Wise words from one of my literary heroes

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Vain, selfish and lazy? Those sentiments Eric Blair aka George Orwell stated still apply for some within the writing community. Fortunately most writers I know are none of those things. These days the only people you will come across like that are certain editors and literary agents as well as some writers and literary critics. The latter category, especially the odd one or two who write for newspapers and literary magazines here in the UK, can definitely be said to be vain and selfish. To those two unsavoury qualities I would add a few others – condescending, snobbish, scathing and vicious, particularly when it comes to one leading newspaper’s literary critic and his deep loathing of Indies. Compared to him, internet trolls are rank amateurs.

As for the rest of what Eric is quoted as saying – writing is a long exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness, he’s perfectly correct. It still is. With a few exceptions, I seriously doubt that anyone who reads books has the faintest notion of what we go through when writing one. Blair was also right when he said that – one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist, nor understand.

In my own case, what drives me to write is not so much a demon as the burning desire to share a story with you the reader. So the next time you read any book, whether you liked it or not, ask yourself what kind of hell did the author of this book put themselves through when he or she wrote this? How many sleepless nights did they suffer to bring the story to me? How many times were they afflicted with the one problem all writers suffer from time to time – writer’s block?

As if all of that wasn’t enough for the writer to contend with, there are the endless attacks by internet trolls, once published. In some cases they are actually disgruntled fellow writers who are seriously annoyed that people buy, like, and praise your work while shunning their own. As writers we all know at least one of these often angry individuals.

Some trolls are nothing more than malicious individuals hiding behind pseudonyms, thriving on hate while hoping that you will react, judging by their often incomprehensible one star reviews.

Do I still want to write? Hell yes, even though it often drives me to distraction. Once you have been bitten by the writing bug, everything else in your life apart from writing posts like this, and chatting to readers, writers and friends on Facebook, rapidly vanishes into the distance.

You heard it here first folks. It helps if you are completely bonkers with a masochistic streak when it comes to writing.

😉

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Bombs and the B17

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Growing up after World War II in the UK, while my counterparts in town used the bomb sites that still existed in cities like London, Coventry and Liverpool as their playground, those of us living in the country had our own version.

In my own case it was the hawthorn hedge in the back garden that borders the road, the barn and the bottom field closest to Barsham church and village. Be patient, I will explain…

Every year during ploughing time I used to follow along behind whoever was ploughing that field looking for treasure whenever the horse-drawn plough got to the slight dip in the field. It was where an American B17 Flying Fortress crashed on its return from a bombing raid in mainland Europe. Despite the bulk of it having been removed during the war, every year without fail pieces of the remaining wreckage would be ploughed up. I had a treasure trove of things like pieces of curved perspex from the bomber, throttle controls and hundreds of spent .30 calibre machine gun cartridges. I used to do a roaring trade at school swapping them with the other boys for whatever they had to offer.

As for the Hawthorne hedge, us kids had made our club house in it after one of the older kids spotted something hanging in it. Between us we spent days cutting two entrances into the hedge with our pen knives. One was an obvious but false entrance, the other was hidden away from prying eyes (nosy adults) at the other end of the hedge. The one thing we all swore an oath on was to never reveal to any adult what we had in there. As far as we were concerned it was our secret, not theirs!

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It was an unexploded German Butterfly bomb like the one in the above photo. So long as they never came into contact with the ground like our one, and providing we didn’t touch it, it wouldn’t explode. At least that’s what we believed. But what do young kids know? When someone blabbed to her parents, and after we had all recieved the hiding of ours lives for frightening our parents, and then being sent to our bedrooms, the bomb squad was called to remove the best treasure ever to be found on the farm by us kids.

Parents are no fun. They don’t look on these things the way kids do. 😉

There was one other treasure our parents never ever found out about. In the roof space of the barn I had found two German Incendiary bombs that had not ignited when they buried themselves in the thatched roof! I put them inside an old amunition box and buried them in the back garden. During their lifetimes I never ever told my parents about finding them. Had I done so there would have been a lot of head shaking and the rolling of old eyes. 😉

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For all I know they’re probably still where I buried them…

