Sunday, 7 May 2017

Friends, Romans and Patreons!

Here's a photo of me, standing on the old Roman wall in Chester.  Richard and I were there on Tuesday, pottering round the city's various junk shops and art galleries.

We went into Alison Bradley's artist-owned gallery, and enjoyed a pleasant chat with her partner, who told us Alison uses a combination of sketching and photography as a basis for many of her paintings.  We both really liked her work, and it was interesting to see her treatment of the Liverpool waterfront which I've only recently painted.  Her studies of working sheepdogs and the landscapes of Wirral and north Wales are admirable.

Later, we had the real pleasure of listening to Ed Alleyne-Johnson busking on his electric violin in the cathedral square, near the bus station.

Have you heard of Patreon?  Patreon is a way for creators to be sponsored for creating the things they’re already creating.  Patrons can select their level of patronage, and in return, they can receive early-access to work, in-progress and behind-the-scenes photos, discounts off books and other great offers, and more, depending on the patron's chosen level of access. I think it's a great idea, and may help to bring about my aim of able to write and paint full-time.  So, obviously my news is that I've opened a Patreon page.  Go take a look and let me know what you think.

My Patreon page:-

My old pal Sylvia Taylor has been on TV.  As I don't own a television set I've been unable to watch her work as a support artist in Little Boy Blue, a four-part drama about the real-life murder of a Liverpool boy, but I'm thrilled for her that her acting career is coming along.  She's also a playwright, brass band player, Brownie Guide leader, enthusiastic tent camper and cyclist, and she's currently doing a BA degree with the OU  - this is one busy lady!

 I'd noticed that the coir lining on my two wall baskets were looking bedraggled, which is odd as they're brand new.  The baskets each house three young strawberry plants, which had been left untroubled.  Then I saw the culprits - a pair of robins,who were enthusiastically tugging out beaks-fulls of the lining material, probably to make a nest with.  They've now pecked the lining down below soil level, so I have a choice of letting some soil fall out or buying a new lining, which they'll only peck at again.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Murder, Blood and Swimming

Poppi and Emily enjoying an indoor sunbathe.
Eagle-eyed visitors to this website will have already noticed the change of title art, which uses my latest oil painting, Liverpool Waterfront.  That's the thing with websites or bloggy places - it's fun to change their look now and again, tweaking this, twiddling with that, casting off something which has perhaps grown a little dusty in favour of something sparkly new.

I have been considering starting a Patreon site.  In case you've not heard of Patreon before, its a way of sharing exclusive or advance work with a group of subscribing patrons, who agree to support the creator's work from as little as $1 per month.  The aim is to build a growing number of patrons in order to allow the creator to become self-supporting and thus be free to create more stuff.  I already attract revenue from my books, from merchandise at Spooky Cute Designs and through my articles on Hubpages but with this Patreon page I'd be posting work-in-progress photos of art, sketches, or chapters of novels or short stories which would allow people to be the first to read them.

Liverpool Waterfront; oil on canvas; 2017.

Speaking of reading, I've just finished reading the first two novels by Oscar de Muriel and I really enjoyed them.  They're thriller/detective stories set in the late 1800's, whose main characters are a haughty, fashion-conscious Londoner and a sharp-tongued, scruffy Scot.  They dislike each other from the outset but have to work as a team to solve murder cases.  Fever of Blood, the second novel, weaves an element of witchcraft into the plot and I especially liked the way De Muriel's witches were portrayed as skilled chemists rather than as practitioners of magic.

Richard added two roses to our garden, and I came home with a pot of chives and a young bergenia 'red beauty', also called elephant ears which sounds much more fun.  I had meant to pick up a tray of lupins but accidentally got this instead.  Oh well, never mind!  (Memo to Self: Put your glasses on!)  Yesterday, with a warm spring sun beaming down, I re-cut the grown-ragged edge of the lawn.

The soil quality here leaves a lot to be desired.  It seems hard, stony and lifeless, and the very low number of worms gives further indication of its poor health.  Still, that is something which can be improved upon over time, with good dosings of blood and bone meal and, once it has rotted down enough, fresh compost from our half-full composting bin.  Good gardens take years to develop - unless it's a TV make-over show with an army of off-screen workers and a vast budget!

