Friday, 4 November 2011

Back home again

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker and Jack Steel)

We’re now back in Andorra, where the weather had been fantastic, by all accounts, pretty much until we drove across the border, when the temperature fell like a stone and the rain started. In fact, not just the rain. We’ve seen no snow at our altitude – we live in a house at the end of a valley just outside a hamlet named El Serrat that’s at an elevation of around 5,000 feet, or about 1,500 feet higher than the top of Mount Snowdon, to put it into perspective – but there’s now an almost permanent white cap on the mountains all around us, and we’re expecting the first serious falls of snow within a couple of weeks.
            The picture above shows what it can get like here.
            Pretty soon all the Mercedes and BMW saloons will vanish from the roads – they’re completely useless in the snow – and the commonest car in the country will as usual be the old model Fiat Panda. The Fiat Panda? The old Fiat Panda? Yes – the old, boxy 4x4 version of this cheap and cheerful little car is far and away the best possible vehicle to drive when there’s snow on the ground, much better than the current model. Its simple four-wheel drive system delivers precisely 25% of the power to each of the four wheels, it has relatively high ground clearance, it has thin wheels which are usually permanently fitted with snow tyres out here, and it can get to places that the big 4x4s simply can’t reach. Every public body here uses them – the government, the comuns, the medical services, even the phone company. We have one as well, just like most people who live outside the towns, and it’s never once let us down.
            Pundits here tell us it’s going to be a hard winter, which is good for the country, because it’s a ski resort. Less good for us, perhaps, but we can always escape to France or Spain if it gets really bad. That’s one of the advantages of living in a postage-stamp sized country bordered by two other nations – you can easily and quickly get out if you have to.
            The other advantage is the absence of income tax, though it’s also worth pointing out that we’re deprived of all the other benefits of living in the European Union. So we don’t have toxic debt, banks going under, VAT, corporation tax, inheritance tax, capital transfer tax, capital gains tax and quite a few others. It’s hell here, really …
            The work’s going to plan as well. I delivered the first draft of the fifth ‘James Becker’ novel to my editor at Transworld at the end of October, and I’m already roughly 5,000 words into the second ‘Jack Steel’ adventure for Simon & Schuster, scheduled for delivery in mid-February 2012. That date sounds like it’s a long way ahead – I mean, it’s next year – but it’s actually only fifteen weeks away, so I need to write about 1,000 words a day, every day, to make the delivery on time. And as usual there’s a fair bit of research to do to make sure that the book has a pretty solid background of fact around which I can try to weave the story, which all takes time.
            In fact, I’d better get going right now …

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