Sunday, 10 August 2014


Northern quarter of the Grove
Shredding stuff can be oddly satisfying.  It's also rather boring but sometimes necessary, which is why a large portion of yesterday afternoon was spent combing through our bulging filing cabinet to weed out ancient important documents in order to make space for newer important documents.

Do we really need to keep phone bills dating back to the last century - to 1995, even?  And who can still remember the old council tax payment booklets, designed like a cheque book which the Post Office would stamp with the date?  Home insurance 'Terms & Conditions' pamphlets for long-dead policies; builders' bills from 14 years ago; guarantees for electrical goods I couldn't even remember owning...  In the end, I filled a bin-bag with this junk.  The filing cabinet drawer now opens and shuts without having to arm-wrestle the thing into submission.

Mum had a great time in Perth, Australia.  She went at the drop of a hat after her younger brother mentioned plans for his 80th birthday party, writing that it was a shame she wouldn't be there to share it.  She lifted her suitcase down that same day.  She experienced trouble getting travel insurance because of being in her mid-80's but Age UK quickly arranged it without further fuss.  Next, she wrote to her brother to say when she'd be arriving - only the letter arrived two days after she did.  Frank and his wife Florence were a bit surprised when a security guard from Perth airport phoned them to ask if they intended to collect this elderly English lady!  Anyway, she's back home in England now, full of stories of course, having thoroughly enjoyed herself.

It's not been a good year for roses in our garden, not so far anyway.  However the yellow Rose of Sharon (see photo above) which grows behind the north stone in the grove has been glorious, with more blooms than in any previous year.  This surprised me as I'd pruned it back hard last year, as it had grown spindly.  Oh, if you're looking for a towering stone, think again.  These are less like standing stones and more like crouching rocks, but they serve the purpose of marking the quarters.  They were buried beneath the surface of the garden, unearthed when I originally dug the circular bed which creates the grove's perimeter.

A more fanciful person might claim the stones were waiting in the womb of earth to be born for their exalted purpose, or some such something, however I know from the experience of digging up stuff that previous owners of this property buried all kinds of things, including buckets, children's toys, pans, plates, a thick stack of glass window panes and an entire path.

Maybe that was their idea of decluttering?  Simply bury everything under a layer of topsoil, add grass turfs and the job's done.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Mermaids and Water Soldiers!

I have finally got on with the job of cleaning out the pond.  The water desperately needed changing as it was quite murky and poor Marie Celeste, our sole surviving goldfish, was visible only as a vague flash of colour.  She - or is she a he, as if it even matters? - seems much happier now swimming doesn't involve the risk of crashing into stuff in the dark.

All but two of my lovely water soldiers have vanished.  Maybe the algae problem blocked out too much light and so they perished?  They're one of my favourite pond plants.  They simply float around, sinking if light's poor and rising again on sunny days.  Well, they can when a blanket of green gloop isn't blocking their way.

The gloop has been consigned to the compost bin, and 100% fresh water is in the pond now - but this also meant many of the damselfly larvae would have been killed.  I managed to save some of them at least, and I hope they survive the change of water. I've added a bunch of barley straw, as this is supposed to be an organic way of combating algae.  The main cause of algae in my pond is probably due to not having enough plants in it.  Between 60% and 75% of a pond's surface is supposed to be covered by aquatic plants.

So far , I've recently added:
  • hornwort, which looks like a bunch of dark green fluffy pipe cleaners, only floppy; 
  • four water lettuce, which look like miniature cabbages more than lettuce; 
  • a bunch of naja grass, which is a tangle of slender stems with tiny leaves; 
  • three bunches of elodae crispa, (which was promptly re-named 'A Load o' Crisps'), and these look like stems with tidy rows of tiny, curled-over leaves;
  • potamogaten natans, which needs planting in aquatic soil but that's not arrived yet, so for now it's just floating about in the pond to keep it as happy as possible.  Here's hoping Marie doesn't eat its roots in the meantime;
  • water soldiers, six big new ones with a few babies attached, which look rather like spider plants;
  • an Aurora water lily, whose flowers are supposed to change from orange to crimson as they mature, and has a variegated leaf.

