Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Twisted Wing out in Poland

Looks like Twisted Wing is now out in Poland, where it is going by the title "Bal Absolwentów" - which my good friend Ania K. translates as "Graduates' Ball". Let's hope no one buys it expecting anything along the lines of "Pretty in Pink", eh? ("Pretty in Blood Red" etc. etc.)

Saw "Changeling" on Monday. What a lovely, festive film. Really put me in the Christmas spirit. Having said that, my Xmas plans currently revolve around me and my mum having a DVD version of Frightfest, with movies currently lined up including "The Exorcist", "Cloverfield" , "The Mist" and "Death Line", an early 80s film about zombies infesting the Tube. Can't wait!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Obama makes history

Back in January I wrote "Looks like we've got a pretty good chance of a Democrat in the White House next election (to paraphrase Chris Rock, Dubya did such a bad job that there's no way a white guy can get elected)." Well following the Republication Convention when McCain got a bump in the polls, that statement was starting to look a bit shaky. You can imagine my relief then when Barack Obama won the election.

At the start of the primaries I was a Hillary fan - as a woman I was loving the idea of a fellow female in the White House - but I remember picking up a magazine (not sure which one - Forbes? The Economist?) and reading a piece by her opponent, Barack Obama. Not that it was any help to him - I couldn't vote, I couldn't even donate money to his campaign - but he won me over right there and then. Part of the article talked about the way America approached other countries and cultures: as they believe their democracy is the greatest in the world, they can sometimes find it hard to see the value in different ways of life. Just the idea of someone who could speak to the Arab people, for example, with respect for their beliefs whether or not it was a belief he shared, seemed such a breath of fresh air after the past eight years of the Bush doctrine.

My friend JT kindly invited me and friend Tracey round to his to watch the election kick off. As you can tell by our hats, we were completely bi-partisan. Nearly every commentator (except a few of the Republicans, natch) were talking as though an Obama win was a foregone conclusion, which promoted an atmosphere more of expectation than nail-baiting tension.

JT and I had spent a night the previous week watching the last few episodes of the final season of The West Wing. Remember the scenes of Josh Lyman and Matt Santos having to watch the TV like everyone else to find out which candidate each state was being called for, I couldn't help imagining what Obama was feeling as he and his team saw the results coming in.

Once Ohio was called for Obama it was pretty much all over bar the shouting. By that time I was at home in my PJs, sat on the sofa under a duvet eating tortilla chips and trying not to fall asleep. You'd think the Yanks would be more understanding and try and get their results in a little earlier so their transatlantic neighbours could get some sleep.

In Arizona, McCain's HQ announced that he would address his supporters at 5am - the election hadn't been called for Obama yet, but there was pretty much no chance of McCain winning with Ohio out the window, so everyone knew it was going to be a concession speech. And with Virginia and Florida being called for the Democrats, it was official - America's 44th president was going to be Barack Hussein Obama.

I watched crowds going crazy in Grant Park, Chicago, and Times Square, New York. I wished I was there. I shed a tear. So did Jesse Jackson; no doubt he was thinking of his old friend Martin Luther King.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Obama took to the stage and everyone just went crazy. At times it seemed as though his speech would soar to the same kind of heights as King's had in '63, but he reined it in. No point in spinning everyone into a frenzy of even greater expectations when, as he said, "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term".

For those of us that were sad to be observers rather than participants, he seemed to be speaking to us when he said:

"To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.",0,2684817.story

When I finally made it to bed at well gone five am, I was a very happy bunny. Still, his inauguration seems a long way away. Roll on 20th January 2009!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Where did the summer go?

"What summer?" some of you may well ask.

In between entertaining myself with the Xbox's Lego Star Wars game (Chewbacca pulls stormtroopers' arms out, it's genius) and finally sorting out the back garden (yes, my life is this glamorous), I spent my hols finishing off book no.2.

It's not a crime novel as such - no serial killers or detectives - but I'm hoping I can get away with writing something in a different genre. I'm looking to two of my fav authors - Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane - as examples here: if your second genre is that of the thriller, maybe it's not too much of a leap? ;-)

It's 98% ready to get picked apart and put back together again, I just need to work out how to do the epilogue. At the moment I'm thinking of switching from first person to third and from past tense to present ... still, there's a lot of info to convey and I know how annoying it can be when you feel as a reader like you were left by the side of the road while the characters disappear off by themselves. Maybe inspiration will strike soon!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Never judge a book by its cover

Here's the fab cover for the UK version of Twisted Wing. I think it sums up the book really well - it definitely gets across the Cambridge feel, and I love the fact it's taken from the shadows.

