Saturday, 26 November 2011

Romance in Arabia...

In some of the lighter and more pleasant moments of my time in Dubai, I could appreciate that the place had a certain mystical allure. When we went out on desert safari, there was certainly a romantic atmosphere, being in the desert with belly dancers, camp fires and starry skies.

Here is an extract from a contemporary romance novel set in the Middle East called "The Royal Sheik" written by Katheryn Lane. It is available on Amazon.

Sheikh Rafiq clasped Clare tightly around the waist and whispered into her ear, “Hold on tight”. With his free hand he pulled off the cord wrapped around the cloth on his head and used it to whack the camel, yelling out in Arabic as he did so. With a great lurch forward and then backwards that made Clare pull Rafiq’s arm more tightly around her, the camel arose and broke into a run.
They speeded off into desert and Clare could feel the hot wind against her face and bare legs. After several minutes riding, she began to get used to the lumbering motion of the camel and loosened her grip on the Sheikh’s arm. He yelled out again in Arabic. The camel stopped and dropped to its knees, making Clare resume her tight hold on Rafiq’s arm. He stepped off the camel and grabbed her around the middle. His large hands almost spanned her waist. He lifted her off and for a brief moment it was as if she was floating on the hot desert air.
“Here is the site of your building,” he announced.
“It’s your building, not mine,” she corrected him, as Mark had done earlier.
“No, it’s your creation. I will just be lucky enough to live in it once it’s built.”
She could smell salt in the air and was sure that she could hear the quiet lapping of waves breaking on the shore. She looked around and could see a deserted beach behind her. The moon had come out and it cast just enough light for her to see it reflected off the sea. It was beautiful. She wondered if he brought all of his women here.
Her defences rose again. “You only asked me to design the building, so that you could get me into your apartment.”
“Can you blame me for trying to find a way to get to know you better?” He sat down on the sand. She sat down next to him, slipped off her shoes and let the waves splash against her toes.
“Do you treat all the women you know like this?” she asked.
“I’m not sure what you mean. I am nice to you and you back away. I try to treat you like a business associate and you accuse me of ignoring you. How do you want me to treat you? What exactly do you want?” He looked hurt.
A pang of guilt struck Clare. “I don’t know. I just don’t want to end up as another one of your conquests,” she blurted out and started crying. And for the second time that evening, Rafiq held her in his arms and tried to comfort her.
Slowly her sobbing receded and he took her face in his hands. Tears still glistened in her sea-blue eyes. He looked deep into them and lent towards her. She could feel his breath hot on her skin.
“You have been honest with me. Maybe it is time that I was honest with you,” he said caressing her hair. “When I first met you Clare, all I saw was an exceptionally beautiful woman that I longed to know better.”
He twisted a long strand of her hair around his fingers. “When I saw you the next day in the cafe, I couldn’t believe my luck. I desperately tried to think of how I could stop you from slipping away again.” He pulled the strand of her hair a little tighter, drawing her towards him. Clare’s heart lurched along with it.
“I admit, asking you to design a house was just a way to see you again,” he said. “I didn’t really think you would come up with something I could use. Remember, all I’d seen of your work was a few sketches on the back of a catalogue.”
“You’re right,” she admitted, “it wasn’t much to go on.”
“However,” he said, letting go of her hair and staring at the sea before him, “when you came up with those designs, I couldn’t believe it. It was my dream house. The one I’d always wanted, but could never conceptualise. You understood my vision; you made it real.” He grasped her hands in his.
“You still haven’t told me why you ignored me,” she said. He gently squeezed her fingers, sending tingles shimmering up through her arms.
“I thought that was what you wanted; a business friendship.” He stood up, lifting her up with him and together they paddled along the gentle surf.
“I was scared of loosing you. Also, I was a little caught up in the excitement of the project.” He gave her a broad smile. They walked a bit further, his body moving nearer and nearer to hers with each step.
“Do you swim?” he asked, looking longingly at the sea, or was it her?
“Yes, why?” she replied, excited but anxious all at the same time.
“Come on then,” he said and slipped off his robe, letting it fall onto the sand at his feet.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

One Year In Wonderland: Now available in touchable paperback!

