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So That Was The Year, That Was…

… Almost permanently wet.

It feels like only yesterday that I sat and drafted last year’s resume and here I am again: doing my annual audit and checking off what’s happened.  It’s kind of scary how quickly this comes around – time flies past us at an alarming pace, doesn’t it?

So anyway, 2012 was a year of quite significant contrasts for me.  Almost a “game of two halves”, if you’ll allow me to disabuse a soccer analogy…

For much of the year I was, effectively, unemployed.  This is never a great place to be but I didn’t give up on finding gainful employment (of the type that pays well enough to cover the bills) and was lucky enough to land a new role this Autumn.  That, on its own, would probably be achievement enough for one year but I have a few more:

  • Garden fences painted (despite the perpetual rain)
  • Garage woodwork stripped and painted (despite the perpetual rain)
  • Loft boarded (because there’s only so much rain you can take…)
  • Bedroom decorated (will it ever stop raining?)
  • Olympic flame watched (in a brief gap in the deluge – lucky me!)
  • Olympics cheered (along with 55 million other damp Brits)…

And, probably most importantly:

  • Thunder written (12 hours a day until May, then left alone for three months, then edited alongside starting my new job – i.e. over a month of far too many hours a day)…

With Thunder, I’d set myself a personal goal to see if I could improve on some of Firebird’s flaws: I think I have.  I’d also set myself a goal to publish in Autumn: I only just made it.  So why push so hard?  Why not just kick back, or give up, or not bother to set stretching goals?

Well, regular visitors will know that my year also included the unexpected and sudden loss of a friend.  A friend from whom I’d drifted apart, but was on the verge of meeting up with.  A meeting that circumstance kept delaying until, one day, he just didn’t come home from his holidays…

It’s shocking when something like this happens.  Especially when death comes prematurely to someone only a handful of years older than me.  But it serves to remind us that life is a short and fleeting gift.  Time travels past us too quickly.  The rain may never stop…

We have a choice as to what we do with the life we’re given: use it, or lose it.  And I’m determined to try my best to grab every second I’m lucky enough to be gifted, and to wring the most I can out of every single one…

Here’s to 2013: another cycle, another raft of seconds, another chance to do crazy things, to laugh, to cry, to make merry, or hay, or just to have fun…

Happy New Year Everyone!

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On Yer Bike…

…Or the post also-known-as, Some Things Don’t Happen Every Day – Part Two.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but something unusual is happening in the UK at the moment. No, I’m not talking about the orange-yellow, hot, glowing orb that has been peeking out, from time to time, from behind our more normally gunmetal-grey cloudscape.  No, I’m not even talking about the sudden rash of Union Jacks currently fluttering from any available stick or length of string.

No.  What I’m referring to is the sudden – and somewhat disconcerting – propensity for smiling.  I’ve never seen so many happy, talkative and friendly Brits before.

I was out on Saturday and took this picture so you can see what I mean…

What’s going on here then?

A few weeks ago, it was random runners with flaming torches.  Now, it’s brightly coloured bicycles, completely jamming up the highways, and hurtling around like there’s some sort of race on…?

What next, I wonder?

Any minute now, someone’ll be telling me we’re playing host to the Olympics and I can’t see that there’s much hope of us doing that…

For that, we’d need some real support: support of monarchs, princes, lords and ladies; support of parliaments and prime ministers; support of infrastructure providers, police, emergency services and, of course, the public…

For that, we’d need to be prepared to stand in the world’s spotlight and to be examined for all of our strengths and weaknesses: good and bad.

For that, we’d need to be confident in our eclectic – and often eccentric – culture, history and legacies: good and bad.

For that, we’d need to remember how to smile and be friendly to one another…

Good Luck to all the Olympians.

Your achievements are truly breathtaking.

And, of course…,

“GO, TEAM GB!”

My muse is back…

… At long last.

Seems that he/she/it has finally seen fit to amble nonchalantly back to the UK after deciding to spend longer in the USA than I did…  I suppose he/she/it doesn’t have the overheads that I do – no hotel bills, no food, no flight tickets to worry about…?  It must be nice to be able to carelessly abandon your lord and master without regret or concern for this significant other’s well being…?  Hmmm, I also know some cats that are like that…

Anyway, he/she/it is home and, crazy as it might be, I can’t feel too cross about it.  Nope, I’m just delighted by the reappearance, pleased that vivid scenes are starting to form in my mind again and that, as a result, the words are starting to flow.

When my muse is around, all is well in the world.  For a while, as I turn perfectly white screens into dreams of distant lands, I can stop worrying about whether I’m good, bad or indifferent at it…

For a while, I can just enjoy writing.

Welcome home, Muse.

I missed you.

[p.s. A little infommercial – thanks everyone – this blog has now passed the 2,000 visitor mark which is really amazing, encouraging and, at the same time, quite humbling… I really appreciate the support and interest… Cheers! AB]

Back to the Grindstone?

I’ve finally recovered from New Year – I think – and my house seems larger again now that the decorations are down.  Incredibly, I’ve even packed all of the Christmas ornaments into their boxes and put them up into the loft!  I confess: one year I got distracted during this process and they ended up sitting around in my spare room… for a whole twelve months… but I’m not like that any more, honest.

Anyway, here we are then, venturing into 2012.  Some people say that these next couple of months are the “dark” ones but I don’t mind this time of year.  The days are getting longer – albeit slowly – and there’s all the promise of Spring and Summer to look forward to.  For me, these “dark” months, when the weather tends to keep me trapped inside, are a good time for pushing on.  A good time for getting jobs done and things out of the way.  For having a “run at” the year.

