Thursday, 13 February 2014

Where does valid opinion end and premeditated rudeness begin?

I’ve read a few blogs recently plus quite a few threads and posts around the place. A local police unit decided to post a video on Facebook, of a group of criminals breaking into a store and stealing to order. It was a clever use of social media and netted their little group of ‘wanted’ within less than 24 hours. I watched the video, didn’t know the offenders but then turned to the comments below. It began ok, the usual helpful suggestions and mooted names that the cops might want to check out. And then the real stuff began. I’m not sure what it is, but someone always gets personal. A comment was made about the assumption that the offenders were of ethnic minority and off they all went on that one. Another sensible contributor pointed out the certainty of the fact, being as one of them was very definitely brown. Therefore, not an assumption, but a conclusion. On it raged, the smart comments, the character assassinations and then, the odd incredibly intelligent and marginally hilarious post that left me giggling and wanting to show everyone else in the house.

Later on I enjoyed a blog that talked about a popular US reality show and the blogger’s feelings about the main protagonist. Initially there were congratulatory comments as some readers agreed but then came the criticism, the personal attacks, even to the point where someone made fun of her name and another called her ‘ugly’. I stopped reading after that. Me disconnecting beats no disapproving drum or registers any kind of vote anywhere but at least my conscience is clear. What bothers me is my own reluctance to comment, to contribute to a forum, a blog, a thread or a post. There have been many occasions when I have typed something only to delete it in case of repercussions, real or imagined.

Today I clicked on a link from a reputable site in order to read the lovely thing they were sharing about parenting. My super-duper-installed-by-techie-husband-virus-protection messaged me straight away on screen, informing me that the article contained a known virus threat and urging me to close it immediately. I did exactly that. I left a comment on the thread, just repeating what the message had warned. Initially it was ignored and then came the inevitable, ‘’s this person’s special site, that can’t be right blah blah blah...’ Feeling like a moron and not wanting to get into it, I deleted my comment. So now, there are people all over the internet getting bugs from something which is probably awesome and valid, but perhaps unintentionally contains a little piece of code, programmed to cause misery for someone.

It doesn’t seem to matter what it is, everyone has an opinion on it. We can sit behind our keyboards, phones, iPads and other random devices and vent and accuse and complain, apparently without boundaries. We can say whatever we like, because the mileage between most of us makes it unlikely that we will ever be face to face with one another. If I don’t like what you say, I can block you, unfriend you or delete you, but unfortunately not until after I’ve seen what you’ve written, taken it inside my soul and allowed its rottenness to begin the damage.

Writers, reviewers, actors, sports personalities and singers are all easy prey. Vulnerable young teens, children, adults, journalists and even princes, have become subject to the uber valid slating of the general populace who sincerely believe that they have a ‘right’ to do so. Anyone whose head inadvertently ends up showing over the parapet is perceived as fair game, whether they intended to be there on show or not. I have seen families in the news hit by some unforeseen disaster, devastated and dishevelled behind the glare of the camera, knowing that tomorrow they will be criticised for some imagined slight. Their house burned down because they were irresponsible smokers, drug addicts, gamblers, alcoholics. Some anonymous person somewhere will have seen ‘something’ suspicious which has no foundation in fact, but the family will be vilified anyway, belittled and humiliated by a public which just can.

If we did a show of hands across the continents of those who had been bullied, insulted or directly attacked online, I think we would be astounded. Right now in this very second, there must be any amount of dejected hearts reeling from such a slight. They are hidden in bedrooms, bathrooms, offices, vehicles and lounges all over the world, feeling the knife wound of someone’s exceptionally sharp tongue, compounded by the metal thrust of the keyboard.

The bible, that old fashioned, nowadays little regarded book, talks about the bridling of the tongue being one of man’s most impossible tasks. Psalms 52:2 - Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. I remember as a teenager, an advert in the UK for Yellow Pages. The slogan was, ‘let your fingers do the talking.’ It was referring to the fingers moving across the pages of the tome to find the relevant business. Yet now it would aptly refer to the fingers literally spewing out the vile stuff that the tongue wouldn’t dare deliver in person. Perhaps it was prophecy.

It truly needs to stop, but how? Posting anything has become a risky business. What happened to the printed word being considered under generous legal constraints? Synonyms of the word ‘Libellous’ include; defamatory, denigratory, vilifying, disparaging, derogatory, aspersive, calumnious, calumniatory, slanderous, false, untrue, misrepresentative, traducing, maligning, insulting, scurrilous, slurring, smearing. We see such things all the time online but they have strayed into the realms of acceptable, entertaining and funny. We are silent bystanders in injustice more times a day than we perhaps realise. Death threats used to be given over something intensely serious didn’t they? Or have I got that wrong? Someone is bound to comment and let me know. A person would have to sit with a pair of scissors and a glue stick, cutting letters out of the newspaper in order to send a poisoned pen letter or an anonymous defamatory comment. Not so now. An online name, a hidden email account and you can send as many as you like, regardless of who you hurt. We call it progress apparently.

