International Kittens of Mystery

More Lambs – twins this time

Another batch of sleepless nights as we went through the ‘is she lambing, is she not?’ for two whole days convinced triplets were imminent any second. Our ewe looked enormous. She couldn’t stand without help. She looked ready to explode…

But no lambs. And no sleep. Until yesterday when she had two enormous boys – both already bigger than the two born two days earlier.

Here’s the first boy coming out of his ‘day house’.

Here’s his twin brother blinking into the early morning sun. Both boys have interesting markings.

And, not to be left out, here’s the two triplets gossiping about their new cousins.

International Kittens of Mystery

Baby Lamb Pictures - Lambing 2009 begins!

A bit later this year and twice as stressful. We rounded up the first two ewes on Saturday, walked them to the Lambing pens, set up the Lambcam baby monitor TV feed and waited. And waited. Then disaster struck – our first ewe had ringwomb (failure of the cervix to dilate) She’d been in labour for several hours and it was now 2am on a bank holiday. Would the vet come out? Could we summon up enough French to explain what had happened?

Yes to one, no to the other. The vet wouldn’t come out but we could go to him and he’d give us a calcium syringe to inject. If we could find his house. It’s one of the wonders of the French countryside – how any letters get delivered when so many people live in houses that have neither name nor number and neither does their road. But it’d be easy, he said, his house would be the only one in the village with the lights on.

We drove into the pitch black night, got lost twice, found the village and a house with a light on. But it was a bedroom light and the shutters were drawn. Should we knock?

We drove on, found another house with a light on, then another. Perhaps we should phone again? Then we saw a house with an outside light on and a man in a dressing gown holding a syringe. Aha, the local crack house…

:) So we raced home, made the injection and waited/hoped for it to take effect. There’s no one hundred per cent solution to ringwomb. Fatalities are common – to both ewes and their lambs. And that night was no exception. We lost the first lamb and the mother is still weak. But she did produce two very healthy, very bouncy lambs.

Here’s the boy, showing excellent ear control, pretending to be a rabbit.

And here’s the girl – with not such good ear control.

International Kittens of Mystery

FlyCon 2009

FlyCon – the worldwide online SF/F con – starts today at 2pm Paris time (that’s midnight in Australia and 9am Eastern Time) and finishes at 5pm Monday in Australia and around midnight the day before in San Francisco. Panels and author chats are running continuously plus there’s a dealer’s room and a masquerade (photos on Flickr)

All in all it’s everything you get at a con but without the hotel bill, the registration fees, the travel, the delays and the cold that follows you home:)

Authors attending include Geoff Ryman, Kate Elliot, Sherwood Smith, Karen Miller, Roberta Gellis, Alma Alexander, Devon Monk, Marie Brennan, Sarah Zettel, Jennifer Fallon, Chaz Brenchley, Jack Dann, Sara Douglass, Jeri Smith-Ready, Lisa Mantchev, Simon Haynes, Pati Nagle, Dave Freer and SC Butler.

The schedule is here I’m doing three panels tomorrow and one at 5am on Sunday – alarms will have to be set:)

As part of the festivities I’ll be giving away copies of Resonance. Yes, Resonance is now free to download – five formats and not a hint of DRM anywhere. You can get your copy from the Con Bag in the Dealer’s Room or from here

More FlyCon info can be found here

International Kittens of Mystery

The Great Beer Flood

I saw this via Gregory Frost and and had to share. It's an extract from the book Man Walks into a Pub by Pete Brown and is an account of the The Great Beer Flood of London, 1814.

In 1760 Sam Whitbread made his already impressive Chiswell Street Brewery even more fantastic with the addition of the Porter Tun room. The room was a feat in itself, with tourist guides at the time marvelling, 'the unsupported roof span… is exceeded in its majestic size only by that of Westminster Hall'. And it was dominated by a giant beer vat.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. Proving that phallic substitutes among powerful men predate the arrival of bright red sports cars, rival brewer Henry Thrale built a new porter vat and celebrated its completion by having a hundred people sit down to dinner inside it. 'Right then, you b@stard,' thought the Meux brewery, who went off and built one sixty feet wide and twenty-three feet high. They had two hundred guests to dinner in that one. Just to make sure everyone knew who was boss, they soon added a second one which was almost as large.

The contest reached its conclusion with the Meux's Horse Shoe Brewery tragedy in 1814. The brewery's vat, which stood on the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, held over a million pints of porter. It was made of wood and held together by twenty-nine gigantic iron hoops. One day a workman noticed a crack in one of the hoops. As each hoop weighed over 500 pounds he thought a little crack was nothing to worry about, and he forgot about it. A few hours later there was an explosion so loud it was heard five miles away. The vat had burst, and the force of the jet stream of beer crushed the second vat. This meant the more beer than you can possibly imagine jetted out under very high pressure. The twenty-five-foot high, one-foot-thick, solid brick wall of the brewery stood no chance. It was flattened, and a tidal wave of beer raged into the surrounding streets.

