Archive for the ‘commuting’ Tag

Best Books of 2014

As always, I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books I read throughout the year. I set myself a goal to read 65 books in 2014. I actually managed to read 71.

The number of books I have been reading since I started keeping track on Goodreads has been steadily increasing year on year. Just look at the stats:

2011 – 55 books read
2012 – 60 books read
2013 – 63 books read
2014 – 71 books read

I am not sure why this number is increasing. I have started reading books on the journey in to work, whereas I used to read the newspaper, so that’s a difference. I used to take the underground from London Bridge to Holborn every morning, which required changing trains and a great deal of walking to get from one platform to another, which would interrupt my reading time. This year I’ve started taking the bus instead, which is a straight 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading time before I have to get off. So I think that’s made a difference too.

Another noticeable change in reading habits in this past year is the increasing number of books I have read on the Kindle, as opposed to paper books. In fact the only paper books I read were those that I was sent by Shots e-zine to review for them, those that I picked up as freebies from conventions and those that had been given to me as gifts or were already on my shelves (for instance the Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky books). Every new book that I purchased myself, I bought as a Kindle version. The convenience of the Kindle is making a significant impact on my reading habits, and now that I have a plastic waterproof cover for it, I can even read it in the bath (which is another place I like to get some quiet reading time).

I started the year re-reading the Sara Paretsky books, who as I have mentioned many times is and always will be one of my all-time favourite authors. I enjoy all of her books, and many of the five-star rated books of 2014 are hers. I read many excellent books in 2014. However, since there were all of 16 books I gave five stars to, this already makes for a long list of ‘Best books read in 2014’. So although there are many deserving four-star books that should be on the list, the final cut contains only the ones I rated five stars. Some of them I have reviewed on Goodreads, and the link is included. Others I have included a few words about below the title.

Lamentation – CJ Sansom

This is the sixth book in the excellent crime series about Matthew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer in the time of Henry VIII, and it just as good as the previous in the series. The series is not only excellently researched, but each one has featured one of Henry’s six Queens, in chronological order. In this latest book, Henry is dying and his last Queen, Catherine Parr, has written a book called ‘Lamentation of a Sinner’ that has been stolen. Shardlake is hired to find out who stole the book and retrieve it, for if it gets out into the public domain it could prove the Queen guilty of treason.

The religious and political instability of this era is effectively portrayed. My only worry was that with the death of Henry VIII there would be no more Shardlake books. Without giving away too much, however, the end of this book sets the stage for a potential new era of Shardlake adventures.

Before I Go Sleep – SJ Watson

A film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth was released of this book last year. It’s the sort of plot where you either read the book or see the film because once you know the ending, it’s a fairly major spoiler.

The premise of the plot is that Christine Lucas has suffered an accident that affects her long-term memory. Every day she wakes up with no memory of the last twenty years, and the man she wakes up next to, who tells her he is her husband, is a stranger to her. It’s a frightening concept, but as Christine tries to explore her surroundings she discovers she has secrets she has not been telling her husband. Who can she trust?

This book is a very exciting and gripping thriller, and I was hooked from the first chapter.

V is for Vengeance – Sue Grafton
W is for Wasted – Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton is another of my all-time favourite authors, and I love her feminist, kick-ass heroine Kinsey Millhone. The books are all set in the 1980s, when Grafton started the series, and she says she is going to stop at Z. So there will only be three more, which makes me sad. However, this is another series I shall enjoy re-reading, since it’s been some time since I read the early books and I can’t remember much about them.

The Secret Place – Tana French

This is book five of the Dublin Murder Squad series, and I haven’t read the other four, but found this book in my pile of free booty from the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. It involves the murder of a teenage boy on the grounds of an expensive boarding school for girls. The investigating officers whittle the list of suspects down to eight girls – two groups of four, close-knit clusters of friends. But who killed Chris Harper? I really wanted to find out. And this book about adults moving around in the world of adolescent girls made me feel really glad I am long past that stage of life – been there, done that, no wish to go back thank you very much.