The essential questions are probably;

1. When did sharing our opinions become an excuse for overt rudeness without personal and immediate consequences?

2. When did good people begin shrugging it off as acceptable?

#cyberbullying #amwriting #indie #author #opinions

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Those Naughty Little Word Traps

I have come to the conclusion that a lot of the words I use, are because of pride. A quietly rebellious streak means that I don’t want to use the same words as everybody else. When they ‘vacuum’, I declare that I am English and will ‘hoover’ until the day I die. No matter that others haven’t got a clue what I am actually doing and that even Microsoft Word keeps wanting to change it to hover. In England our children (and adults covertly) eat ‘sweets’. In New Zealand they are ‘lollies’. We had ‘crisps’. Elsewhere outside Europe they are ‘chips’.

As new immigrants, or 'aliens in a strange land' as we used to laughingly call ourselves...well, actually the tears probably weren’t from laughing as I think back on it, we staunchly held onto our heritage with knuckles white from the strain. As our children integrated into their new world and picked up the lingo, my husband and I would dart horrified looks at each other across the tea table as one or other of them used some bizarre kiwi reference to something that the English had named just fine thanks. There was a time when we would nicely ask them to stand and sing ‘God save our gracious queen’ for such offences but they got too many and too often. We would have become a singing troupe instead of a regular family.

I once used the term ‘dyke’ in reference to a small stream of running water nearby, at a church ladies group and was met with stunned silence and eyes the size of tennis balls. I later discovered that it was in fact a ‘gully’ and a dyke is something else completely. If they had reason to question my sexual preference over it, that’s fine as I never went back anyway.

‘Speed bumps’ on the road are called ‘judderbars’ which we thought was silly. But when questioned as to what we called them in the UK, the man fell off his seat at our ridiculous answer. ‘Sleeping policemen’. You only realise how daft something sounds when you repeat it to someone who’s never heard it before, like an alien, or a New Zealander.

A professional editor who fortunately is also a friend, took a look at my first novel, ‘About Hana’. She left me some helpful tracking notes, one of which was, ‘In New Zealand, we don’t hoover, we vacuum.’ I changed every other suggestion she made, except that one. I probably got away with it, because my character was an Englishwoman in New Zealand but I recently realised how ingrained my stubborn attitude had become when I had a debate about it with someone else. I

“I need to go and hoover.”

“You what?”

“Hoover. You know, polish and hoover.”

“Do you mean vacuum?”

“Nope, I definitely mean hoover.”

Unfortunately the conversation wasn’t that short. It was much more protracted and brought up for discussion with everyone else who appeared at our lunch table for the rest of that week. It’s a bit like those poor kids whose parents decided to give them a name using all the consonants in the alphabet but took a dislike to vowels. They have to spell their name out every single place they go, from school to job interviews and finally, sit up in the coffin in exasperation to help the stonemason engrave it on the headstone and the vicar to pronounce it at the service. It just never ends. There are heated discussions about whether or not their parents actually liked them, while they sit there isolated in the knowledge that they are unlikely to ever see it spelled or pronounced right. And then I go and do it to myself deliberately. I eat sweets, drive over sleeping policemen and then complain that nobody understands me.

But the real issue is in my writing. I go to great lengths to explain the Maori words I use and the cultural sayings that weave throughout my work. And then I make my character ‘hoover’. I recently read a novel which was based in America and the author let the main character rave over a plate of ‘grits’. Now to me, grit is something you get in your shoe. It’s a sharp grey stone, usually included in road works and definitely not something you would like to eat, unless of course you wanted to enter a competition for strange people, where the audience says ‘Wow’ and laughs at the crazy behind their hands. Word traps don’t just happen when you open your mouth, they happen when you put pen to paper and the trouble with them appearing in your writing, is that you’re not around to explain how they got there or why.

In my humble opinion, English and American writers are the worst and I am including myself under the former. We are so sure of ourselves and our own dominance of the earth-ball that we expect the rest of the world to catch up with us, never thinking that if we want them to buy and read our novels, it should be us who does the bending. I still occasionally wake up sweating after eight years here, with my fingers working at the keys of an imaginary mobile phone. I know that in an emergency, I will invariably attempt to dial ‘999’ when in fact here, it is ‘111’. In the US I believe it is ‘911’ and there must be numerous different options elsewhere. So why can’t we say in an action filled chapter, ‘He dialled emergency.’ Smaller cultures seem to go to much more effort to explain themselves and it makes for a more integrated relationship with the reader.

