Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Today, February 29, is a date that occurs only every four years, and is called a leap day. This day is added to the calendar in leap years as a corrective measure, because the earth does not orbit around the sun in precisely 365 days.

It orbits at the speed of 365 and a quarter days a year.

Well, slightly less.

But increasing every year.

To accommodate this slight difference, years that are evenly divisible by 100 are not leap years, unless they are also evenly divisible by 400, in which case they are leap years. For example, 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not. Similarly 2100 will not be a leap year.

Did you follow all that?

I didn’t.

Anyway, the Gregorian calendar we now use is a modification of the Julian calendar first used by the Romans. It originated as a lunisolar calendar and named many of its days after configurations of the moon, such as the new moon (Kalendae or Kalends, hence our word ‘calendar.’)

The Julian calendar, was developed in 46 BC by Julius Caesar, and became effective in 45 BC, distributing an extra ten days among the months of the Roman Republican year. The reform was intended to create a calendar that remained aligned to the sun without any human intervention. 

Before Caesar’s reform the Roman calendar consisted of just 355 days. A 27-day intercalary month, the Mensis Intercalaris, was sometimes inserted between February and March, adding an extra twenty two or twenty three days to the year.

As far as we can determine from the historical evidence, these extra months were added every second or third year. If managed correctly this system allowed the Roman year, on average, to stay roughly aligned to the seasons. 

However ... the extra month had to be approved by a Roman magistrate, a Pontifix, and because terms of office corresponded with a calendar year, this power was prone to abuse. A Pontifex could lengthen a year in which he or one of his allies was in power, or refuse to lengthen one in which his opponents held sway, (thank God Italy's not run that way anymore!)

So by the time of Caesar’s reform the system had failed completely and the average Roman was often unsure of the date. The last years of the pre-Julian calendar were later known as "The Years of Confusion".

But before Caesar could align the year with the seasons he had to insert two extra months called Intercalaris Prior and Intercalaris Posterior, according to Cicero.

'It was just idle banter at first: Caesar's new calendar. The Roman one was based on the moon, so the current year was only three hundred and fifty five days long. Despite constant fiddling with it, it now bore no consistent relation to the seasons; the previous November they had sweltered in a heat wave, this year's harvest festival was celebrated long before the grapes and corn were ripe.

Caesar had consulted with one of Cleopatra's famed astronomers from the Gymnasion in Alexandria, one Sosigenes. On his advice, he had instituted a new calendar based on the sun, to last three hundred and sixty five days. To co-ordinate with the new calendar Caesar had declared that this year there would be three Novembers.

Done with astronomy, Cicero moved seamlessly to gossip.

"Did you hear about Marcellus?" he said. "He was seen coming out of a brothel near the Circus Maximus last week. His wife was furious with him but he countered her by saying he could do as he liked as the first two Novembers of the year didn't count."


So there it is; that’s why we have leap years and leap days. Remember to mark it in your diary now; 2100 is not a leap year. Don't go making any appointments for February 29, 2100.

And husbands, everywhere, mark this down as well, in red Texta; anything you do, anytime, anywhere, no matter what day it is. It counts.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


You are young and you are beautiful. You have been captured by the Turks after your Balkan city succumbed to a long siege. Your father and brothers are dead. You are terrified you will now be raped and murdered. 

EUNUCH GUARD, TUNIS 1931: photograph Recuerdos de Pandora
But you are not harmed by your captors, fearsome as they look. Instead you are taken back to the Ottoman capital and introduced into a gloomy wooden palace the Turks call the Eski Saraya.

You are put into the care of the Mistress of the Robes, where your flair for needlework is put to good use. You are taught Arabic and the Koran. But it is made clear to you that you are now a slave. Whatever high position in life you had before, now you are nothing; the Sultan's plaything. 

You accept that will never see your own country again. This is your home now and there are only two ways out of this dreary place. If you do not attract the Sultan's eye he may one day give you away as a wife to one of his senior officers or ministers. But that's if you're lucky. You might just as easily be neglected and forgotten.

Or you can turn the tables.

You soon realize that these other women who share your predicament are your competition. One of them is going to be the mother of the next Sultan and attain a position of pre-eminent power in the country that enslaved her. If you are beautiful enough and clever enough and cunning enough that woman could be you.

