1984 – A Poem

Moulded from the cradle

Until they reached their grave

In grey suits, they wandered…

Bland,

Aimless,

Slaves.

 

Slaves to society,

Slaves to the State.

Brainwashed

Baited

And Education sealed their fate.

 

Conformity crushed the soul

Of every living thing

Institutionalised,

Indoctrinated,

And money became king.

 

They bought high; sold out low

Worked

Towards an unknown goal

Until consumerism

Swallowed

The world up

Whole.

 

In their quest to fill the emptiness

As they hurtled towards the grave,

They plugged the void,

The gaping hole,

With all the stuff they craved.

 

And, like lambs to the slaughter,

Not fully understanding

What it is we need to find,

We follow

This lesson in futility

Eyes shut,

Blind.

 

Moulded from the cradle

Until we reach the grave

In grey suits, we wander…

Bland,

Aimless,

Slaves.

 

JB 2016.

 

 

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Transitions

Inevitably, as the year’s calendar draws to its close, thoughts turn to achievements and reflections over the past year. Or if you switch the television on to Channel 4 or 5, countdowns of the best cookery TV shows of 2015 or funniest celebrity moments from the year or some other such pointless gap fill bombard you.

Of course it’s also traditionally the time to look forward and think about what improvements we would like to inflict on ourselves once the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. Even if we know that’s nonsense and claim not to do it, I bet we all can’t help but  a) reflect on what the past year has brought us and b) look forward to maybe what’s to come. It’s simply what our culture has precipitated December 31st/January 1st to be. Like the Roman god of transitions, Janus, we look back with one face and forward with the other.

 

For my own part, I have always tended to be more of a reflector than a look forward and make resolutions kind of person. I have always loathed January… sitting still and waiting for it to pass. It’s depressingly dark working winter days never seeming to end. Having to make the wage packet received earlier than usual in December stretch an extra week. Thinking what rot it was to even attempt any kind of change orientated goal in the coldest of months.

Until last January that was.

Never one to make New Year’s resolutions, last year I made two. Well resolution-ish they were. The first was to go the whole of January without alcohol. A small, achievable goal, rather than a resolution. This I did for charity and it helped kick start a weight loss goal I had which had come to mind, not because it was January, but because 2015 was the year I was to turn 40, and I didn’t want to be forty and fat and unfit.

The second ‘resolution’ was to enjoy January. To make things happen rather than waiting for February to arrive before starting my year.

In the first week of January 2015 I lost 5lbs in weight. By the end of January I’d dropped 8lbs, and this wasn’t due to a ridiculously strict diet, but rather down to no alcohol, regular walks and thus increased energy. It spurred me on to lose another stone in weight across the year as well as adopt other small diet habits which I’ve stuck to and am now much healthier than I’ve ever been.

In January I wrote every day. Not a goal I’d set myself but something I did nevertheless.

In January I joined English Heritage, not intentionally, it was quite by co-incidence, but it meant in February I got to go to Stonehenge, something I’ve always wanted to do.

In January I saved some money as I began to set some longer term goals for the year and needed cash to achieve these. (Not all were achieved, but I am not in any way despondent about that, because they were simply longer tern goals than I’d previously imagined.)

And In January. I read a book. Yes, that sounds daft doesn’t it? But I hadn’t read one for 2 months. I intended to try and read one a month. By years’ end I’ve read 17 and have started my 18th, so I’ve managed more than one a month.

All these little things were good. They made me feel January was worthwhile after all.

More importantly last January spring boarded me into having the best year I’ve had since 1994. In fact probably ever.

Nothing life-changingly dramatic happened to me.

I don’t have a dream job. I actually make less money (though seem to have more, however that works) than this time last year. A knight in shining armour didn’t whisk me away on his steed and make sure we lived happily ever after in a castle in the Scottish Highlands. I don’t have a best selling novel. In fact it’s no where near finished written and I had to start it again. And  yet I am at peace with myself. Over the year I slowly became more and more contented.

I am, for once in my life, truly contented with me, with who I am, and I don’t really know how it happened. I can’t explain it. It just is.

Other than to say I think I learned to just be. To simply focus on small things, one at a time rather than the big picture and focus on the things which give me pleasure and the people who give me pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong. Shit still happens and I have bad days, sad days, lonely days. But I no longer feel the despair I have felt for so long. There is a light at the end of each day, even if it’s just climbing into bed exhausted and knowing that the sun will rise again tomorrow.  At least I have a bed. I can now get up more easily when the bad things happen and not beat myself up, thinking it’s my fault or that I’m an awful person. I can look in the mirror and like what and who I see. It has taken me twenty or more years to feel this way. Maybe age and wisdom finally caught up with me.

