Posted in Personal life, Writing

How to Excite an Author (It’s Not Obvious)

An insight into cover creation for my books
plus the chance to download 12 free ebooks,
one of which is my short story collection Marry in Haste

wedding topper figure
Looking forward to meeting these old friends in real life

The things that excite authors are not always the most obvious. Today for me it’s the imminent arrival of a package containing the wedding topper figurine featured on the cover of my short story collection, Marry in Haste.

To create the cover design I used a stock photo, which for me summed up the tone and attitude of both the title of the book and the tone of the stories in the collection:

proceed with caution

cover of Marry in Haste
“A book for women that every man should read” – reviewer

I loved the way the bride is apparently having second thoughts about tying the knot, leaning back from her husband’s over-enthusiastic embrace.

Wanting to freshen up the cover with a slight redesign of the typography, I discovered the proportions of the original image were too restrictive for what I wanted to do, and I wished I had the original statuette so that I could take my own photo.

Money for Old Rope

Cover of "The War of the Peek Freans Light Wounded" featuring toy soldiers
A single short story, first published decades ago in “Woman’s Realm”

Then I remembered a conversation with my ever-entertaining hairdresser Tasha in which we established that you could find anything on ebay – she regaled me on how she’d won a bet that you could get “money for old rope” on ebay by finding lots of “old rope” for sale.

I’d pursued this avenue once before, buying a handful of vintage metal toy soldiers for the cover of my single-story ebook, The War of the Peek Freans Light Wounded, about a child at the start of the Second World War. They’ve lived on my desk ever since, alongside three small plastic gold Daleks and dwarfed by a three-inch-high Snowy dog from Tintin. I’m still awaiting the inspiration to bring them together in a story.

Another statuette of a wedding couple
Future cover stars for “Repent at Leisure”

Ten  minutes later, I’d found not only the precise statuette featured in the original photo, but also a companion piece to use for the cover of my planned sequel, inevitably entitled Repent at Leisure. I’m not ruling out a Happy Ever After to turn this into a trilogy in due course.

We Meet At Last!

I can’t wait to get my parcel and meet what seem like old friends to me now. It’ll be the equivalent of seeing Facebook friends in reali life for the first time, from all angles, in three dimensions, and finding out how tall they are.

It beats me, though, how anyone could want one of these less than enthusiastic plastic couples on their wedding cake. Neither of them look like the ideal representative of a happy couple.

A Model Couple?

My wedding cake topper showing a more enthusiastic couple
Note the direction of the lean, but disregard the hat

The one on my wedding cake was nothing like either of these, having been handmade for me by my talented friend and wedding witness Jane at her pottery class. She’d been with me when we bought my dark green wedding dress, and I’d described my husband’s tartan to her, but his hat was a figment of her imagination. She also didn’t foresee the motorbike, on which he arrived at the Register Office, kilt flying as he tore down Chipping Sodbury’s high street. Nor did I.

Me and my kilted husband on his motorbike
Enough to startle the old ladies in Chipping Sodbury’s high street

We are still married, approaching our fifteenth anniversary, although the motorbike is long gone. (“It did the trick,” he told me later when about to dispose of it. “It got me the girl.”) I’m not sure I’d hold out much hope of the longevity of either of my little plastic statuette couples. I’m also now trying to erase mental pictures of Melania Trump leaning away from her husband’s embrace…

FREE EBOOKS – Marry in Haste plus 11 more!

New cover of Marry in Haste
Available for free till the end of today (28 February 2017), or to buy from Amazon and other retailers worldwide

If you’d like a free ebook of “Marry in Haste”, you’ve got till the end of today (Tuesday 28th February 2017) to download it via this offer, along with 11 other free books by some of my author friends.


It’s also always available to buy from the usual places – order from your favourite local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223016, from ebook retailers, or order from Amazon


Posted in Family, Writing

The Pencil Mightier Than The Sword

An array of colored pencils, these pencils are...
An array of colored pencils, these pencils are made by Crayola. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have a penchant for pencils. And biros and felt tips and roller balls. Whenever we visit a museum or other tourist attraction,  the first thing I check out in the gift shop is their range of  pens. To me there is no finer souvenir of an enjoyable family day out than a pen with the name of the venue on it.

