Frank Parker's author site

Stevie Interviews Author and Singer-Songwriter Donna W. Hill

I’m getting behind with my own author interviews so I’m delighted to be able to share this one between Suffolk based Stevie Turner and Pennsylvania’s Donna W. Hill. I found it truly inspiring – I hope you do too.

via Stevie Interviews Author and Singer-Songwriter Donna W. Hill

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Monday Memories – 1968 Part 2

One of the conditions of buying a house from Hereford City Council was that we were not supposed to sell at a profit, at least, not until we’d lived in it for five years. We could, however incorporate the value of ‘improvements’ within the sale price, with the agreement of the council. I’d built a few cupboards and shelves, we were leaving behind a new, Cyril Lord, fitted carpet and there was the garden that I’d created from nothing. We were, therefore, able to put the house on the market for around £600 more than the original price we’d paid, and had no difficulty finding a buyer at that price.

Finding a house in Coventry at the same price was not as easy. For a start you could only get a building society mortgage if you had been saving with the same society for at least 3 months. That was not a problem, nor was the imposed limit of 3 times annual earnings. However the notional 10% deposit required was. Any loan against a house purchase would be a maximum of 90%, not of the asking price, but of the society’s valuation and this was almost always lower.

To give a hypothetical example, a house on the market for £4,000 could, in theory, be acquired with a deposit of £400. The building society might value it at £3850, meaning that, unless the vendor was prepared to accept a reduced offer, the purchaser would have to find £535. And then there were solicitor’s fees and agent’s commission, not forgetting any redecorating that might need doing on a house that had been occupied for a number of years.

We made one or two weekend house hunting forays to Coventry. Freda’s brother drove us there on at least one such occasion. We looked at a number of prewar houses which, once we took account of the above factors, proved to be beyond our means.

Some of these viewings provided our first experience of families whose origins were in the Indian sub-continent. It was not unusual to find that only the children spoke English. The cooking smells, too, were a revelation to us. I can honestly say that we did not find any of this objectionable. Hereford, at the time, had only a handful of families of foreign origin so we had little experience of alien cultures*. Nevertheless, the presence of such diversity was one of the attractions of the move to Coventry. Hereford, by comparison, seemed backward.

Not withstanding the cooking smells, there was no doubt the homes of Asian families in Coventry were clean, something that I could not say about some homes I’d visited on a regular basis during the preceding couple of years in my role as collector for a football based charity lottery. In the mid-fifties a producer of nickel alloys established its manufacturing base in Hereford. Over the following years the company’s old units in Birmingham and Glasgow were closed and a number of employees moved to Hereford where many were housed in the same estate on which we had purchased our house.

I recall being horrified by the condition of a few homes I visited; just a few years old yet the front doors were filthy. On at least one occasion I saw a front door with a large hole caused, like the muck, I suppose, either by a football or a boot. When the door was opened the person doing so would be followed by a blast of warm, fetid air ripe with the smell of dog.

After looking at several preowned homes it became obvious that our best bet would be to find a newly built house on a modern estate. One such was almost complete on a site previously occupied by Coventry’s greyhound stadium. The Stadium Estate was a relatively small development consisting of semi-detached and terraced houses and a couple of two story apartment blocks, between Holbrooks Lane and Lockhurst Lane on the North West outskirts of the city. There was a bus stop within comfortable walking distance, on Holbrooks Lane, making access to the city and my place of work easy.

The house we purchased was at the end of a block of 3 next to a junction between two culs-de-sac. There was very little garden at the front, most of which was occupied by a car port. There was, however, a modest area at the back which I could turn into a garden.

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You will recall that I had given up on motoring upon getting married some five years previously. Working for Denco Miller I occasionally drove a car from the company pool. To get to Cambridge and Coventry for my interviews I hired a Mini. With its low centre of gravity, front wheel drive and innovative suspension, the Mini was especially good at going around corners fast. I remember boasting at how quickly I’d covered those two journeys, neither of which included sections of motorway. That network, in the UK, was still in its infancy.

For the first five months of working in Coventry I used the bus; departing Hereford on Sunday afternoon and returning Friday evening. But for the weekend of our move I needed a car to convey wife, child and those domestic essentials that we would need whilst unpacking the big stuff from the furniture van. The car rental company in Coventry didn’t have a Mini available but could rent me a brand new Morris Minor. Although new, this vehicle was based on outdated technology and was far less manoeverable than the Mini, as I was to discover to my cost.

