When I was growing up, I’d often spend the night at my grandmother’s house on the weekends. There were plenty of benefits to this: strawberry ice cream was served nightly at 7pm, there was a cherry tree in the back yard, the guest room featured a typewriter concealed within a roll-top desk, as well as a heated waterbed…and plenty of books to read.

A large portion of these books were from The Cat Who series, Lillian Jackson Braun’s cosy mystery series about a mustachioed journalist named Jim Qwilleran, who solves mysteries with his two Siamese cats.  They always had a fond place in my dusty memories, so imagine my delight when a tall stack of them were for sale at the local library for 20p a pop! I bought them all, of course.

2-o
Series author Lillian Jackson Braun with one of her own Siamese cats.

As it’s a lengthy series of fairly cookie-cutter books, I’ll be reviewing the series as a whole.

What Fired Me Up:

The books are quick and very readable, making for light reading or a good palate cleanser. The antics of Koko and Yum Yum are sure to delight readers of all ages, and prove that cats have always been cats. Qwilleran’s upbeat yet dogged personality is endearing, and he’s refreshingly human, frequently making mistakes and suffering small clumsy injuries. It’s also fun to read books written and set in times before the digital revolution. I guess these are vintage mysteries now?

The protagonist also doesn’t actively seek out the nefarious deeds he ends up uncovering. It’s fun to watch him attempt to just enjoy journalism, but seek out justice when something seems a little too easy.

What Fizzled:

I can understand how this flew over my head when I initially read these books as a child, but the series has a lot of product-of-its-time style sexism. Another thing I didn’t remember from my first pass through this series is the constant references to Qwilleran’s mustache. Its tendency to tingle like a Spidey Sense in a world otherwise devoid of magic or supernatural goings on took me out of the narrative each time, as did the constant stroking and touching and general hyperawareness he had for it. Maybe I’m just showing my ignorance. Facial-haired fellows, a question for you: how many times a day do you think about your mustache? It’s for research.

Verdict:

While they’re not groundbreaking in any way, even at the time, and haven’t aged particularly well in other ways, they’re still fairly enjoyable little reads. Their brevity and lighthearted approach, as well as gentler setting, can prove an easy salve for a frantic, sometimes cruel world. I’m not as heavily invested in them as I was when I was a child, but I do still recommend them.

Want To Read Them?

You can pick up some of these fun little books on Amazon.

Want More from Me?

Check out my other reviews here.

socialpilot social media scheduling

Social media scheduling is a life saver. HootSuite drastically limited the amount of scheduled posts a free account can have at any given time. I’ve previously talked about how HootSuite was my personal saviour, but unfortunately their pricing levels are a bit steep for me to pay to continue using it as I’d previously been for free.

Now, this isn’t to say that I’m not happy to pay to play. But when the free option gives you three social profiles and 30 scheduled posts across all three profiles, and the next level up is ten profiles for $20USD per month, along with plenty of other features which I feel to be unnecessary for where I am personally, it does sting a bit. I could happily stay with HootSuite if they introduced a cheaper, more entry-level option. But they haven’t, so I’m shopping around, to the benefit of my poor, poor readers.

Image result for help me i'm poor

My first candidate is SocialPilot. I’ll be exploring the free options, as well as trialling their entry-level paid account.

Overview:

First and foremost, SocialPilot is for B2B social media scheduling. Most of its features, while seemingly robust and well-implemented, will be fairly useless for an individual trying to build an author platform. It has helpful tools like account grouping and team/client support, bulk scheduling, and at the higher end, some analytical tools.

What fired me up:

Not a lot, if I’m honest.

The user interface for creating posts is far superior to Hootsuite’s:

post ui

It’s clean, intuitive, and doesn’t vanish if you dare to hover your mouse elsewhere on the screen. That last part in particular really irritates me about Hootsuite.

You also have the ability to browse curated content, and select from popular articles on certain topics. This is similar to Crowdfire’s suggested posts, except you have a little more to choose from. Hootsuite, as far as I can tell, does not have this feature.

RSS feeds are another option, but admittedly one I never really got into and thus don’t know much about and don’t use. If you have any suggestions on using RSS feeds, feel free to pop them in the comments below.