And for all that, I know that I am the only person who can be responsible for my happiness. I used to believe other people could make me happy, but that is the worst way to think and I don’t quite know when the light bulb came on for me with this. However, I made my happiness this year and I moved forward. Not in my career or in gaining a love life or anything else tangible like that. Just in myself. I’ve learned to be just that little bit more positive. Something I’ll still work on, because you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But I  look forward to 2016…the past is just that. The past. Whether good or bad. 2015 has shaped me as all days and months and years do. But this one feels to have shaped me differently. No longer will I be the person who only reflects. I will look forward too. Much more.

This year has been great, but I intend to make next year even greater.

Have a fantastic end of 2015, everyone and Happy New Year!

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Gig review: The Charlatans O2 Academy, Birmingham 12.12.15

If there’s a sure fire way to banish any winter blues or darkness (or in my case the first of the season’s colds) then it’s a Charlatans’ gig.

A band who have been on the music scene for some twenty five years, and yet continue to deliver with the same (if not more) energy than any of their peers, or indeed many of the younger, up and coming bands.

This been largely down to front man, Tim Burgess who is so Peter Pan like, one may be forgiven for expecting him to actually take off and fly mid set. Or it could be that, despite being in his late forties, his dedication to the use of social media as an integral part of the gigs, makes him cooler than your average throw back band from the 90s.

Not that The Charlatans are stuck in the 90s – only touring old material to regenerate dwindling funds from royalties. No, this band are still writing new material and this tour is the culmination of their 12th studio album: Modern Nature and a tour they have taken worldwide, such is their continuing appeal.

The Birmingham gig was the second showing for me of  The Modern Nature tour, my first being back in March at Leicester’s O2 academy. One may wonder is there any point to seeing the same band on the same tour twice. But therein lies the beauty of The Charlatans. You just know that no two nights will be the same.(Tim Burgess tweets set lists after each gig, if you’re wondering how I know this.) So sure, there will be shared elements (such as the choice of tracks from the new album), but the order won’t necessarily be the same. The huge advantage to being an established band, with a loyal and long standing fan base, is that they can pretty much cherry pick anything from their previous 11 studio albums and the crowd are sure to be left as satisfied as they will be after their Christmas dinner. Tracks you’d never considered much cop in the past (pretty much anything much from Wonderland when Burgess’ voice was much weaker) suddenly takes on a new life and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find a love for tracks I’d previously dismissed. On this tour, You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty takes the accolade. This band know how to do live and they know how to do it well.

It helps, of course, when you have your own marketing man right there in your midst. Burgess’ now renowned use of Twitter means he’s in direct contact with the fans and this level of personalisation seems to be working to give the band themselves a much deserved renewed lease of life.

And so, Burgess tweets that very morning to inform fans he’ll be on the merchandise stand from doors open until the first of the support bands go on. And I’ll bet he was, only we’re not there until quarter to 8 and Riding the Low with front man Paddy Considine (yes, the actor Paddy Considine) are already high kicking their way through the first warm up of the night. Oh yes, it’s a Saturday and for £27.50 you get two support acts as well as a twenty track set from the main act. (One of those being an epic ten minutes long.) I’d say this is value for money you’ll rarely get elsewhere with such an established band, and you really wonder how any of the members from any of the three bands are making any money.

Due to my inclination towards claustrophobia, my height (tall men always outnumber shorter women at these gigs), and my new found love of being at the front to see Burgess close up, we are there early enough to claim a front row standing position next to the barrier right in front of where bassist Martin Blunt will be.

After Riding the Low are finished, we are treated to a fine and polished set from Sunderland’s Frankie and The Heartstrings who announce they are selling their latest Christmas single on a piece of Christmas cake. I’d come across it at the merchandise stall, but thought it was simply another of Burgess’ marketing gimmicks to go with his own coffee range – Tim Peaks – also on sale. However, it seems newer bands are learning from the veterans on the unique marketing front, as it was The Charlatans who famously released their 10th studio album, You Cross My Path, on free digital download back in March 2008. This going one better than Radiohead’s own stint at releasing an album in 2007 whereby users determined the price paid. Trailblazers before the likes of Spotify and other music streaming services became widespread.

Back to the gig. I’m accompanied at the front by two very drunk women on my left who keep moaning for The Charlatans to hurry up and come on, and a couple to my right in the middle of a heavy domestic. Oh, is it going to be that kind of a night I wonder to myself.

