Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Departure to Penny Royal

Friday 22nd June

It was nice to stumble on a page detailing sales in Borderlands. Sitting at the top of their trade paperback (import version) list was The Departure. Hopefully this is a foretaste of how the book will go when Night Shade Books release it next year. Next twittering this I then learned (thanks Jesper) that its star rating has been steadily climbing on Amazon, rather confirming my suspicions about a large tranche of negative reviews appearing there, very quickly, when it was first released, and mostly from people who had never felt inclined to review a book before.

I just got an email from a fan who read The Departure and has preordered Zero Point. His name is David Davis and he invited me for a drink at the House of Commons to see if he could persuade me that not all politicians are rampant thieves. I suppose it's possible he's that David Davis, considering he studied molecular and computer science at Warwick, but I suspect a wind-up.

So you could call that good news, but of course the cosmos has to restore balance, so I learn by text that my mother has cancer. There’s not really very much I can say about that.

Monday 25th June
Well done Egypt! Given a chance with democracy and you vote for a theocracy! Of course the Muslim Brotherhood president is making all sorts of moderate noises so I’ve no doubt the tourist trade will flower under the new regime and no one will get whipped or stoned for man-on-man action, drinking beer or getting their tits out on the beach. And certainly Egyptian women won’t be impelled to dress like dust-sheet draped daleks. I’m so sure that those enthusiastic crowds of supporters – mostly young bearded men – won’t try to enforce their ideology on the rest of Egypt. I’m sure that anyone suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood (and its dearth of sisters) is just culturally insensitive and ignorant.

So, while Caroline watched England’s exit from the European cup last night I sat out on the terrace drinking Toplou (though I did return inside to watch the humiliating extra time and the penalty shoot-out). Now, I had caught quite a bit of sun yesterday so that accounted for much of the colour of the face looking back at me from the bathroom mirror, but perhaps not the purple hue and the eyes like kidneys. Checking this morning I note that this dry white wine is 13.5% ABV. Um. Back to the 11% stuff from Lidl, then.

Tuesday 26th June

The end is nigh! The Penny Royal book now stands at 138,932 words with just a few more sections to write for me to complete the first draft, and I reckon I’ll be polishing them off today (I’d better finish them today – I promised Caroline a meal out tonight to celebrate that particular watershed). This should take the book clear of 140,000 words then after that I need to look at doing some of those chapter starts, each of which average about 250 words so that’ll add another 5,000. The book then should be about the length of The Technician. Okay, enough waffling here, to work...

That’s it: I’ve felt justified in finally writing ENDS at the bottom of the last page. The additional sections brought the total word count to 141,700 but then that dropped again as I removed to another file about a 1,000 words that came after that ENDS – sections I had removed to perhaps later use, bits that didn’t fit the plot, the occasional irrelevant ramble. That’s it for the first draft, but I certainly haven’t finished. I have the bits to do as noted above, there’s stuff that needs tidying, firming up, fining down, like, for example, I must make one character hate a piece of jewellery because it matches the colour of the eyes ... she had. But it’s like a stone statue. I’ve carved roughly, I’ve taken out the little chisels for some more fine carving and it is now identifiable as the finished product. Now I need to do some sanding and polishing and perhaps that will reveal faults that will require the little chisel again.

I hope the arm doesn’t drop off.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Warm-ups and Warming Up

Monday 18th June

So what shall I waffle about in this warm-up to writing my 2,000 words? My word count last week was 10283 on the book (and 1192 on blogs) putting it at 125,843, which is about the length of Cowl. I’ve now opened another file called Pennyroyal2 in which I’m noting down ideas and transferring the occasional unused section from the present book. Maybe another week, or two, and the first draft of the first book will be done and I can move over to that other file.

Someone asked me last night if, after a break (like the one I had doing the kitchen and other jobs around the house) I return to a book refreshed. Not really. Generally if I stop writing a first draft for a while that makes it harder to return to the writing. I have to reread a lot, check out any notes I made and try to remember that last bright idea I was toying with. This is why I’m pleased with last week’s word count – I quickly got back on track.

So, Samaras, of New Democracy, won the Greek election. He’s described as centre right which in Europe, for my American readers, means somewhere to the left of Obama. I’ve no doubt that the markets, and other European governments, will be relieved. However, Greece will not pay its debts; it simply cannot pay them. There’ll be delays in implementing ‘austerity’, there’ll be riots and protests on the streets of Athens. It’ll continue to be a bureaucratic nightmare to try and start a business here. Taxes will go up and new taxes will be introduced, thus killing off even more businesses. Corruption will continue to be rife. Fewer and fewer tourists will come here. And, so I’m told, the two hundred billion in Swiss bank accounts won’t be investigated, nor will the reason behind 45% of property sales in London being to Greeks, since many of those in power now are up to their necks in both. Now we can look forward to the whole train wreck continuing in slower motion, but a wreck it will continue to be.