😉

Crawling backwards and other things…

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A typical priest hole

The following is drawn from what I was told by my grandmothers, my three aunts and my mother at various times…

~~~

When I was born on the eighth of March 1948, my parents had a jet black Cocker Spaniel barely out of puppy-hood named Rex.

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From what mum told me Rex decided I was his responsibility. I remember seeing a black and white photo taken on dad’s Box Brownie showing me in my pram with Rex laying on top of my legs. Whenever I was on the ground, unlike most babies I crawled backwards everywhere. Better to bump into things with your bottom swathed in nappies than to bump your head. Well that’s my explanation for the way I crawled – so there! 😉

But there were times when even Rex couldn’t keep his eyes on me all the time. Apparently one day I disappeared. Mum panicked and sent one of the farm workers to get dad. Between them they searched for my throughout the house. Finding no sign of me they then went out into the back garden. During summer, mum would put me in my pram in the shade of the Oak tree in the center of the lawn. This time however apparently I had crawled out into the back garden through the opened french windows in the living room. At the bottom of the garden was a very deep pond.

Yes, you guessed it. I had crawled backwards towards the pond. When mum, Rex and dad found me I was suspended by the heel of my left thumb on one barb of the barbed wire fence at the top of the pond’s steep bank. According to what I was told I wasn’t crying. Nor was I wriggling. If it hadn’t been for the barbed wire arresting me I wouldn’t be here today! I still have the tiny arrow-head shaped scar to this day.

The next time I went missing has to do with a very small priest hole entered from the top of the stairs. The priest hole was situated beneath the stairs themselves. To one side of the stairs was my slide. It was the wooden roof of the priest hole. From about three until I turned nine or ten I loved to slide down it. Anyway, back to how Rex found me. I think I was about four or five at the time, I can’t be certain as it was such a long time ago now. I had been playing with some of my Dinky toys on the landing at the top of the stairs. It was while running them across the landing that one of them hit the skirting board in a particular place.

Before me was a partial opening in the old house’s internal wall. You guessed it, I just had to explore. So in I went. Unfortunately for me the door shut behind me, leaving me in the dark somewhere behind and below the stairs. Once again Rex, mum and dad soon missed me. According to dad, Rex spent ages going up and down the stairs, in and out of my bedroom looking for me. Then he started sniffing at the hidden door, scratching at the skirting board until he managed to open it, much to my parent’s great surprise. According to mum, when dad squeezed himself inside he found me at the bottom fast asleep. Even the farm’s owner Mrs Mather knew nothing of the priest-hole when dad told her about it! Thank goodness for barbed wire and Rex’s nose!!!

PS – Rex and I went everywhere together on the farm for several years before he sadly died long before his time after contracting distemper. Every young child needs a four-legged best friend and protector like I had way back then…

😉

The absolute terror of my early childhood

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One of my earliest memories is of dreading bedtime every night when I was a small child of two or three. I should explain that back then we lived in a four hundred year old Flemish farmhouse, which is still on the farm to this day. I know because one of the first things I did when I came back to Beccles was to cross town to walk the mile and a quarter from the town sign to touch the southern wall of the house I called home back then.

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Its only heating was from the ancient coal-fired range in the kitchen and the heavily sooted open fireplace in the living room. While it had electricity and running water, we all used to wash ourselves in a tin bath in front of the fire. As for the toilet it was a soil closet which dad used to empty every couple of days, digging its contents into the vegetable garden. Which probably accounts for my abhorrence of vegetables to this day! When the wind blew the old house positively creaked and groaned like an old sailing ship as its ancient whitewashed rammed earth walls and thatched roof were buffeted. The old place used to have a cellar back in the sixteenth century. Thank god it was filled with sand and sealed up otherwise I would probably have found my way down to it, never to be seen again!

The larger of the two windows of what used to be my bedroom is in the western wall, looking out onto the back garden. A much smaller one is high in the eastern wall above where my bed lay. It looks out on the farmyard from beneath the eaves. But it was far too high for me to climb up to back then. My bed’s headboard was closest to the door in the southern internal wall at the top of the stairs, directly opposite the priest hole. But that’s a story for another time. 😉

For me bedtime was always at seven-thirty pm, after listening to a comedy program like Hancock’s Half Hour, The Goons or Take It From Here on the radio. Then it was the climb up the stairs to bed, dreading what I knew was to come.

After mum had tucked me into bed and closed the door, I lay on my preferred side, my left. This meant that until my eyes closed I was looking across the bedroom directly at the western window. While I was still fully awake there was no problem. But when I started to drift off, sooner or later my terror would begin. To my mind the window grew in size. The more it grew, the louder I screamed.

For many months my parents took it in turns to try to comfort me when I screamed at the top of my voice, by turning me over onto my right side facing the wall. Or by holding me while reading a story in the vain hope of my falling asleep. But it was all to no avail.

Then one night the problem was solved. As usual within a few minutes of being tucked up in bed, the window began to grow in size and I began to scream. On hearing me, both mum and dad burst into the room just as a heavy truck passed by the house. Every time this happened the old house shook because it was built directly on oak floor beams set in troughs on the ground, just as Anglo-Saxon houses had been, thousands of years earlier. Combine the house shaking with the fact that because of its great age, its internal upper storey floor beams had warped, meant that whenever a heavy vehicle passed close to the thick southern wall, my bed slid gently downhill on the bare oak floorboards towards the western window.

