No. 1

The kind people at Amazon in Australia chose to feature my memoir as a Kindle Monthly Deal for December. Amazon rankings are ephemeral and change hourly; blink and you can miss them, so I snatched and grabbed a screenshot this morning.

That’s me at No. 1 in the Biographies and Memoirs category, and at No. 21 in the top 100 paid, at the time I made the snatch and grab.

Thank you Australia!

Overall 2015 has been a good year for my titles, and for that huge thanks is due to Stephanie at Blackbird Books for her faith in me, her gentle guidance and encouragement, and total support.

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There’s more good news, too, as another of my books is longlisted for the 2016 People’s Book Prize. But more about that another day.

 

First draft

I’m just about to press the button to print out the first draft of my book on our Kenyan safari.
It’s rough, rough, rough. Even rougher than that, and it is unfinished. Putting it on paper means I should be able to start making some sense out of it.
There’s plenty of material. What was holding me back was the prologue. Done that now, so away we go!

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Free Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools

Wow!

My friend Victoria Twead is giving away the first of her hilarious New York Times bestselling Old Fools series, ‘Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools’ to any of my followers and their friends who’d like one. Over 300 5-star Amazon reviews!

Email me at doolally.tap@gmail.com, subject line “Chickens” for your free copy.
Old Fools series MR

Turbot poached in pink champagne

Ah yes, I remember it well!

It was one Christmas day in the late 1980s, at what was then Flambards Restaurant in Berkhamsted. We had been seduced by the idea of eating a decadent meal cooked for us, rather than our usual home-cooked Christmas lunch with its attendant shopping, preparation and clearing-up marathons.

It was during the pampered years, when we worked in  ‘Financial Services’  a euphemism for the Life Assurance industry. Success brought with it vast privilege, and we enjoyed luxury holidays – called conventions for tax purposes – in exotic parts of the world. We stayed in the best hotels and ate at the best restaurants, all at the company’s (or more accurately the clients’) expense.

Money was no object – we had loads! Enough to own a small private aircraft and two horses. An additional perk for branch managers involved taking the top salesmen out for a meal once a month. The budget per person was generous enough to allow us eat at the very best establishments, which we did. Responsible for selecting the restaurants, I admit that my choice seldom coincided with the tastes of the salesmen, many of whom were young people whose preferred meal was a burger and chips or a Sunday roast. They would stare in bafflement at a menu offering elaborate dishes made up of ingredients they couldn’t pronounce and had never heard of. I always hoped that it would open their eyes and taste buds to the world of gastronomy, but I don’t really believe that it ever did.

During that period, which lasted for some ten years we nonchalantly ate our way through hundreds of exquisite and expensive meals, but the only one I can remember in detail is the turbot and pink champagne. It was just that: a generous portion of turbot, bathing in a warm sauce of pink champagne. There were some vegetables to the side, I recall, and warm, freshly baked bread rolls. It was our children’s first experience of ‘formal’ dining, and they behaved impeccably. Even our monstrously fussy daughter put aside her prejudices and tucked in. The restaurant was subtly decorated with sprays of holly and ivy, gold ribbons and white candles. There was a crackling log fire, and pretty chintz curtains and cheerful conversation. It was luxurious, but at the same time comfortable, comforting and homely and has stuck in my mind ever since.

When our lifestyle changed abruptly, due to a number of uncontrollable events including a recession and mortgage rates rocketing to 17%, it was farewell to the plane and farewell to free holidays and luxury meals, and ultimately farewell to our home. Our horses survived thanks to the generosity of friends who ‘adopted’ them. The well-being of our five dogs was our priority. What little money we could scrape together went first to their food, and what was left to ours.

My best friend was Smash instant mashed potato. Although it was more expensive than buying fresh potatoes, it could be ready in a few moments, saving on electricity because we were on an electric meter that swallowed coins at a fearsome rate. So we had Smash for lunch, and Smash for supper. It didn’t seem to do us any harm. Sometimes we added brown sauce, sometimes a small knob of butter, and on special occasions grated cheese. I can still remember the sheer pleasure and comfort of a steaming bowl of creamy mashed potato. I discovered you could make very drinkable wines from tinned fruit or jam; the lemon verbena wine rendered the visiting tax inspector legless. :)

But that’s another story.

