Monday, 30 July 2007

@Manolito, like Casa de la Musica all over again

nic and mel
Originally uploaded by

For a little while last night at the Coronet (Elephant and Castle, London), I felt as though we were back in Casa de la Musica, Havana.

Nic and Mel were even there...if you read this blog you might remember that we first saw them in Havana's famous dance hall on Galiano Street, grooving away with sexy male dancers Bustamente and Yoandy, when I snuck my 14-year-old daughter in to see Maikel Blanco.

Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco are one of Cuba's top bands, one of the world's top salsa bands and like all these outfits, unbelievably tight and accomplished, all 16 of them. The musicianship is quite astonishing. You get used to it but when you listen to a run of the mill live jazz act you suddenly realise just how fantastic these top salsa bands are.

Manolito have a few songs which are currently club favourites, like 'Marcando la Distancia' (a song about divorce), 'Control' (a reggaeton favourite) and the crowd-pleasing, chorus rousing 'Locos por Mi Habana'. Apart from that they also mastered cha-cha-cha (latest hit, 'Se Rompieron los Termometros'), sophisticated latin-jazz instrumentals and even a bolero! (all the above songs titles link to Youtube videos.)

These tickets have been selling at every salsa event we've been to for the past six weeks, so there were many familiar faces. A really wonderful feeling, to be part of this loosely connected but joyous community of Cuban salsa fans.

And here's a photo of me at the concert with my best friend Becs:

Really must buy a good small camera for these things...BlackBerry is not up to the job...

Thanks again to MamboCity for organising this gig!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Georgina's, just the way it used to be

Originally uploaded by

You might think of Oxford as a pretty traditional place where things don't change that much. But that's not how it is at all. In the twenty-odd years that I've lived here almost every part of the city has been altered, improved, developed. Even the colleges have cleaner stone and a modern block, sometimes even sympathetically designed, like new wings of Magdalen and Linacre.

So if you're in a nostalgic mood, where can you go for a hang-out that hasn't changed in 20 years?

I can name two: Georgina's Coffee shop and Brown's Cafe, both in the covered market.

Georgina's serves salads, flapjacks and bagels, the ceiling is plastered with movie posters and they play non-stop indie rock music loud enough that you have to talk at a level which makes the whole place swing with youthful energy. Youthful because then as now the cafe is a favourite haunt of students.

I snapped two such youngsters, Matt and Beth, sitting in what used to be one of my favourite tables.

23 years since I arrived here! That's brilliant (cos I always dreamed of living here) as well as a bit sad (cos I could never bear to leave).

A pal of mine, the Aristotelophile Peter Simpson, once told me that I would only leave Oxford in a box...

Hell no! They can bury me here!

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Thursday, 26 July 2007

Harry Potter 7 got me reading again

Well it's true and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Here's my big confession - before reading Harry Potter 7 I hadn't read a book since March. And that was nonfiction - my agent Peter Cox's book "You Don't Need Meat".

I find it hard to read when there's a lot going on in my life, especially if the 'life' stuff needs a lot of thought. Some years back, when we were setting up our business, I sometimes read fewer than 5 books a year. A YEAR! This is how come I've developed a short attention span and impatience with reading anything that doesn't grab from page 1. In such times I have had to fall back on re-reading my old favourites like Borges, Calvino, Garcia Marquez and Murakami.

It took a lot of determination to read Harry Potter 7 in a day-and-a-bit - not because it was anything but enjoyable, but because with two girls at home, one pre-reader and one teenager from the Harry-Potter-negative segment of humanity (those curious people!), it was hard to get twenty minutes' peace in one go. I read in chunks punctuated with 'Leave me alone', 'Get your own dinner' and 'It's not my problem that all your friends are too busy reading Harry Potter to hang out with you'.

But having recaptured the discipline of batting the kids away and concentrating long enough to actually follow a fictional thread, I rapidly picked up two more books and read them quick ("Of Love and Demons" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - amazing and "The Chase" by Alejo Carpentier - good but a bit tough-going to be truthful).

