In It to Win It…

Giveaways.

Don’t you just love them? Owt for Nowt?

Well, not quite that, of course, but you get my drift. I hope. A giveaway. A freebie. A few clicks and the prize could be in your hands. I love ’em, personally.

I used to enter so many competitions. My lunch hour would be filled with writing out postcards, I’d be throwing out emails and surfing the internet to find them. My wallet would bulge with packs of stamps.

And I’d win.

I’ve won some wonderful prizes. One of my first was a pair of tickets to the cinema. I was excited even though that particular chain of cinemas didn’t have one anywhere near me. I won a Pot Noodle voucher. Similar tingles even though I don’t actually like Pot Noodles.

I once won a flight to Sydney, Australia that was expensive enough for me to change it to take my family to Disneyland Paris. There’s been money, a trip to Paris that coincided with the release of a Tomb Raider game (and the prize included the console and game to play them on). One prize was a trip to the Lynx villa, somewhere hot (I can’t remember when), where they were having a big weekend party with celebrity DJs. It left, unfortunately, on the day we were going to Paris for other competition. Often, you can’t transfer prizes to someone else, but you could in this case. So I sold it to a friend and had extra pocket money for the trip!

Competitions, and the time to enter them, have taken a back seat nowadays. I write when I can and when I can’t, I’m working or with my family. As such, it’s been a while since a winning envelope dropped through my letterbox or I had a special telephone call.

But, I still enter them, when I can. Even if it’s something small, I still get a bubble of something other than wind in anticipation of winning the Grand Prize.

As such, I’m delighted to be able to actually announce a competition. Myrddin, my publishing group with whom Dark Places has entered the world, are running a giveaway.

The prize is a $100 Amazon gift card and the closing date is 26th May. It isn’t limited to any locale, so you can enter from anywhere in the world. All you have to do is Like the Myrddin Facebook page or Tweet the competition. You can use the Rafflecopter towards the top right of this blog, or visit http://www.facebook.com/MyrddinPublishing and click on Giveaway beneath the banner.

Good luck, whomever and wherever you are. Don’t, for one moment, think you have no chance of winning and let that prevent you from entering. You have every chance. And I sincerely hope you do!

Remember. You’ve got to be IN it to WIN it.

(For more from Myrddin Publishing, go to their website at http://www.myrddinpublishing.com or follow them on Twitter at @myrddinpub)

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The New Toy…

I got a new toy, last night.

Well… I’ll rephrase that. My daughter got a new toy. She just doesn’t know it yet.

I just needed to set it up first. Make it so it was ready to go. Yes, that’s it. Not play with it, simply ensure it’s all prepared.

It’s her birthday next month, four days before her baby sister’s. We’ve spent a bit of money on her, it has to be said. She loves Monster High dolls, a craze of Mattel where they take a classic horror character, such as Frankenstein’s monster, and give him a daughter.

Meet Frankie Stein. Meet her friends, Draculora and Abbie Bominable.

Then meet the endless stream of further dolls and merchandise to go with it. Wii games. Cars. Houses. Magazines and films. My daughter now has twenty one of the dolls. We’ve bought her the house for her birthday. I don’t mind, really. It’s better than her being sat in front of the TV or computer. She’s using her imagination. And, she was given a doll rather than some form of chocolate egg at Easter – though that did coincide with a treat for being such a good girl.

So, we were spent up. We’d covered everything we wanted to and, hopefully, our back garden will be finished being completely changed around in time for a barbeque party.

But…

I’m not a soft touch, honestly. It’s just, well, I didn’t have much when I was a child. My parents had little spare money, though that wasn’t something I actually suffered from. Not that I have a lot, I just want to give my children something I didn’t have. We ensure they’re not spoiled. She appreciates what she gets and is thankful of even the smallest treat or gift. There are never any tantrums and she does well at school, is wonderfully polite, and makes us proud.

So. I saw this tablet. As tablets go, it was very cheap. Less than £50. I shouldn’t have, but I knew she’d love it. We went to Manchester a couple of weeks ago and, in the car (a two and a half hour drive), she used my own tablet to watch a film and play some games. Granted, mine cost a fair bit more than £50, but, to a ten year old, that’s not going to matter.

