Saturday, 24 August 2019

The rain it raineth ... Jo Carroll

All over the world the climate is changing. But this is not a post about the threat that is global climate change. Rather a whinge about the vagaries of the British summer.

There has, in recent years (2018 excluded) been a pattern of glorious weather while young people sit exams and then the heavens open as soon as the schools break up. Parents wrap must wrap little Susie into raincoats and wellies and try to look enthusiastic about trips to the park.

But this year ... well, the initial pattern was the same, with the inclusion of serious winds and storms that sent even the hardiest parent scurrying for cover. However, there has been one major difference: the weather forecast, in recent years increasingly trustworthy, has become so unreliable as to be almost useless. I know that low pressure has dominated, and with it comes prolonged periods of rain followed by sunshine and showers - and so timings can be a bit hit and miss. This year, with such a forecast, I set off with my fleece and umbrella, only to swelter in sunshine all day. I am promised a dry night and so leave my velox window wide open, only be be rained on at two in the morning.

In the scheme of things, this is little more than an inconvenience for most of us. But, as a writer, it got me thinking. We use weather to set a scene, to create tension, as a metaphor for feelings. Descriptions of storms and general pestilence are the backdrop to moments of grief or terror. We can't send our characters out dressed for the Arctic only to have the sun shine on them.

Our readers look to us for enough predictability to make sense of a narrative. We cannot signpost one thing - such a storm - and then turn it on its head and expect them to stay with us. Readers need enough coherence to believe that the story hangs together. Speaking as a reader, if the narrative dislocates too often I give up. There are so many cohesive books I want to read I don't have to struggle with something that has me scratching my head every few pages.

Whatever problems this meteorological office may be having at the moment, the lesson for writers must surely be that we provide enough predictability to keep our readers with us. Only then can we throw the unexpected at them.

The Planter's Daughter opens in Liverpool. The weather is predictably British. But when the setting moves to Western Australia I had to research local conditions - I needed to know which way the wind blew and which season saw the rains. The scenes set in New Zealand are in a town I know; I have paddled in that sea and know just how cold those Antarctic currents are. Finally, to Ireland during the potato famine, when climatic fluctuations had such a crucial impact on anyone's ability to survive. Does it all hold together? That's for you to tell me.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Lev Butts Revisits an Old Interview and Performs a Self-Assessment

A few years ago, in 2014 to be exact, I was asked to participate in the "My Writing Process" blog tour, where writers answered questions about their writing process and discussed their current writing processes. I came across the questionnaire recently and thought it'd be neat to see how my ideas have remained the same or changed over the last few years. My original answers are in Times font, my current commentary is in Arial.

1) What am I working on? 

I am working on a few things at the moment. First of all I am drafting the second volume of my Guns of the Waste Land series of novellas, Desolation. This series retells the King Arthur myths as an American Western. I published the first volume, Departure, last year and it has received some good reviews on Amazon. 

I finished Desolation, but the name changed to Diversion by the time it went to print. A much better name I think. The third volume, Dispersal, also came out and won honorable mention for historical fiction in this year's Georgia Interdependent Author of the Year Award. I'm almost done with the fourth and final volume, Desinence.

I am also working on a new edition of my collection of short stories, Emily's Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, in an effort to learn Amazon's Createspace publishing platform. This new edition will also include a new story, "Love Ever Yearns," as well as a new poem, "Challenge," both of which were recently published in issues of Newnan-Coweta Magazine.

The new collection came out and is still available. As far as short stories go, I recently coauthored a Dracula-related story with Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew, focusing on Renfield and how he wound up in the asylum as well as Bram's final days. We are currently shopping it around and I will let folks know when and where they can get a copy.

I am also working on a critical reader of H. P. Lovecraft's work for the University of North Georgia Press. This book will include annotated versions of several of Lovecraft's stories and poems, an abridged version of his essay, Supernatural Natural Horror in Literature, and several scholarly articles about Lovecraft's work and interviews with authors about Lovecraft's influence on their own work.

