Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Wanna buy this?  :-)

The link is fine, btw. You can click with impunity.  I'm all for imp unity.  :-)

Thursday, 8 November 2012

One part Silence of the Lambs, two parts Natural Born Killers, and one part Wizard of Oz.

I met Mr Gerald D. Johnston on the HarperCollins website Authonomy.  I read the opening of his book, Dropcloth Angels and absolutely hated his guts.  Cos the guy can write so bloody well, it’s criminal.  In fact, I commented on his book saying, ‘Tell me you’re agented or that you have them clubbing one another with thick mallets to get their paws on this.’
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book on Authonomy so lauded – even people who baulked at the subject matter (it is dark, very dark) couldn’t fault the writing.  Yet HarperCollins didn’t seem to *get* it. Certainly they didn’t snap it up. And that, more than almost anything, makes me wonder about the state of publishing.  It’s not a comfortable read but then, should all books be comfortable reads? 
Anyhow, Gerry made the decision to self-publish Dropcloth Angels and it’s out now.  I asked him if he wanted to write a guest post to coincide with publication and he said, ‘Why not interview me?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’  So, here you go.  In my mind’s eye we’re sitting in some roadside diner by the side of some nameless road.  Yes, it’s long. What can I say?  He talks a lot.  But it's all good.  

So, tell me about Dropcloth Angels. Where on earth did you come up with the idea for it? 
I remember the moment of conception very well. My daughter, Katie, and I were watching an episode of Hannah Montana on the Disney Network. During a commercial break, an ad for a cereal – Cinnamon Toast Crunch if memory serves – came on the television. There were two pieces of cereal in a bowl. One took a bite out of the other and then sheepishly looked away, like it had nothing to do with the attack. Then, when his friend let his guard down again, he took a larger bite. I thought to myself, ‘That’s cannibalism! On the Disney Network, no less!’
From there it took root and grew. The original idea (the cereal in the bowl) became a short story, called The Saviour. In it, the killer (who actually had no name but used ‘Thomas’ for the sake of the AA meeting he’d gone to in search of a victim) stood at a podium before twenty or so members. His serial killer shtick was that he believed himself to be a saviour, and that his victims needed him to set them free. During the course of his rehearsed “testimony”, he remembered back to a girl he’d killed a year before. He’d been thinking of her quite a bit lately. The reason for this was because the girl’s sister presently stalked him, and was sneaking into his home to drug his food, or leave items that would make him remember her sister, etc. (This was Zoe’s character, though she was never really given a name in the short story.) He suffered from syphilis, and was presently in the tertiary stage (stage 3 if memory serves), and going quite insane from the constant battle with what he believed to be a demon living in his head.

And, for those who won’t know, what is a dropcloth?
Simply put, a drop cloth is what painters use to keep the splats and dribbles from staining the floor beneath a painting, ceiling or a wall. The reason Zane uses a drop cloth for his blood paintings is because blood will ‘set up’ differently on treated (white-washed) canvas. I found this out firsthand back in high school. I was stretching a canvas over a frame in art class and cut myself on an exposed nail. The blood was easily wiped from the treated face of the canvas, but sank in and stained the reverse side.
You didn’t ask, but the reason he called the victims his ‘angels’ and took their heads is revealed in detail during the sequel. It dates back to his childhood, in New Orleans, and is a direct result of how his mother treated him and where he’d go to hide from her and whichever lover it was she was with that day.
What ‘Dropcloth Angels’ (plural) are is a cry for help from a tormented youth – hunkered down and shivering against the cold night air, at the base of weatherworn statue in an ancient cemetery near his home in New Orleans, with nothing but his pencils and sketch pad for company.

How would you sell the book to people?
When I began writing, I started off with the naïve notion that the writing would sell itself. I no longer suffer from this delusion. The machine wants what the machine wants, and grinds it out to the masses like mystery meat at the local mission. I sent out three query letters and garnered two full read requests, as well as one ‘Dear John’ letter.
As much as I know that querying is a large part of an author’s ‘job’, I couldn’t seem to get it right – at least in my own head – so I kinda gave up before really giving it a real go. I’m not a defeatist by nature, but with so much out there for publishers to choose from that falls within their cookie cutter formula, why would they bother with a 137k genre-buster like DcA, written by Joe Nobody from Canada?

Give us your elevator pitch.
I don’t have an elevator pitch – or at least a good one.
My usual response to someone who asks what it’s about is this: DcA is one part Silence of the Lambs, two parts Natural Born Killers, and one part Wizard of Oz.

