Friday, December 22, 2006

I'm outta here

We're off to Brighton to house and cat sit for friends for a few days.

As we always vote for spontaneity over planning, I can't say when we'll be back!

Hope you all enjoy the holidays. Stay safe and make the most of the dying embers of 2006.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Outrageous 2

The responses to my post re unaccompanied children coming to the UK are too important to risk being lost in the comments section, so I'm starting a new thread, giving space to both the comments and my replies.

Lehane said:

The simple fact of these cases is that there is a strict legal requirement on Social Services to ENSURE the wellbeing of these minors. In fact all Government agencies have very very strict minors care systems in addition to the legal requirements in place. If you and others believe this is not the case in this instance then this should be highlighted immediately to the Government Minister responsible for Social Services via your local MP.

This and Lehane's previous comment casting doubt on the facts (and I can assure everyone that I would not have posted them if I hadn't been certain they are facts) took me by surprise. My post was about these children's lack of eligibility to free school meals. It never occurred to me that anyone would question the reality of these children's experience.

I acknowledge the practical problems associated with dealing with unaccompanied children. What are the alternatives - bearing in mind the existing pressures on social services and the lack of suitable foster parents or places in children's homes?

Social Services have many 'legal requirements' - but we all know there are gaping holes in delivery through which children fall, often with tragic consequences, as Minx pointed out in her comment:

Social services are hideously under-staffed and there are not the facilities to house people who do not come under 'normal' bounds.
I agree that it should not be happening but also know that there are massive holes in the system that allow such things to pass un-noticed. That is, of course, until there is some dreadful tragedy which brings the whole matter to light.

I find the situation in which these children find themselves desperately sad - but I despair to think there are people who would deny their reality exists. Even the Home Secretary conceded the system is failing when he declared his department 'not fit for purpose'.

Lehane's next point:

However, let's not forget that these children are now going to school, have a roof over their head, are being fed and SHOULD be getting all the support expected for a minor...something they would have not been getting wherever they have fled from. It's easy to condemn the failings in a system, but these failings are actually a massive improvement on what they have come from.

Yes, there can be no doubt that anything would be an improvement on what these children endured before coming here. The very definition of the word 'refugee' is 'one who seeks refuge' - often from unspeakable horror. But this is dangerous thinking. Taken to its logical conclusion, almost any kind of ill treatment or neglect could be justified as a 'massive improvement on what they have come from'.

As for not 'condemning the failings' (failings which previously had been strenuously denied earlier in the comment) how else do you try to change things for the better if not by pointing out injustice whenever and whereever you see it?


And, I can assure you, these children never made it to the UK alone ...

Aaaaaggghhh!!! How do you know this about these particular children? And if you don't mean them in particular, I think it's really important in a debate this important to choose your words with care so there's no possibility of misunderstanding. These children are not in a position to defend themselves or tell us their experiences in their own words!


... in many many cases there are "hidden" adult family members working the system to their own benefit, whilst the bleeding hearts fall over themselves to protest against those actually trying to support these children.. There are agents and facilitators that have brought them here, being paid for by families in the originating country and the extended and hidden families here.

I accept that you see a different side to this issue and don't doubt the situation you depict exists. You say 'many many cases'. How many? What proportion? Even if you say it's 50% (and I would need to see concrete evidence to support such a figure) that would still mean 5 out of every 10 children who are completely isolated having survived unimaginable horrors.

And as Minx says:

However these children came to be in this situation is irrelevent, as is trying to shut ones eyes and think that it can't possibly happen.

Back to Lehane:

It's easy to be outraged when you only see and get one side to a story...whether it be the Daily Mail or the Guardian/Independent headline viewpoint on the conflicting extremes.

But what you're giving out here is the standard Daily Mail line! Everyone's out to get us; they're all spongers wanting to exploit the system for their own ends; whatever we do is more than they'd get back home; the 'bleeding hearts' should just shut up. Oh - and the Guardian and Independent espouse radical extremism!


But I have to say, and I hate having to say it, this post is dangerously misleading in making people think refugee minors are left to fend for themselves and to their own devices in the UK, as the first comment from crimeficreader proves. Nothing could be further from the truth and if it is happening, as you assure here, heads would roll and prosecutions likely to take place. Surely that responsibility lies with you now to ensure action?

I have misled no one! The children in FB's school are one example of some of the appalling treatment meted out to genuine refugees. I know personally of people, adults and children, who have been subjected to levels of inhumanity and injustice in this country that I consider sickening and shameful.

Your final sentence about responsibility is the only one with which I wholeheartedly agree. It is my responsibility and now it's the responsibility of everyone reading this.

