Frank Parker's author site

Update #2 – Rebecca Bryn

Rebecca was the second Indie Author to feature in my “A Date With . . .” series during 2018 (the original interview is here). I recently asked her for an update on her career and her hobbies. This is what she said:

“Once again this year, royalties from sales and page reads of Touching the Wire for the whole of January, will be donated to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’d love some more sales, but this year, sales of it seem a bit slow although I am getting page reads via Kindle Unlimited, all of which count towards the donation.

My books are being read, and that is the important thing. I feel as if I’m making a little headway.

Last year, I published The Dandelion Clock, and it’s had some amazing reviews*. (The ending made me cry, by the way) Sales are steady , and I’m embarking on Amazon ads in the hope of spreading my words to a larger audience – I watched a webinar this afternoon about Google and Amazon keywords and categories – interesting stuff if I can put it into practice, but promotion is a tricky business and very time consuming when I’d rather be writing. I suppose it’s part of the price to pay for deciding to be an Independent author.

My WIP, Kindred and Affinity, is inspired by another branch of my errant forebears. This time, it’s my father’s side of the family that’s under scrutiny and comes up not so squeaky clean. My paternal grandfather was a Methodist and signed the pledge, mainly because his father was an alcoholic who beat his wife, got drunk, and fell off a roof. (He was a builder) My paternal grandmother’s father married sisters at a time when it was against the rules of kindred and affinity in the book of Common Prayer, hence the book title. He married his dead wife’s sister in 1891, and it wasn’t legal until 1907 so it must have been done in secret somehow. There had to be a story there, didn’t there? It’s taken me a while to tease it out, and I’ve discovered a lot about a woman I only knew as Auntie Annie, who died aged ninety when I was about seven. If I’d known I was going to write her story, I’d have asked her what it was… But you’ll have to read Kindred and Affinity to find out more. I’m 66,000 words into it and hope to publish it later this year.

This story is the first time that I’ve had no idea of the beginning or the end, but only a part of the middle – usually I have a beginning and an end and no idea what will happen in between. My books are somewhat seat of the pants writing style as dictated by the stupid decisions my characters make. I have various projects in mind to follow next year, but I’m not sure which one I’ll choose. They’re all contemporary fiction – mainly mystery, which will make a change from writing historical fiction. I have the titles and the covers for inspiration, but so far the stories are no more than a vague idea in the back of my mind.

Last year, I revisited all my published titles and edited them. You know the sort of thing – moved a few commas, cut out repetition, tightened the writing a bit. It took several months but was worth doing, and I enjoyed reconnecting with my characters. I had On Different Shores professionally edited and learnt a lot in the process – money well spent – hence my subsequent self-editing spree. I also brought out a box set of For Their Country’s Good trilogy which is selling steadily. Haven’t I been busy?

So busy, my painting has suffered a bit. I’m still painting and exhibiting in St Davids. We have two exhibitions a year at Easter and the beginning of August and sell a lot of work. I enjoy it, even though I don’t do as much as I’d like, and I’ve made good friends. It isn’t such a solitary occupation as writing, where my friends are mainly ‘virtual’ but good friends none-the-less.

Rebecca’s beautifull Pembrokeshire garden showing the new planting

In between painting and writing, I’ve replanted the new garden after spraying the whole area with weed killer to get rid of brambles – 24 one-ton bags went to the tip before we sprayed. I had to wait a year before I could re-plant, so I’m looking forward to some colour this summer. And we’ve put in a new fireplace and new curtains. And when I’m really bored, I mean desperately mind-numbingly bored, (edit out those adverbs) I do some housework!

Anything else? I’m hoping to look into the production of audio books this year. It is something I’d like to do as my mother and mother-in-law both lost their sight in later years and relied on talking books. Other than that, I’m a year older, a year stiffer, and hopefully, a year wiser and a better writer. Life is one huge learning curve, and I’m still climbing it.”

*You can read my review of The Dandelion Clock here, and find all Rebecca’s books on her website.

