And The Buntings Flew, My writing, Reading and Books, Writing

Begin at The Beginning -Does My Novel Need a Prologue?

I’ve been thinking about beginnings a lot, since, well, the beginning of this new year.  I’m currently reviewing my manuscript for And The Buntings Flew, having put it away for a few months; that distance allowed me to clean up what I’ve written to date, and forge on with the story. I’ve now got 35,000 words that have been through a couple of rigorous self-edits, and a further 15,000 words of raw dialogue and plot points to revise; that’s more than half of the planned novel length!

But one major issue remained unresolved –  how the novel would open. I’ve written three blocks of text that I couldn’t choose between, and they sat untethered to the main story at the start of the manuscript:

  1. A prologue
  2. Some historical background to the story, and
  3. The start of the action.

It seems obvious now that the story should start at the latest point in the action where the story proper begins, but I had such a lot of good historical background info that pertained to the current story; I had to get it in somewhere, and I also wanted to set the scene with a tableau from the story; where to start?

The Prologue

There’s lots of advice out there about prologues, but the only consensus is “proceed with caution”. When deciding whether to start with my prologue, I considered the following:

  • My prologue wasn’t overly long (about 500 words)
  • The prologue was from the POV of the main character and narrator
  • The prologue featured a vignette from the story, but wasn’t something that I couldn’t include in the main story; it did however set the scene.
  • The prologue wasn’t the scene of a violent or tumultuous event
  • I wasn’t using it as an information dump
  • I wasn’t trying to cram in relevant historical information.  I resisted the temptation to drop a lot of context in the prologue; it was simply the main character and a vignette from her day.

So was the prologue necessary? Was it boring? It was quite short (about three paragraphs and not much happens in it, although it gives a few clues to some other main character motivations and points of view.) Would this turn off readers before they even got to Chapter One, or would they just skip the prologue altogether?

The prologue was pertinent to the story that followed;  it was the perspective of the main character, but was it setting the scene for the main character’s arc? I wasn’t sure about that.  It wasn’t throwing the reader into the middle of any battles, betrayals, plot twists etc, which would be confusing. But, could I incorporate the details contained in the prologue into the main story?

Another point I considered was a quote from The Writer’s Digest’s Brian Klems:  When To Use a Prologue

“A prologue is used when material that you want to include in the opening is out of time sequence with the rest of the story.

On reflection I decided that the scene and its implications in the prologue could be revealed organically through the action; the events were close to the start of the novels’ opening, they weren’t out of time sequence, and would naturally fit after the first main action scene.  So I deleted the prologue from the main manuscript (although I saved it in another file, just in case!), and turned my attention to the next chunk of text that was jostling for pole position in my novel:

(Historical) Background Information

If I’m not including a prologue, how will I share key historical background information with the reader fairly soon into the main story? And The Buntings Flew is set in Belfast during the mid-1970s when The Troubles were in full, devastating swing.

After living here for forty years, I’m still astonished at how few people on the British mainland understand the intricacies of The Troubles; many people assumed my father, with his broad “Norn Iron” accent, was from the Republic of Ireland, or was automatically a Nationalist supporter;  he was frequently asked if he supported the IRA.

With this in mind, I want to include a potted history of the Troubles and the sociopolitical history behind them fairly early on, as an understanding of the Troubles will help the reader follow the story and its themes. To do so, however, you could end up summarising events back to the 1600s!

The Northern Irish are a people with a long memory, and events such as the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, the 1912 Ulster Covenant, the Home Rule Movement and Act of 1914, the 1921 Partition of Ireland and the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960’s are part of the political landscape still, with events such as the annual 12th July parades celebrating the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II.

Obviously, I don’t need to cover all of these events in detail, but it’s important to have a passing understanding of the historical events that led to the Troubles,  which are the background to my story. Although some events are fictionalized, my story is based on real events, so I want the novel to reflect as accurately as possible the landscape of 1970s’ Belfast.

But I also don’t want to scare off readers with huge chunks of historical text; originally, my plan was to incorporate some history via the narrator, as part of the first chapter, but that slowed the action down. If I just had a footnote to add, it might be fine, but as noted above, there’s quite a lot of historical context to understand the situation in 1970s (and current) Northern Ireland, and some readers may have little knowledge of the history behind the events that are central to my story.

The background history I wanted to include was a good two to three pages, a mix of family history intertwined with the history of NI. I thought of having a prologue dealing with the history, via family members, but  when I dropped the prologue,  I toyed with starting chapter one with a rundown on key events; I decided this was too much of an ask for the reader, who at that point would have no idea how long the history lesson would be, with no framework of the main story  visible yet.

