Sunday, 2 September 2012

I put 'Sasha & Olga' on Kindle

I have just spend a couple of weeks converting 'Sasha & Olga' on to Kindle. A nightmare. The original PDF file that I got from the Publisher was so full of hidden commands, I nearly went mad. I had to reread the whole book- all 135K words of it. I was a bit nervous about reading it as it had been my first attempt at writing and I thought I would just want to change lots of things. I was pleasantly surprised. I hardly changed a thing as I thought it was really well written. Wow I was impressed by myself both a s a writer and as a person who had survived my childhood. There were many very painful bits, inspiring bits and funny bits. I went through about 3 boxes of tissues. What I realised was that there were many things I had resolved and the healing between my father and myself still rests as a beautiful rose in my heart. The book has sold about 4,000 copies, mostly in Australia and a week does not go by without someone in the world writing to me and thanking me for the book. It seems to hit people in many different ways. But I am now down to my last few hard copies so decided to put it on Kindle. Having reread it, I feel it has stood the test of time and deserves a wider readership, even if I say so myself. 'Sasha & Olga' was my first book and I found out at a late age that I love to write. I enjoyed researching and writing 'Butterflies & Demons' but had huge difficulty finding a publisher.(I was left 2 years on hold with one publisher who then cited economic downturn) So I gave up and wrote 'Russian Roulette 2020' which was great fun (published Solaris 2010) Now that I have mastered (sort of) Kindle I will self publish and put 'Butterflies & Demons' on Kindle. I feel that I owe it to the Aboriginal people of Australia. My latest book 'From Russia to Love' a biography of the violinist Viktoria Mullova is published by Robson Press on September 19th 2012 and available on Amazon. That is exciting. An article about it appeared in the Sunday Times today. I have so many more books in me and can't wait to get them out. I really am a late bloomer! I have also just rediscovered my blog. So may this be the first of many!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

One Year on Twitter - An Appraisal

I look back and evaluate my first year on Twitter; a year of highs and lows.
At the beginning of 2009, I was happy on FaceBook with lots of friends all over the world. Then I was attracted to a call for optimistic stories set in the near future,by a Science Fiction editor, Jetse de Vries.( To get the ball rolling, he started @Outshine on Twitter and asked for optimistic future stories or poems, 140 characters long. My first one was accepted and I even got paid. I thought ‘this can’t be bad’, and decided to continue with Twitter. It was a chance to be totally new and anonymous. In the first week there was a game called ‘Best Chat up lines in 140 characters.’ That was fun. I responded to many of these and quickly became a Twitter Tart, acquiring Twitter boyfriends all over the globe.
More seriously, I found Twitter invaluable for my optimistic Science Fiction story, as I could link in to all sorts of webs of information, from the state of the financial markets to the latest advances in technology from mobile to Nano. The chief protagonist in my future story is addicted to ‘livestreaming’. I had a perfect excuse. I needed to know what that felt like, so I became addicted to Twitter in the interests of research. My husband, the Prof, was highly dubious. He felt he was losing me to the web. I said, ‘Give me 4 months.’ Reluctantly he agreed. So I started following various people and avidly read every tweet, including catching up with tweets in different time zones. I followed people in America and Europe, a couple who followed back, which was lovely. But for ages I had very few followers. I was amazed that some people had thousands of followers. How did they do that? My Twitter boyfriends eventually fell by the roadside. I had to make new Twitter friends. Easier said than done. I tried following famous people. They didn’t follow back. I followed some famous bloggers. They didn’t follow back. How could I crack this thing? Then @MrsTrefusis, a stylish blogger, did follow me back. I felt stupidly and inordinately grateful. This link introduced me to a sassy set of intelligent women who were in their 30s to 40s. Many had small children. I admired their blogs and followed them avidly. I was like a schoolgirl developing schoolgirl crushes. These women seemed so clever and witty. I felt out of their league. It was partly because I am in my early 60s, a retired grandmother, in a different life phase. I decided I’d better look for people my own age.
So I followed some grandmother twitterers. I’m sorry to grandmothers out there, but I just couldn’t get enthusiastic. Lovely ladies but they didn’t get it for me. My attention was drawn back to this younger more vibrant group. Even though they were in a different life phase, I was attracted to their tweets. They had a lively, sparkly thing happening between them. I attempted to join in. I would respond to someone - join in a train of tweets. Then I would glue myself to the computer waiting for a reply. Sometimes I would say something risqué about myself. Nothing. Not a tweet of response. I compared myself to the others. It seemed when one of them tweeted, she would immediately get six replies. I would usually get none. Most often I felt ignored. There seemed a definite hierarchy of popularity. Occasionally someone would answer. Joy. I became addicted like a beggar is to crumbs from a banquet he is not invited to. My avatar name is Evitchka, the name I had in childhood. I was thrown back to that time. A Russian refugee in an alien, hostile culture. I became obsessed. Why wasn’t so and so following me back? Why hadn’t so and so answered? Have I offended so and so? It was like being back at High school. Why was so and so recommending #ff to all except me? Fridays became a day of hell. I felt jealous of all the people recommending each other. Those I recommended seemed to fall on deaf ears. And anyway I wasn’t going to recommend anyone who wasn’t following me back, no matter how much I admired their blog or tweets. I felt like a kid back at school, standing at the edge of the playground, ‘please let me play’. ‘If you don’t like me, well I’m not going to like you!’
I berated myself. ‘Why should anyone follow you?’ ‘You don’t write a blog’; ‘You don’t have anything witty or interesting to say.’ I was in Twitter hell. The Prof would say, ‘you are addicted’, ‘I’m scared I won’t get you back’. I would log on to Facebook, where all my real friends were, to find solace.
But I was determined to hang in there with Twitter. Soon lots more nice people were following me. My followers increased. I was stupidly delighted when the number of followers exceeded the number whom I followed. Then the adorable @pochyemu decided to set up a Twitter get-together in London. I was nervous. I was too old. I thought about what to wear for weeks. The evening was a great success. Meeting my virtual friends was wonderful. They were luminous in the flesh. And they seemed to like me. It was lovely.
Then just last week my twitter friend @labeet who keeps her finger on the pulse, alerted me to an article by Jonah Lehrer, ‘Online Status Anxiety’ . In it all my Twitter sufferings were put into context. Apparently internet sites ignite the primal status centres of out brains where instinctively we jostle for position on the hierarchy. What ranking? How many followers? How many friends etc? This heartened me. I had been at the bottom of the ladder like a forlorn monkey begging for a banana. I was also heartened to hear people like Jonah Lehrer (3,600 followers) admitting he was happy when his number of followers outdid those he followed. He says‘I chastise myself every time I check my twitter count, but it's also a deeply seated instinct. I'm just a male monkey with broadband.’ Another Twitterer admits he was upset for days when one of his followers criticised him. As a result, I now feel less of a weirdo for having been so bothered
I am still on Twitter but not as obsessively as last year. Despite what it says in Twitter articles, I love hearing what people have for breakfast and lunch. I love being witness to the minutiae of people’s lives, what they wear, what music they play, what they think, what they read, when they are down or up. I’m one of those people who walk down a street and peer into people’s windows wondering what they are doing. Twitter gives me that in spades. I don’t feel so alone in the world. I love the photos and songs that people put up. It’s like having a large network of friends who you can switch off when you have had enough.
But the biggest plus for Twitter is that it is advancing us into the age of 'Livestreaming’ which I believe for good or for bad, is the future. The bad is we will be staying online for hours a day, possibly at the detriment of our relationships, and our deep thinking is being blunted to 140 characters. The good side is that we get a rapid sense of the zeitgeist- we know what is going on. We become more of a world community. Twitter is like a river of information we can dip in and out of whenever we want.
This dilemma and whether the tradeoff is worth it, is at the core of my story ‘Russian Roulette 2020’, a love story, set 10 years hence.
I wrote this 10K story while addicted to Twitter. I was delighted it was accepted to go into 'Shine', an anthology of near future, positive Science Fiction (ed Jetse de Vries published by Solaris). My name is in there with some famous Science Fiction writers. This is being launched next week at the UK Easter Science Fiction Convention and is available by pre order on and
I have Twitter to thank.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Sabreurs and Old Fashioned Valour