After dad had stuck wedges under the bed’s legs to counter the problem, I slept the sleep of the innocent from then on, until my tenth year when we said goodbye to the farm and emigrated to another farm in New Zealand.

I’ve often wondered why my parents didn’t make the connection earlier between the nightly passing of an HGV and my bed being vibrated across the floor, making the window appear to grow, scaring the living daylights out of me?

🙂

 

 

Remembering a childhood friend and protector

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Back in the early nineteen-fifties, I was a small boy living on a mixed arable farm a mile to the west of the town where I live here in Suffolk. My father was the farm foreman. World War II ended three years before I was born, and yet rationing and the Home Guard was still in existence. The brick-clad place I now call home was originally one of the wooden prefabs built at the end of the war, used to house the POW’s here in Beccles while they were working on local farms.

Besides growing wheat, barley, oats and sugar beet, plus several varieties of apples, the farm had a thousand pigs, bred for bacon. Dad had hired a short tempered Belgian former Foreign Legionnaire to look after the latter.

Besides the two local lads who cycled the mile from Beccles each day to work on the farm, there were Italian POW’s.

There was one other foreign farm worker – a white Russian Cossack. Every man on the farm was loath to approach him. In short he terrified them. But not me and the pigman’s kids. Every day mum sent us out to the fields with the worker’s lunch. Young kids have a knack of knowing who to trust when it comes to adults. We loved our big Russian Bear, and he was always happy to see us. Whenever we were in his company we knew we were safe, especially if we’d done something to anger our fathers. When I was four years old, after I had been given a severe walloping for some minor infraction of dad’s rules, I told him with an air of indignation that if he ever beat me again I’d tell my big Russian friend. Needless to say it never happened again. To this day I still don’t know what made dad stop…

For years I had a small keepsake from him. He had carved several small representations of our village church out of a piece of apple wood with his knife, which he gave to me and the other kids when it was time for him to go. I mislaid it several years back in one of my trips back and forth between the UK and New Zealand.

While we could not speak Russian and he could not speak English, it made no difference, we understood and cared for each other.

Until I read Nikolai Tolstoy’s book Victims of Yalta years later, I had no idea what had happened to the Cossacks like him who fought against the Communists on Germany’s side in World War II.

To this day I still don’t know whether or not he survived the purges carried out by the murderous NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, once the Cossacks were forcibly repatriated beyond what was the Iron Curtain as per an agreement by the then British government to appease Stalin. I will never ever forget him for as long as I live. Paticularly those wonderful moments when he burst into song in his rich base baritone voice, often with a tear in his eye, as we kids sat with him completely spellbound…

Пока мы не встретимся снова 
(until we meet again tovarich)

😉

 

Déjà vu

If this post seems familiar to some of you, it should do. I originally posted it on the 15th of February, 2015. Later I reblogged it. But as you know WP only allows a post to be reblogged once by any given individual. Hence the repost today with a couple of additional points included. Why? Because in these days of don’t read anything longer than a tweet, its message is still relevant – probably more so…

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woodchuck

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck,
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.

If you are of a certain age, chances are that you learnt that tongue twister in primary school, just as I did back in the early nineteen-fifties. It is a perfect example of the overuse of specific words, even though in this case it’s just a fun thing for kids to learn and to attempt to recite.

Many emerging writers tend to rely on a limited vocabulary, even though most words have perfectly acceptable alternatives. How many times have you seen specific words endlessly repeated by a new writer? Either that, or the incorrect versions of words.

Chances are you will come across examples of words when writing, which while sounding similar when used in actual conversation between two people, are completely wrong in a given instance within any piece of writing.

Note to self – hmm, a lot of words beginning with ‘w’ in that last sentence. Must watch that. Damn, there’s another one!

If you want an example of similar sounding words think about there, they’re and their. They all sound exactly alike. But in each instance they have a totally different meaning. Even simple words we all use such as and, can and do become seriously overused by most writers. I’m no different in that regard. I’ve even been known to start a sentence with it on occasion, for example the one word question – “And?” But only during a conversation between some of my characters.

What I’m about to say, I’ve said in previous posts here on my blog. But just for you, here it is again – once you have written that first draft, go back over it many times during its edit phase. Make sure that one of your editing sessions is solely dedicated to deliberately finding alternatives of those words you are so fond of using.

How? Use the synonym function incorporated into your writing software in conjunction with a dictionary and thesaurus. Even better, why not rewrite certain sentences using completely different words, that convey the same meaning as the original one?

Before some of you feel an attack of righteous indignation coming on, and are thinking of going on the offensive, I am fully aware that I have used several words in this post more than once. In this instance I am completely justified as I’m merely pointing out that every one of us needs to pay heed to the way we write.

In short folks, do your darndest to avoid using certain words too often. Here are some more similar sounding words that writers tend to get wrong – your and you’re, to and too. Allowed is yet another example of a word that sounds the same when spoken even when spelt differently. Its cousin aloud has a completely different meaning. The list is endless. Is it any wonder that so many people find the English language hard to come to grips with?

