Wednesday, 29 June 2016

More about the UK and the EU

Writing is taking a bit of a back seat at the moment. Being a passionate Europhile and form believer in the benefits we in the UK have reaped through membership in the EU I have been a little bit down and finding my mind a little torn in other directions than writing. Sorry for anyone who wanted to get updates on my writing but it's just not happening at the moment.

Well after nearly a week since Brexit the falls in the FTSE 100 have been reversed; in fact the FTSE has closed higher today than it was before the referendum. The FTSE 250 too is seeing a fairly impressive rebound although it is still considerably below where it was. But I fear this is not indicative of our future merely that the markets are playing a let's see. I'm sure we are in for more turbulent times in the future.

Now I'm not going to go on about how I consider this to be a wrong decision. I'm not going to bemoan my fate. After all whether or not I consider the decision right or wrong it is now the ONLY decision. This is the world we are now living in and we need to just get on with it. I just hope that all my fellow UK folk now get over it and remember we all have to live together in this country.

Of course I'm not sure that's going to happen any time soon. Since the vote I've seen reports of many, many racist incidents from around this country; a country I previously liked considering as being very tolerant to others. I'm hoping this is the usual effect of a 24 hour news media needing to find things to report and that these incidents really are as rare as I would hope. After all it is entirely possible that the seven or eight incidents I have seen (of men wearing T shirts telling foreigners to go home for instance) are all that there have been. I fear this is not the case but I can dream can't I?

Anyway we are moving towards a new age. We will have a new Prime Minister in weeks; maybe we will have a new leader of the Opposition if Jeremy Corbyn doesn't weather the current storm within the Labour Party. Hopefully this can all settle down so that our politicians can start giving us the kind of leadership we are going to need as Brexit becomes a reality rather than just a referendum result. After all it is what we elect them for.

Some years ago (about twenty if I am honest) I was involved a little in politics. I walked many pavements delivering leaflets through letterboxes and campaigning on the doorstep. I was part of campaigns that saw three councillors elected so we must have been doing something right. But when it came to it I didn't really feel I was cut out for a life in politics. I had the chance. One or two of the others I knew back than were sure I would make a decent candidate for a future election I just wasn't so sure. You see I have a habit of answering questions when they are asked of me and answering them honestly. I don't try to evade things. I don't try to spin things to my advantage and I own up to my mistakes (not something that has always helped my career).

Looking back on it from this position I am beginning to feel a little regret for not staying in the game - even if it had continued to be a backroom capacity. But I didn't. So my only outlet for my thoughts is this blog - one that I believe is read by ten or so people at most. I guess I should have considered doing a VLOG if I wanted more people to listen to me - reading seems to have become so passé. Not sure I want to put my face in front of the camera though. It's possibly why I like the idea of writing novels; that I can do without anyone seeing me and without the need to dress up or anything. (Although I would actually like to stress I am always fully dressed when at my PC; and never in scruffs. I am wearing a shirt, collar buttoned down, as I type. I don't earn tee shirts or shorts. I just like feeling well turned out.)

I'm meandering again. The point of this was to say we, all of us in the UK, are where we are and it's pointless bemoaning a single part of it. What is done is done and we should instead be concentrating all our energies on the future and making the best of it we can.

We are a incredibly diverse nation; we have along history of accepting incomers and absorbing them into our society; taking influence from them. If you doubt this try Googling how many chicken tikkas were sold in restaurants last year. Once you've done this go back to Google and type in Mo Farah and click on images. You'll see a mass of photos of Mo Farah draped in the Union Flag holding the medals he won for this country. Mo Farah was born in Mogadishu, Somalia but is British. Sir Bradley Wiggins was born in Belgium; his father was Australian. Three of the England cricket captains were born outside this country (Nasser Hussain in India, Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen in South Africa). I could go through many other fields, other than sport, and find so many examples of people who have come the UK and enriched it with their presence. I hope we never pull up the drawbridge.

