Monthly Archives: December 2011

Why Christmas isn’t a happy time for many.

So, on 29 December 2011, Russell Brand filed for divorce from Katy Perry after 14 months of divorce. They weren’t the only celebs to announce their break-up after Christmas: Katherine Jenkins and Gethin Jones were another famous couple to go their separate ways. And Mark  Feehily (from boyband Westlife) has called time on his engagement to lover Kevin McDaid. In 2005, a few days after the New Year where they were pictured strolling along a beach arm-in-arm, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt announced their separation.

I don’t know anything about statistics regarding divorce / separations over Christmas but just looking at the headlines says a lot, especially when you consider celebrity relationships. One reason for the heightened number of break-ups could be the fact that Christmas is a time you feel you “should” be with your loved ones. Celeb couples can comfort themselves all year-round, blaming hectic schedules for not seeing their other half, Katy Perry has been on a worldwide tour in 2o11 while Russell has been filming more movies and promoting new releases.

Spending any prolonged time together, often over the holidays, shows the cracks. That’s if you get as far as spending the time together – some people can’t even agree on where to spend the holiday; rumours abound that Perry wouldn’t agree to spending Christmas in London with Brand and their parents. Perry ended up spending Christmas Day in Hawaii while Brand was in Cornwall.

Gethin and Katherine, as well as Katy and Russell, have hectic work schedules. Most people who have been together for four years will spent a high proportion of time together but celebrities can date for years without seeing that much of each other. Like Lewis Hamilton and Nicole Scherzinger previously conceded (before splitting), a lot of the relationship is conducted through phone calls and texts. How much can you truly know a person that way?

I felt that Katy and Russell were actually well suited although I wondered how he felt about Katy’s hard partying ways considering he is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. I am genuinely saddened by their split.

For people who aren’t rich and/or famous, Christmas can be a harrowing time – spending a large amount of time with family or children can lead some people to distraction: only today I walked past a woman in the supermarket who was shouting and swearing at her children. I don’t personally think people who treat their kids like this should be allowed to procreate but sadly it is more widespread than many like to acknowledged. Other children are left home alone while errant parents disappear to parties or down the pub. Many women and/or men are abused over Christmas / New Year, partly due to the rise in alcohol consumption. Lots of elderly people do not see anyone because the people who usually pop around – like neighbours or family friends – are busy or away.

I don’t mean to end 2011 on a bum note but, when we’re all merry at midnight, please spare a thought for those who may not be having the best of times.

Vic x

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Getting to Know You: Stuart Ayris.

Today I’m pleased to welcome Stuart Ayris to the blog. I hope you will enjoy the interview! Vic x

Hi Stuart, welcome to the blog. Tell us how you got into writing.

I guess like many people it was reading that first drew me to the possibility of writing. When I was a child I read everything I could get my hands on, raiding my mum and dad’s bookshelf from an early age! When I went toSeniorSchoolit seemed that English was about the only subject that I felt at all comfortable with and one of the only subjects I achieved a qualification in. And I think the other thing that has got me into writing is the long held belief that there must be something more to all this life business!

Describe to our readers the genre you write in and why that genre appeals to you as a writer.

Now the issue of genres is something I have struggled with in terms of pigeon-holing my work! I suppose the simple answer is that there are elements of various genres within my novels including mystery, drama, magical realism and humour. I guess a cop out would be to say it is ‘literary fiction’ or ‘contemporary fiction.’ I see genres perhaps as a necessary evil. I don’t believe that anything should be quantified or qualified just so that it fits in with what is understood by the system but I can understand why the concept of genres exists. Hope that makes sense!

Where can we find your work?

My first novel, ‘A Cleansing of Souls’, can be found on Amazon and other online bookselling sites. My second novel, ‘Tollesbury Time Forever’, will be published on Kindle in early February 2012.

Where can we find you online?
I have a blog which tracks the development and publication of Tollesbury Time Forever at http://tollesburytimeforever.blogspot.com/ and a website (which is gradually evolving!) at http://www.stuartayrisbooks.co.uk/ 

Do you have time to read?
I read every day – even if it’s just a few pages! I generally read in the bath or in bed. Sometimes I even treat myself to laying on the settee and reading – now that’s a real pleasure of life!

What are you reading at the moment?
I often have two or three books on the go but at the moment I am coming to the end of ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ by John Le Carre.

