Thursday, 30 October 2014

Raving Loonies In Rochester (And On The Apprentice)

We're back in Framlingham after another stint of childcare in Rochester. We're getting into a routine now which will make it easier for us until the situation is resolved. We've got the suitcase ready and waiting early on Sunday evening and have most things packed in the car before we go to bed so as to ensure that the noise in the morning is minimal - I am sure that our neighbours won't appreciate too much door slamming at 5.30 a.m. 

This week the local Rochester playgroup was holding  a wellie walk so we had a very enjoyable trip to nearby Shorne Woods just outside Gravesend. Our granddaughter is always fascinated by throwing sticks into water and this activity kept her amused for ages. She had a good tramp through puddles and mud in her wellies before playing on the excellent playground. The weather was very kind and the whole group enjoyed two or three hours in pleasant autumn sunshine.

Back in Rochester things are hotting up for the by-election and there is a very strong UKIP presence with plenty of men who should know better wearing lurid purple fleeces and carrying placards. We even saw a dog dressed in a ridiculous UKIP coat. He and his owner looked as if they were canvassing for the Monster Raving Loonies and not a supposedly credible alternative to Labour or the Conservatives. And yet all the polls suggest that they will win. Let's hope it's just typical by-election madness.

My novel's five day free stint on Amazon certainly got it noticed and there were hundreds of downloads during the giveaway. As Lord Sugar rightly says on The Apprentice it's all about margins and any fool can be a successful salesman if he or she gives the goods away - so how can it be justified?

Well, as you can see from this screen shot, during the free period the book reached number six in the holidays category. By reaching this level it appeared on the front page of the listings in that genre and consequently was seen by far more people. Okay they were able to download it for nothing (and I know that may be galling to those who paid) but as a result of their downloads there is now a link beneath my book quoting "readers who bought this also bought ......" and a long list of books. Consequently, beneath those other books will be a link which reads "people who bought this also bought ...... " and, amongst the many titles will be Give Me Your Tomorrow . Since it returned to full price, sales have been encouraging. What really matters now is if those free downloaders now read the book and leave a positive review - we'll see how it looks in a couple of weeks.

The Goodreads giveaway of twenty paperbacks is also starting to bear fruit and I now have two five star and one four star review on that site. 

It's really time to get stuck into the new novel now and I'm doing my best to get it moving although time is in such short supply. It was never like this when we were working.

Having mentioned The Apprentice earlier I must say that last night's episode was an all time low for the show. Tasked with producing an amusing viral channel on YouTube the team's attempts were beyond derision. Lacking humour, skill, script and just about everything else I'm surprised that Lord Sugar didn't simply sack the lot and start all over again. If he does invest £250k in one of them at the end of the process, that's a quarter of a million quid he'll never see again.

Finally a word of praise for the wonderful Mary Beard. She's very active on Twitter and her tweets and blogs are always amusing and entertaining. What's more she's prepared to interact with her followers. I've commented on her tweets several times and she has always responded. Yesterday she was criticising some crassly sexist advertising in the Vauxhall Corsa brochure. She made a very good point that this sort of stuff (a leggy young woman draped across the car interior) is inappropriate in 2014 but in doing so, I felt she managed to give the manufacturers (and the page in question) more publicity than they would otherwise have had - so win win for Vauxhall. But don't stop doing it Mary, you're one of the characters who make Twitter worthwhile.

Friday, 24 October 2014

On Ayckbourn at FADS, Amazon Fire TV, Framlingham Hour Community And Not So Super Mario

I've been banging on about my novel and my various book giveaways on here this week and my readership has dwindled a little bit so I get the message and I'll get back to the retirement for today although you will have to forgive me if I write another blog pushing Give Me Your Tomorrow before the free offer runs out on Monday.

We got back from Rochester on Tuesday night after looking after our darling granddaughter for a couple of days and we can't wait to see her again on Monday when we head down to Kent again for another childcare stint.

The good folk of Rochester will be very scared on Halloween. Our granddaughter's hand made costume arrived from family in America on Wednesday and I can guarantee that there won't be a better two-year-old dinosaur trick or treating anywhere in Rochester (or the UK for that matter) this time next week. 

Marion has been busy with the garden and has done a fantastic job in digging up the perennial plants that she wasn't happy with, digging in new compost and planting shrubs as replacements. Although our landscapers did a fabulous job in designing the garden last year the planting scheme was done for instant colour and Marion wants something more long term that looks good all year round. Boxes keep arriving from Crocus and David Austin Roses and the results are starting to look impressive. 

