Thursday, September 28, 2006

I WAS invited to this one, but didn't go anyway

The Society of Authors had their AGM on Monday and were hosting a debate entitled 'How to get the best out of agents and publishers.'

I signed up for it before the envelope was fully opened. Right up my alley, I reckoned.

But ... I didn't make it. G was working, FB was swimming, LG's too young to be home alone.

If anyone out there went, could you possibly pass on any useful tips?

Ideas on how to coordinate the various strands of my life, inc parenting and writing, would also be gratefully received.

Third party? I wasn't even invited to the first ...

Apologies to anyone who might have been trying to access the news link on my website recently and finding ... er ... an intro but no news.

My wonderful techy mate tells me this is due to a 3rd party thingy going AWOL. Luckily all the posts were still on my dashboard.

Anyway, she's now sorted it so the link goes straight to Blogger here, thereby earning her my eternal gratitude (yet again) and a sackful of these.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bonfire of the Brands

By now, I'm sure everyone's heard about Neil Boorman's Bonfire of the Brands, where he destroyed all his branded possessions. There have already been posts on DCSC and Sharon J provoking some thoughtful comments, many about the perceived waste of resources.

I'd skated through his blog - not in great depth I have to admit, and was undecided. The cynical part of me was ready to write it off as a publicity stunt - Boorman's a nightclub promoter ... He had a PR team at the event ... He has a book coming out next Autumn ... But now I'm not so sure ...

Boorman claims to have been a brand addict from an early age. He used his possessions to project himself and invested his self-esteem in them. He believed the hype but came to a realisation that he'd been swindled.

'These brands never deliver the happiness they promise. After a while, you're left feeling empty, needing another branded hit. That's the vicious cycle ... A consumer society is an anxious society,' he reckons, pointing out that comparatively wealthy Britain came 24th in a New Scientist happiness poll - behind countries where poverty is rife.

Now no one in their right mind would argue that poverty = happiness. But we do need to accept that accumulating wealth and possessions don't complete the equation either.

More to the point, Boorman's been living up to his rhetoric, refusing to buy any branded goods for the last 6 months and continuing to do so now the 'show' is over. He has no mobile, has had to give up cigarettes and makes his own toothpaste. In an interview in the Independent on Sunday, he says, 'It will be a slower life from now on. I will have to think a lot more.'

Challenging our rampant consumerism and rethinking our priorities has to be a good thing, desn't it? While few people will go as far as Boorman has, hopefully many people will have stopped to think about his message, which wouldn't have happened if he'd simply given his £20,000 worth of possessions away rather than publicly destroying them.

And maybe some will think twice when they're next out shopping ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

That explains it ...

Ever wondered how it's possible that the world is in such a bad state? Check this out. It explains everything. (Thanks to Atyllah for publicising this vital info.)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mystery Women

Mystery Women was set up in 1997, dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of crime fiction. They produce a quarterly newsletter packed with reviews, interviews, articles etc and also hold events.

They are looking for new members. Subs cost £18pa for UK members and £25pa overseas. You can sign up via their website.

I am continually amazed and grateful for the existence of individuals and organisations such as Mystery Women. Like the websites and blogs It's a Crime and Eurocrime, they do an amazing job of supporting and publicising the work of writers in this genre, especially those at the struggling end of the market.

They do this as a labour of love, not for any personal gain. As someone who has linked and been reviewed by them, I'm extremely grateful for their selfless input.

Elif update

Remember the post I did re Elif Sharak?

I'm relieved to report she was acquitted last week! From her hospital bed (she had just given birth) she spoke of her relief on a personal level but continuing concerns re how the law on 'insulting Turkishness' could impact on other authors.

It seems there could be moves afoot to change this outrageous law. Meanwhile Elif's acquittal has infuriated nationalists ...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blogger in distress!

I can't sort this bloody spam problem. It looks like another squad, as well as Spamcop, are bouncing me back now. I'm getting all these 'message can't be delivered' emails coming through re mail I sent over a week ago and assumed had got through. If you're cussing me for not contacting you, it ain't me, honest guv - society is to blame ...

Each time I try to email my ISP - guess what - the email bounces back! Maybe someone is using my email address and password to send spam, having harvested the info from when I had the Trojan back in July? It's possible - esp as the (un)help pages for my ISP inform me I'm unable to change my password!!!

I really hate this stuff. It takes far too much time and energy ...