Don’t get me wrong, we should be proud to display our various cultural nuances in our work, there’s nothing bad about that. But occasionally, it would be good to hear them explained to readers instead of the poor things sitting there scratching their heads and thinking, ‘she what?’ because at the end of the day all we do is alienate and isolate instead of include and who is going to go back for more of that? Not me. Ultimately it’s none of my business if other people want to eat little grey stones, take Tylenol, Nurofen or Paracetamol for their headache and sleep in cots, which out of interest is what English people put babies in. No, it doesn’t bother me at all, because if I’m bothered, I’m way past the point where I would have bought their books again anyway.

It is truly something of a wake-up call for me. I may personally hoover my carpets until the great white chariot arrives to carry me home with or without my Dyson, but perhaps I need to give my characters a break and let them vacuum. When writing, I need to think more about the word traps which induce frustration in a reader who thinks to themselves, like I did, ‘What the heck’s a grit?’ Anything that makes the reader stop in their tracks and wonder what on earth I mean, is a bad thing. It allows life to creep back in, for them to remember they promised to make dinner, do the shopping, mow the grass, fetch the kids, go for a run and get the Christmas calories off. It interrupts the flow as fatally as a misspelled word or a jarring grammatical error.

Beware the word traps. Because they’re everywhere; in your head, on your tongue, in the ink of your pen and definitely on your keyboard.
#wordtraps #indie #amwriting #editing #bookreviewdepot #author #reader

Friday, 7 February 2014

"Stop it!"

I'm not a parenting expert. I don't have diplomas and degrees in child psychology, I haven't given talks to huge cheering crowds and I don't think my children will be winning any 'perfect specimen of humanity' awards. Not this week anyway.

My only qualification is that I have somehow survived in a team of two frightened and ill equipped individuals, whose first child popped out to the exhausted faces of a husband and wife duo who hadn't slept for over twenty four hours. True, my husband's claim to fame with the birth of our twins less than two years later, is that I was spectacularly sick into his concerned face, as he peered over me with a damp flannel mopping my fevered brow like in the text books. It just goes to show that the books don't know everything and when the midwives insist on force feeding the distressed mother Vegetarian Ratatouille in the second stage of labour, 'stand well back' is the only command worth adhering to.

I work mainly with women and hear a lot of their family difficulties as we go about our business. To be fair, men have problems too, but they don't tend to bear them all to anyone within earshot with quite so much panache over a coffee and a gingernut biscuit, or four.

It occurred to me as I was listening to someone recently, a mother who was having difficulty with her teenage son, that we are probably our own worse enemies. Her problems were no different to anything that I have already weathered with my own four little delights (thankfully now almost into adulthood) but I had this moment of revelation, where I wished that I could send my forty-four year old self back in time, to have a little word with my twenty-three year old self. I wouldn't use words of comfort or encouragement, trite little sayings to get my younger self through the night, as my colicky first, second, third and fourth child screamed and drew their legs up in pain. I would whisper only two little words into her very tired, sleep deprived and nearing-her-wits-end ears.

"Stop it!"

Stop what? You might well ask.

Stop telling myself that I am useless, that I am rubbish, that I am the worst mother in the world, despite the fact that my baby is only one, two, three days old and can't speak and doesn't have the wherewithal to judge me yet. Stop bemoaning my skill, or lack thereof, comparing myself to Mrs Next-Door who's on her eleventh baby and they all sleep like angels from four hours old. Stop beating myself up for the things I can't manage and concentrate on the things I can. Stop pushing away well-meaning help from those who would love the opportunity to step in and bless me. Stop lying to them and to myself. Stop gazing in my mind's eye at the kind of mother I think I should be, lipstick wearing, coiffed hair blowing gracefully in the breeze with my peachy pink babe nestled comfortably to my designer top for the photo shoot. Stop taking everything personally, from the inevitable sticky eye to the equally likely bout of green diarrhoea which can pebble dash the whole of the upstairs in the blink of an eye.

