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Sunday 29 September 2013

Toilet Story Snippet

Today's blog: an update from the toilet story. 

This is currently my go-to WIP when I need to put a smile on my face; hopefully it does the same for you.

In other news : one visit to Leicester last week. No pigeons were sighted. I did end up with a bee trying to cuddle me fifteen minutes into the training session. Since lighting does amazing things, the only thing my audience was aware of was me breaking off in the middle of a sentence and squawking while doing an apparently awesome impression of a miniature windmill. *sigh*.   

I head to the Migraine Clinic next week Saturday, and I'm hoping for a small miracle, or something that will reduce the frequency of these things. Currently I'm getting two or three attacks a week, and it isn't fun. I would like to be able to function like a normal human again. Crossing fingers, toes, and everything else.


The letter came that Friday. The envelope was a standard A4 size, off-white affair buried under about fifty dollars worth of postage stamps, with their address and "McKinney Family" written in an elegant copperplate hand.
Jason opened the envelope at the breakfast table, and read the letter that slid out aloud to his family.
'Dear McKinney Family
First, please accept our sincere apologies for the lateness of this communication. Your post office has returned our original missive three times, once via the Siberian outback, once for insufficient postage, and once through a time-warp continuum that meant it arrived approximately three centuries ago.
Our initial request was for you to enter a trial period as emergency hosts. The official title is Saviour of the Bog Roll, and  comes with a small stipend (a portion has been paid into your bank account through electronic transfer for the use of your facility during the test) to compensate you both for the inconvenience and cost of additional materials used by your guests.'
Jason paused for a sip of coffee. Tabs took the opportunity to fetch their ancient lap-top from the lounge, and power it up. It sat grinding through the log-in menu as Jason resumed reading.
'Due to a minor clerical error, the trial period was activated without your knowledge or agreement, and you met our testers without any forewarning. The feedback has been gratifying, and we thank you for refraining from acts of violence towards them.'
"Honey?" Tabs had logged into their bank account. Now, pale and shaky, she turned the screen towards him. Jason stared at it. "That's a lot of toilet paper," he said.
"Based on our testers feedback, we would like to offer you the role for the next year. Your downstairs bathroom will be an emergency stop for any being in our alliance that runs out of toilet roll between the USA earth time of 06:44 to 06:49 on Thursday mornings.
Acceptance will entail the following:
1) Minimum of two-ply toilet roll. Quilted is appreciated, but not mandatory.
2) A permanent button will be installed in the room concerned. This will require a visit by workmen, but will be kept as short as possible.
3) Any air freshener except rose, which a number of our members are highly allergic to.
4) The Saviour family agrees to refrain from any acts of violence, including but not limited to the use of: sharp instruments, blunt objects, kittens, chainsaws, projectile weapons and corrosive liquids.
5) Upon acceptance, the yearly stipend will be transferred to your bank.
6) The Saviour family is entitled to two (2) holiday periods of two (2) weeks per time during the course of the year. Please notify it advance by handing a letter to a guest no less than three (3) weeks prior to planned vacation.
7) The Saviour family is requested to refrain from using the unusual appearance of most of our members to scare or intimidate in-laws, mis-behaving children, surly UPS delivery men, any agent of the IRS or postal service, and the cable-guy.  Bankers, telephone marketers and GM company CEOs are welcome, and may be  offered as a friendly snack. (Please use only non-synthetic bindings due to delicate digestive systems.)
("Do they say anything about hall monitors?"
"No, Chris."
"What about -" 
"We are not feeding anyone to anything."
"Kids, don't eye-roll your father.")

'If you are willing to accept this, please hand this missive to your next guest, and the installation will be arranged.
Yours sincerely,
The Federated Alliance of Rare Things.'

Sunday 22 September 2013

The week Goodreads blows up

If you're on Goodreads, then you probably already know about the howls of anguish screaming across the internet. 
To summarise: a number of people on the site have made a hobby of slash-and-burn posts, reviews and shelves against certain authors. A number of authors have had very public meltdowns and abused bloggers and reviewers. It's been ugly on both sides. 
Goodreads took their toys away.
Both sides promptly imploded in fits of wailing and chest-beating. There's also been a good amount of somewhat-pompous "see-what-you-get" comments, which change to wailing and chest-beating and screams of betrayal as soon as said commentator realises they've also been targeted.

