Friday, December 31, 2010

What I've read in 2010

Most recent books are at the top and those starred * are book club choices.

One Moment, One Morning by Sarah Rayner
Sister by Rosamund Lupton
This Charming Man by Marian Keyes
A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore
The Hating Game by Talli Roland
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
In Grandmother’s House by Sorasing and Peter….
Wife in the North by Judith O’Reilly
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie*
Your Blue-Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore
Emma's Baby by Abbie Taylor
Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall
The Waiting Room by FG Cottam
Choral Society by Prue Leith
The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Bed I Made by Lucie Whitehouse
Without Alice by DJ Kirkby
Turning The Tide by Christine Stovell
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
Dad's Life by Dave Hill
The Man Who Disappeared by Clare Morrall
Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (again)
Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
One Day by David Nicholls
The Daughter Game by Kate Long
Tell It To The Bees by Fiona Shaw
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson*
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
My So-Called Afterlife by Tamsyn Murray
Wasted by Nicola Morgan
The Lessons by Naomi Alderman
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe*
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Thaw by Fiona Robyn
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Cut Short by Leigh Russell
Looking For Alaska by John Green
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
Lottery by Patricia Wood
Black Boxes by Caroline Smailes
The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux*
Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
The Machine Stops by EM Forster
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver*
Ox-Tales EARTH by lots of great writers
Incendiary by Chris Cleave
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bangkok at Christmas 2

These trees were spotted at (from top left) MBK, Thong Lor, Asok, Siam Centre, Times Square, between sois 19 and 21, Siam Discovery and Robinson's (Sukhumvit Soi 19)

Outside Emporium (and Siam Paragon, not pictured) is the Christmas rabbit outside his coach.

You know the tale, right? The Christmas rabbit?

No. Nor me.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Photo

This isn't really as bizarre as it seems.

Thais traditionally use squat loos which are close to the floor (rather than chair height) and as the name suggest the user squats to use them. Even in the time we've been here we've seen more and more western loos appearing but you can't guarantee a life without coming across a squat loo so strong leg muscles are a must!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Miracle

Yesterday I had about twenty minutes to spare. I had my book so I went to Starbucks where I stood at the counter trying to decide what minimum investment could justify my backside on a Starbucks seat for the short time I’d got available. The staff behind the counter were all busy, clearing, making drinks, retrieving muffins from the oven etc.

One of the girls began to approach me. I knew she was going to take my order but before I could issue it our attention was taken by a kerfuffle to our side with the barista.

It happened in slow motion as these things do…

The Starbucks cream dispenser had come to life.

The barista had grown at least four pairs of cartoon arms as she tried to control the malfunctioning Starbucks cream vacuum dispenser. For three metres cubed the air was filled with a fine spray of squirty cream.

The other personnel collapsed into giggles before realizing there was a customer present.

‘So sorry madam…’ she said in between hysterics.

I had no idea I was so firmly within the radius of the cream, but truly, what is the point of being upset? ‘It’s no problem.’ We shared some more grinning.

Mortified but still hysterical with laughter her face lit up, ‘Ah madam,’ she laughed. ‘It’s snowing in Bangkok; happy Christmas.’

Monday, December 13, 2010

A special Christmas post

It’s a December tradition on Tea Stains that I roll out my Bangkok Christmas pictures.

The collection of the Christmas pictures started for me back in November when I was in KL. One afternoon I made my way to one of the hundred malls, Pavilion, in search of Bookbinders Design. Inside, a lavish exhibition space of ballroom proportions was bedecked with red carpeting, hundreds of yards of billowing gold fabric and a Christmas scene to rival any in Northern Europe – probably even the real one at the North Pole.

Here we were, the third week in November, and already we were knee deep in Christmas hysteria spirit. I made my way up the escalators to the sixth floor to find my shop but first I stopped and marvelled - even in cynicism - for a moment.

I peered down to the ground floor, bemused and I spied this: what looked like a life size display of Father Christmas’s sleigh and a complement of reindeer.

After I’d failed to find my shop I went down to check out the flamboyant spectacle so that I could include it in my Christmas Decoration posts. And really, who wouldn't be moved? Just maybe not quite as I first imagined...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The slippery slope

I like electronic gadgets but I like books more. If I had to choose (who would be so cruel? I luurve my iPhone/mac) I'd choose books; you know the things, the paper, ink, binding, gorgeous front cover, bit of blurb on the back to entice me in…

I've watched the growth of the e-reader with interest. I haven't been so rash as to declare 'they'll never catch on' but I have felt a certain smugness that there will always be books with pages you can turn, whose spines crease as you work your way through the story. There are too many others like me who love real books.

