Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Short New Winter Tales by Ann Evans

For quite a few years now I've been running writing workshops and classes for adult who are just starting out on their writing careers. Almost two years ago, I started a new six week course called Focus on Fiction with eight or nine people on the course.

All went well – in fact it went so well, that at the end of those six weeks, no one wanted to say goodbye. Friendships had been forged and Monday night's class was something they enjoyed. They asked if I'd keep running the classes and so I did. A six week course turning into a 20 month course!

It's just brilliant to see novice writers coming on in leaps and bounds, and I'm so proud of my bunch, who are now seeing the fruits of their labours, with various writing successes. Over that time a few people have dropped out and others have joined, so it's always fresh and we never run out of things to write about – nor topics to teach.

We've now put together two anthologies of our work, Winter Tales and New Shorts. For these we call ourselves The Wordsmiths. Putting the anthologies together was quite a learning curve for me and the class, as everyone had a copy to proof read and edit; and we dedicated one class session to the subject of 'Making an ebook'.

We're now starting to get together a new compilation of stories, poems and articles for a third anthology. But of course with my group looking to submit their work to magazines, it doesn't leave so much for putting into an anthology. So we deliberately pick a random 'genre' out of a hat, and write that kind of story especially for the anthology. Amazingly it produces some excellent stories, and people have been quite astounded that they've written in that particular genre.

They're such a great bunch of people, that Monday evening are lots of fun, and we have special evenings such as a Halloween themed night and a special Christmas meeting, with stories – and food to suit.

Four weeks ago, we started another course – this being a 12 week course called Writing for Love & Money, and the group are sticking with me, with another new member joining us. The 12 weeks will end round about Christmas, but hopefully, 2016 will see us all still together.

Anyone else running writing classes - and having fun doing them?



Check out my website: www.annevansbooks.co.uk

Monday, 12 October 2015

My Wild & Wanton, Wicked Double Demon Crushing Nights: Part 1--by Reb MacRath

Two demons have bugged me through all of my days.

1) CAN'T-ITIS is the demon of all our many Can'ts:  I can't live like a king without working at a conventional job...I can't find a find a hot starlet by Christmas...I can't write a bestselling novel...I can't afford to travel all year-round on trains, first class...

2) TOO-TOO is the demon of all our many Too's: I'm too old...I'm too slow...I'm too technically challenged...I'm too poor...I'm too unconnected...

Alone, each one is hell on earth. But in the autumn of my life I found that Can't-Itis and Too-Too had joined. And the new odds against me seemed hopeless.

Speed forward before we all burst into tears. I was wandering the Seattle streets, muttering over and over, "I can't do that! I can't do this! I'm too-too and I always will be!"--when I took out the flip phone that symbolized my entire sad, sorry existence.  And I bawled in anguish: "I hate you!"

Walmart Family Mobile LG 450 Cell Phone

A beautiful, young tattooed woman came over to give me a hug. She shook her head and said, "Poor dude. That is so sad and so nasty!" She reached in her handbag, retrieving a card. "Go here and ask for YeahBaby. Now, honey, I'm telling you that's his real name and make sure you pronounce it as one word, not two--with a cap Y and cap B. Tell him GoGo sent you." She shivered and then scurried off, answering a call on her smartphone: "Oh, Yumi YumYum, is that youuuuu!"

I went to the TMobile store on the card. And after enough of my negative blather, YeahBaby silenced me to ask: "Imagine you did have the money required and the technical savvy to use it...what sort of smartphone would be right for you?" Well, this was only fantasy, so I described my dream phone. Minutes later, he returned with with a model that looked very much as I'd dreamed...and a price tag higher than I'd feared. "Relax," he said, "let's talk some more, looking into plans and financing." An hour later, I left with a partly financed prepaid plan...and a Samsung Galaxy Note 4:

I'd barely stepped outside when the demons went to town: "You idiot! You can't afford this and you'll never learn how to use it!" Still, I took the phone to Starbucks, where I sat for two hours and futilely tried to make sense of the thing.

Decision: the battle depended on my ability to learn.

Strategy: On my laptop I Googled best manuals for the Note 4. I found a wealth of choices. but only one survived my preview of the first pages. I ordered.

Meanwhile, with three days till the manual came, my learning curve needed an edge.

Image result for learning curve images

Step one: I returned to the store and asked to see the manager. Could he spare me ten minutes? He gave me an hour. At the end of our session: he'd customized my menu, shown me how to make and answer calls, set up voice mail, add gmail, text, and use the internet both in and out of free WiFi...

Step two: Still waiting for the book, I started to play with the phone on my own. I began adding Contacts and texting, then sent a small flurry of emails. I learned how to block calls for the deadbeat who'd last had my number. I learned to set screen brightness and change ringtones to vibrate or mute. These and other unglamorous things were done by Reb MacRath.