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Monday Memories – The Eager Volunteer

One day in November 1976 I got a message summoning me to Coventry for a meeting with the Technical Director. Frank, the Site Engineer, he told me, had angina and was not permitted on site. It was now up to me to take on the Site Engineer role. This announcement was followed by a memorable conversation in which my request for an increase in pay, to match the increased responsibility, drew a response to the effect that I was paid according to what I was capable of doing, not what I actually was doing – and, of course, he would not have asked me to do this job if he did not believe I was capable of doing it!

Construction, installation and commissioning continued throughout 1977. There were many problems with getting the pipework within the plant to fit together properly. The detail design of the pipework had been carried out by the Dutch company but we had many arguments about responsibility for work that had to be re-done on site. Was the error due to the contractor not following the Dutch company’s drawings? Were the drawings wrong? Had the piece of plant to which the pipe was supposed to connect been installed correctly? Between Frank, the pipework foreman and myself, we had many altercations as I decided whether or not I could sign off on extra expenditure, often dozens of such adjudications each day.

I was also responsible for site safety, implementing the new regime introduced by the Health and Safety at Work Act that resulted directly from an industrial disaster that happened in Lincolnshire whilst I was in South Africa.

The iconic image from the original video that accompanied the first release of Bohemian Rhapsody

I had acquired the habit of taking a beer or two with my lunch, originally in Coventry with colleagues. I remember it was one lunch time in that Coventry pub in 1975 that I first heard an amazing piece of music: beginning with something that sounded like an operatic aria then segueing into heavy rock and back again, it was much longer – and very different – to most of the material on the juke box. I had to know what it was called and who it was by. Bohemian Rhapsody, and all of the subsequent output from the band Queen, have remained favourites ever since.

Working alone in Derby I did not bother with lunch time drinking, for one thing the pub was too far away from my work site. After I was joined by an assistant, as the construction work progressed, we went to the pub together every lunch time. Thus it happened that one afternoon we were surprised by an unannounced visit from a government Health and Safety Officer who asked me to conduct him around the site where he was able to observe various, in his view, unsafe practices. Back in the office he berated me for my lack of attention to such matters, no doubt noticing the smell of my breath. Not an experience I want to repeat.

I should probably add that the new ethylene manufacturing facility at Derby never did produce much ethylene. Whilst we were installing our small plant, BP were installing a much bigger unit at their Hull site. Once that was up and running it became cheaper to buy ethylene from them than to operate our own plant.

Meanwhile I increasingly wanted to involve myself in the community as a volunteer. Ian had joined the scouts and I participated in various fund raising activities for them, notably the collection of bundles of old newspapers from the front doorsteps of homes in the neighbourhood. This was undertaken on Saturday mornings once a month, the bundles stacked in a shed at the back of the scout hut until sufficient had accumulated to make a load for the recycling company that paid a good price.

I applied to join the suicide counseling service, Samaritans, but was rejected after completing a psychometric test. Then I read about a new organisation, just starting up in Coventry, that intended to produce a talking newspaper for visually impaired people and a video magazine to be distributed to nursing homes and day centres. That seemed to be just right for me and so it proved to be. Soon I was writing scripts for mini-documentaries, operating a simple black and white video camera and reading aloud my own scripted voice-overs. I was also elected treasurer for the organisation.

The Spinners – Image from Wikipedia

I produced a short film about the Coventry fire station and its personnel; another about the refuse incinerator that provided hot water to the adjacent automobile factory. We filmed at events like the Royal Agricultural Show, held just a few miles from Coventry and where I recall operating the camera whilst a fellow volunteer interviewed the Liverpool based folk group “The Spinners” and (separately) Animal impressionist Percy Edwards. We also videoed school end of term theatrical productions. And we videoed a monthly news report as well as the audio ‘talking newspaper’ which was distributed by post on cassette tapes.

But that all came to an abrupt end early in 1978 when I began commuting, not to Derby, but to Grimsby, in a career move that would prove to be life changing.