But will there?

On 1 December this year I was part of Talli Roland's blog splash. Her debut novel The Hating Game was released in Kindle format and wanting to help push the book up the Amazon Kindle ranks I purchased a copy. I don't have any e-reader so I downloaded the Kindle app for my iPhone and bought an electronic copy of The Hating Game.

OMG. I LOVED it. I loved having something entertaining to read wherever I was. As I raced around Bangkok dropping and picking up Daughter who's been rehearsing for three different shows simultaneously I always had something to read without the weight of a book. E-readers are not exclusive; I can like books at the same time as reading on my iPhone.

I knew immediately I finished The Hating Game that I had to have another book on my iPhone for those out and about moments... Think of the reading time you can snatch: waiting in a queue, in a taxi/bus/train. Back at Amazon I realized I will always need real flesh and blood books (To Kill a Mockingbird); those volumes you treasure but there can also be books for your e-reader.

There I've said it. There's room for both. I just hope it isn't the slippery slope. 

So in the meantime what would be your must have, flesh and blood, actual book?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Where I've been...

Sorry for my absence; but perhaps you hadn’t noticed I’d gone.

For the past two weeks The House has resembled Santa’s workshop.

I came back from Kuala Lumpur raring to meet my deadline on Polite Lies, my never-ending novel, instead I found my time wasn’t my own. Father Christmas had outsourced some of his work… to me.

That’s not true. I volunteered. (Why? Why do I do these things? I’ve told Husband I won’t do it again. He laughed and said it defined me… I’m not sure I like that.)

So three weeks work was over and done with a two-hour lunch.

Uh oh. This seemed like a good idea at the time:

I've made a start...

A veritable forest:

And it's all over...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Photo

Yeah, yeah, it's a cheap shot to laugh at their English (when my written Thai is non existent and my spoken Thai is so shabby) but it made me smile.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Talli Roland's Amazon Web Splash!

Help Talli Roland's debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at and by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.

No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.

Coming soon in paperback.  Keep up with the latest at


When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £200,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Monkey business

After the sunflower fields and lunch on Thursday we went to Pra Prang Sam Yot (Temple of the Three Prongs) which is a Khmer style temple built around 1200. Each prong represent the three Hindu deities: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.

Oh yes, and the temple is overrun by monkeys.

This (on the left) is Rambo, the alpha male, or 'the King' as they called him. I couldn't think where I'd seen him before until Husband asked why I was singing 'I'm the King of the Jungle; a jungle VIP.' (Updated to say that you HAVE to go and look at this YouTube. What a totally brilliant, genius piece of work.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Photo Gallery

Yesterday I went  to Lopburi Province, two and a half hours north of Bangkok, to see the sunflower fields.

How gorgeous?

(And you must come back tomorrow to see pictures of the monkey temple. You don't want to miss it, honest.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Grandmother's House: A review

Monsoon Books sent me a copy of In Grandmother’s House a few weeks ago. It was co-authored by Sorasing Kaowai and Peter Robinson and I was really excited because I’d come across both of them (on paper) before.

When I first came to Thailand I chanced upon the book Phra Farang, a story written by an English man, Peter Robinson, who gave up his London life to ordain as a monk in Bangkok. It was a fascinating read that helped me to understand my adopted country better. I read his second book next, Little Angels which documents real stories of children and youths that the former Phra Peter came across as novice monks. Sorasing’s story was one of those in the book.

In Grandmother’s House is an account of Sorasing’s childhood with his mother and grandmother. “The writing style, he says “is Peter’s, the memories are mine.” The book is part memoir but also an important historical account of the customs and traditions of rural Thailand. Sorasing’s grandmother was the village matriarch, a healer and a midwife. From the day he was born she took over most of his mothering so that his mother could return to work in the fields. His stories made me laugh and they made me weep.

Sorasing’s grandmother began working fulltime in the family paddy fields in 1930 when she was nine - although she would have been helping out with simple tasks for several years. “At nine years old”, Sorasing says, “her childhood days would have been considered at an end by her family and she was expected to work as hard as any adult.” His mother was born in 1954 and she had the compulsory three years of primary schooling but was still almost illiterate. Sorasing’s mother was determined that her son would break free of the cycle of poverty and she knew education was the answer.

