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It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

That’s what makes a great writer, according to Rebecca Bryn and she should know, being one of the greatest. Her work deserves much wider recognition. “For Their Country’s Good” would make a TV series to rival “Poldark” and “The Dandelion Clock”, which I had the privilege of reading pre-publication, has echoes of Michael Morpurgo’s “War Horse”.

Writing that comes from the heart, with deep emotional overtones and well developed characters, will always captivate me as a reader. Ms. Bryn does that brilliantly.

via It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

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A Date With . . . Val Tobin

My latest ‘Date’ is with novelist and parapsychology graduate Val Tobin who hails from Ontario. As usual I began by asking her to tell me a little about her home state.

I’ve lived in Ontario all my life. What I love most about it is the beauty of the countryside and the tight-knit community we live in.

The downside is the bugs, particularly the mosquitoes in the summer. I’m not a big fan of winter either. I’ve learned to bundle up for it, but that doesn’t mean I’m enjoying it. Some folks here participate in winter sports, but the closest I get to a winter sport is reading in front of a fireplace.

Val writes across several genres but has no strong preference for any, preferring to allow the story to dictate the genre:

For example, when the idea for The Experiencers, book one of the Valiant Chronicles series, came to me, the UFO conspiracy aspects and the death-ray technology dropped it into SF. The action and suspense make it a thriller as well, and there’s romance in it, because you can’t have people interacting in pressure-cooker situations without something developing between them. It also contains supernatural elements.

I’ve written more romantic suspense than any of the other genres, which might make you conclude it’s my preference. Perhaps that’s correct. I enjoy when characters find deep connections with one another.

24169671_10155427444817982_1744726250_o-300x200In the Valiant Chronicles, one of the secondary characters goes through hell before he matures enough to enter into a monogamous relationship. This character treated women so cavalierly in The Experiencers that one reader emailed me to insist the character die for his sins in the sequel, A Ring of Truth (this was when I was still working on book two of the series).

At first, I’d been headed in that direction. I’d considered redemption for this character through death by self-sacrifice. But that’s not what happened when I reached that point in the story. He meets a woman as lost and broken as he is, and together they find healing.

What I enjoy exploring the most is flawed characters who manage to heal and grow towards their potential.

Her latest release, which I have just finished reading and thoroughly enjoyed, is set among the members of a writers’ group in which petty jealousies lead to murder. She tells me such rivalries do sometimes exist in real life groups, and goes on to comment about the latest scandal inflaming the world of publishing.

I’m a member of a number of writers’ groups. The majority, such as our Indie Author Support and Discussion group (IASD), are on Facebook, which makes them virtual groups. The Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR) provides the physical connection I need and resembles the group in the story more except for the petty jealousy part. My preferred groups don’t have that kind of nonsense, but yes, I’ve seen it rear its ugly head over the years.

Every once-in-a-while you read about authors behaving badly and that stems from insecurity, fragile egos, and fear. The murderer in my story embodied all that’s toxic in any competitive industry.

It can be particularly appalling when writers get nasty. Written assaults can do more long-term damage than physical assaults.

poison-pen-ebook-cover-30june2017In Poison Pen, the character chose the ultimate physical solution: murder. Naturally, eliminating a competitor doesn’t pave the way for success, and that’s what the killer in my story doesn’t see. He can’t understand why, even with the guy he holds responsible for his failure out of the way, he continues to struggle.

If there’s a theme in the story, it’s that acting out of jealousy and envy destroys the perpetrator from the inside out.

Jealousy and envy can result in horrible behaviour. The movie I Tonya recounts how skater Tonya Harding‘s career was destroyed when her husband hired a hitman to kneecap rival Nancy Kerrigan.

I recall a writer who was so angry with a teenage reviewer that he tracked her down and smashed her over the head with a wine bottle. Another author once wrote on her blog suggesting that J.K.Rowling stop writing books for adults. I’ve heard of authors receiving fake one star reviews the way my murder victim does in the story.

