Poetry instead of Tea

Today there was poetry in the afternoon, instead of tea.  The instigator of the Poetry in Motion group, Clio Gray (author and library assistant at Tain library), read from Gerald Manley Hopkins. The subject was ‘birds’ and she selected ‘The Woodlark’ to read. These poems are written to be read out loud, to be listened to.  The writing is full of sound and movement and puts you right there, seeing and hearing what the poet sees and hears.

It reminded me of what an interesting and original poet Gerald Manley Hopkins was; he invented new words and new forms. His language was always vibrant, lively and very visual.  In spite of the era, and his religious leanings, it is still very relevant and accessible.  He is definitely one of our great nature poets. Sadly most of his poems weren’t published until 1918, well after his death in 1889; he was little read in his own lifetime.

He suffered from depression’ like John Clare, and wrote a series of what he called ‘terrible poems’ about those ‘dark’ days, which may not be his best known, or finest work, but still have much merit.

I’ve not read any of his poetry for years, and this is a good excuse to revisit it. He is well worth reading, and I’ll certainly be looking out my dog-eared Penguin copy of his poetry and prose.  I’ve written this to share his poetry with you, if you don’t know him, or remind you of it if you do.

As a taster, here is perhaps one of his best known poems – apart from ‘Inversnaid’ – ‘The Windhover’ (a lovely old name for the kestrel).  Enjoy.

 

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

 

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

 

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

 

A Greater Fear

alzheimersI fear Alzheimer’s more than cancer, or more accurately, any form of dementia: a disease that can rob me of my abilities and ultimately my mind itself – my life too in the end.

Writing is part of who I am.  I can’t imagine forgetting how to do it; forming words and sentences, expressing ideas.  Such an easy, natural and taken for granted skill, stolen away by synapses failing to connect; brain cells dying.

It might never happen. My octogenarian parents show no signs of it.  My mum was tested because she thought her memory was failing.  The morphine she’s on is the more likely culprit. She passed the tests. So no signs, no obvious risk markers, but the fear lurks: in my forgetfulness, my inability to recall where I’ve put things; the impossibility of retrieving the right word at the right time.  I know it’s tiredness, and stress from being tired, that robs me of my capacity to remember, to recall, but the fear lingers.  Pain is so much easier to contemplate.  I can live with pain.  I do live with pain. Even dying is easier to think about.  Easier than contemplating losing yourself and everything that makes you who you are, without even knowing it.

I think about writing about dementia.  I’ve worked with clients who have it.  My sister works in the field.  I have friends who have family members with it.  There’s a wealth of experience and information that could be explored.

But for now, I think this is all I can manage.  For now I‘m writing furiously for all I’m worth, ticking projects off against the day when who knows what, who knows when.

 

=========================================================

We all experience memory loss, and the inability to recall names and words from time to time and for various reasons. If you are worried that you or a relative may have Dementia, contact your GP who will refer you/them to a specialist.

The Alzheimer’s Society can be found here:

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/

And Alzheimer Scotland here:

http://www.alzscot.org/

 

 

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam…

spam

I would like to think that the 25 comments in my queue contain an element of interaction; that somewhere, if I look hard enough, there will be a word of encouragement, a glimpse of solidarity, anything by way of human connection.  But I know.  I know you are blips and bops and spam and ads and things much worse.  You sound so plausible.  I suppose some must succumb, or why would you waste your time in such futile endeavours?  But I’ve been blogging for over 5 years now and I know.  I know your sycophantic ways. So Gerri, Vicki, Bunni, Ollie, Bobo, Maverick and Ellie I will not waste my time scouring your contributions, checking if you are really ‘spam’.  Instead I will consign you to the bin, a bulk action, along with the rest of my junk.  And I will wait for that gem of a comment that is genuine, and I will approve that to sparkle on my blog, outshining and outweighing the rest of you by a mile.

“Born to Sing: No Plan B”

 

van-the-manI’m a life-long Van – ‘The Man’ – Morrison fan, and his current album, due for release on October 1st, doesn’t look like changing that, with its classy mix of Soul/R&B/Jazz.  What first caught my attention, before I heard a single track, was the title.

