The writer, the Sussex Chair, & Brexit

Maybe it is the time of year: after the solstice, a time of hope or after crazy Christmas, a time of space. For whatever reason, the collective spirit has lightened, even though the world still seems to be at war with itself. A friend who was in deep gloom over Christmas and New Year writes that her depression has lifted, another of that how being “stuck” in her writing, composing a silly poem about that has freed her up again, and I’m  being weirdly inspired by a chair.Version 2

The chair has always been in my family, it was in my room as I grew up. We inherited it from my grandparents, and it just looks like an ordinary upright chair with a rush seat. Apparently it came from artist’s studio, which kind of gave it a romantic feel when I was a teenager, and somehow it seems to have followed me around and is still in our house today. It’s in the room where I paint. A couple of years back, I put the chair in a painting of a child in a strop, an artistic child whose foster mother only understands pink and spangly girls, but this is a denim jeans, creative small girl who hates her pink bedroom. Although she isn’t me, I understand her. The girl is Daisy, known Daze, a character in my Mullins family series, currently two novels Baby Baby, and The Labyrinth Year.

In June 2016 we went on holiday to our favourite place in Cornwall, and the sun shone as we picnicked, on 23rd, with crowds of others at a picturesque typical Cornish cove… When we came home, the painting wasn’t working. I simplified painting the chair, leaving out the essence of the design. I was also really stuck with the third novel, had problems with my computer, had a nasty illness, decided the website needed a make-over, submitted to gloom and pessimism.

And here’s the thing: today I discovered this is actually a ”Sussex Chair”. The spools on the back are central to a design otherwise characterised by simplicity and practicality. It’s a well known William Morris ‘arts and crafts’ design (though ours is a version without the arms). The story – that it came from an artist’s studio – fits with the period it was made.

Strangely that lifted the gloom: knowing I have to make a proper drawing of the chair, do the  intricate and worthy task, a work that takes time and care. It’s a kick-start to getting the novel writing going, and it’s come alongside finally having the website and computer problems solved.

Odd how a chair can call you back to creativity.

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Brexit Blues and Advent Hope

(photos: my own)

From Halloween to Thanksgiving, Black Friday to cyber Monday, and the new one, giving Tuesday, we have journeyed to the beginning of Advent. Advent is now of course the season of chocolate calendars, shopping, glitter, parties, multiple Christmas trees, eating and drinking, and maybe the great trek to see the in-laws. It’s also where we’ve now met the real debates of Brexit … The pressure is on …

And as pressure is the run-up to Christmas, so confusion is the run-up to Brexit. Let’s see how Advent and Brexit mix and match:

Stress – stressed out for 2 years now, we Brits are faced with our second Brexit-season run-up to Christmas, paralleling arguments and debates in Parliament with … Extra shopping, extra catering, extra excitement, extra parties, extra alcohol—to buy, to make, to plan, to consume … wasn’t running up to Xmas bad enough already …?

Brexit was sold to the public as if it would improve our lives, freeing us from being in thrall to something called the EU, which was supposed to be making our lives harder.

  Christmas is sold to the public as a glorious extended holiday time, filled with fun and pleasure, freeing us from the daily grind of work, which is supposed to make our lives more exciting …

Are both Brexit and Christmas actually fantasies, ideas, maybe nostalgia for ‘what it was like when we were very young’?

Brexit tells a story about ‘taking back control’ from a dominating power…

Christmas tells a story about the birth of a baby who was meant to ‘take back’ his nation from a dominating power (or so they first imagined …)

Brexit may involve us in ‘stockpiling’ essential medicines and food …

Christmas always involves stocking up on essential food—not to mention luxury food—and possibly medicines …

The thought of Brexit is exciting (for some people …) because it is meant to bring about change …

Christmas is exciting because … because it eats up all your change …

(photo: my own)

You get the point: stress, anxiety, and worry. Battling through more than one adrenaline-ladened period of time, made more difficult by darkness, dreary damp weather, the season of coughs and colds, the school holidays … then add the demand to be cheerful because of all those glittery trees, the red and green Christmas jumpers (too warm for the late December mild spell), and that jangling upbeat music in the stores…

Are either of these worth the hassle?

Advent is meant to be a time of watching, and waiting … the idea is to live frugally, to be ‘awake’ to the signs of the times, to notice what needs doing and to prepare ourselves … Advent’s hope includes what we can do to make the future better … 

The Christmas cards may show Santa with a sleigh of presents – or they may show a refugee-type scene of a couple, the man leading a donkey, the woman seated on it (she’s heavily pregnant, but we don’t usually see that). The Brexit scenario covers both … ‘taking back control’ can mean riches or poverty and rejection, which for whom, depends who you are… 

Against the Brexit backdrop, this year the circus of the run-up to Christmas appears to be wilder, more glittery, more demanding,  centred more than ever on partying and fun, as the big stores reveal their Christmas videos, and the on-line outlets rain down advertising emails designed to tempt – with money-off to help us spend …. which makes you think they must be desperate …How much does it take to drive a person away, I wonder, what is the tipping point, when shall we all begin to believe in cancelling Christmas? How many of us are already responding by scaling down, giving smaller gifts, donating meals to Crisis?

