OK – a quick heads-up: this is going to amuse some and alienate others. It all rather depends upon which side of fifty you fall.

I own a smart phone – I probably only use ten percent of its features but I do use it.  I use a computer everyday at work and writing novels. I am not a Luddite by any means.

That out of the way: What the hell is so important in the e-world that almost every person walking along the street is head-down, finger clicking, smiling into their phone screen, completely oblivious to approaching cars, buses, or other pedestrians? And even worse are those who also feel the need to mask the entire  real world by plugging themselves in their music whilst walking and clicking.

What are they afraid of out here? Actual human contact? Actual human noise?

Not only are they putting themselves in danger being so cut-off from everything that could potentially kill them, but also those around them who are constantly stepping aside to avoid them, or putting out a restraining hand before they commit unwitting suicide in front of an approaching bus.

I made a point of observing this behavior on a short trip to a city after I had been almost mowed down by several oblivious clickers. The usual rules of polite human interaction no longer apply, apparently, when one has the diversion and excuse of a hand-held device.

No, indeed.

It gives you carte-blanc to bump into people without apologizing, make no eye contact with anyone, ever, and suddenly stop in the middle of the street without warning when something on the screen is so important or startling – probably a new video on youtube – that those behind you have to swerve to avoid a collision. Again – no apology necessary because total immersion in an e-world excuses you for all rudeness in this one.

Even more astonishing is when two such e-worlders bump into each other – the bemused look as sudden re-orientation takes over is almost gratifying. Their location invariably seems to come as a shock and I wonder just how many are actually where they thought they would be at the end of their walk. The sudden realization that there are others around them, that the world on the screen is not the real one, that the last ten minutes have passed without their knowledge, finally seems to register: for a moment, at least.

And then, real-world crisis over, an immediate return to the e-world, and the relief is almost palpable.

As I sat back and observed all of this whilst enjoying a coffee and the sun in my face, I wondered how this would all look to, say, Jane Austen; all this non-interaction, all this rudeness, all this unawareness. She would think us harried indeed, and unfriendly, and possibly on the verge of being robots – if she knew what they might be.Humans being controlled every minute of their lives by a machine no bigger than their hand. She would cringe at the idea that this machine could track your every move should you be so negligent to leave on the GPS; will wake you relentlessly every morning no matter how hard you try to silence it; will keep you connected to everything and everybody, including work, 24/7; will track your buying preferences and store your photos; will find you a new partner, restaurant, power company or game; and will have the ability to make its world so much more relevant and important than the one you actually live in that you can’t put it down even for a walk along the street. God forbid you leave it behind or lose it.

I guess my observations led to this question: Is that video, that email, that photo, that news item so important that it can’t wait ten minutes until you are sitting somewhere and out of harm’s way? Would your life be affected positively or negatively if you took some time away from all the ‘noise’ and enjoyed some ‘real-world’ time occasionally?

For those of us who are tired of being ignored, bumped into, gazed at unseeingly, relegated to being of the least importance, please try coming up for air occasionally; you might enjoy the break.


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Forgiveness and Forgetting

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant is outwardly a fantasy story of a quest involving a knight, a Beowulf-type hero, a dragon, mythology and various other Medieval markers such as monks and monasteries, and tribal enmity between Britons and invading Saxons.

Strangely, the idea is that the Saxons and the Britons live  side by side during a long time of peace after the ‘good works’ of King Arthur in ensuring this peace. Some, however, have faint memories or instinctual hatred or fear of the other tribe but can’t clearly remember why. There is a mist, a fog of forgetting that has worked its way into every person’s memory and all they can remember is short term and only vague shadowy long-term memories. Therefore, peace prevails.

On a whole other level, this novel posits the notion that forgiveness can only ever be achieved by forgetting what has occurred; that humans hold onto their hatreds and fears and suspicions regardless of how hard they try to forgive, that the only way to live in peace with those who have committed crimes against you is to actually forget their crime against you. On a large scale this is depicted through the Britons and the Saxons, both of whom have committed atrocities against each other in their search for land and supremacy: on a smaller scale, the elderly husband and wife in the novel have both committed sins against each other in their early marriage. Because of the fog of forgetfulness, peace reigns in the country, the villages, and the homes.

For those who have read Beowulf, or Arthurian Legends and know something of the time period, this is a very cleverly-written book just from that aspect. Being able to identify the tropes and characters is very satisfying: for those who haven’t, this is still an engaging book along the lines of Lord of the Rings and the heroic quest. The mythology referred to, especially the idea of death and the boatman who will only take one person across the lake or the sea to the ‘island’ in his boat, brings home the idea that everyone must face up to mistakes they have made during their life and meet their death alone, regardless of how attached a couple might be to each other or promises they have made to take that last journey together.
Read on this deeper level, The Buried Giant is a very thought-provoking read even if, like me, fantasy is not usually your genre of choice.