I stepped back from Goodreads a while ago. The dog-piling on both sides was part of it, as well as being repeatedly spammed by book recommendations from authors, but mainly it was time (I just don't have that much of it). I still have my account and my groups, and I swing by to see what's happening every now and then, but I don't live on the site.

The world of Goodreads is insular. Dogpiles and flame-wars happen on a regular basis. This time, Goodreads managed to make itself a target, and has now experienced dog-piling to the nth degree. Some of the comments immediately following the announcement validated it to some extent, but the response - banning some of the commentators - didn't make the site   come out of it smelling like roses. People should have the right to their opinions, whether you agree with them or not.

So for what it's worth, here are my thoughts:

1) Goodreads was always for readers. It was never really an author-friendly place, outside of the author groups. I kind of liked that; I'm part of a couple of groups that just jabber and chat, and I've never mentioned my books to them. As a reader, it's a pretty cool place to find new books, or re-discover old favourites.
I don't want every part of my life to be around promoting my books. I write the things, I've already lived them. Sometimes I just want to be a reader, and people change how they interact with you on that site when they find out you are an author. 
It's not hidden; anyone who clicks on my profile will find it, but I don't wander around forums talking about it. 
It would be the equivalent of walking through a shopping centre wearing my underpants on my head, ringing a bell and yodelling. I'd get a lot of attention but very little support.

2) Censorship is never a good thing. Neither is dickish behaviour. But personally, I'd rather know that someone is a complete dick by seeing what they've posted. It may be poison, but it's up front and in your face. On the 'net, you can avoid it by clicking away. Nobody ever straps your ass to a chair and forces you to respond to it. 
As a reader, it meant that stuff certain posters were particularly vicious about probably got a look from me out of interest sake if nothing else. Sometimes their points were valid, sometimes they were being dicks.
As a writer, I'd cringe every now and then on behalf of whoever was on the receiving end, but as a writer the first thing you should be doing in strapping on armour before you head into the wilds of any public forum. 
Getting into a net war with these guys is like throwing popcorn at a toddler; you will end up surrounded by a bunch of very angry people, and they tend to exchange popcorn for small nuclear devices. It's pointless and exhausting, and kind of leads me to the next point, which is something it took me a while to understand:

3) Readers don't really want authors to interact with them on their turf. That's bolded for a reason; if readers want to interact with a writer, they'll head on over to the blog, or twitter, or Facebook, and comment and chat. Places like Goodreads and the Amazon boards are places the reader doesn't want the author to butt in. It's like having the chef at a restaurant sit down at your table and watch you eat, and occasionally complaining about how you use your fork.  

4) A lot of this is down to bad behaviour by authors; spamming forums about their books and getting into flame wars when people told them to shut up, and in certain cases just being as needy as toddlers wanting attention. Goodreads/Amazon is not the place to throw yourself a pity-party because you've only sold three books a week, and people don't understand your unsung genius, and won't somebody please give you a hug and tell you they love you. As a writer this is awkward to read, however much I sympathise. To the average reader, this is the equivalent of pissing on a live wire and wondering why it hurts. 
There is now open hostility towards authors on both of these places, and to a point that hostility has been earned. Whether we like it or not is immaterial; that feeling of 'stay off of my block' is there and imbedded. Whining about it won't change it. Realising that it's there, and not escalating things is important; it won't help you one little bit, and poking this particular bear with a stick may result in a very short-lived writing career. If you need support, join an authors group. Leave the reader forums the hell alone if you are wearing your author's hat.
5) It is unlikely that things will change that much. Threats of mass exodus happen every time something changes on a site like this. There may be a dip in attendance for a few days, but in six weeks time, odds are people will be back on the site, reviewing and chatting, and getting worked up about something else. 

6) There is always something else. There is always somebody who wants to be vicious, and someone who feel moved to respond and escalate the situation. There is always someone to throw popcorn at. It's the price we pay for being part of that particular society. But the censoring of opinion in any society, whether it's on-line or in the real world, is a slippery slope, and nobody in their right mind will condone it. Who get's to decide whose opinion is valid, and whose is not? Who watches the watchers?
I may not like a lot of the stuff I see on Goodreads, but the people who post it have the right to speak out. If they come across as bullying or obnoxious, they've exposed that bit of themselves, and that's a good thing. People are quite capable of making their minds up about the stuff they write, eye-rolling, and moving swiftly on. If they expose valid issues and concerns, that is also a good thing. 
Gagging them is not. 

Sunday 15 September 2013

Sample Sunday - Ravens snippet

Today's snippet is short, and potentially spoilery, so some names and details are removed. Usual warnings - strong language and violence, this scene may change in final edits.