And even if we don't look at such high profile people the vast majority of incomers have been a benefit to this country. You see in purely economic terms we need them.  The native population of these islands is aging. The bargain the government made with them (a lifetime of tax paying for security in old age) needs to be kept which places a larger benefit on the younger members of society (of whom there are comparatively fewer due to decreasing birth rates since baby boomer times) and so incomers, most of whom are of working age, are needed to boost tax revenues.

And as for the NHS, one of the central footballs kicked around in the recent campaign by both sides, can you imagine how it would cope without the access to overseas skilled workforce.

Now I know it has been suggested that we adopt an Australian points based system to control immigration but I don't think this is the best way of handling things. For one thing we need a high number of unskilled manual workers, not just the highly skilled. Just talk to a farmer who needs a large workforce of fruit pickers for instance.

The case for the benefits of immigration needs to be made as we are almost certainly going to have a fair degree of freedom of movement for workers. I wish it had been made twenty years ago but it wasn't. Never mind; no point fretting on that now.

The future is uncertain. But one thing is certain. We need to become whole again. We need to mend the wounds that have been opened up in the last few weeks/months. And then we need to start building new bridges to our friends in Europe. We need to work with them whether we are in the EU or not. Hopefully we can all collectively grow up, calm down and get on with it.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Goodbye HS2! Goodbye Trident!

We are not going to be a member of the EU for all that much longer. As a result the UK economy is going to suffer a negative impact. As is the norm in times like this government incomes are likely to fall at the time when expenditure is likely to rise. This will mean an extension to the austerity this government have been running for the last few years. And in my opinion it should also mean the end of some of the large projects they have been planning which have dubious return.

Or to put it another way, can all you politicos please cancel the HS2 and Trident programmes. Doing this will commit the UK government to £100billion less spending - and yes I know this is a figure that would have only grown so in truth it will save far more.

Now this will cause a few job losses in and of itself. I live near Derby, a city which would have seen some benefit from Trident as it is home to Rolls Royce and potential some through HS2 as it also has a large Bombardier presence. But I am not advocating a complete pull in the purse strings and don't spend any of this and to heck with anyone who loses their job.

But these overblown projects are just vast unnecessary money pits. In all the years since I first heard about HS2 I've seen argument after argument in favour of it flounder when analysed. And as for Trident... Well, we don't need Trident at all. After all if we are ever in a position to need to use it, the whole planet is screwed anyway. That really is pissing billions up against a wall spending.

Not spending all that money on these two projects will either result in our having £100billion less to find in tax revenue or borrowing or us having the money to spend on more targeted schemes to improve the lives of the people of these islands. We could certainly start to see some of the leave campaign's pledges, such as extra NHS spending, come to happen if we don't waste it on a never to be used nuclear arsenal or a train system that is already out of date before we start building it.

Yeah, that might be part of the point for me when it comes to the train thing. The tech is not pushing any boundaries. I think they would have had more luck in persuading me this project ha merits if it meant the UK had to develop a new form of train technology that we could then sell around the world. Then I might start to see some return on this enormous investment. But then, we probably would have paid the Japanese and Germans a small fortune to develop it for us and then watch them reap the benefits of selling on their super hot tech. (And if it had happened I would wish them well.)

Okay - I should stop now and I will. Hopefully the government will do likewise with their plans to finance these colossal white elephant projects.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

An apology to the people of Europe

I've been umming and ahing about how to write this blog entry since I saw the result on Friday. I'm still not totally sure I know what to type here. I just feel I need to.

As anyone who knows me, or anyone who's read this blog over the past few weeks/months, will know I am a passionate supporter of the European Union. I don't consider it perfect. I'm not blind to its imperfections but I have faith in it. I hope I still can even if the UK is no longer a member as looks inevitable.