In the end, I decided to jump straight into the action with the catalyst event at the start of chapter one,  and introduce most of the main characters and their situations.  Having given the reader a glimpse of the characters, I felt more comfortable dropping some history in chapter two, before resuming the main plot.

I now feel that the manuscript flows; it gets to the story immediately and introduces key characters, leaving a detailed look at the family (and province’s) history to the next chapter. As chapter one has some fairly high stakes events, a page or two of history gives the reader time to absorb what’s just happened before continuing with the story. It feels like a more cohesive read; the vignette from the prologue will be worked into the main story, so nothing is left, and much gained, by streamlining the start of the story.

I’d be interested to hear your views on using prologues and whether your story was well served by including one?

Postscript: A couple of people have asked me about the building in the header image above; it’s the Garrick Bar in Chichester Street, Belfast.

Poem of the Month, Poetry

Poem of The Month – Naming of Parts, by Henry Reed

This month’s poem of the month came to me during a work meeting recently; it was a somewhat attenuated review of some annual targets, and the use of jargon and corporate buzz words led my gaze to fall from the screen and out of the window to the street below. Students from the nearby university were strolling along the road; it was a bright but cold day, and the trees had just the merest suggestion of buds, but still, I could feel Spring; if not in the air, at least on the way.

The corporate terminology continued; lots of standardized acronyms and phrases you would hear in similar-sized organizations.  The students laughed, and moped, and headed for the pub and the express supermarket. The sun shone and the wind whipped the tree branches. My memory presented a poem I had studied for my “O” level English exam; Henry Reed’s “Naming of Parts”, an ode to the mechanical and regimented horrors of wars endured by the flower of often-conscripted young men.

I was fifteen and attending a Catholic secondary school when I first read the poem. I surreptitiously googled it and had a re-read, while the presenter of the financial performance presentation flipped onto slide seventeen.

And it was a revelation! I remembered being taught that Reed’s poem contrasted the regimented, dead language and efficiency of the military with the living, reaching beauty of nature in Springtime, but I hadn’t realised how sex-filled the poem was! But that makes sense – Henry Reed was conscripted when he was 27, and wrote the poem the next year; he was still a young man, and many of his peers would be in their teens, or barely out of them;  young men becoming proficient killing and destruction machines, when they should, like the birds, bees and flowers, be busy fulfilling their natural destiny; making love in fact, not war! This was a side of the poem not taught to me by my Catholic teachers, and it was a beautiful surprise, like a bonus poem hidden behind the one I already knew.

Reading the words that narrator used  – the swiveling, easing, glistening, using the finger and strong thumbing, and rapid backwards and forwards – it was clear that this particular soldier, like many of his peers, rejected the philosophy of dealing death on the orders of old men, and chose life and its beautiful, natural and erotic perpetuation.

NAMING OF PARTS

BY HENRY REED (1942)

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have the naming of parts.

Poem of the Month, Poetry

Poem of the Month – The Journey, by Mary Oliver

I’ve just created this new regular feature for 2019, after re-reading some of my favourite poems; it occurred to me that I’d discovered many of them by browsing around online on all sorts of sites, literary and otherwise. Some of these poems have become touchstones in my life,  and I revisit them regularly to refresh my dry and jaded sensibilities, or maybe my thirsting goals.

So I want to pass on some of these favourites, in the hopes that you, constant reader, will discover a new gem of your own.

So to kick us off, I’ve chosen a poem by Mary Oliver, who isn’t exactly an obscure name; she’s one of America’s best-selling poets, and you can find many a quote from her works on Pinterest and Instagram, but I discovered her only a few years ago.

Her style is accessible; it’s not “clever”, full of obtuse words and hard-to-follow metre, but for all its simplicity, her poems, through their worship of nature, give us access to what is fundamental, divine and even sacred in our lives, or perhaps, what should be if it isn’t already.

Having said all of the above, the poem I’ve chosen to start this new series isn’t really an essay on the essence of nature, or at least, not on the surface level. The journey that Mary Oliver speaks of isn’t one perhaps that we all need to undertake; for those who do, however, it is fraught, perilous and painful.

The seeds of my own journey can be found strewn throughout the budding family dynamics described in And The Buntings Flew, but as this is still a work in progress, perhaps I should just state here that I have had to undertake a journey of my own, perhaps several, although it took me many years in some instances to step out the door and start my journey of a thousand miles.


