Saturday, 29 October 2011

The Promise

     I opened my eyes, or at least I thought I did, but if I had thought harder I would have realised they were already open, it was just that I couldn’t see anything. Not that I cared, it was the last thing on my mind. All I could remember were the beautiful memories of the wedding ceremony with Lisa, the most beautiful girl in the world.  
     It had been a magical few days, the best of my life. Azure Jamaican sunsets and sweet scents of sunshine fruits were flavoured with sounds of steel drums and reggae rhythms.  The time when all my hopes and dreams had come true and I had finally married the woman of my dreams, no, not just of my dreams but of my very being, my soul, my life.
     All my life I had been around her, drawn in by her aura. Throughout infant school I had followed her around the playground like a needy puppy, joining enthusiastically in her childish games. Primary school was a world of wonder that we discovered together, the closest of friends, with adventures shared and futures still too distant to be contemplated. Our teen years tried hard to alter our relationship and though teenage culture demanded we sought the fellowship of our peers, we still glanced at each other across crowded dance floors, often walking home together yet saying goodbye at her garden gate before talking into the small hours on the phone.
     She had a boyfriend once, encouraged almost rabidly by her friends and I hated him with a vengeance, yet even when they finished a few days later, I still shied away from asking her out, terrified of rejection, not realising that these were sentiments she also shared.
     But eventually, the inevitable happened and something special developed. I still remember that starlit night, when I paused at her gate a moment too long. That awkward few seconds, that void of silence, crying out to be filled. Waiting for me to scream out as loud as I could,
     ‘Don’t you know how much I Love you? Don’t you know how much I want to take you in my arms and hold you until the stars above burn themselves out?  How I want to spend the rest of eternity alongside you, looking at you, knowing you, loving you?'
     But I didn’t shout out, and neither did she, but what she did do was something else, something completely different, something infinitely better. She tiptoed up and kissed me gently on the lips.
     That was the beginning of my life, the day I was really born, the point at which my existence took on meaning. Since then, I smile at the oft asked question, What is love? The answer is easy, It is lisa. She is the very essence of love and nothing in the universe exists apart from my love for her. I will live for her, die for her for she is now the sole reason I exist in this suffocating yet intoxicating entrancement.
     The wedding had been everything we had dreamed of, and, having decided to wait until our wedding night to consummate the marriage, was a sensory overload of love and tenderness. We found each other at last, physically, mentally and emotionally while the world stood still, waiting for us to see it again. The moonlit walks, the starlit passion. Days filled with laughter and nights filled with wonder. This was it, the very reason I had been put on this earth by whatever entity existed up there.
     That had been weeks ago. Why had it stopped, what had I done so wrong to deserve this. Why did the cruel hand of fate deal such a devastating blow.
     Everything had been perfect that night, the last night of our honeymoon and we had returned early to our chalet on the beach, keen to spend our last night alone before leaving this paradise.
     They shouldn’t have been there, they had no right. My mind had span as it struggled to take in the situation, the shouts of the attackers and the screams of my beloved. The struggle, the noise, the flash of light…….the pain.
     But it was as nothing compared to the pain that followed, the pain of seeing her dragged off by the two men to a lustful fate. The pain of trying to move, to help her, to rescue her from harm, unable to move yet conscious to what they intended What sort of husband was I who could not even protect my wife in the first weeks of our union. The world became dark and the last thing I heard was her voice calling my name, begging me to help.
     How long had I lain there, summoning my will to overcome my bodies limitations. It had taken time but love conquers all, a triumph of mind over matter, love over hate. I knew that at last I would be able to do it. To rise again and seek her out and take her once more in my arms, and this time, no gun on this earth would stop me joining my love.
     Gradually, as my consciousness returned, so did my strength, though how such malnourished muscles could even summon any power whatsoever was beyond me. First the movement of a finger, forcing its way past its neighbour, encouraging its fellows to join it in its task. Then my hand became free and clawed at the surrounding dankness, forcing its way upwards through the cloying blanket of hopelessness. Finally, with a flourish that mirrored the birth of a baby, my hand pushed forth to pierce the cool Caribbean night, breaking free of the shallow grave where I had lain for the last two months.
    'Don’t worry, Lisa,' I said as the soil fell from my empty eye sockets, ‘I’m coming to get you.’