I have watched the EU grow over the years and celebrated each new accession. I have been happy to see people from all member nations come to Britain, believing their arrival has improved my country both financially and culturally. I have visited several EU countries, even learning an amount of French, Italian and Dutch to make this a more immersive experience. (BTW - I am not claiming to be a good speaker of any of these languages.)

But on Thursday most of my fellow Brits and UK resident Commonwealth citizens did not share this sentiment and our referendum resulted in the nightmare scenario of an exit.

This is where I need to start my apology. For this is going to have an impact beyond just these shores. This could cause pain across all member states. And this is not just financially. This could impact the growing sense of brotherhood and sisterhood between the 500+million citizens of the 28 countries. Similar demands for referenda in other countries are already being heard. I hope these do not lead to a disintegration of something as wonderful in spirit as the EU is.

I never wanted this referendum to take place. And I never expected this result even though I feared it was possible. After all for politicos who have spent two decades and more using the EU as a convenient target to kick to score a small, temporary upswing in their popularity to all of a sudden claim they are in favour of remaining doesn't ring true all that easily.

And I feel it goes much deeper than this. I think there is next to no trust in the political classes in this and many other countries at the moment. From sexed up dossiers through expenses scandals and a growing feeling that our elected officials are form a different breed to the working man and woman and lack and connection to them emotionally, spiritually, culturally or financially can we be surprised when some of the electorate rebel. I just wish they hadn't chosen this moment. Putting up protest candidates in the next general election would have been a better idea.

Anyway, I came to my keyboard today to try writing some more of my novel. I really need to get back into writing. Over the last few months I've lost my way (see earlier blog entries about the weight of so many rejections) and I was hoping to get it back. I'm just not sure today is going to be that day. I'm going to try though. I just wanted to say all this before I opened up the novel file.

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Dear European Union citizens,

I am a UK citizen. I am an EU citizen. The first will remain always (maybe). The second, alas, will be coming to an end soon. It is wrong. I wish it didn't have to be. I certainly cast my vote hoping to prevent it but not enough of my fellow countrymen and women felt the same way as me. I am not trying to remove myself from the blame. I didn't do enough I know to persuade others.

I am a UK citizen. And I am poorer (spiritually) since Friday. I can no longer count on a future of considering you all to be my brothers and sisters. I have a very heavy heart.

I am a UK citizen, but for the first time I am a little bit ashamed of the fact.

I am a UK citizen and I am sorry.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

I hate the word "great" (An EU blog)

Okay, maybe hate is a little too strong; I don't really know if there is anything I really hate. I dislike a lot of stuff; who doesn't? But hate? Anyway - enough of semantics. I really do feel a need to type and it's not on my novel (much as I do want to work on that a little more).

It's the EU. Obviously it's the EU. With it being four days away from a referendum in the UK how could it be anything but the EU Referendum. I feel passionately about the EU. I don't blinker myself to its faults, of which there are many, but I believe that it is a tremendous force for good in the world. And that world includes the UK. I think we have benefitted enormously from being a member nation over these past 43 years. And this isn't just a fat cat big businessman benefit. Yes, being in the single market does make a lot of cross border business easier (even given some of the bureaucracy it adds) but it extends beyond that. It affects us all and in a mainly positive way.

Just go google how many workers' rights we all enjoy (mandatory minimum paid holidays, maternity leave, paternity leave and so much more) and you'll see this interfering nannying that some people complain about isn't such a bad thing - and c3ertainly nowhere near as intrusive as I've heard claimed. A lot of the stories you may have heard over the years that make it seem this way don't really stand up to fact checking. We've all heard about EU regulations on the size and straightness of bananas - just try to find an actual regulation.

So, yes there are problems with the institution but these are fixable - and from my travels in Europe I know there are common feelings about making it all better in most member countries. David Cameron managed to get a number of amendments to policies and practices earlier this year. Keep at it and I am sure a number more may be achieved. And we will get these by working with our partners not by pissing them off with all the rubbish we've been hearing.