“Your god is a fool and a mad one at that, if he expects us to believe this.” Vianna told him.

“One would also expect a god to have a basic working knowledge of magic,” Brin drawled. “So to summarise: you murdered children, fled the country, pretended to be male and infiltrated a cult who enjoy killing women, and returned from the islands and began preying on the people you pretended to serve. How many did you kill in Breya, little fangless one?”
“I never killed anyone useful,” ------- shrugged, ignoring the insult. “No-one notices one less beggar at the gate, or one less whore in a tavern.”

Gates stirred. “They noticed. We had people reported missing on a regular basis, but folks leave and come back. No guard had the time to check on every person with itchy feet.” He sighed. “I had you at my table, ------. I counted you as a friend.”

The fey king walked over, blade in hand. “Then you came to my home and slaughtered a guest of mine, one who was worth ten of you.” Brin said. “Why the hawk? You drugged the others; why not feed on them?”
And -------- smiled at them. “I’ve never eaten a hawk before. He tasted lovely.

Brin and Amber moved at the same time.  Brin struck down and Amber out, and the vampire slowly separated into quarters that slid bonelessly apart.

Gates was quietly and thoroughly sick on the floor behind them.

Saturday 14 September 2013

The Pigeon War continues: Ambushed!

In a day that I can only imagine is a concerted revenge attempt for the Great Coffee Pigeon Enema, I was ambushed twice. I can safely say that I lost on both occasions.

I imagine that the following reports were received at Pigeon HQ, to be examined and scrutinised by Pigeon Intelligence. Possibly medals were discussed and awarded.

07:42 a.m.

Target opened front door of flat. Your agent fearlessly and without heed of personal danger flung herself upwards and into target's face, screaming "Pigeons FOREVERRRRR!"
Target squawked (Like when Our Aunt Maude laid that funny shape egg? That noise.), windmilled arms, overbalanced and landed on posterior in flat hallway.
Your agent contemplated defecating on hall carpet, but was laughing too hard to take this action.
Target attempted to crawl towards door and punch agent at same time, resulting in target face-planting on carpet and screaming "Bloody pigeons!" repeatedly.
Once target regained footing and stood upright, your agent decided it would be prudent to leave vicinity while target was muttering to itself and picking feathers out of her hair.

Your agent notes with some satisfaction that target limped most of the way down the road, whilst rubbing posterior and muttering.

Mission accomplished.
- Dispatch ends.

19:03 p.m.

Your agent has achieved the pinnacle of timing and good aim! Long Live Pigeons! 

Target arrived at train station and stepped outside to get away from Strange Farting Human.  With careful consideration, your agent was able to position himself just over the doorway, and release The Bowels of Doom as target stepped outside.

Target was struck on nose.

Target screamed, cursed at agent, shook fist at agent, and used five separate tissues and hand sanitiser on nose. Strange Farting Human lurched away saying something about crazy people being everywhere in London.

Target got on train with bright red nose.

Mission accomplished.

 - Dispatch ends.

I intend being re-incarnated as a hawk. 

Sunday 8 September 2013

Ghost pictures and strange carvings at Walmer Castle

Last weekend I found myself back in Westgate-on-Sea, and we ended up at Walmer Castle. This was built by Henry VII as one of a bunch of coastal defences, and it was in use right up until the 1940's. There've been a LOT of renovations, so not much original (apart from the walls) remains in the part we saw.

This is where Wellington died, and the room he used is open to view. The bed is tiny, and looking at the furnishings, this was not a man who wallowed in luxury.  No pics here, as we weren't allowed to take photo's inside this part of the building.

There are cannon, which made a lot of kids very happy - I don't think I saw one that wasn't been ridden like an iron horse - there is a moat, with gorgeous plants and flowers. There is a decorative fish pond and working kitchen gardens. 

Strangely enough, I haven't been able to turn up any stories about it being haunted, and for an old site that is very unusual. Especially considering the photo's below, taken on my mobile in the basement.

Picture 1
 This picture to the left is the first of three that were taken one after the other, with an automatic flash. The phone is an iphone 4G.

