preparations of Lucky Dip and new material for the next of the QT Anthologies, I've been taking the truly superb Dino 101: Dinosaur Palaeobiology course run by the University of Alberta. This is a free course that anybody with access to the internet can take. Despite being free, this is a comprehensive and fascinating introduction to the world of dinosaurs.
It's also really made me work my brain, as parts of it have not come easily - most especially distinguishing Saurischian and Ornithischian dinosaurs from each other, which is easy to do when they're just skeletons, but when they have their clothes on (so to speak) it's altogether more tricky. I think I've got it now, but it's taken a more concerted effort than I was expecting, which is no bad thing at all. I also now have a hankering to visit Alberta.

My shockingly poor rendering of a T-rex (Saurischian!).
My apologies to the excellent tutors of Dino 101.

Lucky Dip

The final edits and read-throughs are complete. The conversion is done. The graphics are ready. And today I've finally got around to considering what keyword tags I want to use to help people find 'Lucky Dip' amidst the squillions of books uploaded to Amazon. We're nearly there! Just a few last bits of admin, and then it will be ready to publish. I predict that within a few days it should be available. We'll be running promotional offers to launch the book, as well as consecutive offers on the QT Anthologies. I shall let you know the details when they're finalised.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Let Sleeping Dogs ...

I know, I said I wouldn't be discussing any more animal news stories. So I lied. I think you'll forgive me. There are two animal stories today that appealed to the sloth in me. One concerns the baby elephant who was desperate to wake a sleeping canine friend, and the other is that of the barn owl who was supposed to acting as ring bearer at a wedding but instead decided to have a snooze in the rafters. Well, you would, wouldn't you?
The dog in the Mail's article is a pretty determined sleeper, refusing to wake despite the elephant relentlessly poking him with his trunk and blowing dust at him. You have to admire that kind of dedication. And before you offer up all your sympathies to the cute elephant, consider the dog's point of view. How would you like to be woken in the morning by a playful elephant. Ah, I think I may have just lost my own argument there.
As for the owl as reported by the BBC, I can see why the rafters would have seemed more appealing than a daytime wedding. She's an owl for heaven's sake! I can just imagine her thoughts when the ladder appeared by her side. Do owls know many swear words, I wonder.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

September Blues

As much as I hate being the bearer of bad tidings I'm afraid it's my onerous duty this morning to inform you that summer is over. Sorry. If I could have held on to it for longer I most assuredly would, but forces outside my control have decreed we've had our lot. At least under this particular patch of grey sky anyway.
You see, our house is suddenly eerily empty. There are no mysterious bulging boxes blocking gangways, no over stuffed carrier bags loitering with intent, no clumps of coats and nests of cables and wires waiting to trip the unwary. No daughter. She's gone back to the halls of learning to add still more strings to her bow, leaving behind a house that's far too tidy, far too quiet, and nowhere near full enough.
To all those correspondents currently writing glee filled articles in their columns for the nationals about how marvellous it is to have their homes back now their children have gone back to school, I send a giant, juicy raspberry. I may be miserable at the moment, but I can at least comfort myself with the knowledge that I've always dreaded September. If you can't figure that one out, you must be going about it all wrong.

Thursday 5 September 2013

New Story!

Well, it's September already, and it's been a month since I last added to the QT library, so here's a new story for you. This one resulted from a challenge set on the CTZ Writers Forum: to write, in any literary form, about some comedy in either the House of Commons or during a business meeting. 'The Defeat' is the story of a night of high drama in government.
Hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Fruitless Shopping

This may not seem like the most pressing of issues, particularly given some of the appalling items in the news at the moment, but it's becoming an ever more desperate problem for me and, I suspect, quite a lot of other women, so bear with me.
Now I admit, I'm a rubbish shopper. Or perhaps I'm just a discerning one. I need new jeans, mine are all years old and falling apart, but I haven't been able to find any in the cut that suits me. A concerted hunt along the high street at the weekend confirmed my suspicion that basically all the shops are selling the same pair of jeans - the dreaded 'skinny'.
For those not in the know, 'skinny' jeans are skin tight all the way from ankle to hip. They not only exaggerate the slimmest part of the leg, the ankle, but also the fattest, on the average woman, her thighs and hips, making the leg look like an upturned, well formed parsnip. Not the look I'm going for.
Even a visit to Marks and Spencer revealed 'skinny' jeans in abundance. The only 'straight' jeans they sold were worryingly slim fitting with rib-high waists and leg lengths short enough to reveal not only the ankle but also a good portion of calf. I like my jeans long and low, I like them snug on my hips, loose on the thigh, broad at the ankle and long enough to drape over the shoe. Shops don't sell jeans like that any more.
So, if you see a blushing woman hurrying down the high street in ragged and heavily patched jeans, it'll just be me making another fruitless shopping trip. If you know of any shop, anywhere, that stocks a comprehensive variety of denim styling, please stop me and point me in the right direction. I and my knackered old jeans will be eternally grateful.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Venus in Doc Martens

Regular followers of this blog will be aware that I am frequently drawn to unusual homes. I can't really explain my interest other than by saying I have a secret desire to break convention. It's probably the same part of me that finds itself admiring the patent red leather Doc Martens in the shoe shop in town, and occasionally wonders what it would be like to have purple hair. (Don't worry Mum, I'm not going to dye my hair purple - I was thinking more of bright red to match the Doc Martens!)
However, spend a few years hunting down stories of alternative homes and lifestyles and you come to realise that actually, not much is really all that different, and alternative isn't as radical as it sounds.
But then the BBC ran an article about Venus Project and suddenly I'm not only intrigued, I want to sign up today. The brainchild of the architect Jacque Fresco, the concept is that of a structured society where acquisitiveness is discouraged and knowledge seeking and cultural improvement is the primary goal of humankind while robots and machinery does the boring stuff. Sounds good to me. As one who is keen to further her knowledge but finds herself priced out of further studies, I'm ready to move in now! Added to which, some of the plans look heavenly. I could really take to living in a giant garden. I was about to say I'm going to start packing, but I suppose that might miss the fundamental point of the project.

