Saturday, March 31, 2007

An hour for the earth

They've got a really interesting initiative going on in Australia tonight.

(Or was it yesterday? Or possibly tomorrow? Never could wrap my head round time zones.)

Anyway, the point is that at 7.30pm (their time) there's an appeal to give an hour for the earth.

Check it out here.

'Degrading and inhumane' - the UK asylum system

A couple of months ago I was challenged here and here to provide evidence for my assertion that some children coming to this country as refugees face at best, uncertainty, and at worst, detention, neglect and abandonment. I accepted the challenge here.

And provided the evidence with this post. And this one.

Now there's further confirmation that the UK asylum system is ruthless in its treatment of the most vulnerable members of our society with a new report published yesterday by the Joint Committee of Human Rights (a cross party group of MPs and members of the House of Lords - hardly a bunch of radical lefties).

The report covers the following:

  • Principles of human rights
  • Access to financial support and accommodation
  • Provision of healthcare
  • Treatment of children
  • Detention and removal
  • Treatment by the media

They looked at the Government's asylum policy over the last 10 years.
They examined examples of detention being used for children, pregnant women and seriously ill people.
They looked at an example of a dying refugee being deported to a country where he received no palliative care.
And heard of pregnant women being denied proper care here in the UK.

Want some quotes?

These are from the report:

'Degrading and inhumane.'

'No human being should have to suffer such appalling treatment.'

'The system is overly complex, poorly administered and offers inadequate information and advice about the support to which people are entitled, in some cases denying any support whatsoever to people who are desperate and destitute.'

And this is from Andrew Dismore MP: (He's strongly in favour of the war in Iraq - again, hardly a raving radical.)

'Innocent children should never be detained - alternatives must be developed. The system of asylum seeker support is a confusing mess and the policy of enforced destitution must cease.'

A large part of the problem is that the system automatically assumes all applications are bogus - a case of guilty unless proved innocent.
Couple this with the pressure to keep figures down and the result is inevitable.
The application, which may be from desperate people seeking refuge from unspeakable horror, is more often than not turned down.
Sometimes they are deported in spite of the evidence that their lives will be at risk.
Sometimes they stay here to appeal.
But if their initial application has been turned down, they are entitled to no benefits of any kind.
They are left to rely on charities and frequently end up sleeping on the streets.
Many of them want to work. They want to contribute. They don't want to rely on handouts. And they certainly don't want to be homeless and hungry.

They are being given no choice.

One last quote. This is from Robina Qureshi of Positive Action in Housing:

'The treatment these people receive amounts to them being tortured in a country which they have come to because they are fleeing persecution from their own.'

This is being done in our name.
I hang my head in shame ...

There are organisations where you can make a real difference to individual lives.
Look at this for example.
You can find further links here.

Another one bites the dust

Hot on the heels of the news that HMV are going to close 30 branches of Waterstones, comes yet further warnings that Real Life book sellers are a dying breed.

Borders, who own more than 70 stores (including Books etc) plan to sell up - probably by the end of the year.
2000 people will lose their jobs and writers and readers will lose yet another high street book seller ...

The indies are the only hope ... find your local bookshop here.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Literary Death - coming soon to a tv near you.

In your wildest, sweatiest, most-horror-filled nightmares, could you have come up with anything worse than this?

Reality tv is bad enough.
Compulsive it may be, but why?
Because you are drawn into the hopes and fears of people desperate to realise their dreams - whether it is to be a Masterchef, work for Alan Sugar, fund their invention, sing or dance their way to fame and fortune ...

Surely though, there could never be anything like that for writers ...

I mean, no matter how awful the current state of publishing ...

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So it was with a mixture of trepidation and horror that I bring you this:
Publish Your Book! (note the exclamation mark) - a reality tv show where the winner gets ... a book deal.

And to up its credentials for the whole ghastly format, it's being presented by Tony Cowell.
Recognise the surname?
He's the elder brother of Simon Cowell - revered and reviled in equal measure as tv's Mr Nasty.

The program called “Publish My Book!” is scheduled to air in the summer in Britain. “Publish My Book!” will see aspiring writers pitch their ideas to a panel of publishing experts in a bid to win a publishing deal. Cowell will present the program and plans to sell the idea to US networks.

This is what TC says about it:

The format for the program is based on exposing how the publishing industry works, how hard it is for aspiring writers to break through - interviews with top authors, and culminating in competition to find a new author in 'Apprentice' style treatment.

