Monday, 22 June 2009

Dipping into Water Fest

The River Kennet bustled with brightly colored canal boats and the occasional bellow of a steam whistle Saturday during one of my favorite local events -- Water Fest.

People crowded the walk along Blake's Wharf and up through the abbey ruins, browsing booths and jockeying for a spot to watch the activity on the water. I really love the canal boats -- the long, lean craft are designed to go through narrow passages and to be somewhat homey. Many have flowers and other homey touches, and the insides of at least some had stoves and places to sleep. I'd rather like a long cruise on one. If there are decent facilities for when nature calls that don't require some gross tank-cleaning procedure, that is.

The booths included fairly professional stalls offering food, clothes and crafts, to flea-market type stands run for various charities. Many of these offered several tickets for a quid to try and win a variety of items -- mostly also flea-market type stuff, but it was still fun to play. I won a bottle of chardonnay that my husband thought was awful yet drank anyway, a tiny teddy bear, and a couple of kid's toys I left for the next winner to take. There were also a few costumed people making the rounds, including the two women on stilts that "swam" through the crowd.

We also took a ride on a little boat with a green pavilion on top. I don't know what you'd call it, as it wasn't a canal boat and just held a few passengers. I loved the view of familiar sights from the water, and noticed a few things I'd never seen before.

All in all, it was a fun day that I wish came more than once a year.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Writing a go-go

Romance writer Christina Jones came to a Reading library Monday. I'm not really into romance novels, but the books are set in Berkshire, which spiked my interest. Besides, hearing an author talk about how she works seemed amply worth the £2 entry fee. I really hoped she'd go into how she found a publisher, but it turns out she never had to try too hard to get one, and I didn't feel like asking questions (I've become a bit reclusive and shy, must work on that).

She seemed very down-to-earth and basically like a nice, average Jane. The kind of person it'd be nice to have a pint with, and in fact she works in a pub when not churning out a book at the last minute to meet deadline.

That's what I found truly interesting, that she works best if she leaves things to the last minute. I find that helps me, too. I don't wait until the last minute necessarily, but it's the deadline breathing down my neck that makes me actually finish something. I keep wanting to rewrite, take a different direction, start over. Ever since I've gotten off the treadmill of full-time journalist and freelance columnist on the side, I haven't written very much, even though I have more time. And I've started far more pieces than I've finished. With a deadline, it's the knowledge that I can't keep changing it, I have to finish and be done with it whether it's perfect or not that forces me to wrap something up, smack it on the ass and send it out into the world.

Of course, the deadline also helps because that means you already have someone waiting to publish it; it's a bit harder working on something when you don't know if or when anyone will actually buy the damn thing, and that you'll have to actually hunt someone down and convince them to take it. Then there are submission deadlines for magazines/journals, but that's the deadline for everyone jockeying to be selected rather than a commissioned piece, so it's not the same motivation because you don't know if you'll make the cut. A deadline for a commissioned piece or full-time job may be stressful, but in the end, it's a magical, lovely thing to have.

Of course, I've never written anything the length of a book. It's hard enough to decide I'm actually done with and can stop re-writing something that's 1,000-2,000 words -- can you imagine actually staying on the same track without second-guessing it all for 60,000 words or so and actually deciding it's ready to hand in? Hats off to that accomplishment.

I checked out a book by Jones before she came, because I didn't want to go if it was unreadable tripe. Luckily, it was an enjoyable book. It was light fare that distracted me from other worries for a brief time, and that's probably the whole point of romance novels.

I really didn't intend to blog on and on about this, but it was interesting to see how another writer works, even if it's a rather different sort of writing than what I do or what I typically read. I should've bought a book and said hello after the talk, but at the time I was just thinking of the mountains of books I already have waiting to read and that I didn't know if I'd get around to another romance novel. But now I wish I had, as I'd enjoyed the talk and I'm sure I'd get around to the book eventually. Ah well, maybe next time.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Bang the drum loudly ...

This evening I heard a slow boom ... boom ... boom outside my window. When I went to look, nothing was there and the sound faded away. Within 15 minutes the slow, steady thump returned, gradually growing louder. This time I made it to the window quickly and snapped a picture of ... well, I'm not sure what's going on. A man at the front of a long boat pounded time on a drum as the other men rowed. The boat seems to be decked out as a dragon -- doesn't that look like scales on the side, and a tail on the back with the head at the front? Or is that a tail near the drummer and a head on the other end? I can't tell, but I'm sticking with my theory of a dragon theme to the vessel.

Anyone have a clue what's going in the photo?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

It's contest time! Whoop, whoop!

As promised, I'm giving away a copy of "Britannia in Brief: The Scoop on All Things British" by Leslie Banker and William Mullins (they were good enough to contribute a copy for the contest). The book is an interesting, witty guide to British pop culture and history; for more details check here.

