Cyber Bullying and Depression

With the death over the weekend of well-known social media commentator, broadcaster and former model, Charlotte Dawson, in Sydney, there has been much commentary about cyber bullying and depression.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be bullied on the internet. People say why didn’t she just stop reading her Twitter feed? Is it that easy? If people are talking about you, or to you, there is a strong compulsion to read it. I always marvel at actors or authors who say they ‘don’t read reviews.’ Really?? I love reading what people say about my writing and I learn far more from the criticism than I do from the raves. I have a special place in my heart for the reader who read 100 pages of “The Keeper of Secrets” and then threw it across the room because nothing happened. Dachau starts on page 109. But I DO agree that it is a bit slow to start and I have remedied that in the next book where there is death aplenty from early on.

Still, back to the subject. Social Media is a two-edged sword. Where else could I learn that Thomas Edison proposed to his wife using Morse code? Or read about President Obama’s favourite salted caramel chocolates? My Twitter feed is full of fascinating morsels of information that I didn’t know I needed to hear. And Facebook is a fairly innocuous place for me. People don’t react to what I write, but then it isn’t of an inflammatory nature. But I do read some pretty nasty stuff on other feeds at times. I follow John Key’s Facebook page. He is our Prime Minister and I happen to think he is a fine fellow and is, by and large, doing a very good job. But there are posters who react to everything he says with a barrage of personal insults that have nothing to do with the subject. In my humble opinion the only person who looks like ‘all those adjectives they use’ is themselves. Key is a public figure, as Dawson was, and unfortunately, if you lift your head above the parapet some uneducated idiot will take a shot at it.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE informed, robust political debate. I am a political animal. My favourite TV programmes (by a country mile) are the American political dramas and I love election year. But for goodness sake, debate the issues, use intelligent opinion not expletives which just make you look inarticulate, and stand for something. No-one should waste a second reading the opinions of people who just knock for the sake of knocking. Tell me you have an answer to our problems and I will listen to you all day.

The other subject that Dawson’s death raises is depression. What a massive word that is. What a world of emotion and pain and despair it represents. People who have never battled it, or watched someone they love battle it, have no idea what it means. Seventeen years ago I was diagnosed with a falling oestrogen level and a hormonally induced problem. Instead of being given anti-depressants, I was prescribed Oestrogen tablets. The only thing that caused was fibroids and unbelievable pain and a period that lasted twenty-five days every month. Several months later, at the age of 40, I had a hysterectomy and my life was transformed.

However, I continued to suffer from black ‘clouds.’ They would descend, I could literally feel them coming. There was nothing I could do about them and I would cry quietly and miserably until they lifted. Several times a day I would consider how best to kill myself and yet I had no real desire nor reason to. It was out of my control. For the most part I hid it well and got on with my every day life. Then in 2009 it would stay buried no longer. The tears were almost a constant companion. I would sit and watch TV, often with Mum in the room, and the tears would run out my eyes and into my hair as I lay on the sofa. I actually wrote suicide notes although I knew I could never do that to her.

One day, in desperation, I searched for Sir John Kirwan’s website. For those who don’t know John Kirwan was an All Black. He played rugby for New Zealand. He was a national hero. He also suffered from depression and some years ago he went public and worked with the health authorities to set up a website. There’s a questionnaire and I took it. I answered ‘yes’ to every question and the site told me to go to my GP. So I did and instead of saying, “I’m upset all the time” I could tell him that I had taken the survey on John Kirwan’s depression website. He whipped out a form and made me take it again. Then he looked at me in wonder because I’d never told him this before and he’d been my GP for years. He prescribed a low dose anti-depressant that I take every day. It took a little while to work. The black ‘cloud’ has never been back. If I cry it is because I have a reason to, something has moved me or upset me. I appreciate each day and never consider harming myself. I am a completely different person.

It is not a sign of weakness to seek help, to seek an answer. It takes courage and determination and an urge to make your life better. One visit to this website changed my life. If one person reads this blog and goes to the site as a result and it helps them, then the circle of support is continuing. It’s not a weakness, it’s just an illness.


The Book of My Face

So, Facebook is ten. And they made a little movie of me, for me, to celebrate. It seems to have lots of pictures of Mum and my cat and my first pic seems to be of my knees. Fair enough, they are two of my best features.

