Category Archives: Rich in Small Things

rich in small things

New Competition – for Rich in Small Things

Following the success of Herbert’s competition for Thirty Seconds Before Midnight for World Turtle Day, we’re running another one! It’s summer time, a great time for adventuring, so we’re giving away a copy of Rich in Small Things and a $50 gift card – and it’s a fantastic opportunity to support a very worthwhile cause, the awesomeballsness that is Cool Earth – save a rainforest today.

Here it is!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

mongol rally, rich in small things, ub cup, mongolia, ulaanbaataar

An Interview with Ellis Shuman – About Rallies and ‘Rich in Small Things’

I was lucky enough to be interviewed by the wonderful Ellis Shuman recently – the author of Valley of the Thracians and The Virtual Kibbutz. He’d stumbled across Rich in Small Things shortly prior its release and was attracted by the poker themes – but I think it was the race that really caught his attention on reading. See what you think when you read his interview – there’s an excerpt below and you can read the full thing here.

Q: Your book centers around a London to Mongolia race called the Ulaanbaatar Cup. Where did you get the inspiration for this idea?

Helen: Well, this is a bit of a long story! In July 2008 I was working on my first novel and developing ideas about my second – predominantly around the ancient Silk Road. I was working on a plot mixing old and modern timelines when, on a corporate sailing regatta, our skipper told me about an adventure he was about to embark on – The Mongol Rally – where he would drive from the UK to Mongolia, taking in some of the countries on the Silk Road. It struck me that this would be a great modern thread to weave into the story.

Fast forward a couple of years to when I was taking a sabbatical from work to write the second novel and was scheduled on a three-week adventure from Uzbekistan, through Kyrgyzstan into China (research for the ancient threads of the story). The trip was cancelled due to a coup. I realized that I didn’t need to research The Mongol Rally anymore – I had the time and wherewithal to participate myself. And during one heart-stopping lunch hour I signed up. Without a teammate or any real plans. One of my oldest and best friends, Victoria, unexpectedly stepped up to the mark – so perfect. We set off from Goodwood to Ulaanbaatar that July. By then, the first half of the book and most of the characters were fully formed and we had the most incredible adventure. I ended up throwing away the idea of including the ancient Silk Road in the book and instead it became Rich in Small Things, a completely different novel from what I had initially envisaged.

Q: When driving an ambulance with another woman, didn’t you fear for your safety as you crossed border after border? Were there no dangerous incidents en route?

Helen: Victoria and I planned our trip extensively (in most respects!). Our choice of vehicle (an ambulance) was made in part because it gave us the security of being able to sleep in it, rather than camping in a flimsy and vulnerable tent. We had the vehicle fitted so that we could lock every door from the inside and we would immobilize it when we went to sleep. Victoria also organized some self-defense classes where we learned that running was the best policy, and also took the advice to wear fake wedding rings and carry whistles.

We also, in the first part of the rally, arranged to be part of a convoy, and thought very carefully about where we stopped and slept every night. One area we didn’t plan much was the route – but we did decide on a very simple route, with a limited amount of border crossings. And actually, the border crossings were probably some of the safest moments given the amount of people and bureaucracy in these areas. We didn’t have any dangerous incidents – after the event, we did feel like we had been very lucky, that we’d been in a sort of bubble, looked after by the angels as we adventured. But it may have been a consequence of our consciousness of the dangers we might face and the precautions that we took.

Q: There is a million pound prize offered to the winners of the Ulaanbaatar Cup. What was the prize offered in The Mongol Rally?

Helen: There are no prizes in The Mongol Rally – it’s entirely a charitable endeavor. Participants pay an entry fee, commit to raising a certain amount for The Adventurists’ chosen charity and then can make additional charitable contributions (such as an ambulance) as they see fit. We took part because we thought it sounded like an amazing adventure – to see parts of the world in a way we’d never considered. Neither of us really knew where Mongolia was when we signed up. What’s funny though, is neither of us ever thought we wouldn’t get to UB – until we were on the journey and things started to go wrong. It’s true the pair of us are eternal optimists and very determined people – but we were never in the rally to prove anything. It just seemed a wonderful opportunity to explore some of the world and meet some like-minded people. There are a lot of rallies out there, and some do offer prizes. Melissa, the main character in Rich in Small Things, wrote a blog post about a few that you can read on my website here.