I’ve met you, Gerry, and you seem like a regular nice guy. What makes a nice guy write about serial killers, torture and madness?
Before beginning my research on the novel, I was clueless about it all. There are some very sick people out there, and the atrocities perpetrated by real life bogeymen are far worse than any limp-wristed Freddie Krueger killing. That’s because it’s real. Every day, all over the world, regular people (people not much different than you & I) inwardly dance along the ever-shifting line that separates melancholy and madness. I’m not one of them (I think), but I am very good at playing the ‘what-if’ game in my own head. I already explained the ‘serial killer’ thing in a previous answer (the cereal). For the sake of clarity, there’s one torture scene in the novel, and that’s only in there so people will ‘see’ for themselves, rather than taking my word for it that Zane is a bad ass motherfucker. As for madness, well, that’s all part of what a serial killer is all about. Imagine how scary it would be to meet one who was sane. Now that would be scary. In all honesty, I could write a terrifying non-fiction book based on things I uncovered during the course of my research. As much as DcA is mainly a horror noir/dark satire – a scathing look at the sensationalism that shrouds such killings – there are some sick puppies out there.

You write from the perspective of Zane, the killer. How did it feel going inside his head? Is there a Zane, in some small way, inside Gerry Johnston?
I write from many perspectives. With Zane, because it was his point of view, whether we think it right or wrong, he was the hero for that section. That’s because all that we see is filtered through his character on the way to us. Know what I mean? With the exception of his love for froot loops, his character has nothing of me in it. Consider him a mixture of Albert Fish (the man Hannibal Lecter was modeled after), Gacy, Dahmer, Gein, and a large dollop of Ted Bundy. All very bad men, right? Now, imagine what would happen if they’d been funded by a man with the means to aid them, shelter them, and teach them how to cover their tracks in such a way that they seemed no more than ghosts. Yes, Zane is bad, but he’s not the evil wizard at the controls.

Syphilis in the USA
Zane has syphilis. What made you decide to make that the cause of his insanity?
The syphilis wasn’t the cause of his insanity – insanity was a gift from his dear dead mum – but the disease sure didn’t help his situation. J He contracted syphilis from a man he ingested a few years before. Where I got the idea to do this was by equating promiscuous people and the diseases they might pick up through ‘unsafe’ casual encounters with many sexual partners.

Zoe is a great character – tell us about her, where she sprang from in your mind. And her monkey, of course.
I think the only part of the original character of Zoe (from the short) that remains is the determination to get revenge upon the monster responsible for her sister’s death. The rest of what makes her her was a gradual build up of life experiences. Early in the novel I go into some of the issues she had with her mother, Jeanne’s battle with cancer, and the bond shared between her and her sister. Drugs take her to a place where needs and desires pay for each other in a symbiotic relationship presided over by her pimp, Cherry, or her drug dealer, P.K.
Like Zane, Zoe is also nothing like me, except for her thoughts on sticking up for the little guy; I do that shit all the time. My own home life growing up was fine, and my mother is a saint who loves me dearly. I gave Zoe a way of thinking, a way of speaking her mind, and she took it from there. At all times while writing I keep a clear image in my head of all the characters, and run through scenes in my head before committing them to ‘paper’ – dialogue, motivation, blocking, etc, are a snap and take no time whatsoever.
Purple Monkey is easy. Purple Monkey is me. Of course I’m much taller and my eyes match, but we’re both frayed at the seams.

How do you write? Do you plot or do you ‘pants’ ? In other words, did you know where DcA was going, or was it a voyage of discovery, to coin a corny phrase?
I plot some, and write some of it freestyle as I go. However I do it, I keep a list of events that need to happen/things needing to be said, and tic each one off as they’re taken care of. I block each chapter out with a few lines, then build the story – sometimes organically, sometimes from front to back. There’s more to it, but I won’t bore you with the details, or which writing program I use. (ywriter5, btw). It’s free.

Your book is pretty raw and brutal. Do you think books should have certificates, like movies? I mean, how old is old enough for people to read your book? When would you let your children read it?
Brutal? I’ve had this statement made before, and I’ll tell you the same thing I told them. There’s more violence mentioned in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow than Dropcloth Angels. What I’ve done was, instead of leaving the narration to a ‘good’ guy, I’ve given it to ‘who needed to be the pov character at that time’. Zane’s opening scene seems brutal simply because of his warped logic, cold detachment, and his total lack of anything resembling humanity. The scene itself was written as passively as I could manage without leaving Annie’s death scene out entirely. The ‘rawness’ and ‘brutality’ are a creation within the mind of the reader. This was my intention all along. I needed the reader to believe in him so I didn’t need to ‘go there’ anymore with his character – and I never had to. From that point on if he made a threat, the reader would fully believe in his desire to not only follow through on it, but that he’d gleefully do it naked. You know…‘show, don’t tell’ and all that.

