Monday 30 July 2018

Becoming Alice and the Art of Reviewing

 For me there is little doubt that reviewing is a fine art. These days more and more readers are trying their hand at it posting on Amazon comments and reviews of novels they have enjoyed.

In a timely fashion  journalist and reviewer Sharon Griffiths has just posted very helpful piece on how to tackle a review on the Damselfly Website under the   Reviews Tab. 

All this is on my mind because of a good example of this art -  a very sweet four star review from Steve Craggs at Saturday’s Northern Echo for my novel Becoming Alice.

Steve has the brilliant skill of delivering the context, scope and content of a story in less than a hundred words. I love this one. Thank you Steve.
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Here it is: ‘The Festival of Britain was coming a coming  of age for many who endured the horrors of the Second World War; especially in this instance for the trio of northern schoolgirl Alice, her photographer mother Ruth and Louis, sometimes forger; artist and teacher.   Hearts beat stronger, emotions are more vibrant and passions can be given free rein. Durham author Robertson has you hooked from the start.’

If other readers out there find themselves reading  Becoming Alice I would be terribly chuffed it you try your hand at reviewing – or simply leaving a comment -   on Amazon. WX

Links: Becoming AliceNorthern Echo The Art of  Reviewing  Damselfly Books 

Thursday 26 July 2018

The Horsebreaker. A Holiday Piece

This being the holiday season I though you might like this further edited piece  from the collection 'A Life in Short Pieces'. It was inspired by a holiday visit made by me and my little family to a Scottish farm in the 1970s. The children enjoyed it and so did I.

The Horse Breaker

 Now here is the man. His clanking boots
stamp the tender clover underfoot.
In his  wiry brown hand he clutches
a woven leather whip. His weathered face glows
and his  black eyes glitter -
ready for the work of his morning

Later today - in his thousand year ritual -
we’ll walk his fields, beat his boundaries,
and check his fences. He’ll point out the ruins
of antique houses, built stone on stone by
his own ancient forbears.

I’ll tramp across the fields by the side
of this man who breaks horses.
The sun is not shining but my face is glowing. I am-
feeling cool but still my features burn.
We stay by  a long gate and a bird spins upward
beating its wings in the cool air

The man makes kissing noises, his mouth pursed.
One horse snickers and -steam rising from its flanks -
Canters in our direction across the tussocky field.
The horse’s  roughened coat sports  a rank shine
and its mouth glitters with sores -
ancient scores, still not settled.

Now two birds spin upwards in
what looks like feral combat -
all fluttering and  hoarse chirruping  
a dispute with only one resolution

Monday 23 July 2018

Age and the Escape into Creativity.

These days there is a generational dread of fading into senility of one kind or another. We have so much information about the distress and Alzheimer’s disease and so little real hope of any cure. What to do about it? Of course there is this cliché about the brain; the mantra swirls around us:  You have got to use it or lose it,’ they say.

My own way of using it is to keep on with the writing that has dominated my life, despite the change of focus in publishing from literary story-telling to the more profitable embrace of fantasy, proto-pornography, and violent sadistic proto-heroism. Interestingly these latter qualities are designed  to ensure escape from the pressure and mundane nature of ordinary lives,  rather than - like good literary stories  - revealing some deep truths about those ordinary lives: a very creative escape.

So any way my strategy to fend off mental deterioration is to continue to write and publish good literary stories which reveal some deep truths about ordinary lives. To do this I developed this idea for Damselfly Books. And unlike my early publishing days where I had keen editors and three book contracts to motivate me, I have to fly free and generate my own motivation.

All this has made me think about writers out there who continue to write and write well despite the odds. The thought has occurred to me that in order   to write creatively one needs a clear - even an empty - space in one’s head for the story, poem or essay to me into, to make itself comfortable, to allow it to grow.

However, depending on what happens on the planet of ordinary life, such essential space may not be there. It can be crushed into nothingness by routines, obligations, and those myriad inescapable tasks to keep life for oneself and others on an even keel. As well as this, I understand that this lack of mental space can dominate the lives of those who care for others, whether those others are spouses, children, parents, or beloved friends.  (Often - but certainly not exclusively – these domestic imperatives fall on women.)

And this lack of space to embark on creative, regenerative action can also dominate the lives of those individuals whose inner life is full of ghosts, fears and mental chaos of one kind or another. This prevents them from manufacturing the ladder with which they can climb out of their tumbled life and escape into creativity.

In my view this lack of brain space is the fundamental cause of the much vaunted ‘writers block’. Of course you can’t write the next poem or the next chapter or the next paragraph when there is no space in which it can grow!

On the other hand, some people live lives where there are just too many empty spaces. One thinks of people who are recently retired and miss the busy involvement of their jobs. Also one thinks of people who are bereaved, where the person they have no longer fills all the empty spaces in corners of their lives.

There are recommendations out there, of course the ways in which people may fill the spaces – and the brain turning over -  with things like crosswords, Sudoku, doing good community work; watching intelligent TV, listening to BBC Radio Four, reading new books, even tackling half remembered skills like pottery, painting and of to reduce their handicap.

My choice of brain-gymnastics is to keep researching, writing and producing my stories and sharing them with readers who still recognise the invigorating magic of the adventures and life journeys of heroic people not unlike themselves.

In my new novel Becoming Alice Ruth Kelman gives birth to her daughter Alice in a Tyneside cellar. A thousand miles away, Louis Roxby, a young English soldier adjusts to the severe strictures and strange opportunities of prison camp life. Between 1941 and 1951 Alice Kelman becomes a northern grammar school girl; Ruth becomes a skilled photographer and Louis Roxby becomes, in turn, a forger, an artist, and a teacher, finally to enjoying the freedom of post-war bohemian London. Then in 1951, their paths cross as they are drawn like iron filings to a magnet to the celebratory Festival of Britain in London’s South Bank.

And now this week Damselfly Books have published Scenes from a Life by new and talented writer Hugh Cross – who began writing  when he was 80. No Sudoku for him!

Monday 2 July 2018

A Nineteen Sixties Marriage.

From A Life in Short Pieces: Piece Six.

I was married in the early 1960s. People married young then.  In those years it seemed that the world was changing, although many of the changes were most vigorously expressed along the Kings Road in London, at wild music gigs like Glastonbury and on television with the daring political satire show That Was the Week That Was. Just a few years before that I had mocked a friend for liking a group called The Beatles. (‘What a stupid name!’)That was around the time I first heard another friend refer to Mr Presley as Elvis as though he were her brother.

The American pursuit of victory in Vietnam was becoming increasingly unpopular in Britain, who didn’t participate. In America too there was dissent as some young men fled the draft. (I met one of these former so-called ‘draft dodgers’ years later when I trained teachers in Sunderland.)

Then, shortly before noon on November 22, 1963, President John F Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas.

When I heard this terrible news, I was hoovering the sitting room in my new house. That was when I really know the world had changed.

A Nineteen Sixties Marriage.

This was a marriage that went to work
and loved it; it wore flowers in its hair;
it sported sober suits and hippy skirts; it pushed
children in prams and went to parents’ meetings.

At the seaside it pulled on two ponchos
to keep warm; it went to the races, to rugby matches
and school plays; it waived its children off to their new life
and welcome them back again .

This is a marriage that watched  cricket, football
and cop-shows on TV; it read newspapers at length;
it read books and wrote them; it posted risky stories
into bright red boxes; it kept its secrets.

It visited hospitals and clinics, holding
its breath for good news and bad.

This is a marriage that still holds hands


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