But all this drama disappears as soon the lights go down, some other friends turn up after my brother and mate plant themselves in the throng of fans in the middle, and at 9:15 sharp(ish) the band walk on to a raucous welcome of applause, but, much to my disappointment, not to the usual bass and Hammond organ build up of Forever. Instead the band opt for the more sedate opener Talking in Tones, which I’d say is more of a mid set piece when things need to be taken down a notch or two. It may be from the new album, but remember we’re in a room full of hardcore Charlatans stalwarts who continue to follow and buy their music religiously and no-one shows their disappointment. (At least not until later on Twitter when Burgess will be subject to tweets questioning such choices.) But what they don’t know, unless they hang around into the early hours, is that Forever is being saved for something else.

As the familiar intro to Weirdo strikes up though, the ‘blip’ is quickly forgotten and you remember why you came (or you remember 20 years ago), and it takes only mere seconds for the place to be a mass of jumping lunatics waving their arms and hands about as though they really don’t want to be attached to them any more.

Burgess is a slightly quieter front man, than usual. He speaks very little, allowing the music to do it for him, and when he does it’s simply to introduce the title of the next track. Like they need any introduction. However, his constant non verbal interaction with the crowd is sufficient enough. A smile here, a sung line at someone on the front row there, a wave to the balcony, a private joke with a chosen few, a bottle of water given to someone. There is no stage arrogance with Burgess. The swagger is subtle and in no way obvious, yet he holds the audience entirely captive. Perhaps it’s the reason he refuses to get rid of the mop of blonde hair which he gets so much stick for. Your eyes are drawn to him more than anything or anyone else on stage. And I hear the guy with the girl next to me debate what it is women see in Burgess…I believe it may be called the X Factor. Well, it is Saturday night.

 

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The set, as always, is the perfect mix of old and new, fast and slow(er) and surprises you didn’t see coming. We’re treated to a round of crowd pleasing classics in the line of North Country Boy, (Burgess sings directly at the front row and we sing back), One to Another (no compromise playing this one. It’s a given and the crowd go wild.), Just When You’re Thinking Things Over (keyboard greatness) and The Only One I know, (“because it’s Saturday“), interspersed with the slightly calmer Tellin’ Stories, Tall Grass, Emilie and Trouble Understanding. It’s as though the band intuitively have no trouble understanding our need, as an older crowd, to get our breath back.

Blackened Blue Eyes from the much overlooked Simpatico makes a welcome appearance once more, to lift the tempo. It is then, after my being slightly more subdued than normal, (having had the elbows of the women to my left and right being thrust in my face,) that I decide to show them how it’s really done. Of course not being one of their better known tracks, (at least my brother – massive fan didn’t know it until the Delamere forest gig in 2012, I probably look as though I’ve lost my mind, the way I’m po-go-ing about, but I don’t care, despite being on a drinks cocktail of only water.  Alcohol is unnecessary when the music’s this good, and at one point, when someone throws their beer and I get splattered, I can’t help but think, fair play. You don’t need it, mate.

When the all too  familiar opener from debut album Some Friendly, You’re Not Very Well,  strikes up, I’m instantly transported back on to a coach to Leeds, visiting my boyfriend, circa 1995, and I can’t help but grinning at Burgess as though he is my co-conspirator in some great come back quest. It’s such a treat to hear, as it’s not one they wheel out live very often these days. And here’s the thing. There is almost too much to chose from in their back catalogue you know would have the crowd jumping well into the early hours and beyond if given half the chance. Nothing else from Between 10th and 11th or anything from Up to our Hips is played, or indeed anything from 2010’s Who we Touch, an album I personally love. (In fact it’s almost as if they’ve forgotten they made that album.) There is no delving into hidden gems such as Acid in The Tea from You Cross My Path or even from the Some Friendly extension EP with the likes of Overising and Happen to Die on, though all these and more could easily make the list on another day.  How the band ever choose what to play is beyond me, but as I say, no one comes away feeling disappointed. How could you, when the end is always the rousing and rising Sproston Green?

On the 90s crowd-pleasers, Burgess actively encourages the jumping around  and the  crowd surfing with a twinkle in his eyes, knowing only too well there are forty five year old men, who will quite happily attempt a stage dive, even now. On at least eight occasions large men are pulled over the barrier by security guards and escorted back to their place in the ‘mosh pit’ much to the cheers and smiles of those of us at the front. You have to feel a bit for security in that situation though, because clearly the guys crowd surfing were, in all likelihood, doing this twenty odd years ago when they were just slips of teenagers, all baggy jeans and skinny waists. They forget they are not those boys any more (as we all do temporarily when the tracks of our youth come belting out with the force of a hurricane), but the sight of security having to battle with these heavyweights is quite hilarious.