Gonna be sick ...

(Thanks to Matt for flagging this up. And notice the fish have taken over his blog too. They're coming. They're coming ...)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

If networking's your thing ...

... you might be interested in Booktribes, a social networking site for book lovers.

Registration is free. You start by entering the title of a favourite book. This connects you to other people who like the same book and you can see what else they enjoy.

You get your own profile page and can post review as well as join discussions.

Sort of a high-tech online reading group with lots of different titles at any one time.

I'm having a bit of trouble finding enough time for breathing at the moment, so I won't be playing, but thought others might find it useful.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wise words? Or just plain scary?

Who said this:

'Look at the state of this place. I only cleared up yesterday and now look at it. It's a disgrace. It's not on, y'know.'

Was it:

a) me
b) my conscience
c) my mum's ghost
d) the Cornish piskies
e) my 9 year old son

At different times it could have been any of the above.
This morning though it was e).

I don't know whether to be proud, chastened, ashamed, worried - or just plain terrified.

PS. Talking of having a way with words, Mel's back.
And she's more surreal than ever ...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Googling images

Someone suggested putting your name into Google images and seeing what comes up.

So I did.

Some of it was predictable.
Like my book covers.

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I also found these:

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But there were a total of 529 results and the others were ... like ... really weird ...

How did this get there?

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or this?

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Let alone this?

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More on slavery

As time has gone on I've been thinking more about the way in which the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade is being presented.

There has been some argument that the UK government should be apologising for its role in the trade.
For me, I don't think it's the apology itself that's important but what it would symbolise - that this country has come to terms with its past and the source of its wealth.

And it hasn't. Which is why a simple apology isn't the point for me.

You see the focus for the anniversary has all been about the abolition - not the trade itself.
It's been about Wilberforce and the other white men who campaigned for abolition.
Instead of it being an opportunity to take responsibility, it's been used in a self-congratulatory way - 'aren't we all wonderful and liberal to have ended slavery' ...

And did you know this?

Britain did not outlaw slavery until 1833. The transatlantic trade continued under foreign flags for many years.

But the fruits of the trade are still very much in evidence today.
I say again - why is it this country is so comparatively rich?
What is the root of the problems besetting Africa today?

Although there were forms of xenophobia that pre-dated the slave trade, modern day racism is intrinsically linked to the trade.

In order for the appalling treatment of slaves to be justified, it was essential to deprive them of their humanity.
They weren't people.
They were possessions.
So it was ok for law-abiding and often deeply religious people to steal lives, rape and torture and commit unspeakable acts that would be impossible if the slaves were seen as fellow human beings.

That racism - albeit usually a bit more sophisticated (though not always) - is still thriving today.

Have we learned anything?

Judging from what I would argue is a skewed attitude to what this anniversary represents it seems we have not.

And now I'm not only talking about modern-day versions of slavery.
I'm talking about the lessons that still need to be learned from the past.

For the reaction in Ghana to Blair's live message check this out.

Monday, March 26, 2007

It's a-fish-al (ouch)

Flushed with the success of their bloodless radicalisation of my labels box, the fish are moving out to new waters ...

It all started with a throwaway comment here.
(Sigh. When will I ever learn comments can never ever be thrown away in the blogosphere?)

Now it seems Mutley the dog has seen fit to design me fish-themed underwear.

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That's not underwear with pictures of fish you understand.

Oh no - think live fish ...
Think hanging garlands of mudfish ...
Think appalling inexcusable groan-making abominable puns.

What have I done?
How did it come to this?

The kids are all right

Congratulations to First Born, Little Guy and their friends, Skate Boy (he belongs to Meloney) and Guitar King.

Between them they swam 5000 metres yesterday for the Swimathon.

Mel and I stood poolside and counted lengths.

Boys were fine.

Mel and I needed to spend the rest of the day lying in a darkened room.

Getting into the Indies

I know many people have self-published their book(s) or been published by small pressses with limited resources and face the seemingly insurmountable problem of getting them into shops.

Susan Hill has a useful post giving tips on how to go about getting your creation onto the shelves.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Slavery - past and present

Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain.

A time to reflect on how this country came to be so (comparatively) wealthy.

But also a time to reflect on the fact that slavery is still a booming international business.

After drugs and arms, people form the most lucrative traffic in the world.

