Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Me and my eBook Reader

Last Wednesday was my birthday -- smack in the middle of the week, not that it makes a whole lot of difference for me! The Man surprised me with a wonderful Ibsen play, Ghosts, then dinner at a nearby Aldwych 1 restaurant. It was a great night.

But the best bit was when we got home and he unveiled... a Sony eReader!

I've read so much about these darn things I could barely believe it was right there, in front of my eyes. The future of publishing. The end of publishing. The killer of books. And there it was, nestled in its purple leather case, staring unblinkingly up at me.

I shivered with trepidation. The I reached out, touched it, and...

I fell in love. The 100 free classic books! The ease of choosing a book I wanted and having it... within seconds! And the best bit of all: the fact that my lovely Kensington and Chelsea has a digital library with a wonderful selection of books to choose from! It's amazingly easy: you put in your library card number, select the book you want to download... and voila. You have a limited time to read the eBook before it reverts back to the library (I think; I haven't fully investigated the 'return' of library ebooks yet).

I'm not saying the eBook Reader will take the place of other books in my life. But it is certainly handy to carry around with you to use when you're in that 'I need something to read, now!' state. A little anecdote: last Monday night I was stuck in a Tube tunnel for about 30 minutes on the 'new and improved' Circle Line. I'd finished reading one book already. In my former world, I would have sat there and been forced to listen to the annoying bloke beside me braying about how he forgot to set two places for invited guests during his wedding reception (yes, really). But with my eBook Reader, I simply opened another book I had downloaded, and let him fade away into oblivion.

If only real life could be so easy...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Phew. Well, I did it! I managed to get through the BBC London interview.

I don't know quite why I was so nervous -- I've worked in PR and in journalism. I know how these things go. And I swatted up big time, making up cheat sheets and refreshing my memory. Still, when it came time for the producer to ring me, my hand were cold and clammy and my heart was pounding.

All in all, I think it came out OK. Here's the link to the interview. Fast-forward to about 15 minutes in if you don't want to listen to the whole show, and I'm on! (The link's only up until a week from today.)

In other news, I'll be launching a contest soon for 100 followers -- it may take awhile to actually hit the mark but I really appreciate everyone who's helped me get there even if I've been absolutely rubbish at returning comments! Thanks everyone and stay tuned.

Tomorrow: My new eReader!

Monday, March 29, 2010

On the Radio

I'm going to be on the radio! If you're in London, tune in to BBC London at around 12:15 pm GMT tomorrow (Tuesday) where I'll be talking about late-night London with host Robert Elms. Here's hoping I can form coherent sentences! If you're not in London but you still want to listen, you can listen live here. I'll try to get a clip somehow, too.

And in other news, I've been severely remiss in returning comments and follows and I'm very sorry! I've think I've caught up with the follows but please feel free to give me a nudge.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get Yer Tickets!

I remember where I was when I first heard London was awarded the 2012 Olympics. It was Sport Day at the secondary school where I was teaching, a humid dank day, and we'd just finished running the teacher relay. The headmaster came on the tannoy and announced to the 500-odd hyped-up kids that London had won the games. Much screaming and cheering ensued, and the whole experience left me feeling quite patriotic and proud of my relatively new country.

Now, a few years later, the Games are just around the corner and the wangling for tickets has already begun! Although they haven't yet been released, you can sign up to be kept up-to-dated with tickets sales here.

The Man and I are wangling for tickets to Athletics. Fingers crossed! Just another two years and the Games will be here!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Class System and... Books!

Ah yes. The Great British Class System has now been extended to books! At the top of the heap: poets. At the bottom: crime authors.

And my question is this: where is romance? Where is women's fiction?

Apparently they're so far off the radar, they don't even deserve a mention.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm In!

About a month ago, I posted about sending off my application for British Citizenship to the never-never land that is the Home Office. Advice on the Home Office website said it could be anywhere between three and six months before I heard anything, so I braced myself for the worst.