There are long term consequences for such thoughts. They become a mantra for our parenting, telling us that we are worthless, not just for those first hard few months but forever. Infused with guilt they cross the boundaries of time into the terrible twos, reminding us that we are rubbish, useless, never get anything right and they are with us in the stressful teens, only now we negate our feelings of inadequacy through other means. Because we are awful parents, the guilt persuades us that we have to compensate our children, hand over whatever they want despite it being what they don't need and shouldn't have. It encourages us to believe that nothing we try is ever going to work because we are failures. We couldn't stop the crying colicky baby and we cannot stop the prison bound, pregnancy headed, desperate for boundaries teenager.

It gets worse. If we are useless parents, then we will be useless at everything else. No point going back to college, applying for that promotion, even thinking of emigrating, because we couldn't stop the screaming baby so that makes us rubbish to the core. And what of our little darlings? Well, they can mind read can't they? They hear our inner condemnations and decide that we really are crap, not worth listening to, respecting or even asking for help. If we don't rate ourselves, then why should they?

Emotional parenting is as old as the hills. It's really not a new thing. We are designed to love, protect and cherish our young. That involves walking the floor and agonising, not patting them on the back and leaving them to get on with it. We are meant to give of ourselves and that is truly ok. But we don't have to empty ourselves out onto the carpet and then stamp on our shattered, irrational souls. Nor do we have to repeat the exercise over and over for the rest of our natural lives.

If I could go back in time and give myself a break, those would be the words I would say to my tearful, desperate self, stopping the flood of self-degradation and changing my parenting from the very start.

"Stop it!"

#parenting #myexperiences #amwriting #indie #author #thoughtsonlife #children

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Sorry, I'm a writer...

So why are the words, "I'm a writer," so very hard to say?
When someone asks what I do, what are they actually asking?

Sometimes it can seem like a really empty question, something just to fill the airspace until a better topic leaps into existence. When I was raising four tiny children and would turn up at Mothers and Toddlers with only one side of my hair brushed and sick over the back of my tee shirt, nobody would have dared ask me that question. Occasionally, one exhausted mother would sigh over her breastfeeding infant and ask sadly, "What did you do...before?" By 'before' she would mean, before the world fell out of my bottom, before sleep became something reserved for teenagers and old people, before my stomach morphed into something that a bouncy castle owner would be thrilled with and definitely BC - before children. We would all reply from behind our hands, so that other mothers wouldn't hear and judge us for our lives BC. Tax inspector, law enforcement officer, accountant, business owner. We were all there, lined up around the room while our children surged around like a maniacal high tide. Our tiny creations would all be doing their own individual thing but we kidded ourselves that they were 'playing', even though it was just an excuse to stay sitting and enjoy the few moments of sanity before all hell broke loose again.

When the children go off to school, that seems to be the signal for Mother to get her backside in gear and start contributing to the household coffers. Never mind that the children are actually only absent for six hours a day at the most and it takes at least two of those to deal with the puppy everyone whinged for - and only Mum looks after.   It's around that time in a woman's life, that this knotty little question rears its ugly head again, tentatively aired in the playground at pick up time when you appear in your leggings and flip-flops to claim the child covered in glue, snot, tears or lunch (or in my case, often one of each.) 'What do you do?' So we invent glorified titles to disguise the fact that we leave all the cooking, cleaning and child rearing to someone else and really just sit on our fat bottoms all day, drinking coffee and watching daytime television. 'I'm a household engineer, a domestic technician, a taster for Cadbury's' and on it goes. Don't get me wrong, my husband has always been a capable hunter-gatherer and never put me under pressure to work, but it was socially expected that I would 'do my bit.' So I did.

My children are mainly all off nowadays, making their own mark on the world, doing useful things like degrees, apprenticeships and earning cash for their efforts. Occasionally they boomerang back for a while and go again. I do actually work part-time in an area which fulfils me hugely, taking care of artefacts in a public institution. No, I realise you now think that I work in an old peoples' home, but I can assure you, all wordplay aside, it involves old books, photos and documents of local importance. But I probably write for as many hours a week (if not more) than I go out to work. So what am I?

I recently shyly told someone who asked, that I was an author. "Should I know you?" she asked. I considered her question. Should she? How the heck do I know? "Probably not," I answered and rushed off to hang my really important washing out. Did I stress about lurking paparazzi photographing our family's socks and knickers dangling out in the open air and creating some spurious headline about my bra size? Don't be silly.

But it really is a conversation stopper at parties, no matter how you try to handle it.

"What do you do?"
"I'm a writer."
"Oh!" Stunned silence. "What do you write?"
"Sentences. Big ones."
The sound of clicking heels follows an awkward silence as said questioner runs off to talk to someone less frightening. After all, I could be making notes about their big behind or the heavy foundation covering their acne, or even his wife. Just kidding. We politely decline invites to those parties.

