Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club

Maeve Binchy is known throughout the world for her novels, but not only did she delight readers with her stories, she also gave advice to budding writers through her letters that she wrote to students taking a course at the National College of Ireland in Dublin. The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club includes some of those letters along with advice from other well known guest speakers who talked about specific areas of writing during the course.

Maeve Binchy says
"Everyone is capable of telling a story . . . the imagination has no limits."






Tips

  1. Schedule time to write (Maeve got up at 5:00 a.m. 3 mornings a week to write).
  2. Goal (Maeve's was 10 pages a week)
  3. Join a writers' group
  4. Start the story at an interesting point in the life of the protagonist i.e. crisis, decision)
  5. Decide on: Where, when, main dangers, what is the end of the story? Open with action, decide on time period for story (two weeks? two years?)
"Whatever you do - don't give up" - Maeve Binchy

Writing is really one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

When writing mysteries, give the reader more information than you give the cops.

Story: The king died and then the queen died.
Plot: The king died and then the queen died of grief.
Mystery: The queen died and no one knew why until they discovered it was grief.
Murder Mystery: The queen died and everyone thought it was grief until they discovered the puncture wound in her throat.

Maeve Binchy:
What will separate the winners from the losers is that ability to pick ourselves up and refuse to take rejection personally.



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wisley Garden - England


 
I was fortunate to visit England this spring when all the blossoms and flowers were in full bloom. One of the places I visited was Wisley Garden in Surrey.
The original garden was designed by George Fergusson Wilson who recorded over 22,000 plantings in Oakwood, his experimental garden, from 1878-1902.
After his death, Sir Thomas Hanbury purchased the property and then presented 60 acres to the Royal Horticultural Garden Trust in 1903 which was officially opened by King Edward VII.


The acidic soil in the garden is ideal for profuse flowering rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and azaleas.

  

Friday, May 22, 2015

Scribbler of Dreams by Mary E. Pearson

I'll start off by saying Scribbler of Dreams is a YA book and not a genre I normally read. I received it as a gift - part of a promotion by the library. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the Romeo and Juliet type story. Except Romeo (Bram) was unaware of the part he was playing. It was a book I couldn't put down with all the aspects of young love, family squabbles and sibling rivalry thrown in. But the underlying part of the story is forgiveness.  Mary E. Pearson is a talented writer and YA might be a genre that I'll explore more this year.

Seventeen-year-old Kaitlin Malone was born to hate the Crutchfields.
The hatred her family has harbored for generations is the one thing she can count on--and the very thing she believes will sustain her now that her father has been imprisoned for murdering Robert Crutchfield.
But then Kaitlin stumbles on a rare opportunity to walk in the enemy's shoes and what she discovers rocks the foundation of her entire world.




Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tips for Travelling in and Around London

I've just returned from a trip visiting family in England and Wales and as it's been a few years since I've been to my homeland I noticed a lot of differences.
Public transport is easy to use in London, but as there are multiple rail services now it's wise to check on travel before you leave. The Train Line Website is a good place to start. For destinations outside London look for lower fares such as day return, off peak tickets. If you're travelling around London an Oyster Card will come in handy. Purchase an Oyster visitor card before you leave and you will get extra bonuses that don't come with a resident Oyster Card. These are easy to use, you swipe the card when you get to the station and again when you arrive at your destination. The balance on the card shows up on the screen. You can top these up at automatic machines at the train stations. These can also be used on buses and the underground in the London area.
london pass image
Vintage Double Decker London Tour with Thames Cruise, London, Hop-on Hop-off ToursA good way to get an overview of London is to take a Thames River cruise. Some are lunch or dinner cruises such as the Bateaux London. If you're walking, stop at a souvenir stall and purchase a map, (or download one here) you'll find a lot of the sights are close together and within walking distance. If you're tired or it's raining, underground stations or bus stops are easy to spot. Another good way to see the city is with the Hop on Hop Off buses. The pass is usually good for the day and you can get off when you see something you'd like to look at and then get on the next bus. There are several different tours called "Hop on Hop Off." The Original Tour price includes a river cruise, but check on the different companies and see which one suits you best (Big Bus has a downloadable map).

