Frank Parker's author site

Will I Ever Get it Right?

I have not attempted an Author newsletter myself but am pleased to be included in this Lucinda E Clarke’s forthcoming one. I have a story set near the place featured in the photograph above.

lucinda E Clarke

So, newsletters are all the rage, so cleverclogs here thinks she will start one. What a good way to promote other writers and also share news and views.

To be honest, I’d not checked any others out, but I got so carried away with issue one that I was even more enthusiastic with number two. Now it’s not a newsletter any more, it’s more like a magazine. I think it will be easier to navigate once I have discovered how to set up a landing page, and pepper it with lots of links, but in the meantime I guess readers can just scroll down and peruse whatever takes their fancy.

So, how did it get to be so large? Firstly in February’s edition I am featuring these authors. Know who they are?


Two other authors, whose pics I’m not going to post, plus a reader


And do you know where…

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General Practice: Unable to Cope?

I have been shaken recently by claims that in England you might have to wait 2-3 weeks for a GP appointment. The most recent instance was during an interview on the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme yesterday evening, Dame Julie More, the CEO of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, remarked, in what was little more than an aside, that she had spoken to a patient in A&E that morning who had stated she had been told by her GP there was a 3 week wait for an appointment “so I’ve come here.”


It is no wonder that A&Es up and down the country are under such pressure if they are, in effect, being utilised as a substitute for the traditional family doctor. Waiting more than a few hours for an appointment seems impractical. Either your symptoms will have got much worse making your case an urgent one, or they will have disappeared. I feel fine now, but I could be dead in 3 weeks time. If my demise is preceded by symptoms of ill health I will want those symptoms to be assessed by a professional as soon as possible.

I can recall a time when you could walk into a doctor’s surgery during morning or evening surgery hours and expect to be seen within an hour or less. At other times the doctor would be conducting home visits. In the early months of 1961 I contracted a nasty cough. I visited our doctor’s surgery and was diagnosed with Bronchitis. I remained in bed at home for several weeks, during which the doctor made several visits. He eventually revised the diagnosis to Whooping Cough.

the-doctorI have been looking at articles on-line dealing with recent developments in General Practice. In a paper published in The Lancet in April 2016 researchers from Oxford University noted that, between 2007 and 2014 “average consultation rates over the 7 years, [rose] 10.5% from 4.67 consultations per person per year in England in 2007/8 to 5.16 in 2013/14. [Clinical workload in UK primary care: a retrospective analysis of 100 million consultations in England, 2007–14, published online in The Lancet on 6 April.]

Interestingly, this compares to figures gleaned from another paper dealing with the history of General Practice in England, this one published by the BMJ in January 2006 entitled A century of general practice by Zosia Kmietowicz. Discussing the years immediately following the creation of the NHS it states that “The average number of times a patient consulted their general practitioner rose from 4.8 a year in 1947 to 5.6 in 1950

At that time GPs made many more home visits than they do today: “In 1953, general practitioners were estimated to be making between 12 and 30 home visits each day and seeing between 15 and 50 patients in their surgeries.” As this article in The Daily Mail on-line from February 2016 says, the BMA has advised doctors to reduce or eliminate home visits – a service that was already much reduced by 2007.

GP surgeries today would be unrecognisable to the family doctor that cared for me back iin 1961. These days they operate with several doctors sharing a practice. They also employ practice nurses, receptionists and probably have a Practice Manager to look after all the paperwork. They also, of course, have the kind of diagnostic equipment that, if it existed at all 56 years ago, would have been available only in hospitals. All of this is surely intended to reduce the work load of hospitals.

According to Zosia Kmietowicz’s paper, by 2002 general practitioners controlled 75% of the NHS budget. Am I being too controversial in suggesting that, rather than forcing patients to attend hospitals, they should be using that colossal financial power to provide a better service in the communities they are supposed to serve.017

The problem, of course, is that we are all living longer. At the time of my birth, in 1941, I could have been expected to live until I was 60. My wife, born in 1945, would have been expected to live until she was 67. We have already lived an extra 15 and 4 years respectively. Fortunately we both enjoy reasonably good health. Many of our contemporaries are less fortunate and have already survived conditions that would undoubtedly have killed them in past decades. That is the result of the many treatments and diagnostic tools available today that did not exist just a few decades ago. Meanwhile, whilst the number of GPs employed in England increased between 2004 and 2014, that increase was insufficient and numbers have since fallen slightly.

General Practice remains the first point of contact with health services for most people. It cannot continue to be so if it is not possible for that contact to take place within a short time of the onset of symptoms.

My big story

The food industry’s two deadly crimes: Sugar and packaging. Belfast Foodman, the pseudonym of a Northern Irish dentist, speaks out.

