Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Highlights

Despite all attempts by the governments, the weather and Wirral Council, it's been a good year for me on balance.

Travel highlights were the trip to the south western states of the USA - Sedona, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon... oh, and ... erm ... Vegas. Mallorca and Turkey were enjoyable but not in the same class.

Best moments: there was much to remember this year by in the UK too and I'm still buzzing from attending the Paralympics for a couple of days including 'Thriller Thursday' where Hannah Cockcroft, Johnnie Peacock and David Weir won golds.

Despite not being a 'sporty' person, I'd say that following the Olympics and Paralympics was THE best part of the year.

Writing highlights were: My first play - 'Enola Gay' - being premiered as part of Wirral's Festival of Firsts, a couple of competition wins and coming in the top ten of the Pulp Idol novel-writing contest.

Movies: I only saw a handful of new movies but the most teary was War Horse [DVD], and the most satisfying was Skyfall [DVD]

Best purchase of the year... possibly any year ever: The iPad

Best meals of the year were in Cafe Sage, Wallasey Village and The Portrait House, Hoylake. Best buffet - The MGM champagne 'brunch' in Vegas... which I managed to stretch from 10ish to 4ish!

Favourite books: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - a quirky, poignant story about likeable characters facing a heart-breaking decision - and Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson - an unnerving tale of a woman's search for the truth when she never remembers what happened yesterday.

Worst weather: where to begin? Snowed under in Flagstaff? Horizontal deluge at the Status Quo concert in Speke? Or just the remorselessly grim grey gloom that loomed over the whole year.

There are other categories, I'm sure, but these are the main things that leap to mind at this point. Starting the new year with a few more writing credits under my belt, still in gainful employment and no bits fallen off yet. I hope 2013 finds you in fine fettle too - and I'd love YOU to share your highlights here!


Friday, 21 December 2012

The End is not quite 'nigh' - official

Regular readers will know I've been to (or near to) the end of the world a couple of times:

1. Ushuaia, which bills itself as such, being the southernmost city in South America (and, as someone tweeted this morning: The Mayans gave us Cocaine, Chocolate and Tobacco. We were fools to believe anything they say.)

2. Armageddo (or Har Megiddo) in Israel, which I chiefly remember for a rather racy snogging session in the underground tunnels the first time I visited.

But just a little word of warning from Death Star PR: George Lucas thinks the world will end in 2012 but what does HE know? It's not like he invented a giant planet-destroying laser or anything. Or like he has enough money to build it even if he HAD invented one...

So what would you be doing today if it really was The End?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

More Ups and Downs

I've been busy with many things so, here's a whistle-stop catch-up of the peaks and troughs, the ups and downs, the rounds and abouts, the pluses and minuses, checks and balances, swings and sparrows... etc

Poetry 24 is now in the hands of 3... possibly 4, who can tell?... new editors. This will free up some time in the new year. If you've a poetic bone in your body, support this unique eZine by sending your news-related poems.

Conversely, I've taken on the running of the Festival of Firsts International Poetry Competition next year, and will be doing publicity for the festival, which will take up a fair bit of time between now and July.

Shrewsbury's high tech flood defences
I went to Shrewsbury, getting into the Christmas spirit (gin mostly) but worried that it might be a bit flooded, walked around Stiperstones and had a 13 course Roman banquet.

Conversely, I have lost a stone in weight - largely thanks to the MyFitnessPal which is online too, but I use the app on the iPad.

I have had another 30 or so rejections.

Conversely, hot on the heals of winning Sefton (what a raffle, that was!) I came second in the Voices Israel competition (scroll down  to the second poem... just after the one about having sex with the washing machine repair man*).

Click text (left) not image!
I STILL haven't quite finished my novel The Undead Residents Association...

Conversely part of it is already out in hard back and on Kindle as part of Pulp Idol - Firsts 2012 where the top ten finalists of the novel-writing competition have their first chapter published as a promotional tool.

Oh, and I've been on a week-long training course, of which more  anon.  Conversely that 'at risk' letter and budget talks put a question  mark over the whole library service.

I must apologise for not visiting other blogs recently - as you see,  there's been an overlap between  finishing and starting (see above) plus work on the house involving moving and sorting a LOT of stuff. Hope to be back in circulation soon.