George Ivan Morrison, now OBE for services to music, was bought his first guitar at 11 and by 12 was performing in groups.  At 14 he persuaded his dad to buy him a sax and started taking lessons in that and how to read music.  Although he took a job as a window cleaner, on leaving school – largely because it was ‘expected’- he was still playing in bands, and at 17 toured Europe with the International Monarchs.  After the group disbanded he was hired as a blues singer with The Wheels. From there a steady gig at The Maritime Hotel with the Gamblers led to the formation of Them, and the rest as they say is history.  Definitely ‘Born to Sing: no plan B’!

For us mere mortals ‘No Plan B’ can seem like a reckless concept: we school our children to have  ‘back-up’; we encourage them to have not only ‘Plan B’s’ but often Plan C’s as well.  We ditch on their dreams before they’ve even got started.  This often happens with the creative industries where jobs are few and competition stiff, but it happens with other choices as well: the young girl who wants to be an astronaut, the children who want to be pilots or politicians.

Thankfully there are plenty of parents who encourage their children to do exactly what they want to in life.  They support them as they follow their passions and improve their skills.  I have friends whose son wanted to be an actor.  I’m sure they had plenty of chats about how hard a profession it can be, but that wasn’t their focus.  They did everything to encourage and support him in his aspirations.  Darryl is a fine young man, and also a professional actor.  He’s living his dream.  I have other friends who have raised talented and artistic young people, and they too are supporting them to follow their dreams, currently with places on art, music and drama courses, and in dancing.

We all want to support our young people to get out there in ‘the big wide world’, yet sometimes this means we actively discourage them from doing what they love, what they are passionate about and good at.  We force them into a ‘Plan B’, where they struggle with the skill set and the enthusiasm, without ever having had a shot at ‘Plan A’.  It’s a sure recipe for disillusionment at worse, and boredom at best.

I always wanted to be a writer, from as far back as I can remember.  For my working-class parents ‘writer’ wasn’t a ‘real job’.  It’s not that they discouraged me as such, they simply didn’t support me to follow my dreams and desires.  I am grateful that they contributed to my higher education, but find it sad that there was no belief or encouragement.  My dad is an immigrant to this country.  He left school at 14 and took a job as a tailor with Burtons so he could pay his way.  He became a professional footballer, a master colour matcher, a trade unionist and a manager.  I suspect his dream was to be a pro’ footballer and the fact is he achieved that; he lived the dream, albeit for a short time, due to injury.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying our young people don’t need the skills to follow a multiplicity of options – they do; and the more rounded they are, the more equipped they will be in a world where no job is for life and they will probably end up with at least three of four major jobs in their working lives.  What I am saying is there’s plenty of time for ‘Plan B’.  Life will have enough knocks and disappointments along the way.  We need to build passion and resilience in our young people, so that they keep pressing on, in spite of the knock backs; so that they aim for that which they aspire to.

I’ve talked a lot about the creative industries, but it could be anything.  Young people’s dreams are as varied as they are.  Your daughter may want to be an army commander or a scientist, your young person may want to be a farmer or a hairdresser, it doesn’t matter.  There are always avenues to pursue that will take them closer to their goals.  We need people in this world that are passionate about what they do, whatever that may be.

And how about you?  If you’re like me, you’re probably on ‘Plan F’ by now, never mind, ‘Plan B’.  Maybe there’s no plan at all and you’re drifting through life, or you could be steaming along, head down, energies focused on earning a living.  In our society money is king, and it can be hard to get off the treadmill of a job we hate, but that pays the bills: hard, yes; impossible, no.  Due to difficult circumstances my life was turned upside down.  I took the opportunity to get out of a well-paid, but ultimately unfulfilling job, and re-train.  I’ve spent over a decade in the voluntary sector doing jobs I’ve loved.  In a way it was still a kind of ‘Plan B’, but a move to a remote location and a glimpse of how short life can be motivated me to shift track and try for my original ‘Plan A’, being a writer.  I’m not making a living from my writing.  Other income streams and a the kind indulgence of my partner, are what’s keeping the wheels in motion, but the point is that I’ve made a conscious decision to write and am following that particular passion.  It’s ‘Plan A’ in process, and it’s taken me 30 years to have the confidence and self-belief to follow that path.

