Happy New Writing Year

Hello! Happy New Year. And welcome to the first post of 2021.

It’s been a while, I know, but some of you will already be familiar with my haphazard, impetuous and remissful style of blogging. *shrug*

It’s been a tough year for many people, some of us have lost family and/or friends, some have been in a negative place emotionally – but I’m not here to talk about the gloom, let’s look forward and think positive.

At the turning of the year, many like to think about how we might improve ourselves; resolutions and so forth – I spent a lot of the lockdown period thinking this over already, and decided that I was extremely lucky, for tonnes of reasons which I am not going to recount here, instead, I want to think about the successes and future endeavours.

Last year saw me (finally) publishing my novel – Beneath the Skin. A Steampunk duology about an Indian-Irish airship courier who unwittingly becomes embroiled in the politics of a secret society within the British East India Company. Plus, I won our writing group annual in-house short story competition! Which came with a cup (still needs to be engraved).

Beaneath the Skin covers for Parts One & Two

I don’t make New Years resolutions, or all-encompassing lists of things -to-do, but I am determined to begin this year as I mean to go on, both personally and workwise. I will continue to watch my diet (lost almost 2 stone between Nov 2019 and Dec 2020), I intend to get more exercise (continue to do 40 sit-ups a night) and be more joyful and thankful for the simple things.

On the writing front: on 24th December I put in 2 submissions; one for flash fiction competition. On the 31st December, I submitted my novella to a publishing company, and on the 1st January, I submitted a sci-fi short story and a poem to two separate competitions.

Cover design for novella The Floating Church

I’m one of those writers who don’t seem to have one specific/favourite genre. And that’s okay. Where does it say that you should write just Romance, or Fantasy? I have a LOT of stories piling up in notebooks and stuffing my brain, and I don’t see why any of them shouldn’t be written – how well they are written is a different matter!

 I read on social media, that some writers get stuck with their writing, they’ve finished a first draft, then sort of… dry up. Or think they do. I have only one piece of advice, that you’ve probably heard a million times before – keep writing – but I’d say specifically, WRITE SOMETHING ELSE. Unless you are contracted to create something within a certain timeline, you’re pretty much free to write whatever you so choose. If you find the juices drying up on a novel, pack it away and go and write a piece of flash fiction or a short for a competition. This is the key bit – FOR A COMPETITION. You will be pressured into writing in a different style or format than you’re used to, and have a limited time to get it done. A change is as good as a rest.

Looking ahead, I hope to get my current fantasy WIP completed and also the YA sci-fi novel completed. I’ve never done a book promo or anything like that, once I put something out there, it’s on its own. But I see that I’ve been rather negligent, so perhaps some of that will be going on too.

I have also decided to be less critical of other people (and myself). I converse with another writer on Twitter, we pointed out the fact that writers (and other creatives) put work before the public for more reasons than money (hell, if money was the aim, I wouldn’t write!) and sometimes that piece of work isn’t as good, when one looks back on it, as one originally thought. This is the nature of creativity, it’s always (or should be) going to improve as one progresses. Unfortunately, that means that people reading your ‘older’ stuff might find it full of faults.

Hey ho, that’s life, is all I can say.

In the meantime, keep writing, painting, filming, dancing, playing, singing, doing whatever it is you do, and have fun doing it. I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful year ahead.

Bless you for reading my nonsense.

Beneath the Skin: Where Sleeps the Serpent?

Heads up to my readers. I have a new Steampunk adventure now available on Amazon! Only £2.24 (Kindle) or free with Kindle Unlimited!! This is the first book in a duology.

Publication date: 30th August 2020 Publisher: KDP, Sticks & Stones imprint

Beneath the Skin, Book One: Where Sleeps the Serpent?

Airship courier, Shakti O’Malley takes on one last job before heading home. It will be a job she deeply regrets. All she wants is a simple life, to go home to her mother in Kerala, but her employer convinces her to take on a final delivery. It’s paid for, sealed, and already in her cargo hold before she has agreed – couriers rarely know what is in the packages they are delivering.

On board the Emperor Ashoka, Shakti discovers a stowaway, defends her ship from pirates, and finds out what is in the box she is transporting. She is forced to confront the truth about her father’s death and of her own hidden nature. From the heat of Kerala to the cool of Paris, Shakti is drawn into international politics and espionage.

The year is 1878. France’s Empire has overtaken the British and has a strong alliance with India. But some English men have ideas to alter the balance of power.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a serial killer is on the loose.

Extract

Paris

The Emperor Ashoka sat on the waters of the River Seine. The dock swarmed with shoals of flying boats, mini dirigibles, fantastic arrow-shaped craft with water landing gear. Mooring masts on the Champ de Mars sprouted dirigibles like giant seed pods, docking towers ran cables that tethered a variety of craft. The Aerodrome du Seine was a floating docking station replete with everything the aeronaut could need; food supplies, engine parts, engineers even. It also provided a hotel service for those who were unable to live on board their vessels, or for tourists who had newly arrived. President Charbonnier even had his own personal zeppelin stationed in the aerodrome complex. Shakti, Anita, Kinza and Deepak gawked around in wonder at some of the sleek airships and the brilliant aerodrome from which a harsh spring sun glinted. Apart from Kinza, they had never been outside of India before. The princess had travelled throughout much of the Middle East with her tribe before joining the Ashoka, and was, therefore, less awed but just as delighted.

Kinza exclaimed loudly and excitedly, indicating the arrow shaped airship that looked at home on the water as much as in the air.

“Oh my goodness! What is he wearing?” she cried pointing at a strangely garbed man exiting a semi-submerged craft.