She has a basic android phone – used to make sure, if she’s at a friend’s or out playing, she’s always got a line to us. The tablet is also Android, and, for the price, is excellent value.

OK, it came from China and was all in Chinese. Luckily I know my way around the menus to manage to change it to English. Once that was done, it’s an impressive piece of kit for the price. 7″ capacitive screen, WiFi and the latest version of Android. It’s not got a superfast processor (1.2 GHz) and only 512MB of RAM, but this will be ideal for the apps she will be using. And it also has 8 GB of storage, with a slot for a MicroSD card.

(It’s a Sensai N77 AllWinner, from Amazon if you’re interested.)

I can throw on some films, she can Skype her friends, she can play her games. And she can smile.

Oh, and she loves to write, a little like her dad. The case I bought for it – for a mere £7.50 ish – has a keyboard attached. She’s always making up stories (usually about how wonderful her family is – or mermaids…) and likes creating her own newspapers.

I know she’ll love it, so I’m not berating myself too much for spending that bit more money when she was already getting a lot for her birthday.

So, last night, I was setting it up. Not having a play, oh no. Purely making sure my daughter’s new birthday present it up to scratch and ready for her.

Honest!

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Footsteps of the Mind…

Inspiration comes from everywhere, doesn’t it?

In a previous post I talked about the Case if the Vanishing Idea. How you can be struck by the lightning bolt of an idea but, by the time you’ve managed to find some way of writing it down, it’s disappeared in a puff of muse.

But, today, Circumstance was kind to me and an idea was handed to me all wrapped up with a now, in the presence of a PC. It not only gave me the goods for this post, but also for a new short story, Footsteps.

It was something I couldn’t ignore, to be honest. One of those anecdotes that slaps you in the face with the ingredients of a story. A very good friend of mine has bought, with her husband, a house. This house, however, is almost derelict and requires a huge amount if work. Once done, though. It will be an amazing building.

The house lies in nine acres of woodland – ash, oak, birch, beech and so many more. Deer roam in them there woods and a pond teeming with life has plopped itself right outside the door.

It’s not only the house that needs work. The woodland does. It encroaches too close to the building. The pond had a layer of algae not unlike the skin on a bowl of custard left just too long.

Well.

As they have day jobs, weekends are when they get stuck in to cutting, moving and cleaning.

This weekend was no different. Yesterday they built a small fire to burn off some of the excess logs. Later on my friend’s husband asked her to go check to make sure it was still contained, hadn’t spread or had burnt out. He works away so couldn’t do so himself.

This was half ten at night.

My friend drove to the fairly secluded road and stopped the car in front of the gate that barred the short lane along to the building. She had two choices:

1) Get out the car, open the gate, return to the car and drive down to where the fire was smouldering… or raging.

2) Run along to the fire, check it and run back.

Either way, a photo needed to be taken to show the current status. Either way it was 10:30 at night. Either way, it was dark. And secluded.

She opted to run. As she went there was movement. Rustling. Footsteps. She was already on her way. No turning back. Quick, take the photo. Quick, run back.

Oh no!

She’d left the headlights on. She was running straight into them! She couldn’t see anything!

Luckily, she made it back to the car, heart pounding in her throat and wondering if an change of underwear was required.

Now then. What would you do in that situation? Not go in the first place? Freeze?

And what would you do if you were a writer? Forget about it? Let it lie? Or seize it and turn it into a new story?

I chose the latter. I started the story today. Hopefully I may finish it tomorrow.

She might not make it out alive in my version…

UPDATE:

The story, entitled Footsteps, is now available to read at http://wattpad.com/ShaunAllan.

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A Winnie the Pooh Day…

Somewhere, out there (isn’t that the beginning of a song?) there’s a Big Bad Wolf, and he’s after his little piggies. And one of those little piggies is Winnie the Pooh.

OK, so Pooh Bear is a… well… a bear. But he had a Blustery Day, and the BBW, who’s only like BBM in that if you press the right buttons you might get a message – just one you won’t want to hear as it involves gnashing teeth and lunch – is huffing and puffing and blowing the world away.