So, if all the hassle is giving you the Brexit Blues …How many of us wouldn’t mind if, as Liam Fox said, ‘Brexit is stolen from us’ (BBC Website News 5/12/2018) – just as the wonderful magic of Christmas seems to have been …?

(photo: my own)

Advent is the ‘not yet’ for celebrations, but it is time of hope …for an end to poverty, and violence, and a beginning for climate justice … the characteristics of real freedom … Advent, as we open our calendars or light our Advent candles, is for watching, waiting, being awake, reading the signs… and making positive, non-commercial, changes …

Maybe even for Taking Christmas Back

A couple of relevant Christmas sites:

Useful blog post for parents of kids with additional needsFind help for Going shopping, surviving Christmas here

Giving to Crisis – buy a meal for rough sleepers here

And a spot of on-line Christmas present solutions: how about one of these books?

‘Enjoyed this story about science, research and issues, but mostly about families and how they work. It’s a love story too. I learned a lot, and rooted for the characters to get it together. It’s a good book when you care about what happens …’ (‘Lynn’ Amazon review)

The novel is structured around the shifting perspectives of three people – Oxford fertility researcher, Jenny; her doctor husband Max; and Jenny’s step-sister Daisy. ….The descriptions of Oxford and Cornwall are breathtaking. It felt like being there. Whether a homey pub, a Church, a research lab, a doctor’s office, a country fair or a beach – it all rang wonderfully true.’ (Francis Guenette, fellow author, Amazon review)

 

 

 

 

So, we have 350 knitted poppies … before we say goodbye to ‘Poppy Day’ …

A friend pointed out that we should not remember war, as that glorifies it … but there’s another way to ‘remember’ it, and that’s what I wrote about on my earlier Knitted Poppies blogpost (Why is the Writer Knitting Poppies?) Well, we knitted 350 between us ….

If we forget the World War(s) which brought 11.00 O’clock on11th November into our national calendar, and those who died, horribly, and ‘meaninglessly’, shedding the blood those poppies represent, we’re in danger of forgetting that war is terrible, horrible, and solves nothing … And, we forget that for each human being killed by war, there is a family, friends, a break in community … suffering beyond the killings … and we add in all who have died in wars ever since … and wonder why human beings and their governments never learn …

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At least one white poppy for peace …

Another  friend wrote, earlier today, about how it is the younger generations who remember and support Remembrance, certainly in her village all ages come to the community events … interesting … Here’s my response to her blog … How our parents and grandparents reacted – hardly glorifying war by remembering, more by sorrowing over it … that is what I was  raised on, that is why we have Remembrance Day

‘You are possibly right that our parents and grandparents (some had lived through 2 ‘world wars’) did not want to ‘remember’ in local group activities, but I remember that the Cenotaph service was always heard on the radio, with a very reverent and subdued attitude. They did not talk about their experiences … it was too raw and too complicated.

My youngest Uncle had been bombing Germany on his 21st birthday. Not something you want to think about – and he only told his children during his last illness, and they told us a few years later.P1100440

My Dad was obviously very proud of his ‘men’: he was in the Royal Artillary with an anti-aircraft crew on the south coast, but again, there was nothing else said about his war, just the odd remark if a photo appeared during family de-cluttering. And that he’d had a wonderful Old English Sheepdog at the time …

I think the Wars changed people and brought to end the lovely freedom and fun they were having as young adults. Some  leaving University and straight into military training, and if they survived, into ‘re-building the country’  work instead of, for example, becoming a professional musician (my youngest uncle had a music degree, but went back and trained as an architect, building and re-building in the North East.) P1260008

So … it is up to us to ‘remember’ and maybe to keep on working to make the world a more peaceful and generous place (which it certainly still resists being …) …

As for World War One, I had never even heard of anyone who was killed in our family, until I did Family History research, and discovered 2 families shattered by the loss of eldest sons … In both these families of 3 boys, the eldest was killed and the two younger brothers seem to’ve  been deeply affected in  life changing ways … So today I shall be thinking of Bryant Yorke Lodge and Louis Feaveryear … nephew and cousin to my 2 grandmothers. And writing this has made me cry (a rare thing) … the echoes of war … Debbie, I’m going to post this – I was going to write about it later but seems I’ve written the basics of it now …thank you for eloquently raising the subject here …’IMG_4164