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Mole

     Do you remember that summer? You know, the one where it was so hot you used to run back into the house and stand on tiptoe to reach over the sink to put your mouth directly under the tap. The one when Timmy Jones got knocked over by the ice cream van and we all got to visit him in hospital with our hair gelled down flat and the fat nurse smelled like the soap in the school toilets.
     Well, that’s the one I’m on about. That was the one when I discovered death for the first time. I couldn’t understand it at first and me and Billy Jenkins just stood side by side for ages, looking down at the velvet clad corpse. We probably would have stood there an age more as well until Fatty Thomas barged through to see what we were staring at.
     ‘Worrisit?’ he asked, poking the body with a stick.
     ‘A mouse,’ said I.’
     ‘A mole,’ corrected Billy.
     ‘Wossa mole?’ I asked.
     ‘It’s like a mouse but lives underground eating worms?’ said Billy.
     Billy had always been the clever one, and his mam said one day he was going to be a doctor. His dad even had a car and once, right, in the holidays he took me and Billy to the boating park to have a go on the row boats. It was brill, and me and Billy had a water fight till his dad shouted at us.
     ‘Worms!’ shouted Fatty Thomas, That’s deesgusting.’
     ‘How do you know?’ I asked, the words already out before I had time to think of the consequences.
     ‘Coz they are,’ shouted Fatty Thomas, cuffing  me around the head, and that was that. Fatty Thomas always had the last word in the playground. This was his domain, his territory and he prowled the glass strewn tarmac like a lion protecting his pride. He wasn’t all bad back then, as long as you were willing to be searched for sweets and gave up the swing when he demanded, you were usually fine, but cross him and you were likely to be beaten up. I lost count how many times my mam marched down to his house to have a row with his mam when Fatty had made my nose bleed.
     That was funny when the grown-ups argued, and when they were shouting in the street, me and Fatty would go up to his room and watch them out of the window. My dad never came though, coz it wouldn’t have been fair, Fatty didn’t have a dad, well, he did, sort of. It was just that he lived with the pretty lady at the end of the street who wore the small dresses and the skinny wellies. He wasn’t allowed into Fatty’s house any more, ever since he hit Fatty’s mam for calling the pretty lady a tart.
     Fatty Thomas bent down and picked up the Mole by the tail, dangling it front of us as we all inspected it in minute detail.
     ‘Look at its eyes,’ I whispered, ‘They are shut real tight.’
     ‘That’s coz it’s dead, you nutter,’ said Fatty. A tirade of abuse would surely have followed but for the timely intervention of Billy pointing out the pink paws.
     ‘Look at his hands,’ he said, ‘They are the same as ours.’ As Billy leant forward Fatty Thomas swung the recently deceased mole into his face, and burst into laughter as Billy screamed like a girl. Within seconds Fatty Thomas was chasing Billy Jenkins around the playground laughing at his victim’s terror.
     ‘I’m gonna make you eat worms,’ shouted Fatty Thomas, and chased Billy out of the park. I was horrified, surely not even Fatty Thomas would make anyone eat worms, it was against the law!’ I hurried after them, not quite sure what it was I could do to prevent it, but Billy was my mate after all.
     That had been fifty years ago, and here I was, half a century older, sat on my own swing, in my own back garden, nursing the answer to my nightmares.
     A place of quiet and solitude where the likes of Fatty Thomas were forbidden, A place to recall sunburn summers and snowman winters, looking back to the days of innocence when the threat of being made to eat worms, made a boy’s face freeze in time.
     I wonder what he would have looked like? Would he have grey hair like me, or would he be bald like Fatty Thomas? I would never know, I could only ever recall the Billy Jenkins that I knew back then. The clever seven year old who was going to be a doctor.
     I bet he would have made a great doctor, given the chance, perhaps even specialising in this growth that was consuming my innards.
     ‘No more radiotherapy,’ the doctors had said.
     ‘No more chemotherapy,’ I had decided.
     ‘Make your peace with God,’ the priest would have said, had I been religious.
     I bet Billy Jenkins wouldn’t have given up. I bet he would have cured me, had he grown up to be a doctor.
But he hadn’t grown up. He had slid under that bus almost gracefully, though there was no grace in the way his body was carried up into the wheel arch by the giant tyres. This time it was Fatty Thomas and me that stared at a body, our young minds not quite comprehending the consequences.
     ‘It’s your fault, ‘I said, ‘You were chasing him.’
     ‘No I wasn’t,’ said Fatty.
     ‘You were going to make him eat worms,’ I said, ‘You can go to jail for that.’
     ‘I wasn’t,’ shouted Fatty, and grabbed me by my collar.
     ‘Don’t you tell on me, Spotty four eyes,’ he said, his voice more threatening than I had ever heard it before, ‘Coz if you do, I will say it was you who dunnit,’ and just in case that wasn’t enough threat, he threw in the one thing he knew always worked with me, ‘And I’ll smash your face in as well.’
     I was a coward then, and am a coward still, so the story we told the policeman was one of an innocent game of chase. No mention of moles or worms, just a childhood accident. A tiny white lie that turned into a lifetime’s burden and one that I was reminded of every time I passed Fatty Thomas’s house on the way to the accountancy. Every time one of his brood scratched my car, or smashed my windows, I wished I had been stronger. But for fifty years I had been weak. Fifty years of turning the other cheek and ignoring the taunts of the bully of my youth, gradually replaced with those of his sons.
     But that was about to change. Two months was the prognosis, two months until I saw Billy again. But first there was something I had to do. Something I had promised myself fifty years ago when I had looked down into Billy’s grave, holding my mam’s hand. Something that I had put off till now.
     I peered through the conifer hedge, seeing Fatty Thomas’s four by four skid into his drive and I knew that this was it, and at last, I would actually carry it out.
     This was my time. He couldn’t hurt me anymore and I had nothing more to lose. It was time he paid the price for killing my best friend.
     ‘Don’t worry,’ I said to Billy in my mind, ‘This time, he’s the one who’s gonna get his face smashed in.’
I slid the cartridge into the chamber of the shotgun and snapped the barrel upwards to lock into the stock before marching out of the garden like John Wayne.
     ‘My name is Spotty four-eyes,’ I said out loud, ‘And Nobody makes my friend eat worms.’

