Chatting With The Queen

One of my earliest memories is of standing outside a building with a tall policeman while my parents went inside to vote. He was dressed in his smart Metropolitan Police uniform with the traditional helmet. The police have always been there to look after the innocent as well as catch the guilty. Many voters this week would have been guarded by visibly armed police, but going to vote is still safe in this country. A snap election that most people didn’t want, other important issues clouded by terrible terrorist attacks, people braved the rain to vote and the result was as confusing as the run up. If you enjoy political discussion you will find it twenty four hours a day on radio, television and the internet.

I am more interested in what The Queen says to the stream of prime ministers who have had weekly hour long private audiences with her throughout her long reign.

After an election the new Prime Minister must visit Buckingham Palace to tell the queen he or she is forming a new government. While the PM returns to Downing Street to utter the words ‘I have been to see The Queen’, Her Majesty has to sit down and write her speech for the opening of parliament.

Alas, the speech is written for her and I wonder how often the words ‘My government will…’ nearly choke her.

It does not matter whether you believe in God or The Queen, I’m sure she does and unlike politicians who never keep promises, has kept her sacred vows to serve the country. Wouldn’t it be great if she decided she could best serve us by writing her own speech.

As part of my research I wondered if The Queen would like to be my Facebook friend. To my surprise she actually has a Facebook page;

https://www.facebook.com/HMRoyalQueen/

I’m sorry to say only 196,569 people have Liked it, which is poor considering how many people in her kingdom are on Facebook. I was also disappointed she had made no comments about the election; not even a sad or angry emoticon.

I sent a message to see what would happen. Watch this space to see how the conversation continues.

Chat conversation start

09:43

How wonderful it would be if Her Majesty was allowed to write the Queen’s speech herself and hand out some sensible suggestions.

Thanks for messaging us. We try to be as responsive as possible. We’ll get back to you soon.

Her Majesty has not replied yet, but I’m sure she will soon when she’s finished writing her speech.

Ringing Round

When I was in my last year of The Brownies and aiming to get my Golden Hand badge, part of the test was to make a phone call; a far cry from this week’s news of a major revamping of badges with Rainbows, Brownies and Guides encouraged to take part in new challenges involving app design, entrepreneurship, “speaking out”, upcycling or vlogging.

But my little task was still a big challenge for me. We did not have a telephone at home and it was about this time that my friend and I were sent up the road to the phone box with some coins, a set of instructions and a mission; to phone my father at the office. To this day I have no idea what was so urgent that could not wait till he came home from Waterloo with all the other commuters. My friend was sensible and two years older than me, but still we did not achieve our task; the mysteries of Buttons A and B defeated us.

Meanwhile, back at the house of a complete stranger, a respectable middle aged woman, my task was to phone Brown Owl. I was as terrified as anyone going for a driving test or important job interview; I failed, probably the only Brownie in history to have to do a re-sit for her Golden Hand.

A letter in the paper the other day suggested we had forgotten how intrusive the telephone was, how wonderful emails are and how infuriating people are who refuse to use them. I heartily agree, emails were made for me. I have never liked phone calls; they always come at the wrong moment, or the phone stops ringing just as you race in from the garden with muddy hands. Hands free phones are a help, but still interrupt your favourite programme.

I admire people who efficiently get on the phone the moment something breaks down or a letter arrives in the post requiring action; I’m more inclined to write on my list of things to do – phone insurance co. ring boiler repairs.  When it comes to personal calls I procrastinate… they might be cooking/eating their dinner, feeding the baby, making love, watching Eastenders, I’ll call later… later they might be having an early night… I’ll call tomorrow…

Emails can be written any time and the receiver can read them when it suits and not be caught off guard; with time to think of a good excuse not to come to your coffee morning. The other advantage is to message all your friends, club members etc at the same time, but there is always one person in every club or group who does not do email and constantly complains ‘Why can’t you just ring round.’ We should not rush to judge; how many decades passed between the phone being invented and everyone having a telephone in their homes? Even people who are on the internet forget to check their emails and miss important messages.

Technology rolls on rapidly; we don’t use our mobile phones as phones, but to read our emails. Emails themselves are being superseded by What’sApp and Facebook Messenger. How easy it is to message six people at once on the other side of the world and send them photos. On your computer you can follow Facebook and have several message boxes open in the corner of your screen…

And then there’s Skype and FaceTime etc which bring us round full circle to actually talking personally to someone. Ironically ‘Televisionphones’ have been invented, but they are not the screens attached to our immovable house phones that we once imagined. Now we can wander around in our pyjamas showing relatives on the other side of the world what our new house looks like.

