Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Where are you now?

Today, I'm over on Authors Electric, waxing seriously about why writing matters. (Check it out here, if you're having a serious day.)

But, you say, I could have wittered frivolously on this blog, just to entertain you. Why not? Because the sun is shining. I'd rather be outside than hunched over my computer. And I'm not even going to apologise!!

And next week ... I'll be playing with children. Which is even more important than sunshine and serious writing and reading and talking about the weather or what I'm having for tea or even books. I'll be paddling and pushing swings and being a gaolie. I shall crawl around the floor and make towers and read stories.

I'll be back here, when I've recovered!!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Day Out.

The sun is shining, the bees are buzzing, it all feels very summery and wonderful (I'm writing this with a storm brewing, so you'll just have to use your imagination).

It is the season for days out. 

Just suppose you could choose anywhere, reachable for just one day, where would you go? What would you do?

Of course, my little blog cannot claim to be representative. But I'm rather hoping for as many different ideas as I have visitors. Maybe you want to trek up a mountain, or soak yourself under a waterfall? Or you plan a trip to a stately home, where you can marvel on how the rich and powerful spend their money. Or you'd rather visit a small town, potter among the shops, pick up a trinket or two. Or you want to go to Open Golf at Wentworth, or the racing, or to play a game of tennis. You might sit in a cafe, eat cake and watch the world go by.

Days out are rejuvenating and wonderful. Preparatory days are full of organising: tickets, picnics, anxiously watching the weather. Should you take the dog? Will the traffic be kind? How early should you leave to give yourselves plenty of time? Check those opening times one more time.

Me - this is where I went:

Are there people who go to Ascot who are more interested in the hats than the racing? Or get tickets for Wimbledon and dream of strawberries? 

There is no point in going to Lords unless you are interesting in cricket. I know, if I begin to wax lyrical about the delights of cricket that most of you will move on. It's not your thing and there's nothing I could say to tempt you. That's fine - as long as you have something else that is equally special in your life.

And so I will only tell you that I had the most wonderful day. The sort of day all of us need from time to time. So - where are you off to?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A post for those who are boycotting Amazon.

I've had several people ask me where else they can buy my Vultures. They try not to use Amazon, they explain - for Amazon is creative on the tax front.

How? Most Amazon stuff for the UK comes from Luxembourg, and they pay - much lower - taxes there than they would if it were sent from the UK. It says on the site that things are sent from the UK ... but often that's a depot on its delivery route.

As far as ebooks are concerned, all this may change in January, when they will have to pay VAT at the UK rate for ebooks sold in the UK. (Will they put up the price of ebooks, take off what they give to the writer ... dip into their own profits ... we'll have to wait and see.)

I completely understand why anyone tries not to use Amazon - I, too, buy stuff elsewhere if I can. But their convenience, and dominance in the market place, makes it impossible for any writer to ignore. I've used the Amazon link to my books beside this blog - why, because that's where most of my sales come from. It would be crazy to do otherwise.

But there are alternatives - and for anyone living according to your anti-Amazon convictions - I'm giving you links for platforms where you can find my Vultures. (All my other books are there too, if you look about a bit - this post would become unwieldy if I put them all in.)

Smashwords - the link is here.

Kobo - the link is here.

iBooks - the link is here - at least I think it is. It gives a price in dollars, and higher than the one I set. Goodness knows how that works. If there's a link to buy the iBook from the UK, I haven't found it yet.

I think you might also find it on another platform or two - some of these are linked to Smashwords and are fine, but some are pirated copies. I've no idea how they do that, nor how to tell the difference. I don't like it, but my techno-knowledge isn't good enough to do anything about it. But if you find it anywhere for free, you can be sure I've got nothing to do with it.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Wiltshire's crop circles

In response to suggestions I write more about the UK, here is a snippet about one of Wiltshire's oddities.

Every year, we see an influx of tourists to see our crop circles.

For those of you who've not come across them before, you can find a link to some pictures here. (Why haven't I put any up here - because I don't have any photographs

 I've taken myself, and am not into 'borrowing' anyone else's from the internet without asking. I don't like anyone 'borrowing' my writing, either.) They began as simple circles in a field, and have become increasingly complicated over the years - and some, as you can see, aren't even circles any more.

There are countless theories about these circles.

When they first appeared, over twenty years ago now, there was talk of tiny tornadoes at the foot of a hill flattening crops in a perfect circle. It was interesting that these tiny tornadoes always occurred where the circle could be seen from the road.

Then, given the lack of anyone coming forward admitting to have created them, came a theory of alien invasions, every summer, creating these circles. So, little green men were thought to have a sudden interest in Wiltshire, arriving with plans and flattening-tools, making wonderful patterns in our fields. For those who are committed to this little green men theory - I wonder why they would do that? Is is purely artistic? The little green man equivalent of the Turner prize? Entertainment? Are they practising for some sort of circle arrangement on their own planet?

Alternatively - and there are people who now admit to doing this (though there are those who still stick to the alien theory) - men and women draw diagrams on computers, work out the tools they will need and come out at night with planks attached to their feet and walk through fields flattening corn to make these extraordinary patterns.

These circles bring in the tourists - which is wonderful. And some are truly extraordinary.