Victory already? Not hardly. But already I'd started believing I could win this fight with the right mindset. And my game plan could not have been simpler:

Each day I would try one new thing that seemed beyond my reach. Or something that just didn't seem quite like Me. And in the next weeks, with the book's help, I did exactly that. To an accomplished techie, my progress would seem pitiful. My concern, though, is winning the battle and I forged on to win these skirmishes...

Two Week Mastery Checklist:
--Added the Starbucks app and then my gold card.
--Set up the TMobile Account Data app
--Further customized my main menu
--Added apps for Moovit, Seattle Yellow Cab, my bank and Weather Channel
--Added S-Note for use with the stylus
--Added Visual Voicemail to screen VMs without listening
--Ordered my first cab with the app
--Began exploring the Maps app, learaning that it can recommend nearby ATMs, restaurants, etc.
--Added home and work addresses to Maps
--Learned how to set up Events and Tasks
--Added Lookout virus protection
--Added the Amazon App store
--Began to master Google Now, the phone's voice-activated personal assistant
--Established fingerprint access for security
--Added facial recognition: the phone doesn't go dark while I'm watching (After all, it would be hurtful to think my mug had put the phone to sleep)

The Real and Mighty Mojo

May your own mojo never desert you. And it will always desert you if you cave to Can't-Itis or Too-Too. The real payoff of a battle such as the one that I'm waging is the daily growth in the sense of Yes, I Can.

Right now, I may be tapping 5% of my Note 4's potential. But that number's rising daily. And in the coming reports, I'll look closely at tricks done by others that I too will nail. There's an exhilarating sense of wickedness about this as I set out to master things it seemed I was never intended to know.

Sometimes there's nothing sexier...not even a night with a beauty like this:

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Cheryll Barron and the Atoms of Democracy by John A. A. Logan

While still a teenager, Cheryll Barron was sent out by a New Delhi magazine to conduct her first ever interview.
It was with Wernher von Braun, inventor of the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany, and, later, the Saturn V rocket for the United States; a member of the SS who, following World War 2 was moved to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip, where he developed the rockets that launched America’s first space satellite and first series of moon missions.
According to NASA, von Braun was the “Father of Rocket Science”.

Barron’s article on von Braun, published in 1973, was entitled, “The Man Who Put Man on the Moon”.
It began,
“Somewhat guiltily, I ignored the shocking pink placard hung on the doorknob, reading ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ in three languages, and rang the bell for the second time in 15 minutes. Expecting a long wait, I was midway through shifting my weight from one foot to the other when the door opened very suddenly – just wide enough to reveal a pair of distressed blue eyes preceded by tortoise-shell rimmed spectacles balancing precariously at the end of a tanned, aquiline nose. I was face to face with the man who, more than any other scientist, was responsible for putting an American astronaut into space and on the moon.
‘Dr Wernher von Braun?’ I asked tentatively – and put in my request for an exclusive interview. Quite impossible, I was told. He was up to his ears in preparation for a lecture he was to give that evening. We argued. No, he was quite sure he couldn’t spare me half an hour – not even 15 minutes. I persisted, largely because his most exasperated ‘no’s’ were considerably softened by a gentle, eminently gracious manner. It worked. I was to wait for him in the lobby, then accompany him to the lecture in his car…”

During that car journey, the well-prepared teenaged Barron fearlessly and relentlessly quizzes the 61-year-old ex-SS Nazi von Braun on his childhood interest in astronomy, his scientific-minded mother, the progressive farm boarding-school where he was educated, the book by Herman Oberth which he read at 15 entitled ‘The Rocket into Planetary Space’ and its tremendous influence on him…the letter he wrote to Oberth aged 18 which led to Oberth inviting von Braun to come and work with him…the later development of the V-2 flying bomb under von Braun’s direction…von Braun’s surrender to the Americans in 1944…von Braun’s development of America’s first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, in orbit around the earth…and von Braun’s development of the Saturn rockets for Programme Apollo, which led to man’s first landing on the moon…

By the time the “luscious limousine” ride is over, Barron has her exclusive interview, and I’m left wondering how much energy von Braun had left in the tank for the lecture he was supposed to be giving that evening…


Let us fast-forward now through 42 years of a life…a writing life…
During those 42 years, Barron will work and write non-stop, from India to Britain to the United States…

In 1995, New York publisher, Scribner, will release her book, Dreamers of the Valley of Plenty: A Portrait of the Napa Valley

The New York Times review of Dreamers will say: 'A sensitive writer of considerable erudition, with a fine ear for dialogue and nuance.'
The San Francisco Examiner review will describe it: 'A cheeky, hip and richly detailed exploration of how foreigners have influenced the famous (Californian) valley . . . an unvarnished look at the valley's fascinating, multinational residents.'