A lot of the attractions and museums are free - view Visit London here.

Make sure you have the pin number for your credit card. While many stores and also train ticket booths will take it without a pin, many restaurants and other places require you to insert the pin number when paying. If you have the option, request the transaction in pounds. It's cheaper for the credit card company to convert it into dollars.

Beware of pick pockets. Make sure you have your bag tucked safely under your arm or in front of you while you take pictures. Often someone will bump into you to distract you while another person takes your wallet. Also, don't put a bag between your feet when sitting in a restaurant. Crooks have been known to use the hook of an umbrella to pull the bag out without you noticing.

Weather is changeable, but I did find that May was a lovely time to visit. The weather was good (around 60 degrees) and not too much rain. Also, the spring flowers and rhododendrons were beautiful. But check what attractions you want to see as some of the older houses and castles close in the winter (too expensive to heat) and might not open again until the summer. (Highclere Castle is closed until the end of May) By the way, Europe uses Celsius not Fahrenheit, but a quick way to roughly calculate is to double the number and add 30 i.e 10 Celsius would be 10x2+30=50.

Note: I found a blog Mind the Gap which might be interesting to anyone visiting England.





Friday, May 15, 2015

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

When a street musician, James Bowen, found an injured cat he never anticipated it would become a companion and a reason for him to change his life. Up until then he had a drug problem, spent time living on the street without a home, and had been estranged from his family. All that changed when he began caring for Bob, the ginger cat. Bob has since become famous world wide - see Bob's blog here
Someone once told me when life is the most difficult then do something for someone else and take the focus from yourself. This seemed to have worked for James Bowen.


Friday, May 8, 2015

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

The Confessions of CAtherine de Medici -- C.W. GortnerI enjoy well written historical fiction and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner is an enticing story of Catherine de Medici who was born in Florence at the start of the Reformation Period and was married to the heir to the French throne while in her teens.
After the death of her husband, she ruled France as Regent for three of her sons and was a formidable force during a time of violence when Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots) were fighting. The Huguenots wanted freedom to worship, the Catholics wanted a Catholic France. I found this not much different from the battles with Muslims and Christians today. There were some parts of the book that was difficult to read. During the Reformation, and Counter-Reformation fires were set where people worshiped, there were mass beheadings and gruesome fates for those who chose a different religion from the reigning family and their government. Most southern European countries favored the inquisition. Europe was divided at the time, where northern countries were protestant or Lutheran (England under Queen Elizabeth I was protestant) and many others Catholic, (Italy, Spain, France)
Catherine de Medici was a strong person, but the novel gives us a glimpse into her struggles as a woman dealing with the customs of France. The novel reminded me a little of the Jean Plaidy historical books.

luther map
http://staff.jccc.edu/jjackson/reformation.htm

Friday, May 1, 2015

The House on First Street by Julia Reed

The House on First Street is about Julia Reed's path to home ownership in the Garden District of New Orleans. Apart from the problems encountered with remodeling the old house, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans not long after she moved in. Julia Reed, an editor at Newsweek, recounts her story of moving to New Orleans and how the hurricane affected her.

This August will be the ten year anniversary of the disaster that left parts of New Orleans under water. It's hard to believe so much time has passed. There were so many stories swirling around about what happened during that time that it was interesting to read one person's account. (Another is The Pug That Survived Katrina. Although a fictional children's book it nevertheless is based on a true story).