‘Plan A’ will never be easy, but that’s not a good reason not to ‘go for it’.  Life can be pretty tough whatever course we take.  Isn’t it better to aim high, to dream, to follow our passions rather than consign ourselves and others to automatic second options, ‘Plan B’s and Plan C’s?  You will fail.  Your children will fail.  That’s a given.  In my view ‘failing’ trying to do something you love is better than succeeding at something you hate.

Whether it’s a job, or some other aspect of your life, remove the safety net and start flying high.  You might be surprised how achievable it can be if you believe in yourself and put your efforts into something you feel passionate about.  Don’t regret ‘Plan B, but it’s never too late to re-discover your original dream.

I’m glad Van pursued his musical career rather than his windowing cleaning one – image what the world would have missed out on. So, be a ‘Plan A’ kind of person and pursue your obsession: no ‘Plan B’.

A Writing Life

Pro writer

I’ve been meaning to write something about writing for a long time, but every time I start I’m crippled by gnawing self-doubt: what do I have to say about writing?  I mean, I’m not really a writer am I?  I don’t make a living from my writing – odd payments for articles, the odd competition prize, they don’t count – and realistically, probably never will. However, the fact is that I have been writing for over 40 years.  I’ve edited a community newsletter and I’ve had bits and bobs published by a real bone fide publishing people.  I’ve been actively writing a blog since 2009 and have completed a short story for children. One of my short stories is about to be published as part of a local collaboration, and I’m half way through writing my first novel. Isn’t it time I started thinking of myself as a writer; calling myself a writer?

The dictionary definition of a writer is ‘someone who has written something’ so by that count I certainly qualify!  I suppose what I often mean when I say I’m not a writer is that I’m not a ‘real’ writer:  I’m not famous; I don’t have a book deal or an agent.  I refer myself – and you- to my previous point: a writer is one who writes.  And it is only by writing that we will ever become the writers we mean to be.

I count myself as fortunate to know a lot of writers, many of them professional: people who have been writing for years, who have been published and made money from books.  Let me tell you a secret, which I’m sure they won’t mind me sharing, many of them don’t feel like ‘real’ writers either!  Some feel like frauds; that sometime someone is going to find them out, like their success is a big mistake.  The thing is it takes courage to be a writer, to be a creative of any kind.  Putting yourself ‘out there’ in any form is always going to be scary, but don’t worry, that’s part of the creative experience.  Take it from people who know, if you won’t take it from me.

I can’t emphasise this enough.  The ONLY thing that makes you a writer is writing. Thinking about writing is not being a writer; reading a book on how to write is not being a writer; attending a literary festival or a workshop is not being a writer.  Picking up a pen, or tapping on the keyboard, and churning out words is what makes you a writer.  It might not make you a famous writer, or even a ‘good’ writer, but it does make you a writer.  Writing is a craft and like any craft you have to work at it.

I have a friend who said she always wanted to be a writer.  The funny thing is, she always has been a writer!  She’s been writing for as long as I have, although it’s only in the last eighteen months or so that she’s taken herself seriously enough; given herself the permission to write and then actually taken the time to work at it.  She’s started her own blog, won a local competition, and is now putting together her first anthology of short stories.  The desire was there for decades, but it’s only been in taking time to work at her craft, edit her work and share it, that she has made good on her dream.  And she now calls herself a writer.

So, as a writer, the most important thing for me, and for many people, is making the time to write.  If you want to achieve something you have to make time for it.  It’s no good wanting to learn how to play chess and never allowing yourself the time to attend a club, or have a game with a mate.  It’s not rocket science.  If you want to do anything you have to allow yourself the time to do it.

