Wednesday, May 23, 2012

If This is What Equality Means You Can Keep It

The OECD has published it's 2012 Better Life Index, also known as the Happiness Index, ranking countries by the quality of life its inhabitants enjoy. The UK scored pretty well, coming 12th out of 37 countries, ahead of countries like Germany, France and Spain, who came 17th, 18th and 19th respectively, so all those people who left the UK for a better life might be a little disappointed.

Australia was ranked the happiest, good news for my lovely friend Lyndsey, who is emigrating to New South Wales in July (don't go, we'll miss you. I mean, what's happiness anyway?)

Looking at the data for the UK, it was interesting to see that women live longer,are better educated and happier than the men - although despite all the strides towards housework equality, women still do more than double the men. Come on boys, it's time to get to know your Dyson!

For the first time, it also breaks the information down along age lines and while older women are less likely to have a secondary education, the trend is reversed in younger women. 59% of women have jobs, including part-time ones compared to men of whom 72% work but at the same time, they are far more likely to report working 'very long hours'.

Meanwhile, men are 15% more likely to have been mugged and the murder rate among men is three times higher than that among women. And the ones that don't get mugged or murdered have a shorter life expectancy by about three years. At the same time, women report feeling less safe than men so are we just a bit neurotic or is it that 'Daily Mail' effect again?

So, it seems that if we want to be truly equal to men, we'll have to accept working much longer hours, having a higher risk of being murdered or assaulted and live a shorter life. Personally, I'd rather have the housework!

Must be French!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Brick and Mortars - why sometimes it's better just to shut up!

Samantha Brick is at it again. In her quest to become the Liz Jones of rural France, she's now aiming her big guns at her French neighbours. Apparently they took a dim view of her article in the Daily Mail recently bemoaning the fact that women everywhere hate her because she's 'beautiful'. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but suffice to say, my particular eye, when cast in her direction, does not behold a beauty, rather a middlingly attractive, slightly thick waisted middle aged woman with a husband (a French carpenter) who choses her clothes and makes her put on her make-up before breakfast.

In her latest article in the Wail, she, well, wails about how she now gets shunned at the school gates, elbowed out of the way in the queue at the post office and is generally ignored by the women of her village. Worse still, her neighbours are a bunch of immoral, adulterous harridans who would seduce your husband  in the blink of a perfectly made up eye without so much as a 'shove over, sista'. In the trou du cul of rural France? Come on Sam, they may have perfectly ironed housecoats but makeup? Not likely. And having seen photos of her controlling, overweight, balding husband with his70s porn star moustache, all I can say is, they're welcome to him.  Worse still, these same women won't go on girlie shopping trips with her or meet her after work for a cocktail or two. A cocktail? In rural France? It's not London, sweetie.

She goes on to say, Since I wrote a piece for this newspaper expressing how difficult life can be when you are beautiful, my popularity has plummeted to an all-time low in the rural village where I live. (No shit, Sherlock!) Yes, I have received hate mail from women around the world, but none of it as vicious as that from French women. Much of their condemnation is unprintable and I have been stunned at their choice of language.

Really? It seems the French dislike a professional self-publicist just as much as we do. What Ms Brick seems to find hard to comprehend is that sometimes it's just better to shut up. The adage 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' is nonsense, as the German 'Come Dine with Me' contestant found out when her own particular brand of self-publicity turned into a long campaign of internet abuse and hatred. She eventually killed herself.  Gerald Ratner would probably disagree too, and BP, and a whole host of other companies.If the only publicity you can achieve is worldwide opprobrium, then I'd be inclined to keep a low profile.

On the one hand, she may have a point. The website, set up so married people could find someone for a no-strings affair, has just over 1 million subscribers around the world. Over 500,000 of them are French. The idea of the cinq a sept, named for the time slot when the French apparently meet up with their lovers after work, is still alive and well. Where I lived in France, family trees were certainly a tangled old affair with men having fathered children with  a number of different partners and there was something of a revolving door of personal relationships. The problem as ever, with Samantha, is her delivery. There are ways of saying things and she, inevitably, doesn't use them. Instead, she produces a ridiculously shallow tirade, aimed at the women of her own community.

