Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photo of the Day 30: French Fancy

The sunshine is deceptive today - actually it's rather chilly. But this morning I spotted these cushions lined up outside a bar we like, and thought they'd make a sweet photo. One was taken at 10, the other at 12.15 when the sun had come out. A spot for when it's warmer, I think.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Photo of the Day 29: spring feeling

There was something about the flowers - no idea if it's a real plant or not - against the creaminess of the building and the pale blue sky that made me feel spring-like this afternoon. Which is not a bad feeling for a Friday...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Photos of the Day 26, 27, 28

Oh, I did have a lovely birthday. Starting on the beach, with croissant de chocolate and hot coffee, as pictured. 15 degrees C - perfect. Then my Spanish exam result (I passed), then delicious lunch, then time for lunch to digest before cocktails, dinner and then more drinks with friends till about 2am.
All of which means that I don't have a photo of the day for the 27 as I didn't leave the flat... (white wine? What was I thinking? White wine never agrees with me)
Then this morning I queued to enrol in the second term of the Spanish course. Not so warm today - my feet froze after thirty-five minutes. Forgive the low-res picture, which shows just some of the massive queue for enrolment, but the gorgeous new iPod I got for my birthday turns out only to have a video camera, not a stills camera, which seems v v bizarre. But I love it otherwise. Planning to investigate all the functions, including the pedometer!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Birthday Treat - Reduction on my Writing Women's Fiction course

As it's my birthday today - not saying, before you ask - I've been talking to the nice people at Kingston University about offering a special reduction on the Writing Commercial Women's Fiction course I'm running there from March 15 to 18.

The full price is £195 but from today until February 14, you can book the course at the Early Bird rate of £165. For that, you'll get four workshops over consecutive evenings: the full information is here. And given that the discount lasts until Valentine's Day, you might like to suggest to any ever-so-generous Valentines that they could treat you...

Photo of the Day 25: bad taste

My dental history is chequered. As a result of too many close encounters with the drill, I am on the look out for anything that might help me hang onto my teeth for as long as possible. So I bought the innocuous-looking Corsodyl Daily toothpaste from Boots when it was on promotion. I have used the Cordosyl mouthwash now and again - foul stuff that stains your teeth, makes your food taste rank, but does also help stop your teeth falling out if your gums are getting a bit lax.
The little diagram on the back should have been a clue.

Anyway, turns out that 'unique taste and sensation' is copy-writing code for 'this is THE MOST DISGUSTING TOOTHPASTE EVER.' It's hard to sum up the sheer evil of it. Imagine rock salt mixed with pink soap and a quick spray of some kind of herbal eco-perfume (like when you accidentally breathe in too soon after a squirt of eau de cologne), with added clay to give a claggy texture that ensures the taste won't disappear for at least twenty minutes after you've brushed. However, as it cost £2.99, and the diagram promised increased product satisfaction over time, I decided to keep going. It became a ritual, morning and night, to see if I could endure.
And guess what? You can get used to pretty much anything. In fact, I wonder if they made it extra nasty on purpose. I also wonder if that's a peculiarly British, or maybe Western, view: that in order for something to do you good, it must taste foul (see also, cod liver oil).

My gums seem quite peachy so far, though.

Photo of the Day 24: clumsy but cute

More amigurumi from me. I found this fabulous free pattern on the truly gorgeous Owlishly blog. My finished version is nowhere near as cute as the one wonderful Sleepy Sarah on the site, but the instructions are terrific and I think mine might work well as a skittle as she falls over very easily (a little like her maker - I still have the bruises from falling up the stairs last week).