She continued gabbling enthusiastically, clutching and tugging at Torben’s sleeve now and then. The big man smiled patiently. Shakti and Anita linked arms and wandered along taking in the European scenery. Michel had headed straight into the city proper to purchase supplies, after reminding her that she needed to register their vessel before too long. She had watched the boy tag along behind the Frenchman, staring at leather-clad aeronauts and straining his neck to see to the top of the huge gleaming aerodrome. Shakti noted the new smell, so different from home – no warm spices, hot, dusty air, or lush green vegetation. There was a cool, crispness with an underlying hint of river water. Cigarette smoke and perfume and urine. Coal and engine oil.

“Let us get registered and give the ship an overhaul before we get carried away.” She said, “Remember, we’re not on holiday.”

“We are not working either,” her first mate reminded her, “So what exactly are we doing here?”

Shakti twisted her mouth sideways, thinking. “You know, I am not really sure. Tinka was definitely giving us a hint to get ourselves here. All I know is we are now on the run from the Indian authorities.”

Publishing: Trad or Self?

To print, or not to print, that is the question, Whether ’tis nobler to self-publish or suffer the endless grind of querying.

Book written – novella actually.

Completed third draft? Check.

Spelling and grammar? Check.

Beta reader? Check.

Editorial Assessment? Check.

Currently with editor for the complete works – copy, line, structural, proof-reading.

I can’t say I’m not nervous. I really am, for a couple of reasons: 1. What if she discovers some appalling plot-hole (or holes!) that I’ve overlooked? 2. It’s costing me money that, in all likelihood, I’ll never make back on sales.

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

I have previously self-published on Amazon, both collections of short stories which you can find here and here, before I had any real idea of what I was about. This time I want a ‘real’ publisher. This time I want someone else to do all the work. This time I want to get it right (whatever that means).

Now this isn’t to say that other folks who have self-published haven’t got it right, many have. I have seen some exceedingly professionally produced books, well formatted, attention to interior, solid cover and sound back blurb. I have also seen titles produced by actual, real life, proper publishing companies that I haven’t been totally bowled over by.

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

Personally, I’m terrible at querying, I’m terrible at writing cover blurb, a synopsis, a pitch etc. I’m a creative writer, creative being the operative word. I want the idea written, complete and done so I can move onto the next one. I seriously resent the time spent on ‘Learning How to Write the Best Query Letter’ and similar. Why does self-publishing hold a lesser place in the eyes of others than publishing houses? Isn’t it the writing that ultimately matters?

I’ve spent the morning looking at domain names, cost of said domain names, how to have an imprint, how to register your imprint, how to…yadda, yadda, yadda. It goes on indefinitely – and I think this is my issue, I know that, given time, I could produce a decent product for the book market – because regardless of what the saying is, we DO judge a book by it’s cover.

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

But I don’t want to spend the time doing all that. I want to write, just write. I want to be able to be creative and develop my skill. I’m not interested in producing a trilogy to satisfy mass market appeal. I’m not particularly interested in becoming the next top selling author (of course it would be nice should anyone want to promote the shit out of my upcoming novella!), but that’s not what I write for.

I’ve read variously that a self-published author needs to spend anything form 50% to 70% of their time doing marketing, which leaves only 30% to 50% on writing. I want to be a writer, not a marketer. I spent too many years after leaving uni with my B.A in Fine Art, hoping that I would be magically discovered by some agent or art dealer – we were simply taught NOTHING about how to make a living from our art – I imagined in some airy-fairy, I’m a Bohemian kind of way that something would just fall into my lap – I didn’t have a clue! Seriously.

I am aware that talent alone does not get the work sold. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best author/painter/sculptor in the world, if it’s not out there in the public domain, it isn’t going to earn you anything. (If you create purely for yourself, that’s another thing, but there’s also the argument that art isn’t complete until viewed by an audience.)

How To Workshop N-Words - The Rumpus.net

So my bind is this, after the editor has done her job, do I go to self-publish, or attempt to get it professionally published? Can I bear the repeated individually written pitches and synopsis, as each agent/publisher will have slightly different criteria. Do I want to spend all that time asking, pitching, selling it to someone else to sell, or go indie?

Watch this space.

Actually, no don’t… you could be here for eons!

Sticks & Stones

Pointing Finger Left And Right Hand, HD Png Download - kindpng

You can find my work at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alexandra-Peel/e/B0180332YY/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Pointing Finger Left And Right Hand, HD Png Download - kindpng

The Floating Churchwill be coming to a ‘bookshop’ near you soon.

#Lockdown Sex. Have Sex – Stay Healthy!

(Something light and fluffy for a change)

Pink Fluffy Handcuffs. Image courtesy of wattpad.pink-fluffy-handcuffs

Sex is great.

I mean you feel great doing it, and pleasantly satisfied and relaxed after it, assuming you’re doing it right!

During #lockdown, some people are beginning to feel a little glum and gloomy around the edges, which is a shame, because it’s an opportunity to delve inside oneself,(fnarr, fnarr) be in the moment, and discover what it is you want – truly want – from life after #lockdown. Ask yourself those questions about life, the universe and everything. Who am I? What really matters to me as a person, as a community member? You know, the BIG stuff.

In the meantime – sex!

Sex has many health benefits – and before any of you single guys and gals complain about not having someone to do it with – self pleasuring has it’s benefits too! And as Truman Capote said, “The good thing about masturbation is you don’t have to dress up for it.”

Sex not only feels good, it helps reduce stress – and who doesn’t want a bit of that these days?!

Here’s a Sexy List:

Orgasms help reduce tension. Hormones are released, including endorphins which work as relaxants. Less stress, reduction in anxiety, reduction in depression.

It encourages feelings of intimacy with your loved one.

Keeps the heart healthy.

Helps with a good night’s sleep.

Stimulates blood flow to the skin, that rosy afterglow is from oxygen, and oxygen stimulates collagen.

