Sunday, 22 May 2016

A new direction

A little while ago my writing stalled. There were a number of factors involved in this; some of which I will spare you but I will confirm they included a slight question in my mind about the story I was writing. You see I was writing a science fiction novel set in a future version of Africa which I just wasn't getting. Now I still think that somewhere inside the idea is a good novel, I just need to rethink some elements of it and maybe do a little more research first,

So I have spent the time since I stopped writing doing a little thinking. I keep notebooks wherever I go in case ideas come to me and I want to make a record of them before the flit away. So I sat down and read through a dozen or so of them (yes, I am kind of obsessive) in the hopes one of the ideas might jump out and demand to be written.

After a while I narrowed the list to three of the stories and let my brain wander through each of them to see which one grew enough meat on the bones to be the one to go with. And of course the answer was none of them but not because I felt these ideas were substandard or that my brain was refusing to do the writing stuff. No, it's because my subconscious mind came up with an entirely new idea. And this one grew flesh at such an alarming rate that I simply can't ignore.it. Without doubt it is my next novel project.

I'll give you a brief outline - it's another YA fantasy story set in a land controlled by an oppressive church and our lead character - a 12 year old girl at the start of the story - will become embroiled in a battle of good vs evil in the classic kind of way. And before you accuse me of being anti-religious, you might not be right in thinking the church is the bad guy. I might be an atheist but it doesn't mean I'm going to spend every hour I'm awake arguing down religion. The church dominated society is crucial for one element of the story to work. It's just going to be a story about people - oh and maybe demons and magic.

Anyway I have a new notebook underway with pages and pages already covered in story ideas and I'm about to give writing the first chapter a go. I'm not going to be writing this regularly for a little while yet; I haven't filled in enough of the plot to do that yet but I am fairly happy with the start and want to find the mood of the story. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Referendum Blues

[Sorry for getting political but I just can't steer clear]

It's less than six weeks until the EU referendum in the UK; six weeks until we know just how screwed we are all going to be.  Yeah, I'm rather fearful that the people of the UK are about to vote to leave the European Union even though all common sense tells me that staying in is the only sensible option. And this covers all ends of the political spectrum.

You see being in the EU is good for Britain's businesses. We have full access to the European single market making trading within its borders much easier. This has many benefits - for one a lot of investment is drawn into the UK from outside because we have this access. Take that away and this money could well end up going to other nations like Germany and Ireland.

But it's not just the business types that should be in favour. The ordinary worker, you and I, have all benefited from the UK's membership. Many of the workplace rights that you have originated in the EU. The right for paid annual leave and fair treatment of part time workers are just two of the benefits we have that are down to the EU and whilst we stay in these rights cannot be eroded. Leave the EU and they're fair game to the whims of politicians.

I've seen an awful lot of utter rubbish about the EU over the years - misinformation and downright lies about its interference with the UK's sovereign affairs. And as for the old perennial about the effects of mass migration to the UK being a drain on our resources and services, give me a break. The migrants that have come here are net contributors to our system. They are far, far less likely to be unemployed than British born people and when they are they do not have the instant access to government money that a UK citizen does so the benefit tourism argument is bunkum.

Now I'm not saying the EU is perfect. There are many things that need to be improved and hopefully there will be a mood to make these reforms in future but us leaving is just nonsensical. And you don't just have to take my word for it. Most of the major INDEPENDENT economic organisations and think tanks have come out and said leaving would be bad for us. Just this last week the Governor of the Bank of England and the head of the IMF both described the negative impact an OUT vote would have. They should have some clue of what's going on.

All I can put it down to is a feeling of small islander, anti-foreigner sentiment, There is a lot of it in this country I am ashamed to say. I don't get it. Being English isn't being superior. (And by the way I am deliberately saying English. The Scots and the Welsh seem to have a far more sensible outlook and seem to have a majority of IN support)

I think I know a large part of what this is. It's our history. Britain has a history of being a world power; for a long time we were the major world power. Well people, that was in the past. We are definitely not where we were. And before you call out that we are still the fifth biggest economy let me tell you this is not a right. We are not  guaranteed to hold this position going forward and if we leave the EU I think we will be ensuring that we begin a long slide downwards.

And then there is the issue of the other side of our history. Through most of the last few centuries we've not exactly been best buds with France - the Entente Cordiale is only just a little over a hundred years old - go back just a century before and you'll be in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, Set it on rewind much more and you'll see war after war between us and France. History though is just that; history. We should not forget it because it can teach us many lessons and stop us making the same mistakes all over again but we cannot us it to build or foster prejudices.

Moving beyond France and we get to Germany and we have more history - more recent than that with France too. I'm not going to go over and over this but again - get over it. The Germany of today is our ally; one of our closest. If you've been to Germany you will know (or at least should) that the Brits and the Germans are very similar people.