Thursday 8 August 2013

New Story

There's a new story in the QT library today. 'Sea Legs' is the heart warming story of a lady who suffers long term health effects after a brief cruise.
I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Progress Report

The preparations for Lucky Dip are drawing closer to their final stages. The latest edit is now finished, and the manuscript has been passed on to the next editor for a final check. Then the whole thing will be ready to be converted into digital format ready for submission to Kindle.
So now my attention can return to writing for the third in the QT Anthologies series. I have ten stories so far that make the grade, plus a raft of others in the making, but progress stalled thanks to our holiday and work on Lucky Dip. Hopefully now I can get back into a routine of story writing, which is, after all, what I love doing.
I'll keep you updated with progress, and I will of course give you fair warning of any promotions coming up in the near future. But for now, it's back to searching for inspiration and those quirky somethings that deliver stories worthy of QT.

Thursday 1 August 2013

The Home Stretch for Lucky Dip

'Lucky Dip', my contemporary family comedy, is currently being subjected to its final, ruthless edit. There has also been much activity in the graphics department and we have, at last, agreed on a final design (I think), so here's a sneaky preview:

This is the front cover

and here's the back jacket

This is a huge hurdle out of the way and I'm pretty happy with the result, but of course your comments and feedback are massively important, so if you have any thoughts please feel free to share them here. We're still a little way from publication, so there's still time to make adjustments.
Still to complete are the final edits, which are a little like having your teeth drilled - not fun but essential for your overall health. We're nearly there. I don't have a publication date yet, but as soon as I do I will, of course, post it here.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Personality Test

This morning I have undertaken a deep and probing psychological study. This startling news is only trumped by the results: I'm a schizophrenic with blood pressure issues, as well as being an arrogant, introverted, confident, shy, people-orientated, withdrawn, well-adjusted, spontaneous, creative, skeptical, self-critical, imaginative procrastinator.
Gosh, that's quite a load to carry, it's as well I'm sitting down. Of course, it's just possible that the deep and probing psychological study is somewhat flawed, coming as it does from an article on the Mail's website. The article investigates the ancient art of graphology (the analysis of a person's psyche from their handwriting) and invites the reader to use their easy to follow guide to assess themselves.
I can't say I'm a believer. Depending upon the day, the situation, and how contrary I'm feeling, my writing can slope either to the right or the left, it can be joined up or separate, sometimes small enough to fit a paragraph on one line, sometimes large enough for one sentence to fill half a page. That's not to mention that I can write with both hands, though sadly not at the same time - that really would fuse the synapses of the graphologists wouldn't it!
Nor does it take account of the part early teaching plays. I was drilled in handwriting by a teacher whose own hand was little short of copperplate and who expected nothing less from us on pain of losing our 'pen license'. Such was the shame of being demoted to pencil that strict adherence of his many rules (size, slope, loop diameter and curvature, precise method of joining, etc.) was our overriding concern. Which perhaps explains why my knowledge of rudimentary history is so feeble - that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
Still, it's interesting to see what the experts can draw information from. I always drink my coffee with the picture on my mug facing me, and I like all the dual function light switches in my home to be in sequence. Make of that what you will. Goodness, is that a man in a white coat I see coming to the door?

Thursday 25 July 2013

News Roundup

There are a few curious news stories out there today. The first made my blood boil, but is such an important issue that I feel it should get a shout on this blog. This is the story of the army sergeant who will be made redundant just three days before he qualifies for his full army pension. If this were a lone case I might dismiss it as unfortunate, but it's cropping up again and again. There are so many service personnel facing similar situations that it seems clear this a ploy by the government and the MOD to cut the cost of giving the nation's heroes a proper pension. So, if you see an MP down the pub or, more likely, on the sun-drenched beaches of the Bahamas, bend their ear about it. Please. Those who risk their lives to keep us safe deserve infinitely better treatment.
Moving on, I was touched by the photographs of former US president George H W Bush who shaved his head as a show of support for the young son of one his security detail. The little boy is battling leukaemia, a disease that has also touched the Bush family. The ex-president decided to shave his head after seeing that various members of his security detail had done so. Best wishes to little Patrick for a speedy return to full health.
And finally, I have important health and safety advice for anybody stepping outside in the current stormy weather: wear your husband's leaky old wellington boots. Actually, I'm not sure the fact that they were old and leaking is significant and in all probability ownership is not important, but it adds colour to the tale. This is the story of the lady who was struck by lightening whilst holding a brolly, who survived with little more than pins and needles thanks to the fact that she was wearing rubber wellies.
(P.S. It's also worth bearing in mind that holding a brolly during a thunderstorm could be hazardous to your ongoing good health, whether or not your footwear of choice has a rubber sole.)

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Cherry Bakewells

Woohoo! I've finally found something worth sharing on the blog! Excuse me a moment while I skip around the room, waving my arms in the air in celebration - there, that's an image that's going to stick with you!
This comes courtesy of the good people on the forums of moneysavingexpert.com, namely 'Tom' or 'TBeckett100'. He shared with the forum his letter (email) of complaint to Tesco concerning their Cherry Bakewells. The ensuing correspondence is well worth a read as he and 'Tracey' of Tesco proceeded to discuss all manner of modern life issues, not just the matter of the bad alignment of the cherries on Tom's tarts.
I'm almost tempted to nip to Tesco for a packet of their Bakewells, just to check the positioning of the cherries.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Short Cuts

I've been spending a fair amount of time recently on creative pursuits. It's another birthday season in our family, so I've had plenty of cards to make. I used to make complicated designs using tiny cuts of paper, but found the struggles with tweezers and glue was damaging my eyes, not to mention my temper.
But having seen the beautiful work of Anastassia Elias, I'm almost ready to dig my scalpel and tweezers out again. Looking through her gallery I find it impossible to choose a favourite piece, or even a favourite theme, they're all so wonderful. Her gallery also illustrates the important maxim: lighting is everything.
So, I'd better start collecting loo roll holders. I should probably invest in a new pair of specs as well!

