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.

heron
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!

Happy Christmas from Mari Howard …

So, maybe the writer is ‘feeling Christmassy’ – looking forward to spending family time xmas choc cakeand thinking img_2354about the blessing of Christmas … There’s now a Christmas extract for you to read, from my novel The Labyrinth Year, on the Hodge Publishing website.  And here are a few Christmassy photos from my album … and I’m hoping 2017 will be a better year … in Syria, and for all of us … Continue reading

Where did (summer and) the writing go? Research time …

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A sunny day at the local farm, when we picked raspberries for jam

So, finally, August was summer! Then September began with dank, wet, days under a lowering, deep grey sky. After a few moans about the annual angst of shoe-buying for kids, all the writing Mummies I know began lively blogs on the happy theme of new coloured pencils and shiny notebooks… new clothes, new shoes, new thoughts, new space to write! …Autumn is not the End of Summer but a happy time of New Beginnings!

True to history, autumn begins the academic year in the northern hemisphere, since it was time to plant the crops. So summer counted as year’s end, with the harvest brought in … then back to school, back to the desk. Thankfully, the sun’s also back. New beginnings are looking brighter and more possible.

We have a new (and first) grandson so there’s a new beginning in our family … All

img_4407-1
Beginning to  know a new little person

grandparents are besotted with a new little one. He is a magical baby, growing by the day and beginning to observe the world around him—colours and shapes beyond Me and Mummy! After a jumbled year interrupted by computer problems, and deep doubts about writing and publishing, (and with the weirdness of the political happenings here in the UK), back to the desk. To revive the Work in Progress. And with a revised Hodge website  which embeds the blog.

Though quite honestly, (see  Altruism the British Way of Life) the world scene, “Brexit” and the American election prospects put fiction writing into question: is it pointless? Is it irrelevant?

But would giving up change anything?

Where is Love You to the Moon, caught in the events of this crazy year? At Hawkesbury Litfest, on the fiction writers’ panel discussing ‘Write what you Know – or Not?, we all agreed that even if the novel is centred on your own locality and workplace, it’s very much not autobiography. Even a family story is more than that.

books
Research, observation – or autobiography?

Fiction demands research, facts to build the skeleton which shapes the plot. This is (mostly) as true of contemporary fiction as of historical. If political or medical facts, say, don’t fit, it’s the plot which has to change. What makes Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stand out amongst fantasy fiction is the verisimilitude of the languages (they work) and his enormous knowledge, accumulated for decades and beginning in his teens, of mythologies.

Thankfully I’m not writing fantasy so my inability with languages won’t spoil the story. And my  novel’s set in 2007, not 2016, so nothing about the current complications facing our government.

Where my research will be centred

The science driving the plot in Love You to the Moon, and how this affects and is employed by the characters, needs firming up. Will one of the strands work better driven by research on diabetes or mitochondrial diseases – either, or which?

And what’s on the school curriculum for teenagers of 13 and 15? How have they reacted to the rise of terrorism? What are they reading, in 2007, and what’s the career path for a woman academic scientist with two children and husband with a time-consuming job and a social conscience? Which iPhone belongs to what years? Small details and large ones …

Emotional and physical growth, increased insights for characters and author?

Meanwhile, the characters wait in the wings —but ten years older…What is different for them? Are Max and Jenny still together? What’s Daze been up to?  What kind of a teenager is Alice?

research booksAfter a break, concentrating on reading, painting, enjoying our local nature reserve, and not thinking about whether or not I would actually write this third book in the series, I’m going back to re-reading about the Edwardian scientific research that made possible Dolly the Sheep, which first excited me into writing Baby, Baby.

books (Islamic authors)

And the books from non-Western writers who convinced me to explore diversities nearer home, and develop a cool and unemotional writing voice. Back to new beginnings around hidden cultural diversities, the impact of medical science on social attitudes, the ups and downs of family life.

And am hoping the sun shines (not metaphorically, factually) through autumn …

Hawkesbury Literature Festival Two!

