Friday, 17 February 2017

Reading the Right Stuff

There is nothing more pleasurable than relaxing with a good book - at least from my point of view. To pour that cup of tea and snuggle down among the cushions, knowing that you are going to be entertained, is one of the nicest things in a sometimes scary world. 
I read Icarus by Deon Meyer and loved every twist and turn in the plot. Not for the plot itself, maybe, although that was interesting, but for the characters within the novel's pages and the description of the area around South Africa's Cape Town. I felt like an insider in the Police Department. I browsed through the glossary of Afrikaans terms at the back of the novel and smiled at more than one. And I learned enough about wine growing to make my next purchase a South African wine. Really great stuff. Deon Meyer writes the Benny Griesel series and this was one of the novels in that series.

I have just finished reading Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall. Hall is a black American writer who lives in Los Angeles where the story is set. Again, this was a terrific read and I enjoyed every minute. And again, this was largely due to the characters and Hall's mastery of the writing craft. She pulled me into the story in the first few pages. I was inside The Jungle, and The Jungle represents every failed inner city housing programme in every country around the world. Here are two sentences which size up the book and Hall's wonderful style of writing: "The neighborhood was bad when I was a kid, but in a candy-is-bad-for-you kind of way. Now, though, it was bad for you like swallowing Drano followed by rat poison chaser".  Need I say more?  Rachel Howzell Hall writes the Detective Elouise Norton series and this novel was one in that series. I had not heard of her before and am very grateful to my local library that this novel was among some of their recommended reads.

Currently I am reading A Question of Faith by Donna Leon, set in Venice, it is a Commisario Brunetti story. I have to admit that I tried reading Donna Leon several years ago but gave up as I couldn't warm up to her style. This is my second time around and I am enjoying it. Last month I picked up Through a Glass Darkly by Leon at the library, though feeling somewhat sceptical about it. However, it grew on me.  I have been to Venice a number of times: once during a bad storm in late October when the city felt eerie and mysterious after dark and a few years later in the middle of a heatwave in July.  Having wandered the city on my own, stood on the Rialto bridge in the pouring rain and bargained for sweatshirts with Venezia emblazoned across them for my kids (who weren't remotely impressed), I feel I know the city in the novels.  Leon writes in a very different style than Meyer or Hall. Although we read about the corruption and the frustrations of some of the city's inhabitants, I don't think we feel it too deeply, at least I did not. Not like Hall's depiction of The Jungle in her novel, at any rate. But perhaps that's a good thing. It does make for pleasant reading and mild curiosity about how the story is going to pan out. Donna Leon is a very popular writer and she deserves it. Her prose is elegant, her characters are attractive.
I am not a fan of violent graphic crime novels, although I do like them to be realistic. Above all, I like good prose and that is what I have found in all three of the above novels - and hats off to Deon Meyer's translator, whose name escapes me at the moment.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Print and Be Happy - an indie author explains how she converted to Print on Demand

Probably every writer wants to see their book in print and I include myself in that number.  People who didn't own a Kindle would raise their eyebrows and, from their expressions, I gathered that some of them didn't actually believe I had written anything in the nature of a novel. If you can't hold it in your hand, it doesn't exist. But many others were disappointed because they couldn't get into the idea of reading a novel on a device.  It was high time I looked into printing on paper.

However, as an indie author, I deemed it much too daunting an enterprise to start. Then I read an article in the UK's Writing Magazine  with a step-by-step guide on how to publish with Amazon's CreateSpace and decided to give it a go.  I'm glad I did. For one thing, it was easy once I got the hang of it - Writing Magazine did a fantastic job of explaining it all. You don't need to be a super-techie, you are guided every step of the way. And I love a challenge!

My five novels are now all available as POD (print on demand) paperbacks and can be purchased in most online bookstores, including Amazon of course. Print on Demand means that a book is only printed when it is purchased. In the case of print books, the bookstore agrees to buy so many copies from the publisher and can return unsold copies. With POD there is no such agreement since only items ordered are actually printed and supplied.  I think this could be regarded as part of a "save the planet" project. It reduces the amount of paper used on publishing.