Breakdown – Sara Paretsky
Hardball – Sara Paretsky
Blacklist – Sara Paretsky
Hard Time – Sara Paretsky
Tunnel Vision – Sara Paretsky
Guardian Angel – Sara Paretsky
Burn Marks – Sara Paretsky
Body Work – Sara Paretsky

I worship the ground Ms Paretsky walks on. I’ve re-read every VI Warshawski book, and in doing so came across a couple that were new to me (‘Hardball’, which somehow I missed the first time around, and the latest book ‘Breakdown’). I now eagerly await the next book, out later this year. VI Warshawski is now in her fifties, though, and I wonder how much longer she can run around scaling walls and getting shot at.

Stone Bruises – Simon Beckett

Merivel: A Man of His Time – Rose Tremain

The Accident – CL Taylor

Sometimes I browse the Kindle specials store, and end up finding something really good for 99p. This was one of those occasions. The premise involves a teenage girl who ends up in a coma after deliberating stepping in front of a bus. Her mother, desperate to find out why her daughter tried to kill herself, starts to investigate and discovers some murky secrets in her daughter’s life that she knew nothing about. It’s another suspenseful page-turner.

And so this is my review of the best books I read in 2014. I have set myself a goal to read 70 books in 2015. Could be a challenge, but the Kindle is charged and loaded with plenty of unread books, all ready for my return to the day job and the London commute tomorrow. I suppose that’s one good thing about the days the train service is appalling. The longer it takes me get home, the more reading time I have.

Books, Books and E-books

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Ever since I first learned how to read, I have spent much of my time with my nose in a book. I was starting to read by myself by age seven, I think. That’s a good 37 years ago. I have devoured a great many books in that time.

In recent years there has been much debate about the format of books – hardback; paperback; e-book. In my own personal library, there are more paperbacks than anything else. But this is largely because I have been a commuter for the last 25 years, and most of my reading has been done on the train to and from work. Paperbacks are much more transportable than hardbacks. In the last four years or so I’ve had an e-reader and have been collecting e-books, and it won’t be long before they overtake the number of paperbacks, even given their relatively recent appearance on the market.

I also possess a number of hardbacks in my library. Most of them have come my way as gifts, from someone who wants to buy me the absolute latest novel by one of my favourite authors, and who feels that a hardback is a more substantial gift than a paperback. I also have hardbacks that are personalised and signed by the author, because I went to their signing session and bought the book.

Ultimately the format is not as important as the words in the page. Books can transport you into another world. They are an escape from everyday life. They are the key to you becoming someone else, even if just for a few hours.  A dashing and brave hero. A magician with superior intellect. A hard-bitten cynical cop. The daring captain of a spaceship. Whatever you want to be, the words of a novel can take you there.

And yet the format of a book still matters, even though it shouldn’t. Many people insist they don’t like the idea of e-books because they prefer the feel of a ‘proper’ book. As if e-books are somehow not ‘proper’ books. I must admit I was a tad suspicious about them myself, until I got my first e-reader and realised how wonderful they were. No longer do I have to weigh down my suitcase with half a dozen books when I go on holiday for two weeks – all I need is my Kindle, and I have all the books I want. If I finish reading a book on the way into work, I don’t have to lug another around another for the journey home, I just open up another book on the Kindle. My handbag is much lighter with the Kindle in, instead of a paper book. I am someone who has a book with her at all times, no matter where she is going. And a Kindle is so much easier to transport. It will practically fit into a pocket.

My e-reader has also allowed me to buy more books.  I browse the 99p books in the Kindle e-book store almost daily.  Quite often if I am intrigued by a book’s cover and blurb I will decide to take a chance on it because it’s not a lot of money to part with, and it might lead me to discover a wonderful new author.  One click is all it takes to buy that book and transfer it to my Kindle.  It’s ready to begin reading mere seconds later.  And best of all, I don’t have to find shelf space for all these new books because they don’t take up physical space.