What fizzled:

I did notice a tendency for SocialPilot to delay posts by up to fifteen minutes. For many people, this may not matter, but I’m of the opinion that if I wanted it to go out fifteen minutes later that’s when I would have scheduled it.

Additionally, even when trialling the entry-level paid version I didn’t get access to analytics. And it lacks the one thing I like about Hootsuite the most: the monitoring feature. I couldn’t see any way to replicate the hashtag monitoring feature I use to keep abreast of the frankly exhausting number of writing related Twitter tags, as well as a few Instagram ones I like to watch.

Verdict:

SocialPilot is a very easy to use social media scheduling tool. It has a pleasantly straight-forward UI and has been very well developed. However, for my personal use, I find it works better as a supplement to a free Hootsuite account rather than a replacement.

Keep an eye on this site, as this will be the first in a series of posts examining the pros and cons of more of Hootsuite’s competition.

the art house, one of many writing places i've found

I’m a firm believer in the “going to work” school of thought when it comes to writing…or for that matter, any home based work. The gist is that you have a dedicated space which is only for work, and thus when you go to this area your brain gets into ‘work mode’. This is why I never write on my desktop PC. I can’t. My desktop is a Fallout Machine. That’s the place where I waste eight hours building a replica of my house in Minecraft. I’ve tried producing writing there. It doesn’t work.

The amazing, Atlanta-based writing group 10 Days Before… did not introduce me to the idea of commuting to write, but it did show me what I could do in the ‘write’ atmosphere. My highest ever word count was 2200 words in an hour, and that was achieved at one of 10DB’s write in events. It sold me on the concept of hunting out places to go to write.

So off to Google I go, trying every search term combination I can think of to try and find reviews of local watering holes written from a creative point of view. Which places have power outlets? Which have just the right amount of background noise? Which are too loud to hear yourself think? Where’s the wifi? Who’s been to these places and tried to write there?

I found the results sadly lacking. Outside of New York City and London, no one seems to have compiled any sort of ‘best places to write in X’ type pages. So this is what I’m going to set out to do here. I’m going to go to random places in the Itchen Valley area–specifically Winchester, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, and Southampton–and write there for a few hours to try and get an idea of what it’s like to be there as a writer and how the place functions as a creative space.

My first stop is a well known landmark in Southampton’s cultural scene…

DSC_0535

The Art House. An eclectic cafe on a Mission from God™ and fighting the good fight. From their website:

We are a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company, a gallery, arts venue and cafe which has been running since January 2008 in Southampton, UK.  The Art House was founded by the four directors, Bik, Jani, Ziggy and Nina and is staffed mainly by volunteers.  We have three main aims:

– To promote the Arts.
– To enhance our local and global community.
– To encourage positive, healthy & sustainable living.

I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s an interesting atmosphere, full of bright colours, local artwork and crafts, and the occasional Doodle Book lying about. They also offer low key music, not too loud, and are just busy enough during the day that you can get some stimuli without being overwhelmed. They also offer free wifi, and a quiet space during the day, which demonstrates a commitment to giving people a creative space.

doodlebookA taste of the decor, and a Doodle Book!

They stay busy, playing host to local musicians, a storytelling group, and even the local Makers scene. What this means for us hermity writer types is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in so many different scenarios and soak up information on a broad range of topics. Maybe even discover a new hobby?

The staff are friendly and welcoming, as well as largely volunteer-based. They’re happy to help newcomers and lone travellers settle in, and the place is a magnet for solo questers. It strikes me as a venue which strives to be a safe place for everyone.

DSC_0533The food is very good, and almost entirely vegan, with many gluten free options. I had
some nachos while I was there, and an England’s own brand of cola, Fentimans. The prices are on par with a restaurant in the city centre, believe my nachos were around £5-6, total was around £8.

They also offer a lower cost option in their Magic Hat Tea Bar. This is a self-serve, by donation alternative to expensive drinks out. It’s part of their belief that public spaces are vital to mental and emotional wellbeing, and the lifeline this can give to those who are struggling financially…as a lot of writers and other artistic types are.

