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Just another lazy Sunday

The thing about being retired is which day of the week it is doesn’t matter much. In fact, you know those questions they ask old folks to see if they still have mental capacity? One of them is ‘what day of the week is it’? Just as well I have a computer because otherwise, quite often I wouldn’t know. The state of the shops and car parks is a bit of a give-away. Even with every-day trading, at around 1pm on Saturday afternoon, Hervey Bay shuts down. The roads empty – although there are still plenty of people in Bunnings or the Mall.

Sunday’s a bit the same.

Oh – and Wednesday is bin night, so we have to remember that one to put the bins out for collection. Still, if we forget we’ll know Thursday morning when we see the rows of bins outside everyone else’s house.

Butcher bird doing exercises

The animal life doesn’t give a damn what day of the week it is. This morning a butcher bird came to tell me he was waiting for breakfast. We give him small pieces of bacon rind. He eats the first piece, waits with the second piece in his beak, then I throw a handful out. He (and a couple of others) eat their fill then take the rest back to the nest.

Then the resident lorikeet couple  came to the veranda. The male comes up and virtually knocks on the door. “Where’s ours, missus?”

If it happens to be bath morning we get a hootin’ hollerin’ bunch of bathers in the bird bath. It’s very popular with everybody except the miner birds who still prefer the Big Blue swimming pool and the adrenalin rush of bathing in danger.

You might recall I mentioned a couple of weeks ago our mango trees were covered in fruit? Not anymore. Most of it has fallen off. Even so, there’s something out there that likes unripe, hard mangoes. The windfalls have been chewed by rats or possums, maybe both.

After another very dry month, a large storm system swept past last evening, slapping the Bay area with a sideswipe as it headed out to sea. After a bit of sound and fury it dropped 9mm of rain on our grateful garden. We’d like some more, of course. What else is new? But then, in Australia it’s boom or bust. In a month’s time we might be begging for some dry spells.

The beautiful city of Bordeaux

The city at night

The River Royale docked at Bordeaux in the evening so that we could be taken on a night tour of the city after dinner. We boarded open-topped buses and were driven around the city streets while our local guide pointed out the various attractions. I have to say it was just like driving around any other city by night. However, it’s obvious the people venture out at night. The city was packed at 10pm, and many people sitting outside restaurants and bars waved as we went by.

The main drag

We passed on the walking tour of Bordeaux next day. There’s only so much fun in ambling along behind a sign-carrying guide with twenty other people, even with the option of little tastings on the way. We did our own thing, starting at a walk along the esplanade next to the river, busy with joggers, skate boards, bicycles, and walkers. Then we wandered through this beautiful town along winding alleys into squares. It’s all very clean and very safe, as are the trams.

street art

The site of a famous well

It wasn’t all beer and skittles, though. We were standing in a packed tram when the driver slammed on the brakes. Since the vehicle was very crowded we all got squished but not too damaged – except for Pete, who sustained a bruise and a cut leg. It bled a bit, but he’ll live.

The wine museum at night

In the afternoon we visited the wine museum (Cite de vin) which looks a bit like London’s gherkin and is supposed to resemble a wine carafe. It’s a wonderful resource if you have the time and the interest. I confess we were more interested in the free glass of wine and the nice views from the top floor.

The beautiful cathedral

Joan of Arc

In our wanderings around the city we came across the cathedral and went inside. I would rank it up there as one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever been to.

All in all I’d give Bordeaux a big thumbs up. In fact the whole trip was interesting because of the excellent tours. We learned something every day.

From here, we’d be going back to Italy – and a whole new, very different adventure.

Appellations, Terroir and sauterne

Grape vines and Chateau Guiraud

Monday dawned hot and still. The temperature was forecast to reach 38+ (100F) and we were warned to take water with us on our journey to a chateau that made sauterne. Making wine is a delicate art and it has its own terminology. I tend to work on the basis that “I likes what I likes”, so don’t expect a detailed essay on how they make the stuff. Suffice to say they use different types of grapes which are aged in concrete and then in oak for a certain amount of time. Wines will also mature in the bottle but while it’s true that a very old bottle of grange hermitage or the like might be lovely, most wines are created to be consumed within a few years of being bottled – especially whites. Blending the various types of grapes together is the art of the vigneron. Me, I just like to drink the stuff.