After years of work, this book was also recently published by McFarland, and I am currently co-editing a collection of essays on American Horror Story for which I have also contributed a chapter.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

With Guns, I am unaware of many Westerns that incorporate classic mythology so overtly. I understand there is a subgenre of Western, the weird Western, that incorporates elements of the supernatural and horror, the most famous example, would be Stephen King's Dark Tower series, but nothing similar to what I am attempting: telling an age-old story using the tropes of a Western, but without simply retelling Arthurian legend word-for-word, so to speak, just using guns instead of swords or Indians instead of Saxons and Picts. I am trying to make sure that my story maintains its own unique tale, and contributes to the Arthurian canon instead of parotting it.

I believe I have found if not my niche, at least a niche for blending myth and legend with genre storytelling. I am currently plotting my next creative writing project, and I am thinking of blending the Norse Ragnarok myths with hard-boiled detective and mobster pulps.

Emily's Stitches, is a bit different, too. Instead of a series of unconnected, or tangentially connected stories, I have endeavored, in the first two-thirds of the collection, to tell a single, cohesive narrative, but have each of the individual "chapters" stand alone as its own story. Of course, the last third of the book is simply independent of tangentially related stories and poems.

Ah, naive youth...When I began writing these stories in college, I had the temerity to think I had developed this style of short story writing, but learned almost immediately after saying it out loud that the idea of interconnected short stories telling a single overall narrative not only was nothing new, but had been done many times before and by far better writers.

While there are plenty of critical editions of literary titles on the market and an overabundance of Lovecraft collections, there is surprisingly no critical edition of Lovecraft available. The closest we have are a couple of annotated collections. My book hopes to address that lack.

It does.

3) Why do I write what I do? 

I write stories that I want to read but are not available. When I began Guns, it was because I really wanted to read a Western Arthur story. I couldn't believe no one had done it yet. 

I wrote Emily's Stitches because I wanted a good, Southern lit story collection that worked together as a novel. I know there are a few collections like this out there, but at the time I wrote it, I couldn't find them. I began it in the mid-nineties, before Google. Thank goodness, or I may not have taken up the project, and I'm pretty damned proud of it.

As I mentioned above, no one has attempted a critical edition of Lovecraft yet. We have collections of essays, and he have collections of his stories, but no collections of both.

Now we do.

4) How does your writing process work?

Mostly I write in the car. I have a long commute, so I spend a lot of time thinking about where I'm at in the story, where I want to get to, and how I can get there. When I actually do sit down to write, it is a lengthy process. I may only get 500 - 600 words done in a day of writing (1,000 if it's a particularly good day). I begin by re-reading what I last wrote and then I start writing. What takes up the most time, though, is spur-of-the-moment research. For example, last week I was writing a scene that takes place in a boy's bedroom, but I had no idea what kind of things would be in the 19th century bedroom of a teenaged boy (I'm sure there were no wodden Xboxes, after all). That research took over an hour, and I found a lot of things, but I couldn't use them all. Then I had to get the wording right, so it took about two hours for me to write four sentences:
They were in what appeared to be a bedroom; after a count of a hundred and no evidence of movement in the rest of the house, Gary Wayne crawled around the single wood-framed rope bed to investigate the room, finding only a few possessions: a sling shot, a sharpening stone, and a tarnished Barlow knife.
“It’s the kid’s room,” he whispered, rummaging under the sagging and faded straw mattress, “This cinches it.” Gary Wayne tossed a heavily thumbed Montgomery Ward catalog on Boris’ side of the bed. It fell open to women’s undergarments.
I prefer to write at night, but this is not always possible given my work schedule. Mostly, I write when I can, where I can. Recently my primary writing place has been my office at work after my Wednesday night class is done. 

Nothing much has changed here, except that my new favorite place to write is my office at home and at my desk in the guest room I stay in during the week when I am working.

I also like to have music playing when I write, so I generally make a playlist specific to each piece I'm writing. For Emily's Stitches, it was a lot of Tom Petty, Tom Waits, and Tori Amos. I use a lot of Ennio Morricone, Mark Knopfler, and Brandi Carlile for Guns.