“Wow! I’m super stoked to go support this amazing business!” You chirp, eyes large with optimism. “Where is this magical place?”

Ah, well, it’s conveniently located in Southampton’s city centre. They’re on Above Bar Street, close to the Guild Hall. Easily accessed by rail or bus, though parking a car nearby can be an endeavour unto itself. As a nondriver myself, I can’t comment on this aspect, but I hear tell it’s a beast.

Opening time information, pulled from their website:

Tuesday 11am – 10pm
Wednesday 11am – 10pm
Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday 11am – 10pm
Saturday 11am – 10pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm.

Lunch is served 12 – 4pm and supper is available 6 – 9pm

So what’re you waiting for?! Get out there and absorb some of the local flavour!


What’re your thoughts on writing in the field?

Do you have a venue to suggest for this project?

Let me know!

 

the art house, one of many writing places i've found

Why do we need writing places?

I’m a firm believer in the “going to work” school of thought when it comes to writing…or for that matter, any home based work. The gist is that you have a dedicated space which is only for work, and thus when you go to this area your brain gets into ‘work mode’. This is why I never write on my desktop PC. I can’t. My desktop is a Fallout Machine. That’s the place where I waste eight hours building a replica of my house in Minecraft. I’ve tried producing writing there. It doesn’t work.

The amazing, Atlanta-based writing group 10 Days Before… did not introduce me to the idea of commuting to write, but it did show me what I could do in the ‘write’ atmosphere. My highest ever word count was 2200 words in an hour, and that was achieved at one of 10DB’s write in events. It sold me on the concept of hunting out places to go to write.

The search begins…

So off to Google I go, trying every search term combination I can think of to try and find reviews of local watering holes written from a creative point of view. Do they have power outlets? What about just the right amount of background noise? Which are too loud to hear yourself think? Where’s the wifi? Who’s been to these places and tried to write there?

I found the results sadly lacking. Outside of New York City and London, no one seems to have compiled any sort of ‘best writing places in X’ type pages. So this is what I’m going to set out to do here. I’m going to go to random places in the Itchen Valley area–specifically Winchester, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, and Southampton–and write there for a few hours to try and get an idea of what it’s like to be there as a writer and how the place functions as a creative space.

My first stop is a well known landmark in Southampton’s cultural scene…

the front of the art house, one of many writing places i've found

The Art House

An eclectic cafe on a Mission from God™ and fighting the good fight. From their website:

We are a not-for-profit, Community Interest Company, a gallery, arts venue and cafe which has been running since January 2008 in Southampton, UK.  The Art House was founded by the four directors, Bik, Jani, Ziggy and Nina and is staffed mainly by volunteers.  We have three main aims:

– To promote the Arts.
– To enhance our local and global community.
– To encourage positive, healthy & sustainable living.

I can’t recommend this place enough. It’s an interesting atmosphere, full of bright colours, local artwork and crafts, and the occasional Doodle Book lying about. They also offer low key music, not too loud, and are just busy enough during the day that you can get some stimuli without being overwhelmed. They also offer free wifi, and a quiet space during the day, which demonstrates a commitment to giving people a creative space.

doodlebook at the art house, one of many writing places i've foundA taste of the decor, and a Doodle Book!

They stay busy, playing host to local musicians, a storytelling group, and even the local Makers scene. What this means for us hermity writer types is the opportunity to be a fly on the wall in so many different scenarios and soak up information on a broad range of topics. Maybe even discover a new hobby?

The staff are friendly and welcoming, as well as largely volunteer-based. They’re happy to help newcomers and lone travellers settle in, and the place is a magnet for solo questers. It strikes me as a venue which strives to be a safe place for everyone.

How’s the food?

loaded nachos at the art house, one of many writing places i've foundThe food is very good, and almost entirely vegan, with many gluten free options. I had some nachos while I was there, and an England’s own brand of cola, Fentimans. The prices are on par with a restaurant in the city centre, believe my nachos were around £5-6, total was around £8.

They also offer a lower cost option in their Magic Hat Tea Bar. This is a self-serve, by donation alternative to expensive drinks out. It’s part of their belief that public spaces are vital to mental and emotional wellbeing, and the lifeline this can give to those who are struggling financially…as a lot of writers and other artistic types are.

