Monday, 20 October 2014

Echoes of the Past

What are the chances of someone you know having the same birthday as you do? My basic maths skills aren't bad, but when it comes to probability and equations, I tend to find safety in words rather than numbers.

The birthday paradox is a neat way to work out how many people in a room might have the same birthday as each other. I say neat... what I mean is, to anyone who isn't a mathematician, it's a bit of a complicated maths problem that I find somewhat difficult to process. However, there is a formula, and it does make sense. Honestly. Check it out and you'll see.

Now, what are the odds of two family members having the same birthday? In this article, four siblings were born on the same day (although, granted, two of them are twins), at odds of over 133,000 to one.

That's pretty impressive. And, as most families know, it's not something that usually happens.

But recently, my family discovered that, despite all the jokes and the ideas about joint parties, it does happen. Because why not?

My sister and I have very close birthdays; I'm 3rd July, and she's 7th July (with two years separating us). We've always thought that was pretty impressive of our parents (although our parents would probably have preferred a little breathing space between celebrations, thinking about it). But now, the next generation has gone one better.

My daughter, Alice, was born on 10th October 2010 (yes, a 10/10/10 baby). It's a nice, round date, and although she was over two weeks late, it all worked out pretty well. When my sister announced she was expecting, and her due date was the same as Alice's had been, we laughed about it. What a coincidence! How strange!

And then her pregnancy went on. And on. And it suddenly dawned on us all that actually, the coincidence might go even further. What if... Only my sister was taken into hospital on 8th October to be induced, and everything started kicking off pretty quickly. Okay, we thought, those girls are going to have very close birthdays, just like their mummies - how strange!

Then the labour slowed down. It slowed riiiiight dooooown.

8th October came and went. 9th October came and went. 10th October came... and right in the middle of Alice's birthday celebration, we heard the news - Tabitha Violet had been born!

Now, what are the chances of that?

Happy birthday 10/10 girls!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

New House, New Tree

On 27th August 2014, we finally moved house. After being on the market for nine months and missing out on a number of gorgeous houses because we couldn't find a buyer, we came to a momentous (and life changing, as it turns out) decision: we wouldn't sell at all. Instead, we would become both landlord and tenant, by renting out our mortgaged house, and renting a different house in the area we had been trying to get back to for three quarters of a year.

And it worked out pretty well. Within three days of being on the rental market, we had signed up a new family to live in our home. I hope they have more luck in it than we did. For us, the place represents mistakes and follies that made us miserable and angry. But we can't blame anyone for that; they are our mistakes, our follies, and I just hope that we can make them good now.

Which is where the new house comes in. Located on a country lane just a few miles from where we used to live (and from where we should not, in hindsight, have moved), we found a little cottage that was up for rent. Far older than it appears, with opens fires, a Rayburn in the dining room, and beams galore, this crooked house immediately had us hooked. Stepping through the front door for the first time felt like home, and just an hour later we made an offer. We were accepted. We were moving.

Moving house is not a fun experience, no matter how much one might wish to leave the place they are living, no matter how much one might want to live in the place they are going to, and this move was no different. Done over two days with two crews (thanks to the narrow lane and steep drive), discovering that our furniture wouldn't fit up the stairs (again, so very narrow, and curved), and that we had no fridge, we were a ruined mess of a family by the end of it.

But then we started to live here. And it didn't matter about the mess or the boxes. It hardly mattered about the heating that didn't quite work, and the hot water that did, but took its time to get there. We loved it. We love it. It's like we've always been here.

To celebrate the move, we planted a tree in the (large - we've never had so much lawn) garden. We'd love to stay here to watch it grow.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cannibals and Cherries

Plotting is hard. All the ideas in the world can come at you quickly and in flashes of inspiration, but when it comes to actually putting them all in some sort of order, and connecting the pieces of the puzzle to create a full and complete story, that’s where it can sometimes unravel.

Yesterday I led a workshop at Sheerness Library. It was me, 13 children between the ages of six and 10, and some of their parents too. I was terrified because, to be honest, I had never taken a class before. Not like that. I’d spoken in front of people, I’d given presentations, but speaking to a room full of children and asking them to do some work for me, that was new. And it’s the summer holidays – would they really want to do the work in the first place?

I handed out the sheets of paper that I had designed and felt the first spark of something. Something that made me think the class would go okay. The children (and the parents) seemed interested.  And it was at that moment that I began to lose my fear and gain my confidence. I explained what the sheet was all about, and we got started.

The worksheet was a series of four sections that, added together, would form the basis of a plot. We only had an hour, so the children could piece their story together at home if they wanted to (and email it to me if they were really keen), but at least they could get the idea of how to begin when it came to a short story. Or a novel, come to that.

