• Lifestyle,  Personal,  Publishing,  Travel

    We’re working to offset our carbon footprint

    Climate Change. It’s a phrase on everyone’s lips lately. You don’t have to be a scientist to know that the world is changing and that we all need to adapt to help stop the damage our day-to-day lives cause when it comes to the environment.

    Due to family located around the world, business commitments, and general adventures, my wife and I travel a lot. We have always offset our carbon emissions for each journey we take where it has been possible to do so.

    Now we’re taking that one step further and we’re working with Offset Earth to increase the amount of carbon offsetting we do and to be more transparent about our carbon offsetting.

    You’ll be able to see on my website (on this post or on my sidebar), and over at our Offset Earth profile page, how many trees we have planted, how much carbon we have offset, and which projects we are helping to support. You’ll also be able to help us grow our forest by gifting trees to us if you want to help out or even open up your own Offset Earth account.

    We offset our carbon footprint via Offset Earth

  • LGBT+,  Lifestyle,  Personal,  Publishing,  Travel,  Writing

    ELLCon 2018…. missing you already

    ELLCon, or the European Lesfic Literary Conference to those who don’t know, is now over.

    If you asked me a week ago how I’d be feeling now, I would have said ‘happy that ELLCon is over and I can get on with other things!’ But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have lots of friends who go to conferences and conventions and they often talk about ‘post-con depression’, and that is exactly what I’m feeling. Because, quite simply, ELLCon was amazing.

    We parked in the car park underneath the hotel the day before the conference, as the lift doors opened to the ground floor we saw our first author! Claire Highton-Stevenson was there opening a door for us, calling us reprobates, and directing us towards the reception. Admittedly, I think this was a fluke and I don’t think she had specifically been waiting for our arrival but it was a great start to the event and I instantly knew she’d be a friend!

    Thursday was the start of ELLCon, Emma and I arrived at check in and were met by two of the organisers, Gerd and Valden, who provided us with our lanyards and showed us the room where our vendor table was. They also showed us a poster, all authors were to sign the poster and it would be given away to a lucky random winner in a raffle the next day.

    The vendor room was a hive of activity, some vendor tables had a nameplate but no books and no author in sight, some were in the process of being set up, and some tables looked like the author had been there for days just waiting for the event.

    I dumped our boxes and immediately went over to see Jenn Matthews and May Dawney, who were sharing a table and had clearly risen at 5am to get a start on having the best table at the event. I immediately knew that our bookmarks and tub of Swedish (they were from IKEA) chocolate had been beaten.

    As you can see, Jenn is amazing at crochet. She was selling keyrings, bookmarks, cuddly toys, hats and blankets.

    Apropos of nothing… I did note the temperature in the vendor room went down a notch consistently throughout the day. Convenient for anyone selling adorable, comforting blankets. Coincidence, I’m sure.

    Next to May was the Ylva table and a host of amazing authors were setting up. Big names like Andrea Bramhall, Wendy Hudson, Jae, G Benson, AL Brooks were setting up stacks of books like they were just normal human beings.

    By this point, my wife reminded me that we had to set up our own table. Our table was next to Affinity and I had the chance to meet the lovely Jen Silver and Samantha Hicks, and on the other side of us we had Sam Skyborne and Lise Gold. So… we were sandwiched between some fantastic people.

    It was about nine am and my fitbit told me I’d completed my step goal for the day. We set up our table and realised… neither of us knew how to set a table up. We’d naively thought that books could be stacked on top of each other nicely enough, but that wasn’t really working out. But on the bright side, I got the lid off the chocolates and they were set up in the middle of the table. Priorities, right?

    Around this point, Miranda MacLeod and TB Markinson arrived, two authors we have actually met before. Miranda had flown in from America specifically to see us! Or for ELLCon… I forget which. Miranda is also a pro at conferences and so she had more merch than you could shake a stick at, if you’re a stick waving fan. She also had some spare book stands that she kindly donated to me. I had to read the instructions on the box to figure out how to open them.

    Now is probably the time to mention that Emma and I have never been to a convention like this before, certainly never had a table to sell our books. The UK market has never really had a thing like ELLCon before, there are a few events shared with M/M authors and some magazine organised awards… but no actual conferences where authors and readers can mingle.

    We eventually managed to set our table up. I forgot to take a picture of it. But we were there, I promise.

    Somewhat conveniently located by the food and the window was the lovely Kit Mallory with her fantastic novel Blackout… just look at this awesome cover!

    Next to Kit was Claire Highton-Stevenson, who had a mission to take selfies and have a bloody good laugh. She did both perfectly.