I knitted myself a poppy to wear … and found several of us poppy knitters had all thought of the same idea … Now back to the writing … not sure if I can squeeze any Remembrance Day events into it, we’ll see …

With thanks for Debbie for her post, and to my cousin Alex Wheeler for showing us some mementos from his dad’s flying days … 

more poppies – Version 2

 

 

 

 

 

Why is the writer knitting poppies?

more poppies – Version 2
Poppies in our garden …

It’s that time of year: autumn brings a cluster of strange, dark celebrations: Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes or Fireworks Night, and Remembrance or Armistice Day. All provoke arguments: perhaps the most controversial today is Remembrance Day.

I have joined a group of knitters who are knitting poppies. In the 1914-18 and 1939-45 wars, women used to knit for the soldiers, but forget that, our knitting has nothing whatever to do with it. Or with patriotism, separatism, or nationalism. Or with Brexit (I have been a ‘Remainer’ from the first).

November 11 is a day when the practice and consequences of war are highlighted so that we, as a global community, may not continually repeat its horrors. Yes, the Day is also a memorial to those who have died as a consequence of fighting. Their deaths were a tragic, painful, waste: hardly ‘glorifying’. This further reminds us that war needs to be banned from civilisation.

knittingOur small group plan to hang as many knitted poppies as we can on the hedge which obscures the local war memorial. The poppies will not glorify anything. Hopefully they will remind passers by of what war means: a frightful destruction of lives, terrible suffering, atrocities, the ruining of nature, towns, and villages. The world has not learnt from the 1914-18 war and continues to use increasingly powerful weapons, to kill, maim, and destroy. This needs to stop: how can world leaders consider how the world can behave better towards itself?

We on this planet all belong to one world. Globalisation has many weaknesses, but it underlines this interdependence more than ever. The more individuals become accepting, groups become inclusive communities, communities become cooperative districts, and countries unite in their intention to seek understanding, listen to one another, avoid combat and quarrels, the more likely the planet is to survive. It is a time to express our horror at the arms race, and the terrible wounds inflicted on both civilians and the military and upon all that has had been carefully constructed to make lives more liveable. To use Remembrance Day to repent of any part we have in conflicts large or small.

FullSizeRender (1)Fear of the other is understandable. Greed to possess what the other has, exploitation or anger at how the other thinks, is not. Maybe it is easier to envisage and desire this world of cultural inclusiveness and acceptance for those who, like us, live in a cosmopolitan city, and count within our family and extended family members who, as a group, represent communities from all three ‘Abraham faiths’ (both practising and non practising). But it isn’t impossible. We are all human: we are all destructible.

My knitting poppies to display on Remembrance Day is far from a patriotic, nationalist gesture: it’s ‘installation’ art. I’m knitting poppies to represent the spilt blood of war, in order to help people visually recall that war destroys and divides. To point up that cooperation, acceptance, and understanding may bring a possibility of hope.  IMG_4074

Getting back to the Writing …

BB new coverTLY new cover

2016 – a ‘Labyrinth Year’ for Fiction writers?

Many writers post only about writing…

Though it’s arguable that we should connect readers to what else matters in our lives, and why it can take well over a year to write a book.

As they say, not only frustrating and sad things are stressful: our first grandchild arrived in August, so last  year we had all the excitement, and the involvement, of the waiting, the arrival, and the getting to know. Otherwise, for me, the stresses of 2016 that were detrimental to writing were political instability and computer problems, occurring enough to disrupt every attempt to live creatively in the imaginary past world of 2007.   image6 (1)

What survived these better was my painting: two pieces for an exhibition in North Wales, as well as a number of others. I’ve been observing the natural world and taking photographs in our local Nature Reserve.

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A heron hides in the reed bed

And with others I’ve attempted to found a

lasting ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) local meeting in Oxford. I’ve done two interviews at Oxfordshire Live: (local TV). One, with my friend and fellow ALLi author Debbie Young, successfully went out. The other, with 4 of us ALLi authors, was scuppered by the station, which was a pity, as we were reading stories for Christmas.

I’ve been doing Mindfulness courses and making cakes, (some for the courses …)

 Fiction and Politics …

It was really when one of my ‘friends’ on social media posted a writing-related question that I realised I wasn’t the only fiction writer whose creative imagination had been hit by the political uncertainty, and its resolution. When asked, how or whether the political events of 2016 events had influenced our writing, many others were affected, even knocked sideways, by Brexit and/or the American election. A problem area particularly for contemporary fiction, though a possible encouragement for dystopian fantasy writers. And we contemporary fiction writers were already disturbed, concerned, and generally aware of the mass movement people across the Mediterranean and Europe, and alert to what this might mean. Even, if like me, your novel is set ten years earlier, in 2007, some fairly astonishing facts are now waiting to become future history, so should we take that into account?

