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Spooky Time

Halloween – the name comes from the Old English ‘hallowed’ which means ‘holy’ or ‘sanctified’ as in the Lord’s prayer “Hallowed be thy Name.”  All Hallows’ Evening, contracted to All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration on 31st October, the evening before the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day,  also known as All Saints’ Day on 1st November.  The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers prayed and fasted prior to the feast day itself.

Many of today’s Halloween traditions hark back to the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, which was a pagan celebration of the end of the harvest and summer.  This was a time of preparation for the dark coming winter and a time of superstition concerning the transition from life to death, when people lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off spirits and ghosts.  The festival was Christianised by the early Church. but in today’s largely secular society, people have reverted to the older rituals.

Big Spooky Ben

Halloween in westernized ‘culture’ has become horrifyingly commercialised and is a marketing jamboree worth over £1 billion annually. Almost every shop features garish and ghoulish images and objects. The current obsession with fantasy in films and books and the popularity of witches and wizards, has fuelled the Halloween rollercoaster.  Pumpkin candles and ghost masks can still be made at home but everyone is encouraged by the hype to buy, buy, buy. Apple bobbing is old fashioned and the children who go round demanding ‘trick or treat’ are often slightly menacing. We are oppressed by images of bats and ghosts. We are subjected to tall tales. It can be a worrying time.

I propose to stay at home tonight, draw the curtains and light the wood-burning stove. And have a good meal and a glass of robust red wine to ward off the dark forces the Halloween industry.

 

 

 

Homeless not Hopeless

World Homeless Day Logo 2015 size 125 square        On the 10th October 2016 people around the world will mark World Homeless Day in many varied ways and try to change the lives of homeless people in their local community. Since its founding in 2010, World Homeless Day has been observed on every continent except Antarctica, in several dozen countries. The purpose of World Homeless Day is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an ‘international day’ provides.

Since 1985, I have been committed to helping the homeless and from time to time I have worked for charities and campaigned for further efforts to assist the homeless in our own country and overseas.  I was for two years the full time UK Campaign Organiser for the United Nation 1987 International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. Since then, I have done voluntary work for and supported other homeless charities. In 2007 I began helping out at the HUB in Dorchester, a day centre for rough sleepers and the homeless, and remained there for a few years. More recently I have been involved in ‘ICare’: an initiative to meet and help homeless people on the streets in Dorchester.

Homelessness is a problem that is not going away.  It urgently needs to be addressed at every level – international, governmental, regional and local.  We cannot ignore it.  We need more housing, more temporary accommodation, more overnight shelters and we need to change people’s perception of homelessness. It is NOT a lifestyle choice, but a miserable condition that is usually (but not always) inflicted on the unfortunate person by circumstances beyond their control (eg war), or loss of job, breakup of family, ill health, psychological problems, or poverty, poor decisions and lack of advice.

The situation is NOT hopeless but it needs to be addressed. Charities and organisations working and campaigning on behalf of homeless people throughout the world need to be supported. Huge funds are required from corporate and governmental sources, but small individual donations from large numbers of people can make a real difference. You don’t need to do what Richard Gere did in 2015 – see below – but you can stop and talk to homeless people that you see on the streets.  I always do this, realising they often need a chat and a recognition that they exist, far more than they need sandwiches.  Don’t walk by on the other side!  Homelessness should be everyone’s concern.

Richard Gere

Shakespeare and an Encounter with Death

William Shakespeare died 400 years ago today on 23rd April 1616. He was probably 52 years old at his untimely death. By strange coincidence 52 years ago last November at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, I had an encounter with another death which was also entirely unexpected.

In 1963 I was at school in Worcestershire and one Friday evening in November during my final year we were taken on a school trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard III. I think there were about 20 of us schoolgirls and, having arrived by bus, we took our seats in the theatre alongside many Americans and other visitors who flocked to watch Shakespeare’s plays in his home town. I remember so well my excitement at the start of this magnificent play with Ian Holm playing Richard III and Dame Peggy Ashcroft playing Margaret.

However something rather strange began to happen during the first half of the play. We became aware of a lot of whispering along the rows of seated audience.  This was unusual. We had been to the theatre before and I had been fortunate enough to see Paul Scofield playing King Lear and Vanessa Redgrave as Rosalind in As You Like It, and I did not recall any distracting noise from the audience at these performances. So I concentrated on Peggy Ashcroft stalking around the stage uttering curses.