One of the recent additions to the embryonic motorway network, the M5, crossed the road I had to travel. A new bridge had been constructed with a wide approach for maybe 50 metres either side, after which it reverted to its narrow, winding norm. It was November, dark, damp and, possibly, icy. I accelerated on the wide section of road and entered the first half of an ‘S’ bend traveling much too fast. This meant I was on the wrong side of the road approaching the second half of the ‘S’. I mounted the grass verge and was brought to a stop by the hedge.

I mentally sighed with relief and began to wonder where I could find someone to tow me out of the hedge. I felt the car start to tilt and at once I was upside down then the right way up, with the sound of water trickling somewhere.

The driver’s side door was jammed against a grass bank and would not open. I clambered across to the passenger door and exited the car. I had left the road on the right hand side so the road should now be on my left. The spin made me think the car had turned around to face the wrong way. So I climbed over the bonnet of the car to ascend the bank on the driver’s side and found to my surprise I was in a field.

When I eventually made my way onto the road I could see the lights of a building about 100 metres ahead. Somewhere, I hoped, where I might get help and access to a telephone. I realised that my back was wet. I could not sense any injury – later I discovered a graze on my left hip left by the seat belt. The building whose lights had attracted me revealed itself as a pub. I explained my situation and was pointed to a telephone from which I called the police to report the accident (necessary for the rental company’s insurance) and a neighbour to let Freda know I was unhurt but would be home late. Could she contact her brother to come and get me?

I was quite shaken by the experience and asked the pub landlady for a large whisky. She sensibly advised against alcohol until after the police had talked to me.

The following morning I had to hire another car in Hereford for our journey to Coventry. On the way we stopped to look at the Morris Minor and rescue some of my belongings from it. The back window had shattered as the car rolled into a deep ditch beyond the hedge. Everything was soaked in stagnant, evil smelling water.

There was no doubt that I was very fortunate: firstly that there was nothing coming from the other direction when I crossed the road and secondly that I was uninjured in the subsequent roll-over. The car was invisible from the road and, had I been immobilised, I could have lain there all night.

*I ought to add that one of my colleagues at Denco Miller, a highly intelligent and educated young Engineer, was Indian, having graduated from one of India’s universities before completing his Masters degree in London. As a Proposals Engineer he had set up one of the contracts that was handed to me to execute and I remember traveling with him to London for a meeting with the client and being introduced to some of his University friends at an Indian restaurant.

Little Things Mean Such A Lot #WATWB

watwic-bright-tuqblkThis story comes from my local newspaper. I like it because it illustrates how small acts of kindness add up to a great deal.

The link is to the relevant page of the newspaper and you will need Adobe to read it. The journalist responsible for the story is Lynda Kiernan.

She tells us about a grand mother who is an enthusiastic knitter. As well as fulfilling orders for knitwear for friends and relations she knits baby clothes which she delivers to the local maternity hospital. But her charity does not end there: she also fills shoe boxes with gifts to be distributed to children around the world. At the time of the article she already had 225 ready and wrapped for Christmas this year.

http://epaper.leinsterexpress.ie/iconic/books/leinsterexpress/2018/20180925leinsterexpress/#/30/

Have you got a good news story to share with the world? Here’s how to join in:

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.

Place the WE ARE THE WORLD badge or banner on your Post and your Sidebar. Some of you have already done so, this is just a gentle reminder for the others.

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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#WATWB hosts this month: Eric Lahti, Inderpreet Uppal, Shilpa Garg, Sylvia Stein, and Peter Nena

 

Thanking my Lucky Stars

It might have been different if I’d not been on a first aid course a few days before. Then I might not have thought ‘stroke‘ when my right foot and my right hand both started acting strangely. I had a good look in the mirror and my face looked okay. My speech wasn’t slurred.

That was Saturday night. Our wedding anniversary was coming up on Tuesday and we’d booked a short break away. I’m a volunteer on the Strides for Life programme the Irish Cancer Society devised for recovering patients. That means a 30 or 40 minute walk on Monday morning. I did find it surprisingly difficult keeping up with the patients but my foot seemed to be behaving itself. Driving to our holiday destination 150 km. away was a different story. My right foot kept drifting off to the right. And then I had to sign the register and fill in my name, date of birth, address, phone number and vehicle registration. I struggled to form the letters.