~~~

Next, I would just like to point out something to all of the various types of literary cowards who insist upon hiding behind pseudonyms, such as a number of the armchair critics, pedants, grammar nazis, literary snobs etc, who inhabit the darker recesses of the Internet, each of them purporting to know far more about the written word than most writers.

None of us likes a smart arse who deliberately sets him or herself up as a scathing critic.

To all of the above – I can only surmise that what you appear to be suffering from is the literary equivalent of penis envy. Remember this, apart from being counterproductive, jealousy tends to feed on itself. Never forget that. It’s the only reason I can think of for why you deem it absolutely necessary to be so vicious towards not only the newcomers, but also seasoned writers, whether Indie or traditionally published?

First of all, may I suggest that you get over yourselves. Secondly, instead of endlessly criticising new and seasoned writers, by issuing those interminably boring, often repetitious one and two star reviews you are so fond of placing in the public arena, in your pathetic attempts to destroy a writer’s reputation, as some of you still tend to do on Goodreads and Amazon (you know who you are), why not actually try to write a book yourself. Maybe you already have, which probably accounts for the way you behave. But go on, give it another try. Far better to occupy your time by writing a book. Once you do, prepare yourselves for when it is torn to shreds by your fellow trolls. In other words, I’d think long and hard if I were you before you feel the overwhelming desire coming on, to rubbish someone else’s work.

Like most writers, I always refrain from reviewing some books, especially those written by new writers, if they did not succeed in gaining my full attention by drawing me into the story. Believe me when I say that it’s always better to do that, rather than to publicly condemn, and by definition, earn yourself a reputation as yet another vicious troll.

Just cast your minds back to the so-called review of my historical story Autumn 1066 , which I posted here on my blog a few weeks back… If I ever feel the need to offer criticism, it’s usually in the form of advice offered privately, well away from the gaze of the general public, either by email or when chatting to my fellow writers on Facebook.

All disenchanted individuals should try doing the same thing instead of attacking…

😉

Apathy Rules…

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It’s a sad fact but reader apathy is on the rise.

When I posted this, deep down I knew there would be little interest due to the modern day curse – reader apathy.

Only one person wanted to read and review the third and final edition of my fantasy anthology – Goblin Tales. I gave twelve of you the choice to read it prior to publishing for nothing. All I wanted in exchange was a positive review from each of the twelve. While a few of you (13) clicked ‘like’, that was as far as any of you was prepared to go.

To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. But it’s what most authors expect these days, despite all of our hard work. By not taking up my offer, which would cost you nothing but a bit of your time, you killed a wonderful fantasy anthology, depriving the rest of the english speaking world of the chance to immerse themselves in it…

The ultimate irony is that had eleven more of the thirteen people who ‘liked’ the post taken up the offer to email me for their free .pdf copy to read and review, this post would never have been written. But it’s still not to late for you to change your minds. Just follow the instructions on the previous via the above link in red.

Remember – books need to be read, not ignored…

😉

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