26 April, 2014

Lovely Easter weekend away

We had a great Easter weekend away last week in Suffolk, where we rented a barn conversion for three nights. The barn, called Middleton Granary, was really stunning—beautifully appointed, very clean and furnished to an extremely high standard. The owners even left us a homemade coffee and walnut cake, which we particularly enjoyed with our afternoon tea! You can check out photos of the barn on the owners’ website.

Suffolk is a very beautiful part of the UK—largely rural and very unspoilt in parts—and we thoroughly enjoyed the peace, quiet and resident wildlife. We also managed to fit in visits to several local attractions. Things that we particularly enjoyed were: Thelnetham Windmill—a windmill dating from 1891 which has been restored, is now working again, and can sometimes be visited. We were given a guided tour by a couple of very knowledgeable local volunteers. Ickworth—a beautiful Italianate mansion run by the National Trust. We particularly enjoyed the extensive 'below stairs' exhibition which really gave you an insight into the workings of a grand stately home. We also enjoyed eating our lunch in the sunshine on the terrace overlooking the croquet lawn. And, one especially for the kids, Bressingham Steam and Gardens—where you can ride on narrow gauge steam engines, play on the adventure playground, ride on a carousel, and enjoy 17 acres of beautifully planted gardens.

At the same time as all of this, I was running a free promotion for my latest novel, "Travels on a Greyhound Bus", and so keeping an eagle eye on its chart position and sales figures. Happily, it did really well—visit the post on my News page for details!

19 April, 2014

Video cassettes and beyond

I recently had an interesting conversation with my daughter, which reinforced just how different the experience of people from different generations can be – and also indicated how much technology has changed over the last 30+ years.

She was telling me about her geography lesson. She was currently learning about plate tectonics, she said, and had watched a film on the subject. ‘It was from about 2000 BC,’ she quipped. ‘Is it called a...cassette?’ I burst out laughing. Yep, a video cassette. Unknown to my daughter’s generation.

The pace of change is amazing, if you think about it. Videos were new-fangled in my generation. Remember the hours spent finding a blank tape, checking the time of the programme, punching in the relevant times and programme duration... Even then the programme didn’t always record for some unfathomable reason, despite the fact that you were sure you had done everything right. And if the programme time was changed last minute due to, say, a sporting event overrunning, then you really were stuffed. The only hope of seeing the programme then was if the channel chose to repeat it at some point. The technology improved, of course, and became more reliable. It even became possible to programme the later model VCRs to record multiple programmes at different times.

And then the technology changed. In the 1990s, DVDs superseded video cassettes as the medium of choice for pre-recorded material. Now we have digital set-top boxes for recording. We can record what we like, when we like, multiple programmes at a time, all with an easy-to-use visual interface. And, of course, we also have catch-up services, meaning we no longer have to remember to record the programmes that we want to watch. Nor indeed remember to watch them at the time when they are first screened.

Turning the tables, my kids are completely au fait with video on demand and catch-up in a way that I’m just not. It’s no problem at all for them to use iPlayer – and it’s not as though my husband or I have even taught them. They just work it out. Whereas I frequently find myself helpless when the HUMAX has crashed yet again and I can’t even switch on live TV. At times like these I find myself pining for the simplicity of the 1970s and 80s when there were only four channels and when, if you pushed the relevant channel button, the TV just came on.

It’s called getting older, I guess.

15 April, 2014

"Travels on a Greyhound Bus" -- 5 day free promo over Easter

My novel "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" will be free on Amazon from 17 until 21 April inclusive.

This is an easy, fun read about how relationships change over time and how people react when those relationships come under pressure. It has some good independent reviews from Laura's Book Reviews and Kirsty I Heart Books, and has 4.6 stars on Amazon.

You can download  "Travels on a Greyhound Bus" at Amazon UK and Amazon.com.

The blurb follows below:

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?

12 April, 2014

The Signature of all Things

I recently read a really interesting book called 'The Signature of all Things' by Elizabeth Gilbert.

This book tells the story of Alma Whittaker, who is born in 1800, at the beginning of a new century, to vastly wealthy botanical explorer Henry Whittaker and his highly accomplished and knowledgeable Dutch wife. Alma is highly intelligent and, unusually for this time, her mother insists on Alma receiving an education equal to that of any man. Alma grows up to become a first-class botanist, carrying out research and publishing her findings  in the journals of the day. Despite (or perhaps partly because of) her academic success, Alma is unhappy in love and marriage.

We follow Alma as her life unfolds, beginning in Philadelphia, moving to Tahiti in middle age, and then finally settling in Holland.

If you enjoy expansive novels that cover 'big' issues such as the lot of women, the discovery of the new world, and the progress of human knowledge then you, like me, should also enjoy 'The Signature of all Things'.

05 April, 2014

Buying cars

We’ve recently been shopping around for cars. Not having bought a car for a few years, I had forgotten how annoying car salesmen can be. They really do go in for high pressure salesmanship.

So, for example, we test drove a car and liked it. We’d done our research beforehand so we knew that, if the car was a good drive, it was quite likely that we might order one. Once the salesman understood this, his hard sell started.

First of all, he told us that, actually, he could sell us the showroom vehicle that we’d just driven. This was the model up from the one we wanted to buy and had lots of additional features which meant, if we bought it, we’d end up spending £2,000 more than we originally intended—and we’d said right at  the outset that budget was a real issue for us. Furthermore, despite the fact that the showroom model had a few thousand miles on the clock and had, naturally, been driven by lots of other people, the amount that the salesman offered to knock off the RRP was miniscule.

All-in-all not much of a bargain, in our opinion. ‘But why don’t you want to buy it?’ the salesman asked us, feigning surprise (badly!). ‘Because we’d be spending £2,000 more than we intended for a model that we don’t want...’ we replied. Duh!

We stressed that we weren’t going to make up our minds, even with regard to the model that we were interested in, there and then. Our salesman then had to explain all of this to his boss and the boss had to come out and shake hands with us before we were allowed to go.

After thinking about it over the weekend, we decided that we would indeed buy the model that we had always had our eye on. There was a bit of a backlog of orders—a couple of months’ worth—but this didn’t bother us as we weren’t in a huge rush.

A couple of days later the salesman rang us to say that, if we liked, we could have our car a little earlier as there was already a car of the model, colour, etc. that we wanted on order for the showroom. The only snag was that this car had a spare wheel—we hadn’t gone for this optional extra because it cost an additional £100.

In the end, we went for the car-with-spare-wheel that would be ready earlier, largely because the salesman could give us an exact date for its delivery, whereas we knew that if we stuck to our original plan, there was a significant risk that the date would slip even further due to the large backlog of orders.

Despite out best efforts, the salesman managed to persuade us to spend £100 more on a new car than we had originally intended. How irritating!