Yet in spite of this, I haven’t stopped buying paper books. I will go to signing sessions and buy hardbacks. I will browse second hand book shops and buy books that take my fancy. I still browse book shops, heaven forbid, and take a punt on a new author’s paperback simply because the cover and blurb on the back attract me. And I don’t think this will ever change.

As a lover of books in all formats, it worries me there’s still some resistance to e-books – occasionally even from publishers, though this is getting better. Only this morning I was reading an article in the news stating that e-book sales are predicted to overtake paper book sales in the UK by 2018.  And a spokesperson for a particular publisher was quoted about how e-books have revitalised the book market, with the technology to make e-books available on tablets and so forth making reading accessible to people who never used to be book buyers.

I’m not someone who gives books to charity shops when she’s re-read them.  Maybe this is a selfish attitude, but I like to have books available to re-read at a future date.  Going back to a favourite book is like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.  Hardbacks do make this a bit problematic, though, when most of my reading is done on the move.  I’m in the process of re-reading Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski books, and the next book on the list is BODY WORK. My copy of this is a hardback, signed to me personally by Sara because I met the great lady herself at the UK launch for this book. And as she is one of my favourite authors of all time, I will treasure it. Having paid £15 for this signed copy, I don’t particularly want to have it bashed about in my bag on the train, or dropped in the bath, or whatever. Ideally I’d like to keep the hardback on the shelf and have a electronic version to re-read, but this would mean having to pay for a second copy of a book I already legitimately own.

I’m sure I’m not the only reader out there who likes to have shelves surrounded by books, whilst enjoying the convenience that an e-reader brings to the reading experience.  I’d like to see publishers bundling a free e-book version of a novel with every hardback edition sold.  That would certainly encourage me to buy more hardbacks to fill up my bookshelves at home, and I’d still get to enjoy the convenience of my e-reader on my daily commute.

A few years ago there seemed to be much suspicion in the publishing world, and a widely held view that e-books would see the end of paper books.  I maintained then, and still maintain now, that there is room in the world for e-books and paper books to exist together, and there does seem to be more people acknowledging this now.  But there’s still a way to go before e-books and paperbacks are truly equal.

Clumsy

I am not one of those people blessed with grace and elegance. I can’t throw, I can’t catch, I can’t run (and if I try I fall over), I possess no manual dexterity and I trip over my own feet a lot. This is probably why I’ve always been hopeless at sports. In school, not only was I always the last to be picked for sports teams, I had to endure the groans of the team that was stuck with me and the mutters of, “we’re going to lose now.”

Exercise remains a necessary evil. Whenever I try aerobics or zumba or anything else requiring co-ordination I get frustrated because I can’t keep up – I just can’t get my arms and legs to move the way they are supposed to. I persevere with the yoga, but it’s not easy for me. I have no balance and I get left and right confused, I ache for a week after every class and I appear to pull muscles (more on that later).

Things haven’t improved much as I’ve got older. I’ve always avoided hazardous activities such as ski-ing, since I’d be guaranteed to break a bone. Over the course of my life I’ve sprained my ankle three times, and it was always the same one (the left – it still gives me twinges now and again). On one occasion I was running across a field playing Paintball (told you running was dangerous), and on the other two occasions I was merely trying to walk down some steps. A few years ago I fell over trying to enter the underground station on the way home from work and bashed my head rather hard. I was taken to A&E and x-rayed, but my skull was intact. Instead I had concussion that had me off work for a week, and a golf ball-sized lump on my forehead that left me with a headache and a black eye as it receded.

A few weeks ago I managed to trip over my own feet walking across London Bridge on my way to work, and bashed my knee and my hand quite hard as I fell over.  I still can’t kneel down on that knee, and it looks a bit bruised.  This weekend I am also suffering with what appears to be a torn tendon in my calf.  Which I think possibly came about from my yoga class a couple of weeks ago – we were doing poses that involved leg stretches. It was hurting for a while,  and then it seemed to get better, but this week’s tube strike has necessitated more walking than usual on my daily commute, and this seems to have aggravated my injury.

