Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fab fiction to while away those sunny days




Turning Point is likely to prove my favourite out of the ten books I have written. Why because it's flies along at a fabulous pace like a high-flying wire act in a circus,  with thrills enough for the most demanding of critics. Even I enjoyed reading it and I wrote it. Could not put it down.

 


·         Styrus, a computer virus so powerful it can penetrate any computer and steal its secrets, has fallen into the hands of the wrong man.
·         His name – Smith, Mr Smith
·         His ambition – to rule the world

Against a background of riots throughout Europe, Scott Anderson, his father, and their bodyguard, head for Geneva, where Bill, one of the scientists that created Styrus is to address the United Nations., At long last, the knowledge that he has held in secret for fifteen years can be passed over to the world body, leaving them free to take up their lives again. To celebrate, Bill and Scott plan a holiday.
Then Scott overhears a secret conversation and, within hours he is fleeing for his life.

This time their enemies will make certain no one survives...



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Friday, 28 March 2014

The Brilliance of Barbara Spencer




Feeling my age, I employed a guy to create a new gravel area in my garden replacing a scruffy lawn. Manfully, he shifts the top 6 inches, warning me how heavy soil is (he’s so right) piles some in the garden bin. and the rest on flagstones where I had already said I wanted to have a garden seat. He then announces that since the garden bin is only collected every fortnight, he won’t be back for a while because he is also going to the Maldives for 2 weeks to swim and dive with manta rays.

Good for him, I thought and I struggled, using extreme force, to lug the garden bin onto the pavement.
 
Faced with a month's wait for the next instalment, I am now preparing to gird my loins to shift that huge pile of turf and soil to somewhere else so I can have my seat.

Can someone tell me, why the heck am I keeping a dog and barking myself?


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Saturday, 8 March 2014

Walking on air. Downloaded from Amazon.com


Running by Barbara Spencer is an adrenalin-fueled adventure with action and mystery that will keep young adult readers, and grown-ups who love YA fiction, turning the pages to find out what happens next.

The story begins with the gripping news that there’s been an earthquake and tsunami in the state of California. Immediately we learn that this disaster isn’t “natural” and that evil forces of the human kind are most likely the cause. To heighten the suspense, it turns out that the world’s foremost scientists had been gathering at a convention in California at the time. On top of this, there’s been a nuclear disaster in the Middle East. The U.S. is blamed for both incidents and America becomes ostracized by the rest of the world because of this.

American scientist Bill Anderson takes his infant son and escapes to England where he tries to blend in with the locals and disappear from the shadowy bad guys. Fast forward fifteen years and we meet quietly likeable Scott Anderson, a regular kid at a British school who tries to hide his American roots. The government in Europe has used the nuclear disaster as an excuse to impose greater control over its citizens with a requirement that everyone wears government-issued glasses (spectacles, in the UK) and regular checks for radiation as a result of the nuclear blast. Life takes a startling turn for Scott around the time that a particularly smart, attractive classmate, Hillary, turns up at school. Before long, Scott finds himself on the run with Hillary on a search for his missing father with little to go on other than a vague clue and gut instinct.

From a small English town to the lochs of Scotland and the winding paths of a Dutch town, Running is a great travelogue, a well-written mystery and an exciting story, as well as an endearing introduction to Scott and Hillary and their friends,Travers and Mary. I look forward to reading the sequel and other books by Barbara Spencer.    LDB

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Friday, 28 February 2014

Killing your darlings



Last year, while talking with a Year 6 group during a visit to a school, one of the girls put her hand up confessing, ‘that she had written 23 adventures for her hero and was now stumped because she couldn’t come up with any more.'
One of two major faults that crop up again and again in unskilled writing, is the occurrence of adventures, incidents or paragraphs that are not essential to the plot. Most often they are put in to flesh out the story or make it more dramatic, blood curling or funny.

If you think of a story as being like an archer who fletches an arrow, releasing it in a straight line to its target.
That is how a story should be written. Retaining a line, paragraph or page in a story because you like the way it sounds, is not a good enough reason for keeping it. To the reader, who doesn’t share in your affection for this particular paragraph, it is a bewildering and annoying incident that detracts from the flow of the story.

My other gripe is the constant outpouring of dramatic almost epileptic speech, full of expletives. The building of a story is akin to someone climbing a mountain, as the slope grows steeper, so does the tension in the prose and boulders of swearwords (unrepeatable here) and endearments(doll, babe, etc) littering the slope are an impediment to good, flowing prose.

You have only to read some of the recent best sellers that have earned their writers millions: Twilight, Hunger Games to see that they are written within a universally accepted framework of speech.

If you are uncertain about the progress of a story – get hold of a copy of ‘How to Write a Blockbuster’ by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherley. A well-written guideline for a new writer.