Swimming has been fun.  I've been going twice a week.  The hardest part is pushing myself to get a move on early in the morning when it would be so much easier to snuggle back down and snooze for another five, ten, twenty minutes.  But I am already starting to see the difference in muscle tone, and aside from that obvious benefit I just simply enjoy the activity.  I'd go every day if I had the time!  Some people at the pool do just that, though I think most of them are retired.  Many of those elderly people are much better swimmers than me.  I set a target of doing a minimum of 30 lengths but those so-called 'old folk' easily zoom past me, swimming non-stop for an hour or more.  I admire them, truly.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The Satchel and the Cozzie

David; oil on canvas; March 2017.
Here's my latest oil painting, scanned directly from the canvas which didn't quite fit on the screen.  The actual painting is about half an inch bigger all round, and the scanner made it look more grainy than it really is, but you can still get a good idea of how it looks.

I bought an over-the-shoulder canvas satchel with all kinds of practical pockets designed into it, which seems just the thing for carrying a couple of sketch pads, pens, brushes and a watercolour set around.  Until now I've been limited to what will fit in a jacket pocket.  So I'd been itching to give this satchel its debut run at the weekend, and of course the rain hasn't ceased to pour in torrents.

I have been writing, of course, doing a bit more to the fifth novel in the Artisan-Sorcerer Series which will be called Morgan.  Isn't it funny when characters misbehave?  Rowan seems to have independently decided he's to have a more prominent role that I'd intended in the loose plot outline.

I'm not the kind of writer who plans out every detail of every chapter before they start writing.  That approach would bore me totally.  I usually have a few sheets of rough notes to link events, and these are subject to change as the first draft takes shape.  This offers me enough of the story to work on without imposing much detail, so I've plenty of space left for creativity and impromptu extra plot twists.

Landscape; watercolour; March 2017.
The daffodils in our garden are all finished now but tulips are about to open.  I'm not over keen on tulips; we inherited them when we bought this house but as this garden is quite underdeveloped as yet they might as well stay.

I must buy a new swimming costume.  Mine's a sight.  I nearly lost the wretched thing yesterday but then a helpful attendant came trotting past with it clutched in hand.  I'd been so busy reminding myself to collect my shampoo and conditioner bottles from the floor of the shower cubicle that I'd left my cozzie draped over the handrail.  I recognised it as mine immediately....

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Na'zza and the Fruit

Here's a short video slideshow made from some of the rapid sketches I'd done during 2016.  The location is Birkenhead Park, and all but one of the sketches were done with an ordinary fine-line ink pen.  I used a small pad which could easily be tucked inside a jacket pocket for convenience.  When I describe the sketches as rapid, I mean it.  Many of them were completed within a few seconds.  I hope you all enjoy the video.  You can find my other videos by using the menu above, or at my YouTube site.

As I type this, rain is pattering loudly against the window beside me.  It's a sound I've always enjoyed; I find it strangely comforting and restful.  Rain has its own musicality.

The rain will also help to water-in the loganberry and thornless blackcurrant canes I planted in large tubs yesterday.  I also potted up two wall baskets with three tiny strawberry plants in each.  As they grow, these will happily dangle down and provide a splash of greenery on a garden wall as well as offer a supply of home-grown fruit.  Strawberries will grow well even on the smallest patio or veranda, and require very little care.  I grew them in our old garden and the hardest part was harvesting the ripe fruit before our Westie ate the lot.

Richard invented a new dinner.  He'd prepared the topping for pizzas before discovering we were out of pizza bases.  I'm not fond of them anyway as the bases make my tongue feel like it's been licking carpet.  What was he going to do?  Make elaborate cheese on toast?  Then his eye fell on a packet of na'an bread...   A purist might cringe but actually it tasted delicious.  I recommend it, despite the bread being floppy so you have to roll it like a pancake to eat it.  We name this dish piz'an, or na'zza - take your pick.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

75% Off The Artisan-Sorcerer Series

To celebrate the annual Read an Ebook Week, for one week only all four novels my Artisan-Sorcerer Series will be on offer at 75% off their usual price.  Make the most of this massive discount while you can.