Woven between the memoir are stories of their practical lives. We get an insight into their relationship with the creatures around them and food: “Despite sometimes being very dangerous, the creatures around me were all beautiful and interesting. They were only viewed as breakfast, lunch or dinner when we needed something to eat.” He gives us stories of spirits and ghosts, “Thais are a very superstitious people. Even most well educated Thais believe in ghosts…” and Sorasing tells of all kinds of spirits including the Thai man’s terror of a visit from Phi Mae Mai, a female ghost with an insatiable sexual appetite. And stories of his grandmother’s herbal medications, some of which are now used in mainstream medicine. (Some, a live gecko for tummy ache, thankfully are not.)

Sorasing’s written style – and here of course it may be Peter’s style – is disarming. “I know many Westerners think eating rats is disgusting, but they are actually very tasty and provide about the same level of nutrition as chicken or pork, but with less calories... I suppose Thai people eating field rat is not much different from Westerners eating field rabbits.”

In Grandmother’s House is utterly charming. You don’t need to live in Thailand to appreciate it; you need only an interest in your fellow human being. 

In Grandmother's House is available here, in Asia Books Bookazine or Kinokuniya.

(Blogger won't let me upload an image today. I will try again later to post the book jacket.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Malaysian style

I loathe having anything done to my hair.

I have thick wiry hair that kind of curls. Not beautiful pre Raphaelite curls or corkscrew ringlets but the sort that just half-heartedly attempts it. It needs tremendous coaxing to encourage it not to frizz and you can imagine the traumas of being in a tropical country where humidity is a constant issue. (Does anyone recall the Friends’ episode set in Barbados with Monica’s hair?)

I’ve always had thick hair but it didn’t begin to curl properly until adolescence. My mother told me that people paid a fortune to have hair like mine. She told me this over and over as though that might help. Looking back I suspect that that some of the traumas I had with my hair might be because as a small child I was tasked with brushing it myself. I brushed the surface and allowed a vast bird’s nest – nay a bird colony – to grow underneath in the nape of my neck. When this was discovered my mother claimed something weird must have happened in the paddling pool that day. Little did she realize that I’d grown it myself through neglect. I screamed the house down while comb teeth and hairbrush bristles flew through the air. My bird’s nest had to be cut out while I was pinned to the table.

So I hate the hairdressers. Quite often the first thing a hairdresser or their junior hair washer says to me is “have you ever thought of having your hair straightened?” Whether or not I like the curls, anyone who thinks curly hair is not nice isn’t the right person to cut my hair.

It’s got even worse in Thailand because of the language barrier. I have found someone to cut my hair but she’s in England and mostly I’m not. This suits me because I don’t have to go too often but when I’m there I have to grab the opportunity so that I get sorted out at least once a year.

But my hair has been troubling me in recent weeks and I won’t be in the UK until March so … I ambushed myself last week in KL. I walked into a salon and asked for an appointment. He didn’t do quite what I wanted but it’s a good cut.

They did the oddest thing: I had my hair washed ‘Malaysian style’ – in the chair with a bottle of water and shampoo. Does this happen anywhere else in the world?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Loy Krathong Festival

Today is the Loy Krathong festival. Thai people make (or buy ready made) these Krathongs. It's the end of the rainy season and they make a wish and launch them onto water – canals, rivers or ponds – (in our apartment’s case they’re being launched onto the pool this evening.) By paying respects to the water spirits it is believed that the krathong carries away sins and bad luck and will fulfill the wishes for the New Year.

On the streets today I’ve seen krathongs made from bread, banana tree trunk but the bases can also be Styrofoam. They are decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense sticks – sometimes a low value coin is included as an offering to the river spirits.

On the streets

 Selling krathongs

Launching krathongs in the pool

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stop, look and listen

Something I didn’t think to look up in my guidebook – and it didn’t occur to me until I was facing six lanes of traffic – was how to cross the road. Oh yes, you can jest. In my ignorance (arrogance?) before I moved overseas I thought there was only one way to cross the road. You found a crossing and (either pressed the timer button) or stood with intent in front of the road and the cars stopped.

Ha ha ha aha. Oh no.

Whoever would have thought that one of those cultural differences we hear so much about would extend to the simple act of crossing the road? We have crossings in Thailand; Western pedestrians know what they mean but apparently not the cars. 

In Thailand you have to put yourself in the road and then the cars will stop. Mostly. Hopefully. And by and large they do actually stop.

In China you have to put yourself in the road. Then the cars and bikes and lorries will drive around you. (Much, much more terrifying.)

I know there are some countries in the world that consider (quite sensibly?) jaywalking a crime. In Singapore (my neighbour while I am in KL and therefore why I want to know the rules) you can be fined or even go to prison. (A taxi driver in Singapore told us that crime is low because punishments are severe and implemented.)