Some studies suggest it boosts our immune system.

Mortality rate for males is reduced.

Active sex can help us reduce weight (unless you get pregnant of course!)

Blood flow to the brain increases, if you do it regularly, you’ll be more brainy!

Helps women improve bladder control.

If more people were having fun sex, there’d be less complaining and conflict in the world. I bet all those who raise placards in the name of ‘needing a haircut’ (Sheesh!), haven’t had a shag since Easter.

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And also, don’t measure the amount of sex you do or don’t have in comparison to others, I mean, I don’t want people rubbing themselves raw or nothing, but keep it to a rate that’s comfortable for you, and your partner, or partners.

#lockdown sex can be anything you want (consensually speaking). What a perfect time for playing dress-up, or swapping underwear, or whatever it is you like to do, or wish you could do. I’m not advocating everyone order stuff from their local DIY store and build an S&M dungeon – but if you want to…hold on a moment…just adding to my ‘To-Do’ list… hmm, hm, there we go, so where was I? oh yes, #lockdown sex, I’m not suggesting you literally lock each other down…hang on…hm, hm…but whatever tickles yours, hers, his, theirs fancy, have a bash at it (I couldn’t help that one)

Grab your partner, grab your lube, grab your vibrator; whatever, (it’s not called hand ‘relief’ for nothing!) just get going. Too many people feel shame, or embarrassment when thinking or talking about sex, it’s weird, we all do it, to one degree or another, and none of us would be here today if someone else hadn’t before us; it’s natural people.

So whether you’re indulging in some Afternoon Delight, playing Blanket Hornpipe, or Friggin’ in the Riggin, enjoy it! Just, y’know, keep the noise down – you might live next-door to me!

Stay safe – Stay sexy!

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232318#common-misconceptions

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9448525

https://www.powerthesaurus.org/masturbation

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/12399/17-euphemisms-sex-1800s

Book Review – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking: a novel, by Timothy Balding

I need to make some apologies first. It has been a long time since I posted a book review, and I feel I have somewhat let my readers down – but hey, this blog isn’t called Flailing Through Life for no reason!

I also need to apologise to the author I am reviewing today, Timothy Balding, as I read this book some time ago – last October to be exact, and I am sure that I promised to write something about it, what can I say? I’m a slow reader and a lazy blogger! And, another person to apologise to – Emma Lombard author and ‘mother’ of the Twitter #WritingCommunity, who has probably been wondering when I was going to get around to this. So, without further ado, here’s my take on The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking…

The Man Who Couldn't Stop Thinking: A Novel: Timothy Balding ...
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking
by Timothy Balding

Genre: Fiction, Satire
Pub Date: 2019
Publisher: Upper West Side Philosophers, Incorporated
Length: 274 pages
Kindle Edition: £7.91

Synopsis

Victor Andrews cannot decide whether thinking is a good thing or not. He has managed to escape it till now, too occupied with his career and the pursuit of his romantic and carnal ambitions. A heart operation and an inheritance suddenly change all that. He has time on his hands and new ambitions to invent for himself. If he starts thinking, will it take him forwards or backwards? he wonders. Will it lead him out of the confused labyrinth of his life and give it some new meaning before it’s too late? Or push him to join the company of the crazy people who chase endlessly the tails of their obsessions?

Firstly, I must tell you that I was bought this book by the writer Emma Lombard. On a Twitter post, she ran a competition asking the community which book they would most like to read at that moment. I responded, and was one of three individuals who received their chosen book. Also, I must add, that she bought me the paperback version AND had it posted to me! So many, many thanks to @LombardEmma.

Secondly, this is not the sort of book to read if you’re after action or huge dramatic scenes. It is very low key, with a few sections of dialogue, and mostly focuses on Victor’s day to day musings and concerns. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, it is. In fact I found it to be one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while.

8 common mistakes people make when ordering whisky and how to ...
Wee dram of whisky, image courtesy of Scotsman Food and Drink

Victor has just had surgery again, and (this is only my take as a female of a certain age!) is possibly going through a mid-life crisis; I have to admit that the opening scene made me laugh a lot, still does when I re-read it, a good example of how to grab your audience’s attention! Instead of succumbing to mastering ‘the use of a boomerang’ or taking ‘up skateboarding’, he buys an African grey parrot which he decides to teach phrases such as Nietzsche’s “God is dead.”

The parrot becomes a kind of sounding board for Victor and his philosophising, beginning with questioning his own motives for buying the bird, “Was his act the realization of a tyrannical dream of power, he joked to himself?” and later questions his own motives for teaching the parrot the phrase “God is dead” and how humanity could possibly continue without hope and a deity. He also has a relationship with a woman called Helen, who I would say is Victor’s intellectual equal, but doesn’t give credence to some of his ideas; she comes across as somewhat acerbic and I quite honestly don’t see how Victor stays with her.

Balding’s writing style made me think of British authors from a bygone age. It strikes me as terribly British and a little old fashioned; this is not a criticism, far too many aspiring writers concern themselves with being unique and ‘modern’ instead of concentrating on producing good writing. It is deceptively easy to read – but not to be rushed! Victor’s self-questioning (and self-questing) had me pausing for long moments to give some thought to, well, Victor’s thoughts (but without the whisky). There is no superfluity in his writing, Balding has the skill that many of us budding authors so crave, the ability to write concisely and to the point.