The first to die were those drowned by the initial wave. Others were crushed to death in the stampede as they threw themselves into the gutter to drink as much free beer as they were physically able, hampering any hope of rescue for those trapped in the rubble. Some of those who survived the crush subsequently died of alcohol poisoning. The survivors were taken to hospital, but they weren't out of it yet. They reeked of beer, and those patients already on the wards rioted because they thought patients in other parts of the hospital were being served beer while their own doctors were holding out on them. Finally, there were still further casualties when the dead were taken to a nearby house and laid out for identification by grieving relatives. Everyone was curious to see what victims of death by beer looked like, so they crowded into the house for a look, and the owners even began charging admission. Soon there were so many people in the house that the floor collapsed, and several of those who had gone to look at the dead, ended up joining them!

The only thing I'd add to this excellent account is the fact that when the floor collapsed the paying customers, having discovered what victims of death by beer looked like, were given an unexpected role playing opportunity - as the cellar they fell into was flooded with beer.

 I think Disney should be informed. Great Beer Flood sounds like a game brewed in heaven:)
International Kittens of Mystery

New Novel

I've just finished the second draft of the new novel, Medium Dead, the first (hopefully) in a new urban fantasy series.

It's weighed in at just under 96k words and I'm thinking of putting out a call for beta readers. So, if you'd like to read a fun fantasy drop me a line at chris(dot)dolley(at)

Warning: there is some strong language and there are positively NO vampires or werewolves. But there is plenty of magic, mystery, humour and shapeshifting.

Here's a brief synopsis:

Medium Dead is the first in a crime fighting fantasy series chronicling the adventures of Brenda, a reluctant medium, and Brian, a self-styled Vigilante Demon.

Brenda Steele is smart, funny and out of her depth. A magical being wants her to find murdered spirits and help him track down their killers. But Brian doesn't just catch criminals he likes to play with them first and make the punishment fit the crime. As he tells Brenda, 'if all you did was turn up, capture the bad guy then leave - century after century - you'd die of boredom.' But he's also reckless – his last partner died during one of his take downs.

And here's a snippet:

Brenda managed to pick her way through the opening chapters of Strong Poison but even the imminent entanglement of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter failed to engage her as much as it usually did. Only a jaw-dropping instalment of The Rich, The Spoilt, and the Surgically Enhanced managed to snap her out of her growing lethargy.

Celeste, the drama queen's drama queen, discovered she had a brain tumour. Apparently it was pressing on the part of her brain that controlled the buttoning and unbuttoning of her tops. Brenda marvelled at the wealth of medical information one could pick up from quality TV. With Poor Celeste staring at a future of worsening décolletage she was rushed to see the world's top neurosurgeon, Storm Canaveral, a former pro linebacker who'd taken up medicine in an effort to cure his own football related brain tumour. Storm took one look at Celeste's cleavage and whisked her away to his own private hospital yacht moored in the Med. But had he left it too late? The episode ended with Celeste flat on her back – a position not unknown to Celeste – but this time she was complaining of a headache. And that was a first.
International Kittens of Mystery

Query Project

Fellow SF Novelist Joshua Palmatier has organised a Query Project for today, September 12th. He asked a number of published authors to post the actual query letter that led them to getting a publisher or agent, and comment on the esoteric art of The Query Letter.

Here’s mine from February 2001 to literary agent Juri Gabriel in London.


Dear Juri Gabriel,

I enclose a synopsis, SAE and the first three chapters of my book NOUS SOMMES ANGLAIS, an unfortunately true account of our first eight months in France.

I realise there will be inevitable comparisons with A Year in Provence but one glimpse at the synopsis should tell you that this is something very different - more like Gerald Durrell invites Miss Marple for eight months in the Pyrenees. And it's all true. We have the police records to prove it.

I believe this to be a very marketable proposition as it contains three of the most enduring ingredients for a good read: other peoples' misfortunes, animals behaving badly and a real life whodunit.

Throw in an exotic location, an ageing ‘boy’ detective, an eighty year-old sidekick, a puppy who is half greyhound and half crocodile, and you have Nous Sommes Anglais.

