More from Sally 😉 x
More from Sue…
Today would have been my great grandmother’s 252nd birthday and her cake would be a fire hazard. She would have been 126 years old… and if that seems to make little sense there is a simple explanation. Like the Queen, she had two birthdays. Unlike the Queen, my great grandmother’s situation was due to a clerical error, her birth having been recorded as ‘the 30th, the last day of March.’
She didn’t quite make her century, thus missing out on the royal greetings. She had always resented my great grandfather’s death for that reason too… he had quite inconsiderately chosen to shuffle off this mortal coil shortly before their 60th wedding anniversary, thus denying her the privilege of a message from the monarch.
While the body appears to age, the inner being has a mind of its own and doesn’t necessarily age beyond whatever is its personal optimum. Great Grandma…
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The jobbing actor remembered for all time as a British spy chief
As jobbing writers we can never rely on our work to feed us. So we must have an alternative source of income. In other words, a day job. Some like myself are now long since retired from the workforce. Therefore I am able to fully concentrate on my writing, be it another novel, or in this instance writing blog posts. Do I receive large amounts of money for all my hard work? No! Thank goodness for my small state pension…
When it comes to jobbing actors, they are those familiar faces we all recognise, even if we cannot immediately recall their names, that appear in movies, on stage, and in radio or television programs from time to time. Like us they love what they do despite being poorly paid. Like us they must still pay the bills. So like us they also need an alternative income. To keep the wolf from the door, many of them collect unemployment benefit between acting jobs.
The British jobbing actor usually cast as the quintessential villain
Like us they would love to break into the big time. But in their business, unless you are a member of an acting dynasty like the Fox family, or perhaps the Redgraves, because of their looks the jobbing actor will only ever be considered for supporting roles, seldom the lead (see the above examples – Robert Brown and Ray Winstone). In other words once seen by casting directors, they are typecast forevermore, destined to remain a jobbing actor until the day they die with no substantial regular monthly income to rely upon.
Whereas, can you ever imagine the likes of Bill Nighy (pictured above) in a supporting role as a spymaster or a villain? Just look at him! Quite simply his face dictates that he is not suitable for bit parts, thank you very much! He is much more likely to be successfully cast as a cad, bounder, lover or perhaps a dithering academic, whether on stage, screen, radio or television. Unlike the other two, for him the list is seemingly endless.
Why do I say kindred spirits? Think about it for a moment. We’re both dependant on fate. As writers we are responsible for coming up with the right set of words. Once strung together, if they prove acceptable as a new work of fiction worthy of adaptation into a screen, television, radio or stage play, the jobbing actor interprets them for the viewing and listening audiences. In both cases we work our backsides off for very little gain. In both cases we are not afraid of what being actors and writers is all about – hard graft!
Whether either discipline realises it or not, we are connected to one another. I would go further – in both camps, the notion that what I say is a fact, simply does not arise in polite conversation! Even if it should…
So the next time you think you must be mad to want to write, know that you aren’t alone in your addiction. There are quite literally millions of jobbing writers like you and I. Equally, there are thousands of jobbing actors like Ray and Robert too, particularly in stage plays and on television and radio. Both of our occupations are addictive and often fraught with disappointments.
Not to worry, even though both disciplines are to say the least, financially precarious – occasionally the sun does actually shine on one or two of us. I’m still patiently waiting in my seventieth year for my turn…
I wrote this a few years ago to pay tribute to the seven hundred thousand Tommys’ who didn’t come home…
Albert Johnstone and his pal Dick Madison had both enlisted at the same time, barely twelve weeks after war had been declared in 1914. At the time, Dick was nineteen and Albert was barely eighteen. Since then three long and bitterly hard fought years had passed in the ‘war to end all wars’. It was now 1917 and by sheer good fortune more than anything else in the corner of hell they called home, Albert and Dick were now the only two left alive from the newly formed ‘pals regiment’ that had marched to war in that first year.
To any newcomer to their section, both men seemed much older than they actually were. The last five weeks of constant barrage by the Hun artillery plus the filth, trench foot, body lice and chronic diarrhoea which everyone was subjected to in this small section of the trench, which they called home, had prematurely aged both men.
“Give us a fag mate?”
“Ain’t got any left Dickie,” Albert replied.