Reading is really the best entertainment, once you can submit to a book's demands.

Next I am going to re-read two old favourites by Mario Vargas Llosa. "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" and "The City and the Dogs". The latter is one of the vague influences of my current work-in-progress so it's time I revisited...

Current desire-to-write is running around 60%...when I hit 80% I think I can try to get back on the horse re Project Jaguar.

Oh and I loved the way JK wrapped up the saga. Especially the stuff re Snape. Excelente!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Things I Miss About Being A Kid

Sitting here, waiting to go out to buy Harry Potter 7, is enough to make me understand - if ever there was a mystery about it which for me there isn't - why Harry Potter is SO great.

For adults I mean. Simply put - it makes us feel like kids again. Like Disneyland, swimming in the sea my case, almost nothing else. (If you're very good at things like surfing and skiing you probably get this feeling from that too, but last time I skied I was trembling with fear and then I snapped my leg across the top of my boot - and heard it crack.)

I miss being a kid, even though you're relatively disempowered and have homework and exams, and you can get teased and bullied, I mean, there's no doubt it can be tough, BUT:

What a great feeling it used to be to wake on a Saturday morning and know that beyond the hour or two of chores that you might have to put in, the day was yours. I used to lie awake in bed making plans which would go something like this:

1. Call for Eoin across the road.
2. Mooch into the village to buy sweets and comics.
3. Go to Eoin's house to read comics (Roy of the Rovers and 2000 AD), eat sweets and watch TV.
4. Get ready to go watch Man United (if we were playing at home)
5. Drop by the sweet shop on the way to the bus to get supplies for the match.
6. Leave for Old Trafford around midday.
7. Get to the match early to get a good standing position, usually on the railings at the front of the Stretford End Junior Paddock.
8. Amuse each other with silly stories and voices (mainly Eoin's)
9. Go home (hopefully triumphant but if not then full of mock-bitterness and disappointment)
10. Watch "Doctor Who"
11. Hopefully have a teenage babysitter of an evening, and persuade them to read to us from their totally inappropriate book of horror tales, or if a girl, to tell us about their dates with boys.

(A close second for a Saturday when United played away, was scoring some new William, Mallory Towers, Tintin or Hardy Boys books at the library, or trespassing in the garden of the nearby grand house.)

Ah. Days where you don't count the minutes of time wasted, responsibilities ignored, calories and the effect of sugar on your teeth.

Well, I'm having one of those days today and the housework can sit there and my kids can Make Their Own Entertainment.

Friday, 20 July 2007

It's 8.30pm...are you queuing for Harry Potter?

It's 8.30pm...are you queuing for Harry Potter?
Originally uploaded by mgharris

Chucked out of the house by our teenage daughter who wants to partay with her disreputable friends...we ventured into Oxford's still clogged highways in search of a Friday night salsa. But stopped in town to grab food..honestly the traffic to Cumnor is SO bad.

Snapped the Harry Potter queue. Brave souls enduring the cold and rain! Waterstones had the biggest queue. Even though The Works opposite was offering it for the same price and had a MUCH shorter queue...everyone's heading for the Waterstones. They could be warm and toasty at Borders opposite, which is open from now till the book goes on sale.

Don't get me wrong, like. I'm keen too. But sometime after breakfast tomorrow will do me fine.

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Oxford traffic locks down

Oxford traffic locks down
Originally uploaded by

Why did my rare, one day away from my desk have to turn into a battle with the elements? From aquaplaning all over country roads this morning to being stuck in one of Oxford's legendary total gridlocks...I'm 2 minutes from home but doubt I'm going to be there for 30.

On the bright side, it brings back happy memories of rainy summer afternoons stuck for hours on Mexico City's Periferico.

I wish I'd gone to the loo. How true it is that ladies should never miss an opportunity to pop into the ladies.

Yes I'm driving as I blog this. It's's an automatic.


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Dropped by the office...

