Monday, 28 November 2011

'Good' Xmas Presents for the Kids

Some sociologists and childless journalists berate modern working parents for the paucity of quality time that they spend with their offspring. This leads to Christmas becoming a guiltfest, expunged by the giving of ridiculously expensive and indulgent presents. This year, the signs are that the financial crisis will take the wind out of the sails of this tendency, putting a more economical model in place.
     I have a couple of suggestions for parents looking for ideas that combine thrift and quality contact time.
     The first comes from an unlikely source-IKEA, master of the flatpack universe. Their gingerbread house comes as you would expect, flatpacked in a see through plastic container with assembly instructions.  It consists of two roof panels, two sides, two ends and a cute four piece chimney. A screwdriver is not required! The whole thing glues together, either with icing or melted sugar. For convenience we chose the latter since it sets instantly but I had forgotten how dangerously hot it is so would advise using mobile icing if the kids are doing this bit. Decoration is then a question of self expression with icing for snow and small sweets for patterns. After admiring it for a few days you can then have a little party to eat it-yummy. All that for less than £3.
    The second comes from National Geographic in their Dinosaur Dig series. It's a set of plastic dinosaur bones buried in a friable clay martix. Tools are provided to dig out the bones one by one and gradually reveal the structure of the skeleton. Smaller children will need a little help with this stage.
The final assembly job gives a model for permanent display.

On the writing front I'm waiting for the galley proofs for the print version of The Stuart Agenda with fingers crossed that it will be available to order for Christmas.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder- e-book at,, and Barnes and Noble 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Tale of two Angelas

In my novel, The Stuart Agenda, the whizkid politician who finally drives Scotland to independence is called Angela Brown. The name was selected before the ascendecy of Angela Merkel to the status of Empress of Europe and the demise of our british Mr Brown, who has sunk without trace in the sea of debt he helped to create.
     Angela Brown is a high profile ruthless operator who used the charisma of the Stuart hero Robert, candidate to become King of Scotland, as an electoral asset to get power in Scotland and a mandate for independence.
She also exploited English Tories thirst for coalition free power by offering them a way of becoming the natural party of government in England, free from Westminster voting power of Scottish Labour and Nationalist MPs.
    Angela Merkel is a canny East German PhD chemist who makes a virtue of seeming ordinary. That she has got rid of the feckless governments of Greece and Italy is a testament to the iceberg under that benign exterior. In the meantime she is standing very firmly behind the German electorate's view that profligate Southern Europeans should not be baled out. If the slate is wiped clean, won't they just continue with their bad old ways and rebuild debt piles? This stance will likely be held until the Greeks and Italians deliver governments and signed up programmes that tackle their fundamental economic problems. Only then is she likely to yield and give the European central bank the role of lender of last resort.
     It's a high risk strategy that could easily be destroyed by the markets if they don't see a solution emerging. We live in interesting times.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at,, and Barnes and Noble

Monday, 14 November 2011

The Wee Small Hours

I think that its time for another poem. The last one, about polar bears was posted up in August. When we think of polar bears, endless daylight illuminates the scene but the the Wee Small Hours is much more of a winter poem about darkness and the lonliness of the night confronting the insomniac. If counting sheep doesn't work for you try the strategy outlined below.

The Wee Small Hours

A footstep clunks on my restless pillow,
ruffling the feathers of wakefulness.
My eyes open in the theatre of darkness,
was it the end of an erotic dream,
or is someone knocking at my door?
Echoes of night feed my lonely fear.

Tom cats discussing the shape of the moon,
a roof tile lifting in the wind,
my neighbour’s dog smells a passing fox,
a carrion crow’s cry signals a death.
Nearer to heart, a kid turning in bed,
the loving snore from the pillow next door.

Then thought for the day intrudes;
that list of tasks; breakfast, kids to school,
for dinner, fish pie from the lake in the freezer,
hotly pursued by thought for the week;
a birthday to celebrate at the weekend,
the car insurance to renew on the net.

Then the dark thoughts drawer opens,
its contents spill on the bedroom floor,
as guts from a hung and drawn thief.
Demons and fragrant secrets that haunt, 
like the loose floorboard on the back stairs,
hard to nail down and silence for good.

The trick is to slay the dragons one by one;
don’t let then gang up, put them back
one at a time, pulling a poisonous fang,
then close the drawer tight, covering the sin.
They will die a little each time, but take care,
it’s a small drawer, so stop putting new ones in.

This is a Castle Sinclair near Wick, with Noss Head lighthouse in the background. It features in my second novel-more later.

 The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, and

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Garlic for Writers

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Vale Royal Writers Group

It was with some trepidation that I accepted my first invitation to speak to a writing group about my new novel, The Stuart Agenda, and the business of writing. I needn't have been concerned, the Vale Royal Writer's Group, pictured above, were very welcoming and receptive. They meet on the first Monday evening of every month at the Blue Cap pub in Sandiway, near Northwich. I wondered whether it would be a difficult thing to do without a printed book but that turned out not to be a problem. Several among the group had already downloaded the book to their Kindles and the majority had read the free section on Amazon and were there to be persuaded to go all the way.
     I talked for about half an hour on the characters and development of the plot leading to a question and answer session that was very valuable to me in highlighting what readers actually think. I'm expecting more feedback when everyone has caught up on the reading. Conversation turned inevitably to the problems of getting published, balancing the apparently closed doors of the traditional publishers against the new freedoms offered to writers by the digital medium.
     The proceedings ended with readings from the group. A good mixture of poetry, short stories and the beginning of a novel for the 50K words in a month challenge.
     I hope to make a return visit, perhaps with my next novel.

And this is a picture of a Meerkat taken at Knowsley Safari Park on Sunday. I wasn't reading her an extract from the Stuart Agenda!

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder at, Barnes and Noble, and

Friday, 4 November 2011

Prince Charles loses his Caithness Dram

Barrogill Blended Highland Malt WhiskyPrince Charles has been a staunch supporter of Caithness since taking a greater role in looking after the Castle of Mey following the death of the Queen Mother. In particular he encouraged the development of a premium foods business, Mey Selections, the brand name associated with the North Highland Initiative, which he set up to foster economic development in the far north. The idea is to market the finest of products that the north has to offer, particularly meat. Of course, no range of foods would be complete without a dram, so the Prince lent his name to the development and production of Barrogill blended malt. The initial response from whisky fans was mixed, with some doubts being expressed about the flavour profile. I bought a bottle and thought it was a reasonable middle of the road malt, but not quite in the same class as award winning Old Pulteney, distilled in Wick (see previous blog). After only four years, the blend has been pulled by distillers,Inver House, presumably because of low sales, but the rumour is that the Prince is working on a replacement.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder an e-book at, and Paperback format coming at the end of November from these sites.