Thursday, 25 March 2021

Book Review - Reynard the Fox by Anne Louise Avery

This is a most scholarly work. The level of research shines from it. Anne Louise Avery certainly knows her subject and their world, it is a tour de force. I felt totally immersed in the world.

That's not to say that it is dull and worthy, far from it. This is a brilliant story, told by a real scholar. I was drawn into the world of Reynard's Flanders, I felt the sun on my back and the dust under my feet as I joined the characters on their travels. The descriptions of food were magnificent, my mouth watered and I could almost taste the soft white bread and the thick cream.

I particularly liked the female characters - Gente, who would have made a much better ruler than Noble; Hermeline, who keeps Reyanrd from his worst excesses; and Rukenawe, who is the wisest of all and reminded me of a cross between Margaret Rutherford and Alistair Simm in the St Trinian films! 

The best thing for me is the use of language. Anne Louise Avery has a beautiful turn of phrase which is bewitching and breathtaking. I can only aspire to write a fraction as well as her.

All in all, a real joy. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

To Those Men

 To those men who think it's a laugh to catcall women as they walk down the road.

To those men who brush ever so casually against your breast as they reach for the rail on the tube.

To those men who walk too close to women on a dark street.

To those men who tell you to smile, cheer up, be pretty.

To those men who drunkenly tell you you're beautiful and leer close to you as you back away.

To those men who try to steal a kiss when being pushed firmly away.

To those men who comment on your legs or breasts or arse.

To those men who sit too close on the bus pressing their leg against yours.

To those men who grab women, who touch women, who fondle women in crowded places.

To those men who pull women in tight, who push women into dark corners, who force their bodies against women.

To those men who put their hands on women, who put their hands under your clothes, who pull at your clothing.

You are part of the problem.

It's not a laugh, it's not banter, it's not ok.

It's threatening.

It's frightening.

It's abuse.

I call it out, all women call it out.

It's not ok to make women feel scared, threatened, intimidated.

It's not ok to be that man, that bully, that predator.

And until you accept that we will continue to live in fear of you, to walk in fear, to see you all as predatory.

To hold our keys in our clenched fists, to avoid going out in the dark, to plan our route home carefully.

To teach our daughters to fear men, to be small and quiet so the men won't see them.

To mourn and fight and fear at each new attack, each tragic murder, each case of coercive control.

Written in sadness, in memory of all the abused, scared and murdered women.

In hope we can change this narrative.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

What a dream can tell me.

 I often have vivid dreams, mostly things that are fantastic or just plain weird. But sometime my dreams tell me exactly what I need to hear. Last night was one of those occasions.

I dreamt that I was at a resort, somewhere with a large coach park which reminded me of school parking duties - dust, stones and aching boredom! I was collected by a floating pod which whisked me away up an outcrop which reminded me of The Lost World. There were openings off to the side to various environments - forest, jungle, city and so forth. I was taken to a beautiful estuary, very Devon/Cornwall. There was a wooden structure, like a shed, overlooking the estuary and with one side open to the water. It was a cozy version of Dylan Thomas' writing hut with a comfy day bed, an antique desk and a kitchen to make tea. There was a deck with creaky wicker chairs and cake on a low table. Bliss.

On the desk was an old typewriter and a pile of smooth creamy paper just asking to be written on. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing and I threaded the paper into the typewriter, pushed the carriage return and began to type. When I read what I had typed I saw that the letter 'e' was missing. The arm and key were there but there was nothing to print the letter on the paper. Suddenly I saw an old fashioned intercom on the desk and I pressed a button. A machine-like voice answered and I explained my problem. A replacement typewriter would be provided. I made tea and sat outside. I then realised that when I had spoken to the machine we had used words without using a single letter 'e'!

The new typewriter had a working 'e' but as I typed I saw that the 's' was missing. This continued as more typewriters were brought in and more letters were missing. At no point before I woke up did I have a machine with all the keys functioning at the same time. Very frustrating. Yet when I woke I realised that what my subconscious was telling me was that I was failing to get on with my writing because I kept finding excuses not to do it. I have all the resources I need, all the time I need and yet I find more and more reasons not to sit down and write. 

Self sabotage. I recognise this well, it's something I've been guilty of at various points in my life. I have something deep seated within me which doesn't want me to succeed. I seem to be scared of success, of accomplishment. And I'm not sure it's not too late to do something about it. But I will keep trying, even though it scares me that I may get there one day.

What's holding you back?

