Saturday, December 29, 2012

Inocente, Inocente

Yesterday was Holy Innocents Day on La Palma, which is roughly the equivalent of April Fool's day in the UK. Since I had a headful of book translation, I couldn't think of anything to tease anyone with.

I got an idea this morning, when it's too late.

I bet I could have persuaded one or two people that the BBC's Sky At Night wanted to interview me about my book. For a few seconds, at least.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


On December 10th I ordered more copies of "A Breathtaking Window on the Universe" because stocks were getting low.  (What a wonderful problem to have!) The books left Seville on the 20th.

And yesterday I actually ran out of books.

So this morning I started editing the website, putting up "Temporarily out of stock" on all the relevant pages.

I'd just finished when I got a phone call. Could he come and deliver the books in 15 minutes?


Of course I've had to go back and re-edit all the web pages, but it was a very nice job to do and I didn't mind a bit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


I had a really nice Christmas, thank you for asking.  I hope you did too.

We had the friends-with-a-tiny-oven over again.  We all ate to much and drank too much,
which was great. And at one point, I lay on the sofa and ate chocolate
while Carlos fanned me, which was bliss.

And now I have to get back to work on that translation.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hobbing with the Nobs

La Palma is the first place in the world to get official recognition as a Starlight Reserve and Starlight Destination. (You can get an explanation of this at

It's a big deal, and people have worked hard on it. So the Cabildo held a bit of a party to celebrate, and all the Starlight guides got invited.

I went of course.  Not for the speeches, but to clap, and congratulate people.

I found myself in rather posh company - not just the head of the Tourist Board, but also the President of La Palma, and the President of the Canaries, and the head of the Canarian Astrophysics Institute. The head of the observatory, and of several telescopes were there, as well as several of my Starlight Guide friends.

And to my surprise and delight, we also had really good performances by a pianist and singer, rhythmic gymnasts, and a choir.  And then we had wine and nibbles, and good conversations.

People said nice things about my book. Heck, the heads of the three biggest telescopes said nice things about my book, which didn't shrink my ego any.

And then someone asked how the translation was going. Which led me onto asking these three native Spanish speakers for a couple of things I was having horrible trouble with.  And then I had the pleasure of watching three prominent astronomers scratching their heads for me, and agreeing that actually they always used the English word for "override".

Which saved me a few more frustrating hours on the internet.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2nd Printing

Yippee!  The second printing has left the printers in Seville.

This is excellent, because I'm down to about 6 copies at home (although there's another 35 out on sale or return).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cold Turkey

I've been very busy with translating the book. So busy that I only intermittently surface and decide that I ought to do something about something, like sending out Christmas cards.

This morning I realised that Christmas Day is coming up like the ground at the end of a parachute jump. I've invited the friends-with-a-tiny-oven to come and eat turkey on Christmas day,  so it seemed like a good idea to make sure that we had a turkey.

I had the vague feeling that I'd left it rather late, right up until I went to the village butchers who told me that the deadline for orders was 2 weeks ago, and most f the turkeys had been delivered.  Very sorry and all that, but they couldn't help.


Three supermarkets later, I'm happy to report that we now have a frozen turkey on the freezer.

Next up, sprouts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Wonderful Problem!

My books arrived less than two weeks ago, and I'm already running out of copies.

The local tourist board bought a lot, bless them, and I've sold more in person and over the internet.  I've given some away as publicity, and some as presents, and three to the central library in S/C de Tenerife (which I had to do by law). I have 37 copies out on sale or return in various shops. And that leaves me with just 15 in stock!

So I've ordered more, which gave me a chance to fix the various typos that managed to sneak past four (count 'em!) proof-readers. Which is nice, because I'm thinking of entering "A Breathtaking Universe..." in a competition for self-published books, and I'll need a typo-free version by the end of January.

So I prepared a (hopefully!) typo-free version with help from EcoGeek and sent it off to the printers. then I had insomnia on Sunday night, from trying to decide how many copies to order. More copies means more expense up-front, but also more time before I have to worry about it again, and it also works out slightly cheaper per copy.  I decided on 100.

Then in the morning I got an email from the printers offering an extra discount on 200 copies.  I took a deep breath and ordered 200.

And then I wondered if I'd been silly.

And then I got two emails asking to buy the book, so I think it's going to be OK.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Meeting the Puppets

Yesterday was busy. I decided to reward myself for all my hard work on the translation with a theatre break. One of my Starlight guide teachers was giving a talk for schoolchildren, but with a twist.  He played the straight man while two naughty children (the puppets) kept interrupting, setting light to balloons filled with hydrogen and so on.  It was a great laugh, and I was very glad I went. I didn't learn any astronomy, but I learned quite a bit about sharing astronomy with kids.  Plus it was good to see Alfred again and to meet the stars afterwards. Ramiro and Estrella come from the same firm of puppeteers who created Trancas and Barrancas on Spanish TV.

And boy did the kids love the infra-red camera! Here's Alfred with his hand in a bin-bag - completely opaque in visible light, and transparent in infra-red.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

Yippee! 200 copies of my book have shipped from Seville, on their way to La Palma. The printers say they should be here in two weeks, although it wouldn't astonish me if it took a few days longer.

And I'm halfway through the first draft of the translation.

And the postman brought a nice cheque for my story "Scream Quietly" which will be in a time travel anthology shortly. (Yes, of course I'll let you know when it's published.) My head's been so full of the translation that I forgot all about it.

So all in all, I'm felling pretty cheerful.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Selling on Amazon have this really nice program called Advantage, designed for people selling their own books/CDs/DVDs.  But you need a US bank account, and you need to deliver your books or whatever) to their warehouse in the USA.

This isn't going to happen with my books any time soon. don't have Advantage.  They do have something called "Fulfilment by Amazon" which seems similar, but I'd still have to get the books sent to their warehouse, create the product listing (not a serious problem) and pay for storage space until the books sell. On the other hand, Amazon provides the website, collects the money and makes the delivery.  This sounds like something to look into if I get as far as a second or third printing. They could also deliver to the rest of Europe, which would be handy.