THE JOURNEY

BY MARY OLIVER

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Folklore and History, Food

Happy Nollaig na mBan, 12th Night, Epiphany 2019!

We took down the last of our Christmas decorations today, as we always do on the 6th January, or the Epiphany; it’s a tradition carried on from my own mother, who insisted almost fearfully that every last scrap of tinsel and turkey must begone by this date, or a calamitous year of bad luck would lie ahead.

I recall as a very young child the decorations coming down and then a visit to one of my mother’s friends for a cup of tea and maybe something light to eat; a cake maybe, or biscuits.

It wasn’t until much later that I recognized this as a hangover from the old Irish tradition of Nollaig na mBan, or  Little Christmas/Women’s Christmas, which is seeing something of a resurgence in the Republic of Ireland, and which my mother’s family may have observed as Catholics.

Nollaig na mBan (pronounced something like “Null-ag na Mon”) marks not only the end of the 12 days of Christmas, the Epiphany, and the deadline for many for the removal of Christmas frippery, but also the day when hard-working Irish wives and mothers would be granted a much-needed break after feeding their large families throughout the Christmas period. Menfolk and children would pick up the reins for this day, while their women met for a break, a breather, a natter and maybe something to eat.

I’d like to state that this was an outdated notion by the time of my childhood (1970s), but alas the tradition, if not the name of the day, was still in full force in most of the families we knew.

Coincidentally my husband prepared Sunday lunch today as I untangled the garden lights and nodding reindeers, once more retired to the garage for eleven months or so, but I’m glad to say that this was a coincidence; I no longer have to slave until the first week in January to get parity of workload around the house for a single day.

So as I boil the kettle for a refreshing cup of Punjana, I wish mammies around the world, Irish or otherwise, a happy Nollaig na mBan, while simultaneously hoping devoutly that it’s just a symbolic break for them, and that the division of labour is more enlightened in their families. img_2246

The Codsway Chip Shop, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
And The Buntings Flew, Food, Travel

For Cod, and Ulster – Northern Ireland’s Enduring Love of Chip Shops

This is a post I wrote on my family history blog in July that I meant to crosspost sooner;  it’s a short musing on food and language in Northern Ireland, both important themes in much of my writing!

via For Cod, and Ulster – Northern Ireland’s Enduring Love of Chip Shops

My writing, Reading and Books

2018 Review – Freeing the Flow and Looking Forward

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Goodnight, Sweet Prince

Hi constant reader, I’m still here, in case you were wondering; I took a summer/autumn hiatus from all things writing; my creative outlets were limited to completing a drawing course, gardening, and some pre-Christmas knitting. I promised to read more (and more physical books – Kindle on a tablet makes it way too tempting to stray back onto the internet) , and although I’ve done some, it’s very hard to wean myself from the online successor to what Harlan Ellison called the Glass Teat (television and American TV culture), ironically now available on innumerable devices, not just the thin black box crouching in my living room.)

I don’t know why, but I ceased pretty much all activity unrelated to work, keeping my home presentable and the odd weekend away to nature, or as close as we could get to it. I don’t know why I was able to draw, but not write; my block extended to anything longer than a To-Do list. I didn’t even update this blog with news of another short story being published;  there are some changes I’d like to make in my life but the time isn’t yet ripe, and frustration is ironically making it even worse to pursue what’s really important to me.

So I’ve fought off the funk and I’m back to writing up ideas and looking unflinchingly at my works in progress. Time away from my writing always provides useful, if uncomfortable perspective, and I’ve found lots of low hanging fruit to edit and possibly some major rewrites, but rather than lamenting this extra work, I feel like I’m putting my best foot forward to write the best fiction I can; this makes me feel a bit better for having whiled away the summer and autumn.

So what have I achieved writing wise since my last update?

I had another short story published in Reflex Fiction, as part of their Summer 2018 long list; Let Me Be Your Fantasy is another morsel of real-life inspiration. During my early thirties, I worked in an office next door to a famous London nightclub, and the pull of the music, the wild outfits, and the exorbitant drinks were strong, but I  mostly resisted. My twenties were fresh in my memory, and to be honest I hadn’t partied much then either, but I still had some lingering regrets that I was more of an introvert and that I’d only really enjoy a nightclub if I shared it with just three friends in the room.

Reflex Fiction published an earlier story of mine, The Shore Road, which features in their first print anthology,  which you can find here:  Barely Casting A Shadow Volume One. Alternatively, you can just read the longlisted stories on their site.