Whatever the realities, Samantha Brick would have been well advised to keep her own counsel. She made a fool of herself last month and she looks set to do it again this month.  To moan about your neighbours then berate them as 'hostile and predatory adulterers' will no doubt result in another round of incoming mortar fire directed Ms Brick's way.

Take coverrrrrrr!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Could Britain's next Chick Lit star really be a man?

The answer to that is a resounding yes! In the spirit of equality, what with girls running football clubs and haulage companies, men have started to infiltrate the chick lit and women's fiction market. Earlier in 2012,, a women's fiction and chick lit website, ran their Undiscovered 2012 competition, looking for Britain's next chick lit star. Out of hundreds of entries, Neal Doran (yes, Neal...a bloke) was shortlisted with his latest book 'Occupied'. The prize, and there are two of them, is a professional critique of your work and introduction to an agent. I first 'discovered' Neal on Authonomy, where I read and loved his earlier book 'Dan Taylor is Giving Up on Women'. Apart from being an all round nice bloke (sorry Neal, that's like a death knell isn't it) and very funny, Neal has also been very supportive of me and my book, spurring me on and sending me lists of agents, so this is my time to give him a bit of a hand.

Neal has kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog so you can all #discovernealdoran for yourselves. It's a lighthearted 'chat' with a serious message. Voting will start in the next few weeks and I hope you will all read his excerpt, enjoy it and vote for him as Britain's New Chick Lit star. He's truly undiscovered but deserves to be on every Waterstones in the country... and beyond.

Only 2nd in the Pontin's Little Prince Competition,
Neal is aiming at 1st place in Novelicious
Undiscovered 2012

WG: So Neal, first things first. Is there any truth in the rumour that you are very close, orthographically at least, to the young Irish pop sensation, Niall Horan from One Direction?

ND: Yes, I’m just a couple of letters away from global stardom, but it’s probably for the best. I could never fit in those skinny trousers.

WG: Well that's a blessed relief! And I understand you once had delusions of pop stardom yourself with your band, The Understudies, who were apparently the musical equivalent of ‘Man on Bus’ in the credits of a film. Do you still play the bouzouki… sorry, it was the guitar wasn’t it?
ND:  How on Earth did you find out about the Understudies (or [thE] uNderstUdies*; to give them their full title) I thought I was safe with them existing before the internet. (WG: Nothing is safe mwahahahaha...)  I don’t play much now, but then I couldn’t play much then either. We wrote our own songs before we weren’t able to play proper songs that other people wrote, and prided ourselves on the ability to all stop at roughly the same time. People seemed to like it when we stopped. We had a few gigs, and even managed to get a tiny bit of record company interest. The grain of truth in this has obviously expanded to the point where I now tell my children that I was *this close* to being on Sony Records alongside Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen.

WG: So tell me a bit about your earlier writing. You cut your teeth on the spoof news website, Newbiscuit, where there is still a photo of you looking like a 12 year old boy, and you were a regular winner of the Writer of the Month award. You are the person credited with revealing the truth behind the ‘Mothers Union Martyrdom’ videos.   Do you still think that Bob the Builder is not sufficiently aspirational for middle class parents now that you are a parent yourself?
ND: Yep, I was a regular winner of Writer of the Month on NewsBiscuit in much the same Halley’s Comet is a regular sight in the night sky. I spent a few years writing for Newsbiscuit and by the end was helping out with the editing too. It’s a great site for getting new writing out there and I got a real confidence boost whenever things that I thought were funny were recognised by other people. I eventually stopped working on the site when I realised that everything I’d tried writing for NewsBiscuit amounted to more than half a novel in terms of word count, and I began to believe I could write something proper book length.

As for Bob, you have to admire people who can get things done. In our house a cry of ‘can we fix it?’ is usually answered with a chorus of ‘Nah. Better get a man in’. I think it’s one of the more depressing aspects of parenthood that you become very aware that no child is going to want to emulate a career path of pecking away at a computer every day just waiting for someone to figure out you’ve no idea what you’re doing. They’d rather be a postman. Or a dinosaur. And I’m probably jealous they still have these options.

