Tuesday, 29 October 2013

World Fantasy Convention 2013 - Are We Nearly There Yet?

Only a few days to go until World Fantasy Convention in Brighton - I'm looking forward to it immensely.

OH and I have had stern words with ourselves about not buying any books. Okay... maybe just one...

The convention budget is set and we have prepared in advance by making sure our transport and accommodation is covered. The convention have issued stern warnings concerning seemly attire, imbibing of excess quantities of booze and lost passes. I'm afraid there's nothing in the kitty to cover any 'replacement fee' so I'd better not lose mine, or I'll need to spend the whole time in the bar instead - which would be more expensive, and liable to lead to the imbibing of excess quantities of booze. I've said that as it is Brighton, and they sound a bit like grumpy teachers telling the kids off, maybe they should have a 'forgotten pass - go to panels in the nuddy' rule.

I don't have any panels, but will be performing some spoken word on Saturday.

I'm looking forward to seeing lots of friends, and some of my favourite writers are going, too. Joanne Harris, Terry Pratchett, Tannith Lee, and loads of others.

I'm working tonight and have been hearing the whizz-bang of rockets going off nearby - it's that time of year. time for pumpkin and spice... samosas and jalebis!

There was a Diwali celebration in the market square on Saturday, and I took my nephew along.

Lots of people watching the dancing

Nephew likes the dancing... even though it's not Strictly.

Karom boards to play with

Happy Diwali!

In Frugal news this week:

  • I've eaten a lot of 30p chocolate. It's been stressful.
  • ...this despite a lot of homemade cake on offer at work as well!
  • Nephew thinks going to town on the bus is an adventure and a treat!
  • Picked up some bargain Christmas presents.
  • A bit slow on the news front, really... ah well, bound to be more exciting next week.
Currently reading: Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long Earth. Sourced from the library - enjoying very much so far.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Best Things in Life and Other Pretty Wish Ponies

We all know that the best things in life are free.

Of course, if you get stuff for free (air/education/unconditional love), these tend to be the things that you vastly under-appreciate. It does take a moment of centring to properly reflect on just how lucky we are. I've got a lovely life, and though I do get sad at not being able to share my news with my mom, or incredibly frustrated at the crappy news on the telly, I'm still pretty jammy.

But let's keep all the philosophical rainbows for the end when you've stopped reading.

I want to tell you about all the good free stuff I've enjoyed this week. Stuff you could probably put a monetary value to. But if you are hoping I am going to start rubbishing free stuff that is beyond price, please do stick around for the philosophical rainbows. You need them.

First of all, I would like to recommend a listening thing to you: a rather wonderful podcast by the fantasy writer Emma Newman called Tea and Jeopardy in which she interviews different writers each week in her secret tea lair, offers them cake, and then puts them in a spot of mild peril while her slightly psychotic 'butler' makes amusing quips. With a rather busy and stressful week, I tell you this podcast has kept me sane. It's interesting and funny and well worth a listen.

Secondly, a thing to go and see...

You can go and see Richard III - A Facial Reconstruction at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. It's there on loan until 5th January 2014. OH and I went to the private view, which had a grand unveiling and an introduction by Dr Phillip stone, Chairman of Richard III Society. There was free wine, which OH enjoyed (I had a lovely orange juice) and while we gathered downstairs, a lady played some Michael Nyman tunes on a baby grand. We bumped into current Bard of Northampton, Peter James Norman, who was telling us about his Northampton Castle film project, which sounds really exciting.

This was the crowd gathered about the unveiled head.

OH had a whale of a time discussing sword fighting and conspiracy theories. I was fascinated by how the head was made using a 3D printer, and by finding an angle to stand at for his eyes to look normal (you have to be below him; he's then looking down his nose at you, rather aptly).

On further examination, Richard III does not appear to be related to my husband.

My friend Tamsyn commented, "A sword up the backside, wasn't it?"

And it would have been a very frugal and free evening, but the night was young and the pubs were still open when we left the museum... damn!

To enjoy free, fun things going on does involve a bit of organisation. My Saturday was a brilliant day of pampering frugalness.

First of all, I headed to town to enjoy a wonderful Clarins Spa "Face and Eyes Refresher" facial. It was absolutely wonderful! I felt sooo chilled out at the end of it. It was a 45 minute session targeting "signs of tiredness and stress", and oh boy did it work. I won that session from a competition in a brochure at the centre that I completed earlier in the year (- it's well worth doing these competitions, so long as it doesn't cost you to enter. You have to be in it to win it! I was organised in that I made sure I didn't have to use any postage and handed my entry in at the centre office). The session would normally have cost £38, and now I know what it can do, I would say save up for a special treat for one of those as they are great. I also got a lot of free samples of the products used so I can replicate some of what they did at home. Yippee!

