Driving Miss DD

As the lovely DD has turned 17 her thoughts naturally turned to...nope not marriage, driving.

The first thing I discovered was that adding a new driver (even just a learner) to your insurance makes the price go up. I'm not talking a tiny bit either, my insurance company told me that they don't want to insure young drivers so my quote went from £300 a year to over £800 a year. Obviously I high tailed it to Compare the Meerkat to get another opinion! I am now with a different company, insured for £300 ish again. What a weird world. (oh and I get a free meerkat toy, so win win)

I have a Fiat Panda so it's a nice small car to practice in, has a great driving position with excellent visibility, and DD isn't scared of it, of course my fear factor when she takes the driving seat is on another level all together.

What I can't offer DD is a driving lesson. I'm not a qualified driving instructor and I passed my test (first time, *proud face*) way back when I was young (25 years ago) so I have no idea how much of what I was taught is still in the test, and of course there is a theory test now that I didn't have to worry about.
But I can offer DD some basic pointers and time to practice. And so after a few tense minutes talking about clutch control and braking we went out for a drive.

As the 'reponsible' driver in charge of a learner (I know!) I had to behave exactly as I would when driving. So no tweeting, no having a glass of cava to steady my nerves, in the eyes of the law, *I* am in charge of the car.

But so that you could enjoy the mayhem fun, we set my phone up on the satnav holder, out of the way, and set it to record before we set off. Note my calm and relaxed posture, the lack of screaming, the smiling...I think I did pretty well.

Of course we have invested in 'proper' lessons too. And after a hunt around for someone that
   a) had availability (many teachers are booked up months in advance) 
   b) we could afford (prices ranged from £15 - £30 an hour and some could only be purchased as a bulk booking of ten or more)
   c) DD got on with OK (a 'trial' lesson should be possible with most instructors as teaching styles should ideally be matched to the pupil's learning style)
we settled on a teacher. He is taking DD out once a week in a dual controlled car so that his blood pressure hopefully won't rival mine after an hour in the car with her.

Have you taught a teen to drive? Will you be allowing your child to drive your car? Share your horror stories below.


Wordy Wednesday with Mariam Kobras

Today I'm happy to finally introduce you to Mariam Kobras, who promised me this interview ages ago but has been busy ignoring the tricky questions! I'm glad she has answered them at last though, as she has some great responses and it's lovely to 'meet' a new author.

So let's begin with Mariam introducing herself before the real interrogation starts.
Hello, my name is Mariam Kobras, I’m a sixty-year-old grandmother from Hamburg, Germany. Before I became a writer I taught theatre at a local high school.
I love chicken soup and coconut cream pie, lunches with my publisher, Criminal Minds and Battlestar Galactica, walks on the beach, and my baby grandson. I adore hanging out with my family, and a good cup of coffee.

Travelling and visiting my friends in Canada and the US also ranks high on my list and I can’t wait to go again! Actually, I’m always ready to travel. I want to see Iceland, and the huge waves in Nazare, Portugal, and I want to drive the length of the Pacific Coast Highway in the US.(funny you should mention that...DD and I did that in
Just the usual boring stuff!

Do you have another job or are you a full time author? If you do something else (international spy?) what is it and do you like it?

I loved teaching, but I gave it up to concentrate on writing. That was seven years ago. I still miss the bustle of the teachers’ lounge, and working with the kids, but I’m too old teach and write. Or at least I feel too old for it.
I maintain a steady writing schedule, most of the time.
Before I started teaching, I managed an American football team here in Germany, and a number of other crazy things… I’m the typical soccer mom in many ways.

When did you start writing?

In 2009. Remember how I told you about that theatre class? Well, I also supervised the detention room. There were hours when everyone was behaving and the room was empty. My hubby had given me a laptop for Christmas, so I sat in that empty room and wrote. I was new to twitter then, and the people I met asked me what I did besides tweet… and I told them I was writing a novel. A couple of them asked to read it, and because of their encouragement, I just kept writing.Oh that's such a cool thing to hear - I love when social media lets people share the positive!
Then one day I opened twitter to find a publisher following me. It was Buddhapuss. We started chatting, and eventually they asked to see my book. Shortly after that I signed my first book deal.
The Distant Shore was released in January 2012. Since then we’ve released four more books in the Stone Series. I think I there will be one more but it’s still simmering and not quite ready to be written.