I take my responsibilities very seriously indeed - which is why I'm backing the school in their support of these children and making sure I do all I can to publicise - not just their individual case - but also what they represent.

No hard feelings, Lehane! I've said before that I welcome debate. You espouse views I'd never normally be exposed to. It's only by allowing our perceptions to be challenged that we can see if they hold up.

Mine do!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Congratulations! You're a winner!

Hey you! Yes, I'm talking to you! Did you know you've been named as Person of the Year by Time magazine?

According to Lev Grossman, technology writer at Time,

'It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, Time's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.'

We always knew how powerful we are and the potential this offers. Now it seems we're getting wider acknowledgement.

But we should never forget that with power comes responsibility. So it may be as well to reflect on Time's choice of winner in 1938 - one Adolf Hitler.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Letting the light in ...

Happy festivals of light to all.

Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Xmas, Yule, Eid, Diwali or no specific festival, I wish you all light, peace and happiness and hope that 2007 will be the year when all our dreams come true.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement and upliftment during my year of blogging.


At First Born's school, there are a number of unaccompanied children who come into the country as refugees. At the age of 14+, they live alone and have to cope with their traumatic past and complex present with no adult support apart from that provided by the school.

Now get this - these children are NOT entitled to free school meals!

How can this be possible?
Because the application form has to be completed by a parent or guardian and these children have neither!

Is this just a ridiculous feature of an uncaring bureaucracy?
No - it's worse than that. It's a deliberate attempt by this miserable government to fend off criticism about people coming into the country and claiming benefits.

Is this acceptable?
If you have to ask that question, I have no answer you would wish to hear ...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

What a lovely rejection!

No one feels good about rejection.
Sometimes the reasons for the 'thanks but no thanks' can be irritating in the extreme. (See here.)
But it's not always that simple.

My agent has forwarded a letter from a publisher that has induced paradoxical feelings of upliftment and encouragement coupled with a heartbreaking reality check.

'As a committed South Londoner I particularly enjoyed the early sections of the book - Alper does this part of the world very well indeed. I also enjoyed the wackiness of it all; it was utterly different to anything else I've read recently. The dialogue is really lively and the characters feel utterly real - particularly Sky of course.

However I'm afraid that, commercially speaking, I thought it would be very difficult to relaunch Alper successfully after the two Orion books, and with such a determinedly (and charmingly) off-the-wall novel as this. So I'm afraid I have to pass - really sorry, as I did think this had a spark about it.'

I'm fully aware of the realities of the current state of publishing and have posted about it before (see here) so this only confirmed what I already knew.

In yesterday's Independent, Christina Patterson writes:

'Traditionally, there have been two models for being a writer. The first is one of daily assignations with the muse after a hard day at work. The second is abject poverty. There is a third, of course. In this model, you get garlanded with praise, showered with awards, feted, flattered and filthy rich ... about as common, I'm afraid, as a politician's apology or a lunar eclipse.'

So there we have it. There is no middle way where you make enough from writing to feed, clothe and house your family.

I've tried. I wrote 3.5 books as a manic example of the first model. Then last July (just as the final instalment of my two book advance came in) I took a year's sabbatical. At the end of the year, having finished Me, John and a Bomb, and set up my website and blogs, I decided not to go back to work. (I posted re that decision here.)

I've never regretted it for one moment. I have been able to devote myself wholeheartedly to writing and all the associated activities. I have been writing Depth Charge, have appeared at reading groups (see here and here), attended a book launch in Cardiff, organised a successful literary event, was part of a competition judging panel and, of course, have developed this blog, making many unforeseen wonderful friends along the way and publicising my novels. I've also been able to organise and attend the writers' group midweek 'coffee caucus'.

I've also been available to parent my children in the way I consider ideal. I've gone on every school trip and helped with every homework assignment. I've had no problems fitting in weekly visits to see my dad.

But the figures don't add up. G is a highly qualified swimming teacher and is working hard but his hourly rate is crap. We do a few photography jobs but can't rely on these to put food on the table. My income from writing currently runs into 3 figures - per annum - from public lending and copying rights.

So the harsh reality is that I'm going to have to look for a job. I can't see any way round it. I'll try to find something that fits in around the school hours. It would be good if it was local, so I don't have to spend hours travelling. It would be wonderful if it was related in some way to writing.

I'll try to find the positive in this because that's my way. I'll look at the extra money and be grateful I won't have to think about every penny we spend or be reduced to checking under the settee cushions for lost coins. I'll focus on the good aspects of being out there in Real Life. I'll remember that time is elastic. The more you have, the less you achieve in my experience. Whereas when you're really pressured it's amazing how much you fit in.

