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Posts from the ‘Writing’ Category

A strange, mixed fortnight

I’m sitting at my desk and enjoying a rare sight through the window – the sun is shining.  We’ve had rather a lot of rain over the past few weeks, as I think a lot of you have.  Here it has veered from long, sullen downpours to bursts of hail mixed with sudden bright spots.  The wind has been ferocious and we are very glad we have managed to keep most of our trees safe, apart from the one faller early in the month. And the geese are making their way back too, though in limited numbers. 

I still think it looks like a cow!

The old peat swamp is filled again, making a little lake across the road.  There is a strange hummock in the middle and the first time I saw it I thought it was a cow – maybe some Highland cattle – stranded there.  No, it is just some thick brown grass poking over the water.

Always an exciting moment

Like the weather, this has been a strange, mixed fortnight.  My new book, “Puppy Brain” was published officially on Thursday and the Kindle version is now up and available too.  This is always a very exciting time.  Even though it’s the fifth time for me it is still a thrill to open a box full of books I’ve written.  Or co-written in this case.  Then there was a bump in the road.  It seems the main distributor to book shops won’t sell to small or independent shops.  Relying of economies of scale, they demand a much higher discount for self-published or small press books.  This results in the classic “Catch-22” situation.  Without large orders the book is unlikely to feature in big, mainstream shops.  Without sales in the big, mainstream shops there will be no large demand or orders. I’m working on it.

Meanwhile I’m sending out the signed copies promised or requested on Monday so look out for the arrival if you have contacted me.  I have a stock I can dedicate, sign and send though these will incur postage from Ireland.  Amazon has sold their stock already but if you want a copy from them don’t be put off by the “almost 2 months” delay.  This is down to the algorithm and your order will arrive much sooner.

I have been musing on a feature of Irish society that impacts on us and, I suspect, many others here.  With the cities increasingly overcrowded and horribly expensive, government policy is to persuade people to move out.  There is a lot of space in Ireland, though building is still slow.  People often buy an old-fashioned cottage and renovate it over time.  In fact several estate agents have a whole section for “Derelict Property”, though at least one tarts it up as “Former Glory”.  The advantage of these properties is almost all have a good amount of land – about an acre at least.  The disadvantages are many.  No roof sometimes.  No amenities at all.  Décor that shuns the name, no heating or insulation and often very small rooms.  However, priced from 30,000 up they can turned into perfect homes with space and gardens – over time.

There are obstacles to the plan however.  Out of the towns there are no services.  I mean NO services.  Mains water and sewage, telephone connection, cable and gas are all absent. Dodgy electricity and patchy wifi and mobile signals are common.  Our problem with rubbish and recycling has been documented here, but it is a big issue.  The largest firms have switched to long, very big wagons they can’t (or won’t) drive to more remote locations. Perversely they use the smaller trucks in town!  And there needs to be proper public transport.  We have none and all the local taxi drivers left during Covid.  

This push into the countryside is not welcomed universally either. Some farmers (not all) are used to having free rein over the whole area, and resent the newcomers, or “blow-ins” as they are called.  There are some really abusive areas of the Internet where posters jeer at new residents, laugh at their concerns and suggest they just sell up and move back to the city.  The sense is newcomers don’t respect “country ways” and don’t understand the problems of farmers.  There may be some who don’t but there are some farmers who flout the law and behave in a rather un-neighbourly manner.  There can be shooting out of season, multi-shot guns used, slurrying next to domestic wells, electric fences that interfere with domestic supplies and intrusions onto private land, for example. 

Our tree lopping
“Guardian” of the countryside

Many of them behave very well and live up to their image as “guardians” of the countryside.  But not all.  Last post I described the fallen tree onto the road from our land.  We cleared it within an hour without damaging anything else – of course.  Why would we do otherwise?  I leave you with two images. First we have the neighbour’s trees lopped by Fergus to prevent accidents last year, at our instigation and expense.

Second we have the tree “pruning” we encountered along the road, by the same neighbour.  I think it was done with a JCB.  It is heartbreaking to see the damage to living, healthy trees.

So who would you say is the “guardian” of the countryside?

A post mainly about writing

I began this blog expecting to use it mainly about writing.  After all, that was my new venture back in 2010 when the first of the four crime novels came out.  Then, of course, the unexpected happened and we upped sticks and headed over the sea to land in Ireland.  After the dust settled I found myself writing about writing that rather than actually writing.  In fact, for the last few years that’s been mainly the writing I’ve been doing. 

There are a number of reasons for this.  I think the whole Ireland adventure makes a decent story (and it seems you agree with me).  It keeps me working, at least a little.  The main reason why there have been no new books however comes down to the Impress debacle, long brewing but still a hammer blow when it landed.  My fifth Alex Hastings novel, “A Long Shadow”, was accepted for publication three years ago.  You may have noticed nothing happened.  Then supplies of the first four began to dry up and there was no communication from the new owners of Impress.  And then, suddenly, Impress went into administration.

Happy days – soon to be available again.