Coming up tomorrow - a special birthday promotion for anyone who wants to sign up for my next creative writing course!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Photo of the Day 23: horses for courses

One of the best things about the Photo a Day has been that I carry my camera round with me everywhere. So on the way back from my ganchillo/crochet course today, I stumbled across this amazing parade of horses (and the odd ox) along the famous Ramblas.
As usual, the cleaning force were right behind, so that within minutes of the parade passing by, the streets were entirely manure-free! Apparently this is the Festa of the Tres Tombs, and later on, pets will have been blessed in a special church service.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Photo of the Day 22: best place to run

I am still trying to turn myself into a runner - there's talk of a 10K in April, and today I managed to run for the longest ever outside, 40 minutes. I covered 3.5m which I know isn't exactly a marathon, but I felt chuffed. I'd remembered my camera this time and saw this band playing right at the end of my run (actually, I saw about four bands along the beach and harbour, and this was 4pm on a Friday afternoon). That's my excuse for getting my shadow in shot, btw. But I have to say, I cannot imagine a more varied, inspirational place to go jogging...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Photos of the Day 19, 20, 21: climate change

The weather was seriously cloudy and grey at the start of the week, and the city is so much less photogenic then! Which is why I have a cat picture. I maintain, however, that the image is really a craft picture, as it shows what you can do with the random crocheted bits that didn't quite work (in this case, bunny ears belonging to an amigurumi that wasn't right).
The soup picture is also weather-related - I'm doing that whole January thing of trying to shift the extra pounds, so this yummy soup (the roasted method, with a bit more pepper, and some fresh tomatoes instead of canned) is perfect when it's chilly outside. And eating soup and writing is pretty much all I did that day.
And then this morning the sun came out again and I got two VERY nice Bicings on my way to and from the gym. As a rule, the higher the number, the better the bike. Bicing is an amazingly good system where you buy a year's membership card and can then use bikes that are stationed all over the city and then anchor them again at another station, without having to worry about your precious bike being stolen or vandalised. The downside is that sometimes it seems like two-thirds of the bikes are knackered - if it's not the tyres, it's the brakes, the steering, the gears or sometimes all four. But today it was like cycling on air. So, thank you, number 19411, for a delightful ride.

Monday, January 18, 2010

TV Book Club & other Herculean tasks

Like many other members of the Twittering classes, I took time out to watch the first episode of the TV Book Club on More 4 last night. There seems to be a consensus among authors and publishers (i.e. not exactly the most representative of audiences) that the balance felt wrong – too much time on Chris Evans’ autobiography, too little on the book of the week, The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Plus the fact that gorgeous Laila Rouass barely got a word in, while Gok Wan’s joke about the fact he was still learning to read seemed to undermine the purpose of the show. Oh, and then there were Jo Brand’s distracting two-tone spectacles. I don’t have much to add to the reviews (though, glasses aside, I think Jo is a good choice of host – not only is she an author in her own right, she’s also been a judge for numerous literary prizes). But I do have a slightly different perspective in that as well as being an author, I worked for three years as a TV Development Producer – and, because I adore books, I spent a fair amount of my time trying to develop shows that would celebrate or capitalise on the popularity of book clubs, not to mention the widespread ambition to ‘do a JK Rowling.’

I remember a fairly thankless time pitching a host of ideas, including:
  • A competition for new children’s authors, in a programme that also celebrated the history of children's fiction, and profiled possible candidates as the next ‘JK’
  • A boot camp style write-a-thon where celebrities and members of the public would be kept prisoner over a fortnight to try to write the best book/story
  • A romance writing show, to tie in with Valentine’s Day, where famous writing mentors/famous lovers would help new writers produce the most romantic story – and in the process, discover more about how we love in the 21st century/what men and women really want.
  • A show that contrasted the real lives of authors – their dalliances, problems, crises – with those in their books.

Hmm. OK, so none of them are exactly threats to Big Brother... I left the BBC in 2006 – since then, similar shows to these have cropped up across the networks –not because they were copied but because, as in fiction, certain ideas are out there in the ether. Have any of them become big hits? I haven’t studied the figures, but I don’t think any of them have been outstanding successes.

Well, duh. Forgive me if I am stating the bloody obvious, but the problems with featuring books and writers on TV is that a) writing is excruciatingly dull to watch and therefore film and b) reading is a solitary experience, and one where taste is incredibly individual. In contrast, telly relies on engaging mass audiences by giving them a shared experience or appealing to a shared interest.