Friday, 1 January 2021

Five Questions I'm Asking This New Year

I decided a while ago that I wouldn't do the usual New Year post. It's been such an odd time that I thought some reflection was needed so I came up with five questions I've been asking myself as 2021 approached.

1. What can I take from 2020?

There's no denying that 2020 was a very trying year. Many people had a very hard time and many people are suffering as a result of the pandemic. It's strange to think back to the beginning of 2020 and all the plans or resolutions we made. I was looking forward to a writing retreat to re-connect with friends and get some writing done in a beautiful country house. Of course that didn't happen and there's no knowing when we will be able to meet up again. Several friends had big holidays planned, long haul destinations that would be a holiday of a lifetime trip. All cancelled. 

On a more serious note, many people lost someone they loved. My aunt died last year, not related to Covid as so many were. But because of the pandemic and travelling I was unable to attend her funeral. So many had to mourn via webcam, unable to hug the bereaved. It's heartbreaking to think how much we've all missed a hug, a hand on the arm, the comfort of human contact.

So there is much to mourn about 2020. However I am able to take some positives from it too. It gave us all the chance to slow down, to step off the crazy whirlwind of 21st century life and look around. Some people took the time to re-connect with hobbies they had long abandoned, others took time to enjoy nature. For me it was a time to think about what is really important in life, to stop worrying about how others see me, to realise the value of just being me.

2. What will I use going into 2021?

The dawning of a new year is a traditional place to re-set, to re-evaluate our lives and make changes. The tradition of the New Year Resolution which I always buy into only to forget by the end of January. So this year I'm just looking for tiny things I can do that will move my life forward, make me happier. So no pronouncements about losing weight or finishing my novel. This year I will be kind to myself, stop doing the things that I know harm me and increase the good stuff in my life. I hope that I do finish my novel but this time I'm just going to be content with the writing I get done rather than stressing about the writing I didn't do. I enjoyed sharing my protagonist on this blog during December so I may do more of that this year. I will stop putting things off until some mythical day in the future and enjoy the here and now. If 2020 taught us anything it's that life can be changed in an instant so we should enjoy the time we have without regret.

3. How can I end 2021 feeling fulfilled?

This is a tricky one. It's rather a big question after all. But I think it bears asking in light of what we've all experienced last year. I am trying to look forward with hope. There are good signs that by summer I may have had a vaccination and have immunity from Covid. That means I can stop worrying about it all the time, stop letting it hold me back, stop feeling fearful. By the end of the year I hope many people have been vaccinated and we can begin to re-build our lives and catch up with all the things we have missed.

I want to end 2021 with a sense of accomplishment on a personal level. I want to feel happy about where my writing is, whether that's in terms of publication or not. Perhaps another lesson from 2020 is that I don't need the validation of publication. It would be wonderful if it happens but I can find satisfaction in other forms. I was lucky enough to have a story published the anthology Heartache and Hope. It was lovely to see my name in print, to know others would read my words. It even got read out on a Youtube channel! All very wonderful and good for the soul. I'd like more of that in 2021 so I will need to write, polish and submit. 

4. What is important to me?

I have been fortunate during the pandemic. I didn't lose anyone to the virus and my family and friends remain healthy although some of them did have Covid. As a retired person I didn't have to make any major alterations to my daily routine, apart from setting the home office up for my husband to work from. I am grateful for the security of my home, many don't have a comfortable home of their own and 2020 was bleak for them. I also have a garden and although I'm not much of a gardener it's nice to have somewhere to sit in the fresh air or potter about pulling up weeds. I hope to make more effort to enjoy it this year.

The importance of family and friends was really brought home to me in 2020. I don't have a busy social life as a rule but I have missed being able to meet up with my sister for wine and gossip, to see friends for coffee and a chat. I've missed live theatre, the open-air Shakespeare we enjoy every summer in Oxford. I've missed the spontaneity of deciding in the morning to pop out for the day. Everything has had to be planned with military precision!  

5. What do I hope for in 2021?

There are big hopes and small hopes. I hope that the various vaccines are available to everyone, that they mean we can all live lives free from fear. I hope that the wealthy nations make sure the poor are not left behind in the vaccination programme. I hope that we remember that there is much inequality in society and remember how we all came together to make a difference. I hope we remember how precious our NHS is and demand that it is properly funded in the future.

The small hopes? I hope I can remember how lonely it can be not connecting with friends. I hope I can grasp every opportunity that comes my way. I hope I can look back on 2021 as a year well-lived.

And I hope all my friends have successful 2021 too. Happy New Year!