It kept me up all night. The wind, that is. I live on a road with a river across from the house, and an expanse of reclaimed marsh. Apparently they’ve tried to build houses there, but the buildings had a habit of sinking, so they stopped. Which is nice. It means we have an uninterrupted view. It means we feel private.

It means the wind can get a right run up before it leaps up and throws itself at our house.

The weather, this March, doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. Maybe it had a lot to drink in February and March is Hangover Month. Sunday, for me, is occasionally hangover Day, but by lunch time I’m feeling much better. As such, February must have been a doozy of a bender to send the weather so off kilter. We had a couple of days of sun. We’ve had it so cold the heating has had to go on – and that’s on a day when it’s been sunny. We’ve had fog and rain. Is it keeping us guessing? Juggling isothermic balls and seeing which one drops?

Either way, we don’t seem to predict what the day will bring, and the weather apps on our phones are as ineffective.

The other day, it caught my car doors enough to trap my wife against a wall and to make me need two hands to pull the door shut.

Yesterday, there was a strong breeze. Last night, that strong breeze had eaten it’s spinach and was trying to yank my front gate off its hinges, slamming it repeatedly, perhaps trying to coax me out so it could take me too. Through the night, a party was going on. The wind had invited its friends around and was dancing and singing at the top of its voice. If it had been a neighbour, I could have nipped around and asked them to just tone it down a touch.

I didn’t think the wind would be bothered enough to listen.

On the way to work, I think the it was peeved at me for not bowing down to its power. It was pushing against my car as I drove to work. Bins were blown over. People were leaning into it, with hair akimbo and coats flying about trying to escape.

It’s blowing, now, against the building. Taunting us. Like teenagers kicking a ball against your wall, waiting for you to dare tell them to stop so they can hurl abuse and run off laughing.

Maybe the wind, as it is, actually is the teenager of the family. Stroppy, opinionated and pushing its boundaries. Then it grows up.

Then it becomes the tornado and the hurricane.

Then I’ll lose my gate.

Then my car won’t just be pushed, it’ll be thrown.

Maybe then, I’ll get to see Oz for myself, hot air balloon swapped for diesel powered Renault Megane.

Who knows.

I bet a certain hunny loving little bear didn’t have those worries, though his always blue donkey friend might have.

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Where Would You Go?

We’re all going on a summer holiday. No more worries for a week or two…

Well, a week at least. And when I say worries… I have a not-quite-two-year-old with a milk allergy, so we need to be on top of that, but OTHERWISE…

Where do you go on holiday, hmmm? Do you prefer the excitement of another country? Another county or state? Far enough so that the accent is not quite your own, or where the language is completely different.

For me, I don’t mind. A break is a break. I love to fly, and love to visit far off places, but I’ve had as much fun at a caravan here in the UK.

I live right next to a resort. Cleethorpes. For us here, it’s a bit boring, but that’s because we know it and it’s part of our life. Cleethorpes has a nice beach, a pier, arcades, a market, restaurants and so on. There’s a multi-screen cinema, a theme park and more. So where do we go? We go to Skegness or Mablethorpe.

Essentially, these are still seaside towns and have a beach, arcades, markets…

But, it’s not here. It’s different. It’s a change. We’ll take the children to Cleethorpes (known as Meggies locally), still, though. We don’t turn our backs on it totally. It’s a fun day – losing pounds worth of two pences in the slots (Sin would be happy…), trying to get that one toy to fall off. Fish and chips on a bench. Sandcastles. It’s fun and it takes possibly 15 minutes to drive there.

Mablethorpe is about an hour. Skegness another half on top of that.

The caravan holiday I spoke of was at Great Yarmouth. It’s another seaside resort, though bigger than Cleethorpes (as is Skegness). We had a great time even though we did much of what we’d do at Cleethorpes.