Dick lifted his Lee Enfield’s muzzle to his eye to check the cleanliness of its barrel. The section Corporal, Charlie Hobbs, had just threatened to put him on a fizzer if he didn’t do something about the state of his filthy weapon. “Bleedin stripes on his arm have gone to his bleedin head,” Dick mumbled to himself. “Go on Bert mate, give us a fag,” he pleaded once more, as he yanked on the string of his rifle pull-through once more, “You can have my extra tin of Bully for a fag, go on give us one.” Dick knew that his best mate Albert always had some spare cigarettes stashed away somewhere, deep inside the filthy confines of his clothing, competing for space against his skin with the thousands of body lice that constantly plagued him, which he reserved for those quiet moments during ‘stand to’ at night when they took turns on watch from the trenches’ firing step.
“Johnstone and Madison, over here. Quickly now – jump to it my lucky lads!” Albert and Dick waded through the fetid water that sat in the bottom of the trench, hiding the wooden duckboards along its length, dodging the huge rats that were swimming along looking for scraps of food, or to feed on the unburied human remains that still lay where they had died.
“Bleedin furry cannibals,” Albert muttered as he smashed the butt of his rifle into one of the rats. Eventually both men stopped in front of Sergeant ‘Bull’ Thomas.
“Got a job for you me lucky lads,” Bull grinned coldly.
“Bleedin hell Sarge – not again, why us, why not someone else?” Dick muttered out loud.
“Now then Madison, watch yer lip! Corporal Hobbs tells me you’re a filthy little bleeder my son. So pin your bleedin lugholes back and shut yer trap unless you want that bleedin fizzer he’s already threatened you with to bleedin multiply!”
Despite all of his bluster, Sergeant Thomas had a soft spot for his two most experienced soldiers. Like Albert and Dick, he had been here in the hell of the Western Front since it first began. Like them, somehow he survived when so many thousands of their fellow Tommies had not. “Now then me lads; as I was saying, I’ve got a job for you. The major needs a couple of runners to take a very important message back to HQ, because the bleedin telephone lines is broke again after the last bleedin barrage. I knows just the very lads for the job, sir, I says to him; Privates’ Johnstone and Madison I says. So my lucky lads, there it is.”
Albert and Dick’s faces, despite the thick layer of ingrained grime and dirt that plastered their skin, giving them the appearance of two men in late middle age, betrayed their natural lack of enthusiasm for being volunteered for something that in all likely-hood would prove to be far more dangerous than remaining here in the trench. “Like I said Sarge, why us when there’s plenty of new replacements to detail off as bleedin runners?” Dick replied.
“The major says that this particular message is far too important to be trusted to a newcomer, lad. Besides, none of them have your survival instincts. The route you will have to take is perishin close to the Hun’s front line as you know.” Bull sighed, realizing exactly what he was asking of them. Everyone knew that anyone who tried to get through that particular piece of the frontline trench system had less than a ten percent chance of making it to the other end alive.
‘Runner’s gauntlet’, as the way back to the HQ dugout was equally known by both sides of the stagnant frontline, was looked upon as the real life version of the popular fair-ground shooting galleries before the war.
When the frontline trenches had first been dug into the muddy soil two years earlier, the zigzag nature of the British frontline trench combined with the depth it had been dug made it relatively safe. But since then, constant barrages by both sides had reshaped it into a series of short intact trench sections and gaps consisting of hundreds of shell craters. Twenty yards beyond where the three men now stood was the end of the trench proper, and the beginning of the heavily damaged sector. The German snipers loved it. Whenever a Tommy runner tried to cross it, the snipers took bets among themselves over which one of them would send him to oblivion…
Bull thrust the message into Dick’s tunic top pocket and buttoned it up before shaking both their hands; there was no sense in wishing them good luck – it might bring them the exact opposite.
The pair moved off silently to the end of the trench. Albert carefully lifted the trench periscope just above the remains of the sand bags on top of the trench. Dick released his Lee Enfield’s safety catch in readiness.
“Two bleedin snipers mate, one behind the wall of the church and one behind the old iron gate,” Albert reported in a hushed voice.
“Wall first mate,” Dick replied quietly as the muzzle of his rifle slowly poked through the gap between two sandbags.
Meanwhile, Albert brought his sniper rifle up in readiness. “Ok Dickie, get the bleeder’s attention,” he said, as he shifted his telescopic sight in readiness.
