Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas E-book Giveaway!

There's some really cool stuff going on in the blogging world - Christmas themed of course!

One of the best of these festive ideas is Sally Poyton's 'A book in every stocking' campaign. Having always been a bookworm (resulting in glasses at age 11 for overgrown eye muscles [or something like that, optical people, help me out!]), it is no surprise to anyone who knows me in the slightest that this is something I will enthusiastically get behind. 

 Credit: Sally Poyton

Lady M has almost as many books as me and she's only just hit the tender (tender? More like awe-inspiring in her capacity for creating disorder) age of 2. Still, the book gathering is slowing down due to the outrageous price of books here in Australia. *sigh* Can anybody explain why books are so extortionately priced here? Thank God for The Book Depository, I say....

I don't think, despite the above proclamations, that I have any books for Christmas but then, that's not really up to me, is it? That's up to my present givers.

However, I am partaking in the Christmas bookish spirit by giving away, thanks to the lovely Talli Roland, a Kindle copy of the wonderful Christmas Novella, Mistletoe in Manhattan. to one lucky commenter.

Mistletoe in Manhattan
Credit:Talli Roland
All you need to do is leave a festive comment here in the next couple of days and I will literally pick a name out of one of Lady M's sun hats on Boxing Day so that the winner can curl up in a corner and read this charming and funny story whilst recovering from the excesses of Christmas Day.  

So, having exhausted myself trying to buy a 2kg ham (impossible apparently) and settled on roast beef for Christmas Day, I am off to wrap presents, make a Buche de Noel and drink rum-infused eggnog in preparation for a very (non) traditional Christmas Eve feast of cheesy, beany nachos with all the trimmings, cos that's just how we roll in this house. 


Christmas Tree 4

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Eavesdropping your way to good dialogue...

Brain &  doodleIt's important to be nosey curious when you're a writer. Otherwise, how would you know anything about how others think, talk, treat people and generally live their lives? Being interested in the human condition is surely a pre-requisite for a writer, right?

Ladies Eavesdropping on PhoneI'm not advocating snooping through people's emails or phones or rifling through their underwear drawers (that would be creepy and wrong on so many levels and could end in quickly severed friendships or even divorce courts) but eavesdropping on a conversation between two teenagers on the bus home will probably give you a lot of valuable insight into how teenagers think and talk these days - not so different from when I was a teenager not that long ago (ahem) but if you want to make your dialogue real, then an eavesdropper you must become.

There are several ways you can do this with stealth.
  • Put earphones in but don't play any music. Even really quietly. You will get distracted and start singing along in your head (or aloud which will really blow your cover. Stealth, remember).
  • Pretend to read a book but remember to turn the pages sometimes.
  • Even better, read a kindle. Nobody will know you're getting nowhere with 'Fifty Shades of Grey'.
  • Pretend to be reading emails on your phone. As with the music, don't actually read them. Just stare intently at your phone and occasionally swipe your finger across the screen.
  • Most importantly, get your poker face on. Smirking when one of your conversationalists says something amusing will be a dead giveaway.
Another good way to get into the heads of people is to read blogs (seriously. This isn't just a plug for blogs at all. I promise). I've recently been picking my way through some of the blogs that bloggers I regularly read, regularly read. This is all in the name of research of course. It is definitely NOT a displacement activity. No way, ho-say. 

Writing on laptop
These are the ones I really liked; some are writing blogs, some are food blogs and one of them is the website of a very talented sculptor.
Reading blogs also helps you get an idea of style and voice. The most successful blogs are the ones which consistently engage you by making you want to cook that recipe RIGHT NOW or laugh out loud or nod your head in agreement. Sometimes they're blogs that are written by people who just make you crazy jealous of their creativity but whatever they make you feel, they are written in a such a way that makes you come back for more and that, my friends, is good 'voice'.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Errr, oops - 3 months absence...

Okay, so. Three months since I last blogged. That's not good. And, truthfully, the only reason I am putting something up today is because I promised the lovely Liah Thorley I would take part in the 'Next Big Thing' blog tour.

I know I should blog at least twice a week but, honestly, between work, Lady M and wallowing in the despair of being a newly-emigrated Pom to Perth, I just don't seem to have the time or the inclination.

BUT, perhaps this will spur me on to more regular blogging... this plus a new  house in beautiful South Perth (soon, moving date is 1st December - yay!) and a reduction in hours at work should all conspire to make a happier, more time-rich blogger!

So, on to the 'Next Big Thing' blog stop and many thanks to Liah for tagging me in! To read Liah's answers click right here and please check out fellow Abingdon Writer and my tagged author, Marissa De Luna's blog post coming soon!

What is the working title of your book?

The book I’m going to talk about here is ‘Rock-a-Lillie’ – the first book I wrote and the only completed one so far! I can’t talk about the second book as I’m only really half way through the first draft.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, when I started it, it was going to be about the dynamics of a group of best friends but it somehow morphed into a romance novel. I guess the romantic interest of the main character, Lillie, just didn’t want to be in the background of the book and kept writing himself into it more and more!