According to the International Labour Organisation, the global trade in human beings is worth at least $31.6 billion.

And according to Free the Slaves, there are 27,000,000 people in the world enslaved today - more than at any other time in human history.

Modern forms of slavery are growing in Britain according to the Joseph Rowntree Organisation and the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation.

These include the global sex trade as well as domestic workers and those working in construction, agriculture, catering and other businesses.

But didn't the government announce recently that they were (finally and after huge pressure) going to sign up to the European Convention on Action against Trafficking?

They finally signed yesterday.

But wait. Before you pop open the champagne, read this :

The announcement that the Home Office is to sign the convention was welcomed by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) a coalition of children's charities and anti-slavery campaigners.

But the campaign group said child victims of trafficking would not be properly protected until the government gave them the right to residency.

ECPAT said the government's reservation on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child restricted the human rights of children who have entered the country illegally, including those trafficked.

Christine Beddoe, director of ECPAT UK, said trafficked children and unaccompanied asylum seekers were currently returned to their home countries even when their family's whereabouts were unknown.

"The reservation is completely unacceptable and must be removed. It undermines the principle of the best interest of the child and all other efforts to combat child trafficking."

So now certainly isn't the time for self-congratulatory backslapping ...

There's still plenty to do.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What makes you click?

We meet new people all the time - either in Real Life or in this weird space here.

You know how it is - some people you instantly click with.

I know what the criteria are for me:

  • Heart. To make me love you, you have to have a heart. You have to care about other people and try to empathise whenever possible.
  • Conscience. And you have to use that heart to care about people outside your own little world. And then act upon it.
  • Integrity. Trust is vital - no relationship can work without it.
  • An open and questioning mind. You have to be prepared to question your own perceptions and, if necessary, change or adapt them. But you also have to be prepared to challenge others whenever you see injustice.
  • Laughter. Go on. Make me laugh. I can forgive someone more than you can imagine if you make me laugh ...
What about you?
What makes you click?

I'm revolting

I've always had a thing about labels and what they represent.
The idea that you can be defined - or confined - by a lazy single word category.

When people ask 'What do you do?' they mean 'How do you earn money?'
As though the answer will give them any insight into who you really are.

Yet, at different times in my life, I could have responded with any of the following:

shop assistant, editorial assistant, data controller, book keeper, administrator, finance officer, stock controller, farm labourer, building labourer, painter and decorator, student, photojournalist, sewer of hair extensions, sewer of knitwear, wedding photographer, life model for sculptures, childminder, freelance editor, writer ...

So would any of those answers have told you anything about the real me?

And when people ask, they want a one word answer. They don't want you to ramble on with 'Well I do this, but I also do some of that, and this time last year I was doing those, but this time next year I might be doing something else ...'

There are other way labels are used that irritate me.
I don't like 'The elderly' or 'The disabled' as shorthand ways of describing people who just happen to be ...

Sure, this is just semantics and there are plenty more important things to get het up about.
But that doesn't mean it isn't worth thinking about.
Labels symbolise an attitude.
I don't like them. (Have you guessed that?)

So it should have come as no surprise when a silent revolution took place in the labels boxes on my posts.

It started here, with a question.
Progressed to here, with a slogan.

Then somehow - without me even being aware - the fish began to plot ...

I think it was the next step of a logical red herring here that led to them finally taking control.

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Down with labels.
Long live the piscine revolution.

So long and thanks for all the fish ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why doesn't he just say what he thinks?

Blimey - getta loada this.

Here's a quote:

Tunku Adnan, Malaysia's tourism minister, told a media conference, 'All bloggers are liars, they cheat people using all kinds of methods. From my understanding, out of 10,000 unemployed bloggers, 8,000 are women.' Bloggers, said Adnan, spread rumours, disrupt social harmony and 'many bloggers are slanderous and are cheating people with their blogs.'

Thanks to Frank at Books Inq for the link.

It's official - I'm cool!

If I never earn a single penny more from writing ...
If I never get another deal ...
If there are no further royalties or sales of translation rights ...
If all hopes of tv series or movie spinoffs evaporate into the ether ...
If every single one of my books is pulped and recycled as celeb biogs ...
If every publisher across the globe ...
... small and large ...
... past, present or future ...
... is warned never to let this woman (that's me - pay attention now) step across their threshold ...

What happened yesterday would be enough.

First Born's class were instructed to research an author online and construct a body of work using their own words and copy and paste.