Some people have very specific times that they write – first thing in the morning or last thing at night, for example.  There is no magic formula.  Ignore anyone that tells you there is and that it’s what they do, say writing at 3pm in the afternoon or someone who insists you need to sit in front of a laptop from dawn till dusk.  Only you know what is going to work for you; and if you don’t, experiment.  Be realistic.  If you work full-time and have a family the chances are you are not going to manage anything in the working day.  Can you snatch 20 minutes before work if you’re an early-riser, and don’t have a young family to get organised?  Can you grab half an hour in the evening a couple of times a week when everyone’s in bed, if you’re a night-owl?  Or at a lunchtime? Can your partner, or a friend, entertain the children while you grab an hour at the weekend?  Can you do some flex-time or take a half-day break to give yourself a start?  The busier your life is the more creative you will need to be.  If there’s something you are desperate to write, you will find a time to write it.

Some people never manage to find the time to write because of the pressure and commitments of hectic lifestyles, and if this is you, don’t guilt trip yourself.  Accept that you can’t squeeze another minute out of the day and you may have to wait until the children are older, or you’re working less hours, or don’t have a caring commitment.  Some people take a sabbatical – 6 months or a year- to complete a specific project, but that is a luxury not all of us can afford.  If you can carve some time out to attend a retreat, or simply give yourself a break from your usual routine then go for it.  Most of us have to work hard to find time within the restrictions of our already busy schedules.  Beware, however.  Don’t use being busy as an excuse.  If you can find 10 minutes to update your Facebook page or Twitter feed or hug that mug of coffee whilst gazing bleary eyed into the distance then you can find the time to write!

Thinking of writing as ‘work’ will help.  Writing is not a fuzzy feel-good activity.  What’s that old adage: 10% inspiration 90% graft? Writing is work; often hard, solitary, laborious, frustrating and unpaid work.  It can also be fulfilling, satisfying, stimulating and highly enjoyable.  If you don’t have the desire and commitment to write, and then put the effort in, you are unlikely to ever get that novel finished.

But don’t be like me and let the fear of not being good enough paralyse you.  Like a lot of people I am my biggest critic.  I am always convinced that what I’ve written isn’t ‘good enough’.  This is really a thinly veiled fear that I am not good enough.  That what I have to say doesn’t matter.  If you want to be a writer you need to take yourself seriously and develop a tough exterior.  You need to take your courage in both hands and share what you are writing with someone.  You can tell yourself that you’re writing ‘just for yourself’, that you don’t care if what you write is published or not, but it isn’t true.  Writing is a form of communication.  It’s meant to be read. What you write can touch people, amuse, instruct, enlighten, inform people.  What some people write changes lives.  Sharing your writing is your opportunity to share something unique that only you can say: nobody else can write what you do.

I’ve recently joined a local writers group.  It’s a new group and some people are novice writers whilst others are more experienced.  We are all a bit nervous about sharing what we’ve written, sharing ourselves in some way, and yet doing so has been a liberating and inspirational.  Having an audience for something you’ve created is affirming.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a paragraph, a short story or a poem, everyone is offering up something that they’ve created to share with the rest of the group.

As a writer, having a people who can offer support, advice and constructive criticism is important.  Some of us are working on existing projects and some of us are wanting inspiration to kick-start the writing process.  Whatever stage of the writing journey you are on, you need someone other than your mum or partner to review your work – to give honest feedback – and a good writing group will do that. However, don’t let this be an opportunity for naysayers and denigrators to offer negative or disparaging comments.  If you’ve made the effort to write something and share it, the least people can do is be supportive of your efforts.  Fulsome praise and flattery is no use to any writer, but unconstructive remarks can be seriously destructive to the confidence of a novice writer, indeed any writer, so chose your critics wisely.