Section one was about setting, location, and time period. Section two moved onto characters. Section three was about getting conflict into the story. Section four was about the final twist, and the resolution.
In all of my writing, I find that by sticking to those four ideas I can usually come up with a story, vague though it may be. Once those ideas are in place, it’s time to connect them together.

So the workshop went well, and everyone went away with the plot to a story that they could finish up at home. Some of them were certainly impressive (one that sticks in my mind was about mermaids on the moon) and I hope that I get to read them at some point.

This morning I wanted to start a new short story. I’ve been freelancing and writing blog posts and articles about this and that for a while, and my fiction has been neglected. I thought it was time to get started again.

But instead of starting, I got stuck. I had a vague idea about roadside cherry stands and how no one ever seems to stop there, but that was all. And then I remembered my worksheet. I think I’ll fill it in and see what happens… hopefully a story will emerge! 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Ruined Castles

I visited a castle. I found it quite by accident on a bracing (read absolutely icy and face freezingly windy) countryside walk, and I wasn’t particularly expecting to find anything much at all. All around me, as I walked away from the generous car park (there were only two cars in it, and one of them was mine), through the kissing gate, and on into no man’s land, there was stillness.

It didn’t matter that I could hear the noise from the dual carriageway that I had just taken a detour off to explore this place. It didn’t even matter than I could see a motorway across the wide expanse of field in front of me. At that moment, in that second, it was peaceful, tranquil, and my heart suddenly felt light with the joy of being alive.

Have you ever felt that? I don’t think it’s a feeling that can last too long – it’s not exactly happiness, but rather a completely ‘other’ feeling of infinity combined with the absolutely knowledge of mortality. It happens every now and then, unexpectedly, and for various reasons and this, standing in the middle of a field, surrounded by far off movement and other people’s busy lives, was one of those times for me.

It fades after a time, but it’s wonderful while it lasts. 

Once I began moving again, I followed a little path that ran across a couple of fields, through some more gates, and down a winding track that crossed a one lane road. On the other side was a more substantial gate, and some goats that stared at me, unblinking, completely still. I hesitated at that point. Yes, the sign on the gate told me that this was a public footpath and that I was welcome to continue my journey (as long as I remembered to shut the gate), but it also warned me about the possibility of coming face to face with wildlife, namely sheep and goats.
And there were two of the creatures, looking at me as though daring me to carry on.

I might have turned back then, unsure of the temperament of goats, but something caught my eye. An old stone wall looped around the top of a small mound, and I could see holes that might have once been windows, perhaps a door. So I ventured onward, desperately to satiate my curiosity, no longer caring about the goats.

They ignored me anyway.

I reached the wall and discovered, remarkably, that this was a ruined castle. There was an information board to tell me that fact, the name of the place, and how long it had been there.
I spent a long time wandering the beautiful ruins, just touching the stones, just imagining what could have happened where I was standing all those centuries ago.

When I finally left, walked away, I felt different.

I felt better. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Bikers and Books

Everyone knows what a biker looks like – tattoos, leathers, beards, shaved heads (or long hair), bandannas, and, of course, a motorcycle or trike. But not everyone knows what bikers are like. They assume something, based on looks, but that isn't always the case. As the old adage goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, and that’s true for bikers. Or anyone, come to that.

I’ll admit that, until 26th July, I was wary of bikers. I had formed an opinion of them in general that was based purely on looks and how I imagined they would behave. I had never had anything to do with them before, had never met anyone who was into motorcycles, and only had my imagination to give me any views of anyone in leathers and sporting a hefty number of tattoos.

However, on 26th July, my views changed. I was part of a bike and trike event in Bean, Kent, and I had a stall selling my horror and children’s books. I was nervous, unsure of how my writing would go down (did bikers even read books?), and a little scared of interacting with these people with whom I had nothing in common.

The event started, and the stage in front of me was full of singers and bands. The music? All the old classics that I knew and loved, and could happily song along with. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing scary or (too) loud, no unidentifiable ‘biker’ music (whatever that is – I have no idea and probably made the genre up). It was good.

And then the bikers (or ‘people’ as I like to call them) started to venture over to me. They weren't sure. After all, I wasn't like them (although I do have one tattoo, only it wasn't on view so they weren't to know), and what if I was weird? I do write horror…

Guess what? It turns out that by speaking to other people – even if they have different likes, or dress differently, or come from a different place to you – is fun, and can lead to some interesting exchanges. It can also lead to finding out that, despite all the differences, you do have some things in common. In this case, it was liking horror, reading, and even writing.

I sold some books, and I hope the people who bought them like them.