Barron doesn’t stop to look back then but barrels on, barrels on, into new areas, new times…keeps writing and working…producing articles for The Economist, The Financial Times, The Statesman, Business Week, The Guardian, The New York Times, Prospect, The Observer…for Management Today, for Salon…for nearly every big-name publication going…on subjects from British Steel, to drug injuries caused by Big Pharma, to How Deepak Chopra Fleeced the West, to the destruction of the Royal Mail…

Somehow, over years, the constant work and the travels lead her to a fascination with one country in particular, Switzerland…and specifically with the engine of unique democracy behind its successes…

First, in 2011, Barron publishes, on Amazon Kindle only (entering her Indie Author period), this travelogue which delves into the Swiss psyche:

And then, in 2014, she publishes this on Kindle:

Enemies: A Cash-Strapped Traveller's Search for the Secret of Switzerland's Extreme Equality (The Little Country that Could, Book 1)

“Enemies”…is almost a Tale of Two Cities, except that one of them is classed only as a town…it is almost a latter-day female Gulliver’s examination of the wars between a new Lilliput and Blefuscudia, except there is no war…there are castles, and suits of armour…but there is no war…the castles in these two Swiss towns/cities not much more than a stone’s throw from one another are only historic, or historic-satire in one case…the armour and weapons safely tucked away in a rarely visited museum…

“Enemies” is an examination of the town of Olten and the city of Solothurn, in the canton of Solothurn in North West Switzerland.



"Enemies" is written, though 40 years later, by the spirit of that same tough/confident teenager who hung around outside Wernher von Braun’s hotel room in India in 1973, refusing to take No Answer for an answer…in fact that may be the unique arrow in Barron’s stock-in-trade quiver…the refusal, though often an ever-so-polite refusal, to ever take no answer for an answer…

In this new book, she goes out into Switzerland, lives there for months, interviews people, meets people, asks questions, probes further and further…sometimes with the journalist’s eye, sometimes the economist’s, sometimes the historian’s…sometimes, yes, from the viewpoint of the relatively cash-strapped traveller, which makes this a great and refreshing change from the other well-sponsored travelogues produced on publisher’s stipend…no, this is an Indie Travelogue…and sometimes, it is the gem-stone precision art of the novelist that Barron suddenly brings to the examination, with chapter titles like “A Headless Horseman in Holy Stone” and “Left-Wing Writers and Freezing Whores”…or themes like the democratic rights of the dead to remain buried, or not, as the case may be:

“Egalitarian exhumation – I mean, equal rights to having what remains of your relations dead for a century or two dug up for an identity check – was not a cause that had ever occurred to me…If DNA analysis can be deployed to determine which are Disteli’s bones, should they be reburied ceremonially (after being dug up to make way for a new underground car park)…?
‘They all knew him. Drank with him and fought in silly little wars together.’
‘Their graves would have to be saved, too. With DNA analysis. All one hundred-and-ninety-nine of them.’
‘Equality and fraternity.’
‘It could take a while.’
There was more to be gleaned from the imaginary conversation. In it, as in life, Oltners seemed most apt to honour Disteli below ground, as if paying obeisance to an expired mole…”

Barron had originally come across this town of Olten because it is a train hub for northern Switzerland.
“Olten – because of that railway station seen by the town itself as its chief raison d’etre – was supposed to be my jumping-off place, my diving board for exploring Switzerland.
I was meant to be there only to go somewhere else.”

