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A Date With . . . R.L.Andrew

My ‘date’ this week is a truly inspiring woman. R.L. (Robyn) Andrew suffers from the debilitating condition Psoriatic arthritis. This is similar to the condition which afflicted the English television playwright Dennis Potter. Being from Australia I wasn’t sure if she was aware of the English writer who I would imagine would be an inspiration. I sent her a link to Mark Lawson’ s tribute to him.

“I did not know that, Frank, and I truly appreciate the thought you’ve put into this question. He truly is an inspiration and proof of determination. I believe the man who wrote Simply Alice suffered from ALS. While not the same disease he achieved incredible things with basically no ability to physically move. I hope to inspire others in kind.

While I’m chronically ill I am still able to achieve many things albeit mentally and via technology. It’s only my physical self that’s inhibited, my mind is more than eager and capable of learning. I can’t do most of the stuff I used to be able to like work outside my home, surf, dive, swim, run etc but while sick I’ve achieved things I never believed I would. I’m about to have my second book published by an American Publisher, my first has won an award and has five-star ratings. I sell signed paperbacks at markets once a month when able and I participated in my first book fair. I’ve also met some amazing, wonderful and inspirational people through social media which has likewise opened up many doors. Instead of it being the end when I became ill, it’s become a new beginning.”

On her website she says her illness made her determined to “use the sponge like brain I have before it turned to mush.” I asked her to expand on that.

“Admittedly it took a couple of years before I realised I could not only be happy and in pain/suffering but have realistic goals. I’d always been physically and mentally active with a burgeoning legal career so when I first became sick that all stopped. My world crashed, what I had been, known or knew got stripped bare and thrown away. Pain quickly became my closest friend, enemy and confidant.

It’s almost impossible to see anything else when you’re consumed by body malfunctions, other diseases and damage that accompany it along the way, let alone dealing with different levels of pain. Your life starts being about medical appointments, tests and medication testing, instead of graduating law school. In the midst of it were my three daughters, husband, friends and relatives also affected by this. It’s a dark existence and in the process it’s easy to lose your own identity.

But, I’ve always been stubborn, determined, focused and have an unquenchable mind. I would not allow myself to be consumed by something I could not control.

I can’t change what happens to my body, yet I can change how I deal with it and how much attention I give to it. I swallowed my pride and accepted any external help I needed and continue to need. I also embraced technology and ways in which that could give me a life.

I’d written short stories and poems from the time I could write and I’d always wanted to write a book. When I put two and two together light returned to my day. I returned to writing short stories and found anthologies looking for submissions. One after another they were accepted and before I knew it I had fifteen plus in different anthologies.

a722b5b2-7652-4f9f-b774-5d78de60b408These not only gave me confidence but taught me about structure, working with editors and constructive feedback. I came across several Facebook writing groups and one in particular changed my writing life – Writer’s World. It’s an online critique group that offers other services such as novel writing boot camps. I signed up, swallowed my pride again and delved in. It’s a humbling experience and at the same time when you’re open to learning from others you become a much better writer. This is how my first book came to be and I met long lasting friends in the meantime.

Now I worry about plot holes and first round edits. I have gone a bit too far in that regard and sometimes forget about my health, but I’m working on it.

Long story short, never give up, never give in, and never let anyone tell you you can’t do something. The only person who can ever stop you, is you.”

Robyn lives in Victoria, Australia.

“I was born in Victoria and moved to South Australia at five until fifteen. At nineteen I moved to Sydney in NSW and had three daughters. We lived there for seven years and then moved back to Victoria. On and off I’ve lived here for around thirty five years. Despite several attempts I’ve not managed to move back to South Australia where I still have family, but Victoria seems to be in my long term future for a number of reasons, mostly my three daughters are in this state and the medical care is better here. Overall it’s a nice state but no matter where you live you can make it home.”

She published her first book last autumn at which point she was already working on two more. I wondered how these second and third books are progressing, given that her condition limits the amount of work she can do each day.

“My second one is in second round edits and hopefully will be published by mid year! It seems to take me about a year from first draft until it’s ready to publish and that takes into account my health. I do some writing every day. Some days I’m able to do a couple of hours in fragments, other days it’s less. However, the beauty of technology these days is that you can write on your phone or tablet. It doesn’t matter how much I do as long as I do some.

With the first one published I have to work at selling it which is difficult given my limitations, but I make it work. If I have to miss a market or something I will. On the same token I take as many opportunities as I can to promote it even if it means leaving my house.”

She writes about relationships with humour but her books are set in an alien world.

“No matter how crappy life gets you can laugh about it and it makes you feel better.

I’ve always been fascinated in life on other planets and I love making stuff up so it went from there.”

Her experience as a Legal Executive “has not come into my writing at all as yet. I’m not sure it will.” Instead she “finds writing an escape from reality. I love getting absorbed in my worlds and characters. It’s so much fun and it’s often cathartic.”