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Kissing Game

     Shelley stood at the back of the cruise liner, watching the tired sun curtsey into the azure Aegean sea. The bubbles still clung to the sides of her champagne flute and she sipped sparingly, hardly daring to believe the magic that had enveloped her world in the space of a week. Any minute now she feared waking up to find it was all a dream.
     This sort of thing did not happen in real life, not to ordinary people like her. These were Barbara Cartland days, spiced with Jackie Collins nights, and she was absorbing every skin tingling second of it while it lasted. A hand touched her on the shoulder and that steam train ripple ran up her spine once again.
     ‘Happy, darling?’ asked Jeff, before kissing her gently on the neck. Shelley’s eyes closed as his arms wrapped around her, intoxicated with the thrill of the sensation.
     ‘More than you will ever know,’ she said as he rested his chin on her shoulder to share the view. They both sipped their champagne in silence, one considering the future, the other lost in the past.
     It hadn’t always been as good for Shelley, only a few months ago, she had been in a dark place, a lonely place, empty of emotion, devoid of love. A room where printed words screamed from carefully polished shelves. ‘With condolences,’ they said, ‘Deepest sympathy,’ cried others. Nothing more than mass produced cards without soul, bought by mass produced friends with no imagination.
     They had not known the Stuart she had known, not really. Stuart had been deep, and clever. He had an insight into life that most people didn’t understand. An unending well of warmth and trust that he was willing to share with anyone and everyone. ‘A man of many kisses,’ she had once called him and she could always tell what mood he was in by the touch of his lips. She used to play a game every morning when he kissed her goodbye before going to work. ‘What kiss,’ she had named it, and she would plan her day by the type received.
     Was it the kiss of the tired business man who just wanted to get home and relax with his wife? Or was it the playful linger that promised an evening out at the pub. Her favourite was the fiery kiss that caused her heart to race, knowing that she could look forward to a night of passion from the man of her dreams.
     But on that fateful day six months earlier, Stuart had introduced another kiss, a new one, an unknown one. One that she couldn’t decipher. The sort of kiss that meant ‘I wont be home tonight, for my body will be mangled in a car crash.’ That was against the rules of the game. Those sorts kisses weren't allowed, didn’t he know that?
     The following months were the worst of her life as she wallowed in a world of hurt, sodden pillows and un-drawn curtains her only companions. She had thought that was how her life would be from then on, despair the norm, but she hadn’t counted on Sally, her neighbour and best friend.
     Inch by inch, Sally dragged her from the depths of despair. Hour by hour and day by day Sally tricked her into facing the world again. Coffee mornings with pastry frills were replaced with shopping afternoons and wine bar nights. Friendship became the sponge for her tears and laughter the glue that repaired her broken heart. Stuart was never far from her thoughts but whenever sadness loomed over her like a nightmarish demon, Sally was there to overwhelm it with kindness and optimism.
     ‘It is what he would have wanted,’ was Sally’s mantra, and she was right, Stuart wouldn’t have wanted her to be sad. He would have wanted her to get on with her life.
     ‘There are more Stuarts out there,’ said Sally, ‘Not exactly the same, of course, but with the same values and the same gentle manner. All you have to do, is go out and find him. It’s what he would have wanted.’
