Passport whinges – part two. No wonder Brexit. The passport office HATES travel.

Dear Mr Johnson

A few weeks ago my passport was stolen in Germany and I thought the difficulties I had getting home were bad enough.  Turns out it isn’t just the Foreign Office which is dedicated to making life’s little travel document issues close to unbearable. (Have you removed that chilly passive-aggressive utterly unhelpful piece of human snot from Dusseldorf yet? He really isn’t suited to life in the Diplomatic Corps. If his attitude towards British citizens is anything to go by he really should not be dealing with people from any other country.)

That’s by the by. If you aren’t the right person for this query perhaps you would be kind enough to forward this message to the correct office.

I wasn’t at all surprised to learn I could apply on line for my passport, because we all know Big Brother is watching everything we do and every detail of our lives is available on request to those in power who feel they need to know.  All those census forms, driving licence details, every remotely official document I’ve ever had to fill in, job applications for anything remotely government related, and, of course, every passport I’ve ever had.

Any chance this wealth of information be shared with the Passport Office?

Perhaps I was being tested. Sure, I know my father’s name although these days that may not be an easy question for some and should probably be removed from the form so as not to offend. His place of birth – hmm, that was 103 years ago, but I think I got that right. Fairly sure of my mother’s, too.

No, I don’t know his passport number. I think it has expired, to be honest, he’s been dead well over ten years and wasn’t doing a lot of travelling towards the end.

If either parent was alive I would ask, with tears of frustration in my eyes, why they chose to be living in another country at the time of my birth. I’m sure they didn’t intend to cause me lifelong problems with bureaucracy. They did their best, to be fair. Registered my birth at Somerset House, and put me on my mother’s British passport before my eyes had even opened. In fact I’ve had a British passport ever since.  That’s been quite a few over the decades. Big Brother presumably knows that, but the Passport Office doesn’t store any details.

Anyway, I filled in the application, paid on line and received an email attachment for the counter-signatory information. Eight pages, each helpfully marked 1 of 8, 2 of 8, all the way to 8 of 8. Careful instructions to the counter-signatory as to what to do and how to complete the counter-signatory form but – no counter-signatory form.

You MORONS.

So I rang. Now I am not one to complain about the rising tide of immigrants, because let’s face it, to purists I am one myself. However I think it might, just a suggestion, be nice to employ actual English-born,  English-speaking, staff on the phones?  Just saying.  As it happened the various immigrants I spoke to (I had to call a couple of times) did try to be helpful, which is more than could be said for the actual English-born, English-speaking person I finally reached, who might be related to the non-diplomat in Dusseldorf, and certainly went to the same charm school.  I was told there’s a queue. Of course there is. This is Great Britain. There’s always a queue. They couldn’t possibly email me the corrected form (even though it was an online application and they had emailed me the incorrect one) but within 72 hours they would post it to me.

That caused another problem, because you don’t accept the word of just anyone on photograph likeness, do you? Doctors aren’t acceptable unless they are personal friends as well. I was a little depressed to realize how few professional people I had known for two years that I was still in contact with. Those I did have either died or, being professionals, taken their retirement pounds abroad to friendlier climates and cheaper lifestyles. Still, my dentist had agreed to do the honours, which was very good of her since I’m not allowed to show her handiwork in the photo, but was off on holiday within 72 hours.  I know you say not to book a holiday until you have a passport but mine was stolen and I had already booked a holiday before it was stolen. I really didn’t want to wait until she got back, because tick tock, time is fleeting.

Well, I could go on, and on, and on, but as I still don’t have my passport I will keep the rest of the saga to part three. I suspect it will be even longer than part two, and more indignant.

No wonder Brexit. It is quite obvious that as a government you disapprove completely of travel and want to make it as difficult as possible.

Boris, a word please, from stranded travellers? #passportstolen and what to do

This is, in fairness, what you would call a fairly focused blog, because my research (quite involuntary, for once) was on losing a passport in Bremen, Germany.

In passing I’d like to say that if you have to lose a passport anywhere, Bremen is possibly the best place as they have the nicest police ever.  Plus flights there are surprisingly cheap, and it is LOVELY.