For the new Dracula story, I listened to a lot of The Rachels (a violin and percussion trio) as well as Jill Tracy's album Into the Land of Phantoms, which is the score to the re-release of the original silent film, Nosferatu.

So other than finishing some projects, continuing others, and moving on to still other, newer projects, I don't appear to have changed much in half a decade. 

What about you guys? Tell me in the comments.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Is it just me? Ali Bacon reveals her cheat’s stratagem for when a good read stops delivering

Reading - for pleasure, obvs!
I’ve reached that point when life (or what’s left of it, let’s not talk numbers!) is too short to carry on reading a book I’m not enjoying. So on my list of unfinished books are novels judged ‘great’ by the rest of the world. Cloud Atlas springs to mind – I think I started it twice but never got beyond the opening chapter as well as other more  random things which have rolled up on my book pile – I didn’t dislike Colm Toibins Norah Webster but wasn’t moved to carry on with it so eventually sent it on its way to a charity shop. With these and other masterpieces I’m happy to apply the 50 page rule*. If it’s not working for me by then, I might as well give up.

But then there’s the book that does appeal straight away and has you hooked for quite a while.  Until you start to lose interest. At first you blame yourself: lack of concentration, lack of intelligence! You’re clearly just missing something. But as the evenings pass you’re still not seeing it. It starts to feel like a slog. But surely you can’t stop now – the end is practically in sight! The trouble is, you’re no longer sure that you care.

Great billing!
Last week this happened to me with Priti Taneja’s We that Are Young. I have no guilt in mentioning this as it’s already a prize-winning novel with many admirers. Anyway it was on offer at a bargain price and despite its doorstopper dimensions (I’m more a lover of the slim volume these days) I splashed out and happily dived in. What’s more, I really enjoyed the opening chapters in the voice of John/Jivan returning to his native India and the tangled web of family relationships in a huge business empire. When we took up the story of his cousin Garji, I was initially disappointed but got into her character too, similarly the spoiled and petulant Radha. (No prizes for seeing the King Lear references by the way). Over everything lies the mystery of what has happened to the third and favoured sister Sita and troubled wheeler-dealer half brother Jeet.  
But it wasn’t the easiest read.
  In particular there are passages of dialogue in Hindi which as far as I could see weren’t always explained by what followed. This led me to start skimming over some sections and once you start skimming it’s hard to focus back in. There were also occasional passages of violence which turned me off. When the character voice switched to Jeet I became a bit lost in his (geographical) world and his language. Picking this book up was feeling more like a duty than a pleasure. But by now I was at least 2/3 of the way through!  

How far can you go?
Time to play the joker and look up the reviews. Not the broadsheet reviews which if they existed were sure to be favourable and remind me of what a worthy book this is, but those posted by the (generally) faceless masses of Amazon or Goodreads. 

You mean I’m going to rely on other people’s judgement? Well actually yes! Not so much to see how many are for or against, but just to find out what, if anything, has turned people off. In other words, to find out if it’s just me.   

I’ve done this before in moments of laziness or desperation and once again I found it really useful.
In this case I gleaned two things in particular: that the Hindi dialogue was a minus for many readers. (This in itself wouldn’t have stopped me reading but it was good to know I wasn’t the only numpty!) 

More crucially, I turned up the fact that the ending was going to be particularly violent.  Without providing an actual spoiler this flagged up for me that no feel-good factor – which I suppose I was subconsciously looking for – was in sight and that sealed my decision.

Of course you could say that I was looking for an excuse, but I have used this cheat’s stratagem before and if I’d found opinions of the ‘carry on you won’t be disappointed’ variety, I might have done so. (And I remember this did happen with another book mentioned here.)

I dare say there will be those of you out there who happily lay down a book at any point – or always persevere There is of course a final option employed by a friend of mine who just skips to the end then decides if it’s worth filling in the blanks.  Well in theory that’s fine. But somehow for me that really is cheating!

* An interesting exception to the giving up rule is with an audio book. I’ve recently persevered with two books in the car I don’t think I would have finished on paper. Was it worth it? In one case yes, in the other not so sure. But if you’re stuck in a traffic jam what do you have to lose? Clearly an audio book is a more passive read than turning the page. 

