Saturday, November 24, 2012

Noisy neighbours....

Since my daughter has been living on my barge and we have an interim, lock up and leave flat, we are down south more often than not at weekends. Reason? I still feel the need to get away from the noise in my neighbourhood. 

But now, instead of drunken students throwing bikes and tables into the harbour, it's the old duck upstairs who is so obsessive about cleaning that she's bashing around with her broom and hoover in hob nailed boots every morning from about 5:30. Even worse, after she's done hoovering, she goes and starts cleaning her balcony in the same hob nailed boots but this time with a yard brush for extra amplificiation. 

Her final pièce de résistance is hanging her washing on the railings while making sure to beat a tattoo on the steel, the result of which sends Sindy into paroxysms of fear and teeth rattling for the rest of the day....okay slight exaggeration, but only slight, I promise! Maybe the boots aren't actually hob-nailed....But I have to say it's hardly an edifying sight to watch her 'nighty and nickers' waving around over my geraniums for all the hours of sunshine that we are lucky enough to scrape in this part of the world.

A few nights ago, though, I lay in bed totally stymied. I woke to hear this sort of whining noise. Puzzled, I couldn't place it for a moment, so I looked at my watch to see if was the street sweepers. My reliable timepiece told me it was 3:30 a.m. Surely not! I listened again and heard tapping noises and then a scraping that sounded like a stick being dragged along the skirting boards. And then I 'twigged' it. My industrious, compulsive obsessive cleaning neighbour was hoovering (yes hoovering!) her flat at this ungodly hour of the morning! Convinced I was wrong about the time, I got up to look at the kitchen clock. Still 3:30 - well, 3:40 by then. I looked at the ceiling in disbelief. The whining and scraping whined and scraped on. I suppose I should have been thankful she'd conceded to the hour enough to forego the hob nailed boots, but even so... 

I started thinking all sorts of uncharitable thoughts about yanking her nighty off the line next time I saw it waving over my balcony, or worse, playing my violin under her bedroom window. What a riveting thought. I'm still at the blood curdling, cat strangling stage in my musical development, so I had visions about serenading her at midnight, just to get my own back.

In the end, though, the whining stopped, the skirting boards were left in peace and the next morning, she sweetly offered us a replacement for the flickering TL tube on our landing, so what does that tell me? Is it my neighbours and those in my neighbourhood that are noisy and compulsive obsessive about everything they do.........or is it simply that I'm just a misanthropist - intolerant, hyper sensitive and unsociable? I'm in denial of course, but it's food for thought, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Got it!!!

My author's copies of Watery Ways have finally arrived! I think they look, feel and smell great, so it's a real thrill to have them. Now for the work. I will need to start spreading myself around - so to speak - well, at least my book!

First call will be to the Maritime Museum bookshop to ask them if they would like to do a little book launch for me on their premises. After that, I will be sending copies to the local TV station, the local paper and the local radio stations. My market is limited here, so wish me luck!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tired of fear mongers

I'm about to have a mini rant, so be warned. This is my blog, so I think I am entitled to rant (in a mini kind of way) here. After all, if I can't do it here, where else can I let off a puff of steam?

My rant is about the politics of fear. I'm tired of it, I really am. Ever since my childhood, the powers that be have managed to find something to hang over us like the proverbial sword of damocles. When I was between six and ten years old, or thereabouts, I remember the cloud of the whole ban the bomb movement, the cold war, the Christine Keeler affair and the Cuban crisis. Following that came the years of Vietnam and more cold war tension. Then the middle east came in with the oil crisis, followed quickly by scares involving acid rain, holes in the ozone layer and the like. After that there were numerous plagues of this and that: salmonella poisoning and mad cow disease to name but a couple. Of course every few years, there's a new scary virus - we've had swine flu, bird flu, mexican flu (although I think that was swine flu wasn't it?).  Added to that there are the tales of chem trails and spraying, toxic waste and radiation, the threat of nuclear disaster always present. If that were not enough, we've had international terrorism, 9/11, 7/7 and the consequent erosion of our freedoms. Then for the last so many years, we've had climate change with various and increasing predictions of catastrophe and disaster for all mankind.

I'm not suggesting that these threats don't exist; I'm just saying - well what? I'm saying I'm tired of the fact that my whole life has been lived with one or other cloud of fear hanging over it.

I grew up in a family where the philosophy was 'waste not want not', 'don't litter', 'if wishes were horses then beggars would ride' so don't expect too much. My parents believed that the quality of life was determined more by what you created rather than what you consumed. We painted, drew, wrote and made stuff. We didn't have a TV, we only got our first watches when we turned eleven and holidays were spent camping in Wales with no mod cons, real camp fires and boxes of paints and hardboard 'canvases' that our dad made for us. We played and made music on cheap guitars, old pianos and bargain violins - we still do. And we were quite content with what we had - and we still are.

