C is for Camera, Coffee, and Colon

Christmas already seems a long time ago but it’s a fairly big contender for a C word so only fair to mention it early on; especially since I’m currently writing a Christmas themed novella. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is something cosy (come on, you know me better than that) It’s about an accountant who writes a novel in company time and how his subsequent literary journey with a small publisher impacts on his life. Obviously, it’s mostly satire.

This year, I was given a Cannon camera for Christmas. I also received another type of camera entirely – thankfully much smaller – in the form of a colonoscopy. I’m rarely ill but when I am I tend to do it in grand style. On this occasion, it was deemed by my doctor that since I was creeping up to one of those birthdays with a zero on the end, I should take advantage of the screening on offer and get checked out.

‘You’ll forgive me,’ she said. ‘Eventually.’

Fred-Gwynne-as-Herman-Munster-laugh3This wasn’t what I wanted to hear the week before Christmas. I’m well versed in the use of the colon: although I don’t always get it right. Semi; or full? Thank goodness for my wonderful editor. An empty colon is something else entirely. The preparation for such an investigation is pretty miserable. No solid food for 36 hours and a wash with two litres of unspeakably vile liquid flavoured with artificial lemon, is arguably the NHS version of the Beverly Hills detox. And the Colonoscopy Clinic must be one of the most miserable waiting rooms – down to the fact that everyone in there is famished and not only dreading the procedure, but not especially looking forward to the distribution of those fetching paper shorts. Maybe it’s because I’m generally an upbeat sort, but I always find my writer’s observational slant is a good antidote for such times. Take my consultant; impossibly tall with unruly hair, booming voice, broken English. He laughed a lot too as he led my feeble body onto an operating table. I can’t recall his name but I still think of him as Herman Munster. The student nurse couldn’t find any veins in my arm in order to insert a cannula (something I’d happily gone along with as it promised mild sedation). Herman’s expertise with the needle in this respect was at least reassuring. And then we were off. I could even watch the whole thing on an overhead monitor.

Er, no thanks.

CDm5rGCXIAEAP0OThey never did find anything wrong with me, despite several biopsies. I worried I’d be sent for again; for another, more intensive examination, but several weeks later I received a letter to say I was discharged. Possible gluten sensitivity, it said in the notes. I reckon one is either intolerant, or not. I know stress is blamed for pretty much everything without a specific medical name, but I’m more inclined towards this than any other explanation. Do upbeat personalities become more prone to physical distress; are we guilty of putting on a brave face once too often? I think there may be some truth in this. I’ve taken the suggested course of action in reducing all stress on my digestive system. This comes down to reducing gluten heavy foods, cutting out caffeine and further reducing my moderate consumption of Chardonnay.

So far, so good

But what of less visible stress? My brother and I have recently had to make the awful decision to place Mum into a dementia care home. It’s clean, safe, caring. But her quality of life is pretty dismal. Are we compromising quality for longevity? Without a doubt. Hidden, disguised stress is evident for all the family, especially Mum, who is trapped in an alien world in every sense of the word. Of course, any fiction writer knows that worlds are not required to be physical to exert considerable power. Authors often exist in an online bubble too. And this generally contrived world can be creepily competitive: Look at my amazing sales rank! Look at my gut-busting daily word count! Writing and publishing at speed is counter-productive to what was once, for me, an enjoyable experience. Or maybe I’ve simply exhausted my current genre and my writing brain needs a colonic! This comes down to reducing unnecessary reading matter, cutting out all trash and further reducing my moderate consumption of social media.

So far, so good…

550x358_emmerdale_soapsshowdown_week20_pic19As a result, I’ve spent considerably more time playing with my new camera than I have tapping at the keyboard. Why does this make me feel vaguely guilty? How crazy that the pressure of social media to present a constant stream of material can coerce and control the mind. It’s often an insular place to be on a permanent basis because much of the time, content is not only manipulated but it’s severely watered down. Real stories and information are difficult to find. When the soaps first started on the telly they were broadcast a couple of nights a week for half-an-hour, with ad breaks in-between. From the script-writers point of view this amounted to a manageable window of creativity. Now, of course, they’ve had to up their game, resulting a lot of the time in plot holes, repetitive devices to move the story on (eavesdropping is a big one), implausible character motivation and the worst of all – gratuitous violence. As a precursor to these pleasures we are warned before each episode that viewers may find some scenes upsetting. 

imagesI’m not being especially pedantic. A lot of the time I like Coronation Street. I think it’s the northern humour, and I fully understand the concept of wanting to sit and watch something which takes little or no effort. But I still want good content. Light entertainment, in much the same way as books labelled as light fiction, still need to offer a story. I don’t want more books and blog posts to read, I want less! In the case of blog-posts, lots of these amount to barely disguised advertising, and we’re already gagging from an abundance of that. The compromise for quantity is always going to be quality, although I shall strive to discover the pearls amongst the vast quantity of mediocre material out there… So, did you get anything good for Christmas? I got a colonoscopy! And a reminder that producing and absorbing good content paves the way to greater contentment. Now pass me a small and very expensive glass of vino; I want to toast those quieter books.