The wine industry in Bordeaux is strictly controlled to ensure quality. Each vineyard (or chateau) is allowed to sell only so much wine, based on the size of the property. The vines cannot be irrigated and many vineyards have reverted to organic practices (ie no insecticides). The number of bottles of wine is also controlled. Wineries are issued with labels with individual numbers. We visited Chateau Guiraud, which is organic.

Flower gardens invited pollinators and they’ve even created insect hotels with nooks and crannies to encourage the discerning tenant.

Flowers and an insect hotel

The insect hotel – accommodation for a multitude of guests

The vineyard had a whole garden devoted to various varieties of tomatoes. I don’t recall how many – let’s call it ‘lots’.

Lots of tomatoes

To get an idea of how long this area has been settled and cultivated, this is a heritage listed Roman road.

In Australia if you want a wine in a restaurant you’d ask for the name of the grape or blend. Eg semillon sauvignon blanc, or shiraz cabernet sauvignon. In Bordeaux they’d look at you funny. You ask for a wine from an appellation. Rather than me paraphrasing what it’s all about, have a look at this page. From there, we heard about ‘terroir’ which is a combination of weather, soil, microclimate and the like as it pertains to an appellation. Get the real description of Terroir here.

Today we were going to be shown the process of making sauterne. I’d always thought of sauterne as a sticky, a dessert wine. But as we would discover with our tasting, it’s really not. Sauterne is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. Our guide explained that while most vineyards fear fungal outbreaks, it is essential to make sauterne. The fungus sucks moisture from the grapes, increasing the intensity of the flavour. It’s a bit like making wine from raisins.

This area combines conditions that increase the likelihood of botrytis occurrence. The vineyards are in a triangle of land bordered by the Garonne River, its waters warmed by the sun, and the Ciron River, with cold waters shaded by overhanging trees. When the Ciron flows into the Garonne the mingling of the cold and warm water causes mists which are ideal for the fungus to form – which is a perfect example of ‘terroir’. Our guide explained that harvesting the grapes is labour-intensive. The pickers only take grapes which have been sufficiently affected by the botrytis. The vines will be picked over several times, so the pickers need to be knowledgeable and available. As a result, pickers usually come from surrounding villages. Each new picker is supervised for the first season to make sure they know what they’re doing.

Our heads full of information, we tasted two of the chateau’s wines – a young sauterne, and an older one so we could taste the difference age makes.

Wines for tasting

 

Chateau Cazeneuve

From here, we went on to Chateau Royal de Cazeneuve – what we would automatically think of as a chateau – a castle. Owned by the Dukes d’Albret since the 12th century, the chateau is still owned by the same family. During the 16th century it was the home of King Henri IV and his wife, Margot. Queen Margot was another high-born lady who enjoyed herself. Henri had many mistresses and Margot used to meet her lovers in a cave in the forest. What’s good for the gander and all that. Louis XIII and Louis XIV both stayed at the castle, as did Edward I of England. France’s death duties are crippling and having renovated the castle, the baron elected to use it to make a living by encouraging tour groups, and conducting events and lunches such as the one we enjoyed there.

The lunch menu – absolutely delicious

Lunch remnants with the remains of the sauterne

After lunch we were invited to tour the castle and grounds before setting off to rejoin our boat for the trip back to Bordeaux. We actually did some sailing, arriving just on sunset.

Lazy summer days

While my friends in the Northern hemisphere complain about the short grey days and the long cold nights, we in the South are either enjoying long summer days, or complaining about soaring temperatures. Many of us are also enjoying the summer holidays. For us, Christmas signals the beginning of the big break before work resumes around February. That includes the media and the TV stations. It’s the time of yet another re-run of shows like The Big Bang Theory, Thirty Minute Dinners with Jamie, or Nigella’s cooking show. Ho hum.

But Wait. There’s cricket. You can’t beat a few days on the couch watching an international test match, or a one-dayer, on TV. The boxing day test is a highlight of the sporting calendar. I recall one year, Pete and I both caught a flu while on holiday, so we holed up in a motel room and watched the boxing day test from bed.