It's nice to be able to hold the book in my hands...

Here's a link for it.

One Year In Wonderland

Friday, 18 November 2011

Got it covered...

New cover for my first book, One Year In Wonderland. Along with a shorter and sharper blurb, it seems to have helped sales pick up again.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Coming soon...really soon...(fingers crossed)...

No-one chooses to support the Boro; you are born to it.

Many in Middlesbrough might well tell you this, but it’s not entirely true. Some people did choose, even if success isn’t exactly a word associated with the team from Teesside. Maybe we were seduced by something; something mystical and intangible. I’m hoping it’s wasn’t all the chemicals in the atmosphere.

I couldn’t have chosen a better time to follow Middlesbrough Football Club, just as they struck out with new ambition, signing glamorous players and moving to a new stadium. There was no way I could know where this journey was going to take us.

But take us it did, and we were swept along on a ride like no other, down a path that was never straight or smooth, to places we would never have dreamt of. Not many people dream about places like Cardiff and Eindhoven, to be fair…

This is the story of Boro’s Golden Decade and a bit, from the emotional goodbye at Ayresome Park, through the cup finals and relegation fights, to the unlikely adventures of a Small Town in Europe that would take us to places no Boro fan had gone before…

Friday, 11 November 2011

Lest we forget...(but what happened to the dignity?)

I bought myself another poppy at York Railway Station today. The one on my coat had become a bit battered and scruffy, so I handed my pound over to the friendly old timer standing by the British Legion stand and took my new paper and plastic flower, complete with a handy pin through the leaf.

I buy a poppy every year as a matter of course. I have since I was old enough and ugly enough to pay for them. I never thought of it as anything more than just a token of my remembrance and appreciation for the thousands of people who gave their lives in the two World Wars so that we could enjoy the freedoms we take for granted today. Armistice Day itself, the 11th day of the 11th month, was always marked with a quiet and dignified minute or two of silence and wreath laying by Heads of State at the Cenotaph. Remembrance Sunday was always about quiet and dignified ceremonies in towns and villages around the country, where wreaths were laid to remember the war dead, attended by the British Legion, Scouts, Guides, Army Cadets, Air Training Corps and son on. Remembrance and appreciation with dignity. The British way.

This year, I have started to have serious doubts about poppy-wearing for the first time in my life, and it saddens me. When I see what has happened in the media over the last few weeks, I wonder what the poppy has come to symbolise in the eyes of many people, and wonder what motivates people to wear them or display them nowadays.

For me there are two issues at play now. First is the politicisation of the poppy. Somehow the issue of remembrance has become conflated with supporting the troops, which is also conflated with supporting the current conflicts our troops are involved in. For some people, both in a pro and anti sense, wearing a poppy means you are doing all three. People who see me wearing my poppy may assume I agree with the the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, even though I don't. I might be a supporter of the men and women in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, mainly because my father served in the Royal Signals for 22 years and my Grandpa was in the Royal Navy during WW2, but I don't agree with the political motives behind the invasion of Iraq or the continued occupation of Afghanistan. Of course, in today's climate of immediate false dichotomy, that makes me a supporter of the Taliban. If we're going to these ridiculous lengths, one could say that wearing poppies means you support the act of opium poppy growing in rural Afghanistan...but that would be churlish.

The other issue is the one of cosmetic grief. Everyone seems desperate to be seen to care about stuff these days. We have to ostentatiously display our feelings, and if you don't do this, you don't care. There's that false dichotomy again. I've noticed some troubling postings on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook about various issues, not just poppy-wearing. There are the things like: If you care about sick children and animals, like this! 97% of you won't! The implication being that if you don't like the post, you want all baby ducks to die of cancer. Give me a break.