Burgess, of course may be 48 years old himself, but he has retained the slight build of his twenty something self and is able to wear skinny jeans as though they were invented solely for him. In between the bouncing around stage, throwing his arms up and delivering perfect vocals, he stops, of course, at regular intervals (during the long instrumental section of the classic-to-be Let The Good Times be Never Ending and iconic Sproston Green, to take photos of the crowd and tweet them (something which is now a custom of his). We are ecstatic to see our own faces stare back at us as he posts it out into the ether.

 

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Can you spot yours truly?

 

Over the hour and three quarters set, bassist Martin Blunt doesn’t smile or interact with the crowd once, but why would you need to when you play bass so well you can make it seem as though the rhythm of it is emanating from the crowd itself? This is no more the case on the surprise airing of Bad Days which, when its familiar thumping bass-line starts up, you’d be forgiven from the crowd’s lukewarm reaction into thinking it was from Modern Nature. But this, along with Oh! Vanity, come from 2008’s You Cross My Path ( their ‘New Order’ album – just listen to The Misbegotten and you’ll understand), and I’m delighted as these tracks haven’t had an outing at any recent gigs I’ve been to. You can’t help but stand in awe knowing full well that, although it might well be Burgess taking centre stage, it is most likely Blunt’s writing here on this epic bass line. It is  truly impossible watching this band to overlook the sheer talent and genius of Blunt, Mark Collins, Tony Rogers and Peter Salisbury (borrowed drummer from The Verve – since Jon Brookes sadly passed away in 2013 from a brain tumour. Their dedication to music and delivering the best is unwavering and many bands could learn from the way these guys do it. They own what they do and they do it well. No egos, no divas. Not even from their front man who thrusts himself only unobtrusively into the public arena, ever humble, ever grateful for every reaction, every interaction, every sale, every gig.

 

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There’s little stage interaction between the members themselves, up until the point when Burgess introduces each, and even then you might mistake them for strangers as Burgess doesn’t seem quite sure which of them are local, or “localish.” But it matters not because you know this band are tight. They have stuck together and are there to do a job, loving it for what it is, not for the fame and fortune. They’ve been together in one form or another for over twenty years and where other bands come, go, spilt, re-group, The Charlatans simply evolve, and become a more accomplished, more confident outfit glued together by Burgess, Blunt and Collins. They deserve the biggest respect in music, yet they get little accolade or recognition compared to their peers.

When Let The Good Times be Never Ending from Modern Nature turns up about half way through, I can’t help but think for the umpteenth time this should replace Sproston Green as the ending live track. A six and a half minute epic musical journey which, although lacking in the horns and gospel choir of the studio track, lacks absolutely nothing in live ‘punch you in the gut, gets you coming back for more’ ness.  Also the lyrics would fit an ending well.

As it stands though, when the lights turn to green around 30 minutes later, a familiar warmth spreads up through your body and, as knowing smiles creep across the faces of those around you, you know your thoughts mid way were misplaced whimsy. We all know what’s coming.  And we all know it’s going to be epic. We brace ourselves, for although expected and have heard it countless times before, if they didn’t end on Sproston Green, deep down you’d be left feeling short changed. As the bassline and Hammond organ build the tempo, Burgess snaps photos of the crowd swimming in a sea of green strobe lights. The introduction builds tantalisingly slowly and Burgess doesn’t start singing until 5 minutes in. By 7 minutes he’s done and off the stage, leaving  the crowd in the more than capable hands of the band, allowing them to really shine for the final precious minutes. Most of the crowd are falling on the floor by this point as the surge forward is unstoppable. The circles of men with their arms thrown around each others’ shoulders has grown ten fold so no one person has any control over their own balance any more.

As the band wind the tempo down, the shortest of the security guards smiles and raises his hands in a calming down gesture, and the relief that he’s not going to have to scramble any more drunken middle aged men over a barrier is palpable in his face.

The lights go up and the crowd disperses, happier, more carefree and younger than when they arrived in the pouring rain earlier that evening.

And how do you top that? Well Burgess DJing at an after show party he’s invited us all to down the road sounds the perfect way…

 

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Tim Burgess walks in to The Night Owl to the now signature Charlatan’s track ‘Forever,’ ready to guest DJ Northern soul classics.

 

And at a fiver a pop for a ticket, it’d have been rude not to, wouldn’t it? :)

Charlatans Forever. :)

 

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Aunty’s Bloopers

I’m here today to restore the good name of aunties!

Why do I feel the need to do this? Ah… you may well ask.

Well, something in children’s literature struck me lately. Struck me like a ten tonne truck. And that something is that aunties get rather a bad name in children’s literature. At least they do in the children’s literature I’ve been reading to my nephew over the past six months.

