Saturday, 22 August 2015

My new life starts here...

The lovely flowers and card with beautiful messages,
which I was given by my colleagues yesterday.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. 

That's such a cliche, I know, but this expression describes so accurately how I'm feeling today. After a night out with my (now former!) colleagues from Finn-Guild and ScanAdventures, I did have a bit of a sore head this morning (Finns!). Even so, I'm bursting with energy.

We are off to Finland for a holiday next week, but after we're back, revamping this blog will be one of my first tasks. As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, I will be running a series, called 'Advice for New Writers'. First one of these will be up on this blog Friday 4th September.

There will be regular monthly book/film/theatre reviews - first of which will be up on 18th September. The novel I'll be reviewing is 'The Versions of Us' by Laura Barnett.

Other regular features will be Guest Bloggers, Book Offers, News and posts on Expat Life.

So I hope you'll be popping by often to read about my new life as full-time author entrepreneur!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Am I Invisible?

There was a time when I'd give anything for not having men leer at my cleavage. Or at business meetings discussing cash flow or budgets, stare at the odd recalcitrant  nipple, which had managed to penetrate through a bra and a summer blouse.

But these days, to my shame, I actually miss the odd wolf whistle from a bunch of builders, something which used to drive me bonkers.

Now I can happily walk past any amount of building sites with its compulsory bunch of bum-clevaged men. Not one of them will even turn to look at me. 

Which, joking aside, is a relief.

What isn't a relief, however, is having to wait for two or three cars to pass me while standing at a zebra crossing, or being utterly ignored by barmaids in pubs, or being overrun by twenty- and thirty-somethings at entrances to busy tube stations, or in bus queues. It's as if someone had made the decision that I don't matter anymore, that at my age I can't possibly be in a hurry. Or that I can't walk as fast as everyone else. (Which obviously I can).

On the pavement outside our block of flats in North London, I have to literally stop dead when a group of teenagers is heading towards me for them to notice and let me pass. At times when I do this, I wonder if they'll just run over me as if I really have become invisible.

Don't think this development was sudden - I first noticed something was awry, when I took daughter to Paris  a few years ago. At a posh restaurant the Maitre'd opened the door to us, let Daughter through and shut the door on me, leaving me standing outside in the rain (literally). Of course the man was utterly apologetic afterwards; still, at that moment, I could feel the sands shifting.

After this, it just slowly became apparent that I was becoming more and more invisible.

Of course it's liberating in a way. Especially as an author, it's useful to be able to observe people without being noticed; and I am glad I can talk to men normally without there being an instant, 'Fancy a shag?' moment.

I'm not saying that I was so stunning in my youth that people would stop me in the street, no, all I'm saying is that if I walked into a shop, someone asked me if they could help me; if I walked into a restaurant, I'd be served fairly quickly. And, yes, cars at zebra crossings stopped for me.

Anyone else have a similar experience? Or am I just being a Princess?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Two weeks in Provence talking the (Dua)lingo

Oh, how I miss this pool!
Our holiday in Southern France already seems like an age ago, although we've only been back in London for just over a month. Lucky for us the weather here turned tropical on our arrival, so it wasn't too much of a shock to the system.

The view 
This is our second time holidaying in Provence, and I think we are now truly smitten. This time we found a beautiful place nestling below the ruins of the old abandoned village of Vernegues, with four bedrooms, pool, shaded eating out areas and stunning views over the valley. There was a built in BBQ with an outdoor kitchen, and even a wooded area to sit in when the heat got just too much.

Although we did have a terrible start as far as the weather went - there was a storm with quite scary thunder and lightning on the first day, but after that the skies cleared, leaving behind the winds of 'Le Mistral', which too disappeared in a few days.

Some Rose was consumed...
Our efforts at brushing up our French with Dualingo made the holiday much more enjoyable - although I'd studied French at school and university, and the Englishman is fluent in the ordering of a pichet of vin rouge, we've long since forgotten how to properly speak French. Dualingo, an online language app, brought some of it back, and we could actually converse with the friendly Madame, a neighbour (so not any other kind of 'Madame'), who looked after the property. When on day one she got stranded with us without an umbrella during the downpour, over a coffee, we found out we'd both married military men, and could exchange notes on how hard and lonely bringing up children without one's husband can be. Madame even taught us one of the expressions we came to rely on during the two week stay, 'C'est le Sud!'. Meaning nothing in the South of France is hurried, or reliable. Needless to say, Madame was not a local.