    Somehow the hour-long arrival, registration, and welcome time took around three minutes and on my way to get a glass of water I bumped into the publishing powerhouses that are Clare Ashton, Clare Lydon, Harper Bliss, and Caroline Manchoulas (Mrs Bliss to some). We rushed into the next room to sit for the first panel; What is in a Cover? The Do’s and Don’ts of Designing a Winning Cover. Which was chaired by Robyn Nyx. Caroline Manchoulas, Sally Xerri-Brooks, Miranda MacLeod, and May Dawney all spoke about their experiences of cover design from doing it yourself to hiring professionals to being a professional.

    Photo lovingly stolen from Kitty Author.

    The room was great, the tables had pens and paper (I made a paper airplane). And there were glasses and bottles of water everywhere. The only issue was, if you poured yourself a drink and then left that glass on a table for more than two seconds… some fantastic employee of the Marriott cleaned it away.

    I was on the second panel, so I slipped away early to visit the ladies bathroom. The hotel was undergoing a massive refurbishment and when I walked into the bathroom I could smell sealant. As I closed the door to my cubicle, I caught a glimpse of a male builders arse directly opposite me… bending over a bowl and applying fresh sealant. I didn’t let it stop me. I’m wild like that.

    The second panel was chaired by the lovely Clare Lydon and was called Tropes in Publishing: should they be Embraced or Avoided? Myself, Clare Ashton, Brey Willows and Gabby Benson quickly decided that tropes were great. The panel could have been thirty seconds long but we played along. We were all brilliant, made great points, I believe there was a standing ovation at the end. I forget what was exactly said but I’m sure you get the drift.

    Also lovingly stolen from Kitty Author.

    One of the strange things about this event was how the organisers expertly managed to bend and warp time. From the end of my panel at around 11:15 to the end of lunch at 14:00 flew by in about eight and half seconds. During this time I met so many wonderful readers including Miranda, Sharon, Carol (Video Girl to some), Kate, Kitty (who I’m shamelessly stealing photos from), and so many more. I ate a cookie or two. I spoke to some of the organisers. Put down and lost a glass of water forever. I had a pastry. I spoke with some other authors. Ate a cookie. Petted Ferb (it’s a dog, I swear) and met the lovely Jody Klaire.

    Sadly, this speedy passage of time meant that I missed a reading by Suzanne Egerton and a panel called When Writing Feels Like a Marathon – how to get over the Finish Line. But that just gave me more to talk about with people who had attended later.

    When lunch was served, myself and Claire decided to break into the main room and sit and eat at one of the big tables so we weren’t eating over our books. We’d both been told off for that at school. A few minutes later the table was full of people, we had to keep moving up to make room. It was so great to just sit and chat with people over a meal. I lost three glasses of water during this meal. Damn those Marriott people are light-fingered.

    Then it was the next panel ‘Better Reading Makes for Better Writing – how does reading Another’s work help your Own?‘ chaired by Justine Saracen. On the panel was Robyn Nyx, TB Markinson, Emma Nichols and some woman called Emma Sterner-Radley. Kidding, I obviously know that last one as she’s my lovely wife. Here she is with Kitty Author.

    Also shamelessly stolen from Kitty Author.

    Side note… Emma and I were repeatedly asked some questions which we mistakenly thought everyone knew the answer to. So, to clarify, here’s a quick synopsis:
    1) Yes, we’re together.
    2) Yes, we’re married.
    3) Yes, we do have the same surname and appear to be joined at the hip. See #1 and #2.
    4) Emma is Swedish. We’ve been together for nine years, we live in the UK.
    5) We don’t write books together.
    6) We love each other so we probably won’t write a book together in the future either.
    7) Yes, Emma really was that terrified about being on panels.
    8) No, Emma did not die from fear of being on panels. But it was a possibility.

    The panel went well. As an uneducated, non-reader of the classics I didn’t have much of a clue what was being said. But it all sounded dead impressive and I clapped in the correct places. Got away with that, I thought. Lost another glass of water.

    I missed a reading by Kiki Archer because I can’t read time properly, but I think there is a video of it somewhere and I’ll repost it as soon as I discover the link. I met more readers, signed some books, sold some books. Bought some books. Calculated I’d bought more books than I’d sold. I debated buying a crocheted hat from Jenn because it was getting cold. I also found some chocolate brownies and remembered I hadn’t signed the author poster yet for the giveaway. I had chocolately fingers so I reminded myself to do it later. Spoiler: I forgot.