This was very frightening.  I, along with a number of others, was in danger of losing rights and copyright to my books – eleven years work ripped away.  A lot of time and energy was poured into fighting for the books and I have the rights back now but it certainly knocked my confidence in the publishing industry.  Agents, in my experience, are not worth bothering with for all sorts of reasons I can’t articulate without risking a libel case.  Publishers take control of everything – editing, printing, distribution, publicity – unless they don’t do it.  Or don’t do it properly.  Then books are published but just disappear in the huge sea of new titles.  It’s enough to make you want to give up.  And I was very close to that a couple of months ago.

Then Jacqui encouraged me to revisit a project I had been working on with my cousin, Jem Cooney.  I was wary of writing in a different genre but with Jem’s name on the book it took some of the pressure away.  We both have Tibetan Spaniels and both had a range of stories about breeding, showing and training them.  Together we wove this into a novel called “Puppy Brain” and it seemed a possible way back into writing again.

“Puppy Brain – A real underdog story”.

Wanting to keep more control over the development of this book I sought out a highly respected self-publishing firm, Grosvenor House.  They have been excellent – professional, quick and responsive.  I had my own publishing administrator, the excellent Melanie Bartle, and had all the help and support I needed.  Before this I viewed my job as mainly about writing but now I have some experience in cover layout, different synopses, metadata and a whole lot more.  It has been a rich educational experience and now – “Puppy Brain” will be published on November 24th!

Starting with the adoption of Lucy, a young Tibetan Spaniel, it follows the efforts of Liv and Petra to honour a promise.  They agreed to have one litter of puppies and try to show them, although neither had ever done this before.  They are told the dogs are not good enough and fit “only for pets”. When they try a few local shows meet fierce resistance from some people.  Determined to do their best they push on, making friends – and more enemies – as they go.

For those wary of cute fluffy dog books, this is NOT one of those.  Nor, for those of you who are anxious and soft hearted, is it about harm to any animal.  It is the humans who fight the battles in this book.  Anyone who has any knowledge of the dog world will know it can be warm, friendly and supportive.  It is also a real shark pool.  Ever wondered what it is like to actually show a dog?  Or – whisper it – try to qualify to show them at Crufts?  This story is for you.  Just like to support the underdog?  This is for you too.   

You can pre-order“Puppy Brain” on Amazon now and an e-book will be out in a couple of weeks.  You can also order from your local bookshop, or online in the next few days from most big retailers. These including Waterstones, Blackwell and the Book Depository.  I will have some first editions and am happy to sign and send a personal copy, though this will entail postage from Ireland. 

The details for the book are:

“Puppy Brain – A real underdog story”  by Jem Cooney and Jennie Finch.  The ISBN for the paperback is 978-1803812502. (USA) is also beginning to list the title and it will be available to order soon.  Other outlets include Barnes and Noble, Baker and Taylor and Chapters/Indigo. If anyone from Australia or further afield wants a copy please contact me and I will find your local supplier.

And may I ask a small favour?  If you like it, wherever you get it from, could you go to Amazon and leave a rating and mini review?  It can be just a sentence but it makes a huge difference, particularly to the computer algorithms.  These dictate whether the book will appear on search engines, be stocked and reordered or even be available at all.

It’s the beginning of a new series I hope.  I think Jem is happy just to see his name on a “real” book. I’ve got more stories bubbling away now so will probably pick it up and run with it for a while.  But never fear, Alex Hastings fans.  I have plans to publish “A Long Shadow”, hopefully next year and will be reissuing the first four books too.  It’s been a slightly wobbly journey but I feel I’m back on the right path again.

So, there we are.  A post mainly about writing for a change.  Just as well really – the weather is vile at the moment!

Keep warm and thank you for reading.

A Happy Halloween to you all

Well, we’ve had quite an exciting – and rather busy – time these last few weeks.  Halloween is fast approaching and autumn is definitely here. It’s stamping its mark on all around us, sometimes with a bit more force than we expected.  On the plus side, the wood is looking good and unusually for this part of Ireland the leaves are changing colour.  Displays of autumn shades were a regular feature of life in England but over here trees often stay green, if a bit battered, all through the year.  I think this may be because it is much wetter, but this year there was actually a bit of a drought, just for a few weeks.  This caused a modicum of panic, especially amongst some farmers, and also may have triggered the leaf changes. 

This needed some work
In less than an hour

Be assured, normal service has been resumed.  This last fortnight we have had some tremendous rainfall and very high winds.  On Wednesday I heard some strange bird calls and went to investigate. I was shocked to find a small tree had fallen over the road.  It was one of the almost-dead trees on the edge of the wood so we set to with clippers, axes and a reciprocating saw.  Jacqui used the saw, by the way.  I know my weaknesses.  Within an hour the road was clear and we had a pile of kindling and small logs.  And a great sense of achievement.  I think it shows how much better Jacqui is now – progress has seemed slow but it has been progress.

We had our second set of visitors last week. A dear friend and her son made the journey from England and it was lovely to see familiar faces again.  They hired a car at the airport and we met them in the nearest town to guide them through the lanes to the house.  I remember the first time we came here, to view it.  The satnav sent us along the longest and most confusing route possible until we had no idea where we were. And even less idea how to get back!  They had a very restful and happy few days, visiting a few places and helping out in the wood.  The weather was kind for them, bright if not sunny by day and cool enough to light the log burner at night.