It all started with Mrs Trefusis, tweeting about Sabreurs in Esquire Magazine. Sabreurs are dashing men who can pop a champagne cork with their swords. This idea so excited me I tweeted Mrs Trefusis, saying ‘I want one’. And with remarkable alacrity she found me one, a real, live, modern day Sabreur. So I tweeted him and requested that he come and pop my cork, (as you do). He replied that he would be delighted to do so but that EU regulations forbade ‘rushing about with a sabre’. I tweeted back ‘For God's sake- what's happened to old fashioned valour- Get your sword- your horse and dash out to Exmoor at once.’ To his credit he responded immediately and gathering some Polish Hussar cousins on the way, started galloping from London, sword at the ready. As I waited in my hot tub in the moonlight, my bosoms began a-heaving at the thought of these Hussars, galloping through the night, all ready to pop my cork. But alas, way before Basingstoke, the party had to return immediately to London as Sabreur’s cat needed to be taken urgently to the Vet. I had to make do with the silhouette of dashing hussars galloping across the face of the moon as I sat in my hot tub, all forlorn, champagne still corked, expectations still unpopped.
A few days later I discovered that my dashing Sabreur was actually a famous British historian of paint and colour, who was an expert in original painting materials. That rendered me all a- fluster and in an attempt to impress him, I tweeted that I had once dabbled in tempura when painting icons. His return tweet gently and discreetly referred to ‘tempera’, not ‘tempura’. I was mortified. I had totally failed in my attempt to impress. Instead I had come across as a weirdo who painted icons with deep fried battered Japanese vegetables. But the Sabreur so sweetly tweeted back, ‘Well, it's called many things including "distemper". Perhaps the starch content could be used as a binder’. This showed what a true gentleman the Sabreur is and that great valour still exists in the world today.
. It reminded me of another time when I encountered similar gentlemanlike valour. It was in the days when I was a Director of my husband’s energy efficiency company and was networking at a swanky drinks party at the House of Commons. On the way back from a visit to the Ladies, I approached a group of MDs of various companies, one of whom I knew. What I had failed to realize was that the back of my long skirt was accidentally stuffed in my knickers. The person I knew, a silver haired , distinguished looking gentleman , looked down upon my dishevelled attire and remarked, ‘Oh it is so wonderful to see that you have cycled here today.’ I looked behind me and nearly died as I frantically started pulling my skirt out of my knickers. Very smoothly my saviour engaged the other gentlemen in a discussion of the energy saving benefits of cycling, giving me ample time to sort myself out, before introducing me to the group and offering me a glass of white wine.
That is what I call old-fashioned valour - the ability a gentleman has in being able to transform a disastrous blunder in such a way, that a damsel can continue living and breathing, her dignity intact.