Provided, of course, that the shop’s stock matches my high standards. The perfect souvenir pen must write a fine line in blue or black ink, have a durable casing in a tasteful colour, and sit comfortably in my hand. It must have a slogan or logo that I’m not ashamed to be seen with, although in a moment of weakness I can be persuaded to invest in one of those with a small perspex chamber, filled with liquid, in which something moves up and down – a boat afloat on a river, perhaps, or a soldier on parade outside a palace.

photo of three plastic souvenir pensI have been known to seek out a National Trust shop specifically to buy one of their Biros. Anything rather than use the cheap, scratchy pens that Gordon, my husband, picks up free from the bank, or worse still, an Argos midget.

A merry band of souvenir pens permanently inhabits my handbag, segueing slowly into a different mixture as one after another runs out of ink, to be replaced next time I visit a museum. (And I visit a lot of museums.)

photo of a set of Penguin pencilsThe cheering power of the pen is not limited to those from famous places. Lately I’ve been particularly fortified by a beautiful set of Penguin branded pencils that I won in a raffle. I love classic, simple branding, and Penguin fits that bill (or should that be beak?)   Each is in a different, mouthwatering colour and bears the title of a great book in an elegant, spare typeface.

But today an unbranded pencil stops me in my tracks. I pick it up at random from one of the many pencil pots that populates our desk-heavy house (five desks for three people), to scribble an addition to my Ocado shopping list. It makes an annoyingly thick line on my tiny square of paper; it’s like writing with molten lead. (And yes, before anyone points it out, I do know they put graphite, not lead, in pencils these days.) I stare accusingly at its shaft, wondering where it has come from. And then, for a second, my heart stops. For it’s an artist’s 7B, bought by my first  husband John.

John died twelve years ago, ten days into the new millennium – but here his pencil remains. Who’d have thought it? To be outlived by a throw-away item that cost him less than a pound.

Colors by Pantone Português: Cores produzidas ...
Colors by Pantone (Photo by Wikipedia)

John’s addiction to graphic designer’s accoutrements was as entrenched as my own to the writer’s tools.  His desk was littered with Rotring pens that had to be used at a precise 90 degree angle to make the ink flow properly; crispy,ancient half-used sheets of Letraset; chilly metal rulers, used with a Stanley to cut a perfect line in a piece of paper. (Oh, how he’d have loved the new Pantone Hotel that was recently featured in the Independent’s Traveller supplement!) Here was a man who really appreciated the precise gradations of Hs and Bs in pencils. He always found the commonplace HB an unsatisfactory, sad compromise: it was neither one thing nor another.

I resist the urge to take my revenge on the poor pencil by sharpening it away to nothing in my battery-powered pencil sharpener. (Who doesn’t love those?) And then I realise with a start that as my need to write anything in 7B is very rare, this wretched pencil will probably outlast me too.

I cast it aside and grab from my handbag one of my faithful museum biros. Ah, the one from the SS Discovery! Now that was a lovely day out. I resume my shopping list, a little calmer now. But deep down, I’m wishing that Ocado could deliver an elixir of eternal life.

It’s not just the pen that can be mightier than the sword.

photo on a 7B artist's pencil

Posted in Family, Travel

The Ring of Truth

Mood ring
A mood ring (Image via Wikipedia)

“I can’t wait to go to there again, Mummy,” says my daughter breathlessly, recounting that day’s school trip to a Roman museum.

Her topic this term  is the Ruthless Romans (why are topics always alliterative?). I’m pleased that she’s so enthused and I pick up the leaflet to find out where it is.  Then she tells me the reason.

“It’s got a really good gift shop.”

Usually on school trips, they’re banned from bringing spending money, but this time they were allowed £2 each.  I’m impressed by how wisely she’s spent hers: a postcard, a pencil and some Roman coins – and she’s brought home some change and a leaflet that was free.

I like visiting museum shops as much as she does, providing the stock reflects the theme of the museum.  My heart sinks when we find only plastic tat that could have come from anywhere (though usually it’s China).  So  when we enter the Jersey Museum shop at half term, I’m delighted to find it’s full of educational toys and books relevant to the displays we’ve just visited, and they’re all at pocket money prices.  Traditional children’s games, replica wartime memorabilia, old-fashioned puzzles and picture books – we’re spoiled for choice.  But of course Laura makes a beeline for the one item in the shop that falls outside of this category: a mood ring.

A depiction of a typical chart listing suggest...
Image via Wikipedia

I remember mood rings fondly from my teenage years.  There was a fad for chunky stainless steel jewellery and you could buy wide bands with big “moodstones” on top.  My friends and I gazed at them as if they were crystal balls, ready to receive their judgement.  It would have taken a fast-changing ring to reflect our teenage moods.