Then came the day that would change her life forever, the fateful morning when Sally knocked on the door and waltzed in brandishing a set of tickets like Geisha girl’s fan.
     ‘Here we go,’ said Sally, ‘A fortnight in the Med on the Voyager of the Seas, and before you say anything, I’m not taking no for an answer. It will be magical.’
     Once again she was right. Fourteen cocktailed nights and sun soaked days, taking in the exotic places that only existed in the novels of her bedside table. Rome, Athens, Crete, Troy, they were all there, the haunts of gods and heroes. How could any girl fail to fall in love in such an environment?
     Yet again, Sally was right. There were good men out there, and though it was the last thing on her mind when she boarded the ship, here she was, in the strong embrace of her own god, her own hero. He even wore the same aftershave as Stuart, and, if she closed her eyes, just for a moment, she could almost imagine…But no, she had to remember this was Jeff, not Stuart and though it was sooner than expected, she had to accept that moving on was a part of life. She was allowed to seek the happiness she craved. Life was too short, and anyway, it was what Stuart would have wanted.
     Jeff had been a revelation, A knight in shining armour, riding to her emotional rescue, and the strangest thing was, she had known him all this time and hadn’t even given him a second glance. How on Earth hadn’t she noticed, He was a little taller than Stuart, and better built than Stuart, and his hair was exactly the same as Stuart’s, in fact it could almost be…
     ‘Stop it,’ she said to herself, once again, realising she had to stop comparing them. This was the time to move on. Jeff was here, and Stuart was, well…not. That’s all there was too it.
     The sun whispered its last goodbyes and as Jeff’s strong arms turned her around to kiss her deeply, her mind returned to the kissing game she once shared with Stuart.
     ‘What sort of kiss was this?’ she thought,
     A promise of lust? Definitely.
     A suggestion of love? Hopefully.
     A hint of greed?  Possibly.
     ‘Come on,’ said Jeff, picking up the half empty magnum of champagne, ‘Let’s take this back to the cabin.’
     She smiled at him, wondering again just how lucky she had been. To find someone so quickly after losing her husband was nothing short of miraculous. And she owed it all to Sally. It was she who had bought the extra ticket and made her come along. The cruise had been booked for almost a year, but after Stuart’s death, Sally had phoned the agent constantly until finally they confirmed there had been a cancellation and Sally had snapped up the last place for her friend.
     At first she had been doubtful. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford it as Stuart’s substantial insurance had come through and she was now a wealthy woman. She just thought it was a bit too soon, but her friend had been adamant.
     ‘Come on,’ Sally had nagged, ‘It will be wonderful. Me, you and Jeff together on holiday. We will have a great time.’
     And yet again, Sally had been right, she was having a wonderful time. How could she not? Jeff was indeed a wonderful man. Funny, attentive, handsome not to mention a fantastic lover. Sally had been very lucky to have been married to such a man.
     Shelley looked to the horizon once more, and blew a kiss towards the area where several blood stained pillow cases were now sinking slowly to the bottom of the Aegean, their gory contents already attracting the attention of the ever hungry fish.
     ‘Thank you, Sally,’ she whispered, ‘You were right. It’s what he would have wanted.’

