Sunday, 14 September 2014

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

I've been a bit slack on the writing front lately because I've taken up a new hobby that gives me even more bruises than taekwondo …

I've been ‘shreddin’ the gnar’ folks.  Yes indeed.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about things that you didn't know about me: Beautiful Bloggers and one of those was ‘I have never been skiing.’  The other were having never eaten baked beans, on account of them being disgusting, and I’ve never been to Manchester.

Well, I’ve been to Manchester and I wasn't impressed.  Admittedly, it was another God-awful date, but I’m still yet to be convinced.  As I’m never, never going to eat a baked bean, ever, the only alternative was to take up skiing.  But dear readers, I am a trend-setter!  I wouldn't be seen dead on skis when there is snowboarding to be done.  After all, I am a forty-something who is kidding herself that she is still down with the kids.

Off to my first lesson I went, to the glamorous town of Milton Keynes.  Seriously, does a town need that many roundabouts?  Let’s just say that my first lesson was a touch on the challenging side.  It took me 45 minutes before I could stand up and I got snow leaking down my backside.  I was so bad I failed the first level.

Never being one to look failure in the face, I persevered.  By then I’d got the bug and bought some kit - on ebay of course.  So looking more dapper and less snowboarding special needs, I managed to get though the next levels without ending up as raspberry jam at the bottom of the slope.  Imagine that mixed with the snow, what a mess!  And oh the hilarity that is the button lift.  I’m actually more worried about that than I am going down the slope - when that thing jerks and pulls on your particulars, you chuffing know it!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not shredding any gnars yet, I’m still wobbly and I don’t so much as turn right as fall over.  I've had some spectacular bruises and it’s a good job I have a generous rear end because I need the extra cushioning.  There is one thing that tickles me though, the snowboarding lingo.  For example, ‘shredding the gnar.’  What is a gnar, and how do we shred it?  Does it involve the use of confidential documents, thus the need for a shredder?  To normal people, that means going down a hill on a snowboard.  And don’t get me onto crusin’ and grindin’ - I’m not that sort of woman!  I do, apparently, ride a snowboard goofy, which in martial arts terms is, southpaw.  In other words, I lead with my right foot, not my left.  I always was an awkward so and so. 

Like taekwondo a decade ago, I love snowboarding, but it’s going to take a bit of perseverance to get it right.  It’s a bit like writing really, which is something I really ought to be cracking on with.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Green Man, Pills and Bargains

I’ve been on my holibubs and in English, that means I’ve been on holiday.  Off to Wales I went; Rust deposited with my pals, with my tent and endless other crap packed into my boot.

It’s that time of year again when me and my pal Spa pile into her little blue car and put up out tents in a large field in the Brecon Beacons and live it up festival style.  Except this year, the weather wasn’t quite as good as it was last year and I had to put up my tent in the pouring rain.  Oh did I swear, and I broke my big pink golfing brolly.  @*&$!

It’s a good job I have a sense of humour, because boy did I need it this year.  Not that I didn’t enjoy myself, I always do with my best pal, but the cold nights in the tent, the stomach bug on the Saturday and the crippling lower back pain due to lying on an inadequate air bed were enough to make my grin into a grimace.
Well that’s just rock and roll, and when in doubt, there’s always alcohol to sooth one’s aches and pains, and the very good physio who happened to be posted in the ‘Nature Nurture’ section of the festival.  Spa did suggest that I visit the palmist to get a reading, but it involved a certain amount of hugging and I was not in the mood for that.  By Sunday, all was sunny as the weather brightened up and I had a music-packed agenda.

First up, Nick Mulvey.  I wouldn’t normally go that much for folk music, but Mr Mulvey is one cute little plucker who I am definitely going to see play at Cambridge Junction in October.  Anyone coming with me?

First Aid Kit were cute, with their Swedish folk and gold lamé dresses, they were large enough to take on the main Mountain Stage.  Their covers of Simon and Garfunkle’s ‘America’ and Jack White were superb.

Last but not least; Simian Mobile Disco and they didn’t disappoint.  They can be described as being a bit, err, niche, but if you like your electronica, then they have enough bleeps to keep any self-respecting microwave happy.  Best of all was their DJ set, hosted by BBC Radio 6’s Nemone Electric Ladyland, which I raved to until the early hours of the morning.  Dancing in a field to bleepy music, man it was just like being back at Uni.  I even had a bloke come up and ask me if I had any ‘pills’, how very 90s of him!  Aw, I felt sorry for him when I said the best I could do was some Ibuprofen.