In the present WIP (working title LYTM ), part of the Mullins Family Saga, we find Alice and Zoe (daughters of the couple who first met in Baby, Baby in 1984) as teenagers. Concerned for the future, with memories of the London bombings (July 7 2005) and conscious that attitudes towards the Muslim community have been influenced… it’s background, but it’s there…

The how-to of getting back to creative, imaginative, original writing:

Once 2017 began, my first decision was to give Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year new, exciting covers, to appeal to my ‘target readers’ out there. So, (via ALLi) I found a designer, and we got started. It  has become an inspirational project, and we agreed to also re-do the paperback versions. Lots of creative interaction over the details – and of course the blips and bits that need re-thinking … like asterisks … (see below).  These should hopefully be ready for the Hawkesbury LitFest, planned for Saturday 22nd April this year. Hawkesbury 2017 iconBoth Edmund and I will be involved in panel discussions at the “HULF” this time.

Here’s how I’ve made progress:

‘Plotter or Pantser: which are you?’ If you ever write a novel, you may be asked this question.

January and February were all planning. Gathering all the notes and scenes from 2015-2016. Putting them into an order, so the narrative made sense. Then who was doing what when, and what others were doing the same time, was all plotted on a 2007 calendar.

I teased out the development of plot and characters, and the backstory into 3 separate files.

This became a summary, evolving into a scene by scene file of the steps which would carry the story through from beginning to end. Inevitably, an author will be able to see whether there’s a problem at this point: mine was the ‘floppy middle’, well known to fiction writers.

clean lab, fridge cabinetAnd research …  I’ve been busy with all manner of research – science, place, weather, the News, slang … incredibly grateful for the people I know who have experience and knowledge in many diverse areas … neighbours, friends, contacts have been willing to talk about their lives, work, and places they’ve lived.  Some such as Penny, Ant, and Lianne who’ve supplied help and editorial/subject corrections in previous books are contributing again.

Meanwhile … daily life, a line or two from e-mails

I’ve received a strange tax form sent from Amazon, discovered a problem with asterisks in the new files which need adding … was hoping to watch Call the Midwife on iPlayer!  How life goes … Never dull. Some time I will sew a cushion back into its case … not today…

I have been trying to find the correct Foam Floormat for Leo – thickness, size, with or without letters/numbers – as they are hoping to stay next weekend …

I had a chat with our neighbours (who have worked in overseas development, and medicine) about where and how a British GP might be able to do a spot of work in an overseas setting (mid-career) … after some discussion, the idea of  South Africa came up … would be really helpful to have an extended conversation about anything you could add having lived there …(rural area …)

‘Could you please put this notice about the Food Bank into the church news sheet?’

I would … like to chat about the atmosphere in a lab in 2007 … styles of working, whether people use iPods …How might Jenny re-join an Oxford lab after her career break?

Hawkesbury 2017 icon

 PS: Don’t forget – Hawkesbury Litfest on 22nd April!

Wearing Pyjamas to Church

Change is always creeping up. Recent change has rushed ahead ….

In the 1980s, now ‘history’ to schoolchildren, we used to go to church every Sunday. Dressed up. Always a skirt not trousers, never jeans. A day for make-up and a navy blazer – navy blazers de rigueur for smart mummies. Sloane Rangers, Preppy clothes. …Children in their tidy best – our daughter made to wear a pretty dress. Dads in suits.

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Me late 1980s style …

There was a neighbourhood babysitting circle (pay by the hour with little plastic tokens). We met monthly for coffee and a chat, taking our small kids along to play together.  We never thought of CRB checks or the danger of our kids being left with a neighbouring parent (‘potential abuser’), in charge… We just didn’t. None us did. CRB hadn’t entered our lives.

The whole family were on the same doctor’s list at the local GP practice, and he (always he) was counted a family friend. There was no email to speak of.  I kept in touch with my best friend from uni by handwritten letters, which passed between my home and hers about twice a month. Fat letters with scribbled family news, reviews of books we were reading, photos… Often using a recycled envelope.

I studied sociology in the 1990s …

… taking a special interest in the NHS. The lecturer said it was in a mess (already) – though he supported the idea of foundation hospitals, begun in 2002 under Tony Blair’s government.  He was enthusiastic about the emerging practice of evidence-based medicine. Change happens … I worked a bit in the NHS: our problem was moving elderly people on into an environment they’d be safe to go home to … (that’s still one of the NHS’s problemsplus ça change?)