A sad find for us

As the undergrowth dies back we can now get further into the wood and it was our visitor who spotted a body just past the oaks.  It had obviously been there a long time as it was picked clean but I’m fairly sure it was a badger.  A sad find as we love the idea of a set in the wood.  I rescued the skull before another animal could drag it away and it is on our monument.  There’s no sign of shotgun injury on the skeleton so it may have been poisoned by someone.  I hope not – they are beautiful creatures and we hoped they would be safe on our land.

Very odd fungi
Inside out in two days

Other interesting signs of autumn have popped up in the form of some white mushrooms growing along the wall outside.  These looked very strange, even more so when they matured after a few days. They seemed to turn inside out before melting away to an inky sludge.  I did some research and I think they may be Shaggy Ink Caps, also known as Judge’s Wig.  If they are then apparently they are delicious though very short lived.  I’m very wary however and will check with Wild Food Mary before we have a fry-up.

I have finally found a writing group locally.  It’s just begun but the members are a lively and talented bunch.  It gets me out of the house once a week and I’m getting used to being with other people again.  I hadn’t realised how far I’d retreated into myself over the past few years.  I think this is not so unusual and I must make a determined effort to keep in contact with people. Maybe even, if possible, make new friends.  We left a lot behind when we moved – and have few regrets – but the hardest thing was the people.

Now for some writing news.  I should have a new book out before Christmas.  This is not an Alex Hastings but though if it goes well I will probably go with these publishers for the next one. Written with my Irish cousin, Jem Cooney, it’s called “Puppy Brain” and is the first (hopefully) of three novels. I’ll have some dates and order details in the next few weeks. If anyone would like a personal copy I will have some to sign and send.  For the curious, here’s the cover “blurb”:

When Liv and Petra inherit Lucy, a Tibetan Spaniel, from Liv’s brother-in-law, he has one final wish, for Lucy to have puppies and one day to see them in the show ring. Despite never having bred or shown a dog before the women agree – after all, how hard could it be?

Two Puppies, One Promise, No Chance.

So, thank you for reading and a Happy Halloween to you all.  It’s a public holiday here – not because of Halloween but just the October one.  Have a good and safe night and I’ll be back in two weeks.

Living in interesting times

Hello and welcome to a most crowded few weeks.  There is supposedly a Chinese curse – may you live in interesting times.  Well, this is certainly one of those interesting times for us.  Let me begin with the book news, on several fronts.  I “attended” the virtual meeting last week and along with half a dozen fellow authors spoke to the administrators and one of the directors of the publisher.  Despite everyone trying to untangle the mess the company is in, we were all left with a sense of unease.  

Impress, it seems, is no more – and in fact was dissolved several years ago.  We are now absorbed into one (or more!) of several imprints and/or companies under the umbrella name of “Untold Publishing”.  As one of these is now in liquidation we should get our rights back (hooray!).  But – there’s always a “but” – the titles were used fairly freely and have been interchangeable on paperwork. This means there’s no firm proof which “company” some books belong to.  So maybe we get some rights but not others, or all of some books, or none… Interesting times indeed.  I’m holding my nerve, submitting my contracts to the administrators and breathing a huge sigh of relief that I hold the film and TV rights for them all.

This whole debacle has taken a huge amount of energy, as has a ludicrous arm-wrestle with a bank in the UK.  This ongoing saga comes about as Jacqui tries to begin transferring some of an estate to the rightful recipients, all also in the UK.  As we are in Ireland this is all attempted by on-line banking and every time – EVERY TIME – “computer says no”.  Our account is locked, the transfer refused and we are told we can discuss it with a freephone number – except we can’t, from Ireland.  The delays trying to get through on the International line amounted to four hours last week and still I was cut off on each occasion.  Interesting maybe but incandescent with rage comes closer to how I feel at the moment.

Mabel at the window

It’s not all gloom and frustration however.  We’ve had a new visitor, a little black and white cat we call Mabel (she looks like a Mabel).  I was having breakfast when I spotted her jumping up onto the back wall with a young rat in her mouth.  Several minutes later she appeared at the window, peering in at me – thankfully without the rat this time.  She is a cute little thing and very welcome to call, especially if she helps keep the rats away.  We’ve seen very few this year, so hopefully the owl, the dogs, the pine marten and now Mabel will persuade them this is not a very welcoming place to nest.  Last year was a bit too interesting in that sense.

The mushrooms in the wood are still going strong and so Jacqui hunted around and found a mycologist (mushroom expert) nearby.  We were also hunting for someone to work on our computers – how we miss our friendly experts from Saltburn! – and located a young man called Daniel up towards Roscrea.  We set out with one old (very old) laptop and he’s fixing it, along with a general removal job of the ghastly Windows 10 from a small Lenovo.  He’s also repairing the lovely new ACER PC trashed by Mr Mobile when we first arrived. 