Barron’s Monty-Python-esque, surreal visits to the tourist offices of both Olten and later, Solothurn, can also yield good information, as in this visit to the Olten office where the Geschaftsfuhrerin, or executive director, Maria Sagesser “strides in on her long model’s legs to bring me a surprisingly decent espresso squirted out by a machine with robotic dispatch. When she is reseated on her side of the meeting-table, I notice that her lambent large eyes could be cut-outs designed to give glimpses of the river flickering past the plate glass to her left in the pale, elongated boardroom lit by refracted light from the water. She is pleased by my keen interest in the framed black-and-white sketches on the walls. ‘Martin Disteli,’ is her reply to my question about their provenance.
Tourism is new here, she says…
‘The city administrators do not think that people from abroad are interested in Olten.’
Maria concedes with a carefully neutral expression that Solothurn, the capital of the canton to which Olten belongs – also called Solothurn – sucks in nearly all the tourists in these parts.
‘We feel they are like “the big Solothurn” to which we have to give so much money! And we’re always the losers.’
This is said with calm restraint and good humour.
‘So how can Olten Tourismus hope to compete?’
‘Our location is better. If you go to Solothurn you can first stop here. Here is much more authentic Switzerland. It’s just the way it is…the difference between Solothurn and Olten is that here the people have always worked. Here we have the culture of the working people. Then they got the money from our taxes…for me, it’s not a competition. They have some things, we have others.’
Oh, but the rivalry is fierce. Like a younger sibling who defines herself in relation to a glamorous much-made-of older sister, Oltners cannot seem to stop mentioning Solothurn. ‘If Solothurn had had a Disteli, his bones would have long ago been resting in a mausoleum,’ Urs says to the other Urs, in the Capus story (Alex Capus, author of Leon and Louise, and native of Olten) about the disinterment dilemma. In another sketch in the (Capus) collection, the narrator is cycling across the Sahara with his friend Guido when they are accosted by a blue-veiled Tuareg riding a camel. ‘He gestured with his scimitar at the license plates of our bikes and said, ‘You are Swiss from Solothurn.’ He means, the canton. They confirm his guess.
‘From where in Solothurn?’
I shrug: ‘Well, Olten.’
Said the Tuareg: ‘Ah, Olten, I know it well! I lived there for three years. I know Olten-Hammer, Dancing Tropicans, Coop City…’
Galaxies of meaning reside in those two words of a native son. ‘Well, Olten’”

And here begins Barron’s exhumatory examination of the centuries of bitter enmity between these two north-western Swiss towns, only 25 miles apart. One, Solothurn, with a history of riches earned by the sale of “Swiss flesh”, in the form of mercenaries (the best soldiers in the world according to both Caesar and Napoleon); the other, Olten, standing in the shadows, and perhaps, it is suggested, even being repeatedly burned down by agents of its hated rival, Solothurn, during those medieval years when Olten might have been able to “get ahead” otherwise and forge its own destiny, but instead is kept in the shadow of its wealthier, more powerful neighbour, kept in subjection for centuries by these neighbouring overlords, until seismic political and social changes sweep Europe…an upsurge swell in the irrepressible spirit of democracy itself…which would set in motion the beginning of the release of this poorer neighbour from its shackles, readying it for the oncoming industrial revolution with its egalitarian hard-work opportunities which would align perfectly with the sweat-toiled peasant spirit of the true “Schweiss” Oltner…

These were all things I knew nothing about at all before reading Barron’s book.
I saw Switzerland at a distance only, perhaps through that fictional lens of Graham Greene/Orson Welles in The Third Man’s famous cable-car speech:
“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Yes, I’d always bought that line. Switzerland – bankers, watches, cuckoo clocks…maybe Laurel and Hardy yodelling…

I’ve never been to Switzerland, so at least I had that excuse, but what is fascinating is that half the Switzerland Barron went to and lived in for weeks/months at a time, did seem to also believe itself to be this Public Image Greene/Welles cuckoo clock version of Switzerland…judging by Barron’s book, half the Swiss she met did seem to live in that world of castles, banks, watches, clocks…it’s just that there’s another hidden half of Switzerland, perhaps the “peasant heart”, the workers’ heart…the “more authentic Switzerland” as Sagesser says…and, as Barron investigated, she seemed to find that, yes, these two halves of Switzerland do hate each other…always have! And yet, this is the mystery she seeks to uncover…they are “happy haters” and cooperate together in what Barron believes to be such an exemplary model of democracy that it is almost criminal neglect to not at least spread word of this working model and…perhaps dream of applying its successes elsewhere?

The nitty-gritty, earthiest parts of “Enemies”, though, are just as fascinating as Barron’s greater context/thesis on these two towns as examples of functioning Atoms of Democracy: her struggles to find affordable accommodation in a country where a visitor’s purse “emptied seemingly in a blink”, encounters with toothless pickpocket dopers and neo-medieval shopping mall pageant musicians…a hotel manager whose hobby is to dress as a human-size Apple iPhone…the lofty and disengaged staff of the Museum of War where visitors are left alone to roam rooms of used armour and weaponry where the blood can almost be smelled…the Tourismus bureau with its gauntlet of junior “malevolent Cherub” and executive “Uber Cherub” staff possessing “Shakespearean first names”…descriptions of solitary traveller’s necessities like haircuts, meals…run ins with super-posh government agency representatives who bray loudly about their mothers’ and aunts’ preference for “Swiss maids”…there is a delightful willingness in Barron to meet affably with such folk and then report openly on their snobbishness to us, the Faithful Reader…(again this is a unique facet of a low-budget, micro-budget in fact, travelogue…a constant worry about each "penny" spent, not kept secret from the reader, but passed on openly…), and of course there is the constant revelation, through the residents of Olten, and of Solothurn, whom Barron meets, that they do in fact, indeed, at some level, really hate each other…with faces that can become “acidic” when speaking of the enemy…bringing an “unmissable glint in the eyes”…
It seems to be an ingrained, trained, inborne hatred, as can be seen, of course, between many of this world’s towns/cities/countries…for reasons of history, economics, politics, society etc…but in this case unique because, as Barron terms them, these are the “Happy Haters” of the world…the cooperative democrats of enmity…set amid an historic landscape of burned churches, destroyed castles…but living in a present that has somehow culminated in…peace.  

