Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas with Bev and Carol

   Carol turned the roast potatoes and put them back into the oven.
   'Do you ever clean it?' I asked, through the black smoke billowing out.
   'Can't,' said Carol, 'Cleaning stuff makes me cough.'
   'Oh!' I said, with my hand over my nose and mouth.
   'Want some fizz?'
   'Why not?'
   Carol was not used to cooking.  It was her first Christmas dinner.  It was New Year's Eve and we were spending it with friends.  What better time to celbrate Christmas?
   The turkey had been half-price, as had the crackers and party-poppers.  The Christmas tree was still up, with some of its needles still attached.  Perfect.
   I was not much of a cook and neither was Carol, but we had years of vicarious experience behind us, not to mention Delia for emergency measurements and timings.  So we were confident we could produce something edible for our guests, who would be arriving in about two hours. (All time is relative, as you know.)
   There would be Dave, Rick, Michelle and Andy. It would be great.  I had always dreamed of having a Christmas with my friends.  This way, we didn't have to offend family.  We had hours of Frank Sinatra, Slade and Wizard at the ready.  We had champagne and wine.  We had Stilton and Bath Olivers, trifle and meringues, Andrews for afters.  All set.
   'More fizz?'  I suggested.
   'It's good with a shot of brandy in it,' said Carol.
   She was right.  It added a certain 'je ne sais quoi'.  So I made another one.
   'How about a splash of Cointreau this time?' I said.
   It was.
   Soon the vegetables were peeled and jauntily chopped, and the turkey was sizzling. George Michael was doing 'Careless Whispers', and Carol and I were slow dancing.
   'I love you, Carol,' I murmured.
   'I love you too, you lovely tart.'
   When the doorbell went, we burst out laughing and ran side by bouncing side down the hallway, Carol wearing a pink Christmas hat over her eyes and me attempting to steer her.  We were both beautifully pissed.
   'Hello Dave!'  we cried, greeting him like a long lost brother as we spilled out into the daylight.
   'Ooooh, look!  It's raining...' sang Carol, waving a plastic spatula above her head, batting the raindrops.
   It looked like fun, so I joined her, jumping up and catching the rain.
   Dave rolled his eyes, walked into the house and left us to it.
   We stayed outside until we realised that rain was wet.  Then we laughed some more, singing 'Jingle bells, Santa smells...'  Then, we realised that we were cold.  So we sang 'Jingle Bells' replacing the words with 'brrr, brrr, brrr...'
   'Are the potatoes supposed to be this colour?'  asked Dave, who had magically appeared from inside the house, with a tray of potatoes.
   We looked at each other and laughed again, dancing round, gleeful and unconcerned about the blackness of the roast potatoes.

   When we woke up, I wiped Carol's dribble from my shoulder and beamed at our newly-arrived mates. Ten minutes later, dinner was served (by Dave).
   'Happy Christmas!' we cried.

 If Carol and Bev are your kind of people, you can see more of them here:Bev and Carol books

Friday, 21 December 2012

Alternative to Amazon

I think I must be a little slow, as I've only just heard about Amazon's rather sudden move to exclude/delete reviews of books by fellow authors. 

I do think that there must be some dishonest practices going on and that some authors are benefitting from somehow 'fixing' their ratings.  But, I do take exception to the idea of penalising a whole section of Amazon customers, who happen to write as well as read books. 

I don't want to get involved in who's right and who's wrong or whether it is acceptable to ban a whole group of people from using the Amazon site to read and review books.  I am sure, however, that if a system becomes too tedious to use, then people will turn elsewhere.

My husband emailed me a link that you might find interesting, either now or in the future.  See what you think.  And apologies if this is old news to most of you.

I hope it's not the end of Indie authors on Amazon, but there are alternatives if it is and this is one that looks very good to me:

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Apologies if you have already watched this video.  I just thought it was worth sharing with those who haven't.

This morning, my two sons told me that they were sick of getting up at 6.00 in the morning and catching the school bus at just before 7.00 to start school at 8.00.

They spend an average of forty hours in school, mostly studying things that they would prefer not to.

The teachers at the school are adamant that, when they get home at between 5.30 and 7.00, they must sit down to at least two hours of homework and must not waste time watching television.  In other words they must study whilst they are conscious. 

Not content with loading up their leisure time with study during the week, the profs insist that there should be a minimum of five hours' schoolwork at the weekend.

My children are, like most kids of their age, interested in an enormous range of things and especially in having fun.  They like to dance (when no one is looking), sing in the shower, put short videos on YouTube that, to them, are hilarious.  They listen to music, have a keen eye for innovation on the Net and, when gently encouraged, like to watch a range of interesting and educational programmes on TV.

In addition to all this, they worry about their hair, what kind of sweatshirts to wear, which brand of deoderant is worthy of being  applied to their increasingly stinky armpits and how many doughnuts they are allowed to eat when they come home from school.

I find myself explaining that their education/diet/sleep/attitude to teachers is very important.  They listen reasonably and then disappear upstairs calling each other by the current insulting names, laughing and pushing each other until I tell them to stop.

They are creative and imaginative beings.  They are round pegs being forced into square holes. 

Ok, I know that if I said they could do exactly as they pleased, they would be on their PS3 or XBox for hours on end, exposed to various degrees of violence and swearing while I fretted and banned  unsuitable games on the basis that they are not meant for children.

In the back of my mind, all these observations lurk, begging a question, waiting for an answer.

