Friday, 22 September 2017

#Review: Eric

Eric by Terry Pratchett

Finally another episode involving Rincewind. Like the Librarian, I was wondering where he’d got to after his shenanigans in Sourcery. And of course, wherever Rincewind goes there too must go The Luggage. I was pleased to see it had more or less got over its bout of lovesickness. But understandably, as with anyone spurned in love, it seems a tad more cantankerous. 

Surprisingly our young hero or anti-hero Eric, while his name is proudly sprawled across the front cover of this book, doesn’t actually do very much at all apart from be an annoying teenager.  And worse than that, he’s only mildly annoying. Rincewind plays a major role while constantly doing his best to run away or hide in the shadows as is his wont. 

Nothing really grabbed my attention in this Pratchett offering. The ending felt rather rushed and lacked the meatiness that many of his other writing has. I’m waiting with anticipation for the later books in the series and hoping they provide more bang for their buck.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Karma Chameleon

While August saw me contemplating the benefits of coming to the UK, this month has me thinking about all the mistakes I made along the way. One which popped to mind immediately was the fact I felt it necessary to be chameleon-Rae when I was first assimilating. I can confirm it was exhausting.

What this basically entailed was me being whoever I needed to be at any given moment to fit into whichever social group I was a part of at that point in time. During my A’ Levels I hung out with the sixth formers, dressed like them and tried to learn their slang. I didn’t succeed with the slang at all – my private school vocab kept invading my mouth when I least expected. 

At university I tried to become a slob who stayed in bed till late in the afternoon, do as little work as possible and loiter in pubs till chuck out time so I could be invited to the lock-in.  The trouble with this scenario was I really liked doing the work except for the research part and all I ever wanted in a pub was a cup of tea.  But I thoroughly enjoyed the lock-ins.

My university wardrobe also presented a problem. I did secretarial jobs during my summer holidays so had more suits than jeans or tee-shirts. Due to limited funds I was forced to use clothes I’d brought with me from SA and adapt them to fit with my new lifestyle. I remember with great fondness a tweed jacket of my great uncle’s which still smelt of his tobacco, was warm and the envy of many of my fellow students. I paired it with an old hat and copious amounts of scarves. I was doing student grunge without even realising it.

When I started teaching, suits engulfed my wardrobe. I had real difficulty trying to dress casually.  To me casual entailed summer clothing like shorts and halter necks. British weather didn’t allow for this. I could only indulge my idea of casual if I went on a holiday somewhere hot. It would take me a long time before I’d realise I’m not really a casual sort of person and it was pointless fighting that fact.

I spent years trying to be the person I thought people wanted me to be. All the while I didn’t know who I truly was.  It would take a leap of faith and unemployment to finally cure me of my chameleon ways.

My prolonged unemployment (a longer period than I ever imagined it would be) gave me countless hours of 1-2-1 time with myself.  I spent a great deal of that time writing, reflecting and considering my self-worth.  There were periods of uncertainty and depression.  Reverberating in my head though were the words of my parents – at the end of the day your outward appearance is of little consequence. What matters most is what you think, do and say on a daily basis and most importantly, how you treat people.  So I found ways to do unto others as I’d wish them to do unto me and I wrote, Wrote, WROTE…

Out of this difficult financial and emotional period in my life I found the Rae I wanted to be.  I’m still a work in progress but I like ME now a whole lot more than the ME I was.  Along the way I’ve found treasures I truly value. They can’t be stored in a safe, counted or set out on a spreadsheet but that’s what makes them all the more valuable to me.

Friday, 8 September 2017

#Review: Guards Guards

Guards Guards by Terry Pratchett

Before I started this I was told by several people that it was brilliant. I hesitated and waited to be disappointed. But I wasn’t. I’ve always had a fondness for Vimes ever since I read Snuff so I was delighted that I got to read about his rise in the Ankh-Morpork constabulary.

The wonderful and terrifying thing about this novel is how aptly Pratchett captures the essence of society’s worst aspects. The main reason I read Fantasy is because it leaves me with the hope that right always triumphs over wrong. It’s an optimistic view which I find needs re-enforcing more and more as I grow older.

This book contained so many favourite characters that it’s difficult to pinpoint whose performance I loved best.  I however found the raw recruit Carrot totally and utterly endearing.  Having met him, The Patrician, The Librarian, Lady Sybil, Nobby and Colon in more mature format in other Pratchett novels, it was a great pleasure to see them in their ‘raw state’ as it were.  But the final say has to go to Errol the swamp dragon, who used his digestive juices to superb effect. There are certainly times in life when we all could use the special talents of a swamp dragon like him.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Back To School

Yep, it’s that time again. I’m so not ready. I’ve been lazing around the house, reading, watching iPlayer and doing a bit of writing here and there.  Okay, I haven’t been doing that much writing. The majority of my summer has been about the final edit of my YA SciFi Sequel.  The main reason for this is that this book is due out in December. Just in time for Christmas presents right.