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Monday, 23 December 2013

Centuries of Tradition

It’s that time of year when sentiment is hung on the Christmas tree in close proximity to the angel on the topmost branch. We sing carols while we are wrapping presents and whenever a youngster happens to cross our path, we tell tales of the olden days, never to be forgotten, when Christmas’s really were magical.
My Christmas started early with the arrival of my family to make the puddings. That’s a tradition that dates back to my great-grandmother and in the spirit of Christmas, I imparted to my nine-year old granddaughter that Grandmother Cooke was her Great Great Great Grandmother. Then after the weighing and measuring, the sieving and beating of eggs and the grating of nutmeg and adding of spices, we take turns to stir, all the time employing my brother’s nose. Finally, he confirms that the mixture is up to scratch, and with one last stir each in which we make a wish and hope for it to come true, we are done and the family departs.
This morning, having left the pudding mixture overnight I had the task of putting them onto boil. More time consuming than you can possibly imagine. Out come the cotton cloths that are used every year, and boiled white again after use before heading back into the airing cupboard where they wait patiently for December to return. After that it is the greaseproof paper and string and a waiting pan of boiling water. The same pan with the dent in the rim that my mother used.
While I was waiting for the water to bubble my thoughts flew back to the other women of our family who have stood by a stove waiting as I was. My great grandmother in her black bombazine; my grandmother wearing lisle stocking under a full-length dress covered by a pinafore, her red hair in a bun; my own mother worn out from washing curtains and polishing brass; my sister who ran a restaurant and used the same recipe to enthral customers. Now me for my family. Each one of us in our turn with our ear bent to the saucepans listening anxiously for the tell-tale sound of a gentle bubbling that shows the water temperature is just perfect. I can’t go far, not for the six hours that the puddings are boiling; my presence is needed to make sure they don’t boil dry; hastening to refill the kettle when the water level drops. Even that is not the end. Clean cloths and two more hours on Christmas Day.
Although the recipe has never varied, I admit that over the years we have tinkered with the non-essentials. I no longer use silver coins respecting the fragility of aging teeth, and omit the libation of brandy which, when lit, flames blue to thrill a waiting audience. But there is still custard and cream if wanted. Then … as it has happened for 143 years, there is the hush that precedes the first mouthful. And an even longer hush afterwards in which our palate dances a fandango of delight; and our senses, overwhelmed with joyous satisfaction, soar to the heavens and refuse to return … until Boxing Day.

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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Brave New World

I had a very nice phone. Cost £10 and, yes, maybe I had carried it about for two years before learning how to text. But I did it and can now text my granddaughter when I am collecting her from school no problem. And, yes, maybe it did spend most of the time switched off so I missed all the alerts from Orange and the occasional 'missed call' from my granddaughter but it worked..

And it was there in an emergency.
Then one night I saw my daughter's phone. With consummate ease, reminding me of an Olympic gymnast, she flipped through photographs, maps, books, more photographs, train timetables .... and it was big and luxurious looking, and as drool-worthy as a chocolate cake.

So I entered the world of modern technology and bought a really, really proper phone - you know the type that you have to recharge every night and the app of Google will tell you where to go and take a picture of it. A tutorial from my daughter and I am away.
Next day, a second tutorial from my daughter but I am not wearing my glasses this time, so haven't a clue what she is on about when she points to a blue blob on the screen and announces, this is where I live.
This is followed next day by a tutorial from my granddaughter, who introduces me to QUERTY and would kill for a phone like mine. To show me how to use it, she snatches it away - presses keys at the speed of light  says,'there you are' and hands it back, leaving me no wiser.

Five days on - and I am asking myself why did I bother. I really was quite content to take a book in my handbag, read a map and charge my battery on my old phone every 3 weeks.

