Saturday, 16 September 2017

Watch out: Serial Killer at Large!

Yesterday (Friday ~ adjust to whenever you are reading this), the other Grumpy Old Sod and I had our letters from Cambridge University confirming that they will take our bodies (post mortem) for students to cut up, thus saving You Must Be Mad around £16k jointly in funeral expenses, and helping youthful medics to appreciate that age is no barrier to being useful. Plus it's the nearest to Cambridge Uni that we'll ever get. All of which has no connection whatsoever with what follows.

As you probably all know, Diamonds & Dust, which was rejected out of hand by my former agent as ''not remotely publishable'' and subsequently went on not only to be published, but to be up for the CWA Historical Dagger, the Walter Scott Prize, the Folio Society Prize, and score 90+ reviews on Amazon, has now developed offspring.

It wasn't meant to. Seriously. I didn't envisage trotting out the two Victorian Detectives Stride and Cully again. But like lily pond paintings by Monet, and Haydn String Quartets, once started, it seemed logical to keep going.

Thus the sequel, Honour & Obey, which was published November 2014, and Death & Dominion,, which came out in October 2015. Rack & Ruin, the fourth outing for Stride & Cully, was published in Oct 2016. The latest book, Wonders & Wickedness came out a few weeks ago.

There are those writers who regard a series as a bit of a 'cop-out'; after all, you've got your characters already written for you. To them I would say: writing a series is MUCH harder than producing a one-off text. And I know what I'm talking about: this is my second series of books. (The Spy Girl teenage series for Usborne was the first)

The main problem is that unless you started with the idea of writing a series, and few authors do, they just tend to evolve, you are stuck with whatever you wrote in the first one. You cannot radically alter the appearance nor personality of the main character/s without readers going ''What the ...?'' After all, it was how they were in book one that will keep them reading books 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. You can and must develop the main characters, but in essence, they have to bear some resemblance to how they were in the beginning.

Then there is the problem of keeping the plot momentum going. I find book 2 is usually the easiest, as it seems to evolve naturally out of the first one. Book 3, however, is far more problematic. New areas have to be introduced to keep the reader interested. Some fundamental shifting of perspective must take place, or else book 3 becomes merely a watered down version of the previous two. Actually, book 3 is usually the pivotal one upon which the rest of the series rests. If you cannot pull it off successfully, it is best to admit defeat and pretend you only meant to write two in the first place.

By book 4, the pitfall is over-confidence. You have run the gauntlet of three books. You feel the surge of expertise as fingers hit keyboard. This, after the previous three, will be a doddle to write. You have your characters, you know how the story arc works. Sometimes this attitude pays off: I still think Dead Man Talking, the fourth Spy Girl book, is the best plotted. However, beware: book 4 can so easily wander off into alien territory, or become a repetition of book 3 with added lacklustre.

Having now reached the dizzy heights of book 5, I am not sure whether I shall carry on or not, because in my opinion, based on avidly reading crime series, some writers manage to sustain plot, characters and reader interest beyond book 5, but many more don't and the result is a series of  flat readalike stories with little variety at best, or downright daftness at worst. (Lee Child manages it brilliantly, according to GOS; Janet Evanovitch does not ~ bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's hamster has survived longer than any hamster should or ought)

The trouble with series is that publishers LOVE them. They are easy to market, and each book sells on the back of the previous ones. Thus the temptation to go on churning them out year after year, when by rights the whole thing should have been allowed to quietly slink off and hide in a dark corner after the fifth one.

I have been told though, that the 'real money' comes from a 5 book series, so I am now sitting back and waiting for it to arrive. Mind, I never thought I'd get as far as a third or fourth book. My former agent didn't see any mileage in the first ...

So what's your experience: Do you prefer reading a series? Or a one off novel? If you are a writer, have you ever tackled a series, or does the prospect fill you with horror? Do share your thoughts....

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Ready, Steady, Review!

If you  follow me on Twitter, you will be familiar with tweets like this:

Read it?
Loved it?