Ali Bacon writes contemporary and historical fiction.
Her latest novel, In the Blink of an Eye appeared on the ASLS Best SCottish Boks of 2018

Or check out

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

What they don't tell you about your Wi-Fi router... Katherine Roberts

Since living in my current house in a densely-populated urban area, I seem to have developed an allergy to Wi-Fi*, which (quite literally sometimes) is a pain. Wireless technology is pretty much everywhere you go these days... show me a cafe that doesn't offer free Wi-Fi along with its expensive cappuccinos that are no doubt helping to pay for your 'free' connection. I can visit such a cafe and enjoy the cappuccino, and I can stay long enough to have lunch with my friends if I'm not sitting right next to the router, but I would not like to try sleeping there. And it seems I am not alone. According to the Electrosensitivity UK website, "Surveys suggest 30% of people are slightly allergic to radio exposure, usually without knowing it."

If you sit next to your Wi-Fi router for too long, it can make you sick.
Possible symptoms include: headaches, brain fog, concentration issues, anxiety, depression, nausea, insomnia, tinnitus, thyroid changes, heart problems, infertility, autism, epilepsy, and possible tumours in the long term. Mine manifested mainly as brain fog, exhaustion, low-grade anxiety, and some alarming balance issues which resulted in two broken toes and several bruises when I walked into doors in my own home. I could also hear an untraceable humming noise in my home at night. These symptoms usually improved when I spent a few hours away from my house or slept elsewhere, and I don't have any particular balance problems when I'm out cycling in the woods, or skiing down mountains... although they can reappear if I am walking through a built-up area. Of course, such symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions, which is no doubt why the medical profession does not recognise Wi-Fi as a major threat to the nation's health. However, people are becoming more aware of potential Wi-Fi related issues and taking their own precautions.

The Tech Wellness blog advises: "No one should ever be closer than 10 feet to a WiFi antenna and I feel best with a minimum of 20 feet between me and a router. If you have young children, best to keep them 30 or 40 feet away." I would agree, but think about this for a moment. How big is your house? Even a large living room is unlikely to be more than 20 feet across. Much smaller in a new build, I suspect. My current home has fairly spacious rooms, yet my entire ground floor measures perhaps 30 feet across. That means banishing my router to one corner of the house, and any children who visit to the opposite corner - hardly practical, if they want to access the kitchen and raid the fridge!

You are allowed to turn it off.
If you or someone else in your family is not sleeping well, you could try turning off your Wi-Fi at night. Up until early summer this year, when I had a period when I suddenly started waking up five times a night with a racing heartbeat and cramps in my legs (why I still don't know, but thankfully this period seems to have passed), insomnia has never been much of a problem for me. I think this is because ever since I signed up for broadband and my own magic box arrived, I've always turned off my router at night - thanks no doubt to my dad, a former electrical engineer, who still goes around the house unplugging everything before he goes to bed. I also got into the habit of turning off the router whilst working on my books, which proved to be a good thing for my creativity because then I wasn't so tempted to check Facebook between chapters.

You don't have to use Wi-Fi to access the Internet.
In the days of dial-up modems, everyone used to connect through cables. My old desktop was not Wi-Fi enabled, so that's the way I used my broadband router at first - and, since I didn't need it, I disabled the Wi-Fi on the router too. But after a skiing accident in 2014, I treated myself to a Wi-Fi enabled laptop so I could work with my leg up on the sofa. That meant turning on my home Wi-Fi, and at first I had no noticeable health issues, either while using my laptop (on my lap... well, nobody warned me not to!), or while my router was turned on and I was doing other things.