Also on offer will be my other ebooks, at between 50% and 75% discount for one week only.

Remember to use the discount coupon on each individual book page.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Pockets, Paintings and Prezzies.


Presenting 'Art Gallery #3', which features my oil and watercolour paintings from 2016, plus a couple of drawings.  Not exactly a prolific output but in my defence it had been a busy time, what with finishing my fourth novel, Fabian, and completing my second NVQ Level 3 course.  This video doesn't include my sketches done in Birkenhead Park - they'll keep for a separate video which will appear eventually.

I hope you enjoy looking at the video.  If you like any of the paintings, you can purchase them via my online store, Spooky Cute Designs.  They come as quality prints, (framed or unframed), on t-shirts for men and women, greetings cards and a wide variety of items.  Payment is secure with PayPal, and international shipping is available.  Browse the store for further details.

Anyway, guess whose birthday it was in February 17th!  Richard gave me two wonderful art books:  Artists Painting Techniques, edited by Bob Bridle and others; and Van Gogh:  The Complete Paintings, edited by Inga F Walther and Rainer Metzger.  I've been an admirer of Van Gogh's work for a very long time, and this book features many paintings I've never even seen before so I'm really thrilled to be given this.  I aim to get to the Van Gogh Museum in the Netherlands at some point, so I can see some of his work for real.

I've been on annual leave from my part-time day job for this week, and it's been a very enjoyable week.  I travelled to Southport to have lunch with my sister Evelyn, and we had a fun day browsing vintage furniture and china which we both have far too much of already.  I have beautiful china tea sets I've never used even once, which is a bit mad really.

I've been swimming several times, and took the dogs for a long meander through West Kirby sand dunes then around the marina and then into the village to see what's changed since we moved from there two years ago.  I also had walks round Prenton, Birkenhead, The Arno and Oxton, and finally got round to pruning the last of the roses in our garden.

I finished writing a short story.  Well, it's almost finished; it needs a tweak or two but the body of it is there.  So far it has the riveting title of "Cat Story".  This will change.

I fell in love with a lightweight coat.  It's a hybrid cross between a duffel and a raincoat, so it has toggles like a duffel but it's of a light yet showerproof material.  It's a lovely muted orange colour, with a white and navy stripy lining in the hood, and the hood's detachable, and the whole thing can go in the washing machine.  It has two big pockets.

Womens' clothes so often forget about practical things like pockets.  Well, technically it is the womens' clothes designers who forget about these things.  This is why women are usually seen clutching a bag - not because we've (necessarily) a fixation with bags but because our clothes have no pockets.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Fanart and Blue Roses

Character sketch of Teil
Snowdrops are about to come into bloom in my garden.  I love snowdrops; they're such simple little flowers but so delicate and pretty.

Other spring bulbs are pushing through, too, and this week the 2016/17 catalogue for David Austin roses dropped through the door.  Our garden has an old rose which is under threat of removal; it's got one more season to buck up or it's out of here.  Last year it didn't flower even once.  In a small garden like ours, there's no room for plants that don't perform.

When we moved house, I had to leave behind a few favourite roses, including my beloved Rosa Mundi, (which is listed on page 50 of the catalogue), which I'd like to replace.

A week ago I was admiring a bouquet which included several royal blue roses.  They looked wonderful!  Unfortunately a Google search quickly revealed that these had been dyed, and the nearest to 'blue' roses are really only lilac shades.  That was a bit disappointing, so hopefully some genius at tinkering with DNA will find a way to let me have true blue roses soon. 

Since my last post, when I listed my goals for this year, true to plan I've taken up swimming again.  It felt so good to be back in the water!  It's been about two years since my last swim, so I decided I'd be pleased with 10 lengths.  I actually swam 26 lengths of the 25m pool so I must have been fitter than I assumed, probably thanks to our exercise bike.  Since then I've been back twice each week, and intend to keep the activity as a regular part of my life.  I'm not technically good but I find swimming relaxing.  The sessions are designed for lane swimmers not paddlers, which suits me fine.  The water can be chilly though!  It's ok once you get going but those first minutes can widen your eyes a bit.