As I write this, #Cockygate rages on. For those who haven’t heard, an author has trademarked the name “Cocky” and has sent cease-and-desist letters to other romance authors who have the word in the titles of their books.

I find that with a number of the books I release, life reflects art. Releasing Poison Pen just as Cockygate broke was an interesting coincidence. Instead of wanting to own the whole cocky pie, the author should have considered doing a cocky anthology with other writers who use the word in their titles.51xtkof2hbl-_sy346_

In my opinion, cooperative competition is the way to go. Just because a reader falls in love with one author’s books doesn’t mean he or she won’t ever read books from another author. As a voracious reader myself, I consume works from a huge variety of authors and am always hunting for my next favourite author.

When I find that author, I make a point of following them. I’m never confused about whose book I’m picking up. Any author can use the words “in Death” in their title, but I’ll recognize Nora Roberts’s “in Death” books because they’ll say “by J. D. Robb.”

Indie author Eric Lahti doesn’t have to trademark the word “henchmen” for his readers to recognize that if they come across a book with henchman in the title and it’s by Joe Author that Eric’s not the author. Cockygate would be laughable if it wasn’t so devastating to those authors facing frivolous and expensive lawsuits over it.

I next asked her about that parapsychology degree and her interest in the paranormal, something she shares with a previous guest.

I’ve been attracted to the paranormal all my life, probably because my mother was interested in it. My father, who was a tool and die maker by trade and heavy into math and logic, read palms. I suppose it’s part of the search for meaning or the quest to learn what’s beyond the physical realm.

51yqcxlkull-_sy346_While working in the computer industry, I obtained the B.Sc. in Parapsychic Science and then I went for the master’s degree in parapsychology. I also became a certified Reiki Master/Teacher in 2005 and an Angel Therapy Practitioner© with Advanced Training certified by Doreen Virtue in Kona, Hawaii in March and October of 2008. I returned to Hawaii for mediumship and spiritual writing courses in 2010.

This provided me with hands-on training in addition to the theory I was getting from my other studies. If you’ve never tried to develop your psychic skills, you might be sceptical that it’s even possible, but I draw on these skills and experiences in my novels.

In the Valiant Chronicles and in Walk-In, I have characters with psychic abilities and much of what they do and how they do it reflects my training. When Carolyn glances down and to the right as she connects to a spirit, she’s doing it the way I do it. It’s not something I was taught to do — it’s something I do instinctively — but it works for me.

When I first started the quest to develop my psychic abilities, I was convinced they didn’t exist.

I had experienced enough by that point to be open minded about others having psychic ability, but I was positive I was, well, a Muggle.

The surprises came slowly, but they came. Developing psychic intuition when you’ve blocked yourself or when you’re sceptical is difficult and takes commitment and dedication. It’s time consuming and frustrating but well worth the effort.

Val is about to embark on her first attempt at a non-fiction work, based on her masters thesis. I wondered how much she enjoyed all the work that goes into such an enterprise.

I’ve always loved research. Most of the courses I’ve taken involved a lot of research and essay writing. In my software developer years, I wrote for on-line magazine Community MX about web development using Macromedia products. Somehow, I have this burning desire to be both creative and logical.

I wrote my thesis on the after-effects of near-death experience (NDE) and think it would make a fascinating book. Not only are the lives of those who’ve experienced an NDE changed, but those who hear their stories and interact with them are impacted as well. Research has shown that you don’t have to have an NDE to have your life changed by it. You can be affected by it vicariously. Many of the effects are beneficial, though not always. I’ll delve into all that in the book.

She doesn’t rule out the idea of traditional publishing but is happy with her present status as an independent author.

I have one little story in a traditionally published, non-fiction book (Doreen Virtue’s Angel Words published by Hay House), so you could say I’ve dipped my toe in traditional waters. However, when I wrote The Experiencers (my first novel) and consulted on the subject of trad versus indie publishing with a hybrid author who has been writing books since the 1970s, he made a good case for me to go indie.