Pharmacy window promoting the ballooning festival

Birr itself is a lovely little town with a riverside walk, winding streets and a good array of shops.  Like most towns in Ireland it has a few chain stores, mainly supermarkets, but a plethora of local businesses.  Shops are smaller but very friendly and happy to give advice and help, even if you don’t ask for it.  They also support and advertise local events with some lovely window displays. People still ask if we live here, if we like it and occasionally why we moved.  I’ve noticed this last question is much rarer now however.  The staff in an organic food store suggested we contact “Wild Food Mary” about our mushrooms. Jacqui made a phone call we set a meeting for another trip to Birr last week.

Mary was an absolute fountain of information and help.  She examined our samples with great care and showed us a couple of tricks to help identify a dangerous fungus.  Using a range of books she showed us how they could be identified.  This was quite an alarming exercise as the majority of the pages had big red symbols saying “Danger” or “Poison”.  Our mushrooms almost certainly fall into these groups so we shouldn’t even put them in the compost.  There’s a plot line – killing someone through lettuce grown on compost from poison mushrooms.  Must make a note of that for a book.  

Gathered by an expert!

Mary is a noted local expert and we were so grateful for her time and expertise.  She showed us some of the mushrooms she’s gathered in the last few days, an amazing selection.  And, unlike ours, all good to eat. She has a website, “Wild Food Mary”, which is easily findable on your browser.

Frog in the grass
Well, at least it’s green

We’ve done another cut of the grass and the back begins to look almost like a lawn in places.  The frogs seem to like it however and we go very slowly round avoiding them.  They are only a few inches long but break cover and leap away. This means I spend a lot of time peering at the ground in front of me and stopping to let them escape.  It’s getting cooler now and we are eyeing our wood pile and getting ready for evenings in front of the fire.  I remember visits to Switzerland where houses up the mountains had one wall stacked with cut logs.  I always thought this looked a bit excessive but now I understand. Our wood pile looks like a lorry trailer parked in the wood.  It is a source of great security in these uncertain times, to be honest.

And finally to “Puppy Brain”.  We have now done a full proofing and is being typeset as I write.  Jacqui did a second reading, picking up the points I missed so it should be 99.9% error free.  I’m not going for 100% as there’s always one little typo that sneaks through.  I’ve been working on the metadata which is all the stuff for remote platforms and publicity. That’s going well and it should be good to go before Christmas.  I’ll let you all know when it is being launched and where you can get a copy if you wish.

So that’s us – mushrooms, wildlife, publishers and a new book.  We are living in interesting times indeed.

Thank you for reading and for all your comments and reactions. 

They are noticed and very much appreciated.  Keep well, until next time.

Things leaving and new things coming

Off to warmer climes – little traitors!

Autumn is very much on its way in here and there are changes all around.  Things are leaving and new things coming, some welcome and others less so.  The past week has seen more and more swifts around the house.  They line up on the electricity lines in the evening, all pointing in the same direction.  Then after half and hour they disappear until the next day.  On Thursday the garden was suddenly a dangerous place to be as they swooped low over the grass and dived off the roof, calling and performing elaborate tricks in flight.  They stripped the food from the bird window and then all lined up, over two wires this time. Then on Friday – nothing.  Well, a few lonely stragglers that were too late for the flight.  We will miss them, though I don’t think the flies will!

Speaking of flies, they have been far fewer this year, although just a eager to bite any exposed patch of skin.  I cleared out most of the hatching sites last autumn – with one exception.  We don’t use the upstairs bathroom a lot and I noticed a large number of dead flies on the floor this week.  Eager to clean up I opened the top window and was mobbed.  A very unpleasant new thing had arrived and set up home around the frame and tiles.  And possibly in the roof space too.  I resorted to filling the room with fly spray and slamming the door as there were so many.  Then I went outside to check if there was a dead body hanging from the chimney (there wasn’t). The wise survivors are leaving the premises, the new, young, and foolish are still coming but they are fighting a losing battle. 

The new mower is a joy and we’ve been able to cut the grass again – twice in a month, yahoo!  I say “grass” though being in Ireland there are clumps of moss scattered throughout.  Still, it stays green so who cares?  We were also going to do bit of the path in the woods and drove it round to the gate.  Imagine our surprise to find several huge patches of wild mushrooms growing in the chippings from the Leylandii trees.  Knowing very little about wild fungi we cut several to photograph and get an expert opinion before trying them.  They don’t seem to last very long – a week and they are turning black and melting away.  Anyone recognise them? 

Anyone for mushrooms?
Any ideas, anyone?

The wood never fails to amaze us.  The path remains uncut as when we drove in we spotted several tiny frogs scrambling away.  They are a lovely bright green colour with a black stripe and I reckon if we saw two as we entered then the wood is probably full of them.  I’ve also seen a couple of brown newts too, one in the garden which is a long way from the wreckage of our pond.  That, by the way, is a project for next year.  We hope Fergus will bring his digger, clear out the debris and help us plant up a decent ecosystem.  There is some water rising from the ground, some seeping in from the old peat workings over the road as well as the inevitable rain to fill it. 

Evening sky – more reliable than Met Eireann

And the first of the storms has already passed.  An amazing evening sky led to a night of heavy rain and winds.  This one was called “Danielle”.  Who thinks of these names?