The First Venue: The Fox Inn

This year’s Hawkesbury Literature Festival (the second, and expanded, version) has spawned a whole host of author blogs: so where to begin? As we drove West to the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton, rain lashed down from a uniformly grey-ed over sky. It didn’t look promising. It continued raining steadily as some us gathered at the Methodist Hall to help lay out the pop-up cafe and display our books. Outside the Fox Inn the marquee, put up for the children’s art and writing activities, stood in the downpour.

But the weather’s total turn-round overnight meant Saturday promised a wonderful day. Moving between the Fox, the tent, the Methodist Chapel and the Hall, authors, visitors, and volunteers enjoyed  blue skies, bright sunshine, and attractive gardens full of spring flowers.

My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!
My home-made Lemon Drizzle Cake: already a quarter gone!

If there was anything wrong with Hawkesbury this time it was there was so much to do and to see. The Tent buzzed with children doing art or writing sessions, and adults viewing the illustrators’ work and the colouring books, the cafe buzzed with Tea-and-Coffee drinking, cake-eating, cheese-tasting the Cornish Yarg, chatting and book-browsing. (That’s the Yarg, in the bowl at the front of the photo, and William Fairney’s book title? Fifty Shades of Yarg … you get it?)

Performance poet Dan Holloway kicks off the poetry reading session

And there were sessions on poetry, (one beginning ‘I stubbed my toe on a  hedgehog ...) and on ‘Writing with or from Difference’, besides last year’s Fiction category, divided into several sections, and all featuring in both Readings and Panel discussion categories.

As a participating author, this year I enjoyed my first experience of being on a discussion panel (two: ‘Contemporary Fiction: Write What You Know – or Not?’, and ‘What’s the Point of Poetry?’).

It’s always interesting to learn how other people ‘work’, their motivations and their approach to creative activity. A number of us on the Fiction panel go for the ‘get the story all down, then edit’ method, and one at least said she doesn’t usually know how the book will end when she is at the beginning. I’m actually not usually that kind of writer: I’m apt to begin a writing session with a bit of editing on the last bit I wrote, it seems to get the creativity going. We all agreed that whether or not you set out to ‘write what you know’, research will enter you life as you turn your well-known environment (Jackie Kabler’s is working as a TV journalist/presenter) into the settings your plot.   Lynne Pardoe’s stories come straight from her experiences as a social worker – and have happy endings. Ali Bacon continues to experiment with how far or not she writes what she knows, and enjoys producing short stories. Jackie set her story within the TV Newsroom but someone had murdered her boss … which she certainly hasn’t witnessed … and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn told us how her editor had suggested that although she had researched Venice and knew it well, the enthusiastic  descriptions needed editing down. Nikki Owen’s story features a woman with high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome, which she doesn’t have but obviously found fascinating enough to enter into and create a story. Thomas Shepherd does have Asperger’s, but his story, a fantasy, doesn’t feature this. Some find the research time a necessary evil: others really enjoy digging into what they don’t know. And we seized the chance to enlighten our audience about how much writing what we know is autobiography: no, it pretty much always isn’t.

So with sessions on contemporary, historical, sci-fi and fantasy, and writing fiction from a point of ‘being different’, what was the most popular with the audience? It was this one: the skill of writing about your or another’s difference or disability: making the ‘difference’ work for your writing, overcoming  by your  writing, sharing what it is like to be inside what counts as difference. Read Thomas Shepherd’s blog about participating in this discussion here.

Debbie Young, Festival Organiser, with Dan Holloway and ShIrley Wright, poets

At the same time, learning more about other authors, how they work, why they write, is tremendously unifying: books are the bottom line, and within that, a huge diversity of interests, styles, attitudes, and lifestyles.

Recently, we’ve hosted, as a City, the huge Blackwell’s Oxford Literary Festival – a chance for celebs and well known authors to be gathered into one place and for audiences to hear them speak and have them sign copies of their books.