I’ve got quite ballsy about crossing roads in Thailand. You do have to watch the body language of the cars to check that they have seen you; you should not make assumptions. But sometimes when your ballsiness lets you down or you are new to the city and the idiosyncratic style of road crossing, you should follow our rule: go with the locals.

So that’s what I did here. I can report that crossing the road is well behaved in my experience of KL city centre. There are traffic lights with pedestrian buttons and the cars stop. Lovely.

However this training of new road habits can be its own danger. Last time I was in the UK I nearly got hit by a car. Let me tell you cars in the UK do not appreciate your sudden appearance in the road with an expectation that they will good humouredly stop. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not about Kuala Lumpur at all...

The prospect of not knowing ‘how things work’ scared me when I was preparing to move to Bangkok. And it’s no different visiting a new country.

I knew it would frighten me because even things in the UK worry me when I didn’t know how to do them. Public swimming pools always feel like a good example of this. (Is it just me or is it really easy to type ‘swimming poos’ by mistake? That’s another whole blog post for why we shouldn’t use public swimming pools but not one I’m doing today.)

The system for how each pool operates differently from the last one I went to makes me deeply nervous. I pay the cashier. Although I'm already worrying about the locker system and whether I’ve got a coin of the right denomination and where or how I will stash the key while we're swimming, I forget to ask cashier lady for confirmation. I make my way with my inch square ticket in the flimsiest of papers and my small children through some barriers. I put the fragile ticket safe (somewhere; though for the life of me ten minutes later I won’t know where that was) and make my way to the lockers; cashier woman hasn’t reminded me what the lockers require. There's no reason why she should - she's not responsible for my child-induced dementia and I know she’d have to say it eleventy million times a day but now she has to deal with me again. I have to drag the children back through the barriers that only move in one direction. A sign tells me I can’t get the right change from her for the lockers so I have to go and buy something I don’t want from the shop. Then I don’t have my little ticket to prove I’ve paid but luckily cashier woman recognizes me because I’ve been a pain and lets us through. 

We get changed and squeeze everything into the locker. In the days when I frequented swimming pools I wore contact lenses so by this time I’d removed them and put on my glasses. I couldn’t see so well. While they’re the correct strength they alter the depth of field; the floor is slippery and it’s all a bit labyrinthine what with showers and loos and men's and women's and family changing areas and pools. All while I’m vulnerably dressed and trying not to let small children slip over. When we finally make it to the swimming pools the guard asks to see our ticket as proof of purchase. I have two small children that I’ve just wrestled into lycra, I’ve made it through a maze of tiled floor full of puddles of an indeterminate liquid and now I have to reverse it all again to find the ticket.

It’s not fun. I’m glad my kids have grown up and can take themselves to the pool. And tomorrow I might even get onto how things are different here…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Move over Flash Gordon

This was the view from my window when I arrived at my hotel: KL's iconic Petronas Towers, briefly judged to be the world's tallest building (the spires were considered to be 'architectural details.')

The highest up the towers that mere mortals can go is to the 41st floor skybridge, 170m above street level. Yes, you bet, I'll be in the queue for tickets before the week is out.

In the day the towers are different - more space age - but just as beautiful. I doubt a week will pass without a daylight picture on here. I can't stop looking out of the window to check them out.

But I must. I've got work to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Kicking my heels

My children go off on their school residentials tomorrow morning.

When we first came to Bangkok I had one child in primary and one child in secondary so their residential dates didn’t match up; I had to bide my time, listening to the other mums kicking up their heels over five days freedom. Two years I waited ‘til Daughter got into secondary.

In secondary the idea behind residentials – as well as all to develop teamwork, leadership, personal and social skills blah blah blah – is to clear out the school while the GCSE and IB mock exams are taken. I waited and waited and then I got my chance: that’s when I went on the wonderful Andaman Discoveries trip (see November 2007.) The second year I wanted mountains. I looked at a map; and discounted places I’d been, locations I planned to go to with family and arranged it all. Geography was never one of my gifts: Khorat turned out to be the flattest of flat plains. Not a mountain in sight. Not only that but there was a junior school residential inhabiting my hotel. Not my children but still, pah.

The following year was last year; Daughter went off and Son stayed behind to take mock GCSEs. Next year Daughter will do GCSE mocks and Son will take IB.

This year is my last chance.

In about an hour I will leave for the airport. I’m getting a flight to KL – Kuala Lumpur. Doesn’t that sound exotic? I’m dreaming of gin and tonics in a black and white world…. *sound of scratched record as I come to my senses* I’m not. I’m dreaming of coming back with my manuscript all in the right order. I will not worry about the prose. I will only worry that everything happens in the RIGHT ORDER.