The 21st century version that’s caught Laura’s eye doesn’t have a stone, but a coloured channel around a silvery band.  It’s slim, elegant and subtle.  And it’s only £1.25.  Laura tries one on and waits for it give its verdict, reading the little colour chart that comes with it.  Waiting at her side, I look down at my wedding finger: it’s bare.

A few weeks ago, my wedding ring became stuck fast.  My hand had become swollen with rheumatoid arthritis and I was starting to fear the loss of circulation.   So I forced the ring off  – a painful, lengthy job, involving much liquid soap and twisting. (Twist, don’t pull – that’s the secret, for which knowledge I have to thank Mr Google.)  I soon decide to get a replacement to keep the gossips at bay – within days people were asking about the state of my marriage.  I don’t like flashy, expensive jewellery and I do like a bargain, so our half term trip to Jersey, famed for its VAT-free status, seems the perfect  perfect opportunity to find one.

By now, Laura’s fishing £1.25 out of her Hello Kitty purse and heading for the till. I pick out the largest size in the cardboard display and slip it onto my own ring finger.  It’s a Cinderella moment: a perfect fit.  I catch her up at the till.

We spend the next few hours comparing our moods, according to our new rings.

“I’m normal and lovable now,” Laura reports earnestly – so no change there then.

For the rest of the holiday, she recourses frequently to the colour chart to check her mood and mine.  They match every time.  I notice that the colour for “bored” is white.  As I recall, my teenage mood ring never turned white, so I look forward to being able to counter any cries of “I’m bored!” with “You can’t be, your mood ring’s not white.”

I plan when I get home to show my ring to my husband.  (We’ve left him at home to do the decorating.)  I think I’ll give him a copy of the colour chart and the advice to check my ring every time he speaks to me.  The wisdom it imparts could seriously improve our relationship.  Maybe  mood rings should be compulsory in all marriages, or indeed prescribed by Relate to those who fall out.

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to a navy blue moment.

Posted in Family, Personal life

Who Says Men Make the Best Chefs?

"Rhodesian Cave Man" from Scientific...
Caveman doing the grocery shopping - Image by Wyoming_Jackrabbit via Flickr

“Mummy, when I get married, I’m going to choose a man who likes to do all the cooking,” declared my daughter Laura the other day.

Her assertion surprised me because we’ve recently made a very successful batch of cookies together. Her schoolfriends requested she bring more to school in her next day’s packed lunch.  She also enjoys Let’s Get Cooking Club at school, which I’d hoped would set her on the right track to self-sufficiency in the kitchen.

It’s not that she’s hoping to marry a man like her father.  In ten years of marriage, he’s only ever cooked me three meals.  The first, on our second date, was a stew.  I later discovered it was a blend of everything edible that he could find in his kitchen.  Considering evidence I collected later, I had a lucky escape that night.  Usually, a mutual friend told me, his was the typical bachelor’s fridge, containing only mouldy fruit, bought in a fit of resolve to eat more healthily but never actually consumed, and beer.

The second meal was a frozen supermarket ready meal.  Maybe this was to stop me thinking that this cheffing lark might become a habit.  Then, eight years later, came his third dish: a poached egg on toast, when I was ill with flu in bed.

The poached egg has recently become his signature dish – much as an X becomes the signature of a man who cannot write.  More as a technical enquiry than with the intent of using it, he asked me a little while ago how the egg poacher worked.  To my surprise, he was sufficiently intrigued to try it out.  After many repetitions of the instructions, he finally mastered the art.

I was shocked.  In our household, we have a pretty traditional division of labour: I do the cooking, the food shopping and the laundry, and he does the DIY.  I don’t object, as it gets me off the hook for decorating, and he’s a lot better at it than me.  So I wondered whether his embrace of this tiny corner of catering precipitates a subtle shift in our balance of power.  Suddenly, I was no longer needed to cook his breakfast in the morning: he could make it himself.

Until this point, he’d always been proud of his lack of prowess in the kitchen, citing it as an indication of his descent from stone age man.  Apparently, he-men evolved to operate only on a grand scale in providing food for his family, tracking down wild animals and dragging them back to his cave.  After all that hunting, he’d need to receover his strength while the female of the species prepared his kill for the oven. He claims that’s also why he’s not good at finding things around the house – his glasses, his car keys, his slippers – because men are programmed to find big things far away – like mammoths.

It’s always amused my colleagues that the only phone calls I ever get from him while at work are requests to help him find things: his swimming trunks, his measuring tape, our daughter.  And just last week I had another plaintive call from home.

“Debbie, I can’t find the egg poacher.”

It seems there’s no danger that I’ll be made redundant in the kitchen just yet.