But don't ask me to pretend it's my choice or that I feel good about it ...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Prostitutes are in the news ...

Anyone who knows me or who has spent any time checking out this blog, will know the strength of my feelings on the issue of prostitution rackets and the global sex trade. (This was also the subject of my 2nd novel, Trading Tatiana.)

Many thanks to crimeficreader for passing on this link to Danuta Kean's blog. Danuta does more than just give a broader context for the Suffolk murders - she backs up her theories with hard facts. She also talks about the image of the 'happy hooker' in literature.

Discomforting but vital reading for anyone who cares about the 'who' and 'why' aspects of women who sell their bodies and how they are seen and portrayed.

And don't forget to put the pressure on the government to sign up to the Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Long Post about a Short Story

It takes a particular skill to write short stories. And the Skint Short Story Competition (see here and here) has proved that many of you have it in bucketloads! The overall standard was way above my expectations. I never doubted that making a decision would be difficult. What I didn't predict was that there would be so many entries that could easily have won.

I've posted before about the criteria I used to rank the entries:

  • good writing (of course!)
  • whether the story fitted the theme
  • whether it worked as a short story
  • whether it took me somewhere I hadn't been before.
Skint's co-ordination and judgement have been impeccable. Email threads wove their way between Cardiff, Cornwall, Chester, Surrey and London as the debate took shape. We all made our individual choices without conferring. What we did discuss at great length was the fairest way to arrive at a consensus.

In the end we each came up with a shortlist of 6 and ranked them. That was the point at which the subjective nature of the process kicked in.

Bearing in mind that only the top 3 would win, of those:

  • only one entry appeared on all 5 of our lists
  • 2 people had this as their 1st choice
  • the other 3 ranked it 3rd, 4th and 5th.
  • one entry was on 4 lists
  • but only one person ranked it 1st
  • 2 others ranked it 3rd, but the other person had it 5th
  • one entry was on 3 lists
  • 2 of which ranked it 2nd
  • the other person ranked it 4th
  • In the shortlist of 6, 4 of us had 4 of our choices
  • But that means we all had choices that never made it to the final 6
  • There were some cases in which one of us shortlisted a story that others felt significantly weaker than other non-ranked entries
Am I boring you? Are you still here? We agreed we wanted the process to be as transparent as possible. The only way to demonstrate how difficult the decision has been is to show you the minutiae.

What this illustrates is that if your story does not appear in the final 6, it's still quite possible that at least one of us had it right near the top of our list!

Anyway, it ain't over yet. We're now each ranking the shortlisted 6 to come up with a final 3.

Thanks to Skint for organising the competition and asking me to be on the panel. I've really enjoyed the experience and have learned a lot along the way.

Thanks to fellow judges - Skint (again), Minx, Clare and Maxine. The collaborative process worked well I thought ...

And very big thanks to everyone who entered. You made me chuckle, whimper, shiver and occasionally brought me close to tears. Good writing at its best!

If anyone would like feedback on their entry, feel free to email me by clicking 'contact me' here. I will of course only be able to give you my personal opinion, which (as must be clear by now) may well be very different from that of the other judges.

Write on!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Another step on the road

The build up

Last time I was a long way from home. This time I was on home turf …

The posse arrived early at the Crow and helped to set up the book displays and the drink – with care to give equal prominence to both.

Jon at the Crow

The bit with the speeches

Proceedings started with a small experiment – a show of hands if you fitted into each of the following categories:

1. Author

2. Work in publishing

3. Blogger

4. Member of a writers’ group

5. Member of a reading group

6. Involved in the sale or distribution of books

7. Ever read a book!

The results were a perfect illustration of what had brought this disparate group of people together on a cold December night; although many people raised their hands several times, the only thing we all shared was a passion for books.

The guest authors

Vicky Blake & I found plenty to smile about

Martin Millar with Skint

Kate Bousfield, Derec Jones, Sarah May, Victoria Blake and Martin Millar were all there. Mark Crick didn’t make it unfortunately – though he did phone from somewhere on the motorway between Manchester and Crystal Palace.

There was a very welcome unexpected addition to the guest list when Zoe Fairbairns arrived. I remember reading Benefits and being blown away by it when it was first published back in 1979. 27 years later, it’s still in print. The book captured the zeitgeist to perfection and propelled Zoe into iconic status. I could easily have been struck dumb at meeting one of my all-time heroines, but wasn’t given the opportunity … Zoe, like all the other guests, was warmth and generosity personified.