(Okay time to state a couple more personal things so you judge my words against my politic views. In the last election I did not vote Conservative. Thinking back I would guess that there are maybe two or three times ever I've voted anything other than Lib Dem or Green. Next thing is I am focussing my previous statement about rubbish towards both sides of the argument. This needed to be an informed discussion detailing the truth of the choice we all have to make, not a campaign of lies and scaremongering.)

I'm going to mostly ignore the $350million per week we pay into the EU. All I'm going to say is it patently untrue. This has been said over and over again and yet it still hasn't gone away. I really think I'm going to start telling people that there are a race of intelligent humanoid creatures on Mars building canals and fighting to manage the dwindling water resources on their planet. This idea was thought to be true in Victorian times and has long since been shown as false but what the hell - why not try to keep it going? (Okay maybe that was a big paragraph for something I'm ignoring.)

Onto other things. There's one claim that I don't understand. There is a claim that VAT could be removed on household fuel bills if we leave the EU. It's true. We could. But I don't see the benefit of it. After all it seems to be acknowledged by many, many people (even some of the leave brigade) that leaving would cause the pound to drop against other currencies. As all of the fossil fuels are traded in dollars wouldn't that make fuel more expensive? Unless the fuel companies chose to not pass on the rise in oil etc to us all on our bills I can only see this cancelling out (at least) any benefit from a cut in VAT. And even if this is a net zero effect it only affects household bills. What about the petrol/diesel we all put in our cars. That would go up. Food process would go up (we import a large percentage of the food we eat and what we produce would be affecting by those annoying higher fuel prices). And this would only be the tip of a rather large iceberg of price increases.

Then there's the complaint I hear over and over about the strains on our services (the NHS, Schools etc) from immigrants., Why should this be an issue? After all the more immigrants that come here and work, the more the government tax receipts go up which means the more money there is to provide better services.

Swap quickly to the other side of this argument - that immigrants come over here just to take advantage of our benefits system. Well I don't see any truth in this - not really. And I don't think I need to add any real evidence other than the contradictory claims I've often heard that immigrants
 - come over here and steal our jobs
 - come over here and sponge off the state getting benefits for doing nothing
The two sentences don't really sit well together side by side.

Then there is the second fact that the migrant population is almost always of working age. Given the increasingly aging native population in the UK we need an increase in the working population to pay for all the pensions etc of the retired people. And no, I am not dissing anyone who is retired as spongers. Our system is built on the presumption that you will be taken care of in your old age as a kind of reward for working hard you entire adult life. To do this the government needs tax revenues and to get these revenues we need workers. Or to put it another way foreign workers in the UK are a boon to our economy.

There are a number of other issues on which I could give an opinion (ease of movement across 28 countries - no visas for holidays is one and the kind of oft forgotten fact we're more likely to avoid warfare of we work together as a family of friendly nations). I'm not going to though. I'm going to add one last thought. And it is about the word "GREAT".

You will notice if you talk to me I always call my home country the UK; the United Kingdom. I will not use Great Britain. For one thing it is because Great Britain excludes Northern Ireland but this is not the main reason. Great implies the wrong meaning. If you hear the word and I ask you for synonyms I would imagine that some of the following might figure - super, fantastic, incredible, wonderful, best. In truth Great in Great Britain means nothing like this. Great Britain is the name give to an island; the name of the largest island in the British Isles. It means nothing more than physically largest.

Being an island nations already gives a sense of separation from our neighbours that countries with land borders just don't have. Add in GREAT and we think we're better than them too. Well, we're not. I'm not sure I can think of a single way I would consider the British best in Europe - well except maybe at cricket but that's not exactly fair as we invented the game and most European countries don't play it. This is why I said I hate the word GREAT at the top of this blog.

We have four days until we all have the chance to vote on our future and at the moment it is neck and neck in the opinion polls. I hope enough of us realise what we have to lose is far too valuable. We must stay in.