Didn't do one this year, but here's last year's: 10 Great Gifts for Writers 

* Note to self: my washing machine needs some attention too

Monday, 26 November 2012


A very satisfying part of my job is sorting the books back into order that YOU the general public have just shoved back in any old place.

Fiction should be in author order, but we also split it by genre and quick read displays are in no order at all, making it difficult to find specific books - it would almost be easier to sort them in colour order. Not all authors fit neatly into one genre: Charlaine Harris pops up in Horror, Supernatural Fantasy and Crime, for example and China Mieville is all over the place. I'm not entirely sure which shelf my putative best-selling novel will eventually end up on.

So the precision of the Dewey decimal system is very welcome in non-fiction. That doesn't always mean you can find exactly what a borrower wants: if someone wants a picture of a unicorn you’ll be all over the place - in mythical creatures, nursery rhymes, fantasy art, and end up in heraldry.

Now I've got the gist of the system the world feels more organised, but I still worry about stuff: in the health section: the back ache books are on the highest shelf, osteoporosis on the lowest, yet the yoga ones are perfectly easy to reach – when it should those you have to stretch for. The dementia books have been abandoned on a nearby table but at least the books on OCD are returned to the shelf in perfect order.

In the children’s library they have whole sections on volcanoes and dinosaurs, and at least half of the books are something to do with underpants (*sniggers*).  One day one of these little cherubs will be all grown up and sitting behind a big desk saying: "That library assistant changed my life. She encouraged me to read and that’s what got me where I am today: Professor of Underpants."

Friday, 23 November 2012

Things people say...

A fab book by poet and writer Jen Campbell (who blogs at 'this is not the six word novel') is through to the final round of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 (you can vote here).

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops includes the classic lines:
'Have you got anything by Jane Eyre?'
'I read a book years ago. I don't remember who it was by or what it was called. but it had a green cover - do you know the one I mean?'

I've heard very similar lines in the library and now she's also looking for more examples for the follow up, I think libraries are included, so here are a couple of mine:
Borrower: Mumble, mumble, mumble...
Librarian: Sorry?
Borrower:  Mumble, mumble, mumble..
Librarian: I'm sorry, I still didn't quite catch what you said?
Borrower: I've come without my teeth.

But by far my new favourite was this one I overheard or a weary borrower losing patience with the library's Saturday assistant in his search for a specific volume by Anthony Trollope: 
Well can you just give me a list of all your Trollopes, please? 
Have you any classic lines you've overheard (or said) in bookshops or libraries? Jen would love to hear from you.

Monday, 19 November 2012

New windows

No, not THAT Windows.  I'm being double-glazed this week.

NO - not ME, you fools!  The windows.

I live in my friend's house, so she's in charge and has timed it nicely to mostly be happening while I'm at work, but coming home tonight reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago (new kitchen) which was published in the Ragged Raven Anthology 'Writing on the Water' :

Workmen in the house of women

Day one

All day we heard
their low rumble of laughter,
saw through upstairs nets
an overall, blue, moving,
felt the house resisting,
creaking it’s complaints
as they wrenched nails from wood
like pulling teeth.
All afternoon there was percussion,
voices, tools and feet,
and, in the evening,
we tiptoed to the kitchen
violated: brickwork exposed,
huge fingerprints like bruises,
boot-patterned dust,
and no milk.

Day two

Drilling like prospectors,
there’s a whine of protest.
Their voices separate into
the one who laughs the most, the one
who lies all day into his mobile phone.
Their sleight of hand is like magicians, surgeons.
They talk ‘top-coating,’ ‘bleeding.’
They are as tall as gods.
We bring them steaming offerings
and blush at banter,
imperfections laughed away
– echoing off the raw walls.

Day Seven

And they leave quickly
as though to urgent appointments,
abandoning unfinished business:
superficial sweepings,
surfaces still wet,
a scent that lingers –
putty, plaster, paint –
and it takes time to adjust
to the sudden freedom
and silence,
the hardening and tightening
as fresh wounds turn into scars.

© Clare Kirwan

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Just what I needed!