The Richard and Judy Book Club worked because we already had a relationship with our hosts – we felt we knew them and their quirks, that made us prepared to listen to their views on books and subjects we hadn’t heard of. And, most important of all, we knew that the book club spot didn’t last forever and if we never read anything apart from Take a Break, we could put the dinner on while we waited for the next item on Stephen Fry or Posh and Becks or on a woman who had survived four months in the Gobi desert on only a can of Diet Coke and a slab of Kendal Mint Cake.

Of course, the publishing industry loved the R&J Book Club because it made it easy to sell books – the adoration wasn’t unconditional, because if you were publishing a R&J style book at the same time that the club aired, it risked sinking without trace. But broadly the book trade liked it, the viewers enjoyed it, and everyone was happy-ish.

But basing an entire show on books is a much bigger challenge. There are three options: the talent show/competition route, the profile/genre route and the magazine/celeb route. Unlike some of the commentators within publishing, I don’t think that last route is wrong in itself. After all, whatever publishers think, More4 and its advertisers care about bums on seats, which means putting the audience before vested interests. OK, some of the book choices seemed a little obvious – by no stretch of the imagination are Nick Hornby or Sarah Waters ‘new talent’ – but perhaps if the show delivers an audience, the choices will become more diverse.

The issue for me is the result – even though it’s not completely fair to judge a show on its first episode. My worry is that it won’t become anyone’s ‘must watch’ – if you’d read The Little Stranger in anticipation of the Book Club experience, you would have felt very short-changed by the superficial and rather snarky discussion. If you tuned in hoping for ideas to widen your reading, last night’s show offered nothing new. If you’re a casual channel-hopper, then a brief and rather fawning panel interview with Chris Evans offers you nothing you can’t find elsewhere.
I honestly hope the show develops and succeeds, perhaps with more coherent discussion of the book, and some clearer format moments - an ‘if you like this, try these books’ slot might be fun, or a ‘what are they reading on the Number 7 bus vox pop,’ for example. And I think there’s scope to develop what seemed to me the best part of the show, when Sarah Waters discussing her novel and her work.

Maybe there’s something to be learned from what, for my money, were the two best shows on books and writing in the last decade or so. For mainstream appeal, The Big Read is the clear winner. It worked because even if you hadn’t read a book, most of the titles were famous enough that you might have seen the adaptation or at least known a little of the story, and so you were interested invest time in finding out more. It used celebrities who did genuinely seem passionate about the books, and the voting element gave it momentum, too.

The other success for me was the brilliant Scribbling, a documentary series which profiled interesting, eccentric authors (the episode on Rob Newman was fascinating because he was struggling, while those on Geoff Ryman and Minette Walters were also compelling).

Personally, I think there could be mileage in newer versions of both of those – the Big Gory Crime Read or the Big Love Story or Big Smart Read to Help You Pull the Opposite Sex, maybe.

And who knows? Maybe now that we’re so weary of 'reality', we might enjoy documentaries featuring talented, peculiar writers with fat bottoms and silicon-free cleavages who can’t afford to give up the day job, but still write into the night, or between shifts or nappy-changes, because it’s what they were born to do...

PS: interesting blogs on the same show here, here and here.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Photo of the Day 17 - Say cheese!

OK, this is a bit of a cheat as the photo is actually from last night, but it's been a rainy, mildly hungover sort of Sunday, and yesterday's pix are far more interesting. We went to our favourite cheese shop, Formatgeria Le Seu, as part of a group outing by the Barcelona Food Events Meet-up Group. The store is run by an amazing Scottish woman, Katherine McLaughlin, who has scoured Spain for the yummiest farm cheeses for her shop, and also serves them with wines and sherry in a tiny dining area at the back.
Whenever we've been there before, we've always done a Top of the Cheeses vote. This time, the goat's cheese in the middle there was my Number One, and the softer cow's cheese on the far right the runner-up. But it's a testament to the quality of the cheese there that, even though I usually loathe blue cheese (why would you eat mould?), I ate every crumb of the extra-strong blue one...
Next time, I must try the cheese ice-cream!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Photo of the Day 16: Ganchillo Day