518tswurnpl-_sy346_Of course, I don’t rule out traditional publishing, but at this time, I like the freedom and control I get form being an indie author. It certainly has its trials, and it’s expensive to pay for covers and editing myself, but if I have to do my own marketing anyway, I might as well stick with the indie way.

She works from a home office with no door where you can find her most days “from morning to dinner time.” I wanted to know if dinner was taken in the middle of the day or in the evening. She confirmed that it is the latter.

Asked to reveal something that might surprise her readers she certainly surprised me!

My readers might be surprised to learn that I’ve had a cameo in two indie lesbian films. One was Route of Acceptance and the other was I Met You First. Route of Acceptance is out and available for download and I Met You First is still in production.

Find her on Facebook, Twitter and her blog where you will find links to all her books.

Focusing on Mental Health #WATWB #DIL

This month I’m linking to two stories, both concerned with mental health.

watwic-bright-tuqblkThe first is about both an organisation and an event. Pieta House is an Irish charity dedicated to the understanding and prevention of suicidal thoughts. It provides counseling services for those experiencing suicidal thoughts and for people bereaved by suicide. It’s services are backed up by an extensive research programme aimed at establishing which services are most effective and how they might be improved.

In 2009 it began a series of annual walks that take place at dawn on the second Saturday in May. That first walk, over a 5km course, took place in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. The idea was that participants would raise funds for the oganisation whilst the progress from pre-dawn darkness into the light of day symbolises the journey from the darkness of suicidal thoughts to the light of understanding that the organisation hopes that both it and its clients undertake.

Dubbed Darkness Into Light (#DIL)*, walks will take place at 4:15am on May 12th this year at 180 venues across Ireland and in 10 other countries around the world. Last year 180,000 individuals took part. It is not too late to register and participate in the experience of walking from darkness into light at a venue near you if you live in Canada, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia or, of course, Ireland.

000fc031-614Meanwhile, earlier this week an artwork was unveiled in Dublin. The work of Irish street artist Joe Caslin, it was intended to provide publicity for the national broadcaster’s series of programmes about youth mental health.

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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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

*You might be struck, as I was, by the similarity between the walk title and the strap line of #WATWB.

Things we Oldies Need to Talk About

The older I get the more I worry about the afflictions that come with old age. What would happen if one of us was diagnosed with Alzheimers? Or cancer? Or suffered a disabling (but not fatal) stroke?

Periodically one or other of my UK pension providers need to reassure themselves that I am still alive and eligible to continue to receive my pension. They have different methods. One sent me €10 I had to collect from my local post office showing proof of ID. Another sent out a form that required the signature of a solicitor or GP. I took it to my GP and used the opportunity to share some health concerns with her.

She submitted me to the test described in the first of the blogs I’m sharing today. I came through with flying colours. A set of half a dozen blood tests did, however, reveal something. Nothing too serious I hasten to add – a deficiency of vitamin B12. It seems this is not uncommon in older people and is caused by the inability of the stomach lining to produce a factor that enables the body to metabolise B12. The treatment is straight forward – weekly injections for five weeks, then a booster every 3 months.

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Jill Stoking – follow the first of my two links to read how she is facing Alzheimers

As I say, nothing too serious. But this week I came across two accounts of people facing much more worrying conditions, one of them a well known journalist whose work I have admired for a long time, the other a lady who shared her experience on Lucinda E Clarke’s blog yesterday. What both are advocating is the importance of talking about these subjects that are too often treated as taboo matters.

Here is the article about Alzheimers and here is George Monbiot’s piece from the Guardian newspaper about his Prostate cancer.

