Friday, 30 August 2013

Interview at Author Interviews

Fiona McVie interviewed me over at Author Interviews here.

As that was a short update, here's a pic of my allotment pumpkin.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Ten Questions - Jackie Buxton

Author, blogger and Chase Magazine book reviewer, Jackie Buxton, joins us today for Ten Questions. Jackie helped me years ago by assisting with my grammatical shortcomings on a short story I was submitting, so it's no surprise that she's helping out (far more needy) others with her latest story.

Jackanory or Ballamory?

Jackanory, I’m afraid, although I have lived through Ballamory with my children, the youngest of which was a big fan. I remember having to screech the car to a halt in a village in North Wales driving back from holiday once, because the row of brightly painted terraced houses was: Ballamory. Photo time!

What’s your latest book about?

I’ve contributed a story to the Stories for Homes anthology, the brain child of Sally Swingewood 

Submissions were invited on the theme of the ‘home’ and a wide range of stories were chosen for inclusion. Some are really poignant so get your hankies out! My contribution, A Life with Additives, inspired by a tour of one of the few working mills in Britain, was a bit more frivolous. I was totally wedded to the owner’s dedication to the art of producing ‘real’ flour, but when I bought a, admittedly, large bag and little change came back from a tenner I couldn’t help being concerned for the mill’s financial viability -  who would buy this flour on a regular basis? And that’s where my down-trodden character, Shelley, and her disgruntled bread-making came from.
All proceeds from the book go to Shelter, a no-frills charity which has been working tirelessly for homeless people since 1966. The electronic version of Stories for Homes is available here and the soft back is due to be released in the next few weeks.

Chips and cheese or chips and gravy?
Chips and gravy please! Or, better still, chips and mushy peas – much to my children’s disgust.

Where do you write?
Hmmm. I like to mix it up a bit. I spend most of my time in my beautifully refurbished study, nose stuck to the screen - I’m still excited about my new Changing Room of a study even though the mammoth operation took place over six months ago - but when I’m editing I start off with a hard copy and take myself to different areas of the house and garden where, hold on to your hats, this summer it has actually been TOO HOT to write. I fervently believe that mixing it up helps you spot things you wouldn’t have found so easily if you hadn’t moved from the place where you scribbled down that first draft. It’s like the exercise whre pple write lke ths and you cn stll understand it – write in the same place and your brain sees what it saw before. This is a very handy belief because it also allows me to whisk myself off to one of about twenty coffee shops (if my loyalty cards are anything to go by) at the mere whiff of a re-write, where I can happily sit for hours aided by the odd cappuccino or two. 

Dinner for Two or Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read Breakfast at Tiffany’s but Dinner for Two made me chortle, and I have a vague recollection of shedding a tear, so I’ll happily plump for that.

Is your writing inspired in any way by real events?
I think the honest answer to that is that it always is. I’m not sure I have the wackiest imagination, I’d struggle to write more than a paragraph of fantasy for example, but it does feel as though life spins my mind into a constant spaghetti of plot lines. I struggle to walk down the street without a, ‘What If?’ moment, noticing the way someone’s walking, speaking loudly into their phone, dreaming…

My novel, Glass Houses, came to me in a rush while I was working on a different story (now consigned to the bottom drawer) during an Arvon residential writing course but really, it was a couple of incidents prior to this which gave me the backdrop. When a charismatic lady spoke of her forgiveness for her son's killers in the 7/7 London bombings, I was struck by how much more powerful this was than the, nonetheless, very human reaction of anger. I also remember noticing the complete devastation in the face of the driver who caused several deaths in the Selby train crash, when he fell asleep at the wheel. The press demonised him but I couldn’t help thinking that this wasn't the face of a cold blooded killer, rather of someone who'd made a dreadful mistake. He'd punish himself for the rest of his life - maybe he didn't need us to do it too.
From this came Glass Houses, the story of a woman whose life implodes after sending a fatal text from the M62.  Pilloried by press and public, she is forced to swap most of what she previously held dear for a life in the public eye.  Many find her breathtaking honesty and humanity infectious but, unfortunately, not everybody approves.

What’s your ideal writing chair – armed or armless?    
Very dull answer I’m afraid, after years of physio on every muscle, limb, joint, it seems, in my body, (too much running but I’m addicted so resistance is futile) I no longer have the luxury of curling up in a soft, enveloping arm chair and scribbling in a notepad. These days I have to sit bolt upright, usually on my orthopaedically approved studio chair which does have arms but I never use them. Should I?

Physical book or e-book?

PHYSICAL BOOK! I need to turn the pages. I like to feel the cover, turn the book over to read the blurb. Most of my reading I do in the bath. And I can’t get excited about introducing any more screen time in my life. But, ahem, I understand other people feel differently and sometimes wish that I did when I’m removing shoes (can you imagine?) from my packing because my To Be Read pile is taking my suitcase over the 15 kilo limit. But, even if ‘they’ reduce the maximum luggage limit to two point five kilos, I can’t see this particular Luddite budging much before the last printing press is removed from the western world.

