Saturday, 30 April 2016

Z is for... Zikomo

Zikomo!


Thank you in Chichewa!

Thank you for sticking with me over this challenge.
Thank you if you've followed me or signed up to my mailing list.
(BIG!) Thank you if you've pre-ordered my book and snagged yourself a £2 discount (if not but you'd like to, click here (offer will end in May))
and
Thank you to all of you who commented, Tweeted,  flagged up or read any or all of the last 26 posts.

The challenge was indeed a challenge but I'm hoping you all had as much fun as I did.

Stick around? I'll still be blogging (but not every day!).

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Y is for... Yclept

Yclept. Old English. Past participle of cleopian 'call'.

Meaning: by the name of

Example: My character yclept Summer Morris/ My character by the name of Summer Morris.


I LOVE Old English and Old Norse. Three Twitter accounts to follow to learn more about Old English or Norse are:

Old English Wisdom @OEWisdom

OrĂ° of the Day @OldNorseWords

Old English Wordhord @OEWordhord

And you just have to read this blog post about making an Old English Scrabble set!
https://wickedday.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/the-old-english-scrabble-project/

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

X is for... Xanthippe

"After thunder, comes rain"


Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates and in later reports, she was described as a terrible nag and extremely bad tempered (though it isn't clear if she was like this before she married Socrates or whether she became ill-tempered as a result! In earlier references to her, she is described as a devoted wife and mother.).

The quote above comes from a tale in which a furious Xanthippe threw the contents of a chamber-pot over Socrates after an argument. His response was, "After thunder, comes rain."

Her name became short-hand for a nagging, scolding person, especially a shrewish wife. Things like this always make me wonder whether, if the genders were reversed, the same negativity would be applied. A man who nags/scolds is probably referred to as decisive and giving clear instruction, yet a woman becomes a nag and a scold, with negative connotations.

What do others think? Do you still see a gender difference in the way strong women are described in comparison with strong men? Do you think it's generally the women who are portrayed negatively (the nagging wife rather than the husband who doesn't listen/act)? Let me know your views in the comments.

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

W is for... Writing Buddy

My writing buddy is Stuart Lennon. You can find his excellent blog here. Go check him out and then come back. It's okay. The link opens in a new window, so you won't lose me.

Back? Great.

Stuart and I 'met' online, though we have not yet met in reality. We email each other, Tweet, Facebook etc. and I honestly feel as if I know him as well as if we had met. He has been a fantastic writing buddy!

We started out, nervously swapping writing samples for the other to give feedback on, to see if we wrote similar kinds of things and if when we gave feedback, we would get on. I think it's safe to say we get on like a house on fire!

We're the same age and have the same outlook on things, which is incredibly helpful with critiquing each other's work. Not only that, we've ended up great friends and more often than not, our emails are more about life and what it's thrown at us, rather than swapping words from our works in progress.

I couldn't ask for someone more supportive. My first book comes out very soon and I'll be honest and say I've had my fair share of wobbles about it on the way. Without fail, Stu has bucked me up, pointed out when I've been being daft, boosted my confidence and been a real friend.

If you're a writer and don't have a writing buddy, I would urge you to try and find one. They know what you're going through (and what you need to hear!) and the right one will be a wonderful friend as well as your writing buddy.

Thank you Stuart! You are a star!

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

V is for... Verso

Verso refers to the left hand page of a book; recto to the right hand page, although technically, this is the case only if you are reading from left to right. If you are reading from right to left, then it's the other way around, because 'recto' means the front and 'verso' means the back of sheet.

So now you know!

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Monday, 25 April 2016

U is for... Urban Fantasy

The Wrong Kind of Clouds is a thriller/suspense novel.
The next book I'm likely to release - Six Deaths - is a thriller/suspense novel.
The first book I ever wrote is a thriller/suspense novel (which may make it out of my computer and into being published next year).

So why is today's post about Urban Fantasy?
Because the book I'm currently writing falls into that category!


Now, that's not to say there isn't a large amount of suspense in the book, but it's most definitely in the urban fantasy camp rather than the conventional thriller/suspense one.

So if most of my other books have been thriller/suspense, why the body-swerve into Urban Fantasy?

Because like all the other books I've written, it was in my head and demanding to come out. And it's been fabulous fun writing it!

Maybe it will stay an unpublished pleasure. Maybe I will branch out and publish it. Either way, I'm having a ball writing it!

Don't feel confined by "your usual genre". If you want to write it, write it!

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off. 

Saturday, 23 April 2016

T is for... "The Wrong Kind of Clouds"

This is the name of my first novel, but where does it come from?