The novel's currently scheduled for release in March 2008. Susan, the publisher, tells me that the ARCs (advance reader copies) should be ready soon. Can't wait to hold one in my hand!

This is the Dutch cover. Think it's being published in the Netherlands in the summer. This cover's a bit more edgy - I like the effect of the blood being the only bit of colour in the picture. The title translates to "Wings of Fear", which is pretty funny. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the book title turns out to be in different countries - I get the feeling it might be very entertaining!

At the last count the book is going to be translated in seven other languages - Dutch, Italian, Portugese, German, Chinese (for Taiwan), Polish and Romanian. I'm going to put a copy of each on a special bookshelf so I can stroke them erotically on a regular basis.

Book no.2 is currently at 85,000 words, and I've just finished drafting the structure of the final segment. There's still a lot of writing to do, so I'm thinking I might take a week off work in the summer and get my head down. For a few weekends I was on a real roll of 5,000 words a session, and if I could maintain that over five days I'd be very happy. Something tells me I may need to get my boyfriend to lock my PVR and XBox 360 in a cupboard though if I'm not going to find myself procrastinating!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Maldivian Bliss

I know it seems as though I spend most of my time on this blog recounting my holidays, and I know I promised some writing updates soon, but ... wow. The Maldives are like being in a Bounty advert. And since I could only afford this dream holiday because of the advance from Goldmann, Twisted Wing's German publisher, it sort of counts as writing-related! Either than or crowing. One of the two.

A diary from our week on Rangali Island:

Arrive at the island about 23 hours after stepping out the front door. Qatar's in-flight entertainment is great, so the two lots of long flights weren't as painful as I'd been expecting. In the Conrad sea plane departure lounge we're given chilled towels and fruit juice. Flying over the Indian Ocean to the island in the little air taxi, we see little atolls rising out of the turquoise water. The puffy clouds seem to hug the sea.

The island hosts come out to the jetty to welcome us. Everyone goes barefoot on the island, even in the restaurants at night! Our host, Nasheed, tells us all about the island and then takes us via golf buggy to our villa. We've got a water villa - one of those ones on stilts over the sea - in the spa retreat area. The villa's huge, with a bath that's probably bigger than our entire bathroom at home, and a private sundeck. Although we're knackered, Steve can't resist the lure of the sea and goes on a snorkelling expedition. I relax on a sunlounger on the deck, where I start to hear a weird clicking sound. Too chilled out to investigate, I carry on reading until the clicking gets closer. I look down to find a massive crab scuttling across the decking. It's hard to know which of us gets the bigger shock - the crab's eyes seem to bug out a bit, and he zooms under my sunbed to hide from me, obviously unaware I'm vegetarian.

We have dinner at the island's massive buffet restaurant, Atoll Market. On the way back to the villa we try out one of the hammocks on the beach, and gaze up at the unfamiliar constellations through the palm fronds. There's so little light pollution here that the stars seem impossibly bright against the black sky.

We wake up early, our body clocks out of whack, and have a quick breakfast at our nearest restaurant, the healthy "Mandhoo Spa". The island never seems to get that busy, even though it's apparently fully booked - maybe one of the advantages of going five stars is you're not packed in like sardines! Making the most of the fact the other guests aren't up and about yet, we monopolise the water sports centre for an hour, trying out a jetski and being dragged around on inflatables. Afterwards, walking back to our villa along the long walkway bridge, we spot baby reef sharks in the shallows. We have a bit more R'n'R on the sundeck, but are interrupted by a rain shower. Gives us the opportunity to try out the monsoon showerhead!

Staying in a spa water villa entitles us to a certain amount of credit at the spa, so we head over there for a "refresh air ritual" - a foot massage, followed by sea salt body exfoliations, then a shower, then a full body and Indian head massage. The whole island is geared towards couples rather than families/singles, and so each massage room has two beds so you can have your treatments side by side. Steve's a massage virgin, and despite the paper thong he was made to wear, he's keen on repeating the experience so we book in for lots more over the rest of the week!