Lurking in the Cafe and Bookstore #2

This visit to Sally’s place was planned a while ago. We had a long chat, listened to music and cooked a spicy, if imaginary, joint. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being part of it.

via Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Open House Sunday Interview with author Frank Parker

Irish School Students Helping Their African Counterparts #WATWB

secundary-schoolv3Portlaoise College is a dual purpose establishment, both a secondary school and a further education college. Back in 2007 I attended evening classes in painting there. At that time it was the newest of Portlaoise’s education campuses, having been constructed the previous year. More recently all of Portlaoise’s secondary schools have been housed in new buildings on a campus on the other side of town. This post is about the activities of a group of students and teachers from Portlaoise college’s secondary school facility and draws on a story from one of the town’s weekly newspapers.

Secondary Education in Ireland ends with two certificates: the Junior Certificate of Education, examined at age 16, and a two year Leaving Certificate curriculum examined at 18 or 19. These school certificates are roughly equivalent to the UK’s General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and ‘A’ levels. Between completing Junior Cert and embarking upon Leaving Cert studies students in Ireland have the opportunity to undertake a Transition Year (TY). This combines continuing study of core subjects with a variety of extra-curricular activities designed to act as a bridge between the two academic programmes.

Diversity

At Portlaoise college the TY programme has, over the last few years, included a field trip to the Gambia where students and their teachers carry out work improving the facilities at a community school. This year they also provided a vital piece of equipment for a hospital in the same locality.

The list of students participating in this project is indicative of the diverse nature of the population of Portlaoise. Five of the sixteen students who participated have names suggesting their parents originated from Eastern Europe.

watwic-bright-tuqblk

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.

4. 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 hastag to help us trend!

 

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

A Date With . . .Lucinda E. Clarke #EndFMG

34273252The subject of my latest ‘date’ is a writer relatively new to fiction who has behind her a long career as a professional writer and broadcaster. However, unless you have spent many years in Africa, you are unlikely to have come across her in that role. She has written extensively about her life in three volumes of memoirs which she followed with a series of thrillers set on the African continent and featuring her alter-ego Amie. The memoirs reveal an extraordinary resilience, as she encountered many disappointments as well as considerable successes.

I began by asking her which of her achievements she was most proud of – and what event in her past life makes her cringe when she recalls it.

“My proudest moment was probably when an article I wrote was published in a national magazine in South Africa about a young couple living in a shanty town. They had so very little yet they were so brave and cheerful and even insisted I had a cup of tea as I interviewed them. Their story was heart breaking. When it came out it caused quite a storm and readers from all over the country sent in food parcels, candles, money, blankets and clothes. The magazine asked me to go back in and help deliver the goods with a couple of chosen readers, take more pictures and write up the visit. It was a wonderful afternoon, and I left feeling like Mother Theresa.

25064543My worst moment was a follow up to this same story. I was back filming in the same shanty town six months later when I discovered that the moment our vehicles had left on that uplifting afternoon, several other residents in the camp had descended on them and taken everything. Joel had got into a fight, been knifed and killed. Thombe had fled and had not been seen since. The woman who’d introduced them to me had screamed at me, reminding me that I had got paid for all my ‘good deeds’ which ruined this young couple’s lives. Now I felt like Judas Iscariot.

It taught me one lesson, never interfere in a situation unless you fully understand the consequences.

I can’t think of anyone I know of whom the slogan “Been there, Done that, Wore the t-shirt” is more apt, so I wonder what advice she would give to someone facing the disappointment of failure.

“I’m tempted to be flippant here and say “try, try, try again and give up.” In many ways I’ve been lucky as I spent most of my time trying to hold it together and never had the luxury of sitting and moaning when things went wrong. I had to just keep going, to put food on the table for two hungry youngsters, hide the facts of life from them and be willing to turn my hand to anything. Wanting to be a great novelist (yes, I know I laugh about this too) from the age of 5, it wasn’t the most riveting thing in the world writing about the manufacture of mouth guards, or how they sewed hands back on after being severed in a cement mixer, (you have no idea how squeamish I am). But this was writing of a sort and a long and valuable apprenticeship.