Seriously, what do other authors say? Because once you've dropped the A-bomb and it's out there in the ether, all the questioner seems to care about is how famous you are and whether your name is worth dropping in their next conversation with someone they want to impress.
"Are you any good?"
"Pretty crap really." Raised eyebrow and sympathy - name instantly forgotten.
"I'm brilliant." Thinks 'Big head, won't bother getting her books.' - Name instantly forgotten.

There really doesn't seem to be any answer to it. But the problem is that we are story tellers. Do people not realise the temptation they put us under not to spin them some fantastical line involving reading my own novels out loud to the queen to help her sleep, getting the prime minister to proof read my grammar or asking the aliens at the bottom of the garden for literary criticism? Gosh it's hard. Do they seriously not understand what that short pause before we actually begin speaking means? We're engaged in warfare against our inner selves and they made us do it!

"What do you do?"
"I'm an author."
"Nice, are you any good? Do you sell much?"
"Yes. What do you do?"
"I'm a doctor."
"Nice. Are you any good? Do you cure everyone who comes to see you? Oh, that's a shame."

It's so tempting...

#firstworldproblems #author #amwriting #critics #people #creativity #can'tthinkofanythingelse

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Strangest Novel

I have always avoided movies and books which dealt with the issues surrounding sexual assaults and things of that nature, finding them unedifying in more ways than I could possibly write about. My novels have always been more comedic, light hearted with a decent morality running through them. I have touched on raw issues but never really delved into them.

The book I am currently writing was not meant to be, for a lot of reasons. I was having a rest from writing primarily. It wears me out quite frankly. When I have a book at the creation stage, I am driven like a team of rider-less horses. I cannot stop until the thing is out, edited, covered, blurbed and published. Then comes an enormous sense of relief and achievement. Followed sadly by the fear, that nobody will want it, buy it, read it, review it. But on the whole no matter. It is outside of me and not inside. "Better off out than in," my father used to say, although I think he was speaking more about wind and other unpleasantries than artistic creations. But it fits somehow.

I woke up one morning recently with an idea in my head and by the end of that day, it was fleshed out into a book. The intriguing tale of Jayden Mitchell has been growing ever since, into something I could not have imagined. It began as a mystery, about a counselling centre at the back of an Anglican Church in the city of Lincoln in England. It was a 'who killed the vicar?' type intrigue but a few weeks later, it is so much more than that.

I have dusted off my old counselling notes, mainly still in my head and delved into personal experience to produce something which is at the same time chilling and yet full of hope. It was never my intention to do this and so it has come as a complete surprise to me, as much as anyone reading it. It is a very different offering from the K T Bowes of the Hana series. This book will not be for the faint hearted, but neither will it be gory or unnecessarily explicit. But it may be hard to read.

I think that it will be one of those creations which I will hold in my hands shortly and ask myself the stern question, 'Did you do that?' This will probably be only moments after I stare helplessly at the list of possible categories to put the thing in on Amazon. I'm telling you now, I really don't have a clue as it seems to cross so many genres already, that it will be an impossible task.

A novel which began as 'The Counsellor' has now undergone a dramatic metamorphosis before my very eyes into something which is likely to bear the name, 'The Demons on Her Shoulder'. Time will answer the question as to why I have changed it.

The process of writing is always a fascinating one for me but this experience is a complete first. It's a bit like mixing cooking ingredients, when the journey is as much a mystery for the chef as it is for the seated guests. I genuinely have no idea how this is all going to turn out, but I am sincerely hoping that it will be palatable.

Here is a little sneak preview of the first two paragraphs of my next novel. Out soon.

Chapter 1

The clamour of irrepressible sobbing erupted suddenly and without warning. Jayden kept her demure face neutral as the overweight client in front of her crumpled into the swollen armchair like a deflated airbed. The tissues were a fraction to the left of her seat, easily within reach. A jug of cold water condensated quietly on the coffee table next to three robust looking glasses.

Jayden kept very still, not wanting to halt the spell. It had taken weeks to get to this point and she had begun to doubt herself. Long, intensely frustrating hours of pushing the knotty issue around and around in a giant, self-defeating circle which had the potential to go exactly nowhere. The demons sat figuratively on the woman’s shoulder, unseen but unquestionably there and undeniably felt. Grief. Bitterness. Rejection. Sinking in their claws and patting at her shoulder with their filthy, clammy hands. Jayden knew them well. She had those of her own whom she managed periodically to wrestle off and bind, but they invariably returned when she wasn’t looking, or when remembered pain made her forget to close the doors of her heart.
#author #amwriting #counselling #murder #indie #mysteries #suspense #family