We head over to the smaller island for dinner, which starts with a glass of champagne at Vilu Bar, looking out at the sunset over the water. We're then taken down, along with four other couples, to the temperature-controlled Wine Cellar, where we are seated round a large table. The island's sommelier acts as host, explaining during each course why he's chosen that particular wine to accompany it. Halfway through we have the "three mystery wines" section, where we have to guess the origins of each glass. Luckily I'm a bit squiffy, so I'm not too embarrassed when he makes me guess first! I entertain myself hugely by successfully opting for "Spain" and "New World" for glasses one and two, and beating Steve in the process. By the end of the evening, most of us are completely drunk. Steve asks the sommelier how he avoids getting pissed every night. The sommelier tells us he only has a sip of each wine. The poor man is obviously used to the conversation levels degenerating as the night goes on.

We wait for the dhoni - a Maldivian boat which acts as ferry between the two islands - to come and pick up us, entertaining ourselves by watching three crabs jostle for prime position on the jetty. Each night we come back from dinner to discover a different soft toy has been left for us by the guy who does the evening turndown. Tonight's toy is a turtle, which makes Steve happy since he loves 'em.

Wake up late with a hangover, and have an early lunch in Rangali Bar. The weather is rubbish - grey and damp. We've got a scuba lesson booked - we're complete novices, so a bit apprehensive. This is only exacerbated by the DVD we're shown, which tells us if we hold our breath as we surface our lungs will explode like a popped balloon. The DVD is dreadful, with captions like "FACT: scuba divers are more fun than regular people", followed by shots of scuba divers 'dancing' underwater. FACT: according to this video, scuba divers are a bunch of wankers.

Squeezing ourselves into wetsuits, we head to the beach and go under. The current is so strong, thanks to the stormy weather, that it's hard to stay in one place, and the instructor has to keep grabbing us by the scruffs of our necks and dumping us down where he wants us! We go through various exercises - what to do if you lose your regulator, what to do if your 'buddy' needs your air - which unfortunately goes horribly wrong during the 'expelling water from your mask by blowing air out of your nose' exercise, as I manage to inhale rather than exhale, and get a shot of disgusting salty sea water up my nostrils. I try not to panic, but that feeling of not being able to breathe is a bit scary, and eventually the instructor realises I'm not happy and takes me up to the surface to get my breath back.

We head to the Sunset Grill for dinner. We can't actually see the sunset thanks to the cloud, but the food is great. Despite the fact it's a seafood and grill restaurant, there's a whole page of veggie and vegan food on the menu. Top marks. Get back to find tonight's toy is a fish. This does not provoke any feelings of guilt in Steve at his large fish supper.

Have a lazy morning snorkelling on the house reef - feck me, there's a huge range of beautiful fish out there, none of whom seem at all bothered by our presence. They're the most amazing range of colours. Some of my favourites are tubular, and seem to drift across the bottom in groups rather than putting any effort into darting about like the angel fish and gobis.

Our spa treatment today is basically a private sauna, steam room and jacuzzi. We're unsure of exactly how private it is until we see the open air loo! Dinner is at Vilu, an Italian place on the other island. We watch lightning play on the horizon. On the walk back we look under the bridge. We can see large blue fish jumping for the insects attracted to the lights on the struts. Then a manta ray rises up out of the darkness, five foot wide from wing tip to wing tip, skimming open-mouthed along the surface of the water, showing us his gilled white underbelly. It's impressive to say the least, but does make me resolve not to try night-time snorkelling.

We've booked a highly recommended excursion called "Dream Island", where you and your lovely partner are taken by speedboat to a deserted island and left for the morning with some food and a parasol. Despite raining during the night the trip's still on, and we excitedly head to the jetty. The ride to the island is nice, but when we arrive I'm quite shocked by the amount of litter there - not just water bottles, but aerosols, a water pistols, a petrol drum! We try to relax on the beach, but are attacked by loads of mossies (not a problem on the main island, as it's regularly treated with mosquito-killing chemicals - nice!), and unfortunately the insect repellent provided by the hotel consists of a quarter tube of cream - not enough for one person, let alone two who'd like to reapply after swimming! The best thing about the excursion comes as I'm heading back to the beach from the sea, and hear Steve yelling behind me. I turn round in time to see a school of flying fish leaping in and out of the ocean, gleaming silver in the sunlight and only a few feet from my boyfriend.