After fifteen years of living like a vagabond on her reporter's schedule, Julia Reed got married and bought a house in the historic Garden District. Four weeks after she moved in, Hurricane Katrina struck. The House on First Street is the chronicle of Reed's remarkable and often hilarious homecoming. - Wall Street Journal

My thoughts:
I enjoyed the book and learning about New Orleans from a different perspective. Julia Reed also had resources to give us insider information about the way the crisis was handled by the powers that be. You can see pictures of the remodeled house here


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fort Worth Texas

Fort Worth has an interesting history and sometime ago I attended a class by Quenton McGown which included a walking tour of Hell's Half Acre once a red light district but now includes hotels and the Water Gardens (you may remember them in Logan's Run)

There is a collection of Fort Worth maps online that shows how the town grew mostly due to the railroad and cattle drives. Quenton McGown has many pictorial books of Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Maps




Friday, April 24, 2015

The Lure of the Bush by Arthur W. Upfield

Lure of the Bush by Arthur W. Upfield was originally published with the title The Barrakee Mystery. It was written in the 1920s at a time when the population of Australia was close to that of London.

Arthur W. Upfield was born in England but sets the reader in Australia (where he was sent by his father when Arthur was in his teenage years). The descriptions in Lure of the Bush were detailed and taken from his life boundary riding, cattle droving, opal gouging and general station worker.

The story is of the death of an aborigine, King Henry, and the investigation of his death by Napoleon Bonaparte from Queensland known as the finest bush detective in the Commonwealth and nicknamed 'Bony'.

My thoughts:
I enjoyed getting to know a little about the history of Australia (New South Wales) where land was apparently bought up by several landowners and the rest of the populace scrambled to carve out a little piece in a lottery system. Since we now strive to be politically correct there are many terms that would be frowned upon today. Bony is referred to as a half-caste (aboriginal mother and white father) and the aborigines are referred to as 'blacks'. There are beautiful descriptions and Bony is a remarkable detective and tracker. He could detect what type of boomerang was used to leave a slash in the tree. All in all it was an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Little Free Library

A Little Free Library  popped up outside a house near where I live.This is a concept that has taken over and spread throughout the world. The idea is to take a book and leave a book. The library can be registered on Little Free Library. Some libraries have notebooks where you may leave a comment.

You can watch a video about it here.

How to build and register your library here

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spying in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

Spying in High Heels  reminded me of the Stephanie Plum Series, it has quirky characters, an inquisitive protagonist and a hunky cop. I enjoyed the L.A. setting as I lived there for many years and enjoyed picturing places that I hadn't seen for ages as Maddie drives around the Los Angeles area looking for suspects. Gemma Halliday writes with a fast pace humorous style and keeps the reader engaged. It was a fun mystery read and the book is currently free for Kindle.
L.A. shoe designer, Maddie Springer, lives her life by three rules: Fashion. Fashion. Fashion. But when she stumbles upon the work of a brutal killer, her life takes an unexpected turn from Manolos to murder. And things only get worse when her boyfriend disappears - along with $20 million in embezzled funds - and her every move is suddenly under scrutiny by the LAPD's sexiest cop. With the help of her post-menopausal bridezilla of a mother, a 300 pound psychic and one seriously oversexed best friend, Maddie finds herself stepping out of her stilettos and onto the trail of a murderer. But can she catch a killer before the killer catches up to her...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Outliers - The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell uses the title "Outliers" to show that success mostly comes from people who are classed differently from the norm - those who do things out of the ordinary.
Image result for outliers bookHe uses studies to prove his point.  For example K. Anders Ericsson compared amateur musicians with professional musicians (some state this test was with violinists, others say pianists). The professional musicians who had reached 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 20 were the most successful. None of those studied achieved success by practicing a fraction of the time. This seems to apply in many avenues. The Beatles were a mediocre band until they moved to Hamburg, Germany where they played in clubs with non-stop shows. With that much practice they had worked harder and put their heart and soul into it compared to other British bands, Sometimes they played for 8 hour stretches at a time.
Another point Mr. Gladwell brings up is opportunity. Living in Seattle, Bill Gates had access to computer labs and a college with a computer club which was unusual at the time. He also came from an elite family which gave him access to prestigious schools (he attended Harvard). The 10,000 rule also comes in here as he tested company software programs in exchange for free programming time.