But then there was Luxor in Egypt, a surprise holiday from my wife. She’d known I had been interested in Egyptian mythology etc. since being a child. She herself had been to Luxor multiple times, but realised I’d want the ‘real’ Egypt and this was one of the best places to experience that. Many people go to Sharm el Sheik but it didn’t appeal to me. I have no doubts it’s a wonderful place, but I’d heard it described as the Blackpool of Egypt. More of that in a little bit.

Luxor was amazing. I can’t begin to put into words how much I enjoyed that holiday. Walking through the Valley of the Kings, something I’d dreamed of for so many years, was almost emotional. The hotel was right on the edge of the Nile, and a felucca (small river boat) would come to the edge to take you on your trips. The sun set over the Nile to the left and the hills of the Valley of the Kings were lit to the right. Breathtaking.

Last year, for our honeymoon, my wife and I went to Budapest, in Hungary. We want to explore the world. New York, Moscow, Prague, Bulgaria, St Petersburgh, Barcelona, the Rio Carnival – these are all places we plan to go. We’ve both done the typical summer beach holiday (in a previous life, it was all I knew) and want to do more. We want to educate our children on the different places there are and not have them think a holiday abroad is all about sun, beaches and waterparks – although there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Budapest. It was a beautiful city. We walked everywhere and found hidden delights. Rather than stick to main roads, we would use Google Maps to find our way back to our hotel and discovered back street coffee shops, stunning churches and more on our travels. The people were so friendly, and places like the Holocaust Museum and House of Terror were moving.

I mentioned Blackpool. Like Cleethorpes and the others, it’s a seaside town. Apart from that, it’s sort of the flagship holiday of its type. The Blackpool Illuminations, where the streets are lit up towards the end of the summer season ready for Christmas, are legendary. At the foot of the Blackpool Tower there is a circus, and it’s easily the best one I’ve ever been to. We loved it.

In the previous life, I went to Alcudia in Majorca. It was great. A beautiful stretch of beach. But then, that’s where we went every year. Even to the point of going to the same apartment complex. It lost its appeal eventually.

Now, however, it’s holiday time again. As much as I said we want to explore and educate, we do have the problem of my youngest’s milk intolerance. There needs to be a minimal language barrier. Yes, we could have gone to one of the many places in the UK, but we wanted to really feel as if we’d had a holiday. We wanted to get away. It’s been a hectic time with various things, so the fact that we’d need a plane to get to where we’re going adds to the excitement and the sensation of not being HERE. We’ll be able to take a breath.

A friend of mine was working in Norway. He was in a bakery and commented on the girl behind the counter’s excellent English, even down to the accent. When he asked where she’d learned to speak it so well, she told him Majorca…

That’s a Spanish island…

OK, so Majorca, and Spain in general, is a magnet to Brits on holiday. A couple of hours flight and almost guaranteed weather. But also, they understand English very well. As such, if we ask whether something contains milk, as our daughter is allergic, we can be fairly sure they’ll know what we mean.

Google Translate will be our friend, though, just in case.

My eldest daughter, who’s nine, can barely contain her excitement, even though it’s weeks away. She’s already made her list of what she wants to pack – a list which will need to be trimmed otherwise there won’t be any room in the cases for anyone else’s clothes. My wife and I are bubbling nicely too. Our youngest has just learned what an aeroplane is. She saw George, on Peppa Pig, playing with one.

Yes, I’ve done Alcudia in Majorca to death. We’re going to Majorca, still, but somewhere else. We’re letting the children have their summer beach, sea, pool and waterpark holiday and we’ll be fairly confident the wee one won’t eat something she shouldn’t.

It doesn’t take much. We have to keep testing her to see if she’s outgrown the allergy. Even a small piece of pizza crust has an effect that can last days. She was accidentally given popcorn at a party that was meant to be sweet (which she’s ok with) but turned out to be toffee. That was over a week ago and she’s still suffering.

So, we’re all going on a summer holiday (though it’s not on a red double decker bus and Cliff Richard won’t be singing along – thankfully). I can’t wait.

Where do you go? Where wouldn’t you go? Where would you like to go, but don’t think you ever will?

I didn’t think I’d ever get to Egypt, but I now have a neat line crossed out on my Bucket List.

Never say never.

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