She is published by JaCol, a small independent. I asked about her experience with them and editor Randall Andrews.

“I have loved every minute of it. It has not been easy, it’s been a lot of hard work, thinking, plotting, planning and tossing away parts that don’t work. Randall has a way of getting me to see where something doesn’t work or what I need to change without saying much. He also knows how to get the best out of me and my story and knows I’m prepared to do what it takes. I highly recommend Randall and Jacol to all authors. I want to see it grow bigger.”

I always ask my ‘dates’ about their writing space and time. Robyn’s is dictated by her illness.

“Until a week ago I wrote from my bed or couch but our former office is now my writing room. I have a motorised bed in there which lifts the feet and head however I need it and it vibrates! It’s also the warmest room and all my books, market and writing stuff in there. Now I’m on the third book with another five planned in this series I needed more room.”

She admires “so many [authors] it’s hard to choose one. Perhaps Edgar Allen Poe was the first author who really grabbed my attention and holds it to this day. My Great Grandmother had a full collection of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I read everyone of those too.”

Asked to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers she admits to being “big into the UFO scene and spend time each day researching it. I’m also a keen gardener, such as I can, and a great cook.”

I am in awe of someone who manages to write something every day despite the obstacles life has placed in her way, with the ambition to complete an eight volume series. I hope you are, too. You can connect with Robyn on her website and Facebook. Better still, buy her book here. You can also arrange to receive a signed paperback copy via her website.

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Getting to Know Your Characters

Earlier this week Stevie Turner posted a piece about character development. I commented on the piece, saying that I sometimes place my characters in difficult situations in order to see how they respond. Often these situations will be tangential to the actual work in progress. I’m posting here an example of that in which I explored aspects of the relationship between my main character in the novel Transgression and his partner through the partner’s eyes. I might add that it also impinges upon the recent discussion here about diversity in fiction because my characters are gay and I am not.

Egg on my Face

There are times when being alone is the most pleasant of things. And I shall always be grateful that there are still places where it is possible to be alone. That’s what I was thinking as I strode along the sand this morning. The tide was out and I could just about hear the sound of the waves coming from my right. On my left a line of dunes concealed the coast road. Somewhere above the dunes I could hear the song of a skylark as it soared invisibly into the clouds.

I had been walking for some twenty minutes when I came to the bank of the river. Here I became aware that the dunes had protected me from the wind which now declared its hand by whipping a fine dry powder in soft clouds close to the ground to highlight the ripples in the hard wet surface of the sand.

A swallow swooped low, skimming the ground in front of me as it looped around my legs several times. I had never seen such behaviour before and wondered where its nest could be, so far from human habitation. As I walked, sand flies skittered away and I concluded that the swallow found in them a ready source of food.

Vinny bounded ahead as soon as I released the lead. I’m not sure if Van Gough ever painted a dog, but if he had it would have looked just like Vinny, all lines and wrinkles around his face and fine golden curls under his belly. Seeing him in the pound, Roger and I both recognised it at once and immediately christened him Vincent, which we soon shortened to Vinny. That syncronicity of thought is what makes us so good together most of the time, the knowledge of it adding to the distress I feel at the way things have turned out between us in the past few weeks. This holiday is supposed to help us over it so that we can continue our lives together as always.

That’s why I wanted to be alone this morning; why I offered to take Vinny for his exercise, leaving Roger to prepare our breakfast, a task I usually perform. I needed space to think about recent events, and work out a way back from the frustrations that had begun to appear since he retired. The truth is the poor man misses work. We are not used to being together in the house on a daily basis. At first retirement had seemed like a long holiday. But there came a time when all the jobs that needed doing about the house and garden were done, and there was nothing left to fill his days.

Neither of us feels old enough yet to spend hours watching day time TV. I, always having been the one who keeps the house clean and tidy, can keep myself busy dusting, hoovering and washing and ironing our clothes. Roger has taken on some of that, and claims he enjoys it, although I suspect he says so only to appease me. As a nurse, I am in the fortunate position of being able, even after retirement, to take on the occasional shift filling in for absentees from the regular staff. It keeps me in touch with former colleagues and gives me something to do outside the home still.

I think that Roger needs something like that. I thought perhaps he might have been tempted to write a novel but that did not appeal. Too used to dealing with facts in his job as a journalist he claims. Making things up is not his cup of tea, not when real life is so much more interesting, or so he says. Anyway, it means that our relationship is going through a torrid time just now, each of us sniping at the other about the smallest things. Last night it was about the choice of TV programme: he decided he wanted to watch football. I was all for Master Chef, a programme we both like, both of us being enthusiastic cooks.

“We never watch football,” I pointed out. “Why the sudden interest?”