Where you are is where it’s at…

“Wow! I’m super stoked to go support this amazing business!” You chirp, eyes large with optimism. “Where is this magical place?”

Ah, well, it’s conveniently located in Southampton’s city centre. They’re on Above Bar Street, close to the Guild Hall. Easily accessed by rail or bus, though parking a car nearby can be an endeavour unto itself. As a nondriver myself, I can’t comment on this aspect, but I hear tell it’s a beast.

Opening time information

Pulled from their website:

Tuesday 11am – 10pm
Wednesday 11am – 10pm
Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday 11am – 10pm
Saturday 11am – 10pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm.

Lunch is served 12 – 4pm and supper is available 6 – 9pm

So what’re you waiting for?! Get out there and absorb some of the local flavour!


What’re your thoughts on writing in the field?

Do you have a venue to suggest for this project?

Let me know!

 

Last night, The Point in Eastleigh, together with Tec Hub, hosted its first Board Game Café, and enjoyed healthy turn-out and no hiccups!

I made a precarious journey there via an extremely delayed train and with my heavily laden bicycle serving as my packhorse. Male, female, young, old, and everything in between–this event proved the universal appeal of board games beyond the old family standbys of Monopoly, Scrabble, and its ilk.

It was worth the effort, as I was able to sink my teeth into games I already knew as well as two that I didn’t. One of those was called Chinatown, a negotiation-based property building game that, while I wasn’t amazing at, seemed very fun and like something I’d definitely want to try again.

Word on the street is that the response was positive enough that these events will become a regular thing, which would be fantastic, both for myself and for the local community.

This inaugural night also featured Ruddy Vikings, the debutante card game from Rounded Squarish. I purchased a copy from the developers, who were present to show off their delightful little gem of a game.

Here’s what the packaging looks like:

outer box top

SYNOPSISBOX

It’s simple and effective, about the size of a Fluxx box. When you lift off the lid, you’re presented with the rules, but not in the manner to which many of us are accustomed. They’re printed on the box bottom, so no more losing the rules. If you have the box, you have the rules.

 

As to the actual contents of the box…you get one play mat with space for four players, a deck of player cards, and a second, much smaller deck of cards that affect the entire game.

BOX CONTENTS

So here’s the playmat, laid out flat for all to see. I’m told the shield resembling a Pokéball was totally done on purpose. I can also confirm that the mat is, in fact, waterproof!  HOWEVER THE CARDS ARE NOT. So please sleeve your cards if you’re careless with drinks(or your friends are).

PLAYMAT

Now here is the mat in terms of game play:

playmatdiagram

As I said, room for four players, colour indicated by that of the shields on the sides of the little viking longships.  Interestingly, the carvings of menacing beasts, such as dragons and snakes, on the prow of the ship allegedly protected the ship and crew from the terrible sea monsters of Norse mythology.

Now on to the cards! There are two decks, and the first of those are the Town Cards. These are cards whose effects apply to the entire game for a round.

TOWNCARDS

The second, beefier deck, is the individual players’ cards. Each player is dealt an opening hand of five cards. There are five different types of cards:

CARD TYPES

From Left to Right: Vikings, Gods, Chance, Defences, Buffers.

Vikings are used to attack other players, which is the main mechanic of the game. God cards allow for extraordinary actions to be taken, such as two attacks per turn(as opposed to the usual one per turn). Chance cards make things happen, such as countering other players’ attacks, or giving yourself bonuses. Defence cards are played to the mat where I previously indicated, and help protect you from other players’ Vikings. Buffers help your Vikings overcome other players’ Defences.

Overall, I found the gameplay very accessible. This is a great game for introducing children to card and board games, with a fun concept, amusing artwork, simple rules, and quick, easy play. I’d definitely recommend supporting these guys further, as the game was born of Kickstarter.

I’m really looking forward to future Board Game Cafés, and hope it turns into a regularly scheduled thing. Thanks to Marcus Pullen of Blue Donut Studios, Adam Carter-Groves, and Ben Cooper for arranging a great night!