Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Live stories, dead kings and old marmalade

Mr Robin has only visited about once daily, since the weather became milder, though a frost brought him to the kitchen door very promptly this morning. I captured him (definitely him, this time) on camera, including a shot of his perch on the window sill where he first summons me to provide food, and him pecking at grains on the ground, unconcerned at the OM’s presence.

I don’t know what winter does to your hair. Mine looked appalling at the weekend. We were out to lunch at a place in Ripley with friends and I washed it in the hope of improving it, but it still looked flat and devoid of life. Having booked an appointment to get it trimmed on Thursday (tomorrow), it has now typically perked up.

Today, I dragged the OH kicking and screaming to the cinema in Guildford, and also met up with Irene, to see The King’s Speech, which is worth all the plaudits it has gained. We all enjoyed it, and the OM managed to sit still (unusual for him), through half an hour of mind-numbing adverts and trailors (does the Odeon want to drive us away?) and throughout the performance, which never flagged for a moment. Very moving, all the more so, knowing that King George really did have to face the terrible ordeal of speechmaking with a stammer.

On the writing front, the good news is that my short story Maggies Plot is now live at Untreed Reads at £1.25, payable, of course by credit card or Paypal, so it will automatically get converted into other currencies. It’s also available from the usual suspects - reduced royalty for me, I fear, but I’ll be happy to have the sales. From Amazon UK, it’s a mere 93p. It is, of course, just a short story.

In addition to that, I have also received from Untreed Reads, and returned to them the contracts for two more pieces, The Obsession and An Affair of the Mind. I was very chuffed to receive The Editor in Chief’s comments on An Affair …´ which read ‘Loved it, loved it, loved it. Brilliant stuff, and a definite yes for me.’

When I emailed my thanks, he replied with more praise, adding, ‘Not a single word wasted and a very high literary form. Such an absolute pleasure to read and definitely my kind of stuff. Hope you'll send more my way.’

Naturally, I immediately found another story to send to him.

Installing our new digital recorder has required a change-around, so that this new piece of equipment could be fitted into the same space as the video recorder, (still used for my Rosemary Conley Aerobics video which I’m proud to say I have performed at least four times since Christmas) and the CD player. I removed several photo albums and found a new home for them in another cubby-hole, first removing two files of papers dating back some decades.

Full marks to me for ruthlessness in throwing out (to the recycling, of course) a whole file of old jobs, but I couldn’t throw out the older file, more or less a history of our home, with skirmishes with the building society, when we were moneyless and behind in payments, planning application for an extra bedroom and the happy day, when we were offered laid-on gas instead of oil. I’ll just have to find another place to file it. Apropos my comments of a few days ago, I found correspondence about a faulty jar of marmalade, in which the manufacturers, apologising, said they had ‘jars of jam at the factory which were vacuum-sealed some seventy years ago and these are still in good condition.’ That, of course, was before the days of ‘Best before.’

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hobby-horses, birds and books

The OM & I have been battling with technology, as yesterday, we set up the new digital recorder. The division of labour is that he deals with the hardware, and I deal with all the menus, etc., so when nothing appeared on the screen, yesterday, I got all the flak. Then his husbandship got on the phone to our neighbour who's usually ahead of us on this game, and also the Son&H, but neither had any immediate remedy - other than possibly getting an additional aerial. The OM then did a lot of grumbling about not having wanted it in the first place, and didn't know why we'd got it, before exiting the house to play different games with the old technology that lives in his shed. I, in the meantime, looked at everything we'd done, and pushed in a scart lead another 3 or 4mm or quarter of an inch, and switched everything on again, and magically the TV started hunting for programmes to install. Don't tell me I have to start dealing with the behind the screen stuff as well as front of house.

Having just come in from a trip to the bank, buffeted by the wind and chilled by the .. well er, chill, I have been asking myself rhetorically, is this any better than the snow of yestermonth? And why, since the temperature is 7ยบC outside, do I still want to put the heating on? Just to remind you this is what it was like the day it snowed in late December, and below are the walks to and from our house to the main road, not long after.

However, today, I was able to ponder on a couple of hobby horses, as I trotted smartly along. One, I was able to share with the assistant in the chemist's shop, when she sold me short-dated aspirin. I told her I was unconcerned about the date, and I was pleased that she agreed that such medicines past their use-by date are unlikely to harm you, they merely may not be quite so effective. The Son&H, some time back, refused anti-histamines, that were past their date. Since the alternative was nothing at all, he would have lost nothing by taking them. Moving onto another tack, I confided that female members of the next generation down, are quite likely to throw out my food when they visit, due to the dates on them - or even, in the case of veg., because they were from an earlier meal. If I want to hold on to some left over spuds for a meal for the OM and myself, I have to speedily hide them. These modern women are ruthless. I mentioned that I believe there is to be a policy change, in that foods may have a 'use by' date on them, but not 'best by'. Foods with 'best buy' may merely not taste so good. That's really not a good reason to chuck out huge amounts of food. Things like ketchup, in any case, don't taste any different to me, well after their best-by date, and you can always add them into a casserole. Hotels and restaurants regularly use up leftovers from the previous day for enriching soups, or simply creating a different dish from them, and I frequently try to do the same.

My other hobby horse was alerted on looking in the jewellery and china shop, and spotting some china figurines of the Meercat - the one in those ads about insurance. Who would have thought this creature would become so popular? What really riled me was seeing a book in some best seller list about - would you believe - the Meercat. It was either just before or just after Alan Sugar's autobiography. Incredible. And to think the public could read any of my books instead.