Now, things leaving or lost – well my excellent old “Brother Brick” laser printer suddenly refused to feed any paper.  I ordered a new roller, at a shocking price, but to no avail.  I now have another, equally brick-like printer and a trip planned to the dump to dispose of the old one.  I’m sad to see it go, not least as I’d just installed a new print drum.   I’m still running an old computer whilst trying to find a decent replacement PC I can actually use.  I will NOT use Windows 10 – a monster that seems to take control of everything – so am seeking something with Windows 7.  I’m still using a 20 year old version of Word as I can’t cope with the newer “we will do everything!” versions.  As I hope to get back to some serious writing this winter I need something I know and trust. 

And finally we come to the writing.  What can I say?  Everything is now frozen as the publisher has called in the administrators. This is actually a good thing as Company House has just given two months’ notice to force the winding up.  If they go ahead first then all “assets” become property of the Crown.  And books are considered “assets”. 

I was in despair when I read this – twelve years work seized and sold on without my consent.  Yes, it is legal, though it doesn’t seem particularly moral. 

We are hoping the administration will go ahead first however, hopefully next Friday.  The moment it is official all book rights revert to us, the authors.  All we need is the official documentation to prove our ownership.  A dozen (or more) of us are keeping our fingers crossed.  I have a new Alex Hastings book ready to go – it’s been ready for two years, waiting for publication.  And half of a sixth novel too, though I’ve been too despondent to look at it recently.  On the bright side, my collaboration with Jem Cooney is in its main proofing stage and looks good to go for Christmas. 

So here’s to “Puppy Brian” and a good outcome on Friday.

Thank you for reading.  I will post a quick update if I have any news from the administration meeting.

Moving in fits and starts

Every Saturday evening we have a special meal, eaten at the table with the “nice” china.  That dates us, doesn’t it?  And every week we raise a glass and say “What a week!”  Well, yes, once more this has been very busy and challenging.  We are still moving on – moving in fits and starts towards making the house and the garden what we want.  These last few weeks we’ve been fighting the weather that has been too hot or too stormy.  Both of these bring the nasty little biting flies out in numbers.  Now August is past they will diminish hopefully.  We have also been struggling with the insane growth spurts in the wood and the garden and the strange and just bloody awkward plumbing.

Most of all however we had a very frightening few days with our oldest dog, Chloe.  She celebrated her 15th birthday earlier in August and quite honestly doesn’t look or act her age.  The vet says she wants something of what Chloe uses, she looks so young still.  We reckon there’s a very dusty and raddled portrait hidden somewhere.  Last week however I woke up as she kicked me and found she was having a seizure.  She went rigid, began to shake violently and her eyes rolled up.  I yelled for help and picked her up, stroking and nursing her as she shook more, foamed at the mouth and after several minutes began to scream in a high pitched voice.  I was terrified.  It lasted over five minutes – a long time for any dog, let alone one her size (5.5 kilos) and age.

The night vet was soothing and gave us good advice over the phone that helped when she had a second fit a few hours later.  We took her into the vet the next morning and they ran tests that were reassuring – bloods good, nothing on the ultrasound, temperature and heart both normal.  She had three more fits, each on shorter than the last and then nothing.  She’s been fine ever since so we wonder if her eternal curiosity led her to sample something alien from the garden.  We are keeping a very close watch but travelling hopefully.

Thinking about the garden we decided to try mowing again but the old Husqvarna refused to start once more.  We’d run out of patience waiting for the promised spare parts, visits to check it over and other non-delivered mower services.  The grass was up over the dogs’ heads, the wood was out of control again and neither of us are up to hand trimming.   We looked hard at our bank account, got in the car and went searching for a mower that actually worked.  On the far side of town we found exactly what we needed.  An Irish company called “Simplicity” make a lighter, lower and – yes, simpler – mower.  It drives with individual levers not a steering wheel, it mulches the cuttings and it is so much fun! 

Looking far too pleased with myself!

Here is the promised picture of me on the mower.  We’ve already cut the “lawn” and part of the path in the wood.  I managed to ground it on a hidden rock but we got it free again.  As the ground is very rough and neglected I will need to go out and mark obstacles before we go any further in.  The mower moves well on the lawn and slightly bumpy ground but will be a bit jerky on rougher terrain.  Moving in fits and starts until we get it smoothed out and under control I think.

Once the mowing problem was solved we turned our attention to the bathroom.  We purchased a new unit with lovely big basin months ago but only now feel strong enough to tackle the fitting.  The first job was getting the old basin out and capping off the water lines.  We had a constant leak despite all my efforts until our joiner, Dom, showed me the “penny valves”.  These are tiny screws set in a join – turn them 90 degrees and presto! No more water.  Wish I’d known about them last week.  Still, as Jacqui says, our problem is simple.  We are not plumbers.

The old basin
Progress – of sorts

Neither of us are strangers to hand tools.  Even, much to the horror of any men around to power tools of the drill and saw variety.  But we are emphatically not plumbers.  We do have YouTube, helpful but as much of our house is old some of the problems scarcely exist on line.  We also have a book from my father, “How to fix almost everything” from the 1980s which is fabulous.