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Sneak Peek! Felicity in Marriage: Part One

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Click on the link below to read the first few chapters – novel release date September 30th, 2015

Felicity in Marriage ch 1-3

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New Novel Release: Felicity in Marriage

Exciting news!!!
My third novel, Felicity in Marriage, is now available on pre-order for release September 30th 2015. This starts at the beginning of the year after Pride and Prejudice ends. Lizzy’s at Pemberley, Jane’s at Netherfield and Lydia’s in Newcastle. There seems to be happiness all around until Lizzy receives a letter from Lydia which reminds her that her sister is never happy or satisfied for long. To follow your favorite characters’ lives, to listen to their gossip and understand their problems, order your copy of Felicity in Marriage today!

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

Mrs. Bennet has nothing more to wish for. With three daughters married, her business in life is very nearly complete, and her delighted pride when she visits Mrs. Bingley and talks of Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Wickham with her friends may easily be imagined. Mr. Bennet is merely thankful to finally reclaim the peace and quiet of his book-room.

Their two eldest daughters, Elizabeth Darcy and Jane Bingley have certainly found felicity in marriage as the ladies of Pemberley and Netherfield, enjoying everything such positions in society command. But the marriage of the youngest Bennet daughter, Lydia, to the unscrupulous but charming George Wickham does not leave her parents or sisters entirely sanguine. If only the couple had not gone so far away – to Newcastle of all places – and Lydia in possession of such an unguarded and imprudent manner, certain only to worsen without her family’s steadying influence.

Step back inside the delightful world of Pride and Prejudice and Wickham’s Wife and join your favorite characters as they continue with their lives and loves. Listen to the gossip; celebrate the delights and vexations of early marriage; visit old relationships; experience country living, and the excitement of Regency London. The ending of Austen’s famous novel is just the beginning!

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The Art of Literary Conversation: Travel to a Literary Destination

[With acknowledgment to the creators of this ‘card game’ Keith Lamb and Louise Howland.]

100_1108Q: Have you, or would you like to, travel to a destination important for its literary connections?”

A: Ever sine reading A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute (Norway) as a thirteen year old, I had always wanted to visit the great red heart of Australia: Uluru – Ayers Rock – Alice Springs. The very names sent a chill through my bones  and the image of red earth, vast landscapes, looming monoliths and Aborigine paintings was enough to make me decide there and then that I would some day, some how, live on a desolate and inhospitable ranch in the middle of the outback fending for myself and my family against the ravages of the weather and the climate and the suspicions of the tough settlers of the outback towns of any soft-born city-bred outsider who dared to try to pit her wits against such a foe.

Please bear in mind that I am from the north of England, and at that point in my life had no chance of being any closer to Australia than the moon, and my future should have held only the echoes of the life of my parents. But still I had this dream, this thrumming in my ears, these visions every time I read this book – and I read it many times – the sound of the Australian twang, the buzz of the flies in the bank, the slow way of life came through the pages and captivated me. And I never considered for a moment the other half of the book that is set in Malaysia at the start of World War II. There was no compulsion at all to travel there, perhaps because the most unpleasant sides of humanity are presented in that section of the novel, and suffering and hardship and loss. I don’t know, but it was always Australia for me.

And then, many years later, I got to go! And it was just as amazing as it had been in my imagination; actually, even better. Until you have been, you can have no concept of the word ‘vast’. To drive from Alice Springs, now a modern, fully-fledged town quite unlike its literary counterpart, to Uluru takes about six hours; six hours of scrub and other surprising vegetation – it’s not all desert out there. There are trees and enormous termite mounds and rather large lizards that keep you company during your visit to the roadside facilities, clinging to the bathroom wall in a rather precarious and threatening manner. When it rains – it RAINS – and floods, explaining the reason for the signs warning of low-lying areas of road; frightening but also a pleasing reminder of the flooded rivers that occurred in the novel; and the lightning lights up the entire area for miles around, and you feel very, very small in such a landscape in your little tin box careening along a road that you hope will not be flooded around the next bend. And then there are the camels – real live ones not mentioned in the novel but surprising enough to stop the car and watch and they lollop away into the vegetation; and the dingoes who are not dogs although they lie in the road and pretend they are for any unsuspecting traveler who might get the urge to pet them.