Me with the lovely Levi Tafari
I mentioned my fine plans of submitting vast numbers of poems and stories for publication in Out There). inevitably this has lead to an unprecedented number of rejections. I know it's all about the law of averages / diminishing returns / Sod but it still requires broad shoulders.
My prize was presented by David Lonsdale from 'Heartbeat'

So I am delighted that, after more than 90 rejections and failures this year, I can report a few successes: and chief amongst them is that I just scooped first prize in the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival's Adult* Poetry Competition.

The poem's about the death of a (fictional) librarian. I was horrified to learn that Sefton Council (a near neighbour north of Liverpool)  is threatening to close most of its libraries and I think some of the fears for libraries generally leaks into the poem - which will be on Sefton Arts website but isn't yet.  I'm not sure how I'll get round the subject matter at work, but I won more than a week's wages so I don't care if I get some flack for seeming to kill off a colleague.

What was groovy about the award ceremony was that I got to meet the inspirational Levi Tafari. An 'urban Griot' of Jamaican and Liverpool heritage, he performs a lot in schools and has powerful, accessible messages about the beauty of diversity and the importance of being yourself: knowing who you are and what you stand for. I'll have to think more about this, but it was a timely encounter for me. It reminded me that I used to believe what you need comes to you if you are open to it.

* By adult I don't mean filth... It's just called that to distinguish it from the Children's Poetry Competition. But I will be coming back to filthy poetry in a future post.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Library Face

I've been a bit down in the mouth lately.

I woke up a few weeks ago and could hardly open my mouth (and if you know me, you'd know it is rarely shut!) and when I did there were shooting pains up one side followed by a dull ache that wouldn't go away.

It was Tuesday so although I was supposed to be on counter they sent me to the hospital. (If it had been Monday I'd have had to stay on counter even if my head had fallen off because... oh, don't get me started on the Monday/ Tuesday thing.)  So off I gurned  to the hobble-in centre and eventually saw a nurse practitioner.

It turns out I've got Library Face. It's all the vacillating between the rictus grin of welcome, the compassionate 'just this once' smile of the waived fine, the stoic grimace of knowing we're all getting 'at risk of redundancy' notices tomorrow. That, and the endless shushing... I've worn out my mouth.

Transmandibular joint disorder lumpiness

So there's no more smiling or singing (which is frowned on in the library anyway) and I'm trying to give up smirking.

Actually, its proper name is transmandibular joint disorder. It wasn't too bad on holiday, although I couldn't eat anything BIG. But it got worse as soon as I got back to work last week, which just confirms what I said all along: Library Face.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Where was I?

The Ottoman Diaries of an English Lady - in which our heroine is covered in sugar, has her toes nibbled, and is soundly lathered by a young Turk 

The Sea of Marmaris, south west Turkey
At a port on the sea of Marmaris, I was invited by that most knowledgeable of travellers, Mr Thomas Cook, to sojourn  in one of his summer residences - an opulent seafront palace decorated with gilt, marble and fine cloths. Everything is filigreed and festooned to such a degree the eye is dazzled and the senses smitten. The temperate air allowed me to divest myself of woollen undergarments and walk around with flesh exposed as is customary in these parts.

The subtle decor of the reception area
The sultry pleasures of the Turkish bath
The Turk is much taken by salads of herbs and flavoursome pastes more rewarding on the palate than the eye - all is accompanied by breads both thick and flat, hunks of meat cooked upon sticks over fire, and potatoes fried a la Francais - an import as inauthentic as it is welcome. I am much taken by the sinister-looking eggplant but the deserts are profoundly wicked, being comprised of pastries doused in sugar syrup.)

I visited a 'Turkish Bath' accompanied by the Doctor - a Scottish academic who has proved  good company in  recent adventuress. Upon arrival, the 'victim' inserts their feet in a tank populated by a score of 'Garra Rufa' fish which nibble the dead skin from every crevice. The Doctor declined, having spent some years in the Amazon basin, where piranha can strip a man to the bone in a few frenzied moments.

Next we were locked in a heated chamber and steamed like one of Mrs Beaton's festive puddings. The Doctor remarked that it was much the same clime as the Amazon, which dampened my ardour to make an expedition there.

