The alphabet of death

I don’t know who to attribute this to, but whoever it is, nice one!

If anybody does know, please tell me so I can give credit where it’s due.

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Many thanks to Michael Gage – the alphabet is the wonderful work “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” by Edward Gorey.

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Could you get me in a frock?

 

Have you ever seen me wear a frock? Probably not. It’s always been riding breeches or jeans since I was a teenager, except for work when I had to wear ‘proper’ clothes.

So frocks do not feature in my wardrobe. You could change that.

My best-selling title last year was Swallows and Robins, which is long-listed for the People’s Book Prize.

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If it makes the finals, I’ll have to wear a posh frock.

The competition is formidable, from stellar writers like Frederick Forsyth and brilliant cartoonist Mac to name-drop just two of the opposition.

Winners are chosen solely by public vote. Most votes wins. So, for a rare chance to get me into a frock, cast your vote here: People’s Book Prize – Swallows and Robins. Voting closes 28th February.

Leaving a comment is optional. In case you are stuck for ideas to add to those super comments made so far (thanks hugely, whoever you are!), here are a few suggestions:

  • Brilliant!
  • Wonderful!
  • Amazing talent!
  • Best book ever!
  • Definitely the winner!

Thank you for reading. Thanks a lot if you vote me into wearing a frock.😀

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Me in a frock

 

5 – 3 – 1

These are my 5 intentions for 2016.  Hopefully they will not pave the road to Hell.


Drink more water
– because water is not only essential, it is good for us. The body of an ‘average’ adult – whatever an ‘average adult’ may be – is composed of approximately 65% water. Just fancy that. No wonder we’re so heavy. As we don’t want the same old stale water swishing around our internal waterways, it must be good to keep it freshly supplied. This interesting article knocks on the head the dictum that we should all be drinking half a gallon of water a day, but I don’t think I intake sufficient liquid, so I’m going to make a conscious effort to drink at least a few glasses every day.

Stop being angry – I’ve already started that one! Currently on Day 5 of the Negative News Detox and it’s working.🙂

Finish the Kenyan safari bookIt’s taking longer to finish the first draft than I anticipated. As well as all my handwritten notes, I use the several thousand photos I took as aide memoires. Once I begin looking through them my mind drifts away, and I start going through all the photos that bring back such beautiful memories, and before you know it I haven’t written a word. So I’ve myself from looking at the photos again until I’ve finished the first draft based on my notes. Just one more peek first.

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Improve my photography. I only became interested in photography when I bought my first micro-four-thirds camera three years ago. I’d tried my husband’s Canon DSLR and found it too awkward and heavy, so when I wanted to move up from a point and shoot, the tiny Olympus EPM-1 mini-Pen was my choice. It’s a gorgeous, versatile little camera that takes beautiful photos. I had no idea what all the knobs and buttons meant, so I joined our local camera club and have since learned how to move beyond the ‘Auto’ setting to obtain the required image. I later bought an Olympus OMD EM-10, another micro–four-thirds camera that is a joy to handle and produces high quality images. Through the club I now understand the elements of photography and using post-processing software, but I have been using the ‘hit and miss’ approach and taking far too many photos in the hope that some of them will be good, and relying on processing to refine them. I enjoy that aspect of photography, using Light Room, but for speed and  simplicity, Faststone is  my pick of the free image manipulation software if you want to view your files really quickly and make basic adjustments. It is invaluable for calculating the size of a high quality print you can get from a digital image.

Last year I spent a day with Marian Brickner photographing the bonobo chimpanzees who live a few miles from our home. She was gracious enough to share her time and photographic wisdom with a very raw amateur. When we were discussing a particular shot, I mentioned that if the exposure wasn’t quite right, I could tweak it with software to achieve the correct result. Marian looked at me over the rim of her glasses and asked: “But why don’t you get it right when you take it?” Indeed, why not?