So, you’ve actually started writing.  You’ve been brave enough to share your writing with a friend, or you’ve joined a writing group.  All is hunky-dory.  You’ve got that much needed inspiration, or you’ve started the project you always wanted to write.  Then the muse desserts you.  Writers block descends.  I’m sure ‘real’ writers have written lots about this, provided magical formulae by which you might negotiate your way around this brick-wall.  I have no idea.  What works for me is this: I  keep writing. I write it out.  If I can’t think of anything to write, I describe an object; I write about a photograph; I make up a story about a stranger; I write a ‘to do’ list, a poem. Anything.  If that doesn’t work –although it usually does – I do something else.  Read a book, go for a walk, even write a letter.  The channel will free up again in an hour, a day, a week.  The important thing is not to panic.  Congratulate yourself that you’re experiencing a real writer’s phenomenon and move on.  Over-thinking things will likely prove less helpful than simply accepting you’ve got a momentary blockage.  You’re a writer.  These things will happen.

Keep writing. Keep sharing. Keep creating.  You’ll be amazed what you learn about yourself, what interesting people you meet, and how positive you feel about this whole ‘being human’ experience.  Writing really can shape our thoughts and help us explain our emotions to ourselves and to others.  Writing can be a big deal for some people and a bit of fun for others.  Whatever your style, form and content, get writing and keep writing.  There’s a writer in all of us looking to be unleashed on the world.

Be brave.  Enjoy.

Murder on the Rise

I’m not talking about the latest crime statistics here.  I’m talking the writing genre that is crime fiction.  Whether it’s ‘Nordic Noir’ or home-grown crime thrillers, there has been a definite surge in both interest and output over the last decade.  There have been awards for crime writing for many years -The Golden Dagger is the biggest in the world- and now there are crime writing festivals a-plenty, from the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival to Bloody Scotland.

crime fictionIn my home country (Scotland) there seems to be a plethora of dark writers, from established international authors like Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Val MacDiarmid, Denise Mina, Alex Gray and Ann Cleeves, to perhaps less well known writers like Alan Guthrie, and Peter May, and newer writers like Helen Forbes and LG Thomson.

The UK has a fine tradition of psychological thrillers – not necessarily ’crime’ or ‘murder’ (think Hitchcock here) and a rich seam of ‘Who Dunnits’ and detective fiction.  The ‘Golden Age’ was always considered to be the 1890’s to the mid 1900’s with the likes of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Michael Innes topping the popularity stakes.  They weren’t so much about literary style and rounded character but much more about the ‘whodunnit’ formula which allowed readers to guess who the murderer might be, with a little deliberate misleading, though rarely with too many surprises.

I read Agatha Christie in my youth, and bored easily of the formulaic approach.  It left me with a bad taste about crime writing in general, although I don’t deny that it was often clever and compelling, and very, very, popular. However, as a result I’ve tended to avoid the genre, until now.

My partner is an avid crime writing reader and has catholic tastes.  I’ve never much been persuaded by his gory descriptions (Stuart MacBride and Tony Parsons spring to mind) although when I ran out of reading matter one wet afternoon, I was tempted to a few Ian Rankin books, and was pleasantly surprised.  Although I got annoyed with Rebus after a while, it opened my mind to the fact that crime writers can handle plot development and character with the best of them.

We both support and attend a local literary salon which invites along publishers, agents and writers.  A surprising number of the authors we’ve had to speak are crime writers: the ubiquitous Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Alan Guthrie, Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone and LG Thomson to name a few.  Their insight into writing both plot and character have been enlightening.  When one of our own members – Helen Forbes- produced a first novel in the genre, I bought it in the spirit of supporting a fellow member, and ended up enjoying the book enormously.

I’ve been impressed with excerpts from Denise’s books, and thoroughly enjoyed the readings from LG Thomson at the launch of Emergent’s XpoNorth festival in 2015.  These are writers who write gritty interesting characters and multi-faceted plots. Crime may be the genre of choice, but there are good stories here for the telling.  It’s changed my perspective, and reading choices.

I don’t tend to like graphic bloody films, and in some ways books can be as bad if you have a visual imagination, so I’ll still avoid those especially gruesome tomes and stick to something with a little more intrigue and a little less blood.