"Sell on Amazon" sounds like a better idea for now. I put the book on their website, they handle the purchase, and then I send the book to the customer.  For this they charge 75p +15% + a variable closing fee, which is anything from £0.43 to £1.32, with no explanation that I can find of how much or why. Still, the book will sell for 15€ or about £12. So the worst case would be 75p + £1.80 + £1.32 = £3.87 to Amazon, £8.13 to me. This is about what I'd get selling through a local bookshop.

The Spanish version is 0.99€ + 15% + 0,45€ a 2,1 € - worst case 0.99€ + 2.25€ +  2.10 € = 5.34€ to Amazon, 9.66€ to me.

To sell internationally, I have to be able to communicate with customers in English or Spanish (no probs), have a bank account in one of the EU countries (no probs), meet international safety standards (no probs, books don't explode) and pay any international taxes, including VAT.

Ah. That might well be a problem.  You don't have to pay the Canarian equivalent of VAT on books. If I have to register for VAT, I can just imagine that would mean having to create a limited company and pay 2,000€ in other taxes.

So that's a little something for me to find out about next week.  I can manage without Amazon, selling via book shops and tourist shops and my web site, and perhaps direct to tourists at the Roque, but it would be really nice to get this book into Amazon.

The Hamster Wheel

"A Breathtaking Window on the Universe" is in production at the printers, and it should be here in 2-3 weeks.  I need to get ready to sell it, don't I? So I've improved the webpage for it and added extracts from the book, and my next move will be to look into getting it listed at Amazon.

Meanwhile I'm doing enough tour guiding to cover my social security payments and translating the book into Spanish (about 26,000 words to go).

It's a lot of work, and it gets a bit hamster-wheely at times. So it felt good when my contributor's copy of Something Wicked arrived on Thursday. It's just a pity that I won't have time to read it for at least a month.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


The English version of the book is still "in validation" at the publishers. In theory, it should get the green light on Monday, and move into production.

I've done about a quarter of the translation.  It's not quite as difficult as I expected, and I'm making better progress now that I make a note of puzzling words and carry on, then send an email to a Spanish astronomer asking how to translate things like "survey" (as applied to astronomy) or "site testing" or "broken Cassegrain."

Still and all, it's a really good thing that I have Spanish friends who are correcting my text.

Meanwhile, I've started publicity for the book on my blog about La Palma. This is good, because I need to have the publicity ready for the launch when the books get here at the end of the month.  So I have to create web pages and prepare excepts and so on at the same time as I'm translating.

So no lying on the sofa and eating chocolate for me just yet!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lovely Monday

The cover of my book.
This morning I showed a group of Austrian amateur astronomers around some telescopes, had lunch "up top" and got down about 4 pm.  Not long after, the EcoGeek team showed up with a pen drive, and we finally uploaded the book about the observatory to the printers.

Well we tried.  The transfer kept timing out.  But eventually I managed to send it via Dropbox this morning.


Now I "just" have to translate the whole thing into Spanish. And meanwhile we have a storm here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Paperwork for publishers.

I just got back from a long weekend in El Hierro.

I did it again you know.  I thought I'd have finished the book by now, so I booked a long weekend away to relax and celebrate. And I haven't finished.  so the "holiday" was punctuated with checking proofs for the book, and chasing up the ISBN and "Deposito Legal" and so on.  In addition to the photos I'd promised to take.

In Spain, getting an ISBN for your book is a three stage process.  First you pay.  A few days later, you get an email confirming payment, and inviting you to fill in the database entry. (Why several days?  Are they still doing this by hand?) That email got shunted into the spam folder and it took me a couple of days to find it.  So I filled in the database entry, and four days later I got an email to say there was a problem with the entry. The book is A5 - 210 mm x 147 mm, only the ISBN database is in centimetres, so I had to change it to 21 x 14.7. I'm now waiting again.

When you publish a book (or release a CD etc.) in Spain, you have to give a few copies to the government for libraries. (And I suspect that under Franco, they checked that you weren't spreading sedition.) Fine, I hadn't budgeted for that, but no problem. Only the magic number has to be printed in the book, so you have to get it first. Thanks to fellow writers on Facebook, I found out that this is done via regional governments. With a bit of googling, I found a website which explained that yes, I needed to get the number first, and I'd have to give the central library in Santa Cruz de Tenerife 4 copies of the book.  Fine.

But it didn't mention how to get the number. So I used the contact form, and two days later I got an email with an email address to contact. I dropped everything and sent an email, which bounced. I tried the address for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which also bounced.

So yesterday, while I was between buses to the airport, I phoned the library. I was shunted around four people, but the fourth one was very helpful and sent me the forms to fill in - one to get the number and one to send with the books when they're printed.

I've sent that off.  Watch this space.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

I got a Buzz from Buzz Trips

I enjoy tour guiding.  If I'm honest, I like the sound of my own voice, but I also like to share my enthusiasm for astronomy and La Palma, and I love to see people go away happy.  I like it even more when they tell the world about it, like Buzz Trips blog just did.
Actually, Buzz Trips looks like a great blog.  I'll have to keep reading it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Photography Trip

From left to right: Liverpool Telescope, Isaac Newton Telescope, Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope,
William Hershel Telescope (with laser guide star) Swedish Solar Telescope, Dutch Open Telescope. At the front, MAGIC I.
The very bright star is actually Venus.
I got permission to take photographs of the observatory early this morning. I'd carefully planned it so that the full moon would be setting, illuminating the telescopes for me, and I hoped to get the last few photos I'd need for the guide book.

I phoned up last night, only to be told that the observatory was sitting inside a cloud.  (This doesn't happen often.) I was pretty depressed - obviously, there's a month until the next full moon, and I'd really hoped to finish the book by then.

