Saturday, 6 February 2021

Flying in a Box


When I started this blog I wanted to use it as a place to share all the exciting places we've been to in the caravan, unusual walks, cycle routes...

Well, we took the 'van for a service in February 2020, then we washed it, and then... took it for another service in February 2021. It's been that kind of year. But I'm not complaining; I'm just grateful to still be here. And hey, we've discovered lots of walks, cycle routes and places we didn't know existed within a few miles of our home on the Wirral. It's given us a new perspective about where we live.

Still, I missed the caravan.

I haven't been totally inactive though. I published book three of the Travelling in a Box series. If you've read the other two books you'll have picked up hints that we were about to board a plane for the very first time, and... well the title gives it away, doesn't it. Flying in a Box isn't just about fear of flying or our frenetic road trip around California. It isn't just about the snake and bear attacks or the Oscar-like award ceremony where I received a writing award. No, after America we needed to unwind, and what better way to chill than embarking on a nerve-jangling, thousand-mile tow down to the French Mediterranean.

There's even a flashback to a wild camping trip (wild in the lunatic sense) I tried, with a school friend, in our early teens. And yes, me and Sarah get to Italy. But was it Milan? That would be telling. If you want to know you'll have to read the book. This link will take you straight to it.

Let's hope 2021 will be a better year for all of us.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Two in a Box

It has taken a while, but Two in a Box, the second book in what has evolved into the Travelling in a Box series, is now available for pre-order on Kindle and will launch next Sunday 17th February, in paperback and most ebook formats.

This one picks up the story in France after we had, at last, achieved the family's goal of taking our thirty-year-old caravan all the way to the Swiss Alps. Without incident? Well, you'll have to wait and see, but come on, who wants to read about trips that don't involve some kind of adversity? And was one trip enough? One trip is never enough. We went back for more. Of course we did.

If you'd like to listen to a snippet, I was interviewed on Vintage Radio last week where I read a few pages. The show's being repeated tonight (Sunday 10 Feb) at 9pm here.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Hay Festival

Oh look, I've stumbled on a place with internet connectivity. Time to do a catch-up post about our June tour, north to south through Wales. So far we've visited Hay-on-Wye, St David's in Pembrokeshire, and Swansea.

We started our journey with the Hay Festival at the end of May, and I'm sorry to report I have nothing amusing to share, because it was all good. In fact, this was our best Hay Festival visit ever. The weather was good. The camp site was perfect. The talks, all of them, were excellent. I can't tell you about floods or mud or flapping canvas, because there was none of that.

I remember the year when, after returning home, mid-week, to do the accountancy thing for my employers, I rushed back to the caravan for the second weekend and forgot to bring the keys for the caravan security lock. I remember the year we forgot to take sweaters and waterproofs and wellies – that was the year they had to get the local fire brigade to pump out the water from the festival site. I remember the year, every year, complaining about being unable to see the whole festival because I could never get time off from work.

Well, none of that. I no longer have the time-off-work problem. We've found the perfect camp site. It didn't rain – not much, anyway. So I'll just share some photos and leave it at that.
Hay-on-Wye: Looks just like France, doesn't it?

Oh, except to say, that the day we left Hay and headed south, the weather took a turn. Biblical rain. Then hurricanes and stuff. But you'll have to wait for that part.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Hoovering the Garden

The world is insane. I am insane. If anyone had told me, a few years back, that I would spend a day driving around garden centres looking for a spare part so I could hoover my garden, then I’d have suggested locking them away in a room with all the sharp edges removed.

But yes, I am sad and shallow and I want to hoover my garden. There are leaves. Many leaves. And because I am idle I have a Flymo GardenVac, and the shredder thingy has snapped, (see photo) so I need to buy a new one. It is a standard consumable, just a bit of plastic wire, and they tend to snap and need to be replaced from time to time. I could buy one from Amazon but I could really do with it now and the mini-helicopter delivery system isn’t quite ready yet.

“We’ll have to go to a garden centre,” I said.

A reasonable thing to say. Garden centres have garden stuff, don’t they? Well, apparently not. Garden centres have nothing for gardens. They have Santa’s grottos and they have overpriced clothing and ornaments and wicker furniture and wooden plaques with motivational slogans. They have bad joke books and books with photos of the British coast from the air. They have kitchen equipment in jaunty bright colours that cost three times the price of the old kitchen equipment that used to come in perfectly acceptable stainless steel. They have bird boxes, and sacks of bird food that costs more than supermarket muesli (but probably tastes the same). Or I could buy a little basket with two jars of jam nestling in a bed of paper straw. Why? Why the hell do I need jam in a basket? What do I do with the basket afterwards? And what about the little red and white paper covers held over the vacuum-sealed lids with rubber bands: why do I need paper lids on the jam? Why? Do they make the jam taste better?

And before I’m done with my garden centre visit, as I’m striding with a purpose towards the exit, I could pause by the DVD rack and pick up a black and white WWII DVD or one about steam trains or Fred Dibnah, each carefully cropped to fit a square TV screen, to remind me about how good things used to be in the old days.

You remember the old days?