Aquatic plants in their new home.

On the subject of water still, just this morning I finished reading Helen Dunmore's Stormswept, which is the first of a new cycle of her Ingo Chronicles.  Aimed primarily at children, it's really for kids of all ages.  (Ahem!)  The reader is swiftly transported into an enchanting world of Cornish mer folk, swimming under the ocean to share their mysterious world.  The elements of fantasy are grounded skillfully with the everyday life of a quite ordinary human family, whose characters are entirely convincing, and the pace is designed to keep those pages turning.  As always, Dunmore's prose is poetic and polished - not as literary as her books for adults, but a pleasure all the same.  Having come across her work a couple of years ago, I've come to really admire her writing style.  The book cover is lovely, too.  I was left wanting more Ingo stories!

I have now completed the NCFE Level 2 course in Business and Administration, and the last of that has been mailed of to my tutor at Stoke-on-Trent College.  Now I have to wait for feedback from my tutor and  to learn if I've passe, then wait for the certificate.  I'm sceptical as to the real value of the course.  While it is an accredited course, it was so basic a school-leaver could have tackled it with ease - never mind someone who's co-run a business for the last twenty years!  Anyway, I have shelved plans for further courses until I've finished writing Fabian.  There are only around 15,000 words to go, so I'm now heading towards the last lap.  I feel that completing Fabian is more important than starting another of-dubious-value course right now.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Ban the Over 60's!

Can there be a more meaningless term than 'the over 60's'?  Yes, the term can be easily applied to any person above that age - but what does it actually tell us that is of much practical use?

Age is no indicator of health or personality, of activity levels or financial stability.  Neither does an age grouping reveal a person's interests - unless it's the under 5's, when life mostly revolves around food, sleep, playing, parents and getting the hang of walking and talking.  While life for the 5's to 16's age group  tends to revolve around school, already more diversity is apparent.  The teenage world of angst, obsessions and first loves are, obviously, very different from, for example, a thirty year-old's ambitions to buy their own house.

No-one would lump together everyone under the age of 40 as one social group having similar needs and interests.  So why do this with the over 60's?

Most 60 year-olds are part of the work force and will remain so until they retire at the official age, (which varies; it used to be 65 but now it's more of a sliding scale depending on when a person was born).  Some people choose to postpone retirement to benefit from an improved pension.  Or maybe they simply don't want to retire; some people work into their 70's or beyond - and why not, if that's what they wish to do?

Many 60 year-olds are still paying off mortgages, paying to get their older children through university.  70 and 80 years olds run marathons, run businesses or home-school grandchildren while the grown-up off-spring go out to work.  They drive cars, travel the world - my 85 year-old mother recently flew to Australia by herself.  They do voluntary work and participate in a myriad of social, creative or sporting activities, and display a huge diversity of interests and tastes - and this continues for the rest of their lives, or as long as health permits.

So if you can reminisce about King Edward's abdication while chatting to a friend via a smart phone, it's obvious that you've seen a lot of social and technological change.

An increasing number of us will live beyond the age of 100.  According to The Centenarian, the number of people worldwide currently aged over 100 is estimated to be 450,000.  The aim of life-extension research is not just to extend 'being alive' but to enable people to enjoy vigorous physical and mental good health for as long as science makes it possible - and the point at which these cease to be possible is intended to be continually extended also.

Type 'over 60's' in a search engine, and a string of links for health tips and travel insurance are offered.  After all, everyone 'knows' that everyone over 60 feels an urge to travel before they keel over. Hmm, it's high time this empty-headed stereotype was wiped away, don't you think?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Blue Damsels and Murder

A pair of blue damselflies mating on our pond

It's been a beautiful day here on the Wirral.  Lunch was taken in the garden, and then later in the day there were three pairs of blue damselflies courting over the pond, plus a fifth blue damselfly and a red damselfly resting on rhubarb leaves overhanging the water.  A family of pond skaters has hatched out, and a water boatman has been scooting around for the last few days.