Are there down sides?  Yes, of course. If you are at an airport and looking for a novel to read on your travels, POD isn't going to be much help. Besides, we all love browsing in book stores. Printed novels and POD novels can live happily together. Long may they prosper.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

A Random Saturday

I have lived most of my life in big cities and big towns, so despite having spent my childhood on a farm, I occasionally get the itch to leave the sleepy seaside town I now live in and pay a visit to the nearest city, which is Cork city.
So, this morning, with no plan as to what I intended doing in Cork, I hopped on the bus at 10:25 and arrived in the city a bit after 11:30 with the whole day in front of me. To be absolutely truthful, I did bring some books which I had read and did not want to keep. I intended dropping them off at the Oxfam shop near Paul Street shopping centre. Among them was Whiskey Tango Foxtrot which I have just finished reading. However, when I got there, I discovered that the Oxfam shop had closed. I trotted up to Vibes and Scribes and sold two of the newly published books to them for €2.20. From there I went to the Cancer Support Shop and donated the remainder. Which just goes to show how resourceful I am!
I felt good about that and decided I would get my hair cut. I had noticed a salon near where the Oxfam Shop used to be where you didn't have to have an appointment.  Now, my hair has never properly grown back since chemotherapy some 9 years ago so it is always a bit hit or miss with hairdressers, especially young ones who are timid about cutting off most of my hair, seeing as how I have so little in the first place. I am forever pointing out that a lot less looks better than the wide open space on my crown where hair is pretty sparse, to put it mildly.  Just Cuts, as the place is called, were very welcoming. Lorraine snipped and chatted and I was very pleased with the end result. Getting your hair done always makes a woman feel special, I think. So, another good feeling when I left the salon.
I had decided I would pop out to Mahon shopping centre where I had not been for nearly a year. I missed the bus and was absolutely starving, so decided I would get a takeaway burger from The Fish Wife which, incidentally is ranked around #10 from 400 or more Cork eateries. Just as I emerged with my purchase the next bus pulled in (never trust that timetable, folks!) and I got on board bearing this absolutely ravishingly smelling burger. No eating on the bus, or at least I didn't feel like eating because I tried this once and when the driver braked - well I'll leave to your imagination and only say I looked like a vampire after its first kill. The rumblings of my stomach must have been heard at Blarney Castle and I lit into that burger as soon as I was off the bus.
I wandered around Mahon Point, bought two t-shirts for my grandsons, had a latte and a pecan and walnut muffin, then got the bus back to the city centre. Dropped into the English Market to get sweet potatoes and a big bag of apples and yes, some dates as well and only just made the return bus home.

It was a great day and I really enjoyed my clash with the big world of cities. Tomorrow I'll walk to the beach and enjoy the quieter pace of things here. In the meantime, here is a picture of the stormy tide at the end of my street a few days ago when we had a gale force wind. Enjoy your Sunday, everyone!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Not to be taken seriously

I sat in the doctor's waiting room this morning and leafed through a "psychology" magazine. It had all sorts of articles and statistics. Now I must admit, I adore statistics, and the more off beat the better.
This morning I learned that you are 15% more inclined to feel cheerful if you speak to a cheerful person. Makes sense, doesn't it? Then I started to wonder how they worked that out. How many people had to speak to cheerful people and what was their frame of mind beforehand and how could you measure it even if you knew? And what about the cheerful people? Were they cheerful beforehand or had they met someone who was cheerful thus making them 15% more cheerful?

I learned that 75% of American children over the age of 25 still live at home. At least 75% of social media users make their lives more exciting than they really are. 75% more millenials listen to music compared to baby boomers. 70% of people tested ate when not hungry if the food was placed in front of them and around 20% if food was on display.

I learned that married men had at least two affairs, married women three.(What, everyone's cheating?). I learned that two out of five children drop out of college or refuse to take a career path favoured by their parents. The trick here, obviously, is to have only the three children who don't create any hassle.

Like Alice in Wonderland, I came back to the present fighting off the questions and meekly followed the nurse into her den to get my blood test done.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Nothing lost in translation

Did I mention that I'm not the most disciplined person on the planet? In my last post I said I had Whiskey Tango Foxtrot lined up to read next. In fact, when I went to the library to change books that were within a whisker of being overdue, I picked up Icarus by Deon Meyer.  I am a huge fan of this South African writer and so I have settled down most happily every evening to read this Benny Griesel novel. The story is set in the Cape region. It is translated from the Afrikaans and the translator has left in a lot of Afrikaans expressions which contributes much to the atmosphere of the story.  As I speak German I can get the gist of some of them, i.e lekker which means good, delicious or tasty, and the word lecker in German which means tasty. We get a wonderful insight into the workings of the police and all the tension caused by the various cultures. I love the place names, too: Melkbosstrand, Brackenfell, Buitenkant Street, Table View.  Great writing!
All of which almost makes me want to close the lid of my laptop -  the modern equivalent of putting the quill back in the goose.  Still, I shall persevere.