(Inspired by an article on the Mail online)

Friday 5 July 2013

White Horses

I may have suggested in a recent post that I was overlooking animal stories in the news because we've seen it all before. I've changed my mind. The Mail has some wonderful pictures of the horses and soldiers of the Household Cavalry enjoying some play time on Holkham Beach that override any concerns I have over repetitiveness.
I never took up horse-riding as a child. They always seemed a little to large for my liking and, as the wise one points out, have big teeth one end and big feet the other. Seeing those pictures, I'm tempted to learn now - splashing around in the sea, apart from the one that got unceremoniously tipped off, looks fun.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

More Mini Worlds

There's another destination to add to my 'must-see' list. It's another model railway, yes I know, I'm in danger of becoming obsessed with them, but take a look at the photographs on the Mail today and you'll perhaps see why.
Northlandz is the life's work of its creator Bruce Williams Zaccagnino, and features over eight miles of track, about 500,000 lichen trees (who counted them?), about 3000 buildings and a 30ft mountain. I've got enough housekeeping leftover for the admission, all I need now is the air fare!

Friday 28 June 2013

Some News Amongst the Olds

I've been a bit quiet, I know. Sorry. But since returning from our travels it's become evident that the news really is, to slightly misquote Terry Pratchett's Lord Vetinari, olds. I've been looking through the various news sites and seen plenty of cute animals, dumb criminals, children doing/ saying funny things, but we've seen it all before. But then today on the Mail a photograph brought me to a screeching halt.
What is it? What does it mean? Is it a bizarre art installation? An entry for the Turner Prize? Well no. It's the photograph of a man and his dog after a car accident. I know what you're thinking and no, I've not suddenly gone ghoulish. What made this photo stand out was that the man happened to be carrying several pots of paint in his car which burst open when it crashed. It should be colourful, but actually the result is less rainbow, more sludge. Luckily for the dog, it all came out in the wash. I think his master is going to take a little while longer to recover, and I suspect will need lifelong therapy for a newfound fear of paint.

Monday 24 June 2013

Speed Photography

He who fixes the computer has a smart new bike. This is exciting news, because he's been riding the same Raleigh for so many years now that we'd come to believe they were inseparable. The Raleigh had begun life in a very fetching British Racing Green, but over the years disintegrated into what can only be described as 'Soot'. Popular legend has it the sum of the parts is kept together by the accumulated grime but, as we've never dared clean it, it's impossible to confirm. His new bike is a very dashing bright blue. Naturally, photos had to be taken, so the computer fixer rode slowly past as I desperately tried to focus on him before he disappeared from view. It proved far harder than expected, and reminded me of a similar problem encountered on our holiday.
We had arrived in Bourg d'Oisans, a lovely little town surrounded by mountains and enormously popular with cyclists lured there by the Alp d'Huez, and were told the road would be closed the following day as the pre-Tour de France training race would be passing through. So the next morning, cameras at the ready, we lined up along the road.
We waited. All was quiet. Then came a couple of motorcycles. Then a couple more. Then some cars. Then more motorcycles. Then ... yes! Cyclists! I fumbled with my camera for a second. Looked up. They'd gone! Fortunately that was the break, the pelaton was to come. We waited. More motorcycles. More team cars. More motorcycles. Then there it was, the pelaton. Okay, this time! Blast! They've gone!
Photographing cyclists is clearly a skill I've yet to master, but here's one of the Sky team leading the pelaton. Sorry it's a bit blurry, but those guys really motor!

Thursday 20 June 2013

AWOL Returns

I've been away, which you may have guessed by the prolonged lack of activity in the blog. Apologies, a long planned holiday crept up on me when I was distracted by other things and suddenly we were in our overstuffed car, whizzing through some jolly attractive parts of France.
We saw something odd whilst we were over there: sunshine! I have a tan, and my hair is a shade or two lighter, and I have peculiar stripes on my feet from my sandals. I have a vague memory of experiencing this stuff before, but it was so long ago I had begun to think I'd imagined it.
We spent most of the time in the Alps, both in France and Switzerland. In the latter I was persuaded, much against my judgement, to brave several cable cars and ski lifts. I have absolutely no head for heights and have a track record of coming over all peculiar on the bottom rung of a step ladder, so this was quite a challenge. I did it. Okay, so I had an iron grip on whatever bar or rail happened to be available, and kept a close watch on the cable, studiously ignoring he who fixes the computer's excited exclamations about the ant-like size of those, more sensible, folk on the ground, but I made it. The views were awesome, and I do believe the stress burned off excess holiday calories.
We had a slight blip with the car: we inadvertently drove over a rock on one of the mountain passes. We stopped to check the underside for any obvious damage, but all we could see was a scrape on the protective undertray. We drove on, congratulating ourselves on a lucky escape, but over the next couple of days a worrying squeak developed. I was convinced the suspension had packed up in despair at the narrow, steep, switchbacky passes, but repeated bouncing of all four corners of the car failed to reproduce the sound. Eventually, driven I suspect my constant harping on, he who fixes the computer rigged up a ramp and crawled underneath, discovering that all the noise stemmed from one tiny piece of metal that had been bent out of shape (well, that and an over-anxious wife). He bent it back into shape and stopped the noise, from both the car and the wife.
So, a couple of thousand miles, about six thousand photos, five loads of washing and more switchbacks than I can count later, here we are, back to normal. I have to say, I don't like it much, but at least we have a few photos to look back on.