While a lot of people think cricket is slow – and it can be – I think test cricket is an absorbing game of strategy and tactics. Played over five days, six hours a day, in any weather except rain, it can be physically and mentally draining. The one-day form (50 overs a side) is more exciting, but less challenging for the players, and the 20 overs a side version (T20) is called the Big Bash League for a reason.

I watched a one -day game yesterday, between England and Australia. Oz batted first and only managed 261 runs, which is pretty ordinary. Seemed the Poms were going to have our lot for dinner. As our batsmen and the fielding team trailed off for the lunch break, I remembered a famous one-day match played many years ago between Western Australia and Queensland.

It was in the 1976-77 season. My then-partner and I had been visiting family. They also enjoyed the cricket so we listened to the match on the radio. Because it was played in Perth, Perth viewers couldn’t watch the match on TV. (The idea was to get crowds to the ground, but at over 30,000 there already, it was pretty much at capacity.) WA was all out for 77 in 23 overs. (Back in those days an innings was 40 overs, with 8 balls per over. Today it’s 50 overs with 6 balls per over) Our team was going to be creamed. So my partner and I went home.

He turned the radio back on after the lunch break. I confess I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m not a masochist, and the Queensland team was undoubtedly going to win. After all, their line up included Greg Chappell, who became Australian captain, and Vivian Richards, who became West Indies captain. Both of them are amongst the top ranked batters in the history of the game.

But nobody had figured on D.K. Lillee, one of the greatest fast bowlers the game has ever produced, and then at the top of his considerable powers. In the rooms during lunch WA’s team captain, Rod Marsh (one of Australia’s legendary wicket keepers), tried to gee up the side – “There’s a big crowd here. Let’s not let them down. Let’s make them fight for it.” To which Lillee responded, “Make ’em fight for it be buggered. We’re going to beat these bastards.”

Dennis reckoned WA could win. He blasted Viv Richards with four bouncers in the first over. In those days batters didn’t wear helmets and those balls are whizzing through at 130km (about 80mph+). Then he bowled him with a good length ball. One down. David Ogilvie hit a couple of fours before he, too was given his marching orders. But now the Qld score was 2 for 23, and they only had to get 78. Should be a doddle. Next batter was Greg Chappell, who had made a century on debut on the WACA ground not so long ago.

Remember I said cricket is about tactics? Rod Marsh (wicket keeper, standing behind the batter) signaled to Dennis Lillee to bowl a bouncer down leg side, expecting that Chappell would try to hook the ball. Rod was moving into the expected trajectory of the ball before it was bowled. Chappell tried to glide it down to the boundary and watched it land safely in Rod’s gloves. Dennis had 3 wickets for 11 runs, and the rest of the WA players knew they were in with a chance.

The rest, as they say, is cricketing history. Queensland was bowled out for 62. It was only fitting that Our Dennis took the final wicket of the day.

The late seventies and eighties was a great time for watching cricket.  Reading through a list of the men who played that match was almost a who’s who of Australian cricket, not to mention the great Viv Richards who was spearhead of the all-conquering West Indies team for many years. Such a shame the Windies is now a spent force, although individuals do make their mark (and a lot more money) playing in the Big Bash and India’s T20 league.

But that was then. The match I was watching that jogged my memory ended up predictably with England easily defeating Australia. But we still won the Ashes in the test cricket series!

Here’s a little video about the Miracle Match which will give you some idea of what it was like. It’s just over 7 minutes long. Ah, the memories.

There’s a book based around that match, with biographies of all the players. Here’s the link on Australian Amazon.

Did somebody mention tennis? Summer, Australian open? Oh, that. Two people grunting at each other as a ball whizzes from one side of the court to the other. For me tennis is right up there with formula one, just below grass-growing as a spectator sport.

But to each their own.

Who you gonna call?

This is a tale of woe we want to share with you because it’s interesting – and it’s a great example of ‘buyer beware’. It’s technical, so read on at your own risk.

Like everyone else (almost) on the planet, we believed we had to have a third party anti-virus system on our computers. We’ve had a few over the years – Macafee, Norton, AVG. A few years ago we switched to Avast’s freebie, then I decided to upgrade to a paid plan because it countered risks like malware. We had the Premium package, and have run that for a couple of years. Last November, I splurged on the $80 secureline option which was supposed to secure my internet connection.