And whatever happens can we please remember that the day after we are all still countrymen and women. This campaign has driven divisions between us. I have a feeling it will not be easy to repair these going forward. I can see the losing side accusing the other of dirty tricks and so on for months/years to come. I can see demands for a second referendum to change the decision from some; especially if the result is as close as the polls suggest it might be.

I guess all I can do is hope.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Book collecting update

On Saturday just gone I happened upon the book stall in Derby market. It's a good little stall, one I've visited often, and my hopes were high. I was not disappointed. You see, fairly recently, the stallholder bought a collection of old science fiction books and many of them were on the stall. So I had a bit of fun sifting through them - and buying several. So I am here to brag a little about my finds and to list them (I do like a good list). There might be one or two you've not heard of....

Ray Bradbury - The October Country (okay maybe this isn't one you won't have heard - bear with me)
H. Beam Piper - Gunpowder God
Jonathan Fast - Prisoner of the Planets
Christopher Priest - Real-Time World
Gardner F. Fox - Warrior of Llarn
Barrington Bayley  - The Fall of Chronopolis
Joanna Russ - Picnic on Paradise
John Russell Fearn - Conquest of the Amazon
Philip Jose Farmer - The Wind Whales of Ishmael
Philip Jose Farmer - Inside Outside
Judith Merrill - The Tomorrow People
Keith Laumer - Galactic Odyssey
Robert Moore Williams - Vigilante 21st Century
Brian Aldiss - The Interpreter
Andrew Lester - The Thrice Born
Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth - The Wonder Effect
Karl Klyne - The Last Galaxy Game
Mark S. Geston - The Day Star
ed, Martin Greenberg - Men against the Stars
Mack Reynolds - Tomorrow Might Be Different
Marion Zimmer Bradley - City of Sorcery
Daniel F. Galouye - The Lost Perception
Robert Lynn Asprin & Lynn Abbey - The Face of Chaos
James Blish & Norman L. Knight - A Torrent of Faces
Mack Reynolds - Space Pioneer
A. J. Merak - The Frozen Planet
Walter Moudy - No Man on Earth
Jeff Sutton - Apollo at Go
Philip E. High - Speaking of Dinosaurs
Kenneth Bulmer - The Hunters of Jundagai / John Glasby - Project Jove (ACE Double)

Now that's what I call a good book hunting day. Fingers crossed there will be more to come. The guy at the stall mentioned he hasn't brought all the collection in yet so there could be another huge purchase to come. Well, there might be if you lot don't go and get there first. If you do, you do. At least it means a book seller will get some good sales and hopefully keep going a while longer

More about writing later....

There is a new novel underway

Friday, 10 June 2016

Back to writing

My wife is out tonight playing a gig (for anyone who's not read my earlier postings; she's a saxophonist in a 40s style jazz band). This means I had plenty of time to give some writing a try. And fortunately I also had a novel idea I wanted to work a little more on and the mood to do it.

So after three CDs of listening (Metallica, Paul Simon and the Smiths in a wonderfully eclectic mix) I have written four new scenes totalling 2,911 words and brought chapter one to and end on 4,347 words.

I am relatively happy with it. I also have a couple of sketches of what will become chapter 2 on paper. Hopefully I will get time to work on this a little more in the next day or two. I like the idea of this story.

To give you a quick précis - the story follows a 12 year old girl as she enters holy orders (in a religion where there are thousands of Gods). She is a devotee of the religion believing in it totally. Of course she's going to get a quick course in reality and some dark things are going to happen, events of which she will find herself squarely in the crosshairs. Should be fun Let's hope I can keep the determination going.

It does have one or two things to overcome. I've mentioned the growing feeling of negativity over my writing. All those rejections have begun to take their toll. So much so I've not even revised the last completed novel or thought about submitting it anywhere. I enjoyed telling it. My wife (biased though she almost certainly is) enjoyed reading it but it has little beyond that. I just don't want another tale to be tarnished quite so quickly with rejections. At the moment it might just be perfect.