I’ve always been fascinated by food, and devour all the television cookery programmes, with boundless admiration for those who spend hours producing divine creations decorated with emulsions and mists and floating bubbles. I’m a Masterchef addict, in awe of those displays of true passion, dedication and creativity. Sometimes, though, I think it not only looks too good to eat, it doesn’t really look like food. And I don’t understand why they are always constrained to an almost impossible time limit so that they have to panic and run around as if their lives depended upon being plated up at the exact moment. Well, I suppose that’s television for you.

And the stress they put themselves through! I couldn’t do it. I find cooking a way of relaxing, and to be relaxed I have to know that whatever I’m preparing stands a reasonable chance of succeeding, and that I’ve plenty of time to do it. No stress in my  kitchen, please! Mess, yes, stress, no.

Unlike the long forgotten fancy restaurant meals, the ones I remember are inextricably connected to people and places.

A Marmite sandwich instantly takes me back to a Pony Club picnic when I was 14. We are sitting beneath a tree drinking cherry-flavoured Vimto, our ponies hitched behind us on head collars, nodding in the afternoon heat. There’s a sudden rustling noise, and there’s my pony Cinderella chomping on a couple of Marmite sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper, which she has somehow extracted from the plastic string bag in which they were hanging from a tree branch. The apple, a treat for her, is untouched. She munches her way contentedly until there is not a fragment of paper, nor a crumb of bread left, just a brown sticky mark on the tip of her muzzle. That’s what Marmite means to me.

A fried egg sandwich reminds me of sitting in a slightly seedy café in the backstreets of Nairobi, having run away from home when I was twelve, due to a row with my step-mother over an undercooked omelette. If there is one thing I cannot eat, it’s uncooked egg white. It was a tiny quantity, maybe one quarter of a teaspoon, but I couldn’t eat it. She insisted I must. I couldn’t. She ran from the room crying and cursing, and I walked the two miles from our house to the centre of town with no idea what to do next. As darkness began to fall, as it does so suddenly so close the Equator, I was sitting in the doorway of the local cinema feeling very worried and rather frightened. Along came a Cameronian soldier. The Cameronian Scottish Rifles who were based in Kenya at the time had a fearsome reputation for drinking and fighting and smashing up bars. My Cameronian persuaded me away from the doorway, and into the aforesaid dingy dive, where we ate soft baps filled with fried eggs, with brown sauce, and drank milky coffee. He left briefly to ‘wash his hands’, but it wasn’t long before a police car arrived and bundled me into it, and led him into another, and I realised my new friend had shopped me.

Every dish I love contains memories, mostly happy, some bittersweet. Smoked salmon, chocolate mousse and Lambrusco was ‘the suicide meal’  I ate before metaphorically jumping off a cliff, and being caught in a safety net just in time. Omelette – well, maybe you can work out what that reminds me of.

There are shelves of cookery books around the house. I used to collect them fanatically, until the day I recognised that I very seldom used them. Once in a while I enjoy trying a new recipe; often they don’t live up to expectations, either because of some fault on my part or some fault with the recipe. The food I cook most often is based on meals I’ve eaten with friends and family. The recipe has to be quick and simple, more Tom Kerridge than Heston Blumenthal, and it has to taste good.

Over the decades pages torn from exercise books, scribbled notes on the back of envelopes or receipts, screwed up pieces of paper and vague memories have been my source of inspiration. I decided to collect them and make them into a book so I could find them easily. If you’d like to share them, the first book (savoury recipes) will be published on 22nd June by Blackbird Books in digital and paperback formats. Book 2, sweet recipes, shortly after. The recipes are interspersed with tales of where they came from.

I’m more delighted than I know how to say that David Lewis, cartoonist and caricaturist extraordinaire, was gracious enough to find time to create the fabulous cover, and I can confirm that the stirring mechanism really does work as shown. :)

All the recipes are written in simple ‘free form’, i.e. no long lists of ingredients or numbered instructions, because I’m hopeless at remembering lists, but if something is written like a short story, it sinks in.

I like to think of these recipes as ‘quick and easy’, but I’m told that they’re more ‘lazy’. :)

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It’s competition time!