Tuesday 19th June
So, today’s waffle: I did my 2,000 words (well, it’s generally just a little bit more than that) and am currently bringing my main characters together for a confrontation. Hah, even as I wrote that I remembered another plot element to deal with and made a note. Anyway, i can’t say much more about the book than that.

We’re off to Sitia this evening for a talk with a architect and a notary etc along with our Belgian neighbour. He bought his house along with a ruin beside it and has since discovered that the ruin is basically listed as a garden and he cannot renovate it. There are all sorts of rules and regulations here about how much you can build related to the land you have and things like whether that land is in village boundaries. He’s bought more land, and will be buying more still and is trying to wangle a way to get permission to do that renovation. However, I can’t see how this will work because you can’t add land to your own to increase the area you are allowed to build on because that was stopped in 2002 to prevent the proliferation of building. We are involved because our ‘house’ is essentially one half of a house of which he has the other half. We’re prepared to help, but are very wary of raising our heads above the parapet here. Allow the state and the bureaucracy to notice you and you can end up in a whole world of shit (which is another reason why this country is fucked). We’ll go along, listen, but we will not get involved unless absolutely 100% sure no shit is going to come flying our way.

Wednesday 20th June
Pretty sure no shit is going to be flying our way in fact we gain a little some in the way of building area, though the only way to go now for us is upwards – adding another floor – and we’re not really interested in that. If anyone is being shafted in any way it’s our neighbour, with all the fees and taxes involved. Anything we need, like a lawyer to check out whatever we have to sign, he’s paying for. In the end the aim of this is for his benefit and we just didn’t really have to get involved.

After this meeting we were invited for maybe something to eat and drink, but we had to head back for the England game against the Ukraine. This was for Caroline, though since it was windy outside I watched it was well (man of the match: that England goalkeeper Joe Hart). Of course I’m a little bit of an oddity here to many Greek men. To try and strike up some sort of rapport with me they’ll often resort to football, whereupon I have to direct them to Caroline, who knows more about it and has more of an interest.

‘So what are you taking to the G20?’ he asked.
‘Oh the usual,’ the politician replied. ‘Suntan lotion, swimming trunks, condoms and indigestion tablets – same package I take to those climate conferences.’

Thursday 21st June
I was ranting a bit here about the G20 and politicians before I started on my 2,000 words, but it was vague, so I deleted it. Anyway, screw all that. Now having done my 2,000 the Penny Royal thing is past 134,000 words and I’m now into the end game. A visualized confrontation has just started, wreckage and debris are strewn in orbit around a world I shan’t name right now, and I’m starting to truly realize that next week I’ll probably be making a start on the next book!

Now it’s time for Internet stuff, followed by a swim, then white wine, then a visit to the Gabbiano...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Brufen and Flowers

Friday 8th June

I stopped in at a pharmacy in Makrigialos the other day to stock up on Depon and Brufen – the versions you buy here respectively of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen. I stupidly wasn’t paying attention when I bought them, probably because someone we knew was in the pharmacy, because we were in a hurry, and I was vaguely grateful to be able to change a €50 note. Only afterwards did I realise that I’d been charged rather a lot, and only later still did I decide I had been ripped off and become determined to go back and raise a stink, even more so when I checked the receipt.

It made no sense. The Depon was correct: I bought two boxes at 78c each – the price was on the boxes. The prices were on the boxes of Brufen too, one was €2.04 the other was €7.76, and I was charged in total €15.22 for them. Boiling, I went into the pharmacy demanded to know why I’d been charged so much. Apparently, so the pharmacist told me, the price on the boxes is irrelevant. It scanned at €7.61 a box which is the price I would be charged in any pharmacy in Greece. I said this was crazy since I was paying about €2 last year and demanded and got my money back.

So what the hell is going on? One point to note is that you simply cannot buy drugs in a supermarket here – one of those closed shops that kills business here – but whether the prices are set by government or the pharmacists I have no idea. Maybe the Greek company that supplies these pills is on the ropes and has whacked its prices up, which is the usual silly reaction here. After this episode I checked British prices. Here the pack of Brufen contained 20x400mg pills. You can buy a pack of 16x200mg Ibuprofen pills from ASDA for 41p, which works out at 5.125p per 400mg, so multiply that by 20 and you get £1.02. €7.61=£6.18 so for the equivalent here I would be paying six times the price. Madness, but then, you’ll get ripped off in either country. If I want one of those blue inhalers in Britain I have to go to the doctor’s, get pilloried about my smoking, then take a prescription to the pharmacy and pay the prescription charge of between £7&£8 for one inhaler. Here they can be bought over the counter for about €3 (£2.43) ... well, that was last year’s price...