#Writers make the world go round

I tweet it quite regularly to encourage readers to think about putting their thoughts, (hopefully positive) onto a review site after finishing a book.

So what are reviews for? I think they fulfill various functions. Firstly, they help other readers decide whether a book is for them. A slew of interesting and varied reviews (by this I mean at least 2 cogent paragraphs of analysis, not just: 'Ooh, I sooo love this book'/'I didn't get further than page 5' help one to decide whether to download/buy. Or conversely, whether not to waste your time. We are all time-poor. Reviews are therefore an aid to connecting the reader to the right book.

As a writer, I find reviews of my own books useful as a gauge to measure whether or not I am hitting the reader satisfaction button. Are they enjoying the story? Do they get it? Can they follow the plot? If not, how can I improve the reading experience for them in the next book. Reviews are also a personal encouragement - the writer's lot is an isolated lot most of the time. It is good to receive a little praise for one's efforts, especially when the serendipitous happens: a reader finds a whole new layer of meaning that had never occurred to me. Reviews can be a writer's best learning tool, if you let them.

Reviews are also very important in boosting sales. That is why I welcome the way sites like Amazon and Goodreads allow ''ordinary'' people to post reviews, and I get annoyed when some writers are sniffy about ''non-professional'' people expressing their thoughts and ideas, because believe me, the chances of most of us small/self published authors getting our work reviewed in mainstream papers or magazines, which is what we'd all like, is about as likely as Christmas in July.

For me, a special and unexpected reviewing source has come from all those followers on Twitter who tweet a few lines saying how much they have enjoyed one of my books. Or, as someone did recently, treat me (and all my and their followers), to an excellently succinct chunk by chunk commentary on Diamonds & Dust as they read it on a long train journey. Interactive reviewing 2017 style. I never experienced this when I wrote teenage fiction and it has been a revelation.

So in the run-up to Christmas ... and beyond, may I encourage you to read widely and review  ~  it need only be a short paragraph or two. Long essays are not required. But it will make a HUGE difference to us writers.

Thank you.

Friday, 1 September 2017

The PINK SOFA meets #scifi writer Jonathon Fletcher

The Pink Sofa has been on Twitter since July 2012 and one of the first friends it made was writer, gardener, and all-round talented bloke Jonathon Fletcher. Jonathon has advised the sofa on many issues, from planting potatoes in the Hedges Towers allotment, to acquiring dodgy illegal space weaponry that enhances its status with lady sofas. The SOFA welcomes him back, minus armour and arms, to chat about his Space Navy Series, now appearing in print form for the first time. Getting into print hasn't been easy ... as he now reveals.

'It’s more than wonderful to be back on the pink sofa again. I see the cakes have improved somewhat since my last visit. Must be going to Waitrose now, Carol?

I write a military science-fiction / space-opera book series, called the “Space Navy Series”. It’s set in the near future. Humans have colonised other planets and there is a war going on. Typical military sci-fi stuff.

What I think sets my series apart, is that I spend a great deal of time developing the characters and I cross genres. There’s a great deal of horror in my work and a conspiracy plotline that would usually be seen in a thriller. Things are never what they seem. One reviewer described my books as “Star Trek meets Full Metal Jacket”. Think “Game of Thrones” mixed with a little “X-Files” and “Starship Troopers” and you’re getting there.

Carol has asked me to talk about publishing my books in print for the first time. I initially published everything on Kindle through KDP. It was a (relatively) easy way to self-publish and get my stories out there. For anyone who’s interested, I did a blog on formatting for Kindle on my Goodreads author page.

I started with four, novella-length books and then the fifth book became full-length. I started with shorter books to ease myself into self-publishing. I was originally going to publish the paperbacks through Createspace, but then KDP started doing print books through the same platform as Kindle, which made life even easier.

It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to go to print. For one thing, learning the formatting is harder than Kindle. In a Kindle book, there’s no such thing as pages. You delineate chapters, but each page of text simply runs into the next. The reader chooses the font size on their Kindle and that makes the pages longer or shorter. For print, each page is definite, set in stone, and you must make sure they all face the right way.