That changed sometime in 2018, while I was working two days a week as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow down in Cornwall and staying overnight inbetween. Upon returning home, I first began to notice a strange tingling in my legs and fingers after using my laptop for an hour or so. This slowly grew worse over time - until, eventually, just a few minutes were enough to persuade me to put the machine on a table and sit in a proper chair... my fingers still suffered after prolonged use, but my legs felt stronger. During this period, I also suffered from dry eyes upon waking and developed a large floater in one of my eyes, which the optician diagnosed as a posterior vitreous detachment and told me it was normal for older people (despite the fact I'm still 10 years away from picking up my pension, grrr!). Then the brain fog crept in, and later in 2018 (by which time I had finished my commute to Cornwall and was working one day a week at Plymouth University instead) the balance issues began - mostly in the mornings after getting out of bed when, rather than feeling rested after my night's sleep, I felt as if I had just fought in a battle. I broke my first toe stumbling about my house just before Christmas, at which point I got worried I might be dying of a brain tumour. Then I went on holiday to the Alps and felt much better, so decided it must have just been exhaustion after a long term, combined with endless hospital visits following my elderly mother's stroke in November of that year.

But the same issues returned when I was inside the house for any length of time, and authors work from home so I do spend a lot of time there. By about April this year, I was finding it difficult to concentrate and everything was a huge effort, taking me about three times as long as it should have done. Work on my fiction had completely ground to a halt. Not wanting to waste my GP's time on intermittent health issues that could just be part of getting older, I Googled my symptoms and discovered a fierce debate about the possible health hazards of Wi-Fi that has apparently been raging since its first appearance in the early 2000s, along with hundreds of independent studies and subsequent recommendations for public non-thermal safety limits, which the UK government appears to be ignoring. Here's a recent such debate from America to give you a flavour of the public wellbeing vs corporate profits dilemma:

We don't have 5G in my area yet, so I decided to try an experiment. The first thing I did was disable the Wi-Fi on my broadband router, which I am now using with an ethernet cable again, after purchasing a simple USB adaptor (£8.99 from amazon) for my laptop. I'd already disabled the Bluetooth because I didn't use it, but now I can disable the Wi-Fi on my laptop too, at least while I'm using it at home. To be honest, I didn't think it would make much difference, since the symptoms I'd been experiencing often occurred when I wasn't actually using a Wi-Fi device, and I wasn't in the habit of keeping my router turned on 24 hours a day, anyway. But it gave immediate relief from many of my symptoms, particularly the brain fog and balance problems I'd been suffering (no more broken toes!), and my creativity seems to have returned even though I'm spending just as long on the Internet each day doing social media stuff. I also have more energy. As a welcome side effect, my broadband connection is better than before, being faster and more stable than the Wi-Fi, and I'm guessing more secure too - although apparently the best thing would be to use a dedicated non-Wi-Fi broadband router with a firmware firewall (which up until writing this article I did not even know existed).

You can control the power of your router to keep your signal safe.
If it's not practical to turn off your Wi-Fi because the younger members of your family have a cable allergy and want to use their devices in their bedrooms, then you don't have to keep it broadcasting at 100% power. There should be a setting, either on the box itself or online, that you can adjust - it's only if you live in a country mansion that you're likely to need your full signal strength to reach as far as the ha-ha. Besides improving your home environment, if your Wi-Fi signal trespasses on your neighbour's property it might be interfering with your neighbours' signals, which can cause your Wi-Fi to drop out or slow down - yet, legally, there is nothing you can do about this, except try changing your channel and hope they don't do the same! I'm aware of at least 12 signals from my neighbours' Wi-Fi devices strong enough to pass through the walls and windows of my home, which no doubt accounts for the slow speeds and drops I sometimes experienced when I used Wi-Fi to connect. Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone adjusted the power of their own router so that their signals did not reach beyond the boundary of their property? That way, there would be less chance of interference between neighbouring devices, and less chance of someone hacking their way into your network from the other side of the street. (That last part's not legal, of course.)

Even if you think you need Wi-Fi inside your home, you probably don't.
If several people live in your household and want to use their devices in different rooms, there is also a way of wiring your router to the mains system of your home using dLAN units. This lets people in different rooms access the internet by plugging into a convenient socket. I'm not an expert on this, but I expect a friendly electrician could sort it out for you.