But it wasn't so much about that. It was about opening my mind, and theirs. It was about having fun on a beautiful hot summer’s day, listening to good music and dancing and watching the children playing (Alice got her face painted as Spiderman and proceeded to sweat most of it off dancing like a mad thing to the 70’s classics).

It was a good day. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Al Fresco Writing

It’s that time of year again. It’s summer. The time when bees buzz (although sadly fewer every year), the flowers burst with colour, the smell of cut grass hovers in the air (fighting for space with the scent of cooking meat and burning coals), and children play outside long into the evening as the sun hangs around for a few extra precious hours.

Summer. Full of long, cool drinks and hot, lazy days. If we’re lucky and the weather is kind to us, of course. Summer. Paddling pools and deckchairs, Pimms o’clock at silly o’clock, and that feeling of not wanting to do much at all because life, the world, and your particular spot in it is so wonderful.

Writers, however, can’t just stop doing their thing. As Eugene Ionesco said, “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” And a vacation doesn’t have to be two weeks away somewhere foreign. A vacation for a writer (or any ‘workaholic’, come to that) can be as little as a day off. Or an evening off. Or an hour off.

The thing with writers is, we don’t necessarily want a holiday (not without a notebook anyway). Or a day off. Or an evening off. It’s just that in the summer, with all that fresh air and warmth, all that outdoor joy, all that world out there, we might be tempted for a moment. That’s why al fresco writing is so fantastic. Grab that notebook, that laptop, that tablet, find a comfortable chair with a little shade or a picnic table, or a sun lounger for that matter, sit back (drink nearby), and relax… Then get writing! 

Friday, 27 June 2014

It's here! Doodeedoo is released today!

In honour of the fabulous Doodeedoo being released today, here is a great interview with author Tony Gilbert:

      What books or authors have influenced your writing?
As a children’s author, my original and best influence would have to be Roald Dahl. Now, that’s not to say that my writing style is even remotely similar but ‘Revolting Rhymes’, for example is right up my street. I love the mad rhymes and crazy stories and I have tried to incorporate that type of thing into both ‘Doodeedoo’ and ‘Super Fred’.

       Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?
What’s plotting? I’ve tried plotting my work before but I end up fighting with myself and it completely changes during the actual writing. I think, what the hell, I’ll write and see what happens. You don’t plot life, you roll with the punches and that is what I try to do with my writing.

       Do the illustrations come first, or the writing?
In regards to my picture books this is? Writing first, every time. After all, the illustrators are the ones with the talent, all I do is put a load of crazy words together that shouldn’t rhyme, but really do.

      Why have you chosen your particular genre?
To tell you the truth, I haven’t. I love writing my picture book rhymes but I also write novels for older children (‘The Youngest Knight’ comes out early 2015 through Ghostly Publishing) and adult fiction (recently my work has been featured in a JWKFiction anthology, ‘Terror Train’ and my own short story/poem collection, ‘Driftwood From The Specific’, comes out within the next two months). I’m constantly trying different styles and age ranges and I’m not ready to tie myself down to one in particular just yet.

       What inspired you to get writing?
Truthfully it’s a rather dull and cliché story. I have always been a big reader and one day I went to my book shelf and realised there was nothing I fancied. I could, of course, have popped down the library or down to the bookshop, but no, I decided to jump into a life of hardship and write my own.

       Is your book based on any real life experiences?
Of course. In fact, Doodeedoo, the monster made out of socks and superglue went to the same school as me. Unfortunately I lost contact with him shortly after year six. I think he passed his eleven plus and went to grammar school, though I can’t be sure.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a writer?
I don’t thing I find it a challenge really. Is it a challenge to sit down and write down the weird things in my head? Is it a challenge to come up with ideas? Not really.
I know a lot of people struggle with rejection, bad reviews etc, but they don’t really bother me. I know not everyone will like what I have done, but I do, so there!

       What are you reading right now?
I am reading Elgon Williams – ‘Fried Windows – In A Light White Sauce’.

      What’s next?
I am finishing up a poetry book which has been completely written by the pupils at the school of two of my children. It is something we decided to do to raise money for the school library.
Also, finishing up the editing of my short story collection, ‘Driftwood From The Specific’. This is a prime example of my not sticking to a particular genre. As well as poetry, it contains horror, scifi, noir and general fiction.
Writing wise, I am currently about 2000 words into my first full length adult novel.

      Tell us a little about your book, and who it would appeal to.
Doodeedoo is based on the Frankenstein’s Monster story. Created by a tiny mouse with terrific sewing skills, he is scared and lonely. When he goes missing, the mouse has to search the house and find out why he ran away.
The illustrations are by my super talented wife, Sammy.
I have aimed the story at children the same ages as my own children, so anywhere from 0 to 10.

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Doodeedoo is available through and!