What genre does your book fall under?

Definitely Contemporary Romance, perhaps Romantic Comedy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh wow, that’s a really difficult question actually. I can’t believe I’ve never ‘cast’ my characters!

I really want to say that Lillie should be played by a blend of Liv Tyler and Kristen Stewart. She’s beautiful with a kind of vulnerability and awkwardness to her and Liv Tyler has that sort of fragile beauty whereas Kristen Stewart has the striking eyes and colt-like clumsiness to her. Plus, whoever Lillie is, she needs to be able to sing and I know both those actresses can sing!

Jed is more difficult. Maybe someone like Jesse Spencer (Dr Chase from House) but he’d have to dye his hair black and wear green contacts so, no, that probably wouldn’t work.

Okay, think Johnny Depp 10 years ago (I know that would still put him about ten years older than Jed but, really, the man never ages. I wonder if he drinks the blood of virgins…).

Or Jared Leto – yeah, Jared Leto with green eyes and darker hair. Jed is a beautiful man and Jared Leto is very pretty. (We’d have to stretch him out though, Jed is over 6ft tall!) Plus, Jared knows exactly what the tortures of touring are like.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Lillie Hartman joins an up-and-coming rock band after falling for gorgeous and enigmatic singer, Jed but Jed is hiding something which could destroy their relationship and, ultimately, his band.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will try to get an agent but if that doesn’t transpire then I will definitely think about self-publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Maybe a year. Something like that.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I aspire to write like Gemma Burgess who writes her characters like they are real, modern women. That doesn’t seem to happen an awful lot and I love reading about fictional characters and thinking, ’yeah, that’s exactly what my friend, the ball-breaker, would say’ or ‘God, that’s the kind of thing so-and-so would do’ when a character does something slightly immoral or thinks something that’s not conventionally acceptable.

I’d like to think that my characters are like real people, they do stupid things and say hurtful stuff. The girls love each other as best friends but that doesn’t mean they don’t get irritated with each other. And the guys can be a bit lecherous and gross but that’s just real life, right? (And before any boys start ranting in mock-horror at that stereotype, the male characters are also caring and funny and wise, just like guys in real life…)

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

A particular group of friends first inspired me to put pen to paper (metaphorically, of course. My hand cramps up if I write more than two paragraphs).

I suppose it was the hotness of Lillie’s love interest that made him appear more and more. I also wanted a main character who could sing because I cannot sing a note and that aspect of her seemed too important to just be a passing comment. It wanted to be an integral part of the story so I let it!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s not your ordinary ‘girl-meets-boy, girl-hates-boy, girl-falls-in-love-with-boy-in-the-end’ romance. It’s an interesting path the two main characters take and you get to know each one’s thoughts and feelings as the book is written from both Lillie’s and Jed’s perspectives. 

Thanks again to Liah for tagging me in and don't forget to check Marissa De Luna's blog too. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Writing Resources which make sense

So, I have quite a few books on writing, one or two of which I've even read all the way through. 
Yesterday, I finally finished 'Bird By Bird' by Anne Lamott and found it very funny, helpful and not at all patronising which, I've heard, some writing books are. 

I love the way she writes - she's amusing, brutally honest and explains her writing 'tips' with personal anecdotes. I think this method of teaching helps you understand the 'why' of a piece of advice and how it works towards making you a better writer. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work given the humour and style of this book.

But the first book I ever read about writing was Stephen King's 'On Writing' which, again, was more like a vague autobiography interspersed with advice. The two main points I took away from this book were:
  • Don't give up. Mr King received many, many, many rejections but persevered. I'm not saying that you'll become as famous and prolific as he is but don't quit at the first hurdle. Three rejections does not mean you can't write for crap. It just means those agents didn't like it or it's not quite polished again. Keep going - write something else, rewrite whatever you sent out, get it professionally critiqued if you have the money. I know I've said this before but, if you are in the UK and write romance of any kind, the RNA New Writers' Scheme is fantastic - very thorough and encouraging and not expensive. 
  •  Write every day. All writers say this so it must be important! Even just fifteen minutes a day to get your writing 'muscle' working is okay. 
That's not all he has to say though so if you're looking for inspiration and motivation, this is the book to get hold of. 

Next on the list is going to be 'Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing Fiction' which, as the name cunningly suggests, is more like a creative writing class to be taken in your own time. I did start it once upon a time but life took over (baby and emigrating!) so it's back to the beginning I go. 

Of course, there's a mountain of websites and blogs online too. The ones I visit the most are:
Oh wait, those last two aren't anything to do with the craft of writing but they are delicious and hilarious respectively. Give them a read, if only to find a new recipe for weekend baking and be warned off having kids have a bloody good laugh (and maybe get another new recipe for the weekend too - bonus). 

I also follow quite a few authors because I like their books and they write in the same genre as me. Authors are often spectacularly generous with advice and tips.  They will also direct you to other blogs and websites which might be useful in your quest to finish your novel, get an agent or, if you decide to go this route, self publish.