When the interval began, I and my friends filed out to get ourselves fizzy drinks and sweets. It was clear that many of the Americans present had very worried expressions on their faces and there was obviously some bad news in the United States which was being transmitted across the Atlantic.  The date was 22 November. I heard the words ‘President’ and ‘Dallas’ and it seemed that the iconic John F. Kennedy had been shot in a car and was wounded. No one was sure of what had happened. The bells rang and we were all ushered back to our seats for the second part of the play, to continue the gory saga of Richard III and the grisly murders he was perpetrating.

Perhaps I am imagining things, but it seemed to me that the actors were a little distracted too, although I was still electrified by the drama and the way that Margaret’s dire predictions were coming true. The performance of Ian Holm as the deformed king was magnificent. Here is a black and white photograph of him in the role in that 1963 production. ian-holm-as-richard-iii in 1963

Although I was focusing on the play, it seemed that many of the people in the theatre could not. As the news spread like a forest fire around the auditorium, it became clear that John Kennedy was dead. He had been assassinated!  Some stunned and distraught Americans got their feet and stumbled out in the midst of the play. Others sat there with shocked pale faces and openly wept. I felt rather sorry for the actors as they continued to perform and tried to ignore the fact that they had lost the attention of their audience.

The play came to an end and our teacher herded us all together to walk back to the bus.  We were still unaware that the events of that day would shock the world. It was something that people would never forget and, like me, the date 22 November 1963 and where we had been at the time we heard the news of Kennedy’s death would remain etched in our memories forever. How strange that one of the most significant and visual assassinations in history since that of President Lincoln (which happened in a theatre) should be inextricably entangled in my memory with the history play by William Shakespeare on the subject of political assassination, about ‘crook-back Dick’,  the murderous and violent king, Richard III.

Galapagossians

In early March, Michael and I were in the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, some 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador. We were staying aboard a small ship with about 60 others, English and French.

The Galapagos are truly extraordinary – most of the islands we saw were barren and volcanic with scrub vegetation.  The terrain, cliffs and crags are stark beautiful  and atmospheric.  But it is the wildlife that is stunning. There are sinister black marine iguanas and huge colourful land iguanas, gentle giant tortoises, and so many birds:  blue footed and red beaked boobies, red footed  and Nazca boobies, frigate birds with their black wings and red chests, exotic tropicbirds with long trailing tails, albatrosses, lava gulls and pelicans and so many rare birds, endemic to the islands. We saw many sea lion colonies and dolphins in the sea but we encountered no whales.

We were taken ashore in the ship’s Zodiac rubber boats and often had to make wet landings in surf on the beaches, quickly jumping over the sides into the water with our cameras in plastic bags round our necks and holding our shoes, with waves breaking over the bows. On one Islet, the swell and surge were so bad that the guides decided it was too dangerous to land through the surging waves. On another island, we landed on the sand, amid a colony of delightful sea lions lazing in the sun, with the baby ones frolicking in the surf.  Some of us did some deep water snorkelling and I swam with sea lions and a huge black manta ray! But sadly no turtles as we were not allowed to visit the beach where the eggs were hatching.

I feel extraordinarily blessed to have been able to visit the islands and there was never any other ship, boat or group of at any place at the same time as us. The guides are careful to keep numbers to a minimum with few visitors at any one time.  The wet landings ashore and climbing up from the Zodiacs back aboard the ship in a big rolly swell were entertaining for some and terrifying for others.

My favourite encounters were with the extraordinary Santa Fe iguanas, endemic to the tiny island and found nowhere else on earth. Truly amazing creatures.  The Homo sapiens species we met were also friendly and chatty at feeding times. With wine over dinner, we recounted our intrepid adventures hiking around the dry uninhabited islands and being swamped as we arrived or left through the waves, and we named ourselves the fearless Galapagossians.   It was fascinating  – and fun!

 

Festivals should pay Authors

Soap box 1I applaud Philip Pullman in his decision to resign as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival because it refuses to pay authors to attend and speak.  He was right to say that writers should be paid.  They are not on salaries and are not paid for work away from their desks (and often not then).  Pullman protested that “Everyone at a festival is paid – the electricians, the people who put up the marquees and the people who sell food – except the writers, which seems ridiculous.”