The main character in the book is a photographer, called Summer Morris. My husband is a photographer... you can see his work here: http://www.colinjmnicol.co.uk/

It was my husband came up with the phrase, though in the book, it's attributed to Patrick Forrester - the guy who is abducted - but what exactly are the wrong kind of clouds?

For landscape photography, a clear blue sky is usually not interesting unless you have a very yellow field in front, like this:

Leuchars Doocot - picture by Colin Nicol
www.colinjmnicol.co.uk

Small, fluffy white things aren't great for landscape photographs either. Nor is a uniform grey sky or clouds that are too dark. There is nothing for the photographer to work with to make the picture dramatic. Both light and shade are needed.

Patrick's life has too many dark clouds laid over uniform grey. There isn't enough light to contrast with the dark.

His whole life is made up of the wrong kind of clouds.

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Friday, 22 April 2016

S is for... Synaesthesia

[image by Stuart Miles from freerangestock.com]

Synaesthesia is when two (or more) senses become joined. For example when sounds evoke colour or taste. Musical notes might correspond to different colours; the taste of something may make you see colour; names may make you taste different foods.

It was thought to be a rare condition, but recent studies show that as many as 1 in 25 may have some form of this blending of the senses.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

R is for... Running

I run.

I run to relax, to keep fit, to control my weight (I've never been overweight, despite my levels of chocolate intake; I've always run...), to have thinking space. I run to feel alive.

One of the characters in the book I'm writing at the moment has the same outlook - running is his panacea. Had a bad day? Go for a run. Had a great day? Go for a run. Feel tired? Go for a run. Feel full of energy? Go for a run. If you love running, this makes total sense, but I do realise that if you don't run, this would seem bonkers!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Q is for... Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Blantyre, Malawi

As those of you who know me or who have read some of the other posts on here will know, I've been back and forth to Malawi several times. Generally, I have been to Blantyre on these visits.

The main medical school in Malawi is at Blantyre, with the students doing their clinical training at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. I was able to visit the hospital on one of my trips to Malawi, and followed a ward round on the general medical ward, which helped me to be able to describe the hospital in my book "The Wrong Kind of Clouds" when one of the characters is taken there.

Unlike the UK (and presumably the US and elsewhere) where many health issues are non-communicable diseases, the biggest health issues in Malawi are malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, with malnutrition being both a major problem in itself and a complicating factor in most other conditions.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

P is for... physiology

I'm a physiologist. Well, I was. Maybe you never stop being one. But what exactly is a physiologist?
I'll tell those of you who don't know, in a moment, but let me just share this with you first.

When I did my PhD at University College London, one of the pubs we all frequented was also the local of RADA - The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. One evening, I was being chatted up by one of the RADA luvvies who was a touch too full of himself to be honest. Eventually, once he stopped talking about himself, he asked me what I did.
"I'm a physiologist," I said.
"Uh? Oh. What's a physiologist?"
"We study fizzy things."
"Really!? Wow!"
"Mm. Last week we studied Pepsi. Next week we're doing 7-Up."
He looked completely blank.
"Really? I didn't know you could study that. What, like for a degree?"
At this point, one of the guys who'd come to the pub with me, fell about laughing. And then the luvvie left.

Physiologists don't study fizzy things, though it would have been fun if we did. We study how the body works. Which is enormously helpful when you change career and start needing to murder people in books.

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Monday, 18 April 2016

O is for... Organised day

I'm generally a pretty organised person, though I joke with friends that since I started working for myself, I've had a terrible boss who never lets me have any time off and always thinks I can get more done in the day.

After I left purgatory work, it took me a while to settle into a productive day or week, but I've got it sorted now! The key to me being organised is my diary. I'm still amazed by people who don't use a diary - whether that's electronic or paper-based. How on earth do they remember what they're doing, never mind manage to plan things??

I would be lost without my diary. My preference is a week to view with vertical, timed columns for the days, and a space for notes. That way I can write out my list of stuff to get done during the week in the notes section and time-box the work into the diary part.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

N is for... Names

Getting there with the name...

Names of characters can be tricky! Sometimes I've come up with a name and then had to change it as it stopped feeling 'right' for a character, once I'd done all my character notes. Other times, the name has been just right from the start and the character has followed on easily.

In The Wrong Kind of Clouds, the two main characters are called Summer Morris and LB Stewart. Summer's name came easily and some of her character comes about as a back-lash against having been given the name. LB was one I went round the houses with. He uses his middle name (Benedict; shortened to Ben) but I knew that I didn't really want that to be his name. Yes, it suits him, but it wasn't quite right. In my notebook, I think I've written and crossed out about 6 names before I finally settled on LB. The above picture isn't actually taken from my notebook, but it's a pretty accurate impression of how many changes I went through!

What does the L stand for? I'm afraid you'll have to read the book to find out!

