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Sunday, 31 July 2016

Time, Tide And Technology...

This is Canary Wharf, in London's Docklands development. OH took this photo from the balcony of our hotel the last time we stayed there. We had a beautiful suite, with the Thames running below our windows, and a perfect view of the city. At low tide the shore was exposed, along with all sorts of flotsam and jetsam.

It was on that mud, just over a hundred years ago, that my grandfather's family scraped a living. In the early twentieth-century version of repair, re-use and recycle, they salvaged everything they could to sell on, or use themselves. They went everywhere on foot, and lived in conditions you only see in the film Oliver! nowadays. As a child, my grandfather was saved from his awful hand-to-mouth existence by the charity Barnardos, and later by signing up with the Royal Corps of Signals in the British Army.

Grandad wouldn't recognise the old place now. These days, Docklands is a place of high finance and expense-account lunches. Planes skim over the sight of his miserable early life every few minutes, on their way into London City airport. Nobody walks anywhere, unless they are so hard-up they can't afford public transport.  The National Health Service, together with networks of rules, regulations and safeguards should mean no family struggles as my grandfather's did.


http://mybook.to/MyDreamGuy
Find out more at myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
That's a relief, but with big gains has come at least one loss.  The only thing Grandad liked to remember about this early life was the community spirit. Everyone struggled to survive, but they did it together. There was always time to talk with your neighbours—if only to tell them the bailiffs were coming!

They used to say it takes a whole village (or in Grandad's case, warren) to raise a child. These days we have electronic babysitters, with screens instead of faces. With sipper bottles, onesies, adult colouring books and Haribo adverts, nobody has to grow up if they don't want to. There's no time to talk to anyone, and no need, either—if you're glued to Pokemon Go, nobody's going to disturb you.

It's a form of escapism. I'd rather lose myself in a book!

What do you think is the best thing about life today, and what's the worst? There's a copy of my feel good, light-as-a-summer breeze romance, My Dream Guy, for a comment pulled out of my beekeeping hat by midnight on 8th August. If you can't comment, email me instead! christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Notes From The RNA Conference, 2016 —Author Marketing: Brand, Plans And Goals

I had a great time at the RNA Conference 2016 in Lancaster last week. It was four days of networking, industry appointments, and fun. 

Over the next few weeks I'll be posting some of the notes I made on each of the sessions I attended, so follow this blog using the sign-up on the right of this page to make sure you don't miss anything!

To kick off, here are a few bullet points from the Author Marketing Session, presented by that great double act, best-selling authors Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady. All the photographs are by John Jackson. I know my limitations behind a lens...
Brigid Coady
  • Start by writing the best book you can. All your marketing efforts should take second place to that. 
  • A brand is a promise. Every interaction with your readers should add value to your brand, and create an emotional attachment.
  • Katie Fforde and Carole Matthews are fantastic “brands”
  • What are you willing to share online? Does it fit with what you write?
  • R J Ellory, the crime writer who faked his own reviews, was cited as a "damaged brand" which is taking a long time to recover.
Liz Fenwick
  • Avoid politics and religion when you’re interacting online
  • Keep a flow of information and interaction between you and your readers on Facebook, Twitter etc, always promoting the same values
  • Find out everything you can about your target audience. If they’re Australian, make sure you’re on social media at midnight, etc. Be where they are, when they’re there. 
    Lancaster University Campus
  • Use scheduling services  such as Tweetdeck, but take care tragic international events don’t overtake your happy tweets.
  • Support local bookshops and library campaigns to get your name out there. 
  • Engage your reader with everything from the cover, through blurb, bio, photo and your first page.
  • Use Facebook Author page to monitor stats and help understand your audience.
  • Liz and Brigid decided they spent about 3 hours writing and 1 hour on marketing, every day.
Don't forget to follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, to make sure you don't miss the next instalment of my notes from the RNA Conference, 2016.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Sunshine And Showers...

Stormy Weather Ahead!
This year, instead of either weeks of unrelenting rain or continuous boiling sunshine, we’ve had a mixture of the two. 

There have been a couple of beautiful days, when everyone remembers the words; “flaming June”, followed by cloud, occasional drizzle, one or two old-fashioned deluges, then back to sunshine again. 