But emails are so useful if you wish to avoid eye contact or awkward conversations.

The first story in my latest collection ‘Someone Somewhere’ starts with the words ‘I got an email from him…’ an enigmatic message is the only clue to a lost son…

Fantastic Families

In junior school days my friend and I bought two white mice from Aldershot Market and reassured our parents they were both male. We ended up with forty mice; my father had built himself a designer shed, but the only carpentry he ended up doing in it was making mice cages. In various homes there followed a succession of guinea pig cages and aviaries, but I yearned for larger creatures. By the time I was fourteen I realised I was never going to get a horse, but our parents relented and we got a dog; who became pregnant on her first heat. We begged to keep one of the puppies, this was considered by my mother to be greedy, as soon as you get what you want you want more. We kept a puppy.

If you give birth to a boy and girl people assume your family is complete, but two didn’t seem to be enough. The friend with whom I shared the white mice came from a family of six children; all beautifully brought up in a small house; my parents marvelled at the efficient running of the household. Large families have always fascinated me; I don’t know how many couples fantasize about having lots of children, but for most of us it is medical dramas and financial disasters that dictate family size. When you are expecting your third baby everyone assumes it was a terrible shock and cannot believe you did it on purpose. My mother could not accuse me of being greedy this time as they had produced three of us.

When I walked my children to school there was a local family I thought of as the Droopy Family; parents, son and daughter so pale and wan, I could not imagine how the parents ever had the energy to procreate. The opposite of droopy families would be the Fantastic Family. Many of us might privately think our families are amazing; we can never credit how we produced a head boy and a head girl and launched three totally different people into very successful lives.  But Fantastic Families are rare, they are large and amazing.

I was not one of Amanda Owen’s  Twitter followers; by chance I read in the newspaper about the Yorkshire Shepherdess. Despite a traumatic first birth by Caesarean she has given birth to nine children on one of the most exposed and remote farms in the Yorkshire Dales.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/feb/04/amanda-owen-yorkshire-shepherdess-nine-children-childbirths

By any reckoning this makes her a Supermum and by necessity the family lead an environmentally friendly and healthy life.

I became aware of a very different  family after watching BBC Young Musician of the Year; I love the music, but as I am very nosey, the best part is where they visit contestants’ homes and families.

In my novel ‘Brief Encounters of the Third Kind’ Emma Dexter is a brilliant musician in a very ordinary family, who find it hard to support her financially and emotionally.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brief-Encounters-Third-Janet-Gogerty-ebook/dp/B00AWVNH3E

By contrast her husband Paul Jones comes from a family of four children, all great musicians, with a famous conductor father and pianist mother. I thought the Jones family were larger than life, but when cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason won Young Musician of the Year 2016, we met a family more amazing than I had created. Seven children all musicians, with interesting names and mixed heritage good looks. I recently caught up with a documentary about the family who live in a rambling house conveniently detached from close neighbours; practising going on continually; pianos in the hall, violins in the bathroom, mother’s life devoted to organising them. The father’s job was not specified, but anyone who has had to feed teenagers and make sure homework gets done will wonder how this family operates financially and practically. On Saturday mornings the family are up before dawn to catch the train from Nottingham to London to attend the Royal Academy of Music.

http://www.kannehmasons.com/

I wonder at what stage families change from fending off disapproving  looks when yet another baby arrives, to buying a house that matches their status as a Fantastic Family. Writers rarely create families that match up to real life.

 

Reinventing The Printing Press

The printing press was invented nearly 600 years ago, Gutenberg credited with the birth of mass communication; but of course the written word goes back much further. Has the invention of the E-book been as important as the invention of the printing press? Not in terms of mass communication; radio, television and the internet surely qualify for that.

Have Kindle books revolutionised our reading habits? Real paper books have survived radio, television and the cinema so are unlikely to suffer a demise. But e-Books have brought new delights; reading in bed in the dark still gives me a wicked thrill when I recall my childhood self trying to read with a torch under the covers without being caught. Packing one slim item for holiday reading, or on the commuter train with nobody knowing which book you are reading… But people still love the feel and colour of real books and I never dare take my precious Kindle on the bus or to the beach hut, paperbacks still have their use.

