27 May, 2013

First free promo a roaring success!

Wow! Well, I've done it. I've run my first ever free promo on Amazon!

My first novel, A Matter of Degree, was free yesterday for just the one day. I'd never done it before and I had no idea what to expect. Although I'd worked hard at advertising the promo, I was fully expecting that there would be very few downloads--especially having read several articles saying that the bottom had now fallen out of these promotional events.

But, for me at least, this wasn't the case at all. The number of downloads, both in the UK and the US, way, way exceeded my expectations. And my book entered the Kindle bestseller lists in the Contemporary Romance category on Amazon.co.uk, and both the Women's Fiction category and the Contemporary Fiction category on Amazon.com. It also flew up the Kindle free book charts on both sites.

I still can't quite believe it, but I am very, very happy with the results!

25 May, 2013

Physical decline and the forties

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about being “of a certain age”, meaning that being in my forties, I now find that there are certain elements of culture that are only meaningful to my generation, and not to the generation behind mine. We are no longer the youngest adults on the block.

But this doesn’t only apply to things cultural. It also applies to things physical, unfortunately.
I’m pretty fit and healthy on the whole. I eat wholesome food, exercise several times a week, don’t smoke, drink little, etc., etc... And yet, when I turned forty a few years back, I found that things began to go downhill. My eyesight took a turn for the worse—suddenly I found that I needed specs to read the smaller print on things like menus, recipes and maps. (The optician who I consulted reassuringly told me that “at my age” this was just to be expected.) I made jokes about needing to wear my glasses on a string around my neck so that they were always available should I need them. But, slave to fashion that I am, I opted in reality for the ‘hipper’ alternative of keeping a spare pair in my handbag so that I could whip them out as and when required.

It’s not just eyes, though. There are other niggling gripes. Sore lower back, on and off. Poor circulation (in the case of another forty something who I know).  Odd aches and pains that come and go. I don’t remember these kinds of things back in my twenties... Neither do my friends who are of a similar age and who are experiencing a similar kind of decline.
I was struck by Penelope Lively’s comment in How it all Began that in old age pain is a "constant companion". So, the slippery slope begins at forty and apparently continues unremittingly into painful old age.

We forty somethings have a lot to look forward to, then!

20 May, 2013

"A Matter of Degree" FREE on Sunday 26 May!

My novel "A Matter of Degree" will be FREE for just one day -- Sunday 26 May -- on Amazon.

This is a fun, light read which blends romance and mystery. It has good reviews and is rated 4.5 stars on Amazon.

Why don't you beat those bank holiday blues and download your free copy at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

Happy reading!

18 May, 2013

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen—and an 80th birthday

I recently attended my father-in-law’s 80th birthday party—a lovely lunch with extended family and a handful of close family friends.

It was great fun. Not least because it gave me the opportunity to catch up with various family members who I don’t very often see and because, let’s face it, eighty years on this earth is something worth celebrating. But also the venue itself was something to write home about. The lunch took place at Watermen’s Hall in the City of London—the home of the Worshipful Company of Watermen and Lightermen. Just to emphasise the point, we were greeted on arrival by a bloke in full Company livery wielding a large oar!

The Hall itself is beautiful. It was built in 1780, having been designed by William Blackburn for the Company and holds the honour of being the only original Georgian Hall in the City of London. The room in which we ate was stunning—large, light and airy with a huge wooden dining table decked out in the Company’s silver and decorated with sprays of fresh flowers. My father-in-law was seated centre stage in the (very impressive) Master’s chair. Just right for such an important celebration.

In 1514 Henry VIII gave royal assent to the earliest Act of Parliament for regulating watermen, wherrymen and bargemen and, on the back of this Act, the Company initiated apprenticeships for individuals who wanted to learn the skills of the watermen. The lightermen (cargo men) joined the Company in 1700.

Thus, in 2014, the Company of Watermen and Lightermen will celebrate the 500th anniversary of this 1514 Act. And the Company is still actively involved with the River Thames and those individuals who work on it. Talk about longevity!

Watermen’s Hall epitomises many of the things that I love about London—the history; the continuing traditions; the architecture; and, best of all, those hidden gems which (if you’re lucky enough) you just happen to find out about during the course of a lifetime.

11 May, 2013

Opinionated workplaces

My workplace is full of academics, which means that everyone has an opinion about everything—and expresses it very loudly. Whether they have any knowledge of, or experience about, the subject on which they are holding forth is, apparently, irrelevant.