So, what daring feats will I make you complete to secure this worthy prize? Here we go:
  • First, this contest is open to people in the UK or the U.S.
  • Next, tell me why you want the book. Your reply can be a simple, single sentence, or you can go into more detail (feel free to share!); the choice is yours.
  • Make your entry in a comment to this post (my preferred option, just click on the word "COMMENTS" below) OR via email. Either way, include your first name and last initial as well as your city & state (or city & country in the UK). If you enter by way of comment to this blog entry, I'll enter your name TWICE in the drawing. If you opt to enter by email (, I'll put your name in the hat once. By email, use the subject line: Book Contest Entry.
  • I'll do a random drawing on June 30 at 5 pm (GMT) and post the winner by July 1. If you're the winner, email me by the end of the day July 7 with your full name and mailing address. If I don't hear from you, I'll draw another name out of the hat and post it July 8.
Good luck all!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Want a crash course in what makes the UK tick?

If you're an American arriving in the UK to visit or live, you'll immediately get an exciting sense of being in a foreign country, while at the same time experiencing a comforting feeling of familiarity because things here aren't all that foreign to us Yanks -- especially to fans of British music, TV, movies or books.

However, differences mount once you get beyond the first glance, and a brief bit of background on the history, slang and pop culture can go a long way to making sense of things. That background helps even if you've no plans to board a plane, but are simply intrigued by all things British.

I just finished a new book that serves up that background in a brief, contemporary, fun-to-read form that's perfect for Americans with little knowledge of the UK, and even old pros will find useful or enlightening information in its pages.

"Britannia in Brief: The Scoop on All Things British" by husband-and-wife team Leslie Banker (a Yank) and William Mullins (a Brit) serves as both history lesson and guide to life in the United Kingdom (they also write a witty blog of the same name). It could also help fans of Britcoms or Brit cinema decipher some of the slang, attitudes or comments they encounter (any U.S. fans of the Stereophonics wonder what the hell the song "Bank Holiday Monday" refers to? Check out Page 186 of this book -- just keep in mind that the lyrics of the song aren't an example of everyone's typical activities on these holidays.)

I spent about a month in the UK on vacations years before I moved here, and also learned a bit about it by way of British friends and boyfriends. Now I've lived here more than two years, so I'm not exactly a newbie to the information in this book. However, it still manages to offer several things I didn't know and give greater detail to things I knew of only in passing.

For instance, I live in one of the Home Counties of Berkshire. I just assumed all counties were called Home Counties and never thought more of it. Turns out that moniker only covers six counties that are immediately around London. Who knew? Well, OK, most English people probably knew that, but I sure didn't. Chapter 3 gives a good explanation of the leanings and types of newspapers, which is quite interesting to newcomers. I knew which ones were total scandal rags, but I didn't quite understand the different political leanings of the "highbrow" papers and what it said to the natives if they see you reading a given newspaper. This book breaks it all down, and keeps the explanations short and sweet.

I thought I'd just glance through a few pages of this book and relay a couple of facts, but I ended up reading the whole thing and found it a breezy, interesting read. You could finish its 238 pages on the plane ride across the pond and still have time to take snaps of the wing surrounded by clouds and catch some movie you'd normally never watch.

Keep in mind this book lives up to its title -- the information is "in brief." If you're a big history buff or like the full story behind a given situation or incident, this book won't fully sate your curiosity -- but it might just whet your appetite and tip you off to items you'd like to research more fully elsewhere. I really enjoyed the brief entries and getting a little knowledge on a wide range of topics here.

Tempted to read it? Then check back here in the next few days, when I'll post a contest to give away a copy of this book, thanks to the authors who sent one for me and one to share with my readers.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Descent into barbarism in Berkshire

The so-called heat (it was 78F -- that's a heatwave to the Brits) may be why everyone seemed a bit crazy today. My misadventures in how a very little heat can rattle people not used to it began with two guys blocking the door at the post office. One hands over a wad of cash, while the other promises to pay it back soon and pleads with the first man not to lose his passport, as then he won't be able "to get nothin' cashed". The first guy, gripping a huge can of Stella (at a quarter past three in the afternoon), brushes him off with assurances. Now, why would you give someone your passport anyway? "It's better not to know" my husband replied ominously when I told him of the encounter. I'd guess it was some type of loan/collateral situation.

Then my hip-and-happening day took me to Poundland for a microwave egg poacher and a copy of Tommy on DVD for a quid each. While waiting in line, I was treated to "Drunk old dude in Poundland" theater. A little old man in a suit was shouting loudly to the woman checking out at the register next to him: "Do you want me to say it nicely or do you want me to say it rudely?!!!" She went on about how he cut in front of her, and he can't do that just because he'd had a drink, she wasn't going to let him get away with that. He repeated his question a few more times before yelling "F*** off!" a couple of times and teetering out the door.

I'd had enough drama at Poundland, so I toddled off to Boots. On the way there, I heard a woman talking about how "it was like stepping into an oven." I guess she meant the "heatwave." She better never go to Alabama, not even in the winter, if 78 with a cool wind is a heatwave. It's amazing how by the time temps are in the 60s, people pull out the shorts and flip-flops.

A few people were red-faced and pouring sweat from the "heat," and I'll skip my other minor misadventures for now. Let's just say I finished up at the grocery store, bought some wine, and headed for home, far from the madding crowd. Ahh, it's good to be home. When I told all the news to my hubby, he said "Descent into barbarism in Berkshire." Now how can I not post about it when I have a title like that hanging around, eh?