Have a light lunch and a dip in the infinity pool before heading to the spa for our 'body quench' treatment, which involves being covered in hot oils then wrapped in steaming towels. Lovely. On the way back to the villa I spot something in the water. "What's that?!" I say, pointing it out to Steve. "What, that big black rock?" he replies sarkily. It's turn out to be a ray. We chase it (not that it realises this) down the walkway and manage to get back to our villa's sundeck in time to see it drift past. I try and persuade Steve to dive in and keep it company, but he seems strangely reluctant.

Dinner that night is in the Mandhoo Spa restaurant, which is a bit disappointing from a vegetarian point of view - a healthy, organic restaurant with only one of two non-meat/fish options? Weird.

Breakfast is followed by a hot stone massage in the spa. The masseuses seem a bit surprised by the huge red mosquito bites covering my body, and I explain I got them on another island. Steve has, as usual, escaped without being bitten. I hate him. The best bit of the massage is the salt exfoliation, as feels amazing on my itchy bites! The massage itself at one point does feel as if the masseuse is trying to dislocate my shoulder. Next time I'm putting down "light" as my favoured massage level!

We go to the famous Ithaa underwater restaurant for mid-morning cocktails. It's set about twenty feet under the sea, by the coral reef. We sip champagne and watch the fish through the transparent walls and ceiling.

In the afternoon we go on another excursion - this time a "snorkelling safari" to the coral reef on another island. The reef is huge, like another world, and is covered in all different sorts of coral, anemones and clams. It's very choppy on the boat on the way back, a bit like being in a washing machine, and one poor chap looks like he's about to lose his lunch.

That evening we're booked in for a cheese fondue dinner at the wine bar. It's yummy, and we're relieved when it turns out our huge pot of cheese is not just the first course but the whole meal. We chat to another couple from the UK; she refuses to snorkel, whereas he won't try out the spa. It makes me glad me and the boyfriend are willing to try out new activities - I certainly wouldn't have tried scuba if he hadn't been keen, and I couldn't imagine he would have headed to the spa if he'd been here on his own. They're very friendly and funny though, so we have a good laugh before saying good night. The toy that night turns out to be a manta ray, entertainingly. Not something you'd normally think of putting in soft toy format...

Our last full day. We wake up early and sit on the sundeck, looking at the fresh morning sky. Two crabs on our deck steps keep up company. Have what is essentially a full English brekkie at Vilu restaurant before heading to the Overwater Spa for our two hour 'Tempt' massage, with coffee and vanilla scented oils. This spa, on the other, smaller island, has glass floors so you can watch the fish from your massage beds. Get so engrossed in watching one particular fish who likes hiding under the sand and shooting out in a grump at any other fish that come near his lair that I don't want to turn over when my back's done.

We set up shop on the beach and do some more snorkelling. Spot a sea slug, and also the infamous titan triggerfish, which is pretty large and will attack during this period as it's protecting its eggs. We decide to try out waterskiing, and while I seem to be on the verge of getting the hang of it, the amount of sea water that you inhale every time you get it wrong means we give up after thirty minutes of ingesting more plankton that your average ray. We have another go on the jetski instead. Back in the villa, we try out the massive bath, which takes 40 mins to fill. With tea lights all around it, it's very romantic.

Have a dinner in Atoll Market, which like most of the restaurants on the island is outdoors and candlelit. "Ooh, look at this cute bug," I say to Steve, pointing to a beetle that's investigating one of our chairs. Then, seeing it more clearly: "Actually, that'a cockroach. Let's skip dessert." The complementary toy that night is a clown fish, with cute little orange Lesley Ash lips.

Up at 5.45am - groan. One last look at the beautiful island then it's time to leave. England seems particularly grey and rainy on our return. Thank God for the bank holiday weekend.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Jordanian Rocks and Egyptian Balloons

Wow, what a great holiday. At the risk of making you all crazy with jealousy, I've never seen so many beautiful things in such a short space of time.

Despite an initial hiccup (my poor sister-in-law brought her old passport by accident, so she had a joyous trip to Heathrow, then to Aqaba, where she had a three hour taxi journey to reach our hotel - we'd spent most of this time chilling out in the hotel bar!), Jordan was amazing.