WG:  Occupied, your shortlisted book is about……. Actually I’ve no idea as I’ve never read it. Tell me a bit more...
ND: I’m terrible with pitches (as can be seen here:  But to try and sum it up in a way people actually talk, Occupied is the story of Rebecca and James, an expecting couple.

They find that the attention they think they deserve for this exciting development is overshadowed rather by the news that Rebecca’s stuffy old dad has been arrested for cottaging in a tube station gent's. James’s old hippy protester parents then decide to take up Howard’s cause, sparking a local media circus and the poor couple have to deal with parents embarrassing them at levels not seen since they were overly-sensitive teenagers. Then James loses his job and a secret conviction in his own past makes it tricky to find a new job, and the whole pregnancy gets a bit fraught...
It’s about how people have an expectation of what ‘a Parent’ should be, but when (and if) it comes around to being their turn suddenly those expectations seem a little demanding. And it has lots of jokes -- hopefully lots of good ones that anyone who’s ever had a parent, or been a parent, will enjoy. And I hope it wouldn’t be too alienating for orphans either.

WG:  An inspired idea. I think just about anyone who is a parent can identify with that sentiment.  And who are your inspirations as a writer, apart from me, of course? Do you actually read Chick lit or are more of a testosterone fuelled action adventure sort of guy? Who are your favourite authors?

ND: Well obviously WG, you’re the wings beneath my wind (is that what I was supposed to say – I can’t quite read your writing...).

To pick a handful of names: John O’Farrell, obviously, as a guy writing about relationships from a predominantly male perspective and with lots of good jokes. Nick Hornby for similar reasons...Stuart McLean is a Canadian radio writer who writes stories about families, which I love. I’d love to do a load of short stories with a linked cast of characters like he does.
I’ve only just got into actually reading chick-lit. I’ve always thought I’d like to read funny books about relationships and family and stuff like that, but struggled to find them. Turns out they exist, just disguised by pink fluffy covers. I’ve now developed a slight obsession with Marian Keyes. The woman is a genius and I can’t believe no-one told me about her before. Properly laugh out loud funny, and with a bit of an edge too.

I do enjoy a good maverick detective or serial killer ‘man-book’, but there’s a lot of testosteroney stuff I’ve never really got. For example, I have a thing against James Bond --a posh psychopath with a fondness for puns? I can’t think of anything much worse. He’s like a murderous Richard Stilgoe. Oh and he’s probably a borderline alcoholic with a sex addiction problem too. Bond that is, not Stilgoe, although you never can tell.

WG:  Hooray! Someone else that doesn't get the whole James Bond thang!  And Marian Keyes is a legend. I'm just reading 'Is There Anybody Out There'. Some people have called your writing ‘dick lit’, not because you are a dick but because it’s the male version of chicklit, and let’s be honest, cock lit really doesn’t work. How do you feel about this new genre?

ND:  Chick-lit seems to be about recognisable women that you’d meet in real life. In fact I wish I’d read more chick-lit when I was single – it would have been nice to have an idea of what was going on in women’s minds... The lad-lit/dick-lit end of things tends to be based on this idea that the average guy is some sort of commitment-phobic man-child who has to be beaten around the head until they realise what they really want is to settle down. It’s not something I recognise really from my life, or from my friends. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life. Perhaps I need to spend more time at Spearmint Rhino reading Nuts. But until that happens I’ll probably stick with the boy-next-door perspective and stand up for the all the decent coves out there. I’m trying to popularise the name chap-lit...

WG:  So, when you were waiting for the Novelicious shortlist to be announced, you admitted to immersing yourself in cleaning and dusting, so much so that you missed the announcement. How do you fit your writing in with all the demands of being a Domestic God and father of two young children? Tell me a bit about you writing day. Where do you write? House? Pub? Shed?
ND:  I guess there’s only so many times you can press refresh on a website page waiting for news before you go insane. It finally reached a point with waiting for the Novelicious announcement where even dragging out the Dyson seemed preferable. My wife now wants me to enter more contests, particularly at the minute, when the windows could really do with a good clean.