In the last few weeks, around Christmas time, Avast started coming up with error messages informing Pete, whose machine is connected to the router, that such and such network had been changed from private to public.  At first, we didn’t take much notice, but as it became more common, we paid attention. We didn’t even recognise some of the network names. We couldn’t find out anything much about the message, so we contacted what we thought was Avast’s Australian online support. This was conducted via a chat interface.

Peter explained the issue and asked if the network switching from private to public was something to worry about. Yes, was the answer. We were transferred to someone else, who put us in contact with technical support. The tech’s name was (apparently) Jones. He asked for permission to take over the machine so he could check the status of the firewall and settings. Since we were connected to Avast we granted permission, and the conversation proceeded. Here’s a transcript.

11:36 AM Connecting…

11:37 AM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

11:37 AM Support session established with Jones.

11:37 AM Jones restarting application as Windows system service

11:37 AM Connecting…

11:37 AM Application running as Windows system service

11:37 AM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

11:38 AM Support session established with Jones.

11:38 AM You have granted full permission to Jones. To revoke, click the red X on the toolbar or press Pause/Break on the keyboard.

11:38 AM Remote Control started by Jones.

11:39 AM Jones: Hi, May I have your full name and your email address please?

11:39 AM Customer: Gret Johanna van der Rol [email protected]

11:39 AM Customer: Greta

11:40 AM Jones: Thank you, May I chck your fire wall settings?

11:40 AM Customer: Please do

11:41 AM Jones: Thank you, please dont move your mouse while I check

11:47 AM Jones: do you see those errors?

11:47 AM Customer: Yes, windows update failure

11:48 AM Jones: Most of the services were got effected. It seems already the security layer of your computer might have severely got effected  that may allow others to access your computer without any authorization anytime.

11:49 AM Jones: Did you download anything from internet recently?

11:49 AM Jones: From a non reliable resource

11:49 AM Customer: Free books from Instafreebie?

11:50 AM Jones: Okay, Let me check one more thing

11:50 AM Jones: Please wait

11:51 AM Jones: Do you see that, windows has stop defending itself

11:51 AM Jones: The defender is not working anymore

11:52 AM Customer: Yes. Can you turn it back on?

11:52 AM Jones: Sure, Even If I turn it on the onfection on your computer might turn it off soon

11:52 AM Jones: Let me show you something important

11:54 AM Jones: I hope you cane see the number of infections

11:55 AM Customer: Yes. What should I do?

11:55 AM Jones: We need to get rid of all these values fast, they could alter the functionality of software on your computer and may finally crash it. Eventually when the other programs are executed, even more programs may get “infected” with these self-replicating infected files.

11:56 AM Customer: Sure. How do we do that

11:56 AM Jones: Not to worry, We will do that for you. we found the exact locations to fix it. Today we will do a complete clean-up of your PC, fix your email issue, secure all the Pc and email ports, reconfigure all infected programming files, so that this issues is fixed and your computer would be safe without any data loss and computer crashes.

11:56 AM Customer: Excellent

11:57 AM Jones: Now for me to perform this task, we have few fix options for you. Let me give you a brief about the options. May I?

11:57 AM Customer: Yes please

11:58 AM Jones: 1. One time fix [Manual Clean-up + Today”s Fix] : $179.99

  1. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 1 Year : $299.99 (Includes today’s fix)
  2. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 2 Years : $399.99 (Includes today’s fix)
  3. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 3 Years : $499.99 (Includes today’s fix)

* The Unlimited plan also includes today’s fix.

* We will also install a calling card on your computer wherein you can reach our technicians automatically just by one click at any time.

Benefits of Unlimited Tech Plan : (Best value for money)

  1. Help to protect your privacy, data and online identity.
  2. Support for all kinds of Software related issues.
  3. Security against hackers programs, Viruses, spywares.
  4. Complete manual check-up periodically
  5. Cleanup of Registry & infected files.
  6. On Demand System Security Check.
  7. Fixing will be done in no time.
  8. We are just click away, no hold time to reach us.

I would suggest you to go for the long term as there are several issues on your PC and better value for your money.

12:00 PM Customer: Isn’t this what we’re paying Avast for, so this doesn’t happen?

