No Rain No Rainbows

I have a wonderful tee shirt with ‘Maui Rules’ on the back. They are gems of insight from the beautiful island of Maui in Hawaii. Of course, whilst there is a lot of merit in ‘Speak softly and wear a loud shirt’, my personal favourite is ‘No rain No rainbows’.

Life is always full of ups and downs and as a writer it can be frustrating when they get in the way of being able to put pen to paper. However, without the life experiences our writing would be shallow and our characters would be unrealistic.

I’ve had to take stock and consider what I can do in the available 24 hours and what I can’t do. I’ve also had to think about what matters most. The answer to that second point isn’t always the same as what would I like to do with my time. I can choose to be frustrated about that, or I can choose to embrace it and make the most of what it offers. No rain No rainbows.

I had to reach the very difficult decision that to make enough time for my own writing I would have to stop running the short story download site I set up some six years ago. I’m still a publisher, but will through Alfie Dog Fiction, focus on the book side of the business rather than the individual downloads. It was a hard decision as I believe in short stories. I think they are an important part of the fiction world. However, time does not allow me to do everything.

I’m still working with around 80 authors around the world and will be able to spend a little more time promoting their work. I will miss the many I no longer work with. The talent they represent has been incredible to be part of. I’ve met such interesting people through short stories over the last six years and will stay in touch with a good number of them.

I’m still publishing new titles for some of our authors, but I will now be able to carve out enough time to move my own writing forward again. at a pace I’m happy with. That is my rainbow and I will enjoy every one of its glorious colours.

What are writers like?

As a writer I spend most of my time sitting in an office with no one to talk to but the dogs (and my characters). It has always been said that there is a fine line between creativity and insanity and I walk that tightrope daily. When you find yourself surrounded by people it is easy to reach the conclusion ‘I don’t fit’. Instead, you sit in the corner with your notebook and observe, listen and jot down notes. People watching is an important part of the job and you let your imagination take the conversations you hear on into territories which might horrify the person you were listening to… if they knew!

Normally, in a crowd of people I feel drained and want to escape. It’s nothing personal. I love some of those people dearly, but I need to be able to think and be creative and I can’t do that in the midst of the bustle.

Then you come away for a week on a Writers’ Summer School. Wow. I’m surrounded by a couple of hundred people walking the same tightrope. Some of them have more poise and almost seem sane. Others have fallen over the wrong side of the line and are the most marvellous eccentrics I’ve ever met. I feel totally at home and am loving every minute of it. When I talk about the conversations with my characters, no one here thinks I’m mad. Of course, they’re wrong, but the beauty is that we’re all mad together.

Hopefully, at the end of the week they will let us all out to go home. We will be the richer for coming together and the poorer for being parted… until next year.

Before I came, I confess I was anxious and was not looking forward to it. How wrong I was. If you are creative and have never had chance to get together with like-minded people then find a way to do it. It’s marvellous. I’m coming away with more ideas of things I want to work on than there is time to do in the next twelve months. I’ve got a plan. I’ve got direction. More than that, I’ve got new friends and deepened existing friendships.

Watch out world, I’m fired up and ready to roll.

In deep mourning for the European Dream

Whilst I know this blog is principally about my writing and writing in general, some things are just too important to ignore. I am in deep mourning. I don’t mean I am a little disappointed, I mean I have literally gone into a state of mourning. I think of the implications and find myself feeling devastated. I get angry, but have no one to beat my fists against. I try to look for the positives but all I end up doing is looking back over the last fifty years of my life and feeling sad.

Now I know it is only 42 years since we joined the European Union, but the European Dream pre-exists that date and what we have done is hammer the first nail in its coffin.

I grew up watching Jeux Sans Frontières – (that would be It’s a Knockout to those who don’t remember), where we settled our differences with inflatable mallets over pools of water. I’ve laughed at Eurovision and been amazed when we scored more than ‘nul points’ (for the record we may as well get used to nul points now!). I’ve criss-crossed Europe by train, in the days when the only journey long enough to get a night’s sleep was to go the length of Germany, because otherwise you were woken by border control.

I’ve been moved to tears when the Berlin Wall came down and at last a country could be reunited. I’ve celebrated when other Eastern European neighbours have finally achieved democracy after years of struggle.

I have had the privilege to own an apartment in France for seven years and to live in Belgium for two. I’ve run a car club for an Italian car and a dog breed club for a Swiss breed of dog. I have learnt to speak French, German and a little Flemish (all badly) and I can count amongst my friends people in just about every European country you can name.

Why am I telling you all this? Like all those in mourning talking about it is often the only way, but it’s more than that. I cannot sit back and watch this European Dream being stolen not just from me, but from millions of young people who will come after me and who will, if we do nothing, face a very different landscape.

You might try telling me I will still be able to do much of that. In reality a club you have never belonged to might tolerate your presence on the periphery, but a club you’ve stuck two-fingers up to and told you want nothing to do with, is not going to be as indulgent and tolerant in the future.

We have been being told that the UK pays £18bn a year to the EU – that’s £350million a week. However, we don’t pay £18bn we get an immediate £5bn discount on that figure that brings it down to £13bn or £250m a week. That is the most that any new arrangement would have to distribute. However, we get quite a lot of that back in money spent by the EU in the UK. For a start there is £4.5bn in Public Sector Receipts that goes to support areas such as farming and poorer areas of the country. Are those who are suggesting that it should all be spent on the NHS willing to take away that essential support? If they aren’t, then we’re already down to £163m a week available. But then there are research grants and other areas that come in as well, so it’s starting to look a little less enticing.

By the time you take into account the amount of business that economists on both sides of the debate have agreed is at risk, it’s all looking pretty sick and as lost business means lost tax revenue there is little likelihood of any public services in the UK actually benefitting.

Then if course there is the question of workers’ rights. Equal pay for work of equal value between men and women, the right to a written contract of terms and conditions, the working time directive covering the maximum number of hours you can work, maternity leave, parental leave and the equal treatment of part-time and agency staff are all things which have been introduced or improved by the EU – and some of them are not otherwise in UK law, so unless they are introduced as part of the two year leave process you will lost those rights.

And those are just the beginning… There isn’t time to go through all the benefits of co-operating and staying close to our neighbours, let alone all the other good aspects that no one has talked about, or been prepared to listen to when politicians tried.

Faced with that, how can I sit back and accept such a marginal vote which paid no heed to the voices of our young people whose future we’ve gambled away? Can anything be done? I don’t know, but our hope must really rest on a benign response from other European leaders helping us to find some sort of third way, before it’s too late.

Virtual Book Club Interview

TheAppearanceofTruthFINAL smallI was delighted to be interviewed by the website Virtual Book Club about some of my writing and in particular The Appearance of Truth. Better still was an email from a lady who went and bought the book as a result of the interview and read it cover to cover, unable to put it down. It’s things like that that make this the best job in the world.

If you’d like to read the interview you can find it HERE