I will not worry about the prose. I will not worry about the prose. RIGHT ORDER, RIGHT order, prose not worry …. Right order….

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Photo

A week or so ago, Central Chitlom department store was a spectacular sight. To celebrate King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit’s 60th wedding anniversary all seven floors were full of flower displays. 

For once I didn't have to creep around taking surreptitious photos - it was permitted. Phew.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I love...

I LOVE these take home bags. I think they're courtesy of Cafe du The.

It's a crying shame I can't eat cupcakes (unless wheat free) but I still had to use all my will power yesterday not to buy a family sized portion just to get my hands on a bag. My family would've been only too happy to oblige but I would have been resentful!

So pretty. Please forgive them their translation quirkiness....

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What kind of superhero are you?

Husband and I were catching up on the day’s events last night. My Dad had been in hospital for a cataract operation so I’d been on the ‘phone checking out how he was. Husband asked after Dad’s new vision. “Still a bit blurry,” I said. “He’s on some tablets that affect the action of his iris… It’ll take some time.”

It took us back two weeks to Daughter’s rush to hospital for the appendicitis that wasn’t. We were still in the ER and things were just concluding; the medics were finally able to give her something for the pain and the admin staff were doing the paperwork to admit her. Panic over; most likely diagnosis: a tummy infection. We began to laugh about a noise coming from the next bay (was it a sneeze or a mobile ‘phone?) when Daughter said, “Mum, I can’t see. My vision has gone blurry.”

I was thrown into panic again: repanic – there should be a word. We weren’t 100% sure what was wrong with Daughter but you don’t just ignore symptoms like that so I began to flap. I wanted to wave over a doctor and Husband said, “I’m sure it’s fine.” (It was a temporary consequence of the pain relief they’d given her.)

So last night, lying on our bed, thinking about the blurry vision of both my father and my daughter, I berated Husband. “You’re so casual,” I said.

“I’m Ice-Man,” he said.

“No, I’m fairly certain, if you were a super hero, you’d be Blasé-Man.”

“Help! Help! My cat’s stuck up the tree,” Enid cried. “No problem, Ma’am, Blasé-Man is here. Cat’s like trees; I expect he’ll come down when he’s hungry.”

“Help! That man stole my purse! Get him-” Mildred cried. “Aw, Ma’am. How much cash was in there? Only a few pounds? No problem Ma’am; that’s not so much to lose…”

It worries me slightly that I’m beginning to toy with Blasé-Man (in my head, people.) What does Blasé-Man care about? What costume would he wear? I am fairly certain that it would involve pink polyester. (He wouldn’t need to worry much about chafing because from his reclining position there wouldn’t be much rubbing.)

I think it’s time I wrap this post up now…

Monday, November 08, 2010

Bad blogger goes absent without leave

Whoops, sorry for that absence without leave.

I’m drowning here.

My unread feeds (other people’s blogs I read) number 467 as I write and it’s climbing all the time. (What IS all this obsessing about ‘is blogging dead?’ Jeez, it’s irritating. You’ve fallen out of love with blogging? That’s fine; don’t do it. Personally I think you’ve got to love it. It’s a commitment that you won’t keep up unless your heart is really in it. No, I probably won’t blog for ever but while I enjoy showing up here to post pictures of my adopted home and talk nonsense I shall continue to do so whether or not blogging is considered (by whom?) to be on the wane.)

I’m drowning under my 348 pages of manuscript too. Will I ever think it’s good enough? That’s not looking very likely right now. I’m enormously grateful that I can read it and tell there’s something wrong; more obliged still to the writing gods when I can identify what is wrong… but it would be useful to know how to go about putting it right.

So I’m not being a very good blogger friend right now; I’m probably not coming by and commenting but it’s not because I think blogging is dead. It’s because I’m drowning….

Monday, November 01, 2010

Precious little progress is still progress

I had a sudden shock on Saturday morning when the York Writing Festival programme pinged into my inbox. About a trillion months ago – the kind of notice that is required – I booked air mile tickets to go home for this writing conference. I kept my fingers crossed that the dates wouldn’t change because my tickets can’t!

I had worked it all out. I’d have time to finish the edit; send it to some readers; get their feedback and still have time to go through it again. It had seemed at the time as good a deadline as any on what is turning out to be the never ending novel.