Monday 11th June
I finished off some bits and pieces on Sunday and now, but for an irritating double light switch – I bought a new one but the way it is wired up is completely different so now the old one hangs out the wall since the thickness of tiles makes it a bastard to secure – and some end shelves I have to build at some point, the kitchen is complete. On Saturday we even managed to get the remainder of the door handles. Apparently the shop managed to get hold of them from another branch in Athens.

The temperature has soared here. Yesterday, when I remembered to move the temperature sensor to the shade, it read 32C, though part of that may be due to it sitting on warm tiles and not having quite cooled down. Most of the evening we spent sitting outside playing Yahtzee, well, until our ancient eyes failed us.

The first succulents are now flowering round the garden stepping stones and I’m glad to see I have the full range of colours. Lilies and other flowers are opening too. I have two small shrubs growing called Monk’s pepper (it produces peppercorns) and have bought mandarin and apricot shrubs to replace a couple of the yuccas on the bank.

Things do grow really well here, which is why so many Greeks are now retreating from the cities to the countryside where they can at least survive, which is an advantage they have over countries like England. I suspect that if Syriza get in next weekend this exodus will increase. In its way Greece is a microcosm of the rest of Europe: big sprawling high-spending socialist and often corrupt governments (including that crowd of jerks in Brussels) have completely arse-fucked their countries. Realizing far too late that the answer, surprise surprise, is to stop pissing the money up the wall, some have tried ‘austerity’ (ho ho). Unfortunately, they can’t stop spending, since most of their citizens, having been turned into employees, dependents or clients of the state, want the money to keep flowing so vote them out of power, then vote for the empty promises and impossible to finance plans of those parties even further to the left.

Meanwhile, others are stepping further to the right, as sure as those voting for the other wing that more authoritarian government is the answer. It isn’t.

Tuesday 12th June
I’ve got a little bit of a hangover this morning and am struggling to get going. I blame Toplou. Surprisingly for an island covered in grapes and supplied with 300 days a year of sunshine Crete is lacking in good wines. Most of the local stuff is pretty rough, the only decent red wines are in Lidl and from South Africa, Australia and California etc, and since in such a hot climate we like chilled white wine we had settled on cartons of a white wine from the same shop, imported from Italy. However, our Belgian neighbour introduced us to a wine made at a local monastery called Toplou (this means ‘with the gun’, apparently – the monastery has an interesting history). It is very nice and very more-ish, and I certainly had far too much last night. Zero alcohol today. An ophthalmoscope down my throat would reveal my liver waving a white flag.

Final plot elements of Penny Royal (1) are slotting home nicely, with a sound like a knife being drawn across a sharpening steel, and I’ve found a way to drag in a gabbleduck and the Technician, and have other elements in place for the start of the next book. Currently this one stands at 118,000 words and so, if I keep up my present pace, is maybe a few weeks away from completion (Cowl was 125,000 while The Line of Polity was 175,000, and between those two figures has always been my target), which should put me one year and two months ahead of Macmillan. Thereafter I’m considering diving straight into the next book, and then the next. It would be seriously gratifying if I could get three books done before the first has to be delivered – books in the bank, so to speak. I would have completed my five-book contract with Macmillan and put myself three years ahead of their present publishing schedule. Maybe then I would feel ‘safe’ enough to turn my attention to the fantasy trilogy in my files, maybe the contemporary novel there (though it’s not so contemporary now – not a mobile phone in sight) or tackle a load of short stories. Then again, maybe I’ll do some short stories after this one, maybe a novella or two – I haven’t sent anything to Asimov’s for years and there’s always the Kindle route to explore further.

Wednesday 13th June
After I polished off my 2,000 words yesterday, and it being very hot and still here, we headed down to Makrigialos for a swim. We had absolutely no problem getting sun beds next to Revans bar – there wasn’t anyone there. It was 30C there, the sea was lovely and warm and a slight breeze prevented us from feeling like we were being grilled. Scanning each direction along the beach I counted fourteen people sunbathing or swimming with maybe another four over on the harbour beach ... on June 12th, nearly halfway into the first month of the tourist season. Not good.