Your next book is called Loser. Tell me about that. Anywhere people can read a bit of it?
Loser is mostly done, but it’s not my second novel. My second is called ‘Shakespeare’s Dead: A Tragedy in III Acts’, (action/comedy) and will be available this coming summer. In it, a murdered police detective named Shakespeare Poole must navigate Dante’s path back from Heaven, past Purgatory, and on through Hell, in order to save the world – the Universe – from a cult which has uncovered the means to call forth a new God. There are three or four teaser chapters of it in the back of Dropcloth Angels.
Loser likely won’t see the light of day until after:
Shakespeare’s Dead – editing in progress – publication scheduled for this coming July
Season of the Dead (book one) to be published by Spore Press this coming Spring.
The sequel to DcA (untitled as yet, but I like ‘The Saviour’) partially written, plot blocked out all the way through to the final chapter (which was the second chapter written). I gotta say, I love some of the new characters I’ve added for the sequel. No spoilers.
Season of the Dead II – writing in progress
Then Loser. So yeah, it may be a while for that one. But, who knows? Maybe I’ll get the urge to finish it next month.

And you’ve collaborated on a zombie apocalypse book too, right? What’s the story there?
There are four of us who crossed the finish line with this story: Lucia Adams, Paul Freeman, Sharon Van Orman, and yours truly. All three very wonderful writers, and I’m lucky to find myself among them for this project. I don’t pay very much attention to details, so I could be wrong, but I think we’ve been picked up for three books by Spore Press (the zombie ones anyway). I don’t have the contract handy, but I think that’s about right.
The story itself is written first person, with each of us writing our own scenes involving our trials and woes, until we meet. Once that happens, we split the chapters up and write ourselves as well as the other characters for that chapter or scene.

Why are people so obsessed with zombies? I guess I just don’t get the whole ZA thing.
I may be totally off base, but the idea of a global pandemic, whether some slow-moving zombie or super-flu, scares the shit out of everyone. That’s because it (the flu, not the zombies) could actually happen. Just think: one day some horny guy in the darkest jungle in Asia plants his seed in a marsupial that was too slow to get away, and – boom – the next week you have an airborne strain of squirrelfuckusitis, and it is running rampant through every city and every nation. And who says the infected lie down and go gently into the night? Say their pain receptors, their rage inhibitors, go on the blink and they become some raving beasts with a need to gnash their teeth and toss poo at you. You never know…

Okay, so tell me a bit about you? Where you live, what you do as a day job? What does your family think about your writing?
I live in Ontario, Canada, and work mostly with the mentally challenged*. My family (at least those who’ve read my stuff) likes it just fine.

What are your favourite books? Best all-time movies?
5 books (or series), 5 movies:
The Wheel of Time (series) – Jordan/Sanderson
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
Villa Incogito – Tom Robbins
Still life with Woodpecker – Tom Robbins
Hocus Pocus – Kurt Vonnegut
Resident Evil (franchise)
Tombstone (I could go line-for-line and not miss much)
Mamma Mia (because my daughter loves it so much, and sings along with the tv)
Schindler’s List (sad, brutal)
Saving Private Ryan (the opening scene on the beach scared me more than any horror story ever could) 

Desert island dinner party – who’d you invite (alive or dead) and what would you eat?
Kurt Vonnegut, Albert Einstein, Eminem, Izzy whats-his-name, Shaq O’Neil, Bruce Lee, Leonard Cohen, Adam West, Mel Blanc, Jim Morrison, Milla Jovovich, Olga Kurylenko, Big Bird, the freaky bald guy who was groovin’ out the side-stage during Joe Cocker’s Woodstock performance of the Beatles ‘With a Little Help From my Friends’, and a mime.

We’d eat Big Bird and then play charades. The mime would be on my team.