Friday, 16 September 2011

Vestal Virgins

The trials and burdens of Rome's holy women.

The Vestal Virgins were an order of Priestesses that were at the centre of Rome’s religious community for over a thousand years. They worshipped the Goddess Vesta and, amongst other things, were tasked to keeping the holy fire burning in The Temple of Vesta in Rome. Their story includes betrayal, lust, intrigue and being buried alive.

Their story extends back before the beginnings of Rome, and there are views that when the adults and young boys of Alba Longa, an area near where Rome now stands, went  out to hunt they usually left the young girls to look after the fires of the village, a task essential in the day to day life of such people. Over time, it evolved into a ritual and as by their very nature, the young girls were virgins, eventually this trait became part of the role in keeping the fires alive. 

The kings of Alba Longa introduced the ritual to Rome and as the city developed, the links were reinforced and the Role of the Vestal Virgin became inherent in the spiritual and political life of the city.

To become a vestal virgin, a child would be offered by a prominent family, or drawn by lots from a pre-determined list. Each potential recruit had to be between six and ten years old and be in possession of all their limbs and faculties. In addition, the family would have to be freeborn Roman and of good character.

The successful candidate would sign up for a term of thirty years, during which they swore to remain chaste, and were seen as being married to Rome. The first ten years were as a trainee, the next ten years as an actual priestess and the last ten years as a teacher. After this time, they were allowed to leave the order and marry, if they so wished but due to the riches and independence afforded to them by the post, few actually did.

Their roles were many but the main ones included, keeping the sacred fire alight at all times, storing the wills of dead emperors and officials, various religious ceremonies and often liaison with Rome’s enemies in times of conflict. In addition, they were the keepers of Rome’s sacred relics and though information is scarce, these included the Palladium, otherwise known as the statue of Pallas Athena, around which Troy was built centuries earlier.

Vestal Virgins became powerful and very rich. They could intercede on behalf of a condemned man and if convict caught the eye of a Vestal Virgin on the way to execution, he could be pardoned.

However, with the role came a serious commitment and if one was found to have lost her virginity, or on occasion, even be accused of being intimate with a man, they would be condemned to death. Originally this would be as simple as whipping, but as their role increased in importance it was felt that no man had the power to kill a priestess of Vesta. Therefore they devised a cruel and shocking punishment.

First of all, the accused would be whipped and tied to a cart to be led through the streets of Rome before the populace of the city. They would remain silent throughout the whole procedure. At a certain point, the priestess would be untied and would descend a ladder to a chamber containing a bed, a candle, some food and something to drink. The tomb would then be sealed, the soil replaced and life go on as normal in the city above, leaving the priestess entombed forever. The thinking seems to have been that the last time anyone seen her, she was alive and had the necessities for life. The rest was up to Vesta.

One of the most famous Vestal Virgins was Rubria who was apparently raped by Nero. History fails to tell us what happened to her after this as her name falls out of the history books.Though the Vestal Virgins were disbanded in 394 AD a similar order soon emerged albeit this time in the service of the Catholic church, Nuns.

A fascinating story covering one possible fate of Rubria, the famous Vestal Virgin raped by Emperor Nero in 64 AD can be found in the book Mortuus Virgo.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The island of Twenty Thousand Saints.