Dropped by the office...
Originally uploaded by

Decided to spend the day out of the house so that I don't have to find excuses not to write. I even dropped by the office to see how the guys are doing. This is a photo of me with our senior technology consultant, Matt Banks, a guy so good-looking that when we had our company photos done, the photographer reckoned that he could get Matt work as a model. Matt is making a rude gesture with his fingers, in the general direction of the MD, Mark Salisbury.

I am going to look at a snazzy new, freebie content management system. Woo.

More photos on Flickr...

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Der Echt Nutella

It's okay, I wondered too. Der Nutella, die Nutella, das Nutella? I didn't want to get it wrong after all. Luckily, the InterWeb provides answers to these questions and more.

According to a Nutella FAQ, it can be any one of the three articles.

So...Der Echt Nutella.

Nutella is actually made by an Italian family company, Ferrero, whose skills with hazelnut and chocolate know no bounds. They also make the Ambassador's favourite sweets, those exclusive Ferrero Rocher.

But the Germans embraced Nutella with a passion back in the 1970s (or even earlier), which is where I first encountered the yummy treat, living there for 6 months as a four year old. When we left to live in Manchester, England, Nutella was the pain thing I missed, for years and years, until it started to be available in the UK, sometime in the late 1980s.

I remember going with school to Germany and coming back laden with 8 bottles of Nutella.

I wasn't being greedy. You couldn't get it in England then!

I remember staying with my German exchange penfriend, the lovely Erik, and being super impressed when one morning at breakfast the Nutella ran out. And his Mum simply went to the larder and pulled out another! Who stores more than one jar of Nutella at a time??? The Germans, that's who. They love it.

I have always strongly suspected that Ferrero make a special formulation for the German market. Their Nutella is the echt Nutella as far as I am concerned. It is more chocolately and nougaty.

My good friend DB bought me a jar from the German deli in London, to help me with my writer's block. I ate a few spoons before going to bed last night. God it's good.

I couldn't be sure this early, but I think I sensed a flicker in the old story brain. Maybe it was the combined effect of the Nutella and having seen Harry Potter 5. I'll have to eat some more, to see if it really works...

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Wheels begin to turn...

Well my dear blog readers, it's all kicking off round our way!

My publisher - Scholastic Children's Books - announced the aquisition of "THE JOSHUA FILES" series title on Tuesday. And the news is that it seems to have grabbed some attention, which is great, which is wonderful, because it will hopefully help build awareness of the book.

My agent called me on Tuesday morning and told me that the Arts Editor of the Evening Standard wanted to interview me, which she did...and sure enough, they ran a little story in the late edition - on the same page as a big article about Harry Potter, next to one about the Arctic Monkeys.

It's not my first time in the press. But before it tended to be things like "Information World Review", on a page about Knowledge Management software and the like...

This is different and pretty, pretty, pretty cool.

I'm really looking forward to Harry Potter 7. And the huge bar of chocolate I plan to eat while reading it. The day will be sandwiched between two salsa events (Friday night and a Sunday matinee performance of the terrific UK-based son band, Soneando), so I should be able to burn the calories off...

It's my turn to see the latest Harry Potter movie tonight...

Oh...I am currently hugely enjoying watching "The New Adventures of Old Christine" a new sitcom starring my favourite of the Seinfeld four, Julie Louis-Dreyfus. So much that I think I'll give it it's own blog entry...more soon.

Still got writer's block, by the way. I have put a Recovery Plan in place. Luckily for me, it calls for things like going to the movies and reading.

Monday, 16 July 2007

"Too Much Salsa and You Could Die"

That's what Cuban salsa dance teacher Osbanis Tejedo said at breakfast on Sunday morning to the DJ. He was asking him to stir up the music a bit, some bachata, some merengue, some reggaeton.

Well, despite those words, I remember last night being mostly salsa...and the night before and the night before. I think I may in fact be dying from too much salsa. I feel as though I've been out on a drinking bender, absolutely shattered. And in the past three days I've had no more than one glass of wine.

