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A Date with . . . Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson is a retired Military Cop from Seymour, Texas. As well as moving around quite a bit as the son of a cowboy, his military service took him to Korea, France and Vietnam but he loves his home town:

“ I was born in Seymour, but spent twenty years in the military. My dad was a cowboy and cook, so we moved to other places during my early years. In fact most of my early education was in schools in Wichita Falls, Texas. After retiring from the military service we moved back to Seymour because our parents were in bad health, and we stayed after they passed away. Seymour is a small ranch and farm community,with a population under three thousand. However, we have two museums here. The Baylor County Historical Museum, and the Whiteside Museum of Natural History. Seymour is in the Permian Basin (think oil) where a dig site has been providing Permian reptile fossils for well over a hundred years. In fact, we have a 300 million year-old amphibian named after our town, the Semouria. The Whiteside Museum of Natural History has a huge display of animals from mammals to dinosaurs and reptiles. Schools from around Texas and Oklahoma bring students here on field trips, and many do return engagements. Students love to visit the museum, as do adults.”

PENTAX Image

Tom is passionate about pulp fiction (the real stuff, not the eponymous movie). I wanted to know what attracted him to the genre?

“First I became a collector of the old pulp magazines, and was fascinated by the yarns written in the 1930s & ’40s, and even the earlier stuff by Johnston McCulley. It was really a time for heroes, and Johnston McCulley and a few others started the costumed/masked crime fighters long before Superman and Batman tackled crime in comic books. The explosion actually happened after the Wall Street crash of 1929.

The public was tired of gangsters in suits and expensive automobiles while the rest of humanity stood in lines at the soup kitchens.

They wanted heroes and the Dime magazines gave them those heroes. While living in Wichita Falls, Texas I had access to the movie theaters in the 1940s and thrilled to the Saturday Matinee serials. These were stories right out of the pulp magazines, and I loved those old serials. As an adult I started collecting the serials- I’m now at 100 and counting, and this led to collecting and reading the hero pulps. As a writer of SF, I wanted to write new stories of the old pulp heroes, and have enjoyed some success in that genre. I don’t think I will ever tire of the hero stories. And you’re right, the movie, Pulp Fiction has nothing to do with real pulp fiction.”

Tom regularly collaborates with Altus Press, he explains how the partnership began:

ALTUS PRESS is owned by a very nice gentleman in Massachusetts named Matt Moring. My wife and I started the publishing imprint of FADING SHADOWS in 1982. We started publishing a hobby magazine that year, plus in 1995 added genre magazines and published new writers from around the world.

In 2002 I had a stroke and we had to slow down, so in 2004, 22 years after starting our imprint, we ended the FADING SHADOWS imprint.

Around 2005 Matt Moring contacted me wanting stories from the pulps to reprint. I began supplying ALTUS PRESS with the material Matt needed, plus he hired me to write Forwards and Introductions to his books. When he learned that I had researched many of the old pulp series, he asked me to let him print them, so he began publishing a lot of my work from the FADING SHADOWS period. At 78, I’m pretty well retired now, but I’ve recently written another Forward to ALTUS PRESS upcoming book, THE DOMINO LADY

Tom began writing whilst in the military:

I was a reader from an early age. Comic books at age 7, and the classic novel like Tom Sawyer by age 11. So I’ve always loved to read. My dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a cowboy. But I hated ranch and farm life. At age 16 we moved back to a ranch where Ihad to work after school and on weekends. I decided that wasn’t a life I wanted, and when I turned 18 I joined the Army and left ranch life for good.
In the early 1960s I was a desk sergeant for the MPs in France. While my units were on patrol I would create plots and characters and write little scenes of action. I guess I was bitten by the bug, so to speak. But I didn’t do anything with my interest until after a touring the jungles of Vietnam. When I returned home in 1970, I sat down and wrote two novels that would become the first two stories in the JUR series. I wrote them in long hand and pencil. Paid a typist to put the first one in manuscript format, and made copies which I mailed off to SF publishers.
Just as quickly I started receiving rejection slips. I needed to learn the trade. So I stuffed the manuscripts in a drawer and started writing articles and columns for newspapers and magazines. And when we started the FADING SHADOWS imprint after I retired from the military, my wife and I got into editing and grammar.