The days when you went to a garden centre to buy garden stuff!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

A Trip Around Cardiff Bay

As a diversion from my usual caravan posts I'm admitting here and now that sometimes I go to the dark side and stay in hotels. I had the chance of free rail travel down to Cardiff and it is very hard to take a caravan on the train. So yes, I'm a traitor to the cause. But Cardiff is such a lovely city to visit that I'm sure we'll do it again, and maybe next time we will take the 'van. Mind you, in December it was very nice to have a warm room and someone to make the bed and bring clean towels each day.
I love the way the low sun hits this water feature in Roald Dahl Plans.
It has been a few years since we last visited Cardiff, and I hardly recognised the area around the station. New buildings have gone up all over the place. There are two huge indoor shopping centres, but the character hasn't changed at all. Linking the main streets there are still plenty of the narrow covered arcades full of fascinating and different shops.
Looking across to Mermaid Quay and all the eateries.
The highlight of our visit, though, was Cardiff Bay. It's about a mile to walk, but the train from Queen Street Station takes you there in under ten minutes. Head for the copper clad Millennium Theatre and the fabulous water feature in Roald Dahl Plass. Then there's a path to the left that goes right out to the barrage and over to Penarth. The sun was shining on the day we visited and it really is a fabulous walk, even in December.
Home of the Welsh Assembly, The Senedd.
The walk goes past the front of the Welsh Assembly building, The Senedd. We didn't go inside on this occasion, but we did on our last visit, and it's worth doing just that, if only to admire the fabulous ceiling of red cedar that mushrooms up from above the debating chamber and ripples in waves across the ceiling and outside to form the huge porch. There's a viewing gallery above the chamber, and the whole interior is a wide, light and airy space, where you can just sit and admire the whole thing. 

This is how to do public seating. A tribute to Roald Dahl.

Back on the walk there are plenty of reminders that Cardiff is proud of its association with Roald Dahl. Not only is the square in front of the theatre named after him, but the Norwegian Church where he was christened still stands (and is a good place for a coffee) and now and again you might come across other memorials, such as the crocodile and bench, part way around the bay walk. 
We are also reminded that Captain Robert Falcon Scott set sail on his ill fated exhibition to the South Pole from Cardiff - another link with the Norwegian Church - and there is a memorial to Captain Scott and his Terra Nova crew, part way around the bay.

And of course there's Doctor Who. All I will say here is that the Doctor Who Experience is fabulous. If you want to know more you should take a look at my scifi blog, here.
Yes, okay. Daleks. (I'm a SciFi writer, so of course I'm going to mention Doctor Who) Terry Nation, who created the Daleks, came from Cardiff, and the Doctor Who Experience, right on the Cardiff Bay walk, is a must see exhibit.

 A brilliant visit, but the caravan is calling once more. Let's get Christmas out of the way so we can get back on the road.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Two in a Box

Moreton-in-Marsh: Full of autumn colour
I sometimes think the caravan can be more fun in the winter than in summer. Back in the days of failed heating, zero insulation and ice cold, hand numbing tap water I might have argued the other way, but winter caravanning, now, is good. It is warmer and more cosy in the caravan that at home.

We headed for the Cotswolds. I had a sci-fi convention to attend in Bristol and I need no further excuse.

But that was the end of October, early November. Today is 29th November, so why only talk about it now? Well, I’ve had a project. I’ve been preoccupied with NaNoWriMo.

What is NaNoWriMo?
It’s short for National Novel Writing Month and it comes around every November, and it is a kind of challenge, to write a fifty thousand word novel in the thirty days of November. It’s supported by websites and a buddy network and graphs. (I can't resist graphs. Graphs plus writing: sign me up.)
Well, I’ve never tried NaNoWriMo before. It’s been on the to-do list for years. Maybe this is the year to start. 

“I’m going to try NaNoWriMo,” I said. 
We were in the caravan at Moreton-in-Marsh. Outside was dark, nearly freezing and only five o’clock.
“What’s NaNoWriMo?” said Sarah.
I explained.
“You’re going to write a full novel in November? The whole thing?”
“No. Not a novel. Something else.”
“I can’t write the third Sphere of Influence novel because I need to edit the second book first. The story might change.”
“What are you going to write then?”
Two in a Box.”
And that’s how it started. I’d never intended Travelling in a Box to be a series, but then the book did come to an end in 2001, and I suppose a lot of stuff has happened since then: problems with the old caravan after it started to bend, arrested in Chamonix, losing part of the car in Belgium… and the whole family growing up and moving out thing. Yes, there’s at least one other book there.
So I pulled out the laptop and started, on that dark cold night in Moreton-in-Marsh, two thousand words a day, my target.

And here I am, at the end of November, the proud owner of a NaNoWriMo badge and fifty-thousand words of Two in a Box in the can. I’m not finished yet. I’m guessing another thirty thousand should nail it. But I imagine Two in a Box will be hitting Amazon early in the year. You heard about it here first. More news to follow in the blog.

Okay, so what of Bristol and the Cotswolds?

Loved it! Bristolcon was fabulous, as always. Nothing went wrong with our travel plans. Nothing fell off the car. Nothing broke in the caravan. Didn't need to hunt down any hospital A&Es... Lovely caravan sites, autumn colours were fabulous. Makes a rotten story when that happens, doesn't it? 

So I’ll just tell it in pictures:    
The village of Broadway
Broadway Tower

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Driving Lesson

I'm having to go around in my wife's car at the moment, for reasons I won't go into here.
Last night I came away from our Writers' meeting and found myself nose in to a parking space, in total darkness. It took me a couple of minutes to find the headlamps, but then came problem no. 2. Where is reverse? I know there's a little diagram on the gear stick, but it was dark, and of all the times I've driven my wife's car I've never had to do it in the dark, and I've never had to go backwards. I stirred away with the gearstick, grinding and mashing the gears, trying all the usual places, but I swear, reverse was just not on there. I'm not a mechanical simpleton. I've removed gearboxes and changed clutches in the front street. But this... Well I hope nobody was looking. They'd have seen the door open a crack. They'd have seen a leg sticking out and the car creeping backwards. I reversed out like driving a kid's pedal car. Oh the humiliation!
Yeah, I found where reverse was, this morning. It wasn't there last night, though. I swear.