I kept getting emails from Amazon telling me that I wasn't getting the most out of Amazon Prime. I use Prime for quick free delivery but it now includes their film and TV streaming service. Trouble is, although our Samsung TV in the kitchen has the Amazon ap, the Panasonic in the lounge doesn't and Panasonic don't seem to be in any hurry to resolve this. I don't want to be streaming films via the laptop (too much hassle) so when I saw that Amazon were introducing their own gadget to make their service available on the Panasonic  (or any tv) I thought it was worth gambling £79 on the Amazon Fire TV and giving it a try. It's  a tiny device and works perfectly (so far). Whether or not we'll watch the free films being offered is another question but at least we now can if we want to.

I supported Liverpool for most of my life and had a season ticket on the Kop for the best part of forty years. I lost interest during the Dalgleish and Hodgson years although I kept going out of loyalty but when we moved to Framlingham I had to give up the season tickets. Suddenly they started to play attractive football and came within a whisker of winning the Premiership (just my luck) so, this season, I've started watching again on TV. It seems that I missed out on the one glory season of the last decade as the last couple of performances (QPR and Real Madrid) have been absolutely dire. Much centres around signing Mario Balotelli and I find myself thinking what Bill Shankly  (yes I am old enough to have been watching when he was the boss) would have done with such a player. He's obviously a highly talented individual and anyone who has friends who set off fireworks in his bathroom and wears a "Why Always Me" t-shirt is okay with me but I reckon Bill would have given short shrift to that ginger mohican for starters. After that he would have told him to look as if he was interested. I'll never forget seeing Liverpool about three down with five minutes to go and Emlyn Hughes running around like a madman encouraging the team to keep going - Balotelli looks as if it's all a bit boring before the game's even started. Although Emlyn's exhortations didn't bring a result at least he got the crowd on his side and if Balotelli can get the crowd on board maybe he can start to make the impact that he is capable of. The day that he signed the cameras showed him leaving his seat before the half time whistle - if you are passionate about your team you don't leave until it's all over.

Last night we headed to the college to see the latest performance from FADS our local amateur dramatics society (apologies to the Framlingham website for pinching their photo). They performed Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings. It was a very entertaining show although the society struggles with a shortage of young male actors. The men who performed did their very best but seemed, in a couple of instances, simply too old for the characters they were portraying.With just five males in the play this did affect its credibility. On the other hand, the female casting was very strong and the actors playing Belinda, Pattie and Rachel all put in memorable performances. The set was, as always, excellent and the audience loved it. They did their best with the cast available but I'd love to see some younger blood in future shows.

Today I've been doing my bit for The Framlingham Hour Community and taken an elderly woman shopping. It's only an hour but it makes a big difference - without this service she would be virtually housebound and have to rely on others to shop for her. The Hour Community gets her out of the house and half of the trip to the Co-Op is spent pausing for her to say hello to people she knows (she knows everyone in Framlingham). Having the shopping delivered to her house would deprive her of this important social interaction.

And by the way, did I tell you, my book is free to download until Monday?


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Another Giveaway

In the four and a half months since I published Give Me Your Tomorrow I've been encouraged by sales and extremely encouraged by feedback by way of reviews and comments from readers but, without the backing of a publisher's publicity machine there's not a great deal that an independent author can do to keep a book in the spotlight without breaking the bank. So I am trying a short promotion offered by Amazon Kindle to all who enrol in Amazon KDP Select. This allows me to offer the book for free download for a maximum of five days. This promotion begins tomorrow 23rd October and ends on Monday 27th.

Apologies to readers who have invested a couple of pounds in buying the Kindle Edition but I am sure that you will appreciate the competition I am up against and the benefits that a jump in circulation could bring. Obviously if hundreds download the novel and hate it (and say so by way of reviews) it's a giveaway that could backfire but I am reasonably confident that this won't be the case as the reviews already written are genuinely independent comments. 

So, please spare a moment to tell your friends or anyone you know with a Kindle or ebook reader and pass on this link. Remember, the promotion starts tomorrow and runs until Monday. I will let you know how the promotion goes.

In other news, our babysitting in Rochester continues. We're only looking after our little granddaughter for two days a week for the next week or two and we went on Monday and spent a very happy time with her. We enjoyed playgroup on Monday and Toddler Boogie on Tuesday and Marion spent the rest of the time playing with her with (amongst many other things) Duplo and a set of Peppa Pig figures which she absolutely loves. Catherine insisted that I take a photo - so here it is. I cooked a roast dinner on Monday and I must mention Hall Farm Butchers in Framlingham who provided the fabulous beef that made it such an enjoyable meal. 