While researching the Mike Shayne magazine the publisher put me in contact with James Reasoner, the current Shayne author at the time, and James heard about my SF stories and wanted to read them. I sent him the first story and he made some good suggestions which I took to heart. I rewrote the first novel, and in 2002 submitted it to a publisher.

The publisher wrote back accepting the novel and asked for more.

I wasn’t doing anything at the time so sent the second novel to them, then the third. That began my real writing.
But you asked me about the military, didn’t you? My career field was law enforcement, but my training was infantry. I spent a couple tours in Korea, the first on the DMZ under fire in 1959-60. A wonderful three year tour in France, and a tour in Vietnam 1969-70. I spent most of the 1960s overseas. When in the States I had a hard time getting out of Texas. I think I was stationed at every military post in Texas. I joined the Army on November 24, 1958, and retired February 1, 1979. I still feel the military was a better option for me than ranch life. Twenty years in the military, and twenty years in publishing. I don’t regret any of it.

Looking at the covers of Tom’s books (some of which are reproduced here) it’s obvious that he does his best to imitate the style of the 1940s pulps he loves so much. How much of that is down to him?

I do most of it myself, though sometimes I use one of our old FADING SHADOWS artists to illustrate and a designer to set up the cover. I first look for a pulp cover that’s in the public domain, and if I can design the title, I’ll do it myself. I want something that will catch the eye of the reader. I don’t really care for modern book covers.

Tom is married to his editor – and he has encountered every self-publisher’s worst nightmare (not that the two are in any way connected!).

Ginger, my wife, does a good job editing my books. I will go over the manuscript several times until I’m happy with it, but then I turn it over to Ginger and she catches the things I don’t see. I do have too many files, though.

Once, when we uploaded a manuscript for print and eBook we uploaded an unedited file instead of the final version.

One of my readers saw the problem and let me know. I had to pull the book and upload the file again. Unfortunately, I had ordered 26 copies of the paperback for book signing, and that was a waste of money since the book was full of errors.

Some people regard pulp fiction as the bottom of the literary barrel, both from the presumed quality of the writing and from the subject matter and the culture it promotes. How does Tom respond to such criticism?

I’ve heard this a lot. And some of it is true. Pulp was formula, and the writers were trying to make a living at a penny a word during the Depression. There was little plot, little characterization, but lots of action. Lester Dent, the author of Doc Savage (as Kenneth Robeson)struggled to move from pulp to the slicks because he thought Doc Savage was junk and he would never be recognized as a real writer. But if we compare the sales of Doc Savage to the sales of Hemingway, Doc Savage probably sold ten times more books than Hemingway, and today Doc Savage is more popular than Hemingway. Unfortunately, Lester Dent died in 1958, so he never knew how popular Doc Savage would be. Some great writers wrote pulp fiction. They had to if they wanted to feed their family.

I was unaware of Tom’s age when I asked him the standard question about fitting writing in around working for a living.

With my retirement and what my books bring in I make good money. Besides, at 78 I’m too old to work (LOL). I’ve always heard never quit your day job to become a writer. But we are well off and have no worries about finances. If I never sold another book, it would not hurt our income in the least.

Not surprisingly, Tom’s favorite authors include a few who write ‘pulp’:

There are so many writers I admire. Past writers would be Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember Tarzan?) Robert E. Howard (Conan). I have spent time with many of the pulp writers. Today’s writers I would have to say K.G. (Gail) McAbee, who can write anything and it’s going to be good! And a dozen others, but if I mentioned a few and left out others I would get in trouble, so I will leave it at this. LOL

Asked to reveal something unexpected about himself, Tom confesses that

I am addicted to coconut. I love coconut pies and coconut cakes. I am as bad about coconut as some are about chocolate (LOL).

I really enjoyed my conversation with such an engaging gentleman – I hope you did too. Connect with Tom on Facebook, at Amazon and via firstrealmpublishing.com.

For the latest Pulp news, check out Tom’s blog here.