Novels Featuring Poker

Poker – my best friend, my love, my downfall. There are some great novels out there that feature poker – here’s a sample!

1) The Prodigal by Alexander J Allison

the prodigal“Martin is twenty-one, an age not worth lying about. He’s been happily doing nothing, claiming to be a professional online Poker player. But now, he’s facing a life away from the corrupting influence of overwhelming privilege.

In lean, distinct prose, punctuated with unpredictable typography, Alexander J. Allison’s first novel is a humorous, sharp and fresh look at the things that make living better than dying. Or not, whatever.”

2) Rich in Small Things by Helen J Beal

RISTThis is the one about me. Well, mainly about me.

“What do you do when you owe the Ukrainian mafia a huge amount of money that you don’t have? Drive a twenty-year old ambulance ten thousand kilometers from London to the remotest country in the world, of course. Not to run away, you understand, but to bag your share of a million pound cash prize.”

3) The Big Blind by Louise Wener

the big blind“Audrey Unger hasn’t seen her father since she was a child. A professional poker player and compulsive gambler, he left home when she was eleven years old and disappeared from her life for good. Now in her early thirties and poised on the edge of her own mid-life crisis, she makes the decision to try and find him. To discover what it was that made him gamble. To discover what drove him to give her up. Big Louie is the key to her father’s world.An agoraphobic, card playing, Hans Christian Anderson sized giant, who hasn’t left his flat in over three years.”

4) The Cincinnati Kid by Richard Jessup

the cincinatti kidA 1963 classic made into a film in 1965 starring the legend that is Steve McQueen.

“Poker’s not just a game to the fellow they call the Cincinnati Kid. It’s what gives his life meaning. Now the time has come for him to make his play for the big time and take on the best stud player in the business, the one they call “The Man”.

Watch the trailer for the film here.

5) Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

divisadero“From the celebrated author of The English Patient and Anil’s Ghost comes a remarkable, intimate novel of intersecting lives that ranges across continents and time. In the 1970s in Northern California a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until it is shattered by an incident of violence that sets fire to the rest of their lives. Divisadero takes us from San Francisco to the raucous backrooms of Nevada’s casinos and eventually to the landscape of southern France. As the narrative moves back and forth through time and place, we find each of the characters trying to find some foothold in a present shadowed by the past.”

6) The Rogue’s Game by Milton T Burton

the rogue's gameReleased in 2005, set in 1947:

“An enigmatic man driving a fine Lincoln convertible and accompanied by a beautiful blonde, comes to a small West Texas town. Ostensibly, his purpose is to get into a poker game that had been going at the infamous Weilbach Hotel. But as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that he has a darker motive, one that centers on a sinister local banker named Clifton Robillard. Aided by an old-time hood named Chicken Little, the protagonist maneuvers Robillard toward a shattering climax in which we discover that nothing is what it seems to be. With its wildcatting spirit, The Rogues’ Game is a high stakes novel and an exquisite quest for revenge.”

7) Tap City by Ron Abell

tapcity“The players came to Reno from all over–Honolulu, Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York–to take part in Stretch Jackson’s Seven-Card Stud Poker Classic. The stakes were high, but the risks were immeasurable. Stretch, six-and-half-feet tall if he ever straightened up, wearing eight-hundred dollar boots and a diamond ring he could have swapped across the board for a Rolls Royce, could have told them that: he knew that the game had nothing to do with cards – it had to do with people. They are all here in Tap City: the deadly old pros and the young up-and-comers.”

8) Stone Junction by Jim Dodge

stonejunction“Starting with his mother’s ’roundhouse’ right to a nun’s jaw, Stone Junction is a modern odyssey of one man’s quest for knowledge and understanding in a world where revenge, betrayal, revolution, mind-bending chemicals, magic and murder are the norm. With jaw-dropping scope, a stiletto-sharp wit and an array of utterly bizarre characters, Jim Dodge has woven a mesmerising and age-defining tale. Like a river constantly changing direction, Stone Junction is both stomach-clutching hilarious and heart-rendingly sad – but always utterly compelling. Prepare to step into a world where nothing is ever as it seems.”