And there are lots of Twitter accounts that tweet about the writing industry - Advice to Writers and Publishing Talk to name a couple - publishers like Harper Collins and Choc Lit and, of course, a huge amount of authors. This is where you can get some really great links to interesting articles, blog posts and give aways (favourite!)

What websites and Twitter accounts do you read or follow that you think are helpful to writers of all levels? Are there any writing books that you recommend to fellow aspiring writers? Or ones that you found completely useless?

Of course, it could be said that all this faffing about on the Internet and Twitter valuable time spent researching could be detrimental to the first rule of writing - Write! 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Slow Publishing and the 2012 BBC top 100 books

 So, a writing buddy of mine has decided to slow publish his book - slow publish? What's that? I'm so glad you asked because it's a very innovative way of creating interest in your novel - you give it away for free but in a modern day Charles Dickens way - installments by email. Clever, eh? 

 Interested? You can sign up here to receive emails which contain small installments of the book, The Soles of My Shoes. Or, you can buy the book in it's glorious entirety here for a real live paperback version and also here for your Kindle - go on, buy it! Support a new author!! 

I have purchased my copy and it is eagerly waiting, impatiently nudging aside the classics and non-fiction titles on my Kindle, waiting to be read alongside a nice cup of tea and a stack of biscuits (or cake. Probably cake. Lemon drizzle as I just received a big bag of lemons fresh off a lemon tree. Delicious).

On the subject of reading, I recently increased the number of books on my Goodreads Challenge from 50 to 60 but seeing as I am now at 49, I think I might increase it to 80. That's a proper challenge. With 20 weeks to go, I think it can be done and I am going to try and fit a few classics in there too so it's not just short or easy to read books (that would be cheating and there's no point in cheating if it's just cheating yourself, is there?) - I'm currently wading through A Tale of Two Cities but I fancy it will be hard going. Looks like The Soles of My Shoes will be read much sooner than anticipated! 

 In fact, my plan is to cross another 17 books off the 2012 BBC top 100 books to read before you die (or 'book'et list - you know, like bucket list... clever, right? RIGHT?) list so that I have read a very respectable 60 out of 100. 

That's not going to be easy as the 57 books I haven't read from that list are mostly classics or modern literary novels that I thought about reading for about, oh, a nanosecond. Anyway, if I manage to get to 60, then I'll have read ten times the amount of titles off that list that your everyday Joe has read (according to the Beeb but I'm not so sure about that. Surely not? Please, surely not). 

If you want to see how many you've read and either be horrified or enormously smug, here's the current list:

 1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - J K Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - C S Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C S Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - L M Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - A S Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E B White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

How many of these have you read? Let me know in the comments (not to sound pathetic but it would be nice to have some interaction here - please, please? Ok, that was pathetic but I'm not taking it back). Join in the challenge of getting to 60 or 75 or even 100 but I can tell you now that I will never get to 100. I cannot bring myself to read the entire bible or Ulysses. Just never gonna happen. And I probably won't ever get through Dune  - have you seen the size of that book - it's probably longer than the bible (but also, I suspect, way better. However, I'm going to have to cheat on this one and just watch the film - it  has Sting and Kyle MacLachlan in it and the really pretty girl from Twin Peaks - how could it possibly be bad?).

 I figure there's at least 5 books I will never actually pick up even to flick through although, having said that, I did manage to plod my way rather painfully through Madame Bovary which I think is quite possibly the most boring book I have ever read. Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer but at least she keeps it entertaining (flame me in the comments if you will but each to their own and all that)...

Friday, 3 August 2012

Bakeware, books and blankets...

All our 'stuff' has arrived - our worldly belongings are once again ours! Seven breakages in total - three of which were wedding presents. Boo. On the plus side, blankets and our goose down duvet arrived - bliss on these cold Perth nights! AND our bed is here and it is beautiful, oh so comfortable and very adult-like. I can't help smiling like a crazy person whenever I see it. I heart it so much.

It's very French looking which obviously equals sophistication and, well, grown-upness. Currently, it is let down by the non-matching packing box bedside tables that flank it. Very student digs and decidedly un-grown up. It may take some time to find suitably chic furniture to accessorise it with. For now, the packing boxes stay. 

If you have read this blog recently, you will know that I was very much looking forward to getting my kitchenware back - I had visions of myself whipping up batches of brownies and chocolate chip cookies, maybe a dense chocolate loaf cake or two... I quite like chocolate, you see.

BUT, the sweet treat I actually made first was a rosemary loaf cake. I know! Rosemary! Not a whiff of chocolate. I even made the Chardmeister go and buy a rosemary plant which cost us $16! For a tiny plant! Later that day, we discovered that a neighbour has an entire frigging border of rosemary. This is our life.

 So, yes, a rosemary cake. Anyone who knows me but at all will be shocked by that. I am shocked by it. But also very glad because I would have been rigid with anger if my brownies had burnt on top or cooked too much or my cookies received too much heat in the oven because, previously unbeknownst to me, this oven runs hot. And the fan does not appear to work properly. Cake tops burn but remain silkily batter-like inside. Cookies would have been incinerated, brownies would have been cooked properly throughout - God forbid. 

