Friday 30 May 2008

Violence and a Mother’s Agony

I cried along with a woman on the news tonight. The news about her was that she had ‘shopped’ two of her sons who had beaten someone up and left him bleeding in the street with horrendous injuries. She said she had overheard them bragging about it.

What a terrible thing for a mother to find out. I really felt for her. She was interviewed after the young men had been sent to prison for two years. You could see the tears, and the agony, on her face as she spoke, telling the interviewer that her sons knew she loved them. But she said that, if she hadn’t called the police and given the information, she would have been as guilty as them.

She is a different kind of victim of the escalation of drink fuelled violence that we are hearing about in the UK. I just pray that I never have to hear anything like that in my family.

In my youth, we were shocked by the escalation of muggings. I used to think that there had always been violence, but we didn’t get to hear about much of it before we had so many different ways of receiving the news. I still think that was true then, but now is a different story. There is no denying that there is more violence on our streets today.

I do believe that part of the trouble is how every incident is sensationalised by the media. It’s really hard to understand what motivates the perpetrators. Part of it is the drink, of course. But I wonder how much is due to the fact that impressionable people are following the herd while trying to get some attention for themselves. And if it wasn’t reported in the way that occurs now, would there be less of it happening?

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Fascinating Football Facts

I’m late again today because I have been researching and writing about the Euro Cup. My favourite customer at constant-content has requested an article publicly, and I always set to with a will to respond to him.

Lots of women I know can’t stand football. They think of it as a rival for the attention of their menfolk. I’m not one of those. I was brought up on a diet of footie as my dad ran our local amateur club. I wrote about that for the women’s magazine My Weekly about twenty years ago, and a version of that article has been recently published in Best of British.

Of course, the beautiful game has changed out of all recognition since the time I was writing about, in the 1960s. I no longer attend matches but I do sometimes watch them from my armchair. Today though, I actually got to understand the different tournaments and how teams qualify for them. It was all completely new to me. I even learnt how fair play conduct can influence a decision on team placement when points are equal.

My article is now showcased here at constant-content So are a couple of others on the subject. Except that when I read them, they were not actually about the Euro Cup. The authors seemed to have confused it with the UEFA Cup (The European Cup), and the Champions League titles. In my article, I had warned against this, which seemed a suitable thing to do for the readership I was aiming at. Of course, anyone who regularly follows football wouldn’t need to be told that the Euro Cup, like the World Cup, is for national teams, while the others are for individual clubs within nations.

It just shows how important it is to check and double check your research. I can only hope that the customer knew that distinction when they put in the request. If so, on the basis of the article excerpts I have read, I’m likely to win this particular competition.

Friday 23 May 2008

Second Childhood

Gosh, children are exhausting when you get to my age. This is day one of my grand daughter’s visit, and her mother was here for the first half of it. Since she left, we have had a cold lunch, made some chocolate brownies, watched a batman video while it rained, been to the swing park, had a hot supper and later a bath (I wasn’t actually in it, but I got nearly as wet).

Now she’s sleeping and I’ve just got the kitchen and living room tidied up. Must say I felt more like slipping between the sheets myself, but the computer was calling and telling me I must stick to my schedule and blog here on a Friday. This blogging is most likely all the writing I’ll do till Eryn goes home next Tuesday – my only chance to keep in practice.

I’m really hoping that tomorrow will be fine enough to take a picnic to the beach in the area that I want to move to. Don’t hold out much hope for Sunday or Monday but if it’s just wind, we’ll take the kite to the top of White Sheet Hill. And there are farms nearby that we can visit, or even Monkey World if we can raise enough cash to get us in.

I believe these are all things that she will enjoy, but I know that I will. Isn't it great when you have the excuse of taking out children, and get to do all the things you 'd be too embarrassed to do on your own

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Finding Ideas

In a writers’ forum, I and other authors were recommended to visit the TED Talks List for those times when we were stuck for inspiration. You can select from a list of videoed talks on some fascinating subjects.

I decided to watch the talk by Amy Tan, who wrote the Joy Luck Club and other books. She was talking about creativity and the influences on us that affect what we write about, a subject which always intrigues me. And her unique slant on this didn’t disappoint me.

This made me think about non-fiction articles about writing – I’ve been successful with a few of those just recently.

But there are lots of other ideas on TED. I just have to find some time to listen, and any one of them could get my creative juices flowing.

Monday 19 May 2008

Freelance Finances

Things are definitely looking up for me. Today I’ve sold one article for €30, and had a positive response to a query for one that will net $300. Which turns my mind in a couple of directions.