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Life Changing Events

A few days ago Stevie Turner posted on this subject, taking her cue from an earlier post by Colline Kook-Chun. It inspired me to think about some of the events that influenced the direction my life has taken.

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  1. My father’s death in action in 1943. Had he survived the war, who knows what my life would have been like? I would probably have been brought up as a Londoner, since both parents were from there. I certainly would not have gone, at age 10¾ to a boarding school established for boys who had lost one or both parents. The school still exists, although the majority of pupils these days pay expensive fees. I shall be back there later this year celebrating 60 years since I left. Thanks to modern technology, many of my contemporaries communicate regularly with each other despite being scattered in different parts of the world.
  2. Meeting my wife in the summer of 1961. I was 19, she 16. I proposed in the early hours of December 27th, as I walked her home from the Boxing Night dance. We kept our engagement secret until her 17th birthday in June 1962 and were married in September 1963.
  3. Discovering, in the spring of 1965 as we moved into our first new house, that she was pregnant. We had not planned to start a family quite so soon but our son brought a new phase in our lives as a family unit and, as you will discover below, led to us coming to live in Ireland.
  4. Joining the staff at the Engineering HQ of a large corporation in the summer of 1968. That took me to South Africa and eventually to East Lincolnshire. Altogether I worked for over 18 years for that corporation and the pension I paid into now provides about 1/3rd of my annual income. It also led to:
  5. Being elected to Humberside County Council in May 1985. I was one of 4 Liberals elected that year. The other two parties had 35 and 36 members so we held the ‘balance of power’, able to veto any proposal from either of the other parties. I like to think we used this power wisely. It was certainly extremely time consuming because, in order to do the job, we had to be represented on every committee, sub-committee and working party.

    humber-bridge

    The Humber Bridge. Image via Scunthorpe Telegraph

    My employer was extraordinarily generous with allowing me time off to do this, but after a year and a half I was offered the choice: cut down on your council activities or take redundancy. The redundancy offer was generous and I accepted, having visions of a new career as a writer and politician. After working, unpaid, for the party in the run-up to the 1987 General Election I needed to find some alternative source of income which takes us to:

  6. Our shop. We decided that, since Freda had worked all of her life in shops, latterly as manager of a charity shop, we should set up our own shop. I would look after the administration whilst she worked ‘front of house’. I researched the market and decided that Cleeethorpes could benefit from having a quality glass, china and giftware outlet. A unit was available in a building belonging to a kitchen design specialist who had his show-room upstairs. This seemed like an excellent fit. I talked to potential suppliers, put together a business plan and everything looked promising until the building went on sale. The owner’s plan to increase his income by creating and letting units had not worked out. Any thought that the new owner might still be interested in having us as a tenant was dashed when planning permission to open a fast food outlet was applied for.

    The next premises we looked at meant a complete change of plan. It was a moderately successful food retailer. The owner, a chef, prepared a range of chilled ready-meals in a kitchen at the back which he sold in the shop, alongside the usual deli-type goods and speciality foods. His recipes had been so successful that he had taken a small factory unit in Grimsby and wanted someone to take on the retail business, with him continuing to supply the popular ready meals. We opened in September and did great business in the run up to Christmas. Then the chef lost a big contract and had to close the unit so we lost our main supplier. We struggled on for the next few months but the risk involved in food retailing is enormous and we just could not compete with the supermarkets who were starting to develop their own deli counters and chilled ready meals.

    I got a part-time job writing business profiles for a regional business magazine but in the May 1989 election I lost my council seat and returned to my original career as an Engineer.

  7. Our son’s marriage in 1993. His wife is Irish and in due course they moved to Dublin with their daughter. So, when considering retirement options in 2006, moving to Ireland to be near them was a ‘no brainer’. More than eleven years on we are still here, enjoying life in a small Irish country town where we have met many new friends, some through the writing group to which I belong, and some through the support centre for people touched by cancer where we both volunteer.

At the end of Stevie’s post are two questions, originally posed by Colline. Here they are, with my answers:

  1. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s… a Ryanair jet bringing home the owner of the Grand National winning horse and offering free drinks to all the passengers
  2. What music do you like: Jazz, Folk, Rock, Blues, Broadway/West End Musical scores.