I would go back there in a heartbeat; back to Uluru, back to Alice Springs, back to the Outback. This was one time when the setting of a novel was completely and utterly surpassed by its physical reality. I felt awed, excited, terrified, and strangely at home. I envy those who do call it home.

Anyone out there have a literary destination they have visited?

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Old Books

Given the choice, I would always choose the old, battered, secondhand book over the brand new version. I’m not sure what it is about old books – whether it’s the feel of the well-worn cover in my hands; whether it’s the faded name on the flyleaf written in an elaborate hand no longer seen nor aspired to these days; or whether it’s the idea that so many other people have used it, read it, carried it around with them. Well: maybe I am sure. It is all of those things combined.

I long to know who “Frances, Christmas 1940” was, other than being the recipient of a lovely collection of poems by Longfellow. Did she read every poem, I want to know, because there is no clue left on the pages: no pencilled-in thoughts or questions; no dog-eared corners; no tiny notes slipped between pages – Oh! the excitement that would cause! Perhaps Frances did not even like Longfellow and forced a thin smile in thanks for the unwanted present; or perhaps it was such a treasure that it remained unread, unopened, unappreciated on a shelf except for its cover which would be dusted religiously every Monday – that would be a shame indeed.

If a library is giving away books,or a second-hand book store is having a sale, I can’t walk past, and the idea of a book being tossed into a recycling bin and being mulched up is horrifying. While I know I cannot save every book I see, I certainly have come home with many more than I should. These books have all had a life and deserve to have it extended as long as possible.

Not that I can hang onto every book I save; please don’t imagine some crazy hoarder person gradually losing rooms to increasing piles of salvaged books. Some prove themselves to be worthy of the recycler’s chipper; some smugly hiding behind a very artistic and gripping cover, prove themselves unable to live up to the outward show, but I still can’t be the one to actually throw them away. I guiltily pack them up and hand them over to the nearest charity shop in the belief that someone else will not only be intrigued, as I was, by the cover, but might also find the content worthwhile, too.
One book-lover’s trash, hopefully, is another book-lover’s treasure.

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The Art of Literary Conversation: Biographers vs. novelists

[With acknowledgment to the creators of this ‘card game’ Keith Lamb and Louise Howland.]

Q: ‘Where biographers fear to tread, novelists can rush right in.’ Example?

A: I certainly do have an example. I have just finished reading a novel called Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold and it answers this prompt perfectly.

It is the fictionalized account of the private life of one of the world’s most revered authors – Charles Dickens – told from the point of view of his estranged wife living in what amounted to solitary confinement for the twenty years after he decided to publicly take up with his mistress. The names have been changed and, I am sure some of the facts of the affair, but it remains rather a sordid and sad account. The reader has no difficulty in becoming very angry on the wife’s behalf since she, sad creature, still loves her husband and remains in her apartment so that he is not embarrassed or annoyed by her ineptitude in dealing with his increasingly public life and fame.

I am sure that there are several biographers of Dickens who have lionized his triumphs and literary successes – indeed it would never have occurred to me that there could be anything else to be said about such a great writer – and quietly ignored the despicable manner in which he cast off his wife and the mother of his ten children, convincing them to cut off all ties with her as well. Apparently, if the book is to be believed, he forced them to choose between living with him or their mother, a very usual situation in the Victorian Era; there could be no compromises.

Very often we tend to idolize public and successful people, we want to have someone to look up to, to dream about becoming, but as is so often the case, the saying ‘look how the mighty have fallen’ can be applied. For some of them, being so adored inflates their view of themselves and they begin to believe the hype and adoration that surrounds them everyday; and so it was with Dickens, evidently. He did not wish to be lumbered with a fat, boring, lazy, stupid wife anymore (his opinion of her; not her actual character), and decided that he deserved better and more interesting company in the form  of a beautiful young actress who would make him feel young again whilst hanging on his every word.

The fictionalized biography begins on the day of Dickens’ funeral, the day that his wife feels able to break her self-imposed solitary lifestyle and leave her apartment to face her demons, and in very short order she discovers that her children still love her, and that the actress is also living an enforced solitary lifestyle in a house in the country with her mother. The actress’s whole life revolves around wondering if today would be the day that Dickens would honor her with his company. The wife discovers, as is often the case, that her imaginings have been far worse than the actual fact, and ends up feelings quite sorry for her old nemesis.

The aspect of this novel that makes it so interesting and allows the writer to tread very heavily over Dickens’ good name and flawless reputation is its foundation in truth, based as it is on the man’s actual behavior as displayed through his and his wife’s letters, but it is an aspect that few biographers would want to dwell upon. It is not in their interest to reduce their subject’s worth in the reader’s eye.