Work on the fourth novel in the Artisan-Sorcerer Series continues, and the word count now stands at 90,000 with a fair chunk of plot left.  I'm toying with murdering a popular character...  Maybe, maybe not; I've not entirely made up my mind yet, mostly because this is one of my favourite characters too and it would be a shame to wave goodbye.  But, hey, I can always create another one....

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Legs and Peculiarity

The first rose of 2014
The lawn already has a sprinkling of fallen rose petals.  The first rose to open was by the entrance to the grove.  This photo was taken from just inside the grove, which is approached down a narrow grassy path which turns sharply to the east-facing entrance.  Shade is cast by a towering contorted hazel tree (Corylus avelana 'Contorta') and a wall of ivy.  Tucked next to the entrance is a small pond, which you can just about see half-hidden behind the ornamental grass in the lower left corner of the photo.

Click on the images to view them larger.

Within the Grove
In the photo above, you can see where the circular lawn of the grove has been re-edged.  Bare soil is already disappearing under poppy seedlings and the allysum which I've since planted.  I also planted some French marigolds but they were eaten overnight by slugs and snails.  For the same reason, hostas don't survive long in my garden, which is a pity as I like the quilted appearance of their leaves.  The pinks I planted are doing great, however, as are the tough ornamental grasses which I dug out of the lawn where they'd planted themselves before transplanting them to more useful spots - mostly around three sides of the small pond by the grove's entrance.  In the foreground of the photo are the branches of a shrub  - of unknown species - which Richard pruned back heavily only a month ago, and already it's sprouting new growth.  It provides the grove with privacy but was simply getting too big and swamping the holly shrub and patch of Crocosmia 'lucifer' beside it.

Red Damselfly
Our pond has attracted a red damselfly, who has been flitting around for a week now.  It did have a mate, and Richard saw them dancing around over the water's surface as they performed a little springtime ritual together, laying eggs in the water.  And here one of them is, in this photo - which also shows a drowning snail which I later rescued.  We've noticed a swift increase in the slug and snail population this year, now we don't have chickens to devour them.  I'm reluctant to put down slug pellets because of our dogs and wild amphibians.

Tadpole with tiny frog legs
While on the subject of amphibians, our tadpoles are now starting to grow tiny legs.  They're incredibly fragile and seem to have no strength at all but, nonetheless, there they are - an obvious sign of frogginess.  

The two solar-powered fountains stopped working.  With one, I put it down to old age.  The other, however, is only a few weeks old.  I cleaned the solar panels and made sure the fountain jets weren't blocked, but this made no difference.  So I took a closer look at the tiny engine which drives the fountain, despite the fact that I know as much about electronics and engineering as I do about brain surgery, and after a bit of experimental poking around found that the engine drives a tiny water wheel - it's this wheel which pushes water up the fountain pipe - and this wheel was bunged up with algae.  The second this was cleaned away the engine began whirring happily once more.  Problem solved.  So I then had a look at the older fountain and this had the exact same problem.  Old age, indeed....  It's been working just fine ever since.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I'd be giving a talk to Janine Pinion's creative writing class.  It went really well, and the students had plenty of questions about what a writer's life is really like.  Well, the answer to that one depends on the individual writer.  I debunked a few myths and encouraged them to experiment with different writing techniques, to keep writing regularly and finish what they start even when they don't rate it much, and to read widely.  They were a pleasant and enthusiastic group, and I enjoyed meeting them all.

This week I finished reading Lord Brocktree: A Tale of Redwall by Brian Jacques.  All the characters are animals, and it's a cheerful Fantasy tale of goodies versus baddies written, originally, for the children of The Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool, which is not too far from where Richard and I lived for a short while, right before we moved to the Wirral peninsula.   I liked how a female character - a hare - took an important role in the plot,  challenging gender stereotypes without resorting to preaching.  The book was fun, and yes it's for kids - but for kids of all ages.