However, the main reason I took so long is that I’m a stickler for editing. My first book was good, but needed polishing. As I’ve developed as a writer, I’ve got better at it. I waited to commit to print until I was confident that I could present a professional looking book. So, the first thing I did before going to print was to go back and re-edit my books. I addressed some formatting issues, some feedback from reviewers, tightened up the dialogue and added a few extra scenes which I thought were necessary.

My first print book is a compilation of the first two Kindle novellas, “The Might of Fortitude” and “Morgenstern”. Because of that, I decided to have a brand-new cover, rather than a re-hash of the first two. By this time, I had built the trooper costume for promoting my books at ComicCon (I’m also a professional prop/model maker) and so I used the trooper on the cover.

To begin with, I was more worried about getting the format of the cover artwork correct than the inside material. For instance, the number of pages changes the spine width. But in the end, the cover was quite easy. I downloaded a blank, formatted Word document from KDP for an 8x5 inch book. So, I made the front cover 8x5 in photoshop and used Cover Creator to do the spine and back for me. Simples.

Getting the inside formatting right was much, much harder. I couldn’t figure out the headers and footers. I couldn’t get the page numbers to flow consecutively. Every time I cut and pasted chapters in, fonts and line spacing would change. My first attempt had all the pages facing the wrong way so the chapter headings were on the left-hand side.

With time and a great deal of patience, I learned some new things about Word and ironed out all the problems. I now have a formatted Word document that I can simply drop chapters into, for when I get around to publishing my second paperback. I did the same for my Kindle books. I recommend it as a method of working; rather than creating a new document each time you write a book and having to re-do all the formatting, save a pre-formatted document that you can use as a template.

There’s nothing more satisfying for an author than seeing your work as a physical, print book. I will never forget the first person to buy my book at Newcastle ComicCon. He is a wonderful guy named Martin and is ex-Royal Navy. As I’ve based my future military on the British Royal Navy, rather than the more common American Marines model, Martin was a perfect customer for me. My books are full of “Jackspeak”, the slang of British sailors. Martin, a “skimmer” rather than a “sun dodger”, loved the book and gave it a very good review. I’m very grateful for that, as most people don’t bother to post reviews and they are SO important for us self-published authors. There is a book called “Jackspeak” by Rick Jolly, for anyone who’s interested in naval slang. It’s available from Amazon and a percentage goes to a military charity.

The first Space Navy paperback is available from Amazon. I’m planning to release parts three and four (“Berserkergang” and “Onamuji”) as a paperback next year. Then each book from “Belatu-Cadros” onwards will be a paperback in its own right. I’m doing re-edits of them all now.

I’m up to book nine in the Kindle series and I’m hoping to publish “Josiah Trenchard - Prototype” by Christmas. The latest book sees my main protagonist facing one of his deadliest missions yet. Here’s the blurb…

“Josiah Trenchard is a no-nonsense, foul mouthed, alcohol fuelled action hero.
The clandestine “Society” have caused wars, killing thousands and placing Captain Trenchard in mortal jeopardy more times than he’s had shots of “Black Void” rum. Aska Saito, the Society’s prime agent, has divulged their darkest secrets to him, enabling Trenchard to warn the Society off. Trenchard thinks he’s got the Society off his back. He thinks that he can settle down to a quiet life of hunting down pirates in the asteroid belt. He’s never been so wrong…

When several prototype specimens escape inside an underwater Papaver Corporation storage facility, Trenchard and his crew are the obvious candidates to be sent on a daring rescue mission. The only clue as to what happened in the deepest, darkest ocean, is a distress message from a lone survivor; an old comrade from Trenchard’s days on Mars.
Meanwhile, Aska Saito is searching for clues to her past. With a bounty placed on her head she is forced to run, plagued by an enigmatic message and horrific dreams. To discover the truth, she will turn to an unlikely source for help.
Prototype; some things are best left buried.”