I might just be the nightmare student for an amigurumi teacher. My crochet is self taught... I hold my hook like I'm doing battle with the yarn... and Spanish is a (very poor) second language for me. But I did think that it might be useful to take a course, to improve both my vocab and my stitches...
The teacher, Nuria, has the patience of a saint, as well as a lovely line in crocheted cacti, and so this morning I've been getting to grips with puntos bajos and anillos and cadenetas.
This doesn't yet look like anything, of course, but it's pleasingly regular and a very pretty chick lit pink. She also gave us a simple pattern for a borro - a cap - and so I had to go right back to the wool shop and buy some ridiculously fussy yarn to see if I can do it. I actually think the yarn looks nicer in photos when blurred, though: in focus it has a rather pubic quality (though luckily not in real life)...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Photo of the Day 15: Mutton, lamb, sequins

I would say that, in general, stuff you buy in Barcelona is more expensive - whereas eating/drinking out is cheaper than the UK. But the sales/rebajas are something else: a full-on retail reductions frenzy. So today I braved the shopfloor - I haven't dared so far - and bagged the following, for under 60 Eur.
Green and red are my favourite colours - I've never had my colours 'done' but now I zone straight into those shades. The top has sleeves like those little paper cuffs you used to get on legs of lamb, so perhaps, as it came from Mango, I should call it my 'mutton dressed as lamb' top. Only downer - as a curvy UK size 12, I do balk at having to buy EXTRA-large sizes here.

But my favourite is definitely the bag. Rarely do you find an evening bag large enough to take more than a lipstick and a teeny tiny phone. Which, as a clutterbug, I find impossible. This one could almost hold my netbook! Hoorah for rebajas!
PS: apologies for three posts today. Gone a bit blog-crazed.

Info for Writers: Short Story Competition and Women's Fiction Course

Whether you're finishing a short story, or writing a novel, I have a couple of notices that might interest you.

First of all, I'm thrilled that this year I'll be judging the Frome Festival Short Story Competition. The winners will receive a cash prize (£300 for the best story) and their stories will be read by a London literary agent and published on the website. Along with my fellow judge, short story writer Paula Williams, I'm looking forward to reading the entries.

Second, I'm leading another course at Kingston University (half an hour from Waterloo) from March 15-18. It's based on the successful course I ran last year with Louise Voss, but this year's course will be much more workshop based, with more practical exercises and time for critiques. I'm running it each evening between 6-9pm - so if one of your resolutions is to start or finish your novel, then it's an intense but fun week which will fit in around other commitments and will help you stay motivated and clarify what makes your work special.

I've posted the programme below, and you can book here. Kingston are running a range of other brilliant writing courses, including a work-in-progress course with Louise, so check it out!

What's the course about?
From Marian Keyes to Jodi Picoult and Victoria Hislop, the women's fiction genre is wide-ranging and vibrant - and publishers are always looking for new voices to entertain, amuse and move readers.

This course offers four days of practical workshops and lectures on the essentials of writing for this genre. We'll cover generating original ideas, developing compelling characters, key elements of structure and story-telling; and, finally, approaching publishers and agents with your work. It builds on last year's successful Head over Heels course, with more time for feedback and workshopping.

What topics will we cover?
This course will combine workshops/exercises with short lectures on key practical techniques and tools. The sessions are:

Session 1: That's the Idea:
In this session, we'll use tried and tested brainstorming and outlining techniques to develop your novel idea, whether it's a still only a one line long, or is a completed first draft. Using The Grid, Kate's own novel-planning tool, we will look at the ‘hooks' of best-sellers in the genre, and apply those techniques to our own ideas.

Session 2: Heroes and heroines
In women's fiction, characters are paramount: the reader must empathise with your hero or heroine's struggles or journeys, even if they don't always like them. In this session, we use a variety of character building tools to develop rounded, believable characters. We also take a look at dialogue, and at choosing the best viewpoint for your story.