Which makes me very glad that novelists are not as bound to the truth as are biographers, because they are expected to, and do, tell a damn fine tale around thinly-veiled truth without repercussions.

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The Art of Literary Conversation: ‘Taking a writer from national to international readership’

[With acknowledgment to the creators of this ‘card game’ Keith Lamb and Louise Howland.]

Q: ‘What is needed to take a writer beyond the limits of a national framework to an international readership?’

A: Very little. I don’t believe that readers have ever been so insular as to only read writers from their own country: the British only reading British authors; Americans only reading American authors. Readers, as a very general statement, read to discover new worlds and different people and behavior. Yes, often we tend read about topics with which we are familiar, about settings and characters  we can identify with, but  because people are people, the world over, whether their problems are set in California, Birmingham,  Alice Springs, or Crete they will all show similar hopes, dreams, motivations, or depravities, and so it matters very little where the story is set.

Of course, it is always very interesting to read about other countries and the differences in their daily routines as depicted by the characters. I would never have known that it is very common to have cheese for breakfast in Norway if I had never read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; I would never have understood the terrible hardships suffered  by the migrant farmers in California if I had never read The Grapes of Wrath; I would never have known that in Japan the city is broken up into prefectures if I had never read Kafka on the Shore. So, while I am sure the national readership of these novels were delighted to read about events set close to home where they could envisage the scenery and the everyday lives of the characters with ease, to read these from an international point of view only increases the enjoyment in learning about different ways of life.

I think the difference between being a national and an international writer lies not in the content of their novels, but with  the acquisition of a very good publicist.

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The Art of Literary Conversation: ‘Why Read?’

[With acknowledgment to the creators of this ‘card game’ Keith Lamb and Louise Howland.]

Q: ‘Why Read?’

A: This is an question frequently asked by disinterested students, students who are so busy with their online presence they can’t conceive of spending time, by themselves, with their only distraction being their own imagination. And this seems to be true for certain adults, also. There is not enough time in the day to do everything, and so, an hour spent immobile – seemingly doing nothing – is considered an hour wasted, especially when there could be instant gratification from engagement online or TV.

But reading is, of course, central to every human being, even if that reading does not extend to an entire novel. We read all the time and have to, to survive. We read notices, signs, directions; we read facial expressions and body language; we read advertising and newspaper headlines; email and Yahoo sound-bites. We read to learn, to understand, to explore a world that is not always in our direct path, but affects us nonetheless. If we do not read the signs and signals, then we are in possible danger or ignorant of events over which we may have no control but will educate us somehow for the future. We do not need to experience every trauma, accident, or mistake but reading about such experiences enables us to formulate how we would respond should we need to and educates us on the best way to survive. Reading allows us to live vicariously through the experiences and decisions of others without any actual suffering on our part.
And so it is with reading fiction, which, I assume, is the main point of the question. Just as with learning through real-life readings, fiction has the same ability to teach life lessons and allows the reader to understand different ideals, morals, motivations, disappointments and judge their own responses to those of the character.
Why read? is not a good question: Do you dare not to read? is a far better one.

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The Art of Literary Conversation: questions to answer

With acknowledgment to the creators of this ‘card game’ Keith Lamb and Louise Howland, I have decided to use their questions as prompts for my blog. Call it mental exercise; call it delaying tactics before returning to my W.I.P; call it ‘write something everyday’, I don’t mind what it’s called as long as it gets me writing and thinking.
And, shuffling at random, the first question is … ‘do you have stories in your mind that are spoken, not read?’

A: Well … I have lots of stories in my mind; little snippets of things that hopefully won’t disappear before I get the chance to jot them down; stories that I want to remember so as to tell them to colleagues tomorrow; stories that stand out from the mundane everyday because they are only slightly different. Such as why were several well-dressed Asian business-men filling their shopping cart with baby formula at four pm today? Did they have several starving babies at home? were they intending to take them back home as gifts from their trip? were they going to take it to their laboratory and do extensive testing on said milk powder to copy the formula used? were they Asian competitors trying to sabotage the local market? Any and all of these responses passed through my head as I trundled past, and I liked all of them because they allowed my mind to wander and wonder away from the drudgery that is food shopping. And I told that story: to my husband; to my colleagues; to my daughter. Nothing great or earth-shattering but incongruous enough to make it a little note-worthy and conversational. However, I am sure that any of you reading this are deciding right now that this story was probably much better being spoken than read, and you would be absolutely correct. I apologize for taking up your time.

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