I should also mention Camel Footwear. I bought a great pair of Camel Active boots last winter. The laces became worn and I couldn't find replacements anywhere (they are quite a distinctive colour which matches the stitching). I emailed Camel service in Germany and asked them to tell me the name of a stockist and, just a few days later, I received a pair of laces free of charge. In these days of tight profit margins I imagine that the cost of a pair of laces plus postage and packing to the UK would almost eliminate their original profit on the boots so thank you Camel Active for your excellent service.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Grandparenting In Rochester

We've spent another busy week in Rochester helping out with our granddaughter during a temporary childcare crisis. It wasn't as tiring this week as we stayed in Kent and the driving was limited to one early start on Monday (although torrential rain at around 6.15 a.m reducing visibility to next to nothing and flooding the A12 made it a pretty hair raising journey). We enjoyed looking after our special little two-year-old and we're off there again tomorrow for a couple of days. The town is going to be very much in the news for the next few weeks in the run up to the by-election and it becomes overrun by politicians. We've seen a number of TV News crews and photographers there but haven't spotted any big names as yet. 

I'm becoming quite an expert in toddler activities. We visited Little Stars playgroup, Toddler Boogie at Rochester Library, Toddler Shake And Boogie at Chatham Library and another playgroup run by King's School in Rochester. Men are conspicuous by their absence at all of these events and there has only been the odd dad amongst the mums and grans and no other granddads. It's a pity in these days of gender equality that more males don't participate. I'm sure that Paul, who often takes Catherine to these kids' clubs, would welcome a couple of blokes to talk to.

It must be confusing for the children attending these activities as each group has its own version of songs like The Wheels On The Bus and Row, Row Row Your Boat. I'm getting the hang of it (even the politically incorrect version with Mummies on the bus going "Chatter Chatter Chatter")

We got back to Framlingham in time to take an elderly woman on her regular Friday afternoon shopping trip as part of our participation in the Framlingham Hour Community. It's a great scheme as there are plenty of people living on their own (or with disabled partners) here and simple things like shopping can present them with tremendous worries. 

Yesterday we had a day to ourselves and enjoyed breakfast and the The Times Jumbo2 crossword at the Lemon Tree (didn't finish it this week as we didn't know a Belgian composer) before Marion went to the hairdressers and I had a couple of hours out with the detector.

I tipped this lot out of the bag when I got home - that's two trips worth as I didn't have time after the last trip. And no, the detector doesn't pick up golf balls, it was just lying on the surface of the field. Here are some of the better finds from the two trips.

A Medieval Silver Penny Heavily Clipped

A Medieval Silver Farthing - Damaged

Another Medieval Penny

A Charles I Rose Farthing

Unidentified Probably A 17th Century Trade Token
There were not very many artefacts but I have found seven early hammered coins in four short visits to this very small field so I look forward to trying it out again when the crop which covers ninety per cent of it is harvested (I have been searching a set-aside strip).

I am pleased that the novel is still selling and I now have ten reviews in total on Amazon and I spent over £118 posting twenty free copies to the winners of my Goodreads giveaway last week but have not heard from any of the recipients as yet and hope that the copies arrived safely. It would be great if all twenty read the book and leave constructive feedback. If I hear nothing it will be a disappointment. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Joyous And Joyful Trip To London

With all the driving we did last week, the last thing we needed was a trip to London on Saturday. But, having spent almost £200 on front stalls seats for Shakespeare In Love at the Noel Coward Theatre a few months ago, we weren't going to pour money down the drain and headed off to Ipswich to catch the 12.09 train. We were in good time until I foolishly followed a Satnav route that suggested we would arrive much earlier than expected instead of sticking to the planned journey. The Satnav woman was clearly unfamiliar with Ipswich Saturday traffic and we ended up collecting our tickets from the machine at the Station at 12.08 and walking straight through the barriers and onto the train. That might look like a case of perfect timing but it was, in fact, a pretty stressful arrival. 

As we can only manage a theatre trip once every month or two we have to be choosy and rely on the critics and pick only the shows that get four or five stars in the newspaper. Shakespeare In Love was universally acclaimed - and deservedly so. It's far lighter than The Crucible  which we saw at the Old Vic recently but it's still a wonderful couple of hours entertainment. We didn't see the Oscar winning movie so the story was fresh and great fun.We enjoyed spotting the Shakespeare references in the play (I'm sure that we missed plenty); my favourite was "out damned spot" directed at one of the play's star turns (I won't spoil it for you). 