It must be dehydration. Let me weigh myself...nope, no change there.

Salsa is definitely like a drug. It makes you feel amazing, you forget all your troubles while it lasts. Then you come back down to earth and realise that your problems haven't gone away, for goodness sakes. They're right there waiting to be dealt with, how dare they! And what do you turn to for a solution...?

More salsa.

It was great to be with a hundred or so like-minded addicts. How we sweated to get our rumba moves right, to move like the African spirits, the Orishas, how we strove to follow the tiny-but-fiery Damarys in her energetic and outrageously sexy reggaeton routine, how we concentrated on Kerry Ribchester's wonderful body-movement techniques to move ribcages for Cuban son, and laughed at Leo and Osbanis's flirty rueda moves.

Last night, you saw it all pouring out on the dance floor. Salsa with rumba, orishas, reggaeton, son, all mixed up. Okay, most people there were Northern European (and I was raised here, so I too started off stiff-as-a-board), but we were beginning to get there.

But man, am I exhausted.

Now, when's the next salsa thing...?

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Fiesta de Los Rumberos

Fiesta de Los Rumberos
Originally uploaded by mgharris

Rafael del Busto (in the cap) takes everyone through some moves in a warm-up Rueda de casino.

I felt sorry for non-salsa guests at the Arora hotel, Crawley. The music from the party went on until 2am at least and was easily audible in our room on the 2nd floor - enough to sing along with the lyrics.

MG - why were you trying to sleep when there was Cuban salsa? Well for one thing, 3 consecutive very late nights is beyond me. We wanted to be fresh for a long day of workshops beginning with Ariel teaching Cuban son.

Tonight though, we'll stay until the end. Some friends are kindly taking care of our little daughter so it's that VERY rare event for parents- a night off!

Just as well. I bet the hotel will get complaints from other guests. But tonight...I want that salsa played LOUD.

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Friday, 13 July 2007

Chichen Itza at the Equinox

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the spectacle of the equinox at the Mayan site of Chichen Itza (one of the New 7 Wonders of the Ancient World).

I had a look on Youtube and indeed there are some videos of the event. Nice, saves us all having to join the madding crowds.

Here's my pick of the crop:
Paco, a Mayan guide at Chichen Itza, explains the whole thing to a TV reporter.

Atmospheric little Chichen-equinox movie, with Pink Floyd music.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Buena Vista Night - July

What a pity I'm going to miss the next Buena Vista Night in Oxford. It's quite become the highlight of the month, although with all the festivities in London lately at Carnival de Cuba and next week's Afro-Cuban Weekender, Habanaloko party the following week and the Manolito Concert at the Coronet at the end of the month, July looks like the best month this year for us UK-bound Cuba-loving salseros.

D and I arrived to watch Habanero Leo Henriquez from Brighton teaching the raunchiest rueda moves I've ever seen. Mangos, castiga-la ("she's been naughty - slap her, you know you want to..."). I was kind of glad I wasn't in the class. Hey - there are some salsa moves that I'll only do with David.

(Well...maybe...until some Cuban guy comes along and tempts me into it...)

Over at the bar we had one of those brilliant reunions you sometimes get if you've been dancing for years and years - someone who's dropped off the planet for a while will swoop back into Oxford and of course, they'll visit the latest salsa joint. On Saturday it was Nick St Clair. Nick; blond Nick with the flowing blond mane and the tight white jeans, sexy Nick with the flashy Merc, Nick who once had his own salsa band. Yes, that Nick? You don't know him? Ahhh. Before your time then?

I didn't recognise Nick at first because he's gone all Andaluz. Living in Granada, Spain will do that for you. His hair is darker, tied back in a gitano-style pony tail. He was dressed all in black. Nick has two kids now; gorgeous, he showed us pictures. I had a brilliant dance with Nick - he hasn't lost his touch at all. My favourite Nick story is about an early dance experience of his. A sultry Spanish woman was dancing with him in a club, when he'd had just one or two lessons. She mistook his flamboyant clothes and hair for the att-it-tude of a guy who can dance. (Beginner need to watch out for that!) When she found out that he was a beginner she just left him there, walked away from him on the dance floor. Lo deje planta'o!