Given the pattern of the last decade this pattern feels odd, but it’s much more like the weather I remember from my childhood. When air travel was expensive, most people holidayed at home rather than jet away for guaranteed sunshine. My family always stuck it out in Britain, opting to stay in hotels and holiday lets. When OH arranged a camping holiday in Wales for the summer after we got married, I was looking forward to showing him all the places I’d loved before we met. 

myBook.to/MyDreamGuy
Visit myBook.to/MyDreamGuy now!
A few mornings of waking up to find frost on the inside of our tent cooled my enthusiasm for life under canvas.  Early starts because of the cold meant we had hours to fill in freezing conditions before any of the shops or attractions opened. We weren't short of ways to keep warm (!) and put it down to experience, but the idea of holiday memories being so much better than reality sowed the seeds which grew into my short romance My Dream Guy. Here's a taste of the finished story...

Emily is dreading the thought of going camping in the wettest summer for years. Only the idea of catching up with a gorgeous local guy again stops her from staying at home—but she’s in for an almighty shock. Then her distracted boyfriend Jack springs some even bigger surprises. 

Can Emily’s holiday from hell ever have a happy ending? Pick up My Dream Guy and find out!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Pupdate! A Puppy Update...

Alex at 7 weeks old...
I knew becoming novice dog-owners would be tough, but I didn't realise we'd be riding such a roller-coaster for a lifetime (sorry, nine weeks).

First, Alex didn't sleep through the night until he'd been here for four days.  It was harrowing to hear him scream for hours on end. He'd eventually drop off to sleep, exhausted, only to wake half an hour or so later and start howling again. 

Soon we were all —Alex included—shattered from lack of sleep. OH moved into his office in town  and  cancelled the week's holiday he'd booked to catch up on chores around the house. Our son, who has wanted a dog all his life, did all the research into breeds and breeders and paid for Alex out of his savings, was pretty disillusioned by the racket and sheer, unending misery of it all. 

We racked our brains. What was the puppy so unhappy? He was well fed, had water, toys, a comfy bed, the radio  and a nightlight. We turned the heating off overnight, in case he was upset by the sound of the boiler firing. All that did was to make us all freezing cold, as well as miserable.   


...what a difference 8 weeks makes!
Staggering outside in the half-light at 4am for Alex's first toilet break of the day, while he was busy I bagged up the usual mess left behind by the deer that somehow manage to break in each night.  Then it struck me—to get from the northern boundary of the garden to wreck our fruit trees, they had to walk across the terrace, only inches from where Alex was (supposed be) sleeping inside, under the window in the living room. 

It only took minutes to shift the puppy's crate into the kitchen, well away from any route the deer might take on their way to the orchard. That night, Alex had his first experience of unbroken sleep since leaving his breeder, and so did we!

If only transporting Alex by car was so easy to solve. We started off by feeding him in the stationery vehicle then taking short drives to the end of the lane, then to a friend's house, gradually increasing the distance each time. It doesn't seem to have any effect. He spends the whole journey yodelling fit to burst.

The cat is another hot topic. Alex was brought up with cats, so he thinks our huge and ancient pest control officer is bound to love him as much as he wants to love the cat. The cat has other ideas. For the first few days, he refused to come into the house. He's gradually been coaxed back in, but won't share any space with Alex. Whenever they meet he swells up to twice his already impressive size, hisses and spits. Alex assumes this is a friendly gesture. He advances, and gets firmly cuffed by the cat for his trouble. It's as though the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Dawkins stumble upon each other several times a day. Unconditional love meets immoveable obstacle... 

Have you got any solutions for our puppy problems?

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Update on Alex, 9th May

Lessons in the orchard, 7th May 2016
Success! If I never teach Alex anything else, I won't worry—he will now do the one thing that's vital here, 365 days a year. He'll stay quiet outside the greenhouses, while I'm working inside. That doesn't sound like much, but his first "puppy frenzy" while he was inside a greenhouse with me sent pots, canes and labels everywhere. From that moment, he was banned until he's old enough to be more sensible.

I shut him outside: he screamed the place down and battered at the door (a cacophony which echoed round the valley horribly at 5am!) until he managed to slide it open wide enough to get his nose in. After that, widening the gap was easy so it was no obstacle. He led down, and pushed his feet against the door to slide it sideways, so I now have to block it.

It took three more visits to the greenhouse for me to teach him that I only take any notice of him when he stays quiet. Feeling like the world's most hard-hearted dog-owner, on the first occasion I ignored him completely while he howled and warbled.

That time, the racket went on for minutes. When he stopped, I went out and made a fuss of him, and handed over plenty of treats.

On our second visit, the noise only carried on for about thirty seconds.

The third time, he sat down outside the house and eventually fell asleep in the shade. That's been the pattern ever since, thank goodness.