The Rhone Valley

The Aletsch Glacier - reward for braving the cable car

Monday 3 June 2013

New Month, New Story

Happy June to all my readers! And to celebrate the glorious sunshine (long may it continue) there is a new story in the QT library today. 'Off the Peg' is my response to a challenge - 'the new range' - set on the CTZ Writers' Club and is the story of the staff of a fashion chain waiting for their first glimpse of the new season's collection. It's a little bit silly, but I'm sure you're used to that by now!
Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Bizarre, Mad and Spectacular

It's been a busy few days, but today it's back to work on the latest story for the third QT anthology. This current story is the longest yet of the new collection, but has been one of the quickest to write, another anomaly of the creative process. But even while the stories are coming together, the search for inspiration continues.
Today there are several stories that caught my attention, the first being the science blogger who claims to have spotted a lizard in a photograph taken on Mars by Nasa's Curiosity rover. I'd be delighted to be proven wrong, but come on! It's a rock that sort of looks a little like a lizard if you squint your eyes, in much the way a cloud can resemble a hamburger or an Aston Martin DB7. Still, it's got the UFO, conspiracy theorists excited, and there's plenty of material for a writer there!
Another that captivated my imagination and horror in fairly equal measure is that of the surveyor planning to live on a rock in the sea for 60 days. The rock in the photograph doesn't look much bigger than the science blogger's 'lizard', with the added interest of being surrounded by tumultuous seas. I find it hard to see the attraction but, strangely, it's stirred a few ideas in the 'weird' section of my brain. (I try not to go there too often because it gives me nightmares.)
The final story I want to share actually hasn't inspired me creatively, but it's the oddly satisfying tale of the lady who, after 20 years of hard work and devotion, has managed to train a wisteria along a 252 foot long wall. Her reward is a spectacular display of blooms that turned an old brick wall into a blaze of purple. It's all the more pleasing because she hadn't a clue what she was doing, she just wanted the vine to cover the wall. Job done, I'd say.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Wood You Have the Time on You?

Last week I posted the link to Rob Heard's beautiful bough houses. Now I can bring you the perfect accessory to compliment his sculptures: Valerii Danevych's wooden watches.
No, I haven't gone mad, he really does make working watches out of wood. Each part is carefully carved out of different woods and assembled into watches that are accurate to within five minutes in a day. They're gorgeous, but I'd be far too afraid to wear one. To start with, I'd probably spill my coffee on it, or break it when I crashed into a door frame or wall (as I'm wont to do), but furthermore, I'd get nothing done because I'd spend the whole day admiring it.
The Mail's link has some good photographs, but for a better view of his work, take a look at Valerii's own site.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Welcome Home

Ah, the romance of a honeymoon, the sun-kissed beaches, the cocktails, strolls along the shore as the sun sets, the return home to find your brother has painted your house pink and yellow.
That's precisely what Steve and Hayley O'Rourke found when they got home from their honeymoon. Steve's brother, Russell, had painted their house bright pink with yellow spots in revenge for Steve bricking up his drive when he got married some years before. They demonstrate an impressive commitment to pranking. Most people settle for confetti and silly string.
Apparently the newly-wed couple's neighbours are generally pretty pleased with the new paint job, saying it brightens the street. However, the new Mrs O'Rourke has indicated it will be restored to normal as soon as they have time. I suppose that'll be the most obvious sign that the honeymoon is really over.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

A Road Safety Rant

I apologise now, this one isn't funny. But as the wife of a man who cycles to work, and who hears of the abuse he is subjected to on an almost daily basis, this is an issue close to my heart.
Back in the days when we had a motorhome, we loaded up our bikes and set off on a tour of the Netherlands for one of the best holidays of our lives. Firstly the Dutch are lovely people and made us feel very welcome. Secondly, cycling over there is a joy. In many places the cyclist has their own separate road. Where they don't, they are treated with enormous respect and care by other road users. It was a revelation.
In utter contrast is the story that broke today of a young woman who tweeted rather gleefully that she had knocked a cyclist off his bike and that he had no right to be on the road because he doesn't pay road tax. It's an attitude that is depressingly common in the UK.
Of course she's obviously wrong, in more ways than one. To begin with, nobody pays road tax. There is no such thing. What she refers to is actually Vehicle Excise Duty, which is levied against a vehicle for the amount of pollution it creates. A cycle creates no pollution, therefore no VED is levied against it, while a car or truck pollutes quite heavily, therefore they are charged accordingly. That money isn't used for road maintenance. Instead, anybody who pays council tax, whether or not they own a car, truck, cycle or carthorse, is paying for the upkeep of our roads. And everyone is entitled to use the road.
Furthermore, and far more troublingly, she and the rest of the "#Bloodycyclist" brigade seem to forget that cyclists are flesh and blood, human beings, people, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. Would that foolish young woman be so proud of herself if she had seriously injured the cyclist, or worse?
Rant over, normal service resumes in the next post.

Monday 20 May 2013

New Story

There's a new story on the QT website today. It's only a short one, inspired in part by a recent news story concerning the M6 toll road. 'The Road' is the story of the difficulty of selling a road to an already overtaxed motorist.
Hope you enjoy it.

Friday 17 May 2013

Bear Watch

According to the Telegraph there's another 'cool' job on offer to the right candidate at the moment. This one is that of 'polar bear spotter', working on the Svalbard archipelago. Accompanying research scientists as they go about prodding sticks in the snow and inspecting ice, the successful applicant will be required to keep watch for charging polar bears. The Telegraph suggests a knack for concentration will be key.
Well, that rules me out then. I can get distracted by a shadow, or piece of fluff, or a pretty pencil shaving, or .... aaaaagh! Bear! (In place of pencil shavings, which are unlikely to be found on Svalbard, it's probably safe to assume my attention could be fatefully drawn by an interesting snowflake. My concentration is absolutely appal .... ooh, blue fluff ... ling.)

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A Different Kind of Tree House

Help! I need some 'Drink Me' potion, urgently. I need to shrink. No, no, this isn't about the bikini I optimistically purchased for our holiday! I need to be far smaller than that. I suspect getting down to about three inches would suffice, then I could truly explore the sculptures featured in the article on the Mail's site today.
I refer to the 'Bough Houses' created by Rob Heard. Working from boughs of wood, Rob adds turret houses, intricate stairways and beautiful bridges. They are whimsical, ornate, stunning, and I want one! In fact, I'd like him to teach me how to make one. And I definitely want to write stories about the tiny people who live in them.
It's the secret Lilliputian in me. I need to go and have a lie down now with my notepad and pencil. I feel an irresistible urge to write a fairy tale.