I tend to take a lot of pictures; odd textures and things I just like the look of. You never know what might be perfect for the next book cover.
This particular part of the basement has a little tunnel of sorts leading to a wall visible at the back of the photo. I imagine it led somewhere in the main building at some point - possibly a short cut for the soldiers to use - but there are so many covered entrances and bricked up doorways it might be hard to trace. It was roped off, and narrow, and I had no interest in getting stuck down a National Heritage building tunnel and having to be rescued by the fire department, so I took my pictures and wondered away.  I reckon maybe 5 seconds passed between the first and the third picture being taken, I just pushed the button repeatedly.
Picture 2
 It wasn't until I got home the following day that I showed these to Stacey, who pointed out the figure in the pictures. While it isn't very obvious in the first two, this third one floored me. I kind of regret not sneaking down that tunnel now. There were only two of down there. The tunnel/passage is not very long, the roof is fairly low compared to everywhere else in the building, and anyone else would have been exposed immediately by the flash. (I also really regret only taking three pictures here.) I've posted this one as large as my cranky little macbook will let me.

Picture 3
Then we went around the corner and found this, under the stair case we'd walked down earlier.

Under-stair arch and cavity

Since it wasn't blocked off, we ducked into it. About three stones up from the bottom, there was a strange carving.

Carving pic 1under-stair cavity

Carving pic 2 under-stair cavity
I've seen that symbol somewhere before, but google has sadly failed me. It's driving me batty, so if anyone can tell me what it is, I'll be quite happy.  The first National Heritage lady we showed the pictures to got quite excited. The second one, who went back down with us, looked like we'd just kicked her puppy. (I have the strange feeling that area will get roped off in a hurry.) She did tell us that they had no record of the carving, that it appeared old, and that since a lot of the stone was re-used, it could have come from anywhere. That particular bit of wall appears to be either limestone or chalk, which would probably make it local. The chalk cliffs are ubiquitous in this part of the world.  The stones just to the right of the carving look like something may have been there, but has either been removed or fallen away. While the rest of the stones were cut and relatively smooth, this particular block seemed peculiarly lumpy.

Block picture 1

Block picture 2
If anyone can shed light on the carvings, I'd love to know. Overall, this was a great day out. And the gift shop has some of the best ginger wine I've ever tasted.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Toilet Saga continues … Snippety stuff

Apologies for lack of posting lately - the migraines are back, although they've moved position, and they pretty much killed any computer work for the last few days. I ended up back at Westgate-On-Sea last weekend, and managed to cause a wee bit of consternation at Walmer Castle. Details on the next post.  I also appear to have managed to get a spook on camera during last weekends adventure, and if I can get the phone to download the pics, I'll post them as well.

In the meantime, I have another Toilet Saga update. Enjoy :)


Thursday, 06:48
The entire family gathered outside the bathroom door. Chris and Sarah were determined not to miss the next "visitor". Emily wanted her ribbons back, and was hoping for the werewolf to re-appear. Tabs and Jason were torn between wanting to know what was going on, and not wanting anyone to get hurt.
"Ready?" Jason asked his brood.
"Ready!" Chris waved the roll of toilet paper. Emily released a pre-emptive squirt of lavender spray into Jason's ear. Sarah rolled her eyes, and held up her camera.
"No." Tabs told her.
"Unless you're happy for us to take pictures of you in that position, no photos."
The camera disappeared.
"Remember," Jason told them sternly. "Stay behind us until we say its okay."
"Yes, dad!" They chorused resignedly. They'd heard that phrase for a week.
"Chris," Tabs said. "Don't eye-roll your father."
"Sorry," he muttered. 

Jason opened the door.

He woke up on the sofa with a wet cloth on his forehead and a throbbing nose.

"Wha..." Then he remembered, screamed, and fell off the sofa.

Tabs sighed and helped him up.
"The kids?" he gasped.
Tabs took a deep breath. "They're fine. Sarah gave it a wet cloth, because after you fainted, it fainted and fell off the pot." She looked thoughtful. "I think it's phobic. We scared it."
"We scared it?" Jason clutched the cloth to his head. "It was a giant spider!"
"Yeah, well, it knocked a few of its curlers out and tore its negligee. That was real pretty, too." Tabs looked wistful. 
"No," Jason said. "Not if you ever want to have sex again."
"I lent it a scarf to cover up - the poor thing was quite embarrassed over it - and the kids collected the rollers into a bag for it. Then Chris gave her the toilet roll and left her to it."
Jason processed this. "The kids are okay?"
"Well, Emily's a bit pissed at you for scaring it. She hit you a few times on the nose with a newspaper before I dragged you away."
"Jeez," he muttered. "It's not like I piddled on the carpet. Why didn't you stop her?"
Tabs shrugged. "It made the spider feel better."