Until I get used to the oven and figure out it's Australian oddities, chocolate related baking will have to be held off. Which would totally suck if it weren't for the deliciously warming, sweet comfort of the Brown Sugar Pudding (courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens - thank you. So much) below. Arm yourself with some thick cream though, you will need it to cut through the sugary goodness!

Brown Sugar Self-saucing Pudding  serves 4 (generously)

1 cup dark brown sugar
200g self raising flour
2 tspns ground allspice (or a generous tspn of vanilla extract instead. Delicious)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 tbspns treacle (I used molasses - not sure if there is really any difference!)
2 tbspns cornflour
  • Butter 4 individual ramekins or one deep pie dish
  • Combine 1/3 cup of the sugar with the flour, allspice or vanilla, egg, milk, butter and two tablespoons of the treacle/molasses until it becomes a smooth batter
  • Pour into prepared dish(es)
  • Thoroughly mix together the remaining sugar and cornflour and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter
  • Stir the rest of the treacle/molasses into one and a half cups of boiling water until dissolved and pour over the pudding(s)
  • Bake immediately at 180C for about 30 minutes - I can thoroughly recommend putting a tray underneath to catch any sauce that bubbles over the side although if you didn't, cleaning the oven the next day might help shift some of the many calories consumed...
  • Serve with whipped or very thick cream (creme fraiche would be pretty good too, I think)
  • Do some extra exercise the following day when you can move again (or at the very least make your bed extra vigorously and push the hoover round rather more enthusiastically that you normally do)

 And, as well as making this beautiful, stodgy, sugary, saucy pudding, I also made curtains. Curtains! They are nowhere near professional quality but I made them and they look okay. They are wide enough and long enough and they hang (pretty much) straight. They are super colourful and block out light. What more does one want from curtains?

See that funny little book shelf thing in this photo to the left? That was bought very cheaply from an op shop and, although you can't see in the photo, is painted a particularly nasty shade of pale greeny-blue yuck and trimmed in harsh black. I plan on sanding that mo-fo down this weekend and painting it but what colour? If it stays in Lady M's room, it will need to be a bright primary colour really - blue? Maybe green to match the trim of the curtains? Either that or white. White like our fantastic bookshelves from, duh duh duuuh, Ikea, where else?

 Bookshelves that stretch across the whole wall and are filled with all our books. And then covered in all manner of animal ornamentry and way too much pretty crockery and glasware to look good. The search is on for a dresser that will fit in with the rest of the decor (shouldn't be hard, it's all very mismatched really. Vogue worthy it is not).

See? Crowded with photos and cups. Could look better, right?

And, just so you know, the shelf in the middle could be filled up but is strategically left almost bare because Lady M is a curious sort of child (as they are all wont to be, right?) and likes to pull things off the shelves to destroy play with. Hence the clutter of crockery and rammed in books you see in the top half of the shelving.

Anyway, I have long dreamed of having a library wall in a house I lived in and now that dream is realised. Oh Australia, how I love thee! If only your books weren't so damned expensive, I could create another wall of bookshelves...

And speaking of buying new books - here's some I won't be purchasing any time soon. Particularly after this hilarious and very clever GoodReads review
Has anyone read any of this trilogy? Would you admit to it if you had? I'm not a literary snob at all. If you look at  those shelves above closely, you can very much see that for yourself but these books just look badly written in every single way - no character development, weak plot, lots of repetition, apparently unlikeable protagonists and, worst of all, not very good sex scenes considering it's supposed to be erotica.

I bet if I read it, I could take away lots of pointers and tips for things NOT to do in my own writing. Kind of like a writing how-not-to. A How to Lose An Agent In Ten Pages kind of thing... For £3, might it be worth a read just from that point of view?

Friday, 6 July 2012

All set for a battle for a Perth rental? We didn't even have a small skirmish...

Ummm, where to start? Well, we have a long term let all sorted, our container is actually in Fremantle (and not en route to Egypt like I thought it was. Stupid tracking system), we survived a trip to Ikea, I've become a MasterChef addict and we got ourselves a free TV and set top box courtesy of Gumtree. We've been pretty busy.

First things first, the house. It isn't what I thought we would live in. It's modern. Only a year old. It has a theatre room for God's sake. It is huge. At least, compared to our two bedroom Oxfordshire cottage anyway. We could fit our old house in it probably five times. No joke. Okay, maybe only four times but still. 

We had a really easy time of getting a rental - the rental market in Perth is fierce, so we were very lucky. Instead of having to bite our nails waiting to see if the owner chose us from twenty other families via an estate agent, we have rented privately. Not purposely though. 

We were at our first viewing (highly disappointing. Minging, to be brutally honest) and I told the estate agent it was too small for us. It wasn't. It was just horrible but I didn't want to be rude thinking we might need her in the future. When we stumbled out into the light from the dark and gloomy house, there was a guy hovering around who approached us saying he was leaving a 4 bed, 2 bathroom house soon and it was his brothers, would we be interested? Yes, we certainly would. He gave us his details, we called him the next morning, went to see the house, prayed that Lady M would be as cute as hell, attempted to schmooze him without being weird or crossing any boundaries and then went home to anxiously await a phone call. 