A 'Turkish bath' involves no porcelain tub nor private meditations. I suspect the eastern sensibilities would find little to admire in the way we westerners stew ourselves like rabbits in our own gravy. Instead, it begins with a public scouring and flagellation. A young buck by the name of Ozgur - perhaps it was the flirtatious glint in his swarthy eye and not the vigour of his loofering that gave me palpitations? - rubbed all but the  most private few inches of me as I lay on a marble platform, writhing like a fish on a slab with each fresh-flung dish of scalding water. Stopping barely short of intimacy, Ozgur then produced a luscious foam from a length of cloth and - I blush to recount it, though I am assured it is the custom - lathered me like a baby. As he wrapped my towel around me, his gaze promised infinitely more should I but say the word.

The next stage, intended to invigorate and restore the anatomy through manipulation of muscles, was more intimate than any acts my husband e're performed. The boy said several times in his fetchingly limited English that I was 'very tense' - though how an English lady could be anything otherwise in such circumstances I am at a loss to imagine.

Greased and fondled like a brace of Christmas geese, we reconvened, the Doctor having been similarly pummelled by a young lady. We spoke little on our return to the dining room, both discombobulated by the unaccustomed sensuality of the experience.

(Mr Thomas Cook, I regret to report, has been turned by the sultry charms of the East to a dissolute life of hedonism with much drinking, eating and loud merrymaking. An air of indolence pervades his compound, though this is almost desirable after a perambulation along the promenade where all sorts of merchants - who can tell an honest son of Mohammed from the rogues, cheats and charlatans whose daily quest is to liberate the unwary traveller from their Lira with a pirate's hoarde of trinkets, boat trips to unlikely paradises and a confection they call 'Turkish Delight' which is no delight to the sticky-toothed consumer submerged in icing sugar?)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Trick or Treat?

Woooo...ooooh! *creepy music* - one of my spooky stories is now available on the Ether Books app, and it's FREE to download.

'Trick or Treat?' is a flesh-crawling tale of a young girl with a big secret. Here's an excerpt:

The bathroom radiator clanged cheerfully, but her skin had tightened with gooseflesh. She climbed into the shower and stood under the gushing head of it without moving, mesmerized by the scarlet spinning down the plughole. She closed her eyes.

‘I’m not a witch.’ She whispered. ‘I’m not witch.’

The man had said she must be – she was dressed like one. His voice was soft, but his eyes bored into her like the priest on Good Friday when he talked about redemption, damnation - words she did not fully understand.  Continue reading on the Ether Books app

Ether Books is a fab short-fiction app for iPhone, iPod and iPad. Simply download the app and search for my name: Clare Kirwan (it's a different - picture of me than usual - see top left).

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bossiepoo and Schnoodle

Dalmapoo and Rough poo ('artist's' impression... ahem)
We had a border collie when I was growing up. Her name was Scooby - we'd been told she was a 'he' at the puppy shop. The Dooby Doo was optional (the Dooby Doo is always optional.)

I'd like a dog but I'm put off by the moulting. In the exhibition currently on at the library there's a nice oil landscape that's only just visible through a thin veneer of pet hairs.  That's the reason for the current trend in crossing other dogs with poodles, which apparently don't shed hairs.

You have probably heard of the labradoodle and possibly the cockerpoo, but there are some you may not have come across:
  • Bossie-Poo (Boston terrier / poodle)
  • Giant Schnoodle (Giant Schnauzer / Standard Poodle)
  • Pekingese / Poodle mix.. wait for it.... Pekepoo!
  • Saint Berpoodle
  • Welsh Terrier / Poodle mix - Woodle
  • and possible the cutest ... the Westiepoo

I'm not making these up - you can see the full, extraordinary list on Dog Breed Info / Poodlemix

Where will it all end?  How to choose between Boxenese and Aire-enese? The small but vicious Yorkieweile, the lascivious Cocker-Pinscher or the alarmist Skye-Pointer? What about a nice King Charles Shit?

Things we have learned from this post? 
  1. Never let a child name a dog. You can call a rabbit Neil (you know who you are), but there are some things you just don't want to shout across the park
  2. Don't try painting with oils in the same room as a pet

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Out there

If I'm not here, I must be somewhere else.

There's a little something of mine at Flashpoints, for example.  This gorgeous site offers tiny pieces of site-specific flash fiction. A story written in and about a specific location  is left there. I wrote my story in the library and left it on the Mills and Boon stand (left). A week later it was still there. If anyone noticed they didn't say.