Blackwells Oxford LitFest Festival Marquee … parked near the Sheldonian Theatre

A small Festival like Hawkesbury has a totally different feel: a chance to interact with readers, and fellow participants. Hawkesbury aims to be inclusive: we were a mixture of Indie and ‘trade published’ writers, of amateur and professional poets. None of us could claim ‘celebrity’ status, and this makes for a truly festive and for-the-people feel, offering a ‘platform’ to everybody and aiming to give exposure to new names in the writing business. And so back home, and to writing Love You to the Moon …

Find my books at Hodge website, or on Amazon here and here …

Photos of Hawkesbury Literature Festival with thanks to Joanna Penn, author and very active member of ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors), photo of Blackwell’s marquee and the Baby, Baby/The Labyrinth Year publicity card my own. 

HULF & to Pay or not to Pay? Author Pages …

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.56.30Here’s a very brief post on the  blog!  Here’s wondering if any of you nice followers have discovered my Author Page … or investigated what I wrote when I’m not writing the blog or doing one of a hundred thousand other things?

For example, this weekend, promoting my work (and hopefully entertaining an audience) at a book festival along with other authors, many of them, like me, members of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

On Saturday (23rd, Shakespeare’s Birthday …) the Hawkesbury LitFest will be taking place – all day from 10.00am to 5.30pm … a great  gathering of authors in the Cotswold village of Hawkesbury Upton. H.U. is a friendly place – especially friendly to Books and  Reading … (Also to Italian food at the Fox restaurant, and to cakes, coffee and tea at the festival Cafe).  It’s friendly to authors and a crowd of us will be going along to read, discuss, promote, hopefully sell our work, and to meet other authors and our readers …

me reading at Hawkesbury 23 APril 2015
me at HULF 2015 (copyright Clint Randall)

You may live far away, in South Africa, Canada, or the USA – but have a look at the Mari Howard Author Page on Facebook anyway … have a look at the LitFest adverts to see what we’re (I’m) doing this weekend, and let me know, via blog comments (if you have an opinion: should Facebook ask authors to pay to promote their pages? I am undecided – this is not a rant either way – I am just wondering, would the promotion be worth the cost?  At $10 a day?)

And thanks for following .. welcome to several new readers …

HULF poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mothers’ Day, Mothering Sunday, who do we include?

Anyone who’s read my books, Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon ...)
Available from the Hodge website (www.hodgepublishing.com) (or Amazon …)

will know they feature families and several different kinds of mothers. Professional women struggling to juggle the work and the family; a pastor’s wife expected to mother the congregation as well as her five growing children; a mother who has escaped a violent teenage marriage, been forced to abandon her child,  and worked in a women’s refuge … Though all are western mothers, and only one has suffered the trauma of the stillbirth of a malformed baby.

This Sunday is Mothers’ Day

or as it used to be known, Mothering Sunday. The middle Sunday in Lent, when (as you may already know), domestic servants had a day off to go and visit Mother.

Hedgerow spring flowers
Hedgerow spring flowers

Many of them would be just kids, really: girls the age we now count legally as children, girls who’d now be in school, girls too young to marry, and who we count as being too young to be seduced into sex. Sent out to earn a living as young teens, some as young as twelve, living in a servants’ attic, eating in the servants’ kitchen surrounded by adults. A visit home to Mother and the sisters and brothers was a real treat. They might take Mother a bunch of flowers, picked from a hedgerow along the way …

In fact, it’s a day about showing love.

So, here we are on Mothers’ Day
Me and my daughter, summer 1981

with cards, shop windows and catalogues of possible gifts, and for churchgoers a service where little  bunches of flowers are given out to the mums.

The churches have also, so as not to leave out the childless, so as to be inclusive, led the way to this becoming an all-women’s day.

It’s a good intention: but is there actually a reasonable argument for keeping this day to specially celebrate and be thankful for mothers? For what they do, for what they go through to produce, nurture, and protect, children? Hoping not to hurt anyone’s feelings, I think there is.

Every-Mothers’ Day

We might up-date celebrating mothers by being aware of mothers world-wide.

Well off, well educated, mothers in Western countries, aren’t in the majority of women on the planet. And we have health care to ensure that (usually) pregnancy, birth, and the post-natal days are safer than ever before. Clean water, a warm home, an income, maternity leave, all work towards happy motherhood. Postnatal depression can be treated.   