If you are not a UK citizen, you’re in luck. The airport police can issue you an emergency travel document – go first to the police station closest to where you lost the passport, and report it there, just because if it turns up the chances are it will be handed in there.  The police will give you a letter confirming you have reported the loss. You will then need two passport photographs, and you take those and the letter to the airport police and fill in quite a lot of forms and Bob’s your uncle.

Unfortunately the UK wants no truck with that sort of convenience. You need to go to the closest consulate (and good planning if you are holidaying in Berlin, Munich or Dusseldorf, whoops if you aren’t) and they will issue the emergency document. When and if they feel like it. If you lost it on a Friday afternoon, wow, bad luck because they won’t feel like it until Monday.  Of all the people I dealt with during the whole fairly stressful event, the UK consul staff in Dusseldorf were the only ones who were completely and utterly unhelpful, in fact the absolute and complete pits, and I would like a word with Boris Johnson about them. Just saying.

However I learned a great deal during the crisis and that’s the point of this blog. Some things to put in place for your next trip:

  1. Carry 3 certified copies of your passport on holiday, and keep them in different places. They won’t replace the passport, but they will make proving your identity oh so much easier.
  2. One thing I always do for visiting South Africa, and may in fact do as well as the above from now on, is to get an international driving licence from the AA. Whether you are planning to drive on holiday or not, the international driving licence is acceptable identification for any situation because it states your citizenship (which, by the way, your normal driving licence doesn’t). South Africa is not the only country that can demand identification, then take your passport and not give it back. Hand over the international AA identification instead!  It’s not expensive, it doesn’t take too much time to organize, and you probably won’t need it. You will thank me with tears of gratitude if you do.
  3. Keep copies of your insurance details with each of the above. I buy travel insurance annually, not per trip, because I travel a fair amount and I get far better cover for a better price, but I had become casual about keeping the details to hand. Never again.  However, just so you know, most travel insurance should cover around £250 of your costs for emergency travel documents. If you are a UK citizen, have to spend an unexpected weekend waiting for the consulate to find time to fit your emergency into their busy schedule, and have to travel to another town to reach the consulate, not to mention booking a short-notice flight back, that isn’t as much as it sounds. Don’t assume you are fully covered for all expenses, is what I’m saying.

Things I didn’t get to try, but was told about:

I don’t know how true this is because I only found out afterwards, but it seems those indifferent sods at the Consulate could have faxed or emailed through the emergency documentation. I didn’t know to ask, and they didn’t offer because this was after all 4.30 on Friday afternoon and their minds were on more important things.  However, it does seem logical that if you can send a certified copy of your passport to them from the airport police computers, they should – surely? – be able to send that PDF back?  Too logical?

If all else fails and you really are stuck for a couple of days, there is a wonderful piece of local law in Germany if any of your belongings are stolen from your hotel. It would be lovely to think every country has some equivalent but no-one rushes to mention it. In Germany it has the jawbreaking name of  Strenge Haftung des Beherbergungswirtes  – the hotelier is liable for up to 100 times the room rate (without breakfast) for any losses suffered by the guest. In theory, therefore, you could return to the hotel and expect them to put you up for free at the very least, maybe pay your train fare to the nearest consulate, while you wait for your lazy and grossly indifferent  public servant* to help you.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

 

*yup, still seething.

COUNTDOWN to corpse – that’s it, 15 16 has launched. Try the PDF – https://elegsabiff.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/excerpt-15-16.pdf

The thumbnail – It’s the eighth in the series and the first in the classic format, a country house, a houseful of guests, even a body in the library, and it all happens because William inherits a slightly decrepit shooting lodge from his decidedly eccentric uncle. Uncle was an illusionist, something of a genius in creating optical and mechanical illusions, and the attempts of William, Vivian, Donald and Edge to solve the case are definitely hampered by Robertson Manor’s peculiarities.