Any suggestions? Would going over to Google mail thingy sort this out? Or is it too late as I've already been branded a spam-sending scuzz bucket???

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Junk the junk

That spam is s-o-o annoying. It doesn't only clog up your inbox with annoying trivia (how trivial can you get with all those penis enhancements?) but also the methods taken to combat it can bring even bigger problems. I've recently been unjustly accused by the spamcops, with the result that some of my emails are being bounced back while others that appear to have been sent, don't get through and I can't tell if they have or not. Grrr!

But even worse is junk mail. OK, we recycle it (having carefully removed the name and address) but just think of the environmental resources that go into its production and delivery ...

And what about junk phone calls? Most of them go away once we tell them we live in a council flat so no thanks, we won't be needing a conservatory ... but why do they always phone just as you're stirring cheese sauce/delousing the children/dishing up the grub? I don't like to be nasty to them - it must be the job from hell - but some of them seem to think it's OK to be nasty to ME!

Well, this is me in fairy godmother guise coming up with a solution:

Go here to register with the mail preference scheme that should stop the vast majority of your junk snail mail. And here for the telephone preference scheme to stop this misuse of your phone.

You're welcome!

Monday, September 18, 2006

How old are you?

Well, on Jupiter, I'm only 4 - which explains why so many people tell me it's really about time I grew up.

But on Mercury, I'm 212 - which explains why my joints creak.

What am I on about? Check out this site, which I've just come across thanks to Amy Nelson-Mile. Don't forget to enter your birthdate with month before day ...

Getting a grip

Next weekend is our New Year. It’s a very different kettle of chop fish balls from the celebrations associated with 31st December.

We don’t get pissed, have parties, countdown the seconds … Instead it’s a time for spiritual reflection and being with the family. We also don’t have new year resolutions as such, though we do take stock and look back at what the previous year brought us and forward to the directions we’d like to move in. At least I do, but then my interpretation has always been a bit unique and personal …

So, here are some of my thoughts for the coming year:

• I will continue to blog most days …
• … but for a maximum of 2 hours per day – this includes posting, surfing, commenting and playing with my site meter.
• I won’t return to the blogosphere twice in the same day.
• If I can’t get on pooter but have a post in mind, I’ll write it in longhand and transcribe later.
• I will concentrate on my writing every day, although this may not always be in the form of words on the page.
• I won’t beat myself up if the word count isn’t going up as rapidly as previously. I will accept the blogging has to take time …
• I will continue to respond to personal emails as soon as I read them.
• I’ll try not to feel irritated or rejected when other people don’t respond as quickly.
• I will update ALL my anti-virus legions weekly.
• I will run regular scans.
• My children will be my number one priority. They always have been, but by this I mean that I’ll come off the blog on the occasions they want/need me but are only able to get a teensy fraction of my attention. (Not sure if this is achievable.)
• I’ll try to do positive visualisation without panicking along the lines of …’But if it doesn’t work, I’ll be crushed,’ aware that such fears inevitably negate the process.
• I’ll try not to be such an insufferable ratbag in the mornings.
• I’ll really really try not to lose my rag over First Born’s reluctance to do his homework.
• Ditto re the above over G overfilling the kettle, washing up under running water or using the car to go down the road.
• I’ll try to be honest and true to my beliefs – which means I definitely won’t be achieving the previous intention cos I’m RIGHT dammit!

So that’s it. I’ll let you know this time next year how I got on …

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bring on the bovine revolution!

Just had to point you at this brilliant clip on Atyllah's blog.

Each time I balk at the length of my blogroll and think I really must stop making new links, something like this comes along and I end up feeling I must NEVER stop!

Friday, September 15, 2006

You'll thank me for this ...

Problems, anyone? Apart from blog addiction, that is ...

Howzabout debt ... divorce ... bullying ... contracts ... identity theft ... Anything at all, in fact, associated with your rights and the law?

We do photos for a really excellent organisation called Advicenow that will give you all the help you need ... Their website has a great search facility, downloadable leaflets and has won a Plain English award. (Oh, and it's got luverley photos, of course.)

Check it out and bookmark for future reference. You never know ...

Thursday, September 14, 2006

It ain't THAT bad ...

We all have our gripes with the state of publishing in this country, but things could be worse. A lot worse.