Ladies and gentlemen, please pick up your pens and start writing, for a chance to win £25 plus a signed book, all in aid of raising funds for Pepis Dog Refuge in Spain, caring for and re-homing abandoned and abused dogs.

download (1)  download

The competition is open to writers from anywhere in the world. There are two categories: prose and poetry. The rules and entry form are here,

A wonderful opportunity to see your work in print, treat yourself to a nice meal, and help a good cause. Win, win, win!download 2

Good luck, please spread the word, and have fun!

Unusual behaviour

This is a first for me. I have never responded to a bad review. They are part and parcel of being an author; you get good, you get bad.  That’s the way it goes. Not everybody likes what you write. As long as some people do, that’s OK.

But this was interesting, a study of the human condition.

One of my books was featured on BookBub recently. The e-book was reduced to 99cts. for the duration of the promotion.

It was downloaded just over 3,000 times over 48 hours.

Rapidly the first review during that period came in:

 Easily the MOST disappointing Kindle purchase I have ever made., July 27, 2014
 1.0 out of 5 stars
Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry… (Kindle Edition)
**Spoilers**
This book was ridiculously depressing and dissatisfying. After you suffer through her whole stupid, sad life, no answers! The author dwells on all the awful stuff that happened to her – everybody has some lows – and passes over the good happy stuff. I must say I totally misinterpreted the title, lol! I thought, “I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry….” would finish up with “….but I’m not!” and there would be details on an interesting life well lived. But no, just drudgery and complaints.I see it’s rated highly and I am baffled. When you recount the people in her life who should have been there for her and weren’t, I just want to line them up and slap them.

Hey, Susie, I’m here, you can apologize to me anytime you want. Thank goodness I only paid 99 cents.

Blackbird Digital Books, who publish my books, responded by offering her a refund of the 99cts she had paid for the book, but this did not satisfy her, and a long stream of comments ensued. They became increasingly unpleasant, and one of them was removed by Amazon. That’s fairly unusual, even when asked they tend to let people have their say, so she must have stepped outside their boundaries.
But – this has obviously really wound her up. She believes that her comment was removed because of a complaint, which is  not the case which, if she contacts Amazon, I imagine they will confirm.
As a result of her frustration, she took to her blog and to Facebook to see what damage she could do.
Here is a screenshot from her Facebook page (ignore the photo, I don’t know what that’s doing there, it has nothing to do with my book):
Diane Maggie McInnis Miller
“EFF off,” she says, declaring that she is going to spread the word as far as possible about this ‘crappy book. LOL’
Then she takes to her blog to tell the whole story of her review and the ensuing comments, ending with:   “For pity’s sake, don’t people know better than to try and stifle me by now????”
As a writer and amateur shrink who studies human behaviour, I am genuinely fascinated. What would motivate anybody, over a few cents, to become so angry and vengeful, and publicly boast about it?

Not breaking, but entering

Living in a hamlet of only 7 permanent residents, you may think nothing exciting ever happens. On a large scale, it seldom does. I think the most dramatic event was when our English neighbour was arrested and imprisoned for drug running; and there was the time the medical helicopter came to transport a neighbour to hospital.

But there are always small day to day events to interrupt the peace. Trapped birds, lost dogs, a drunken woman delivered to me by two handsome Frenchmen at 1.30 m, when I wasn’t looking my best, and the Jehovah’s twice-yearly visits…..

Today it was Mrs Nextdoor in a state of laughing embarrassment. Having returned from a shopping trip she found herself locked out of her house. She had failed to properly secure the safety lock on her front door, and as she went out it had clicked into place. Now she was out in the sun with two baguettes, two bottles of good Bordeaux and a set of useless keys.  The only solution was to find somebody to climb a ladder, undo the first floor window through the missing pane, scramble through the window and down another ladder in the pitch dark to the ground floor, and undo the safety lock.

burglarLuckily TOH was here, because I’m pretty hopeless  on ladders, especially in the dark.

Mission accomplished, Madame, her wine and baguettes safely indoors.  It’s small things like that which enliven our lives, dragging us away from the chilled rosé as we sit indolently day after perpetually sunny day on the patio, watching the tomatoes and courgettes ripen while the French fairies do the weeding, lawn-mowing, laundry and housework. :D

Two Steps Backwards, about our first few years living here in France, was published in 2004 by Transworld Publishers. It is still available in paperback and continues to sell in modest numbers.

Two Steps Backward