All too soon it was time to pack up the tents, swear again as I couldn’t fit the chuffing thing back into the stupidly small bag, and back I was at Spa’s house.  My writer pals C L Raven came to visit and we played a raucous game of ‘Cards Against Humanity’ which is so offensive, it is a work of genius.  Unfortunately, while we were all creasing up at a very rude joke about Pac Man, a bloke decided chat me up in the most awkward moment since Stewart in The Ghost Hunters’ Club got Viagra and laxatives a bit mixed up.

So last of all, my bargains.  I’ve found a few this holiday but the best one was the trench coat I bought for a ton.  That’s a hundred pounds in normal English.  Half-price, proper bargain and now I can swish around pretending to be an Audrey Hepburn/Alain Delon mash up.  Only blond.

This month, you can see me featured in this month’s edition of Chat It’s Fate where I talk about when I saw a ghost.  Honest, it’s all true gov!  Fame must now surely beckon.

And the release of my ghost story compilation A Curious Quartet.  All four of my ghost novellas in one edition - look out to win a copy in a competition coming soon.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

School’s Out for Summer.

The weather is hot and the writing is easy.

It’s been quite a month but thank the Lord, the day job is on hold for the next few weeks and I’ve got some time to breathe and write.  Because to me, breathing and writing amount to the same thing.
Since the last post, there’s been a few changes.  First of all; the Govenator, Goveadoodledo or the Reverend Gove, the education minister who truly believed in the fairies, has gone, gone, gone.  Ding dong, the Gove has gone!  If it’ll bring any improvement to our lives in school, who knows, but at least we can hope.  I read that in his new role as the chief whip, he got stuck in the toilet and someone had to come and get him out.  Well that’s all I need to say about that.

I thought I’d have a bit of a change with my novel writing this summer. I’ve ditched the ghosts and I’m writing a story that I can describe as a medieval, comedy, action-packed road trip bromance.  Although I haven’t entirely ruled out the idea of a ghost and there’s definitely a witch appearing somewhere along the way.  It’s called Albright and Ingleby and set in the year 1497; very specific but I needed to include a minor battle and the Cornish rebellion was as good as any.  More on that later.
Yesterday, I went on a bit of a road trip myself.  I dropped a good friend off at Gatwick airport, I duelled with a nutter on the M25 and diced with death on the Dartford tunnel on the way back.  I stopped off at Bluewater shopping centre and I had to take the A2 to Canterbury on the way.  It got me thinking; I was on the road to Canturbury, just like my heroes, Albright and Ingleby.  They’ll be on their own pilgrimage but it won’t be very holy!  Which makes me think about doing my own pilgrimage to Canturbury.  I could take some pals in my trusty four-wheeled steed, tell tales, just like in the Canturbury Tales, and visit taverns and possibly fit in some wenching as well.  Adhering to the drink driving rules, obviously.

In other news, I had an argument with a treadmill in the gym.  Last time I went to a gym, you put in the time you wanted to do, pressed start and you were off.  Now it wants to know my weight, age and star sign.  Whilst running at a fair lick, I made the mistake of putting my hand onto the heart monitor.  It measured my heart rate at 162 bpm and then informed me that it was not a rate that was appropriate for my age, and duly stopped.  Bloody hell.  I was fine, I had a good five minutes left in me, but no, apparently the chuffing treadmill knows best.  Lying about your age to people is one thing, lying to a treadmill so I can get a decent work out is beyond the pale!
Next week, the ups and downs of learning snowboarding and the release of my new ghost story anthology, A Curious Quartet.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The London Look

I’ve been to the bit smoke, and observed the fickle face of fashion …

I’ve been a bit absent lately, again, but that would because nothing particularly interesting happened to me.  I mean, I’ve only just come back from London, having found myself on the NUT float, chatted to the president, meet loads of new people, went snowboarding, fell over a lot, bought some really nice new clothes and started writing another novel.  Came up with some great new ideas and started to put some of my novels into play form.  So not much really.  Oh, and I joined a gym.

So where to start?  I made a few observations about London, especially since I visited a few areas that I haven’t been before.  Back in the 90s, I lived in London - I went to university there and stayed for a few years afterwards.  It’s funny, parts of have changed enormously and some never changes.  It’s not as if the Tower of London is ever going to go away; which I would love to visit if it wasn’t for the £30 price tag.

After spending the morning on a float at the Pride festival, where I got a bit of a soaking on the open topped bus, helped my musical pal while she sang to the crowds and indulged in a bit of procession dancing, I went to meet a date on Leicester Square.  Yes, another one.  I said to meet outside of All Bar One, which I’ve been going to since I worked for a PR agency back in the late 90s.  It even appears in The Ghost Hunters’ Club, when Linda has the disastrous date with Stewart.  Which actually happened, fact fans.  Imagine my chagrin when I arrived for the date on time, but the bar is a pile of rubble.  What next, Buckingham chuffing Palace?