Edmund Wilson suggested that “reading detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking” and perhaps he is right.  Auden described himself as an ‘addict’ of the genre, and I have friends who can’t get enough of their ‘fix’ and read crime fiction voraciously and exclusively. There is certainly a popular and wide appeal and this sort of fiction is no longer separated into dark corners of bookshops but competes on its own terms taking up more inches of shelf space than some supposedly worthier tomes.

John Sutherland (former chairman of the judging panel for one of the foremost literary prizes) had the view that submitting a crime novel for the Booker Prize would be: “like putting a donkey into the Grand National” This may still be the view held by ‘literary’ types, but is a kind of literary snobbery that puts people off reading, rather than encouraging them.  And with around 1 in 3 new novels being crime fiction, not too many people will be giving too much gravitas to these views.

I doubt if the current assent of the crime novel will breed a race of psychopathic writers, or a nation of murderers.  My hope is it will continue to produce a nation of readers, and that we will continue to get good quality new crime writers telling stories of the complexity of human nature, and questioning how we judge people.

L G Thomson’s website: http://www.thrillerswithattitude.co.uk/

Helen Forbes Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Helen-Forbes-Author-457783327732599

Bloody Scotland Website: https://www.bloodyscotland.com/authors/

Time and Tide..

It may have escaped your notice, but it has not escaped mine: my blog has been silent for months, many of them!  It’s not for want of things to say -and write- simply that I’ve  not made time to sit down and type them.  I could say it was because I started a new job, or because of challenges in my personal life, which are both true, but the simple reality is that I’ve not made the time available.  I’ve chosen to do other things with my time.  I admire those dedicated people who come up with regular musings, monthly, weekly, daily even for some people!  Hats off to you professional bloggers out there!

It’s all about prioritising.  I’ve not managed my time in such a way as to make time for writing my blog.  I have used the time allocated me to garden and walk, and go to the cinema; to take photos, and generally be outdoors as much as possible.  It’s not that my blog doesn’t matter to me, just that other things have been more important, other demands more pressing: family, work, health, all the priorities we juggle on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

I am learning not to be too hard on myself.  When I don’t get everything done that I want to, the important question is, ‘have I done what I need to?’  Isn’t that what matters?  When my ‘Superwoman’ status takes a nose-dive, I have to remember not to beat myself up about it, not to let guilt erode the knowledge that I’ve done my best. That email to my friend, the 2 hour phone call to my sister, the cup of tea with a team member, they were all more important than writing this!

But, here’s the thing: writing my blog is important to me.  Having a ‘voice’ out there that can connect me with others gives me an outlet I need, whatever the impact, or lack of, on others.  We all need to ‘make time’ for ourselves, that hackneyed phrase, bandied about, and all too frequently ignored in our frenetic western lifestyles.  For me, whatever else it is, writing is making time for myself.  For you baking a cake, reading a book, or going for a run might be the way you claw moments of respite from the frenzy of pressure on you to be doing something else.

Our time is limited.  We have elected to measure it in 24 hour periods, subdivided into hours and minutes; to organise it into allotted moments which we can use profitably.  Not all cultures and philosophies have such a regimented view.  It is, science tells us, a flowing continuum of time-space which inexorably moves us along.  View it how you will, we have no choice about that.  The choices we have are about what is important to us, and it is that which will ultimately govern our philosophy on life, and the way we chose to live it.  We can be ‘in the moment’ and live for that, and we can plan for a future that may, or may not, happen.  All that is certain is this day, this hour, this minute.  The consequences of our decisions will ripple through time, impacting people we don’t even know in ways we can’t imagine.  We can’t control the consequences any more than we can control time, for all the imaginings of HG Wells, or Mark Gatiss and Russell Davies.

So, I am writing now because I’ve used some minutes to do this, rather than something else, and I feel good about that.  The thing I could have done instead will get done at some point and no one will have died, or even been hurt because of that. We often give too much importance to what we do, as if the world will fall apart or stop if we take a moment to relax, a moment to connect with ourselves, and yet so much of what we do is inconsequential, not only in the great scheme of things, but in our own lives.