To put this in to context for those of you who don’t know, I am long-term foster carer for my seven year old nephew. He came to live with me four years ago. Previously to this my sister (his other aunt) took him in on a short term fostering basis until the paperwork for me had gone through for permanency. The whys and wherefores of these circumstances are not relevant to this post, but let’s just say, mental illness is a bugger and can have far reaching consequences most of us never really think about.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog post.

I am an aunt who loves my nephew more than anything, and it is a privilege to be able to watch him grow and learn and to be able to bring him up whilst he still maintains a good relationship with at least one of his parents. So yes, I’m a good aunt. Well at least I hope so!

However, recently we’ve read quite a few children’s books together where aunts are cast as the bad guys. The really bad guys.

It started with reading Matilda by Roald Dahl back in the summer.

I remember my nephew wasn’t especially comfortable when, as we read, it turned out that the horrendous headteacher, Miss Trunchbull, was the lovely Miss Honey’s guardian. Miss Honey, it transpires as the book progresses, was bought up by her aunt who was nothing but hostile towards her and even when she is an adult is manipulating and emotionally abusing her niece. In fact my nephew was horrified. “It’s good you’re not a nasty aunt like Miss Trunchbull,” he said. Always nice to be made a comparison with evil characters! But it seemed to play on his mind. I thought nothing much of it and assured him that Miss Trunchbull was just a character made up from imagination, just as the characters he makes up are.

A few months later we were reading James and the Giant Peach. And who does James have to go and live with when he is orphaned? Yes, his two atrocious aunts: Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. Well there my nephew made an immediate connection about there being more nasty aunts in a Dahl novel. We began to wonder if Roald Dahl himself had vicious cruel aunts, and I had to assure my nephew that no, not all aunts are mean. “No, because you’re not,” he said thoughtfully. “You’re nice and kind and loving.” (Yes, he can be that cheesy! :) ) Phew. Not scarred yet then?!

Of course, I thought not much of all this until more recently when we acquired all of David Walliams’ children’s books. We started with Mr Stink and Billionaire Boy, before moving onto Awful Auntie.

 

Well, we do not need to delve too deeply past the title to know that yet again we were to encounter an aunt so truly terrible, she makes the previous three literary aunts,  all rolled into one, seem like Miss Honey. The title character, Aunt Alberta, is responsible for the custody of her niece, Stella, when she is orphaned. Now, okay, it’s probably natural that the horrible aunt character would be used, as I would imagine Dahl’s books are so ingrained in British psyche – characters such as Miss Trunchbull and the aunts in James and the Giant Peach  – that it may be a natural route for an author to take.

But then the other night I started reading A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig.

 

Now everyone who follows me on Twitter will know I love (with a capital L)  Matt Haig’s writing. I think he writes with great insight into the human mind and can make just one line within a story tell a whole human truth. So to be clear this post is not an author bashing of Haig, Walliams or Dahl  because to me they all write wonderful stories and are all geniuses in their field. I  aspire to write as well as they, though I’m a long way off that yet!

Gushing ramble aside, I felt my heart sink and a loud sigh did emit from my lungs at around Chapter 3, when it is announced Nikolas’ aunt will be coming to ‘look after him’ whilst his father is away for three months. And of course Aunt Carlota turns out to be a Grade A bitch of an aunt who the young Niklolas is subsequently mistreated by. I know as a writer why this is the case. Why she is so wicked and cruel; there has to be an inciting incident for what’s to come next for our hero, and his aunt being the equivalent to the wicked witch of the west is just that. My sigh wasn’t for that, no. I understood this perfectly. My sigh was more for the fact of thinking – “oh no, not ANOTHER cruel, malicious, abusive aunt in a story that I want to read to my little boy! This is doing the aunt stereotype no favours at all!” I mean when he gets to his teenage years I’ll be labelled mean, cruel and told I’m hated as it is. That’s natural. All parents are. But when you have the added thing that you’re not actually their parent and then all aunties he reads about in books are cowbags, well I can see me being in for a tough time come six years time or so!

Reading this latest bad aunty character got me wondering about why Aunt Carlota/Miss Trunchbull/Aunt’s Sponge and Spiker couldn’t have been uncles, or cousins or well…just anyone rather than another aunt. I’m not being sensitive as an aunt, it’s just an observation which has made me curious as to why aunts get such a bad press. And I can’t help but think the wicked stepmother trope of traditional tales seems to have given way to the wicked aunt trope.  I mean not that I know exactly how many awful literary aunts there are out there. I’m possibly not as widely read as I should be. Maybe there are just as many unscrupulous uncles adorning our children’s bookshelves as there are aunts. It’s only I personally haven’t come across any.  To add to these though, I got to thinking of other children’s books I’ve read. For example I read recently a book by a new author, Susan McNally. In her “Morrow Secrets” trilogy it is Great Aunt Agatha, a tyrannical matriarch, who holds power over, not only her great niece, but all the other women in the family too.  Then, even in the mighty Harry Potter stories, it is Harry’s maternal aunt, Petunia, who he has to go and live with and is mistreated by (albeit it equally with Uncle Vernon and dastardly Dudley) throughout his childhood. (The uncle and cousin are incidental though I feel really, as it is the blood relative, the aunt, who is the reason he is in that family in the first place.)