FB chose ...
... me.

The other kids were blown away.
'That's your mum?'
'That's really cool.'
'Your mum's bad, man.'
'Yeah. She's well sick, bro.'

They didn't ask how many copies I'd sold.
Or when my next books would be published.
Or why they hadn't been so far.
Or why they'd never heard of me.

All they saw was an author.
With books and a website and everything.

And she's FB's mum!

Can you imagine how proud he felt?
Can you imagine how proud I felt?
Of him.
And of me too.
For being able to give him that.

What a gift for us both.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Responsible writing

I've always argued that with writing comes certain responsibilities.

I know that not everyone has agreed.

But then I never made my point with anything like this much wisdom, intelligence and heart.

Thanks to John Baker for this link to Susan Sontag's wonderful essay.

The Wonderful World of the Web

Isn't this amazing?

Here I am writing these words.

And there you are, reading them.

We're reaching out to each other.
Forming bonds.
And new relationships.

And sometimes those relationships cross over into the Real World.
And we become good friends.

A few years ago none of this would have been possible.

But it can work in the other direction too.

Take J for example.

He was my first boyfriend.
I was 15.
We split up, but then met up again a few years later.
And became close friends.
But then drifted apart again.

I last saw him 28 years ago.

A couple of months ago, J was idly Googling names from his past.
As you do.
He came across this.

He emailed me.
I replied.

Today we met for coffee.

We had a lot of catching up to do.

He's been with the gorgeous F for 32 years.
I've been with G for 15.
He has 4 kids.
I have 2.
He's a criminal lawyer.
I'm a criminal.

It was great.

Thank you Web!

Cause for celebration

Happy birthday to Minx's blog.

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Can't wait to see what the coming year brings ...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Just don't say it with flowers ...

It's Mothers' Day this weekend and about £200 million will be spent on cut flowers, much of this in supermarkets.

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Ever wonder where they come from?

The answer is they are grown on flower farms in developing countries where the workforce is invariably also women.

But those women won't be receiving gifts on Sunday - they'll be receiving horrific health problems as a result of the cocktail of toxic chemicals used to produce that lovely bunch of flowers.

This Sunday, as every other day, they'll be suffering from skin lesions, allergies, respiratory problems, headaches, fainting spells, eye problems, asthma, miscarriages and premature births.

Those flowers don't smell so good now, do they?

See here for further info.

Make mine some chocolate instead please. Fairtrade of course!

What's a 'book', mummy?

HMV, owners of Waterstones and Ottakers, have announced their intention to close 30 branches of Waterstone's.

That's a loss of 10% retail space.

And ...

... they say they're going to devote more space to cards, gifts and stationery.

Which means that ...

... there will be even less space for that increasingly elusive commodity ...

... a book.

What's the answer?
Support your local indie of course.

You probably already know my south London favourite.

Shaggy Blog Stories

Jon at the Bedside Crow has asked me to let you know about this.


A collection of 100 short humorous pieces from the UK blogosphere. All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to the Comic Relief charity. Contributors include Richard Herring, Andrew Collins (BBC 6Music), Emma Kennedy, James Henry (Channel 4's "Green Wing"), Abby Lee (Girl With A One-Track Mind), Catherine Sanderson (Petite Anglaise), Zoe McCarthy (My Boyfriend Is A Twat), novelist David Belbin, Anna Pickard (The Guardian), and a diverse selection of some of the UK's most talented bloggers.

You can buy the book here. Proceeds to Comic Relief.

Happy Fish

The Hedge Defender reckons this was just a daft idea ...

But just look at the number of people clamouring to be included in his one minute Turbo Art ...

One minute I was requesting a happy fish to celebrate the piscine takeover of my labels -

- the next this arrived in my inbox.


Pop over here if you'd like to play.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thinking blogs

Maxine (may the blessings of the blogosphere rain down upon her) has nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award.

Ooooh - I'm all of a flutter ...

But then I found this on John Baker's blog.
Ooops ... I had wondered but then couldn't find a link back to the original site ... glad my techy shortcomings thwarted the process!

So being me I've decided to do it anyway in order to promote blogs I think (!) people should know about. But I've taken down the image in order to subvert the original aim.

So now I have to nominate 5 other blogs.
Ouch. Only 5???

And then (this is where it gets a bit meme-ish) they're supposed to nominate 5 others.
But only if you want to!

So here - with great difficulty - are my 5.