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Friday, 15 April 2016

M is for... Malawi

I had no real idea where exactly Malawi was before I went there. It's a land-locked country in the southern part of Africa (shown in red on the following map):
Africa and Malawi
Malawi is shown in red

Let's zoom in so you can see the towns... [click to enlarge]


Map of Malawi
UN map of Malawi

It is a beautiful country and is not called The Warm Heart of Africa for nothing. I visited the country about 10 times over a 7 year period, on a Scottish Government funded project, working with the College of Medicine in Blantyre (in the south of the country; the town is named after Livingstone's birthplace in Scotland). Malawi has long links with Scotland, initially through David Livingstone, but continuing on to present day.

Malawi is a very poor country but the people are wonderful. They are positive, generous and kind. I love the country! But, it's a country that steals your heart and breaks it, in one swift manoeuvre. I've seen wonderful things there, but I've seen deeply tragic things too. I've followed a ward round in a hospital, knowing that some of the patients I've seen will not survive the day. I've met a support group for HIV+ women and wondered if all of them will be there on my next visit. I've visited a rape-crisis centre designed for children. As I say, it is a beautiful but harrowing place.
Amanda in Malawi
Me and the kids! Who wouldn't love this lot??

Thursday, 14 April 2016

L is for... Launch!

The Wrong Kind of Clouds cover
My book launch is coming up - seven weeks today! It will be in Waterstones in St Andrews. I can only praise the staff there who from the outset have made me feel special and valued. From the moment I went in and asked (very nervously) whether they would stock my book and if they ever did events with new authors, they have been incredibly supportive, helpful and positive.

Which is a lot more than can be said for the independent bookshop in St Andrews who could not have been more patronising, negative, dismissive and scathing of me. I had gone there first with more hope than expectation and came out wanting to crawl home and cry.

Instead, I screwed my courage to the sticking point, thought, "Well Waterstones can't be any more horrible to me than that!" and went along to the big, national bookshop. I spoke to Stuart (who is someone I have often chatted to when I have been in there) and broached the subject. I didn't really know Stuart beyond brief chats in the shop, but I knew he was the sort of chap that would let a novice writer down gently if the store couldn't do anything.

He could not have been better to me!

He took my Advance Information sheet from me, looked at the picture on it and immediately said, "This looks great!" After that, he checked whether the shop could order it (it's distributed by one of the main distributors in the UK, so yes, no problem), said that even if there had been a problem there were ways around it, told me that the shop was always really keen to support local writers, was delighted it was a thriller... he was just wonderful! I really wish I'd gone there first!

So, to cut a long story short, if you're looking to do a book launch in a bookshop, don't be afraid to ask. If I had crawled home, demoralised after the first experience, I would have missed out on what (so far) has been an absolutely fantastic experience.

Oh, and the snotty guy in the independent bookshop... he'll probably not get another sale from me or many of my friends.

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
I'm giving away two copies of my book to people randomly drawn from my mailing list. See "G is for... Giveaway" for details.
I'm also offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

K is for... kwacha

The currency in Malawi is the kwacha. The exchange rate has changed enormously over the years. When I first went out to Malawi in 2008, there were approximately 220 kwacha to the pound. The last time I was there (June 2014) there were 650 kwacha to the pound. In March 2016, there were almost 1000 kwacha to the £. I hope for Malawi's sake that it stabilises soon. It's a land-locked country and pays a lot of import duties in $. In March this year, there were about 700K to the $.
Over the years that I went to Malawi, the size of the notes changed and because of inflation and currency fluctuations, a new note was introduced - the 1000 kwacha note.

Before that, the 500 kwacha note was the largest denomination. These were HUGE pieces of paper! I no longer have any as they were replaced with a smaller version, but they were 162 x 81mm (approximately 6.5 inches x 3.25 inches)! When you came away from an ATM, you had a wad of paper to try and fit in your wallet. It felt most peculiar to get out 25,000 kwacha - it felt like a fortune - but in reality it was less than £40, the last time I was there. The new, smaller notes are 132 x 66mm, but since 1000K is the largest note, you still ended up with 25 notes for your £40.

Malawian kwacha
Malawian kwacha

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

J is for... jute

Not far away from where I live is the city of Dundee, which used to be famous for jute, jam and journalism (jute, Dundee marmalade and DC Thomson - publishers of The Beano and Dandy as well as newspapers). DC Thompson is still one of the leading media organisations in the UK. Sadly, both jam production and jute production have waned, though Dundee marmalade is still made.