He says background also plays a big part in success. Poorer parents are passive and don’t fight to get their children into the best schools. They don’t interact in extra curricular activities and are intimidated by authority. Well to do families usually feel entitled and push for their children, attending games and encouraging them. Poorer people tend to think of extra activities as play time and don’t often participate. [You often hear of successful people who came from poorer neighborhoods but had a parent or teacher who pushed them and found ways for them to rise above their circumstances].

Mr.Gladwell pointed out that the idea that students from Asia have more success in mathematics is because of language and how they calculate mathematical problems and not because of culture. You can read more about about this concept here
In order to add 23 + 45, an American child would have to convert 23 to twenty-three, and 45 to forty-five, then add those two together. A Chinese child would just add two-tens-three and four-tens-five together, equaling six-tens-eight. The answer is in the way the language is phrased – much easier for children to learn.
He questions innate talent and points out that with desire and practice you can achieve success.

I found the book interesting. One thing I've found with successful people is they don't give up which I think goes back to the 10,000 hour rule.

Note: After Jordan Spieth's golfing success, teachers at his school were interviewed and they said whatever Jordan does, he does to the best of his ability - he's driven to succeed and predicted his win at age 14. He works hard until he gets it right whether it's academic or golf, which seems to confirm the above theory. He also has a supportive family who encouraged him.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Deadly Gamble by Connie Shelton

Deadly Gamble by Connie Shelton is the first book of the Charlie Parker mystery series.

Charlie Parker has a PI firm with her brother, but as the accountant, she neither has the license nor the credentials to work on investigative work. That doesn't deter her when her brother is out of town and the woman (and former best friend) who "stole" her fiance asks for help locating an expensive watch. When the woman is accused of murder Charlie jumps in and decides to investigate on her own.

Deadly Gamble was a light read in the form of the Kinsey Millhone series, but set in New Mexico. I've read a few of Connie Shelton's books and she has several free for Kindle at the moment.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Children's Book Giveaway - One Day Only

Daisy's Lost Brother (based on the parable of the prodigal son) is now available for Kindle and free for today only. This is my second children's book.


Daisy loved her family and always helped her mom and dad. But Daisy’s brother, Tim was lazy. He wouldn’t help his family collect nuts for the winter or keep their nest clean. But one day Tim left home and Daisy wondered how her mom and dad could still love him. 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Travel Tips - Italy


We were given a lot of travel tips from friends for our Italy trip last year and I thought I'd pass them on along with some of our experiences. You may also want to purchase a Rick Steves Guidebook. He has invaluable information.

Luggage: Luggage dimensions and weight restrictions are constantly changing so be sure to check with the airlines before you travel. Some of the older luggage is heavy so it may be advantageous to look for a newer suitcase. (Look for sales or at Ross or Marshalls - they often have good deals) If you're also taking a bus tour, check with the tour company. We went with Trafalgar Tours and they don't allow wheels on carry on luggage, nor the same size as accepted by the airlines. There are only small overhead shelves on the coach and no room for large luggage. (I took a backpack).
To measure a suitcase, add together the height, depth and width.
If you have bulky items consider using space bags that can be rolled to get all the air out.
If you're travelling with a friend, consider exchanging one set of clothes in case one of the cases gets misplaced.

Water: Long flights can leave you dehydrated and you can't take bottled water through the security gates. Take an empty bottle or container and fill up at the water fountain just before you board. Use this around Italy too. There are usually water spigots in the piazzas and they seem to be safe to drink (I had no problems). At 1 - 1.50 euros for a bottle of water it can add up, but there are plenty of places to purchase water if you prefer to pay for it. This is also a good way to use their restroom. Tell them you want to buy water (or anything else you want) but ask if you may use their restroom first. (Often they will tell you they don't have one if you don't purchase something.) We timed our daily gelato purchases with restroom breaks.

