What a noodle!


I’m finally cracking on with some writing. R&M#6. It’s going really well. I’ve mentioned here previously that before I packed up for the summer hols I’d managed about fifty thousand words towards it. In five days (three of those were spent reading and trying to understand what I’d written, why and where it was supposed to be going) I’ve bumped that up to over seventy thousand. I think it’s going to be the biggest and bestest R&M File so far. Either that or it won’t.

Because of my in between homes circumstances I’m taking the laptop into my brother-in-law’s restaurant. He lets me use his office all day. (internet plus peace and quiet.) It’s been great. And the staff here are great too. Too great sometimes.

I wonder how many readers are familiar with Turkish hospitality. I’m willing to bet that there isn’t another nation on Earth as generous with food and drink when they have guests, especially when the food and drink belong to someone else.

I mention this because, being a valued family member, instructions have obviously been left with the manager that I am to be ‘looked after’. A steady train of food and drink from the impressive menu finds its way up to the office at regular and frequent intervals. If I’d been left alone I might have finished the book by now! But I don’t want to sound ungrateful.

Trouble is the more I eat the more they bring. It’s almost as though I am insulting them when I clean my plate. They think they haven’t brought me enough. So up comes a dessert with about ten thousand calories in it just when I’ve polished off stuffed peppers, rice, kebab, gallons of tea and coffee and lemonade. Even in my crap Turkish I know I’m telling them I’m full up but they just smile knowingly and return five minutes later with something I haven’t had yet.

It got to the stage that as soon as the office door was closed I was looking around for places to hide the food. When I ran out of those I started putting it in my laptop bag. That’s fine with solids and the like but things become more challenging when sloppier foods are involved.

Take Wednesday for example: I came in to the ‘office’ a bit late. After lunch. On the way in I’d munched a simit, polished off a family bag of crisps (I was just in the mood) and finished with a banana to make me feel better about the crisps. (Something about that combination that gave me a swollen belly.)

The laptop had barely had time to power up when there was a tap at the door and in came a smiling waiter carrying a tray with a great big bowl (more of a tureen) of chicken noodle soup. Now this stuff is a house speciality and it’s very good. So I got slurping. But soon realised I wasn’t going to finish it. And they’d be back for the tray soon. (They like to see how quickly I can eat, I think.) What to do with the remaining half-a bowl? My brother-in-law does not have a single plant in his office.

A brainwave: I still had the empty family sized bag of crisps packet in my bag. Those bags are waterproof. They have to be. So without delay I poured the remains of the soup into the bag, folded over the top and carefully stood it up inside my laptop bag. Perfect. And just in time as it turned out. My friend was back and looking happy that I’d done the lot. I smiled back desperately trying to communicate that I wanted nothing else.

It worked. I was not disturbed again.

She-who-must-be-dismayed rang a couple of hours later wondering when I was going home. Time had flown. I said I was on my way. I packed up and headed off down the stairs.

I walked through the kitchens and into the eating area, which was quite busy by then. I smiled and nodded to the staff who seemed a little distracted and not as friendly as usual. Maybe they were just tired, I thought. As I got to the front door I heard someone laughing behind me. I turned to see what was so funny.

If you can’t guess I’m not going to tell you. But here’s a clue: you’ve seen the trail a snail leaves behind it.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

Yes, it’s another pool story!

Key vocabulary: porte = door, sick (sik) = fuck. (Things should become clearer by the end.)

But first a bit of background.

I’m sure my big sister won’t mind me sharing a funny story about something that happened to her several years ago. This is the way I remember her telling it.

‘We were coming back from a driving holiday in France and we were late for the ferry. We eventually got to the port town and it was touch and go whether we would make our sailing. To make matters worse we got a bit lost. Stress levels in the car rose. As we were passing someone who looked like a local I told my husband to stop the car. I jumped out, ran up to the Frenchman and shouted at him: ‘Ou est le port! Ou est le port!’ (This would have been OK is she hadn’t enunciated the ‘t’ at the end of ‘port’ turning it into ‘porte’.)  He shrugged, like a Frenchman, mumbled something about the crazy English and hurried away.