Session 3: Are you sitting comfortably? The art of story-telling
A story without struggle isn't a story - so we use the work we've done on character, and techniques taken from successful novels and from movies, to work out how to keep the story progressing, and the reader hooked. We'll also analyse works-in-progress to spot potential areas for improvement.

Session 4: Agents, advances and literary fame: the lowdown on getting published
In this session, we focus on marketing your novel to agents and publishers. We explore why titles can mean the difference between success and failure, at approaching agents and publishers, and at the best ways of maximising your chances of standing out from the crowd.

Who is it for?
This course is suitable for writers who enjoy women's fiction and are interested in breaking into the genre. It's suitable for students who are currently working on a novel, or those who may be new to writing but have an initial idea for the book they want to write. It's also suitable for students who attended Head over Heels, as the exercises and workshops are new.

At the end of the course, you will have:

  • Had feedback on your idea and writing from workshops and the tutor;

  • Written an enticing treatment or ‘blurb' for your idea, with a clear sense of where your novel might fit within the genre;

  • Developed your heroine/hero and written at least two key scenes/pieces of dialogue;

  • Outlined the structure of your novel and the key dramatic conflicts. If your novel is a work-in-progress, you will have identified issues around pace/tension;

  • Researched agents/publishers and drafted a query letter to send with your completed novel;

  • Worked out a plan of action to help you complete and market your novel.

Will there be any work outside of class/before the course begins?
Yes, an exercise will be set each evening, to maximise your progress. Before the course begins you will receive a brief reading list (optional) to help prepare for the course, and there will also be the opportunity to submit work to Kate beforehand. In addition, Kate will offer detailed critiques and help with work-in-progress after the course is completed, for an additional fee.

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Photo of the Day 14 - window shopping

I've had to mess around with this picture a little, because I am not great at taking pix through glass, but it's of the window at Brunells, a yummy pasteleria/sweet and cake shop near us. Usually I am distracted by the huge piles of chocolate and biscuits, but in my new Photo of the Day mode, I caught sight of this... Is there some strange Spanish or Catalan reason why you would display biscuits and meringues (you can see them on the right) next to an old typewriter and an electricity meter? A little notice helpfully points out that these are not for sale...

PS: in answer to the messages about my non-picture, yes, actually, the men weren't in bad shape... But still!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Photo of the Day 13 - er, you'll have to use your imagination

OK, I meant to take my camera when I went running, but I forgot. So imagine if you will, me running along the path alongside the beach when two men walk past, stark naked. I was two miles from the nudist beach, and even though the temperature was about 12 degrees, it's hardly tropical. But there they were, all-over tanned, wearing sandals and nowt else, surrounding by people in hats, scarves and coats.

Of course, this being Barcelona, no one looked twice.

Are you glad I didn't take my camera now?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Photos of the day 11 & 12: ladders & languages

Yesterday's pic is of the huge crane that's just arrived in our barrio - there was something about the triangular shape that made it seem almost architectural to me...
And then today's is the books I am mainly reading this evening - exam tomorrow. I found out today that in the week I missed before Christmas, the rest of the class learned an entire new tense. Whoops. Better get back to it!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Photos of the day 9 & 10: sun and shopping

I love the design and colour of this derelict cinema - I love a multiplex as much as anyone, but it's a shame these buildings can't thrive too.

This is Placa Reial, normally a real tourist haunt, but on Sunday it was packed with locals, eyeing up the coin market.

From Saturday - I loved the way the tower at Santa Maria del Mar was swathed in net, like a bride, and you can just see the memorial flame too on the left.

Our haul from the British supermarket....

A cold but sunny weekend here: the cold killed my camera battery after taking just one shot on Saturday. On Sunday we had a good mooch, ending at the British supermarket. I wouldn't say I'm desperate for 'delicacies' from home (except Sainsbury's Saag Paneer, oh, yum, I miss that!), but I did have a Quorn craving. No fresh sausages in the shop, but we did buy:
  • Marmite (which, to be fair, we can buy in a few places here but we thought we'd snaffle some anyway)
  • LEMON Golden Shred (boyf's breakfasting choice)
  • Two jars of different chutneys (I love chutney)
  • A brick of Cheddar
  • Weetabix
  • Golden Syrup (more for the tin than the contents: a) it's not very low-carb and b) to bake anything here I'd need to go back and buy British flour and sugar etc as the Spanish brands are completely different and friends have had VERY mixed results when baking)
  • and finally...Chocolate Angel Delight (not my idea. I adored the ads when I was a kid but whenever we had some, I thought it was icky)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Photo of the Day 8: Crochet or spaghetti?