Dick placed his tin hat over the back sight of his rifle and ducked down, seconds before a round from the German sniper’s rifle drove a neat hole slap bang in the centre of it, sending it flying behind him. At the same moment Albert squeezed his trigger and stayed only long enough to see the German sniper’s head explode before ducking down alongside Dick. “Gotcha you bleeder,” he muttered grinning with satisfaction.
Now there was only one more sniper to contend with. “Ready?” Dick asked.
“After you mate,” Albert winked as he stood up with his trusty rifle ready for action. “Go!”
Dick jumped and rolled over the edge of the first shell hole, flattening himself at its soggy base. Albert corrected his telescopic sight’s aim as he briefly saw movement behind the church’s old iron gate. “Go!” he shouted. Dick sprang to his feet once more and jumped and rolled into the next shell hole a split second before a bullet from the German sniper’s rifle kicked up mud behind the sole of his rapidly disappearing boot, when he dived for cover again.
“Gotcha,” Albert said once again with satisfaction as he watched the second sniper crumple lifelessly to the ground behind the iron gate.
With no more snipers to contend with for the moment, they crossed the rest of the pock-marked muddy landscape, shell hole by shell hole, until they were back in the relative safety of the next section of trench. The two friends sat for a few minutes savouring the exquisite delight of one of Albert’s precious stock of cigarettes, both laughing when the body of one of Alfred’s body lice, which had hidden itself in the tobacco, exploded as the cigarette burned down, before they navigated the trench system to the HQ.
The colonel in charge studied the major’s message before dismissing Albert and Dick, telling them to go to the cook house for a meal before reporting back to him in an hour’s time.
On their return the colonel handed them his reply to take back with them along with a new roll of field telephone wire to pay out as they went.
“Bleedin’ hell mate,” Dick grumbled, “now all we have to do is get back home with this lot.”
“Like they say Dickie – be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home,” Albert joked.
“Ready mate? Let’s go,” Albert replied as he patted his sniper rifle, prepared for what lay ahead of them on their return journey through ‘runners gauntlet’.
PS – When I first published this a few years ago, it attracted the attention of a totally clueless individual from the US who was convinced I’d stolen the idea from a film about the American’s much later involvement in the First World War when America’s President Woodrow Wilson finally got off the fence and declared war on Germany on the 6th of April, 1917. The film is entitled All Quiet on The Western Front about the American involvement in the latter stages of World War One.
Showing his woeful lack of knowledge, he had the nerve to call me a plagiarist. If he had really bothered to do his research he should have realised that the British and French as well as the soldiers of the British Empire (Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, North Africans, Indians and many other nations had been fighting the Germans in long lines of trenches since 1914. Don’t you just love complete morons like that?
I make no secret of the fact that when I’m not writing or researching, I’m a video gamer. As I prefer to write science fiction, it should be no surprise to you that when it comes to video games, my preference is for better than average sci-fi games like the Mass Effect trilogy, despite its myriad of faults. Whenever I’m in writing mode, taking an hour off to play is my way of relaxing. It also has the added benefit of giving me time to think a particular scene through in my latest MS. Some writers make a cup of tea or coffee, or maybe take a stroll to the pub for a pint to do the same thing. Not me…
Since my ancient PS3’s internal disc drive eventually died, fortunately for me I was able to download all three of the Mass Effect games directly to its sealed hard drive. Doing that means that the games no longer stagger as they previously did when the disc drive laboured to keep up with the much faster hard drive. Or when the heat inevitably builds inside the PS3, despite its internal fan system working to capacity to cool it, sooner or later the thin game discs crack rendering them unusable.
Thinking about it, why not do away with the disc drive altogether and make all video games downloadable? After all because of the material they are made from game discs naturally attracts dust, made worse when they are spun up. Internal cooling fans suck in dust from outside the unit, meaning that the disc player sooner or later grinds to a halt because of it. Have you ever tried taking a PS3 or any of the other video game units apart, to clean out the dust? It’s a total nightmare!
But that’s not the reason for this particular post. Well partly I suppose… Instead what I want to talk about is the appalling writing standards of the individuals employed by the video game industry, charged with creating character dialogue.
In Mass Effect’s case, while the graphics have improved immeasurably with each new game in the series (see my green-eyed blond heroine, courtesy of my TV below), sadly the writing has not.
