Friday, 10 March 2017

Getting along with the Brits

I saw a headline on the BBC website this morning entitled "How to Survive the British Workplace". Apparently researchers are examining the culture of politeness. They found, for example, that the British use the word "please" nearly twice as much as their American counterparts. Advice on the BBC website said newcomers at work should "be on time, go for a pint after work with colleagues, and be polite". Not too difficult, eh?

Be that as it may, the subject made me remember my first introduction to working in London - too many years ago to tell you exactly when that was!  I came from friendly Ireland, where newcomers at work are questioned about their origins, are shown where the tea and coffee are kept, where the bathroom is, the closing times of all the local shops and the best place to buy your cheese sandwich. I started off in the typing pool of a big advertising agency in Green Park where my job was to type invoices (ah, yes, in those pre-computer days, invoices were typed up and offices resounded to the friendly clack of typewriters). No one spoke to me (except the supervisor, a lovely motherly lady who had lived in Kenya). I found it hard to understand the English accents and they found it hard to understand my Irish brogue. There was a shop on the premises and everyone cleared off at lunch time and bought their sandwiches there without telling me. I thought they all hated me. To be fair, I must admit that I was very shy and completely over-awed at working in such a glamorous place in London's West End. Which didn't help!
Resigned to my fate, I crept to my desk every morning and pretended to be invisible. Then, when I had been there about a week, the girl at the desk next to mine passed some comment to me about the group Fleetwood Mac. At that time, Fleetwood Mac had a huge hit with "Albatross" and I was an out and out fan. Which I told my companion. It turned out she was dating the drummer, I think it was the drummer but can't be sure after all these years. This chance remark sealed my fate and suddenly all of the girls were chatting away and including me in their conversation and telling me their life stories. It was like being back in Dublin!
When I had changed jobs a few times, I discovered that the British are simply reserved, not to say shy, in many cases. They like to eye you up before trying to get to know you. It's just the first week that can be a bit quiet. After that they are great fun to work with and I certainly enjoyed my working years in London.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Carnival in Germany

I think it is a shame that Ireland is not into carnival. We celebrate St. Patrick's Day with parades and  drowning the shamrock. We celebrate winning at International Rugby, Football (in season) and Horse Racing. Cheltenham is coming up and already there is a fever in the air at the prospect of spending a few days away and maybe, just maybe, having the winner of the Gold Cup. Yes, I'll be putting some money on and watching it on television. My point is, we are good at celebrating and holding parades so I wonder why carnival never caught on either in Ireland or England. All we end up doing is eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Sounds a bit tame in comparison, doesn't it?
When I lived in Germany I was amazed when someone explained about "Fasching" which is their word for carnival. I would never have thought that the somewhat stiff and formal Germans would indulge in such frivolities. They do, and they really let themselves go. The carnival season starts at 11 minutes past 11 on the morning of the 11th day of the 11th month, that's 11 a.m. on November 11th in case you're lost. A king and queen of carnival is chosen for each town and village and they attend all the balls and other events which are held.  They dress up with crowns and sumptious gear, too. My neighbours took it very seriously and had a different costume for each of the balls they went to.
The last three days before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins, are the wildest part. In the town where I lived there was a parade on Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) which ended in the storming of the town hall. We had a real cannon which shot confetti into the air and onto the balcony of the town hall until the mayor came out with his staff and "surrendered". We all then rushed inside where food and music and drinks were provided. Everyone danced. My children loved it.
I would like to attend the carnival in Venice with its masked balls but I have a sneaking suspicion that although very elegant, it wouldn't be half the fun. Now, the mardi gras in New Orleans or a trip to Rio where no one sleeps for the three days before Ash Wednesday (or so I'm told) would be certainly unforgettable - in more ways than one.
Failing that, I might try to be in Germany or Austria come to that, which also celebrates carnival, for next year's season. To my readers in Germany a big : Helau!

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!