The first is about how to deal with being paid in multiple currencies, especially at the moment when the conversion rates to sterling are pretty dire. And when I receive a cheque, even for a small amount, the bank charges a hefty commission and I’m left with just peanuts. Should I set up different bank accounts in different currencies? Have to admit, I wouldn’t know how to do that, although no doubt I could find out.

I already have different accounts with Paypal, but that doesn’t mean a lot, except that I can avoid conversion charges if I buy things in different currencies on-line. As soon as I withdraw cash to my bank account, the conversion rates kick in.

The next tangent for my mind is a bit of a rant, really. When I first started freelancing in the 1980s, people paid a reasonable amount for the time I put in to produce my work. Now, $300 is a very rare offer indeed for less than 1000 words. (Of course, it’s not in my pocket yet.) Much more commonly, if I work out my time and effort, I can see that I’m earning far less than the minimum wage. Must be one of the only areas where rewards have gone downwards over the years. You can see why so many people (including me before I got my pension) can’t give up the day jobs.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Human Rights for a Writer in Prison

I’m changing my blogging schedule around this week, so that I can participate in today’s human rights blogging campaign here. I thought I’d follow up my previous blog about International PEN.

The English PEN website is featuring Djamshid Karimov, a journalist in Uzbekistan, who has been forcibly kept in a psychiatric hospital for over eighteen months. His writing about injustice and corruption in his country has been published internationally. Perhaps because he is a nephew of the country’s leader, President Karimov, he was offered work for state controlled newspapers in 2006. He was detained after he refused to toe the line.

His detention order has never been explained but the original six month order was extended until September 2007. Although that date has passed, he has still not been released and his fiancée and mother (widow and sister-in-law to the president) have been abused, harassed and banned from making statements or contacting the media.

As is their practice, English PEN has made Djamshid Karimov an Honorary Member, and requests its members to write to the Uzbek Ambassador in London calling for his immediate release. His details are:

HE Mr Tukhtapulat Tursunovich Riskiev
41 Holland Park
London W11 3RP

Visit their website to find events and opportunities to support English PEN.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Summer Sundays

The sunny weather we’ve been having reminded me of this poem I wrote last year. It started off as a much shorter entry into a Writelink competition for a poem about summer Sundays. Then I learnt about a new poem structure, which is based on the number of syllables, starting with just one, and adding one to each succeeding line.

Anyway I thought I’d put a couple of these stanzas in my poem, reversing one of them. Although you can go on editing poems for ever, I’m not too unhappy with the result. The subject matter is very personal, and if I’m in a sentimental mood, it can still bring tears to my eyes.

Family album

On lonely summer Sundays
I take out the photo album
to help me remember
family togetherness.

There was one summer Sunday
we picnicked out at Wim Green
high above Blackmore Vale,
a family together.

were glad
to be there
in just one place,
romp through knee high grasss
wing toddlers in rough games
eat food sweeter than at home
enjoy the magnificent views
be one big family together.

How bitter sweet to see these pictures
of sons and daughters in good times
with partners and young offspring
before the world snatched them
far away from here.
So Sundays now
spent alone
must be

In my dreams I wander high
above the Vale and meet them
dancing in the meadow,
a family together.

PS I almost forgot that I had promised to give a mention to my pal, David Robinson's new novel, The Haunting of Melmerby Manor. It's currently available as an e-book and the paperback comes out later this summer. David has written about the hard work involved in marketing after publication as a guest blogger here.

Monday 12 May 2008

My Blogging Learning Curve Status

Gosh, this blogging business can be jolly time-consuming.

A helpful comment from Emily Veinglory on my last post alerted me to a problem reading my blog in Internet Explorer 7. As I usually use Firefox, I hadn’t been aware of it before.

Well, I knew I had downloaded IE7 recently, but I couldn’t find it on my system. Then I found it was just because I hadn’t set up my access to it. That accomplished, I could see what the problem was. It looked like some javascript had slipped into the text between sentences and paragraphs.

Anyway, I spent an hour or so, editing all my posts to put it right. Luckily I’m a relatively new blogger here so I only had 28 posts to trawl through. It’ll be interesting to see how this one appears when I post it, as my practice is to draft in Word and then copy in the text and tidy it up.

Next I get an email from Smorty rejecting my blog because it isn’t Google indexed. I had given up on Blogsvertise because I still hadn’t been offered a task, and decided to register with Smorty. When I investigated I rather preferred some of the Smorty features actually. However, it’s the same old story. And I obviously still have a great deal to learn about blogging.