Not only did I meet Zoe Fairbairns, but she's holding my book! My cup definitely runneth over .

The bloggers

Then it was time to introduce the bloggerati. Among those who had travelled from afar to be there were Minx from Cornwall, Skint from Cardiff and Cailleach from Ireland. Sadly, Sharon wasn’t able to make it after all. Next time …

Derec Jones aka Skint with Rhian

Once again there was an unexpected newcomer to the list – one that symbolises the power of the blogosphere. Enthusiasm was sitting at home idly blog-surfing. He hopped through some links and came across this post on Britblog and from there arrived here.

‘That’s just down the road,’ he thought. ‘And it’s now!

He jumped on a bus and was a welcome addition to the throng.

The blog stats

Source: Sifry's alerts/Technorati

  • There are 57 million blogs worldwide

  • 100,000 new blogs are created every day

  • The total number of blogs doubles every 230 days

  • There are 1.3 million posts each day

The main event

Derec Jones then introduced the catalyst for the whole evening, Kate Bousfield, who wove her inimitable spell over all present by reading the prologue from Coven of One.

Minx - note co-ordinating book and underwear

The important footnote

Meloney Lemon drew people’s attention to an Amnesty International leaflet publicising 10 December as Human Rights Day. Many of you will know that the issue of people trafficking ranks very high on my political agenda and was the subject of Trading Tatiana. In case you’ve forgotten, the
UK has so far failed to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. If you haven’t already done so, please put pressure on the government to perform this minimal step.

The conclusion

Glasses were clinked, credit cards were battered, the till pinged, books were signed and all the authors sold copies of their work.

Organising the evening had been a short but steep and intense stretch of road. I can honestly say it was worth every scrap of the energy put in.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to a successful and entertaining evening.

Now for the next step on life’s road …

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The story so far ...

Met the Minx at Paddington yesterday afternoon.

'Gasping for a fag,' she said.
Went to great outdoors and sparked up. 2 limos + police outriders draw up in front of us.
Princess Anne (I kid you not) gets out of limo 1. She forgets to ask Minx for her autograph. Bet she's kicking herself now ...

Back home. Minx plays on my laptop. She manages to wipe off my email a/c and replace it with her own while I'm in the kitchen cooking. Then she repairs that and spends a long time Googletalking with various strange people.

Bed in wee small hours.

In morning (this morning) she had dyslexic First Born jumping up and down doing exercises and shouting. He produced best homework ever!

Then she abducted both my children.

You'll hear more as soon as I know it myself ...

She's back! Having corrupted them with cake ...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Can you believe it? Yet MORE treats ...

It's just been confirmed that Martin Millar is going to be at the event on Saturday!

Martin's first novel came out in 1987 and since then he's had around 16 books published, the best known being The Good Fairies of New York, which has just been re-issued in the USA . It won't be available in Britain until March next year, although the Crow is able to import the American editions.

On parking for the event: Jon at the Crow tells me this:

Sainsbury's is open until 9pm which means the covered car park with lifts etc, is open until 9.30pm. The uncovered part next to it, is open all the time. There is a limited amount of on-street parking around the triangle - better on Church Road, but that may be quickly taken because Sat night and lots of restaurants etc.

See you there!

Please check this out ...

Check this Very Important Post by Confucious Trevaskis.

And then give thanks for the likes of him and those who have commented who are not afraid to stand up and be counted in the war against articulate ignorance.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Told you to keep watching!

It feels like something new is cropping up every minute!

Sarah May has agreed to attend! Her first novel, The Nudist Colony, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. She was awarded a 2001 Writers' Bursary for her 2nd novel, Spanish City. The Internationals, set in and around a Macedonian refugee camp during the 1999 Kosovo crisis, was published in 2003. Her latest novel is The Rise and Fall of the Queen of Suburbia.

The treats just keep getting better!

The Coven/blogmoot event planned for this Saturday is going from strength to strength!

I'm delighted to announce Mark Crick has confirmed he hopes to attend. Mark is the author of the quirky and very clever Kafka's Soup - 14 recipes written in the style of famous writers as diverse as Irving Welsh, Homer and Jane Austen. Published exactly a year ago, Kafka's Soup is now available in 22 countries and is top of the bestseller list in Croatia!

Which means that at this point the guest authors are as follows:
There may be more in the pipeline, so keep watching this space.

On the blogmoot side, we have Minx coming from Cornwall, Skint from Cardiff, Sharon from Crewe and Cailleach from Ireland - which I suppose makes it an International Literary Blogmoot ...