Which reminds me, I also need to get cracking with my ski-fitness programme.  Ten days of blasting around in Colorado powder beckon, like a shining beacon of fun, in the near-distance. The problem is though, if I don’t do some work to get myself into shape, it’ll more likely be one day of blasting and then nine days of feeble excuse mongering as I limp around with my muscles set rigidly in a “you’re not doing any more of that” position.

So, come on then January…  hand me that grindstone because right now is the perfect time for sharpening up!

(Right, I know there’s a stepper somewhere in this spare room…  Perhaps it’s underneath those halloween outfits?)

Writing has long-lasting impact…

The written word has always held tremendous power.  From the fear and awe created in the middle ages, through various misguided mantras penned by dictators and tyrants in the intervening centuries, right up to the modern penchant for spin and hype – words have an amazing capacity for good and much potential for destruction too.

All authors need to remain mindful of the impact their words might have.

Here’s a short, hopefully positive, story…

Picture the scene: there’s a young boy, over there.  Can you see him?  He’s probably only about eleven years old and is being led by his mum, on a typically grey Midland morning, along the street to where the local library bus is waiting for them.  He’s holding tightly to her hand and having to scamper to keep pace with her longer strides but, if you look closely, you’ll note that he’s made sure he’s on the road-side of her, because that’s what ‘gentlemen’ are supposed to do.

The boy loves this big, bright yellow, Winnebago which is packed full of books.  He looks forward to its visits although, for him, they really don’t come around often enough.  Let’s face it: if you can only borrow two books at a time on your library card, and you’re eleven, and you read voraciously, then fourteen days is a very long time to have to wait between recharges…

They arrive at the bus and he scrambles up the steps, disappearing into the shady interior like Aladdin into the Genii’s cave.  Once inside he goes straight to the sci-fi section because a couple of nutters called Clarke and Asimov have started to bend his mind and the US Saturn V lunar programme has captured his imagination and he searches high and low for aliens and spaceships… but unfortunately there are no new space creatures or time machines lurking on the shelves this week.  His head drops in disappointment.  What’s he going to read?

Eventually, on one of the shelves, he finds a book which has a nice picture on the front but he’s not too sure about the blurb.  It’s something about dragons, which might not really be his thing.  It’s also probably a bit too grown-up for him –  the words look quite complex and, from the look of it, it might even have stuff like kissing inside.  Blushing slightly, he decides that he’d better keep the details hidden from his mum, just in case…

The book is called Dragonflight.  Originally published in 1968, it was a recipient of a Hugo Award (not that an eleven year old knows what that means) and it was, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable books that this particular little boy ever read.

It was, in fact, so memorable that I can still remember taking it down off the shelf, in the library bus.  I can still remember holding it and wondering whether I should smuggle it home.  I can still remember devouring it and then the next dozen or so books in the series (I can’t remember if there was any kissing, but there were a lot of girls in leading roles…).

Right now, more than thirty years later, I still have five of the series, complete with their yellowing paper, in pride of place on my bookshelf.  I don’t, of course, have Dragonflight; it had to be returned a fortnight later.

The author was a lady called Anne McCaffrey who has sadly, at the age of eighty-five, just been called to take her gifts elsewhere.  Apparently she was still writing, still delighting young minds and still corresponding with her many fans right up to her final moments and I’m certain her talents will be being put to great use wherever she finds herself now.

I’d just like to record my thanks.  Thank-you Anne.  Thank-you so much…  Your positive and uplifting stories made a little boy very happy and laid an inspirational foundation stone upon which I continue to build my life and, hopefully, my writing.

~~~~~

Anne Inez McCaffrey, science-fiction and fantasy writer.

Born 1 April 1926; died 21 November 2011

The Guardian Obituary

~~~~~

In a dark place…

That’s where I am right now…  Surrounded by demons.

It’s okay though; I often find myself here and, if I’m honest, sometimes I quite enjoy it.

The tricky thing is finding my way back out again…

It can’t be helped; the twists and turns of life, combined with a cursedly overactive imagination, can at times conjure up bleak and bitter landscapes, in every direction, as far as my mind’s eye can see.

So I need to remember that this is not reality; the pessimism and negativity that I’m weaving around myself is just another fiction.  Life is much more balanced and generally very kind.  It randomly produce all sorts of unexpectedly pleasant gifts and surprises…

I just have to make sure I look out for these little breadcrumbs.

Recognise them, when they happen.

And follow them out of here…

(Now listen you guys, how am I supposed to write with you lot dementedly chattering at me…? Oh and you, yes you, the one with the eyes like blazing coals and teeth like razored switchblades… mmmm, you…, stop it.  That’s no way to behave in public…)

My gang is bigger than yours…

A week of stark and bitter contrasts:

  • One one hand; unbelievable generosity of spirit and community – to the point of tragic sacrifice.
  • On the other; unbelievable selfishness and petty greed – to no point whatsoever.

I know which camp I stand in.  I know which camp will prevail.  I know which camp makes the best of life, enjoys the benefits of this gift of existence, feels true satisfaction and lasting happiness…

The immediate positive response to the riots, by the vast majority of true British citizens – young and old – of every creed and colour – has reminded us of the importance of standing together.  Reminded us of how giving a little, pays back in spades.  Indeed it seems to me that the “new Brits” are leading this, bringing elements of distant cultures into our own and helping us to become even stronger as a nation.

As for the thugs, they have inadvertently reminded us that when we group together we have tremendous power and, in our case, an amazing capacity for good.  Our gang is not just bigger than theirs, it’s better in every possible way.

My heart goes out to the bereaved families and friends of the victims of the violence.  I am so very sorry for your loss…  It’s probably scant comfort but I for one believe that your loved ones have made a difference.  By standing up for what they hold dear their actions have made the world a fractionally better place.  And that’s a lot more than most of us will ever achieve.

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