So now I’ve  been trying to scour the recesses of my childhood book memories (and the internet) to find a balance. To find equally evil uncles and examples of awesome aunts who look after children once their parents have left the scene for whatever reason. So far I’ve come up with Lemony Snickett Series of Unfortunate Events books. I’ve not read them, but Wikipedia leads me to believe the orphaned children are sent to live with a dreadful distant male relative who then tries to steal their fortune. Amongst other despicable deeds. Oh and of course there’s the wicked ‘uncle’ in Aladdin.

But that’s all I’ve come up with. Grandparents (with the exception of the Grandma in George’s Marvellous Medicine) always seem to come off well. Kindly, caring, wise, gentle. But aunts? Hmmmm. I’ve yet to come across a nice kindly one in literature yet. At least in the children’s literature I’m reading to my 7 year old nephew.

So I haven’t read A Boy Called Christmas to him yet. In a way I am glad I started it without him. I think he may well begin to wonder about me! He might start to think I’m going to steal from him, or lock him cellars or make him sleep outside!

No, not really! I’m not really concerned that my nephew may  get a complex about how abominable aunts are. Simply because I am an amazing aunt, (‘amazing’ used for alliterative purposes not because I’m a big-headed arse!) who looks after him well and loves him unconditionally! As is my sister an awesome aunt to him too. Also I know so many other wonderful aunts who all go out of their way for their nieces and nephews all the time in fantastic ways. Yes, kids I’m here to tell you not all aunties are bloopers! Some of us are good people who don’t feed children rotten turnips or bandage them up and lock them in rooms!

I’m just curious as to why the awful aunty character seems to pop up quite a lot…And this is where you come in, my lovely readers.

Is there a slightly cultural bias thing going on? I mean uncles are generally seen as cool and fun. (or at least portrayed that way?) Aunts possibly more serious and ‘old’. (That might just be me though as all my brothers are younger and so as uncles to nephews always going to be cooler than older aunts – maybe!) But I also can’t help but think there’s that element of being a bachelor is seen as positive thing whilst being a spinster is seen as negative tied in somehow with this too. Maybe its the fact aunts are so great in reality that writers can play around with them and make them atrocious!

Cultural stereotypes are always very interesting, but this is one I hadn’t even considered this one before this year.

Of course, as always, this is a bit of me rambling and throwing down my initial brain gunk out into the ether, but I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts on this.

Can you think of any examples in kid’s literature (especially the middle grade sort of age range), whereby aunts are portrayed in a more positive light. Or perhaps where uncles are not? (I’ve just brought to mind Uncle Andrew in CS Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. He wasn’t that great I vaguely seem to recall.)

Anyway, over to you folks. Let me know your thoughts. :)

Cheers!

 

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Talk Talk

In my last post I wrote about the first problem the editor I hired had encountered with my manuscript. This was all to do with the target audience, and how I was a bit, well… off target with it. You can read about that here.

For the second in this series of blog posts, post professional edit, I’m going to talk about…well…talking – or rather dialogue – and how this impacted on my manuscript feedback.

Talk Talk. 

Anyone who knows me knows I am a bit of a chatterbox, and that most of what I say is long winded. I am verbose. I know I am. I use twenty words in the place of one, and if retelling a story of an event I go off at more tangents than Steve Davis playing at The Crucible. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you’ll know this verbosity extends into my writing too.

So why should this be any different in my fiction writing? Well surprise surprise, it wasn’t! Although the editor’s criticism wasn’t as broad as stating I was verbose or even that the manuscript was too long. No, the problem stemmed it seemed from my use of dialogue. The sheer volume of conversations my characters were having which didn’t do much of the following:

  1. Reveal Character
  2. Propel the Plot Forward (this was the key problem)
  3. Set the tone of the Story (or the scene)
  4. and Reveal Off-screen Information

(I have taken this list from Drew Chial’s most recent blog post: “What first dates can teach you about writing dialogue.” Give it a read if you are starting out in writing. There are some useful tips and hints here which I’ll be bearing in mind for my re-writes.)

So back to the problem with my use of dialogue which my editor highlighted for me.

Most telling was the fact she said: “While dialogue is important to bring scenes to life, you seem to over-rely on dialogue in the place of action, and it seems to me this might be because you’re more confident in your dialogue than your action writing.”

