Friday, 22 August 2014

Something good had to come out of Fifty Shades...

Huge congratulations are due to my friend H, who has had her first novel, Inspired by Night, published by Xcite. It's just come out for Kindle and in paperback and I make no apologies for giving it a plug here. I'm not altogether sure if she realises quite how hard it is to do what she's done, and how proud of herself she should be for her achievement.

The title of this entry, of course, refers to Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel which simultaneously seemed to make written porn and piss-poor spelling, grammar and punctuation acceptable in polite society. Don't get me wrong - it's the spelling and whatnot with which I have a problem, not the sexy stuff. It was, though, a major bugbear of mine that, with so many talented writers out there struggling to get their work even looked at, let alone published, all it took for FSoG to get accepted was a constant stream of bonking. Out of nowhere it was as ubiquitous as Captain Corelli's Mandolin had become a few years ago - on your morning commute you could pretty much guarantee that one of the women aboard your bus or train carriage was going to be reading it. This despite the fact that it didn't seem to have undergone the scrutiny of a proofreader's eyes at any stage before being shoved out on an undeserving public. Never mind the English, feel the shagging.

One major positive of FSoG, though, is that it's helped democratise publishing, alongside, of course, increased access to online self-publishing mechanisms. Anybody can now get a book out, giving some of that talent an outlet, finally, and just maybe it's made some publishers a bit more willing to have a look at the work of unknowns. I really don't know, I just hope that's the case.

It's still quite something, though, to get a book accepted by a publisher and published under their name. My friend has achieved that, and written about her experiences (and other stuff) in her blog Tales from the Sofa, to which a link can be found on the right of this page.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Things that don't happen

I recently returned from just over a fortnight in Galicia, savouring the peace and tranquility of the landscape and the noise and chaos of the August festivals at the same time. I'm very fortunate to be able to enjoy two very different lifestyles - the London one I live most of the time, with the attendant cosmopolitan bustle of nine million people, and the escape that Spain offers.

We spend much of our time in Spain in the little town where my girlfriend grew up, and the beauty of its natural surroundings is not unlike our own Lake District - hills and water feature prominently. The town itself sits on a peninsula that juts into a lake created by damming about sixty years ago, and sitting looking out across this lake in the almost absolute silence of the place, its contrasts with London are marked.

                                                   Photo copyright Tom Driver - tdriver74 on Flickr.

It's not just the landscape that's different, though. Some of the stuff that goes on there, you just don't get back home. Our place out there has, without exception, roller blinds on the windows. These things are designed to completely black out the summer sun when they're rolled down, and are set outside the house - they're tough, weather-proof things that you move from indoors with rolling pulleys. If you don't want your house to turn into an oven while you're out, you roll them down whenever you leave, leaving the house in darkness while the blinds absorb most of the heat.

Returning home one afternoon, we were rolling up the blind to the kitchen when it got rather stuck. Something wrong with the mechanism, we assumed, getting a bit caught up or something. Pulling the cord all the harder will soon get the bugger moving. And so it did - after some reluctance, when it seemed completely stuck, it suddenly gave way and rolled up into its housing above the window outside. Job done, issue forgotten.

Forgotten, that is, until a rancid smell started to become apparent in the kitchen from the next day. We emptied the bin, cleaned the floor and sink, but couldn't find out where this smell was coming from. It took until a couple of days later to establish what was causing it. Our neighbours, relatives of my girlfriend, come to our kitchen window to talk to us, as it faces out over the ground in front of their own house. Saves them walking all the way to the front door. They pointed out that, hanging from the top of the blind outside our window, was the tail of some animal or other. Oh dear.

We clearly had to remove the corpse of whatever it was we'd killed if we wanted rid of the smell. This first meant we had to deal with the incipient nest of hornets which was just beginning to be built outside the very same window. Hornet heaven - warm, spectacular views of the nearby lake and handy for local amenities like dead animals and people to sting. So - reach out the window, spray liberally with insecticide (fly spray, basically), withdraw arm as quickly as possible and slam window shut until dozens of furious hornets have died in twitching fury. First part done.

Second part. Go outside and try to remove corpse. At this point, dear reader, I confess that I 'outsourced' the job by cunningly volunteering to go downstairs to the garage and get the hose, knowing we may have to jet the remains off the blind. My girlfriend's cousin pried the animal off using two twigs like chopsticks. I kid you not.

It was a bloody snake. A snake which, while still snake-shaped for the rear three quarters, was flattened into a messy, maggot-ridden disk, squashed flat on the blind, for the remaining 25% at the head end. We'd obviously rolled it up into the blind's housing, encountering the resistance as the poor animal's head jammed into the roll, only for the blind to then move freely again as the snake was squashed like a pancake and rolled up into the thing. Charming.

The stench was overpowering, so the corpse having been removed, I now heroically stepped up to rinse the remaining gunk off with the hose, while those who'd got closer to it than I had gagged and retched their retreats. I also, of course, had to wash off the bit of hornet real estate that had been sneakily added to the wall just by the window.

This does not, you won't be surprised to hear, happen back home in Streatham.