An Afternoon in Buckingham Palace Gardens

This is a very self indulgent post. I don’t do many of these, but this week has been a strange one… because on Tuesday I went to Buckingham Palace. No, really.

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Me, in entrance quad in Buckingham Palace. This is the first time I’ve worn a fascinator.

Sometime in January, I had an email from the Society of Authors asking if I’d been to a Royal Garden Party before and if not, if I’d like to go (you’re supposed to go only once). The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ (obviously).

I’d heard about Royal Garden parties, but I had never entertained the possibility of going to one. Well, you don’t, do you? It turns out that the Soc of Authors was offered some tickets which they could offer and my name came out of the ballot. [I volunteer on their Authors North Events committee – which is tremendous fun and I’ve met some lovely people through the events]. Thank you Society of Authors!

I caught the train down on Tuesday morning (Hull Trains do a direct service to King’s Cross) and got there at lunchtime. I had plenty of time to get changed and get across to Victoria Station, where I met my friend who was my plus. I couldn’t take my husband because he was needed at home for babysitting duty. So my friend and I both had an afternoon off while our husbands were left at home looking after the children.

We queued – very British – and went through the grand entrance to the Palace, which meant we got to walk through a small section of the Palace (under the famous balcony where they wave from) to get to the gardens.

DSC_0080The Queen has beautiful gardens. You could forget you were in London if it weren’t for the skyscrapers in the distance and the sirens. It was a nice, warm day and it didn’t rain, so I didn’t need the umbrella or the pashmina that I’d crammed into my handbag. dsc_0083.jpgThe tea itself was lovely. There were lots of little cakes and, of course, cucumber sandwiches. All the staff (both the Palace staff and the catering folk) were very smiley and very helpful, which was nice.

I didn’t get to see the Queen (only a glimpse at a vast distance) because I’m a short person and short people don’t get to see things when in a crowd. I did see the Queen through the screen on the phone of the person in front of me, but I’m not sure that counts as actually seeing her. I did get to see the Duke of Edinburgh, but not to ‘meet’ him as such. My friend and I gave us trying to spot the royals after a bit and went back for a second cup of tea instead (there was no queue this time!).

 

Afterwards, my friend and I went out for a curry, because it seemed like the right thing to do when wearing an outfit posh enough to require a hat.

 

The next morning, I had an hour to kill before my train, so I went to see the Wellcome Collection. It was fascinating (and free). I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the collection of erotic/phallic objects was a bit of a surprise. The things that intrigued me most were the mummified man and the wood and leather prosthetic legs. Oh, and the

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The Human Genome on a shelf

human genome in book form. It always amazes me that everything that we are is coded for by combinations of just four base pairs. From that arises infinite variety.

If you are ever at a loose end near Euston, I do recommend the Wellcome Collection. The cafe does excellent cakes and the shop is full of all sorts of geeky science gifts. Incidentally, if you have luggage, they have a cloakroom, so you don’t have to drag your suitcase around the exhibitions.

So there you have my exciting week. How was your week? Any exciting news?

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A few of my favourite things

Here, for no good reason, is list of things that I love:

Reading – My mum taught me to read. By the time I got to school, I was reading Teddy Robinson and Amelia Jane books to myself. This meant that the library books at school were way to baby-ish. I asked the school librarian if I could go to the middle school library section. She let me, with supervision, choose the big books. Hooray for open minded librarians!

Lego – My brother and I had Lego when we were kids and we shared the sets (there was no pink Lego on those days). I was the one who read the 2016-04-11-17-01-43instructions and built the sets. He was the one who went free style and built houses with escape hatches and booby traps. My kids aren’t particularly interested in Lego (although one of them loves Minecraft), so I can’t pretend I’m buying Lego for them… I make Lego book trailers for my novels.

 

Confectionery – I like to bake. I love to EAT cake. I was once called a cake Fiend. Such was my reputation that the lady from the canteen used to stop by on Friday and pass me a cake that was going to go off over the weekend… I don’t eat as much cake as I used to because I was in serious danger of being wider than I am tall. I’m only 4 ft 8, so there isn’t much room to play with.


Chocolate – technically, this should go under confectionery… but I feel it deserves a special mention.

Peter Parker – note, the preference for Peter over Spidey. Everyone wants to have secret superpowers and I’m no exception. Also, Peter designed his own web solution and the cartridges that fire the stuff  with the trigger nested in his palm. A chemist and an engineer. Be still my beating heart. 

Firefly – I love Firefly. Buffy passed me by somehow, so my introduction to Joss Whedon’s work was actually Doctor Horrible (loved it!). Then I saw Firefly. I’ve seen the whole series several times and I’m more than a little bit in love with Alan Tudyk (how can you not love a man who combines talent and silliness!). Shiny.