The kids grew, and saw a lot more point in practical caring and saving the planet than lining up each week to sing hymns in church (even wearing jeans). The shops changed as the area grew more obviously wealthy. Costa Coffee replaced the newsagents, a French patisserie opened where the butcher and greengrocers used to be. People carriers and ‘Chelsea tractors’ carried children to school, to avoid the dangers of other traffic, strangers, and the weather. Though the streets regularly featured homeless people now, huddled in sleeping bags, sitting or sleeping in doorways. And Big Issue sellers.

Huge societal change was creeping on… Some was good, like inclusiveness. Some was scary, like making sure everyone working with kids is CRB checked, as we learned the truth about Jimmy Saville (as a kid, I’d found him creepy – did anyone else? Yes. The morning the News began the story, my Yoga class all agreed: creepy guy…) And, people began to come to church in jeans and old trainers. Instead of dressing up to meet with awesome God, the idea was to dress down, because it was the weekend, time to ditch the city suit and heels, and reach for old and comfy clothes. God, who accepted us, would of course understand.

Times had changed…

Some change is for the better. CRB rating is wise, especially in a society where neighbours are strangers to one another. Email is fast and efficient. And without social media I wouldn’t be in touch with other writers all over the country—even the world. ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) is a world-wide organisation. As a writer, I have a webpage, and I blog. Internet shopping is preferable to battling around the supermarket and sitting in traffic. And organic vegetables can arrive, weekly, by van, in a box.

No, we are not people who want to turn the clock back. Social and societal change happens, it’s normal… But catastrophic change is unsettling… Nostalgia for how it was is fine… but it won’t be like that again… (leaving the EU won’t bring back how it was!)

Hams closeup copy
Family photo, 1907 – so much change on the way … World turned upside down, 1914-18 …

Change is part of life. It was for the Victorians, and it is for us… but recent change has been sudden, worrying, and revealing. 2016 was like the world turned upside down. Is there a choice, or do we have to accept we are living in a “post-truth era” and whatever consequences that brings? Must the lessons of history be abandoned? Has the present generation in power decided to ignore the past, draw a line, and run headlong into the unknown? Prompted possibly by a combination of fear and ambition? As refugees flee war-torn areas, and apprehensive populations resort to nationalistic solutions?

And while schools are complaining that parents are wearing pyjamas when they drop off their children in the morning?

We still go to church. Most people usually arrive late. Possibly this problem could be fixed if the new dress code for Sunday best was to be pyjamas.

Shall we vote?

Wherever next, or “Happy 2017”?

I was a teen in the age of aquarius. An age of love, light, and humanity, unlike the current “Age of Pisces (Remember the song, from ‘Hair’? Maybe not…)

Talk, (not so long ago) ,was of how we have moved into a digital age.

dark days (fog)
Life in the post-truth era …?

But now we are also living in the post truth era.  

On New Year’s day, (a dark, damp day here), a friend posted an article on Facebook: Are we heading for in a post-human rights world? (Well, it was only what I’d been thinking – but here was the detail…)

So, …‘how was your Christmas? Ours was a lovely few days of family togetherness, and

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Family togetherness

suspension of considering the gloomy realities of 2016.  Although as a family we’re all roughly on the same side, at Christmas lunch political talk was banned on pain of having to eat another sprout for each politically driven remark – I (Mum to the instigators) took and ate two before succumbing with humour to the ban!

 It’s probably easier for us parents to ‘accept’ the darkness of the times. Our adult children, midway into careers, have a possibly worse prospect ahead in terms of employment, pensions, raising a family. Food Banks were almost unknown when we were in our mid 30s, and Crisis at Christmas Crisis at Christmas (founded ten years earlier, 1972) a relatively new idea. This year, our younger son was spending part of his Christmas holiday helping out at his local crisis centre.

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 Written by a fellow ALLi author , and recommended by me (photo, Amazon UK site)

 

Over the holidays, I’ve read a novel which partly draws its central theme from the  Aldermaston Marches. And the terrible events not only of Hiroshima but of nuclear testing which continued – without detailed public knowledge of its consequences  – throughout what appeared to us post-World War II children a safe and peaceful world, (despite the Cold War).

As this New Year arrives, it’s only too evident that decades on, we are living in dark days: 2016 has brought extraordinary changes, uncovered or unleashed hatred, disagreement, bewilderment, and fear. Civil war in Syria since 2011 sends thousands of civilians running for their lives, and the knock-on effect of camps full of refugees has frightened people. We in the western world aren’t used to such movement of peoples. What changes might it mean? Atrocities in major European cities and towns, the bombing of hospitals and schools in war torn countries, clearly ignore the most basic ‘human rights’. ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’ are lovely phrases when genuinely meant, but ring with a hollow sound while there is violence, suspicion, and little compassion, and the new age is described as ‘post-truth’. (And did I really see Donald Trump quoted as saying that torture kind of ‘does the job’, intelligence-wise?)