Most young girls here have not gone through FGM, with all that does to intercourse and giving birth. 

Most have not, at puberty, had an arranged marriage, which nicely puts an end to education, can lead to pregnancy  before they are fully grown and developed, can lead to dangerous childbirth, or at worst to death.

Most western women do not develop a fistula from going through complicated, protracted labour and delivery in a poverty stricken area without enough doctors, nurses, or trained midwives: for us, the minority, there are maternity units with skilled staff who can perform a safe caesarean.

But all these events give a very realistic picture of being a mother in, say, somewhere like Afghanistan, or many African countries..

Mums in the refugee camps in Europe
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters
Remember this? But most are in camps under makeshift shelters

Having fled war, mothers living in makeshift shelters are having keep an eye on their young girls. Living in a tent, or substandard group housing, girls are vulnerable to abduction, presumably to be used for sex. It isn’t nice: it’s a terrible worry for parents. Especially for mothers, who know what sex with an older, maybe roughly forceful, man would be like for their young girls.

So, it’s a day about love?

I would really love to see Mothers’ Day become a day when we think about the reality of being  mothers. While being thankful to our mothers, and for our own safe birth, let’s do more than that. 

That’s not to say we need to deny ourselves giving and receiving flowers, chocs and hugs … But whether or not we are mothers, inclusivity might mean showing empathy to mothers less fortunate: giving to an organisation which cares for women as mothers.Let’s make Mothers Day about love and generous inclusivity 

Find out about fistula, FGM, and other related topics:

Information on FGM, and other related topics

What is a fistula, how are they caused, why are they so dangerous and excluding? 

AUTHOR EVENT:

Celebrate books and reading:

It will soon be time for the second 

 Hawkesbury LitFest … Saturday 23rd April, all day

at Hawkesbury Upton … author readings,

talks, poetry, children’s activities … in a Cotswold

Village setting 

Writerly myths: ‘I’ll put you in my novel!’

I’ll put you in my novel!

It’s a classic myth: along with the writerly notebook carried at all times. Once you let it out, you’re a writer, the first question from family and close friends, ‘Oh, are you  going to put us in your novel?’ (Groan)

If you are a writer, the tease, ‘I’ll put you in my novel!’

working in the SHLet’s look at the myth…

So writers always carry notebooks, and have this habit of seizing the moment, and noting down anything which can later appear in their writing? Writers are people who sew patchwork quilts from scraps on real life…articles, novels , etc.? Maybe.

There is after all great skill in choosing colours, and maybe following the old American quilt designs. And in all those tiny, tiny stitches (unless you cheat and use your machine …)

But using lives …Is it kind, is it honourable, is it ethical, do we have the right?

Of course, we may’ve spread the word tongue in cheek

… hard to tell how far into cheek. Just a little bit sideways (like a crooked smile?) or tucked safely away, as if to avoid the dentist’s drill?   

It might seem a bit disingenuous, but, my reaction to the mythical ‘Will you be putting us in your novel?’ is a genuine No.

Not only because I’d so hate it myself. ‘Put’ into a novel, like a china ornament placed on a shelf? The outside of me: the way I dress; my (oh too loud, a friend said recently) voice, booming across a room; my love of cats; or my circumstances as the mum of twins, who though living in the midst of sophisticated intellectuals and academics, does not drink wine?  Not the essential me. And, how stupid would I feel if, had I ‘put’ a friend or family person into a novel, when they read it, were upset, disgusted, or never spoke to me again? They’d have the right: we can’t know the inner selves of others, and a novelist, in essence, deals not in outsides but inner selves. And selves that fit.