I talked it over with Carlos, who was on night duty, and agreed that I'd set my alarm,  check the webcams at about 4;30 am, and then either drive up, or (more likely) go back to bed.

I didn't sleep too well, because my brain wouldn't stop trying to come up with a plan B. Predictably, I finally got to sleep just before the alarm went off.  So I dragged myself to look at the webcams...

... and they were full of stars.

So I drove up, and took my photos from the roof of the observatory's private hotel.  And I'm happy with the results.

Rose Petals, Lavender and Glitter

I'm delighted to announce that my story, "Rose Petals, Lavender and Glitter" is up at Abyss and Apex.
One side effect of spending so much time on the guide book to the observatory is that it's been a while since I had something published. I've missed it.

So I'd better get on with getting the book published, hadn't I?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Little Peppers

I've been given lots and lots of tiny, orange peppers.  They're very pretty, but it's probably going to take me a while to wash them, remove stalks and seeds, and either freeze or make soup.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I hadn't really got the house straight after out holidays when I had to drop everything and help my son study for his resit exams.  It was well worth it though.  He passed them both.

So then I had to drop everything and get him registered at the Art School.

And I'm happy to say that I've had several guiding jobs as well.

All of which means that progress on the book has been slower than I'd like, but I'm really encouraged by seeing what Helen's done with the bits I've given her so far.  This is going to be great!

Friday, August 31, 2012


It's all been a bit rushed since we got back. Scrub that. It's all been very rushed.

The holiday was great, but towards the end, I got an ear-infection. It got more and more painful, until I was taking the maximum dose of ibuprofen and the maximum dose of paracetamol, and still waking up wanting more. I started running a fever, too.

The flight home on Monday was a bit grim, what with the ears and the pressure changes. We got home at 7 pm, which just gave us time to fetch the cats from the cattery and for me to go see a doctor. In Santa Cruz de La Palma there's a thing called the ambulatorio, which is something like A&E for people who aren't actually bleeding profusely.

The doctor said that it sounded like a virus, and he didn't think he'd be able to help. Then he looked down my ears, said, “Eugh!” and gave me a prescription for antibiotics.

Yes, well. I knew it was bad.

The antibiotics kicked in pretty quickly, and it stopped hurting by Wednesday, but I'm still half-deaf, and still catching up on missed sleep.  Plus, of course, a week's worth of laundry and a week's worth of dust to sort out.
I met Helen, who's doing the layout to A Breathtaking Window on the Universe and I love what she's done with the bit I left her to work on.  that got me working on the book again.  Slowly, but I've started.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Something Wicked is coming

Yay! The limited edition of the anthology "Something Wicked", which contains my story "Breathing Space", is available for pre-order at The book officially launches on 22nd of September. Please note: Limited Edition. The last I heard, they only had 40 left.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Leiden is lovely.

It's full of old buildings and canals, so much that random photos tend to look like postcards. The town centre is largely pedestrian and bicycles, so it's remarkably quiet and sweet-smelling for a town that size.

So we did a lot of strolling about, stopping for hot chocolate or coffee.  We managed quite a bit of sight-seeing too.

And I got off the hamster wheel and had time to think.

I can't get the book out by September 20th unless I do a bodge job.  I'd much rather do a good job, and release it a little late.  So the pressure's off.  But knowing me, I have to watch that I don't dawdle all the way to Christmas.

Still, Leiden was lovely.

Wednesday - The Hague and Escher

On Wednesday we took a train to The Hague to go see the Escher museum.  It's in an old royal palace, so the rooms are fun, and the chandeliers are fantastic.  Downstairs they have Escher's older work, which is the same drawing style, but mostly landscapes, and none of the fun tricks with perspective or illusions.

The second floor has what you might call classic Escher: the metamorphoses and impossible buildings, and hands drawing each other.  All of which is copyright, obviously.

But our favourite bit was the top floor with all the interactive stuff. The cube is painted on the walls - some around the doorway, some in the room behind.

They've also got a hemispherical mirror, and we had fun photographing each other from different angles.

Best of all was the room-within-a-room with trick perspective.  The left hand side is actually smaller and closer to the camera. You have to pay extra for a photo, and I usually regret paying for that sort of extra, but we all love this.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The holiday's finally booked!

I left it all ridiculously late, but we have the flights and hotel sorted out for a week in The Netherlands, starting Monday evening. Now I just have to finish as much of the observatory guide book as possible, so the layout genius, Helen Bennett, can get started while I'm away.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012


The residencia has a new coffee machine, which makes rather nice coffee. You buy a token from reception, put it in and press the button for your choice of coffee. Then you see the coffee pouring down the drain, swear, and grab a cup fast enough to catch the second half of the coffee. That's right - no plastic cups. It's better for the planet, and anyway I prefer drinking out of a proper cup. I just have to remember before I press the button.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The fire's controlled.

I woke up on Tuesday morning to find that it had rained. Not much, but apparently enough to really help with the fire. It's controlled. The fire-fighting planes are off to help La Gomera. Yippee! I went off to work at the observatory much happier for that (and took this photo of clouds in the Caldera on the way down.) I'm nobody special to be saying it, but many, many thanks to all the people who fought that fire. And good luck to Gomera.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fiery night

I went up to Montaña las Breñas to see what was happening with the fire. A lot of other people evidently had the same idea - the car park was packed and the view wasn't at all reassuring.

Forest fires

La Palma has another forest fire, just south of Mazo. La Gomera has a forest fire burning the national park at Garajoney. animals have been burnt alive and people have been evacuated (although I don't think anyone's lost their home yet.)

 In my blogs about La Palma and El Hierro, I've tried to stay professional. But this is my private blog, and I'm going to say what I really think.

 Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

And another!