Ironically, 2016 also saw the demise of a huge number of iconic public figures, household names from the arts to politics. Who can replace Victoria Wood, (who got away with such lines as ‘Beat me on the bottom with the Women’s Weekly’ )? Can anyone be the new Prince?  Or Neville Marriner? Or mother and daughter actors Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher?

We face a new year, and with this astonishing concept of ‘post-truth’ to join the digital age, and the post-Christian cultural shift.

So, how do we live in these times? It’s hit my writing right in the centre – my ‘work in progress’ being a contemporary family saga which examines our Western values …

It would be easy to make a clarion call, saying with the Queen by doing many small acts of kindness. She, as we know, had a bad cold, so missed her usual trips to church this Christmas. Many others will have attended traditional Carol Services or Midnight Mass. How much the emphasis on the baby Jesus is relevant, among the general celebratory, festive, wintery, activities is hard to tell: carols like Away in a Manger or See amid the Winter’s Snow can miss the point. ‘Peace on earth’ sang the angel choir in the Christmas story…

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Annunciation 2017: Gabriel shows Mary her surprising future …

The Magnificat, (Mary’s song, from the earliest part of the ‘Christmas story’ ) is very ‘political’.  This baby’s mother, Mary, is hardly the ‘Mother mild’ of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. Her song praises God for promising to shake up society. The baby Jesus grew up as a predictable son of Mary, who understood about equality, and human rights. His story of the care, and tolerance, which a traveller (the original “Good Samaritan”) showed towards a stranger from another culture and religion, demonstrate the type of attitudes communities and nations need to express towards one another. ‘Peace on earth’ wasn’t simply a beautiful choral display by angels: it was a hope, or wish, or even a prayer or a resolution, for a better future.

One small act of kindness – yes. Mary’s song is about provision for the poor. It questions the power of the rich, it welcomes and celebrates an ending of oppression. It’s also why my painting of the Annunciation features Mary as a student activist …

2017 could be a challenge to us all. What are ‘traditional English/Western values’? How do we mend the rifts in our own society? How can the global community turn from destroying itself to achieve co-operation and harmony? How can the benefits of health care, science, and technology be used fairly and for peace?

Human Rights are really only a beginning – how can the world think to step aside?

 … and, how can anyone be a fiction writer, when there are so many wrongs to right …? It’s my commitment … I just hope it goes some way to convince some readers something worthwhile …

Is the writer feeling Christmassy?

So, is the writer feeling Christmassy? 

Tree of Christmassy words, (made with Tagul software)
Tree of Christmassy words, (made with Tagul software)

You know that Christmassy feeling …?

A few days ago, four of us ALLi writers went along to the local TV studio to record Christmas stories. We did the festive thing properly in Santa hats, and dressed suitably in red and green… Happy Christmas! we exclaimed to the camera which acted as our audience.

Were we feeling Christmassy?  

The Four of us writers, in Christmas mood on the sofa!
The Four of us writers, in Christmas mood on the sofa!

Wide-eyed, breathless, excited?  Our stories had a lot of real life in them, plenty of the downside of Christmas amongst the twinkling lights and candles of promise. The uppity clever child in Santa’s grotto, the kind pregnant young woman visiting her lonely elderly neighbour, the young mum and dad taking their five-year-old to her first Carol service, the first-time mother with depression re-bonding with her baby. Each wobbly scenario came to a happy ending. And the whole was brought together with a reading of The Night before Christmas.

Today, a performance poet I know on Facebook put up a piece he wrote recently for Doctors under Fire Doctors under Fire. This captures the mood of Christmas 2016 for me. (See end of the blog for the poem …) Writing Happy Christmas in 80+ cards, while the mess our world is in occupies my mind several times a day, seemed both vapid and pointless – yet I did it. We can’t do otherwise – activities with our friends and family, even sending and receiving cards, provide happy intervals in the crazy busy lives we have to lead.

But what are we up to celebrating the festival? Raised in the few decades of relative peace, at least in our corner of the world, childhood Christmas was magical. Lucky enough to have an integrated traditional/religious Christmas, I relished all of it: the carols, the magic of the Nativity and the magic of the lighted tree, (traditionally bought with my father on Christmas eve and decorated to the music of the carols from King’s, Cambridge). The traditional food back then included treats we never ate at any other time of year. I wonder about today’s kids, sophisticated by ‘sexting’ and social media, exposed to explicit news stories of child abuse and terrible wars.