Tuesday I decided to phone our local doctors’ surgery to get an appointment for Friday morning. By Tuesday night, with storm Ali making any idea of sight-seeing hopeless, we decided to cut our holiday short. Back home Wednesday afternoon I rang the surgery to see if my appointment could be brought forward. At 3pm I was explaining my symptoms to the doctor. He spent 20 minutes trying out various tests, after which he decided that a CT scan might provide some answers.

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“The best way to get it done straight away is to go to A&E. Go there first thing in the morning, before they get too busy, and give them this letter.”

I’m seen quite quickly and, after triage, I’m taken to a cubicle and hooked up to a heart monitor. Two different doctors carry out the same battery of tests before I’m taken to radiology for a chest x-ray and the CT scan. Another doctor comes and repeats the same tests. He tells me the CT had not showed anything significant. The consultant will be round soon to discuss my case with me. By lunch time I’m told he wants to do an MRI. This has to be booked in another hospital. It is too late to organise today.

The best way to get ahead of the long waiting list is for him to admit me so that I am an in-patient. I might get an appointment for Friday but it could be after the weekend.

That’s how I ended up in hospital in a five-bed ward with 4 very sick people, feeling a complete fraud. I’m given a meal in the afternoon and a snack in the evening. Because I’m a new admission and have not pre-ordered a meal I’m given a fry up: two sausages, a rasher, black and white pudding, toast and butter. I tell one of the nurses that I smell a conspiracy: the medical profession is always telling us such fare is bad for us and yet here they are feeding it to me!

There is a nurse allocated to our small ward full time. All 4 of the other patients are seriously ill. One in particular, Michael, needs constant supervision and one or other of the nurses is sat by his bed most of the day and night.

Friday morning I get seen on the consultant’s round. We discuss my symptoms and do the tests again. He spots my arthritic fingers and calls for more blood tests. He says he will put me on aspirin to thin my blood plus something to counter its effect on my innards. And, as an extra precaution, statins for my cholesterol.

One of his team returns shortly afterwards to take the bloods. I have a cannula in my right arm where they took bloods yesterday and which has been left in for the MRI team to inject dye. She can’t use that – something to do with the blood being contaminated with whatever is injected via the cannula. “But nothing has been injected yet,” I protest. To no avail; I have to offer up my left arm.

Then a physiotherapist arrives to do another assessment. In the afternoon I am told my appointment with the MRI team is at 10:30 Monday morning. So I’m here for the weekend, occupying a bed in our supposedly overstretched hospital system, getting 4 meals a day and constant attention, when I could be at home. All in order to by-pass an appointments system that means, as the consultant put it to me Friday morning: “If we send you home you would wait so long it might be too late.”

The MRI, when it happens is an interesting experience in itself. Certainly not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobics. Superficially like the CT in general appearance, it is larger and, whereas the CT takes just a couple of minutes, I’m in the MRI enclosure for at least 15. Throughout that time you are subjected to a strange sequence of loud noises. Tapping on a tin drum followed by loud buzzing like someone revving a high powered motor bike – 5 or 6 taps followed by the same number of revs. That sequence is repeated several times then you get the pneumatic drill for what seems like several minutes. A series of clicks and clunks is followed by a repetition of the above, not necessarily in the same order. What it all means, in terms of what the machine is actually doing, I have no idea.

All this takes place after I have been taken by taxi from my local hospital to one about 30 km away. Back to my bed some 2 1/2 hours after I left – just in time for lunch, in fact – I only have to wait a couple of hours before the consultant brings the verdict. I did, indeed, have a mini-stroke caused by a tiny clot forming in one of the capillaries in my brain. He says I will now be on aspirin for life, to keep my blood thin, with the pink pill to protect my stomach from the effects of the aspirin. I have my heart monitored over night and have to provide a blood sample before I eat anything tomorrow then I can go home.

I guess I owe our local cancer support centre, who organised the first aid course because I’m volunteering on that walking programme for their clients, and the man who delivered it, a debt of gratitude. I could quite easily have ignored those minor symptoms – indeed, I very nearly did and at times through this last weekend felt I was wasting valuable resources that could have been put to better use.

The moral of the story? Never ignore your body when it is trying to tell you something and, of course, learn the signals it sends and what they mean.

A Date With . . . Paul Ian Cross

My latest author date is with Paul Ian Cross. Paul is originally from Redditch in the English Midlands but now lives in London.

I left Redditch in 1999 to go to university. I was eager to move to a city as I’d been in Redditch all my life, and I was ready for a change! It was nice to move away, but I do enjoy going back there to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew who still live there. I moved to Nottingham for my studies and later moved to London for work, where I’ve been living ever since. I love London as we always discover something new there, whether it be a café, restaurant, art event or bar. However, the craziness of the capital can sometimes be too much. It’s nice to have a balance, and get away from the city sometimes.”