What 3 things are guaranteed to make you smile?

My grandson. He’s ten months old now, and just starting to stand up.
I never wanted to be a grandmother, and I kept telling my older son and his wife that they had lots of time to become parents. They did take their time and did a good deal of travelling before they decided to have a family.
Everything changed when I held that baby in my arms. It’s so hard to describe. There was this huge, warm wave of love that washed over me, and and amazing sense of perfection. This was what I’d been born for. This little child made my life complete. Suddenly, my life made sense. I had come full circle. There will be more grandchildren, of that I’m certain, especially since my younger son and his fiancé want children too. But I don’t think anything will ever surpass that glorious moment of truth.

So many things make me smile.
Yesterday, on my way to babysit my grandson, I saw the first geese of spring fly overhead. They were calling to one another, their formation was nearly perfect, and I stood in the middle of the street and stared and smiled.

A good cup of coffee nearly always makes me smile. I had the best cup of coffee ever at a Cuban restaurant in Orlando, Florida.

And this cat makes me smile. A friend in Scotland adopted him from the shelter a couple of months ago, and we watched as he transformed from a thin, raggedy creature into this king of a cat! Look at this face!
(wait, that four things! oh OK I'll let it go as the cat is cute)

Do you have any pets? If yes, what, and do they help or hinder the writing process?

I had a cat for nearly seventeen years. His name was The Pig because he had these pink ears and nose when we rescued him from the gutter (yes, literally), and that’s the name that stuck.
The Pig used to go everywhere I went. He lay on my desk when I was working, he sat on my shoulder when I was in the kitchen cooking, and if there was chicken on the dinner menu he’d circle the table, walking from one shoulder to the next. I loved him very much, and I still miss him. There’s a hole in my heart where he used to live.
I’m thinking of getting another cat, but I know there will never be another like him.

Who is your favourite author? Do they influence your writing or are they a total break from the sort of thing you write?

I really had to think about this one.
Truth is, I don’t have any one favourite writer. Can I cheat and offer a short list?
I really love Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy), but I also really like N.K. Jemisin and her Inheritance Trilogy (it’s fantasy, and amazing, and beautifully written!). Robertson Davies has been a favourite since university, where our literature prof from Vancouver introduced us to his books. I love them all!
I read widely, from Nobel Prize winning literature to Stephen King and Jan Karon.

Which book(s) are you reading at the moment?

Right now I’m reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. He’s the author of Cloud Atlas, which was made into a really beautiful movie. Next on my list is N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon.

Where do you do most of your writing?

Wherever I am! I’ve discovered a secret. The writing doesn't happen when you’re in a particular space, it happens when you’re in a particular space in your novel. If the story pulls you in, it doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll write.
I’ve done writing all over the place: my desk, the couch in the living room with the TV running or the kid playing Tomb Raider, in waiting areas at airports, at my publisher’s dining-room table, at a friend’s house in Texas, her greyhound lying across my lap. On the ferry from Tsawwassen to Vancouver Island, on the plane from Frankfurt to New York.
Most of my writing though does happen at my desk.

Tell us about the character that you've written that you like the most - no spoilers!

My Stone Series (The Distant Shore is the first book in this series) is the story of Jon Stone, a rock star getting on in age, and his long lost love, Naomi Carlsson.(Naomi, great name...just saying)
For more than sixteen years Jon has wondered why Naomi left him without a single word of explanation or even saying goodbye. He is on the brink of depression and alcoholism when he one day receives a letter from a teenage son he knew nothing about. He drops everything to travel halfway across the world to find his son, and his long lost love.
I’ve often been asked if there’s a real rock star who inspired me to create Jon Stone, but there isn’t a single person that he’s based on. If you insist though, I’ll probably say, Bruce Springsteen.
Jon is, after so many years of being a star, is polished and well-mannered. He knows how to wear a tux, but deep down he’s still the same New York City boy who set out so long ago to make his fortune in Hollywood.
I have to admit that I fell in love with this man, partly because music is so deeply woven into his soul. There are only are two things that really matter to Jon: his music, and his family.