Saturday morning, I noticed a thin letter with a Liverpool post code in our front hallway. My heart sank. The Home Office was in Liverpool - they must be contacting me to tell me I've missed out something. I tore it open and out fell... an invitation to attend my citizenship ceremony on May 25! My application had been approved in just a month -- and I now declare May 25 to be my British Birthday.

I will never bad-mouth the Home Office again. (Not that I ever did in the first place, of course. I love you, Home Office, if you're reading this...). Just one request: can you please relocate my passport and driver's license, as they appear to be MIA?

Bring on the Yorkshire Pudding. Bring on the warm ale. I'm in, baby!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hidden London: Thackeray Street

Just off High Street Kensington (almost directly behind the massive Whole Foods) is a small winding street called Thackeray Street. Although it's literally a stone's throw from the shopping crowds, it's a whole other world -- and century -- away.

The street is named for William Makepeace Thackeray, the 19th century English novelist, who lived nearby. You can almost picture him striding into Riders & Squires for his equestrian gear, or pulling up a chair outside Montparnasse Café for a baguette.

Peer through the windows of the art galleries or sip a coffee at Ottoemezzo and get a taste of le vrai Kensington.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ghost Signs Archive

Awhile back, I posted on Ghost Signs in and around my neighourhood. I'm happy to report there's now an initiative launched to document these rapidly disappearing glimpses of the past. The Ghost Signs Archive is a gallery of signs in and around the country. Take a peek!

Happy Saturday!

Coming up tomorrow: Hidden London

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's Going On

Spring is in the air here in London and my mind is busy buzzing, so I thought I'd give a little update on what I've been working on lately.

24 Hours Paris is due out in May (you can pre-order on Amazon... sorry, had to put that in!). I'm now working on finishing touches, final edits and filling in lay-out gaps here and there. It's always exciting when you get a proof of how your work will look in book-form!

I've also been busy researching material for 24 Hours Sydney, which we plan to release in e-book and iPhone format, so keep your eyes out for that!

And 24 Hours London continues to roll along, too: Babes About Town recently gave the book a really lovely review. Thanks again to everyone who's helped out and supported that project along the way!

And on the fiction front, I'm happy to report that things are moving forward! I'm still managing to get in my daily word count despite the non-fiction work. Good things are a-comin' and I'll update soon.

Happy Spring (not official yet, I know, but I'm in the spirit!). Here's to a productive season.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ode to Beckham

Phew. I'm still in recovery after five days with two five- and seven-year-olds who are a great deal of fun but endless bundles of energy! All respect goes out to parents who deal with children 24-7... I'm exhausted!

In between the play areas of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, I stumbled on this poem by the UK's Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Duffy holds a special place in my heart as The Man and I decided to have one of her poems read at our wedding.


by Carol Ann Duffy, inspired by David Beckham's Achilles' tendon

Myth's river — where his mother dipped him, fished him, a
slippery golden boy flowed on, his name on its lips.

Without him, it was
prophesied, they would not take Troy.

Women hid him, concealed him in
girls' sarongs; days of sweetmeats, spices, silver songs...

But when
Odysseus came, with an athlete's build, a sword and a shield, he followed him to
the battlefield, the crowd's roar,

And it was sport, not war, his
charmed foot on the ball...

But then his heel, his heel, his heel...

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blog Interview!

I recently did an interview over at the lovely blog Define Fabulous. Click here to find out about my very exciting days and what I find most difficult about the writing life.

I'll be missing in action the next few days as family visit from Egypt via Paris, but I'll be back early next week. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sing to Your Own Tune

There are some amazing buskers in Tube stations around London. One of my favourites was a Spanish guitar player at Tottenham Court Road a few years ago. The melodic chords of the music seemed so surreal set against the grimy white tiles of the station corridors. Some of the coolest buskers I've ever seen are at my 'home' station of Notting Hill Gate.