Ever heard of a Turkish novelist by the name of Elif Shafak? I hadn't 'til yesterday when I read a short article about her in the Independent. Apparently she's written a book about the Aremenian genocide, but that's not why she's in the news.

Next week, she goes on trial - accused of 'insulting Turkishness' in her book. As she says, it will be the first time the words of fictional characters will be judged in court!

Now I have no idea about the content of her book, and not much more, I'm embarassed to admit, about the events she depicts.

But I know one thing ... if the equivalent situation happened here, I'd be one of the first up against the wall. But I'd be in good company ...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Life calling ... are you receiving me?

It’s my belief that when you get sick, it’s your body sending you a message that all is not well and something needs to change. (Dis-ease of the mind?)

It took a wonderful homoeopath to point out the obvious to me – that the frequent ear infections followed by extended periods of deafness I’ve suffered throughout my life always coincided with times when things were going on that I literally didn’t want to hear. It was that simple!

Sometimes a minor illness is a sign that you need to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing and take a break. Ignore your body’s message at your peril! If you do, it will fell you in a way that will leave you no choice but to take note.

Well, I think the same thing’s happening to me on a techy level … and I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that I’ve been foolish to keep fighting it but instead should listen.

First there was my hideous case of Trojanitis. Now there’s all this other stupid techy nonsense – once again impacting on my ability to email and blog. We all know it can be hard to keep a balance on our addiction. (See Minx and Skint for current versions of this debate.)

Sometimes the problems could be a test of our resolve. Sharon, for example, refused to allow the technology to dictate to her and has taken matters into her own hands with her gorgeous new blog. On the other hand, maybe we sometimes need to learn that walking away is not a sign of defeat, but is actually very empowering. Marie, for example, deciding she needs to move away from a negative and destructive situation …

So this, in a nutshell, is what I’m thinking: that the techy irritations are life’s way of telling me I need to get back to my current book. It’s been weeks since I wrote anything new and I realised at the writers’ group on Saturday that I’ve become too distanced from it. And when I don’t write, I get twitchy and feel … just … not right.

So yesterday, pooter was duly shut down. Rug, suntan oil and other comforts came out and I took to the great outdoors and read story-so-far. And you know what? I like it. I want to work on it. I will work on it.

You hear that, life? I am listening. Now just sort the bloody techy stuff, will ya?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Deep in the ether, something stirred ...

Now what's going on??? Problems, problems, problems ...

1) Someone somewhere has decided I'm sending out spam and is blocking my emails - though not all of them ...

2) I can't see my latest posts on my own blog! The last one is the meme thingy. Where's me bleeding conkers??? I presume you can see the post as you're commenting, but I can only access it via my dashboard ...

3) Ditto re comments. According to what's on my screen, no one's commented at all. But you have! Again I can only see them via following email links or via dashboard.

Now this is all very silly! I'm not going to spend all this time/energy chucking things out into the ether if they just disappear off. Could someone let me know what you're seeing your end?

I mean, I don't mind the stupid spacing I get on my links (though sometimes it sorts itself for a while - just to wind me up) but losing whole posts - nah, I'm not having that ...

Friday, September 08, 2006

She stoops for conkers

Have you heard about the horse chestnuts?

We’re losing them. Fast. Three years of drought have left their resistance weakened and they’re being attacked by a double whammy of pest and disease.

Look around where you are. Here in the metropolis I’ve yet to see a horse chestnut whose leaves are not at best mottled and dry and at worst shrivelled and brown. The tress are so weakened by the onslaught that they may present a danger and as so many are in parks and residential areas, they may have to be chopped down. Just at the point our cities are most in need of their lungs …

Think about it. Those vibrant green Spring leaves followed by the magnificent pink and white flower candles; the massive trunks and spreading branches providing shade from the hottest sun or the heaviest downpour; and, most of all of course … the conkers.

Generation after generation of children, every September, stamping on those spiky hulls to reveal their shiny contents; collecting, sorting, comparing, challenging … never again. Conservative estimates reckon 40% of these mighty trees are already affected. It’s spreading fast, with experts warning this will be a worse catastrophe than Dutch Elm Disease,

So is there any hope? Well, yes and no. In Holland they’ve come up with a homoeopathic spray that – against all expectations – they say is successfully dealing with both the disease and the pest. So – are we pulling out all the stops to get it here ASAP? Are we hell …

‘We’re very sceptical about a miracle cure,’ is what we’re hearing here. ‘What we really need is a census.’