The first step is to become gözde - 'in the eye'; that is, you must catch the attention of the Lord of Life, the Sultan himself. An ambitious girl like yourself might find a way. It depends how devious you are.

Or you may rely on kismet, fate. One day you will wait with a hundred other girls in the court of the harem, pearls and jewels glittering in the sun. As the Sultan passes among you, he will take a handkerchief from the sleeve of his robe and drape it over your shoulder. You have been chosen! This is your golden chance.

You may have one night and be forgotten; or this could be the road to absolute power. It is entirely up to you.

You are taken first to the Keeper of the Baths, your entire body is shaved by slave girls and you are bathed in water scented with jasmine and orange. Your hair is shampooed with henna. Afterwards another slave coats your body with a mixture of warm rice flour and oil.

You are then prepared and coiffed and primped down to the last eyelash and the last drop of balm, dressed elaborately in clothes of incredible richness. Finally the Chief Black Eunuch escorts you to the Sultan's bedchamber.

If you can please the Lord of Life then he might invite you back to his bed again. If the invitations become more frequent then you become iqbal, a favourite.

You will be given your own apartments, your own eunuch slaves, even an allowance of your own. You are on your way. But it will all count for nothing unless you get pregnant and bear the Sultan a son. If you do, then you become a kadin, one of the Sultan's wives. 

You are now playing this deadly game in earnest because there are only ever four kadins. After that, the abortionist is called in.

As one of the select four you are just a breath away from power now. You are also in deadly danger.

Only one of you can become the mother of the next Sultan, the Sultan Valide. If you do, your power will be unquestioned, you will rule the entire Harem and your son will reign supreme in the country that made you a slave.

If you fail? You will probably end up at the bottom of the Bosphorus, drowned in a sack. So you cannot afford failure. You must be clever and you must be charming and you must be attractive and you must be utterly ruthless.

These are your choices. This is the game.

This is the harem.

HAREM is now available for mobi, ePub or PDF through WHO DARES WINS PUBLISHING or from Amazon here or at Barnes and Noble Nook here  

Thursday, February 23, 2012


On the way across the desert last week I passed through a town called Iron Knob. Because I’ve made the drive a few times I forgot, until the place was disappearing in the driving mirror, that people who don’t live in Australia find the name somewhat amusing.

Iron Knob - Kesab Tidy Town 2008 Best Outback Regional Town Winner

But then we have a lot of strange sounding place names in Australia. Tasmania has some of the cosiest; like Flowerpot, Eggs and Bacon Bay and Nowhere Else. There is nowhere else in Australia called Nowhere Else; but how did they know that?

There’s places like Humpty Doo near Darwin, (originally Umdidu, an English corruption of the local aboriginal word meaning ‘resting place’) and Cockburn. I lived in Cockburn for a while. If you’re wondering, we are polite and well bred over here, and we don’t say cock we say co. It’s Co-burn

Humpty Doo - photograph: Stuart Edwards

But living in Co-burn made me realize how difficult it can be having an address that everyone else thinks is hilarious. I wouldn’t, for example, particularly want to live in Toad Suck Arkansas, though I’m sure it’s very nice. Or Horneytown, North Carolina. Wild horses couldn’t drag me to Looneyville, Texas though I’m equally sure that storekeeper John Looney, after whom the town was named, thoroughly earned the honour from the local nomenclature committee. 

Great Britain has cornered the market on ridiculously twee place names; Abington Pigotts, Auchenshuggle, Booby Dingle, Burton-le-Coggles, Buttock, Cocklick End, Compton Pauncefoot, Hen Poo, Lickham Bottom, Mudford Sock, Nempnett Thrubwell, Newtown Unthank, Ryme Intrinseca, Sandy Balls, Scratchy Bottom, Splott, The Bastard, Tongue of Gangsta, (Yes, it’s on the isle of Orkney, near Holm and no, I didn’t make any of these up) Ulceby Skitter and Zeal Monachorum.