And there, on the philosophical side of this book is the puzzling thing to be unravelled, the thesis on Democracy that has Barron begin to interpret much of the ancient and modern history she learns of Olten and Solothurn, and passes to us, as “a piece of a larger and older pattern of combating unjust domination on every front. It was in Olten that I realised that the history of democracy was best characterised as a saga of acting on resentment of unfairness – rather than steady progress towards realising ideals of freedom, equality and brotherly love…So a small patch of earth in a small country gives us a tale of two cities whose citizens have disliked each other for centuries. They tend their mutual loathing as if guarding a sacred eternal flame. Yet they are both part of the same solidly prosperous canton in the world’s wealthiest country, are administered by the same elected representatives, share the same pool of taxes for the upkeep of civic fabric, and public services like their police overlap.
Neither city is in the position of Muslims living in India, governed by a Hindu majority. The people of their canton are not like the Belgians of the north and south straining to survive as a single unit. Not like Catholics or Protestants living in a part of Ireland or Northern Ireland in which the other denomination dominates government and the cultural environment. Not like parts of the Middle East or Africa with tribes eternally at war.
Oltners and Solothurners live on equal terms, do not kill each other, and advertise their mutual antipathy with pride. In a lifetime of travelling that has included living on three continents, I have encountered nothing like this.
Yes, their relationship is indeed the strangeness at the heart of the uniqueness of Switzerland.”

Amazon UK:
 Cheryll Barron’s Blog:          http://post-gutenberg.com/

Saturday, 10 October 2015

All in a good cause - Karen Bush

I normally hate climbing on the promotional bandwagon ... yes, I know it has to be done, but it doesn't mean I have to enjoy it. Although this month my teeth are gritted a little less than usual as I try to encourage folk to pick up a copy of Haunting Hounds. The reason? Well, apart from it being the season of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go woof in the night, it's all in a good cause. Or almost all, as fifty percent of all the profits are donated to Kim's Home for Elderly/Abused Dogs, which more than deserves all the dosh I can help raise for it. Wendy Jordan is a wonderwoman who not only cares for around 16 rescue dogs in her home, many of them elderly 'rejects', but works tirelessly to help save many others, not to mention fostering numerous others who are inbetween homes ... she does an amazing job. I know I couldn't do it myself, but what I can do is to try and help raise some money by doing something that I am capable of doing: writing a book. Kim's Home gets some cash to help it to carry on helping dogs, and my illustrator who receives the other fifty percent in lieu of a fee upfront, gets to continue to ply her trade, so it's a win-win situation all round.
This year, for the first time, Haunting Hounds is also available as a paperback which I'm hoping will generate a few more sales. Below is a short taster ...

The Black Dog of Newgate
The area near St. Pauls Cathedral in London where the infamous Newgate Prison used to stand is the location of one of the most macabre and ghoulish of hauntings. Its origins lie back in the reign of Henry III when there was a famine in London and the prisoners locked within the prison faced the prospect of starvation. One day a scholar joined their numbers after being arrested on suspicion of sorcery; but before his case could be heard, the other ravenous inmates killed and then ate him.
Soon after, a fiery-eyed black dog with blood dripping from its mouth appeared: it ripped some of the prisoners limb from limb while others died from sheer terror at the sight of its terrifying and savage appearance. The survivors of that night of horror were so fearful that it would reappear that they mobbed and killed their gaolers and escaped: but there was to be no escaping retribution for their crime of murder and cannibalism. One by one, each of them was relentlessly hunted down and killed, after which the vengeful hound returned to the prison where it would appear the night before a death or execution took place.

When the prison was demolished in 1904 it was thought that the hauntings would stop but undeterred, the gruesome apparition has continued to be seen gliding up and down the streets. It has even been spotted crawling along the top of the wall in Amen Court, behind which stood the prison and Deadmans Walk, where executed felons were buried. As well as being sighted it has also been smelt as the manifestations are accompanied by a disgusting, stomach turning stench. 

Available as paperback or ebook from Amazon ...
To buy a copy click HERE (UK)  

or   HERE (US)

Go on, buy a copy.
Or else.
You know you want to.
It's for a good cause.
And you wouldn't want a visit from my office assistants, would you?