Captain Trenchard has developed over the years. He’s a simple man who just wants to do his job, but his life is constantly made more difficult by other people. The Society have manipulated events in the United Worlds because they think they’re in the right. Initially, they’re portrayed as the bad guys, but as the series develops, the lines of morality become blurred. No one is whom they first appear to be.

I love to tear down stereotypes. Readers might expect my books to be a “sausage fest”. This book has a dwarf trooper in power armour and my first openly gay character, both women. I think it’s important to write as many and diverse characters as possible. It’s a big universe out there. Not everyone is a white, male with a jutting chin and rippling muscles. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, creeds and colours. My strongest female protagonist is a Japanese woman called Aska Saito. She’s running for her life in the new book. Her story is becoming darker and more confusing as the books develop. She starts as a typical stereotype – a Japanese assassin, a cold killer who is adept with swords. By book nine, you realise that there is far more to her than meets the eye. Her story is as important as Trenchard’s. She’s vitally important to the plot and when her big reveal happens, I’m hoping the readers will be gob-smacked.

If you’re interested in reading the story of my no-nonsense, foul mouthed, alcohol fuelled action hero, then you can find my books here…''

@JonGardener #SpaceNavy

Honour, strength and unity!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Are Self-Published Writers 'Inferior'?

Cover 'proof' of new book

Scrolling through Facebook the other day, as you do when you are supposed to be working, I came across a blog post written by an 'anonymous' independent bookshop owner, in which he listed all the reasons why neither he, nor any of his profession would contemplate stocking self-published books.

His argument was that far too many self-published writers produce amateur and inferior books, and then have the cool arrogance to think, my God, that he is going to place their shabbily presented and badly-written volumes on his hallowed shelves! Quel horreur! (He made an exception for non-fiction books, which, he opined, were produced to a higher standard).The tone was snarky, the points generic, so I took one for the team, and responded in the comments column.

Scarcely had I crossed the i's and dotted the t's on my comments, when a friend on Twitter informed me that her husband was unable to order any of my books in their local independent bookshop, despite them having an ISBN, because I am not listed by Neilsons, or offered by Bertrams, Gardiners or other suppliers. Nor can I be, as I use Createspace (the publishing arm of Amazon) to produce my books. More horreur!

The attitude whereby self-published books are viewed by suppliers and bookshops as inferior, needs challenging. Contrary to Mr Anonymous' assertions of amateurism, many of us employ professional editors and proofreaders to check our manuscripts. We also shell out for bespoke covers, working for weeks with designers, to produce the very best and most eye-catching ones that we can. You may well find the odd typo in our work, but hey, I have found them in many a mainstream-published book too, (certainly in my own books, when I was published by a 'big name').

Now, I could, as a 'publisher' (see spine above) try to kick down the door, and get the Victorian Detectives into my local Waterstones, or one of the independent bookshops in the area, but frankly, m'dear, I can no longer be bothered. Waterstones' latest policy means that all books like mine have to be submitted to their HQ for approval, and I refuse to be treated like some kid who is handing in homework to be marked.

Even if I got an A on said homework, there is still the 'discount' hurdle to overcome. Bookshops expect publishers to offer them a 45% discount. It covers premises, overheads, staff etc etc. Fair enough. Large publishers can do this, taking a hit on some writers, while making big profits on novels by celeb writers, or hyped unknowns whose readability often seems in reverse ratio to their publicity. Subtract the discount from what a writer is paid in royalties, and factor in the sale or return policy most shops operate, and the faff of the paperwork, you end up with so little for your time and effort that it seriously isn't worth it.

Therefore, until Mr Anonymous independent book shop owner changes his mindset, and others their methodology, I am going to stay exactly where I am, mistress of my own little book and ebook empire, and enjoy the company of hundreds of other self-published writers, whose books are as professional, as well-written, and just as worth reading as many that you will find piled high in your local bookshop. What's not to like?

So what is your opinion? Are 'bookshop' stocked writers 'better'? Have you struggled to get your books into local shops? Please share your views and experiences ....

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Great Victorian Cover~up!