But if you haven't already done so, I'd heartily recommend checking all my other links.
They wouldn't be there if I didn't think they were fab!

Rachel from North London
I've only come across Rachel recently. She was one of those people lurking on the periphery of my vision but only now has she come into focus. I wish I could have been there earlier.
Rachel survived the Kings Cross bombing on 7/7. Her book on the subject is due out this July.
She speaks with authority and integrity, refusing to allow her experiences to be (mis)used to justify Islamophobic hysteria.
Here's a recent quote from her blog:

I have been honest and open on this blog since I started it, writing freely about personal and political matters which I care passionately about. For the most part I have loved it, it has been a roller-coaster ride and the support, advice, feedback, comments, suggestions, debate from readers has been fantastic. There have been times when I have been seriously under the cosh and coming here and writing has been life-saving. It has helped me deal with depression. It has helped me deal with PTSD. It has allowed me to campaign about issues I feel strongly about. It has allowed me to link to the blogs of others. I have made friends in real life through this blog, and it has been a privilege and a pleasure to have a window into other people's worlds, and to share some of my life and thoughts with you all.

Skint Writer
Skint aka Derec Jones has been blogging a bit less lately, but he's still a natural thinking blogger. Derec started his own publishing company, Opening Chapter, and published his own books - a novel, short stories, poetry collection and recipe book. Eclectic or what?
He then went on to publish Kate Bousfield's book, Coven of One. (Kate blogs at Inner Minx.)
He also organises regular online writing competitions.

Fiction Bitch
Fiction Bitch aka The Tart of Fiction, writes intelligent and thought-provoking posts on all things literary providing stimulating debates and a great resource for info.

Afrocentric Muslimah
Afrocentric Muslimah aka Saaleha is a Muslim woman in South Africa with a prodigious talent and oodles of wisdom, humour and heart.
To give you an idea - her last 4 posts have consisted of recipes, an intelligent and balanced response to a hate-filled email that has been doing the rounds, a piece of writing about the smell of damp earth, and a heart-breaking story of her visit to Maputo.

Shameless Words
Shameless is a New Zealand/Irish journalist living in France.
His blog is filled with photos, music, paintings, poems, short stories and chunks of life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sharon's gone!

Don't you just hate it when that happens?

You meet someone and straight away there's a bond.
It never occurs to you that the relationship might be specific to a certain time and place.
You feel close to that person and you want them in your life, feeling you want to share journeys with them.
But then circumstances change and one or other of you decides to move on.
You say you'll stay in touch but deep down you know it's probably not going to happen.

Let me tell you about the first ever serious commenter on this blog, Sharon J.
In my first stumbling posts, Sharon was the one who came back each time.
She even took the trouble to check if I was ok when I went AWOL.
I never did find out how she came across me.
Her comments were invariably supportive.
I liked her.
A lot.
It took a while, but she hung on in there until I eventually got the message and clicked into the link to her blog.
And found a whole new world of linkiness.

The rest, as they say, is history.

As time went on, my initial instincts were confirmed.
She was always supportive.
Although we didn't agree on everything, we understood each other.
We spoke the same language.
And we had mutual respect - even when we disagreed.

Sharon was my 2nd blogmate to make the move into my Real Life, after Maxine and before Minx.

She's always been there.
I knew I could rely on her.
I trusted her.

When I went away, she was the one who'd pop into my blog to check all was well and flick a duster around.

But now she's made the decision to leave the blogosphere.

I do understand and respect her decision.

But - I'm so going to miss knowing she's out there.

So listen up, Sharon.
This is for you.
Imagine my hands on your shoulders.
I'm looking into your eyes.
And I'm saying, 'I don't want to lose you, Sharon J.'

I wish you loads of luck and hope you'll stay in touch so I don't have to go up north of Watford for the sole purpose of stalking you.

And you know where we are if you ever need us!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Reasons to be cheerful ...

I didn't mean to spread doom and gloom with that last post!

Of course the state of publishing is dire. I posted about it here last year too so it's not like it was news to me.
But to be honest I'm not prepared to waste any more energy moaning about it and feeling negative.

Let me explain how the situation has affected me personally.

Back in September 2004, before we signed on the dotted line, my agent wrote the following to me:

In the long run I do believe the books about the Nirvanans will be a great success but there are some really formidable obstacles to overcome ..... Let me say again that I think you're a very impressive writer and you're doing something different - indeed, you've made a much bigger impression on me than practically all the new writing I've read over the last couple of years.