Prisoner Cell Block H or H from Steps?
Neither! I struggle to watch television, my mind wanders too much and I’d choose a film over a series any time (unless it’s Hussle, Homeland or Luther). And, like much on TV, I couldn’t bear the acting in Prisoner Cell Block H. I am a harsh critic I’m afraid. I remember my three sisters bedding down to watch Blake’s 7 on Monday nights and being staggered that they could physically watch the stilted acting - I can only have been about ten years old. Steps? I’m not great with poor singing either – sorry!

Where can we find you?
Ever seen the advert for a well-known brand of, err, coke where the woman gives five different methods for contact to her slightly uncomfortable new date? Well, here I go: I blog at; my website is; I dip in and out of Facebook and love to tweet where I’m @jaxbees. Oh, and I’m also over at LinkedIn
 I fear I’m losing you now…

Friday, 9 August 2013

Very Short Review - Deadlock by Sean Black

Deadlock by Sean Black

I like a good thriller. Something where the pages disintegrate before your eyes and before you know it you've read the book in a few days. Deadlock was just this. Over too quickly yet so much happened. A good holiday or beach read.

Our hero, Mr Lock, must babysit a far-right witness inside the bleakest of penitentiaries the US has to offer. Of course the story moves on, twisting and turning through many surprises, it has to be said one was particularly unbelievable but I guess the story wouldn't have worked otherwise, ending in a fast paced climax.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Monday, 5 August 2013

Raspberry Ice Cream

This is sort of half an allotment update. Everything, weeds included, have grown quite well. One of the results of this has been more strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries than we could possibly eat. Along came a reduced Ice Cream Maker.

Actually, Ice Cream Maker is maybe bigging the thing up too much. Like all so called ice cream makers around the £20 mark, it's basically a food mixer with a freezable bowl underneath. You place the bowl in the freezer overnight and then mix the ingredients until makes a partially frozen mass of cream and other stuff. Partially Frozen Desert Maker would be a more accurate name, but I guess it don't sound half as sexy.

Anyway, the bowl frozen overnight, we treated ourselves Saturday to Raspberry (partially frozen) Ice Cream. Recipe as below, it really was just a case of mushing it all up then pouring into the bowl and letting it chug around for twenty minutes until it's a half-frozen mass of nearly ice cream.

8 oz raspberries
200 ml semi-skimmed milk
200 ml double cream
2 oz caster sugar.

Have to say, despite it not really being frozen enough for my liking, it was fantastic. I guess the sheer amount of raspberries made it so. It would cost about £6 in the shops to buy all these ingredients and end up with only a litre of the stuff, so it's by no means cheap.

As for the allotment, here's the sweetcorn. Nearly ready.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Review - The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

It's hard to know where to start. Seven books (I haven't read book 4.5 or the ones by other authors, just the main series), a million odd words and over six months of my life has been spent in the company of Roland of Gilead and his Ka-tet. Okay so I'm not the fastest reader, but after receiving the first four books for Christmas, I embarked on the quest that is reading the series.

Obviously for such a large series, I've tried hard to not give anything away or ruin anything. You won't find out what happens, but my thoughts on each book in relation to the story as a whole.

The first book, The Gunslinger, introduces us to Roland and his quest for the Dark Tower. I read the revised version so have no idea whether the original was a raw as everyone says. All I know is that it hooked me into Roland and his quest. The combination of Horror, Cowboy and Fantasy sounds unusual, but it works. You don't fully know what his quest is during the first book, I guess Mr King himself didn't fully know at that point, he just knew he had a big idea.

The second and third books see Roland gain followers/helpers who are drawn into this slightly odd world to help the quest. While certainly easier to read than the first book, these set us up well for the latter books. New characters are introduced and the best part of an epic this length is we really get to know the characters. Like most of Stephen King's work, it's the feeding of small bits of information of the world and the characters that really make these not only page-turners but also book-turners.

Book IV, Wizard and Glass - I already partially reviewed here.

V Wolves Of The Calla - My favourite of the series. Whether it's because Stephen King's writing has matured enough by the point he wrote it or it's just a fantastic plot I'm not sure. The book is in some ways a sidetrack to the quest, a town where one of each twin child is abducted every twenty or so years by 'Wolves.' Again, it's a long read and again you can't stop reading. So much so that I thought it seemed rushed, which is an odd thing to say about a 700 odd pages book.

The least two books, VI Song of Susannah and VII The Dark Tower was a turning point. For some reason, both these seemed far two long and contained certain events and a character (not going to say what or who) that just took me out of the story. Reading the last book became a chore in the end rather than the finale it should have been.

I suppose, as a whole I really enjoyed the series, despite the last two books. Maybe the last two books were really one book that had 1,000 too many pages in? I'm not sure as a lot did happen in those books, maybe it was the 'other thing' as I'll call it. Don't know. If I had the choice of going back to Christmas and reading 20 other books or The Dark Tower again, I'd chose this. Life after the Dark Tower is going to be unusual for a while. I've got a shed-load of books I've been wanting to read for six months and I reckon at some point later in the year I'll be reading book 4.5, just to see if it stays true to the fantastic middle segment of the series. I've also started to think of the cat as Oy and keep expecting it to say Ake, which I guess I'm not alone amongst Dark Tower readers as doing.