Shakespeare's beautiful Sonnet 18 (Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day) figures largely in the play. It's my favourite Shakespeare sonnet and features in my own novel Give Me Your Tomorrow as well as inspiring the title The Darling Bids Of May and John Mortimer's book Summer's Lease. I think this use of Shakespeare's beautiful love poetry added a great deal to Shakespeare In Love and made it not just a great comedy but also a fabulous love story. The magnificent set was fabulous and the curtain call was one of the most joyful theatrical events I've seen in a long time - it brought tears of pleasure to my eyes. If you wan't something entertaining and light but a bit different than the average West End musical give this a try. You will definitely not be disappointed.

I was, however, disappointed by the behaviour of a group of teenagers on the train back to Ipswich. They were wearing badges which indicated involvement in a Youth Parliament event. God help us if any of that lot ever get elected. Loud, boisterous, inane and totally oblivious to the rest of the passengers these loud mouthed thirteen to seventeen year olds (plus a couple of adults - teachers?) were so childishly noisy they ruined the journey for everyone nearby. They weren't using bad language but were so loud and full of themselves that they seemed oblivious to the thought that maybe some in the carriage didn't want to listen to their views or find their practical jokes on their friends funny. As they departed at Ipswich their table was piled high with rubbish - politicians eh!

Rochester is big in the political news at the moment due to the defection of their MP to UKIP and we're off there again on babysitting duties tomorrow. and staying for a week this time. I'll be taking these 20 copies of my novel to post while we are there. Over eight hundred people entered the Goodreads competition to win a copy. I hope that the recipients in Canada, the USA and England enjoy the novel and leave some decent reviews to help me to promote sales.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Busy Days

It's been a hectic week with little time for blogging. We've been helping the Rochester branch of the family with babysitting duties due to the temporary absence of the regular carer. It's wonderful to be able to see so much of our two-year old granddaughter - she's a little angel and has been great company. On the negative side, the five a.m starts are not ideal.

On the plus side we get to see sunrises like this.

But on the negative side there's a huge traffic build up at the Dartford crossing as early as seven o'clock. We arrive in Rochester way too early but if we left Framlingham any later we would be way too late - it's amazing what a difference a fifteen minute delay in leaving can make. We're off there again on Friday and next week we're staying all week so we will avoid the early starts and long drives. 

Being with a two year old can be a lot of fun. We told her parents that we would look at some new shoes for her. "Something plain and sensible" were our instructions. 

These were her idea of something plain and sensible! Suffice to say she ended up with a very nice dark blue pair. 

While we've been back in Framlingham we've been keeping very busy. We've taken up spinning classes at Fram Leisure up at the college. We've got Becky, who is a great instructor, to keep us going and the classes provide forty five minutes of intensive exercise. Spinning apart, Marion's redesigning the garden planting and has bought two trees and lots of shrubs and climbing plants which she's managed to find time to plant . She's got plans for another few dozen plants but they may have to be delayed until spring.

We even managed to get to Cineworld in Ipswich to see Boyhood which we missed first time around. It's a unique piece of cinema being filmed over twelve years. We experience the life of  Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from five to eighteen. It is a warm and fascinating piece. With each of the cast ageing as the film progresses it removes the need for unconvincing make up or different actors and I imagine that the script was a work in progress throughout the twelve years as the director Richard Linklater (whose daughter Lorelei who plays Mason's sister Samantha and also grows up on screen) could never be certain how his cast's circumstances would change over more than a decade. There are some wonderful and very real performances especially from Ethan Hawke who starred in Linklater's "Before" series of films. Not a great deal happens but it is an extremely likeable and real depiction of a modern multi-parent family life - a must for any cinema lover.

I also found time to get out with the detector at the weekend. Although this group of finds doesn't look particularly exciting they include a medieval silver penny and a medieval silver farthing plus one particularly fascinating coin.

This is a Danish silver Skilling of Christian IV dated 1620. It's in very good condition and it's intriguing to find a Danish coin from this period here in Suffolk. I did a bit of research and local dignitary Sir Robert Hitcham, who was around in the 1600s was Attorney General to Queen Anne of Denmark. Could this coin be linked to that connection? We'll never know for sure but I doubt that many Danes were visiting here in the 17th century.