Then I had to undo a bit of the work by getting back on the bus and trying to find the Royal Mail depot in the back of beyond where they'd sent a parcel. I could have paid £1.50 to have it delivered more locally, but I'm glad I didn't as it was only my Cokezone Rewards gift (there was a football in the pack so it didn't fit through the letterbox). I'd have been annoyed at paying for something free to be delivered. The only thing was, I didn't realise the depot didn't sell postage, and I had a manuscript with me to send off. So that missed last post as I then had to travel back to Northampton. Grr!

Good thing then, that I had a voucher on me for a free Sprite from Subway - I jolly well needed it by then!

Good job, too, that I decided to replace my makeup that I broke while I was back in town, as I'd forgotten I'd arranged to go to a charity dinner in the evening. There I was in my walking boots and thick jumper, when OH said, "You'd better start getting ready, we're being picked up in ten minutes. Why am I wearing a suit? It's black tie!" Eeek!

But I have been going au naturel and wasn't bothered at all. I had just chosen then to replace my makeup to take advantage of a promotion to get extra makeup stuff that was on offer. So I got twice the makeup for my money, and didn't buy anything that I wouldn't have intended to. It's stuff that suits me, doesn't make my skin flare up, and is low-market price, so all good.

...and on the bus, I was reading my free book, Dream London by Tony Ballantyne. Jolly good it is too.

And as we are about to have another huge financial obligation (not a bad thing) impose on our budgetary  plans, it's going to be all the more important to enjoy ourselves and appreciate the time we have together, without reaching into our pockets too deeply to fund it. For example, tomorrow, we intend to see World War Z for 'free' at the Picturedrome. It will be necessary to buy a drink, but we don't have to go mad. Let's not do a Richard IV...

Of course, being frugal can mean different things to lots of people, but essentially it's about not being wasteful with resources, time, and especially money. I don't see anything wrong with 'supporting' local businesses, especially independent ones. They keep your local economy going. And it's worth investing time -  your bum on a seat - to keep the cool things you love happening in your town going. Sometimes, it's worth balancing what you can get for your buck, with the investment that buck is making into creating more stuff. and that's why I am not totally averse to spending money if I have it on things that I don't necessarily 'need'. Heck, a lot of the time, that's just not possible.

Books are a prime example. I have access to a lot of free books through my work, and through the library. I've been thinking more lately about how I support the creators when I do spend money on books. And I have been thinking about it more since my discussion with writer Juliet E. Mckenna on her blog. Because of that discussion, I have decided to remove my Amazon Associates widget from this blog. It doesn't seem right to have any click-throughs support a selling behemoth that is not really helping readers to discover the fantastic writers out there. However, I am hoping to do my bit to help with a 'bums on seats' initiative that I am thinking through at the moment, and will hopefully be able to shout about soon.

EDIT: the best things in life really are free though. Like the time to write this blog! I'm having such a chilled Sunday - it's wonderful! Going to spend some time with my hubby later watching films, eating roast chicken, maybe make some scones to be consumed with blackberry jam. What could be better than that?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Beautiful and Wonderful Things in the Post -BSFA magazines

I felt a huge surge of pride when I opened the post on Monday and saw I had received copies of Vector and Focus  - the magazines of the British Science Fiction Association, of which I have been Chair since June. 
Fantastic cover art by Kev Rooney

Of course, I've always thought the magazines were pretty ace; Vector is the association's critical journal and features some great articles and critical analysis concerning contemporary and classic science fiction - mainly in literature. I sometimes write reviews for it, but haven't got anything in this issue (in the next one I have). I'm particularly looking forward to reading the features on Adam Roberts' and Stephen Baxter's work... picture me later with my feet up and a pot of Lady Grey on the go and some Elizabeth Shaw mints to nibble (rescued from a party... nobody wanted them. Nobody wanted delicious minty chocolate!!! What is the world coming to?).

I've popped Focus foremost in the piccie though because I'm particularly proud to have had the chance to be involved with the editorial work. Guest editor this issue was the fantastic writer Kim Lakin-Smith (my Matron of Honour at my wedding this year!) and the cover features a plate illustration for a new edition of her gorgeous first novel Tourniquet. The artist, Kev Rooney, is from Northampton and is a creator of beautiful gothic artwork and stories. I quite honestly think it's one of the best writing magazines out there, and the current issue focuses on writing groups.

My byline! Mostly Kim's...

Kim, Kev, Shana, Alex, Steve, Clive and all the contributors to the magazines... awesome job!