Off the coast of North Wales in the UK, lies a tiny island with an extraordinary story to tell. A story of pilgrimage throughout the ages on an enormous scale, of a believable claim to be the true location of Avalon, the last burial place of Arthur,  and the current location of a solitary windswept tree, the bearer of probably the rarest fruit in the world.

Ynys Enlli, or Bardsey Island, as it is now called, can boast a history dating back before the Romans and was a place where Iron age Celts went to worship their gods. As time progressed it was visited by the Vikings, who gave it it’s current name, bard-sey, the island of bards, and eventually claimed by early Christians as a place of worship and pilgrimage. St Cadfan formed the first monastery on the island in the sixth century and it became such an important destination in the Christian faith that the pope himself declared that three visits to Bardsey was the equivalent to one visit to Rome.

Okay, I hear you ask, so what? Nothing special there, but now it gets interesting. So many holy men went there, that it is said that the remains of twenty thousand saints lie in the abbey’s graveyard. Twenty thousand on a tiny island no more than two kilometres square.

So why is it so special?
First of all, by some extraordinary gift of nature, the environment is fantastically beneficial to good health and old age and it was recognised that on this island, the old died first. In an 1188 document called ‘Itinery through Wales,’ Giraldus Cambrensis states

This island, either from the healthiness of its climate, or rather from some miracle and the merits of the Saints, has this wonderful peculiarity that the oldest people die first, because diseases are uncommon, and scarcely any die except from extreme old age.

This is quite a claim, considering the harsh environment, and disease ridden culture of the last two thousand years.

Throughout Celtic mythology, there are references to a fabled glass house where devotees grew apples for the gods. It is now believed that the early monastery boasted exactly that, a glass house attached to the building providing a haven against the harsh Atlantic weather.

So where is this leading?
In Celtic Mythology, Avalon meant the ‘place of apples’ or was sometimes referred to as ‘the glass fortress,’  In a 14th century manuscript, Arthur requested that when he died, he should be taken west to be buried on the isle of Avalon. It is also recorded that he was mortally wounded by Mordred in the battle of Camlann, commonly thought to have taken place in North Wales. Bearing in mind the popularity of the island as not only a holy place to be buried but also for its healing and health properties, it would be a very likely place indeed to take a mortally wounded king..

To add to the intrigue, I want to bring you right up to date. In 1998, a man visited Bardsey Island to study the birdlife. While there, he noticed a solitary apple tree tucked into a protected corner of an ‘L’ shaped farmhouse. This tree was bearing fruit and the gentleman noticed it was disease free and tasted lovely. He was intrigued as no other apple trees exist on the island due to the harsh Atlantic weather, so he sent the apple off to a friend for analysis and it was formally declared to be unique. That is, that no other specimen was known on the entire planet.

Cuttings have subsequently been taken in an effort to propagate this unique tree and they are currently being grown around the world.

So, to summarise:

  • A wounded Arthur was supposed to have been taken from the battlefield to a local holy place with a glass building.

 Bardsey was one of the most holy places of the time and apparently had a conservatory of sorts.

  • He is said to be buried with a holy army, waiting to be resurrected.

Twenty thousand saints seem to fit the bill nicely.

  • Avalon was known as the place of apples.
In welsh, Apple is called Afal,  and Apples, Afalau

Finally, there is one more quirk to consider. In many versions of the legend the body ends up in a cave on a mountain. On Bardsey there is a solitary hill, and on this hill there is a tiny entrance to a cave, as yet, (I believe) not excavated. It may not be the last resting place of the legendary king, but bearing in mind the extraordinary history of this island, you can’t help but wonder what other secrets of the past it may hold?

Food for thought?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Are we Neanderthal?