Objectivity and subjectivity drive Victor through his post-op life – he asks, how can a person make decisions if one cannot see the world from the perspective of others? Who is responsible for one’s personal happiness? And “I know I’m egocentric…but I will try harder.” Though I cannot say that I fully understood every philosophical musing, nor every reference to research topics that Victor had undertaken, I was acutely aware that I was probably missing something due to my lack of acquired knowledge or intellect, but I still found the story fascinating. And although Victor seems to suffer minor existential crises internally, he never comes across as morose, or self-obsessed. I found the character to be less white-middle-aged-man-with-English-pomp, and more bemused-middle-aged-man-seeking-the-truth; I felt I could relate to him very much. Victor’s musings are funny and he has a much more positive and generous attitude toward his fellow human beings than many folk I know in real life.

He makes statements like “Women were as unpredictable as Belgians.” which made me laugh out loud, because it’s so English and so male, but, and it’s an important but, this never comes across as offensive, because Victor always quizzes his own opinions and offers us facts that he has dredged up from news articles or papers he has read. I found myself reading a paragraph and thinking, Yes, I think this or I have done that – spouting off my theories to a stranger then wondering why on earth I did that. When I tried to describe the book to friends, I found it really difficult, why would a woman want to read the musings of a middle aged man? one asked me. I can’t explain. To the uninitiated, I suppose Victor Andrews might epitomise all that is wrong with white men of a certain age, however, I found him to be lovely, thoughtful, witty, erudite and at least he’s trying! It also goes a bit Kafkaesque near the end when Victor is interrogated! Maybe I just find ‘male humour’, if it exists, to be funnier than female?

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Roger Allam, whose voice is very distinctive, very English. I adore Roger Allam and his voice, you might recognise him from the film ‘V for Vendetta’ and the TV show ‘The Thick of It’. And I would love, simply love this book to be made into a radio or TV drama with Mr. Allam in the lead, though what the author Mr.Balding would have to say about that I don’t know!

Roger Allam - IMDb
Roger Allam, English actor

If you’re after some good strong writing that is humorous as well as thought provoking, I can thoroughly recommend this book.

I’m giving The Man Who Could’t Stop Thinking 5 stars.

Maybe You’re Just NOT THAT Creative !

Sorry. But it could be true.

But hey, it doesn’t matter if you don’t mind.

Just don’t try telling other people what to make, write, draw, design, sew, compose.

Maybe you think you have something special going on. Maybe you think you have something to sell. Maybe you’re going to be the next big thing. That what you do is ‘my creativity’. Maybe you have urges to make things. But where does true creative talent end and hobby craft begin?!

I know some people are going to read this and think ‘You sanctimonious bitch’, and you may be right.

This is going to be harsh. Look away if you have a weak stomach.

Top 30 Boo Hoo GIFs | Find the best GIF on Gfycat
Fat Bastard says ‘Boo hoo’.
From gfycat.com

1. But my mum said my voice/painting/ is great

That’s wonderful, but don’t confuse parental praise with real, honest, healthy criticism. Of course your mum would say that, she’s your mum! And friends are, often, no better. They don’t want to HURT YOUR FEELINGS.

If you’re thinking of going professional, semi-professional, or exhibiting your creativity in public in any way, shape or form- you’re going to need a thicker skin.

I once spoke to an art student about what she was going to do after college. Sell my work in a gallery, was her naive response. HER WORK WAS SHITE! And what if they don’t like it? I asked politely. She stared at me as though I was saying something in a foreign language. This young woman had no idea how talentless she was.

Stop living in fantasy land. It’s just self-deception.

Be brutally honest with yourself.

Otherwise, things are going to get painful somewhere down the line.

2. Your creative endeavours are original

Are they? Really?

Nothing is original. Everything has been said before. We just try to find a unique way of re-purposing the original message. It might be that the wonky-eyed portrait of your pet poodle looks unique, but is it really creative. And let’s be honest, should you even expose the world to it?

Please don’t set up an Etsy shop, and proceed to fill it with tat. It is quite simply embarrassing. Don’t do that to yourself.

Why would anyone want to buy your shit?

Why do you think it merits equal attention as someone who has worked seriously and with total dedication for decades?

Look at it – it doesn’t!

3. You love being free and Bohemian, surrounded by tubes of paint/paper/fabric/instruments

You think this is the 60s? You want to remain in a student state of mind forever?

Time to grow up.

For most artists, creativity does not come from flopping around in silk dressing gowns, traipsing through a mist of linseed and oil paints. It’s fucking hard work.

You must work at honing your skills on a daily basis. You must practise your craft – and I use this word in it’s true sense; ‘skill, dexterity, strength, talent’. You must learn that what you created last year, is not as good as what you will produce this year. It is a never-ending striving to reach something over there.

Art doesn’t make itself. The tools of your trade, whether they be brushes and pens, electronic devices, piano, fountain pen or keyboard, will need to be used on a regular basis for you to learn what they can do. After that, your brain needs to be trained, put into gear and applied to the problem at hand.

One doesn’t simply wake up one day and dash off a masterpiece. Your painted stones with hideous dog and cat faces are NOT ART!

One does not simply. Made on imgflip.

4. I’m an introvert, therefore I must be creative

No. Not necessarily so.

Stamping INFJ, or whatever the fuck, all over your social media pages doesn’t make you a better person, or more interesting, or more thoughtful, or creative!

And then you get upset if someone passes a remark that doesn’t fit your idea of yourself. And weep copious tears so your ‘Followers’, or whoever, send hugs and kind thoughts, and tell you to ignore the vicious bitch in the corner, because you’re a ‘beautiful person’.

Bull. Shit!

Just because you class yourself as introvert, doesn’t mean you have to affect a delicate flower demeanour. Introverts live in the real world, we just need time to recoup energy away from other people.

Plus, just because you’re a ‘beautiful person’, doesn’t mean you have a ‘creative soul’.

5. But isn’t creativity whatever I say it is?

Well, if we’re sticking with creativity as meaning using one’s imagination to create something – to invent, then yes.

But simply painting from a photo is not using one’s imagination!