The dialogue of all three games leaves much to be desired. Especially when they make the mistake of stating the obvious on numerous occasions. What do I mean by that? Take one small scene in Mass Effect 3 as a perfect example, when a lift door is being cut through right in front of your eyes. For some inexplicable reason the writers deemed it necessary for one of the characters to state – “Look, the door!” If you want another, how about when it’s blatantly obvious to anyone that the characters are being fired at by the baddies, the writers insist that one of the characters must declare – “We’re taking fire.”
No shit Sherlock, you think? The average gamer would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice!!!
Sorry about that, but there is no excuse for bad writing, especially when millions play these games! It’s bad enough that the young think text-speak is normal, without compounding the problem.
Then there is my other gripe. In this instance when characters repeat what has been said to them while in conversation with other characters. Why have the characters do it? It makes no sense at all. It’s bad enough that with practically every conversation in any given video game, that nine times out of ten its always in the vernacular of one or other of the two North American nations. What’s next, endlessly adding the word ‘like’ dozens of times into each sentence uttered? God forbid!!!
Where does the video gaming industry recruit their dialogue writers from – Idiots Are Us?
Commander Shepherd – a lady not to be messed with
As for the many poorly written scripts in today’s films…
Remembering my old boss Douglas Bader…
Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader CBE, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar
Back in nineteen seventy aged twenty-two, I returned here to the UK by sea aboard the Greek passenger liner RHMS Ellenis to see both of my aging aunts. Once I arrived I soon realised that the money I had wouldn’t last long. So after I had found a bed in a working mens hostel in a village on the western border of Heathrow (Colnbrook), I started looking for work.
I came across a low paid job on Heathrow airport thanks to my talking to a couple of blokes in the pub across the road from the hostel, as an aircraft cleaner for a small business situated on the south side of the airport – Field Air, that maintained business jets like the Hawker Siddley 125, and provided a fleet of aircraft tugs.
That’s when I met Douglas for…
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…when they know that there are bitter and twisted individuals who don’t want you to succeed. Those who can’t wait to attack your book(s)!!!
You may as well ask why do painters paint, or sculptors sculpt. Like them, we writers have a burning desire within us to produce something for posterity. In our case, for your reading pleasure. The serious writer isn’t in it for the money, only the story. Nor are we attempting to become famous during our lifetimes, just to be read.
Sculptors use chisels and other tools to release that statue trapped inside the block of marble. Painters use brushes, palette knives and all manner of paints and pigments to produce that painting which you admire so much in an art gallery. Whereas we use words to paint a picture for your imagination to feast upon.
By its very nature, writing is a solitary occupation. You have to have a writer’s soul and a total commitment to the craft, not to mention a steely determination.
An editor or a teacher of English can give you an explanation for every part of speech in the English language, be it verb; adverb, noun or pronoun, etc, etc. But if you are a writer, what a particular word is formerly categorized as by the academically minded is utterly irrelevant? Leave that kind of thing up to the so called editors and critics of this world. Does a sculptor need to know how to make a chisel, or a painter how to make a paint brush? No. In our case what matters is knowing how to use words to their best effect. To achieve that takes years of practice.
To aid us in writing that story for you, we employ our equivalent of brushes and chisels by spending endless hours researching and fact-finding as well as using our dictionary and thesaurus for the best possible choice of word, plus by reading the works of others.
So, the next time you feel the overwhelming desire to pass judgment on a book you have just read, pause for a moment and ask yourself this simple question, “could I have written it any better?” If you are honest, chances are the answer will be no. Why? Because despite all of your efforts to dissuade others from reading it, the real reason is that you have never, ever written a book worth a damn!
Further to that point, in a post on Facebook a couple of years ago, put out by the BBC about J.K Rowling sharing some of the rejection letters she received over the years with would-be writers, certain sarcastic armchair critics, every one of them insanely jealous of her success, immediately went on the attack by amongst other things, claiming she can’t write. Nothing surprising there. Most social networking sites and internet forums automatically attract highly opinionated hate filled individuals. Not prepared to simply let them get away with it, I posted the following comment in support of Joanne – “I see a hell of a lot of envy by people who should know better going on here.”
It’s interesting that after I’d posted my comment the criticism slowed to a trickle, particularly when many other people agreed with me. One of them went as far as saying to one of the critics, “tell you what, why don’t you give me the name of a book you’ve written?” Not unsurprisingly they received no reply.
While Joanne will never know how we rallied to her defense unless one of you tells her, it’s nice to be able to silence a handful of the highly vocal idiots out there from time to time, don’t you think.
Score one for all writers…