Friday, 9 October 2015

Antarctica from the Suffolk mud by Julia Jones

Snow Petrel reaches the Antarctic
So, here I am in Boat Harbour, Cape Denison with five shore lines attached and the anchor down with 60 metres of chain. It’s the windiest place on earth but today, miraculously, the sun is out and the water calm. I’m being observed by crowds of Adelie penguins while dark brown Weddell seals lie like slugs on the stained ice. It’s taken two months to get here – six weeks of frantic, relationship-testing preparation and then two weeks sailing south through the most feared waters in the world. Three thousand kilometres through the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties. We’ve survived a knockdown, felt our way through the pack ice as if crossing a minefield and now we’re here and the sky is a hard, bright blue and my two boys are out in the dinghy as if this is a childhood picnic spot. We have reached Antarctica.

It is dark and damp in Suffolk and I should be conserving my torch batteries. It’s four in the morning and I can hear the tide running through the gap in the plank which I haven’t been able to plug. It’s okay. The electric dirty water pump which I’ve managed to borrow is just about keeping pace with the inflow. I don’t have any electricity on board but I’ve plugged into a neighbour’s supply. I had thought he was away and broke into his boat with another neighbour's connivance. Then he came back at 1.30 am, found my trespassing cable and unplugged it. Chucked it back at me. Very likely cross. I’d fallen asleep by then on the wheelhouse floor but I woke when the pump went quiet. My brain was slow to work out what had happened and by the time I’d gone on deck my neighbour had gone to bed. I'd never met him and I knew I was already in the wrong but I was desperate so I banged on the side of his cabin until I woke him and then I managed to explain why I needed to use his supply. I don’t know what I’d have done if he hadn’t let me plug back in; I couldn’t keep pace with that quantity of water by hand.

Misc floating objects
I wasn't in the mood for photography
All I need to do now is stay awake and keep checking. Everything has been swamped and soaked up to two and three feet in the cabin. The bunk where I’m lying slopes sideways because the big, empty fresh water tank underneath floated up in the earlier flood and has settled back down at an angle. It’s too heavy for me to move and anyway it’s not a priority. All that matters is that the pump should keep running for as long as the tide is up. In four or five hours’ time the water will be gone again and she'll be safely back down sitting on the mud. It’ll be Monday morning – it is Monday morning – I’ve asked a shipwright to come and assess the problem and then I’ll decide what I need to do next. How bad is this? Will it be give-up time for this poor old boat, Goldenray? I don't want to think about it.

Meanwhile I’m far away, amazed and exalted in Cape Denison’s sun-drenched tranquillity. I have never been to Antarctica; I have never met the Tucker family but I'm reading Jon Tucker's Snow Petrel, his account of a voyage to Eastern Antarctica in a 34' steel yacht belonging to his oldest son, Ben, and reading in my current circumstances has been an extraordinarily intense experience. Later in the Tuckers' Antarctic adventure the weather turned violent. Jon, Ben and Jon's youngest son, Matt, were trapped for several days in their bunks as the blizzard raged outside. They’ll never know what speed the wind achieved as there was no possibility of venturing outside to measure it. All they could feel was their small yacht, Snow Petrel, sinking steadily lower as the weight of snow and ice on deck pressed her down. So what did they do in that situation where there was nothing that they could do? They read. 

Tucker and his wife Barbara have brought up their five sons afloat. They have made long voyages, often out of sight of land, and frequently in potentially dangerous situations where they all have learned to trust one another's watch-keeping and seamanship, even when the person at the helm is a 10 year old boy. Books are an essential part of this: There is something intensely private about a small boat passage […] You are constantly in the centre of a disc of sea with a visible horizon radius of about three miles. Above is a dome of blue or grey or speckled black. Your only habitable area is little larger than a walk in wardrobe. Your only company is more often asleep than awake during your conscious hours.
And yet you are free of the constraints of everyday society. Your existence has been stripped to its barest essentials. Your sleep patterns are re-programmed into short blocks, irrespective of the passage of the sun. You become introverted and focussed on a few vital specifics. Food, scheds, progress reports and weather predictions dominate your thoughts.
But it is not a prison. That is why a supply of engrossing books is vital on a well-prepared yacht.”