I had glamorous ideas of being a doctor, but when you faint at the sight of blood or a needle that’s not such a great idea. Not everyone can write, and even great writers never make the top charts, but if you’ve suffered one disappointment after another, get your work appraised by someone ruthless (not another indie author, friend or family member) who will tell you the honest truth. If the response is positive then you just keep trying, if not, then find another way to express your creativity.”

And, for those preening themselves in the glow of success, was there anything she would say to bring them down to earth without “raining on their parade”?

“Remember how fickle the public is. Today you are the flavour of the month, tomorrow no one remembers who you are. One comment, one piece of bad press can bring the whole thing crashing down. I was riding on a huge wave of success with my video company, dozens of government clients wanting me to work for them – then the law was passed, they could only employ black people. I’d already given up two thirds of my company to African and Indian partners, I was doing the same amount of work for only one third of the profits after the first Black Economic Empowerment laws were passed but the second legislation disempowered me completely. Sadly, it was time to leave, but hey, I still had my sense of humour. “

35435365Years ago she published educational books with a traditional publisher. Her more recent works have been self-published and she puts a great deal of time and effort into marketing those books. I wondered if she would welcome an opportunity to return to trad. publishing if that were available.

“This is a question I’ve often asked myself, after I’ve put in hours of work and the sales are dismal. I’ve dug out my old contracts and wondered if the same commissioning editors are still with Heinemann or McMillan but then I remember how much control they might take, deciding on covers I might not like, insisting I change bits in the story I’m fond of, owning copyright for maybe years, taking at least 18 months to bring out the next book, and finally, giving me a fraction of the royalties I can get as an Indie.

I’m really lucky in that I was trad published, and earned my living by writing so I don’t have to prove anything to those who wrinkle their noses at me and sneer (and yes it has happened) that I’m not a ‘proper’ author. Oh, and remember I’m an aging dinosaur now, I can’t wait that long, I’m determined to get as many books written as possible to decorate the shelf in my room in the old folks’ home.”

She experienced the highs and lows of African politics at first hand and that provides the background to Amie’s adventures. I asked if she was prepared to share her view of African culture and the effects of colonisation.

“I rarely comment on religion or politics on social media, but for you Frank I will make an exception. When I first went out to Africa I took with me the well-known views that colonialism was wrong, a bad thing and that European countries had taken unfair advantage of its peoples. I got a shock when I learned that when Jan van Riebeck went out to set up a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope in 1664 no Africans had seen a wheel before. The colonists brought with them skills, medicine, the written word, the knowledge of what minerals were and how they could be used, improved agriculture . The invaders saved many lives and built infrastructures thousands of Africans enjoy today. Yes, they did rape the land of precious minerals, and some workers were treated badly, while others refused to work at all. That led to opportunities for many Indians and Malays to immigrate to South Africa to work and many of them have prospered in later generations. Most of the luxury cars you see driven around these days and mansions are owned by Indians. There is rampant corruption in Africa, part of the mindset that those in charge, chiefs, ministers and leaders are there to be obeyed and deserve the best. Things are changing, but slowly.

I was amazed by the number of Africans who told me they were happier under a white government, life was safer, the rules were clearer and the corruption was less.

I had a further shock returning to Europe to discover just how much corruption is rampant in Europe, only people here are much better at covering it up.

Politics aside I’ll never forget one day in the car on location when I popped an Andrea Bocelli CD on and my African cameraman burst into tears. He had never heard opera before and he was totally entranced. He made me play it over and over and over again. It was a bit of the West he appreciated.”

361363521The latest volume of Amie’s adventures deals with the highly controversial subject of FGM. Though illegal in much of the developed world, it is a centuries old practice in some African cultures. I decide to play devil’s advocate and put it to her that, if I was to condemn male circumcision, as practiced as part of a religious ceremony, I would probably be branded anti-semitic. How is her condemnation of FGM different?