9) The Prop by Pete Hautman

the prop“Peeky Kane is a prop player at an Arizona casino owned by the Santa Cruz tribe. Her job is to play poker. She makes a handsome living off the suckers who populate the card room. Life is sweet.

But something’s not right at Casino Santa Cruz. When Peeky inadvertently finds herself in a fixed game and comes away a couple thousand dollars richer, she finds herself drawn unwittingly toward the dark side of professional poker. Peeky has always thought of herself as a straight shooter, but now things aren’t so clear. And they’re about to get a lot murkier.”

What are your favourite novels featuring poker? Please add them in the comments section if they are not listed here!

Add to and vote the lists on Listopia and Listmania.

mongol rally, rich in small things, ub cup, mongolia, ulaanbaataar

A Dozen Rallies

In Rich in Small Things I end up driving an ambulance to Mongolia as part of a fictional rally called The Ulaanbaatar cup. If you enjoyed reading about this, you might want to consider taking part in one of these rallies and having an adventure yourself!

1) The Ramshackle Rally

These are short rallies – just a few days – and this year they’re organizing craziness to Valencia, Split and Munich.

“Ramshackle rallies are a great alternative to the package holiday hum drum twaddle that your neighbour drones on about over the fence after his annual 7 day stint along the Costa Del Crap. You wont find any sweaty sun loungers here my friends… No Sir-ee! This is true Columbus spirited adventure, and it’s you versus machine as you pilot your 200 quids worth of scrap metal along some fantastic driving roads, through quaint villages and towns and through breathtaking landscapes in search of Ramshackle glory.”

2) The Mongol Rally

This one will take you three to five weeks. Helen, the author of Rich in Small Things took part in this in 2010 and fictionalized the competitive The Ulaanbaatar Cup following her experiences.

“Imagine you’re lost in a massive desert, hundreds of miles from civilisation, driving a car your granny would be embarrassed by. Then all of a sudden all your wheels fall off and the search for tools turns up a dirty sock and two dried apricots. That’s the Mongol Rally – 10,000 miles of pure adventure over mountains, deserts and some of the most remote terrain on the planet.”

3) The Gumball Rally

No, not the film! Probably the most famous fun rally with a lot of razzledazzle and some phenomenal cars. It causes quite some debate in Rich in Small Things.

“Gumball 3000 consistently hits the headlines as the newest addition to ‘pop culture’, described by vanity fair magazine as ‘the most rock ‘n’ roll car rally ever staged’ and famed for it’s exploits and celebrity participation. Every year the gumball gains phenomenal coverage across all media. Over the past 10 years gumball 3000 has been hosted by kings and presidents, partied with snoop dogg, appeared on the jay leno show, promoted eco-friendly vehicles, and been the “most searched” website on google. We have always encouraged faces from the world of action sport and streetwear to participate, past rallies have included tony hawk, cypress hill, estevan oriel, danny kass, bucky lasek, matt hoffman plus many more.”

4) The Dakar Rally

Now this one really is a competition! And it’s VERY serious. It has a pretty high fatality rate – overall about 60 people, including 25 competitors, have died in the Dakar Rally. What’s the prize? In 2012, the winner received:

  • A free registration, valid only for the Dakar 2013
  • Sports dues
  • Return sea transport of the race vehicle between Europe and South America.
  • Catering on the bivouacs
  • Insurance (public liability and repatriation)
  • Hire of the GPS, safety beacon, Sentinel, and Iritrack
  • The transportation of one trunk and two wheels from bivouac to bivouac as well the technical support and advises from an ASO dedicated crew for the riders registered to the « Malle Moto » Challenge (Without assistance). For the 20 first registered to the « Malle Moto » challenge).
  • The refuelling during the Special Stages

The driver still had to pay for:
The race vehicle, management of the assistance, driver / crew apparel and helmet, personal travelling expenses, logistics overhead costs (tent, sleeping bag, etc.), the cost of accommodation and subsistence other than in the bivouacs.