Let’s say Dropcloth Angels gets made into a movie (I could see it, quite easily). Who would direct? Who would play the leads?
Rodriguez or Tarantino to direct, for sure.  [I thought Tarantino]
Zoe: Amanda Seyfried
Zane: Charlie Hunnam (‘Jax’ Teller from Sons Of Anarchy)  [Oh yeah!]
Gideon: Donald Sutherland
Purple Monkey: Danny DeVito (the poor guy hasn’t worked in, like, forever – plus, he’d totally fit into the costume)

What’s next for Mr Johnston?
I dunno. The wind blows me in a direction and that’s where I head ‘til it sends me somewhere else.

* In my opinion ;) 

[JA back again]. So there you have it. I don't interrupt much, do I? He came, he sawed, he ate.  Now go buy the book (available on Amazon in print or ebook format) cos, seriously, this guy is the real deal.  

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The List of Banned Words

The NY Times has a shorter list. 

So, I was sitting in Adrian’s office waiting to talk to BBC Hereford & Worcester about letter-writing.  Why wasn’t I in my own office? Cos I don’t have a phone in mine – well I do, but it doesn’t work – it sounds like someone sunk it in a bucket of water. So, even though he’d just come back from London, I turfed the poor guy out and was sitting there waiting for the radio people to call when I saw this piece of paper stuck to the side of his desk.  And laughed out loud cos it was something I’d sent him months back.  See, he does a lot of travel writing and usually asks me to cast an eye over it, to edit, before it gets sent off. 

And he’s wise to do that cos, IMO, every writer (no matter how good, no matter how brilliant even) should get edited.  And I’d told him that he got a bit clichéd from time to time and had sent him a list of banned words and phrases (which, to be fair, I’d cribbed from a travel editor of my own).  But it made me laugh, as it always does, cos really – you see these clunkers again and again. 
So, for any wannabe travel writers or bloggers out there – here you go…the ones to miss.

Banned words
A city of contrasts
Stylish accommodation
Winding cobbled streets  
Cobbled streets in general, not just the winding variety
Chilled out
Jaw dropping
18-30 Crowd
Airport hell
Summer’s lease
Vivid hotpotch of colours, smells and sounds
Laid-back lifestyle
Tolkeinesque (as applied to any vaguely medieval defensive architecture)
Innate sense of rhythm
Crystal clear - as in water
The Bounty Ad
En famille
Under the stars
Al-fresco dining
Spa heaven
Traditional hearty cuisine
Whistlestop tour
Fed and watered
Magical Mystery Tour
Barefoot luxury
Five-star luxury
Eco-friendly or anything friendly for that matter
Time immemorial
Bygone age
Priceless treasures
Subtropical (unless you actually mean subtropical, which invariably you do not)
Exuberant vegetation
Je ne sais quoi
Par excellence
Nothing but the sound of waves
Leaving the modern world behind
My own/your own/our own slice of paradise
Any reference to ‘attentive yet unobtrusive’ staff, butlers, waiters etc
Family in-tow
As far as the eye can see
Powder white sand
Lapping waves
Rich and famous as in ‘attracting the rich and famous’

Ah, those cobbled streets...
And so I did the interview, resisting the urge to see how many of these I could drop into the conversation and then, as I put down the phone, my eyes fixed on a huge great paperweight thing in the shape of a celestial mountain. Ah yes. He’d been in London to attend the Czech Republic’s tourism awards and had won a gong.  ‘What’s the prize?’ I’d said, hoping he’d say a few grand.
‘A trip for two to Prague,’ he’d said. ‘I can show you the city.’
Ah yes, the picturesque winding cobbled streets.  The Tolkienesque architecture. The traditional hearty cuisine. The city of contrast with its priceless treasures.  Except...
‘You mean drink beer,’ I’d said.
‘No,’ he’d said. ‘Well, not just drink beer. There are…’
His brow had furrowed. 
‘Wouldn’t you rather take Keith?’ I’d said.  And watched the thought flicker over his forehead.

‘So,’ I said (back in the near past now, back in the office, just after the interview). ‘What happened about the trip? You've gone quiet on it. What’s the hotel like?’  Five-star luxury? Attentive yet unobtrusive staff, butlers, waiters etc.?
 His brow furrowed so hard it folded over.  ‘Ah yes, the hotel.’
‘Huh? Oh don’t tell me. It’s the beer hotel par excellence. Or right next to the best timewarp bar or something. Or there’s an obligatory quintessential brewery tour each day?’
‘Er, no,’ he said. ‘Actually, it’s not even in Prague.’ 
‘So where is it?’
‘About thirty miles out,’ he said and then added with a look of woebegone misery. ‘And, er…it’s a spa.’