Abyss and Apex magazine are buying "Rose Petals, Lavender and Glitter". I don't know when it'll be published, but I've been trying to sell them something for years, so I'm well chuffed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Siamese mushrooms

I thought it was time this blog had another photo, so here's what I found at the supermarket.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A sale!

I got a lovely email.  
I'm just wrapping up an anthology of time-travel and other time-related stories for Robinson Books and would love to include your story "Scream Quietly". I hope the rights are available.
It's sooooooo nice when the editors come to me, especially when I haven't been actively selling while I finish the book about the observatory.

Talking of which, the book about the observatory is coming along nicely, in between bouts of tour guiding.  In fact, that's what I should be doing now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cheering me up.

It's been a bit depressing lately. My body clock still hasn't recovered from the house disco at the weekend, which is probably one reason why progress on the book has been slower than I'd hoped. Plus, there are forest fires on La Palma, Tenerife and La Gomera.

Then I posted on Facebook my opinion that global climate change was one thing making forest fires worse - just one thing - and somebody jumped down my throat claiming I'd supported cuts in the number of firemen.  [Huh?]  I later found out that he's uncomfortably close to the fire on Tenerife, so I've forgiven him for being het up.  But I didn't know that yesterday.

Then someone else flamed me saying that vaccines were TOTALLY UNNECESSARY and EXTREMELY DANGEROUS (because you don't need facts or data if your opinion is in ALL CAPS).

And then someone reading my book seemed very annoyed with what I'd written.  This turned out  later to be a misunderstanding, but it worried me at the time.

One way and another, I was quite down.

And then I found this photo of firemen protesting government cutbacks, basically telling Rajoy (Spain's Prime minister) "Kiss my arse!"

I feel better now.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Music and the stars

From top to bottom: Jupiter, the moon, and Venus

Our village is having its annual fiesta, which is nice.

Last night there was a house music disco.  I'm not a fan of house, but hey, my parents didn't care for Status Quo.  I can live with this one night  a year.

The music from the house disco fought with the music from a thrash metal concert in the next village.  That was annoying.  Even after I shut the windows, the sound in my bedroom was about as loud as I usually play a radio.  That was worse.

It went on until 5 am.  That was seriously annoying.

I had planned to get up at 6:30 to photograph the conjunction of the moon, Jupiter and Venus.  When I was still awake at 4:30, I decided to get up and see whether the moon had risen yet.

It had, but it looked fuzzy, as though there was thin cloud or dust in the way.  So I went up to the viewpoint at Llano de La Venta up at 1,300 m to try for a photo.

But I hadn't had much sleep, had I?  I left the camera bag behind, and didn't realise until I got to the viewpoint, half an hour later.  So I had the compact camera, but no DSLR, no torch, and no do-hicky to fasten a camera to the tripod.  And no sleep.

All things considered, I think it came out quite well.

Another sale!

My story, "The Appliance of Science" is up at The Dunesteef audio fiction magazine.  I originally wrote this story to cheer up a friend who was going through a rough patch.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Honourable Agent Hammer

My story "Agent Hammer: License to Kibble" is up at On the Premises, where it got an Hono(u)rable mention in their humo(u)r competition.

Todoque Cave

I've been on a caving course this week.  From Monday to Friday I've had theory classes (yes, in Spanish) which were mostly fascinating.  But since they ran from 5 - 9 pm it made for a busy week. On Saturday we actually went into two caves.

The course teachers said that overalls would be the best clothes to wear.  Well, the only overalls in the house were the ones my son used for his carnival costume - Ghost Busters.  So I made people happy all day - all they had to do was look at me and they started giggling.

I loved going down the caves.  Well, except for climbing down the small cliff to get it.  I'll be glad when they fit Todoque cave with a ladder.

I loved the light down the cave.

I loved the geological formations too. Above are little "snowflakes" formed by mineral salts seeping in. And I think the crack below was formed because the surface while the lava behind was still runny.

And I loved the chamber at the end.  Mind you, by that time, I was glad to stop walking on lumps of rock the size of breeze blocks, ducking through the bits with a low roof, and in a few bits, crawling on my hands and knees.

Monday, July 02, 2012


Well, we had to queue for two and a half hours, but eventually they took my son's plaster off.

And then they put a bandage on, which has to stay on (and stay dry) for a week.  So he still needs help to get a shower, but not for much longer.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Photographing GTC's tertiary mirror

Yesterday the maintenance team took the tertiary mirror out of the huge GranTeCan telescope, and I was invited to take photos.

(Starlight hits the huge primary mirror first, then bounces up to the smaller secondary mirror at the top of the telescope, then back down into a tube called the baffle to the flat tertiary at 45º, which sends it to the scientific instruments at the sides. The tertiary is elliptical, and measures about 100 x 50 cm.  I don't know what it cost, but I'd take a wild guess at 300,000€.)

It meant a special trip up the mountain, but I got to climb all over the huge telescope almost like it was a jungle gym - on the walkway around the primary, taking photos through the broken Cassegrain focii, while the engineers fitted a special frame onto the mirror ready to lift it out with the crane (they'd already taken the top half of the baffle off.) Then I went up to the first balcony and Nasmyth again while the mirror lifted through the air. Then I took close up photos on the dome floor while they put it onto a different frame for moving it along the floor, and removed the crane frame. And I followed it through to the realuminizing area. 
We stopped for lunch, then I took a few pictures of the mirror being cleaned and put into the special vacuum tank where the thin layer aluminium will be replaced. 

Running up and down stairs was more exercise than you might think, since the Nasmyth platforms are two stories up, and the Roque is high enough that there's only 75% of the usual amount of oxygen. By the time I left, I was tired.

I went home via the water mine (to collect spring water), the cash point and the supermarket, getting more and more tired. I was 2/3 of the way around the supermarket when I realised that I had someone else's handbag in my trolley. It took about 30 seconds to realise that I'd left my own trolley and walked off with someone else's. They were very nice about it, but I was still embarrassed. And when I got to the till, I found I didn't have my handbag. Luckily I hadn't abandoned it in the supermarket -  it was still in the car. 