At times this can be amusing. At other times, irritating.

These are some of the things that have been discussed with alacrity over recent weeks:
  • common childhood diseases and their inoculations (none of the discussants has children)
  • what foods should and shouldn't be eaten by pregnant women (none of the discussants is female and none of the discussants has a partner who either is or has been pregnant)
  • the salary grade held by non-academic group members (none of the discussants is party to this information)
  • where the remaining Boston marathon bomber was hiding out and the brothers’ motives for the bombing (who knew?).

Quite a range of things on which to have an uninformed opinion, I’d say...

07 May, 2013

New novel "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" now available!

I'm really excited to announce that my new novel, Travels on a Greyhound Bus, is now available! This book takes a witty look at the nature of romantic relationships and how they change over time.

You can buy Travels on a Greyhound Bus for Kindle on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

For more information, take a look at the blurb:

People change. Relationships evolve. But sometimes by too much...

Hip students Araminta Stewart and Giles Richmond meet entirely by chance when travelling around the USA by Greyhound Bus. They hit it off. Some twenty years later, they are married with three children and have reached a crisis point in their relationship.

Araminta thought she knew what she wanted all those years ago. But now she’s got it, is she really happy? Or could there be more to life than this?

Told from Araminta’s point of view, Travels on a Greyhound Bus follows the couple as they navigate these two very different periods in their lives. While their early relationship flourishes, their later relationship appears to be disintegrating.

Faced with disappointment, frustration and the biggest challenge to their marriage yet, the question is: will Araminta and Giles’ relationship survive the journey of a lifetime?

05 May, 2013

High praise for Thompson Garden Services

We've just had a really great experience with a local garden design company, which I'm keen to shout about. The company is Thompson Garden Services (TGS), owned by Marc Thompson and based in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

TGS undertook a complete redesign and rebuild of our garden. This wasn’t a simple job—it involved clearing our existing plot, laying a patio and circular path, laying artificial grass, and custom building some play equipment (monkey bars and a swing bar) for our kids.

We were really impressed with Marc and his team’s work from start to finish. Right from the beginning, Marc engaged with our ideas, was able to understand what we wanted and, most importantly, translated those ideas into reality. On site, he worked to an extremely high standard, using only the highest quality materials and paying great attention to detail.

We are absolutely delighted with the garden that Marc has created for us, and can't recommend Thompson Garden Services highly enough!

04 May, 2013

Parents' obligations

A couple of things this week have got me thinking about parents’ obligations towards their children, and also about the way children treat their parents.

It is my youngest child’s class performance soon. Each child in the class needs to bring in a pair of dark leggings or jogging bottoms to wear both for the dress rehearsal and for the two evenings of actual performance. Despite the fact that we had been given plenty of notice by letter of this requirement, as well as the children having been given the message verbally to relay home, one or two of the children still failed to bring an appropriate piece of clothing in to school. As a result, the class teacher had to resort to asking the other children whether they had a pair of PE jogging bottoms that they wouldn't mind lending out. My daughter, being kind, proffered hers. That’s fine in some respects, but there are two problems from my point of view. The first is that on days when she does outdoor PE and it’s cold, my daughter now has to wear shorts, when normally she would wear her long jogging bottoms. And, even more importantly, my daughter needs her jogging bottoms in the week immediately following her performance for a school trip. So between us we have to make sure (a) that they are returned and then (b) washed in time for the trip—and we wouldn't have had to do either of these things had the parents in question bothered to provide their children with what was required.

It amazes me how often these kinds of things happen in school—how often parents don’t supply their children with what they need. I’m sure that this is sometimes a one off, simply down to forgetting. Parents are busy people, after all, as I know only too well. But what you tend to see is that, on the whole, the offenders are repeat offenders.

In contrast, and turning towards the issue of how children treat their parents—my oldest daughter threw a complete fit one morning this week because I asked her to change her school polo shirt. It was dirty and, as a responsible parent, I didn't feel that she should wear it into school. The problem was that, given she currently only has the one polo shirt (another one is on order, incidentally), her available options were a shirt and tie or a summer dress. But she, quite vehemently, did not want to wear either of the alternative options. The issue (although she would never admit it) is that the majority of her friends wear trousers and polos, and she wants to be like them. It’s teenage peer pressure kicking in.

So it can be very hard to win, it seems. While some parents fail to fulfil their parental obligations, others try very hard to do so, but this can be met with resistance by the children. No one ever said parenting was an easy job, I guess...