I read a blog recently where the writer ( sorry, but I can't remember who it was or find it now - if it was you, fess up and I'll put a link in!) ) had over 100 submissions awaiting response.

She inspired me to send more stories and poems out - I'm up to 54 so watch this space for yee-hahs or ya-boo-suckses.

I'm also on (at? in?) the Lancashire Writing Hub being interviewed about Poetry24, the daily ezine I co-edit with Martin

Friday, 21 September 2012

My Klingon for a horse...

If you're writing science fiction and running low on plot, it's not unheard of to dip into classic literature and... erm... borrow a story (I'm looking at you, Russell T.)

There are only so many plots, right?

Anyhoo, I was just about to go to sleep the other night when someone on Twitter started up  #SciFiShakespeare - a 'hashtag (or should that be mashtag?) game' with an irresistible combination if ever there was one.

As some of you are not on Twitter and so miss it's more fun elements, I have listed as I sometimes do here, some my favourites (some in the screen grab on the left, and some pasted below).

Do chip in with your own Shakespeare / scifi mashups in the comments below:

: My Klingon for a horse

But soft, what beast through yonder stomach breaks?

(Stolen from Spitting Images a long long time ago) To be not not to be, that is illogical Captain.

Close Encounters of the Richard III Kind

To take arms against a sea of tribbles and by opposing, end them…

And of course, not to be outdone, I came up with:
For in that sleep of Darth what dreams may come? and Don't Panic and let slip the dog of war!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Talk like a pirate day

On 19th September it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day - so don't say I didn't be warnin' you!

Avast behind! (but enough about me).

It's important you be fully briefed on the 'arr's and the 'grrr's but if you don't want to be forkin' out for dusty great tomes like How to Speak Pirate: A Treasure Chest of Seafaring Slang (which at least has a likeness of the great Cap'n Jack Sparrer gracing it's cover) wet your whistle now, for here be Talk Like a Pirate Day's official guidelines on how to actually be talkin' like a pirate:
  • Double up on all your adjectives. Pirates never speak of "a big ship", they call it a "great, grand ship!" They never say never, they say "No nay ne'er!"
  • Drop all your "g"'s when you speak and you'll get words like "rowin'", "sailin'" and "fightin'".
  • Dropping all of your "v"'s will get you words like "ne'er", "e'er" and "o'er".
  • Instead of saying "I am", sailors say, "I be". Instead of saying "You are", sailors say, "You be". Instead of saying, "They are", sailors say, "They be". Ne'er speak in anythin' but the present tense!
Me and the Cap'n at the New Brighton Pirate Muster 2011
There likewise be a whole heap of fascinatin' terminology at The Pirates Realm and at Black Bart's Pirate Glossary.
e.g. Dance the Hempen Jig : a hangin'
Jolly Roger : not what you be thinkin' you filthy-minded lubber
Loaded to the gunnells : dead drunk

And those landlubbin' university boffins have even coughed up this handy, if a bit scurvy Pirate Translator.

Go on! Unleash Your Inner Buccaneer

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Funny Submission Guidelines #1

I wish I'd started this post when I first began sending out poems and stories for publication. But here are a few little gems I've found in submission guidelines recently for your delectation - you may even want to send some of your writing to these markets ...

"Please no poetry, we don’t understand it." The Safety Pin Review (short fiction)

"750 or fewer words. Weird. Surprising. Preferably no elves." Brain Harvest

"We’re just not the best market for doom-laden go-nowhere stories which push the boundaries of the English language into new and unfortunate places." Andromeda Spaceways In-flight Magazine

"We're not looking for poetry. Feel free to submit limericks. We won't publish them, but we might read them. Limericks are cool."  Crowded Magazine  (Who also need to be clear on this point: "No purple midgets, gay pirates, or unicorns. Actually, that's a lie. If you have a great story about a unicorn-riding purple midget battling a fleet of gay pirates, drop it in the queue. Really. We don't see enough of that kind of thing.")

And finally, two favourites from Short, Fast and Deadly:

"We're pretty sure our mothers read this page. Yours might too. We don't mind if she flinches a bit but we don't want her keeling over or anything."