So what is jute? Many of you will have a jute shopping bag in your house or have seen jute sacks. Jute is made from a plant fibre, the main source of which is in Bangladesh. The fibre is strong, cheap and versatile and its decline came about largely due to the emergence of plastic for bags and wrappings.

jute bags
Modern jute bags (picture by articonn on pixabay)

Monday, 11 April 2016

I is for... Index Cards

Photos courtesy of and copyright Free Range Stock
www.freerangestock.com
Photographer: Chance Agrella

The humble index card. They are hardly used for their original purpose any longer, though I am certainly old enough to remember going to our local library when I was young and rifling through sets of drawers like the ones pictured to find out if the library had a specific book and if so, where to find it.

There was an excellent article online about index cards: How the humble index card foresaw the internet which explained how these 3x5 inch cards were used to create indices for all sorts of things. It's a longish read but it's absolutely fascinating! Do go and check it out.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

H is for... Hamartia


What??

Hamartia.

Oh come on. You've all heard of hamartia, haven't you?

No??

Oh, okay then. Hamartia is:

Friday, 8 April 2016

G is for... Giveaway!!

The Wrong Kind of Clouds cover

I am giving away two signed copies of my book The Wrong Kind of Clouds. All you have to do, to be entered into the draw, is to sign up for my mailing list. The draw will take place on the 28th May, 2016. Two people on my mailing list will be chosen and emailed to say that they have won a copy. They will need to email me an address to which the book can be sent. If I haven't heard back from them by the 2nd June, another name will be drawn.

The giveaway is open worldwide. Sign up for my mailing list before Friday 27th May, 23:59 GMT to be in with a chance. You can sign up to my mailing list either using the sign-up button on the right, or by clicking here.

My decision is final.


Thursday, 7 April 2016

F is for... Flamboyant trees


I have no idea if this is the correct name for them, but in October, these trees are covered with flame-coloured flowers and look as if they are on fire. The first time I went to Malawi was in an October and as we were coming in to land, I could see these trees everywhere. I asked the lady sitting next to me what kind of trees they were and she said, "They are flamboyant trees." Which is certainly apt, even if not the real name of them.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

E is for... Editing

editing
I edit by on hard copy too!
(Image by WokinghamLibraries on Pixabay)

Writing is one thing... editing is a whole heap of different! My writing buddy, Stuart, asked me a while back what my 'work-flow' was, from initial ideas for a book to finished product. I'd not really thought about it, but I threw some notes together and realised that I spend at least as much time editing a book as I did writing it.

I find it hard to do. I'm too close to things and I just don't see them. I do my best to sort out major issues and be generally happy with something, before I send it out to beta readers. I could possibly save myself some time and send it out in a rougher state, but I'm too proud to do that!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

D is for... DISCOUNT


A reminder...

I am offering a £2 discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds for a limited period. The normal price for the paperback will be £8.99 but you can get it for £6.99.

The offer is only available via the Matador site and will finish once the book is published. The offer code is CLOUDS

Pre-order here now and grab a bargain! Make sure you put CLOUDS in all capitals to get the discount.

Monday, 4 April 2016

C is for... Chichewa

Chichewa is the language spoken in Malawi - especially southern Malawi. English is the official language of Malawi but most Malawians learn Chichewa first. Many rural people don't know any English.
I've been to Malawi a number of times and frequently been meeting people whose English is limited or indeed non-existent. As a consequence, I've learned a few phrases in Chichewa over the time I've been there - mostly greetings and the usual yes, no, please, thank you. Some of these phrases helped me to add colour and authenticity to the parts of my first novel which were set in Malawi.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

B is for... Bao

What on earth is Bao? Bao is a board game played all over Malawi. It's a "Count and Capture" game and the full Malawian version is thought to be the most complicated in Africa. I only know the basic version though!
Why am I telling you about bao? Well, it features (albeit fairly briefly) in The Wrong Kind of Clouds - Summer and LB play a few games of it. It's a game I learned to play when I was in Malawi.

bao board
My bao board

Friday, 1 April 2016

A is for... April A-Z challenge

Over April, a whole HEAP of bloggers have decided to post every day except Sundays, with the 1st post relating to the letter A, the 2nd post relating to the letter B and so on until the 26th post on April 30th, which will be related to the letter Z.

You can see all of the bloggers who are taking part, over on the A-Z challenge blog. Click here to see the list of bloggers; click here to go to the A-Z Challenge site.

Join in the fun! Find new blogs to read and follow. Some bloggers are following a theme. Others (including me!) are just hoping to get through it intact. 26 posts in 30 days is one thing... linking them to specific letters... might be a challenge too far.

Hope you enjoy the fun. Let the Challenge begin!

Just a reminder... if you haven't already, you can sign up for my mailing list just by filling in your email address in the box in the sidebar. No spam, just an email when I post anything new or have some exciting news or offers for you.
Don't forget that I'm offering a discount on pre-orders of The Wrong Kind of Clouds. Go here and use the code CLOUDS to get £2 off.