But for the Indie writer Amazon Kindle provided a tempting doorway into self publishing with a worldwide audience, not necessarily translating into world record sales, but with the opportunity for your aunty on the other side of the world to download your wonderful novel onto her Kindle in seconds.

Self publishing is not new; famous writers in history have published their own novels or pamphlets of poetry. In the modern world unknown writers must first find an agent, who in turn must find a publisher who in turn may let months slip by and still reject the precious manuscript. No wonder lots of writers have turned to what used to be called vanity publishing. They have the advantage of real books to show friends and take to local bookshops for signing events. They may be very successful or could end up with boxes of books in the garage.

Print on Demand is another development which is an attractive proposition. When I first started reading writing magazines one editorial suggested we would soon be wandering into bookstores with a memory stick and downloading our novel, returning later in the day to collect a printed book. That hasn’t happened, but recently Kindle Direct Publishing announced that authors could now create paperbacks as well as e-Books for free. Of course the publishing costs come out of the book sales, but at Chez Gogerty Publishing House it seemed an opportunity too good to miss, as I was just editing a collection of short stories, Tides and Times. Even if we only produced one real book to give my 91 year old mother it was worth a try.

Cyberspouse is always willing to face a technical challenge if it involves no financial outlay. After several attempts at downloading his own  cover design, the book was accepted, then we had to wait for it to go ‘live’, then we ordered one copy…

We were not disappointed, it looked and felt good, we ordered five more. One of the reasons why Amazon is so successful, why we can’t help using them for everything under the sun, is that they always deliver in all senses of the word; they tell you it’s on it’s way, they tell you when it will arrive.

After four years of extolling the virtues of Kindle books to my writers’ group, mostly to no avail, the five copies were snapped up. So now to finish writing my next book with renewed vigour and to turn my back catalogue into paperbacks.

How does all this work? Obviously by magic. In a mountain cave somewhere are lots of little Amazon Elves beavering away at a printing press. I just hope there is not an international scandal involving zero hours contracts and mistreatment of Elves, so that we are all expected to boycott Amazon and sign petitions on Facebook…

 

TIMES AND TIDES

Do you like short stories, do you read them or write them? Do you listen to them at writing groups, story slams in the pub or on BBC Radio 4? Short stories are of a more useful size than novels to pop in or drop in, but perhaps you prefer the journey and involvement of a novel.

I have to confess that in between school and starting at a writing group, my short story activity was confined to listening on Radio 4 while feeding babies or doing the housework. But we have so much fun at writers’ group listening  to stories as good as any on the radio and as I have just published my third collection of short stories you will guess I love writing them.

But what should a short story do; answer a question, satisfy us with a neat ending or leave us completely in the lurch? A short story can produce an interesting or dramatic dilemma without having to worry what happens in the long run. In my latest collection of 25 stories you will find cosy endings, dire results or the fate of characters may be left to your imagination. Buy for £1.99 on Amazon Kindle and decide if you dare read them.

Llamas and Labradoodles

 

Help, I need a llama.

Most writers would rather not be seen or heard, but just read. Unfortunately readers are unlikely to read your books if they don’t know you exist. We Indie writers are unlikely to be seen talking to James Naughtie on Meet The Author, BBC News or heard talking to Mariella Frostrup on Open Book, BBC Radio 4. But we do occasionally get interviewed on other writers’ blogs and are advised to tell the world about ourselves on our websites. This is where the Llamas and Labradoodles come into it; we cannot let the readers imagine we just sit at a desk in a dreary little room, they want to picture what sort of household surrounds the holy spot where our lap top or desk top sits.

It is amazing how many writers have six chickens, three Labradoodles, four llamas in the field outside their writing shed and five cats which drape themselves over the keyboard or keep the author’s feet warm. I can see great advantage in owning creatures; writers need exercise and while walking your four great Danes you can think up your next chapter. Free range eggs would be excellent for breakfast after your 6a.m. start at the keyboard and rare breed sheep, whose wool you have spun, dyed and knitted into a warm and very individual jacket, would make you look the part of an other worldly author.

Alas it does not have the same kudos to say you live with twenty pot plants and have some grey squirrels in your little garden. I’m not sure how we come to have no pets; perhaps it’s their disadvantages. Everyone knows dogs are a greater commitment than children as they don’t go to school or become gradually independent and you have to walk around with plastic bags… well you know the rest. I have wanted a horse since I could talk, but they are too expensive. Little pets? I could only bear to have them if they would be happy, which means sufficient numbers to keep each other company and vast enclosures with adventure playgrounds.