But it's exactly the same outside the EU. If you say we should cosy up more to the USA then according to the rules of letting history cloud your decision making remember we had a few wars with them back in the 1700s and 1800s. Not that that should colour our opinions of Americans today.

Anyway I'm meandering. The core principles of this EU referendum are mostly going to be missed. We should be considering what will be best for all of Britain going forward. A lot of people are going to completely ignore this and just go with fears and resentments. After all why should Brussels tell us how we should live our lives? (Not seriously asking this you understand.)

One final thought before my meanderings end. We live in Great Britain. (Well, except if you are living in Northern Ireland but that's a matter for another time.) This is another part of the problem for me. It's the word Great that's my problem. Not that I don't think that the UK is a great country. I'm British and patriotic so of course I do. But having the word Great in the name gives you the wrong impression.; one of a superiority we have not earned and do not deserve (not to the level some people think.

Great in this sense is just a geographic term. Great Britain is the name of the largest island in the British Isles. Great means largest, physically, nothing more. We need to remember that and remember that for all our self importance the UK is a very small country. If you doubt my words go check out the stats on Wikipedia for largest counties. I did and we barely make the top 80. Do the same thing by population and we come in at number 22. That's a far bit higher but still not anywhere near the top.

We used to be important. We controlled the largest Empire anyone on Earth has ever seen. But those days are gone. In the future we will only survive through cooperation with others. So it's about time we got humble, realised our place, and started doing it.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Funk over or a temporary blip

Not sure if today was an exception or a new writing norm. After all it's not exactly possible to judge after a single day's endeavour is it? The fact is earlier today I sat at this keyboard and tried to write the next part of my new Ben Williamson novella and nothing happened. So I gave up, opened up this blog and started writing an entry. I figured if I'm not writing I might as well get back into the feel of typing sentences. Couldn't hurt.

Well I wrote a blog entry. You might have read it. I posted it, tweeted a link to it and closed down the browser expecting to head off to watch some TV. Underneath was the Word Doc I'd so completely failed to add much to. I reread the single paragraph I'd written, decided it was terrible and deleted it. I then thought it might be worth another go at getting at least that paragraph done. Sixty words or so is better than nothing. So I did. This time it worked a little better. And when I got to the end of it I had an idea of the next one. It kind of lead to an entire scene being written. Not one of my best I know but at least it progressed the story in roughly the direction I wanted. So I headed off at least happy I'd done that.

A little while I came back to check my email. The Word doc was still there and I found myself writing a second scene. Not bad too - even if that's only my opinion. And this evening I've added a further three scenes. In all today I've written 3,572 words. Not a bad day. And the novella now stands at 6,333 words.

Is it going to continue tomorrow? Who knows. I know one thing for sure. My intended book hunting at the car boots is not going to happen. I'm very much a fair weather car booter these days. I have no need to go to them after all - just a desire to add more books to my collection. And mud is a definite put off now. In years gone by I would have gone out anyway. But in years gone by I ran a side line business selling superhero comics and science fiction collectables and the boots were a good source of decent stock.

Not so anymore, so tomorrow my alarm will not sound. I will wake naturally and maybe do some more writing. I will see how the mood takes me.

By the way - one reason for my nonchalance regarding the car boots must be the fact I managed to find seven books when I was in Ashby this morning. I will detail them at some point in a future blog entry. I might even talk a bit of politics - the EU referendum is getting closer all the time so it is very much on my thoughts.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Doldrums

I've been in them for a little while now. I've written on only two days in the last four weeks. I'm hoping this doesn't continue but I can't say for sure. I'm giving it a try today but my head is just not in it. Even the decision to give up writing the science fiction novel I started at the beginning of April to try my hand at another Ben Williamson novella has not got my juices going again.

It's annoying; especially as I think the science fiction novel I stalled on, the Church, could well be the most original idea I've had for a story yet. Of course that's pretty much irrelevant if I never write it. I guess all I can do is remain hopeful it will come back in the future and try not to get too down about it.

I am still having ideas though so I guess things are good in that respect. The other night I went for a walk around the village where I live with my wife (one of the ways we are trying to maintain at least a modicum of fitness as we get older). During the walk as we passed the old mill all we could hear was Bird Song and Church Bells. Those five words struck me as a rather good title for a story and so I added them to the notebook I keep potential story titles in. As soon as the thought came into my head my brain quickly fleshed out a basic story to fit it. If you know me at all you will not be surprised to find out the story is anything but the gentle tale of a tranquil village the title might suggest. I don't think I could ever write one of those - even if I would love the idea of writing and English version of Dandelion Wine (one of my favourite books).

If I can get back into this scribblings thing then it might feature in future; although a lot of that will be dependent upon the market. I still have in mind the words of advice one agent gave in her email response to one of my submissions regarding what is selling and horror ain't it. Ah well.