I took another trip to Northern Ireland in July,  and visited many locations along the coastlines of Antrim and Down that featured in my childhood, and possibly in And The Buntings Flew. (Watch this space for a post in early January). Catching the 12th July parades in Belfast brought up so many memories and conflicting emotions that I’m still processing them, and if asked if it was a positive or negative experience, I still couldn’t tell you my answer until I’d uttered it. We also made contact with my father’s only living sister; a link between my past and present was reconnected in a nursing home dayroom where the Lisburn train rattles past residents who no longer require transport.

One of the life events that threw me off-balance was the loss of one of our cats, Kenny, who was put to sleep at the end of November. He was nearly nineteen, and the hole left by his absence is achingly painful. He was regal, imperious, affectionate, clingy, loyal, playful, and deeply nosy – our nickname for him was “The Gaffer”, and he was the bane of anyone making a delivery to our house. I miss him deeply, and I’m sure he’ll crop up in more than a few of my stories.

So constant reader, I’m meeting the New Year with a revamped site, some fundamental rewrites in mind and a renewed sense of time passing; I wish you all a happy, productive and creative 2019, and hope to have the craic again with you soon.

And The Buntings Flew, My writing, Travel, Writing

June ’18 Update – More Flash Fiction, and Seeking Inspiration for My Writing

Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else. – Tennessee Williams

Sometimes, rather than peace coming to me “dropping slow“, it’s inspiration. The inspiration to realise my writing dreams waxes and wanes, given the daily grind of job, commute, and paying the bills. Waiting for inspiration doesn’t get things done, and it can be interminably slow in showing up. So slow that it starts to rival the Tar pitch experiment.  

But some things do inspire me and give that drip of pitch a helpful jiggle; for example when another piece of my flash fiction is published Enchanted  is a 100-word mini-fantasy tale of a modern fairy with very traditional views of mankind.  The story has been published at 101 Fiction;  please take a moment or ten to have a read of some of the flash fiction that John Xero is publishing; I especially loved a couple of this month’s stories.

As I’ve written on here previously, flash and short fiction for me is fun, but ultimately a distraction. It’s working without getting the real job done. It’s cleaning the oven when I should be writing my thesis, spring cleaning when I should be researching 1970s Irish fashion and politics.

My dream voyage is to write novels, good novels; with gripping stories, something to say about the nature of humanity and something that I can look back on as jobs well done. As my legacy in fact. Fine, lofty goals, but they require hard work and persistence, planning and delivery, in the face of the daily grind, the daily annoyances and disappointments, or just the daily can’t-be-bothered. If I wait for inspiration, they will languish in the electronic drawer of my Dropbox, forever.

Yesterday was a nice day; cloudy, with bursts of sunshine.  I wanted to go out with my husband, but we had to wait at home until 1pm. Then the question was; what do we do now? I couldn’t think of what to do, a destination that wouldn’t involve long drives in a hot car. But I wanted an experience to round out the day. In the end, we “just” went for a walk, along a river, with no destination in mind. That’s not something I’m often comfortable with; I have a project and programme management background in my day job, and I need to have a plan (and a budget) or it’s not happening! But yesterday, I went along with it as I had nothing better to offer.

And we had a lovely time. We found a different route that almost no one else was taking, we strode alongside bushes that trembled with beautiful black and blue butterflies, and we finally reached (on foot) a pub that was on our wishlist, which was as cosy as we’d hoped. We rewarded ourselves for our long walk with a drink or two.

The quote above from Tennessee Williams reminds me; I have to make more voyages, or at least attempt them, because what’s the alternative?

With this in mind, I’ve opened up both my draft novel documents and have renewed my commitment to them both, to complete them! Short fiction might sneak in here and there, but not at the expense of my longer fiction. I might not know how the novels will turn out, but the voyage is not only a worthy quest, it’s an essential part of reaching the goal!

I’ve also booked another week in Northern Ireland in July, to refresh my memory, and to bring new inspiration for And The Buntings Flew. I may discover new butterflies, write about them, and I may have a drink or two. On that note, we discovered the best Guinness in the world (so far) in a pub in beautiful, sleepy Cushendall, on just such another impromptu voyage of discovery; let’s make more voyages, or at the very least, attempt them.

My writing, Publishing and Self Publishing, Writing

Mini May Update – Flash Fiction Anthology, and Striking the Balance Between Writing Short and Long Fiction

Today I received my copy of the first anthology from Reflex Fiction, titled “Barely Casting a Shadow”; my short piece “The Shore Road” made their summer 2017 flash fiction long list.  It’s great to see your words in print! If you get the chance, do check out the stories published at Reflex Fiction, there’s some really powerful writing.