As Nick told me this story, it began to sound familiar. "I think I know that woman," I told him. "In fact, I think she's a good friend of mine - Ana." So devastated was Nick by this treatment that he resolved to become a terrific dancer. And he did. So Ana did him a favour really, didn't she?

We really enjoyed the set by DJ Shorty. She's a very pretty girl. And she loves the music of Adalberto Alvarez! week...Crawley! For three nights and two days of all-salsa-all-the-time!

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Mayan site of Chichen Itza One of the New 7 Wonders!

Chichen Itza
Originally uploaded by

The results are in - it was the final days of lobbying wot done it!

The Mayan city of Chichen Itza has been named as one of the official 'New' 7 Wonders of the World.

The photo is one of Aleksu's - a contact of mine from Flickr who takes gorgeous photos. He's been urging people to hit the 7 Wonders Website voting for Chichen.

Chichen Itza was the first Mayan ruin I ever visited, aged 15, on a hugely memorable trip to Yucatan with my father, stepmother and three sisters. We were driven there on the slow dusty road from Cancun. Not by my father - who stayed in Cancun to play golf - but his chauffeur. This was before cars routinely had aircon. It was a sweltering August day - at least 45 degrees Celsius and close to 100% humidity. and the site was crowded - even in 1981 it was Mexico's most popular archaeological site after Teotihuacan. My sister Pili passed out from heat stroke in the ladies' bathroom.

We walked around the site in stunned, exhausted silence. I was nursing my usual sunburn and was in agony most of the time. (Sunblock didn't work in those days; I always forgot to wear a T-shirt for a critical hour or so, for which I always paid in tears of pain). I tried climbing the main staircase of tht Temple of Kukulcan aka El Castillo (pictured above) and got about twenty stairs up before I turned around and had an attack of vertigo. I knew without a shadow of doubt that if I climbed to the top with my sisters I would have to be helicoptered down. I managed to climb back down those 20 stairs but my legs were shaking all the way down, even though I used the trick of descending on a diagonal.

I went into the tunnel in El Castillo to try to climb the Temple of the Jaguar that sits under the newer, flashier Toltec-influenced pyramid. There was a crowd of tired, hot, breathless tourists waiting patiently to ascend a tight staircase just wide enough to permit a line of people going up and a line of people going down. It was like a steam oven in there; everyone was being slowly poached. The skin on my shoulders felt like it was on fire. I took one look up that staircase and felt like I'd got as close to hell as I ever wanted to be. A wave of claustrophobia gripped me; I almost shoved people out of my way on the way out.

Chichen isn't my personal favourite of the Mayan sites. I prefer something more Classic Mayan, with the Puuc or Rio Bec architecture, ideally in a more jungle-setting, like Palenque. However Chichen has two sites, including an older, Classic Mayan site which is Puuc style.

Chichen's buildings are spectacularly preserved - by now all four faces of El Castillo are restored, when I first visited it was just two. This pyramid is precisely aligned to capture the sun on the sides so that it lights up triangles on the main staircase and the serpents head at the base. This happens only on the Spring and Winter equinoxes and it has the effect of creating an undulating serpent-of-light on the staircase. I've never visited then because the crowds at that time of year are insane. (There must be a Youtube video of it...I'll check).

Despite the constant pain of my sunburn I was impressed beyond anything I'd ever experienced. I'd never visited any Mexican pyramids before, for some reason I'd never been taken to Teotihuacan (near Mexico City). I'd had a fascination with the Maya since aged 11 my father took us to stay at the Acapulco Princess, fashionable in the late 1970s/early 80s, and - I was told - built in the style of a modern Mayan pyramid (although the website says Aztec but still...) But to see the real thing, to experience something of that atmosphere, to imagine the citadel filled with warriors and priests, ball-players and sacrificial victims...was quite, quite amazing.