Buskers in London need a license to perform, and competition to get one is fierce. So Boris Johnson has launched 'Busker Idol'.

If you want to be a Busker Idol, you must do the following:

Entrants must upload a video clip of themselves performing on the ‘Rhythm of London‘ You Tube page: and complete an online registration form at: by 6 April 2010. Judges will then select 100 people to be filmed performing at busking slots across London on 24 April and ask the public to vote for their favourite busker. The top ten will then perform live later this year at a ‘busk off’ for the final prize.

So: who will be the next Busker Idol (uttered in a Ryan Seacrest-style voice)? If I was auditioning, I'd sing my karaoke fail-safe: Bon Jovi's 'Living on a Prayer'. (It's good! Really!)

What would you sing?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don't Catch the Bug!

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your writing book recommendations!

Still on the theme of improving your writing craft (for those who hang out here for London-based stuff, there's a post coming up soon -- promise!), I came across this today on Lynn Viehl's Paperback Writer blog. It made me laugh several times (in recognition of things I'd done), so I thought I'd share it!

Ten Things You Might Catch from Other Writers' Books

Dragonorrhea: the prevalence of countless, beautifully colored, magically-endowed, bejewel-eyed dragons in a story when said dragons are not logical to the world-building, have no lives, apparently have nothing better to do than suck up to puny mortals, and (no matter how enormous or powerful they are) usually behave like fanged, flying, fire-breathing bunnies.

Good Girlitis: A serious and often grotesque inflammation of the heroine's moral pulchritude, which results in her utter inability to acquire flaws, make bad decisions or otherwise mess up like the rest of the ordinary mortals on the planet.

InfoMumps: Swollen, boring and largely unattractive monologues offered by dull characters who seem to serve no other purpose except to be on hand to confirm what Bob already knows.

HEAlzheimers: no matter how emotionally screwed up one or more main characters were during the first nineteen chapters of the novel, in the twentieth they forget all their troubles, commit to a serious relationship for which they were always incapable of trying much less sustaining in the past, and otherwise present a permanently welded-on mask of unnatural, lobotomized bliss.

Projectile Dysfunction: the unreasonable, unrealistic but steadily persistent eruption of guns, knives, swords and other phallic symbols wielded by the hero to underscore or serve as visual substitute for his masculinity, heterosexuality, virility, or any other manly man attribute.

Pseudo-BadBoydom: a surface condition which presents the hero as a nasty dirty lowdown mean leather-wearing foul-mouthed ingrate who should be publicly flogged for his innumerable sins and yet mysteriously and instantly vanishes whenever the heroine confesses her love, self-doubts, troubles or any situation in which a real bad boy would actually come in rather handy.

For more, click here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Favourite Books on Writing

Thanks for some wonderful, thought-provoking comments on my previous post. Theresa asked if I had any book suggestions. Great question, since I do have a few!

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a wonderful, easy-to-read and entertaining book on writing. Full of great life advice, too.

On Writing by Stephen King has practical tips -- such as axing those pesky adverbs -- and also discusses the writing techniques that work best for him.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James Frey: Terrible title, but if you can get past that it has very good tips on conflict and 'raising the stakes'.

Wanna Be a Writer? by Jane Wenham Jones was one of the first books I bought when I started out on the writing journey. Funny and irreverent.

Any other favourites out there?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can Writing Be Taught?

Over the past few years, I've read quite a few books on writing -- all of which I have found helpful. But in the back of my mind, I've wondered: can someone learn to become a writer? Or is it something that's innate inside you?

I've gone back and forth on this. I believe writing is a craft, and like any craft you can hone your skills and uncover more about its nuances. But there's also a lot of creativity irequire to develop stories and character, and I'm not sure that's something you can learn.

What do you think? Can writing be taught?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Happy World Book Day... Again!

My previous post was becoming too long and cumbersome, and I wanted to put these next two authors in a post just for them! Out of all the people who helped me over the past year -- and there have been many -- these two stand out.