Result!

Monday, 11 April 2016

Puppy Power!

Dogs have owners, cats have servants.
DD always wanted a puppy. We said no, as they're such a responsibility and the whole family has to be committed to the idea as dogs are so dependent on humans. Eventually, we gave in and let her have a tiny kitten instead, as cats are more able to fend for themselves. Jynx the Norwegian Forest Cat grew into an enormous hunter of four-legged furry creatures. He's an old timer now, but although he'll catch anything from shrews to squirrels, he's terrified of everything else. This includes our neighbour, who fed him on the couple of occasions our family has all been away from home together.

Son No. 1 started asking for a dog the second he could talk, arguing that the cat belonged to his sister and he didn't have a pet of his own. We held out for years, but so did Son. Nothing would put him off. We told him he could open an animal sanctuary once he owned his own house. He kept on. Once he was fifteen and thinking about working with animals, it seemed like more than just a phase. We told him to do all the research, hoping the costs and work involved would deter him.  It turned out that was the worst thing we could have said. He attacked the task with the zeal of a Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Breeds were narrowed down, and he decided he wanted a male golden retriever puppy. He even decided on a name for it—Alex.

Once Son No. 1 saved up enough money, he tracked down Kennel Club approved golden retriever breeder Gaynor Vines.  Some of Gaynor's puppies have gone to be companions and assistance dogs for autistic children, so it sounded like a partnership made in heaven. Son No. 1 still had to convince Gaynor that he (and the rest of our family) were fit and proper people to take on the big responsibility of owning a golden retriever for anything up to fifteen years. He passed the test, paid his deposit, was
Alex on viewing day
put at the top of the waiting list, and we settled down to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Nature is unpredictable. Before any purebred golden retrievers became available, a lovely litter of retriever/labrador cross puppies arrived, and our son fell in love.

There were ten babies, seven girls and three boys. A viewing day was arranged so potential owners on the waiting list could pick which puppy they wanted. As Jeff was top of the list, his appointment was first, at 10:30am one Saturday morning. Armed with his list of things to look out for, we went to view the puppies. First we met their mum and dad, Ellie and Freddie. You can see a lovely picture of Freddie on the banner of the Care and Connect Facebook Page. Both parents were quiet, friendly and most importantly, their whole canine family had been home reared in company with several cats. We wanted to be sure of this, so our new arrival wouldn't bother with Jynx.

The puppies were only five weeks old, and their resistance to the outside world was still low. We had to go through a disinfectant footpath and weren't allowed to touch the puppies ourselves, only look at them as they played around on the other side of a low partition.  It was impossible to choose between between the three little dog puppies. They were all beautiful (of course!) but more importantly they were equally well grown, lively and inquisitive. We asked the breeder loads of questions, and watched the puppies playing with each other, and with her. They had the run of most of a large room, with lots of toys. There were unusual things, too—a collection of metal ladles and spoons, and  tunnels made from short lengths of wide plastic pipe. Their environment was designed to make sure they grew up accustomed to all sorts of unexpected sounds and experiences. It would be our job to carry on this work of socialising Alex to people, places, and things after we brought him home.

When you're getting ready to welcome a new puppy into your home, there's as much to do as when you're waiting for a human baby. And the similarities don't stop there! Next time, there are tears at bedtime and sleepless nights, so make sure you don't miss the next episode.

For more news about  Alex, life here at Tottering Towers and (with luck) a recipe for Orange Polenta cake, drop me an email at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk with the words "Spring Newsletter" in the subject line.



Sunday, 13 March 2016

Is There Anybody There?

Before you read any further, if you're a human and you've opened this blog, please go straight to the comments and type "!". Then come back here, and read on...

I love reading other people's blogs, and blogging myself. This site gets plenty of traffic, but not many comments. It makes me wonder whether it's worth spending time on writing, posting and checking blog entries here, when I could be working on my next book, or out in the garden enjoying this lovely spring sunshine.

It's not as though I'm vanishing from the blogosphere entirely. As well as my own blog on this site, I blog on 14th of each month for Authorsoundrelations.  I also contribute to Janice Rosser's site OAPSchat, as well as taking part in blog tours, and guest spots with other authors. You can always find me at my website, christinahollis.com, too.

At the moment I'm behind with my writing schedule for 2016, so I'm going to be blogging here less frequently for a while. To paraphrase the politicians favourite phrase, I'll be spending more time with my Work In Progress :)

Of course, if you want to get in touch with me, come rain, shine, or looming deadline, just add a comment below!