Making fan fiction – I hear a gasp of horror – is not true creativity. The honest truth is that most fan fiction is fucking awful, and why?

Because it is the soup of the soup. It can never be as good (or tasty) as the first/original.

Why is it that we can all spot a truly gifted sportsman or woman when we see them in action? We know that Serena Williams is one of the best tennis players, and that Usain Bolt cannot be beaten at his game.

Because we can see the evidence with our own eyes. When a footballer scores repeatedly, that tells us they’re one of the talented ones. We know who is the best, the talent oozes from gymnasts and boxers and cricketers.

But art is another thing. Most people won’t have a clue what makes Turner fucking amazing, whilst Tracy Emin is shite. Many will say that’s my personal opinion – and there’s the rub!

People today simply don’t have the ability to determine what is good and what is bad. Should we say that someone who has been practising their craft for over 30 years can have the right to make this decision?

But newcomers don’t want to know. And the talentless get mardy and whinge and whine because, “I have a right to make art as much as anyone.”

Yes, you do.

But don’t try telling an experienced and ‘time-served’ creative that you know better than him/her.

Maybe listen to criticism once in a while.

Perhaps give the experienced people the benefit of the doubt, and look at what you’ve created, and say ‘Shiiiit, I really am bad at this, maybe I ought to go and do something more useful with my time.’

And stop putting it on Etsy for fucks sake!

May You Live In Interesting Times – or – Let Us Not Forget

These are extraordinary times we are living in.

In fact, ‘Interesting times’. This expression is fairly well-known in England, and is often attributed to the Chinese, although there is no proof that it originated there. While appearing to be a blessing, it is in fact a curse. The expression is used ironically, with the inference that ‘uninteresting times’, of peace and tranquillity, are more life-enhancing than interesting ones.

It basically means that interesting times are not peaceful, they are times of war, uprising, change – or pandemic.

Last night, I stood on my doorstep, along with some neighbours, to applaud and show our appreciation for our country’s NHS staff (Clap for Carers) – who are doing an exemplary job under strained conditions. On social media, we see this ‘trend’ occurring across the world. We are all seeing just how vital our hospital staff are. It’s just a shame that it takes something like COVID-19 for those in government to truly appreciate this.

But around the world, there are other people who are still working through this. They provide us with products and services, and some, many, are invisible to the general public.

I wanted to take a moment to show appreciation for these people. Many of whom do very unpleasant work; sewage workers. There are people who are putting themselves at risk daily so that you and I can continue to live our lives as smoothly as possible.

Let us not forget the:

Shop workers – Supermarket employees are working very hard at personal risk – and always appreciate a thank you. While you’re hunkered down at home, supermarket employees continue to show up to work every day, putting themselves at risk as they come into contact with hundreds or thousands of people who may be asymptomatic.

Bin/Refuse Collectors – “The Covid-19 pandemic poses a serious and unique risk to the 6,000 Teamsters employed by Waste Management. Over the course of each workday, our members visit thousands of homes, businesses, schools and hospitals,” https://www.wastedive.com/news/coronavirus-covid-waste-recycling-safety-collection-mrf/574359/

Sewage Workers – Sanitary workers around the world are carrying out, potentially, life-threatening tasks, some without access to the most basic hygiene. In many parts of the world, they often descend into the sewers without gloves or any other protective gear for very little money or respect. The work is usually accompanied by a set of risks, some of them life-threatening. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/sanitary-workers-risk-lives-spread-coronavirus-200325051916407.html

Long Distance Lorry Drivers – “Truckers aren’t health care workers and we’re not anybody special. We just have to keep working because, what else are we going to do right now? And people need their toilet paper.” https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/26/cars/truck-drivers-coronavirus/index.html

Zoo-keepers and Animal Sanctuary Staff – ‘COVID-19 could infect great apes’. Those who care for animals must go to work, who else is going to feed and minister to them?

Emergency Services – It goes without saying that our Police, Firefighters, Ambulance, Paramedics etc are doing extraordinary work. Remember, not everyone is as willing to be as thoughtful as you and stay at home. Some will test the boundaries of authority for sure. People with nothing to do, people with no moral compass, people with learning difficulties who simply do not understand the situation.

Farmers – Your food does not come from Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Lidl, etc. In the first instance, most of it comes from farms. The challenge is how long suppliers will carry on supplying the farmers with feed for the animals, with diesel and fertiliser. Without that supply, the farmers cannot provide you and me with our fruit, vegetables, meat, wheat for cereals and more.

If you work in one of the ‘industries’ I have mentioned above –

I thank you.

If you work in an industry I have not mentioned, that is keeping me supplied with goods –

I thank you.

If you are enabling me to live as normally as possible diring these difficult times –

I thank you.

It is not the billionaires who will get us through this. It is the low-paid, the put-upon, the invisible, those usually taken for granted, those who in normal circumstances we do not spare a thought for.

Let us not forget – it takes all sorts to keep a community, a country, a planet working daily.

Let us not forget – that there are people performing job roles that you and I have not even thought about, who are working very hard at this moment.

Let us not forget – to say ‘Thank you’, to these people, let them know we appreciate them.

Waving Not Drowning, or, I've Been Preparing For This My Whole Life

It’s here folks!

That moment that we’ve all discussed whilst watching TV shows about the apocalypse; whether zombie or otherwise. The question we all ask is: Who would you want on your side in the event of such and such disaster – and how well could you survive?

Well, I gotta say, me and my hubby have been preparing for this for years. No, we aren’t ‘End of the World’ nuts, or ‘Doomsday Preppers’. We’re artists.

Yes. I did say artists.

