No one will ever know the whole truth but I may be able to shed light on it from an experience a friend of mine had a number of years ago.
People who know her, know that she’s far from suicidal and she says that if she ever thinks about it now, she’s sure she would never do it, she would never have the courage, for a start. Besides, she doesn’t believe in it, she thinks it is selfish and cowardly.
However, what if…
Years ago there was a moment when life seemed to stand still for her. She was fixed in a cloud of nothingness while she lay in bed, waiting for a wound to heal. Her mind seemed to coagulate into a mulch of shadows. Thoughts faded into an unfocused blanket, She daydreamed, if anything, but she felt she couldn’t be bothered. She really couldn’t be bothered watching TV, reading a book or doing anything, not even thinking. She felt happy, secure and unperturbed as she lay there, doing nothing.
When she did think, the thoughts were shallow, meaningless, lacking any passion or feeling. Everyday, three times a day, she says she took the required number of tablets, had a drink and a meal, answered nature’s call and lay back to enjoy her self-indulgent laziness.
One day, while she was not really thinking about anything specific she thought how life had no beginning or end, it was meaningless, nothing mattered, not her not her family not her friends. She swears she was not depressed or anything. It was as if she was in a vacuum. She thought she may as well finish the pills, after all they were there. There was no drum roll, no sudden desire to do something drastic, the thought just came to her quietly as if it just crept into her mind the same way a gentle breeze might touch her cheek. It was nothing important. It was just something she could do. Fortunately, before she did anything, she forced herself to ‘wake up’, reminded herself that it would have serious consequences if she took all of the pills and stopped herself in time, even though it still didn’t seem to matter.
so the co-pilot?
What if, for him too, he felt he was living in a constant dream. Nothing mattered. He had normal conversations with everyone, he went through the usual motions of his daily routine. He flew the plane as always and then, when the captain left the cockpit, still in a kind of daze he thought, life is meaningless, it just goes on and on, nothing ever happens, what if- what if he just flew it straight into the mountain. It wouldn’t matter, no one and nothing mattered, and then in that daze he simply made it happen, nothing, not even the loud calls and thumping on the door would distract him, It really didn’t matter…
No one will ever know the whole truth but I may be able to shed light on it from an experience a friend of mine had a number of years ago.
There are some people who are a cut above the rest of us and have the humility to be unaware of this fact. Ronald- Farren Price is one of those people and I was delighted to find an article about him in the February edition (2015) of the MCM (Melbourne Conservatorium of Music) News when he earned a University of Melbourne Award.
He was the inspiration for my career in music I had always I loved playing the piano but I had no intention of ending up using it as a basis for a career and of becoming a music teacher in schools. He was my examiner when I sat for a grade 8 piano exam when I was a schoolgirl in Hobart Tasmania. He saw through the moody teenager that I was and managed to overlook my huffing and puffing through the first pieces, making the odd mistake here and there, I finally relaxed for the final piece. By then I’d decided that I must have failed the exam, so what happened next didn’t matter so I relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed playing the final piece for my own pleasure. At the end of the exam, as a typical teenager, I didn’t even have the courtesy to say goodbye properly, I stormed out of the room and went for a long walk – not caring if anyone knew where I was. Later, when the results came in, I was amazed and delighted when he awarded me a distinction on the strength of the final piece and so provided the foundation for my future studies and career. It was he that I asked to have as a teacher when I went to Melbourne University.
He taught me a great deal and, most importantly, taught me how to relax when playing so I was able to get through the final piano recital in spite of my nerves.
I also have memories of spilling tea all over him when I forgot that there were two doors to the music room, babysitting for him once and he was especially sympathetic when my mother died before the written finals which had to be postponed. I also remember being miffed when he showed special interest in my friend who was playing second piano when I was supposed to be having my lesson on the last two movements of the Schumann Piano Concerto. My friend was sight reading the part, I guess, so I suppose I have to give him his due.