We returned late that evening to the hotel in Cancun. I went into the hotel bookshop and bought the shortest book I could find about the Maya. It turned out to be one of those Erich-Von-Daniken type books about ancient astronauts and their supposed influence on early civilisation. I lapped it up. I hardly slept that night.

If any of you read 'Invisible City' next February you will see just how far that day left its indelible mark on me.

Friday, 6 July 2007

God help me I've got writer's block again...

Actually yes, I DO think that three days running of not being able to write clocks in as an Officially Recognised Bout Of WB.

Things I have done in the past three days rather than write the next, challenging chapter of Jaguar's Realm.

(I mean, things I'm prepared to admit to in a blog)

1. Read emails about and from staff at the school where I'm a governor. Read them again, and again and again.

2. Phone people about the school where I'm a governor.
(yes I HAD to do those things but believe me, I lingered)

3. Browse for, choose and buy salsa dancing clothes and shoes from ebay.

4. Try on said salsa dancing clothes and shoes, gloat and marvel at how finally I've found an outfit that works for me and how light-as-a-feather the shoes are and wonder why I haven't invested in specialist kit for my main hobby before.

5. Jump on any email from my editor about the ms for Joshua book 1.

6. Join Facebook and spend an entire day mooching around on it, looking people up, customising my content.

7. Shop at Primark to make myself feel frugal.

8. Drag my husband out for breakfast, lunch, coffee, long walks.

9. Pester my neighbour Gabby to gossip with me; he was only trying to watch the tennis but would I let him, no.

10. Practice my reggaeton moves until my insides hurt from excess abdominal wiggling.

Don't even think that I'm running out of stuff to do. There's still Litopia, browsing salsa music on iTunes, reading Caitlin Moran's column in The Times (today I found out that there's a Facebook group called 'I Want To Be/Have Sex With Caitlin Moran When I Grow Up', which I won't join because she's actually on it herself and as you'll know if you read this blog regular-like, Caitlin is trying to exert pressure, by remote, on Big Brother quitters like me who've gone cold turkey and are trying to pretend BB isn't on this year), baking chocolate cake.

I wish I could put movies, books or TV on that list but in truth they take just too much concentration. Don't you think that if I could concentrate that hard I'd actually tackle this chapter head-on???

That said, here's a list of movies I'm looking forward to failing to get in to see:

Tell No One (still haven't managed to catch it)
Harry Potter 5
Buy It Now
The Simpsons Movie
The Bourne Ultimatum (LOVE the Bourne!)

Le Petit Dejeuner des CrackBerries#3

Le Petit Dejeuner des CrackBerries#3
Originally uploaded by

All right luv, stop taking photos of me...

Seriously though, have you ever been out with another BlackBerry addict?

There's little call for conversation.

What a world. It's not just that my attention span will barely make it through a TV show these days but I've taken about 40% of my social life online too.

A friend on Jaiku told me that she and her hubby were going to a Café Rouge for breakfast this morning and because I'm such a sheep I thought David and I could do the same. By crikey it's nice. Ersatz France, with French pop music and all... Reminded me how much I'm looking forward to spending time in France next month as we drive through to visit my baby brother in Switzerland.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Dotcom daftness again? Or is it real?

It's the sort of idea that we used to talk about breathlessly in innovation centre coffee meetings with other Internet entrepreneurs, swapping stories of the latest daft idea to get a squillion dollars of funding. Not that the ideas we had weren't daft too. My best conversations were with then Oxford graduate student Alex Straub, of the splendidly daft (hey, I too was a believer once), who probably personally made a few million from Italian investors Seat Pagine Gialle before mondus went belly-up. Back in 1999 Alex and I would go all googly-eyed at crazy Internet ideas, the madder the better.

So here's the idea - and it comes from a DPhil Biochemistry student at Oxford. (Hurrah for the biochemistry training - it's so darned versatile!)