    Then it was time for the fifth panel; Plotter or Pantser?: should you be Flexible or stick to your Plot Outline? This was chaired by Andrea Bramhall and she was joined by Nita Round, Clare Ashton, G Benson, Kiki Archer, and AL Brooks. It was fascinating to hear how different authors write, some with no plan at all and some with a really detailed idea of what they will be doing. After the panel I was asked by a couple of readers if I was a plotter of a pantser. A member of Marriott staff was passing at the time (probably on the way to steal a glass of water from someone) and gave us a very confused look.

    The final panel of the day was Finding Inspiration – Where do Ideas Originate from? chaired by Emma Nichols… who I will never forgive. She started her panel by asking everyone to look under their chair. I held out for the longest time, but eventually shifted to look under my seat. “We’re just looking for inspiration,” Emma Nichols chuckled. She got me. Damn her. On the panel was Wendy Hudson, Suzanne Egerton, Anna Larner, Emma Sterner-Radley and Sam Skyborne and they proved that inspiration comes from a million different places. Suzanne was hilarious and has clearly lived a very varied and interesting life… she kept throwing out previous job titles like they were candy. Next year we need a panel on Suzanne’s previous careers.

    If you don’t know where I got this from by now, you’re not paying attention.

    A sneaky member of the audience managed to get Sam to strip off her leather jacket under the guise it was interfering with the microphone, well played audience… well played.

    Some more mingling ensued. I lost another glass of water. And then the first day was over. The nine-hour event had passed in three hours, those sneaky organisers. Or maybe it was just so much fun and with so much happening that time just flew by, we’ll never know for sure.

    The next morning I arrived fashionably late because I’d decided to check out the underground labyrinth that the Marriott cheekily call a car park. I’ll take a bit more notice of where I park my car in the future. Met a lovely builder who told me how to relacquer a table though. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I couldn’t give a fuck and was simply looking to see if there was a door behind him. The secret is ensuring a good work surface at the start, for those who do care.

    I fully intended to go to the first two panels but I got caught up talking to so many interesting and lovely people that I didn’t get a chance. The only reason I was at the third and last panel was because I was hosting it. I spoke at length with Emma Nichols, Brey Willows, and Kiki Archer… all such lovely people. I nabbed May Dawney for a photo, and wished her a happy birthday. Spoke with Clare Lydon some more, and Claire Highton-Stevenson again, had a proper chance to say hello to Jae. I admitted to Zara that I’d not signed the poster from the day before, she didn’t slap my wrist as I thought she might but it was a close thing 😉 I totally missed the food, Kiki brought me a pastry which meant I managed to be upright for my panel as I’d only eaten a biscuit for breakfast.

    Eventually, I realised I’d have to do some prep for my panel so I thought I’d sit on stage for a bit, as a panel had just ended it was bound to be quiet in there… right?


    So I rearranged the stage, hid all the microphones because the feedback was driving me mad, petted Ferb (I swear it’s a dog), brought my own bottle of water (suck it, Marriott). And then my panelists arrived, T.B. Markinson, Caroline Manchoulas, Jae, and Clare Lydon so we could have a discussion on author collaboration in the lesfic community. I hadn’t prepared but I don’t think anyone noticed much. Again, we all said tremendously exciting and relevant things and the rolling standing ovation and the subsequent Mexican wave and cheers for an encore will live on in our memories.

    I had the honour of choosing the winner of the author poster that I had hastily signed an hour before. Sweet Valden who had been such a fantastic organiser was the name I randomly picked.

    “Me?!” Valden asked in shock.
    “No, the other Valden,” I replied sarcastically.

    We all cheered for May Dawney’s birthday and then again for the organisers and the panels of the first ever ELLCon were over.

    In summary… (you’ll be pleased to see that I’m finally going to stop going on about this event) ELLCon was wonderful. Personally, I met so many truly lovely people. As I had said in my panel on collaboration, authors are not competition, they are co-workers in one big publishing world. Over the last two days I had the opportunity to meet my co-workers and my readers and I had a fantastic time. It was great to actually meet so many social media people face to face and really get to know them, and get to hug them.

    Thank you to every author who turned up and introduced themselves, it was a pleasure to meet you all. And, of course, thank you to the readers who came to see us all. Apologies to those I didn’t get a chance to talk to, or people I only nodded at in passing. Really the event passed in the blink of an eye for me and I wish I’d had more time to meet and chat with more of you.

    But most of all, thank you to the organisers who took so much time and effort to put a really wonderful event together. I hope there will be future events, this just goes to show what a wonderful community we have in Europe.

  • Personal,  Travel

    Breakfast Entertainment, Manuel-style

    I love performing arts, especially comedy. However, this weekend I found myself a little too close to the “stage” for my liking. It seems that Manuel from Fawlty Towers is alive and well and working in a hotel restaurant in Cheshire.