For anyone who doesn’t have the necessary rudimentary grasp of the French language or who just doesn’t get it, like me when she told it, in French ‘port’ (silent ‘t’) means harbour but ‘porte’ (that’s with the ‘t’ sounded out) translates as door. So my sister had been shouting at the man in the street, ‘Where’s the door? Where’s the door?’ No wonder the guy was freaked out.

Back to my new pool story. Yesterday, the Halfling and I ventured back to the pool at the local fitness centre. (Incidentally, they said Ankara was boring. They were right. It is. It’s been clear blue skies, gentle breezes and thirty plus temperatures every day. Can’t say I mind that kind of samey. It’s like living in LA.)

We’d been splashing around for a good while when the pool attendant hurried over and gave me to understand that we would have to get out. My body language asked why. He pointed over to the other side of the pool. Someone had thrown up in the shallow end. We got out. Quicker than if they’d released a big shark.

When I looked around I noticed that there were only about five people in the area. And I was the only one with a child. No one looked to be taking responsibility for what looked like barely digested cat food floating on the surface of the water. (The culprit had obviously front-crawled it out of there in their embarrassment.) It occurred to me that they might think that it was either my son or me – a cultural difference, perhaps: we’re British, of course it’s all right to throw up in the public baths and carry on as if nothing had happened. For an encore I take a piss of the diving board.

Anyway, where was I? Yes, because I was worried about our reputation and status as new members and foreigners, I tried to right any hastily drawn wrongs that might be present. I approached the pool attendant, pointed in the direction of the flotsam (or is it jetsam? I get so confused with those two.) and said in my best broken Turkish: ‘Benim yok sick.’

If you refer back to the key vocab you will see that ‘sick’ in Turkish (spelt sik) means fuck. Like my sister, I had muddled up my languages. A stress-related reflex, I dare say.

When I related the episode to she-who-must-be-dismayed later in the evening, she explained that ‘Benim yok’ when coupled with the word ‘sick’ in a sentence could be interpreted as, ‘I do not fuck.’ Judging from his reaction that was his interpretation.

I’ll give it a week before I go back. Not because I can’t stand the thought of swimming in someone else’s vomit but because I think staff work a rota system at the fitness centre and next week he’ll be in the car park. I don’t drive.

Living the dream.

I’ve used this blog title before. Back then I was writing about someone else. This time it’s about me.

‘The Dream’ in this instance, as those familiar with my blog will know, is writing full-time. Summer holidays for teachers, not pupils, in Turkey ended last Sunday, so I’ve been officially ‘living the dream’ for a week now… and I haven’t written a word towards my next book. Still, I’m giving myself an academic year (that’s just a time reference) and it’s early days. I’m getting used to my new status as a full-time author (unemployed, as she-who-must-be-dismayed never misses an opportunity to remind me).

It occurred to me today that work colleagues from last year will be back catching the sweat box on wheels for an hour’s commute in Istanbul’s noisy, nose-to-tail traffic to teach summer school to those kids whose parents aren’t away and who have had enough of their offspring hanging about the house, and to generally loaf about the campus avoiding the management and not working on displays that ‘simply must be done’ all day before repeating the transportation ordeal to get home. My thoughts are with them.

I might not be writing per se but I have been thinking about it. While I bobbed and bounced about at the mercy of the extraordinarily powerful jets in the local leisure centre’s Jacuzzi – something the size of my old bathroom (the Jacuzzi not the leisure centre), as I doggie-paddled my way up and down the almost empty Olympic sized pool (most citizens who can afford this level of city recreation are all firmly ensconced in their coastal summer homes at this time of year), as I recuperated on pool-side sun-loungers under parachute-sized canopies, sipping iced drinks served by puce and perspiring waiters… . And they said I wouldn’t like it here after Istanbul.