I’d choose Looneyville or Toadsuck over Lickham Bottom, but it could still be worse; imagine being raised in Butt Hole Road in Conisborough, Doncaster. The street was named after a communal water hole or ‘butt’ in the local dialect.  After a photograph of the street sign appeared on the internet, tour buses started showing up in huge numbers so tourists could have their pictures taken in front of it, sometimes in very undignified poses. Pizza delivery drivers and taxis routinely refused pick-ups and deliveries because they thought the address was a prank.

photograph: David Locke

Residents eventually changed the name to Archer Way and each threw in £75 to contribute to the new street sign.

Some towns crave the kind of attention that the residents of ... Archer Way ... got for free. In the 1860’s, in one of the earliest examples of a publicity stunt, locals created the longest name of any railway station in Britain; Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is a village on the island of Angelsey in Wales. The name means: Mary's Church (Llanfair) in the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) and the church of Saint Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave (g ogo goch).

 Thousands of visitors go here to be photographed next to the station sign, or to have their passports 'stamped' at a local shop. 

It is more commonly known as Llanfair PG

There have been several attempts to steal the village's record. A place called Llanfynydd unofficially adopted the name: Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiadtrienusyrhafnauole in 2004 in protest at plans to erect a wind farm nearby (the name means "a quiet beautiful village; a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades") but it was never officially adopted.

But LlanfairPG is not the longest place name in the world. That honour goes to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a 300 metre high hill in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.

It translates roughly as "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one". 

The name is shortened to Taumata by the locals for ease of conversation. 

Some towns have figured that LlanfairPG’s publicity stunt has value; after all, a rose by any other name ... 

There was a town called Clarke in Denton County, Texas that, in November 2005, accepted an offer to rename itself "DISH" as part of a commercial agreement with a satellite television company. In exchange all the residents received free basic television service for ten years and a free DVR.

Halfway, a town in Baker County, Oregon took its name from the location of its post office, half way between Pine and Cornucopia. The population of 350 enterprising people agreed, in December 1999, to rename itself for a year, in exchange for $110,000, and twenty computers for the school from a company called ... 

Iron Knob: photograph:Tnorm

I thought about this while I was driving across the desert to my new home. It gave me an idea.

So if you want to write to me about this post, please do. You can contact me at 38 Amex Platinum Crescent, Rolex Oyster County, BMW 3 Series.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I’d like to welcome author Natalie C. Markey to my blog today for a special guest post. A native Texan, Natalie is the author of CARING FOR YOUR SPECIAL NEEDS DOG, a nonfiction book that shares easy, everyday advice that proves caring for a disabled dog doesn’t have to be difficult. She also writes young adult and middle grade fiction. She is a member of the West Houston RWA, the National Romance Writers of America, Houston YA/MG and YA Sisters. She is also the instructor for Write It Forward’s Writing Moms and Time Management for the Busy Writer

               "You can read blogs, craft books and take class after class but the truth is we all have a unique writing process that works for us. The trick is finding that process, owning it and then starting the whole cycle over again as our life changes. And boy does life change.

        In high school and college I freelanced for local publications and dabbled with fiction but was told that writing could never be a career. I moved on to bigger things, I thought.

Five years ago I was working at a prestigious public relations firm in New York City and freelance writing on the side. I loved reading fiction, especially fantasy as a break whenever I got a chance. I called it my “me” time, but between my paying job and side job of freelancing that time was seldom.
        After I married, I ran a creative services department for a CBS Television station. I still freelanced but with a shorter commute I had more time to read and I began to think about writing my own fiction. And the ideas began to flow. I heard voices and I began writing late at night.
         Soon my husband was out of graduate school with a great job, I wanted to see if I could take my freelance side career and make it a full time thing. It worked and with that freedom I began writing. My flexible time didn’t last long. I had our daughter and life got even more interesting.
          Now as a writer from home that cares for a 19-month-old and a special needs dog I find myself busier then I was in my New York City PR days. Since beginning this schedule I’ve published one non-fiction, over 500 freelance articles and I have a young adult novel out on submission. I’m currently finalizing my second non-fiction and writing a middle grade novel that I will be pitching this summer at a writing conference along with my YA.
           My point is that everyone, especially writers are busy. We have kids, jobs, family drama, etc. If you want it, you can make it happen.