Do you have a favourite all-time read?
That’s kind of like the old favourite song thing – it can change depending on what life is like at the time etc. I would at the moment say ‘The Dharma Bums’ by Jack Kerouac.

Which authors would you say have had the most influence on your writing?
In no particular order I would say Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, John Irving and Kahlil Gibran.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I am in the process of doing the final edit for ‘Tollesbury Time Forever’ at the moment. I am also about thirteen thousand words into my next novel which is tentatively entitled ‘The Bird That Nobody Sees’. It’s about a midget, an angel, two drunks and a murderer. Now as for the genre….

What are your hopes for the future?
To live as simple and self-sufficient life as I possibly can. In terms of writing it would be just to keep on keeping on!

What do you most like about writing?
I think it is the excitement when it all starts to come together and the pleasure you get when you read something you have written and can say out loud “blimey – that’s good!”

What do you most dislike about writing?
That would have to be the whole synopsis, submissions thing!

What are your strengths as a writer?

I have confidence in the way I write which I guess is a strength. I have a rather odd imagination and seem to be able to tie various storylines together in quite a satisfying way.

What are your weaknesses as a writer?

My seeming inability to write anything that may be considered vaguely normal…

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read Jack Kerouack. Listen to Bob Dylan. Write and write until you have something the feels good. Trust your instincts and try and change the world!

Review: ‘Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson Lost His Way’ by Jon Krakauer

Greg Mortenson has made a name for himself as a selfless humanitarian and children’s crusader. He’s a favourite of book clubs and philanthropists around the world. He’s even been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. According to this book, Mortensen is also not what he appears to be. As acclaimed author Jon Krakauer discovered, Mortenson has not only fabricated substantial parts of his bestselling books ‘Three Cups of Tea’ and ‘Stones into Schools’, but has also misused millions of dollars donated by unsuspecting donors like Krakauer himself.

This book is jam-packed with testimonies for people who have worked with the seemingly self-obsessed Mortenson. I would like to know how Krakauer discovered the deceit but this book is well worth a read, particularly if you’re tempted to donate to Mortenson – basically he is benefitting from the donations made: not the people who should be.

Vic x

It’s Christmas – but not everyone will be eating something.

In July 2011, a thirty-one year old woman died in an intensive care unit after a sixteen year battle with Anorexia Nervosa.

Kate Chilver weighed 4.7 stone and parts of her bowel and stomach ‘died’ due to lack of blood supply. After developing the condition aged 12 and first being hospitalised at 15, Kate spent the rest of her life in and out of medical units before dying. Her BMI (body mass index) was less than 12 and, at one point, dropped to 9. A healthy BMI is said to be between 20 and 25. Severe anorexia is classed as anything below 15.

 

Kate was fed through a tube but attempts to help her failed. She did not respond to medication and psychotherapy found her ‘unable to engage’. Kate also over-exercised. During her post-mortem, her heart was found to be less than half the weight it should be and Kate herself weighed less than 55lbs (30kg).

Her final days saw her suffering excruciating stomach pains – her bowel and stomach died through poor circulation. Her arteries had closed down due to pressure inside her body. Because there was no inter-abdominal fat to cushion the blood vessels.

This is the tragic truth of anorexia. Celebrities should read stories like this to understand what they’re doing to their bodies. Girls like LeAnn Rimes and Peaches Geldof should understand that they are at risk of muscle wastage and cardiac arrest.

Please girls, go and get help.

Vic x

Off The Record: a charity anthology.

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid. Oh, wait….. No, that’s a completely different charity appeal. There’ll be no cheesy singing coming from this band of literary do-gooders. Instead there are 38 top-notch stories presented in ‘Off The Record’ – a charity anthology arranged and compiled by the wonderful Luca Veste.

Luca had the great idea of each of the authors picking a song title and writing a story around it. The anthology features lots of talented writers from the UK and US. You will see some familiar names – a few of this blog’s guests have contributed, as have I.

Proceeds from the book will go to the National Literacy Trust in the UK (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/) and the Children’s Literacy Initiative in US (http://www.cliontheweb.org/).