After that, I pretty much gave up on the rest of the day and sat down with a large G&T.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

International Short Story Day

I missed it.


Well, better late than never.  Here's a partial list of my stories and where you can find them online.

Chick-Lit and Granny-Lit

"Destroying Angel": Jotter's Pad; October 2001
"Dream On": UK women's magazine Chat (circulation 500,000); May 2000


"Some Day my Prince Will Go" November 2010 at Daily Science Fiction
"Unreal Estate" October 2010 Wily Writers
"The Mummy's Curse": April 2009 issue of Flash Fiction Online
" Titch" in Issue 4.5 (Christmas 2006) of FARthing This was the Christmas card with drabbles sent to subscribers.
First Place in On The Premises" mini-contest #1 with Shopping Lists.
Conan the Librarian appeared in Alien Skin
"Frying Cabbage" appeared in Untied Shoelaces of the Mind

Dark Fantasy

"The Circle Line" May 2010 Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, Issue 2
"Loathsome Alyce": February 2010 issue of Wily Writers
"Screamcatcher": January 2010 Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, Issue 1


"If at First You Don't Succeed..." won equal First Place in the "Short not Sweet" contest at  R. S. Publishing The e-book Store.
"Shopping Lists": Spook City

If you enjoy these, you might also enjoy my anthology of nine quirky science fiction stories available at Dragon Tree Publishing/

Dragon Tree Publishing Logo

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Unscheduled delight

The plan was to drop off an invoice at the Tourist board in Santa Cruz de La Palma, then take my laptop to Los Tilos to write at the bar there, and maybe have a stroll. It took ages to find the power cord for the laptop, and then I had to let it charge for a bit while I read email for a while. So one way and another, by the time I got to Los Tilos, I only had time for a walk or a coffee-and-writing session. And the restaurant was shut, so that decided that. OK, I decided to go and get some photos of the giant fern Woodwardia woodwardia for the blog about La Palma. I followed the water channel upstream, since I haven't tried that path before. I was wearing flat sandals -not too bad but they weren't the best shoes for the job, and I had to watch my step. Then I found a tunnel, and I was very glad that I've taken to keeping a little torch in my handbag. And then the path detoured to the bed of the ravine. Oops. My sandale weren't up to this. I'd have to go back, but first I wanted to find the bit of water channel making the noise, in hopes that it was photogenic. And round the next bend, I found a gorgeous waterfall. Silly me, I hadn't even known about it. (I asked at the visitors' centre, and they say it's been there since the 1950s, and it's running almost year round. I have to go back with a tripod.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Reward for Insomnia

I woke up at 6 am and couldn't get back to sleep. By 6:20, I gave up trying, and went out onto the balcony to see if I could learn another constellation. I took one look at the moon and Venus, and then I dashed back inside for my camera.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tourist info

I had a different job this morning.  Instead of taking a bus full of tourists from a cruise ship around the island, I got to sit on the ship itself and provide tourist information data.

I was escorted on board. I had to pass my handbag and my box of maps through an airport-type scanner, and leave my driving license with the security people. Then I was taken up a level into what I supposed you'd call the lobby.

My goodness, it's a posh ship. The lobby (above) looked like a 5-star hotel.

I was officially supposed to start at 9 am, but there was already a queue when I got there at a quarter to, so I started answering questions. Taxi trips to volcanoes, laurel forest, buses to the silk museum etc. The maps disappeared at an alarming rate, and people joined the end of the queue about as fast as I dealt with them.

Gradually the questions changed from long trips to short trips, and then strolls around town. I started to sound like a parrot. "Follow the blue line out of the port - that's about five minutes - and then go along the sea front past the lovely 17th century balconies and the little castle which was attacked by Francis Drake..."

I said goodbye to a couple, and found nobody waiting. So I looked at my watch - 11:45. That's three hours with scarcely time to draw breath.

More people came along, at a slower pace. A few of my earlier customers trickled back with new questions (and one just to say "Thank you , that was just what we wanted.") But by 1 pm I was sitting on my own, clearing out old messages from my mobile.

Now, I'd been told to work until one, but I'd been escorted onto the ship, and I thought someone might well appear to escort me off.

Fifteen minutes later I called my boss, but he didn't answer. Five minutes after that, I called again. Still no answer.

At half past, I got up and found reception, and asked there. They said I could go. So I did.

After checking out the mega-posh loo, of course (below).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ray Bradbury and Ebooks

Electronic books are junk. To hell with them,” he said slamming his palm against the table. “It’s fake, it’s stupid! Goddamnit, it’s wrong! A book is a book!” Ray Bradbury  
I love books printed on dead trees. You don't need any gadget or batteries, and you can read them with the sun shining full on the page. I've spent an inordinate amount of my childhood reading in the fork of an apple tree or under the blankets with a torch. I love the smell of them. I love running my eye along the shelf and choosing. I love rummaging through a box of them at a flea market. I have over a thousand books at home, and how I love libraries!

 But in spite of this, and in spite of my vast respect for Ray Bradbury, I disagree with him.

A book doesn't have to be ink on paper. It's not so much the practical advantages, like saving money (provided you read a lot) or carrying a whole library around in your flight bag. Paper or ereader, what matters is the words.

 Think of a childhood memory. I'm thinking of a Christmas tree in the front room of the house I grew up in. The room lights are off, and the tree lights are on, and the smell is magical. The tree is at nearly four times my height, which means I was less than three years old.

 Go ahead and think of your own memory. Take a moment to get it clear.

Consider this. Practically every atom in your body and changed since then. (I believe the exception is the atoms in your bones.) So what makes me me? What makes you you? Whatever you are, it's not the atoms in your body.