Today's yachting families may expect to be able to watch DVDs, blog, play games, post photographs and message friends. Let's be practical, however; all these activities are power-hungry. If the boat engine will be running regularly there’s little problem -- except that engines use fuel and, on board Snow Petrel, both fuel and battery consumption was constantly monitored, as was water, food and beer. I couldn't help giggling at the 'happy hour' where these three grown men shared a single can between them. But my giggles sprang from admiration. One of the most impressive features of this voyage was its research and planning, triumphantly undertaken by Tucker's eldest son Ben, the captain on this trip. Ben was a young man (late 20s? early 30s?) he wasn't financially rich, didn't have sponsorship or media support. This voyage was something he was doing from his own resources to achieve certain private goals. Specialist equipment was saved for, was homemade, bought in jumble sales, borrowed or received as much-appreciated, unsolicited gifts. Ben had organised at least three different methods of power generation, including solar panels, but Snow Petrel was going to be out of sight of land for weeks -- and beyond realistic hope of rescue for the majority of that time.  
Snow Petrel, iced
"Put it in perspective,” writes Tucker (from latitude 55 south), “three of Australia’s most famous Southern Ocean rescues took place well to our north. Isabelle Autessier in 1995 was rescued at 49 south, while the even greater publicised dual rescues of Thierry Dubois and Gerald Bullimore were at 52 south.” 
There would be none of that rushing ashore to plug in the iPhone chargers that has recently become a feature of our Peter Duck holidays!

I love reading on board. I have done since I was a tiny child. It’s quite simply the best place in the world -- though others might argue for tree houses or sunny hollows amongst the heather. Looking back I realise that even as a child, much of my reading was done to shut out the nautical anxieties and family tensions which I was powerless to affect. This night, the adventures of Snow Petrel gained special intensity from being read on board Goldenray, our loved, neglected, dilapidated houseboat which had just survived a near-sinking experience. With a monitoring part of me I was listening to the flow of the water and the sound of the pump in the darkness but my mind was away with the penguins.

I read Jon Tucker's book, Snow Petrel, again yesterday, skimming through it on a train knowing that my reading period was finite. I can tell you now why I admire it. Firstly for the sheer scale of the adventure: the small, home-built yacht, the lack of finance, of sponsorship and high tech equipment. Secondly for the prevailing attitude that this was nothing portentous or extraordinary; that it was merely an extended family cruise, taking a slightly unfamiliar direction (ie due south and far beyond the point where the compass card would jam, dragged downwards at an impossible angle by its closeness to the magnetic pole). I relished Jon Tucker's style of writing; some passages intensely present, others reflective or informative. I also responded to his stance as the father who was standing aside; who was respecting the expertise of his eldest son, supporting the photographic passion of the youngest son, loving and knowing them both and only once finding it necessary to intervene when the brothers' priorities clashed. And all the while he was thanking and missing Barbara, his wife, their mother, who had been so generous with her understanding and her practical help and good advice. This was the longest period in their marriage for which Jon and Barbara been apart -- and I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read a tale of derring do which is also a tribute to gender equality and married love.
Jon and Ben entering the pack ice
(photo by Matt Tucker)

But this was Ben's voyage and when I'd finished Jon's book I went to visit Ben's website: Snowpetrel Sailing. 'Show your working' as we used to be told in maths lessons. I read carefully through his thoughts on power consumption and battery maintenance and let out a silent cheer when I reached this final sentence: "it is a good feeling to know that I can cut my needs down to just one small light and a book."

Thank you, Tuckers all -- from Julia and from Goldenray (who is now so much recovered that I can get back to worrying about the leaks in her decks rather than the holes in her hull!)


Thursday, 8 October 2015

May Have Broken The Cycle - Lynne Garner

Last month I wrote about a slight aversion I have to making the first mark in a 'lush' note book.  I stated (perhaps rashly) that I'd let you know how it went with the newest note book I'd purchased. Well I'll be honest it's still sitting on my desk looking lovely and untouched. However breaking news... during the first week of September I took a short holiday and treated myself to a lovely note book (spiral bound, lovely owl themed print on both covers, inside covers a gorgeous dark purple, lovely feeling pages etc.) and I've written in it!

It may be because we were in the middle of the New Forest enjoying being pampered in a posh hotel but the pages now contain:

  • A reworking of an old picture book story that wasn't quite working 
  • A new picture book story that came from 'one' of those conversations you have at night in the bar
  • Notes for the last story in my latest collection of short stories featuring the trickster character Coyote (which I've been trying to complete for the last nine months) 

Possible cover for new ebook due out in November 
Not content with this I took this note book on my last train journey. A couple of writing friends were taking part in an event (Writing Great Books For Children) and I'd decided to brave the weather and provide some moral support. So I used the journey to complete the last Coyote story, which is now being edited/proofed by the fab Hilary Johnson.  

Last but not least this note book also contains the notes for this blog post (written between teaching sessions) plus notes for the first story of Coyote Tales Retold - volume two. So it looks as if I may have broken the cycle of treating myself to yet another 'lush' note book that never gets written in. The real test will be when this note book becomes full. Will I be able to reach for the previous note book and write in that to? Time will tell.  