This blog was created to provide a preview which you can now see on Amazon itself, but there’s an excerpt from nearer the action, HERE

 

If you’re new to the Lawns, by the way, the first book (One Two Buckle My Shoe) is on a permanent promo price (cover in the margin, or click on the title) or the first three books are bundled for US$ 3.00  (One To Six, Buckle to Sticks)

OR – because it is the Edinburgh Festival – I have Seven Eight Play It Straight on a giveaway from Thursday for the weekend.
Fifteen Sixteen_high Res

Learning curve #329 – know the floorplan before you write the book  

#8 in the series has only 8 days to launch, and wow the days are flying. It’s been over a year since the last Lawns book  was released, for lots of reasons, one being that it was the book I have looked forward the most to writing so you’d KNOW it was going to be the hardest, right?

When I first thought of using the nursery rhyme for the series some names suggested themes, and some  presented obvious problems. Seven Eight, lay what straight? Corpses, seeing the books are whodunits? Nah.  I ended up cheating and making that one Seven Eight Play It Straight and setting it in the Edinburgh Festival and since this is August and we are once again enjoying the Festival, I’m going to put that on promo at the same time as I release the new one. Make a note in your diary. One for nothing and one at launch price? BARGAIN.

I’ve only just worked out how to handle Seventeen Eighteen so now I can get on and write it (Ladies Waiting, unless it changes again) but from very early on two were always going to be easy.  Three Four Knock On My Door, that was a GIFT.  And Fifteen Sixteen Maids In The Kitchen? A little pilot light went on. I would have Vivian and Edge in the kitchen of a country house doing the catering!

There were times I battled with the others when I consoled myself with the prospect of Fifteen Sixteen, because I knew with that conventional setting, that country house, that body in the library, it would write ITSELF. Ha. I am a prolific and speedy writer, and the books are novellas, and the book was written nearly a year ago but – not quite right. It didn’t work. I put it aside and wrote something else (as Joanna Lamprey). Went back to it. Still couldn’t get it right. Wrote something else (as Clarissa Rodgers-Briskleigh). Went through a bit of writers block as well, which is the equivalent of a runner getting a stress fracture and not being able to run for a while, and is horrible.

Finally the book relented, turned smooth, the rewrite was a success and all was well with the world, it was, finally, as much fun as I had always thought it would be.  The alpha readers liked it. The beta readers liked it. I sent it off to the editor and turned my attention to one thing both the alpha and beta readers had requested – a floor plan. This is a houseparty of thirteen, after all, and they all said a floor plan would be invaluable.

As it happens, Robertson Manor is (very) loosely based on a real Edwardian estate (Kinloch Castle) so obviously I looked at their architectural plans first. Hmmm, no. I simplified. And simplified. And simplified again, until I had exactly what I needed, the main hall, the library, the other rooms, and the ten bedrooms.

My floorplan still looked like something drawn by a writer with no architectural training whatsoever. Almost in tears I turned to a friend who is a professional mapmaker, who in an hour or two turned my tatty sketch into something I could fiddle with and mess up again. Excellent!  Here’s the upstairs plan, with guests who are mainly writers. (My four main characters, Edge, Vivian, William and Donald, are downstairs)

15 16 upstairs floor plan

Except . . . some of the action in the book happens in passageways. All that simplifying, I had removed nearly all the passageways downstairs.  I was left with the open-arch walkway around the hall, and that was IT.

This is what that walkway looks like at Kinloch Castle, by the way, which was originally a shooting lodge, hence all the deer. So was Robertson Manor, which I promise does not have exotic metalwork or a baboon-eating eagle statue, although it does have a very elderly stuffed eagle. And, since it was also once a shooting lodge, deer.  There are living ones, too, which are relevant and play a role and don’t get shot.

kinloch hall lacey pic

 

So there had to be some fairly agitated rewriting. I think the book is actually the better for it. I hope so, anyway. The countdown and link to pre-ordering will be in the next blog, which in theory (gulp) is tomorrow. Or the next day.

Help.

I just became a suicide blonde, dyed by my own hand. Okay, medium-blonde-copper-pearl.