It’s basically a very dark world as we approach Christmas. The dark of the season, and the more sinister dark of modern warfare, killing and maiming civilians in body, mind, and spirit. The terrible irony that we are ‘taxpayers’, whose taxes help fund the weaponry and whose gift aided contributions are necessary to support aid workers. Brave and compassionate, these people from MSF, Doctors under Fire, and more, toil in dangerous circumstances to make some difference to the meaningless suffering. Whether they believe it or not, their lives follow the life and spirit of that baby whose birth Christmas celebrates. Christmas carols, cake, turkey, presents and Santa flag up the irony.

The writer has no answers. Except to make Christmas celebration as simple and enjoyable time as we can, a haven in the contentious noise. And to hopefully witness to the light which shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it.

Horrified by events in Aleppo – barbarity and complicity on a major scale. Here’s that poem, by performance poet Paul Canon Harris who was asked to write something last week to publicise the People’s Convoy that sets off on Saturday with paediatric medical supplies for Aleppo. “Wonderful bunch of doctors and intrepid explorers of all faiths and none.”  The People’s Convoy leaves from Chelsea & Westminster hospital 11am Saturday.

Lament for Aleppo (my thanks to the writer for permission)

O children of Aleppo how still we see thee lie
Chilled by fear, laid out in death as bombs rain from the sky.

Omran sits motionless, caked with blood and dust,
shocked to his core,
haunted eyes obscene on a little boy
who’s known nothing in his life but war.

Bana aged seven smiles for the camera,
she tweets for peace,
bizarrely connected by social media
yet beyond her rescuers’ reach.

Mothers of Aleppo, no dreamless sleep for you
as your hearts shake before buildings quake.
You see through shattered windows
the eerie glow of phosphorous and worse.

Nowhere’s safe nor sound;
you hide your children underground,
in basements hoping this will save
them from a place in an unmarked grave.

O children of Aleppo how still we see thee lie
Chilled by fear, laid out in death as bombs rain from the sky.

Once a place of culture and wealth for those of noble birth
now a gigantic graveyard, least inhabitable place on earth.
Silk Road city you no longer count your dead,
existence hanging by a fragile slender thread.

Battered and besieged, mosques and markets
reduced to rubble, stained with blood.
Your ring of hills and ancient citadel
look down upon a living hell.

Doctors working under fire do the best they can
lacking basics, operate without anaesthetics,
risking death to care for their fellow “man”,
irrespective of class, creed or clan.

The watching world ignores your desperate cry:
“For long we dreamed that people would come to help us.
No-one is coming is the harsh reality,
we will die here, bereft of humanity.”

O children of Aleppo how still we see thee lie
Chilled by fear, laid out in death as bombs rain from the sky.

Paul Canon Harris Dec.2016 Copyright: Doctors Under Fire

Why really do writers not write? Why?

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Winter writing space …

We are told…

how to combat writers’ block (is it a myth? Or not?), to carve out time for ourselves and our writing, to spend 10 minutes writing, even if its nonsense, every day. We are told how to overcome procrastination. But in the real world of writing, what really screws up and halts creation?

 Stuff happens …

We’ve just had that thing happen, the thing which heralds winter more than the fog, switching on the central heating, or Hallowe’en.  When you go you upstairs in a lovely warm house, only to step into the bathroom, put on the light, and discover a small river now runs across from the radiator to the bath … That.

You seize the nearest bath towel to stem the river in its tracks. It is definitely not time to go to bed for a quiet read after a long day spent at the keyboard creating an imaginary world.. . Or to have a lovely hot shower where inspiration pours like water onto and into your head. It’s time to ring the emergency plumber … Not a situation to set the creative juices on their way, (unless you can incorporate the plumber of course, and throw together a bit of flash fiction (as my friend Debbie Young probably would!)

And of course there’s always stuff, happy things, (a first grandchild) and irritating things, (try to sell a house in today’s market …), re-designing a website, writing book reviews)

As we in the Northern Hemisphere plunge down into the season of cold, darkness, and bare leafless trees, we are living in dark times.

“Brexit”, the USA election prospects, the increasing violence in Syria, with destruction of cities, civilians, children, and classic artefacts, is enough to knock the idea of writing fiction out of anyone’s head. What use is fiction? What purpose does it serve?

As inside my own community, a microcosm of the world at war – discontent, destruction, disillusion are everywhere. Food Banks are common, and rough sleepers. Even the doctors go on strike over conditions of work, and are opposed by the government.

Writing feels like a cop-out, unless it changes something for the better.

The rebellion of the computer!

What a creature it is – moody and rebellious, its sensitivities rear up to block the rifles flow of words – and I do not mean by ’writer’s block’.