He was right to warn me about those formidable obstacles.

He now has both De Nada Nirvana and Me, John and a Bomb to sell.
And he's looking forward to receiving The Gene Pool.

So far, so brick wall ...

But ...

... today the sun was shining.
And the birds were singing.
And I could hear them!

I took the current ms I'm working on for the The Writers' Workshop to the park.

So there I was - sitting on a bench in the sunshine - being paid to sit in the park and read!

I earned this. My first 3.5 books were written while I was working - in 2 jobs - and had small children.

I won't do that now.

There is a price to pay - we are very poor by most people's standards -
- but sometimes I think I must be the luckiest woman in the world!

Not the best time to be an author ...

According to an article by Cole Morton in The Independent this weekend, things really are as bad as we think.

Check this extract:

Authors do love to moan, don't they? There's no heavy lifting or wiping other people's bottoms for a living; it's just sitting there going tap-tippety-tap all day, complaining about how little you're being paid, isn't it? And yet... new research just published shows they (we, to be honest) may have something really worth moaning about. Something shocking is happening in the world of publishing that means we could end up with very few books at all except the ghost-written memoirs of airhead footballers and models.

The average author earns about £16,000, a third less than the national average wage, it is revealed. So what? They're doing what they love. But hidden behind that figure released by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a grimmer truth: when you take away the superstars who are earning shedloads, the actual figure for the rest is closer to £4,000.

That's less than it was last time anyone looked, seven years ago, and far less than the distant days when the Net Book Agreement kept prices high. Forget living on baked beans in a garrett; this is barely enough to buy stale bread and a tarpaulin for shelter.

And it is only for the lucky ones: fewer authors are being signed up unless they're famous, advances are shrinking, and those who sell only moderately well are dropped, ending careers early.

You can check out the whole article here. Sigh ...

But hey - we always said no one should write simply in order to make money.

Write because you have a story that has to be told.
Write because you simply can't imagine life without a creative outlet.
Write because it's a compulsion.
Write because you love to do it.

Whatever the reason - enjoy! And maybe look at alternatives to traditional publishing?

(Thanks to Steve for drawing my attention to this article. Now get your own bloody blog!)

Now that's what you call 'odd' ...

We often wonder whether we've got the right title for our books, don't we?

But you can't help feeling the author of Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America - a Guide to Field Identification knew that he'd hit the proverbial nail on the head with his title.

Likewise the authors of Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium and Better Never to Have Been Born: The Harm of Coming into Existence.

These are just three of the entries in the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. This competition has been running since 1978 when the winner was the fascinating Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.

My personal favourite was the 2002 winner - Living with Crazy Buttocks.

If you'd like to vote, you can do so here. (Scroll down.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Introducing Steve

Before we had blogs, Google searches and email, just imagine how many amazing connections we would have missed.
Luckily that's no longer the case.

Let me introduce you to Steve Redwood. Steve found my blog having done a Google search on El Tercer Nombre, who have just published Buscando a Tatiana - the Spanish translation of Trading Tatiana. He's commented on a number of my posts and we're now in email contact.

This guy is wonderful on so many levels I thought it would be selfish to keep him to myself and decided to share him with you all.

He's had about 50 short stories published and two novels - Fisher of Devils and Who Needs Cleopatra? I've ordered both as the reviews and excerpts are utterly intriguing.

Check him out for yourselves.

There are interviews with him here and here and here with links to more reviews.

You can read an excerpt from Fisher of Devils, which was nominated for the British Fantasy Society 2003 Best Novel Award, here.
And here's some more glowing reviews for Who Needs Cleopatra?
And have you seen the (genuine!) reviews on Amazon?

See what I mean? This guy puts the quirk into quirky!

Without this technology, I would probably never have met him.

Which would have been a great shame ...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Make a small difference

Happy International Women's Day.

Why not do somthing meaningful today and sponsor G in the marathon if you haven't already done so?

He's running for Refuge.

You can click here to sponsor him. Many thanks to everyone who has already done so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Buscando no longer - she's here!

Just received my copies of Buscando a Tatiana. And she's well cool! Got pic of me inside, credit to G, my website URL ....

Shame we never had direct communication rather than it all going via Orion. As a result the personal info is very out of date. Not even in my worst nightmares am I still a finance officer and wedding photographer!