Vintage photography gives a strong visual edge to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the debut Fantasy novel from Ransom Riggs.  Again, this could be read by older children and adults alike.  Strong characters with believable personalities and a tight pace ensure this novel is a page-turner.  This book had been lurking in my To Read pile for at least a year before I actually opened the first page.  This pile is big.  Technically it's three piles, as if I stacked all the books in one pile it'd reach the ceiling and be in constant danger of crashing to the floor and taking my paternal grandmother's jardiniere with it.  Anyway, the title put me off a bit, as I had visions of another twee Harry Potter-esque bandwagon yarn.  That impression was incorrect, totally.  While the novel  does mostly revolve around children, it is entirely fresh in approach and, besides, many of these 'children' are much more than they seem - 'peculiar', even.  I recommend it highly.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Green Gloop and RPG

Tadpoles in May

I'm really pleased with the new solar-powered fountain, which you can see working in the video above.  It's much stronger than the year-old one.  Do solar-powered gadgets have a life-span?  Last year's fountain has taken to emitting occasional squirts of water reaching 4" in height at the most.  I've thoroughly cleaned the filter and panel, and wiggled the wire to see if there's any obvious break, but no joy there.  Meanwhile the pond has begun growing an unpleasant crop of green algae, some of it bubbly, some of it fibrous; hence the new fountain, which shoots jets of water 24" high and should help to increase oxygen levels in the water, which should - in theory, at least - reduce the algae.

 Green algae and tadpoles!
(Click on the images to view them larger).

An adult frog basks in the pond.

On Thursday, I'll be giving a talk at St James's Centre in Birkenhead.  This will be for a creative writing class run by Janine Pinion for Wirral Metropolitan College.  I've been asked to talk on the subject of 'My Writing Life', then read an extract of my work for around 15 mins., then offer a few tips for aspiring writers before leading a Q&A session.  I've also got a spot of homework for the group - a project I recently tested with Riverside Writers and which worked well.

Progress with Fabian continues, of course.  I've around 20,000 words left to write, so while I'm not approaching the last lap yet the end is getting steadily closer.  I've no intention of rushing; I'd sooner it took another year than rush it and dislike the end product.  Fabian has been harder work than Rowan; Rowan flowed easily and quickly, but with Fabian I've had to do much more planning.  This being the fourth novel in the series, there are several sub-plots which stretch through the entire series which need to emerge more clearly and develop further, but now I've worked all that out the actual writing should flow more readily.

Rowan's character is much easier to write than Fabian's, which is odd as Fabian's character began forming many years ago, albeit in a slightly different form - but that was a long time ago, as part of an online RPG.  Tamsin had her origins as an RPG character too; her appearance and traits remain as they were then.  Rowan, however, was totally new - yet the polygamous relationship he shares with Tamsin and Morgan also came from that same RPG.

The first rose of summer.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

FREE newsgroup & Bargain Offer!

In appreciation of my Yahoo! newsgroup, some of whom have been members for several years already, I'm offering Tamsin: An Artisan-Sorcerer Story at the bargain price of $2 USD.

If you're feeling left out of this offer, which runs until May 18th, 2014, then the solution is easy.  Join the TOTALLY FREE newsgroup to take advantage of this and future offers, chat via email to other members, and be among the first to learn of my forthcoming publications, public events and other news.

Join here:-

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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Meditation, Starvation and an Australian Mage.

I'm currently enjoying a week's annual leave from my day-job while writing more of Fabian.  I've also been busy in the garden while I've both the time and the weather for it.  Some of the borders were looking rather neglected, so I've been weeding and pruning and re-shaping the edge of the lawn where the divide between lawn and weedy mess had blurred.  The contrast between sitting still, other than from fingers tapping at the keyboard, and thinking creatively and analytically as I write, and moving around with tools, a bucket full of dug-up roots and pruned, leggy stems or fronds of invasive ivy, is marked.  It still requires analytical and creative thinking but of a different kind, (for eg., I'm planning to put in more spring bulbs this autumn, and move a young buddleia before it gets crowded by the holly tree, and can see that the forsythia needs pruning back now its buttercup-yellow petals are strewn on the ground). 