And then you've got the unedifying spectacle of celebrities, politicians and footballers all elbowing their way into the screenshot to show off their poppies. The X-Factor judges and contestants all wore blinged-up sparkly poppies last weekend. There was a Tory MP on BBC's Question Time last night with the biggest poppy I've ever seen. And then there's the whole England football saga, where there have been more and more hysterical calls for FIFA to allow the England players to wear a shirt with an embroidered poppy on it. FIFA see it as a political symbol (there's that conflation again, can you blame them for seeing it like this?), so refused permission initially, but the histrionics got to such a level that FIFA eventually allowed England to wear armbands with poppies on. They even had a silent moment at the training session today and it was broadcast live. Quite bizarre, really. There have been loads of matches around this time in the last 90 years, but there was never such a hullabaloo made demanding that the players wear poppies to show they care.

Now I feel that if I don't wear one, I will be assumed to be some kind of uncaring, liberal pacifist. I could be two of those, I suppose, but I don't like people making such assumptions. Surely we all have the choice to wear one or not.

So this all leaves me wondering one thing: Where did the quiet dignity go?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Oh, and by the way...

I'm featured on a new website for Kindle Readers and Authors today, called AuthorOutbreak.

Coming soon, to a website near you...

The tale of Middlesbrough Football Club's golden decade and a bit, through the eyes of a Middle Class, Part-time, Glory Supporter.

I have finished drafting the next book and am seeking beta readers. I anticipate getting the book live and for sale by the end of November.

Oh yeah!

Friday, 4 November 2011

7 billion and counting...

Well, someone is, apparently. I don't know how they're counting the number of people on the planet, but according to the announcements in the news over the last week or so, this number is now seven billion. SEVEN BILLION. Did they herald the arrival of this particular soul with banners and balloons and cheesy grins all around?

When I was born in 1970 there were about half that amount. In 1900, the world population was about 1.6 billion, meaning the time it has taken to double has approximately halved. These are really quite astonishing and scary statistics. Official projections seem to suggest the population will reach about 9 billion in 2050 before starting to reduce. I'm not sure how they "know" that either.

All this makes me wonder about the dire warnings that a certain Thomas Robert Malthus made back in 1798, where he suggested that eventually famine and disease would check population growth. He didn't reckon with things like the industrial revolution and the use of oil, both of which made agriculture infinitely more efficient and allowed the food supply to grow so quickly. Nor did he predict the advances in medicine that would reduce infant mortality rates and increase life-spans. I guess we can let him off as he didn't have a crystal ball or a handy Nostradamus kicking about.

On the other hand, maybe his predictions will come to be true in time. After all, this planet is a finite, pretty-much closed system with finite resources. Have we passed Peak Oil? We can only keep growing for so long, surely. Maybe science will find some other way to cheat nature again for a while, but eventually something like a plague will do for us, if we don't do ourselves in with our stupid fighting or polluting first. Maybe an asteroid will hit us, killing off large swathes of the population. I think about this kind of thing at night, keeping myself awake. That's just the way I am. I worry about stuff; I always have, and now that I have children I worry even more. What kind of world will they grow up in?

Of course, I think the worst thing that we could do is even start to entertain any notions of population control or reduction. Such measures would amount to genocide. There are massive differences in levels of wealth, education and culture, and some might think they have a right to decide who is worthy and who is worthless, but this is dangerous ground. Don't even go there.

One book I read a few years still resonates strongly with me. It's called "Ishmael" and was written by Daniel Quinn. It basically tells the story of how man came to believe it had dominion over the Earth and all other living things and how the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago was a huge turning point in history which has lead to a profoundly sick civilisation where we live completely at odds with nature. It's certainly food for thought. Of course, it wouldn't be sensible to promote a return to caveman-style living, it's not practical and I look terrible in a loin cloth. Still, I do think we should think more about how we exploit the world around us, including other living things.

Excuse me now. I'm off to hug a tree.