12:00 PM Jones: the truth is no anti-virus is fool proof, so that’s the need of manual clean-up of any threats like Trojans, spywares at least once a month so that you can eliminate any threats immediately. This is where the human intervention is required.

12:01 PM Jones: Manual clean up is completly different from software clean up

12:03 PM Customer: I’ll do the option 1. Please make sure everything that should be turned on, is.

12:04 PM Jones: We will ensure that all the issues will be fixed

12:04 PM Jones: Shall I proceed with the one time fix

12:04 PM Customer: Yes please

12:06 PM Jones has sent a link: daskanini.com

12:08 PM Customer: Jonesy, we thought we were talking with Avast.  How did Log Me Rescuue get involved.

12:09 PM Jones: We do support for Avast products

12:09 PM Jones: Logmein rescue is the remote tool which is used to take the remote control

12:09 PM Jones: Thats a third party tool which everyone use

12:10 PM Customer: So who are you?

12:10 PM Jones: We are daskanini LLc

12:10 PM Jones: We support for Avast products

12:11 PM Customer: Well we’ll talk to Avast before we do anything.

12:11 PM Jones: Okay, I understand that, we gurantee 100 percent fix, if not you will get your money back

12:14 PM Customer: Send me your email address so we can get back to you, shortly.

12:18 PM Customer: You still there?

12:19 PM Customer: Email [email protected]

12:19 PM Customer: Thks

12:19 PM Customer has revoked all permissions.

12:19 PM Remote Control by Jones stopped.

12:20 PM You have denied full permission to Jones.

12:21 PM Jones has ended the session.

We started getting suspicious at the size of the fee, although we seemed to be trapped between a rock and a hard place. So we got an email address, and closed the call. Then we did some homework.

First , note this statement.

11:51 AM Jones: Do you see that, windows has stop defending itself

11:51 AM Jones: The defender is not working anymore

In fact, when a third-party product like Avast is installed, Windows Defender has to be turned off.

Next, here’s a screen shot of Event Viewer from my machine. This was what Jones was showing us when he says ‘do you see all those errors?’ (Remember, my machine was fine – we were working on Peter’s)

Note the error messages. Scary stuff, huh? Well, no, actually. Scammers use that technique to trick people into thinking there’s a problem.
https://www.howtogeek.com/123646/htg-explains-what-the-windows-event-viewer-is-and-how-you-can-use-it/

The next thing to do was make sure the system on Peter’s machine was clean of any malware. I followed the steps detailed in this PC World article. Make sure you download a malware program such as MalwareBytes before you reboot your machine in safe mode. We were not surprised to discover there was nothing wrong with the machine and made sure to get rid of logmein, the program the scammers used to take over the machine.

We were pretty incensed that the support person had put us through to a scammer, so we contacted the company via email. After some discussion, we learned that we had not been talking to Avast at all. If you google Avast support you’ll see a list of sites purporting to support Avast customers. A couple of them are Avast.antivirussupportaustralia.com and getavast.net/support. They’re all scammers. We should have gone to the Avast site (Avast.com/en-au/support.) There’s nothing Avast or any of the other companies hit by these people can do to stop the scammers. They buy a domain name that sounds right (antivirus support australia). That’s perfectly legal. If we’d looked more carefully at the site, we would have found a very badly written disclaimer in the footer, stating that the company had no affiliation with Avast. But we didn’t.

So, we’ve learned a lesson. However, at least we had the sense to back off and investigate.

Take care out there, people. There are unscrupulous people who want to take advantage of you.

*******************************************************************************

Oh, and by the way, I’ve good a new book out if you’re into SF romance. Not too much romance, lots of intrigue and planet-hopping.

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother, and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she’s not the only one interested in the Jhutta’s whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia’s parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.

Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he’s on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it’s said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

Buy it now on Amazon  Google iBooks Nook Kobo  (I’ll add them as they go live)

 

Teaser Tuesday – Starheart #sfrg

Today I’m sharing a short excerpt from one of my favourite scenes in Starheart. Do please note the use of coarse language. It’s one of Jess’s characteristics, so if you object to the F-word, this book is probably not for you. In this scene Admiral Hudson has had Jess’s ship stopped. She has been brought to his office to be interviewed.