That very evening, the mysterious brother phoned to say we could have the house if we wanted. YES PLEASE!!!! Then I spent a week worrying about whether we were being scammed. I'm pretty sure we aren't. But, onto the house itself.

There is a double garage, a utility room with tonnes of shelving, a wok burner on the stove, a 900mm oven and a double shower in the master bedroom en suite. Oh and the living area is massive. We need more stuff. Stuff and furniture and so we took a trip to Ikea, which was surprisingly stress free and fun. Yes, actually fun. Helped in large part, I think, by the promise of $1 hot dogs at the end. 
Not much furniture was purchased but we did come away with 75 cent tea towels (I know! Amazing!), some gorgeous plant pots, a pack of butterscotch chocolates, some lovely sheets for Lady M and a box of French style stackable tumblers for the Chardmeister as well as a bright red TV cabinet. We are going BOLD in this house. No more pastel colours or whimsical florals here. I really want vivid reds and oranges, bright pinks, in your face greens, maybe even almost-fluorescent yellow. No, let's not get carried away. That's probably a step or four too far. 

I foresee another couple of trips back to pick up a good sized three seater sofa, also bright red (don't worry, this won't be in the same room as the cabinet), a freestanding kitchen island - I need somewhere for my Kitchen Aid mixer, blender and other baking accoutrements - plus some lovely little glass bowls and mugs I am coveting. 

Then it will be off to Masters (kind of like B&Q) for a dishwasher (hurrah, no longer will I be forced to wash up four times a day. Also, there is the bonus of shopping for crockery so that it isn't all in the dishwasher forcing impromptu washing up for that sneaky hot chocolate before bedtime. That would be bad) and a gorgeous floor lamp which will curve over so that the huge solid circular shade hovers above the vintage Habitat tubular chair kindly given to us by my parents. On the way through, we'll pick up some troughs and herbs to get the herb garden going. Admittedly, the dishwasher and lamp may have to wait a few weeks but the herbs can be planted and in situ the very day we move in. I'm excited. Can you tell?

Finally, MasterChef Australia and spoiler alert if you didn't see last night's. Oh, how I love thee. I never watched this in the UK really. I don't know if the format is hugely different here but I feel like it is. They show an episode 6 nights of the week! I think my favourite are the invention episodes - the dude food one was awesome  - Kylie's bacon doughnut sandwich things? Inspired. Properly creative. I would never have dreamt that up in a million years.

I was really sad to see Tregan go, I thought she was really good, but I wasn't fussed about the recent eviction of Amina and Jules. I feel like we didn't really get to know Jules that much so I wasn't sad or outraged at all. I suppose I should have been disappointed to see Amina go but, given the last few episodes, it seemed like the MasterChef editors were getting us ready for her departure so it wasn't the big surprise it probably should have been.

I'm going to make a prediction for the top three now that we're down to ten: Kylie, Wade and Julia. The G's seem to be quite enamoured with Wade lately (although that doesn't seem to count for much, they were in love with Amina a couple of weeks ago), Kylie is just super creative and Julia is, well, maybe I have stuck my neck out a little here. She makes great desserts but maybe that won't be enough...

And speaking of food and creativity, here's a few goodies to salivate over:
Oh my God, I want my kitchen stuff right now.  Failing that, I need to go out and get the stuff to make this amazing creation right here - hot air balloon style storage? I think so.

I've been busy geeking out about all the wonderful stuff posted up on Craft Gawker the last couple of days. Such creative people out there! I can't wait for all our things to be delivered so that we can get all set up for some fun artsy stuff for Lady M to do. Does anyone have any recommendations for inspirational websites for crafts and arty kids stuff?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Winter Solstice in Perth

It was Winter Solstice here in Perth the other day and the weather was rather obligingly non-English. Hooray for lots of reasons, one being laundry and another being outside play for Lady M.

The Chardmeister decided to take the day off from his current stay-at-home dad status and escape trained it up to Joondalup for an appointment with the bank man which has somehow turned into a jaunt to Perth itself. Good news really as this means I will be owed a 'day off' myself sometime soon. 

I had hoped for a present upon his return and my hoping was not in vain. He did indeed bring a present. A present of half a rotisserie chicken. My brother-in-law will quite literally wet his pants laughing when he hears about that.

Anyway, all this meant that I was able to fulfill my duties as an unambitious and unimaginative stay-at-home mum (as the always wise Cherie Blair has been very rudely calling us) and do some laundry, housework and cooking (and blog-reading of course). I also rammed in a trip to the library where I picked up 'Room' by Emma Donoghue and 'The Marriage Plot' by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Now, I realise I am, as usual, late to the party with both these books but given the smallness of the fiction section and their seeming inclination towards the crime genre, these were the only two that really jumped off the shelf at me. I'm thinking 'Room' first (although I still have 39% of 'Northanger Abbey' to power through. Still not an Austen fan. I've tried, I really have). 