Monday 13 May 2013

Barmy Block Busters

You may have to forgive me any little errors in this post. Intrigued by the news that Dan Brown beats writer's block by hanging upside down, I am endeavouring to write this whilst standing on my head. The problem is, my keyboard keeps slipping and crashing into my nose. I'm not finding that especially conducive to the creative process.
According to an article on the Guardian's website, many famous authors have peculiar methods for keeping the ideas flowing. Apparently Victor Hugo wrote in the nude.         Erm, no. I don't think so. I can only just about tolerate showering in the nude, working in the buff is the sort of thing that only happens in my dreams - very bad dreams. Besides, my screen is of the glossy ultra-reflective variety and the image bouncing back at me sans clothes would probably only inspire me to go on a drastic diet and sign up for military style fitness training. Though there may be a story in that, I suppose.
I like the idea of sealing up the ethernet port (aka Jonathan Franzen). After all, I'm supposed to be starting a new story for the third anthology, but I've allowed myself to get distracted reading about how other writers avoid getting distracted. And it turns out, standing on my head gives me a headache, not to mention the damage it's doing to my nose.

Friday 10 May 2013

Book to Movie Dilemma

I read some news this morning that has left me befuddled. The brilliant book, 'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card, has been made into a movie. On the face of it, I should be excited. I loved the book which, despite the extreme violence, actually had surprising depth.
The plot is that Earth has been at war with an alien race for seventy years and, in a desperate attempt to gain the upper hand, a radical new approach is adopted, where the world's most talented children are whisked away to a military training school where they learn warcraft in a zero gravity 'game'. I shan't say any more, for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn't read it, but the resulting story is every bit as emotionally challenging as it is violent. It was a fabulous book, and the news of the movie has tempted me to rummage through our crowded bookshelves for our well thumbed copy.
But for all that, I have reservations. I worry the movie will weigh in too heavily with the violence, the awesome battles, the gungho manly type stuff, ignoring the psychological and ethical questions raised by Orson Scott Card's original work. The trailer is impressive, as is the cast list, and I'm so very keen to watch it, but many a good book has been ruined by a crudely interpreted movie. I really hope it won't be the case with this one.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

A Race to be Reckoned With

Allow me to set the scene: the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky. A large crowd gathers, the bunting is out, a large inflatable starting gate has been erected, and runners form up, some in fancy dress, others kitted out in the technical gear favoured by the serious runner. They await the starting gun ... and they're off! Pounding the street, taking the tight turns of the local park with ease, the cheering of the crowd, the slap, slap of trainers striking tarmac and ... they finish! Seven seconds later! Eh?
This was the 55 yard dash around what is officially Britain's smallest park, Prince's Park, Burntwood, Staffordshire. 400 runners took part and, if the photographs on the Mail's site are anything to go by, the whole community turned out to cheer them on. The combined effort raised £750 for local charities.
I think, with the right training, nutritional guidance, and sustained encouragement, I might be able to complete that course. Perhaps I'll put my name down for next year.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Real Life Trumps Fiction

There are times when a news story breaks that is just so extraordinary it makes any attempt at writing fiction seem puny, unimaginative and futile. The story of the three women, missing for ten years, rescued by a stunned neighbour is one such tale.
The women had been kidnapped aged 14, 16 and 19, and kept in the 'dungeon' of a house in their home town for the last ten years. They were rescued when one of the women managed to alert a neighbour by screaming for help. He kicked down the door and freed the woman and her daughter, who then sprinted across the road to call the police, telling them she'd been missing for ten years but 'I'm free. I'm here now'. I can't hear that without the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
Where do you begin unravelling a story like this? With the men who kidnapped them and held them captive for so long? With the women who must have believed they would never see the light of day again? Or with the neighbour who came to their rescue? Fiction becomes irrelevant, the truth is more fantastic than anything I could invent.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Long Live the Internet

A few weeks ago I received a text from that certain special someone telling me it was a lovely day where she was and that she was standing in front of a webcam not far from her term-time home. My immediate reaction was to completely forget how to type as I fumbled about trying to get to the website. I must have clicked on half a dozen wrong links in my excitement before I finally forced myself to calm down and behave like a computer literate adult. And there she was, our beautiful daughter, waving to me down the internet. I know she could do the same with Skype, but this was special, a sort of sneaky wormhole through the 160 miles that separate us when she's at uni.
With this memory still fresh in my mind, the story of the U.S. Air Force man based in Afghanistan, who happened by chance to see his family on a Scottish webcam, really struck a chord. He had known his family would be visiting the site and was looking it up on the internet when suddenly, there they were, walking into shot of the webcam. The fact that he then called her on her mobile phone and told her she looked beautiful today is just the jolly sentimental icing on the cake.
You know, these computer wizards might speak a peculiar language and be in the possession of weird and mysterious skills, but when they get things right, they really get them right. Long live the internet, mobile phones, and webcams (and yes, computer wizards too of course!).