For The Day That’s In It

That headline is an often used Irish colloquialism that means, roughly translated, “because today is an important anniversary”. And what anniversary could be more important as we face the growing threat of rising Fascism across Europe once again.

Apparently the UK government is preparing for the possibility of riots by extreme right wing factions in the event of a second referendum that might result in a reversal of the ill-informed June 2016 decision by 37% of the electorate to take Britain out of the only international organisation that has held the peace between the forces of communism and Fascism for most of my lifetime.

Meanwhile similar movements are on the march in Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria and France. And all are fueled by fear of “the other”, just as was Hitler’s rise to power and the acceptance of the “final solution” – elimination of “the other”.

We Need More of These!

A terrific idea, contributing to the solution of two (or three) problems: dog poo pollution, global warming and lighting up a beauty spot!

Now all we need is a way of capturing cow’s burps. Maybe Brian Harper can address that one – their are plenty of cows in Hereford and Worcester for him to experiment on (not that I’m advocating experimenting on animals in the usual sense, you understand.)

For Goodness Sake Stop Digging! #WATWB

I grew up in an environment where it was taken for granted that you dug the garden every spring using a spade, then, a few days later, you would go over it again with a fork to remove the weeds. During that first digging you would create trenches into which you would pile organic matter. Living in a farming region there was always plenty of farmyard manure available for this purpose. The point being that the organic matter was buried, to be accessed by the roots of the plants you subsequently grew on the plot.

If there was an area on which nothing was grown during winter you might do that first dig in autumn, leaving the turned soil exposed to frost in order to help break it down. Because we had a heavy clay soil, all of this work was deemed essential. That remains the basic principle with which I still garden.

It turns out that my parents were wrong, and so am I. You don’t have to dig at all; instead you place your organic matter on the top of the soil and plant into it.

At 77 digging is noticeably hard work these days so I’m going to embrace change, leave my spade in the shed, and have a go at “no-dig” gardening. My parents would probably turn in their graves at the thought!

The same principle can be used to ensure a sustainable source of nourishing vegetables to replace the vast numbers that are imported over huge distances.

#WATWB cohosts for this month are: Inderpreet Uppal, Sylvia Stein, Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Damyanti Biswas

Do you have a story about people doing good in the world? Why not share it? Here’s what you should do:

1. Keep your post to Below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. Link to a human news story on your blog, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Paste in an excerpt and tell us why it touched you. The Link is important, because it actually makes us look through news to find the positive ones to post.

3. No story is too big or small, as long as it Goes Beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

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5.Help us spread the word on social media.
Feel free to tweet, share using the #WATWB hashtag to help us trend!

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A Date With . . . Lisa Shambrook

Lisa Shambrook lives in Carmarthen, “an old market town in the West Wales hills, [which] is inspiring as I’m surrounded by rolling hills, mountains, woods and forests, and I’m a stone’s throw from several gorgeous beaches. The scenery constantly changes and Wales, as a whole, has inspired my latest post-apocalyptic work The Seren Stone Chronicles and I’ve just finished writing the first drafts of all three books.”

I am aware that there is a community of writers residing in that part of the world, several of whom are, like Lisa, members of IASD. I suggested that this must offer stimulation and she agreed:

“I attend several local book fairs, and my fellow Welsh authors are a friendly, supportive, and generally amazing bunch. Christoph Fischer and Graham Watkins are regulars with me, and I recently met Penny Luker when she joined us too. I’ve met some truly inspiring authors within the IASD group and further afield in my local writing community like Carol Lovekin, Judith Arnopp, Thorne Moore, Judith Barrow, Greg Howes, and Cheryl Beer, and read some of their amazing books!”

Lisa recently made the move from self-publishing to a traditional contract with a small independent publisher, BHC. What made her decide on that route and how did she find BHC?

“I discovered BHC some years ago and they recently became my traditional publishers at BHC Press. I struggle with the formatting side of self-publishing and love the way they format my books. They offered me a contract a year or so ago for my Surviving Hope series and for A Symphony of Dragons and the contract worked well for me. I have also been given the opportunity with BHC Press to write an introduction and an original short story for their release of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and that was a real privilege.