Thursday 14th June
Yesterday the beaches were again nearly deserted, as you can see:

I must also take a photograph of the practically deserted high street. I have to wonder how some people are going to survive in business here, like Makis, who had a gyros shop on the street before but last year opened a big place on the harbour, or like the English couple who opened a bar on the beach and who will, therefore have to stump up rent unlike many of the Greek-owned businesses. Meanwhile Yorgos at Revans is insuring he actually has some beach to put his sun beds employing a piece of earth-moving equipment called Ali:

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that our garden must be radio-active. With the succulents I plant around the stepping stones I started off with red, then pink, salmon pink and yellow flowers. Last year white ones appeared and quite possibly an orange one, though I’m not sure. Now we definitely have two shades of orange:

Friday 15th June
Not being a particularly trusting soul (and having wrenched my back a bit) I went to the pharmacy in Koutsouras to check on the price of that Brufen I mentioned before. It turns out that a box of 400mg Brufen does cost €7.61, which is of course ridiculous. However, what the chemist in Makrigialos failed to mention was that a box of the same number of 600mg Brufen costs €2.85. Go figure. Apparently, because the 400mg are the most popular, that’s the one the price has been racked up on. I submit that should only work as an income-gathering strategy if people are too stupid to figure out how to cut a pill in half. Um, I’ll stop that line of thought right there.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Good for Sheffield!

Now this is the kind of bookshop shelf I like to see (thanks Rebecca):

It even has my name on it though, since one bookshop owner says I'm the most shoplifted from her shop perhaps that's not a great idea.

Thursday 7th June

It’s been ten days since I last turned on this laptop – in fact it’s charging up now after our last ‘computer day’ in Revans on the 28th. The kitchen saga continues but is now nearing its conclusion. We bought six of the required thirteen handles for the doors – the people in the shop telling us they could get some more in within days. Foolishly I fitted the six only to then find out that the Italian factory where they are made has gone down the tubes. However, more handles that look exactly the same but are made of aluminium rather than brass are on the way. We’re still waiting.

Since I’m a bit ahead of Macmillan I decided damn it, I wanted to get all the odd bits and pieces done here. However, I think it’s an aphorism applies to me along the lines of ‘work expands to fill the time available’. Take, for example, the microwave. I was going to put it on some end shelves (yet to be built), but someone suggested I put it on a shelf above the oven, which would require a stainless steel cowl underneath so the shelf wouldn’t get all sticky and horrible.

No problem, because there’s a guy who works with stainless steel in the next village along behind ours. I duly built the shelf, with the wood underneath to which the steel could be fitted – meanwhile being sidetracked into making some small wooden shelves to go over the plug sockets – then went to see said guy. He wasn’t there and the other guy I talked to had no idea when he would be. I foresaw numerous trips to that place and little joy. Meanwhile a knackered stainless steel washing machine appeared below our house. I contemplated this object for a while then asked who I thought it might belong to whether it was for the ‘scoopithi’ – the bin. He said it was and when I asked if I could have it said, ‘yes’. I took the thing to cut up the next day ... Meanwhile our neighbour was buying some large terracotta planters and one of them was broken during delivery. I suggested I cut off the broken bit to make a smaller pot. He said I could take it if I wanted. The result of these was that the next day I spent cutting up a washing machine to obtain my stainless steel cowl, which I fitted, along with the socket for the microwave, and cutting up said pot (the broken bit forming a small border for our orange tree):

This expansion of work to fill the time available has resulted in me doing some other bits and pieces. The kitchen now looking better and better I decided to tidy up the arch next to it:

I then went on to do a bit of painting, starting with the mess left here when we had the roof windows and vents put in. I noted that the stone beside our bed was spattered with concrete from this work and cleaned it up, filling in the gaps and rough bits around the edges:

When Caroline repainted the old kitchen cupboards for the spare room and polished up the handles I decided to fill the gaps and crappy bits around the stones in there too:

Composting has always been a problem here – we’ve used big buckets which filled up quickly and I’ve often had to bury their contents, so I built a much needed composter:

Having repainted the damp-damaged and peeling wall in the hall I’ve noted that the bookcase we had against it has been damaged too, so must do a bit of woodwork to correct that:

What else? Well, there are the rest of the stones throughout the house needing work; I must explore the idea of drilling into the front wall and injecting damp-proofing liquid; the shutters could really do with a coat of varnish; the stove needs its glass replaced, to be cleaned up and sprayed with heat-paint; I must build those end shelves for the kitchen; I need to get an electric extractor fan and fit it; the bamboo ceiling needs rubbing down and varnishing; I must fit a worktop in the spare room ... oh, and I really need to get a book written this year.