But being yet another wannabe writer that has to make a proper living, I’ve got to squeeze it in around work and family. One of the great things about having kids was learning that there’s such a time as ‘before 7am’ and that I could, to a limited degree, actually function at that time. So now that the boys are mercifully conked out till 7.30 I’m getting up before 6.00 to get an hour or two done at the kitchen table six days a week (in theory). Planning gets done in the pub over a quiet pint (in the evening. I haven’t taken to pre-breakfast Guinness. Yet.).

WG:  Don't worry, there's plenty of time for you to develop that habit. What’s your style of writing? Planning to an OCD degree or just letting it all happen?
ND:  I like to have a rough outline of what’s going to happen, and an end I’m working towards. Other than that I just like to know what I’m doing the next day. I tried once to meticulously plan out a novel on index cards. When I finished it (after many, many nights getting strange looks in the pub) I didn’t write it and just filed the cards away. It felt like I chore, and I knew what happened, so why bother?

WG: I'm with you on that one. The Pinterest approach to writing doesn't blow my skirt up either (not that I'm suggesting that you wear skirts, you understand. That would be taking the chick lit writer tag just a bit too far).   Now,  on to the most important thing. You’ve promised to buy all your AuthonoMates on the Chick Lit Crit Group cake and champagne if you win (although I’ll be passing on the champagne myself, dodgy liver you know). How will you afford it, bearing in mind the cake habit of some of the members?
ND:  The Authonomy chick-lit gals have been brilliant and helpful since I started hanging out on the site and they deserve to live on a diet of cake and champagne (actually, forget writing, I think I might try and set up as a health guru plugging that very idea). But as with all promises made in an effort to get votes, the chances are it’ll be downgraded after the event. I’m hoping a box of French Fancies and some Babycham will cover my commitments...

WG: Aha! So the character of Dan Taylor was based on yourself....?  Finally, is there any truth to the rumour that, since ‘coming out’ as a chick/dick lit writer you’ve felt compelled to grow a beard in order to reinforce your ‘maleness’?

ND:  The idea that I’d do anything that could be seen as over-compensating for my girly writing is frankly ridiculous. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off for my shark-wrestling class and my Harley needs to go in for a service.

Thanks so much for giving us some of your time. When you are rich and famous just remember who really discovered you. It just remains for us to wish you all the very best in the competition and may the best man win!

In case you missed it earlier, you can read Neal's excerpt from 'Occupied' here. And don't forget #discovernealdoran

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stop Badgering Me....

When I'm not trying to write novels I spend a couple of days a week working in Trading Standards and Animal Health at a local authority.  Its an interesting job and I've learn lots about the law and the reality behind Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which are most likely largely funded by Big Fat Gypsy scams, mainly of vulnerable old people who they persuade to part from their life savings for dodgy roofing work. It can be quite depressing at times.

Animal Health, on the other hand, often gives me reason to smile.  The word 'animal' is actually a bit misleading because we don't deal with all animals, just farm animals. If you find a dead cow in your swimming pool - and not the old bat from down the road - then I'm your man, so to speak. If there's a stray dog on your lawn, then call the RSPCA.

We get a lot of calls from the public about animal welfare; things like cows standing in mud (er.. they're cows). God bless the townies who move to the country then complain that their car is getting dirty because the farmer's fields are muddy. Sometimes it's difficult not to tell them that you'll immediately instruct the farmer to astroturf his fields.

Living as we do in are area where there are a lot of badgers, we get quite a lot of calls about them. To be honest I'm not sure why the government is spending money on a badger cull when car vs badger seems to be doing the trick just fine.  My journey to work is punctuated with badger corpses in various stages of decay and destruction, from intact to badger mince
meat.  Whatever, though, they aren't our problem but we do try to help whenever we can.

Joe Public: Is this Animal Health

Me: Yes, how can I help

Joe Public: There's a dead badger in my garden

Me: Really? Well keep it quiet or everyone will want one (OK so I didn't really say that but it was tempting)

Me: I'm sorry to hear that

Joe Public: Well can you come and move it?