E-mails and messages straight from the beast itself demand attention: check your security, change your password! These could be genuine or they might be phishing. Better do as it says, change the privacy settings, but do not click on any of the addresses the email suggested.  Many of the computers complaints or demands take an hour or so of tripping between windows and websites, searching the net for forums to gain wisdom, creating new ways to access and protect your data, and even indulging in serious online chat.

My computer suffered major slowdown last spring, only solved after much trial and error, by fitting a new solid-state hard disk. The initial cause? Upgrading to EL Capitan!

Procrastination? Hardly. Unless you count avoiding beginning the work day, in order to give a stream of frustrations and interruptions.

Happy writing!

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 Summer writing space (on a grey day!) 
spike on computer
On the computer, ready to help…

Altruism and the British way of Life?

I have been thinking about Jo Cox: what if anything will be her legacy?

Jo Cox – the Labour MP who was brutally murdered on 16th June this year – I hadn’t heard of her until her death by murder in the street was announced on the BBC one o’clock News. The media went all of a flutter. We learned many remarkable facts about this woman, emphasising how much she had a heart for the poor and underprivileged of the world.

As one of her friends wrote (Change.UK website) ‘Jo’s life was one of service. Not lip-service, but true service. She was a humanitarian who campaigned for human rights in Darfur and Syria and a strategist who rethought child protection, world trade and education.’

Her mistake seems to’ve been her universalism, her inclusiveness.  A quote from her maiden speech in the House of Commons included these words: While we celebrate our diversity … we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” 

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Remember this? Where can we go from war, violence, rape, persecution?

The motivation for her killing appears to have been that fear which takes hold of a person, or people, or a country, when threatened, or rather when they think they are threatened. When it appears to them, or they are persuaded, that their livelihood, familiar culture, homes, will be stolen by aliens, their familiar culture smothered, they will become increasingly ignored and deprived.

Isn’t this just what is motivating refugees and migrants who are fleeing from homelands where they face persecution, rape, death by war or terrorism? Or at the least, starvation and poverty?

Ironies of June 2016

Just a week after Jo Cox’s violent death, our country voted whether or not to leave the European Union. I checked the dates: June 16th – June 23rd, 7 days. Her family had behaved with a quiet dignity towards the media hype. Various of our politicians meanwhile continued behaving with arrogance and extreme unpleasantness as they fought their media campaigns.

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1,000,000 men killed or wounded

Then the next irony: just a week later (July 1st), we held public memorials to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme (July to November, 1916), which killed many thousands of young British men. And churned up miles of the French countryside, and was one of the worst occurrences of Europe being at war with itself. Indeed the numbers of soldiers killed and wounded, on both sides, is around a million. There surely should be a lesson here.

And, if the EU needs revising – which it does – and if the refugees streaming into the Eastern corners of it are going to survive with lives worth living – then this country will have no say.

Foden relatives
Ancestors … we can’t ‘turn the clock back’ and find security …

You can’t walk out of the family and then expect to influence its decisions.

They are, maybe, people like  us …

After the 1939-45 War, Europe was awash with refugees. Britain’s positive aid response was brought into being and organised by new charities Oxfam and Christian Aid. Both still exist, today working in countries such as South Sudan and Syria, often in partnership with the country’s own help agencies. It’s the kind of work Jo Cox was involved with. Today people are on the move in huge numbers … it has happened before … An article I read today, (by Paul Valentin, International director of Christian Aid) gave these figures about refugees within settled populations:

In Jordan, 1 in 3 people is a refugee

In Lebanon, it is 1 in 4

In Britain, it is 1 in 525

Fear and media hype make people fear being over-run. Fear of otherness may make people unable to accept those whose culture is not their own.

Expressing my thoughts about the motivation of Jo’s murderer, a violent acting out of his fears, another member of our family pointed out that ‘Maybe it did make some people think, maybe it made the vote closer. We shall never know, but maybe some people regret …’

Maybe it did.

But with the divisions of our country clearly delineated, the pound down, the hate crimes up, the government in turmoil … this is a sad, ironic, summer … in which we now hunt for hope … I hope for generosity to develop as the whole country looks back on ‘Brexit’ and the other events of June 2016 … and remembers Jo Cox and what she believed in …

Books and boots .. the next Mullins story willcentre on the teenagers ..

And I go on writing … trying to bring to life life the challenges of living today …   

Upcoming Event:

Monday 25th July 2.00pm (NOTE: this our recording time – I suspect it may be going out later in the day, after 5.00pm and will post on here to confirm)

I’m talking about my books and Indie Publishing, with Debbie Young of the Alliance of Independent Authors and presenter Eve Ahmed, on

That’s Oxfordshire

our local TV station … if you are in the UK – even as far away at Cumbria – try to catch us!