I googled “get google indexed” and found some easy advice, which was just to download the Google toolbar. So I went through that process twice. Once for IE7 and once for Firefox. Now the toolbar tells me that there is no ranking information available for my page. So I guess that is just the start of what I need to do.

And now I find that my entrecard is not recognised in IE7, where I keep being given the option to get one. But I can still do my dropping in Firefox.

It’s a funny old world.

Friday 9 May 2008

A Prompt

Occasionally I have to resort to using prompts to get me started on writing something. Recently I accepted the word synchronicity as a prompt for a poem. What came to my mind was this:

Using synchronicity is making connections

between things in your life,

and letting those connections

add up to an opportunity

that takes you from where you are

to somewhere better.

My wonderful Readers’ Digest Wordpower Dictionary tells me that synchronicity is the simultaneous occurring of events.

In his book, The Celestine Vision (the reading of which I was assured would completely change my life), James Redfield wrote about synchronicity. He refers to a series of amazing coincidences that lead to opportunities which we must grasp on our journey through life, if we are to follow the spiritual path set out for us. I’m not sure I’m ready for the spiritual side, but I sure agree about the coincidences.

One of my treasured memories is bumping into an acquaintance I liked and admired but had lost touch with. It happened that we both took a holiday on a Greek island starting on the same day. And we both chose to eat in the same restaurant on that day so that we met up there. We were both bowled over by this coincidence and spent a lot of time together during that holiday. That was about twenty years ago and we are still firm friends who trust each other and rely on each other for all kinds of support.

That’s what I call synchronicity.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

On Reading and Books

Reading is a great escape from what’s going on around me. I read for pleasure for at least an hour a day - in bed. Thirty minutes when I get into it at night and thirty minutes before I leave it in the morning. I get through a good few books that way.

While I love reading and often find it hard to put a book down, it also helps me with my writing. I can be critical about the way sentences are constructed, and think I must take care not to make that mistake myself. Or I can be admiring of a turn of phrase, or how something is expressed differently, or how a new element is introduced in a story. All these things will get me thinking about how to improve my own work.

Last night I finished a novel, Sea Otters Gambolling in the Wild, Wild Surf, by John Bennett, published in 2006. I give this date because I learnt from it so much more about how young people today think and interact. It was also a highly original, but believable adventure story, set in the here and now (well, a couple of years ago) and making use of all the technology available to us. The flash back technique was used to really good effect as well. The book was completely different from any I’ve read before and I thoroughly recommend it.

Since I always have a book on the go downstairs, for those odd moments I find myself at leisure – eating alone, or waiting for the washing machine to finish its cycle, or some such – I’m also into a non-fiction travel story by Josie Dew. Saddled at Sea is her story of a 15,000 mile journey from France to New Zealand on a Russian freighter. Apparently she normally writes about cycling and her plan was to cycle round New Zealand once she arrived, but this is the story of how she gets there. I’m up to page 209, and she is still mid Pacific but keeping me entertained with her ruminations about pirates and drowning, her discoveries about the ship, the sea and its flora, fauna and flotsam, and her interactions with the crew and the five other passengers.

Only about 60 pages to go. I’ll definitely seek out a cycling story after this.

Monday 5 May 2008

Am I Inspired?

I got home today after a long weekend of looking after children for absent parents. It was exhausting but rewarding, I guess. I stayed in my daughter’s house to care for my four year old granddaughter, had to collect her from school together with a little friend whose mother collected her at 6 pm on Thursday and Friday. On Sunday I swapped granddaughter for an eight month old boy while she went off for a swim with baby’s sister and father.

This baby was supposed to be a doddle, and had been fed before I got him. But that was just what Dad said. Baby disagreed. I did make up some formula eventually., and after that he slept as long as he was on my shoulder, but cried as soon as I laid him down. In the end I laid myself down with him on top, and we both drifted off into dreams for a good half hour.

Coincidentally, last week I read an article on The Writer Within newsletter about getting inspiration for writing from kids. Although I had this in mind all the time, it seems I was too busy to generate any ideas over the weekend. I’m just hoping they’ll germinate in the next few days.

I did spend my time playing lots of games, trying to persuade girls to eat their greens and to stop arguing and play nicely, and some of my strategies paid off. There was also the nightmare of the nit treatment. (Oh God, there I go again. Every time I think of that, my head starts itching.) So I guess there is some food for thought there.

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