Thanks, Colline and Stevie, for the inspiration. I wonder how many of my followers will be tempted to follow suit?

A Date With . . . Penny Luker

My latest date is with a former head teacher who has written children’s stories, a young adult novel, poems, and short stories for adults. She is a resident of Cheshire and a member of her local writers’ group. I began by asking her to tell me about the town and its environs.

“I taught in Nantwich and Delamere in Cheshire and have lived in this area for twenty five years. It is a beautiful place to live. There are lots of amazing places to visit; lakes, castles, canals and cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, not to mention Chester. The people here are so friendly and the children I taught were great fun. Originally though I came from Kent, which is also a lovely part of the country. I visit often because I still have family there.”

She loves writing poetry and goes to a monthly class with John Lindley, who is a former Cheshire Poet Laureate.

“He sets interesting tasks and gives us examples and then we share our efforts as a group. I have two poetry books out and a third one is on the way. The new book will be called, ‘The Shadows of Love’. It explores all the different forms of love, including some of the negative implications.

I enjoy doing all forms of writing and I usually have about three or four projects on the go at once. Then I swap from one to the other.”

She considers that her teaching experience is not always of help with her writing for children:

GreenTiny“In some ways it is but in other ways it’s a hindrance. It helps in that I have a good knowledge about what children can appreciate at specific ages, which is good. As a teacher you have to be careful to always have a formal attitude to children but children enjoy snotty and slapstick jokes, which

PabI often find difficult to do. What has helped me with writing for children is that eacDesh of my books so far has been written for one of my grandchildren. Writing for a specific audience works well. Although the books are complete fiction I’ve included something relevant to each grandchild.”

Her creativity does not stop at writing:

“I have studied fine art at what was Mid-Cheshire College. It was a brilliant place to study. I wasn’t too good at ceramics, but I loved textiles, all forms of painting and graphics. I enjoy portraits and figurative drawing and painting the most, but I’ve painted landscapes, seascapes, flowers and still life. At the moment I’m studying with the Open College of Arts. I’m very committed to my art projects and find they often contribute to or enhance my writing. Art like writing takes me to another place.

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An Example of Penny’s art work – one of a series of images of statues. © Penny Luker

I play the piano only for my own pleasure. I never perform for others. I particularly like the music of the 1970s and some classical music, but I’ll play anything as long as there’s an easy version. It’s very relaxing to play, though perhaps not to listen to.”

Her Author page on Amazon tells us she also plays ukulele. Intrigued, I wanted to know more about that.

“The ukulele has taken a bit of a back seat lately. It’s a great instrument being portable and easy to learn to play. I’m more interested in finger style playing than strumming, but I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to play music as an inexpensive and enjoyable first step. It should be brought in to primary schools.

Playing music makes people happier and in this stressful world we should help our children find ways to relax and communicate.”

She likes being independently published because it gives her complete control of the process, except publicity.

“For Desdemona: the dragon without any friends, I drew all the pictures and designed the front cover as well as writing the story. A friend of mine was picked up by a traditional publisher and her cover was produced by them. It wasn’t consistent with the story. That would have really annoyed me.”

She has worked in the past, on a voluntary basis, for a website exclusively for women writers. With all women short lists for parliamentary candidates being in the news recently in England I donned my ‘devil’s advocate’ hat and asked if she thinks women creatives and politicians need the protection of an exclusive space. It provoked a long and passionate response.

Truth“You’ve reminded me to update my website. Thank you. I started working for All Things Girl because a friend introduced me to it. It was a great magazine to work for, encouraging new writers and getting their work published online. Due to time commitments I don’t work or contribute to the Modern Creative Life, but wish them all well. I liked All Things Girl in spite of the fact that it was all female. They wanted to promote women’s writing because women had a harder time getting published in the US. I’m not sure if that’s still the case.

I do think that men and women read and write differently. If I buy a magazine to read, it will probably be a woman’s magazine. They do of course have stories written by men but they’re probably gentler stories. All of the novelists I’ve chosen below are women. I didn’t think about gender when I chose them. Obviously I do like some male authors and probably most of the artists I like are male. I’m not a fan of erotica or extreme horror, which perhaps appeal more to the male reader, however when we make generalisations like this there will always be lots of exceptions.