We’ve been working on the basin for a week now.  The waste pipe is concreted in and in the wrong place of course.  The fittings are different and needed four visits to different shops to get pipes, elbow joints, a different waste trap, new brass connectors… We may be slow, it may be awkward and downright painful occasionally but we are slowly turning into “hobby”  plumbers, in fits and starts.  I think we would probably be hovering around NVQ Level 2 by now. Or perhaps not…

Oh poop!
Yes, rather tired and stiff

So now I have to go down and do the final fit for the basin.  I’m really stiff, I’m not looking forward to it and, let me be honest, I’d much rather take the mower out for a spin.  Maybe tomorrow. And I’ve almost finished my stash of jigsaws.  After several weeks this was the latest result – oh poop!

For those of you wondering about some book news, I am still waiting for confirmation of Impress’s status.  There are still some books around if people want them and I’m exploring options for book five, “A Long Shadow”.  My collaboration with Jem Cooney, “Puppy Brain”, has reached the proof-reading stage (oh joy) and I expect it will be available for Christmas.  I’ll post details as soon as I have them.

Thank you for reading.  Your support and encouragement means a great deal.  Keep well and see you in two weeks.

Well, it’s August so…

Well, it’s August again so some things are the same as last year and some are rather different.  The schools are closed, of course, and the shops are now filled with families dragging around behind tired parents.  Small children run up and down the supermarket aisles demanding toys or their choice of dinner.  Here there are a lot of fathers doing the shopping which may be laudable but the less experienced slow down everything.  I guess that is happening in Britain too.

The weather has been rather more changeable than usual over here.  It’s August so it was blazing hot last week with glorious sunshine most days.  The humidity is higher over here and so late afternoon and evening tended to be very sticky and uncomfortable but the temperature was nowhere near as high as in parts of the UK.  Then we had an enormous thunderstorm that was glorious in sound and light, so I am told.  I astonished Jacqui by sleeping right through it and now it is cool, grey and showery.  It is actually quite a relief and the garden and wood perked up immediately. 

Gone now but an unwelcome sight!

This, however, came with two similarities to last year.  Firstly the flies are back.  Not as many – in fact probably less than a quarter – but still a buzzing nuisance.  We have a new mesh on the back door and after some cunning work on Jacqui’s part it is now firmly in place and thwarting most of them.  The swarms from inside the house are mainly gone though a few did hatch one night, probably from the window vent.  They were all dead the next morning and no more appeared so I think we have solved that problem.

This was all cleared a few weeks ago!

The second repeat is the explosion of growth around us.  Well, it is August so the heat, the mix of rain and sunshine can be expected to encourage everything to grow (and seed) unless curtailed fiercely.  Our tatty old mower has never worked properly and so we are looking to trade it in for a different, hopefully lighter and more reliable model.  These machines are very popular in Ireland where cars and other vehicles are regularly kept for 10 – 15 years. If nothing else it will be a source of spare parts.  In the meantime I spent a few hours in the wood trying to remove the worst of the thistles before they seeded.  I was partially successful but came away with an interesting selection of insect bites!

We had our first visitor this last week – my niece who was visiting Dublin with some friends.  She hopped on a bus and we picked her up a few hours later.  This had spurred me into action, cleaning and tidying the spare room.  When we arrived there was still too much stuff and not enough storage space and so a lot of it (mainly textiles and my things) languished in boxes upstairs.  We made a concerted effort and the room was certainly fit for a visitor when she arrived. A very happy few days were enjoyed by all. 

The visit was disrupted by another hospital appointment in Limerick but as the weather was blazing hot we let my niece off near the lake.  She is a great walker and explored the area, sat in the shade with her feet in the water and relaxed until we returned to collect her.  And before there are any “child abandonment” concerns, she is a few years over 21, lived in Japan for 7 years and is quite capable of looking after herself!

Not perfect but so much better

For years our least favourite month has been either November – gloomy, dreary and wet – or February – just beastly.  Now I feel as if it is actually August here in Ireland.  The weather is highly temperamental, either too hot or too stormy with nasty, high humidity.  The insects bite and swarm.  The undergrowth becomes uncontrollable.  And bad stuff happens in August.  Last year Jacqui had her heart attacks, the absolute low spot of the year.  Of most years, actually.  She is doing much better now but recovery is slow and frustrating. 

This August I received the lovely news that my publisher, Impress Books, is about to go into administration.  This could tie up my novels for months leaving me with no way of selling anything.  This means the new book, “A Long Shadow”, is not going to be published. This is despite being under contract for two years now.  I am working on retrieving my rights and will be looking to make different arrangements. Fortunately though I have all TV and film rights already.  There are only a few Impress copies still around however.  I have some and am happy to sign/dedicate and sell if anyone is interested.  There are Kindles of the first three available but “Smoke and Adders” is only available as a paperback. If you’ve not got a copy, grab it while you can.

Well, it is August so that’s the month’s round up.  Not a brilliant month though it had some bright spots.  The birds are already lining up on the telephone wires ready to leave already. Let us hope September brings better news.

Thank you for reading and all good wishes.