As for myself, I freelanced for many years in the computer industry – analysing, designing and managing mainframe computer projects all over the UK - until I made enough money to buy a farm and concentrate on my writing. I've been short-listed twice for the Ian St. James Awards and won the Del Rey editors’ choice award twice. My first book, SHIFT, was taken on by a literary agent in 1994 and Harper Collins were interested in publishing it. However, they had problems classifying it and dropped out; then my agent changed jobs and found she could no longer represent me. This all happened as I was moving to France.

I am now writing full-time again and once more looking for an agent.

I also have enough material for a sequel to Nous Sommes Anglais.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Dolley


Now the commentary:

First, read the submission guidelines. Each agent/publisher has their own requirements. Stick to them. I have several query letters for each book in the same way that I have several synopses. It’s part of the ‘fun’ of being a writer.

Second, be professional. The agent/publisher is looking for a person they can work with.

Third, professional doesn’t mean boring. Agents/publishers receive hundreds of queries per day. Why should they pick yours? My advice to make your query stand out is to imagine how you’d pitch your novel to a stranger in less than x words (where x is around 100 depending on the submission guidelines, and the stranger is looking at their watch and ready to move on to the next prospective author)

This is the difficult bit. Many people when writing queries or synopses start off with the novel then try to condense it. Wrong. That’s the way to write a boring infodump of all the salient facts. Start with one sentence that describes your book - e.g. A Year in Provence with Gerald Durrell and Miss Marple – and expand from there. And try to reflect the style of your book. If you’re writing comedy, be amusing. If you’re writing mystery, highlight that mystery. The query letter is a pitch to make the agent/publisher want to read more.

Fourth, pitch yourself. What makes you a person to take a risk on? This is where you mention your credentials. If you don’t have any writing credentials, don’t worry. I’ve successfully pitched to agents without any short story sales. Unless you have an amazing short story track record, agents are far more interested in the novel you’re pitching. The important bit is to come across as professional and confident, someone who’s serious about their writing and ready to make a career out of it.

Fifth, tell them what they are getting. I always begin with a paragraph that mentions the title of the book, its genre and usually its length as well.

Sixth, there’s more than one way to write a query. What works with one agent might fall flat with another and vice versa. Plus agents have differing requirements, they might not be actively looking for novels in your subgenre or they might be having a bad day. So don’t throw away a query letter if it fails with one agent. If it fails with several agents that’s another matter.

Other authors participating

Paul Crilley
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Gregory Frost
Simon Haynes
Jackie Kessler
Glenda Larke
John Levitt
Joshua Palmatier
Janni Lee Simner
Maria V. Snyder
Jennifer Stevenson
Edward Willett
David J. Williams
International Kittens of Mystery

The mother-in-law of all computer viruses

Just a quick note - before I rush off to finish slating our roof before the rains come tomorrow - to be wary about a particularly nasty computer virus. It's cost me a week, a couple of hard drive wipes, countless lost files and neither Bitdefender, Adaware or Spybot noticed a thing. Every time I ran them they said my computer was virus and trojan free.

It wasn't. The virus appears to be a variant of the Vundo virus in that it takes over your browser and directs you to certain sites while preventing you from accessing others. It starts off as an annoyance and ends up taking over your entire system.

At first all you notice is that some websites don't download correctly or not at all. The virus targets major sites like Amazon and Myspace - most sites download correctly. But when you try to Google...

You get hijacked. If you see come up in the bottom left hand corner of your screen then you've got it. It redirects you to shopping sites and prevents you from accessing any fora that discuss computer viruses. It also intercepts any attempts to download. So if you find a site where you can download a package to remove the bug, the bug either stops you or gives you one of its own files to download.

Any attempt to use the windows explorer search facility to find the bug causes your computer to reboot. You now start to panic. You run your virus software. It says your system's fine. You restore your system from last week and ... the bug returns. You try windows update and suddenly it's blocked. Gradually your system is taken away from you bit by bit. Things that worked yesterday don't today. Your virus software stops updating. The ability to restore your system goes away.

After three days of fighting I had to bite the bullet and wipe the hard drive. Something I didn't want to do as it meant regressing three years and hoping that all the software I'd loaded and updated over that time would reload and re-update.

Fat chance. I managed to bring Windows XP through the first series of updates but couldn't get service pack 2 to work. So another day, another disk wipe and back to service pack one. Eventually I bypassed the service pack 2 problems by manually downloading service pack 3 and installing that on top of the unstable service pack 2.

I still haven't got Word or most of my stuff back but at least I have a virus free system. And a roof to finish before the inundation...

PS - I also now have Apple Safari - it's the one browser that the google-analitic virus didn't target.
International Kittens of Mystery

We're Still Alive

I haven't posted recently due to a mixture of work, laziness and a lack of positive news. Kai has had a lot of problems. It's bad enough being completely incontinent but add to that constipation and a urinary infection and you have a recipe for pain - for all concerned. Liver-flavoured liquid paraffin has been some help and now he's on medication for the urinary infection. The good news is that his kidneys are fine.