I have a couple of additional flash fiction pieces out at the moment and I’m busy reworking the Lovecraftian short story mentioned in my last post; lots of work on short fiction, in other words. Unsurprising; I love reading and writing short fiction, but I made a commitment to not one, but two novels and they’re languishing on my laptop right now, rightfully feeling overlooked, neglected, and starved of my attention.

I know I have to sit down, renew my commitment to the research, the plotting, and the slog of getting lots of words on paper. Short fiction is fun, snappy, and the process of translating ideas onto the page has a quick turnaround. And that’s the lure. I’m guilty of Spongebobbing; finding endless fun things to procrastinate with, rather than get on with the job in hand (Spongebob’s job was to write an essay).  How do you balance your writing priorities; do you focus on one length of writing completely, or avoid all short fiction until your novel’s first draft is complete?

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My writing, Publishing and Self Publishing, Writing

They Loved My Writing – But Turned it Down. When Constructive Criticism is More Valuable Than Publication

I’m not going to list out all the famous authors who had to persist through dozens of rejections until their magnum opus was snapped up. And I’m not going to name that Decca manager who rejected the Beatles as a passé guitar group on their way out. I’m not even going to dwell on Stephen King’s much-quoted wall spike; the spike that replaced the nail on which he hung his initial rejection slips. All of the above finally triumphed; their talent shone through and was acclaimed by all. I’m not there yet!

I recently wrote a short story, about 6,500 words, and I think it’s great. I put my heart, soul, and lots of editing and revisions into the story and was really pleased with the result. Imagine my excitement when I received an email from the editor of the respected publication to which I submitted, who agreed with my humble self-assessment!

There in the email were words that sang to me:

This story was magnificent…
The plot and language were incredible and I really enjoyed reading it…
This was one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read this period thus far…

High praise! But I’m telling you the story the wrong way round. This was the PS to the main body of the email, which briefly started with the dreaded words; my story was up against stiff competition, there was an amazing response, hundreds of great entries, and mine didn’t quite make it this time etc., etc.

Of course, I was crushed, and had to work through the feelings you must come to terms with as a writer; the sting of rejection, the rush of anger that your creation has been judged wanting. I didn’t even properly read the email at first, just skimmed the first couple of sentences, then left it be to lick my wounds for a day or so and gain some distance. I was that certain my story was really good, you see!

This would have been my longest short story published to date, in a genre I both love as a reader and enjoy writing in. I saw it as a foot in the door of audiences that would be interested in the Sci-Fi novel I’m writing. So I wallowed in hopelessness for a day or so.

Then I sat down to read the response properly. I realised that this wasn’t an outright rejection, and more importantly, it held both the awesome praise I’ve quoted above, plus, most importantly, some SOLID AND JUSTIFIED EDITORIAL SUGGESTIONS AND ENCOURAGEMENT.

I lapped up the words of praise, but STILL didn’t fully take in the suggestions and feedback. It was great news that this editor encouraged me to make a few tweaks and resubmit the story, it truly was. Yet I was internally nodding along, thinking, “Ok, if that’s what you want me to do to publish my story, I agree, they’re not major changes, I can live with them etc.”

I still hadn’t really absorbed the wisdom of the feedback, but I got there in the end! Here’s the thing – if my story had been published as it was, it wouldn’t have been the absolute best I could do – I saw that the improvements suggested by the editor were valid, and I quickly jotted down some ideas to make it a tighter, more focused story, a better read and a better piece of writing.

The suggestions improved the pace of my story,  which would also be stronger if I didn’t switch POV towards the end. This editor, bless them, had taken precious time out from judging hundreds of 5K plus short stories to write me an invaluable paragraph, and also left the door open, no, encouraged me to resubmit, and to submit more work!

I wrote back, thanking that editor, promising to make some tweaks and resubmit. I’m very grateful for their time and experience, and for the reminder that the real common denominators amongst successful artists, including the ones I mentioned at the start of the post, are persistence, refinement, and continuous improvement.

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King refers to the “dull knife” of talent – we all need to whet our “talent knife” continuously, honing it with persistence,  sharpening its dull edge with practice and feedback. We are all born with a knife, it’s down to us to make it sharp and useable for our art.  Very few of us are born with their artistic knife pre-sharpened, King tells us,  “..although a few are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is “genius.