_____________________________

Starheart coverHudson hardly had time to make himself comfortable in his chair when his clerk said via his implant, “Captain Sondijk is here, Sir.”

He sat back in his seat, watching the door when she entered. Her grey ship suit was unzipped at the front and the scoop-necked white shirt she wore underneath revealed a tantalizing expanse of breast. The last time she’d been brought aboard she’d dressed for the occasion but this time she probably didn’t even realize. Her eyes blazed with fury as she barged into his office, flanked by a lieutenant and two troopers. No, intimidation didn’t work on Jess Sondijk.

“What in blazes is this about? Annoyed I stood you up?”

“Thank you, Lieutenant, you may go,” Hudson said.

He waited until the door closed behind the troopers. “I admit, I’m not accustomed to being stood up.”

She slammed both her palms on his desk and leaned toward him, affording him a lovely view of her cleavage. “You are not the fucking center of the universe.”

His gaze slid down to admire the swell of her breasts. Nice. Exquisite. Two delicious handfuls. His mouth watered. The prospect of a close and personal encounter with that body was enough to give a man a hard-on.

She pushed herself upright. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Do you ever think about anything but your cock?”

He leaned back, grinning. “If you flaunt your assets, my dear, you can hardly blame me for looking.”

Scowling, she zipped up her suit.

“Very good. Now sit.” He pointed at the visitor’s chair beside her.

“Go to hell. You have no reason, no right to stop me and impound my ship. I’ve done nothing wrong and I’ve other things to do apart from some … some sort of verbal foreplay with you.” She folded her arms, staring down at him.

“You’re supposed to be having dinner with me at Aristides in a few hours’ time. Instead, you’ve careered off Nordheim as if all the demons in hell were after you. Where are you going and why?”

“None of your business.”

He held her gaze. “We can continue with this for as long as you like. But you will not be moving out of this office, let alone off this ship, unless you can give me a good reason.”

_________________________________

Buy the book at  Amazon B&N Kobo iBooks

About that Clean Reader app…

canstockphoto6077467Of course I’ve got an opinion about the censorship app. But today is my turn on Spacefreighters’ Lounge, so you’ll be able to see me up on the soapbox over there. https://spacefreighters.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/if-that.html

Come on over and say g’day.

 

 

Butcher meets the berzhan #sfrgtt

https://www.canstockphoto.com/golden-chinese-dragon-5632075.html

https://www.canstockphoto.com/golden-chinese-dragon-5632075.html

Hi and thanks for coming. This is a snippet from Crisis at Validor, in which Brett Butcher meets the planet’s fabled berzhani for the first time. They are not unlike the creature in the picture – although that one’s a statue.

**********************************

The chamber glowed with soft light emanating from jewels set into carvings on the walls, the eyes of berzhani. They covered the surface, a mass of interweaving creatures with multi-colored backs. Butcher had trouble suppressing the shiver. He hadn’t see a live animal at all, so far. It was time he pulled himself together and stopped behaving like a child.

Lurmask stopped. “This is Berzhan Khun, the cavern of the dragon.” Xeszno and Lena stood beside him, while the khiphra approached the far wall, all her tentacles waving rhythmically.

Movement. Butcher stiffened.

The base of the wall seemed to shift and transform, taking on a different pattern, drawing back from the rock. A column rose up in front of the high priestess. A column with glowing red eyes.

Butcher’ legs turned to jelly. The breath caught in his throat. Fuck. Oh, fuck. The bloody thing was huge, as thick as his own body and he couldn’t see the end of its tail. The great tapered head hung above the khiphra like a portent of doom.

***********************************

Picture of cover for Crisis at ValidorNewly-promoted Captain Brett Butcher is about to achieve his life-long ambition to command a battle cruiser. But before he takes up his new posting, he goes home on leave, hoping to perhaps catch a glimpse of his first love, the unattainable Lady Tarlyn.

When the queen is assassinated in a terrorist attack, Tarlyn’s life is thrown into turmoil when she, too, becomes a target. The last person she expects to rescue her is her childhood sweetheart, Brett Butcher.

As Validor’s Ptorix and human populations face off over a group of islands neither owns, the calls for war grow louder. Torn between duty and ambition, Butcher and Tarlyn struggle to prevent an inter-species conflict, while the ember of love that has smouldered for so long bursts into flame.