            My key is to wake up early. Yes, I’m talking 5am and after a 20-minute yoga wake up session I write until 7:30am, which is when my daughter gets up. As a mother, it is tempting to nap when she does but my desire to write is greater. I set early morning, morning, afternoon and evening goals for myself. I keep them small and reasonable. Don’t take on more than you can handle. If you accomplish more then planned then celebrate it. Don’t fret over what’s left undone. As Scarlett O’Hara says, “Tomorrow is a new day.”

             No matter what your writing process is, remember to prioritize your goals and don’t get too caught up in the glamour of social media. Keep your goals your top priority and stick to those little goals you make to reach the bigger picture.

             The best thing you can keep in mind is that it is ok to be flexible. As I pointed out earlier, our lives change. Our schedules change and when that happens, our writing process could benefit from a change too. Being a writing mom is overwhelming and stressful. Writing is stressful enough but writing moms (or dads) must focus on flexibility and a loose schedule in order to gain the balance for success.

     I will be teaching another course of my Writing Moms: How to do it all without losing your mind Write It Forward Workshop this March. It is a month long workshop focused on busy writing moms, something I know a lot about. Click here for more information.  

    How has your writing process changed over the years? How has your writing benefited from the change?"

            For more information visit and her blog


Friday, February 17, 2012


On Wednesday we were discussing my fear of flying - a phobia about the kind of people who end up sitting next to me on planes.

So far we've talked about the Drunk, the Ear Popper, the Sickly Child and the Talker. But wait, there's more!


These people may or may not be virgins in the biblical sense. No, what these virgins have never done is flown in an aircraft. As with all virgins they make themselves conspicuous by trying to look experienced. But they give themselves away when they actually listen to the safety demonstration and then try to plug their headsets into the overhead air vent. Sweaty virgins are the least troublesome of all possible companions. The only time to really worry is when they are wearing a blue uniform and a pilot’s cap.

photograph: eva rinaldi


High fliers are sweaty virgins with experience. They have flown many times, but they are still terrified. Consequently they prepare themselves for the coming ordeal by ingesting Valium, Scotch, marijuana and beer before boarding the aircraft. They can therefore easily be mistaken for a Drunk. 

When they take their seat they gibber nonsensically for about ten minutes and then pass out on your shoulder. In the arrivals lounge of any large airport you can always tell the person who got the seat next to the High Flier because they’ve got a large dribble patch on their shoulder. The best tactic is to remove their seat belts and just let them flop forward onto the tray table. They should be stowed in an overhead locker during turbulence.


These guys are easily identified; they’re the ones with the emerald green tie with the motif of a naked redhead. They drink Scotch straight the whole flight and try to drown out the hum of the engines by talking over them. After some small talk they will try and sell you a car. All you can is ask too much for your trade in.


They look like normal people until a few moments after take off, when the undercarriage is retracting. Then they suddenly go stiff and scream: 'Don’t panic, don’t panic, the plane’s falling to bits!’ The trouble with this type is that they are unpredictable. One small air pocket and they are thrashing around under their seat looking for a parachute.


They are immediately recognizable because they are always sitting next to someone else. Until you get married.


There’s only one thing worse than sitting on a plane next to someone else’s children and that’s sitting on a plane next to your own. Many new parents make the elementary mistake of getting seats adjacent to their offspring. NO. Get separate seats and then disown them until you get to the other end. Hide behind a copy of the inflight magazine and let someone else try and control them for a change.

photograph: Boeing Dreamscape


Of all possible flight companions this is the one most likely to ruin your flight. Their first gambit will be to ask you how much you paid for your ticket. You tell them. 'One way?!' they squeak. They then tell you they paid half of that. ‘There was a special and I also got a free night at the Hilton thrown in - the penthouse suite - with breakfast, a massage, and a bottle of complimentary Veuve Clicquot.' Now try and have a pleasant journey.  

photograph: FLY!


Belchers have a digestion problem that manifests during meals, which they consume without making use of the utensils provided. They laugh out loud with their earphones on while watching the movie and then fall asleep and snore like overfed bears. They also scratch themselves. The best way to avoid this type, I am told, is not to travel with your husband.