Along with the blurb on the back, there's a quote from the Morning Star review and the following (translated by Babel Fish of course)

Maestria GIVES demonstrates in this shining novel his to construct one hostoria of suspense near the black novel. One uses as this plot to offer a tragico story to us of the problems which the immigrantes face, a picture of the Mafias that have been developed with the caida one of the communist block and one criticizes to the lack of iniciative of gobeirno of Blair to face these problems.

Even given the vagaries of Babel Fish, I like that last line. Shows they're not afraid to highlight the political angle ...
I'm also pleased to see they are marketing the book as 'suspense' as opposed to focusing on the humour. I always felt uncomfortable with that and many people have told me they initially found it offputting. After all there's nothing to laugh about when you're talking about prostitution rackets.

Things are looking up!
In the same post I received my next m/s to report on.
Also had a really constructive meeting this morning with the primary head to discuss this.
(She was great!)
And now dashing off to the writers' group coffee caucus.
Nice life!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The return of the schools fools

I'm spitting blood and teeth here and I've got to let it out. I'll do my best to be coherent.

This time last year (tomorrow to the day) I published a post about First Born's choice of secondary school.

He started there in September and let me tell you - it's a brilliant school! He's on the gifted and talented programme, receives extra help for his dyslexia and is a loyal and enthusiastic ambassador for his school. G and I are active members of the Parents' Forum and have been amazed and impressed both by the incredibly high standards of teaching and the zero tolerance attitude to bullying and disruption - while at the same time they never write off a 'difficult' child but will always try to find out the underlying causes of such behaviour and support the child to redeem themselves. We feel totally vindicated in our decision to send FB there.

Last week my attention was drawn to a post on the local online forum dismissing the school in a way that suggested no sane person would send their child there.

I registered for the forum and posted this response.

My advice to the person canvassing opinion about secondary schools is - listen to no one! Every child is different and so is every school. What suits one will not suit all. Personally, we didn't feel 'A' was right for our son and neither did he. But that certainly doesn't make it a bad school.

My son is now - shock horror - at 'B'. Yes, you can Roll on the Floor Laughing Out Loud - but I wonder what evidence you are using to justify that reaction.

From our direct experience it is a truly wonderful school! It has fabulous resources (the equal of any of the private schools) and a totally dedicated and committed staff team. The education my son has received since September has surpassed our expectations. He is on the gifted and talented programme, receives additional support for his dyslexia and is a proud, loyal and enthusiastic ambassador for his school.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem 'B' faces is the continued negative perceptions based on the past that many people still have.

This is grossly unfair - on both the staff who have worked tirelessly to turn the school round (with spectacular success) and - even more importantly - on the children who go there and hear their school (and by association themselves) dismissed in this negative and patronising manner.

So please - don't listen to anyone else. Visit all the local schools. Go and see for yourself. Keep an open mind. And check 'B''s recent Ofsted report - it would be difficult to find a school praised higher by the inspectors than 'B'.

Oh and by the way ... there have been recent reports of children behaving appallingly in the streets, spitting and cursing. On further investigation, these turned out to be pupils at 'C' (a famous public school in the same area). And speak to the manager of the local Tesco. He will tell you that the problems he has with shoplifting have also been down to 'C' pupils. Unfortunately, their uniform is very similar to 'B''s. How very sad that most people will automatically assume that if they see bad behaviour on the streets, the culprits will be from 'B'.

I've been following the thread since and making further comments. And I'm delighted to say that the response has been great with several people checking the Ofsted report and saying they now accept the school has turned around.

But then (spit ... spit ...) I found this in the local paper. The headline is 'Stab Drama at School'. The report is of an incident of two youths being stabbed last week by a gang outside the school. It happened during the evening (although the school was open at the time for GCSE awards night). Six men had been arrested and were still in custody.

And that should have been the end of the story, yeah? Only then the report went on to mention an incident 4 years ago when a pupil at 'B' was attacked. And another - with salacious details about a 16" blade taken into class and used to knife a fellow pupil. This one took place 14 years ago! Yes - you read that right! 14 years ago!! So what on earth did that have to do with this latest incident? Especially as further down the report a council spokeswoman says that the recent incident did not involve pupils at the school!!!

I wrote to the paper to complain at their sensationalist and irresponsible reporting - the timing being doubly unfortunate as it coincides with the current year 6 pupils hearing which secondary school they have been allocated.