So not only are you getting a darn good read, you’re helping others get the skills needed to enjoy a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Vic x

UK readers can get ‘Off the Record’ here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Off-Record-Charity-Anthology-ebook/dp/B006EU1E7S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1324240330&sr=8-1

US readers order ‘Off the Record’ here: http://www.amazon.com/Off-Record-Charity-Anthology-ebook/dp/B006EU1E7S/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1324241034&sr=8-4

Getting to know you: Malcolm Holt

I’m pleased to introduce you to fellow Tyneside writer Malcolm Holt. He’s recently had a collection of short stories ‘Hard Drive’ published as an e-book. Here, he tells us about his journey as a writer.

How did I get into writing? Apart from having a vivid imagination and writing stories at school, my first grown-up brush with literature came when I spent a year at teacher training college. The college had a thriving student union and a nine-hole golf course. When I wasn’t skipping lectures to play golf, I helped to create and co-edit a student union magazine. For the magazine I co-wrote humorous stories and an agony aunt page. It was a lot of fun. Needless to say, at the end of the academic year I decided that I didn’t want to be a teacher.

After I moved to Newcastle from my native Hull, I wrote numerous articles for ‘The Mag’ fanzine during the 1990s when Newcastle United were flying high. In 1998 I wrote my first crime fiction novel. It got published by the lesser-known Falcon Books and a handful were sold. You’d be hard pushed to find a copy nowadays, even on ebay. Mind you, it was pretty bad. I also had a few articles published in the ‘Sunday Sun’ newspaper.

At the end of September 2010, I gave up the day job. Most folk say that I took very early retirement. My old boss says I just buggered off. Pardon my French. I’ve always loved reading crime fiction and I decided to have another stab at writing. The very funny Texan, Kinky Friedman, once told me “Malcolm, you’re never too o-l-d to start writing”. He also made me an honorary Texan, which is something I’m very proud of. So there you have it. I am Yorkshire-born, an adopted Geordie and part-time Texan.

Initially, I thought of creating a fictional city, but Ian Rankin convinced me that it would be easier to use Newcastle. After his phenomenal success with Rebus, I decided that he knew what he was talking about.

My first short story, ‘Drum and Waste’, published in ‘A Twist of Noir’, introduced Frankie ‘Slinger’ Wilson, who is my new anti-hero.

I have had some interesting reactions from the family. I think my style of writing has surprised some of them. Ian Rankin says that crime fiction writers are usually nice people because they put all their inner demons on the page. As I like to say, ‘Never underestimate the power of imagination.’ So, that’s me, embarking on a new writing career and exciting times are ahead…I hope. Will it be successful? Ask me at the end of 2012.

Get ‘Hard Drive’ here: http://amzn.to/yo5k6I

Thanks again to Malcolm for speaking to us today. His story goes to show that if you have a story in you, it will find a way out eventually!

Vic x

Review: ‘Keeper’ by Andrea Gillies.

Five years ago, writer Andrea Gillies moved, with her husband and three children up to a large Victorian mansion on a remote peninsula in the north of Scotland. Along with her family, she took her husband’s infirm parents. Leaving behind friends, family and familiarity, Gillies arrived in the windswept area in search of inspiration and the sublime. Andrea’s mother-in-law Nancy comes with middle-stage Alzheimer’s Disease and Andrea becomes Nancy’s carer while also trying to write and run a b’n’b.

‘Keeper’ is a wonderful piece of writing on what remains a taboo subject. Although the anecdotes are often embarrassing in their honesty, Gillies manages to frequently raise a wry smile from the reader. Her brutal honesty regarding Nancy’s outbursts as the disease further takes hold of her paints a realistic picture of care-giving.

Gillies’ bravery in tackling this topic has to be admired. Some families would not be accepting of her laying bare the uncomfortable truth. This book is combined with some wonderful poetry which is particularly pertinent to the subject matter and, coupled with some research into Alzheimer’s and Dementia, is a must-read for anyone who is considering undertaking the task of care-giving.

Diary extracts of Nancy’s slow unravelling, and the impact it has on her family, are painful to read. To read about the demise of this woman is heartbreaking – and you realise that if you’re finding it difficult, you get an idea of how near-impossible it must have been for Andrea and her family to live with it.

This isn’t just a book about Alzheimer’s, though. It’s a depiction of family life, old age and the sad state of our National Health Service. It is also an interesting study of femininity. Although it is not Andrea Gillies’ parents living in the home, it is she who has the most interaction with them, her career that is taking a dive due to care-giving.

This is an intelligent, brave and honest account. I commend Andrea Gillies on every level.

Vic x