So while we're on that topic, good news: I now have a cover from Untreed Reads and I hear that my short story, Maggies Plot (no apostrophe) will be published during January. The cover design is one that covers several short stories from the publisher's stable. Untreed Reads, although not welcoming full-length works, apart from submissions from their usual authors, are putting a heavy emphasis in 2011 on short stories and novellas. They would also like to see a lot more Spanish-language titles, so contact them if you have something to submit.

Maggies Plot has some elements of my own garden contained in it, and echoes of my own feelings towards the wild life around me. So it's not a great leap to tell you of my little robin friend, who has visited about twice a day during this cold period. He alights on the window sill and looks through the kitchen window, when I'm there, or sometimes arrives, as I throw out bird food on to the patio. He flies down, as soon as the food touches the ground, and then, because I usually say, 'Just a minute, robin, I'll get you some cheese,' he waits. When I reappear and throw out the portion of cheese, he dives for it, and takes it into the shelter of the hedge. Occasionally, if I'm short of cheese, I spread some wholemeal bread with chicken fat, and throw out small pieces. (I don't suppose he realises it's come from a near relative.) This is a photo taken some other time of a robin on our patio, which may or may not be this year's visitor.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Reading, Writing and New Technology

Just time to squeeze in a quick blog before watching the second part of Silent Witness. Talking of TV, it's quite interesting to see that people still share and comment on programmes that they have all watched together - for example, Downton Abbey - and of course the same applies to radio - i.e. The Archers, where the majority of fans are horrified at the gratuitous death of character, Nigel, actor Graham Seed.

I haven't posted since December, but I feel as if I've been in limbo for a large amount of that time. Somewhere or other, I have more photos of the second lot of snow that fell and kept many of us marooned at home, for a second time. What with Jan/Feb last year and then Nov/Dec, 2010 has to have experienced the worst winter weather for a very long time. Somewhere in the computer are some photos I took a few weeks ago, which may be unearthed and posted tomorrow.

It's difficult to say what I did during the enforced imprisonment, except order things on line for the kids and send out cards. Fortunately, we were able to get to neighbour parties on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and to bro-in-law and to friends for lunches on the hols. The Son&Heir arrived with the womenfolk on 28th Dec, for a couple of days, after a 10 hour trip from the Lake District, which had not been much fun.

When I saw how many pounds I was putting on through lack of activity and surfeit of cake and chocs, I was motivated to take the odd walk - and even get out my old Rosemary Conlan aerobics video (yes, it's that old.); we couldn't take many walks in the cold weather due to ice, and the OM actually slid over and landed on his back, en route to the neighbour party. (Fortunately, no damage done.)

I bought a special present for the OM - a Swiss Army Knife. Don't you think that someone who was in the Scouts should have had something like that, always on his person? The main reason was because I have three kitchen knives without the pointed top - because his Lordship invades the kitchen drawers when looking for an implement. Now he will have his own little toy for those occasions. We also bought a Satnav and a digital recorder - but I haven't been brave enough to try out this new technology yet.

I heard again from Untreedreads that they are accepting a second of my short stories, (The Obsession) and today, I had an email from them, saying that they were making some changes to submissions for the coming year, and adding that they were now closed to full-length fiction submissions EXCEPT from existing Untreed Reads authors and a few other exceptions, probably until June, because they had a large number of full-length works. They added that they were putting a heavy emphasis in 2011 on short stories and novellas. I was quite pleased with that, as I have a number of short stories I'd like to submit. So all of you with new Kindles, I'll be reminding you when my, at the moment, two stories come out. And of course, I also have, Have Wine, Will Travel as an e-book to be downloaded from Virtual Tales.

Though I haven't done much writing, I have read the current reading circle book, Nice Work by David Lodge, and these are my comments:

I read Nice Work before, a long time ago, but I still found that the humour tickled me on the first couple of pages: the wife’s bedside reading – Enjoy your Menopause – and her pride in her en suite are two gems. I loved the fact that one of the loos was avocado – a joke that was possibly lost on me, twenty years ago.

Nice Work is an intelligently written novel, the conflict between the two main protagonists being a sort of representation of right and left politics of the UK. But Robyn and Vic don’t fit so precisely into those roles, for as time passes, you see more subtlety in their personalities. Vic wants to run his own business and create his own products, rather than being MD of a company, and Robyn begins to see the flaws in some of her own arguments, and to realise also how very privileged she is to be in academia – in fact how very privileged are the academics with, at that time, their security of tenure in the universities. There are some nods to Postmodernism and Modernism and literary criticism. I found that interesting, since I studied the former two briefly as a module in my degree course about ten years ago. I have to admit, though, to having failed to comprehend some of these references totally, though I don’t think that mattered too much.

There were interesting parallels to be drawn with today’s student protests, and Robyn’s dream of the university being opened up to everyone reminded me of a scene from A Very Peculiar Practice – a TV drama probably from same era. When I completed my degree, made up of various modules, through part-time study at the Department of Continuing Education at Surrey University, I felt that it had achieved that dream, but I believe this facility is no longer available.

I did feel it was a clever novel and enjoyable with lots of ideas contained in it, that made you think carefully about these conflicts, and lots of humour too. Just at the end, I thought the prose deteriorated a little, almost as if the author was impatient to be finished now that he had exhausted the ideas, and was eager to wrap up the story, which he did by some very tidy tying up of loose ends. Perhaps a fraction too tidy.