But that cloud of fear was there then and it still is.

It often seems to me that consumerism has gone mad these days, and that maybe, just maybe, these threatening clouds are used to remind us of what we should be focusing on. I don't know. I really don't, but as I said, I'm tired of it now. I would dearly like to live the rest of my life in peace and tranquillity without worrying that the end of the world is not just nigh, it might even be, for heaven's sake, next week! I've been feeling like that ever since I was conscious of more than just my toys. Don't I, don't we, deserve a bit of peace now?

Okay, rant over, and I promise I'll be good and cheerful next time....yes I will...

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Night Train parts 1 & 2 combined now under my stories tab

A few years ago, I went to a concert in Germany. I went with a friend, Paula, and my daughter, Jodie, and it was great, but the point of this story is not the concert itself: it was the return journey. 

It proved to be one of those experiences I will never forget, and I've written a kind of short story account of the journey, which is now under my short stories tab. It was here for a few days, but now I want to write another post and so I thought I should move it to a more appropriate spot. Even so, I'd really like to hear about some of your experiences with travelling at night, so....

Have you ever had a spooky night train ride? I'd love to hear about yours too!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Children's history, picture books and short stories - meet Rosalind Adam

Like Jo Carroll, who I weberviewed a few posts back, Rosalind Adam is a recent blogging friend who I tweeted into by chance on Twitter. After visiting her blog a few times, I became interested and curious to know a little more about Rosalind and her interest in history and short story writing, so Rosalind has kindly agreed to answer some questions for my blog weberview too.

Rosalind, after 'meeting' you on Twitter, I've been going through your blog pages and was really interested to see the variety of work that you do. I loved the short story you've published there and also the page about Leicester and its historical surroundings. So, I'm really chuffed you've agreed to come to my blog for a chat. I've prepared some questions for you, so here goes:

Q.1. I see you used to teach but are now a writer and workshop leader. What led you to give up teaching as a career and make this fairly radical lifestyle change?

RA. It was the stress of teaching, not the children. They were lovely. It was the paperwork, the Ofsted inspections, the National Curriculum demands that knocked all our imaginative lesson plans into the waste paper bin.

Q.2 Yes, I've heard that can be a terrible burden. I can't blame you for giving that up. Anyhow, I see you have written a number of short stories for women's magazines. How difficult is it to get stories published and how do you know what kind of story is likely to be accepted?

RA. I spent several years writing magazine stories. I used to buy all the magazines who accepted unsolicited manuscripts and read their stories carefully. They don't want the regular boy meets girl story. They want something quirky but clean, original but satisfying, the sort of thing you can read over a morning cup of coffee. They're not as easy as they look to write.

Q.3 I can imagine. I think the Short Story is a very difficult genre, so hats off to you!. May I ask if you now make a living as a writer, or do you need to do both the workshops and the writing to complement each other?

RA. I have recently become eligible for my teacher's pension and Mr A commented that it was the most money I'd brought into the house in years... enough said?

Q.4 Oh goodness, I know the feeling! Still, I saw that you have written a number of children's books (including the Children's History of Leicester), you are a Historian, and you have written fiction for both children and adults, so what is your favourite genre for writing and why?

RA. I love writing children's picture books. Trust me to choose one of the most difficult genres to get into! These colourful books cost so much to produce that publishers have to think very hard before accepting a submission. As for why, it's because I can see the pictures in my head and you can have such fun with the genre.

Q.5 I love children's stories too. You can get very absorbed in them. Talking of being absorbed, though, I see you are very involved in local history, and that you have a history degree. Have you ever thought of writing a historical novel or series of novels?

RA. I've thought about it. I've even made notes and plans but nothing more... yet.

Q.6. Maybe this will act as a spur then! Talking of history, may I ask what your interest in Jewish history was prompted by?

RA. I have been a member of the Leicester Jewish Community all my life. My book, Jewish Voices, documents the recent history of the community during the Second World War and beyond. It was created from a series of memory writing workshops and I found it a fascinating project and the most rewarding book I've ever written.

Q.7 It sounds fascinating. I'll have to try and get a copy. I see you also work as a creative writing tutor and a writing workshop leader. Have you had to do any training yourself for this, or is it something you found you had a natural talent for?

RA. I used to teach 'Beginning to Write Creatively' classes and those were really good fun. Watching new writers producing that magic of a previously unknown idea appearing on the page is priceless. I no longer teach formal groups but I still lead the occasional creative or therapeutic writing workshop. 

Q.8. Rosalind, the short story you've published on your blog pages is very compelling. Do you have any kind of method that you follow when writing short stories?

RA. I love writing 'twist in the tale' stories. You lead the reader along, making them guess at one ending and then you produce an ending that they weren't expecting.

Q.9 You certainly surprised me with that one! Okay just a couple more questions. You mentioned to me that you have had some experience of canal boats. As you know, I have my own barge in Rotterdam, so this is a subject of great interest to me. Can you tell me a bit about your own watery experiences?