Jigsaw People

It’s like a jigsaw: does this piece go there?  Or are we forcing it in, to hurry up and get the picture done? ‘Putting’ a person (name disguised) into a novel, means fitting them into the plot. Each character has a shape contributing to the whole. No good trying to force Aunt Jane, with her lugubrious hats, her high-Tory opinions, her little Westie terrier, into your romance set in Cairo… though maybe your best friend, the academic historian with the banker husband, might fit your international crime story … but would your Australian cousin suit that cosy mystery set in Elsfield, Oxfordshire, in 1946?  Like all misplaced jigsaw pieces, your real person who had that funny incident in the cafe will protest, by bulging, wobbling, becoming stuck at an awkward angle.  Nothing else will go right until you take it out again…

Making a cake

Do you like to eat cake? If you’re putting me  in your novel, (please don’t), you need to know that I enjoy baking, and eating, cake.  

cake for mondfulnessThe creative process is like baking: the ingredients, the raw materials, are the real people we know and meet, the strangers on buses and trains, the acquaintances from the exercise class … then all this needs processing in our brains, maybe over years, decades. After mixing, the raw cake is subjected to terrific heat inside the oven. By the time it is cooked and ready  to eat, who can tell which bit is flour, sugar, fat, egg … baking powder, a teaspoon of vanilla, a sprinkle of cinnamon? Or where those characters, busy interacting and unfolding their story, began?

Every novel is a mystery

So, whether a novel is crime, romance, sci-fi, adventure, it is always also a mystery.

As is the idea that your writer friend will put you in her novel (indeed, why you?)

Don’t be disappointed to discover you are not there. Or delighted that you are.  Whatever has been ‘done’ to turn a gallimaufry of people into a set of characters was probably done unawares … and that one’s not you at all! Maybe all of us fancy a little adventure, a romance, or to solve a crime mystery? Are people maybe asking for a slot, when they act scared they’ll be put in a novel?

The key to how it’s done …

is observation. What goes in the notebook or sticks in the mind is observation of the how, not the what, of human beings as a species.

Just my point of view …

Two Writers whose observation of the species ‘human’ I admire: 

Debbie Young, (an ALLi indie writer, and founder of the independent, Cotswold village based, Hawkesbury LitFest) for her wonderful ‘flash fiction’ books on twenty-first century living – try Marry in Haste for a humorous look at dating, deciding, and tying the knot.

Joanna Trollope, (well-established mainstream published, ‘She likes to tackle the apparently easy, but really very difficult subjects – how parents get on with their children, and vice versa – which many a lesser writer prefers to avoid.’ (Guardian Books, 11/02/16)). Whatever you think of  her subject matter (upper-ish middle class …) admire her acute observations of  small but telling physical actions … for example, a husband is behind his  newspaper. The wife taps on the newspaper with a teaspoon to get his attention… not a ‘classic trope’ but a small action typical of that kind of couple.

(Photos: my copyright, please request permission before using)

Writing a Series: re-meeting my characters …

What’ve you been doing? Haven’t seen you in a while …

Yes it’s been while … Now Christmas is thoroughly over: it came with a pile of reading for the dark December/January evenings … I’ve read for review and I’ve beta read a couple of emerging books. And that’s where I’ve been. I need to write up a couple more reviews. All are Indie novels, some in genres I don’t usually read. (You can read my review of Francis Guenette’s Maelstrom on Amazon, or on Goodreads here) This is a novel by a writer whose ‘Crater Lake’ series I’ve enjoyed, and was a departure for her into something rather different. though stamped with the Guenette interest in landscape, indigenous peoples, and her insight into human psychology. P1210724Another was a debut YA fantasy, Philip Davies’ Destiny’s Rebel (available also on Amazon). For contrast, I’m reading (non-Indie) Khulud Khamis’s Haifa Fragments .

As a writer, I’m something of a rebel: for one thing, those writerly myths – the special pen or notebook, the childhood spent with nose in a book, the early stories scribbled in an exercise book … hum … here’s a writer whose serious work began on a keyboard, who drew rather than wrote all those early attempts at storytelling, (the art teacher even at A level was critiquing my work as, ‘Ah – it’s very narrative, isn’t it?’). And my handwriting doesn’t either deserve a special pen or get one. As for the notebook …

Myths aside, when I began writing, (and after those early attempts, two whole novel-length typescripts but not quite there yet) I really wanted to do something different. What is more exciting than the world of life sciences, especially the microscopic world where life begins? The cutting edge of biological science, the ‘how and why’ basics of cells and reproduction?