The cost of entry is about fifteen thousand euros.

“The Dakar Rally is a supreme human exploit and a 15-day challenge which takes drivers across some of the world’s most stunning deserts. Both a motor race and an orienteering challenge, the Dakar Rally pits some of the world’s greatest long-distance rally drivers against amateur competitors for whom the race is often the culmination of their dreams and who come to take up the challenge with their motorcycles, quads, cars and trucks. The challenge attracts competitors of more than 50 nationalities, who are watched on television by over a billion viewers in 190 countries.”

5) Motoscape Rally

Proper budget fun! Two routes – one to Venice and one to Prague.

“The banger-rally concept is becoming ever more popular, but unlike other banger rallies we don’t believe in driving, driving and then more driving before arriving at your destination, going to bed and then getting up for the next day of even more driving. Our routes take approx 5-6 hours driving per day (some days even less), leaving you time to see some of the great places we take you to and allowing you time to visit places we have highlighted en-route.

The concept of the Motoscape Rally is to buy a car for £333 or less, turn it into a wacky, eye-catching masterpiece and drive it through some of the greatest roads in Europe. Alternatively use a classic car that’s 20 years or older. It’s not just a driving holiday though, it’s a great chance to meet lots of new people, raise some money for charity or just have the experience of a lifetime!”

6) The Crumball Rally

A £200 car?! Still you only have to keep it running for a weekend. These guys offer a number of European rallies based on films – The Italian Job (the clue’s in the name!), Mission Impossible (to Prague), Allo Allo (France, Luxembourg and Belgium), Grand Prix (coincides with the bi-annual Monaco Historic Grand Prix and themed loosely on the seminal sixties motor racing film ‘Grand Prix’), The Great Escape (mainly Germany) and Thundercrawl (France to Italy over the Alps).

“The original organiser of budget classic and banger car rallies inspired by some of your favourite car and driving films. Taking in some of the most stunning locations and awesome roads in Europe, our events guarantee a stimulating drive.

But it’s not just about being behind the wheel… you’ll need a sense of adventure (and possibly a tool kit) as you and your team crunch the miles in a banger costing no more than a measly £200! Alternatively, if you have a small engine roadster in the garage (or need an excuse to buy one!), our Italian Job event is now open to a second class of car: ‘Ragtops’, which we define as any open topped two seater with an engine capacity up to 2500cc.

Plenty of people complete the events for charity, with many tens of thousands already raised for local and national causes. Others just like an excuse to paint and customize their chosen vehicles and party their way through Europe.”

7) Charity Rallies

With a focus on giving something back. Also to Mongolia.

“Charity Rallies is the fundraising platform for Go Help, the international aid charity. We are adventure lords, cause propellors, time donators and overland rovers and run the Mongolia Charity Rally, Roof of the World Charity Rally and the MesoAmerica Charity Rally on a not-for-profit basis to fund Go Help’s awesome charity projects.”

8) Wacky Rally

You buy a car for £300 or less and pimp it up, you can win prizes for your paint job or having a really teeny engine and there are daily challenges – a little bit like in The Ulaanbaatar Cup. Challenges are around: team work, nuttyness, visual awareness, “and anything else we decide is funny, cruel or interesting”. Prizes up to £1,000!

“Wacky Rally is a banger rally like no other. People of all ages from all walks of life with a sense of adventure (and humour) come together and take on a fun and exciting challenge that is often for a worthy cause. Yes, there are prizes, and yes, there are accolades but more important than both, are the stories, the friends made, the memories, the beautiful roads, the tears of laughter, the tears of despair, the fun times and the challenging times.”

9) The Windy 500

Described as “European travel for the unhinged”, this one again involves budget, pimped up cars but is unique in that they announce the next leg of the route at the end of each day.