We're waiting for the weather to settle at the moment. And as soon as it does we're going to re-roof the stables. The slates have arrived. We've bought the replacement joists and the rest of the wood arrives on Friday. Then I'm up on the roof, stripping off the old and hammering in the new.

That is, when I'm not picking produce from the garden. The raspberry season has just finished - we were picking a kilo a day. Now we're picking several portions of runner beans a day. And propping up our apple trees whose branches are bending earthwards under an alarming weight of crop. And, in about three weeks time, the sweet corn season starts - giving us 2-3 cobs each per day until late October when the thought of nibbling on another corn cob will have begun to pale:)

The only minus this season has been tomato blight - again - and onion white rot. I think we're going to give up on growing tomatoes outside.

And in between all that I'm making steady progress on the new novel - Medium Dead. A fun contemporary fantasy. I've written 62k words so far and am aiming at 90k.
International Kittens of Mystery

Living in a Waterproof World

Kai had his last stitches out last week so he's at last bandage and funnel-collar free. But he is still very much incontinent. Thankfully the diarrhoea has cleared up but, boy, can he produce urine! So much and so frequently that we now live in a partially waterproofed house.

We hoped he might adapt to being an outside cat but Kai loves his comforts. The home is where laps live and the fridge and cat tins and milk and beds and nice warm places to curl up in. And, since he caught his tail in the jaws of death, he's been wary about going outside. He never strays far and runs back at the first sign of a killer tractor or passing stranger.

We tried shutting him out but he broke through the locked cat door. So out came Plan B - towels and plastic. We covered his usual haunts with towels or plastic. We even slept under a tarpaulin bedspread. Vigilance was the watch word and the washing machine a constant friend. That's when we discovered just how much urine a cat could produce. He soaked everything. And he got everywhere. Kitchen tables, sinks, the warm back grill of a television. We were forever having to grab him or chase him off.

And I was struck down with gastro-enteritis and spent four days fastened to the toilet - luckily I'm housetrained so I fought the urge to curl up on the back of television:)

Enter Plan C - the cat nappy (or diaper). We found a pattern for a cat nappy on the internet and Shelagh knocked up a practice pair. Several scratched hands later we fitted it to Kai and ... it needed adjustment to allow his legs a little more freedom. Back to the sewing machine. The next pair worked brilliantly and Shelagh made four but ... back to the problem of volume - Kai produced so much urine that the nappy pad filled in a few hours. We had to get up in the middle of the night to change him or risk a code yellow bedroom alert. And Kai had a problem being seen in public wearing pink knickers:)

Enter Plan D - the cat crate. Fed up with sleeping under tarpaulin or getting up in the middle of night, we borrowed a dog crate from a friend. A dog crate is a large cage with a plastic tray at the bottom. It's large enough to take a litter tray and a bed and it gives us a safe, waterproof place we can put Kai in overnight. It seems to work. He complained the first night but now accepts it. We still have to be vigilant during the day. We still have towels and plastic bags protecting electrical equipment and chairs during the day. We have the cat nappy for evenings. And we try to persuade Kai to spend as much time outside as he can. It's a strain but it's working.

The hope is that he might regain some continence. He's still swollen at the base of the tail so there's hope that he might improve when the swelling goes down. But it's unlikely that he'll recover fully. The stats show that cats who don't recover urinary control within a month of injury rarely improve after that. But one can hope.
International Kittens of Mystery

Kai Update: no longer the seventh fluffy wonder of the feline world

First the good news. Kai's well and improving. But last weekend...

After the improvements of early last week Kai started to go backwards on Thursday and Friday. He lost his bounce, his appetite and the diarrhoea wouldn't stop. We tried yoghurt. We tried a paste the vet gave us but nothing worked. And to make matters worse he managed to remove a stitch in one of his tail wounds which then opened up. The wound, being high up on the underneath of his tail, couldn't have been in a worse place for a cat with diarrhoea and a dead tail that just hung limp behind him. We covered the wound. We washed him. Several times a day. But both the tail and the wound got worse. On Saturday morning we took him back to the vet and he was operated on immediately.

Kai now has a two inch stump of a tail but he's back to his old bouncy self. He eats everything put in front of him. He's almost diarrhoea free and he's happy. But ... he's still incontinent. Hopefully this might change when he has his stitches out. In the meantime we keep a pair of old towels handy ready to slip underneath him whenever he jumps onto anyone's lap.

Kai's next visit to the vet is tomorrow.