I think we need more women in parliament as I think it is still unfairly weighted towards men but I strongly disagree with all female shortlists.

What we need is people who are up to the job and I would suggest that many who are in post are not good enough. In the recent UK referendum both pro and anti Brexit MPs lied to the British Public and we knew we weren’t being told the truth. Why should we be led by such incompetence and dishonesty?

We should stop worrying about who is sleeping with who (I really don’t care) and sack all MPs who are caught out in policy lies. I think women tend to lead in a different way than men and we need both in parliament, but it should roughly reflect the community that it represents and we have a long way to go to achieve that.

I believe the way to increase the number of women MPs and leaders is to broaden our concept of what makes a good leader so that it recognises female personality traits more. As a head teacher I always tried to take all of my staff with me when I wanted to make changes. This required listening carefully to their concerns and what problems they thought might arise. Sometimes this made me amend or tweak my ideas. At the end of the day I was still responsible for the children and staff and would have to make a decision, but because the staff were involved and listened to, they had a commitment to making the change work.

I must be clear though that I am not saying women are better than men at being leaders, just they may approach leadership differently and at the moment some of their good qualities are not appreciated. Some of the women MP at the moment are so tough they make me wince.”

She has an office in the house and a writing shed in the garden . . .

“. . . but I write anywhere. The office in my home is very untidy as all my art is stacked up in there. The one in the garden is neat and tidy. I love to work there on a warm day with the doors wide open. I write on the laptop most of the time and I write at any time of the day. Life is busy so I grab time when I can. I book a night or two away occasionally, so I can have a concentrated time to write.”

Asked about her favourite writers and what she would hope to learn were she fortunate enough to meet them she tells me:

“I’m lucky enough to have met John Lindley, Jo Bell and Alison Chisholm, all excellent poets. They’ve taught me how to take the ‘usual’ and look at it from an unusual angle. Regarding novels I’ve always been a fan of P.D.James, Elizabeth George, J.K. Rowling and Trudi Canavan. P.D.James had expertise in forensics, which would be interesting to know about. With the other writers I’d be interested to know how they manage to be so prolific and how they keep track of their complex plots and numerous characters.”

Responding to my final question, she would have loved to have been able to reveal something that “would make me look mysterious and interesting,” as if what we have already discovered has not achieved that.

“But I’m a very ordinary person. I didn’t really discover how much I enjoy doing creative things until I retired, but when I was clearing out all my teaching papers I found poems written inside covers, in diaries and on scraps of paper all over the place. I often wrote stories for individual classes although I’m not sure where they went. I even wrote a Christmas play once!”

Follow Penny on FacebookHer website and her Author Pages at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Booklinker

 

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.

Home – what does it mean to you?

This post was suggested by The Writing Reader’s prompt #1753, the first line of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Urishay Castle. © Copyright John Thorn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Last night I dreamed I was back in Urishay, a small community of farms and cottages in the hills above the Golden Valley, close to the Black Mountains that mark the border between England and Wales. I was a babe in arms when I first arrived there with my mother and grandmother. It was to be my home for the next 14 years.

Our cottage had thick walls of local stone. A stream ran in a deep ravine with two waterfalls behind it. Cattle grazed the surrounding fields for a large part of the year. In summer sweet smelling hay was harvested to provide winter feed for these animals. It is a place full of memories of warm summer days spent roaming the lanes and hedgerows. There was an orchard with ancient apple and pear trees. I remember well the delicious, golf-ball-sized, pears that grew in abundance on two or three of these gnarled trees, fruit that were as attractive to wasps as to us children.

Home is a strange concept. I have lived in many other places since, but that cottage in Urishay will always be ‘home’ to me. So, too, will the boarding school at which I resided for 40 weeks of every one of the six years between the ages of 11 and 17. I have been back a number of times recently and it fills me with memories of my youth, as do the many exchanges between myself and other former pupils on a Google forum created for the purpose.

Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral

The city of Hereford, Coventry, Cleethorpes and a small village in East Yorkshire have all been home to my wife and I at various times during the 50+ years of our marriage. Over the past few years we have created a home with a beautiful garden in a lovely part of the Irish Midlands. One of the new friends I have made here in Ireland recently published a book entitled Home. His experience of home is very different to mine. He remained in the same small town throughout his life, apart from a brief period in university. Now retired from a teaching career in the town in which he was born, he has spent the past few years researching the history of the town. He created a website filled with photographs of the town’s buildings, each one accompanied by details obtained from census returns of the various inhabitants and their trades.

Home contains much of this same fascinating information that documents the life of an Irish market town from its inception as a defensive fort at the time of the Tudor plantation of Ireland to the meteoric expansion of the ‘tiger’ years and their accompanying construction boom.

An image from Portlaoise Pictures. Copyright John Dunne

But in his book my friend has preceded the historical facts and anecdotes with eleven delightful short stories about fictional characters and their lives in the town in the 1960s and ’70s.

It is this fascination with the way life was lived in one’s youth that, perhaps, most accurately defines the real sense of ‘home’. For me it is the rural backwater in the Welsh Marches and the boarding school among the heathland of Surrey. For my friend it is the market town with its music, its shops, its prison and its small cinema. My friend’s home town is not merely the backdrop to his short stories but a solid character whose history shapes its inhabitants, creating that unique quality that makes them different from the citizens of any other place.

Castle Dunamaise ruins #2 webThe castles and hills of the Welsh Marches mirror those to be found around my new home in Ireland. The same people built both sets of castles. A few years ago my own research centred on these people and their involvement in the history of both places. This led to the creation of the Hereford and Ireland History section of this website and Strongbow’s Wife, my novel about the young woman who became the wife of the man who answered her father’s call for assistance in his ambition to become High King.

Urishay features as the setting for my own second novel, Summer Day, in which a boy believes himself to be responsible for his father’s death. Many of the characters who feature in various ways in the tragic events of the day that follows are loosely based on the real people who inhabited the district when I was growing up there. And I’m guessing the characters in my friend’s short stories are based on real people and events he experienced in his formative years.

Home is available from http://www.portlaoisepictures.com/purtockpress.htm

Strongbow’s Wife can be purchased from Amazon. A soft cover version is also available via this link: https://www.feedaread.com/books/Strongbows-Wife-9781786109910.aspx

Summer Day can be purchased from Amazon via this link: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Day-Frank-Parker-ebook/dp/B007ZBK4UI?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc

Volunteering in Later Life: #atozchallenge

Many people who have retired from full time employment find renewed fulfillment by volunteering their time and skills to organisations working to improve their local communities. Everything from running a “meals on wheels” service to maintaining flower beds in your local shopping centre can be done by volunteers.

Retirement Worries

Are you approaching retirement and wondering how to fill your time? Or maybe you are retired already and starting to suffer from “cabin fever”. Have you considered volunteering? There are lots of organisations that involve people like you providing services for others. Some of them are near you.

What do volunteers do?

Maybe you want to let people benefit from the specialist skills you developed over a long career in a profession. Many organisations need legal or financial advice, for example. Most have volunteer management committees for whom such administrative skills are vital.

Perhaps you could teach art or craft to people with a disability, or computer skills to people in your own age group who have yet to discover the magic of internet communications. Assuming you are still able bodied, you might consider helping people much older than yourself with simple “DIY” tasks like basic plumbing, gardening or decorating.

Do you see retirement as an opportunity to do something completely different? You could decide that, after years of sitting behind a desk or computer screen, you would like to work outdoors. Your local “Tidy Towns” or “Britain in Bloom” group will welcome you as a part-time gardener.

These are just a few examples. The truth is that whatever you fancy doing, the chances are there’s an organisation near you that needs it doing!

How much will I have to do?

None of these organisations will ask you to do more than you are willing to do. Most will provide support and training. What they will expect in return is a commitment to turn up at the agreed time, with the agreed frequency, and to provide as much notice as possible if you can’t. Always remember that other people – often vulnerable people – are dependent upon you. So commitment is the important thing, not the amount of time you put in. Whether you’ve agreed to do 2 hours or 10, weekly or monthly, you must be prepared to stick to that.