"No Haiku! For the love of God. No Haiku."

Let me know if you come across any other good ones... I feel this may turn into a regular feature!

p.s. And of course, the best place to find out the best places to send your submissions to is the excellent free writer's database and submission tracker called Duotrope which I can't recommend highly enough

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Is monetisation a dirty word?

Above: Quality advertising Bangkok style
What do you think about adverts on blogs?

I'm in two minds whether to mention this or see if someone else does...  I've been dipping my toe in Adsense for the last year - with adverts so discreet neither you or anyone else has spotted them (in the invisible space at the bottom of the right hand column.) They don't earn mega-bucks... but they could!

Here are the easiest ways to earn money from your blog (or website):
  • Become an Amazon Affiliate - join up and get the codes to insert an array of Amazon ads - from hyperlinks for individual items to all-singing banners and the little search engine gismo on the top right of this blog. They pay a generous 5% commission if anyone buys through your links (and it'll soon be Christmas again folks!) but only after you reach a £30 threshold.
  • Join Google Adsense - again options include anything from a line of text to full bells and whistles. You get a few pennies for certain numbers of people clicking on the ads, not just buying stuff. You can screen out ads on sensitive subjects (e.g. sex, religion, folk-dancing) or things you don't want to promote (e.g. gambling, loans, the Daily Mail). But again, you have to earn £60 before you get anything.
  • If you're a member of certain other sites (eg Topcashback) they sometimes pay commission to promote their sites. Only do this if you honestly think they're ace (I do, by the way) or your credibility will be shot!

Personally, my brain edits out adverts - except those horribly distracting moving banner ones (like on this short fiction site where they jump around at the side of the story for God's sake!) - so I won't have noticed if any of you have adverts on your pages. But I've added some - still quite discreet - to test them out and may keep tweaking. I'm aiming here more at casual visitors to old posts, not regulars, but you don't get the option to only put them on old posts... not that I can find anyhoo.

Question:  've been thinking about how much I like blogging but can't justify the time spent on it (my only income is p/time £7/hr  - I make almost nothing from writing). But is it 'wrong' to do it at all? Or I could have more than one blog - one for the usual random stuff, and another, more focussed on e.g. writing which would be more monetised.

What does anyone think? *braces herself for diatribes*

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Retro gismo flashback

My previous post got me thinking about having lived through the dawn of this digital age ... cue fuzzy flashback...

I was first in my class to have a calculator and when I started work (as a mere child) in the early 80s computer programs were loaded manually from reels of tape with holes in. The 'computer' was actually just a terminal linked by a modem to the bank's national computer centre. I worked there on the staff help desk after panic set in when they introduced terminals with screens!  The actual computers took whole rooms to house the sort of memory you now get in the average mobile phone.

(An avant garde friend had an early mobile phone as big as his head - and that was pretty big! When he went to the bar we'd run out to the telephone box and call him to ask for crisps.)

Our home's first remote control device was for a video recorder, but was attached by a lead! I used to carry around a cassette recorder (pictured above) before the Sony Walkman, and can vividly remember the first time I heard a CD - Tom's Diner by Suzanne Vega.

Apart from a brief foray with a Commodore 64 and flirtation with an Amstrad wordprocessor, I first saw a home PC in about 1990, but as late as 1995 at the local newspaper we sent stories via an Olivetti keyboard and modem. At the printer, stories were quite literally 'cut' and 'pasted' onto mockups and the lines between them were put on manually using teeny tiny rolls of sticky tape with a line down the middle.

By 1996 I had a  PC (a 256 with 4MB memory) and an email address - but I only knew 2 other people with emails! You couldn't imagine in those days that one day you'd own something like an iPad. It is not only music player and recorder, calculator, word processor, camera, means of communication, publishing device and video player. It's also camera, movie studio, orchestra, art studio, reference library and GPS.  I've just been using Facetime (Skype for iPads) to talk to a friend working in Azerbaijan. And it used to take 6 months for a letter to reach my missionary uncle in deepest Congo but he has a satellite powered laptop now and I can wave to him on Google Earth... up to a point.

Care to share some of your 'old tech' stories - what was your most exciting new gadget in the 'old days'?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

'Wherefore art thou, Romeo?' she texted.