I am currently working on the conversion of my two crime novels Death in a Lonely Place and Ending in Death, both of which will soon be available as paperbacks. If you like Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Deon Meyer - mystery without too much violence - you will enjoy these tales.

I now have three novels available as paperbacks on Amazon and I note with much pride that one of them, Spate of Violence, has sold in the United States. This is a story of urban problems which could take place anywhere. I have set it in Germany because I was living in that country when I wrote it a few years ago. I think its theme is still very relevant today.
The other two novels which can now be purchased as paperback are my Romance novels: Love at a Later Date and Love at Close Range, both of which follow the stories of friends Ginny and Deirdre in the first novel and of Deirdre and Chloe in Love at Close Range. They are "feel good" stories but they do touch on modern themes.

And now, I am going to call it a day.  Outside dusk is falling and it is time to think about preparing supper. Happy Reading everyone!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

What are you reading?

At Christmas we all get books as presents.  I, for one, feel almost an obligation to read them all whether I like them or not.  Or that was what I felt in the past.  Nowadays I think life is much too short and there are too many other books out there for me to persevere with a novel which, although highly rated by the critics, does not interest me enough to keep turning the pages.  This is no reflection on the author, I hasten to add. It is solely about taste in reading.

I do not like depressing books of terrible childhoods, nor do I like gruesome murder stories. In fiction, I like mysteries and spy stories and some adventure stories.  I read biographies rather than autobiographies (which tend to be prejudiced naturally enough).

What am I reading this minute?  I am nearly finished Road Rage by Ruth Rendell written in 1997 about a proposed bypass and a group of people who want to save the woods it will impinge on. Still very topical today.  She is one of my favourite authors although here and there she has disappointed me.  Overall though, her earlier novels especially, are brilliant. There is an "everyday-ness" about the way she writes, and her command of language is excellent. Inspector Wexford appears as a very human police officer. I am enjoying every minute of this novel.
Next on my list is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, originally called The Taliban Shuffle, by Kim Barker, a rookie reporter sent to Afghanistan. I bought this one myself, having read a review of it. I have not seen the film.

As for books I have put aside after a couple of attempts at reading them, well I won't name them here but the saying "don't judge a book by the cover" is more apt than we are inclined to think. By "cover" in this case I mean all that hype by other authors and critics from some of the Press on the back cover.
One of the novels given to me as a present had won a prize for its "feisty, glowing prose".  I'm afraid I couldn't discover this aspect of the story which was as dreary and depressing as could be. So I closed it after struggling through three chapters or more and skimming through a few pages in the middle. As I said, life is too short....

We are nearly halfway through the working week, so enjoy whatever you are doing, it's not long until Friday!

Friday, 6 January 2017

New Beginnings

We are already 6 days in to the New Year and although I struggle with writing the year as 2017, I know that in a very short time it will become automatic.
I have had an interesting start to 2017 (there! I've written it without any problems!). On Tuesday I had my problem tooth checked by the orthodontic surgeon and all was well so I do not have to have another check up until next year which, his Receptionist reminded me, will be January 2018. Three cheers for that!  I would hate to start off on the root canal saga of last year.  A tick beside the "Positive" box.
On Thursday I had a small lesion removed from the lower lid of my right eye. The surgeon assured me it looked harmless, they would do a biopsy and he would only contact me if there was a problem.
The only unpleasant thing about this operation was getting the injections to deaden the area.  Eeek!
I now somewhat resemble a panda when seen face on, there is a great big black bruise below my eye. It is a bit tender but not half as bad as it looks. I am doing my best to be nonchalant about it and act as if this is the latest fashion for January 2017 - despite people asking me in gentle tones if I'm all right.

Apart from that I have been busy converting my e-books into paperback. This means editing them again and it is amazing what needs to be done on this score, despite all the editing I did before publishing as an e-book. There is always room for improvement.

I have changed the wallpaper on my laptop to a shot of Frankfurt in late summer which I took last year and which sort of compensates for the grey foggy day which I can see outside my window.
Oh well, back to editing now - and I must really start on my third Sergeant Alan Murray mystery, the characters inside my head are waving at me and insisting on being transferred to paper.  A cup of coffee and here goes.  Oh, and here is the picture of Frankfurt flower stalls:
Hope you like it.  Roll on Spring!