Whilst at the library, we were told that StoryTime was on soon so Lady M and I duly trotted off to the children's room and perused some books whilst we waited for it to begin. Books chosen and sitting nicely with the other kids and mums (and a dad. Good on you, lone Dad) whilst the library lady began her spiel, one child hurled himself to the floor and began screaming and crying whilst his mother calmly looked on and the rest of us strained to hear the library lady's explanation of which books were going to be read over incredible rage of the angriest kid in WA. 


 Now, whilst I am all for letting your child tantrum it out and get over it, I would have removed Lady M from the library and had her calm down outside, returning if (big if) and when she was quiet. But not so this ballsy mum. No sirree. She let him wail and shout the entire time the poor library lady was reading and singing. He screamed through Twinkle Twinkle, sobbed all over 'The Hungry Caterpillar' and rampaged during Baa Baa Black Sheep. All the while, Lady M stared at him aghast, wondering (possibly) what he was finding so heinous about StoryTime. Or, most probably, thinking how the hell was he getting away with such behaviour and should she try it out next time. 

Note to Lady M: Do not try this as your mummy is not so tough that she can teach you that tantrumming will not get you your own way even when you are in public. Not even when you are in a library - a sanctuary of quietness and respect. Not even when you are RUINING StoryTime for ten other children and their poor suffering parents. She will get you the eff out of there quicker than you can stuff five Tim Tams into your mouth when she's not looking. 

And do you know what this joyous child's name was? Damien. I'm not even joking.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Ducks, rainbows and the Tim Tam Slam

So, we are at the beginning of our third week in Perth and it is raining. Again. I know, I know, it IS winter here. Yesterday was a beautiful day and we hoped that it would remain that way for the next few days not least because there is a gigantic bag of washing to be done and not a tumble dryer in sight. Rock n roll. 

Anyway, all the rain followed by bits of glorious sun has meant that we have seen many beautiful rainbows, like zees:

Very pretty. 

We went up to the Hills a few days ago to see if we might like to live there. Lovely area, very pretty and tree-y and laid back. So, not for us then (although there are a couple of book shops there (always a big plus), one of which I was allowed to enter for a quick perusal. I ended up buying a copy of this wonderful looking book for ten dollars. TEN DOLLARS for a second hand book. Better get used to it I suppose). The Chardmeister decided he wanted to much nearer to the sea and I am just not ready to be somewhere that quiet again.

However, I will be back to visit the big market held on the first Saturday of every month and report back on that. From what I understand, it's a crafty type market so I'll probably have to leave Lady M in the hands of the Chardmeister and wander round on my own, taking lots of photos of stuff I want to recreate when I have my craft/spare room (which makes me sound like I should totally live up in the Hills with all the artsy folk but I'm not really artsy, I'm just a pretender). 

As we took Zig-zag road back down to the 'flatlands',  we came across this lovely view of Perth CBD:

And also decided that we couldn't possibly live up in the Hills for fear that some silly teenage boy would take Lady M racing down it when she's fourteen. Not gonna happen. Especially if we don't live there. Final nail in the coffin for the Hills. I'm sure the folk up there are rightfully devastated... 

And now we are down South or SoR (south of the river), near Rockingham. It feels a lot more open here, much less built up but perhaps that's just our immediate location. We were supposed to go to Penguin Island today but the rain has killed that notion off so there remained nothing to do except get on the Internet to catch up on blogs and blogging.

I do have a couple of new blog crushes here and here and have also been salivating over the Smitten Kitchen (well, her website at least) and, as usual, laughing myself silly at this lady who would, I'm sure, sympathise with my laundry situation

I've also been lurking around several writing sites and Perth sites, sometimes combining the two, as well as purchasing a car and eating too many Tim Tams. I like the dark chocolate ones best so far but there are at least a thousand more flavours to try yet. White chocolate, mint, double coat, rum and raisin (these I might give a miss) amongst them. (Aside: I have just found out that biting the corners of Tim Tams and drinking tea through them like a big, flat chocolaty delicious straw is called a Tim Tam Slam. Aaah, the wonders of the Internet).

Whilst we were up near Joondalup, Lady M started to say 'duck' quite a lot. Now, all birds are ducks, including the chickens which loitered around our front door constantly, pooing EVERYwhere. I do not miss them. 

I think this is the only animal which she calls by it's proper name rather than by the sound it makes. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get her to say 'dog' or 'cat' or 'lion'. It's 'woof woof', 'owwwwwwww' and 'raaaahr' or nothing. Do all learning-to-speak children call animals by the sounds they make? 

Finally, are there any Australian twitchers out there who can identify this pretty little blue tailed bird (I am too lazy to google it...)? 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Farewell England, G'day Perth!

Oof. I've been technically living in Perth, Western Australia for 3 days now. I say technically because, really, it still feels like a holiday. The Chardmeister is constantly around, we're in a teeny tiny studio apartment (which means we're trapped in the cold kitchen all night as Lady M is sleeping in the front room/bedroom. No whinging from the new Poms, our choice to save money on short let accommodation...), we have a hire car and we're living out of suitcases. So, yeah, holiday mode.