It’s flaming June – flaming awful

Yes, it’s heading for summer but here in mid Ireland flaming June is, quite frankly, flaming awful. I know Ireland has a reputation for bad weather but this year it’s been all over the place. January, for example, was very nice. Sunny, mild and promising the earliest of early springs, we were ready to enjoy it. Colin, our redoubtable postman, soon crushed our enthusiasm. A warm January always meant a cold and stormy few months to follow, he said gloomily. He was right, but even he didn’t predict this flaming awful June.

Storm Alex and a “Jacob’s Ladder”

A lot of it is down to Storm Alex that sent high winds and cold showers across to us for a couple of days before the storm itself hit. Since then we’ve had ten days of storm force winds, icy rain and sudden, short, bursts of tantalising sun. We’ve still got the heating on morning and evening and actually lit the fire a couple of nights. Here’s hoping it turns into flaming June soon.

Our solitary Iris
Poppies in a tiny corn field

Everything is growing, of course, and we have been waiting for our wild flower bed to burst into life. It did, putting forth what we hoped was the first of our 60 Irises. Alas, we got one. One beautiful but solitary flower in a sea of unidentified leaves. A few more flowers have poked their heads out in the last few days including some lovely poppies but they appear to be surrounded by some sort of wheat or corn. I suspect this is due to the bird feeder. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea putting the bed just underneath it. Still, we may be growing some of our own bird seed for next year.

We have had some problems with deliveries despite the nice new road (although that only reaches half way along. The rest is still a farm track). After waiting in all day for a courier we received a message saying they called but there was no one home. We spent several minutes stamping around the house, muttering and cursing. Apparently the parcel, due by 8.52am, was back at the other end of the county by 9.22, which is total nonsense. Jacqui sent a furious and scathing reply as all deliverymen use the Eircode and satnavs, generally with no problem. Without it we are almost impossible to find.

When we calmed down we decided it was a good thing nobody could hear us. They might send the men in white coats to take us away as mentally deranged. Though they probably wouldn’t be able to find us unless we sent them the Eircode. We had a lot of fun imagining the phone call.
‘Can we have your Eircode please?’
‘Er, no.’
‘Ah come on – we can’t find you without it.’
‘Absolutely no!’
‘Don’t be difficult now. We’re paid by results and we’re below our quota for this month.’

One good thing about the flaming awful June should be I have no excuses for not getting on with my writing but this has become a dispiriting exercise recently. My publisher has been very ill and in a small firm this makes progress extremely slow. I signed the contract for “A Long Shadow” (Alex Hastings 5) fourteen months ago but there has be no progress at all since then. There is an eighteen-month deadline on “exploitation of rights” but I don’t want to evoke it yet. So I’m stuck unable to write book six as I don’t know what will happen to book five – or the others. There’s no publicity and book four isn’t linked to the series on Amazon. This is despite requesting it and the relisting of the e-book over a year ago. It is rather depressing as I feel all my work is just fading away.

After a long talk Jacqui and I came up with a new strategy. Some of you may know I have Irish relatives, the Cooneys from around Cork. They include a cousin, Jem, who is a bit of a writer and a dog lover. We have swapped stories and shared experiences and together come up with an idea for a new book, maybe several books. As I am already published and have more experience I am doing a lot of the writing and editing but we will publish under his name, “with” me. I know there is sometimes resistance to writers swapping genres from some readers and I do hope to return to Alex Hastings soon. This arrangement allows Jem’s stories to get out there. And there is a bit of a mystery/crime element to the books, especially if we get to do the second one.

So there we are, still toddling along. I’ve pulled my shoulder again and can’t use the strimmer. You can almost hear the nettles sniggering with delight. Little do they know I have acquired a weed burner and as soon as the wind dies down I’m out there to settle their hash! I don’t think I should try it in this weather. I’d probably burn down the wood. That would really make it a flaming awful June.

Two steps forwards, one step back

This has been another mixed few weeks for us. We do feel we are making progress finally in some directions. It is very much two steps forwards, one step back. Spring is its usual manic self and everything is bursting into life. The wood looks so much healthier now despite the many damaged ash trees. The backwards step? Well, the brambles, bindweed and ivy are also rearing their nasty little heads and need taming as soon as possible. We need to get the sit-on mower working but are waiting for the fence to be put up as we hope Fergus will give us a quick driving lesson.

Betsy’s Corner this April

The little garden at the end of the Majestic is going from strength to strength and now looks rather lovely. As well as the pansies and aubrieta there are bee bombs waiting to flower later in the year and it should be a source of almost year-round pleasure, for us and the people passing by. It gives us hope we can bring this land back to life as when we moved in it was an old stonewalled trough full of rubble and rats. Definitely two steps forwards.

Despite our best efforts we still have not got the solar system finalised. The panels are working and delivering electricity to the pump for much of the day, especially when it is sunny. On the other hand the old controller continues to roar away full blast using a stupid amount of power and wiping out much of the gains. We are still travelling hopefully but as this is another holiday weekend it is likely we will have to wait another week or so before it is finally fixed. Then we can have flow meters fitted and have some proper idea of usage and costs. A step back for the moment I think.