“The practice of FGM can cause bleeding (haemorrhage), chronic pain, scar tissue and keloid, recurrent infections (eg tetanus), swelling of the genital tissue, fever, wound healing problems, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, sexual problems, complications during childbirth, infant mortality, shock and even death. Some women are literally sewn up and the skin has to be broken open for intercourse to take place, then again for childbirth, after which she is sewn up again. The pain must be indescribable. This does not even touch the damage to the dignity and self-esteem of the victim. It does not have one single health benefit.

While it might be a tradition, behind it lies domination over women as men have reasoned that if women enjoy sex they may be unfaithful. There is no thought of keeping a wife happy in every day life so she wouldn’t want to stray, it is done by force. Male circumcision on the other hand has fewer dangers and men can lead perfectly normal lives after the procedure. Many of the health benefits are now being questioned. Unlike male circumcision not one religious text mentions FGM or propounds it, but there is an upsurge in certain sects to preserve it. We need to stop it now, by persuasion in the countries where it is practiced.”

As a follow up, I ask at what point does she believe the process of ‘civilisation’ ceases to be a good thing and spill over into the suppression of traditional cultures, if at all.

“Most of what is produced these days lends itself to making life more comfortable eg dentistry, medicine in general, transport, education, safe housing etc. Where the ‘civilisation’ breaks down is when one culture totally dominates another and forces it into obeying their rules. While we may see the benefits, the traditionalists must be persuaded it is also for their benefit. If they refuse then I feel they should have the final decision. In Africa democracy is seen as “one man, one vote, once,” it’s a foreign concept in a paternalist society. After that, the ruling party stays in power by whatever means possible, even if it requires killing off the opposition candidates and beating up voters. If you’ve lived in a ‘civilised’ country all your life it’s really hard to grasp the brutality and acceptance and fatalism of a different culture. It’s a totally different mindset.”

I turn to the subject of propaganda and ask if she would describe the programme segments she produced for African national and regional governments as ‘fake news’. How well, I wonder, does she trust the output from traditional media like CNN, the BBC, The New York Times and Washington Post. Does she think the press is generally a force for good or has it been universally discredited by the prevalence of political bias?

23640787“Goodness yes! Fake they were! On a Monday I would be scribbling for the National Heart Foundation telling people to only eat red meat, and how potatoes were bad for you. On Friday I was extolling the virtues and vitamins in potatoes for a major crisp company. In my defence I was being paid to produce what the client wanted. And NO, I don’t trust ANY of the news channels, they tell people what they want them to hear, believe and what opinions people should have.

Another shock, it was in Libya, was to listen to how radio news broadcasters all over the world reported on what was happening in Benghazi when we were living there. Some said it was a bloodbath, others it was an out and out war etc. The only one to tell the truth was Radio Vatican City! All that had happened was they had closed the border between Libya and Egypt and herded out the Egyptian workers in trucks. Most of the world media reported it as a full-scale war.

It’s a known fact that if you have trouble within your own borders, or an embarrassing situation, you look around for something to divert attention away from it. If you don’t believe me watch the movie “Wag the Dog,” it’s brilliant. The levels of coercion and corruption worldwide are beyond belief. Newspapers won’t publish bad things about companies that pay for their advertising and governments manipulate the media constantly. I wish people were more aware of this. Propaganda is insidious and the people can be so easily persuaded. One reader told me I didn’t know what I was talking about regarding Africa despite my 34 years there, in rural huts, village celebrations, tribal courts, hospitals, private houses, schools, clinics, shops cities and deep rural. She’d never been there but she’d seen it on the television so she knew I was quite wrong about it all. Believe me, propaganda is powerful.”

I thank her for her honest and illuminating answers to my questions. I hope you find her as inspiring as I did and that you will pop over to her website and take a closer look at her books. She is also on social media and Goodreads.

Amazon author page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lucinda-E-Clarke/e/B00FDWB914/

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