It's definitely crafting weather, and I've just started a project from The Happy Hooker (which is about crochet, obviously!) in rather fabulous shiny turquoise yarn. The idea is for it to turn into a very slinky wrap/shawl affair but at the moment it looks like something that the cat brought in. Following patterns is harder than it looks. Not that I will be wearing it for a while, though, given the forecast.


Thursday, January 07, 2010

Photo of the Day 7: Essential Winter Kit

It's the first day of the sales here - and I never guessed that top of the list would be a huge thick pair of slippers that cover the ankles. But it does get cold here too, and the forecast for this weekend is for actual SNOW. Writing and keeping warm don't always go hand in hand (or foot in foot) so I snapped up this very subtle pair for about 8 Euros, and my quality of life has improved approximately 200%.

Photo of the Day 6 - and Marian Keyes

Some days the photo is obvious – others you need to go looking for it. Today was one of the latter, so I looked hard, and found this sparkly window walking home through our neighbourhood. But it’s the stonework lettering underneath that really caught my eye: the fact that a craftsman was paid to engrave ‘Agricultural Insecticides’ on the outside of the building, and did it beautifully. If a job’s worth doing...

But I was also distracted by Marian Keyes’ newsletter, in which she explains that she is currently suffering very badly from depression. There’s been a lot of news coverage about it, which I won’t link to, as some of the comments have been negative and ignorant. I think her openness does her tremendous credit, and may help to increase understanding about mental illness – and what few of the newspaper articles have mentioned is that at the bottom she has added some quotations she’s found helpful (though reading them also gives an insight into how bleak she must be feeling).

I’ve only met her once and she was so charming and lovely that my boyfriend always smiles when he sees me reading one of her books, and he talks about that party and that short conversation. She’s a person who makes a difference to people.

She’s also a very gifted writer, and I wonder if that gift comes, in part, from her sensitivity to the people around her, and to emotions. That hyper-sensitivity brings both pleasure and extreme pain, and I feel for her so much right now. It’s profoundly unhelpful to say to someone who is clinically depressed that you ‘know how they feel’ (and don’t even get me started on ‘buck up’ or ‘pull yourself together’) because the experience is unique to the sufferer. But I do think that many creative people will identify with her experience. I’ve had bouts of depression through my life, sometimes when everything seems – from the outside – to be going swimmingly. What I do know is that depression is terrifying and, as Marian says in her newsletter, the worst part is that you don’t know when, or if, it’s going to end.

I’ve come to realise that I will use any weapon in the armoury to try to stop the Black Dog in its tracks. Exercise helps, but if you’re already falling down the pit, then donning the trainers or doing a hideous step aerobics feels as unattainable as jumping to the moon from a trampette. Eating well is good, too, but if you have no appetite for life, then food seems unimportant. Pills sometimes help bring a little colour back. Talking can be good, up to a point, although you bore yourself (and those around you) very quickly. Counting your blessings - writing them down, for example - can be useful, though again it can also feel a bit like your mum telling you to swallow the one vegetable that makes you gag, because of the starving children in Africa. You know you ought to grateful, you know billions are suffering ‘properly,’ and yet you’re lost in this world of blackness and the guilt makes you feel even worse.

All you can do is to try a bit of everything, whenever you have the energy, and try to remind yourself that you’ve come out of it before, so you will again.

I’ve also accepted that being a sensitive plant is in my nature – and that it’s probably what made me want to be a writer, to observe and process the people and events around me. I feel things at a ridiculously personal level – news items, movies, books, songs – but maybe that has its bonuses too. When I am low, it’s hard to see that. But when I’m more balanced, I can persuade myself that seeing the world as I do is what makes me who I am, for all my strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t know if it’s the same for Marian Keyes, but my hunch says it might be.