So when I saw the festival programme I began hyperventilating and determined to get down to work. What progress have I made toward hitting that deadline? Errrm, precious little… but I have tidied my office. Still, you can’t write in chaos, can you? What? You can? Yeah me too but tidying seemed so very much more attractive…

I seemed to have slipped on my public humiliation tactic of writing what page of the edit I’m on. I must remedy that immediately. Page 54 - which represents about a sixth of the novel.

And by the way who is planning to attend the York Writing Festival? Let's have a show of hands please.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday photo: target audience?

What a nightmare it must be to decide on a name for a company aiming at international appeal. Think about all those words that could offend.

This jewellery company decided it was best to play it safe:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Here's one I made earlier...

Six weeks ago: someone asks me if I’d like to join their friend’s table for the Melbourne Cup charity lunch at the beginning of November. I don’t know everyone on the table but I say yes.

Five weeks ago: someone mentions that there’s a theme to our fascinators. (A fascinator is a headpiece – not as full as a hat; it perches on the side of your head.) Someone has seen a picture that they like and perhaps we could find someone to make them.

Four and a half weeks ago: no-one’s quite sure who the twelve women are on the table but someone thinks one of the other women has an idea for a fascinator.

Four weeks ago: No-one has contacted K or I talk about hats. I wonder if K and I are control freaks. But no-one else seems to be worried that no-one knows anything.

Three and a half weeks ago: K emails some of the women she does know to find out what is being proposed. I hear from K that one person answered the email and they think someone had an idea for a fascinator. Maybe we can find someone to make it for us.

Three weeks ago: I start thinking, I google, look at magazines and books. I send K a picture. We wait a bit because one of the women knows that someone had seen a picture they liked for our fascinators and maybe someone’s got it in hand.

Two and a half weeks ago: we send around a picture to some of the women we’ve discovered are on the proposed table.

Two weeks ago: K and I go to Chinatown to purchase goodies to make fascinators.

One week ago: I begin a prototype.

Yesterday: I complete the prototype.

This morning: eight women came over to my apartment to learn, Blue Peter style, to make their own fascinator. We made three extras for the women who couldn’t come today but someone is certain they know who they are.

Tuesday next week: Melbourne Cup.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Two for tea; tea for two

I had a lovely leisurely tea at Cha By the Park the other day with a friend. It's interior is gorgeous and so bijou you feel as though you're in someone's home. It serves the best range of teas: two choices of Long Jin (Dragon Well) my most favourite green tea. 

The park (in its name) is Benjasiri Park, over Sukhumvit Road. I feel a relationship coming on...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wood Street, Bangkok

We've known about 'Wood Street' for as long as we've been here. In our early days expats would say wisely 'if you want furniture, you should go to Wood Street.' They said it knowingly even though I'd put money on them never having been. Crumbs, I've even done it myself.

Now I can say it knowingly even though it took us five years to go...

We took the MRT (underground) to Bang Su and then in the drizzle we tried to follow our map. (Ha ha ha ha.) We walked for miles in the wrong direction and then got a taxi to the right place (Prachanarumit Road.)

Here are a few photos...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beginner writer + instinct - experience/wisdom/knowledge = ?

I have finally conquered that niggling bit of the edit. I realized I had an instinct but I’d been batting it away; firstly, I knew how much work it was going to be and secondly, what do I know? Who am I to have instincts?

What is instinct without wisdom? Or knowledge? Or maybe experience. Should you listen?

When you’re learning something it’s really difficult to know whether to trust your instincts or not. But I have learned that when a more experienced writer than I has looked at my manuscript and made a comment, on several occasions I’ve said, ‘yeah… I sort of knew that.’ Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I know everything (oh dear lord; I actually know nothing) but quite often – enough times to become aware of it – I’ve had that little thought come into my head: ‘you knew this already didn’t you?’

I had vowed to listen a bit more to this voice but it can be quiet over the rest of the din in my head. Then on Saturday night it raised its voice, ‘you gotta get rid of the second library scene,’ it said. ‘It’s stealing the first library scene’s thunder. It’s gotta go. Hello? HELLO? Can you hear me?’

I could. I acknowledged Voice but it was late so I printed out the two scenes and went to bed. Yesterday I got up early and brought the two scenes together.

Then I saw this: “Good writers learn how to pare a manuscript down to its most essential elements, carving away the word count fat that marks so many beginning writers” from here and I knew I’d done the right thing.

Instincts are good but sometimes confidence is required in tandem.