The Englishman and I on last night of holiday. Uber relaxed...
Dualingo is free and can be downloaded here.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Living and the Dead in Winsford by Håkan Nesser – a review

The Living and the Dead in Winsford is a novel with a slowly building tension, which only gives up on the last pages of this genius psychological thriller. 

Maria Holinek has decided to spend the winter in a remote Exmoor cottage, with the single ambition to outlive her dog, Castor. Although she tells the locals she’s Maria Anderson, a Swedish author seeking the seclusion of Exmoor to write her latest novel, we soon discover that she's in fact a well known TV personality in Sweden, and that she's hiding a terrible secret. 

In truth Maria should now be in Morocco, having fled Sweden under a cloud with her equally famous, or even infamous, literary professor husband, Martin. 

Once in Morocco, Martin plans to write an explosive novel, which will reveal the truth behind dark events within his commune of writers a decade before. But the couple never make it to Morocco. 

As the late autumn in Darne Cottage, the old stone dwelling she's renting together with her dog, turns into a unforgiving Exmoor winter, Maria begins to feel less and less protected by her anonymity and remote location. The long walks along the wild, desolate moors no longer calm her nerves, but the opposite; the moors begin to scare her. The secret she hides, and the secrets of Martin's exploits in Morocco, increasingly and persistently continue to disturb Maria, and she feels more and more vulnerable to both the forces of the Exmoor winter, and the people in her past.

On top of her own inner demons, other strange goings on haunt Maria. Is she being followed by stranger in a car? Has her terrible secret been discovered? Trying to keep her terror at bay, she befriends the nearest neighbour, an Englishman called Mark Britton who lives a few miles away in an equally lonely location. Mark Britton has a perfectly innocent reason to have settled where he is, but is he really as nice and as uncomplicated as he seems to be?

Nesser is a veritable godfather of Nordic Noir fiction. His series crime novels featuring the life-weary Detective van Veeteren have sold over 10 million copies in 25 countries.


This, Nesser's latest novel, is a result of some time spent in the UK, and as the post script reveals he has personal experience of the harshness of a winter spent on a remote part of Exmoor. The impeccable research certainly shows in the descriptions of the long, muddy walks along the moors, where Maria often gets lost, and as a reader you feel a real fear for her safety.

Even though I personally have a real penchant for Nordic Noir, and particularly Nesser, I think this brilliant psychological thriller is well worth a read even if you're new to Scandinavian fiction. 

The Living and the Dead in Winsford
by Håkan Nesser
Published by Mantle
Hardback copy £14.99

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Ch - ch - ch - ch - changes

I've always loved David Bowie, and this up-beat song about the inevitability of change seems once again relevant to me when I'm handing over the reins of Finn-Guild to a new, freshly recruited Managing Director. Luckily I’ll have a soft landing as I’ll still be editing the Finnish/British cultural charity's magazine until further notice; but my main aim is to spend more time with my own literary pursuits.

So you can expect much more regular blog posts here on my blog about books, about writing and about life in London in general. 

In September I'll start a new series of blogs on Advice for New Writers. Lots of people who want to write but know nothing about the process of writing or publishing ask me for advice, and often I really don't know where to start. There's so much information that you need in different stages of a writer's life. This particular series was inspired by a young would-be author who recently came to me for advice. I think I completely overwhelmed her with tips and suggestions, so I decided to chop them up into more manageable chunks. I hope you'll enjoy this series, and will recommend them to any friends who are interested in becoming an Indie Author.

Of course my main aim will be to write more novels - the sequel to The Englishman is first on the list, and I will attempt to get it ready before Christmas (I know, it's been a long time coming...). I'm really excited about this book, and will let you have a sneak peek very soon.  

Of course I’m going to miss Finn-Guild and all the friends I've made during my time with the charity terribly – I’ve enjoyed my time with the Finnish and British Expat communities immensely. But, as the man sings, 'Turn and Face the Change'. I'm certainly looking forward to my new life as an author entrepreneur.