Paul is a research scientist. His first books were an attempt to introduce science in a lively and entertaining way to young children which he believes is an important mission.

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“I’ve always had a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, fp), so I always knew I’d go into a science career. I believe it’s very important for children to be introduced to STEM early on, as the concepts will be much easier to digest when they eventually study the subjects at school. We also need more people to go into the sciences, so I hope by introducing STEM concepts to children in a creative way it’ll inspire them to follow a similar career path.”

Paul has also explored family relationships, teamwork, and the idea that children can “achieve whatever they set their mind to”. In a world where adults sometimes seem to be beset by anxieties, does he think it important to give children and young adults a positive message?

“Yes, most definitely. I never felt good enough as a teenager and when I entered my twenties, I didn’t believe I’d ever make it as a writer. I was lucky to meet people who helped build up my confidence in both myself and my writing, and the rest is history. That’s why I want to share the message with children and young adults: you can achieve those dreams you’ve always had, you just have to try and work as hard as possible. It may not work out how you expect, but at least giving it a try is better than having regrets.”

He regularly collaborates with other writers and/or illustrators. I wanted to know how these relationships work? How were any disagreements resolved?

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“Yes, as a children’s author the books we create are most definitely a team effort.

I’ve been lucky to work with artists, designers and illustrators who have captured my characters perfectly, so we haven’t really had any disagreements.

We start off by writing a contract together, so we know exactly how we will work together, so I believe that’s the reason why the collaborations have been so successful.”

At least one of his books is listed at Waterstones, something that is beyond the reach of many independently published authors. I wondered how Paul achieved that.

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“When I started out as an independent author, I researched the industry as much as possible. I treated it like a job and I did so much work I almost forgot to write! I discovered that the best chance I had of getting into bookshops was to set up a small publishing house, and that’s when Farrow Children’s Books came to be. I named my publishing company after my Grandparents, Dennis and Vicky Farrow. At the moment, Farrow Children’s Books only publishes my own work, but with time I plan to open for submissions from other authors. It’s relatively easy to set yourself up as an independent publisher, you just need to register with Nielsen and purchase some ISBNs.

Now, all of my books are listed on Waterstones.com and they’re also available to order in over 500 independent bookstores around the world.

However, getting your books a place on the shelf is far more difficult, and it’s something I have only recently achieved. My first novel aimed at teens and young adults – The Lights of Time – launches on 27th November and I’ll have my first proper book launch at Moon Lane Books in South London, who will also be stocking copies. It will be incredibly exciting to see my book on their shelves! It’s an amazing children’s book shop managed by Tamara and Clare who also run Tales on Moon Lane in Herne Hill. I’m in the process of approaching Waterstones and Foyles and I’ll be pitching to them too, in the hope that they’ll stock a few copies on the shelves.”

Paul still works as a freelance scientific researcher as well as writing.

“I left my full-time job in the NHS in 2017, and set up my own consultancy. My business has two brands: my clinical research consultancy and my writing, under Farrow Children’s Books. I’m now able to spend half the month as a clinical research consultant, and the rest of the month working on my writing projects. It was a big change for me, with a great amount of risk, but I haven’t looked back since. It was the best decision I ever made!”

Paul would love to meet Andy Weir who wrote The Martian.

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“I plan to follow in his footsteps and have my independently published novel developed into a movie! I’d ask him exactly how he agreed his movie contract, as I would like advice with this aspect! I’m currently working on a film treatment (basically a summary of the book) which could potentially be developed into a screenplay. My plan will be to pitch it to producers, to see if they’d be interested in taking on the project. Again, I did lots of research before starting this work, and the process is not as complex as it first appears – finding someone to take on your project is the difficult part. As I always say though, what’s the worst that can happen? They may say no, or they may completely ignore me. But at least I can say I’ve given it a go!”

Paul was kind enough to take time out from a holiday to answer my questions.

“I’m currently in French Polynesia on an atoll called Tikehau. We swam with humpback whales last week and we’ll be meeting a group of manta rays tomorrow! We’re on a two-month tour of the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. You can check out my holiday snaps on Instagram: @pauliancross.author”

You can also find Paul’s books via his website and his Amazon author page.

Monday Memories – 1968.

An occasional series in which I share some significant events from my past.