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Find out more about my grandfather.  Who and what was my Irish-American grandfather? My quest is to try and uncover more about his life, particularly his activities in WW1. Why did he have two names Vincent Kelly and Frederick Mannering and how did he marry my grandmother under both names, at the same time and in the same place? How did he have at least three different and disparate wartime occupations, including fighting with a South African kilted regiment? So far the trail runs out at his death in 1932 and I’ve been unable to find any information regarding his siblings. They seem to just fade into obscurity. A surname like Kelly doesn’t help. I’ve spent rather a lot of time on Ancestry without achieving very much. My lovely friend Jenny who is clever found several family photos and other information on the site, so I’m hopeful that if I keep going long enough I can find out at least a little more about this mysterious character.

Vincent Allen Kelly

Vincent Allen Kelly

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These are my three best finds of 2015:

 

Replacing fabric softener with vinegar.  It’s better for your health, better for your clothes, better for your pocket and good for your washing machine. And it’s vegan, too.

The Perfect Pace dog lead

Our rescued Vizsla Tommy, is beautiful, and wilful. He will walk quietly on a lead for only as long as he wants to, and then he’s off and hard to hold. We tried various Haltis, Gentle Leaders, an expensive harness, all of which were ineffective. He continually scraped at the halters until he either caught his claws in them or pulled them off, and in the harness he hugged the ground to get his centre of gravity right down and then pulled like a train. Taking him out was exhausting and unsatisfying.

I read an article on one of the dog owners’ fora, where somebody recommended the Infinity Collar (now renamed the Perfect Pace) as being the first and only means she had found for stopping her dogs pulling. I ordered one – they are made in the US – and was somewhat bemused when it arrived, because it was a simple plaited cord of soft but strong material, with a fixed loop for a handle at one and, and a variable loop at the other. It took me a while to work out the mechanics of it, but it’s absolute simplicity. You make a big loose loop and put it around the dog’s neck. Then you twist the loop into a figure 8 under the dog’s chin, and place the resulting second loop over the muzzle. Tighten the loop behind the ears, and keep it in place with the sliding leather toggle. Voila! There is nothing more to it than that. No straps, buckles, Velcro, just a narrow, gentle figure 8 over the dog’s head. It doesn’t ride up. It can’t come off (unless you use the optional attachment for fixing it to the dog’s collar, because if the dog backs out of the collar, it will take the loop with it.) Tommy made a half-hearted attempt to remove the loop over his nose, and then trotted happily and quietly beside us. If he does suddenly lurch – as when the dog at the end of the lane leaps up at the gate – the lead checks him. Best buy!

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The BaByliss rotating hairbrush

I hate my hair. I’ve always hated it. And I’ve hated it most when people say: “Aren’t you lucky to have curly hair!” No. Curly hair is not lucky. It is unruly, sticks up and out, and frizzes at the sight of a weather forecast predicting even a mildly damp day. I’ve tried various techniques for taming it, from having it short cropped to growing it below shoulder-length, encouraging it to go its own reckless way by spraying it with water, and sleeping with my head in a tight-fitting cap to clamp the unruliness to my skull. It’s been a life-long battle between us, always ending up with a 1-nil victory to hair, apart from occasions when I’ve managed to iron it into flatness with tongs which generally burnt my ears and neck. I could never get curlers to stay in place, nor manage a hairbrush in one hand and a hair dryer in the other.

Since I discovered the Babyliss rotating hairbrush, with just a minimal effort I can get my hair looking like hair and not a ball of tumbleweed. Take that, hair!

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This is my one material want

 

This isn’t a need, and I know it’s shallow, and that photography isn’t about your equipment – people take sublime photos with iPhones or disposable cameras – but I WANT one of these. I already have the 40-150mm f4 to f5.6 zoom which is by far the favourite lens in my collection, but this would really put the cherry on the cake.

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It’s extremely unlikely I’ll ever be able to afford it, so I’m thinking about asking for somebody to give me one. Maybe Olympus would. I know someone who was given a Nikon lens costing over $10,000 – just for asking. Or should I try Just Giving? Any ideas?🙂

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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.