‘Time and tide waits for no man” – or woman- it carries us along.  We should give up fighting against it and relax into our own rhythms; rhythms that suit our temperament, our objectives and our lifestyles.  The pressure to conform rigidly to other people’s schedules can panic us into under-achievement and regret, and life is too short for that.  Life is long enough, however, for a few blog articles now and again, a walk on the beach, a game of Frisbee, or a good book, whatever it is you enjoy, whatever frees you to be more yourself, with more energy, and time, to engage with your fellow human beings and with LIFE.

 

 

My Virtual Reality, Reality

Virtual book TourWith most things in my life, I have been a late starter -the exception was reading- and I am certainly a later-comer to digital, social media, and e-pubs.  I have only owned a Kindle for 12 months, and have been tweeting and blogging for a little over 24.  Late to the party though I may be, I am making up for it now!  It’s not that I don’t have a life, or that I have loads of free time, but rather I have seen the benefits, and potential benefits of being ‘connected’.

In my short time on Twitter I have connected with like-minded people about writing, gardening, organics and the natural world.  I have signed petitions and joined campaigns.  I have had lots of questions answered, and found out lots of information, particularly about gardening.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard of a ‘virtual book tour’.  The lovely Emma Cooper posted an invitation on Twitter for people to host her, on her virtual reality book tour of the UK, and my interest was piqued immediately.  For people that don’t know Emma, she is a freelance writer, photographer, blogger, podcaster, master composter and very keen gardener.  She is the author of three gardening titles already, and the aforementioned tour is set to show case her fourth book, ‘Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs’.  What intrigues me about this approach to marketing a publication is that the virtual reality translates into something tangible:  in this case a fascinating read, from someone who is passionate about sharing their knowledge, and encouraging other people to grow food and experiment.

A virtual book tour is a fabulous way of reaching an audience with a shared interest, without humping a ton of books around the country, and creating a massive carbon-footprint in the process.  There is no doubt that people like book signings from commercially successful authors, but this is a far remove from the quiet, steady plod of relatively unknown authors who must graft continually to make a trickle of income from their writing.  Perhaps this tour will be a new model for independent authors; I hope so.

So, the important information:  Emma will be featuring as a guest blogger on April 15th from 10 am onwards, when you lucky readers will be treated to her expert knowledge on an exciting topic from her latest work.  No spoilers here though!

Although behind the curve as usual – Emma is my first guest blogger- I’m right on the case with the virtual book tour, so watch this space, and don’t forget to flag the date in your diary.  Emma welcomes comments, and I’m sure she would be happy to respond to any questions.

A Funny Business

Top of Pen with sunlightI am currently writing a work of non-fiction, which may not seem strange to anyone reading my blog, but it seems very odd to me!

My writing life to date, 40 years of it, has been made of  non-fiction: poetry, short-stories, and at least one novel in progress.  I suppose it shouldn’t have been a shock.  My first published piece of writing was an essay, which was produced in a medical review, and my main other chunk of writing has been for a community newsletter.  I’ve had the odd poem published in magazines, and competition anthologies, but when I think about it, most of my body of published work to date is non-fiction.

I was equally perplexed the other month when I found myself writing a semi-romantic short story for a competition entry.  I am not a romantic: I don’t read romantic fiction, or watch romantic films.  Ask anyone.  What’s more, I now have other stories in the same sort of genre queuing up to be written.  What in earth is going on?

I suspect part of the reason may be that, having decided to concentrate exclusively on non-fiction for the last few months, my creative brain is demanding some sort of outlet.  It’s behaving like a petulant child who’s been told she can’t have pudding!

So it seems that whilst I still control the pen, or in this case the keypad, there’s some part of my brain – a stranger to me- determining the output.  This writing lark is definitely a right funny business!