Hello? Hello Confidence? Can you hear me? Can I have some please?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Every day is Groundhog Day for writers

Thanks to everyone who sent good wishes to Daughter. Normal life has resumed here. Half term is nearly over. Daughter and Husband are preparing for piano exams; Son has done all his homework (I think and hope) and Daughter is finishing homework after her unscheduled days sick. We’ve done some essential furniture shopping – cheap and cheerful for the kids and something nicer for our communal areas. (For new readers, we moved apartment about six weeks ago and yes, we’re still in chaos.) I've attempted to sort my office out. I emptied all the cupboards and... well, then I lost interest and just left most of it on the floor, the sofa, in bags...

I haven’t been reading blogs or replied to comments here since Daughter was sick and for that I apologise. I will try and get around to it soon.

I am trying to prioritise my editing. Since I've introduced my public humiliation announcements I am indeed humiliated. I’ve got stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day for writers. Edit Hell is on a loop. It doesn’t matter where in my manuscript I start revising when I look at the page number to check out my progress it’s ALWAYS between pages 36-9. Arggggh.

Public humiliation tactic: progress (or otherwise) on my edit: page 36-9 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Photo: Taxi dashboard - badly photoshopped

It's quite common for taxis to have shrines on their dashboard. My book, the brilliant Very Thai says that taxis are "culturally still a boat. The steering column doubles as the prow, the vehicles sacred 'head' where offerings go [to] honour Mae Yanang, the protective spirit of the boat." It goes on to say in other taxis "the dashboard plays host to assemblages of souvenirs, cute cartoon mascots, model cars, wax fruit, heart shaped stickers or toy helicopters..." I suspect that this taxi falls into this category.

I flatly refuse to add my edit update today - even for public humiliation purposes.

For those that don't know we had a major disruption to life on Wed/Thur as Daughter was rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis. She didn't have it; she had a stomach infection but I have therefore done nothing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Here's a warning for you...

Oh I’ve been jumping up and down and squealing at the new followers. Thank you; thank you Rach for your Platform-Building Crusade. Actually I have to be honest I don’t like reciprocal following for the sake of increasing numbers but what I do like about this is that we’re all writers, right? So that’s not just for the sake of it…

Another confession I have to make to my new followers is about tea stains.  If I’m talking about writing it’s often a sign I’m not writing… obviously, to someone who wants to finish her book, this is A Bad Thing.

I’m trying to change the Bad Thing into Good Thing. Good Thing is writing; or editing. So I’ve implemented a new habit: I’m ending each post with an edit status.  Public humiliation tactic: progress (or otherwise) on my edit: page xx. This is working well in that I’m embarrassed to have to say I’ve done very little editing since yesterday. It’s good that I’m embarrassed but that’s not really enough. I need to move the embarrassment and inaction towards pride and action because I’ve made progress. I am determined that pitiful progress won’t happen again tomorrow. Watch this space.

So, when I’m not talking about writing because I am writing (Good Thing) I quite often post about my life as a British woman in Thailand or my family or something I see on the street, or somewhere I go. This might mean my blog is somewhat eclectic but that’s just the way it goes. Anyway, now you know.

Public humiliation tactic: progress (or otherwise) on my edit: page 39 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rach Writes: Inaugural Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade


When I wonder why I blog I always come back to the same thing – because I love it. Would I do it if I had no comments, no followers? Yes, if I could see from the stats that people were still visiting, reading; finding out that pineapples really do grow on the ground and not on trees, checking out enormous spiders and enjoying pictures of Crystal Tips and Alistair.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love seeing my follower list increasing – and look I am so near 100. So when I came across this brilliant idea, the Inaugural Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade from Rach Writes I knew I had to be involved. There are lots of aspiring writers, bloggers, agents, publishers and  published authors out there all wanting to build their online platforms.

So how to get involved? Go along to this post from Rach Writes and leave a comment with your blogging name and a link to your site. Don’t forget to follow Rach Writes so that you get updates about the Crusade and of course check out the other Crusaders… check them out and follow them so they’ll visit you.

Rach says:
  • Write about the Crusade on your blog and link back to this post
  • Encourage your followers to come to Rach Writes… and join up (it will help them too!)
  • Tweet about the Crusade, including a link to this post ( and #WPBC1.  Encourage re-tweets. I'm @RachaelHarrie if you want to follow me in the Twitterverse too
  • Pop it on Facebook
  • Generally, spread the word…
I’ll publish a list of all the Crusaders on Rach Writes.., and I’ll update the list as people join in on future Crusades.

So I’m in. Are you?


Public humiliation tactic: progress (or otherwise) on my edit: page 36 (but I'm off to do some now.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday memories: Christmas 1986

I’d been going out with Not Yet Husband for about two months. Notions of husbands couldn’t be further from my mind because my first term at university had finished and we were meeting for the first time on fresh turf: Covent Garden. Just us. Would we still like each other away from university?