“I just fancied a change. I’m getting a bit tired of Greg and John and their staged debates about which contestant is going to be eliminated, when it is always obvious which of them can’t boil an egg.”

“Stop exaggerating,” I said. “You know it’s always between two who are equally incompetent. Anyway, it’s the insights into the workings of professional kitchens that makes the programme interesting. You always said that; or were you just saying it to please me?”

“I bet that’s staged, too. A star-rated chef would never let a bunch of amateurs loose in his kitchen like that. They are only in it for the publicity.”

“Oh go on then! Watch your football. You’re obviously in one of your stews.”

And that’s what we did. Sat there stiffly, neither of us really watching the game – I couldn’t even tell you who was playing whom – both of us in a bit of a sulk, wondering what had soured our relationship.

By the time the match was over we had both cooled down and we laughed at our stupidity. But I layed awake for ages worrying about where we will be if this carries on much longer. Things should be easier for us now that public opinion is generally less hostile to relationships like ours. I have seen young gays walking hand in hand on the street, something we still wouldn’t dare to do. But it’s reassuring to know we could if we wished. It’s all so much different from the days when we had to hide our sexuality or face the jeers and sneers of a society conditioned to believe we were a threat to them and their children.

In school my name provided the bullies with an easy epithet to add to the everyday ones of “poof” and “queer”. The inititials C.C. – for Conrad Clarkson – all too easily became “sissy”. Back then “Connie” was equally a name I abhored because it almost always carried the same connotation of contempt, as though I was in some way a lesser being. Now it is spoken with affection by most of those who know me and I am comfortable with it. Perhaps being comfortable is part of our problem, mine and Roger’s: we’ve been together for so many years now and been through so much together.

When we first met it was at the height of the AIDS crisis. That gave the homaphobes another stick with which to beat us. The Gay Plague it was called. I lost so many friends then, between the straight ones that were scared to be near me, and the gay friends who contracted the disease and died a lingering death. Roger was my rock back then, and I can’t imagine what would become of me if we were to part now.

Anyway, to cut a long story short so to speak – not boring you am I? – I needn’t have worried. When we got back to the holiday cottage Roger was full of excitement. Vinny sensed it and that’s how I got scrambled egg all over my face and everything – in my hair, down my shirt front. I was a right mess, I can tell you. Roger came to the door to greet us carrying the bowl in which he was mixing eggs and milk for our breakfast. Vinny, with that sixth sense dogs have, must have felt his excitement and bounded up, sending the bowl flying out of Roger’s hands and straight into my face. The egg everywhere wasn’t the worst of it. The edge of the bowl caught the bridge of my nose and left a nasty bruise. Whilst we were chastising poor Vinny and trying to clear up the mess the toast burned and set off the smoke alarm. For a while it was like something out of Brian Rix but without the double entendres.

When it was all over and we finally got to talk about something else, Roger explained that Madge Morris – you know, the woman that plays the part of landlady at the Red Hart pub in the eponimous soap – she comes from the same town as Roger. Well, she’s only asked him to help her write her autobiography. So now he has something to keep him occupied and we are going to be OK. I am so happy for him.

Third Place and Proud of it!

So the waiting is over now, for me. Joint third is a good place to be when you’ve never won anything before, and after seeing the quality of the opposition I’m more than a little chuffed!

Actually, of course, the waiting isn’t over. Tomorrow comes the pleasure of seeing the two stories the judges deemed better than mine.

via Word Weaver Writing Contest November 2017: 3rd Place

What do you Give a Writer for Christmas?

Inspiration! That”s what every writer needs and, if all those TV Christmas Specials are anything to go by, not to mention dozens of Christmas No. 1s from singer/song writers, Christmas is a great source of inspiration.

But we all know that genius is only 10% inspiration, the rest is hard graft, especially when you’ve got a deadline to meet. Here’s how Paul Andruss handled the problem last year, courtesy of Sally Cronin over at Smorgasbord.

via Smorgasbord Christmas Posts from Your Archives – Have Yourself a Merry Little Writer’s Block by Paul Andruss

Five Top Benefits Of Being A Mature Age Author

I like this post from Australian author Robin Storey. The only quarrel I have with it is her suggestion that ladies of ‘mature age’ still wear Crimplene. Maybe they do down there in the antipodes. I don’t know anyone who does among my contemporaries in the British Isles.

“With Queen Elizabeth turning 90 recently and still looking pretty spry, it got me thinking that one of the secrets to healthy aging has to be a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the mornings. In the case of the Queen, she has commitments – speeches to make, buildings to open, medals to give out. And hundreds, often thousands of people would be put out if she pulled the covers over her head and refused to get out of bed because her arthritis/lumbago/gammy hip was giving her trouble.