Gardening can be a form of moving meditation.  Simply be aware of the movements needed to do the job, of the feel of leaf and soil, and of what you can see - such as the delicacy of poppy seedlings, the colours of last winter's leaves lying on the soil, the little red shoots along the stout branches of a shrub which was cut back hard last autumn, of the sound of insects buzzing and birds foraging, or of the quiet splashes of the solar-powered fountain which seems to work only when it wants to, no matter how much sunshine's around. 

To turn gardening into meditation, you don't need to do anything clever or buy any 'new age' gewgaws.  Just live in the moment, be aware of your movements, of the flow of your breath as you work; be aware of everything you can see, hear and smell.  Be in the Here and Now and be aware of how you feel and of the nonsense that swirls through your brain non-stop  - and simply remain self-aware, an observer of yourself at work.  Then keep at it. 

This morning I finished reading Helen Dunmore's novel, The Siege, which I highly recommend.  Its skilled and beautiful use of prose tells a story of love and survival set against the backdrop of the siege of Leningrad (now St Petersburg).  The author cleverly combines actual history with a sensual, almost poetic view into the terrible plight of people facing death from starvation and hypothermia, and their incredible drive to stay alive despite being surrounded by frozen corpses, diminishing rations and the increasing threats of violence and cannibalism.  I've read many of Helen Dunmore's novels, and continue to admire her writing style.

Totally different in  mood, but also recommended, are the two fantasy books by Karen Miller which I recently finished, which are Innocent Mage and Awakened Mage (also seemingly titled Innocence Lost, depending on region).  You get down-to-earth, well-rounded characters doing practical, believable things, but with a splash of fantasy-magic in addition.  A great read, in my opinion; real page-turners.  I haven't read any of this author's work before but I'll be doing so again.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Dragons, Damsels and Distress.

Tadpoles and damselfly larvae - click to view larger.
The pond seems to have become home to damselfly larvae!  I was doing a bit of pond dipping this afternoon, to see how the taddies are coming along and in the bowl were some fragile, insect-like critters which seem to have three tails.  Later, I did a quick Google search to find out what they might be, and quickly found photos of them.  I am genuinely surprised to find damselflies in a pond that's not even one year old yet - a pond which needs more plants to lift oxygen levels as algae is having a field day right now.  I wonder when the damselfly eggs were lain?  I love damselflies and dragonflies!  So I'm grinning like a big kid right now.
I once saw a HUGE emerald green dragonfly flying down Village Road, level with Mariner's Point in West Kirby.  I heard it before I saw it - a loud, droning buzz which caused me to look behind me in case it was a hornet heading my way.  Instead it was a magnificent, enormous dragonfly whose head was about 1.5 inches wide - I could see its mouth open and it looked at me as it flew passed!  Its glittering green body was at least 5 inches long, and its four wings were probably around 6 inches long, maybe longer.  It has been suggested that this was an Emperor dragonfly but photos I've of those show a blue tail, and I'm sure this one was bright green all over.  I've never seen once since, by the way.  And no, I didn't have my camera with me - isn't that typical!  The day the camera is left at home is the day you see something you really, really want to photograph.
Richard looked a bit worried, this week, when through the post I received a generously-sized squidgy parcel of second-hand dolls clothes which I'd bought for a couple of pounds off eBay.  There were some good items but several were looking a bit distressed.  My aim is, when I get around to it, is to carefully unstitch some of them and create sewing patterns for the clothes I actually want my dolls to wear.  Meanwhile, our dog Emily happily modelled a spotty beret...  Well, a girl's gotta play sometimes, hmm?