But there was more to come. At 3.30 I went into Little Guy's primary school to pick him up. There was a parent in the playground with a copy of the paper, stabbing it with an angry finger and waving round photocopies she was giving to other people. I assumed she was angry for the same reason as me. But no! Her son had been allocated 'B' as his school. She had seen the headline and photo of the school. She'd skimmed the article. And she leapt to the conclusion that this was evidence of the school's continuing association with violence.

So now I've made an appointment with the primary head tomorrow. I'll tell her she's welcome to distribute my name and phone no to any parents whose children had been allocated 'B' and were anxious. I'll be able to tell them the truth - that it's a fantastic school.

But my real fury is directed at the paper who perpetuates this slander.

But then again 'School's doing really well' or 'No bad news from excellent school' doesn't make for exciting headlines, does it?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ola, Espana

I've had my first mention in Spain for Buscando a Tatiana (the translation of Trading Tatiana) ...


Big thanks to Steve Redwood, my Spanish connection and New Best Friend (my knees are hurting from all the groveling) for pointing these out.

And hey - Steve's an author too! I'll be doing a post soon re him and his creations to introduce you all.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A contender for gold

Disucssion re my lack of sporting prowess:

'That's ok, mum. You're good at lots of things ...

You're good at ... er ... reading. And ... um ... scribing. And ... erm ... oooh ... cuddling.'

Dirty (poli)tricks

They get you every time, don't they?
They tell you they're going to do something right.
And you can't help hoping that this time ... just maybe ...

But ...

Check this timeline:

  • 1996 - Labour campaigns on the issue of migrant domestic workers who come to the UK with their employers and are subjected to sexual abuse, violence and virtual slavery
  • 1997 - Labour wins the election
  • 1998 - Legislation is passed to grant migrant domestic workers the chance to leave abusive employers and find other work, receiving basic protection including the minimum wage

  • Feb 2007 - after much pressure is exerted, the UK agrees to sign the European Convention against Trafficking
  • March 2007 - the government announces changes to immigration law that mean that from autumn migrant domestic workers will be granted 'non-renewable business visas'. This translates as meaning that they will no longer be able to leave abusive employers and find other work in the UK. Instead they will be faced with a stark choice - stay put or risk poverty and homelessness.
Here are some of the reactions so far:

'These changes will remove the basic protection for migrant domestic workers. They will be left incredibly vulnerable to exploitation or abuse.' Kate Roberts, community support worker at Kalayaan

'I championed this cause in opposition and government and the changes we put through were to help stop abuse and trafficking. These new propsals are a very retrograde step. Workers who suffer abuse from their employers will feel absolutely alone.' Barbara Roche, former immigration minister

And the Home Office response?

'As part of our continued work to combat trafficking, our emphasis will be upon developing robust pre-entry procedures, including appropriate safeguards, such as the identification of cases of possible abuse at the pre-entry stage to minimise the risk of subsequent exploitation.'

Of course. That's the answer. Stop them coming here in the first place.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sink or swim

How's this for a bit of Catch 22 stupidity?

First the background:
  • G is a swimming teacher
  • He works 4 days a week at 2 different centres teaching school children
  • He's one of the most highly qualified swimming teachers around - in addition to the normal prerequistites, he has qualifications in teaching adults with children and people with disabilities
  • He earns £8.50 per hour (!)
  • He's diabetic with a history of chest infections
  • It's frequently freezing poolside
  • And sometimes he's had to jump fully-clothed into the pool to rescue someone in difficulty
  • The uniform he's been given consists of shorts and a t-shirt
  • There is a fuller uniform - long trousers and a sweatshirt - but he's been told he's not eligible for the full uniform as he works part time
  • Consequently, he usually wears a sweatshirt of his own on top of the t-shirt
  • He's been told today he risks being disciplined for not wearing full uniform!


I've recently joined a Bloggers with Book Deals forum set up by the indefatigable Clare at Boob Pencil.
(I know I don't have a current deal, but I will do soon, right?)

I've just spent HOURS checking out the blogs of the other forum members - many of them new to me.

What an amazing and diverse bunch of mega-talented people!

Rather than freak you out by putting all the links into this post, I've added them to my blogroll and flagged them as new. (An idea I borrowed/nicked from Cailleach.)

Check them out! You'll cuss me at first for providing you with yet more distraction, but you'll thank me after.

I'm Debi. And I'm a linkaholic.