At work, after completing my apprenticeship, I was designing components for eventual incorporation into the ill fated TSR2 defence project and the highly speculative super-sonic airliner Concord (Concorde if you are French). TSR stood for ‘Tactical Strike and Reconnaisance’. I’ve no idea why it was designated ‘2’. I suppose there must have been an earlier version of this aircraft. In any case it was cancelled, being deemed too expensive at the time.

There were four of us ex-apprentices within a couple of years of each other, each of whom got married in 1963 or ’64. As well as watching Hereford United football and socialising in the club’s Supporters’ Club we organised a couple of events of our own. One ‘initiative test’ involved lads being dropped off at various points on the outskirts of Chester. This was at 10pm and the task was to make our way back as quickly as possible. In another we set off at 8pm with the objective of getting as far away from Hereford as possible and back by 6pm the following day. This demanded judgement as well as initiative, determining when and where to commence the return journey so as not to be disqualified for being late. I and my partner achieved creditable results in both.

In the second we made it to a village called Misson in the northern corner of Nottinghamshire, not far from Doncaster. I remember a friendly policeman who stamped our form to confirm we had been there and treated us to a breakfast of tea and bacon butties in the kitchen of a factory making cattle feed pellets from grass. Apparently this was part of his morning routine.

At some point the company recruited a young draughtsman to augment the team of design draughtsmen. Originally from Lancashire, he was quite ambitious and would prove to have a significant, if indirect, impact on my future career.

He quickly found a better paid job with another firm based in Hereford, Denco Miller Ltd. The parent firm, Denco, had begun life just after the war manufacturing lubrication systems under licence from an American company. At some point they were approached by a refrigeration engineer called Alan Miller who saw an opportunity to use the principle of refrigeration in various industrial applications.

Denco Miller was the result of this collaboration. The company produced air conditioning plants for the burgeoning computer industry, and compressed air drying systems for manufacturing plants that used tools powered by compressed air. The company had just begun selling gas drying equipment to the nationalised regional gas companies who were converting from coal to oil as the source for gas production.

Marketed as ‘High Speed Gas’, this was a precursor to the yet to be discovered North Sea Gas. Delivered under pressure via a nationwide network of pipes, it replaced the low pressure distribution of coal gas which was stored in large tanks, or ‘gasometers’, which could be seen in every town of significant size. The nation’s town and city streets were being dug up to install these new pipes to deliver High Speed Gas to homes, and a programme was underway to convert domestic appliances to use the high pressure supply.

Denco Miller’s business was booming because of this and my former colleague was appointed as the new Chief Draughtsman and set about recruiting other colleagues. I succumbed to his felicitations, not so much a promise of higher earnings at once, but a near certainty of early promotion as the business expanded. So it was that, in February 1966, after a total of seven and a half years at the company where I had served my apprenticeship, I left to join Denco Miller.

Sure enough, within a few months I was promoted to the role of Contract Engineer. This meant I was put in charge of supervising the delivery of various projects from conception to commissioning.

Many of the new Synthetic Natural Gas production facilities were constructed as an integral part of an oil refinery and there were, at that time, a number of such projects underway in Britain. Such vast projects were managed by large companies using American project management techniques which could quite easily make mincemeat of small enterprises like ours working as sub-contractors. I was certainly not up to the job of negotiating with their Project Managers. Contracts tended to be priced low to ‘get a foot in the door’ in the hope of getting future business. My job was to screw as many concessions and payments for ‘extras’ as possible from the client, theirs to screw as much out of us as possible without paying more than the originally agreed price.

After one particularly difficult contract that lost money for the company I was ‘redeployed’ back to the drawing office. This made me determined to look for employment elsewhere – and I was in no doubt that it would have to be away from Hereford.

The first alternative opportunity I explored was as a Technical Journalist with a weekly publication called, I think, Engineering News. I went to their offices in London for an interview and was offered a job, but it would be at the same salary as I was already earning. The idea of trying to live on such a salary in London with its inflated housing costs simply did not appeal. I had responsibilities and we were managing reasonably well in our rural backwater.

It was not just the cost of living that deterred me from moving to London – traffic noise and fumes, over-crowded buses and Underground trains, and too many people crammed into poor quality housing seemed like a bad idea by comparison with our little house and garden a stones throw from open country.

A few months later I travelled to Cambridge to an interview with the electronics company Pye. They wanted someone to design equipment enclosures and manufacture prototypes. I would have access to a small workshop but would have to do the prototyping myself. Memories of some of the mistakes I’d made whilst working in various machine shops as an apprentice made me have second thoughts about that job.