The plane journey was, unsurprisingly, tough. Lady M decided sleep was for losers on the first (read: longer) leg. Thank God we were on the upper deck where less people were disturbed by much crying and protestations from her. She's lucky she changed her mind on the sleep/loser issue on the second (much shorter but I shouldn't be complaining, she may have decided to keep not sleeping) flight from Singapore to Perth. Sleep deprivation, PMS and hunger does not a happy mummy make. Still, I did manage to watch the new Underworld movie (not so great although Kate Beckinsale looks amazing as usual) and get some dozing in with Lady M laid across me in a most uncomfortable fashion. Hence dozing and not sleeping. Boo.

We arrived in Perth to be picked up by Steve from Wangara Car hire - highly recommended, he is very friendly and accommodating and the car hire is very reasonable - and taken to our first temporary Perth home. Boiled eggs and soldiers and a shower later and we were all in bed and asleep by 8.30pm.

Sadly, the weather has not been great - much rain and actually quite cold but, you know, it is the start of winter here! We've been back and forth to the local shopping centre in search of phones and internet dongles and FINALLY managed to get connected. Hurrah. Poor Lady M has been bored out of her 19 month old mind but now we are connected to the world again, things will be different. Tomorrow is tourist day!

A few things about Australia:
  • It's not as expensive as everyone makes out. Sure, some things are crazy expensive like greetings card - $5 - 7 for something nice - but, on the whole, pretty much like for like. 
  • People are super friendly and eager to help out. Bank staff actually behave like real human beings who are able to empathise with you. It's nice. 
  • If you don't like to cook, you're a bit stuffed. No long aisles of ready meals here. 
  • Australian TV isn't as bad as everyone makes out either. There's a lot of American TV on the programming schedules, much like the UK. The Good Wife and The Mentalist are on right now and, yes they are behind us but that just means I can catch up stuff like Dexter, True Blood and Grey's Anatomy when they're airing here. Hurrah. 
  • Libraries are amazing here! Not that they aren't at home, but everything you hire out over here is FREE! That means DVDs, CDs, even magazines! So cool.
  • Fashion isn't twenty years behind Europe or the States. The boys are all sporting ridiculously swept forwards hair styles and skinny jeans and the girls have massively back combed 'dos and pastel nails, just like the UK then.
The worst thing I can say about being in Australia is that I keep getting blog feeds with the most amazing summery recipes - I'm talking mostly about you and your strawberries and cream biscuits, Smitten Kitchen. Thank God I also follow foodie blogs like the kitchen maid and The Stone Soup which are currently showcasing all things chocolaty and anti-cancery respectively.

Of course, I can't really cook anything much at the moment due to a lack of kitchen equipment and, more importantly, store cupboard ingredients. Big boo. BUT, when I get into long term rented accommodation watch out oven (and waistlines) as I will be delving into the archives of all my favourite food blogs to catch up on all the cooking and baking I haven't been doing for two months! 

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Lady M calls me mama!

Finally, after eighteen months of looking after her day in and day out, Lady M has deigned to learn to say 'mama.' Hurrah.

Also finally, after five weeks of being incommunicado, I have some time to write a post. Let me catch you up on what I have been doing these last few weeks.
  • Clearing out a phenomenal amount of crap from the loft/under our bed/the shed
  • taking aforementioned crap to charity shops after trying to flog it at a car boot sale
  • deciding on what to ship to Australia where we are going to potentially live FOREVER
  • Finalising accommodation, hire cars, etc for our first few weeks in Australia
  • going out for goodbye dinners with various groups of friends
  • deciding to collaborate on a YA murder mystery novel with a friend
  • not getting into the top twenty for the Novelicious competition (big congratulations to everyone who did - I am definitely going to vote when the time comes!)
  • Closing down accounts/cards/financial type stuff
  • getting my head around the fact that we now live (albeit temporarily) with my parents
  • Joining a gym and actually going to some classes now that I have a built in baby sitting service in the form of Lady M's lovely Grandpa (or, as she calls him, Pompa)
  • Desperately trying to cram in reading time so that I can return all my library books before we leave the country
So, you know, I've been busy. And I really can't make much (blog wise) out of what I've been doing either. Unless you want tips on moving country or back home with your parents when you have a toddler in tow and you're in your thirties. 

I can say that it is tough living out of suitcases for any longer than two weeks (although even on the shittiest package holiday you get more than a tiny drawer and several hangers to hook over a wardrobe) BUT it is amazing not having to cook every night, especially if your mum cooks as well as mine does. 

And now we are in France with my entire immediate family. And it has been not very good weather. Being used to lots of time with just Lady M for company, I am finding it difficult to be around so many people, especially stuck inside the house most of the time. I had started reading 'Q' but it is impossible to concentrate with so many arguments discussions going on so I'm glad I brought my Kindle along with lots of easy-to-read stuff on it. My Goodreads Challenge 2012 is looking pretty damned good at the moment! Which reminds me, I must update that now too...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Creative drafting?