2 book covers
The Mullins Family novels: Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, an on-going tale …

‘Write what you know’ is a (disputed) piece of advice: interpreting that as ‘write what thrills you’, I invented Jenny Guthrie’s world, set her up with a passionate relationship, and took her on a journey into a world she’d been taught to shun, religious fundamentalism. Research for Baby, Baby was thrilling, (especially being taken to look behind the scenes at fertility clinic, and viewing slides on an electron microscope). I added heaps to my biological knowledge, and got to know much more than I actually needed, and it was all fascinating.

In the follow-up, The Labyrinth Year, Jenny’s attempts at being a ‘feisty female’ academic and a yummy mummy leave her wondering where she went wrong. That was, fictionally, back in 1997.

sennen beach – Version 3
What might this picture say about how we understand love?

 I’m busy getting to know my characters again. Here’s a writerly myth that works for me: let the characters speak to you, and let them as far as possible lead the story. Research is underway (hence tardiness with the blog), and rumoured to include mitochondria and human embryos. Parents and teenagers are causing problems, and friends are sharing confidences. Stepsister Daze (the artist who crept sneakily into Baby, Baby although the book wasn’t meant to be concerned with art, galleries, and suchlike) will as always try to steal the limelight, though her language has ‘mellowed with time’. Genetics is still in there somewhere, and love is being interpreted by various characters in a selection of ways.

So far, Max is keeping secrets to himself.

Confocal_microscopy_with_spectral_imaging-_Five-color_observation_of_organelles_in_Marchantia_polymorpha_thallus_cells_(17594447615)
Confocal microscopy shows us these organelles, (tiny organisms inside a cell)

I’m now getting excited by the possibility of learning more about the mitochondrial research recently approved by the HFEA . And though these mayn’t appear in the book, I have to find a photo which shows organelles … hopefully in creative commons.

Looking to the future, and in the real world : Hawkesbury LitFest, (known as the HULF) will be back on 23rd April again this year. I’m booked to read along will many other Indie authors who appeared last year, and some new ones. This year’s Festival will include poetry and children’s authors.

HULF poster

If you’re anywhere in striking distance, (Hawkesbury Upton is a Cotswold village in South Gloucestershire, UK), do consider joining us!  23rd April is a Saturday this year, and this year’s Festival will run all day. Readings, a selection of panel discussions, and books to browse and buy …

Christmas Greetings, and a Star from way back when

We’re almost there – Christmas – but for 2 more days we’re in Advent, the time of waiting …

winter dawn/sunset over PortMeadowAdvent aching, towards the light

When the darkness is thickest

Then we await the light

The light becomes unimaginable

And the light must come

Penetrating the veil

Seeking out our gasping brains

Darting, but staying,

Blazing, not burning,

Misunderstood

Illuminating …

Now we have had the Solstice, the light should slowly increase, posting IMG_5235towards spring, summer, and affirming life …

Today  I have seen another promise: the Star  of Bethlehem shining in the sky.

How unencumbered it is to be a child at Christmas, implicitly believing all the miracles: the Star, the God-designed birth, the angel choir. And that the Star returned each year, shining even from our Northern sky, visible over our Northern land.

And here it is, the Star, huge, bright, shining alone up there, towards the south, no small ordinary stars surrounding it.

No matter a star is just another Sun, a ball of flaming gasses. Though this looks more likely to be a planet, so bright and large.

Hold these two together, it can be both …Whatever, it hangs there like a sign, a promise …

Because it is simply part of the Universe, because it is just another planet, or a bundle of flaming gasses, can it not also be a sign, can it not also play its annual role?

What is truth? And must reductionism always follow as we grow…?

Wishing P1060770you 

a very Happy Christmas and all best in 2016

                                               and hi to 3 new followers!

xmas choc cake

 

hellebores

A Writer’s Christmas: Perspective of 2015

So, the writer is about to write the Christmas Letter.

The quite awful letter where parents kvell (I think that’s the word?) about the kids and what’ s

What the kids are doing ...
What the kids are doing …

been achieved in terms of music lessons, exams, and riding a bicycle.