I had two goes at joining Facebook. The first time I was freaked out by the public nature of it and the fact that friends commented on my status. On reflection, what did I think was going to happen? Then when I needed all the help I could find to publicise my career as a self-published author, I braved it again. Now it is part of every day life and a source of continuous amusement.

“William Shakespeare shared a link.” How clever is that! It is usually a quote from a play and a picture of an actor playing that role.

The ads on the side bar are, apparently, tailored for me. Is that why they have become ads for travel insurance and airlines and television programme pages to like? But why do I keep being told that Ellen Degeneres is keeping a shocking secret from me? And for a long time I was under the impression that millions of shingles awaited me, until I put my glasses on and realised there was no ‘h’.

I’ve been hacked twice recently. An ‘imposter’ created a page that looked exactly like mine and asked my ‘friends’ to accept a second friend request, then sent them a spam message about some lottery scheme. I changed passwords and ran a six hour scan of my PC to uncover a ‘serious’ piece of malicious spywear. Whoever said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery? In this case it is nothing but a sincere pain in the rear end.

And I learn things from Facebook, where else would I have found the perfect birthday cake?

drunk cake

Or found my personality so accurately described?

personality duck

So Happy Birthday Facebook. Are you a waste of time? Not always. I deleted all the games I played after I was hacked and I don’t miss them, well maybe I miss the Majong a little bit. But I love the connection to people and the opportunity to share. And most of all I love the 485 Spitfire Squadron page that sometimes posts pictures of my darling Dad, pictures I had never seen before. THAT makes all the other stuff worthwhile.

Dad flying gear

Arresting Images

Today I thought I would post a visual blog, these are some images that I’ve found lately. In about twelve days I’m filming a book trailer for “The Keeper of Secrets” at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Holocaust Hall and rare violin room. We will drop some of these still images into the trailer….if you know the story they will make you think. There are others, a little too shocking for a Saturday morning blog, but I will upload them to the Facebook page from time to time.

2 menorah and violin


11a  homemade violin


violin 3

Publication Day!

Okay, okay, I know…it’s been a while, quite a while in fact. But that’s all over now, I’m here and I shall blog regularly. I shall pop in and say ‘hello’ and have a cuppa and tell you what I’ve been up to.

The answer to that is, lots. Today is publication day, June 1st 2013. Today my novel, The Keeper of Secrets’ officially goes on sale in many different places. It has been available at Amazon for a few days and has had some lovely reviews. I could say please feel free to pop over and have a look, but I wouldn’t dream of being so immodest. Just in case you feel inspired, you will find them here

I also have a Facebook fan page which is getting lots of ‘likes’ at the moment and will be the home to competitions and news announcements and the like. There are background notes there about the book, the subject matter and links to clips on You Tube of wonderful violinists playing many of the pieces mentioned in the book. It is the place where I will interact with the readers.

Publication Day in New Zealand is June 21st and on June 24th we are having a massive launch party at a bookshop in Cambridge. I’m having SO much fun preparing for this, it is like a birthday party on steroids. I have spot prizes, live violin music and lots of delicious nibbles, wine, a reading and a signing. I will post pictures, sensible ones.

On the Thursday before that I’m off to Auckland for a day of busy things. I’m filming a book trailer at the Auckland Museum, in the Holocaust Hall and the rare violin room. I will actually get to hold a rare violin!! Oh, the excitement. Then I have to do a pre-record with Kim Hill for her Saturday radio show which will be broadcast June 22nd. We are doing a segment called “Playing Favourites” so I have to provide six pieces of my favourite music. Ha! From ABBA to Les Mis and Carmen to Vivaldi. I have already been interviewed (and photographed) for the Canvas magazine insert in the NZ Herald which will come out on the 22nd. And there are other interviews in print, radio and TV to come.

Mum is well and enjoying life, when she’s warm. We have rugs, gloves and hot water bottles as part of our daily regime for the next few months. She will come to the signing party and I will make sure she gets the credit for all her input. “Keeper” wouldn’t exist at all without her.

I’m writing my next novel, but that can wait for another post. So can news of my MRI scan and potential new heart valve. It is a glorious winter day, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Perfect day for a publication dream to come true. To all of you who have read my ‘baby’ over the past few weeks and said lovely things about it, we salute you!!




Secrets and Celebrations

Life, today, is a mixture of happy and sad, excited and reflective and personal and part of a wider community.