Instead I have given it to a friend of mine who has recently finished a course that included copyediting. He's going to give it a read and come back with some feedback. Maybe with some help from him I might be able to get a step closer to an acceptance I can take up. Would be nice.

In the meantime though I am just going to tell a story I want to tell. And if the only person to ever read it is my wife well, I will make do with that.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Holland

I've been quiet. There is a reason. I was in Holland; on holiday.

If you think this is strange; I can understand you. Holland is not top of many people's list when they think of where to go. Spain and Greece might be several leagues higher. I suppose I've never been normal.

For one thing I don't like beaches; or crowds for that matter. I have a fondness for history; for old buildings; canals; art; and coffee shops. Or to put it another way; old European cities. In the past we've visited many Italian cities; Rome; Venice; Milan; Turin; Verona; Brescia; Asti; and so many more.

About four years ago we rented a cottage in Northern France and headed across the border into Belgium once or twice and instantly fell for the country. So much so we rented a cottage in Belgium the following year; as well as the year after that. And on one of these trips we drove into Holland; score another obsession.

This year we rented a cottage in Oosterhout. I would tell you the details so that the owner might benefit from some extra custom but we were the last ever holiday rental he accepted. He's converting his cottages for long term renting - months at a time. So it was our last time in this wonderful town. Not that it will be the last time in Holland - we're already thinking of where we might go next year.

Well you can rest assured I'm not going to bore you with excessive details of the holiday. There is no chance you would want to see my holiday pics. Instead I'm going to tell you a little of what's relevant from the trip - to the writing.

Whilst there I had time to think about my writing. For one thing I was thinking about whether I should be doing it at all. I've spent a lot of time in the last couple of years tapping on the keys of this keyboard writing novels and novellas and sending them off to publishers and agents and then waiting for the rejections to flow in. And boy, have they ever.

I suppose I'm to blame a little for this because when I go submitting I go for it in a big way. After all to have received hundreds of rejections means you've made hundreds of submissions. So I am just setting myself up to be shot down over and over and over. And they are taking their toll on me.

Even with a reasonably thick skin I am starting to feel that this level of rejections means I'm not quite as good at this as I felt I was. I'm a big reader. Over the years I've read hundreds, possibly thousands. And not all of the ones I have read have been brilliant. I've read (or part read in some cases; abandonments are not uncommon) a lot of poor books. And the one thing all of them had in common is they were published. An author sat down and typed the words. They were sent in to agents and publishers who thought they were good enough to see print.

I consider my books to be better in quality that a number of these and, even given the natural bias I might have to my own creations, I had hoped I might have had more success. Now I know I'm not going to be alone. And yes, I know I have had offers of publication that I've turned down so you might think I'm being melodramatic. And you have a point. I have had offers, Both my horror novel Mr. Stinky and weird novella Intersection have seen a contract fly my way. There were just issues with them both which meant I couldn't progress. In some ways having these offers is probably making it a little worse for me. Anyway suffice it to say I've been having a bit of a downturn in writing drive,

So the holiday probably came at a good time, After all I couldn't write being away from my PC but I could think and sketch down notes in my notebook. And I certainly did that. Pages and pages of notes for a new fantasy novel.

A little while ago I would have described this as a young adult fantasy. The lead protagonist is a 12 year old girl. However a recent email from an agent about my first attempt at YA fantasy, the Patternmaker's Daughter, contained a little feedback. In it she said my book had an adult voice, not a young adult voice. This being true, and with it being her job to know this stuff I'm not doubting her, I am not sure how to change the way I write to qualify as young adult. So if I'm going to write this next one I'm just going to call it fantasy.

I'm going to give it a go; ignore all the rejections (if possible) and get on with writing. I can worry about all the rest later.