Only, as the kids are grown, thankfully we don’t need to join the party with that kind of stuff …

DO I FEEL ‘CHRISTMASSY’ AS CHRISTMAS APPROACHES?

No. Advent maybe: the time of watching and waiting.

 

Once, we waited through Advent, we kids, trembling, almost, with expectation. Gradually the seasons drew nearer and nearer, until on truly magical Christmas Eve, the tree was bought and decorated. We looked up to see the Star of Bethlehem shining once more in the navy-blue sky, over a frosty city, smelling of coldness and slightly of petrol.

The Tree in today’s front room … (2014)

My earliest Christmas memory is of  standing in the doorway of our front room, and there was this amazing sight: the Tree, covered in glittery ornaments.  They turn, slowly,  reflecting the many-coloured lights. The room’s suffused with a gentle warmth. I am stunned, totally. Later, at my grandparents’ house, aged six, I  feel no disappointment or surprise on waking briefly, the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to see a parental hand placing presents in my stocking.

After all, presents are presents, and secrets kept on both sides so as not to disappoint have a thrill of their own … We all kept up the myth, and Father Christmas/Santa continued to get his sherry and mince pie for many more years.

But oh how deep the disappointment of not having a ‘part’ in the nativity play, aged 7.  Oh how much I wasn’t deceived by the sop of being ‘in the choir’! Of course, we were obviously a group of left-overs … (was that really true? Probably.)

Everything was one: cards, tree, F.Christmas/Santa, crib and carols
Tree Decorating

With the King’s Carols on the radio, as time went by, I got to decorate that tree and create the magic. Cards were displayed on every flat surface: bookshelves, windowsill, mantlepiece. Mostly of the famous mother, father, and baby-in-the-manger. Simplicity, profoundity, replicated in many styles and colours. Delicate Medieval drawings from Books of Hours, High Renaissance paintings, bright sketches by contemporary graphic artists.

The Magi travelled on camels towards a stylised Middle Eastern town, pictured against a pink dawn (or sunset).

The shepherds on their hillside were staggered to witness an angel choir.

Christmas past, the years of security.
P1180619
Star Cookies

This year the cards we’re sending will be secular: winter scenes, robins, holly, nothing ‘religious’. Not the crib, the stable, the angels, or the little family far from their home: even though that’s horribly relevant this year. It’s all come apart: not personally, but societally. The base-line story, from the food, presents, parties, and Santa (secret or otherwise). Yes, I enjoy the annual get-together of neighbours, and the once–a-year catch-up with far-flung friends and relatives. But  the excess, and expectation to indulge, first communally and then, in the sudden silence of the most magical day, as a nuclear family. It’s no self-indulgent sadness, that today (having avoided the BBC News today) my priorities have been to get some work time, and some peace (to study the MSF website as it happened).

 It’s  more about the watch and wait of Advent
Knitted Nativity
Knitted Nativity

Whatever will be happening on 25th December this year, a pretty picture of the Holy Family isn’t going to solve anything. Realistically viewing the world in December 2015, Christmas pictured  in those cards is a reassuring myth. Maybe I should’ve designed my own cards: ruined apartment blocks, broken lives … under the Star of Bethlehem. That was the reality for Mary (a terrified teenager) and Joseph and their baby – blessed to be born alive, and grow up healthy, despite soon to be running away from a hostile government. The Middle East isn’t a pretty town against the sunset … most of the world isn’t – some of us live in a little corner where some of it is, sometimes.

Flying Angel with Tinsel

Which is an eternal (or at least historical) truth. As a group, humanity hasn’t yet solved the problem of living together under one sky as one global family. Card-wise, there’s the problem: the traditional Nativity scenes belie what we see on the News, turning religious Christmas into a false promise.

As a fiction writer, I engage with this as I work on the third story of the Mullins family. Love You to the Moon attempts at exploring what we mean by love … and what love gone wrong looks like … as in the wider world, everything moves nearer and nearer towards what feels like a worse chaos, rather than a new beginning.

Watch, and wait …

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it …

(This was written during the Commons debate 2/12/15:  #prayforSyria)