Well, my date arrived and I managed to find him in the crowds, and for once, he didn’t behave like a cretin and we had some great drinks out in Shoreditch and Hoxton.  He told me he was going to London Zoo the next day but I made my own study of a species that inhabits this achingly trendy area of North East London.  The hipster.  Yes, the achingly hip skinny dude who walks around in a check shirt, skinny jeans with the obligatory facial hair.  I felt so out of place, I did wonder if I should don a false beard myself.  They of the artisan bread that costs nearly a fiver and who works in the media or creative arts industry.  It’s the cocktails that made me laugh.  In a jam jar.  Yes, I know it’s so trendy to have a mojito in a glass jar that used to have marmalade in it, but please, can I have my cocktail in a proper glass, with sloped sides and a stem?  I know it’s a bit 80s and I promise I do recycle, I just don’t need to drink my expensive alcohol/tea/diet coke from something that has a lip designed to make me spill my drink everywhere.

Fashions come and fashions go, but in the words of Samual Johnson, if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.  The city always manages to create something new and interesting for me, just like I can always think of a new story to write.  This time, it’s a medieval road trip that’s got a working title of ‘Albright and Ingleby.’  More on that soon!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Keep Calm and Carry On … Writing

It’s been a crap couple of weeks, but I’ve gone a bit Rudyard Kipling and I’m not losing my head …

Well they say that bad things happen in threes.  Although at the moment, it’s four and counting.  It’s become a bit of a joke, and I remember the last time something like this happened and at least the one thing I can look forward to is the silver lining that will inevitably follow.

First of all it was the illness.  Woke up with a sore throat that wouldn’t go away.  Felt like I’d swallowed some razor blades and then downed a glass of lemon juice.  Eventually, after the hacking cough made me sound like I had plague, I gave in and went to the doctors.  Yay to the NHS, but a course of antibiotics can’t cure what happened next.

My sore throat was put into perspective when the unthinkable happened - Rusty was ill.  And I don’t mean a cute little hamster sneeze (they are adorable, shhh, don’t tell anyone in case they think I’m going soft) but a full on infection in her uterus.  After everyone got over the shock that Rusty is female, she was taken into hospital to have a hamster hysterectomy.  Yes, they can operate on hamsters and don’t ask how much it cost, it’s Rusty, for God’s sake!

But on the day that I was due to drive to Cambridge to take Rusty to hamster hospital, we got the call at work.  The inspectors were coming.  I won’t say their real name, I might invoke some sort of dark magic, but just imagine The Dementors from the Harry Potter novels, only with less charm.  Everything stops and the world stops spinning until they’ve gone, usually leaving a bloody mess behind.  But not this time.  I’ll be damned if they were going to get in the way of saving my pet’s life, so I jumped in my car and took her to the hospital anyway.  So far, Rusty’s doing fine and The Dementors can go back to the soulless hell that they came from.  So there.

By the end of the week, I was exhausted and ready for half term, but then came the last curve ball.  Someone I thought was a good friend decided to delete me from Facebook.  I wouldn’t normally care but that one was a low blow after the week I’d had and they knew it.  It just goes to show though, when the chips are down (cliché anyone?) you find out who your real friends are and mine is a hamster called Rusty and all those people who wished her well on Facebook and in real life.
Despite all that, you know what I can always rely on?  Writing, it never goes away.  No matter what is thrown at me, or who lets me down, I can open my laptop and I’m in another world.  Whether it’s creating another story, editing or making a cover page, I’m completely absorbed and nothing can touch me when I’m in writing la la land.  When I’m planning a new story, I can make all manner of things happen to anyone I like, be it good or bad.  Dump on me all you want, you will suffer an end worse than death by a thousand hamster bites in my next story.  Ohh, nippy!  So for the next few weeks, I’m not going to lose my head, I’m going to keep calm and carry on writing.

My new ghost story novella, The Book of Saint Giles, is available to download from Amazon.  It’ll be my last ghost story for a while, so enjoy!

Friday, 9 May 2014

Blue Sky Thinking

I’m nearly ready to start writing a new novel and I’ve got some blue sky thinking to do…

It’s that time of year again when I’m planning to write a new novel and I’m going to have my head in the clouds.  You see, from June onwards, I have a window of opportunity where I can actualise my time when my significant cohort depart and I can park that during the day and optimise the opportunity to lay down some words in the twilight hours.

What a load of crap.