Anyway I'm going to give writing another go. I know what I want to happen next in the current Ben Williamson novella - all I have to do is make it so.

Monday, 2 May 2016

An original phishing email and then politics

I receive dozens of phishing etc emails each day. I'm sure anyone reading this, or, for that, anyone who goes online, receives similar quantities. It is one of the curses of the digital age. So every day when I download my emails I start off by deleting all the crap (I'm including the spam and Facebook updates in this).

Mostly these unwanted emails only attract enough attention to trigger the autonomic right index finger depressing the delete button action. Today though it was different. I actually stopped long enough to read one. Now please don't think I was going to be fooled into doing something truly stupid like opening the zip file or clicking on the link. I'm not that daft.

The reason I hesitated before just deleting was I'd not seen this particular variant before today. I received an email purporting to be from the International Court of Justice in the Hague. It even had the correct address. I recognised it as I've actually been there. (Only as a tourist I stress, I'm not either that evil to be tried there or important enough to be called up in some supporting role.) The rest of the email was pretty accurate too. (I'm mainly on about spelling and grammar - often these spam emails are horrendous at both.)

And as you would guess there was an attachment that the text urged me to open to get more information on how to get to the court for my required appearance. Yeah, I'm going to give clicking that a bit of a miss if you don't mind.

Now receiving this started me thinking; and more specifically remembering. A little while ago (three or four weeks) I was in a conversation about the EU with a Pro-Leave person. If you know me you will be very much aware of just how Pro-EU I am. Now this person was adamant in their position that the EU was bad for Britain in every way imaginable and I will go so far as to agree that it is far from perfect and in some ways can be a little bit of a burden on us but overall I believe we gain so much more from it than we give or lose to it.

So the conversation hovered around the much bandied about £350 per week we pay in (even though we don't as the rebate is applied to that number before we even start), immigration controls (or the lack thereof in the other person's opinion), security risks (fictitious risks) and many other EU specific topics before it was moved on (not by me) to the subject of Justice.

This section of the conversation started okay(-ish). The first gripe of my debate opponent was the European Court of Human Rights. Now I will concede that this is a European body but as for having anything to do with the EU, well... it doesn't. It was set up by the Council of Europe; different thing altogether. Here's a quick clue. I'm going to list a few of the members of the Council of Europe and you can guess how many are in the EU.

 - Iceland
 - Norway
 - Turkey
 - Switzerland
 - San Marino
 - Liechtenstein
 - Andorra
 - Georgia
 - Azerbaijan
 - Russia

Yep, none. Not a one of the countries listed above are in the EU. There are others but I got bored typing the list.

So one completely rubbish argument in the bag the person still adamantly trying to dissuade me from my REMAIN vote moved onto the biggie. She included the International Court of Justice as a problem of being in the EU. I sincerely believe this was a slip and not that it was a firm belief that this is a body under the control of the EU.

I know it is located in an EU country (the Netherlands in case you didn't know) but it is most definitely a part of the United Nations.

Now this is an extreme example and one, as I've said, I believe was a slip of the tongue (mind?) but it is typical (albeit in the out there) of a lot of the arguments I hear on both sides (although to me it feels skewed towards the LEAVE side). There are a lot of false facts or spun facts. The £350 million per week is one of them. It's just not accurate when you look at it in detail; especially as I've heard people claim that this entire £350 million (that still doesn't totally exist) could be spent on the NHS.

I want the UK to stay in the EU. But equally I want the people of the country I was born in and have lived for the past five decades to make an informed, rational decision rather than an "I hate foreigners" kneejerk, shoot yourself in the foot, idiotically bigoted shitfest.

If you are eligible for this referendum please vote. But please do it after finding out as many of the facts as you can and make a reasoned decision and not one out of ignorance.

And one final topic; why is it that 16 & 17 year olds cannot vote? Isn't this going to affect a significantly higher proportion of their lives that anyone who can vote? I'm never sure why an extra day means you are now capable of responsibly exercising your democratic right. Surely all that should count is being fully aware of what your vote means? I know people in the fifties and sixties I would much rather disqualify from voting than teenagers. Prove to me you know you understand the issues and I am happy for you to vote - I wouldn't care if you were seventeen or even five if you knew why you were going to do when you enter the voting booth.

Anyway rant over. I'm now going to go and spend the next few weeks hoping my fellow Brits get over the fact we added Great to the start of Great Britain. The meaning isn't that we're totally super or anything bigheadedly crass like that. It meant large. Great Britain is called that because it is the largest single island of the British Isles. We need to stop thinking as though having that name gives us any more right to consider ourselves above anyone else in the world than if we been known as Shitty Cold Island.

Note to self - step away from the keyboard. (Is there an equivalent of the mike drop Obama so wonderfully recently did when blogging? Sadly not.)