    A last minute trip “up north” to bludgeon an incompetent to death meant I had to book us into the only hotel available in the area. The large ex-country house had been quite nicely restored, some modern touches here and there but still largely old-school. The hotel was quite a way off of the beaten track and in an area of woodland, all quite lovely. And, oh so quiet.

    In the morning we left our room and approached the dining area for breakfast. A short, older gentleman looked at us expectantly. “Breakfast?”
    I said yes and he looked at me and then my wife. “Two?”
    I looked at my wife, “Yes, just two. Us.”
    He walked into the dining room. “You can sit here, or you can sit here, or here, or here.” He pointed to random tables, some seating two, some seating six. As we started to run out of dining room we sat down. Of the forty tables only three of them were occupied, the other diners nervously eating and I could sense something was up.
    We got up to grab some food from the cold buffet. The waiter appeared with a notepad. “Breakfast?”
    I looked around the buffet and nodded. “Yes,” I said hesitantly as I picked up a plate.
    “Toast, sausages, bacon, beans, eggs. Fried?”
    I frowned and looked around. There was only a cold breakfast buffet and it occurred to me that he was taking my order for a hot breakfast.
    “Oh, no, thank you.”
    He frowned. “Poached?”
    “No, nothing.”
    He looked at me like I was insane.
    “No cooked breakfast, just this,” I explained clearly.
    “No breakfast?”
    “No, just this,” I explained again.
    He laughed at me and walked into the kitchen laughing loudly. The other diners looked at me in sympathy, I started to realise what we had walked into.
    We grabbed some breakfast and sat down to eat, careful to avoid eye contact with the waiter. And then two men walked in, one straight towards the buffet and the other meandered around the tables, deciding where to sit.
    Neither acknowledged the waiter. He looked at both of them in horror, not knowing which one to follow first. They had clearly broken the rules of his dining room.
    The man looking at tables removed his suit jacket and slung it over the back of a chair and walked past the waiter without looking at him, he was VERY short. The waiter, who had been hurrying towards him, stopped and then stared at the jacket in disgust and then glared at the man.
    At the buffet the man lifted up a metal lid to see if there was anything inside a container.
    The man spun around to see the waiter steaming towards him. “No!”
    “Do you have a hot breakfast?”
    The man looked exasperated. “Where is it?”
    “You order I bring!” The waiter replied.
    The man frowned. “Okay. I see.”
    “You sit over there and I will take your order,” the waiter instructed, folding his arms. I smiled, despite being more than happy to take my order while I stood by the buffet he wanted to exert some authority over the man.
    “Fine.” The man was not bothered and started to collect some food stuffs.
    The waiter was beside himself with rage that the man was ignoring him so focused on the other man. “Breakfast?”
    “No,” the other man said.
    “No?” The waiter was clearly vexed by these non-breakfast diners.
    “Just this,” the other man said as he picked up an apple and left.
    The waiter spun around and stared daggers into his back. He stalked around the dining room some more, pausing by the jacket on the back of a chair. He muttered in his native language and tapped his pen angrily on the table top. He then disappeared for a while and a collective sigh was released.
    It wasn’t long before he was back and circling the tables, eagle-eyes on everything we were all doing. All of us huddled over our plates, silently eating and hoping to not be questioned.
    The man still serving his breakfast realised that one of the cereal boxes was empty. He looked up and saw the waiter standing at his podium, just four metres away.
    “Excuse me,” he tried.
    “Excuse me,” he said louder. The dining room was silent, everyone had heard him and the waiter clearly was ignoring him.
    He edged closer, holding the empty box. “Excuse me.”
    It took four more attempts by which time he was so close the waiter must have felt his breath on him. The waiter turned and snatched the box. “I get.”
    He returned a few moments later. “No.”
    “No more.”
    “Okay, I’ll order breakfast then,” the man requested.
    “Sit down,” the waiter demanded, pointing to the table.
    The man sat down and the waiter began his standard speech. “Toast, sausages, bacon, beans, eggs.”
    “Yes, all of that,” the man replied, picking up a paper.
    The waiter used the end of his pen to lower the paper. “Fried?”
    “Fried egg?” The waiter asked harshly, thinking the man an idiot.
    “Yes, I suppose so.”
    The waiter mumbled something that didn’t sound friendly and marched into the kitchen.
    I looked up at my wife. “Have you finished eating?”
    She looked at her plate. “I could be finished.”
    “Let’s grab some fruit and run,” I suggested. “I don’t want to be here for the second act, I have a feeling it will descend into slapstick.”
    We exited, two other women using the time wisely and also making their exit, almost running for the door.