Petra is an ancient city carved from the rock of the mountains by the Nabuteans (you know, those guys from Amidala's home planet). The most famous building is known as the Treasury, because it was rumoured the stone urns held pieces of gold (they didn't).

It's a 6KM walk to the foot of the mountains, at the top of which is a monastery, also carved from the rock. We bravely elected to climb the 800 steps up the mountain, although my Dad cheated and took a donkey. The views were stunning, though the fact we couldn't walk for the next five days was an unfortunate side effect.

The next day's trip was a jeep excursion through the desert of Wadi Rum, where Lawrence of Arabia liked to hang out. It was effing FREEZING on the back of that jeep - one member of the group decided she was coming down with hypothermia, the drama queen. I nearly threw up my humous and tabbouleh lunch in my Dad's lap what with all the bumping around. We explored a cool crevice in the rock where the Bedouin used to hang out when it all got a bit windy outside (most meals in Jordan are bean-based), but I don't think any of us were as excited as the tour guide trainee, who leapt about on the rock face gabbling away on his mobile phone with very little thought for health and safety. Finally we sat on the top of a rock formation and watched the sun set over the desert.

After a seriously long coach trip we were in Egypt, enjoying a whistlestop tour of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (had a weird deja vu moment when I spotted a piece known as the "cow bed" that was incredibly familiar to me from one of my favourite childhood books on famous mysteries from around the world), lunch on a boat on the Nile (which is oddly similar to being on a boat on the Thames to be honest - kept expecting to see the London Eye), then to the pyramids and the Sphinx.

On our last morning we woke up at 4.30am to make it to the west bank of the Nile for a hot air balloon ride as the sun rose. The occasional blasts of flame made each balloon glow for a moment in the darkness, like huge, fat fireflies.

Our last day was spent in Luxor, visiting the Temples of Luxor, Karnak and Hatshepsut. The former we had the luck of seeing at dusk; it's so much more atmospheric at night, when the beautiful stone statues turn gold in the spotlights.

And now I'm back, with just fab memories of amazing sights and good times with my lovely family, and a huge inbox of poxy emails to get through!

Writing news next time, promise. xxx

Monday, 7 January 2008

Who would win in a fight: giant snails or crocodiles?

Happy New Year!

Yes, hard to believe, but Christmas is already over, we're back at work, the skies are grey, it's getting dark at 4pm, and there's months to go before the next bank holiday. Urgh.

Things to be happy about:
1) Looks like we've got a pretty good chance of a Democrat in the White House next election (to paraphrase Chris Rock, Dubya did such a bad job that there's no way a white guy can get elected).
2) Big Brother is back (yes, I admit it, I'm a fan), and it actually makes a difference watching ten very talented young men and women (those circus act kids are incredible) rather than a bunch of celebrity-hungry wannabes.
3) That's it.

Actually, I do have something to look forward to - a family trip to Egypt in a week or so. It's going to be magic: pyramids, a boat along the Nile, a visit to Petra. I've been told I need to beware the giant snails, but my Dad reckons the crocodiles have got a taste for tourist flesh, and given the choice between outrunning a croc and a snail, I prefer my odds with the snail.

Couple of book recommendations:
- Deeper, by Jeff Long; a sequel to The Descent, which is one of the best books I've read, about the discovery of a literal, subterranean Hell. It bears no relation to the film of the same name. The Descent has one of the creepiest, scariest opening chapters ever, but then becomes a great novel about humanity's limits.
- The Ruins, by Scott Smith, about some holidaying college grads in Mexico who go on a day trip to some ruins they've heard about, and end up in deep shit. It's a potboiler, but then I love potboilers. Very hard to put down, and the characters ring true throughout. Apparently they're making it into a film, but since they've apparently changed at least two characters' fates, you wonder why they don't just write summat from scratch. Speaking of which, I saw I Am Legend over Xmas, and then read the book. Apart from the central concept (lone bloke, lots of nasty creatures), the only thing they have in common is that the lone bloke is called Robert Neville. Needless to say, the book's ending is much more effective than the film's. Cute dog though.

And speaking of cute dogs, I'll sign off with a pic of my brother's dog, who is sulking because we made him wear antlers and a velvety fur collar.