Richard's been on annual leave this week.  This has been his first paid holiday in his entire life.  He was always self-employed previously, of course.  Now he's set aside his old 'Richie Tattoo Artist' persona and works for someone else, doing something entirely different, not only is he happier in himself and more relaxed but he's enjoying life much more.  During his self-employed days, if he took a day off it meant he wasn't earning anything, and days off were often used up repairing tools or preparing needles for tattooing with, so he felt as though he never really got a break from working.  All that is behind him now, and he is very glad.

So on Monday morning he looked like a kid whose birthday had come twice - seven whole days of well-deserved holiday time awaited!  Now he and the dogs are worn out.  He's taken them to Liscard, New Brighton, Moreton, The Arno, Birkenhead Park...  When they came back from hurtling up and down West Kirby beach, all three of them - man and both dogs - were zonked out on the couch for most of the evening.

I've had quite a number of emails from readers wanting to know more about Teil, who features in Fabian: An Artisan-Sorcerer Story.  Teilhard St Clair is a silversmith and talented designer of jewellery who enters into a business venture with Fabian.  As the son of Mel ap Tewdwr,  Teil is bound to hold a few aces up his sleeve.  Teil will feature in the fifth novel, Morgan, but obviously I'm not going to give anything away about that yet.  Meanwhile, here's a character sketch of Teil done on coloured paper using china pencil and a couple of watercolour pencils, keeping the palette very simple.

If anyone wishes to create more fanart based on the Artisan-Sorcerer Series, I'd love to see it.  The drawings I've seen already are great fun, and I love that some of you feel inspired to create your own art based on the characters.  So long as fanart - or fanfic for that matter - remains non-profit making and the Artisan-Sorcerer Series is clearly identified as the source of the ideas, then feel free to create.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Goals for 2017

Since 2012, I've created a list of annual goals which I aim to achieve within the following twelve months.  This is one way to keep track of the progress of various projects and it's a bit of self-entertainment.
Mallard; oil on canvas; Adele Cosgrove-Bray; Dec 2016. 

My goals for 2016 were:-
  1. Publish Fabian;
  2. Finish the NVQ Level 3 course;
  3. Write more poems and short stories;
  4. Create more art and photography.
 My fourth Artisan-Sorcerer novel, Fabian, was published by Middle Eye Press in paperback and ebook formats back in September.  Readers learned more about everyday life within the Artisan-Sorcerer household, but were also given  much more insight into the magical, spiritual side of their lives.  Fabian himself faces life-altering and life-threatening situations.

You readers could really help me by posting reviews of my work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or other online stores, or on your own blog.  The amount of promotion a site like Amazon gives to all writers directly corresponds to how many reviews they have, and so every additional review is important.

The fifth in the Artisan-Sorcerer series will probably be called Morgan, and I've recently begun work on the first draft.

My second goal for 2016 was to complete the NVQ course, and this has been achieved.  The complete list of my newly gained qualifications is:-

1) Federation for Industry Sector Skills & Standards:  Advanced Level Apprenticeship in Adult Social Care.

2) City & Guilds: Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care (Adults) for England (Generic Pathway).

3) City & Guilds: Level 3 Certificate in Preparing to Work in Adult Social Care.

4) City & Guilds: Level 2 Award in Employment Responsibilities and Rights in Health, Social Care or Children and Young People’s Settings.

I also had to take City & Guilds: Functional Skills Level 2 in both maths and English, as this is a standard requirement of the course.  The English was easy for me, as I've supplemented my income through writing since my early twenties, when I was employed as an editor and then went on to write freelance.  However, maths has never been my subject - in fact since infant school days I've thoroughly loathed the subject and did not relish the prospect of this aspect of the course.

Sometimes, though, you've just got to deal with necessities and so, applying a spot of rational thinking, I analysed my dislike of the subject and figured out that a large part of why I don't like maths is because I'm not much good at it.  

Ok, I reasoned, so maybe if I did this course I'd get better at maths and so alter my habitual reaction to the subject.  I needed to pass this exam and so my reaction was not useful, and I'm not one for hanging on to anything that's useless, (unless that item is interesting in some other respect).  As things turned out I had a great tutor in Paul Byatt, who's other career is that of an actor, and to my genuine surprise I passed the exam first time. 