The challenge for many people after they retire from the workforce is to keep active and fill their days with challenging and worthwhile activities; otherwise it’s a short slide into a twilight of daytime TV, curtain twitching and writing daily irate Letters to the Editor.

From that point of view there are many advantages to being a mature age author.”

If you want to know what they are you’ll have to click through to Robin’s original post.

The Language of Sex

Controversial Irish singer Sinead O’Connor. Photo from gigwise.com

Sinead O’Connor used the ‘C’ word in a tweet. It seems she took offence at the presence of a certain young woman, famous for being famous, on the cover of Rolling Stone. She could have said “What’s that face doing on the cover of Rolling Stone?”. Except it wouldn”t have had the same impact as the woman’s body part she chose to use instead of ‘face’.

How is it that words associated with sex and the sexual organs have been subsumed into the language of hate, used to express one’s response to an event or behaviour that we regard as foolish, ignorant or inappropriate?

There are couple of ‘T’ words, one with the same literal meaning as the ‘C’ word, frequently used in the same way, although with rather less anger. But it is not only female sexual organs that are invoked to express frustration at someone’s idiotic behaviour. D**khead comes to mind as one example. We all know that when something goes horribly wrong someone will refer to the situation as a ‘c**k up’. And any man will tell you that the physical manifestation represented by the phrase, should it happen at an inappropriate time, is indeed a source of embarrassment. As such, it is perhaps the only commonly used sexual metaphor that makes any sense.

The ‘F’ word has become a common place expletive; the verb as it stands an expression of annoyance, with the addition of ‘ing’ becoming a general purpose adjective. “F***ed up” describes a person or activity that has gone off the rails.

And then there are the ‘B’ words. The noun, literally meaning someone born outside of marriage, is far less used nowadays, perhaps because so many people are now born outside of wedlock. The other, the verb for anal sex, is usually regarded as less offensive in use than the ‘F’ word. Which seems an odd state of affairs given that the activity is so frequently viewed with far greater disgust.

All of these usages derive from our culture’s fear of sex and the accompanying notion that sex is dirty, disgusting, filthy; not to be mentioned in polite society.

Suppose for a moment that the sexual organs were deemed to be beautiful, as a growing number of us do now believe, or that there was a public acceptance of the truth that sexual activity is the most tender expression of love between two people. Would any of these words have the same impact? Would they even be used in the same way? Perhaps we would have to say what we mean; Sinead O’Connor would be forced to substitute “horrible person” for the ‘C’ word in her infamous tweet.

Now let’s fantasise for a moment and suppose that words describing violent acts and weapons became as unacceptable in use as words with a sexual connotation are today. Would “gun” or “bomb” be used in the way the ‘C’ word is today? Would “fight” and “fighting” replace those other “F” words?

If only!

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/432629

She was 14 when her father gave her in marriage to a foreign warrior in return for the restoration of his kingdom. Her daughter would marry a man who served three English kings and ended his life as Regent. What was it like to be Strongbow’s wife and, later, his widow? Could she forgive her father or his arch-enemy O’Rourke? What became of her after Strongbow’s death?

More than a tiny bit marvelous

A Tiny Bit MarvelousA Tiny Bit Marvelous by Dawn French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Comedy must be one of the hardest forms of writing to get right. You would not think so, given the number of successful situation comedies on television or the number of comedians of either gender able to attract vast audiences.
The difficulty as I perceive it, is that in order to make something seem funny, it has to be exaggerated. But not too much, just enough to highlight the inappropriateness of some ordinary behavioural trait, without going so far as to make it seem ridiculous or hurtful. It is a difficult balance to achieve. Go too far and your characters become caricatures.
One of the reasons I never warmed to French and Saunders or Absolutely Fabulous was because, in my eyes, too many of the characters were caricatures, so over-played as to be unlike any normal human being. The same can be said of some of the characters in The Vicar of Dibley but that was always redeemed by the down to earth humanity of French’s own role.
So when I came across a novel by Dawn French I could not resist taking a serious look at it. Would her characters have the substance to sustain them through a 300 page book?
The answer, I am pleased to report, is yes. A Tiny Bit Marvelous presents a fairly ordinary middle class English family going through the turmoil that is inevitable when adolescent angst meets the mid-life crisis of a parent.
French has indeed achieved the balance I referred to above, exaggerating just enough to highlight the inherent humour of a situation without going so far as to make the whole thing seem ridiculous.
What the reader is presented with is something much more substantial than a series of sketches. Events build steadily to the inevitable crisis. Chapter points of view alternate as the story unfolds through the eyes of mother, daughter and son, each of whom has a distinct personality and writing style.
In the background father and grandmother provide a grounding of common sense as the other three become embroiled in a steadily escalating series of increasingly bizarre, but by no means unbelievable, events.
This was a satisfying and enjoyable read I’d happily recommend to anyone whether or not they enjoy French’s work in television.

View all my reviews