No doubt many other memories will be brought to mind as Ron’s name is mentioned – like him playing the Beethoven Sonatas in Melba Hall and the gentle crunch of lettuce as he ate his lunch during one of my lessons because his time was so limited. There were also the 8.30 in the morning lessons – very hard for me to focus at that time, but for Ron, it was no trouble.
I look forward to hearing more about this famous pianist who somehow manages to remain human in spite of his amazing talent and high profile career.
While friends are looking after my house in the UK, I will be visiting Tasmania next month. I have ‘a few questions’ I’d like to try and answer:
Did my uncle really get up to mischief with Errol Flynn in Hobart?
Which schools did Errol attend and was evicted from?
What stories are there about Spy Catcher Peter Walker who settled in Hobart?
What VIP did Dad meet in Devonport when Dad was still in his gardening clothes?
Can you still find Aboriginal flints on the farms on the south-east coast?
Is it still possible to have a blue-tongued lizard as a pet?
Are the Tasmania devils still in decline?
Has the Tasmanian tiger really been seen as reported?
Can you still catch flathead in abundance?
Are abalone, crayfish, oysters and scallops still abundant?
Why do so many places in Tasmania have English names?
Do the locals still think of England as ‘the home country’?
Is it still ‘in’ to be descended from a convict?
Is it better to be a pensioner/teenager/schoolchild/parent there?
Is dementia care better in Tasmania?
What does ‘Neighbour’s’ and ‘Home and Away’ mean to the locals?
Is the Aussie-outdoor easy-going better life fact or fiction?
Is water still turned off in the afternoons when there is a drought?
Do people still picnic with tea boiled in billy cans?
Do the Roaring 40s still create havoc every winter?
(And as research for my next book):
Are red-back spiders still prevalent?
Would a red-back hide in a table desktop?
Could such a desk be transported from Tasmania to the UK in the 80s, spider intact?
What does the bite of a red-back spider look like?
If you were bitten, would you be able to shake the spider off easily?
If you were bitten in the dark, would you know definitely what you had been bitten by?
Could you keep a red-back in a shoe box safely for a while?
What would happen exactly if you died from a red-back spider bite?
How long would you take to die if you had a heart complaint, could you die suddenly?
If you can answer any of these questions already, that would be wonderful!
Talking to people
At some stage in our lives, inevitably, we have to stand up and talk to a group of people. As you know, I volunteer to give talks on subjects like ‘Water Aid’, ‘John, Dementia and Me’, ‘Flirting with Spanish’ ‘A close look at unseen poetry’ and ‘The View from Downunder’. I do these talks, not because I think I’m the best thing since sliced bread, but because I’m scared my mind is going to degenerate as I get older. If you don’t use it, you lose it eh? So I figure that if I have to stand in front of some people and keep track of what I’m saying and what is happening for half an hour, the chance is that I haven’t ‘lost it’ – well not yet, anyway.
Recently I did a course – if you have a spare moment, you might like to look at a website called FutureLearn for here you can take FREE courses – some of which are very good. The one I did recently was called ‘Talk the talk’. It gave advice on how to give a presentation so that your audience stays in the room. We were supposed to download a demonstration of what we were going to say – I only managed the first bit of this – but you had the opportunity to have a huge number of people look at your presentation and give you advice. There were a number of suggestions that were given by the Open University, which gave the course and the ideas I found most useful (and probably pertinent) are found in this series of questions:
Why are you giving the talk: to inform, persuade, motivate or entertain? (I like to think all four)
Who will be listening? How much will they already know and what would benefit them? (I made a bad mistake once, when I prepared a light (hopefully) entertaining talk only to find a member of a university had come to find out as much as she could about the subject!)
Will you use Powerpoint or some other technology? ( I’ve always used Powerpoint when I can – people have pictures to look at instead of me, however, lately I’ve been to places that don’t have the technology and had have to do without. I found it was much easier to prepare for. Now I use Powerpoint, not as something to hide behind but to illustrate a few strong points if I can.)