But this new life, like any good life, is not entirely without its challenges. Take Monday for example – my first day at the pool. As my level of Turkish as a spoken language is on a par with George W Bush’s command of English I was escorted there by a family member, someone who is also a member of the establishment (not that establishment), and given a quick tour. The Halfling and I were then left alone to get on with it.

It’s a long time since I’ve visited a swimming pool. (These days I’m not too keen to become an ingredient in human soup. [I was put off years ago at my local baths after I’d dived to the bottom of the pool wearing a snorkelling mask. It was like looking under my teenaged-son’s bed.]) Not much has changed but one notable difference is that the lockers here require the punching in of a randomly generated four-digit code in order to lock and later unlock them. The locker room felt like being in some trendy bank’s safety deposit box vault. Back in the day, I remember locker keys on rubber bands that went round your wrist or your ankle. One in five fell off or snapped.

The Halfling and I swam and messed about for a couple of hours quite happily. We then returned to the changing rooms to dry off and change, like you do, before catching a taxi home. Only trouble was, the four-digit code I was sure I’d used to lock away everything we had except our flip-flops and a single towel didn’t open the locker door. Running with a mixture of sweat and what smelled like neat chlorine, I tried it three times and then, like most devices today that have denied access three times in a row, the electronic mechanism starting emitting a shrill and deafening alarm. Not knowing what else to do, I naturally panicked and, scooping up the Halfling, cowered inside one of the toilet cubicles. I still don’t know why I did that. He started crying. I put my hand over his mouth, which just upset him more. Enough to bite me and draw blood. Employees came in and investigated. There was much muttering in guttural Turkish. The alarm was disabled. And eventually the Halfling and I found ourselves alone once more.

After I’d washed my wound in the sink I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t call the staff back to assist because not only would I look like a complete idiot but I’d have some explaining to do. And other than ask people how they are and commenting on the weather my Turkish… well it’s no secret, is it?

In the end I decided to take the Halfling back to the poolside, act normal and think about things. So we did. We were still there five hours later – starving, dying of thirst, beyond irritable, hot, bothered and no longer speaking to each other – when the family eventually came looking for us. It all got sorted out in the end. Turns out I was trying to open the wrong locker.

That hasn’t been my only leisure centre related experience worthy of note. The following day the three of us trundled off to the baths once more. (I wasn’t going alone again.) Overlooking the pool is a sauna. A wall of quadruple-glazed patio-door-sized windows separates the two. While she-who-must-be-dismayed and child frolicked in blissful ignorance in the blue stuff I thought I’d work up a sweat the easy way – by sitting on my backside in artificially high temperatures with a book for a few minutes. I quickly realised it was too hot in there for me – the door had barely clicked shut behind me before I could feel the scorching heat taking the lining off my lungs with each shallow inhalation. It was like breathing in front of an open kiln. The pages of my novel started curling in on themselves immediately. I decided not to stay and punched in the four-digit code that should have let me out but, yes really, nothing happened. Nothing also happened after I tried unsuccessfully to input the code three, four and five times. No helpful alarm. Typical. I remember snatching a look at the thermometer and if it is to be believed it was a hundred and three in there. At risk of death by sauna, I ended up banging my fists against the obviously soundproofed and steamed up windows looking, I imagine, like someone who’s realised they’re trapped in a research lab with an escaped deadly virus or zombies.

In my desperation to attract attention before I passed out I looked around for a real alarm button to activate. Finding only a thin length of cord hanging from the ceiling I yanked on that to discover it was part of the mechanism for depositing about ten gallons of freezing water on whoever was standing beneath it. It did the trick; my screams attracted the attention of the Halfling who managed to coerce his mater into clambering out of the shallow end and investigating, eventually. I was saved.

We haven’t been back.


Something more important and more relevant to my authorial existence to record here is that in my last week in the UK I had my first face-to-face author chat experience. Like my online author chat at the end of July it was thoroughly enjoyable and, like the online chat, the time flew by.