So, I entered the Novelicious competition I mentioned in my last post. Eek. Now I have to wait three weeks to find out if I made it into the top 20 and, even if I didn't, I'm looking forward to reading the shortlisted entries and voting for my favourite! 

I also sent off another submission today. So now I'm waiting on three agencies... I changed my synopsis and cut out some just discovered superfluous info - Query shark is your go-to blog for what to put in and what to leave out. Be ruthless. You know, like a shark. 

Speaking of honing your writing, at the Abingdon Writers/Ali Shaw event last week, I was talking to Ali about the editing process and what a complete bore it can become. Turns out, there is a way to avoid the drudgery of what can feel like a completely non-creative part of the whole novel writing process. Leave some creativity back when writing your first draft. In other words, don't feel like you need to cram in every single character trait or scene setting as you get down the rough idea of your novel. If you leave some of the creative elements to subsequent drafts, you can prolong all the fun parts of writing, combining them with the editing process. 

So, your novel writing time line might look like this:
  • Draft one - get the blasted ideas down onto paper with a rough narrative arc and a good idea of your characters
  • Draft two - concentrate on developing your characters and honing your dialogue until it reads like real (albeit far more interesting and dialled down versions of) conversation
  • Draft three - focus on scene setting. Use colour, smell, sound, beautiful similes, etc
  • Draft four - make sure there aren't any continuity issues and add in/remove scenes that will help keep the pace of your novel moving. Check for 'show don't tell' incidences
  • Draft five - final read through for grammar, spelling, silly mistakes, etc
Hurrah - the creative process is alive and well throughout ALL your drafts. Not that I have tried this method but it sounds as if it would work and, if you have ever drafted and redrafted until your eyes bled and you had no fingerprints left, perhaps it's worth a go just to keep you going on those lonely, miserable April nights when you would quite frankly rather be watching Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares or even (whisper it) *Made in Chelsea (or similarly awful 'reality' tv). 

I think I might try it with second MS, which is a complete mess as it started off as something entirely different (I blame NaNoWriMo) to what it is now becoming.  No doubt it will go through several incarnations before I settle on what it should be (which, for me, is wherever my main character wants to take it). 

Oh and you should all potter on over to this lady because she is very, very funny (although you might need to have kids to appreciate her properly). The Chardmeister thought he was going to have to section me I was laughing so much when I read her blog. Laughing so much I was crying. Proper nose running, mascara tracking down my cheeks crying with laughter. Which is good because that means I don't have to do any stomach exercises for another three weeks now. Yay Relentless Laundry lady!! 

*Disclaimer: I don't actually watch Made In Chelsea or any of those so-called reality tv shows. I mean, I like my trashy tv but it needs to be full of glamorous types doing crazy and unrealistic things like burying step fathers in shallow graves or shouty chefs cursing at stubborn and idiotic restaurant owners...

Friday, 30 March 2012

Ali Shaw on writing groups and fairy tales

So, last night was the Abingdon Writers' event with the very lovely Ali Shaw (and his even lovelier wife, Iona). 

I must admit, I was a little worried it would be a bit of a flop, mostly because I've never organised an author event before and, as well as not having one friggin' clue what I was supposed to be doing, I've had rather a lot going on recently. In the end though, we had a pretty good turn out (thanks mostly to Mostly Books and their publicity drive) and I think it went pretty well. 

Ali was a very laid back, interesting speaker and we were treated to an impromptu mini-lecture on fairy tales and folklore which, with the recent Hollywood trend for fairy tales, felt very current and en vogue. In fact, Ali said he drew inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen for 'The Girl With Glass Feet' and traditional, mostly long-forgotten folklore for 'The Man Who Rained'.  Which, I must say, does show in his writing which is full of lyrical prose, beautifully imagined description and melancholy, damaged characters with more than a little fairy tale magic sprinkled throughout. 

Ali read some of his latest book - a segment which I think showcases his style and imagination perfectly. As I said on my guest blog over at Mostly Books, if you smile at the thought of sunbeams turning into canaries (and, really, you'd have to have a black heart not to), then Ali's books are for you!

We also managed to lure some audience members into hopefully signing up to join Abingdon Writers helped greatly by Ali extolling the virtues of belonging to a writing group. For me, it's the support and encouragement (and once arm twisting but I deserved that...) that is so incredibly helpful. Writing is, as everyone knows, a very solitary thing to do, so being able to talk to fellow writers going  through the same angst about a plot line or a character who just won't behave is really important for your sanity.  Plus, as Sally Poyton (an Abingdon Writer) pointed out - being part of a writers group isn't just for you, it's for your family and friends too. 

No longer will they have to fight the urge to tell you that they just can't care any more about whether your MC is being too whingey here or too bossy there. They won't have to smother the desire to tell you that they definitely do not want to hear the 88th re-write of your first chapter. And they won't have to pretend they've just gone through a tunnel on the motorway when you call them to harass them about finishing your 115,000 word manuscript and giving you some feedback (honest but only about the good bits please). No, you can delight your new writing buddies with all that stuff now. Hurrah for writing groups!