I have had pets, as a child and for our own children, with varying degrees of survival and happiness; mice, gerbils, finches, fish, terrapins, cat, dogs… but for now the only rescue animal in our house is ‘Chocolate Moose’  who we acquired from a charity shop at Christmas. He is a very cuddly character, with a zany personality; but is no trouble and doesn’t run up vet’s bills.

Opting Out

 

When I was a teenager, among my fantasies of what a future husband might be like was a desire to be a vicar’s wife. This was partly religious sentiment, partly a crush on an older chap at youth group who wanted to become a vicar, but most of all the attraction of achieving an identity, a career and a home all in one package with little effort on my part. This imaginary young vicar would worship me almost as devoutly as God, preach in a wonderful baritone voice, look divine in a cassock …and in the bedroom, though details about the bedroom part were very hazy.

Other candidates for the perfect husbands were vets, explorers and policemen. I didn’t marry a vicar, but I was right about the desirability of securing a secure position in life; as it turned out I was not very good at doing careers. Armed with some brains and motherly encouragement; ‘you don’t want to end up working in a shop’ or ‘you don’t want to be one of those girls who just takes any job till she gets married’ I ventured to seek the interesting and the worthwhile.

I have never thought of myself as someone who suffers from depression, anxiety or has mental health issues. I always assumed any career failures were entirely my fault and even if I had heard of such a thing I would never have dreamed of suing my employers for letting me down when it was me that let them down. Armed with other words of wisdom from my mother ‘I don’t need a doctor to tell me when I’m depressed’ I developed a simple strategy, escape. Not literally, as in disappearing without a trace, though I could see the attraction and I did cross to the other side of the world. The nearest I got to a medical issue was my periods stopping for three months, a sure sign your body is telling you something and they returned after my escape. But how close do we all come to mental health problems?

In my newly enthusiastic reading of The Big Issue, an article about a homeless man who lived in his car touched a chord. He had been a teacher, had a nervous breakdown, couldn’t work, lost his home. If he had escaped sooner, taken a safe hum drum job perhaps he would not have dropped out.

My avoidance tactics have applied in other areas. I don’t drive. I did get a licence when I was seventeen, but even driving in a small city presented challenges such as going round roundabouts, turning right and parking in awkward spots. I don’t regret letting the driving lapse. My friend at work suffered immense stress adding to traffic problems by driving her children to the nearest grammar school miles away. I was not stressed as our children had no choice but to walk to the nearest school. The potential terrors of multi storey car parks, edging out onto busy roads, being obliged to offer lifts to unknown places negate the convenience and independence of driving.

So what did happen? I married a policeman, we got a police flat to start with and my grandfather was delighted I was marrying someone with a secure job. Then we had children, further delaying career pressures and resulting in me doing all sorts of ordinary jobs which turned out to be very enjoyable. Perhaps I should have been a writer from the start – writers can write about life without the stress of actually participating in it.

Into Infinity

 

 

Do you keep a diary or resolve to keep one every New Year? Many years ago I was given a five year diary which lasted at least a decade of good intentions and still has many blank pages, but it does record some major life events; if anyone can ever decipher the tiny writing crammed into the allotted space per day and year.

In more recent years I received a handsome note book blissfully free of dates. I vowed to keep a journal for the purpose of preserving the art of handwriting and recording family history. Released from the obligation of daily jotting I would devote several pages to important events and places and people visited. I haven’t yet recorded Christmas.

But I am onto the third gift journal. Each entry begins with a few neat sentences but quickly deteriorates into a cramped scrawl, especially if I am lounging with my feet up on the sofa. I imagine the diarists of old would need to sit upright at their bureaus to be able to handle their quill and ink.

In the unlikely event of me becoming a famous author posthumously, will my family be tempted to burn these diaries and journals to protect my reputation? If they bother to look at them they will find no scandal (there is none to help in the fame stakes), no salacious details of non writing activities at home. Hopefully my jottings will be a unique personal account of everyday life in the early years of the Twenty First Century.

And which will last longer, the paper books or this Blog? When I needed to look up a previous Goodreads blog about the River Thames I typed in ‘Janet Gogerty Sandscript River Thames’ and up it came, from over three years ago; will it be there forever? Will our WordPress Blogs  float through the ether into eternity or only until the internet is switched off?