Oh my! Spa heaven. Or rather, my pampering paradise; hubby's untrammelled nightmare. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Paul Freeman talks magic and myth

Yeah, he's a grumpy git. :-) 

Today I’m handing over the blog to Paul Freeman.  Paul’s a good guy, a seriously good guy, and he writes good books.  I always say I don’t really *do* fantasy, yet I’ve read Lord of the Rings a ridiculous amount of times and spent my teens immersed in mythology and magic (hmm, come to think of it, not much has changed).  I’m now dragon-deep in Game of Thrones so…  I don’t know, maybe we all need the occasional flap of wings to fan the flames.  Maybe when the present seems tough we need to immerse ourselves in alternative pasts (fantasy) and/or alternative futures (SF).  Anyhow.  Paul’s new book, Tribesman, is out now and so I asked him if he’d riff a bit on  myth and magic.  And he said yes.  And here it is. 

Cold air misted above the surface of the water. Translucent shapes clinging to the black pool. Frost hardened grass crunched under the boots of the traveller as he approached the glass-calm lake. White wraiths stirred and hovered over the dark waiting for him. Calling to him, beckoning him, needing him. He could taste the cold on his tongue, feel the ice in his blood. He turned away then, unwilling to face the ghosts of his ancestors.

Ever wonder where myths come from? There’s a road near where I live, and the maddest thing happens there quite regularly. A column of mist forms over the road in just this one spot; it’s the weirdest looking thing. Just a small section of road for about ten yards is shrouded in mist. Now, what’s not immediately noticeable is that a stream runs under the road, and every now and then when hot air and cold air interact they make magic. But how would this have looked to the ancients? Is it possible a ghost could be inhabiting the stream? Or a bridge spanning the water could be a portal to another world?

Or what about a burning red sunset? I Googled this to see why it occurs, because I could. I won’t bore you with the details, but I know for sure that if I were sitting on the side of a mountain two thousand years ago, herding my sheep, that red sunset would be a portent of doom.

And that’s before we get into hallucinogenic consumption. How many myths were created by people ingesting mushrooms and other substances? I remember this funny story from school. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it was told to me and the rest of the class by a teacher. An area close to me was famous for sightings of ghosts, (I live in a crazy place). Dozens of people all saw the same apparitions on the road, and legends grew out of it. Well it turned out some ingredient in the local bread had them all tripping out, and they were all having hallucinations. Like I said I don’t know if that is true. I hope so, it makes a funny story. That is unless you were one of the unfortunates seeing a headless horseman on his way home from work every evening.

And dragons! There is actual proof that they lived. At least – imagine an ancient digging up a dinosaur fossil.  How did they reason that? Which brings me around nicely to, well, me. 

I write fantasy books. A lot of my inspiration comes from mythology, Celtic mythology in particular, being as I'm Irish and all. I have a character in my book, the war god of the northern clans, and I loosely based her on a figure from Celtic mythology, The Morrigan, a dark god if ever there was one. The old tales were deliciously dark. Take The Children of Lír for example. Lír’s wife bore him four children, three boys and a girl. Alas for poor Lír and the children, his wife died, so he married her sister. The sister didn’t fancy having the four children around so she turned them into swans and cursed them to live for periods of 300 years on different lakes. When eventually a monk breaks the curse and turns them back into humans, they are nine hundred year old men and woman, and they die. No kiss from a prince and live happily ever after here.

So much fantasy written today is heavily influenced by ancient mythology, Lord of the Rings for example is laden with references to Norse and Celtic myth. There would have been no Gimli or Legolas without Viking lore, no dwarves, no elves, no ring. And what better place to find a source for our stories? It is our heritage, the dreams and fears of our ancestors come to life. In a lot of ways we are the new myth makers. Modern technology has dispelled the magic, myth and rumour. It is in our hands, in the worlds we create. It is up to the fantasy writers to bring the magic to life. To create spaces where readers can immerse themselves, and believe in the unbelievable. We are the custodians of the magic now.

We need magic, just as we need larger than life heroes. Who wants everything explained away by science? I want to believe in a time of legend when heroes came to life.

Long may the magic live.

Paul's new book is called Tribesman.  Here's the blurb:

A warrior in exile seeks a path home. 