Friday 3 May 2013

Shark in the Grass

Trawling through the news sites this morning one image jumped out at me. It's pretty odd, so it seems appropriate to mention it here. The image was that of a knitted shark. Hm, see! Odd. Even odder is that the knitted shark is actually a suit crocheted for ... a tortoise.
A lady in Canada, keeper of seven tortoises, knits tortoise suits in all manner of designs and colours. It struck me as a really bizarre thing to do to the poor creatures, until I realised that the bright colours make it much easier to spot a foraging tortoise in long grass.
I don't have a tortoise and I don't have grass, so I won't be placing an order, but good luck to Katie Bradley and her posse of shark fin tortoises.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Right to Vote

Today across England it's polling day for the local elections. Only one candidate even bothered to canvas our area, but that's English democracy for you: if you don't live in a large conurbation, would-be politicians are content to overlook you. It can be hard to conjure the motivation to walk to the polling station to vote, but I have a firm resolve this time.
I've just finished reading 'My Own Story: Emmeline Pankhurst', and it was a revelation. I thought I knew the story of the suffragettes, I thought history lessons in school had covered their struggle fairly comprehensively. How little I knew. And how can I, a woman who has just read of the struggles those amazing women went through in order to secure our political freedom, not make the effort to use it? It was a fascinating and, at times, infuriating read, not because it was in any way badly written, but because of the flagrant abuses perpetrated by the political classes of that time.
So, I'll be off to vote this evening. And I'll put my cross beside the one candidate who could be bothered to ask for it.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

No News

There are no unique and amusing news stories out there today. Well, there probably are, but I haven't been able to find them. But the sun is out, the sky is blue and it's May Day! I've seen people walking around quite contentedly in shirtsleeves and shorts and everyone seems to be smiling - apart from the chap in the Mondeo who nearly ran me over at a crossing this morning (luckily I was quick enough on my feet to avoid becoming an unsightly splodge in the road).
So, Happy May Day, hope the sun's shining wherever you are, and if you drive a Mondeo and decided not to stop for a mop-haired woman on a crossing today, you're forgiven, just this once.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Viral Parking

When teaching me to drive, the Wise One made certain that I could safely park my vehicle by making me practise in Tesco's car park on Sundays (this is back in the black and white days when supermarkets closed on Sundays - yes I know, hard to believe now).
He would select a bay for me to reverse into and then sit beside me, quite calmly pointing out that I had just taken out the front wing of the Mercedes on the left, the passenger door of the Porsche on the right, and the bumper of the BMW behind me. The fact that these cars were imaginary did little to diminish the terror, but it did instil a firm understanding that the white lines marking the bays were there for a reason.
Back then, as long as you didn't crash into a wall when you got back to the test centre it was assumed you could park. Nowadays new drivers have to prove they can park as part of their driving test, which perhaps explains why the students who filmed the video featuring a woman having an epic parking adventure were so incredulous. True, she was pretty disastrous, but it's clear from her efforts that she hadn't had a wise one teach her how to do it. Apparently it took her 30 minutes to park her car, and the students were there for every torturous moment, laughing, commenting and filming.
One of them eventually went out to help and seemed quite shocked when the woman refused his offer to park the vehicle for her. Now quite honestly, if a man came along and offered to park my car for me he'd probably get an earful for his trouble. After all, what's to say he'd be any better at parking, or that he wouldn't just promptly drive off in my car? Okay, so it took her 30 minutes, but she parked it in the end, and all credit to her for sticking with it. I'd have given up and found somewhere easier to park elsewhere - like a field perhaps!

Monday 29 April 2013

In Bits

Mum taught me a great many things as I was growing up. Because of her, I can happily tackle cooking/ baking without (too much) fear, I can probably still shoot a netball through a hoop despite being hopelessly unsporty (she was the volunteer netball teacher at our school), and she instilled in me an unwavering belief in the importance of family.
But she also taught me to be a jigsaw addict. It's desperate. Our spare room groans beneath the weight of puzzles, all of which have been completed more times than I count. She taught me the importance of preserving them by always using zippy bags to store the pieces inside their boxes. The wise one even made me my own jigsaw board (which is used for jigsawing of course, but also for a variety of craft projects and now sports stains from paint and glue splodges and even the odd hint of glitter). I'm totally and irredeemably hooked. I'm a jigsaw junkie. There is no cure. Or is there?
A man from Weymouth had spent 200 hours creating a 40,000 piece puzzle, carefully cutting out the pieces and assembling the 150 sq ft jigsaw. The puzzle was complete, he was just making some final adjustments, when it all slid to the floor and landed in a crumpled heap. The puzzle is due to go on display at Sandringham next week before being auctioned for Help for Heroes, so he's now frantically trying to reassemble it and has appealed for volunteer helpers - I suspect he probably doesn't even want to look at it himself right now!
Me? Well, I'm quite tempted to jump in the car and drive down to Weymouth. Nice place, Weymouth. And if I happened to be passing it would seem churlish not to offer assistance ...

QT One Promotion Ending Soon

Just to remind everyone: the first anthology 'Tales from the Web' is still on free promotion at the moment, though it will end at some point today (Mon 29th Apr) - sorry I can't be specific, Kindle close the promotion at a time of their choosing. So if you haven't already downloaded this introductory collection, hurry over to Kindle to get it now!

Sunday 28 April 2013

QT One Promotion

As promised, the first of the QT Anthologies, 'Tales from the Web' is available free today (Sun 28th Apr) and tomorrow (Mon 29th Apr). This is a short introductory collection of favourite stories from the QT website. If you haven't already downloaded your copy, why not take a look today!
I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Iron Man

I've finally realised what's missing in my life: my very own supersuit! I mean, how's the world ever going to take me seriously in boring old cloth clothes, I need steel, flashing lights, lasers and ... stuff. But help may be at hand. For the paltry sum of $8,500 I could have my very own Iron Man suit, complete with light up eyes, palms, base and arc reactor!
Doubts have been expressed over the suit's ability to render the wearer capable of flight, and there have even been suggestions that it might not actually be a wearable suit but rather a statue, but I don't plan on listening to the nay-sayers! I'm raiding the savings account on Monday morning and putting my order in.
For my first act of superheroness, I plan on flying to Barbados. After all, what sort of hero would I be without a suntan?

Friday 26 April 2013

QT Anthologies

I have spent the day trying to organise my plans for the third QT anthology. I currently have eleven stories on the go, some are finished, some are almost there, and others still have a long way to go. But I do at least have a plan now! I don't currently have a title for the book - any suggestions will be taken into consideration!
To celebrate my astonishing, and unprecedented, organisation, I have set two promotional days for the first anthology, 'Tales From the Web'. The book will be available to download free from Kindle on Sunday 28th and Monday the 29th April 2013, or this coming Sunday and Monday!
Don't forget, the second anthology, 'Unseen Stories' is also available from Kindle for £1.02 - I have no idea why it's £1.02, I still haven't got to grips with the pricing structure, but it's still a bargain!