I have a friend, Edge Cameron, who is slim, attractive, talented, funny, financially comfortable, and in a relationship with a man she adores, who loves her. Well, I call her a friend. Sometimes I resent her a bit. Even though I invented her.

There are times I find myself, almost to my own indignation, copying her.  She joined a singles website, so did I. She has shoulder-long thick red-blonde hair, I grew mine and if anyone can tell me how to thicken it, that would be lovely, ta. And because we’re both autumn roses, the colour isn’t as robust as it once was. She has hers expertly streaked by an expensive hairdresser (see financially comfortable, above).  Mine is streaked with, well, I called them blonde threads.

Very, very blonde.

Okay! silver.

And the streaks, from being occasional threads, have been a bit invasive lately. In direct sunshine, I’m rather less strawberry and rather more blonde. Fortunately there’s not been much direct sunshine in Scotland this year (sigh) but still. See for yourself –

thoughtful cropped

So I ordered that colouring stuff which is personalised for your exact hair colour (medium blonde copper pearl, said the expert) and it arrived during the week and I just used it and it has gently returned to where it should be.  Not a flat colour, still naturally varied, less silver, YAY!

Oh, I know I will be silver soon enough and I’m genuinely okay with that but there’s two more books in the series still to write,  and I am damned if I am going to slave over a hot keyboard with silvering hair letting Edge look younger than me while I do it.

Ever researching on your behalf

Elegsabiff

 

BTW, that marketing thing I’m rubbish at, I should probably mention that Fifteen Sixteen Maids In The Kitchen is imminent. In a week. I should be working on that rather than playing with my hair.

Now that I’m rejuvenated, I’ll get straight onto it.

 

Drop dead, darling

Want to know how to kill someone? Ask a single person who has been let down with a bump. Hell hath no fury like any single person scorned, it seems.

I’ve now written eight whodunits (the eighth currently out with beta readers) and although the bodycount isn’t high per book, I’m running out of ideas – I’ve strangled, knifed, shot, bludgeoned, and poisoned my characters, dropped them out of sight to starve, hired hitmen, and set deaths up to look like suicides, what next?  I idly put the question to my singles website, which has a very interactive blogging section, and uncovered an unexpected vein of serious bloodthirstiness. Seems quite a few mature singles have brooded on opportunities missed and the sweet taste of revenge.

Not sure if I can use any of the surprisingly inventive options offered, because they’d be either too easy or too hard to solve, but I know one thing, I won’t be quite so quick to rush off to the next meet-up. Yikes.

One or two wrote to me privately rather than publicly chatting on the blog about their activities. Bit difficult to say socially you buried your own mum-in-law in the garden and built a rockery over her, even if the writer swore she died of natural causes and oh yes was definitely dead, don’t need a doctor to confirm these things. His wife of the time had reckoned she could continue to collect her mum’s pension if mum just dropped out of sight . . .

Funny old world we live in. Truth really will always be stranger than fiction, and I begin to wonder if I have enough imagination for this line of work. A whole bunch of amateurs throwing themselves into the problem with gusto, maybe the next book should be a DIY manual!

It’s that holiday time of year – go to the Canaries, by plane or by book #free (7th in the #whodunit series)

There are reasons why Thirteen Fourteen Maids A-Courting is not listed in the column of my books, but I shan’t bore you with those now. It’s the most recent in the series,  although Fifteen Sixteen is almost ready to start its countdown, and hasn’t many reviews and I’d really like to redress that. Tell you what, take a quick and only slightly murderous break in the Canaries this weekend,  my treat, and let us know what you think?  Can’t say fairer than that.

Click on the cover and by the miracle of modern technology you should be whisked to the Amazon closest to you. It’s a little like magic –

Most people know by now you can download an Amazon reading app for free, even if you don’t have a Kindle, but if I’m the first person to tell you, that’s two bits of good news for you today. Click on the free book, download the free app, and off to the sun with you!

thirteen fourteen kindle

Don’t forget that review. Good, bad or indifferent, you know, they all help the reading public and are appreciated by writers and readers alike.

Ta, enjoy, and don’t be a stranger