Mike Harling, author of Postcards from the Across the Pond: Dispatches from an Accidental Expat, and Toni Hargis, author of Rules, Britannia, were quick to respond to my requests for blurbs, passed many promotional leads my way and did their utmost to support my book both on their blogs and others'. I can't say thank you enough for everything they have done.

So without further ado, here are their books!

Mike Harling, Postcards from the Across the Pond: Dispatches from an Accidental Expat

Postcards from across The Pond began as a means of keeping in touch with the folks back home in the USA, but it soon expanded into a humorous commentary on British life by an accidental expat.

"Laugh out loud funny regardless of which side of the pond you call home... Bill Bryson move over, there's a new American expat in town with a keen sense of humor."
Jeff Yeager, author of 'The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map To True Riches'

"A very funny book indeed. I was literally laughing out loud whilst reading this book; not only did I enjoy it, but I am now craving more."
Steve Gillen, moderator of

"I savored the bubbling flavor of this Yankee reaction to Saxon country in the form of perky postcard-style epistles."
Eileen Swift, former syndicated travel writer for Newsday

Toni Hargis, Rules, Britannia

Born and raised in England, but living now in Chicago, Hargis offers perspectives from both sides of the pond, proving once again that the United States and the United Kingdom are two countries divided by a common language. In chapters such as "Words That Guarantee Giggles" and "Grub and Other Delicacies," the author explains differences in pronunciation and usage between American English terms and British English terms: "In the U.K., Hush Puppies are a type of comfy shoe, and a sloppy joe is a sweater." Such discrepancies, obviously, can fill a book. Throughout, Hargis also includes lists of "British words that might require translation" (their sleeping policeman is our speed bump, and blokes named Randy or Willy will likely get stroppy and not at all cock-a-hoop after taking the piss from a tosser about their names) and "American words that the Brits don't share" (busboys and the concept of bussing a table are "totally meaningless in the UK"). Sections on road rules, real estate, fashion and employment will be handy for readers planning on staying longer than a vacation (or, in Brit: holiday).

Happy World Book Day!

To celebrate, I'm going to recommend some books from bloggers and twitterers who have helped me, made me laugh and entertained me over the past year. This is the first post of 2... more to come later today!

Fairytale of New York, by Miranda Dickinson

Rosie Duncan is happy. Or so she thinks. Her florist store in New York's Upper West Side, which she took over from the enigmatic Mr Kowalski six years ago, is flourishing. She has a wonderful life in her adopted city, surrounded by friends that love her. While Rosie refuses to discuss her past - or why she won't consider looking for a relationship - her assistants Ed (the human iceberg) and Marnie (who appears to have dated the whole of Manhattan), together with inimitable New York Times columnist Celia (a one-woman tornado), do their best to convince her to open her heart. But when hopelessly optimistic Rosie meets self-confessed pessimist Nate, their blossoming friendship over coffee at her store begins to shake her resolve - and unravel the mystery surrounding her arrival in New York. Then a chance meeting brings Rosie face to face with her past – and now she must choose which way her life will go. Is she falling for Nate? Will she be able to love again? And what is going on with her best friend Ed?

Naked in Knightsbridge, by Nicky Schmidt

With mounting debts, threats from a crazy landlord and a cleaning business that was going well until she set fire to someone s house, Jools Grand is about to find herself homeless. She has to come up with a plan, and fast. So with an acute sense of desperation, Jools decides to auction herself online in a marriage of convenience. Who knows, she might even find romance? What Jools isn t banking on is a bidding war between two not-so-eligible bachelors a wealthy, gay, would-be politician who needs a wife as a cover; and a deranged loner with a newly-refurbished basement prison. Add to that a lecherous father, some soon-to-be-exposed secrets and an addiction to pastries, and Jools is set to discover that nothing comes without a price.