And then a friend of mine sent me a link to a video of Ken Robinson talking about what schools are doing to our children and I listened, rivetted.  It was funny.  Very funny.  But it made sense, too.  It was about what is happening to my children and it made me sad, because I know that the schools which my children attend will not change.  After all, the education it is providing now is the same education it was providing twenty or even thirty years ago.

The teachers are not bad people.  They are restricted by the ethos of the school and its culture of teach and test, just as much as the students are restricted by the rules in the classroom and the limitations of their timetables. 

But, listen to Ted.   He can explain what is happening and what should be done about it much better than I can.  And he'll make you laugh too, I promise.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Progress Report

Prequel to Bunny on a Bike

I'm half-way through my prequel to Bunny on a Bike and am having the time of my life remembering the brilliant summer months I spent in the South of France with my best friend Carol, paid for by the University in an attempt to help degree students immerse themselves in the French language and culture.

Writing about it is almost as exciting and probably even funnier than the reality of actually being there.

The Internet has been invaluable whenever I have wanted to jog my memory about the names of places we visited, the music we listened to, the clothes we wore and the food we ate.  I've revisited the beaches were we sunbathed and the road to Spain we drove along on our hired mopeds.  All using Google Earth and Google search engines. 

We travelled down to Carcasonne with our student Railcard, where we were 'adopted' by Maurice and Antoine, then on to Argeles-sur-mer, where we stayed on a campsite called 'La Sirene' and met lots of interesting people and had great adventures.

When I write, I find that I can go to these places and see the detail in my mind's eye, smell the sun on the sand or the ripening tomatoes on the roadside stalls. I can see Carol's face and hear her exasperation at my loopy impressions on life, literature and the world. 

I have of course changed the names of the people we met to protect them from the embarrassment of having had anything to do with the two eccentric English girls who invaded their personal space in the summer of 1979.

I must say that I am thrilled with the comments and reviews that I have received for Bunny on a Bike and I am hoping that the prequel will be as well received. 

I often think there must be something wrong with me, because I never get tired of re-reading what I have written, laughing at the bizarre and yet, I suspect, commonly shared experiences that I had with my friend Carol all those years ago.  We were so different and yet such good friends.  She was decisive and possessed a cutting sense of humour, while I was constantly searching for enlightenment in the most unexpected places.

We were young and unafraid to say what we thought and do as we pleased, and to have the opportunity to go back and feel again the freedom and spirit that was mine at that time, is a rare treat. 

The fact that some people have found my writing worth reading and have told me so, is an extra spur.  Ultimately, I write because I love to tell a story, but I also write so that people can be entertained.  Without this element, in the end, I might eventually stop writing.  Although, I can't imagine doing so yet.

So, I'll get back to my prequel (which has no proper title as yet) and, when I have done at least three drafts, I shall put it on Amazon and cross my fingers that it will be read and enjoyed by people who find themselves on  the same weird wavelength as me. 

Now, let me recall exactly how Carol dealt with the voyeur on the naturalist beach in Argeles sur mer...  Ah, yes, I remember!

Other books by Bev Spicer:

'Bunny on a Bike'

 'My Grandfather's Eyes'

 'A Good Day for Jumping' 


Saturday, 1 December 2012

The final draft?


The time had come when I thought that I should commit to the 'save and publish' button. 

After all, it was the fifth draft, edited and re-edited, checked for spelling, grammar and punctuation, its plot so tight it might snap, characters so engaging you feel as though you have met them personally, and an ending that leaves enough said and enough left to the imagination.

So, what on earth was I waiting for?

Well, I thought, I might just read it through one more time...

Then, as I went back to the beginning, I missed the the way I had felt at the end. 

Every agent says that you must grab your reader in the first chapter, the first page, the first line.  But, although this may be true some of the time, I would say that the majority of books I have read, and thought memorable, have not been instant in their appeal.

I like my interest to grow as I turn the pages of a good book, getting closer to the characters, to their hopes and concerns, their idiosyncrasies. Finding out how the plot is developing, second guessing, and revising my assumptions.  Taking part in the game set up by the author and hoping that I will not outwit him or her, that I will be surprised, delighted, entertained by the turn of events.  All this takes time, and cannot be delivered in the first few pages.

I felt like this about Sarah Waters' The Fingersmith, Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman.  All favourite books of mine that got better as they went on. 

What is difficult for new writers is that readers have no innate faith that you will deliver.  They cannot rely on past form, because they don't know who you are.  They have taken a risk based on a five star review or a pithy blurb, and so it becomes even more important to spark interest in your reader, to keep him turning the pages. 

Consequently, I will look again at the beginning of my book, because it is the beginning of everything that comes next and must instill a desire in my reader to find out more, in a steady yet irresistible building of empathy and curiousity.

There will be significant events, of course.  The plot must have a structure.  But it's not all about precipitous excitement and dramatic sequences.  I want my reader to believe in my characters, whether they care about them or despise them.  I am after an emotional involvement. 

I think I am probably ready to publish.  My trusted proof readers say that I am.  But, the more I write, the more I learn how to write, and the more I seek a better product.  Not because I believe that I will be famous one day or sell millions of books, but because I want to publish a book that is as honed as possible in every way in order to give my reader as positive an experience as possible. 

If that means that I must take the time to let a book rest and read it again, then so be it.  I shall begin again at chapter one on Monday morning and, who knows, by Friday I might be satisfied.  Or not...

You might have noticed that I have not mentioned the title of my book, and I have to admit that the reason for this is simple - I have not found one that I like well enough yet!

Bev Spicer