It’s six months today since I posted my first book on Amazon. From there it’s spread to Smashwords and itunes, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Diesel and others I don’t even know about. There are four books up, over thirty reviews and around 25,500 ‘sales’. I’ve had lots of lovely comments from people who’ve been moved by my words, by my Dad’s words and have enjoyed reading something I wrote. I hope I never take that experience for granted, I hope it is always thrilling.

Last night I watched a programme on Prime called “The Secret War”. It was the first in a series and this one was about a group of secret commandos in the North African Desert. They were mainly German Jewish refugees who had joined the British Army and they trained them to go behind enemy lines, with the newly formed SAS, and sabotage German military bases and operations. They posed as German officers and the SAS posed as their prisoners and that got them past German checkpoints. It was genuinely fascinating. At one point they were involved in a failed attempt to take Tobruk and I knew that my Dad was flying fighter cover to the bombers that were bombing the city. He was also involved in the original fall of Tobruk and helped fly Spitfires out of the city so that they didn’t fall into German and Italian hands. If it hadn’t been for the letters and writings he left behind I’d never have known about his Middle East war, he never talked about it. Again, the power of the written word. It made me reflect on all the brave men who have fought in the Middle East over the years…including the six British soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan this week.   

A great New Zealander is nearing the end of his battle with cancer. Jock Hobbs was an All Black and he headed the campaign to bring the Rugby World Cup to New Zealand last year. It was a huge success and many people saw our beautiful country and we all enjoyed some spectacular rugby and we won! My thoughts are with his family and all his friends today. Especially his children, I know what it’s like to lose a Dad to cancer and may they know that he will always be with them in a special way.

Another cool thing happened this morning. I have sent out some friend requests on Facebook because I decided I should broaden my circle of friends. One of them was to a woman called Deb Filler. She’s a New Zealand born comedian and she does one woman shows. Several years ago I went to a show she did in Auckland about her late father, Sol Filler. He was a Holocaust survivor. I have never forgotten that brilliant show, it made me laugh and cry and marvel at the power of humour to make a searing point. And today I got the chance to post on her Facebook wall and tell her that.

Yesterday I went to lunch with a publisher. He found me through the article in the Cambridge Edition. He wanted to ‘pick my brains’ about ebooks. It’s a very steep learning curve and if I can help some others, as people helped me, than I am happy to do so.

And I guess it wouldn’t be an early autumn blog without some mention of cooking or preserving! I stewed some plums yesterday because they weren’t very nice eating, and guess what? They’re not very nice as cooked plums either. So thinking cap on…maybe a plum loaf or plum muffins. They definitely need to be reincarnated as something.

“In Vino Veritas” A Book Uncorked

Once again a blog of shameless self promotion…well you have to admit it has been awhile since the last one. And today I have something to celebrate…

After months of writing, rewriting, reading, rewriting and correcting, my new ‘baby’ is done, cooked, bottled and has been unlaunched on the unsuspecting public. It is a ‘wine crime’ book, now, who knew that was such a sub-genre of crime fiction? If you give your characters glasses of wine to drink, then kill them, does that make it a ‘wine crime’ book?

So I took the finished manuscript and I formatted it for Amazon, which means a page break after every chapter and all the right “stuff” in the front and back pages. It goes through three different conversion formats and then…no problem at all, it is reviewed and a few hours later it is ‘Live’.

and for the UK

You need to write a Product Description to entice people to part with a little of their hard earned money in return for your entertaining world of characters. But there are things I didn’t want to give away, so I constructed it carefully:

“Vinnie Whitney-Ross is passionate about wine, he sells it, he talks about it, he lives it and he drinks it. He, and his wife, Anna, enjoy their life in the heart of London, a life that revolves around wine and chocolate. Then a twist of fate puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time and he witnesses two gruesome murders. By another twist of fate he knows the murderer, from another life long ago. He’s left with no choice and in order to survive he must commit a terrible crime.

In return for testifying against his childhood friend, he receives immunity and both he and Anna are placed in witness protection. He fulfils his dream, instead of selling wine he gets to make it. They buy a boutique winery on an island off the coast of New Zealand and, with new names and new identities, they continue Rocky Bay’s fine tradition of exquisite Bordeaux blends.

But festival success brings recognition and recognition brings danger. Some very nasty men are hunting Vinnie to convince him to rescind his testimony. Everything is at stake, his precious wife, his dog, his winery, it is time to stand and fight…and add to the rising body count.