This is how it’s been, all my life. I fall over simply moving through life. Apparently physical activity is bad for my health. It happens so often I get used to picking myself up and carrying on. I am usually full of bruises. I misjudge doors when I walk through them and walk into the wall. I swing my arm too wide and it hits something. I go to sit down on a bus and somehow manage to bash my backside on the bar separating the seats. I get bruises on my knees from bashing them on the underside of my desk.

I don’t what it is that causes this chronic inability to get my body to co-ordinate itself to do anything physical – even something as simple as walking. I spent quite a long time assuming I wasn’t any good at anything, but much of this came from the fact that when and where I went to school there was a huge emphasis on physical activity. Fortunately I had a couple of supportive English teachers who reassured me that one isn’t necessarily exiled from society simply because one isn’t any good at sports. They recognised that I had a talent for writing.

Perhaps the writing ability is nature’s way of compensating for my appalling lack of physical agility – as in, “kid, you’re going to go through life being completely hopeless at anything physical, but you’ve got a talent for something that you get to sit down for.”

I should probably give up on all things sporty and focus on the writing instead. At least I’m not likely to injure myself that way. Well, apart from bashing my knees on the underside of the desk…

Con Conundrums

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It has come about that my last two Cons of 2013 fall on consecutive weekends.  This weekend I’m at BristolCon, and next weekend is World Fantasy Con in Brighton.  At BristolCon I am a participant – two panels and a book signing – and at World Fantasy Con I am merely a delegate.

The usual Con conundrums apply.  The first is – what to pack?  For Bristol this is more crucial, since I will be performing the role of ‘author’, instead of just watching other people do it.  So what outfit says ‘serious writer’ without saying ‘I’m mad as a box of frogs and you don’t want to come anywhere near me.’  Sometimes the Con involves a formal dinner that obviously involves having to pack an outfit for it.  Sometimes I worry I try too hard with this issue of Con clothing.  Jeans and a t-shirt is probably an acceptable Con outfit for a writer.  It might be appropriate for my ‘horror writer’ t-shirt to get another airing this weekend.

Mode of transportation is also relevant to the first question.  If I’m driving to a Con, I can take more stuff.  But this generally only happens if I can take the day I am travelling off work.  On neither forthcoming Con I have been able to do that – which means it’s easier to take the train from London than travel home, pick up the car, load it up and set off again.  But taking the train directly after work means I have to take all my luggage into London, which is another factor to consider.  Whatever I take has to be transported on a packed commuter train, and sit in the office until I leave.

On Friday I have to be at work for a meeting, so I will be leaving as soon as possible after that’s finished.  It does mean that the smart ‘work clothes’ that will be required for that will have to be my travelling clothes to Bristol.  Unless I take a change of clothing.

When travelling to a Con, the issue of having space for books also must be considered.  It is impossible to leave a Con without having acquired books. Many of them give out freebies in the delegate bags, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll buy some, too.  For BristolCon, I am also taking some copies of SOUL SCREAMS for the author signing session.  But I am really hoping that I will sell at least a couple of them, otherwise I have to cart them all back home with me.

I am looking forward to both Cons, and they will both be very different experiences.  Hopefully they will both give me something to blog about for the next two weeks, too.

And once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, it will be time to plan 2014’s Con schedule…

Not Enough Words?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I have finished my new horror novel!  This is a cause for celebration, and time to start submitting it.

The novel is about a group of LRP-ers who unwittingly unleash an undead magic user onto the world whilst performing a ritual during a game, which proceeds to wreak death and destruction on those involved in the game.  The finished draft has come out at 69,000 words.  I’m aware that this is a very short novel.  In fact, to some it’s only half of a novel.  The majority of people in the T Party Writers’ Group are fantasy writers.  Most of their first drafts start off with over 150,000 words.