So, I’m sharpening that knife and rewriting my short story this weekend. Watch out for the sparks from the whetstone!

My writing, The Bondage of The Soil, Travel, Writing

March ’18 Roundup – Bruges, Website Makeover, Short Stories and Nano Probes

I posted in January about the snow hanging around like an impervious, unwelcome house guest; this week we’ve just seen the back of the latest batch! Some gloomy forecasters predict the UK will have a white Easter; I choose to ignore these pessimists (with fingers crossed).

It has been an unseasonably cold late winter and early spring, but we took a chance and booked a city break to Bruges a couple of weeks ago. This was my first visit, and I was delighted with the “Venice of the North”; if you enjoy lots of very tall, very old churches, museums, galleries, canals, fine chocolate and beer, you’re in for a treat in Bruges. A word of warning for vegetarians like myself though, or Vegans – like their German neighbours, the Belgians love meat, with some fish thrown in. If you eat Flemish, expect lots of beef and rabbit stews, mussels and pâté.  Desserts are wonderful and I made up with lots of waffles and pancakes, and a wonderful apple pie flambéd in Calvados.

Apple pie with Calvados flambe
Belgian Apple Pie with Calvados Flambé

Back in the frigid climes of England, I decided to update this site; I trawled through WordPress themes for writers (WordPress seems to think that a writer’s main occupation is posting lots of pictures, but I digress!), and I found a nice clean theme (Dara). I’m really pleased with the results. Let me know what you think!

In terms of writing, I finished a 6,000-word short story, that started life in my mind, as many of my stories do, as a piece of flash fiction. The theme for a short fiction site I frequent was “Lovecraftian”, and being a lover of all things HPL, I had a story in mind. I work in an area of London that’s an interesting mix of very modern,  a hot revitalisation area that sits cheek and jowl with some very old and somewhat out-of-the-way corners;  rivers, canals, and docks that wind through some undeveloped or just uninhabited corners of the capital. Anyway, that’s where my story was based, and it grew into a Lovecraftian homage monster of a tale that I’m really pleased with. I’ve submitted it to some respected Cosmic Horror publications, and I really have big hopes that it will be published soon, so watch this space; this would be my longest work of fiction published to date.

Last but definitely not least, as well as imagining horrid things happening to hapless Londoners, I reviewed where I was with my first draft of my Sci-Fi work in progress, The Bondage of the Soil. Reading the obituaries of the late Stephen Hawking, the beloved theoretical physicist whose A Brief History of Time I first read in the early 1990’s, I went on to spend hours reading of all the developments Stephen Hawking was instrumental in pushing forwards, especially theories of how mankind (or alien species) would achieve interstellar travel.

Without giving too much away, interstellar travel happens to be one of the core plots of  The Bondage of The Soil. I have the main plot points sketched out, but I’ve been struggling with a couple of points; I want my story to be hard science fiction in as much as the ideas are theoretically possible in the near future, but I’m very much a dilettante when it comes to theoretical physics. I came across a couple of articles that helped me out in how interstellar journeys might be feasible, and in doing so I came across some more invaluable help! My story involves a visit to earth and a trip home; I had no idea how my protagonist was going to help her interstellar friend return home, but in reading about  Nanoprobes, star chips, and star wisps, I learned that one suggested  approach to interstellar travel is that of  uploading a person’s brain via software creating an “uploaded” astronaut.  This will be the way my story goes – in effect its deals with some of the core concepts of  Transhumanism  (and trans alienism?)

I wondered: if an astronaut’s brain and personality were captured in data,  it should, in theory, be possible to “transmit” it back home as data. To cut a long story short I came across an amateur radio forum discussing bouncing data off satellites, moons and planets, and one very helpful poster was so good as to get back to my crude and simplistic questions, giving me a wealth of ideas and options which have morphed into a much more realistic and even emotional plot! I’m now busy capturing some of these points for more research; it’s reinvigorated me to get this story finished and look for a publisher.

One last note before I wrap up for now: one of the nuggets of info my radio correspondent shared was just how many observatories there are in the UK; by a beautifully serendipitous coincidence, one is within a few miles of the location in my story!

Writing is considered a solitary experience, and in terms of the mechanics it often is, but I’ve had so many people help me on my writing journey – friends and family who understand (or tolerate!) my need to be alone and google the most fantastic things, kindly colleagues and strangers who give their own time and knowledge to check my writing, editors who help me to edit and thus publish my stories, and experts who give their own time and knowledge to help me write the best fiction I can.  My heartfelt thanks to all!