Publishers do put pressure of their authors to attend so that they can sell copies of their books and raise their profile.  Fair enough, but why should not writers be paid by festival organisers for their time and effort in preparing and giving talks or lectures?  Some festivals, usually the smaller ones, are exemplary in insisting that all their speakers be paid – festivals such as the Sherborne Literary Festival and the new Dorchester Literary Festival, both down in my neck of the woods.  They look after their speakers and treat them right. Bravo for them.

But it is shameful that the country’s big four literary festivals: Oxford, Cheltenham, Hay and Edinburgh, have erratic or stingy policies about payment of their speakers, without whom there would be no festival. Some writers receive nothing and others get bottles of wine.  A very few receive top fees. These four festivals charge a lot for their tickets and should be able to afford payment to the creative people who write the books.  It is a well-known fact that the vast majority of full-time writers can scarcely make a living from their words.

I think writers should boycott festivals that don’t play fair and don’t pay their speakers. Perhaps, if we all make enough fuss, some of the public who buy tickets might decide not to go to festivals where writers are treated so shabbily. I have always enjoyed the Oxford Literary Festival where I once had the privilege to hear Seamus Heaney speak and to meet him afterwards.  However, in the future, I shall find out the policy of the festival directors regarding payment of their speakers before I buy tickets for events.

Book Launch in the Garden

My new book ‘The Lost Journey Homeward’ has been well and truly launched – on Sunday 14th June. I decided to do this At Home –  in my own garden in Dorset.  My last two books had their launch parties in London – the first was held on  a houseboat in the Thames and the second took place in an auction gallery at Bonhams in Knightsbridge. This time my husband, Michael, organised the whole thing: drinks from a bar that was a genuine Edwardian handcart, delicious canapés, staff to serve, fine weather, children running around, balloons, ice cream and – most important of all – many friends from South West.  All I had to do was provide the books, get someone to sell them – and then sign them.  Friends usually buy my books; the harder job is to get strangers to buy them – in bookshops and online.  But on my third book launch, we were all outside, the sun shone and it was fun!

Hello world!

My new Website goes live today – which happens to be Election Day!   I have been writing a Blog since 2008 and include on this page a selection of my earlier posts. The short stories which I have published on my blog since October 2013 and May 2015 can be read on the Flash Fiction Page

My new book ‘The Lost Journey Homeward’ is finally ready for the printers and my publishers say that  the print run will start today or tomorrow.  Publication Date is scheduled for 1st June and the book will be available in hardback, paperback and as an eBook. Read more on the Book Page.

Proof Copy

The sample copies of the paperback and hardback of ‘The Lost Journey Homeward’ arrived today. After the three years of work that I have put into this book, it is amazing to finally be holding a printed copy in my hands. This is an uncorrected version which we still have to check before it goes to the printers for the print run. The publishing editor has already made some corrections and I propose to read through it – yet again – over the bank holiday weekend and see if I find any others.  Once I have approved the book, printing will start – probably towards the end of next week.   With a bit of luck the copies will be ready well before the end of May for our 1st June publication date!

Myanmar to Dorset

Just got back from a great holiday with my husband Michael. We have been to Malaysia and Myanmar and the contrast between the two countries is huge. One is emerging into the modern world. The other is stuck in a time-warp – the positive benefit of this is that the country is very unspoiled and beautiful but the negative aspects are that there is huge poverty, crumbling infrastructure and continuing oppression by an authoritarian military government.

I’m now at home at my desk and discover that the sample book of ‘The Lost Journey Homeward’ is being printed – this is an uncorrected proof version which will need final checking over. I seem to have been reading proofs for months! I am also working with a website designer, Diane, on a new website scheduled for May.

Front Cover

I have just chosen one of the cover images that has been created by Leah at Onwards and Upwards Publishers. It shows a small dark house on a hill with a wild tree beside it and a starlit sky above. The only window in the cottage is beaming out light. It has just the right atmosphere and I am delighted with it.  An intriguing and arresting cover is so vital when trying to grab the attention of a potential reader and buyer of the book.