(I just went to ask Husband if he had any fond memories of this trip. Readers, he had no memory of the momentous occasion. He looked hazy and said, ‘was it a big meet up in the Punch and Judy?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘it was just us.’ ‘Oh. Did we have lunch in that place in the middle?’ I said, ‘you’re guessing aren’t you?’ He said, ‘well I have lots of memories of Covent Garden…’ I said, ‘but not this special one?’)

To be fair to the old bloke his faculties are probably going. He got glasses for the first time yesterday: reading glasses. At last I’m not the only one… When he got home from the glasses trip he did a bit of tidying. He ventured into the button box where he found a number of treasures. A tie pin (aw gawd, did I really fall for a man who wore a tie pin?); an ARP badge (air raid patrol) and a single earring of mine.

He remembered (vaguely) that these earrings had been purchased by him in our dating days (though he couldn’t put an exact date on it) during a trip to Covent Garden (where we might or might not have been with other people) and was distressed that he had only found one. (The other one was in my jewellery box; I had kept it for sentimental reasons in spite of its singleton status.)

We had wandered about Covent Garden market and saw these gorgeous earrings. They were expensive and we were students but Not Yet Husband told the girl he wanted them. To our horror, the expensive price tag was for a single earring only (damn that trendy Covent Garden) but by this time NYH was unable to back out.

Regular readers will know how much I like lizards. I have blogged about all sorts – monitor lizards here and here; a blue crested lizard here; various gecko visitors here and a skink here. But I thought the lizard fascination grew while I was in Thailand; apparently not.

I wonder what those two young people wandering around Covent Garden in Christmas 1986 would have thought if they’d been told what life had in store for them.

For scale these are about 1cm tall and wide. They are inserted from the back of the ear lobe.


As a public humiliation tactic, each day I will show my progress (or otherwise) on my edit: page 31.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oh what a lovely day...

I had the loveliest birthday yesterday.

Thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes. Messages came in all day via Facebook which is particularly lovely when cards don’t arrive overseas in time for the right day.

I’m always the first to wake in this house (first to bed too.) And this is the sight that greeted me at the crack of dawn when I crept out of our bedroom:

There was a pile of presents on the table that I presumed I wasn’t allowed to open… Oh the self control… eventually, when everyone was up I got to open the gifts. This was one of them:

(Is it wrong to be so excited by a label maker?)

After much research, Daughter made a wheat free chocolate cake that was delicious but was spectacular this morning after a night in the fridge. I know because I had some for breakfast.

We had dinner at Face in Sukhumvit Soi 38 (I've never been before but it's a gorgeous complex of traditional Thai houses) and then went to see Red at the cinema.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Thought for Thursday: guilt

Something came up at book club on Tuesday. One of our new members asked if people read more now that they are expats. Answers were split. I don’t read more; I’ve always read obsessively.

Someone asked about guilt. They said: do you feel guilty taking the time to read? Quite a few people did.

I don’t. It’s not like I’d be dusting under the sofa if I weren’t reading, is it?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On being really irritating

I was tucked away working in my office last Saturday. All the rooms in our new apartment are arranged off the central communal space so no one is ever very far away. (This can be a good and a bad thing.) Everyone was home pottering about. I was unaware of them. Later, when I thought back to what had happened, I realized I’d heard this:

Setting: In the distant subconscious of Jenny’s brain.

Son: Dad. Shhh: Mum!
Husband: *singing* little boxes made of ticky tacky;
Son: *urgently* DAD! Shhh. Mum’ll start…
Husband: Huh?
Me: *singing* little boxes, little boxes, little boxes all the same…
Son: *tutting* Oh never mind. It’s too late.

I sang Little Boxes aloud to everyone’s irritation for approximately twenty four hours until after lunch on Sunday, this happened:

Setting: the dining room table. Son is doing homework. Jenny is working. Husband is doing something; it wasn’t the tax returns… though it probably should have been.

Son: *Looking up* How do you spell ukulele?
Me: *bursts into song* ukulele; ukulele, ukulele me!
Husband: *bursts into song in the style of George Formby* I’m leaning on a lamppost at the corner of the street in case a certain little lady comes by… (He actually does the ukulele actions: that must be doing air ukulele?)
Son: Grrrrrr
Me: U-K-E-L-E-L-E (I even spelt it wrong)

It’s now Wednesday and I’m still singing Ukulele; ukulele, ukulele me!

I even irritate myself sometimes but at least I’ve learned to spell ukulele, ukulele, ukulele me!