You can get a meter to measure Wi-Fi hot/cool spots.
Disabling the Wi-Fi on my home router seems to have helped a lot, but I am aware of those other signals invading from my neighbours, and I wouldn't say I'm completely cured - I don't really feel ill any more, but I could feel better. So I decided to invest in a RF meter to survey my home for the best place to put my bed for a good night's sleep, and also so I can measure the strength of Wi-Fi signals when I'm out and about and find the best local places to spend time in when I need a detox... I think I know where these are, but it would be nice to have confirmation. This meter has only just arrived, so I'll blog about the results next month... suffice to say it's proving quite enlightening! I'll definitely be taking it on my next house hunt. (If you don't want to shell out for one of your own, such meters are also available for hire.)

Remember smartphones use Wi-Fi, too.
I don't use a smartphone because I have a problem using touch screens, but if I did then I would not keep it too near my body or my head - see this current NHS advice for using mobile phones. This seems to be particularly important for children, and the current advice is that children under 16 should only use mobile phones in an emergency (which is almost impossible to enforce once they get hold of one). Anyone remember the old Ready Brek advert? Here's the smartphone equivalent, which makes an interesting antidote to the TV smart meter campaign that also exploits children to lecture adults.

Most kids, of course, have never known Wi-Fi free living. The youngsters in your family probably can't wait to get their hands on the next model phone with 5G capabilities - though if you saw my post about 5G guinea pigs you might be less keen to let them have one. It's only lately, with the growing awareness of what the proposed (much higher) wireless frequencies might mean for us and our environment, that people are waking up to this invisible hazard to our wellbeing that, for about two decades now, has been all around us almost everywhere we go. As the NHS says in this recent article about 5G safety, "further research is needed when it comes to long-term exposure".

Unlike food allergies, which can be fatal if you eat the wrong thing, Wi-Fi allergy seems more of a chronic condition that (at least in my experience) starts with a general feeling of malaise and worsens over time exposed. I didn't notice any ill effects at first, which for me was early 2014 when I first turned on the Wi-Fi router in my home. In fact, I did not have any really debilitating issues until earlier this year, so is 5 years of exposure too much, or is it just certain frequencies I am allergic to? The only visible thing that has changed in the vicinity of my home is the old sodium streetlight, which the council swapped for an LED remote controlled version sometime in 2017/18 (I forget quite when), and despite the scare stories about these new lights killing sparrows I don't believe it is going to zap me in my bed - though I suspect it might be the source of the faint humming I can hear when I'm awake at night. Perhaps it's only people of my generation, who can remember what it feels like to be clear-headed, who are worried? Teenagers are all immortal, of course, which helps.

Why is Wi-Fi and the new 5G technology considered "safe"?
Apparently, because it would only be classed as unsafe if it ionizes your body like the type of radiation that sets off a Geiger counter, or burns your skin like the sun does if you lie in it for too long... i.e. has a "heating effect". Clearly the old 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies do neither, but that's not to say they don't mess with your brain waves and your biological circuitry, especially if you are exposed to them 24/7 for several years. This is known as the "non-thermal" effect, for which some countries have already set their own safety levels. If you're interested in the actual figures that can cause problems, see this ofcom table of biological effects at various power densities. Yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary, the UK Government is still using ICNIRP's old "heating limit" safety level when assessing the safety of Wi-Fi, which is a bit like trying to measure the safety of a block of radioactive plutonium with a wooden ruler. And now we're adding 5G to the mix, which has been declared uninsurable by Lloyds of London... maybe they are remembering Erin Brockovich?

Don't forget we have a climate emergency.
Even if you are blissfully unaware of the effect Wi-Fi might be having on your body and brain, it seems our planet is not. The Schumann Resonance, which for millions of years was a steady 7.83 Hz (which is also the natural frequency of human biological circuitry), has been spiking up to 150 Hz recently, no doubt accounting for all the increased storm activity we've been seeing lately. What if Wi-Fi is affecting the natural frequency of the Earth, and therefore contributing to climate change? The hottest years have been Wi-Fi years.