The NEW novel
Many people have been asking me (well, a couple ...) whatever happened to the Victorian Detective novels? So here's the answer.

For the past six months, the books have been undergoing a thorough re-edit. This was initially because the new book, Wonders & Wickedness tells the backstory of Lilith Marks, a character we meet in the first novel Diamonds & Dust. WARNING: If you intend to write a series (which I didn't), you need to keep a record of each of your characters' stories, so that you don't suddenly find you have committed them to something in Book 1 that you wish you hadn't by Book 5.

The Victorian Detectives Book 1

Thus the re-edit. And because I wasn't in charge of editing the first three books, it was a good opportunity to visit them all again and check everything else as well. Self-publishing is a never-ending journey, and it has been an interesting experience to 'walk back' through the books ~ sometimes going: did I write this? and sometimes: oh Gawd, did I really write this? in equal measure.
The Victorian Detectives Book 2

Five years is quite a long time for a set of books to be out there, so I took the decision that, along with a re-edit, it was time for a re-launch, and this would involve new covers. I envisaged the final product to be a combination of Steampunk, Victorian London and Crime Fiction. I also wanted them to be unique, slightly quirky and unusual. Given that brief, I went looking for the right cover artist who could work with my ideas and bring them to life.
The Victorian Detectives Book 3
I found her. Enter Gina Dickerson, of RoseWolf Designs ~ check her out at @GinaDWriter . Gina 'got' what I wanted from the first email exchange, and over the succeeding months, we came up with what I think are a fabulous set of covers. They are bespoke, and personal: Rack & Ruin has one of my photographs of Russell Square as a background. Wonders & Wickedness uses an amazingly evocative photograph taken by a Twitter friend Estelle Clarke @Legalimportant 

The Victorian Detectives Book 4
So here they both are: Detective Inspector Leo Stride and Detective Sergeant Jack Cully, two of Scotland Yard's finest. I hope you will enjoy their latest outing ~ it takes them to some very dark and mysterious places indeed, and if you haven't made their acquaintance already, why not dip into their very first adventure? Click on any of the Book links to find them.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Kelly Florentia

The PINK SOFA has long been a secret admirer of Kelly Florentia. It loves her name, her smiley disposition and the way she frequently posts pictures of what she is eating and drinking. So when the opportunity came to host her in the writer's attic, it jumped at the chance. So, legs polished (the sofa..) and upholstery plumped, it asked Kelly to talk about how she writes. And she did:

My Writing Style

''When I got my book deal, I immediately texted my husband and told him the good news. Naturally, he was over the moon for me. Texts flew between us with the final one, from him, saying he’d bought me a gift to celebrate. I waited anxiously for him to come home, wondering what it could be. I’d been eyeing a Michael Kors wristwatch in the shop window for quite some time. But no, that was too expensive. Maybe it’s a perfume, I thought, or a lovely bottle of something sparkling for us to celebrate with. When he finally walked through the door with a huge whiteboard under his arm, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. Hmm…I thought, not quite romantic. But I was wrong to think this because it was a very romantic gesture. It proved that he listens to me and cares about my craft. Why? Because I’m a planner not a panster.

I envy authors who start with a blank page and go on to write brilliant novels without any sort of preparation because I can’t get excited about a story until I know the ending. I’ve always been like this, even with my short stories. Once I know what’s happening, created my cast and worked out the plot, then, and only then, will the words flow. Admittedly, the novel does often change as the story unfolds, but I generally stick to the original plan, editing as I go along.

I usually do about three drafts on each book. But while I used to scribble everything down in various notebooks, on post-its and scraps of paper, I now use my whiteboard; and everything is in one neat place. How amazing is that? I still use notepads and post-its but my main story is drafted on the whiteboard, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, which includes dates and times. It rests against the wall behind my desk.  So whenever I’m unsure about anything, instead of rummaging through drawers looking for sheets of paper etc., I simply spin round on my chair and voila, the information I need is right there in front of me. I used it religiously as I penned my second novel, No Way Back, which publishes on 21st September 2017 by Urbane Publications.  I then wiped it clean and used it again to draft the sequel. And I hope to get lots more use out of it in the future!''
Kelly's NEW BOOK (What a fab cover!)