What will I get out of it?

By its very nature, volunteering does not offer financial rewards. For retired people, it’s much more about continuing to feel useful after the world of work has dispensed with your services. Volunteers, and the work they do, are highly thought of in their communities. You will meet new people with a shared interest and enjoy a reinvigorated social life. And although you won’t be paid, you shouldn’t be out of pocket as most organisations will refund expenses necessarily incurred whilst volunteering for them.

How do I find an organisation that involves volunteers?

Within the United Kingdom voluntary activities are co-ordinated by separate agencies covering each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, Volunteer Centres Ireland maintains a database of organisations and helps with recruitment, selection and training.

It’s a good idea to buy and read your local newspaper. Such publications often print stories about voluntary and community groups in their area. And the groups use such opportunities to appeal for new volunteers. Parish magazines also often list contact details of the voluntary groups working in and around their district.

What restrictions are there?

Anyone who plans to work with vulnerable people – and that includes the very young and the elderly – will need to undergo a DBS check (the new name for a criminal record check in the UK) or Garda vetting (RoI). All of the standard health and safety rules that apply to paid staff also apply to volunteers. You can expect to be provided with training to enable you to recognise, and deal with, any such risks that may be encountered.

Talking of risks, the biggest risk you are likely to face in retirement is boredom. So why not go for it? Volunteer today. You won’t regret it. If you are already a volunteer please share your experience in the comments.

A is for Anniversary: #atozchallenge

We all like to remember the key events in our lives and to mark the date on which they occurred. The most obvious being births marriages and deaths, or ‘hatches matches and dispatches’, as someone once put it. The anniversary of an event is a useful device for the writer, providing a cue for a flashback to some event that played an important role in creating the character of a protagonist and the motivation for his role in the unfolding plot.

“He remembered that day, exactly one year ago, when …”

“She knew that, in just two days time, it would be exactly ten years since …”

How often have we read, or written, sentences structured like that?

2016-04-01How far do such tropes represent real life? Wedding anniversaries are widely celebrated; there is even a long established list of materials appropriate for wedding anniversary gifts. Many people like to recognise the anniversary of the passing of a loved one with an ‘in memorium’ notice in a newspaper and/or the placing of flowers on the grave.

Nations remember key moments in their history. July 4th., American independence day; 11th. November across the Western world, marking the armistice that ended the first world war. VE day and VJ day representing the two stages in the ending of World War II. For Ireland, 2016, and especially April, represents the centenary of the Easter Rising which accelerated the process towards independence.

What about other things? The day you moved into your present home, for example? Your first day at college or work, the day you were dismissed or retired? And, for a writer, the day you were offered your first publishing contract.

For me, April represents the month in which, five years ago, we moved into our present house. We had begun looking a year before, having decided that we wanted a bungalow with a bit more garden than we had with our previous property. We looked at several possibilities. Too many in our price range required the kind of improvement work that seemed daunting as I approached my 70th birthday, in itself, another important anniversary.

Retirement village

We looked at a retirement village where the bungalows were well maintained but the interiors too small to accommodate the accumulated possessions of almost fifty years of marriage. Many of these possessions were reminders of other key events in our lives; silver and ruby wedding presents, souvenirs of memorable holidays; leaving gifts from work and from my days as an active member of a political organisation.

Eventually we discovered a retirement village that had been abandoned when the Irish property market collapsed. The developer was trying to revive interest, and the properties were being offered at bargain prices. The show house was tastefully furnished but it, and thirty-odd identical bungalows, still looked smaller than our requirements. In one corner of the development, at the top of a hill, was a larger bungalow, on a bigger plot, that fronted the end of a cul-de-sac. To our amazement we were told the price of this unit was the same as all the others.

We moved in on April 29th. Since then I have created an attractive and productive garden on the area of land surrounding it. This year will also see, in October, the tenth anniversary of my retirement and move to Ireland. But that’s another story! What important anniversary will you be celebrating in April or in any other month of 2016?