I can best illustrate this by recounting an incident from my period in the so called ‘Short Order Department’. This was where small batches of components were manufactured, quantities that did not merit the expense of creating the tools and jigs required to produce large numbers of a particular set of components. As well as a number of basic machine tools, the department had a bench were certain items were hand made by a craftsman. Geoff was one of the nicest men I met during my apprenticeship or since.

A Scotsman, he had been mechanic to the Allard motor racing team after the war. He was not only a master craftsman but also a wonderful mentor and teacher for those of us apprentices fortunate enough to work alongside him. Upon my arrival in the department and introductions, he Christened me “Squire Parker from Peterchurch”. From then until the day I left the company I was known as “The Squire” or “Squire Parker”.

There is a technique for using a pillar drill which is one of the first, most basic things, a user learns. The object to be drilled needs to be supported so that when the drill bit exits the object it does not enter the table of the drill. Despite this, many of the old pillar drills with which various departments were equipped were peppered with holes left behind by individuals who had ignored the rules. One day the Short Order Department was treated to a brand new pillar drill. A few days later I was allocated a task which necessitated drilling a hole in a piece of aluminium. Everything was going fine until I noticed the silver coloured alluminium swarf from the drill had been replaced by dark grey slivers.

I felt the heat rise from my neck to my cheeks as I realised the error of my ways. I can well imagine that some of the craftsmen and supervisors alongside whom I had worked previously would have been unable to hide their anger at such incompetence and the spoiling of a new, expensive, piece of equipment. Not Geoff. Of course, he gave me a well deserved lecture. But he also set about finding a suitable piece of steel bar and then creating a deliberate hole in place of my accidental one. This new hole was a tight fit for the piece of rod which Geoff drove into it, filing and polishing until my mistake was completely erased.

One of Geoff’s favourite remarks was “Bloody hell’s bells (name) what d’ye think ye’re doing?”. A phrase he used that day, accompanied with a lesson on taking the trouble to do things the right way.

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The Foleshill Road, Coventry, offices of Courtaulds Limited, now a listed building. Image found at heritagegateway.org and copyright Coventry City Council. Permission sought

To get back to my job search, the day after my trip to Cambridge I went to Coventry for an interview with Courtaulds Engineering Ltd. The textile conglomerate was undertaking a massive investment in its many plants around the country and further afield, as well as offering the services of its Engineering subsidiary as Project Manager and Design Specialist to other organisations.

I was offered both of these jobs and chose the one in Coventry, not least because it was not too far from our original family homes in Herefordshire. It also meant a higher salary at a time when there was a government imposed cap on wage increases. I began work at CEL in June of 1968. We sold our house and purchased one in Coventry which we moved into in November. I was to spend the next 18 years as an employee of Courtaulds Group, in various locations and capacities.

A Date With. . . Max Power

My ‘date’ this time is Dublin born author Max Power. In his response to my first question he agrees that his Dublin childhood is an important influence, but goes on to say that it is only part of the story.

“The Jesuit maxim of ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’ is not something I buy into. It’s never too late to change direction. Perhaps the greatest influence in my writing has been the deaths of my mother, my father and my elder brother who died all too young aged 53. I struggled with grief when my mother passed in particular and I know in hindsight that I was damaged by not dealing fully with the loss at the time.

Love, loss and death are central themes in all of my books, I suspect largely because of how my life has developed. I have been asked for example, why I write across genre. For me there is no line that divides the twisting paranormal tale of Darkly Wood from the book I wrote about a little boy whose name I never reveal. Both are written in my voice and it is a voice that comes directly from my head to tell the reader a story.

I am a simple story teller, no more, no less.

Other writers will understand the huge effort that goes into writing a book, but I like to think that whoever reads my stories is sitting comfortably and hearing the lilt of my voice with each written word. It is certainly what I like to feel when I read a book and I spend a lot of time when editing, focusing on words that hopefully achieve this. I guess therein lies the craft.”

81nobyqnfnl-_sy300_Like so many indie authors, Max’s writing journey began quite late in life although he had always had stories in his head waiting to be unleashed.

“I have always been a writer I guess and I devoured books as a reader for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid recollection of being beaten by a De La Salle Brother for writing the title of my essay at the top of every page, just like I had seen in books. He ignored the fact that while every other boy in the class barely managed to fill one page for their essay, mine was 12 pages long. The shock of being punished for working so hard was unbearable at the time.