It was organised by a good friend of my mums who very kindly hosted the gathering at her home. Turns out that a few people my mum knows are also readers of one or more of my series. (It’s possible she intimidates them into reading my books. My mum can be quite intimidating.) It was suggested that as I was back on the Marsh for a while I might like to make myself available for a couple of hours to meet anyone interested in discussing my books and my writing. What a great idea! It turned out to be one of those rare things – a great idea that turned out great.

My sincere thanks to all those who took the time and trouble to attend. In no particular order: Jill, Dave, Sandie, Geoff, Bobby, Debbie, Annabelle, Ann… oh yes, and mother. (Apologies if I have misspelled anyone’s name.) I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of interest in and positive feedback for my books (and blog). Special thanks to Ann for organising the event and for laying on such a lovely tea. Idiot that I am, I didn’t take a camera or my camera phone with me.

Great online article about my writing to share.

A great online article to share this week. I wanted to reblog it for the best effect but I mucked up and reblogged it to another of my WP sites and, apparently, you only get one shot at a reblog and they can’t be undone if you make a mistake. That’s what the ‘Happiness Engineer’ at WordPress customer support told me. (Didn’t make me happy.) Seems dumb, but there it is. My bad.

Here is the link to the article, which did make me happy!


Back to Turkey tomorrow after a lovely summer holiday on Romney Marsh.

Fweedom of sshpech.

SPOILER ALERT: OK it’s not exactly a spoiler alert but I am going to talk about an aspect of Particular Stupidities in this post and if you haven’t read the book, but intend to, you might like to look away now. Come back once you’ve finished it, perhaps.

Particular Stupidities (Romney and Marsh File #5) has been available for downloading and reading (and reviewing) for a week now. Time to take stock – for the record.

All in all the pre-ordering experience was a good one, despite my pre-ordering-anxieties (see previous post here) and I’ll look at doing that again. Sincere thanks to all who grabbed a copy then and since. Your ongoing support of my writing is much appreciated.

I mentioned feedback. I’ve had some already. Overall I’m very encouraged by it. But not everyone has been thrilled by all aspects of the read. The old adage about pleasing people springs to mind. One ‘particular’ element of the story that has been highlighted by more than one reader as becoming a little tedious is when one of the characters is afflicted with speech difficulties. (I’m really not giving anything away there for any one who hasn’t read the book.) The feeling by those who’ve mentioned it is that it went on a bit too long. On reflection I can’t see how it could have gone on less but I do take the point. That said, when my head hit the pillow last night I’d just read another comment about it and I was thinking things over. And then I started laughing. In the dark. Into my pillow. I was imagining readers trying to decipher the speech as it was written by, as a couple of them have told me, reading it aloud to make sense of it. I can’t deny that I was having some fun with my readers over this. I don’t begrudge myself that indulgence. I can only hope that readers will forgive me. Yes, it might interrupt the flow, slow down the narrative and the reading and I know that a writer should not really seek to be guilty of such things but I don’t regret it. Yet.

As well as last Thursday being publication day it was also the day that I’d been booked to take part in an online author chat session over at Crime Book Club. I was more than a little anxious about the kinds of things I might be asked to explain and account for. It was timed to run from midday to seven-thirty in the evening. The first five hours could have been the quickest five hours of my adult life – they flew by. It was enormous fun. I chatted with some lovely people. I was asked some interesting questions that made me think about my writing. (The second question I was asked, about five minutes in, stumped me for going on an hour [I answered a ton of other questions in that time] and made me fear for what I’d got myself involved in.) It turned out all right in the end. I signed off at seven-thirty exhausted but really happy with the way things had gone. Thanks, again, to all those who took part.

I’ve got another ten days in the UK and then it’s back to Turkey and flat hunting in Ankara, my new city of residence. I hope we can find somewhere to live and get settled in quickly because I’ve got some books to write.