In frugal news:

  • I went to my brother and sister in law's house to deliver a birthday present and came home with two courgettes from their allotment and boxes of raspberry and chilli tea. OH and I are now fighting over who can grab the most tea. We love this tea! Thanks, bro!
  • I made an amazing pie from the free apples I got from said same allotment the other day. I used a Good Housekeeping Dutch apple pie recipe, but used almond essence instead of vanilla as I'd run out of vanilla. Looked ugly as it exploded from the glut of apple filling, but was very yummy.
  • Getting ready for Christmas... used my Cokezone points which were going to expire on 15th to grab a sporty present suitable for a young nephew. I had been going to get makeup, but they'd stopped the offers already. Too bad as I smashed my foundation and blusher on Saturday by accidentally dropping them. I endeavoured to rescue as much foundation as I could, only to realise I was smearing tiny little particles of glass onto my face. Not recommended. Best thing about the Cokezone points - they were mostly gained through picking up litter in my messy street. I am a litter-picking hero! You threw money away fools! Almost as good as  the time I saw a guy deliberately throw an unwanted receipt on the floor of a petrol station - only it wasn't a receipt, it was his tenner change! You didn't want it, I'm having it, foolish man!
  • Number of homemade birthday cards made this week so far - two.
  • After a discussion about blogs at the weekend, I promise never to waste time or resources on bunting. Sorry if you like bunting.
  • Trigger warning! Also, apparently people can become enraged at the sight pictures of food, so sorry for the below, which is indeed of my lunch. But I made it myself out of very cheap ingredients: olive oil bread was made using Carrs breadmaker (I don't have a machine; I am my own breadmaker) brown bread flour - currently on offer in Sainsbury's at 80p for 2kg, which works out at around 15p for a 1lb loaf. Quite yummy too - just switch olive oil for your fat in a regular quick wholemeal bread recipe, and knead in oil instead of dry flour, and it picks up the lovely, rich olive oil flavour. That's served with carrots and a yummy mushroom and bean pate. This is using up beans left over from another recipe. I know brown sludgy stuff isn't everyone's idea of yummy, but I like it. It's basically half a tin of black-eyed peas, drained (currently on offer 4 for £1 at Sainsbury's), plus about 1/4 pack basic mushrooms, chopped in large chunks and cooked down in a pan (97p punnet), 28g of cheddar (offer 800g for £5.00), and salt, pepper, sage and parsley to taste. Whizz together in a food processor until slightly coarse. This makes 4 good portions for 35p. Whole lunch here cost around 16p!
Paper plates make lunchtime feel like a party - yay!

Ooh - and I may be able to do a bit of copywriting using Textbroker as I've been accepted as a 4* writer. Cool!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Can You be Sociable and Frugal?

I imagine a lot of people must take a look at my blog and wonder how the heck I can call mine a "frugal" lifestyle... I am jetting off to all sorts of places, going to things, doing sport, seeing friends... surely frugality is about paring your lifestyle  down to the basics?

A busy social life in the usual sense can be problematic. The truth is, if you have a financial goal or need to save money for any reason, or if you have no money spare at all, sometimes you really do have to say "no" to things you would rather say "yes" to. You just can't do everything.

A case in point, this weekend, there is something happening that I would love to go to and because I can't afford to get there, I feel like I am letting people down. I know OH feels the same.

But we can console ourselves that we have done lots of things lately, been as sociable as we could be, and are saving up for an important event at the end of the month - World Fantasycon - where we shall be very sociable indeed. (Hey, SFT - Joanne Harris is going to be there - squee!)

And of course we can still be a bit sociable before then! I am going volunteering at Parkrun again tomorrow, and will enjoy doing lots of cycling and visiting family over the weekend - and that won't cost anything.

Later in the month, I will be attending a talk about the Facial Reconstruction of King Richard III as well... again, for free! I am absolutely fascinated by 'The Cousins' War' and the story of how his body was found - so that should be very interesting indeed. There will also be an exhibition following that at Northampton Museum.

I will probably also be going to the Shakespeare exhibition at Abington before it finishes, and the Susan Macwilliam installation at NN gallery. If anyone wants to join me, let me know!

I am currently doing the Go Sober campaign, which will make attending the odd birthday celebration very cheap (sponsor me, someone, please!)  - and it's high time I had people round for tea and cake (I'll get baking...).

But whatever we do decide to do with our free time,  all our bills are taken care of for the month already. All our train tickets and hotel rooms are paid for in advance. Birthday gifts are covered... and I'm very into my homemade cards, of course. We've done a 'stockpile' order this month to take advantage of a bumper load of vouchers and free delivery options (and due to an inadvertent error by Sainsbury's, I now have even more money-off vouchers to compensate - yay!), so apart from a few fresh things we should cope pretty well.

What the advance shopping has also bought us plenty of is time... and with my extra time this weekend, I fully intend to do some de-cluttering, handicrafts, and a bit of gardening and getting out in the fresh air! I also have a book report to write, and I have time to do this, too.

So, although I'm sad about not being able to do something that would have been really nice, life is good. It really is.

UPDATE: Most people know this already, but OH completed his first triathlon in a very respectable 1 hour, 13 minutes.

I am immensely proud of him!

He didn't want a load of the many photos I took to be uploaded for the world to see without a thorough vetting, but I don't think he'd mind just this one, which happens to show him overtaking another competitor on the second lap of the cycling stage.