I have worked hard all through my life and part of that involved extensive travel, including a full year living and working in Australia. Along the way my children had to be reared and as you say, life gets in the way. I tend to work on multiple projects at once and one such current rewrite dates back to a book I first wrote in 1990. In short I have always tipped away, but I have finally reached a place in life where I have a little more time to dedicate to my writing and therein lies the answer.”

His first three novels were published in 2014. Subsequent books have appeared at longer intervals in what turns out to have been a deliberate marketing strategy.

“One of my primary degrees is in marketing, so I knew I had to get a batch of books to market to have any chance of developing a profile as a writer.

The first book I published was Darkly Wood, a true labour of love for me. I had already written first drafts of the next two books so in the first year I was working to a very specific plan – 3 books. I always work on multiple projects. Right now for example I am finishing Darkly Wood III, rewriting a book I mentioned earlier, a thriller called Apollo Bay set in Australia, there is a story set during the Irish Famine, and one that has a loose connection to Little Big Boy as well as a couple of other projects in development. I like to move from project to project at different stages as I feel it keeps me interested. I never have writers block and I think my methodology has a lot to do with this.”

81wqpmhuxil-_sy300_A recent reduction in published output is undoubtedly the result of what I chose to refer to as “a brush with ill health”. Turns out that was something of an understatement.

“My ‘brush with ill health’ saw me go to hospital for a relatively routine procedure. Unfortunately on the table things went wrong and to put it simply, my heart stopped and I had to be revived.

I had suffered a heart attack and ended up in a critical care unit for two weeks. It was a wrecking ball through my life. I am still relatively young and I went from being a healthy, fit man, to someone who couldn’t walk up the stairs without stopping for a break.

People asked me what was it like and I do have decent recall of what happened, though not a full memory of course. I was conscious up to the point a nurse climbed onto the table and started to squeeze a bag of fluids to which I was attached. I distinctly remember that the mood in the room changed and another nurse took my hand. She calmly told me that everything would be fine – that I would be fine.

I understood in that moment, I’m not sure why, that I was dying.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes but I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I’m melancholic by nature although I cover it up for the greater world. I suspect in those moments, as I briefly crossed over, my natural self took over. I just felt sad for those I was leaving behind, my darling Joanna and my wonderful children. When I came around I was changed.

Bizarrely for a man who is a total sceptic and has no time for ghosts, spirits etc, I discovered that I now have a new dark companion who I have blogged about so I won’t go into detail here. I strongly suspect it is a delusional apparition, but there is a very dark and frightening, portentous element to his visits that make me uncomfortable.

In the last year I have had a run of bad luck health wise, mostly relatively minor things, but they have hugely impacted my writing time. As I type, I am struggling with a shoulder injury and to be honest, I have a serious pain in my backside with the recent list of creaky, old man ailments that have hunted me down one after the other. But on the bright side, my trips through the world of medicine are always good food for my blog.”

8197jivbbal-_sy300_Max’s often satirical, and always very funny, blog has a large following. He offers this advice to bloggers wishing to emulate his success:

“I approach my blog very differently than most bloggers – or at least I think I do. It is not a commercial enterprise, nor an exercise in narcissism. I love telling stories. Even in the flesh I never shut up. My blog is an extension of that side of me. I sit at my laptop and have a little wander through my thought process. I will tell a story, usually multi-compartmented, and my goal is either to bring a smile or just to share some often very honest truths about myself.

It’s not a confessional but I know from interactions with readers of my blog, that I often connect with others going through similar experiences. It is a sampler if you will, of my writing. It is my penny dreadful in a way, a teaser of me and a good place to practice being concise, which is important for me as a writer.

The advice I would give for whatever value that might be, is to know what you want to write about.

If you have to struggle each time you sit down to write a blog, then you haven’t discovered what it is you are trying to achieve.

My blog is what it is, it does exactly what it says on the tin. I do use imagery and spend more time choosing my images than I do actually writing the blogs as I understand the importance of the visual impact – again my history in the world of marketing coming out.

Like all my writing advice, I go back to the heart of what writing should be.

Be interesting, be relevant and always think of your audience first.

Some writers think too much of themselves and forget that ultimately they need to engage and entertain their readers.”

