When is a sale not a sale?

When it’s a giveaway, that’s when!

Being asked which is your personal favourite of the books you’ve written is like being asked which is your favourite child or pet. Each is different and you  love them all in different ways.

Of my books, The Valley of Heaven and Hell was the most enjoyable to research. While planning a cycling trip through one of France’s less well-known areas, the Marne valley, I found that we would be cycling on the exact route taken by Marie-Antoinette, her husband and children, on their outward journey in their attempt to escape the French Revolution, and their return to their deaths.

Reading about the life and death of the unlucky queen was a real eye-opener and completely changed my opinion of her, as well as awakening my interest in French history.

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Thus the book became a travelogue written in parallel with what certainly one of France’s most dramatic historical events.

As a New Year gift, Blackbird Books are offering a free download of the book. You can read the first chapter on-line, and help yourself to a copy, from here – the link is in the top right-hand corner.

If you are on Facebook, there is a competition running to win a free, signed paperback copy. Check in to the We Love Memoirs group to enter. You will probably have to scroll down the page, as it is a VERY active group with new offers and reviews coming in constantly. If you can’t find the thread, post a comment and one of the moderators will direct you to it. The competition runs until this Saturday, 9th January.

Do hope you’ll enjoy the read and the ride.:)

 

 

 

 

Past, present, future

So it’s over for another year, and time to move on.

2015 was for us a year of contrasting fortunes, from the lowest low, to the highest highs.

The low

My blog stats show that views had declined from 40,471 in 2010 to 8,243 in 2015. Maybe because I blogged far more back then than I have done since.

The most views on a post in 2015 were during May, when this post had 365 views, and this one 176 views. It’s often said that bad news attracts more interest than good news, and those viewing figures bear that out.

The highs

First high was meeting wildlife photographer and animal portraitist Marian Brickner.  Her particular passion is the bonobo chimpanzee. 

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Copyright Marian Brickner

She documents these amazingly human apes from birth through adulthood and to parenthood. Her knowledge and love of them is profound, as is her ability to capture the soul of all the animals she photographs. I spent a day with her at our local primate centre. I hope she will forgive me when I say that I took her to be in her early-60s, but subsequently discovered that I had underestimated by almost 20 years. She had one lens with her that is so large and heavy (almost 9 lbs!) that she towed it around in a wheeled tartan shopping trolley.:)

Such energy, dedication and determination. I feel most privileged to know her and have been inspired by her.

Second high was our Kenyan safari, when I went back to the country that in my heart I still regard as ‘home’ although I left so long ago. Not only the thrill of all the amazing sights we saw, and the joy of being there, but also meeting and making new friends among our fellow safarians and guides, as well as catching up with my old friend, Vivien. We have been close friends since we were both pony-mad 14-year-olds. The whole experience was magical, and I’m currently working on the book, although it’s taking longer than I anticipated because my mind keeps drifting away back to the Kenyan plains ……….

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Reticulated giraffe at sunset

Conflicts

I was more flattered than I can say when I was asked to be patron of the 3-day 2015 Charroux Literary Festival. It was unfortunate that the date conflicted with our safari, which had been booked a year earlier, and the dates could not be changed, so I was the invisible patron.

However, the festival managed very well without me, and attracted a host of stellar authors and was an outstanding success with glowing feedback from both authors and visitors.  The next festival is scheduled for 2017 and planning is already under way.

Another conflict is between writing and social media, and in particular Facebook. There is no question that it is the place to keep up with friends and family. We all lead hectic lives that leave little time for individual letter writing, but through Facebook we can let each other know what is happening.

But ….. it becomes SO time-consuming, and by the time I’ve read through the stream of posts while eating breakfast, it’s lunchtime, then another stream arrives, and then it’s bedtime…….

So, at least until I’ve finished my current writing project, I’m going to limit the time spent on Facebook to two groups – Kenya Friends Reunited where I link up with old friends and keep up with current events, and We Love Memoirs, a self-explanatory title for a lively and friendly group of readers and writers united by their passion for biographies and memoirs. It’s the best resource on the web for finding those titles you may otherwise never come across, as they regularly post giveaways, run competitions, flag up all freebies on Amazon and interview authors. The one rule of the group is ‘No Self-promotion’, so you won’t find authors there screaming out for you to buy their titles.:)

The future

The next big event we are looking forward to is the wedding of our second eldest granddaughter, Catherine.

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The last few months have been hard for her, as her fiancé has been on exercise for with the British Army, in Kenya. But he’ll be back soon – in good time for the wedding:), and Catherine knows what to expect as a military wife, because when her father was in the Royal Air Force he was often posted abroad for long periods. She was always a tough little lady, and that hasn’t changed.:)

Life’s a roller coaster, isn’t it?

Wishing and hoping that all our lives will run smoothly in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

Two things

There’s a new 50-worder here.  Everybody is welcome to submit their short-shorts and I’ll post them on the page. A complete story in 50 words exactly. Fun to write and fun to read.

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Did anybody get a weird ad for a squatty potty when they clicked on the sensual pottery video? One of my friends emailed it to me – a graphic depiction of a unicorn pooping ice cream.  Sorry if you got it, it’s rather weird and it didn’t show when I watched the video.

 

 

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.
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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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