In the same way, ink and paper don't make a book. The essential thing is the power those squiggles have to carry you to Mars or the Diskworld, or to let Plato speak, long after his bones have turned to dust. Put enough good thoughts into good words, and you've got a book. It doesn't matter how the words are stored. Parchment scrolls are real books. Paper books are real books. Ebooks are real books.

 And it's much harder for Montag to burn them.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Breathing Space (excerpt)

Dan Gaunt squirted half a tube of Tabasco into his chilli. It still tasted like ashes. He shovelled it in anyway.
Kylie, his wife, stared at him. “Don’t you like it, love?” asked Kylie.
Kylie’s eyes widened. “Chilli with added Tabasco is tasteless?”
He slammed his napkin down. The magnets in its corners clanged as they hit the steel table. One broke off, and the freed corner floated like seaweed in a current, breaking the illusion of gravity.
Kylie went very still. “Talk to me, Dan,” she said quietly. “I can see you’re hurting, but I don’t understand why.”
A large part of Dan wanted to clam up, but he’d begged Kylie to come 375 million kilometres so he could talk to her. This was their first chance to talk alone for eight months. “I’m not hurting. Numb. I don’t understand it either. But since I got here everything’s tasteless. Everything’s grey. It’s like some dentist injected me all over.”
“It must be horrible.”
Dan made himself go on. “This probably sounds stupid, but everything’s dead here. Never even been alive. I mean back on Earth there’s life everywhere. Everything’s busy eating something else. Even in the city there’s birds and moss and stuff. Everywhere.”
“And cockroaches. Remember that revolting flat in Glasgow?”
“Kylie, I’d give anything to be there again. Earth looks very small from here. Life gets to feeling like a bunch of meaningless atoms. People are just carbon and hydrogen, you know?”
“Have you told anyone else about this?”
“‘Course not. They’d have me on the next ship home.”
Kylie hesitated, then said, “Maybe you should come home.”
Dan pressed his lips together. “I won’t get another salary like this one. I got us into debt. I’ll get us out of it.”
“It wasn’t your fault!”
Dan muttered, “So who talked who into investing with Piers Mountbatten?”
“Look, he’s a pro. He made a living by taking people in. The judge said so.”
“So there’s one of us born every minute. Big help. Tell the bank that.”
Kylie took a deep breath. “We’ve been through this before. Let’s just agree to differ, and talk about you. Are you telling me you’ve been carrying this alone for five months?”
“Like I said, no-one to talk to. Seems like everyone’s in cliques. I started writing you an email, but when I wrote it down it looked stupid. Anyway, I don’t think email’s really private.”
Kylie nodded slowly. “What about the boss, that Nigerian guy you liked so much at the interview?”
“Shuwundu? He’s Kenyan, and he isn’t the boss. Anyway, he chatted up the pilot, Juanita, on the way out here, and now they’ve only got eyes for each other.”
“So what about the boss?”
Dan rolled his eyes. “Jim? Do me a favour! He thinks feelings are for wimps, and real men eat hard vacuum for breakfast. I can’t go tell him I’d like to see some butterflies now and then. Or failing that, cockroaches.”
“So why don’t you tell the owner?”
“He is the owner.”
Kylie gasped. “He owns this lot? So what’s he doing out here instead of living it up on Earth?”
“Proving he’s a real man. Avoiding alimony. Besides, he’s a control freak. He wouldn’t trust anyone else to wipe their own nose without supervision.”
“Depressing bloke to work with.”
Kylie took his hand. “Look, Dan. I know you when you get down. You haven’t thought of killing yourself, have you?”
Dan stared at his bowl of chilli “No,” he lied, absently scooping a blob of Tabasco from mid-air with his finger. The zero-G product had higher surface tension, but this drop had evidently splashed off anyway.
“Well if you can cope with this lot, on your own, you’re definitely over it then.”
“It” was his father fatally stabbing his mother, then himself. At age five, Dan heard the whole thing, cowering under his bed trying to comfort his little brother and keep him quiet. When the noise stopped, he’d been relieved, but neither of them had come out until Dan crept down in the morning. Now he stared at his chilli, seeing a lake of dried blood.
The vid-phone shrilled.
The chair’s magnetic feet screeched as Dan pushed it back. “And knowing my luck, that’s Jim now.” He unfastened his Velcro lap belt and stomped off to the phone, feeling Kylie’s eyes on his back all the way.
It was Jim all right, looking angry. “Dan, get to the spaceport now. Collision alert.” The screen went blank before Dan could draw breath, much less reply.
“Rude man,” said Kylie. “What’s a collision alert?”
“I’ll tell you while I get ready.”
They went to the airlock.
Dan said, “All the bigger asteroids are tracked by the computer, but there’s zillions of tiny ones too. One’s heading our way.” After five months here, getting into his spacesuit was simple. The trick was to get one foot firmly fastened into the suit before you took the other out of its metal-soled shoe. If you didn’t, you found yourself floating weightlessly around the airlock, magnetic floor or no magnetic floor. “So we’re going out to the other asteroid to push it out of the way. We don’t have to move it much – just give it a little nudge with a water gun, so it misses us.”
He zipped up the suit and gave Kylie a peck on the cheek. She looked worried. “Relax, Sweetheart. They’ve done this before. There’ll be an evacuation drill, but it’s just a precaution.”
She still looked worried.
He strapped on his fanny pack. “Honest. Now get out of the airlock, so I can go. See you.”
“Goodbye, Love. Take care.” She kissed him and went.
As Dan left the dome, he set the computerized electromagnets in his boots to ten percent G. He bounded effortlessly across the surface of Paycheck asteroid in ten-metre strides, accelerating to a reckless sixty kilometres an hour. Once the speed would have terrified him. Now it barely eased the emotional deadness.
His spacesuit lights threw a jumble of shadows. Each had razor-sharp edges, but at the speed he was going the ground was a blurred patchwork of red and black.
He passed the mine where he worked. B shift was working away, loosening huge chunks of ore. That was all they needed to do – loosen them and give them a nudge upwards. The mine was covered by a huge canopy like a funnel. Paycheck’s own rotation flung the ore to the top where the grinders and smelters converted it to stainless steel.
> Dan jogged on between the hawsers that held the canopy. Two hundred meters further, and he reached Paycheck’s pole. The spaceport blazed with lights as they unloaded the Buzz Aldrin. Buzz called twice a year. It brought mail, food, equipment, medicine and replacement personnel. Yesterday it brought Kylie and Johnny. Later today it would carry on to Liveheart, a comet core. Within a week it would be back to collect Kylie and Johnny and load up with stainless steel from the smelter. Even though Paycheck was eighty percent nickel-iron, mining and smelting was far more expensive than doing it on Earth. On the other hand, transporting it to a space construction site was dirt cheap because of Paycheck’s negligible gravity. The Company was making money hand over fist. So were its employees, because the job was dangerous.
Ten minutes later Dan sat at the back of the four-seater transport as they flew to the other asteroid. The others had done this several times before, but Jim constantly barked unnecessary orders. “Remember you’re in a zero-G vacuum everyone!”
As if I could forget, thought Dan. His suit smelled of old socks. His nose was itching again. These days it started itching as soon as he got into his suit and out of an airlock.
Dan could never understand why he was still alive while his mother was dead. Sometimes all he wanted was a convenient fatal accident so Kylie could collect his insurance. Then they’d all be free of Dan Gaunt. He wished his intercom had an off button so he could be alone with his misery, but he was stuck with Jim’s hectoring, and the noisy combined breathing of four people. It had taken him a long time to get used to the intercom. Everyone within a kilometre sounded as though they were right beside you.
“Now you’re all to do as you’re told. We can’t have no mistakes. We got to stick together and do this right.”
Shuwundu jabbed a finger up, behind Jim’s back, then stared at the approaching asteroid and said, “Why is it winking like that?”
The other asteroid was indeed winking, about once every nine seconds.
Jim said, “Five months out here and the prat still can’t tell when something’s rotating.”
Yes, thought Dan, but why would one side be so much brighter than the other?
As they got closer, Dan saw the asteroid was a peculiar shape. The bright side consisted mostly of a semi-circle, unnaturally accurate.
Shuwundu said, “It’s a ship!”