New Story

There's a new story on the QT website today, just in time for the weekend (hooray! It's Friday!). 'The Shepherd and the Wolf' tells how one man's long running battle with an old adversary takes a strange turn.
Hope you enjoy it, and have a great weekend.

A Well Balanced Dog

Jack the Balancing Dog has been featuring far and wide across the internet this week. Jack is an Australian cattle dog who has a talent for balancing things on his head. There are pictures of him balancing balls, eggs, biscuits, a can of soup, even a frying pan on his head, often sporting a snappy bow tie or neckerchief. Apparently he happily performs his balancing tricks for cheers and praise from his audience - and a bit of international internet stardom doesn't hurt either! I wasn't sure what I thought about it at first, which is why I didn't instantly include it in this blog, but then I saw picture 11 in the Telegraph's gallery. That's one happy looking dog.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Leaky Lakes

A disused mine shaft has collapsed in Stoke-on-Trent. Nobody would have known about it, but for the fact that it occurred beneath a lake, which subsequently drained. I'm currently picturing some very confused fish and possibly even the odd unwary duck who've suddenly found themselves living in a strange new subterranean world.
Forgive the shameless plug, but it puts me in mind of a story I wrote for the QT website some time ago. The story was 'The Drought' and was about a walker who happened across some mysterious goings on at a dried up lake.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Fundraising Update

Alexander's Fund is now getting close to its target, thanks to the incredible efforts of his local community, social networking and national press coverage. As I write this post, the fund stands at £241,790.000, which is 94% of the required amount. It's an amazing achievement in such a short time.

Recovering Einstein

I like this story. In a sea of grim news of people being rotten, economies failing, politicians utterly failing to grasp fundamental concepts of human dignity, and other such miserableness, this story literally swims to the top:
Einstein the fish developed swim bladder disease, turned upside down and sank to the bottom of his aquarium. His owner, distressed at seeing his pet so afflicted and looking so depressed, crafted a flotation device out of tubing - a sort of life jacket for fish. Now Einstein is swimming once more, albeit looking a little odd.
It's amazing how animals bring out the best in humans.

Ugly Journalism

The singer Katherine Jenkins has been forced to defend her appearance during the London Marathon after a Daily Mail columnist criticised her for, well, basically looking lovely.
As a very amateur and uncommitted runner, I admit to being green with envy when I saw the photos of Ms Jenkins. After just five miles of running I look like I've been pulled through a hedge backwards: my skin will be flushed, I'll be sweating, my nose will be running, and my hair will have surrendered totally to its natural inclination of messy curls and snarls. Ms Jenkins still looked gorgeous after twenty six. It's called nature. She was blessed with beauty and a fantastic voice, I was blessed with flushing skin and messy hair. Such is life.
Running a marathon is, in itself, an incredible achievement. Running one whilst raising £25,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and still looking stunning, is an outstanding feat.
This whole episode says a lot about both Katherine Jenkins and the Daily Mail. I know which comes out best.

Monday 22 April 2013

Bird Bullies

This may not be the most coherent post I've ever added to the blog. I had a bad night. I saw 3am, 4am, 5am ...  By the time the blackbird started bellowing his morning bulletin from the hedgerow outside our window I was in a dangerous mood. It's now the afternoon and I've reached that sickly, zombiesque state of tiredness where I'm completely harmless and largely insensible.
It occurred to me, as I listened to him joyfully trilling away, that the birds are ungrateful little blighters. We battle outside in all weathers, snow, wind, rain, to ensure they have a steady supply of food, we clean their little bird bath, we choose plants that encourage insects. In fact, the only thing we haven't done is supplied them with a house like those made by Clas Ohlson. Even if we did, the birds would still insist upon bellowing at us through the bedroom window at unseemly hours, lining up on the kitchen windowsill to stare in at us balefully when we're up a little later than normal.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Plea for Help

There is a young boy in need of help. He was recently diagnosed with a brain tumour after he collapsed at home. Delays in diagnosis meant that by the time he reached the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, his condition had become critical. His only hope for survival is Proton therapy, only available in America where specialists at the Massachusetts General Hospital are confident the treatment has a good chance of working for Alex.
The sticking point is, the family needs to raise £250,000 in order to fund Alex's treatment, and they only have a couple of weeks to do it.
The Daily Mail has run a piece today highlighting his cause, and his family have set up a JustGiving page for donations. As I write this post, the fund is at £103,000, so they're doing well, but they still have a little way to go. Whilst the QT blog can't compete with the Mail's readership numbers, the more people who can cover his story the better the chances that his desperate family will reach their target. Let's spread the word.
Good luck, and a speedy recovery to young Alex.

Friday 19 April 2013

Silly Stuff

It's the weekend, so I make no apologies for opting for the sillier stuff today (which I realise could in itself be interpreted as an apology, but hey).
Firstly, I must draw your attention to a new shop that's opened near Times Square, sadly quite a trek for me, but maybe they'll do so well they'll expand across the pond. This shop sells nothing other than Duck Tape, but in every colour and pattern you could imagine. So now duct tape really can be used for anything, you can even make flowers with it. No, I don't know why either, but it looks fun.
Then there is the bus driver who drove a bus load of schoolchildren back from a trip to Paris, delivering them safely to ... the wrong town. I feel a good deal of sympathy for the poor chap, it was an error of communication, the spoken word versus the written. I have a strong suspicion that I would have done the same thing.
And lastly, and it's a bit of a biggy, is another challenge set by Buzzfeed to test if your smile is fully functioning. A lot of it's pretty daft, but it's worth looking through just for numbers 3, 9, 18 and 27. I personally found 13 #2 hilarious for some reason, though I'm at a loss to explain why.
Anyway, I'm happy to report that smiles are fully functional in the Quirky Tales lab this morning - as well as smirks, grins and the occasional snort of laughter.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

New Story!