In the early 1980s, we were both students at a mediocre university studying Fine Art. Afterwards, we were two of the unemployed millions in the UK. For almost 4 years, we lived off £27 a week. We went shopping once a fortnight – because that’s when one received dole money. We played a single game of pool at the local pool-hall, for 20p. Then we went back to our little flat, and worked.

UK in the 1980s under a Tory government was full of class warfare, hate, violence, unemployment, closures, cutbacks, protests and riots.

When I say worked, of course I mean painted, created, drew etc. We also (to the amusement and puzzlement of friends), had separate bedrooms. He worked in his; the larger one, whilst I worked in the living room. We came together for evening meals, TV ,occasional walks and of course, a bit of fun!

On March 2nd, 2019, I wrote a post called The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer In light of the current situation; COVID-19, Coronavirus pandemic, in this post, I’m sort of returning to that theme – being alone. Not lonely.

After university, whilst my then boyfriend, now husband, were on the dole, we lived a rather meagre existence. Our rare annual holiday consisted of heaving metal-framed rucksacks with tent around the soggy hills of Wales or Scotland (Note: this is now called ‘Wild Camping’, which involved finding somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, to pitch the tent before it went dark, and balancing a trangier with pan of dried noodles set to cook in water that wouldn’t boil quickly because the air around was blowy and cold, and sleeping with your clothes on, as opposed to staying in a fucking wooden construction on a campsite with hundreds of others and drinking Pinot Grigio. That’s called Glamping). We once found 12p down the back of the sofa with which we bought a bag of chips between us from a mobile Fish and Chip van. On one occasion, he went off for a few days with a male friend, camping in October. I had no money, so lived off Marmite drinks for about 6 days, wrapped up in bed against the cold – we couldn’t afford heating – drawing and watching our tiny black and white telly.

Over the years, neither of us have had well paid jobs. Freelance artist is not a secure way to live. Community artist even less so. The 80s was shit, for us at least. The 90s slightly less so. We did live an almost hand to mouth existence. We paid our bills on time, thus ensuring we had little left for luxuries, you know, things like – nice shampoo instead of washing-up-liquid or soap, food that wasn’t ‘My Mums’ brand, meat!

Then as time moved on, I got a ‘real job’, as a tutor on the YTS/ET (Youth Training Scheme/Enterprise Allowance) scheme that the government introduced. Hubby also got a job. We had money, proper money for the first time! We got married. But I lost my job 2 years later due to cutbacks, and the eventual demise of the training schemes.

Since then we have changed jobs a couple of times. Moved home. Had a child. We made a conscious decision to have only one, as that was all we knew we could afford. We rent from a housing association because we can’t get on the property ladder, even on our joint wages.

This is not a hard luck story.

This is a story about a couple of 50-somethings who were made ready for this event. Our age identifies us as Generation X. There’s been a lot on social media from Gen-X recently. About how ours is the survivor generation, the isolated ones, the latchkey kids who everyone, even government forgot. So a double positive whammy for me and hubby – Gen-X artists, who enjoy our own company, who are NEVER lonely, because we have our imaginations to get us through this – what more could one want!?

Lock n Load

My workplace has now closed for an indeterminate length of time. For me, it’s a kind of bliss – I get to write and read books, and maybe do some drawing. I can plan my next D&D campaign, create maps! It’s marvellous. My colleagues who are neither self-motivated nor creative, are already flooding WhatsApp with inane trivia minute by minute. Two days we have been off work! Two days, and they’re already loopy. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t WANT the virus to spread, I don’t WANT anyone falling ill, I don’t LIKE this situation we’re in, all I’m saying is, I’m with the right person, and we’re ready to roll.

Gimme two weeks, two months, hell, I reckon I could handle two years!

So to the creatives out there – writers, artists, sculptors, musicians, dancers, poets, painters, crafters, et al, I say, this is our time. This is the time for introspection, for personal creativity and development. This is when being isolated, or locked down does not mean disaster. It is a chance to show why art; all the arts, are so important.

Because very soon, the rest of the population will begin to realise how vital art is.

When they haven’t been able to visit a cinema, library, concert hall, theatre, museum, gallery, for weeks, they’ll be gagging for it when this is all over!

So get busy now!

Above from left: Paul Costello (courtesy @costelloguitar), The Poet (courtesy Holy Spirit System), Louise Bourgeois (courtesy East Oregonian)


The difference between an essay, a report and a story. In brief…

What’s the difference between an essay, a report and a story?

I see this question a lot from people in secondary school, Further Education colleges, and even University students! I’m talking about UK students, I believe elsewhere they teach the difference quite early on. When I was in school – back in the 1970s and 80s, the English teacher would set an essay writing task – what she meant was – write a story. So I never learnt until late adulthood what the difference is. I’m not an academic, so this is going to be basic…

A very brief run-through of the differences.

First off, they’re written in different styles. Essays and Reports tend to be written in a formal, academic style with attention to grammar and spelling. While a story is a sequence of real or, most commonly, fictional events told in any manner that the author chooses.

A report is a summary of an event and an essay explores a particular issue or subject. Both start with an introduction, body with discussions and/or analysis, and finally a conclusion. The main difference is purpose; an essay presents writer’s personal ideas and opinions, a report provides unbiased information.

Basic lexicon of related words –

Essay: describes, analyses, evaluates, combination of facts, statistics, personal opinions, descriptive, narrative, argumentative, persuasive, and expository.

Report: systematic, well organised, defines, analyses, provides information, sections, headings, and sub-headings.

Story: narrative, novel, short story, novella, plot, characters, genre specific, entertaining, aesthetic, creative, tale, chronicle, dramatic.