To continue reading, click here to buy the book.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Good news, bad news

We now have a shiny new router which should speed up Internet access.  And I have a major case of flat batteries.

Mind you, I'll probably be fine in a day or so, but we'll still have faster internet.

Friday, June 01, 2012

A delightful problem.

Last year I made a point of putting out two submissions per week, and not surprisingly, I sold a lot more.  This year, I'm concentrating on finishing the non-fiction book about the observatory, and I've been doing very little submitting. Obviously that means that the steady drip-drip-drip of rejections has dried up

So I was mildly surprised when a story came back yesterday after a very long wait, and pleasantly surprised that it was a "...but do send us more" rejection.

And I looked for another story to send them.  But I didn't have another suitable horror story free. One's waiting for a reply elsewhere, I haven't written any lately because I'm busy with the observatory book, and I've sold all the others.

I'm astonished.  What a delightful problem to have.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Morning Walk in El Hierro

I'm in the middle of one of my weekend escapes to El Hierro.

I woke up early and went for a lovely walk before breakfast, from El Pinar towards Las Playas and the Parador.  Not that I got all the way down to the Parador, because that would have meant hiking back up.  Besides, the path was very steep and slightly slippery, and nobody knew where I was.  Of course that meant that the view down towards the beach was amazing.

But the sunrise was amazing (and no, I haven't tweaked the colours with the computer), the light was beautiful, and the peace and birdsong did me good.

I've always loved aoniums (bejeque in Spanish) and the light on the big one by the dry stone wall was marvellous.

I think I walked for between 1.5 and 2 km before I turned back.  And on the way up, I found a tree root that looked a lot like a pipe fish.
When I got back tot he village, I felt I'd earned a bacon roll for breakfast.  Sadly, I forgot that the rolls on El Hierro are nearly twice the size of the rolls on La Palma, so it was rather a large breakfast, but I think I'd burned off most of the calories in advance.

I hope I get chance for another walk tomorrow.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Creative Friends

My friend Alba Molina has an exhibition of paintings up at El Alisio, along with Esteban Lorenzo and Juan Diego Villasán.  The exhibition is open from 4:40 - 8:30 pm, Monday - Friday, plus Saturdays from 10:30 am - 1 pm, until June 11th.

My friend Merche (another artist) now has her website up although it's still a work in progress.

Me friend and fellow writer Rosemary Kind has  a new website, Alfie Dog, where you can buy and download short stories from only 39p.

And now that I'm not teaching, I'm making steady progress on the guide book to the observatory.  I even had time for a walk on the beach.

Friday, May 11, 2012


I've given up the teaching job.  It didn't take up all that much time, maybe 5 hours a week, but that cut my writing time from about 7 hours a week to about 2. Not good.  Worse, I always had a corner of my mind on the look out for teaching ideas, instead of writing ideas. I wasn't getting any writing done at all.

Luckily my client had another, well-qualified teacher ready and able to take over, so I could get out of my mistake without damaging others or waiting months.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Warp speed 9 yet again.

It's been a mad week.

Friday last week I had a coach party from a cruise ship. They were a nice group, and I wasn't a particularly hard morning, but I felt enormously tired afterwards.  In fact, I suspect I had some sort of lurgy, because I went on feeling enormously tired and very cold all weekend.  Preparing English classes was enormously hard work.  Worse, I had an appointment to register as self employed on Monday morning, and I had to prepare photocopies of my passport, residency card, paperwork from the tax office and fill in a form written in Spanish legalese.  Worse still, we realised that Monday was the last day to get our son preferentially registered for senior high school.  That was obviously even more important, but the form was worse legalese and I wasn't sure what supporting documents we'd need.  So I took a photo of my son and printed out passport sized photos, and photocopies of everything they might conceivably demand (ID cards for all the family, health registration of our son, etc.).  My lovely sister-in-law translated the paperwork from gobledygook into Spanish and helped us fill it in.  Since I couldn't be in two places at once, my husband got the morning off work to deal with the school registration. I thought I had it all ready.