Well, quite. Yes, I am probably more confident writing dialogue simply because I’m one of those verbose, wordy people rather than a woman of much action. I have always held words in higher esteem than actions, despite the fact that I do now (with the grace of age and wisdom) recognise that actions speak louder than words. But it doesn’t surprise me one iota that this particular aspect came out as a criticism.

“Much of the novel is taken up with character dialogue” (I think I held a misconception this was the best way to show character and move plot forward!) “often where characters are musing on events that have happened or may happen, or what they should do next.”

Obviously this over-reliance on dialogue creates a problem with pace, but more than that it means the story isn’t moving forward.

This comment was then followed by a hilarious – I couldn’t help but laugh- chapter by chapter synopsis, highlighting exactly where the novel wasn’t going and it was all down to my over-reliance on dialogue. Although hilarious, it was also difficult to read and digest at first. It meant pretty much everything I’d written was pointless. Well it felt that way then.

Eventually though, once I had digested this part of the edit, I was bowled over by her astuteness in realising that my over-reliance on dialogue  is because I do find it easier to write than action. I find it easier to think about how characters will speak and what they will say in a situation than what they would do. I find it easier to show who my characters are this way. Why I have this bias, I’m not entirely sure. It’s odd though, because I see so many writers saying they struggle with writing dialogue and then here’s me with too much of the stuff, but which unfortunately is surplus to requirements. (It makes me wonder whether I should write scripts instead of trying a novel! I’ve always enjoyed writing plays and assemblies for school in the past. As dialogue is key there, I wonder if I’ve taken too much of that into novel writing? Hmmmmmmmmmm.)

So, anyway, I was very conscious of working on this problem in my new version of the story. But guess what? In the first few drafts of the first few chapters I found myself falling back on developing the characters through dialogue! Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgh!

However, this time I’m at least aware of my tendency to do this, so I am able to fix it and work away from that now. I am currently tightening up and working on writing more ‘action’ or at least getting to know the characters through what they do/how they react rather than solely relying on what they say.

Of course dialogue remains a useful and necessary tool to writers to help propel plot forward, to reveal character or ‘off-screen’ information and to set the tone. However what I’ve learnt from this is, there are other ways to do those things too and I need to work on mixing those up a bit more in this new version.

Coming up in future posts: the problem with pace; inconsistency in character; point of view; showing not telling and…The big one: (lack of) Narrative Structure.

Yes, you may be beginning to see why I am still a novice and why a complete re-working of the original idea was necessary!

Until next time… :)

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Filed under Editing, Writing

Target Audience

It’s been a while…but, yes I’m back.

Why the silence? Well many reasons, but mainly because I’ve been beavering away on a total re-write of my book, which will no longer be entitled Prophecy of Innocence.

If you recall I paid out quite a few hundred pounds to have a professional edit done on the book which I had been writing for 4 years. My epic ‘children’s’ fantasy tale, Prophecy of Innocence. I’d also written the second in the three volume novel, though this was not sent for editorial feedback.

I have spent the past month and a half having to totally re-think my approach and I thought the best way to update on this (as this blog is all about this writing journey) is to take all the editorial points in hand and talk about how I’m tackling each one in a series of short posts. So here’s the first:

Target Audience.

I paid for an editorial for two reasons. One I have never had any specific writing training. None. I started writing this book simply because I had an idea once upon a time. Also because I wanted to have it published, whether that be by a professional publisher or by myself. But I needed to have professional opinion on it, and so that is what I sought. I am glad I did, despite the initial gut-wrenching desire to throw in the towel and give up!

So, I thought Prophecy was definitely a children’s story and I stood by it as such. I ‘sold’ it as such and the edit was done bearing in mind I’d said it was for middle grade readers.

And therein lay my first problem.

The story I had written had a bunch of stuff in it that middle grade readers wouldn’t be remotely interested in.  Hard punch to take when you work with said demographic on a daily basis!

I hadn’t written specifically enough for my target audience. Although the editor acknowledged there was “much about the novel suitable for the middle grade reader”  it seemed that there were more things which were not than were!