I’ve never really ‘got’ how you can stuff so much into one novel to make it so long.  I am the opposite.  I end up with 50,000 word first drafts and then I have to pad them.  Only that’s what it looks like – padding.  I used a fair amount of padding in the version of DEATH SCENE that got submitted to Lyrical Press.  My editor promptly stripped out all the padding, saying – quite correctly – it was superfluous to the plot.

I remember that lesson when I write novels now.  Is this scene moving the plot forward in some way?  Is it revealing something about a character, or a plot point that becomes important later on?  If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, the scene has no place in the book.  So this is a very short novel.  But it doesn’t have much padding, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.

I am a voracious reader, as anyone who follows this blog will know.  I read quickly, and I like strong plots, but I read so many books I don’t retain plots of books I’ve read for very long.  I like clear beginnings, middles, and ends.  I don’t like subtle hints, I don’t like ambiguity (my attitude to this is if the author couldn’t be arsed to work out what was really going on, why should I?), and I like satisfactory endings.  If it’s a horror novel, the horror should be resolved.  I don’t mind if all the main characters die – that’s acceptable in horror.  But if it’s a crime novel the killer must be caught.  If he or she gets away with it, that’s an unsatisfactory ending.

I do most of my reading on the train, going in and out of London to the day job.  I have about 40 minutes at each stretch.  On my journey home I want to be able to pick the story up again from where I left off that morning.  I don’t want the plot to be so complex that I have to re-read the last 10 pages to remember what’s going on.  I don’t want to be re-introduced to a character who had a brief appearance 100 pages ago and I’m supposed to remember that, because I won’t.  And I like chapters to be short.  When I get to the end of a chapter at Clapham Junction I will be checking to see how long the next chapter is, and if I have time to read it in the few minutes I’ve got left until the train gets in to Victoria station.  If it’s only five pages, I will keep reading.  If it’s 20, or worse,  I will put the book away at that point and put some music on instead – because I hate finishing a reading session mid-chapter.

I am aware that my writing style reflects my reading preferences.  I write plot-driven stories, I focus on a few main characters and the peripheral ones are never really fleshed out, I don’t complicate the story with lots of sub-plots, and I write very short chapters.  The vast majority of them are between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and I have been known to chapters less than 1,000 words long.

Consequently I tend to write very short novels.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s just the way it is.  I’m never going to win any literary prizes for fiction, and maybe I’ll never write the kind of doorstopper that hits the best sellers list.

But that’s OK.  I write what I write.  It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and I get that.  But I know there’s a few people out there that like what I write, and the way I write it.

And so this new novel is for you.  It’s short, but it’s finished, and it’s about to go out into the big wide world to find a publisher.

Chapters

(Cross-posted on WriteClub blog)

I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I’ve ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it’s short, I can get one more in before it’s time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I’m reading in bed. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, but if I’m enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I’ll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I’m looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I’ll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I’m enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don’t think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I’m writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like if I’ve started a chapter but I don’t know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long – often less. If I’m on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there’s been no chapter break, there’s a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters – my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you’re a writer, or a reader, what’s your take on chapters?

Hibernation

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

My dislike of January is well known – I do a post like this about this time every year.

I don’t like the cold. I seem to have the blood of a lizard. And I really don’t like snow. When you can sit at home all day by the fire, and don’t have to be anyplace, it probably looks pretty, but when you have to go to work in it – particularly on public transport – it’s a pain in the backside. At least in London our snow fall is generally fairly short lived. If I liked snow I’d still be living in Canada, where it covers the ground for nearly six months of the year.

I spend January bundled up in thick jumpers and thermal vests and socks, shivering on the station platform waiting for a delayed train, arguing with my office mates about how hot we can have the central heating (I want it at ‘tropical’ mode – they don’t), and generally feeling tired and run down. I seem to go into a kind of hibernation. Getting out of bed in the morning is a supreme effort and I drag through each day feeling half asleep, not being able to focus my brain on anything. Moving becomes an effort. I don’t go to the gym, I don’t do much writing, and I spend as much time as possible in bed. But it doesn’t really matter because no matter how much or little sleep I get, I still struggle to stay awake during the day. And I crave sugar and carbs even more than usual, because I feel I need the energy.