 

Photograph © Ursula Graham Dreamstime Stock Photos

Shoshul Meeja

Social MediaThis could expand into a dissertation topic, but I want to keep it short.  I decided to engage with the social media (SM) revolution a couple of years ago.  I live in a remote location, and it’s a great way of sharing photos of where I am and what I’m doing with family and friends.  There have been many positives – linking up with old friends from college; networking with people and groups who share some of my passions; disseminating information about missing people, or particular causes.  There are the negatives too – a whole host of them, and too many to list here- quite apart from the potential to waste time when we could be doing other things; better things, like meeting our friends, or talking to them on the phone, or may be even writing them a letter…… (OK, well maybe sending them an email then!)

A few months ago a young girl left her teddy bear on an East Coast line train.  Unless it was handed into lost property, and her guardians thought to contact them, there would have been no way that said girl and teddy bear would ever have been united in the past.  Twitter and Facebook made the reunion possible.  It’s a heart-warming story, and although trivial in the grand scheme of things, it does highlight the fact that SM can be a powerful tool for good.  It’s certainly enabled mass campaigning, and information sharing in a way which would have been difficult for minority groups and charities ,without big budgets, to engage in otherwise.  Of course there’s plenty of disinformation about, and naysayers will always be able to counter any positives with the corresponding negatives, but that doesn’t invalidate the point.

I live in an isolated hamlet.  It’s not easy to connect with people without time and often considerable expense.  For people who have mental health issues, connecting with on-line communities can be a valuable way to engage socially, albeit ‘virtually’.  There’s still research to be done in this area, but there’s no doubt that this sort of on-line connectivity can reduce isolation for some of our most vulnerable people.  It can also be a torment and a torture.

Our young people too, can be vulnerable, and very at risk from those who would cause them harm.  There are plenty of apocryphal tales of young girls meeting boys on-line who turn out to be older men, grooming them with ill intent.  We need to teach our young people the skills to avoid these scenarios, and as adults we need to be more engaged. 

Bullying, and sometimes associated suicide, has been a worrying trend in on-line communities, but it is also a worrying trend across the country in general.  In Scotland initiatives have been put in place to reduce the incidence of suicide, particularly in young men, because the numbers are so high.  When I was working in advocacy, over a decade ago, before the real advent of on line chat rooms and social networks, bullying was causing the deaths of young people then.  SM can amplify the effect and increase copycat trends, as was seen in Wales a few years ago, but SM itself is not the cause of suicide, although it can give the bullies an easier target.

As a society we need to try and grasp what’s going on.  Why our young people are feeling so hopeless and worthless that such ‘virtual’ bullying can have such a powerful impact.  There are lots of things going on here, and shutting down Facebook or Bebo (it’s coming back apparently) or the other 100 or so social networking websites will not solve the problems our communities are facing, any more than shutting down schools playgrounds or youth clubs will.

Powerful tools can always be harnessed for good or for bad.  It’s up to those of us who are aware, and who care, to remember that whilst SM can be a fun, controllable pass-time, and a good way of keeping in touch for most, for vulnerable people it can be a scary predatory world. 

Rather than banning your children from using SM networks, teach them how to use it effectively, so that their privacy is protected and they know how to stay safe.  Get them to keep their circles manageable, and to ‘un-friend’ anyone who is threatening or abusive; encourage them to think before they post.  These sorts of guidelines are equally food for thought for anyone, and would avoid a lot of the damaging remarks and hurtful comments that are made on a daily basis.  Once it’s posted it’s hard to ‘take it back’, but you can encourage young people to remove old posts and photos from their timeline that could be damaging to themselves, or to others.

If you work with vulnerable young people or adults, with mental health issues, or learning disability, or even older people who are lonely, rather than being discouraging and restrictive, encourage them to use SM responsibly, and to protect themselves by not giving out personal contact details.  If you have vulnerable people in your friends list, keep an eye out for them.  We won’t ever eliminate the risks altogether, but with a bit of awareness and more considerate practice, we can reduce some of the risks for the most vulnerable in our communities.  SM can be effective at reducing social isolation and connecting people who might otherwise find it hard to be in touch, but it can also cause a lot of damage.  Let’s remember that SM is just a tool, and like all tools it can be used for good or ill.