Like radio waves going on forever into space will the billions of words on the internet still be out there somewhere when the whole infrastructure collapses and the electricity is switched off for good? Will our Facebook posts and e-mails be accessible to clever alien archaeologists or future earth scientists? If so then, Greetings from 2017 A.D.

Christmas Issue

‘Big Issue, Big Issue’ a phrase heard by most of us quite often unless we live in the remote countryside. Until last week I always said ‘No thank you’ or slipped by in the crowd, feeling guilty when the seller said ‘Have a nice day.’

Lots of people no longer carry cash, but that was not my excuse. There is no issue with selling the Big Issue; it is not begging, but a straightforward transaction, without the minefield of indecision when faced with people begging. The police and councils urge us not to give directly, but to support homeless charities. If someone is busking, playing an instrument well without electronic backing and cheering everybody up, I’m happy to put some money in the violin or guitar case.

I have always thought, are there not other jobs in the warm, not standing all day, that these people could be given? One thing I know about the Big Issue is you should always take your copy. The Big issue Manifesto says ‘…a handout up, not a handout… always take your copy.’ A while back a family member told me  ‘I bought a Big Issue, well I told him I didn’t want a copy, but I gave him £2.00 and told him to keep the change.’ ‘No… ‘ I cried ‘what about his pride… and anyway, it costs £2.50!’

Magazines have a strange habit of piling up unread. Over the years I have bought magazines I need or want, Radio Times because I love the radio, ‘Parents’, gardening, knitting, writing. I  avoid glossy magazines about ultra successful glamorous women or ‘Real Life’ supermarket mags about distinctly unglamorous women.

So it would be hypocritical to buy a magazine I wasn’t sure I wanted because I couldn’t browse through it in a shop. Are the many Big Sellers I have passed grateful I have spared their pride? The other issue; even if you buy a copy every week, you will probably pass half a dozen different sellers and have to apologise that you already have a copy.

The other week we passed a new chap on our way for coffee and my friend remarked she had seen him before and he wasn’t selling many, because he wasn’t engaging with the public; we had soon invented a back story for him, ex serviceman etc. Before we got to the table to meet the other friends she had delved into her purse and disappeared back outside, returning with her Big Issue. I felt doubly guilty, so last week I bought a copy off the same chap and had a nice chat with him.

As I had a long bus journey that evening the lightweight magazine was ideal and in a couple of days I had read it from cover to cover; it was full of engaging articles about people of all sorts and what could be more interesting for a writer? I was filled with virtuous zeal and determined to buy the next issue and tell him how much I enjoyed it. I passed by another half dozen sellers in the meantime, but this week he wasn’t there!

Plan B; the least I can do is e-mail the letters page of Big Issue to enthuse and buy this week’s copy from the next seller I see.dscn7250

 

 

Frost and Fireworks

It’s that time of year when writers look forward to getting more writing done. Northern Hemisphere days grow shorter, helped by the man made device of putting the clocks back to Greenwich Mean Time. My Australian relatives are now eight instead of seven hours ahead, making that very modern tradition, Skyping, more complicated. All our traditions at this time of year go back further than we imagine; from Diwali to Bonfire night it is light we cling to. Imagine our ancestors in the long nights; when they looked out of their huts or caves they would see nothing but impenetrable darkness – no Kurling up with a Kindle for them.

Halloween, Monday October 31st, the day after the clocks went back, was a day  of brilliant sunshine, winter had never felt further away. Enjoying an outing to Kingston Lacy, a National Trust owned house and grounds, the sun was blissfully warm on my face, the autumn colours beautiful. On Friday we had a journey to make from south coast to east coast; it rained heavily all day long, it was hard to tell when dark day turned into early evening, but the car lights shining in the teeming rain had a certain beauty of their own. Saturday found our family gathering freezing in the garden for fireworks. Anyone too cold used the excuse of going back in the kitchen to comfort scared dogs or children. Sunday brought bitter but exhilarating winds on the beach.

Back home, Monday night brought the first frost in our area.The weather had changed so much in one week, but this was not a surprise; accurate satellite weather forecasts are broadcast endlessly and even before you get out of bed you can look at you smart phone. If mine  says ‘Bournemouth Rain’ I know it will be a good writing day, even if it clears up later there will not be time to get out in the garden to plant spring bulbs before it gets dark again.