I found self-publishing difficult within my emotional/mental health parameters and knowing my publisher is looking after me is helpful. I still have a great deal of say with my work and publishing, and marketing, as we all know, is something we take on as authors, so I do a lot of my own marketing too.”

She writes fantasies in which hope springs from tragedy and believes such themes are important in helping people of all ages cope with life’s ups and downs:

“The Surviving Hope books: Beneath the Rainbow, Beneath the Old Oak, and Beneath the Distant Star have dealt with difficult subjects. They work with grief, depression, self-harm, anger issues, and bullying. It’s heavy stuff, but essential to understand the human condition. I have suffered severe anxiety and depression for most of my life and so the themes have been woven easily into the books with compassion and empathy. The main theme of Beneath the Rainbow is living life to the full and reaching for those so called impossible dreams. I think it’s imperative for both the young and the old to understand these themes and to know they are represented within fiction.”

Lisa has participated in a number of collaborations, including with musicians as well as other writers:

“I worked with Samantha Redstreake Geary when she offered a chance to write for a project she was heading for Audiomachine’s album Tree Of Life. We each wrote a story that continued with the next author and moved through the entire instrumental album. I loved writing a short piece that resounded with the music and worked so well with my sense of empathy and beauty. She included me on a couple of other musical contributions too and it was a real treat as music and the written word work perfectly together!

“Working with other authors is revitalising, and I’m very proud of my collaborations, including You are Not Alone with Ian D. Moore, which many IASD authors will know.”

The proceeds from You are Not Alone are donated to the Macmillan Nurses cancer support charity in the UK. Other collaborations also enabled Lisa and her fellow writers to support charity:

“My favourite collaboration is Human 76 which I managed along with my daughter Bekah, and authors Michael Wombat, and Miranda Kate. My family loves taking out-of-the-ordinary family portrait photographs and we did a post-apocalyptic shoot a few years ago. A photo of my daughter became an inspiration to a group of my author friends and we decided to write a collection of stories surrounding her character. It became an amazing project, pulling fourteen authors together with a great original concept. Each story in this collection follows individual characters through a post-apocalyptic world and they meet the main character at some point during their story. She affects many lives as she searches for her kidnapped sister. I wrote Ghabri, our main character, and put together the opening and closing chapters, the other stories weave between and I was astounded at how well they all worked and brought a wonderful book together.

“When we put the book out there we wanted to support a charity and to fit the themes in the book ‘Water Is Life’ is the charity we chose. It provides clean water in countries without it, and it’s lovely to know you are contributing to something worthwhile and important.”

As well as writing, Lisa has a business which uses old books in a unique and innovative way:

“I have an Etsy shop called Amaranth Alchemy (Not to be confused with an American design consultancy with the same name, FP) which I began with my daughter, but I now run on my own. I hate seeing books going to waste and a local charity collects books to give back to the community, but some are beyond repair. I use books that have been damaged or abandoned and give them new life as book marks, picture frames, and other gifts. I breathe new life into old pages…”

I wondered if there were any copyright issues with such a business. She agrees you have to be careful with certain authors’ works:

“You cannot use Tolkien’s books as the Tolkien estate is very protective of any outside usage. Many old books are already in the public domain. I am only reusing pages that would have gone to landfill, and as far as I know there are no copyright issues with recycling.”

When asked about her favourite authors, she admits t having several:

“My most favourite author is Garth Nix, I adore the Old Kingdom series, especially Lirael my favourite book. I love Tolkien, having been brought up with The Hobbit’ and Lord of the Rings. I have eclectic reading tastes, so often choose books according to the individual story, rather than the author. I also love The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss, and he’d be an author I’d like to meet along with Nix. I think I’d ask about their confidence in their writing, how they learned to accept and embrace their own styles, because I think that’s probably one of the most important things about writing. Not sure where we’d go though.”