      Think of the term ‘cave man’ and your mind’s eye will probably picture a representation of the Neanderthals.
      Most people assume that the Neanderthal died out during the last ice age or were wiped out by our own ancestors, The Cro-magnon.
      However there is a current debate within scientific circles that argues that Neanderthal did not die out but were absorbed by the Cro-magnon through interbreeding
      There is nothing shocking or new about the idea that Neanderthal Man and Cro-Magnon man may have interacted. Considering the ancestors of both shared the planet for hundreds of thousands of years it could be said that it is not only probable but an absolute certainty that their paths would have crossed thousands of times and interaction at all levels and at all intensities would have occurred.
      So why is it such a difficult idea to contemplate? Could it be that Neanderthal Man is often seen as a vastly inferior species and therefore our global subconscious rails against the idea. After all, they were nothing but stupid awkward cavemen, dirty giant brutes slow of mind and ignorant of anything except clubbing animals to death for food.....weren’t they?
      Due to an unfortunate and mistaken analysis carried out over a hundred years ago, Neanderthal Man has often been portrayed as described above, however, due to new discoveries and a better understanding, a veil is being drawn back to reveal a completely different creature than the stereotypical cave man that has been embedded in the psyche of modern humanity.
      These people lived in mutually supportive groups, played music, carried out minor surgery, looked after the sick and the old and even buried their dead with gifts and flowers. They made tools, traded with other camps, mastered fire and ensured their species survived in the harshest of environments, long before Cro-Magnon spread into their lands.
      As far as their intelligence goes we may never know, but when you consider that Neanderthal Man's brains were at least as big as, and often bigger than modern day man it would suggest that their individual achievements were only limited by their own imagination.
      Neanderthal Man survived for over two hundred thousand years, and if you compare that with our own recent history of two thousand years since the birth of Christ, we can perhaps begin to understand how successful they actually were. Therefore, it could be argued that for a large expanse of time Neanderthal Man was at least the equal of our own ancestors in many areas, and until strength of numbers overwhelmed them, actually their superiors both in number and survival success.
      Statistically It is not only a possibility but a certainty that the two species would have interbred. Humanity in all its guises share certain needs and wants. Food, water, safety and companionship are amongst the most basic, but lust is also a natural human feeling. It lies at the very basis of reproduction and would have been just as potent hundreds of thousands of years ago as it is today.
      So step forward Neanderthal Man. Family oriented, and forward thinker. Take your place as an important member of our family tree. You lived, you loved and you died. No different to modern day man.  No different to us.
      Neanderthal Man did not die out, they are, not they.......WE... are here!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Rise and Rise of E books

     Is the era of the slush piles coming to an end? Will Agents be staring at the phone, hoping it will ring? Are publishers sneaking a glance at the job pages over their morning coffee?
     Perhaps not yet but one thing is certain, the big boys are getting worried. In the past, self publishers were derided and sneered at for having the audacity to even think they could challenge the big publishing houses. Tomes have been written about the difficulty of getting a book deal and the rejection slips probably accounted for the equivalent of many rainforests in their time.
     But no more. At last, all us budding writers have been given the opportunity that we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. Our books, the way we want them, published and available to millions of potential customers almost immediately.
     'How so?' I hear you cry. 'The younger generation!' I reply. They are the leaders, the innovators and the instigators. They are the ones who see palm readers, kindles and I phones as the norm. It is they who are driving the book industry to its inevitable evolution.
     Sales of E readers are booming and subsequently, books to put on them. Why buy 1 paperback when you can have perhaps 5 for the same price?' All of which and indeed thousands more, can be carried with you on a device half the size of a paperback.
     Combine this with the many websites that now offer free formatting along with free distribution to names such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Borders and many many more and the door is finally opened. But what is more important, is that these companies not only accept these submissions, but actively encourage them and many authors make a living by following this route.
     It is not difficult, and anyone can do it, but a word of caution. Make your novel the best you can. Your subject matter won't appeal to everyone and your style may be an acquired taste, but don't compromise on standards. Spend time on your spelling, formatting and grammar. Don't give the naysayers the opportunity to cry, 'We told you so.'
     Once this is done and you feel you have done your best, search the web, pick a suitable provider and click send.
    Fellow writers unite. Kick off the chains of literary oppression. This is our time.  E books ARE the future. Be part of the revolution.
    Watch this space
Best regards