"Heart of Darkness? I dunno - I'll just check my GPS"
Modern technology really messes with your plots.

I was reading somewhere how the end of Romeo and Juliet would have been completely different if they had just texted each other. And it made me think of other great stories that would have been different today: Jane Eyre could have come to Mr Rochester's side if she'd been following him on Facebook... or subscribed to the local newspaper's RSS feed. If Frankenstein's monster had blogged about how he felt, he'd have been hunted down by paparazzi and chat-show hosts, not irate villagers.

It isn't just the classics either - I know quite a few writers who have had to set their stories in the 80s and 90s because recent technology would bugger up the story. My own first novel - which currently resides both literally and metaphorically 'under the bed' - will always have to be set no later than the early 90s because the reclusive main character would never have to face the world if he could communicate freely by email and share documents over the internet.

So if good fiction means presenting your main character with problems to overcome, often compounded by miscommunication, misunderstanding and lack of information... does this mean modern technology is solving all our problems, clarifying our relationships and supplying us with all the answers?

I'm not sure it does, but do you think it is quietly changing the nature of the stories we tell? And how would other famous stories have panned out given access to Google, YouTube and Twitter?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

First Attempts at Animation

Martin P Uppet.. movie star!
I know I said I'd be doing posts about my new iPad... but I've been too busy playing with it to write about it! The bottom line is - it's the best thing I've ever owned and if you locked me in a room for the rest of my life with one (and wifi) I'd be perfectly content. The only thing it doesn't do is make a cup of tea... although I'm sure there'll be 'an app for that' soon!

But what I will show you for now, is my first proper short film... it's only a minute long, but it's a start. I made it using my two new favourite apps - iMotion which turns the inbuilt camera into a stop-motion camera, and iMovie to add a soundtrack, effects and bring it all together.

Martin P Uppet is quite a character in our Wallasey Children's Library - he has lots of adventures with his best chum Suzanne and even has his own Facebook page. So I decided to film what happened to him while she was off...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Fifty Shades

I don't own a Kindle and, as a library assistant, will defend to the death books made out of real paper, but I did download the Kindle app so I could read eBooks by blog chums Fran and Frances.

So if I happened to buy the eBook Fifty Shades of Grey just to see what the fuss is about, at least no-one will know! Of course it's not great - it needed an editor, if only to cut out the numerous times our heroine says 'Holy crap!' - but I'll plow on for the sake of  'research' and of course I can't 'flog it' later on Amazon - a downside of Kindle I hadn't thought of!

And don't say I could have just borrowed it from the library... the waiting list is lengthier than Mr Grey's schlong and every day more furtive-looking women come in and whisper: 'I don't suppose you have...?'

If you want a flavour of the book before you 'submit' to reading it, there's a hilarious critique of the book on Cassandra Parkin's blog and I have a related idea of my own, which I'm sure you're 'gagging' to hear about... but I'm going to make you wait.

p.s. I'm about a third of the way through now, so I may be a little 'tied up' for the next few days, and have to keep you in suspense...

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Friday, 27 July 2012

Should chapters have titles?

Work in progress... titles and all!
Here's an interesting question:- should a novel's chapters have titles or numbers? Do you notice chapter titles? Does it make a difference to the book?

The comic novel I'm writing - The UnDead Residents Association - does have chapter titles at the moment. I always liked the idea and it has helped me navigate around the story as I have written it (I think a lot of writers do this - see the NANOWRIMO forum on this) Does it help the reader too?

My titles are relevant to the story: Grave Undertakings, A Spell in the Library, The Stakeout and I even thought I might use bits of relevant local authority jargon as subtitles to the chapter titles ( 'post-preventative measures' 'co-terminus stakeholder agreement' etc)... or maybe just use a bit of that sort of thing as subtitles to the (un-named) three parts the book is also divided into.

There's an interesting view on the subject in the Gotham Writers Workshop which says chapter titles can add layers of meaning, like Quoyle's knots in The Shipping Forecast... kind of what I was going for with the jargon subtitles. And Nathan Blansford's many followers gave titles a general thumbs up too - though it might be different for kids' books.

But I already have 40 chapters, but because I use various points of view, they don't all have a new chapter, just extra spaces with a *** between. Maybe they should all have new chapters? But then there might be too many too reasonably have titles for.