“In Vino Veritas” is the first in a trilogy of crime novellas featuring Vinnie and Anna Whitney-Ross and Detective Inspector Peter Harper. Death by a bottle of Petrus, death by drowning in a vat of must…In Wine, Truth. ”

So far, so good. Then I had to format it for Smashwords and that is waaaaaaaaaaaaay harder. I do the nuclear method, which means you take your manuscript and copy it and put it into Notebook. That ‘nukes’ all the formatting, all the italics and all the subscript etc. and then you copy it back into a clean, empty word document. Then you re-enter all the formatting using their guide to the absolute letter of the law. Then you submit it and cross your fingers. And it comes out approved!! So you do a small dance around the room at 11.45pm and pat yourself on the back. This means it’s approved for the Smashwords Premiere Catalogue and will be distributed to all the other e-retailers, itunes, Sony, Barnes and Noble etc. I had a record to maintain, none of my books have ever been rejected on the first attempt and I wasn’t going to give that record up without a fight!

Then the promotion starts, a Facebook page:!/pages/In-Vino-Veritas/168826483225829?sk=app_208195102528120

And Tweets and posting on forums and blogs. I had a list of people who had emailed and said lovely things about “The Secret Keeper” and asked to be notified when new work was uploaded, so I have contacted them.

Is is selling? Yes, it has sold a few, but it is only Day One and this is a marathon, most definitely not a sprint.

The most important thing is I can call myself a writer. I have sold 21,000 copies over five months and have several lovely reviews. This is all I’ve ever wanted to be and I could, honestly, die tomorrow and be perfectly happy and content with my achievement. I have the start of a trilogy up there and now I have to fulfil my promise to my readers and write the next installment.

If you like wine, crime, witty dialogue, unusual ways to die, gorgeous vineyards and you just want to give an indie writer a hand, have a look at “In Vino Veritas.” If you know anyone who might also like all of the ab0ve, spread the word. I shall pause, with my fingers above the keyboard, and know that you have and I shall smile.


A Happy Sunday of Facebook Apps

It has been pointed out to me that Dvorak was not Croatian and Bizet was not Spanish, so I don’t need to find a Swiss composer for Federer. Fair enough. In that case what is he? A Strauss waltz or a Tchaikovsky ballet? Or more the exact, delicate strains of Evard Grieg? To me he is passion and poetry and finesse and drama, so he is….Puccini.

No, I didn’t watch the Women’s Final, but I hear that Sharipova went down in a (someone, somewhere has got to have said this) screaming heap. Azarenka gets $2.3 million Aussie dollars for a 6-3,6-0 match. The men may well battle for five long sets and get the same money. I hate to ‘betray the sisterhood’ but I’m not sure that’s sane. 

I got another five-star review for “The Secret Keeper” last night and it is lovely. Forgive me a tiny gloat…”No false starts. A moving story about people caught by circumstances they are unable to change. The story moves along, told from several perspectives and how ultimately one person stands up and does the right thing without thought for personal or professional gain. This is a true page turner.
Wonderful formatting too! Author paid attention to editing and it shows. Just a top notch effort all the way around!”

If you haven’t had a look at my first born, you will find it here:

Sometimes you look back on something and you can’t help but laugh. Yesterday I went shopping with Mother and she needed some new foundation so we went to the chemist. She likes the Maybellien Mousse but they keep changing the numbers and the colours. We found what we were looking for and I demonstrated that it was the perfect colour for her by applying it to MY inside wrist. “See, it’s perfect.” The shop assistant, to her credit, didn’t react at all, she just smiled and said, “Perhaps we should try it on her?”

And we got Sushi, lovely as always, as was the free cup of miso soup. Isn’t it nice to get something like that as a bonus? They do free Green Tea too.

I’m setting up a new Facebook fan page for the next book, “In Vino Veritas.” I haven’t published the page yet so I’m working on putting all the bits on it and getting ready. It’ll go public when the book has been epublished and I have links. BUT I’m having a devil of a time adding custom tabs to the left hand navigation pane. I want extra ones, as well as wall, info, photos etc. and have downloaded the App etc. but it just won’t work. If anyone has any simple and straightforward ideas, please let me know. I googled it and followed the instructions but the Static FBML App doesn’t give me the “add a page” option, I’m wondering if this is because the page isn’t live yet. Time will tell. Happy Sunday.