Friday, 26 August 2011

I want to write but where do I start

Okay, where do we start.
Well, I'm not going to patronise anyone and go through the 'first you need the idea' spiel. I assume, by the very fact you are reading this, you already have the type of book you want to write in mind.
So, assuming this is the case, you need to get it down on (electronic) paper. Now I am no expert, and there are countless pages out there advising you how to do just that, but I can give you one piece of advice that many seem to skip over, and that is Just write.
Forget structure, and formatting. Don't worry about spelling or grammar, that can come later. Get your work down on some sort of media, preferably a word processor.
Now that may sound simplistic, but take it from me, a couple of years ago, I wasted no end of time trying to set out the perfect book.. My pages were numbered and formatted beautifully. My spelling was perfect and grammar was great. After 3 months I had written 1, albeit perfect, chapter but had lost my enthusiasm. This was too much like hard work and my story was still untold. I had focussed so much on doing it right, I had lost sight of what was important, the story. I decided to forget all the well meaning, and sometimes expensive advice and get my story down. Three months later, I had a draft novel consisting of 120,000 words sat on my desktop.
So, don't wait. Set yourself a target. A thousand words a day is achievable, but dont stress about it. Do what you can but for heavens sake get it down while the ideas are there. Don't worry if it is an end or middle chapter before the beginning is done, you can knit it all together later.
Don't even worry if you have an idea, but it doesnt fit into the theme of the book, get it down. It may come in useful later, (Or in a different book) That's the beauty of word processing. Thank heavens for cut and paste.
I call it the Rolf Harris approach. For those that don't know him, Rolf Harris is an Australian entertainer/singer/artist and does not write as far as I am aware. But what he is partly famous for is the catchphrase, 'Can you tell what it is yet?'
This came from the days when, as a children's entertainer, he would throw all sorts of paint on the canvas, often repeating the phrase 'Can you tell what it is yet?' The overall picture was never clear, but finally, at the end of the show, he would refine the canvas with some final adjustments, and sweeping strokes of a pallet knife or brush. Finally, as the camera panned back, the picture was revealed as a very clever picture that had been there all the time but just needed tweaking to reveal the finished article. The point is, for most of the show, he was just applying the building blocks onto the canvas.
This is what I am encouraging. Get your ideas down. Don't worry if the chapter fits into what you have written already, you can sort it out later. I guarantee that when your story is complete, the feeling you get will rekindle your enthusiasm and you will set about the more boring bits with a refreshed vigour.
The fun is in the writing. Do yourself a favour and get your story down while it is fresh in your mind.
One last bit of advice before we move on to the process, is to make notes as you get ideas. I dread to think how many times I have had an idea and thought, I'll make a note of that later, only to forget what it was.
One night I woke up after having a particularly vivid dream. I was very thirsty so went downstairs for a drink and there was a notebook and pen on the dining table. I wrote down a few bullet points about the dream and went back to bed. The following morning, my wife asked me what the words meant and it all came flooding back. Those notes have now become my third novel, Mortuus Virgo. The point is, If I hadn't wrote the notes down that night, I may never have remembered them and Motuus Virgo may never have been written.
Now, go and write something..

25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day |

25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day |

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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Hello World

Where do I start?

Question - How many people have asked that question when they write their first blog?

Answer - Everyone so I am in good company.

I have got things to say, (I am quite opinionated really) we all have, but when you first start these new sites it's better to feel your way through gently. Discretion is the best part of valour, to coin a phrase.

So, just to start off, I'll tell you something about myself. (Just to see how this thing works)

My name is Kevin Ashman and I live in South Wales in the united Kingdom. I am almost half a century old and have four grown up children, a dog, and some fish. I am a professional PFI Project manager looking after several educational premises in South Wales.

I have written a few books, trodden the self publishing path and am currently embarked on the networking route in this brave new world of facebook, blogging, twitter, tumbler etc.

Oh my god, that means I have to TALK to people.

Oh well, so be it. Here I am, laptop at the ready, fingers poised, and ready to socialise. I'll play about with the site for a while and get used to it a little before sharing my inner thoughts with the world.