See the same event in these three examples below:-

Story Extract

The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction

We came to a narrow tributary of the Amazon River, about eight feet across, dotted with floating islands, clumps of debris washed downhill with the rains. Raising our packs above our heads we waded. Something glided just beneath the surface; I halted so as not to draw its attention, Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh. Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches, creaks and croaks resounded all about. We crossed three more tributaries before the end of day.
Exhausted and soaked in foul smelling swamp water. With the fauna of the forest reduced in our wake by; four stabbed snakes, a shot river dolphin, two blasted parrots, an incapacitated capybara, an assaulted alligator, numerous leeches burnt and a frog that popped when Daniel stepped on it, behind us, it was time to take it easy.
On (relatively) dry land, we made camp for the night. Whilst I cleaned my blades and blasters, Doppler did whatever one did to bright blue frogs to coax some venom from them, Daniel made
tea; and jolly good it was too,
You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” Says I with a wry smile.’

 

Essay version

Although not mentioned within the body of this particular extract, we can glean the narrator’s name from the title of the book. Lucy Lockhart, renowned treasure hunter, and her assistant, Theodora Doppler have arrived in the Amazonian jungle with cartographer, Daniel.

They cross a series of tributaries en route to their destination. Lockhart describes the area as being difficult terrain that the party need to wade through, with unknown things gliding beneath the surface of the water, small islands of earth, and animals in the surrounding environs. Daniel – whom Lockhart has previously described as ‘a lily-livered clerk’, is evidently extremely uncomfortable in this environment. The party have during their progress, killed or maimed a number of animals, including a river dolphin. Although this is a short section from a longer tale, one could surmise that this is not an unusual situation, for at least one of these characters, to be in. They are kitted out for travelling; otherwise, mention would be made of the inconvenience of attire in the circumstances. No-one in the party truly complains, or seems surprised by the ‘foreignness’ of the situation – the names suggest that these are all English characters.

One might argue that Lockhart has a blasé attitude to her comrades as well as the flora and fauna hereabouts. She does not speak of the beauty of her surroundings, only the death left in her wake. It could also be said that she has an Imperialistic indifference to animals and people. The party eventually find some dry-ish land to rest and recuperate on. The cartographer is once again the butt of Lockhart’s teasing, as he makes tea for the party.

In conclusion, one could surmise that the narrator; Lockhart, is if not enjoying the situation, relishing the discomfort of one companion; Daniel. We get the impression that she is unconcerned for the welfare of wildlife and this does not sit well with a modern audience. She is, however, determined, skilled with weapons, so capable of looking after herself and has a sense of humour.

 

Report version

A trio of adventurers are on some sort of quest in the Amazonian jungle. From this extract, we cannot determine what it is they seek, nor how long they have been here. We do know that they cross a number of tributaries on their journey, so the terrain is not easily navigable. We have no way of knowing how the characters are related, nor what their relationships are like. The main character; the narrator, refers to one by her surname; Doppler and the other by his first name, Daniel. This might suggest that the relationship between the two women is stronger than that with the male, as females rarely refer to themselves or each other by surname.

Lockhart

Though unnamed in this extract, Lucy Lockhart is the narrator, the protagonist of this adventure. She is clearly the leader of the party, as the other two characters follow her, and she is skilled in using various weapons – as evidenced by the killing and maiming of a number of creatures – some of which we might assume she has dispatched herself. At the end of the passage, the narrator is cleaning her blades. This tells us that she carries a number of knives, or swords, about her person. Her description of the animal slaughter – ‘stabbed’, ‘blasted’, ‘incapacitated’, ‘assaulted’, suggests a level of humour on her part at the demise of such creatures. The fact that she likes to tease Daniel, the cartographer, also gives us a small insight into her personality – which leads one to question the agreeableness of this character.

The Amazon

The party reach a tributary in the Amazon River – a tributary is a river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake. We know that it is eight feet wide and is ‘dotted with islands’. There has been a heavy rain at some point in the near past, as we are told that there is debris from uphill. The Amazon contains a wide variety of animals including capybara, parrots, alligators and snakes, among other things. There are also unseen creatures living in the trees, as evidenced by, ‘Things gibbered above us in the overhanging branches,’ Even though this is a tributary of the main river, we know that it is fairly deep, as the party must carry their belongings over their heads to prevent equipment from getting wet.

Doppler

There is little mention of this character in the passage. What we can glean is that she is intrepid – otherwise she would not be on such a venture, and she is skilled in poisons. At the end of the passage, she is trying to extract poison from small frogs. From this, we might conclude that she A) knows about animal poisons, and B) has used poisons in the past. One might further conjecture that this tells us that Doppler is either a medic, a collector, or quite simply – a poisoner.

Daniel

There is very little information about this character; however, we can speculate that he is not comfortable in this environment. He is probably frightened of the wildlife, ‘Daniel squealed as it touched his thigh.’ He also makes a good cup of tea; Lockhart comments on it, whilst simultaneously taking a sideways swipe at his manhood.

We might conclude from this extract that the tale is not set in the present day. The narrator carries bladed weapons and at least one gun, which she refers to as ‘blades and blasters.’ This is not parlance from the 21st century, neither is ‘Says I…’ The narrator is clearly sexist from a contemporary reader’s point of view, otherwise she would not use the phrase “You’ll make someone a lovely wife one day Daniel.” In our 21st century society, there is little issue with stay-at-home husbands. In addition, the narrator’s attitude towards killing animals is not commendable, from a modern standpoint. We do not condone the careless destruction of wildlife to suit our own means, and none of the characters seems disconcerted at their demise.

 

I hope this has been of some use, to someone, somewhere.