Here are some of the points made:

  • “There’s a lot within it that isn’t necessarily suitable for the MG audience  and much of the novel is concerned with adult characters and their journeys – again not ideal.”
  • “While the beginning is wonderfully dramatic, especially chapter three and the destruction of the factory, so much death isn’t appropriate for your intended readership.” Ooops! (Though I’d argue and point out it was of generic non important characters as a whole and not detailed in descriptive gore!)
  • “For me the title Prophecy of Innocence doesn’t sound like an MG book title, and I don’t believe it will reach out to your audience in the way that it should. It sounds very old – adult- in fact.” Yes, novice writers out there if you pay for an edit be prepared for harsh truths! My new novel has no title as yet… :)
  • “The story becomes focussed on romance and marriage.” (Guilty as charged, your honour!)
  • “Toddington’s job – running a factory – makes him seem adult and therefore the reader will probably struggle to engage with him and his experiences.”
  • Summing up: “I wonder if you’ve allowed the story to get carried away with itself, and forgotten your audience in the process.” (And there, dear reader is a lesson in plotting and planning instead of pantsing your way through a novel! Though in my defence I did just start writing this for fun. I never had any ambition much at first to be published, so I just wrote a story and enjoyed it.)

Now I could have taken the view that okay, I could just re-write it based on the other editing points for a YA audience to whom some of these themes would be more suited. However, it wasn’t that simple. All the things wrong with my novice writing attempt tie in together and so I didn’t feel this was the best course of action, though I did consider it.

So what did I do? Well once I’d ironed out a few of the other issues which didn’t work with the book, I set about firstly having my main character as a contemporary child rather than one of (or a few of ) the elflings underground. Basically, I changed main character and viewpoint  and this made me focus much more on being the child. This isn’t an entirely new idea as Book 3 was due to fast forward to the modern age and some contemporary child characters. I guess what I’ve been doing for 4 years is writing an origins story. A history book!)

Then I have been reading lots and lots of Roald Dahl and David Walliams books to my nephew. Not that I am writing humour, you understand, but actually it’s no good me reading only my adult books (not that kind!) if I’m writing for children. I needed to get a grip on how to write for this audience as really I’d never properly considered it before other than in a very vague, generic way.

Secondly I interviewed some ten  and eleven year old girls and boys at the school I work at to find out if my main character needed to be a boy or a girl. This sounds ridiculous. Surely I should know, but there were a lot of things in my plot that I needed to know how boys react versus girls to certain situations. I also had a voice in my head and needed to see who fit it best. Then I wanted to find out about how they behave generally, what are their motivations, what do they do in their spare time, what kind of language do they use, because the type of colloquialisms I used at eleven are not going to be the same 30 years on.

So I did that and that has helped no end in thinking about how my main character reacts to certain events which I’d already plotted out.

Then I wrote the first three chapters in the first person so I could really get inside the child character’s head. This is something the editor suggested I do to help me with viewpoint and sticking with one. I have since changed it to third person (as I prefer this for the type of story I have) but it did really work for me. It might sound laborious, but it isn’t as though I need to do it for the whole book. I might still dabble into it if I have problems later on, but for now I am happy I am in one head. (I will talk about my problems with viewpoint in another post!)

And since then I have simply been writing and playing around with and re-writing and re-writing the first  four chapters and getting to know the two main characters so far.

I’ve also forgotten about aiming to be published. For now. I’ve decided I just want to learn more about the art of crafting a good novel. Maybe joining a writing group/course would be best for this, but I don’t think those types of things are really for me. It’s more fun finding out for yourself and trying different things.

As well as this I’ve also started plotting rather than pantsing! And I’ll talk about this in my next post.

What about your own experiences as a novice novelist? What problems have you encountered/did you encounter and how have you/how did you fixed them? I’d love to hear any thoughts from both novices and those with more experience!

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Filed under Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing

A Poem for World Poetry Day (updated)

 

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?

“What do you do?” they asked, 

Eyes open wide.

“Not what I imagined,” I said,

“It’s come as quite a surprise.

Let’s see…

I’m a chef and a chauffeur

A gardener, a maid

A social worker, teacher

A ‘Jack of all Trade.’

I’m a builder, a cleaner

An accountant, a nurse

Having so many skills

Can be quite a curse.

I’m a mechanic, an entertainer,

A negotiator, a clerk.

I have time for little else

Other than my work.”

“Wow! You do such a lot,”

They chorused in awe.

“You must earn a fortune,

You’ll never be poor!”

“Hmmmm, well…

There’s no holiday, no pension,

No perks and no pay,

There’s no company car

I’m never allowed a sick day.”

“What sort of a job is that?

They cried, unimpressed

“Surely you get something,

You must get some rest?”

I smiled at the children

So young and so free

And instead of replying I asked:

“What would you like to be?”

Their answers were eager,

They aimed to be best:

A footballer, a pop star,

A forensic scientist.

“So no one would like

To do what I do?”

They all shook their heads, 

Determined and true.

“You’ve got to be kidding!

No way, Jose, have no fear!”

They chimed altogether

As I grinned ear to ear.

I considered their faces,

Full of innocence and hope

How could I tell them

The truth? 

How would they cope?

For to be a parent,

The most rewarding job of all,

Other hopes and dreams

May well take a fall. 

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