In answer to my final question she confesses to being “a quiet introvert”, but she loves “to talk about the deep things of life. I find socialising almost impossible and struggle with people. I think I’m a bit of a squirrel – a scatty, secretive, panicky, hoarding, arty, curl-up-and-sleep, autumnal creature!”

I enjoyed my chat with Lisa. I hope you do, too. Why not check out her website where you can find more information about her books along with purchase links.

Brexit – Neither Divorce Nor Car Deal

In the debate over Brexit many people have tried to come up with suitable analogies. Among the oldest is the idea of the divorce – the withdrawal bill and the £39 billion payment of outstanding budget commitments is even referred to as the “divorce settlement”. More recently some have sought to liken the search for a “deal” to the kind of arrangement you might come to with your local car dealership. Over the weekend I began thinking about both.

Let’s begin by looking at the stages in a marriage at which a divorce may be contemplated. You’ve been together for less than 5 years, both of you are a good deal more mature than when you married. There are no children, neither of you gets on with the in-laws, you have few mutual friends. You live in an apartment block where you hardly ever encounter your neighbours. You come to an agreement to part company. There is some pain, inevitably, but there is an overwhelming sense of relief in both parties at the resulting sense of freedom. Even your friends, who have been treading on eggshells around you as they sensed the tensions in the relationship, feel that same sense of relief.

Now, suppose you have been together for 40 years. You have grown-up children and several grand children. You are aunt and uncle to several other children. You are God-parents to a number of your friends’ children. You are a partner in your father-in-law’s business, expecting to inherit when he finally decides to retire. You are well known in your community, both of you involved in different aspects of community life. Divorce in those circumstances is almost unthinkable and will cause enormous disruption and sadness in the lives of many people, including the employees of the family business.

I leave you to decide which of these, if any, Brexit is most like.

Now let’s look at the car replacement analogy. It might be the case that the car you are trading in is subject of a finance agreement with some outstanding payments due. You will need to settle that as part of the deal, or, quite possibly, before you can contemplate a deal. You discuss your requirements with the dealership and are offered a trade-in value for your old car. You don’t like the offer, believing your old car is worth more. You can take it or leave it. You decide to leave it. What you don’t do is leave your old car in the dealership and, literally, walk away.

The “no deal” option for Brexit is like deciding to manage without a car for the foreseeable future. “No Brexit” is like carrying on with your current model with all its faults rather than accept a bad deal.

The truth is that neither analogy is anything more than an approximation to what Brexit really means. How could it be otherwise, since Brexit is a unique event for which there is no precedent in history. What hurts, and what makes the 40 year divorce example feel close to the reality of Brexit, is the huge number of cultural, sporting and business links that have been built across Europe over the past 45 years and that are now being sullied by the xenophobic rhetoric that has been unleashed.

The Channel Tunnel makes travel between Britain and Europe easy. Image found at Sky.com

The choirs, the amateur drama groups, the sports clubs, the agricultural societies, that exchange visits on a regular basis. The beekeepers, bird watchers, surfers, animal breeders, astronomers, geologists, paleontologists, anthropologists – the list is endless. True, such relationships extend beyond Europe, especially in these days of the World Wide Web. But Europe is on our doorstep. Heading across the Channel for a day or a weekend to meet individuals with shared interests is easy and many people do it, for business, pleasure, and to exchange ideas and information about their hobby or profession.

And we must not forget the real marriages between Britons and European nationals and the new rules that mean that the “foreign” spouse now has to register for “settled status”. So do the children, even grown ups who were born here, grew up here and have worked for decades, paying their taxes and NI contributions. All because a few ultra-rich, public school educated people want to avoid paying their taxes.

These are things that we don’t hear so much about. We hear plenty about the businesses that rely on parts manufactured in different regions of the Continent and how that will inevitably be made more difficult – and more expensive – by Brexit, whatever form it takes. But the pain caused at the personal level by the opprobrium about Europe and Europeans that is regularly exuded by the extremes of the leave camp is unforgivable.

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