No Way Back is available to pre-order from Amazon


Twitter: @kellyflorentia

Spotify Playlist:


Saturday, 5 August 2017

Choosing the Write Name

One of the first big decisions facing any budding author hoping to publish their novel is deciding what to call yourself. There are two options.

Option 1: Be yourself.
Plus points are that it's easy to remember who you are (until dementia takes over, when you have to rely on friends and family). And it stops that look of vague terror crossing your face when being introduced as a guest speaker. Or seeing a poster with your face and stranger's name under it.  It also makes the banking of meagre royalties easier, and stops HMRC from going into meltdown every time you fill in a self-assessment form.

Option 2: Be someone else.
Initially, that's what I was going to do. I wanted a different name for the author of Diamonds & Dust etc. As it was going to be my first 'adult' novel, I thought I'd like to create a new identity to go with it. And I wanted something that would place my books at eye-level on the bookshop shelf - something that not enough writers factor in when choosing their author name. (Think supermarket and bottom shelves). Plus I wanted a name that suggested the book was a historical novel. Thus Victoria Collins was born: Victoria after the Queen; Collins after Wilkie Collins, writer of the first detective novel. Great name! Or so I thought.

Alas, just as I was beginning to develop a split personality and quite enjoying it, the negative aspects of my decision began to surface and niggle at me. To launch as an unknown historical fiction writer seemed a bit risky, didn't it? How would anyone who already knew me, find me? A quick trawl on the internet also threw up a couple of other Victoria Collins. Both established writers, both with blogs. My alter-ego had competition before she'd even started.

However, 'Carol Hedges' existed as a known entity, and had a presence on Amazon, Wikipedia and other sites. It seemed daft to turn my back on what was already set up and running. So sadly, Victoria and I parted company. Purely for commercial reasons. But I like to think that she hasn't completely gone away; that she is still out there, somewhere. A spiky, scatty version of me ... in a bonnet and crinoline. Causing trouble.

So how about you? Do you use your own name to publish your books? Do you prefer books written by 'real' people or doesn't it matter? Please contribute below...

STOP PRESS: The Victorian Detectives will be returning soon. And they've got a brand new mystery to solve!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Sorry, Who Do You Think You Are?

Another week, another of those 'stranger than fiction' events that dog my footsteps like a small persistent child in wellies. I'm walking to Tesco for the paper: it gets me away from the addictive lure of social media, when I encounter three old men (think extras out of 'Last of the Summer Wine') leaning on the parapet of Batford Bridge, putting the world to rights.

I join them, as you do if you're me. We stare at the River Lea sauntering under the bridge in an insouciant manner, and the shoals of tiny fish butting against the flows and eddies. There is a companionable silence. Then one of the oldsters remarks, 'Saw you in the paper the other week.' I concur. He did. I was. Brief appearance on TV's 'Victoria Live' was covered by the local paper, as they know anything to do with me is a razor blade in the Town Council's candy-floss.

'Didn't know you was a writer,' he continues. His two companions swivel round and study me narrowly. A pause. 'You don't look like a writer,' one of them observes cautiously. See, I bet that never happens to you. I bet you just rock up to wherever you're going, and everybody goes, 'Yup. Writer/teacher/etc..'

Apropos of what a writer looks like, or is supposed to look like, I know there are many people on social media who deliberately choose pictures that resemble their younger selves. Or pet pics.Which must make for interesting times when they have to attend a literary function, or meet a fellow writer for the first time.

Mind, who am I to point the finger? When I joined Twitter, I used the cover of Jigsaw Pieces as my avatar. After a couple of weeks, I had acquired numerous young male followers who flirted with me. Fairly outrageously.

For a while, I remained undecided whether to put them out of their misery, or just go with the flow. Eventually I gave in and replaced the cover with a picture that resembles the ''Real Me''. But it was with some reluctance, because it's quite nice to be thought of as youthful, with attitude and cheekbones you can hang off. And of course inside, that's exactly how I am!