British Comedy –  Blackadder, The IT Crowd, Black Books, Green Wing, Spaced, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, to name a few… I’m ambivalent towards Monty Python apart from Life Of Brian. I love Life of Brian because it contains my favourite joke.

Star Trek the Original series – because it Blew My Mind.

Dr Who –  Strictly New Who only. I started watching it with the 10th Doctor. I went back and caught up with the Eccleston years, but David Tennant is The Doctor to me. Always. I didn’t watch Dr Who when I was a child. It was on too late, probably, or was too scary. Come to think of it, I’m not sure it even made it to Sri Lanka. Did it? Anyone?

The Big Bang Theory – because I love nerd jokes and I knew people like that at university. Clever is the new sexy. 

Clearing fluff from the filters on the tumble dryer – because it’s so satisfying.

Beta male heroes – because they are so much more fun than alphas. I like a man who can take a joke. If they wear glasses, so much the better. I reckon all men look more attractive with glasses on. See also, Big Bang Theory and Peter Parker.

So, what do you love? Tell me in the comments.

 

Review: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix

Over the Christmas holidays I watched Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix. It will come as no surprise to you that I loved the books. This is not so much an adaptation as an expansion of the Gently-verse. I LOVED it. I wrote a review for the fabulous Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog (whose comments section is the closest thing I’ve found to ‘my tribe’). You can read the review here: http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/reviews/guest-squee-dirk-gentlys-holistic-detective-agency/

In the meantime, here’s one of the trailers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TNXaCBAjpo

 

 

It’s time for another colouring in advent calendar

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A few years ago, I started drawing an advent calendar to colour in at work. I usually ask my favourite muse (who blogs over at The Inspiration Highway) for a theme. This year, it’s foxes. So here’s my foxy advent calendar to colour in. Have fun. Don’t forget to tweet me your colouring in pictures!

 

Download the PDF: 2016-christmas-colouring-in

Bacteria inspired names and GBBO – a podcast

A few months ago Sarah from Smart Bitches Trashy Books reviewed Please Release Me. She also contacted me and asked if I would do a podcast for her blog. It’s gone live today!

http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast/212-gin-tonic-bacteria-us-uk-romance-markets-interview-rhoda-baxter/

For those who aren’t followers for the affectionately named ‘Bitchery’, it’s a blog about romance novels written by a group of very smart women who read romance because it’s fun. They also read high brow literary fiction, but, you know, romance is where the heart is.

Anyway. Sarah and I talked about all kinds of things – like how romance is defined in the US vs UK markets, how jacket covers differ in the two countries, the diversity debate that is currently rocking the US romance publishing world (but hasn’t quite reached here yet) and the lack of scientists in romance novels until The Big Bang Theory came along. Because we both like cake, we also discussed gin and tonic cupcakes. It seemed rude not to.

I’m off to jump up and down in an excited manner for a few minutes now. If you listen to the podcast, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought! Especially  if you know any good recipes for cupcakes.

 

 

The Romantic Novelists Association Conference 2016

I got back from the RNA conference yesterday and I’m still shattered. It was an incredibly useful conference this year, especially as Sarah Wendell from SmartBitches came and gave us some insights into the US market.

  • The definition of ‘Romance’ in the US is much narrower than the definition of the genre here. The relationship between the hero and heroine in front and centre of the books.
  • Chicklit isn’t a thing in the US.
  • US readers are much more likely to tell you if they’ve loved or hated your books.
  • Beverly Jenkins is amazing. I want to be like her when I grow up.
  • The ‘almost kiss’ is the most popular romance book cover pose (I don’t know why, but this tickled me).
  • Positioning in bookshops is paid for (we knew this, it’s the same here). Positions in bestseller type charts in bookshops are also paid for by the publishers. I hadn’t realised this.

 

I will write myself some notes at some point, but in the mean time, here’s my silly video of what happened. I’m not too keen on selfies (the chins! Aargh) so I took my Lego stormtroopers along and took some photos of them instead. Here’s a nice video of what happened.

 

Do you listen to music when you write? No way!

Today I’m taking part in a themed blog splash run by Elaina James as part of the project she’s doing with Mslexia. Elaina’s blog series follows a lyricist with stage fright who has the chance to perform one of their songs on stage. She invited a group of us to write about our own relationships with music.

I’m not a huge fan of music. I realise this makes me a complete philistine, but there you have it. I find it hard to distinguish good music from mediocre. I appreciate that classical music is good, but really, I doubt I’d be able to sit and listen to it for too long without needing to go do something else. I envy those who can put some music on and just sink into it. I’d fidget.