But with planetary peace at stake, both will be forced to choose; love or duty.

Buy the book at Amazon B&N Kobo iBooks

Happiness is a new camera #photo

When you get past a certain number of years on the timeline of life you don’t wait for birthdays to give yourself presents. I’ve had a Canon 550D camera for several years now, and it has served me very well, but I’d started to yearn for something better. My favourite subjects are moving birds and whales and there had been a few times when I’d thought I’d captured a stunner, only to find it was slightly out of focus, or fuzzy around the edges.This is an example. It looks great small, but blow it up to full resolution and it’s not quite there.

sea eagle

So when I discovered that a lot of photographers who published their work in National Geographic used the Canon 5D Mark III I went into lust overdrive. After a few sleepless nights I thought what the hell? You can’t take your money to heaven (or hell, for that matter). So I used some of my writing earnings and became the proud owner of a 5D.

It’s a whole new learning curve, but here are a few shots I’ve taken with it so far. I think it’s worth it already.

Hold on tight

Hold on tight

Coming in

Coming in

butterfly on rosemary

butterfly on rosemary

 

 

 

Should content warnings be standard on books?

WARNING symbolThe subject of ‘trigger warnings’ has come up for heated discussion among my circles of friends. For those of you who have just emerged from under a rock, “Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as ‘trigger warnings’, explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans,” The New York Times reports.

The debate has been split between (surprise) those who think this sort of thing is warranted, and those who do not. My knee-jerk reaction was that it’s nonsense. The blurb on the cover should be enough, that we already live in a nanny state that governs far too much. After all, readers can always stop reading.

But on the other hand, movies and TV shows have a code of practice. In Australia, the national broadcaster prefaces any show which will show the image of a deceased Aboriginal person with a warning for the benefit of Aboriginal people that such content will be shown. It’s part of their culture not to see images of the dead. We’re warned about movies which contain violence, nudity, bad language and the like, and in Australia the content is rated G, PG, M, MA 15+, R 18+ or X 18+. You’ll find the explanations here.

And that segues neatly into a discussion I had recently about the use of the “F-bomb” in books. I wrote a blog post on the subject. To save you bothering to read it, essentially I treat “fuck” as just another word. It has its place and conveys information about the person using it. I have received more than one complaint about the use of swearing in my books. I’m not sure why a written word offends anybody. But to each his/her own.

I have also received complaints about explicit sex scenes. I write mainly science fiction romance, so the book’s genre might be a clue that sex happens. Some of the online book stores (Omnilit and All Romance come to mind) ask authors to indicate the level of ‘heat’ in their books, going from none through to five, which means it’s erotic. I’d set mine as two or three on that scale: consenting sex between heterosexual adults once, maybe twice in the novel.

Perhaps larger sellers like Amazon and Smashwords should introduce a similar coding system for the benefit of readers. Perhaps a setup such as that used by The Fussy Librarian would work. Or maybe I need to add a sentence to my blurb:

WARNING contains bad language, violence and some explicit sex scenes

Mind you, most of my books are basically adventure stories, not intended to offend anybody. But what would I do with To Die a Dry Death, which contains terrible acts of violence, a couple of times graphically portrayed, and also an explicit sex scene? None of the content is there for gratuitous titillation. It’s part of the story – and it happens to be true. If I wrote this book with no overt violence, I’d be sanitisng events which should not be sanitised. I feel rather the same about the sex scene, which qualifies at best as dubious consent. So…

WARNING contains strong violence and one explicit sex scene depicting dubious consent

But then, where do you stop? Does the use of a word like ‘fuck’ qualify as profanity? What about ‘damn’ or ‘bugger’? How much violence is strong violence (if we’re not talking horror)? And then down to specifics. What sort of warning would you put on the bible, which includes rape, and incitement to violence, just to name a couple? What about a novel like John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, which has a number of harrowing scenes regarding the rape and torture of a young black girl, although it’s a story about a trial? Or for me, what about that dreadful, dreadful scene at the beginning of The Horse Whisperer, where the horse and the girl are hit by a truck?

Should we be warning our readers? If so, about what? I’d love to know what you think.