Farm Girl by Karen Jones Gowen

Farm Girl, the heart-warming journey of a girl coming of age on a 1920's Nebraska farm, is an authentic account of that era. It is a story told with warmth, gentle humor and amazing detail. Many cherished remembrances helped to shape the young girl into an educated, gracious woman--one of the worst dust storms in history when people got lost in their own yards, a beloved cousin who came to a sad end, the father who carried a burning kerosene tank out of the house with his bare hands. Be transported to another time and place as you visit the Marker farm in western Nebraska. Where horses were back-up transportation for cars. Where children were educated in one-room schoolhouses. And when no one ever heard of television. If you like the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Willa Cather, you will enjoy Farm Girl. It is set in the locale of Willa Cather's Nebraska novels, and there is even a chapter in the book about the Marker Cather connections. Richly photographed throughout with over 60 authentic photos documenting the people and places of the story. This historical, easy-to-read small book is suitable for use in the classroom from fifth grade up.

Dream Man, by Nancy J Parra

A NO NONSENSE WOMAN…Dr. Eva Stanford only wants to help her patient sleep through the night. Little does she know that the old woman holds the secret to a thirty-year-old mystery that threatened the political life of a presidential candidate and Eva’s own family.
A MAN WITH A DREAM…FBI Agent Nate Cancaid has a reoccurring dream of a woman with dark hair and blue eyes whose murder he is unable to prevent. When the blue eyed doctor enters his office, he feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

A MYSTERY THAT TRANSCENDS TIME…It’s bad enough when Eva’s patient claims that Eva and Nate are her married assistants, but coincidences grow too complicated for her scientific mind when some of the clues come straight out of Nate’s dreams. Can Eva keep from losing her heart to a man of intuition or has fate already dealt her a losing hand?

Death Watch, by Nicola Morgan

Someone is watching Cat McPherson. Is it a young schizophrenic, a retired scientist, or Cat’s ex-boyfriend? Or it could be someone else entirely. An obsession with insects seems to link them all. And Cat hates insects. She’s easy prey, especially as she has given away so much about herself on an internet site which her parents have forbidden her to use. But does she even realize that she’s being stalked? A talented athlete, she's too busy with the pressures of training and deciding whether she really wants to run for a living. The trouble is, soon she will have to run for her life…

Guide to Teaching in London, by Victoria Westcott

In this 110 page guide, you'll find:

• job hunting advice
• visas explained
• stories from Canadian teachers on the front lines
• UK curriculum guidance
• lesson planning assistance
• assessment strategies
• tried and tested behavioural management strategies that really work!
• supply teaching tips
• interviews with Canadian teachers in London
• interviews with recruiters in London
• words you need to know, movies you should watch and books to read
• comprehensive resources that will help you with your move across the pond

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What Do You *Do* All Day?

Sometimes, when people ask me if I have a 'day job' and I answer no, I can see the unspoken question floating in their head: how does someone who works from home -- as a 'writer', no less -- fill the hours, day after day, on their own?

Truth be told, it was something I struggled with when I first quit my daily slog of a corporate job. I still had a part-time job -- the thought of not going out into the world to do something was too scary at that stage -- but the hours would sometimes stretch out before me like a desert to be crossed. I'd sit at my desk in the morning, with no colleagues to chat with, no coffee to make, and no emails to ignore, and stare at the blank screen. With only me to motivate myself, work became harder than ever.

Now, two years later and more than a year since I stopped 'working' altogether, I often wonder where the day has gone. While in the beginning I often found it very hard to concentrate, now I can sit and write for much longer periods of time without heading to the kitchen to snack -- or, heaven forbid, checking my Twitter. I'm more productive and while I still have my 'off' days, the hours are no longer as scary. They pass by even faster than when I was in the office, and they're infinitely more enjoyable.

It's taken two years, but I think I've finally trained myself to sit in a chair and write. Sounds easy but it's one of the most difficult things I think I've ever done!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Blogsplash: Thaw by Fiona Robyn

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.


These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...