What are you going to say, how are you going to shape your talk – what will it begin with what will be the bulk of what you say, how will you connect your points and how will you end the talk? What examples will you give to illustrate your points? (Here’s the rub – I’ve realized that my talks up to now had not been thought through…)
How are you going to keep calm before and during the talk? How are you going to make sure your talk is within the time limit given? (I try to think ‘slow down’ all the time – I tend to gabble and at the moment I keep checking my watch which is not a good thing, but it’s the only thing that seems to work as yet.)
How will you evaluate your talk? Can you get someone to say what they think of your talk afterwards? (I’ve now got a sheet that I give out, asking people to write down what they liked and what could be done to improve my talk. One brave lady told me I shouldn’t use so many sheets – so now I try to talk more directly to the audience.)
I hope you find this information as useful as I did and before you think I’m a bit of a ‘know-all’ and think I give perfect speeches – there’s always something that goes wrong. At one stage I bought a dress to wear and was determined to wear it, only to find that it really was too short for my old legs, so I had to hide behind a table so that the audience was not put off completely!
Good luck with your speeches!
Oh, and, of course, if you are brave enough and think you would like me to give a talk to your group sometime – just contact me!
‘A little girl’s smile’
In the stench of the trench
with rats and scraps and ankle-deep mud,
he stood, tense,
bayonet ready for blood.
His wife’s eyes, wide and blue
shone on his daughter’s sad smile.
The whistle blew.
In a sea of serge he rose,
Scrambling over damning
mounds of lost souls.
The ghosts of folk at home
whirled and swirled as he choked
in the battle-torn smoke.
He heard the whisper of an angel .
He felt the smack of a black shroud
smothering him as he lay
dying in agonizing pain.
Will we remember him?
Perhaps for a while,
but what we will always recall
is that little girl’s sad, sad smile.
(background: in July 2013 the postbox in Common Road Witchford was taken. Other post boxes in other villages in the area also went missing. Other villages have had their postboxes replaced, but not the one in Common Road. We ask why? What have we done to deserve such discrimination? The Chief Executive Officer says that the said post box is with the engineers and she does not know when it will be put in place – a little worrying that she represents the energy and drive of our newly privatized mail service in England!)
Lament for our postbox
Oh how I miss our post box
on the corner of Common Road
It suddenly went – such a shock
We miss it loads and loads.
It stood, tall and inviting,
ready to receive our mail.
I am always one for writing
Letters were sent without fail.
Now in the wind and biting rain
I struggle for miles with my post.
I moan and groan with the pain
In my feet, my legs, my knees at the most.
Oh when will our post box come back?
Oh when will we see its smile?
Oh when will see its bright red stack?
It’s not been here for a while.
Perhaps one day, next month, next year
Our hopes will be fulfilled
A lovely red box will suddenly appear
And our worries will all be stilled.
Oh please can we have our post box back?
‘Cause things are not the same
Oh please can we have our post box back?
We need it here again.
Note: this event was organized to bring the plight of carers of dementia patients to the fore. We need the powers to be to focus on paying good money to good hands-on nurses, then many of the other problems will go away.
As a child,
I climbed on the back of a makeshift bike
took a reckless ride with chap from school
Perched on a hill, shook with fright
With a shove and a push I was off with this fool
Feet flailing, voice wailing, my arms holding fast
We sped to the bottom, tipping and tumbling
stopping at last in a heap on the grass.
Oh what fun it was for the biker
‘But not for the rider!’, I cried.
As an adult,
A rash moment of folly
and I had agreed
to another jolly.
But this bike was different, a bike to impress
a Harley Davison none the less!
But what’s in a name?
My nerves knotted just the same.
The day came and I waited,
My nerves’d never abated.