Help!!  What do YOU think?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Pong of Poetry

I'm off poetry. I am. I've been in a few poetry-related situations recently which have made me think of hanging up my haikus and shoving my anapests up my assonance.

A couple of events where it was only poets performing to other poets, a shouty guest night and an under-publicised and rather forced 'workshop' involving table tennis, balls with things written on them have conspired to make me question what exactly I am trying to do, and why...

Poets empty rooms

In five minutes flat
Poets watch poets... because they're 'up' next
we clear whole tables in cafes and pubs,
causing a disorderly egress
from all kinds of event.

We open our mouths and it’s as if
someone in the back row
has shouted: ‘Fire!’ or ‘Free ice cream!’
the way they scamper for the exits
as though our very words are painful
pointed at them, poisoning their minds.
It’s true – I know poets who do.

Ah, the power of the poets’ words
'Darling, we're leaving. That's Broken Biro!'
to knee jerk you from your comfortable position,
have you running for cover,
covering your ears, refusing to hear.

Poets are faster and calmer
than riot police, less brutal... usually.
Stand us in front of the National Front
at crucial junctions of Tottenham orToxteth,
let us open our frightening mouths
and speak. See those hooded, would-be 
thugs put down their weapons,
look at their watches, mumble something
Batty about poetry... is just plain batty
about having to be somewhere else.

If you need a seat on a bus – ask one of us.
Stuck at the back of a crowd?  See how we
part the sea of people like the Moses of poesy.
How our audiences shrink not swell
at every clerihew and villanelle.

Bring us in at closing time to get the punters
draining glasses, or cafĂ©’s were pensioners
linger on and buy no drinks,
or parks where youths loiter at sundown
causing alarm by laughing and being young.
a load of balls
Summon us wherever people outstay
their welcome: traffic jams, complaints desks,
refugee camps. Let our self-indulgent sestinas
evacuate tall buildings, entire towns.

Poets clear fields and promenades,
empty the deckchairs around bandstands
faster than a sudden downpour.
Use us in wars: front line rhymesters
who send our enemies back to the bunkers;
or during dubious interrogations
extracting prompt confessions with
the drip drip drip
of our water torture words.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Theatrical Manoeuvres in the Dark

I promise to stop going on about it after this, but just wanted to share some pics of the premiere of 'Enola Gay' on Sunday. The play, which I co-wrote, had various teething troubles but it really was all right on the night - we got a really positive response from the 80 or so people who came - including Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who wrote the 1980 song of the same name and kindly allowed us to use it.
Writers Naomi Green (far left) and me with the cast,
producer John Gorman (far right) and Andy McClusky
Our Japanese star, Kana Nagashima with harpist
Keiko Sassa. The stage was split between an
apartment in Hiroshima and the front of the
American B29, 'Enola Gay' during its mission to
drop the world's first atomic bomb on the city.
Andy McCluskey said I'd written 'a great script' *blushes*
We're hoping to have a short run of it in the autumn, but meanwhile, here's the original video of the song from 1980:

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The countdown continues

Eeek! The 'play what I (co)wrote' is premiering in just five days time here in Wirral as part of the Festival of Firsts.

We had the dress rehearsal for 'Enola Gay' at the weekend and for various reasons, it's the first time I've seen the whole thing together. The stage is split into two - half of it is the part I wrote which is set in the cockpit of the B29 bomber on it's fateful journey, and half of it is set in the new home of a young Japanese woman who has moved to Hiroshima to escape the fire-bombing of Tokyo.

I mentioned in an earlier post how John Gorman came up with the idea after meeting Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. What I haven't mentioned is that first we lost the original Japanese writer and then we lost two of the the three actors needed for the bomber crew (yes I know there were more than 3 crew on the Enola Gay, but this is theatre dahlink, we don't need to show everything). So there have been traumas along the way.

Also, it's being performed in St Luke's Church - a lovely venue but not equipped for the lighting we need.

But it's all systems go for the big night, the performers are all great (and I have very exciting news about one of them I'm not allowed to mention until the weekend for (his) contractual reasons). Fingers crossed your truly doesn't bugger up the sound effects!

Sneak preview at dress rehearsal