 

Should you be at all interested – The Life and Crimes of Lockhart & Doppler: A Journal of Amusement, Adventure and Instruction is available on Amazon https://www.amazon.de/Life-Crimes-Lockhart-Doppler-Illustrated/dp/1723026891

 

“There’s Something Terribly Wrong…”

V’s revolutionary speech – V for Vendetta

Many of you will be familiar with the graphic novel, or film of aforesaid, ‘V For Vendetta’, by Alan Moore. Moore is an English writer, primarily known for his graphic novels, who has written for ‘2000 AD’ and ‘D.C Comics’.

I thought, like the antagonist revolutionary; V, I’d take a moment to have this quiet rant…

V: Allow me first to apologise for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of everyday routine, the security of the familiar, the tranquillity of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke. But in the spirit of commemoration, where upon important events of the past, usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, are celebrated with a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this…day… by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.”

You see I’m going to reference V quite a bit! Many people at this time of year – Christmastime, claim to feel the joy of the season. Their sense of goodwill to all mankind lights up, and they feel better in themselves. But isn’t this all hypocrisy? How can one feel a sense of obligation and empathy for one’s ‘fellow man’ for a day or two, then disregard it for the rest of the year? How can those who follow religious doctrine claim to be caring and giving when they do not open their doors to the poor and homeless at this time of year? How can any of us claim to be feeling the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ whilst closing our doors and curtains against the bleak truth that there are thousands – if not millions, suffering right now?

“V: There are, of course, those who do not want us to speak…Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?”

And not just England – which is where V is set and to what he is referring. Take a look at where you live. Be honest. Is it truly a place of equality? Do all people really avoid the truncheon? Do those who speak out maintain their freedom? Or is your government frightening you into a state of impotent paralysis, whereby you feel unable to speak against it, or act against it? Or vote against it? Is your government smothering you with platitudes? Is your government telling outright lies that seem so unbelievable that – you simply cannot bring yourself to believe them?!

“V: Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well, certainly, there are those who are more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable. But again, truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”

Is there a nation on Earth that does not have a system of surveillance anymore? In 2016, China had a reported 176 million surveillance cameras in operation, with plans to increase this number. The U.S. has approximately 15.3 cameras for every 100 individuals, followed by China with approximately 14.4 and the U.K. with 7.5. Other top 10 countries include Germany (6.3), Netherlands (5.8), Australia (4), Japan (2.7), France (2.5) and South Korea (2). So forget about your ‘western freedoms’; you are being watched, counted, surveyed – spied upon on a daily basis. And how do they get away with it? Because we let them. They say it is for our security and protection, but one has to wonder at the increasing level of CCTV’s around the world. And yet the ‘cruelty, injustice and intolerance’ are rarely recorded by these CCTV’s. These crimes are exposed by the people who happen to pull their phones out the fastest. And when these people stand up for what is right, and honest and true – someone somewhere silences them – or attempts to.

“V: I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn’t be? War, terror, disease. They were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense. Fear got the best of you, and in your panic, you turned to… He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m innocent, no, far from it. I am as guilty as the next person. I am as complacent and self-serving as anyone who feels they should keep their head below the parapet of politics. I am comfortable and lazy with it! But our turning away is as bad, if not worse, than the act itself. We know these things are happening and yet….
We know the seas are choking on our plastic – OUR plastic, and yet…
We know the President/PM/Chancellor/Governor lied, and yet…

And yet…
…there are sparks of light in the darkness we all create. Individuals who shine so brightly, speak so passionately, hold up the truth to anyone who will look and listen, that they just cannot (or should not) be ignored.
2019 has seen a rise in young people calling out their governments. Youngsters who have revitalised the people’s passion in a variety of subjects. From gun laws, to education. From female empowerment to climate change.
I raise my glass; and invite you to do the same, to those brave individuals who have not been cowed, or restrained, who have spoken out with fierce determination against systems of oppression. They deserve our support, our thanks and most of all, our cooperation.
Some of them are familiar, some not so; depending on where in the world you live. So let us say ‘Thank you’ to:-

Hong Kong protests – Joshua Wong, age 23 years, helped organise the protests and the Umbrella Movement, criticized the oppression of protesters by the Hong Kong police, and the extradition draft law as pro-Beijing and called for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam to resign.

The #NeverAgain movement – David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, Cameron Kasky, and Alex Wind. The center of a massive youth movement for gun control after surviving a massacre that killed 17 of their classmatesat Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Jihye Yang, 22, is one of the leading youth feminist voices in South Korea, which was rocked this year by protests against a spate of illegal filming cases. Women have been recorded in their homes, on the streets, and even in toilets. Tens of thousands of women have marched in protest under the slogan “My life is not your porn”.

Alexandria Villaseñor, 14 years old – the founder of Earth Uprising, a global climate change movement, and one of the youngest organizers of the historic Sept. 20th Global Climate Strike, is on the front lines of the climate change movement.

Youth Climate StrikeGreta Thunberg, aged 16 years, was first pictured sitting alone outside Swedish parliament in a strike that she hoped would raise alarms among lawmakers. Soon, she had spurred an international movement of students striking on behalf of climate change.

V: So if you’ve seen nothing, if the crimes of… government remain unknown to you then I would suggest you allow the… [year] to pass unmarked. But if you see what I see, if you feel as I feel, and if you would seek as I seek, then I ask you to stand beside me one year from tonight, outside the gates of Parliament, and together we shall give them a fifth of November that shall never, ever be forgot.”

Well, I’m not suggesting we all gather around our parliament buildings on the 5th November or to conduct V-like Vendettas. But I am inviting you all to join these; and other, young people across the world in making things better, making things right. Forget slogans like ‘Make….Great Again’. None of the countries who use this phrase have ever had a decade which was great for all it’s citizens.
But they can be made great for the first time in their histories!

Have a peaceful holiday season wherever you may be. And remember, we can make a difference. YOU can make a difference.

Wishing you all a Very merry Christmas!

And a happy, healthy New Year.

V for Vendetta Christmas