Green Bank quiet zone warning signs
By Z22 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Where are the Wi-Fi free zones?
At the very least, if "Wi-Fi everywhere" and "5G everywhere" is to be the norm, shouldn't it be our Government's responsibility to provide quiet, signal-free zones for those who need a break from it, or whose health might depend upon being shielded? Otherwise, people who develop a serious Wi-Fi allergy will be unable to continue to live and work in such environments, which would be a violation of their human rights. At the moment, I'm not overly sensitive and can find relief by spending time in rural places where there are fewer or weaker signals, which seems to give my body a chance to recover. But once 5G takes off, it seems my only option for a detox might be the Quiet Zone at Green Bank, West Virginia!

If you are concerned about the roll-out of 5G in the UK, there is a current petition to trigger a debate in Parliament about public safety at

* 'Wi-Fi' is a trademark for radio frequencies up to 5 GHz (i.e. our existing 2G, 3G and 4G frequencies). When 5G is rolled out in the UK, apparently it will initially broadcast in the sub 6 GHz frequency band, but much higher frequencies of up to 86 GHz are planned for later developments. Nobody yet knows what effect this will have on humans, animals, insects, plants, the environment or the natural frequency of the Earth.


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young and older readers. As a reward for reading this far, her speculative short story collections (age 12+) are currently FREE for Kindle until 24th August.

(seven fantasy tales)

(seven science fiction tales)

Paperbacks of both these books are also now available.
More details at

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Certification and Crowing by Sandra Horn

Certificates have been on my mind of late – the little bits of paper that put you in various boxes, à la Pete Seeger. Births, marriages, deaths, all define you, or rather, the public perceptions of you, and they are all archived somewhere so they can be scrutinised for ever by whoever. Pete Seeger describes the boxes we are assigned to as ‘made of ticky-tacky’ and ‘all the same’, but they can also be seen as defining our differences, for good or ill.

We collect them as we go along, these little bits of paper – proof of vaccinations, school and university attainments, etc. I am certified to drive a car but not a lorry, bus or minibus. I’m a certified citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with my maroon European Union passport. A short pause here while I weep and curse at its potential loss. It’s good for eight more years, though. Ha!

There’s an obvious difference between some of those bits of paper we have thrust upon us and those we seek to have and must, in some sense, earn – we can’t choose where and to whom to be born and we can’t change it. How odd, then, that so much hate is generated by the things about us that we didn’t /couldn’t choose or change – race, skin colour, etc.

Our widely-shared fascination with family history draws a lot on these bits of paper. It’s possible to find out all sorts of extraordinary things once you start digging. I now know, thanks to finding my full birth certificate, that my own origins are far from what I’ve always thought or been led to believe, which was at first shocking but is now very joyful as it has led to finding new and very delightful family members I’d never known. 

Another digger among the bits of paper has uncovered the astounding fact that Bob Marley’s Dad was born in Crowborough, the small quiet Sussex town I grew up in and where several members of my family still live. We have a statue of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who lived there, in the town centre, and now it’s surely time for a new one: Bob Marley’s Dad!!

Some things change in spite of the bits of paper. I was certified to practice as a Clinical/Health Psychologist but gave it up some years ago in order to spend my time writing and making books (Yay!!).  Had I wanted to keep the practice certificate, I’d have needed to prove Continuing Professional Development (by producing more bits of paper) and I was much too busy learning how to be a publisher by then. Psychology had given me a wonderful career and opportunities I’d never have imagined, but it was the right time to put it aside and chase a dream – an uncertificated dream! There are no ‘little bits of paper’ to prove we are writers, but rather, whole books stuffed with them. Deeply satisfying.

Now comes the crowing bit: by the time this goes up as my August blog, I’ll have collected two certificates which, although they don’t really prove anything about me as a writer (a judge is someone with one opinion as opposed to another opinion, right?) they do give pleasure – they delight rather than define me. They are for two poems: a ‘highly commended’ and a ‘commended’ in the Yorkmix poetry for children callout. I will have two bits of paper for having a lot of fun doing the thing I like best. Not because bureaucracy needed to record my existence, not for sweating over exams, not for filling in endless forms to prove who I am, just for larking about with words.

By a happy coincidence, I’ve just been reading The Moon and Sixpence and came across this quote:
‘The writer should seek his (sic) reward in the pleasure of his (sic again) work and in release from the burden of his (oh, sic!) thoughts and, indifferent to all else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.’