Banished from his homeland, a warrior of the Northern Clans grows weary of life in a harsh, alien land. With the dark god Morrigu haunting his dreams, and a desert princess as a companion, Culainn, a warrior and champion sets forth on a journey north in search of a merchant's daughter abducted by clansmen and taken back across the mountains. Through a land baked by a scorching sun, where bandits roam free and dark beasts stalk the night. 
An ancient evil is rising from the desert. A Benouin myth of a ghost city inhabited by the souls of their ancestors, a bridge to the Underworld is unleashing demonic creatures on an unsuspecting world. Culainn and Persha, warrior and mage stand alone against a tide of darkness. All the while, Morrigu, the dark war god of the north seeks to use Culainn as her own tool, her own champion.

Dontcha just love those ancient evils rising from the desert?  :-)

You can buy it at here and at here
You can also read his blog.  Which contains an excerpt from the book. 
Or just hang out with him on Facebook

Monday, 5 November 2012

In which I get overexcited about a scourer

While Adrian was away (Belgium this time, on some beer judging panel) it seemed like the doorbell was ringing every two minutes (okay, slight exaggeration but still) and there would be some poor delivery guy standing in the pouring rain with yet another box. Beer, beer, beer and more beer.  Yes, Adrian gets sent a lot of beer. An awful lot of beer. Along with the odd jar of pickled onions. 

So he had this great opening ceremony when he got back last night and all of a sudden the one small bin bag that I’d used all week was suddenly full to bulging with packaging.  And it bugged me.  Cos, see, I don’t hold with all this packaging stuff.  It’s…wasteful.  The other day I watched this item on the news about a local beauty spot by the coast which was vomiting old landfill.  The stuff had been down there twenty years or so and hadn’t disintegrated one teeny tiny bit. 
It’s why I’m into recycling in a big way. I simply don’t believe in throwing stuff away – everything here gets reused or revamped or recycled or resold. In fact, I just can’t get my head round people who don’t do this – who chuck everything out into the rubbish – I even have friends who fling out perfectly decent clothes and books that way. I mean… WTF?  

Yes, it takes a bit more effect but hey…   There is very little food waste in this house (we don’t overbuy and the dogs eat most scraps) but what is left over is either composted in the garden or goes out for recycling. Paper, cardboard, bottles, plastic containers, batteries and so forth all get recycled and I try not to buy stuff that’s been overly packaged. 

Wherever possible, I buy recycled stuff too – loo roll, kitchen towels, bin bags and so on. Why? Cos they’re just as good, not any more expensive and, well, every little helps right?

So that was why I was interested when I got an email from a really nice PR for EcoForce.  They make a range of household products from recycled materials – not yer average loo roll but sponges, scourers, cloths and dusters;  recycled pegs (see below - cute huh?), pegbaskets and a recycled washing line.  Plus nifty food bag grips.  Neat, really neat. Yes, I’m getting excited over pegs.  It has come to this.  I know.  Don’t say anything. Please. Just don't.

Cute pegs, huh?  
They asked if I’d like to try them out and I agreed with alacrity. Well, hey, I did like the sound of them but I also wanted to show Dulverton that it isn’t just beer that gets delivered to this house.  So they arrived and we tested them out pretty thoroughly and, yup, they did the business.  Really well.  Well, just as well as the ‘virgin’ variety and you get the added bonus of feeling like you’re doing your bit somehow.  In a small way.  Okay, so I already have a rotary washing line, so couldn’t test out the washing rope but then I figured there are other uses for washing line.  So I unwrapped it and yes, it makes a darn good skipping rope.  J

They also sent me three Dishmatics to try.  Now, stay with me cos this is a seriously neat idea.  It looks like a standard scourer or washing up brush but the handle is hollow and you simply fill it up with washing up liquid and, lo and behold, it dispenses it as you wash up.  Seriously, brilliant little thing.  I love it, as far as one can love a washing up brush. Do I not have enough love in my life?? Don't answer that. Anyhow, it costs £1.33 (RRP but I've seen them online for under a quid) and, when the head wears out, you simply replace that bit. Genius.

You’re shaking your heads, aren’t you?  But, honest injun, I love this stuff!  So much that I’m gonna share it with you.  You can try out everything I did for free (see the pic below) – yes, you can experience my life.  How wondrous is that?  Just leave a comment reassuring me I’m not a complete saddo and I’ll pluck one of you out the hat and you can skip and scrub too. 

I'll close the competition in a week, okay?  
In case you don’t win, EcoForce and Dishmatic are widely available in most supermarkets as well as from Oxfam, Homebase, B&Q and on line.

You can also find them on Facebook:

Here's the EcoForce page:
and here's Dishmatic