Since 2012, I've completed 16 work-related courses.  Enough's enough.  I don't intend to undertake more for the foreseeable future.  I want more time for creative pursuits.

My third goal for 2016 was to write more short fiction and poetry, but due to the sheer volume of writing involved in completing the NVQ course this simply didn't happen.  I wrote all of 2 poems and no short fiction at all, (as I was busy writing then editing Fabian).  This badly needs to change!

My fourth goal was to create more art and photography, and some of the results of these activities can be seen by scrolling through the images used to illustrated this blog.

So, here are my goals for 2017:-

  1. Write a minimum of one short story per month;
  2. Write a minimum of one poem per month;
  3. Write the 1st draft of Morgan;
  4. Paint, draw & photograph!;
  5. Take up swimming again.
I used to swim twice each week, every week, and enjoyed the exercise.  West Kirby swimming baths was on my homeward route after work, and so the activity easily fitted into my schedule.  Since moving house I've not been swimming at all, and want to change that.  It's fun, it's good exercise, and even though it will now require a special journey, rather than simply calling in as I pass by the pool, I'm sure it'll be well worth it.

One last comment - whatever you're doing, enjoy your year.  😊

Further Reading:
Goals for 2016
Goals for 2015
Goals for 2014
Goals for 2013
Goals for 2012

Friday, 25 November 2016

Writers, Shops and Disgruntled Diners.

Rapid sketch of moorhens; 2016.
I'm enjoying a spot of annual leave this week, which began with a lively and well-attended writers' event at Bebington Library on Saturday the 19th.  This featured members of Wirral Writers, Bebington Bards, the 3Ls Creative Writing Group and Riverside Writers.  I'm no longer a member of Riverside Writers due to constraints of time, but I had been invited to join in anyway.
Due to there being so many writers and poets wishing to read, a strict time limit was imposed and so the audience only heard half of my 1,600 word story, Fame, which is about an obscure, ageing rock singer who has turned up on Facebook.  It's a story about reminiscing and unachieved ambitions which still tempt.

My sister Evelyn came to the library event, and afterwards she and I travelled to my home with my friends Tim and Nigel, where we all socialised for a couple of hours and caught up on news.

I've been generally tidying up the house.  It is now half dusted.  I'll admit I'm no lover of housework, but on the other hand I can't abide a mess.  The garden's bugging me now, as the roses and a few shrubs need pruning back ready for winter but it's either been raining or I've been busy with other things.  Weather permitting, Richard and I plan to blitz the garden between us at the weekend.

Heron watching the water; 2016.
I've been out most days, walking my dogs and doing a bit more sketching in the park.  Some of the results are shown here - all very rapid sketches, taking no more than a few seconds to do.  With the moorhens, I added a touch of colour later on; they look more like cartoon moorhens than real ones, but I like 'em.

Richard and I arranged to meet after he'd finished work at 11am, and so we had a walk round Liverpool One, which was very quiet whereas Church Street and Bold Street were densely crowded.

We had lunch in Wetherpoon's.  I had to ask for our mugs of tea to be filled properly, as they were handed to me barely 3/4 full.  I had the cottage pie, which was nicely done but of modest proportions.  Placing a mini gravy dish beside the small pie dish set on a bigger plate and served with a spoonful of frozen peas did not fool me into seeing this as a full-sized meal. Richard ordered the All-Day Brunch, which turned out to be one fried egg, two small slices of bacon, a spoonful of baked beans, a sausage and a few chips.  This meant that my diabetic husband needed to immediately go to the nearby chippy to get more carbs to stop him from going into a hypo. We won't dine with this company again, which is a shame as they used to be good.

We headed into St John's Market, which looks a lot smarter and brighter than it used to, and crowds of people were browsing the main area.  The old-fashioned market stall section has been given a complete overhaul and has its official re-opening today.  However, most stalls remain vacant.  We got chatting to a total stranger, a man who was obviously thinking along the same lines - the place looks good but where have all the traders gone?