He does not (yet) have a special place for his writing:

“I write anywhere. Kitchen table, sofa, office at lunch break, hotel rooms when I travel, there is no special place. We moved to our current house three years ago and there is a space I’ve got my eye on, but with one grown lad, Joanna’s 93year old mother and three dogs, I have yet to find the time to confiscate and decorate. I write every day, if only a small amount it doesn’t matter. I alternate from a first draft, to editing different drafts or rewrites, and it is a slow process but I keep at it.”

81rjxrvczjl-_sy300_Although his books are strongly character driven they are mostly worked out in his head before he begins committing them to paper.

“I write every book in my head, start to finish. It can take months for me to develop a story, my mind is a whirlwind of noise, it never stops and that can be a bad thing. But among the clutter there is always my latest planned project. When I am happy with it, I sit down and write it through start to finish without any edits until I get the story down. My books are entirely character driven and perhaps the best example of this is Wormhold in Darkly Wood II. He changed how the book developed and was entirely responsible for me writing book III.

Originally he was supposed to have a far smaller part in the book, but as I inked him to life, I fell madly in love with his twisted horror and I couldn’t help myself and he became central to the story. I couldn’t end the book without curtailing his wild twisted beauty, so I replotted and realized I would need a huge book to get to where I wanted to go. The upshot is a third book in the series that wasn’t originally planned.

In general I allow my characters to take their natural course, but they ultimately stick to the end goal. I’m a far more technical writer than most people would notice. Writing a book in the first person without ever using the character’s name was an enormous challenge and within Little Big Boy for example, there was a need to write about terrible things that the reader had to understand but the narrator, my Little Big Boy didn’t understand and on occasion had to be oblivious to the events in the story.

It may sound simple, but I literally slaved over words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs, to achieve something that reads like it is falling off the little boy’s tongue, all the while revealing the sometimes unrevealable as my main character was too young to see or understand context and circumstance. I loved writing the book because I think I got into the space I needed to get to write it, the head of a seven year old boy. I also hated writing it, because I was very ill during the process so I struggled a lot getting this one finished.

Larry Flynn drove me to distraction. He is such a simple character in theory, but I understood his secret backstory so he diverted me quite a bit. I think both Larry and James Delaney in Bad Blood, had their own meanders but thrillers are easier to keep in line as they have a much more fixed structure if everything is to work out.”

91szeupvynl-_sy300_As I imagine we all know, the standard disclaimer “any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental” is only half true and Max is not afraid to admit it.

Little Big Boy has my face on the cover. I wanted a little boy on the cover and there were no copyright issues with my own photo. I stole many bits and pieces from people I knew in my childhood, but it was very much a case of taking all the fragments and creating something new.

In Darkly Wood some of the characters despite the strangeness of the tales, have origins in people I have met, but again they are only shadows of real people falling on my invention.

I did use one real name that might surprise people when they hear it. My daughter’s boyfriend has a friend called Zachary Westhelle Hartfiel. He is as Irish as they come despite his name and when I met him I told him that I simply had to steal his wonderful name for my book. I turned him into a swashbuckling chap in the vain of Black Adder’s version of Sir Walter Raleigh. He came to a dark end though. I would say that in general my main characters are pure inventions of my own, created in my mind as I plan my story.”

As you might imagine, Max includes a number of classics among his favourite writers.

“I love Charles Dickens, Henry James, George, Elliot, for example but I have a broad taste beyond the classics. Stephen King’s The girl who loved Tom Gordon is one of my favourite books but most people miss this short little gem in his catalogue of more famous books. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a cracker and I enjoy Flan O Brien.

Perhaps my favourite book, is still The Little Prince for its simplicity and for Alexander du Saint Expurés interesting life, I think I’d have to have him to dinner or a pint. As always with people I meet, I want to learn about them primarily. New people fascinate me and I think we have most to learn by simply listening.”

I always like to end my ‘dates’ by asking the subject to reveal something surprising abut themselves.

“There are things that if I put on paper people literally wouldn’t believe and tempted as I am, I’ll keep the strangest ones to myself. I can tell you that I have an empathic ability to feel the physical pain of others by touch. I can touch someone and from that touch I can literally pinpoint a point of pain on their body. I keep that to my self – until now – only Joanna can back that assertion up. There’s that and the fact that I have no tickles, never had. I used to tell my kids that they all fell out as I snapped back up from the bottom of a bungee jump – a little embellishment I know, but I simply can’t help myself I’m afraid.”

I thanked Max for some fascinating insights into his life and his writing. Do please check out his books, if you have not already done so. Probably the best place is on his website where every blog is ended with a set of links to your local Amazon store. He is also on Facebook.

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