Oh right. Sure, that’ll sort it. Let’s spend a few million quid and waste vital time – not in tackling the problem, but in – er – counting the trees!

Meanwhile, First Born is collecting conkers to thread on a necklace. He says he’ll keep it forever and show it to his kids, who will probably never get to collect one fresh from the tree.

Some of my best conker memories

• The bruised knuckles we all sported every September throughout my childhood.
• My brother’s attempts to discover the perfect conker-strengthening recipe: pickling in vinegar, massaging with oil, gentle roasting in a slow oven …
• The endless debates about the ideal length of string, the best technique for swinging, whether a glancing blow can be more effective than a full-on shot …
• The horror when a much-loved veteran conker finally shatters.
• The joy when a cracked and manky conker refuses to die.
• The carrier bags filled to the brim every year and kept in a corner until the contents lose their shine and you finally give in and chuck them away months later.
• The annual conker competition where I used to work. I particularly remember the time a pretentious bruiser named Eugene Hieronymus Maximillian III was smashed to oblivion by an unprepossessing conker called Fluffy – thereby proving that looks ain’t everything.
• That September day 10 years ago when C died (5 years to the day after my mum). I walked to a lake and chose a single conker from the hundreds carpeting the ground. I took it home, carved his initials and the date on it and put it in a Special Place. It’s still there …

So farewell then, mighty horse chestnut. We may never stoop to conker again …

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The meme thingy

Crime fic reader has pinged (or zapped … or tagged … or something) me …. And cos I trust her and I love her blog, I’m going for it. Even though I have no idea what a meme is … Maybe it’s as in, ‘Me! Me! This is all about Me!

Anyway, the idea is I answer these questions about books. Only you no doubt already know that. I had been feeling really flattered to be involved until I read the following on Roger’s Plog:
'I think this meme is near the end of its life and almost everyone I know has already done it!'
At which point I went into paranoia overdrive wondering why I’d been the last to be asked … (It’s ok – I jest.)

So ...

One book that changed your life.

This is the point you’re all going to feel you were right not to have included me earlier, but if I’m going to be honest, there’s only one possible answer to this one. So, at the risk of being derided for shameless self-publicising, it’s got to be my own first book, Nirvana Bites.

Allow me to justify the choice:

• I never set out or intended to write a book and certainly didn’t know I was capable of it. Even if it hadn’t been published, creating something from nothing has to be a life-changing event, doesn’t it?
• And then – by an almost magical series of events – the thing gets published!
• Having been written in longhand and typed up in chunks on borrowed laptops, the advance enabled me to buy my own pooter.
• The advance, spread over 4 years, may not have been enough to radically change our living situation, but it certainly made life a little easier during that time.
• I still find it very hard to believe that I wrote a book (even though I’ve written 3 more since) and that I’m a gen-u-ine published author.

So … forgive me? How could a book be more life-changing than that?

One book that you have read more than once.

This has to be The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart, set in Guadeloupe. There’s something about that book that works beyond the words on the page. The first time I read it, I was not in a good space. The book uplifted me in the most amazing way. After that, I read it a second time – once again when I was in a painful phase of life. This time, as I read it, I was aware that terrible things happen within the story. Yet in spite of the brutality of some of the passages and events, I was once again uplifted and strengthened by the end.

I’ve probably read it at least four times (always when I’ve felt in need of healing) and it works the same spell each time. Not only that, but I’ve even loaned it to other people and with only one exception, each has said they felt similarly moved.

What a powerful thing is a book!

One book you would want on a desert island.

Now I can hear you all gasp in amazement. My answer (if it could only be one book) would have to be the Bible.

• It’s BIG.
• It’s got some great characters and wonderful stories.
• You can dip in and out of it or read it cover to cover.
• You can skip the boring bits (assuming you don’t feel it’s ALL boring) without losing the thread.
• It operates on many different levels.
• You could while away many moons searching for codes.
• You wouldn’t ruin the plot if you tore out the pages about measurements and stuff to light the campfire.

One book that made you cry.

Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass – the last in the His Dark Materials trilogy – the ending is devastating. In this 3rd book, he moves from the apocalyptic/universal to the deeply intimate/personal and is an absolute master of both. An author who is a committed atheist yet writes in the most spiritual way possible.

Also just about anything by Primo Levi.