Actually, Monday was easier than expected, although we only had one car working.  We called in at our son's current school to get his school ID number, then my husband dropped me off at the Social Security offices.  To my astonishment, that actually went smoothly. And when I phoned up my husband, he said that he'd just got our son registered at his preferred high school.

Spanish paperwork doesn't usually go smoothly.

I had an astrotourism meeting on Monday afternoon, but I left halfway through because I was still feeling cold and tired.

On Tuesday I had to get up early.  I had to show a photographer around the Roque starting at 10:30, but because of the roadworks, I had to get there before 9 am or go the long way around. So I got there, and sat in the Residencia preparing my English class.

I had a great time with the photographer.  He was very interested, and I finally got to climb around parts of the huge GranTeCan that I've wanted to climb for years. But we finished very late.  I didn't get home until almost 6, so I missed the second astrotourism meeting too.

So now I just have classes to give.  That should be the easy bit.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Climbing around GTC

Most days, I rather enjoy tour guiding.  And then there's the days that I love!

This morning was one of the great days.  I got to show a photographer around the Herschel, Gran Telescopio Canarias and the MAGIC.  Even better, I finally got to clamber around parts of GTC that I've wanted to get to ever since my first visit there three years ago.  For example, I got onto the Nasmyth platforms for a close look at the instruments, and onto the higher balcony.

Now the road to the Roque gets closed for road works from 9 am to 2:30 pm, so I had to leave home before 8 am and I didn't get back until about 5:30 pm, but I took my laptop and got some writing done before I started, and it was well worth it.  I'm a very happy bunny.

Friday, May 04, 2012

May 4th

Another busy week.

It's been a busy week.

On Tuesday I went to see the friends in Franceses, go some exercise, and worked a bit on the Observatory book. Unfortunately when I got home, I found that I'd left my jacket behind (which was no big deal) with my phone in the pocket (which was rather more serious.)

On Wednesday I signed on with the tax office as self-employed, met the friends in Puntallana to retrieve my phone, and tried to sign on as self-employed at the Social Security office.  Only you need an appointment.  So I made an appointment.

Then I went home, had lunch, and gave the kitchen a much-needed scrub before a friend came round for tea.

And then I went down to Los Cancajos. I'm giving English classes again, in the offices of El Alisio, and I wanted to talk to the owner.

(If you're interested, it's mostly conversation, the classes are 8€ an hour, and we have groups for basic and intermediate level students.)

On Thursday I went to visit a friend on the other side of the island. Since she's an hour's drive away, I don't see nearly enough of her.  That was fun.  Then after lunch I went to visit the friend with the month-old baby and took photos of Fiesta de la Cruz on the way home.

And this morning I was tour guiding.

When I got home, I sat down with a magazine and a G&T for half an hour.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Busy Thursday

Thursday was mad busy.

I picked up Alan Gandy from Santa Cruz at 8:15 and drove him to Barlovento to start his walk. then, since I was so close, I called in on my friends at Franceses. I couldn't stay all that long, though, because I had to be back in Los Cancajos at 12:30 and things to do on the way.

First, I called in at the Palma Romantica hotel in Barlovento, where they kindly agreed to put up a poster for my book. Then I called in at Iriarte printers in Los Sauces to collect my new business cards - some starlight guide cards, and my new cards for Dragon Tree Publishing (designed by, and classy as usual)
It's the first time I've used this printers, and I was a bit worried about finding the place, parking, and collecting the cards in the 20 minutes I could spare, but actually it only took five minutes, so I got to Los Cancajos a little early.

It was a doctor's appointment. The IAC (Canarian Astrophysics Institute) want all their tour guides to be checked out for working at altitude. It was irritating, but I can see their point. Luckily it didn't take too long, and the doctor pronounced me fit, although he recommended getting more exercise (which I sorta knew, but I suppose the prodding was needed.)

So I got home in time to cook lunch and take my son show shopping.  This is not simple because he has size 47 feet (size 13 in English money).  I also picked up hair dye, and made myself look professional in time for my first English class at El Alisio.  Since it was the first one, we gave the students tea, which meant that I had to sort out the tea, tea pot, cups, etc in good time.

I'm happy to say that the class went well. And as soon as we'd packed up, I went into Santa Cruz for the presentation of a book (they're still celebrating World Book Day) and a retelling of local legends by Antonio Gonzalez which was really good.

I got home again after 10 pm.

So it's not surprising that I was tired and unproductive all Friday.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Alan Gandy's charity walk

Alan Gandy is walking the length of all seven Canary Islands for charity, and he's currently on La Palma. Yesterday he walked from Santa Cruz to Fuencaliente, and today he's walking from Barlovento to Santa Cruz (the photo is of Alan leaving Barlovento). All procedes to two charities, Niños del Tercer Mundo – a charity based on the island which funds projects in the third world, and the Rose Road Association – based in the UK, who provide services to severely disabled children and their families. You can read more on Alan's blog  and Facebook page. If you're impressed, you can donate here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Been There, Done That

Well, now I have my own publishing house, Dragon Tree Publishing.

Of course that sounds ridiculously grand. I had a fun conversation with my son where I said that calling Dragon Tree Publishing my own publishing house sounded ridiculously grand.  He suggested "publishing hut" and I suggested "publishing bedsit". We went through "publishing cave" and "publishing tent" before settling on "publishing shoe-box". And as any Monty Python fan will tell you, that makes me lucky. I wanted to mark the occasion. Electronic publishing - been there, done that and got the T shirt. The T shirts were designed by and printed by LaPalmaGalpa