“23 countries. 23 nights. 5000 miles of open road. Some of the most spectacular driving that Europe has to offer. Mountains, lakes, gorges, beaches, fascinating towns and cities, castles and ruins, but most of all, the chance to drive along some of the best (and possibly worst) roads on the continent. All in a vehicle costing less than £500. Teams set off from Weymouth and cross the channel. Over the following 22 days they will wind their way through another 22 countries before depositing the participants back on the shores of Blighty, tired, and emotional but also far more knowledgeable about the ways of the World. It is not a race, it is an experience.

There will be a rendezvous point set each day to be reached the following day. Hence, a chance to take in the scenery or visit the amazing sights we shall be passing on the way. The route is mainly under wraps but we shall be doing our very best to take in two sections of road described on Top Gear as some of the very best driving in Europe. The Transfagarasan Highway in Romania, which winds for 90 km through the Transylvanian Alps, crossing viaducts and bridges and includes the highest tunnel in Romania. Secondly, The Stelvio Pass in Northern Italy. 48 hairpins take the road up to become the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps. As for the rest of the route….you’ll just have to wait and see.”

10) The Dakar Challenge

These guys offer five rallies in the banger tradition: the Banjul from Spain through North Africa finishing up in Zambia, the Timbuktu to, you guessed it, Timbuktu which is in Mali, also in Africa, Petra/Silk Road finishing up in Jordan, the Dakhla to Morocco and the Murmansk up to the Arctic via Scandinavia and Russia; all two or three weeks long. They all sound AMAZE.

“The World is becoming a dull and safe place ruled by Health and Safety Nazis and this applies to travel, too. However if you have a pile of excrement on your drive which needs scrapping and the local car scrapdump does not fill you with excitement, then buy some cable ties and gaffer tape, and some cases of Vodka and Pot Noodle and jump in and go south or North or somewhere. You will have no support and backup, and mechanical knowledge is frowned upon. However the advantage of going with a group is that help may be at hand if your car dies and a roadbook will give you details of where to go, and what bookings and paperwork you may like to consider.

The Dakar challenges are not charity rallies. Almost all rules on the website are there to be broken. However if we have arranged a charity drop off point on the finishing line then your car must be passed over to be auctioned for local good causes. After all, you would not get much cash for it on the street and might be prevented from leaving the country. Driving home takes too long and is too expensive.”

11) The Bull Run

Pretty flash like the Gumball:

“The Bullrun Live Rally is the most glamorous and high profile of the new breed of high-end luxury lifestyle automotive rallies. Each year, a hundred of the world’s finest super-cars embark on an epic eight-day rolling party across the USA – bringing together a celebrity strewn cast of characters and petrosexuals for an unforgettable adventure – where the only obligatory goals are to party, drive and enjoy!

Fueled by an impressive schedule of public and private events at the finest venues and hotels and in the most exciting cities in America, The Bullrunners make their way from one checkpoint to the next, learning their destinations daily, winding to a close each night in the party capitals of America. Entry is by invitation only and Bullrun never takes more than 100 cars to make sure everyone has a good time – our parties are legendary. Registration thereafter is on a strictly first come, first served, basis. The rally has attracted numerous celebrities in the past including; Dennis Rodman, Hayden Christensen, Ryan Dunn, Carl Lewis, Mario Andretti, The Cuban Brothers, The Dub Pistols, Vanilla Ice, Bill Goldberg, Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and many more. The entry fee for the Live Rally event is $20,000 per car – covering event entry fee for two drivers, 5 star accommodation for 7 nights, first-class meals and top-notch parties at the best venues, and Bullrun exclusive checkpoints including track events at some very famous racing circuits.”

12) The Ulaanbaatar Cup

The fictional rally from Rich in Small Things – £10,000 to enter to drive from Hyde Park, London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for a chance for the £1m prize. It’s a competition – but the winner is not the fastest. It’s much more like a treasure hunt. Bonus points for silly cars and charitable donations.

Here’s the book trailer for Rich in Small Things:

How Did I Lose My Job?

Rich in Small Things, Helen’s second novel released last week, opens with me losing my high-falutin’ City of London job. This is a great video explaining how and why so many people in the banking industry lost their jobs at the start of the current recession – and indeed why so many other industries have suffered since and the landscape of the world’s economy has changed beyond recognition.

You can like the book on Facebook here, or be friends with me here.