Money: Let your credit card company know you will be travelling abroad and ask if there are any transaction fees. Discover doesn't currently add transaction fees, but is only accepted in places that take Diner's Club. I found very few places to use it. When making a purchase, make sure the transaction is processed in the currency of the country you are visiting. It's less expensive for it to be converted by your credit card company. Your bank may also exchange currency for you before you go. Wells Fargo will exchange foreign currency for a fee (approx. $7.50 per transaction). The fee may be waived if you have an account with them.
Also keep track of phone numbers for your card companies in case of theft.

Cheat Sheet: Make yourself a small wallet sized sheet of paper with currency conversions on one side so you can judge the cost of things. (Perhaps in $10 increments). On the other side put translations for words you might need i.e. Where is? How much does it cost? Where is the bus stop for ____? Also you will need to know a few numbers when haggling price (especially in markets). Or keep a small notepad and pen to write down what you are willing to pay.

Plan places you want to see: We had limited time in Rome and after listening to suggestions from friends, we planned out a walking tour on Google Maps which gave us directions, a map and number of minutes walking between sites.

Safety: Pick pockets are notorious in the larger cities. Choose a purse that you can tuck under your arm, preferably with a zipper and deep enough so that someone can't get their hand in there (across body purses aren't the best choice because you can get distracted and can't feel when someone in a crowd opens it). What they will usually do is bump into you while another person is talking to you or getting your attention. You don't notice they are stealing from your purse. It might be wiser to keep money and credit cards either in a wallet or money belt you can keep under your clothes or put it in the zippered part of your purse rather than a separate wallet. Keep a copy of your passport in your suitcase in case yours is taken. (My friend and I also exchanged copies of our passports). A suggestion I received from a friend is to also have extra passport photos to speed up the process of obtaining a new passport. I didn't have any problems while in Italy but it's best to be cautious. I used two key rings that attach together. I clipped one on the zipper and one on the ring of my purse handle, it was easy to separate them when I needed to get something out and added a little extra safety.
People may stop you and ask you to sign a petition. Do not sign anything. They will use your signature for criminal purposes.
Also, do not give anyone your passport or documents unless you are sure they are officials. Some criminals show police identification but are wearing plain clothes and might ask for your passport or other documents. It's a scam.

U. S. Customs: Check on what is allowed to bring back to the U.S. Alcohol is limited and also meat products and other plant based items. More info. for U.S. residents here. You will be given a form to complete before you land in the U.S. Copy of the form can be found here.

If you decide to travel by local buses, you have to purchase the ticket before you board. These can be obtained from machines in the Metro , information kiosks and some tobacconists, and are good for both the Metro and buses (for 100 minutes unless you get a day pass). To avoid fines, when you get on the bus, stamp the ticket using the machine (usually behind the driver). Locals seem to rarely bother with either buying a ticket or stamping it, but fines can be steep. We found everyone very helpful in Rome and were (with sign languages and a few Italian words) able to make people understand where we were trying to go. I'm not sure if this is true of all Italy as we only traveled on buses and the Metro in Rome.

I didn't feel uncomfortable in any of the cities we visited in Italy, but did find the walking street vendors annoying. They are usually not out to steal anything, they just want you to buy, but they can be very persistent with scarves, jewelry and camera items. If you do buy from them, you will be swarmed with several more vendors. It's best to buy from stands or shops.

Mailing postcards - a lot of independent mailing companies have popped up and they have little boxes to "mail" postcards. These are usually located in shops. There are many problems with this. One is that if you buy stamps in Venice you can only mail them in Venice and even then they may not arrive at their destination (some of my postcards arrived at their destination but two months after I mailed them!). I noticed a different company and different colored boxes in Florence. Either buy stamps at the post office and mail them there or wait until you get home. There are lots of forums on the internet where people have complained that their postcards weren't delivered.

Restrooms: There are free public restrooms at gas stations along the highway and in most cities there are public places but you have to pay 1 - 1 1/2 euros at those. Don't expect to find toilet seats on them. And in some areas of Italy there is no toilet at all. They are like a shower stall with a drain and two raised tiles to put your feet on. They are considered more hygienic!

More Info About our Trip