P.S. My online courses which start at the end of this month with Women On Writing:
How to write A children's book and get published
5 picture books in 5 weeks
How to write a hobby-based how to book

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Questions: the end. by Bill Kirton

This is the last segment of this simplified look at the usefulness of questions for a writer. Previously, we considered the value of who and where,  then what and how in developing characters, situations and exploiting the interactions that necessarily arise from them. In fact, it seemed that just the four of them generated so many sub-questions that plots were already thick enough. However, when you add 'when' and, perhaps the most important of the lot, 'why', you uncover possibilities and variations which can take narratives in some unexpected directions.

Yes, but it'll be a lot clearer when I get a marker pen.
On the surface, ‘when’ is relatively easy. Your choice of epoch can suit your strengths and/or overcome your weaknesses. If your grasp of quantum mechanics is a bit sketchy, put your characters in a space ship launched by a civilisation so advanced that all its machines, including the computers that drive them, run on minimal amounts of sewage and litter, produce zero emissions and aren't needed anyway because the few remaining humans have developed the capacity to merely think of something for it to materialise.

You’ll still get readers who complain that such a scenario is farcical but a couple of paragraphs about how history showed Einstein to be a fraud and that E=mc2 was nonsense because when mass-energy equivalence and the universal proportionality factor integrate singularities with the relativistic symmetries of space and time, the measurable mass defect is demonstrably unstable. Hence sewage.

Or if the beautifully intricate plot of your mystery might be shattered by the discovery of some DNA, shift it all back to a time when knowledge wasn’t a few thumb presses away and detectives wore gabardine macs and trilbies.

You see how, by taking away some of the staple features of contemporary reality, the complexities we’ve already created can be woven into truly alien textures.

‘When’ also provides ready-made comic setups. Comedy relies on leading the reader along one reality, only to subvert or replace it at the critical moment by another. So, if you take a peculiarly modern problem, conflict or phenomenon and move it to a different era, the two realities are ready-made. Imagine the meeting of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure at the Casterbridge disco, just after the fight had broken out between Michael and Susan Henchard over her desire to work at a McDonald’s Drive-thru. And what if Pope Julius II had only wanted a coat of magnolia emulsion on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling but was then stuck with a huge bill from Michelangelo for … well, basically, graffiti.

But that's all a bit glib. 'When' opens up the whole field of temporality, tries to fix moments in a continuum, stems or redirects the flow of time. It simultaneously identifies the notion of duration and the impossibility of experiencing it. It's a precious tool. It recreates cultures, habits, reminds us of legitimate alternatives to our confident suppositions about what constitutes reality and behavioural norms. It summons up a timeless instant.

One of the constant attributes (or curses) of writers is their insatiable curiosity.
And that’s the reason that ‘why’ is the most precious question of all. It’s easy to let (or make) your character do anything, from the simple act of putting on a jacket to wandering naked in the snow in order to place a peach on a gatepost and sing ‘Chitty-chitty-bang-bang’ to the gerbil she has on a lead. The hard part is when you have to explain why they did the things they did. ‘Why’ makes your narrative make sense.

Mysteries rely on it, of course. ‘Why’ reveals motives, gives explanations, unravels conundrums. Best of all, though, is the fact that ‘why’ sometimes refuses to provide an answer. You’re left with something inexplicable – but you’re a writer; readers expect you to tell (or, to satisfy the creative writing specialists, show) them everything. That’s where your creativity gets stretched. Life doesn’t have meanings and yet we live as if it does; we impose our own meanings, which may conflict with those of others, but which are all legitimate to those who proclaim them. That old favourite response of parents when faced with an angry child demanding 'Why?' is still 'Because'. And that's the essence of 'why' - it's the frustration of realising that we'll never ever know the answer.

I wrote a previous blog on ‘why’. It featured a sheep tick called Ixy and I concluded it by saying:

‘The question that always strikes me when I read of the wonders of nature and the processes of evolution is – Why? And, of course, simply by asking that question, I’m back with my old mate Sisyphus and his rock. What on earth is the point of it all? Maybe evolution is making the hill smaller with each ‘advance’, but why? What’s it for? I don’t suppose Ixy is much of a thinker but if he is I bet he’s cursing God for making him a sheep tick when he could have been something with more apparent purpose like an Aardvark or a merchant banker. Imagine his thought processes as he dangles there on his bit of grass, feeling hungry and just waiting. He doesn’t even have the comfort expressed by Estragon in Waiting for Godot : ‘We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?’

And that is the end of Writing 101. Next term, Quantum Mechanics for Dummies.