Sorry, I couldn't help that.  A few days ago, I played a very funny game of bullshit bingo.  It’s great; if anyone reading this works in education, business or any other public service then you will be familiar with the jargon that goes with the job.  When you have a particularly poncy meeting or training session coming up, what you do is make a bingo card with all the nonsense jargon words you know and share them around your group.  You pay a quid each and then during the meeting, while you hide your bingo card under your notepad, you cross off all the jargon you hear and the first one to complete their card wins the money.  You often signal your win by sneezing a swear word, the more inappropriate the better.  A sure fire way to help pass a boring meeting, and getting sacked if you get caught.  But who said fun was safe?

The reason I’m sharing this with you is that recently, I've been doing an online creative writing course.  It’s one of those free Future Learn ones and it’s quite nice but there has been some serious over thinking going on.  It’s for beginners, so of course the objective is to give people ideas on how to get started and encourage them.  I couldn't help thinking that it was just circling around the act of actually sitting down and writing.  Keeping a notebook to write down ideas?  Good advice, but there was so much emphasis on preparing the plot, character background, finding your ‘writing place’ and choosing what colour pen to write in, I wondered when anyone was actually going to start doing some, err, writing.

You see, that’s what I do.  I think of an idea, and then I start writing.  I write about a thousand words a day, every day, until I've finished the first draft.  I have an idea about the plot and the main characters, but they can change and then I do something that I suspect that wouldn't be terribly approved of by some creative writing courses.  I make it up as I go along.

I do tend to do a lot of thinking during that time, or daydreaming, or blue sky thinking, for those who like a bit of self-actualisation.  This does involve me staring at walls, walking to work in a daze, causing minor traffic accidents or nearly provoking fights as people think I’m staring at them.  I’m not being weird, I’m just in L K Jay la la land and living inside the story I’m working on.  And then when I get home, I open up my lap top and write it down.  End of.

I’m sure writing courses are very worthwhile, great for people who want some encouragement and I hope they find them useful.  But ultimately, if you want to write, there’s only one thing to do.  Open your notebook, laptop, back of an envelope, and begin.

I’m currently editing my new ghost story novella, ‘The Book of Saint Giles’ and as soon as I have a release date, I’ll let you know.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Power to the People!

I’ve been to a trade union conference, and I’m feeling all ‘Citizen Smith’ …

Last week, I was at the NUT national conference, which is why I've been a bit slack at updating my blog.  For those who don’t know, it is the National Union of Teachers, for whom I do some work for.  And for those who like to take part in a spot of teacher-bashing, may I give you some advice.  When going on a first date with me, it is best to avoid the phrase, ‘bloody teachers and their holidays.’  No amount of snide jokes about my day job will make me sleep with you, as I had to point out to an unfortunate member of the male species a couple of weeks ago.

The conference was a tough gig.  Sea front hotel, the dining out, the socialising, the freebies – yes, I managed to expand my NUT memorabilia – and I did a speech to 1200 people.  It was about Ofsted; otherwise known as ‘the dementors’ to anyone else in the profession who actually has a heartbeat.

So, on to my point of this post.  Something happened to me the other day and it got me thinking.  Someone sent me an email pointing out that he liked my novel but then imperiously pointed out that he was going to punish me in the review he was writing because of the typos that he found.  He then listed them in the email and told me he expected a response to his email.  I had to reply, and be polite, because he was using the threat of a bad review if I didn't, but lo and behold, he then sent me another email with a link to his own review website, with a price list to get a review listed.  Needless to say, I declined to take him up in his generous offer.  But it got me thinking about being an indie author and the lack to come back we have on this behaviour.  Apart from it being rude; sending indie authors, and complete strangers, emails with veiled threats as an attempt to extort money out of me is wrong and I fear that someone else more vulnerable than me would fall for it.

It got me thinking, if this happened at work, I’d have them in a meeting quicker than you can say ‘industrial tribunal’ but as indie authors, we have absolutely no protection from being ripped off, manipulated nor is there anywhere we can get any advice.  There is the Writers’ Guild, which is a trade union, but if you’re self-published you have to have eight pieces of work published in order to qualify for full membership.  And even if you were, I doubt there is anything you can do about receiving black-mail type emails from people who are threatening to write bad reviews unless you pay to use their service, or trolls leaving abusive reviews, or anywhere to connect with people who are in the know.  Most of us don’t have agents and we have to rely on Amazon to behave well because there is no other way to do this.

I wonder, if there was a way to form a collective of independent authors, what would authors want from the service?  What concerns to other writers have?

In other news, I’m currently editing my latest ghost story novella with the working title of The Book of Saint Giles, which will be my last ghost story for a while.  Until I write another one that is!

The Ghost Hunters Club

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