A website where you buy moments in time. Your first kiss, it's suggested, or perhaps the moment you were offered a book deal. For $1 per minute you get to baggsy that moment and upload content which will be hosted in perpetuity, to share and share again with everyone in the world.

Thomas Whitfield apparently pitched this to Dan Wagner, himself a wily Internet entrepeneur, the guy behind the business information service M.A.I.D and then Dialog...and now the investment fund Bright Station Ventures, at a competition run by the Oxford Entrepreneurs. Instead of giving the £5,000 prize, Dan Wagner offered Whitfield and his associates access to the whole $100 million fund to develop and idea that I'm guessing they think will be the new Youtube. Wagner thinks that Designthetime (now known as miomi) captures the whole zeitgeist of the Internet.

Except...Youtube, Facebook, MySpace and all those sites on which we all frantically upload content to our hearts content...are free. What's to stop Yahoo or Google setting up something like this, and not charging?

When the whole dotcom thing collapsed it did so largely because most of the new businesses had non-existent revenue streams, and were spending money much, much faster than they could possibly make it. The smart money flew away and settled on the few safer bets, like Google and Yahoo. So respect is due to these guys for building in a user-driven revenue stream from the beginning. But will people pay for this frivolity? It will be interesting to see.

I can't see how this won't be imitated. For one thing, what will I do when I discover that my special moment has been nabbed? Will I upload content for my second favourite moment? Or will I go to a rival site, one that's quite possibly free?

I like being all sceptical, but deep down I really hope it works. It was a great feeling, the belief that a graduate student could spin a yarn and end up running a multi-million dollar business. I Googled Alex recently - he looks to be doing pretty, pretty fine.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Walking and help!

Wall Poppy
Originally uploaded by

Every day I walk to Summertown, not along the main road which is deafeningly loud, but around the residential streets. It's a great time to think about what I've just written, what I'm about to write but mainly I find it's a great way to mull over elements of plot.

In summer it's even better - the little front gardens I pass are crammed with gorgeous flowers and some with fruit trees, including vines and asian pears, as well as the usual apple, cherry and pear.

Yesterday the sun emerged for a brief hour as I took my afternoon walk. I snapped a pic of all the flowers I pass on my route. I thought they would cheer me up come winter, giving me hope for the return of sun, heat and long days.

Check out my flowers-in-Oxford collection on Flickr.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Degrees of Separation: Two

In the space of less than 10 hours I had the uncanny experience of having 2 degrees of separation from two of Britain's best-loved children's authors. Not via their agents, publicists, etc, or anyone in the industry; I wouldn't count that. No; I'm talking sheer coincidence.

Lookit: Yesterday, we're having lunch in Brighton, celebrating the First Holy Communion of our friends' daughter (her parents are enlightened atheists...). Two of the guests haven't seen me since I first started writing novels a few years back. They ask me to fill them in on the progress since then. "Someone I know at school - a parent - writes childrens' books," one of them says. "What's his name now? He's always saying how competitive it is." Later she remembers his name: Anthony Horowitz. "My nephew's favourite writer," I tell her. "My nephew keeps asking me if maybe one day I can get his autograph."

Much later that day we walk into Xi'an, the Szechuan Chinese restaurant owned by my pals Amy and Gary. Gary tells me over the bar that Philip Pullman used to be his teacher at Bishop Kirk, once a middle school in Summertown. "He comes in here sometimes," Gary says cheerfully. "He still remembers me! Tells me how I used to misbehave in class!" Then Gary tells me that Amy is giving lessons in Mandarin. I should learn, he says, so that I can one day converse with Chinese readers of my books. Gary does a quick mental calculation about what tiny proportion of the Chinese would need to read the books to make me a millionaire.

I love it when my friends are this optimistic. More power to the positive visualisation!

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit
Originally uploaded by

Our friends in Brighton have a garden filled with fruit trees. This one has lovely soft plum-like fruit that tastes something between a pear and a peach. Anyone know what it is?

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