What is your favourite biscuit?
Shortbread! Not fancy shortbread, just the plain Walkers stuff. Yum!

Tea or Coffee?

Always coffee. Unless it’s organic orange/ginger tea, but I’ll only drink that at night.

In the film of your life who would play you?

Oh gosh–I have no idea, and I can’t think of a single actor who looks like me.
If colour and heritage don’t matter—either Judy Dench or Helen Mirren. I look nothing like them, but I admire them greatly. Is that a good enough reason? Or Maggie Smith! I adore Maggie Smith.

If you could genetically cross an animal and a vegetable, what would you pick and why?

This question may well be the reason why it took me forever to get around to doing this interview. I HAVE NO IDEA!!!
A cat and a willow? Then those pussy willows would really grow kittens! haha, fuzzy!

Find out more about Mariam, and follow her on social media on her blog, Facebook page or twitter

And obviously buy her books! (she needs to get some more shortbread)


Blog post props and backgrounds that are already in your home

I'm a lazy blogger, we all know that, and so far I have spent more money on this blog (buying domains, posting prizes, travel to events, blogger meet tickets etc) than I have ever made from it, and it's easy to be disheartened when you start out in blogging seeing all the gorgeous photographs that are out there in blog land.

You have a few choices with regard to blog photos I guess, you could not bother at all and just go with a text blog, you could buy stock images (I sometimes use 123RF for royalty free stock images) , you could learn more about photography and buy lots of fabulous props, or you could make do and be damned. I opted for a mix, I try to take reasonable photos and I buy the odd stock image when I really can't get what I need from stuff I have lying around the house.

Yeah I bought this one :-) Copyright: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo

And that brings us nicely to :

Ideas for blog props

Whether you realise it or not, you are bound to have lots of props around your house, or cheaply available from local shops. You don't need a light box (although they are fab!) you can use natural  light, lamps or even good old camera flash (tape tissue paper over a cheap camera flash to help soften the light).

For back drops and flat lays look at your floors. Tiles and wood are both great, as are nice laminates, but don't forget the smooth white interior of a bath tub, or the fake fur coat you could use as a backdrop for small items. Grab samples of mosaic tile lino at carpet shops, and wallpaper samples from DIY shops. Off cuts of white laminated MDF can be useful too, check the garage or shed! Charity shops can be a rich source of unusual fabrics too.

Children's toys can be great too, blackboards laid flat as a base, or a Lego mat, board games can be good visual aids to all sorts of posts, and a snakes and ladders board can be an effective background.

guess who game

When you are looking for items to include in the photo, empty photo frames are good, also vases, trays, pretty cups and saucers, and strings of (fake unless you are posh) pearls. Shiny green apples and fuzzy ripe peaches and lots of other fruit photographs well.

vitamins and apple

In fact the kitchen is a ripe (pun intended) source of props for all sorts of posts, not just recipe ones. Jars full of coloured lentils and herbs as a blurry background, glasses with jewellery, wine bottles, wooden chopping boards and sets of retro scales; my house is full of retro things and antiques, but whatever your style, take a look around.

glass bowl on wooden table

The garden can be a good place to photograph things too. Either with a simple grass background, or flowering bushes, daffodils in the spring and snow (if you are lucky) in winter. Take some of your own 'stock' photos when you get the chance! Some wellies in the snow, a toy among the snowdrops, a picnic on a blanket on a sunny lawn. And look for some rustic additions too, bricks, logs, piles of sticks, bird baths and old terracotta flowerpots.

Jord wooden watch on beach with blue sea

I'd love to add more suggestions, so please add them in the comments or pop over to chat on my facebook page.