 I finished the final edit of When Rainbows Cry 2 weeks before the end of August so the book is now with the proof reader and my editor for the last bits of tweaking.  As you can see, the cover is also sorted thanks to the magnificent assistance of Jaya Prime in getting me rights for use of the original picture. I can now adapt it to my heart’s content for this and the final book in the series which I’ll start working on next year. More of that later.

There has been the odd bit of new writing but it’s mainly been notes for the future when I can focus on projects sitting in the wings.  I store all these in a folder called The Vault.  My mind is always spinning through various ideas but when I forget an idea I just check to see what treasure I’ve got safely stowed away in the vault.

Works in progress for the rest of this year and the start of next year consist of:

  1. Editing Palindrome - the prequel to Six Dead Men [SDM]. This is a novella which charts the influences and reasons why the main character from SDM becomes a policeman.
  2. Writing the bulk of the 3rd book in the YA SciFi series. This series was just crying out to be a trilogy. I couldn’t resist the call of peripheral characters asking me to tell their story too. I’m a sucker for a voice which needs to be heard.
  3. Getting stuck into the sequel to The Lonely Dragon. This is taking a bit longer than planned as it’s requiring a substantial amount of research.
  4. Playing around with side projects which tie in to The Lonely Dragon and its sequel

I’m also getting myself ready to resume my annual tutoring routine. Bizarrely, I often produce more writing in this period than I do during the 2 months I have off in the summer. I think this is because my time is limited and I know I have to get words on the page or I won’t meet deadlines. They’re all self-imposed but somehow that doesn’t matter much.  There is the immense pleasure of knowing I’ve finished a task to the highest possible standard. That’s what I’m always striving for.

The other thing which I believe spurs my writing on is that I get to mix with a whole bunch of insanely creative students who constantly provide me with new ideas and insights into how children think and behave. This is invaluable when it comes to working on the children’s books I do.

So while I’m mourning the end of the summer holidays I’m also quietly celebrating the fact I’m about to be energised and exhausted in equal measure by my assorted bag of students. 

Plans prepared and printed. Prizes at the ready. It’s back to school we go.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

I have a solitary nature. That doesn’t mean I don’t like good company. In fact, it’s the type of company I prefer. It takes me a long time to get to know people and I’m not one for sharing about myself. But I’m here to let you know that the most amazing gift my 3 decades of life in the UK has given me is the friendships I’ve made along the way.  I’m not talking acquaintances. I mean those people you know will be there for you no matter what. A bit like family but with benefits which outweigh the frustrations.

I’m in the lucky position of having not 1, not 2, but 4 excellent friends who are the diamonds which make up the most excellent of friendship bracelets ever.  I used to have a 5th diamond on my bracelet. Sadly she died and left a void still waiting to be filled. Barbara Hartridge you are missed every day.

There is no order to the diamonds on my friendship bracelet. But I’ll start with Barbara as she’s no longer with us.  Barbara was a wonderful lady always willing to share knowledge and help me solve any problem I presented to her. She was one of the few people I would talk to about things which bothered me. She found joy in simple things and taught me to do the same. Thank you Barbara.

Diamond number 2 is Irish. We met on a painting holiday in Italy about 17 years ago. Quickly we realised, though she’s a redheaded giantess, that we were obviously twins separated at birth in some cosmic interdimensional accident.  There were several clues to substantiate this: a shared love of shoe buying, having the same set of books to read on our holiday, owning the same brand of hair products, and an excessive fondness for garlic.

Diamond number 3 is Canadian but has lived in Sheffield for many years. We met on a writing holiday on the island of Skyros in 2005. Like Barbara, she’s the person I talk to when I need advice or just want to clarify my thoughts. She’s also the one person I share all my writing with even before it goes to my Editor.  Diamond 3 is possibly the kindest most generous and open person I’ve ever met and I strive to be more like her every day. I’m still a long way off, but I’m trying.

Diamond 4 is French but has lived in the UK for as long as I have, if not longer. We met through Argentine Tango. Thank you Tango South London. She’s the friend next door and we regularly do the dropping by for tea and cake stuff.  Along with picnics and walks in the park, helping me secure a good deal on my recently purchased new car, and bravely going to any milonga I suggest; diamond 4 is possibly equivalent to a musketeer.

Finally there’s diamond number 5. Up until a few years ago we hadn’t seen each other in the flesh for 24 years. We used to be besties when I lived in South Africa. Back then we were friends because our parents were. But when I went to visit her in Sydney in 2011, we realised our friendship connection was as strong as ever. We share certain values and a sense of humour which binds us despite the distance of continents.

These wonderful women make up my amazing friendship bracelet. I can’t’ quite believe how lucky I am they’ve come into my life and stay with me through whatever life throws my way. They are my strength, my succour and my duvets of comfort. I only hope I give them as much as they give me.