Suddenly, the air came alive
The ground vibrated
The beautiful beast arrived,
Its driver smiled ‘Ready for a ride?’
It was like a speeding demon,
Although it was standing still,
Wide-eyed and glistening, silver and crimson
a quiet giant ready for the kill.
Heavy helmet jammed on my head
Cocooned in leathers, lead-lined feet
I climbed aboard with a feeling of dread
One turn of the key and off we sped.
This gentle giant purred and purred
My heart fluttered, and stirred
with the power of this vibrant bike
weaving waves that whistled and whirred
with dashing glimpses of field and dyke.
Wild wind rushed at my cheeks,
Breathing freshness I’d not felt for weeks.
Curled up cows and leafy trees
streamed my sight with visionary dreams.
We were one with the road at our feet
burrowing and bending every turn of the street
We were one with the clouds and the infinite sky
We were one with the sheep in the fields flitting by.
With a half-hearted halt we finally arrived
at the home where my husband now lies.
Nurses and patients came out to derive
great joy from this sudden surprise.
The Press all came, and took photos galore
Now I was willing to climb on for more
We finally left, waved a fond farewell
and sped away for another bright spell.
Faster and faster this mighty machine
Rumbled and mumbled with speed
A rubbery face and a gale beyond measure
We trailed about 90 what potent pleasure!
Now when I see a mass of black
Of bikers and bikes I’ll never look back
It’s the bike for me any chance I get
You own one? Have we met?
You may be interested in this rare opportunity for a free conference in the Library of Birmingham that will be taking place on Saturday 18th October. The full details are below:
Writing and Writers’ Conference
Saturday 18th October
The Library of Birmingham
Centenary Square, Broad Street, Birmingham, B1 2 ND United Kingdom
Tel: 0121 242 4242 (Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm) email@example.com
• Chris Carling talking about her moving and highly topical memoir: ‘But Then Something Happened: A Story of Everyday Dementia’
• Rosemary Westwell ‘John, Dementia and Me’: exploring life problems in fiction and also talking about ‘Unseen Poetry’
• Jackie Reynolds and Michael Callan ‘‘Connecting Communities with Creative Writing’
• Sarah Gornall ‘Co-authoring and what it can mean.’
• Dr David Gatley ‘1936 a Year in Post Boxes’
• Elaine Ewart ‘My work as Fenland Poet Laureate including poetry writing, and performing ‘
• Noreen Wainwright ‘A homespun year’ by Noreen Wainwright and Margaret Priestly Thrifty ways to make and grow, bake and sew
• Stephanie J. Hale ‘What it takes to sell a million books, what it takes to make a million from your book idea and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to selling books in this exciting new digital age.’
• Hayley Humphrey ‘Nanowrimo: From writers’ block to 50,000 words, a novel written in a month.’
• Mary McGuire ‘Publish or self-publish? Which way do I go?’
ENTRY FREE refreshments served
Book early to avoid disappointment: contact: Malcolm Henson, North Staffordshire Press, Business Village, Staffordshire University, 72 Leek Rd., Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire ST4 2AR Tel: 01782 442831 firstname.lastname@example.org website: http://www.northstaffordshirepress.com
If you are a teacher or student of English and are about to prepare for an examination in which you need to analyse a poem that you have never seen before, you may be interested in my book ‘A Close Look at Unseen Poetry’. It is now available on Amazon. I write this, not just to sell the book, but I hope that I can be of some help to people who are very busy and do not have the time to gather such information together before preparing for the exam.
I have tried to give lists, quizzes and descriptions that introduce poetry styles, structures, metres and special devices such as metaphor and personification. Then I have selected 26 well-known poets and or poems that are almost an essential part of our upbringing. – poems like Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and Elizabeth Browning’s ‘How Do I Love Thee?’. I have analysed each poem, trying to get to the heart of the meanings the words convey, providing the starting point for you or your students to agree or disagree and develop your or their own powers of observation.