I know what I like, but that’s not the same as appreciation. My CD collection is full of silly music – Spike Jonez, Max Raabe and the Palast Orchestra, 44 Leningrad, The Shirehorses and an awful lot of Tom Lehrer. The things these have in common is that they’re funny – some a parodies (The Shirehorses songs are ludicrous parodies, whilst Max Raabe is sublime) others are elaborate jokes set to music. Tom Lehrer is just genius.

I write in silence. If I’m forced to have something on in the background while I work, I’d choose something without lyrics because words from outside my head would distract me.

On the other hand, I’m happy to listen to pop music when I’m driving. This is largely because some pop music has fantastic lyrics. Taylor Swift, for example, is a poet who sings. So is Jarvis Cocker. I hear words and they immediately paint pictures in my mind. Words can evoke emotions in me in a way that music cannot.

The first short story I ever had published was inspired by a song lyric. I was lying on the floor, with my notebook and pen, in the middle of something when the song Burning Bridges by Status Quo (yes, I realise this reveals how old I am) came on the radio and I had a sudden, very vivid image of an old man crossing a rainbow bridge. Since I’d spent most of my childhood in Sri Lanka by that point, I don’t think I’d ever seen a real rainbow bridge before, but there it was, in my imagination.

I started writing. Eventually, I ended up with a short story about an old man remembering the days when he and his late wife sat by the bridge and how, one day, he’d carved their names into the brickwork at the base of it. Over the years their names had disappeared, covered over or worn away with time, but he knew they were there. Just like she was still there with him, even though she’d died many years ago.

I wrote it, did a swift line edit and sent it off to The Sun newspaper in Sri Lanka (a more respectable publication than its UK counterpart!) and it was published. They paid me a 100 rupees for it too (in those days, a paperback cost about 300 rupees, so they paid me a third of a book). I was about fourteen at the time. I didn’t have another short story published in print until I was in my thirties.

So there you go. Songs as inspiration. Maybe I should listen to music a bit more.

Please do pop over to Elaina’s blog on Mslexia and have a look through her series. It’s fascinating.

#GBBO – it’s all about the bake.

It’s the final of The Great British Bake Off tomorrow. Daughter number 1 and I have planned what we’re going to eat and drink while we watch – milk for her, tea for me, a packet of chocolate digestives for the both of us (unless I make it to the shops on the way home from work and buy some macarons).

We’ve learned a lot about baking from watching The Bake Off, mostly about baking. But last week, she asked me why Nadiya always wears ‘that scarf thingy’. Which gave me the chance to talk to her about religion and how different religions do things differently. She said, ‘oh, okay. And what’s a soufflé?’ Information assimilated with no extra baggage. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful that the conversation came up in the context of something so very British. You can’t get much more British than a tent full of people obsessing about cake.

There are many things I love about the Bake Off. Mel and Sue (I’ve been a fan since I was a student watching Light Lunch), bad puns, cakes, biscuits – all favourite things of mine. But this year I’ve realised that there’s something extra to love. Meritocracy. In the GBBO tent, skin colour, religion, accent are all totally irrelevant. It’s ALL about the baking.

The Britain I want my children to grow up in is like that – a place where you are judged on your ability and competence, rather than your ethnicity. I know the real world isn’t always like that (I moved to Yorkshire from Sri Lanka in the early 90s. I know all about how the real world isn’t always like that!), but I’m glad that there are some places where it is. By having contestants like Nadiya and Tamal – who are just as British as Ian or Flora – and judging them only on their skills as bakers, the Bake Off has shown us a Britain to aspire to.

All that while bringing phrases like ‘crème patissiere’ and ‘mirror glaze’ into the general vocabulary of seven year olds.

Well done Bake Off. Keep up the good work.

Please Release Me book trailer (in Lego)

Book cover for Please Release Me - a bride at sunrise

As some of you will know, I like playing with Lego. Given that I usually have more pressing things to do, it’s always nice to have an excuse to get the Lego out. With Please Release Me coming out on the 11th of September, I thought ‘I need a book trailer’. I can’t afford real actors, so here’s my book trailer in Lego.

I’m particularly pleased with the shot of Sally’s car accident. Playdoh may have been involved. Luckily I have kids, so there’s plenty of the stuff lying around in our house.

Incidentally, I wasn’t very keen on girl’s Lego when my daughters first started getting it. I find the idea that someone saw the need for Lego in ‘girly’ colours and themes a little patronising. I’ve got used to it now. Since no one is likely to buy the girls a Star Wars Lego set, I’ll just have to buy the Lego Stormtroopers myself.

If you want to see the trailers DD1 and I did for Doctor January, you can see them here.