Ladies, I salute you!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Seed Pearls

Television programmes in the UK were a wondrous revelation to me as in SA I had been fed on a steady diet of Maya the Bee and American series imports.  I revelled in British humour which made more sense to me than much of what I had seen back in SA.  Now I was introduced to the joys of Monty Python, Lenny Henry, Rising Damp, and many many more.

While watching the gogglebox I wasn’t aware I was undergoing a subtle blossoming of character. This was never more evident than when I went off to university in Salford. This was by no means a straight forward journey. I had to go back to school at the age of 20 as all the documents charting my educational achievements at private school were lost at sea. No, that’s not a metaphor. They were stuck in a trunk on a freight ship heading for Canada.

I went back to school to do GCSEs then A’Levels. All it involved was reading, something I already loved doing.  And then writing a bit about what I was reading.  It was here I first got the opportunity to share my creative writing with people other than my parents. I wrote a short story about two boys living on a remote farm in South Africa.  They loved each other but there were several drawbacks, the first of those being one was black and the other white.

The private school I attended in SA was highly academic. I aced the English part of the entrance exam but barely scraped through the Maths. That and Science would always be my nemeses.  I just about passed my final exams and that only after a resit. But now I was in the UK and suddenly had the opportunity to try subjects I’d been urged to consider hobbies back in SA. I saw a glimmer in the deep and I dived.

I discovered I had an adventurous spirit I wasn’t even aware of. It had been lying dormant just waiting for the tiniest of nudges to assert itself. Suddenly I was going off on painting holidays in Perthshire, putting together poetry collections and writing, writing, writing.

GCSEs & A’ Levels in the UK gave me the opportunity to realise I was not the dunce I thought I was.  Suddenly other students were asking for my help. But what was more important – I knew how to help them. This I believe, was the start of my move towards teaching even though I didn’t realise it right there and then.

Teaching would in turn lead me to pursue my writing on a more full time basis. And while at university I was indoctrinated into the true ways of being a student, namely watching a minimum of 2 soaps a day, spending time in pubs, lying in bed till very late in the day (something I was never able to accomplish sadly) and learning about appropriate things to watch and read by fellow mature students.  They knew their stuff. Age definitely equals wisdom. They introduced me to the delights of Dr Who, Red Dwarf, Tad Williams, Douglas Adams, snooker, cheese boards, Belgian fruit beers…

I think you get the idea.

The pearls I found at school and university may have been tiny but the pile was steadily growing.  The smallest yet most significant pile of pearls are barely enough to shape into a bracelet. Luckily I’ve got very skinny wrists and those pearls would turn out to be diamonds in disguise.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Of Pearls & Wisdom

As an ex South African, before I can delve deep into the benefits of being integrated into British society, I have to consider this question: What has Britain given me besides the side effects of colonialism?

Here is the list of answers I came up with:

  • The Weather
  • Freedom of speech
  • A gateway to other countries
  • Dr Who – specifically David Tennant
  • Buses every 10, 12 or 20 minutes apart
  • The courage to be who I really wanted to be
  • Excellent period dramas on the Beeb & Channel 4
  • Terry Pratchett & a truck load of other favourite authors
  • Priceless friendships
  • My teaching career
  • My writing career
  • Argentine Tango
  • Lindy Hop

The main thing Britain has given me above all else is the ability to think on my feet.  This is crucial in the temperamental environment of the UK.  The first 10 years of my 3 decade stay in the UK was one of a seemingly perpetual winter – much like that of the Wall in Game Of Thrones if people need a visual clue. Thermal vests and leggings are now my bosom buddies. Sorry BFFs Bev, Chantal, Mands et al - I know you thought differently.

So it will come as no surprise that I value Thermal Underwear with vigour and rely on my ability to layer clothing.  It took many years of intensive study for me to perfect this particular art. Even now I sometimes get it wrong as it is an ever changeable thing with more to learn at each turn.

While at university in Salford I quickly learnt that walking at speed is a great way to stay warm. If this doesn’t work make sure you have a Macdonalds enroute so you can nip into their toilets and use the hand-dryers as hand-warmers. I still employ this technique to good effect now.

Bus Roulette was a game I devised one day when it was cold, wet and cold and wet. What this involves is taking any bus going vaguely in the direction you need just so you can get out of the cold and wet; then transferring onto another bus only when forced to do so. I also learnt the value of a back seat placed over the engine and why the top deck on a night bus is a no go area.

Discussing the weather is a national pastime and not to be dismissed as insignificant. It took me many years to understand it was part and parcel of my journey towards Britishness. I now make every effort to engage in a weather discussion with some hapless soul at least once a day.  So it is no accident this post consists mainly of just that. And I make no apology for it whatsoever.

But this ability to be at one with British weather is not the only thing I’ve gained from my 3 decades here.  To find out what else there is, you’ll have to take a peek at next week’s post.