Belfast Food Man's Blog

In the 1950’s smoking used to be seen to be “cool”. By the 1970’s there was indisputable evidence it was linked to cancer. The Tobacco companies hired PhD scientists and government lobbyists to refute these allegations. But now there are class action law suits against these tobacco companies.

Pic. James Dean smoking (top) and oral cancer (bottom).

Alcohol is the cheapest and most legal drug available in shops. There are rarely if any health warnings on the bottles/cans/containers. It ruins many lives and yet in supermarkets its cheaper than water. Another potential for class action law suits against manufacturers and retailers? Not to mention the cost to NHS, industry and family life.

Pic Range of alcoholic drinks (top), normal and cirrhosis (below).

When it comes to food we were always told fat was bad and in excess of course it is, but now public enemy no 1 is sugar. Sugar…

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Are you up for a Challenge? Part 1 – Guest Post by Jemima Pett…

Jemima Pett, guest blogging at Chris the Story Reading Ape talks about the atoz challenge (blogging 6 days a week throughout April, taking the letter a as the prompt on 1st. April, b on 2nd., and so on. I did it last year and am still prevaricating about whether to do it again this year. (You can see my atoz posts from last year by clicking the atozchallenge tag above)

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog


Reading, writing, blogging, they all have their own challenges. And then some of us go and make it, if not competitive, then something of a commitment, a target to achieve in a set timescale.

I’m getting to be a bit of a challenge-aholic, so I’m going to talk about these challenges in three posts, starting today with Blogging Challenges.

Once upon a time, I started my blog. I didn’t have much of an idea what to write about, except my progress in writing a book, or rather, bringing the books I’d already written into the public eye. And the first bit of advice about that is: write a blog. I wandered about, posting occasionally, probably never being read, until something happened that changed my blogging life. I expect you had a similar experience. If you haven’t then let me introduce you to…

The A to Z April Blogging Challenge

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Writing and Politics: I write because I care

A writer who worries whether or not his political stance will impact sales of his books has no integrity so far as I’m concerned. Well said, Christoph.


I think we’re all aware that these are very dynamic if not outright volatile times in Image result for politicspolitics and that we’re deeply divided into camps. People feel the need to speak out and – whether well informed and polite or raging and ignorant – discussions often seem to reach an impasse.

I’ve been rightfully told I might lose readers over voicing political opinions. Yet, I wonder if that’s important at all. I believe that what some people call my political colouring (whatever that is), that colouring will find itself in my writing one way or another. How you portray the poor or the rich, the privileged and the disadvantaged, how you show human conflict and dilemmas – all that gives your attitude towards others and society in general away.

I don’t consider myself right or left necessarily. Image result for politicsYou wouldn’t find me in an anarchist bar, nor at a neo-Nazi rally. I side with evidence…

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#Brexit and Trump: Two Great Confidence Tricks

I don’t generally give much credence to conspiracy theories. But in these times of “fake news” and “alternative facts” it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid them. George Monbiot is a journalist and commentator that I trust. He references all his claims to well documented real facts. So when he writes about a long term plan to undermine the European Union and promote the agenda of corporate America I believe him.

And the tragedy is that, in order to achieve their aim, this small but powerful group have conned the most disadvantaged citizens of both Britain and America into supporting their aim through the kind of deception of which the late Paul Daniels would be proud. Misdirection and sleight of hand were used in Britain to convince people living in its most deprived communities that their best interests would be served by divorcing themselves from the international body that has provided peace, prosperity and slow but steady advances in human rights over the last 40 years.

The same droit de main was employed by Donald Trump to convince the residents of rust belt USA that he would “clear the swamp” and bring jobs back to the homeland.

Of course, there are conspiracy theories at the other end of the political spectrum, too. A shocking number of Americans still believe that global warming is not the result of the burning of fossil fuels. Encouraged by the same think tanks that Monbiot exposes in his Guardian article, they choose instead to believe that, along with LBGT rights and Obamacare, it is all part of a left wing plot to bring about the Socialist takeover of America.

If history tells us anything it is that the last 150 or more years have witnessed an incessant battle between those who want to see the greatest good for the greatest number and those who want to use the advance of knowledge as a tool for their own enrichment. In Britain the former was traditionally represented by the Liberal and Labour Parties, backed by the Trade Union and co-operative movements, whilst the latter was always the motivating force of the Tory Party. In America, the Democrats, backed by the Labor unions, on the one hand, and the Republicans on the other, fulfilled similar roles.

Differences within each of these political movements were concerned more with the pace of change than with the direction it was taking, with moderates tending to favour gradual progress, fearing the damage that might be caused by too rapid an advance.