 

 

Strawberry Sky: Reviewed by Bookmuse

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What we thought: I was looking forward to this book having enjoyed the first two in the series, and I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed. The novel emerges you right into the heart of the complex lives of sisters, Laura and Maggie, as we follow the next chapter of their story. And it’s an emotional one! The author embraces the world we find ourselves, amid the wild open hills of North Wales, and that confidence shines through in her writing. Well-paced, this story plays with the reader’s sympathies and loyalties, reeling you in right from the start, into their world so we care about the outcome of the characters. I particularly enjoyed the excellent twist in the tale.

Laura has lots to celebrate in her life. James is on the road to recovery following his near death accident, and the equine business is booming with plans for further expansion. But there are dark shadows also; her desire to get pregnant threatens her marriage, plus her worries about family ‘bad blood’ remain unresolved.

Maggie has her own family crisis to manage. Her daughter, Jess, flees to America leaving her (literally) holding baby, Krystal, and Pete has a health scare that could shatter their world. But with Jess, nothing is ever simple, and trying to keep the family together and find time for herself becomes a challenge.

Bookmuse Award BadgeIt was a real joy to be back in this equine-based world and in the remoteness and beauty of the North Wales setting. The location and local characters as always brought another dimension to the story. And this story is a page turner, full of dramatic highs and lows, it grips the reader to the very end. I read the whole book over one weekend, with the need to read more mixed with the dread of reaching the final page.

Knowing it was the final book of the series, I thought the author did a brilliant job in bringing all of the threads together into a satisfying conclusion – although I secretly hope she decides to write more in the series in the future.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Jojo Moyes, Dick Francis, Clare Chambers.

Avoid if you don’t like: Horses.

Ideal accompaniments: Strawberries with ice cream and a glass of Prosecco.

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Dinorwig Quarry

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The Dinorwig Slate Quarry is a large former slate quarry, now home to the Welsh National Slate Museum, located between the villages of Llanberis and Dinorwig in North Wales. It was the second largest slate quarry in Wales, indeed in the world, after the one in neighbouring Penrhyn

In the Chair 79

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nWelcome, Gabrielle Mathieu

How would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Gabrielle: Brisk, suspenseful, seductive

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Gabrielle: I would love to get cozy with Tenzin, the tough but moral son of a Swiss missionary and a Bhutanese nurse. Tenzin is my heroine’s moral compass, a teacher, but yet, not without flaws himself. His greatest gift is his compassion, and his willingness to listen. He’s also hot!

If you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

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Gabrielle: My third book, which will come out in the summer of 2018, is set in Munich and the Himalayas, in 1967.  I would have loved to see Kathmandu then. It must have been a paradise. I’m not that interested in the availability of marijuana in the sixties, but I would have liked to see the city before its current infestation of vehicular traffic and homeless, starving dogs.

Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

TenzinGabrielle: I’d host all the Oxford dons: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Philip Pullman. I’d just have to hope that being upper-class British, Pullman wouldn’t fight with the other two, since he does have issues with their story-telling. Of course Lewis and Tolkien were products of their times, just as we are products of ours. We would have to dine in one of those delightfully old restaurants in London’s Fitzrovia or Bloomsbury, where the tables are crowded together in a small room, in a narrow building with creaky wooden stairs and a ceiling blackened by smoke. I’m not one for meat and potatoes myself, but I guess with that crowd, we’d have to have a traditional meal, washed down with some nice red wine. It’s true I might find the fellows a mite stodgy, but they influenced my writing. And I couldn’t bear to have dinner with George R.R. Martin, though I think he’s a fantastic contemporary story teller. His tortures are just too vile.

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Gabrielle: I have a related genre I’ll be returning to in my next series: epic fantasy. I like creating everything from scratch: the names, the customs, the rules of magic. (There better be rules. I don’t like it when all problems are solved by magic. That should be a last resort, because magic exacts a heavy toll.) It’s an interesting challenge to create a complex background, and then extract what’s necessary for the story.

What do you dislike the most about being an author? Gabrielle: I dislike having to compete with the flood of books on the market.

Favourite word?  Gabrielle: Imagine.

Gabrielle Mathieu was in the chair, author of: The Falcon Flies Alone

Web: http://gabriellemathieu.com/

Beddgelert

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Beddgelert stands in a valley at the confluence of the River Glaslyn and River Colwyn. Despite the presence of a raised mound in the village called Gelert’s Grave, the mound is ascribed to the activities of a late 18th-century landlord of the Goat Hotel in Beddgelert, David Pritchard, who connected the legend to the village in order to encourage tourism.