STOP PRESS: The Victorian Detectives will shortly return, with new covers and in a brand new adventure!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye.

On Saturday, I bade a sad au revoir to Annie-Rose, my 1988 customised 2CV6 Charleston. Now that the other Grumpy Old Sod is retired, we can't justify or afford to run two cars, so she has been sold, and is going to France, to live out her days in the Limousin region.

My love affair with these extraordinary French beauties began when I was 15, and a youth leader had a bright yellow one. I loved the shape, the chugging 'gawd-I'm-struggling-here' noise the engine made and the way other drivers' eyes widened in fear as the little car rolled dramatically when cornering.

I never thought I'd actually own one (mainly because I didn't drive), but the serendipitous coming together of passing my test and a local mum wanting to get rid of a red and white Dolly, got me my first 2CV. She had Paris stickers and pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and I bought her outwith asking the GOS, so had to park her in a side street until I plucked up courage and told him.
Red and white Dolly (not mine)

It took me a week of determined effort to master the gears. If you've never driven a vintage Citroen (and they are now vintage cars) this is what the dashboard looks like:

They have so many quirks and oddities (I have started one with the obligatory crank), and they are temperamental to industrial strength, but in a world of boring lookalike grey cars, they stand alone. And you can always locate them in multi-story car parks.

I am a member of 2CVGB, which meant I used to rock up to the local group every now and then. Many of them owned multiple cars, known as 'the fleet' and it was there that I bought a 1988 Plums and Custard Dolly for You Must Be Mad's 18th birthday. It had been 'moddied' by its previous owner, meaning that it could reach scary top speeds of over 90 mph. She used to take on the boy racers at traffic lights, and venture into the outside lanes of motorways, with me clinging onto the seat for dear life.
Plums and Custard Dolly

She learned to drive on it ~ we called the car Tintin, because of the Herge figure on the door, and the noise it made going uphill. It was the nearest I got to a 'fleet', and we brushed off the inevitable 'Are you going to mate them?' comments from passing locals when they were parked out front for cleaning. Eventually, when you could see the road passing under the floor mats, daughter sold Tintin, and I was back to one car again.

Annie-Rose also came from the local group too. Originally, she was light and dark grey, but in a moment of madness that I've never regretted, I had her resprayed pink. She is, I believe, unique, and we have enjoyed so many adventures over the years, turning heads and provoking stories of 2CVs owned by other people in their youth. I have rarely returned from shopping trips without finding someone admiring her, or wanting to ask questions about her.

I shall miss the quirkiness, the stubborn refusal ever to start first time in cold weather, the lack of proper heating meaning your fingers go blue in winter, waving to other 2CV drivers and the cameraderie of owning a car that ignorant people, who've never sat in one, regard as belonging properly in a circus tent.

Most of all, I shall always remember, with great fondness, the many many days when my 2CVs and I have gone bombing along a country road, hood rolled right back, sunshine pouring down from a blue sky and Diana Ross blasting out of the cassette player. You can't get much closer to heaven than that!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

'Twas Brexit ...

Written jointly on Twitter by @WeNeedEU @TheFlyingSirens @carolJhedges
and @DanzierLea (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

'Twas Brexit, and the slimy Gove
Did lie, dissembling, in the Mail
All flimsy was the case for Leave
And Remainers' wrath prevailed.

Beware the Bozzawock my son,
The stupid smile, the floppy hair
Beware the Davistwat & shun
The Devious Maybot Lair

We took Verhofstadt's blade in hand
Long time the Leadsome foe we sought
So rested we by the magic tree
And stood a while distraught

And while in uffish thought they stood,
The Bozzawock, with wig ablaze,
Came whuffling through the London 'hood
And burbled as it came!

One two, One two and with th'EU
The Brexit bayed and showed a crack
"We want it dead, not white nor red,
Nor blue, but on its back.''

The end (or is it?)