I've been a bit remiss lately. I suddenly realised I hadn't added another story to the QT website this month, so here it is, albeit slightly delayed: 'Seasonal Adjustment' is the result of a flash fiction challenge set by the CTZ Writer's Club. The prompt was 'long winter' and my response is, in part at least, an examination of the British reaction to the weather.
Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Happy Tuesday!

Gosh the news is depressing today! Too close a study of the news would drive the most optimistic of followers to despair. Fear not, brave followers. Help is at hand. There's always a funny picture to cheer you up - it's just that sometimes you have to search really hard for them!
Hope you're all smiling now.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Mixed News

There's a couple of news articles for today's blog so I'll start with the more serious one first, which highlights the plight of residents on the North East coast. It's a coastline that has long been receding, but the erosion seems to have accelerated in recent years. The BBC article has some rather haunting images of collapsed roads and houses perched perilously close to the crumbling cliff edge.
I remember as a child visiting Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight (far from the NE I know, but its plight is similar) and seeing the remnants of a house, scattered at intervals down the cliff. My abiding memory is of a white porcelain toilet on a section of tiled floor, halfway down. It was an image that somehow made the demise of that poor house more real. Tragic though the pictures are, they do get my creative muscles twitching. I can feel the first threads of a story weaving through the old grey cells - I hope anyone who has lost their home to the sea will forgive me.
But now to the happier article. This one is from the Mail - no, it's not all right wing propaganda and bigotry, they do some interesting stuff too - and it features an ongoing 'war' between two neighbours. It's a shame Kim Jong-un doesn't take a leaf out of these people's book, because a foam fight sounds a lot more fun than thermo-nuclear war.
I'm almost tempted to move. I think neighbours like them would be fun.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Number Jumble

I'm not good at maths, I think I've probably mentioned that before. Numbers jumble, dance and twist in my head in much the same fashion that letters do in the head of a dyslexic. It's been a source of tremendous annoyance over the years, but I think I could forgive it if it caused the same mistake as the Canadian lady who was celebrating a 40,000 dollar lottery prize, only to find out she had actually won 40 million.
Apparently the lucky lady is planning a honeymoon, 30 years after her wedding. Well, she can probably afford it now.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

But Politics Goes on ...

One political figure, very much alive and very much continuing to divide opinions, is Boris Johnson, mayor of London. He was filmed on the South Bank promoting a basketball tournament. In the footage on the Telegraph's site, he was handed a basketball which he managed to put through the hoop despite shooting backwards. He'd be hopeless prime minister, he certainly hasn't the composure of Baroness Thatcher (she would never have dangled from a zipwire waving two Union flags to promote the Olympics for instance), but there's something irresistible about him. He just offers himself up as a buffoon so willingly. You've got to admire that in a politician!

Baroness Thatcher

It would be impossible for me to allow the passing of the Iron Lady to go without comment on this blog. She was the prime minister for most of my childhood and, though I found her unutterably posh, under her stewardship I never for a moment doubted the strength and resolve of my country. She may have made a lot of enemies with her uncompromising attitude, but she was principled and dedicated, and she loved this country in a way that hasn't been seen in subsequent prime ministers.
Watching news footage of people dancing in celebration at her death, stamping on her image on front pages of newspapers, and blaming her for everything wrong in their lives, I was reminded of extremists burning flags, chanting and stamping in the grip of religious fervour. It struck me as grotesque, and it undermined the point they were trying to make. Decorum and respect, perversely, carry more volume than shouts and catcalls.
So my over-riding feeling today is grief for a lady of devotion, principle and dedication. Her politics can and will be argued at another time. Rest in peace, Margaret Thatcher.
The Wise One has provided this tribute, which gets to the point far better than mine:

Tribute 8.4.2013

What sad news we heard today,
A great British leader has passed away,
Whatever we thought of her leadership views,
I was still very sad to hear on the news,
After a stroke, Maggie Thatcher has gone,
Leaving the rest to try to go on,
You may not think she was always right,
But she did show the world that Britain had might,
So we await a strong leader, yet to appear,
I say farewell Maggie, we miss you old dear.

                                                (by P. Richardson)

Monday 8 April 2013

Just to Make You Smile

It's nothing to do with writing, not exactly news, and I can't see it inspiring another story for the next anthology, but it made me smile on a dreary Monday morning: just take a look at the pictures in this article on the Mail's site today and you'll understand.
(Actually, I can feel the wisps of an Enid Blyton-esque story about a young foal and the resident old shire horse working together to save the day when dastardly thieves strike their farm ... )

Thursday 4 April 2013

Favourite Subject

Firstly I must apologise for returning to a much recurring theme of this blog, but when you follow the link, I think you'll forgive me. I'm back on treehouses, a subject that is in danger of becoming an obsession with me.
The Daily Mail has an article today on the work of James Curvan, a retired architect who now spends his time designing and building treehouses. If the one featured in the article is anything to go by, he must have known great success during his working career. That tree house is nicer than our actual house. (Sorry house, maybe if you had a platform, walkway, slide ...)
Of course, no child in Britain would ever have such a thing because a) planning permission would be required and refused, and b) in the unlikely event that pp was granted, there would be a besuited health and safety official who would disapprove of the fireplace, or the stairs, or the dog house, or the window boxes, or ...
Anyway, who needs a fancy pants treehouse? When we were kids the Wise One built us a ship, treehouse, space ship, aeroplane, car ... Actually it was all the same thing, a climbing frame cleverly constructed out of plumbing parts and painted sky blue, but its bizarre shape and our imaginations allowed it to be whatever we wanted.
So, as nice as Mr Curvan's work is, us Brits can do just as well with old pipe and leftover paint.

(Hm, if we did away with all the plants, the pergola, the table and chairs and the washing line, we might just be able to fit a small one in ... ooh, ooh, I know, we could knock the house down and then we could fit in one of the really big ones, with a platform and slide and walkway and everything. Where's my sledgehammer?)