I'll leave you today with a final reminder of my Goodreads book giveaway which finishes on Friday.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Saturday, 4 October 2014

A Real Treasure From Framlingham

As a keen metal detectorist sharing a birthday with MacKenzie Crook and living in Framlingham (where it was filmed) , I feel well qualified to comment on BBC4's latest sitcom The Detectorists which aired on Thursday night.

Starring Mackenzie alongside Toby Jones (whose performance in Marvellous last week was indeed marvellous) as a pair of hobbyists in search of their own Holy Grail ( a Saxon ship burial) it was a gentle and hugely enjoyable first episode. Did I object to its portrayal as the detecting fraternity as a slightly odd bunch of obsessives? Not at all.To be honest most of us who indulge in the hobby are fairly obsessive about it (it gets you that way) and, whilst I am sure that some will protest at taking the mickey out of detecting clubs whose members moan about others intruding on THEIR sites (ahem the farmers' sites) and listen to boring talks on buttons, most will be thick skinned enough to take it with a pinch of salt and, hopefully take a moment to reflect on the smidgeon of truth in that depiction. 

MacKenzie had certainly done his research on detecting and the hauls of ring pulls and shotgun cartridges will have been immediately recognisable to anyone who has spent a day on an unproductive site. A scene where both characters pored over a Google Earth map on a laptop and Lance found an iron age settlement which turned out to be the Google Watermark certainly struck a chord with me.Less recognisable was the arrival on the field of a beautiful young female student asking to look in their finds bags which, I imagine, will now be the new Holy Grail for detectorists.

I loved MacKenzie's character Andy's cleaning the floor in his job as a cleaner all the while daydreaming of his hobby and sweeping across the flooring with his vacuum as he would a detector and picking up a stray button. 

The Show Features On The Cover Of The Latest The Searcher

I was slightly disappointed at Toby's character Lance being shown as money driven (he even sells the ring pulls he finds on eBay) and a pilferer ( he pinches veg from the farm where he works). I am biased on this as I and many detector owners have never sold a thing we have found and, far more importantly, Marion and I once suffered a major five figure loss from a staff member stealing from us. A few carrots and a cabbage may look like a bit of a perk but multiply that out over a year and twenty staff and it's not a laughing matter (only one staff member was involved in our case I hasten to add).

Shooting Here In Framlingham Earlier This Year

That very minor grumble apart, it was great fun spotting the Framlingham locations and I noticed Lance's home in Double St, Maggie's Shop (the lovely Panorama), Fram Bookshop (which still has a few signed copies of my novel), The Castle Inn and St Michael's rooms. I am sure that others will have seen more.

The comedy involved far more than detecting and there were a number of romantic threads running through the episode. Will Andy's head be turned by the beautiful student despite his fabulous long term partner (who appears to be out of his league) and will Lance ever give up on trying to win back his ex (Maggie) who runs the shop and ran off with a pizza shop manager? I am sure that all will be revealed as the series unfolds and I guess that what they eventually find may well be an influence on those relationships

This first episode had 655,000 viewers which was a 3.9% share of the total audience (in these days of multi channels that's a very hefty slice and 146.8% up on the average for that BBC4 slot). So it looks like MacKenzie Crook has already found treasure here in Framlingham.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Thursday, 2 October 2014

400 New Homes In Framlingham

Photo from GoPhoto Website
A planning application has been submitted to build 163 new homes on a greenfield site here in Framlingham. Now I am not  a NIMBY and I know that people have to have homes to live in but there are already a further two developments approved and if this one goes ahead there will be almost 400 new homes in the town.

400 may not seem a big number but if each has just two occupants that will be 800 more people. In the 2011 census the town's population was 3,086 so it doesn't take a mathematical genius to work out that 800 new Framlingham citizens would be an increase of 25%. Imagine Ipswich planners receiving an application to increase the town's size by 35,000 people! I know that that sounds silly but everything is relative - increase a towns population by 25% without increasing facilities, roads, sewage, water etc, etc and you have a blueprint for disaster.

I very much hope that those responsible for deciding on this application will make a sensible decision and say "Enough for the time being. Let's see the impact of the other two developments before taking a step like this."

If you want to see a bit of the town, tune in to The Detectorists on BBC4 tonight at 10pm. It was filmed here during the summer and I'll be very interested to see which locations were used.

In the meantime, there's still time to enter my book giveaway on Goodreads.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Give Me Your Tomorrow by John Brassey

Give Me Your Tomorrow

by John Brassey

Giveaway ends October 10, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win