When I’m not at work, I spend my time playing video games, because they don’t require too much mental energy and distract me from how tired I’m feeling. Now, I am aware of my weaknesses. I would be quite capable of spending all day, every day playing video games if I didn’t have to go to work. And there are many weekends in January when I do pretty much do that, leaving the sofa only to use the bathroom, go to bed, or get myself more chocolate. But the price you pay for being a grown-up is having to do stuff you don’t really want to do a lot of the time, like go to work every day.

So far I’ve not had a terribly productive January. I’ve eaten a lot of biscuits, and made progress in ‘Dragon Age’, but not done much else. Come to think of it, I was in the same situation last year.

Roll on Spring, when I can wake up and emerge from my hibernation…

Speed Reading

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve been reading books since I first learned how to read. In fact, I’ve been devouring books since then. It’s always been about finishing one and going straight on to the next one. I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t another book to read once the current one was finished.

Some people have told me I’m a fast reader. I never really thought about it in this way. I do get through a lot of books – average count is about one a week. But I spend over two hours a day on public transport, going to and from work, and most of that time is reading time.

I do prefer books that are plot driven, and the vast majority of the books I read fall in the genres of crime and horror. The nature of these genres generally demands a suspenseful plot, and when I am reading I am focused on getting to the end of the page so I can turn over and find out what happens next. So maybe I do read fast. I never thought about the fact that I might read faster than other people, until recently.

Every day I take the train into London Victoria, and then I have two stops on the underground to work. I am on the underground for precisely four minutes. I’ve been doing this journey a long time – trust me, I know how long it takes. Four minutes is generally not long enough to get back into my book, in my view – by the time I’ve jostled with the crowd to gain access to my bag, get out the book or the e-reader and find the right page, it’s time to get off the train. And I’m generally standing on the underground anyway, which makes it even more awkward. So more often than not, as I’m hanging onto a pole being jostled around on the subway train, I’m standing next to someone who is sitting down, reading a book of some sort. Being a nosy sort of person, and as there’s not much else to look at on the underground, I’m reading over their shoulder. I’ve started to notice that in those four minutes I am reading their book over their shoulder, the person doesn’t turn the page. I get off at my stop and they are still on the same page they were when I got on four minutes ago. I’ve read that page four times over in that time.

So I’m starting to think maybe I do read faster than most people. I don’t pick up every detail of plot; I’m wanting to know what happens on the next page, instead of focusing on every detail on this page. I probably don’t savour a book; I devour it.

This has always been the way I read, and I never thought there was anything wrong with it. There are a lot of books in the world to read and we’ve only got so many years to read them, so I don’t want to spend too much time on each one. Most of the books I read I don’t remember much about a year or so later. The books that make a particular impact do stay with me – and they are the ones that are featuring in my ‘My Life in Books’ series. Books that I can still remember, because they made an impact.

I read so many books that sometimes I’ll pick one up and be halfway through it before I remember I read it before – some details seem familiar. But because I don’t remember every detail, I can re-read books and enjoy them again, because I don’t remember much about the first time around. This is another reason why I like Goodreads. I can log all the books I read and the log will job my memory about what I’ve read and what I thought of it. And of course it also lets me keep a list of everything I’ve read, which appeals to my anal nature.

Anyway, got to run. There are still more books out there to read…

Sick Leave

When I was a kid, I was never allowed to shirk school unless I was really sick. The definition of “really sick” was “not able to get out of bed”.

So, on the days when I decided I was too sick to go to school, I was obliged to stay in bed for the rest of the day. In those days I didn’t even have a TV in my room, let alone a games console. Staying in bed got rather boring rather quickly, and generally I decided I was well enough to go back to school the following day.