I hope it is of some help and I would be very interested in your comments.
Penzance Litfest 2014 (Penzance Literary Festival) held from 16th to 20th July throughout the town was, for me, a great inspiration. A host of writers (some pictured here), readers, and people interested in the topics offered massed to hear and see the huge variety of events. As a contributor, I can say this was one of the best organized events I have presented at, for everything was in place and there was always someone at hand to ask directions and provide the biro, paper – whatever you needed.
My aim for attending the Festival was to improve my writing and get over the writer’s block I am suffering while trying to complete a whodunit sequel to my first novel ‘John, Dementia and Me’. I can truthfully say that there were a number of creative writing workshops that I believe have done the trick. I am inspired to write on, although whether the writing I do will be of any quality remains to be seen. After this festival, I am ready to write at length and also ready to ditch most of it when I come to review it. What will it matter? As long as something is written, and who am I to think that everything matters so much? It is far better to write a load of rubbish than to constantly moan about not writing anything at all.
You may, or may not be interested to know of these twenty tips I picked up during the Festival that interested me most:
1. You DO have time to write everyday if you aim to write for only 6 minutes.
2. To give a sense of place, think of describing the effect on the character’s senses: what can they see, hear, smell, touch or taste?
3. If you’re stuck on characterization, try thinking of five things they would have in their pocket.
4. Think of what animal, musical instrument, landscape, city, plant, piece of furniture, clothing, pub. sign or weather your character would be.
5. Be a character actor, read their voices aloud.
6. Write quickly, without checking or changing anything first. Then underline phrases that you like (not as I have always done, underline phrases that I thought need changing.)
7. You need to present yourself as an author well, if you want people to be interested in you and your topic i.e. your books
8. Sometimes, images are more interesting than text for readers of social media.
9. In order to develop your writing, read a lot of other books
10. Write the story you want to write, not one that you think you should write.
11. It’s a good idea to plan. Planning speeds things up.
12. Voice is everything – find the right voice.
13. Write the back story; know the history of your characters.
14. Revise, revise, revise.
15. Don’t send your submission letter out too soon.
16. Don’t give up the day job; it is very difficult to earn anything with your writing these days.
17. To create a good hero, he must have 3 things: a flaw, such as excessive drinking; an endearing quirk such as polishing his glasses, and a trauma that has scarred him/her for life.
18. Your villain should have something in their past that caused them to be the way they are and they should have the ability to be persuasive and seductive
19. To create suspense: have someone not turn up to a specially arranged clandestine meeting or a child not returning home from school,
20. To create tension: have a house that seems to be empty and go through each room noting the details, find something strange in a knickers drawer/ a briefcase or find something has been interfered with: a diary or personal papers.
Highlights of the Penzance Litfest events for me were:
The Bookshop Band –an inspired group of young performers who research books thoroughly – reading them cover to cover and catching hold of one or two key ideas that spring from their understanding of what the book is trying to say. Then they weave these phrases and ideas into charming, almost magical songs. The combination of sounds they use –voice, ukulele, guitar, harmonium and the occasional percussion, along with the subtle changes in harmony give their songs an ethereal, perpetual sound as though they are tapping into centuries of folk lore.
There were a number of presenters whose books I plan to read on Kindle, not necessarily because their presentation was inspiring (although many of them were fascinating), but the books themselves seem interesting:
Tom Vowler: ‘That Dark Remembered Day’
Liz Fenwick : ‘A Cornish Stranger’
Sandra Greaves: ‘The Skull in the Wood’
Angela Stoner: ‘Once in a blue moon’
Tiffany Murray: ‘Happy Accidents’
Kate Lord Brown: ‘The Perfume Garden’
Paul Murphy: ‘As I walked out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee’
I enjoyed every event I attended and I brought away some new idea from each presentation. I hope there will be another Litfest in Penzance next year and can’t wait to know the dates!