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Posts from the ‘new book’ Category

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.

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.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

Another week has flown by – another week without transport here in the depths of rural Ireland.  The insurance saga grinds on though I feel we are making some progress.  The garage collected the car at stupid o’clock on Tuesday and checked it over.  Not surprisingly it passed the NCT (the Irish MOT) and we had the precious certificate for the insurance company.  Just one problem though – they demanded “physical proof” of the NCT, either a copy in the post or a fax.  No, they said, they had no mailbox so a pdf was not possible.  The nearest post box is about five kilometres away and who the hell still has a fax at home?  So thank you to our lovely builder who drove into town especially to put it in the post.  Now we wait – and hope.  This is one aspect of normal service we really do need to resume.

We rely heavily on deliveries at present, for obvious reasons and Jacqui has been very pro-active in dealing with our current wave of unwanted and uninvited residents.  It’s been much cooler these past weeks – just as well as the local farmers appear to be emptying their slurry tanks over the county in preparation for winter.  We often do not open the windows which keeps out the smell and a lot of the flies.  There are fewer insects now but it is still a relentless infestation.  It will be better next year as we are rooting them out inside.  We are also removing the main attractions in the garden including three Leylandii trees they love.  We are less enthusiastic and intend to dig them out and replace them with something smaller and native.  In the meantime we have a stunning range of products to combat the flies, horseflies, wasps and mosquitoes.

Supplies for the “Flyminator”

The biggest step forward this week was finally getting the gas boiler in and running.  The gas tank was installed back in May and filled in June but we were still relying on the old oil boiler for hot water – which it refused to supply unless we were running the heating.  Now we can turn on the tap and – presto, hot water!  You really don’t know how happy that makes you unless you’ve had to rely on immersion heaters or slow warming tanks.  We are just adapting to many different things here but this was one thing we could change.  As far as we are concerned it comes under the heading “Quality of Life”. It also frees up a big area at the back of the Majestic for storage. Hopefully we will have a reliable water supply and heating for the winter.  Almost normal service !

So on to developments on the writing front.  This whole project has meant I’ve scarcely written anything for several years.  I had packed away all the sources and reference books, notes and pictures along with my trusty computer.  There is an old Jewish saying (with thanks to Rabbi Blue).  If you want to make God laugh then tell him your plans. In the absence of contact with readers, bookshops and libraries the plans I had drifted away.  They became inconsequential next to the real-life drama we were living.  When we moved into the house I discovered my lovely big writing desk was missing and we had no way to replace it.  It seems a small thing in the whole big adventure but it was almost the last straw.  Then I began this blog, just a few words every week but the discipline has been very good for me. 

My writing corner is still small and crowded but we hope to locate another table soon – when we can drive again of course.  I found some of the maps I’d marked up in a box and the original manuscripts for the first five novels too.  Yes, there is a fifth book with the publishers and there are plans for the next year.  Those of you who have followed this page since the beginning may remember I used to make a paper crane every day I wrote 1,000 words.  My garlands were left behind in the studio but finally, this week, I made a start on Book Six of the Alex Hastings series.  And so I have made my first Irish paper crane.

Hopefully the first of many

It has been a long and occasionally painful journey but gradually normal service is being resumed.

Smoke and Adders (but mainly adders…)

adder-1058196-1279x1808September sees the publication of “Smoke and Adders”, the fourth book in the Alex Hastings series. Like most of the titles, this is the result of some heavy thinking from the team at Impress and I would like to thank Davi for coming up with it.
Adders, I have to say, loomed large in my childhood which is strange considering I grew up on a new housing estate in Essex. Every day I would walk to school through the estate and along a path skirting a large field. The more interesting and shorter route was through a patch of woodland but I was forbidden to take this path as my mother, who was deadly afraid of snakes, was convinced it was swarming with adders just waiting to attack her first born. It is interesting to think no-one thought it odd a seven year old should walk to school and back alone then.
You know before I say it, don’t you? I loved the little wood and took that way home whenever I could. One warm June day I was scuffing through the twigs, hopping in and out of the shadows and I trod on an adder. Understandably it was upset by this and it promptly bit me on the ankle.
I was wearing Clark’s open-toed sandals, the sort with a strap around the heel, and the luckless reptile got one fang hooked in the leather. Terrified, I began to run dragging the adder with me. As I raced through the woods I could feel its body whipping from side to side, hitting the backs of my legs. Almost hysterical with fear I finally kicked out with my foot and the adder flew through the air and disappeared into a bush leaving me sobbing in the undergrowth.
On returning home my mother knew something had happened but I was more afraid of admitting I’d disobeyed her than I was of the snake bite. It was only when a neighbour, a wonderful nurse called Bronwyn Hellack, spotted the red marks running up my legs, I finally admitted to what had happened.
I was lucky – even though there were no cars on the estate at the time a party of dads got together and carried me into town where we caught a bus to the nearest hospital. The four hour wait for some anti-venom to arrive was extremely painful and I have always viewed snakes with extreme caution ever since.
So, adders – not mad marauding killers but still very dangerous and perfect for Alex’s last outing.
I hope you all enjoy it.

New Year, New book, New covers.

 

drowners25032frontThe_Mothman6elver25033

With the New Year come new plans and new ideas and the team at Impress Books have been working on the Alex Hastings series on my behalf.  I’m trying to do my bit, writing the new book (which is as yet untitled).  I’ve found myself juggling things a bit as “The Moth Man was, in fact,  an “extra” to the series. Originally I planned four Alex books in total, three in Somerset and a fourth in the North East. The idea was to have each book cover one year but when I embarked on “The Drowners”, I found the meat of the book, the crime story, actually fitted a shorter time scale. Rather than try to drag it out to a year I decided I would keep it the length it seemed to fit best and started looking at how to rearrange the whole story (what my tutors called the “story arc”) so it flowed nicely from one year to the next. The result fills the gap between the winter of 1986 and the general election in June 1987. It also gave me a chance to explore more of the lives of my characters and to look at a whole new type of crime so I guess that’s all for the best.

After finishing “Moth Man” I took a bit of a break, planning and tapping away but not really working very hard at it.  I was jerked out of my indolence at a friend’s wedding when the photographer, who was my friend’s father stopped at my table and asked, “Are you the writing lady?”  Rather surprised I admitted I probably was – though there are a lot of other writing ladies he might have been mistaking me for.  “Why don’t you hurry up and write the new book?” he asked before heading off to photograph the cake (which was a festival of Dr Who figures including a Dalek.  I have some very interesting friends.)  I had no idea he’d even read the books but over the next few weeks people rang me up and asked where they could get the next one, “for Christmas”.  I had to admit they couldn’t.  So here I am, doing my best to fulfill the advance orders for next Christmas.  Hopefully book four will be out in September or thereabouts this year.  And it is still set in Somerset.
As well as continuing to publish the series, the lovely folk at Impress Books have done a terrific job on the covers of the three novels. Keeping the original pictures, they have played with the colour balance (most noticeably for “The Drowners”) and now my name is above the title. Believe me, when you are an author this feels like a really big thing. Thank you Julie, Rachel and all involved for such a good job.  And finally some exciting news.  I will be recording “Death of the Elver Man” as an audio book, to be released free on YouTube as a serial in the summer.  We are still working on the details but I will post dates and the web link closer to the time.  So for all those of you who have stared in bewilderment as your Kindle reads “Death of the Elver Man” to you and wondered who on earth “Adder” is, I hope you will enjoy the audio version.
A happy new year to you all and I hope we will meet up sometime at a signing or reading.