There's another blog event scheduled to take place in London on the same day. Britblog is hosting a blogmeet in Covent Garden from 2.30pm. As our event starts at 6.30, there should be ample time to attend both. A veritable feast of Real Life blogging! (And Minx (the minx!) had invited Rachel Cooke and Jasper Gerard. Maybe we should all wear 'I'm a blogging moron' badges ...)

Crystal Palace is easily accessible from central London. Click here for a map. The mainline station is a few minutes walk from the Crow. There are lots of bus routes and it should also be ok to park at Sainsbury's just up the road.

So tell me, what possible excuse can you find not to be there?

(Many thanks to the following people who have posted the event on their own blogs:
Sharon, Marie, Crimeficreader, Kate, Pundy, Confucious Trevaskis, John Baker, Cailleach, Pundy, Shameless, Susan Abraham, Equiano.
If anyone else has linked and I've missed it, please let me know so I can thank you properly.)

Vital statistics

Did you know that ....

The richest 2% of people in the world ...

own more than 50% of the wealth.

The poorest 50% of people ...

own 1% of the wealth.

Think about it ...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

We can have some really good fun with this!

'...blogs are to the noughties what graffiti was to the Seventies: mindless scrawls reading: 'I woz ere.' It says: 'I'm a moron, but worship me anyway ...'

This is a quote from Jasper Gerard in today's Observer. Scroll down to 'Leave us some moron-free zones'. (Thanks to Fiction Bitch for the link.)

Wanna know what I think? I think Mr G has cottoned on to the fact that he only has to be nasty to bloggers and suddenly his name will be on everyone's lips ...

You don't believe me? Put your hand up if you'd heard of John Sutherland or Rachel Cooke before they bludgeoned their way into history ...

If Jasper Gerard happens to see this post, I hope he'll accept an invitation to come to the blogmoot on Saturday so we can debate his points in person.

More on those literary treats

The Coven launch and Blogmoot event is really hotting up! 6 days to go ...

In case you need reminding, A Coven of One is Minx's magical novel, published by Opening Chapter, Skint's publishing company.

With all the storms raging in the blogosphere of late, the blogmoot will be a timely opportunity for us to discuss the issues face-to-face.

And the Crow on the Hill is the ideal venue for an evening for anyone who's passionate about books. (The Crow blogs here.)

I've sent emails to well over 100 people, sent local and national press releases and alerted writers' groups and reading groups. I've contacted local authors and their agents. I've printed and distributed posters and dozens of leaflets to libraries, cafes and shops.

I'm still waiting to hear from many of the local authors, but I'm delighted to confirm that Victoria Blake has said she'll be there. Victoria is one of Orion's New Blood authors. Her 3rd book, Skin and Blister, has just been published.

I'll let you know about any other guest appearances as soon as I hear.

Oh - and of course, you'll be there. You will, won't you ...?

(Many thanks to Sharon, Marie, Crimeficreader, Kate, Pundy, Confucious Trevaskis, John Baker and Cailleach for posting the event on their own blogs. If anyone else has linked and I've missed it, please let me know so I can thank you properly.)

Welcome to my world!

I seem to be on multi-tasking megadrive at the moment!

Here are some of the balls I'm currently juggling:

  • Photography jobs are like London buses. You don't see one for ages, then 3 come along together. So that's 3 lots of taking pix, trips to lab, sorting, editing, labelling, invoicing, delivering ...
  • I'm on the judging panel for the Skint short story competition. My goodness, but some of you are amazingly talented writers! The overall standard is quite remarkable and includes stories that made me laugh, cry, howl in pain, ponder and fly ...
I've read them all and - with huge difficulty - have listed my choices. It was tough at the top, I can tell you! My criteria were: good writing (of course!), whether the story fitted the theme, whether it worked as a short story and whether it took me somewhere I hadn't been before.

Now Skint, Minx, Maxine, Clare and I have to try to reach a consensus!

  • All the usual parenting stuff: cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing, helping 11 yr old with homework, helping 8 yr old with homework, parents' evenings, cooking for First Born's primary school reunion, ditto for swimming club party ...
  • Visiting my dad (who lives on the other side of London - approx 100 mins away by bus and train)
  • Blogging - posting, commenting, surfing ... though not nearly as much as I'd like ... So please forgive me if I've been remiss in following things up.
  • Trying to get the flat in a (relatively) decent state for when the celebrity author comes to stay next weekend.
  • Writing - oh ... um ... sorry ... please can I have an extension ... I've ... er ... had a headache ... and the cat ate it ... and ...