RA. For several years our summer holidays were taken on a canal boat in the UK. I love being on the water. Everything slows down. Standing up front with a mug of tea and waving to other boaters as they pass is my idea of the perfect holiday.

Q.10. It's just the best, isn't it? Lastly, Rosalind, do you have any books, articles or short stories in progress now? If so, would you be able to share what they are with us and when they are likely to be published?

RA. At the moment I'm working on several children's picture books. They may be short but they take quite a while to pull together in a satisfying way.

Val, thank you for inviting me along to your blog and for asking me such interesting questions.

My very great pleasure, Rosalind. Let me know when your picture books are being published. I have several small nieces and nephews who would be candidates for those!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Thank you Sunpenny!

Sunpenny publishing have very kindly published an interview with me on their own blog page. It tells readers a little about what it's like to live on a barge. If you're interested, you kind find it here Thanks a million, Sunpenny! I enjoyed the interview and it's great to be your guest.

As someone who is naturally curious about other people and especially other writers, I've been asking a few questions myself. This weekend, I'm going to be posting another weberview with another writer - this time one who writes Children's books and short stories - two of my other favourite genres. My questions to Rosalind Adam produced some interesting answers, so I hope my friends in blogland will enjoy them too. Watch this space :)

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Something to prove there's something in the water

Early morning cycling over the Van Brienenoordbrug
and Rotterdam's Nieuwe Maas River
For a few years now, I've been using homeopathic remedies for minor ailments and the usual round of cough colds and flu that beset most of us during the colder months of the year. I've long believed that pumping people full of antibiotics and fabricated drugs could not possibly be good for us although I think we can all be grateful they are there for the more serious illnesses. It doesn't escape me that diseases like bubonic plague that wiped out huge sections of the population at one time just don't happen today. Firstly, hygiene is much better and secondly a course of antibiotics would cure it anyway - simply and effectively. We are very lucky to have them for the more serious illnesses.

Nevertheless, I much prefer to treat 'conditions' as opposed to illnesses homeopathically. The idea that problems like sinus congestion and eczema can be treated more effectively by looking at the whole person and their personal tendencies rather than as individual symptoms just makes sense to me. That being said, I admit I have resorted to conventional medicine when I haven't had time to investigate my problems by following the homeopathic route.

Just recently, though, I've read a book that has reinforced my thinking about the importance of homeopathy. The book was written by a school friend of mine, Sue Lanzon. I haven't seen her since we were about sixteen or seventeen, but I do remember her very well. Sue was one of those serene souls who exuded tranquillity. I don't know if she was really - serene and tranquil that is - but that's what she conveyed - that along with wit, intelligence, great creativity and grace. So, it wasn't really a great surprise to learn that she'd become a homeopath when we bumped into each other on Facebook; nor was it a surprise to learn that before she became a homeopath, she'd been a professional photographer following an art school education. It all fitted with my memories of the school Sue.

However, I've also learnt that Sue is committed to her profession with more than usual dedication. Homeopathy is under fire in the UK. Homeopaths are frequently presented as quacks and their treatment is often dismissed as a useless con. It's claimed that it only works if you believe it will and that largely speaking, the remedies act merely as a placebo. I don't know how the critics manage to justify this when it comes to animals, but there you are. They do.

In any event, Sue's response to the critics was to write a collection of short stories about her life as a homeopath. As I understand it, the stories are fictional but built around events that are true. During each of these stories, she explains a homeopathic principle and treatment by first describing a fictional scenario which leads into the explanation of the homeopathic persona represented in the story and the reason for the 'like cures like' treatment.

I have just finished the book and loved it so much I have ordered three more copies to give as Christmas presents this year. It is just so beautifully written. The stories are intimate, moving, sincere and compelling. The writing is stunning in its clarity and poise. One story in particular, Dirty Bargains, literally moved me to tears. I caught myself, more than once, wishing that I had written this paragraph, that phrase, this sentence. Truly lovely. In fact, if I could, I would make everyone I know read it.

Added to the sheer beauty of the stories, the homeopathic insights have been a real eye opener for me as regards a member of my family. I was so excited when I read the story that gives the book its name, I actually got up and danced. This book has explained a problem that has been puzzling us for years. My relative is a 'sepia' patient. Not only that, someone recognised it years ago and called her a 'cuttlefish', but we didn't see or make the connection then. She went to visit a homeopath and the remedy is already showing signs of very positive results. It feels like something of a miracle.

Water is part of my life, so for me
Something in the Water is aptly named

 Looking east from the bridge. How often I wish
I could be on those boats going too

The book is called Something in the Water. It is published by Winter Press and it can be found here if you are interested. I hope you are. It's more than worth it, and is definitely one to keep. I'm keeping mine, that's for sure!