One book that made you laugh.

I love people like Laurence Shames and Christopher Brookmyre, whose humour is silly and completely over the top, but who also often make serious points.

One book you wish had been written.

‘How to house, feed and clothe your family using old newspapers and grass cuttings.’

One book you wish had never been written.

I’m not going to name it, cos I don’t like putting out negative stuff, but there’s a well-known comedienne I really like who had a novel published at the same time as Trading Tatiana came out.

I’ve always had loads of respect and admiration for her. She lives locally and I’ve seen her occasionally in the park and desperately wanted to talk to her but never dared (even though I know people who have approached her and said she’s really lovely and easy going). Anyway, I got hold of her book. I was so looking forward to reading it and also thought that it would give me a reason to go up to her next time I saw her. (Though I probably still wouldn’t have had the guts …)

Anyway, talk about disappointed! The characters were paper-thin; the relationship between them simply didn’t work; the plot was unbelievable; and … it wasn’t funny. I felt so deflated – I’d wanted so much to like it. The awful truth is that I really don’t think it would have stood a chance of being published if the author wasn’t already an established ‘name’.

One book you are currently reading.

I’ve finally got round to reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. I’ve been meaning to for ages …

One book you have been meaning to read.

Oh me oh my … the world is FULL of books I mean to read. Every short list … every long list … all the ones that never reach a list …

I’m supposed to tag 5 people now but I don’t dare do it for fear that the replies will come back in the shape of, ‘Oh that! I did that years ago, darling. Did you only just receive it now???’

A shout for Shazza

Please take a moment to send some positive vibes to Sharon, who is suffering from some hideous IT mischief that is preventing her from blogging. I know she's currently searching for a way round the problems so she can rejoin the party.

If you're reading this, babe, good luck! We're all still here waiting for you and will be for as long as it takes ...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Back ... with a vengeance.

Hey there. Remember me? I’m back on the scene following a blast of a summer – albeit a soggy one.

We started off camping here on the banks of the River Teign. Then we hit Cornwall as we had a time limit for a Very Crucial Rendezvous (more later) and stayed in a hideous commercial site here. As soon as we could, we moved further west and pitched in a very rough field in Marazion. Just two portaloos, a tap, a couple of other tents – and us.

That was when the monsoons hit, at which point the children became totally feral like those kids you hear about who have been raised by wolves. By a miracle we survived with nothing worse than a couple of nasty cases of suspected trenchfoot ...

After a week, we (and the rain) moved here on the edge of Exmoor, before inching our way home via a few nights in a farmer’s field in Owermoigne in Dorset.

At first glance you might think we look healthy and tanned, but closer examination reveals the truth. It’s wind burn. We look weather beaten – like North Sea fishermen - with a distant focus in our eyes from cloud watching.

So what was the ultimate high point? Was it seeing the ebb and flow of the River Teign as the tide transformed the landscape from raging river to muddy swamp twice a day? Or how about watching a big fat full moon rising over the hills at Crantock? Or the kids surfing at Fistral Bay with the big guys? Could it have been star gazing at Marazion round a campfire with St Michael’s Mount floating out to sea like a fairy castle in the air? What about seal spotting at Lizard Point? Or maybe being blasted by a steaming power shower in Kentisbury after swimming round in mud for a week with only an outdoor cold tap for washing … And then there was gathering armfuls of peacock feathers and organic fruit and veg on the farm in Dorset … Coming home and making jam and crumble …

But you know already, don’t you? Undoubtedly the greatest high of all was meeting the Mighty Minxster, sweet soul sister, and spending six hours with her on Crantock Beach. G and I watched her until she disappeared over the dunes at the end of this too-little slice of Real Life and my head was full of, ‘But I never asked her about …’ and ‘Oh, I wanted to know more about …’ and ‘We never touched on …’

So, the final verdict: a damp but wonderful summer full of happy memories with a Red Hot Chilli Peppers soundtrack. If holidays are all about doing different things to the rest of the year, we scored full points. I did a brief blog surf from a launderette in Penzance where we went to dry out, and wrote nothing more creative than a shopping list. The days – and nights – were spent velcroed to the children – and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Only now they’re at school, First Born in secondary with 1399 other kids and Little Guy in Year 4. And I’m back at the laptop.

And so we move onto the next stage of This Life. Thanks for hanging in there while I was away. Expect more. Lots more …