Me: I'm afraid that we only deal with farm animals and the Council only has responsibility for dead animals on the public highway

Joe Public: Well this one is in my garden

Me: I'm really sorry but it would only be our responsibility if it was on the public highway

Joe Public: Yes, but it's not, it's in my garden

Me: Yes, but if it were to be on the public highway then we'd have to move it

Joe Public: But it's in my garden

Me: Yes, I understand, I'm just saying that if it were, say, on the footpath outside your house then it would be our responsibility to move it

Joe Public: But it's not. It's by my shed. In my back garden.

Me: Yes, I'm just trying to give you a scenario here. Say you went outside and found a badger on the footpath....

Joe Public: But I didn't...

Me: Just stay with me here, Sir, if you went outside and found a badger on the path outside your house, particularly if it was, for example, blocking the pavement then what you could do is either phone us up or go online and follow the 'report a dead animal' link on the Council website. Do you see what I'm saying?

Joe Public:  Aha, so if this dead badger was to find it's way from next to my garden shed onto the path outside my house, then you'd have to come and remove it.

Me: Well, of course, I'm not suggesting any particular course of action, just advising you what you could do should you find a dead badger on the public highway.

Joe Public: Right. OK.

Ten minutes later....

Joe Public: Hello, I'd like to report a dead badger on the path outside my house. It's actually blocking the pavement

Me: Really, Sir, I'll just pass you on to our Street Cleansing team


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Guest Post - Best Destinations in the US this Summer

This summer you'll want to find the best US destinations  you can travel to for fun, excitement and adventure or maybe just to relax! While I can tell you everyone is different and everyone likes different things, there will be a variety of places in the US that you can visit during the summer. For those of you who don't live in the USA and are from a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program, you'll need to obtain an ESTA US Visa when coming to visit during the summer. It's a visa that allows you a short stay authorization to travel through the USA on business or tourism. So please make sure to start your ESTA Visa Application early.

1.  Walt Disney World in the Sunny State of Orlando, Florida

One of the more popular US destinations, people have a lot of fun is in Orlando, Florida. Not only is this a great place for kids, it's great for adults too. Walt Disney World is a fantastic place to have fun with the whole family or even if you're just by yourself. I'm sure that you'll find lots of things to entertain yourself while you’re there. There's the famous Disney firework show, awesome rides, tours, and Walt Disney Characters to chat with. At Disney World you can spend days or an entire week and still not see or do it all, so this is definitely a great place to mark on your list of places to go during the summer.

2.   Washington D.C between the State of Maryland And Virginia, Capital of the USA

Next on our list is Washington D.C., and as you may know, it's the capital of the USA. Here you can schedule a tour of the Capitol Building, the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court; all are high profile places to visit. You may even get a glimpse of the US President too! Also, you don't want to forget about the Smithsonian Institution, which has several museums. They have a variety of awesome things that will be sure to dazzle you, such as the Hope Diamond, American History, art and more. The Smithsonian is so large that it will take you several weeks to see everything that they have to offer.

3.   Houston, Texas, Home Of NASA's Head Quarters, Six Flags And The Houston Zoo

Last but not least is Texas. Here in Texas you have several cool things to see during the summer. For starters check out the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Here you can learn all about space. Look and learn about rockets, space shuttles, astronaut training, satellites, the International Space Station and all kinds of space things. The Nasa Center is great for people who love science, technology, and space. If you're visiting the USA you don't want to miss out taking a tour at the NASA Johnson Space Center facilities. While you’re still in Houston head on over to the Six Flags Amusement Park, known for its super roller coasters rides. Last of all, before you leave Houston, TX you'll find a great time at the Houston Zoo with all kinds of animal life.

It’s a reminder for foreign nationals of the Visa Waiver Program, make sure to get all of your
ESTA US Visas for each person that is going to be traveling along with you. Other than that, please have a safe and exciting trip to some of the best US destinations during the summer!

Eddie Adams a Content writer. His interests are Technology, Phones, and Eco living, insurance, and Travel. Catch him @travelplex on Twitter :-)