Education and the value of work


Image from

Fundamental to both ends of the political spectrum is a belief in the importance of education and the value of work. The difference is that the right seeks to keep down the cost of labour; not just the rates of pay, but the additional cost of providing training, health care, holidays, pensions, protection from potential work place hazards and sick pay. It also abhors attempts to protect consumers from any possible harm that might arise from the use of the products of labour, including over-pricing. The left campaigns for better pay and conditions for workers and greater protection for consumers.

By taking the lead in establishing rules and regulations that address the concerns of workers and consumers, the European Union is seen by the right as placing obstacles in the way of business success. The Obama administration in the USA is viewed similarly by Trump and the GOP.

And yet UKIP in the UK, and Trump in the USA, managed to convince people, not only that these regulations were responsible for the loss of traditional jobs, but also that both Brussells and Washington were in thrall to corporate lobby groups. You might be excused for concluding that these claims are mutually exclusive. In fact they are not. It is, rather, a question of which trend holds supremacy at any given point in time. Labour unions and human rights activists lobby for greater regulation whilst bodies representing big business lobby against such advances.

But corporations respond to increased regulation by moving manufacturing to less well regulated jurisdictions, thereby reducing their costs and destroying the traditional jobs of British and American workers . Meanwhile significant numbers of people from those jurisdictions choose to move to the US and the UK in order to take advantage of the many benefits available to the citizens of those countries. Employers in UK and US are happy to give work to foreigners who, being used to poor working conditions, are happy to turn a blind eye to minor infractions of those regulations that protect their British and American counterparts.

Sooner or later, however, as prosperity spreads to those less regulated jurisdictions, similar regulations, protecting the rights of workers and consumers, will be introduced. That is the only way that jobs might return to deprived communities in the North of England or the American rust belt. Removing the hard won rights of workers and consumers, the inevitable consequence of Britain’s exit from the EU and Trump’s plethora of EOs, will not do it.


A century and more of progress in human rights has been accompanied by advances in science and engineering that have served to reduce the need for manual labour in most traditional industries. An age in which machines did the work and men enjoyed greater leisure has been predicted since before I was born 75 years ago. And yet the number of people in employment has continued to rise throughout that time (see here for the latest UK employment figures and here for those for the USA). So I have even less faith in the possibility of such predictions coming true than I have trust in conspiracy theories.

There can be no doubt, however, that the nature of work will continue to change, as it has done throughout history. And governments wishing to keep pace with that change need to focus on education and training so as to equip their citizens to meet the challenge.

Notwithstanding any conspiracies dreamed up by big corporations, I remain optimistic that science and engineering will confound the worst predictions of the world’s pessimists. After all, one of the most successful and wealthy corporations the world has ever known – Microsoft – was a tiny operation 40 years ago and no-one back then, except, perhaps, it’s founders, could have imagined the technological revolution for which it has been responsible, or the nature of the hundreds of thousands of of jobs it has created.

The Cigarette Box: Using Artifacts in our Writing.

I just read an essay by Karen Brown in the Glimmer Train Newsletter. In it she talks about the way using remembered objects can bring your writing alive both for you as writer and, more importantly, for the reader.

She describes a particular artifact – a cigarette box belonging to her grandmother – she used in a scene in one of her books. As I read this sentence: “A lid lifted at the top, and a wooden black terrier appeared holding the cigarette.”, an image from 70 years ago flashed in my mind.

750x563You should know by now that my father was killed in action during World War II. One of the few things he left behind, that I played with as a small child, was a trick cigarette box. Outwardly a standard box made of thin cardboard bearing the maker’s branding, it was of the type where you pushed a tray out to reveal a line of cigarettes. Except that, in the case of this trick box, when you pushed the tray out, instead of cigarettes, a pair of tiny mice popped out attached to a piece of wire.

Analysing the memory I realise I cannot be certain of the brand of cigarettes: Capstan or Player’s Navy Cut?. Nor am I certain that it was a pair of mice that appeared when you opened the pack. It might have been a couple of birds. All I remember is that they were white. It doesn’t matter. The point is that Karen’s description of her grandmother’s cigarette box invoked that memory for me. A memory that had probably been buried for upwards of 60 years. Thereby demonstrating the veracity of her claim about the importance of using such images to make your writing real and vivid in the reader’s imagination.

Creating Maps

In the same Glimmer Train newsletter there is an essay in which Danielle Lazarin talks about the importance of creating, in the reader’s mind, the places in which your characters live.

“To achieve intimacy with your reader,” she says, “You have to say to them: here is your key to the apartment, here is the school, there’s a set of trees that perfectly frame the river, that’s where your friends live, your sister’s down that road. You have to make them know, without a doubt, the boundaries of the map, of the imaginary world you believe in so much that it’s startling to realize it’s all coming out of your head.”

Two valuable lessons, from two successful writers, that are well worth taking note of.

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