I have been writing a bit more recently and the next Alex Hastings book is well underway. This is book six by the way. Book five is awaiting publication and as it’s still not had a final edit I’m now writing blind. The great thing about a series is the freedom to build longer stories and develop characters over a long period. The downside is each book builds on the one before and until the manuscript is finally cleared there’s a danger something I use in book six may be lost or altered in the final edit. Two forwards, one back again.

There are a lot of small gains in the house however. I now have a usable table as Jacqui cut almost six inches off the legs and fitted levellers. I’m writing this in comfort at my “desk for a Hobbit” rather than wobbling around on the cushion. With a viable timer for the heating we have managed to cut our gas usage by over 50%, a good thing as the price is very high and delivery, supposedly five working days, is now at twenty and rising. And our lovely joiner moved the heater in the back porch so we could put the new freezer in there. This means I can get at the cupboards in the utility room, hopefully getting the last of the unpacking done. Definitely steps forward.

Saltburn Bank and the East Cleveland Klondike
Grey Easter sky

After some lovely sunny days it is grey and cold here for Easter. We’ve used 99.9% of the logs so if we need a fire we will have to scratch around for fuel. The wood from the trees needs another six months to dry properly. Now it’s back to gleaning the dead branches brought down by the storm. This is definitely a day for staying in and settling down to indoor pursuits so I’ll get out another jigsaw. I finished my latest challenge a couple of days ago. This was a picture of the Cleveland Klondike, a one day cycle race around East Cleveland. It included four trips up the bank as Saltburn, a climb with three hairpin bends and a gradient of 1:4. It was a great spectacle and this image brought back lovely memories of a place where we were very happy for many years.

Triffids attacked by slugs!

Last night we had a little celebration as we remembered we’d first met thirty-nine years ago. We made dinner and shared a bottle of Prosecco, recalling some of the steps on our journey together. We decided I should make the starter – salad and some smoked meat. Jacqui suggested I make little florets by winding the meat round a (suitably washed) finger and twisting the end. Well, I have two observations on this. Don’t expect a dyspraxic to get this right. And don’t try it with Mortadella. The result was not so much a bunch of flowers, more a herd of Triffids being chased by giant slugs. Still, it tasted just fine and a good evening was had by all. And who knew Lidl sold Quails eggs? Jacqui’s special treat!

So that’s us this cold and grey Easter Sunday. All good wishes to you all and thank you for reading.

News about books and that boot in the wood

I began this week thinking there would be no news for the blog but it seems I was wrong.  First I would like to share some writing news with you all.  The fifth book in the “Alex Hastings” series is due out next year though the actual publication date depends on a lot of things beyond my control.  I’m waiting for an editor and for my publisher to do the cover design and say whether he or I will supply the “blurb”.  Then the e-book version needs setting up and final proofs have to be checked.  This is the tedious but so important part of publication – and it takes months sometimes!

I had finished the book itself several times in a number of different forms over the last few years.  This is because I became embroiled with an agent (who will be nameless) who promised a lot but seemed to constantly change her mind about what she wanted.  After rewriting, editing and adding sections she finally decided she wanted the whole thing moved to the year 2020.  Eager as I was, this was a step too far – and impossible.  The Levels have changed beyond recognition since the 1980s, the Probation Service scarcely exists and Alex and her friends would be retiring.  Now restored to its former, more coherent form I hope “A Long Shadow” will be with you soon.

Even more exciting in some ways is the news I have signed a TV option for “Death of the Elver Man”.  Jon Moore, the manager of a new media company, Blue Trotter Media Ltd is hoping to turn it into a four or six part drama and has also taken future options on the other books so if it is a success there may be more.  Now is the time to start “fantasy casting”!  Jon is very skilled and experienced with TV and film work to his name, particularly in the field of special effects and prosthetics.  Moving into production will be a new step for him and I am looking forward to working with him and the team.

Now, I promised an update on the boot.  Well, that is all turning rather strange.  When I went into the wood to dig it up earlier this week it was gone.  There was no sign of digging, nothing seemed disturbed but I couldn’t find it anywhere.  After a lot of hunting I spotted the sole propped up against one of the oak trees.  The disappointing news is it is just the sole of an old canvas trainer or something like that but – how did it get there?  I also found a discarded medical mask pushed into a pile of sticks and grass off to one side.  That was definitely not ours.,

Of course, as a crime writer I am constantly making up stories and constructing narratives so here are some possible explanations.  Most prosaically it was moved by a fox or badger – but then why was there no sign of digging?  It had probably been there for years, certainly as long as we’ve been in the house so why now?  And would an animal have propped it up neatly on a tree?  If it was human intervention maybe something was buried under it and retrieved.  Or perhaps it pointed towards something buried or hidden and it was moved to hide the trail from prying eyes.  Or maybe someone is just messing with our heads. 

So, for all those of you who wonder, “Where do you get your ideas?” there’s always something you can toy with.  Everything is copy, they say and the world is full of details and events that can become a story.

Finally, there’s still no movement of the car – or movement of the car.  Fingers crossed for next week.  I’m checking my bike over as I may need to do the cycle ride into the nearest town soon.  And this week I wrote more of Alex Hastings 6, including two “crane” days.  Feels like a successful week after all.

The start of a new garland