Of course, I was lucky enough not to be a sickly child. Apart from the usual childhood illnesses and the occasional bad cold, I didn’t really get sick.

This mindset has stayed with me into adulthood. I feel guilty about calling in to work sick. Generally, if I wake up feeling rotten, I will attempt to crawl into the shower anyway. If I’m feeling sort of OK after that, I’ll struggle into work. And then, I figure since I’m at work, I may as well stay there, since I got that far.

Generally I don’t have a lot of time off sick. Until the time I had bronchitis, three years ago, and was signed off work for nearly a month, I’d averaged maybe three days off sick a year.

However, times change. I’m no doctor, but I’m convinced the viruses are changing, too. Once upon a time you got a cold virus, you felt rotten for a couple of days and might be sniffly for a week, but unless you had flu you could generally go about your day. Not so anymore. I think as we develop these anti-bacterial agents that kill 99% of all germs, the 1% that survive evolve to become tougher.

I’ve just returned to work today after a virus that floored me for a week. It started as all viruses do – sore throat, sneezing, cough, stuffed up nose, foggy head. This kicked in the weekend before last, and I was off work on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I went into work, as I thought I felt a bit better. By the time I got there, it was evident I didn’t. I came home at lunch time, and ended up off sick the rest of the week. I spent my week wrapped up in a duvet on the sofa. Only the SyFy channel’s daily dose of “Buffy” and my significant “to be read” pile kept me sane. I couldn’t even spend the time at home writing – my head felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool and I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

Today I feel rather better so went back to work. I’m still coughing and blowing my nose constantly. However, I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people who’ve had this virus this winter, and it seems these symptoms hang on for rather a long time. Viruses spread quickly amongst commuters – no doubt it’s down to being packed in to tube carriages like sardines.

You’d think, in the 21st century, modern medicine advances would have developed a cure for the cold virus in all its mutations. But it seems not. You can waste a lot of money on cold remedies, but ultimately all that can be done with a virus is to rest and keep warm. And drink fluids.

Well, I did all that for a week, and I think maybe my antibodies are winning the war. But there’s still a few guerilla germs hanging on in there. I’m consuming Echinacea pills and vast quantities of Vitamin C in an attempt to beat off the stragglers. Begone, germs. Don’t you know when you’re not wanted?

Somebody’s Sitting In My Chair

I’ve mentioned that when I have my writing mornings at Starbucks, I always sit in the same chair. Writers are creatures of habit. I also mentioned, in my last post, the madness of writers.

I arrived at Starbucks yesterday morning for my writing session, to find someone else sitting in my chair. This annoying fact was exacerbated by the fact that apart from this interloper, the place was empty – of all the chairs to sit in, he happened to choose mine.

Feeling rather put out, I bumbled around for a while trying to decide on an alternative chair. And sitting elsewhere clearly affected my productivity. Usually I manage at least 900 words in my morning writing sessions. I did less than 700 yesterday.

I channelled my murderous intentions inwards and started to imagine what would happen if I took vengeance on this unsuspecting Starbucks customer. I don’t carry much on my daily commute that could be used as a weapon. I could hit him over the head with the NetBook, but that would probably do more damage to the NetBook.

I could smash a chair into his face, while explaining why it’s a bad idea to sit in a writer’s seat. Once he’d finished picking his teeth up off the floor, he would apologise and beat a hasty retreat. More likely, though, he’d call the police, having been subject to an unprovoked attack by a mad woman. Trying to justify this action to the police would be difficult. It’s a public place. There are plenty of empty chairs. What’s so special about this one? Somehow, I don’t think my explanation of, “I write better in this one” was going to wash.

Happily, though, since all this played out in my imagination, the unsuspecting Starbucks customer left unmolested, and none the wiser. I do hope he’s a passing tourist and isn’t going to make a habit of occupying my seat in Starbucks on Friday mornings. Then I might be obliged to explain to him for real why it’s a bad idea to sit in a writer’s “writing spot.” And then, things might get ugly.