I hope that Marian is able to see her own many, many strengths again before too long. And that there’ll come a day soon when she’ll be able to read the many thousands of messages of support and realise that to touch so many people is a gift that comes, in part, from being someone who feels things so deeply.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Photo of the Day 5: Three Kings

While the UK struggled back home from work through the snowdrifts, last night half a million Catalans came out to watch the Reyes Magos parade through the centre of Barcelona. I've never seen Three Kings before, but it was stunning. The procession lasted a good forty-five minutes and we barely noticed the drizzle. OK, so there was a high risk of eye injury from the concerted sweetie-throwing (some old hands turned their umbrellas upside down to maximise their catch), and further risk because the locals are not great on umbrella etiquette generally (as rain is much rarer than at home). And I didn't quite see the traditional religious significance of the scary giant alien baby, or the Betty Boop style doll with mismatched eyes. But it was a stunning spectacle, all the better for a glass of vino tinto or two afterwards. Hmmm. That no alcohol pledge lasted four days, then.
P.S: sorry about the gaps between the pix, have spent ages and can't fix it without deleting them, grrr.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Photo of the Day 4: Back to Work

The view from my desk... I think there's a message in there. The two tiny figures on the roof don't seem to have Builder's Block so I guess I shouldn't claim Writer's Block either.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Photo of the Day 3

Wehey! Managed to do some proper writing today, first time in ages. Part of my lack of progress has been due to excesses of chocolate and booze. Part of it's been because I've been tweaking a tricky chapter that I wanted to get right before moving on.

But I'm aiming most of the blame right here:

For a writer, there's something very painful about reading a book that is as pitch perfect as One Day. I had heard plenty of good things in advance - not least from Jess Ruston in her review of the book for Read Like a Writer - but even so, when my friend Mary gave me her copy, I wasn't sure I'd like it. I'm not a big fan of hyped books, in general.
But ooo! It's seriously bloody good, so that at first I was rationing myself to a year at a time (the book's central novelty is that it tells the story of two characters by returning to them on the same day each year). Then I couldn't bear the rationing any more.
Some of the brilliant things about it: the flawed but likeable central characters, the warmth, the humour, the humanity, the funny observations. If this doesn't win a heap of awards, then something's very wrong with the book world. A tie with the Guernsey Potato Pie book for my favourite in the last year. No, actually, I think One Day wins...
I finished it, in floods of bittersweet tears, this lunchtime, which is why it's my Photo of the Day. I then went to amazon to read what other people thought - am I the only one to do that AFTER reading a book or seeing a film that I've loved? - and was gobsmacked to see the one- and two-star reviews alongside the glowing ones. There's a lesson there about not pleasing all the people all the time but for now I will bask in that weirdly joyful yet bereft mood that always accompanies finishing a book you've loved.
(Thanks, Mary!)


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Photo of the Day 2

I was never what you'd call a runner, even as a child. In fact, all PE activities gave me the heebie-jeebies. I even used to beg my mum to write me sick notes and as she was a nurse, she'd add in various medical terms to justify my laziness. I don't think the teacher believed them...

But over the last year or so, I've become a bit of a convert to the old jogging. It's mainly thanks to Robert Ullrey's fabulous podcasts, which I've blogged about before. They take you from sitting on the couch to running 5K in nine weeks. It's not entirely effortless, but it is very motivating to listen to the tapes. I did it last year, but mainly in the gym. This time round, I'm running out of doors, as the weather is better here in Spain. It's MUCH harder than on a treadmill, but more satisfying.

So, this morning I reached the week 6, run 3 stage, which involved running for 25 minutes without stopping. This, I'm pretty sure, is the furthest I have ever run out of doors and I'm pretty chuffed. So I thought I'd photograph my battered Asics trainers, as I couldn't have done it without 'em.
PS: I know it's time for new ones. I have bought a lovely shiny pair but it's still muddy in the park so they'll have to wait for sunnier weather.