The last bit is too tall an order and a little bit of praise never does any harm, but I’m all for the pleasure in the work and release from the burden of thoughts, whether it earns certificates or not.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Casting a Net - Jan Edwards

For a recent story acceptance I was asked to provide a short insight into the inspiration behind my fiction. And as always that question gave me pause for deep thought. Where do those ideas begin?
Most of us will recall being given a word of phrase as inspiration to write a story for homework. It was good practice for spotting a headline or story in a newspaper, or maybe an incident at work or with friends, which sparked that train of thought.
Writing fantasy and horror it is the folklore and local legends that have always been a passion that figure large in my back catalogue. I readily admit to plundering those sources, but the resources are vast and forgiving. That said, a seed of inspiration is needed to even begin to know where to start in such a sea of riches.
Mermaid's Pool -
between Leek and Buxton
The market for this story had the wide open guideline of Folk Horror, which is a vast area that means different things to different people. Think Algernon Blackwood or Alan Garner, or in the origins of British Folk Horror cinema think The Wicker Man.

My original idea was to re calibrate the legend close to where I lived of Mermaid’s Pool, high up in the Peak District (and many miles inland!). But somehow the idea of isolated pools inhabited by mysterious creatures drew me inexorably to my Sussex roots and my story quickly became a product of a childhood steeped in Sussex (UK) folklore.
Silent Pool - nr Guildford
There are tales of pools inhabited by water spirits all over the country but the one that superseded the Peak District mermaid in my imagination was the Silent Pool – situated just across the Sussex border, between Guildford and Dorking in Surrey. Like many of the tales it is reported to be both bottomless and silent; that no birds will fly over it or sing near it. And when the portents are in line the spirit of a young woman, who threw herself into the water to save her virtue from an evil Lord, will appear. 
The Silent Pool story is surprisingly similar to that of the Mermaid’s Pool where a Mermaid was brought home by a love-sick sailor and died of despair because she missed the sea. I am fairly sure most people will have heard a similar tale close to where they live.  Most derive from pagan roots, as are most of the well springs that now bear saints names.
Knucker (Water Dragon) 
Sussex is my home county and water holes of strange origin will inevitable become the domain of Sussex’s very own breed of water dragon - known as Knuckers - which live in those deep and silent pools. 
The most famous Knucker tale comes from Lyminster (nr Littlehampton). 
Knucker Hole, Lyminster
The Lyminster knucker pool is said to be both ‘bottomless’ and fed by a natural spring. Among the many legends in the villages, and continuing with the dragon theme,  St Leonard’s  Forest (nr Horsham) a dragon  was reported in a news pamphlet of 1614 as, “…a nine foot long dragon that killed men with its poison, but didn't eat them, preferring rabbits and smaller creatures. It was coloured black, with a red belly.”
Dew Pond, Chanctonbury, Sussex
Okay, so now I had a knucker and a mystical pool, but being Sussex the pool may also be an especially deep dew pond – connected to a magically imbued spring (both of which abound  in plenty across Sussex and beyond). 
I felt it also required a stretch of Downland and what better to include than the folklore of pagan tree rings found along the downs (Cissbury, Chanctonbury etc), and also that of Downland myths as a whole; a The Devils Dyke (Brighton) being the best known, and which led me to the stalwart of so many legends worldwide, that of a guardian(s) of gate/well/portal. Add all of those elements together and d the stage was set for my folk horror tale, the ‘Devil’s Piss Pot’ (Publication TBA).
Chanctonbury Tree Circle (hill fort)
Yet including all of those elements was not really a conscious act. They sneaked in, one by one, and settled on the page like rooks in an elm tree, squawking to be let in.  
So when asked where the ideas come from, though I usually just reply ‘they are just there’, I tried hard to analyse the inspiration, and how all of those elements seemed to fit. My insight was shorter than this blog, and my initial answer was shorter still.
I just know that when I cast my net toward tales of myth and legend it will always brings me a good catch.
You can read more about Jan and her Bunch Courtney books on her blog HERE

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