But I also spare a thought for the farmers. Even those who charge visitors to walk across their fields to look at them (they rarely charge more than £1) lose a lot of money when crops are lost in this way. It's tough enough, growing food for us all - without what some would call vandalism while others see them as tourist attractions.

Have you ever seen them? And if you are in the camp with little green men, please can you explain what they are trying to achieve when they come to play in our fields?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

How well do I know the UK?

In my past post I mused about where I might go next winter? To the Eastern sun? Fly Westerly?

But I was asked how well I know my own country? Why jet cross the world when Britain (and I include Scotland for now - I hope we don't lose it in September) - is so diverse and interesting?

She's right. This is a wonderful, exciting, and fascinating place. But I don't travel round it in the winter any more than I can help. Cold, wet stations or buses swishing along motorways with a view of misty wet fields don't excite me. Cities can be inviting, but on bad days can still be a battle with the weather. I'm not good at winters in the UK - my knees and I object to the cold and wet, and I hate the long dark days. Which is why I try to head for the sun after Christmas.

I know these winter wanderings can't on for ever. I might have to retire the rucksack some time between now and my ninetieth birthday. When long-distance travel begins to feel like and endurance test, I shall spend more time closer to home.

Having said all that, I know the place reasonably well - though there are gaps. I've never been to the north-east - and have heard it's beautiful. But, one way or another (holidays as a child or with my own children, and then work investigations that could send me anywhere) I've visited most of the rest of it at some time. That's not to say I know it all well, nor that there are places I don't long to revisit.

But I've not written about the UK. When I go walkabout from home (which I do occasionally) I rarely comment on it here. I think of it as escaping rather than travelling. I can sit by the harbour in Dartmouth and listen to the rattle of lanyards on the masts and not wonder how to shape that into a blogpost. I can puff up Pen-y-Fan in the Brecons without a word in my head. I can wander round the colleges in Oxford with nothing but memories of my days there in my head.

For sometimes I go to places and don't write about them. I have time off. And I don't tell you about it!! But maybe, sometimes, I need to think that differently. For there are stories wherever we look, and wherever we are, and next time one stares me in the face, I'll try to remember it and tell you.

By the way, I'm going to Ireland in the autumn. Just so you know.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

What I should do - not always what I want to do!

I know I should be telling you more about my wonderful little ebook. (Well, I think it's wonderful - it cost enough in terms of angst to get this far.)

I should be telling you about the challenges of catching buses in Cuba. Well, to be fair, catching the buses was fine; it was buying tickets that could be a bit random. I should be telling you about the vagaries of the casa particular system - a connected system of homestays. Once you have organised a stay in one (a process not without its challenges) your host or hostess will fix the next one. Which means you'll always have somewhere to stay - hurrah!! But you never quite know what it's going to be like till you get there ...

I should be telling you about the music ... and the waterfalls ... and the horse-riding ... and the vultures ...

But what I really want to do - what I always want to do at this point, with the ebook sent on its way - is think about another trip.

So I'll convince myself that if you're wondering whether to buy the book you might like to check out the pictures on my website here (follow the travel links to Cuba), and if you're not - well, me going on and on isn't going to change your mind.

Instead I'll ask you where you would go next, if you were me?

Would you retrace your steps in somewhere you've been before, and if so, where? Would you tramp back into the mountains of Nepal, with their breathtaking views and a cyclone or two? Would you head further east, back to Malaysia, or Cambodia, or Vietnam? Would you tiptoe back into the temples of India? Or maybe west, another road trip in America?

Or venture somewhere new? If I put my mind to it I might have usable Spanish by the winter, which opens more possibilities. So, South America? Somewhere in Africa maybe?

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Not all men are tossers, though some are.

I know I said I wouldn't write about Child Protection and the work that I did - and I meant it.

But the recent conviction of Rolf Harris has raised so many issues I thought I'd float a few of them here.

He presented as hugely likeable - and I'm sure that all those who never saw his 'darker side' had great fun with him. He was musical and talented and could make people laugh. Some blokes are good at that. Nothing can ever excuse the way he used his talents to abuse young women and children.

Some blokes are good at other stuff. They build things or make things or write things or dig their gardens or milk cows. They play music and read books and fall asleep in front of the telly. They cook the tea and play with their kids and read the newspaper and play on their computers. They are generally good blokes.

When I was working there were times when it felt as if all men were total plonkers - or worse. If anyone I didn't know well came near my children I went into fight-mode. Don't you dare pick up her ball for her, nor commiserate with a scraped knee. That sort of thing.

Since I stopped working I've met men of many more shapes and sizes and learned that - yes, some are still plonkers or worse. The Rolf Harrises of this world still lurk around children's playgrounds and in the swimming pools. They still sidle up to children and offer sweets and smiles and make them laugh. Parents must still be vigilant.

But most men aren't like that. Most men work and love and laugh and would need holding back in chains if they thought anyone would harm a child. There are more decent blokes around than tossers, even though the newspapers might have us believe otherwise.

And so, while nothing can ever diminish the harm that Rolf Harris has done, let's not tar all friendly men with his brushes. No one is perfect, but most of us (men and women) are good enough.

Now - that really is my last word on Child Protection. For I really ought to be marketing my vultures.