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.
A deliciously topical story…
This week’s post is Part 1 of a story in which the principal character is one you will recognise from media coverage. Foisted into the public eye, perhaps more than she has been comfortable with I began to imagine how she feels and if, maybe, she has regrets about the life she has chosen for herself…
It is like the sea, she thinks, a tidal surge with flashes of light. In reality the flashes are cameras and the surge is people. She puts her hand to the high collar of her coat and swallows, composing her expression, breathing in long, steady breaths like she has been told. There is a roar, startling her and she realises she’s lost concentration for a moment then she remembers and raises her…
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Here is my favourite story from Scott Andrew Bailey’s collection ‘Thirteen Tales’.
(Originally published in Thirteen Tales)
Orange light tried to sparkle off the wet tarmac. Otherwise all was still, even the three figures that lay in the road.
Two were face down by the kerb, the other was splayed out in the middle of the street. Their faces were hidden by motorcycle helmets. Leather jackets and jeans completed their ensemble.
Houses watched over them, silent witnesses. The life behind the pastel curtains was at rest and undisturbed.
A bedraggled wreath sagged at the foot of a lamppost, close by one of the figures. Notes were scattered around it, most of the writing now had run away into the gutter, the thoughts washed away.
The silence intensified, remained heavy over the scene even as the three figures stirred and slowly rose.
They pulled off their crash helmets and shook out the confusion in their heads. As they walked towards…
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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.
As a child who suffered chronically from car sickness I have never liked motor vehicles and longed only for a pony. I’m sure we’ve all heard apocryphal stories of efforts to create reliable electric cars vanquished by the oil companies. Are plug in cars at last becoming viable?
On the whole, vehicles are one of my non-interests, along with football and cricket, talent shows, fast food, misery memoirs and a few other tedious topics.
In a discussion on cars I’m interested in reliability first, followed by comfort and economy in equal measure. In a blatant betrayal of gender stereotyping I have opinions on colour, preferring black over any other but accepting of anything except pink, orange, red or lurid.
My first car, like many first cars, was a humble, ancient, faded turquoise Austin A40 with steering wheel so huge that steering around a corner was akin to half an hour’s workout on a rowing machine. Subsequent vehicles became newer, though never new. My least old car was also the worst, an indigo VW Polo that exhibited some kind of electrical fault and let me down with irritating frequency-most famously by giving up at traffic lights at a busy…
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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.
‘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.
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.