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Sunday, 8 December 2013

Brief Encounter





When I was growing up my mother’s favourite explanation for any of the thousands of questions I asked was: well, you either believe or you don’t. This modus operandi she applied to just about everything – from the moon landing to God, the hereafter, the conservative party and global warming; embracing with fervour doorstep-zealots and a Sabbath that dithered between Friday, Saturday and Sunday, depending on who rattled the letter box last. I suppose it was this laissez-faire attitude that made me what I am today; happy to leave the roll of the dice to life itself – slightly na├»ve in this hard-bitten world perhaps, and undoubtedly responsible for the disturbing events that surrounded my recent employment in Wells.
      I thought about it as I directed my car towards the city of Salisbury; all my worldly-goods in a collection of suitcases and bags stashed in the back. The rain of the past few nights had given way to a glorious morning, the sky washed clear; and with the ancient spire of the cathedral beckoning, it was with a sense of eager anticipation that I trundled through the countryside.
      The city of Wells is tiny, a Mecca for film crews, and I had been fortunate to obtain work there, particularly since we were experiencing the worst recession for decades. So lucky – you might say – that I should have clung to my post despite its pitfalls. I can only excuse my fallibility by declaring – you never encountered Frederick.
      It was the Estate Agency in the market square that offered me the job. Tucked away in the city walls, over the centuries the building had become a gaggle of eccentrically-shaped rooms and precipitous staircases, their treads narrow and dipped in the centre. I was their latest graduate recruit; twenty-one and yes, I am pretty – no tattoos; instead I brush my hair until it sparkles and regularly visit the gym. My new employers said how delighted they were I was joining them and looked forward with eager anticipation to a long and fruitful relationship. With the artlessness of youth, I gave this speech little thought, believing it my due as a nubile female.
      I occupied a bow-fronted office overlooking the market square, with its views of the town hall, an ancient black and white hostelry, and the thronging crowds that linger round the market stalls. As their latest recruit, I also held the fort while the rest of the staff went to lunch, a little before one. That was when Frederick first made his appearance. He wandered in, a pot of golden polyanthus clutched in one hand, while I twittered: ‘Can I call you Freddy.’
      After a monotonous diet of over-large and unfit clients dripping with money, his entire being filled my soul with delight. Simply to gaze upon him took my breath away – his elegance, sense of dress, his charm – but appearances can be deceptive and, regretfully, the gloriousness of Frederick, like the flowers, turned out to be short-lived. He hovered for about twenty minutes or so, while I flirted outrageously, returning the following day. By the end of the first week, flattered by his attention, I was buying new clothes and perfume, eagerly awaiting his daily visit; imagining myself head over heels in love.
      ‘Oh, Frederick, not more flowers,’ I’d gush, my office full of the bright offerings; their glowing petals expressing admiration, respect and devotion, far more eloquently than words alone.
      And so in this state of blissful ignorance a month passed; and with a change in weather, from the early blossoming of spring back to snow-driven winter, the first misgivings began to make their presence felt. By now any honest red-blooded male would have asked me out on a date but Frederick seemed content to spend our time together chatting across the office desk. I began to study him more closely, becoming uncomfortably aware that any invitation, even to the nearby coffee bar, was beyond his capability. Revelation followed upon revelation: to my dismay I discovered Frederick didn’t work upstairs in accounts or anywhere else in the building – I had been duped. With that my perception changed and I began to see through the elaborately created charade with which Frederick surrounded himself; his sense of style and good looks simply a mirage. And yet, he remained gorgeously funny and charming, but once those seeds of doubt are sown in your brain, your voice takes on an unpleasant edge and your smile becomes dissembling.
      Naturally Frederick noticed the change in me. Possibly dispirited is not quite the correct choice of word – but he definitely wilted, as did the flowers, drooping their heads disheartened.
      Filled with remorse I felt driven into saying: ‘What do you want of me? You made it quite clear that life must be grabbed, shaken and lived to the full; and I’m grateful, okay. But it’s not my fault if you can’t be part of this. You had your chance; now it’s my turn.’ I regretted being sharp but the only thing I desired was his absence; never to be bothered again.
      Yet still he persisted, hanging about in the open doorway a faded apology for a man. I know employment law provides us with fall-back rules that cover almost every situation; but not being harassed by Frederick – I checked.
      My boss said when I gave in my notice: ‘What is it with you girls – we offer you a high salary, good working conditions, and you never stay.’
      ‘There were others?’
      He snorted. ‘Enough.’
      He gazed at me blankly, obviously at a loss to understand the fly-by-night nature of the young and pretty female.
      ‘How about a bloke?’
      ‘You’re damn right. You can rely on men.’
      I bristled with indignation at his outrageous sexism but common sense prevailed and I reigned in my retort. It wasn’t Frederick’s fault; he couldn’t help being an emotional cripple who derived his kicks stalking young women. Besides, it was possible the boss wasn’t particularly bothered about Frederick popping in and out; considering him on the same level as an eccentric relative, whose oddities of speech and dress you never notice – like wallpaper.
      I have to confess, I did feel awfully guilty about being so unkind. Frederick’s a darling really and so forgiving. On my last day, he reappeared in my office clutching a bunch of daffodils as a leaving present. I guess like the rest of us he’s searching for love.
      So that’s why I am moving to Salisbury. It means a drop in salary; the Estate Agency in Wells paying top dollar – but hey – who cares about money; I’m off to fulfil my destiny. I know Salisbury is a medieval city, as is Wells but, as Mother is fond of saying, “lightning never strikes twice in the same place.” Besides, the office I’m joining is in a brand-new complex. Only just completed, the apartments above the shops are being sold through a Housing Association and I’ve been lucky enough to grab one of the studios. Not large but my own – with modern bricks and mortar and no history except the one I am going to create during my lifetime.
*
Oh, didn’t I say; Frederick’s a ghost.

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