Friday, 26 July 2019

Woman Power

I was at the beach today and a woman wearing a t-shirt which said "power women" or something like that jogged past me. It made me think - yes, I know, beginner's luck, but seriously though, I asked myself what did that mean exactly?
Now, I grew up in an era (some time shortly after Noah had beached The Ark) when women were not paid the same rates as men, although to be honest, I think they didn't do the same work as their counterparts - mostly that is, I'm excluding teachers, doctors etc here. The main reason for this discrepancy was that men were the bread winners and women were expected to stay home, raise the kids, do the housework and wait on their husbands. Women simply didn't need to earn as much as men, that was the reasoning behind this, in my opinion. So far so logical - well, sort of. I have to say, though, that even back then, women had important jobs and it wasn't long until we had women running countries: Gold Meier, Indira Ghandi and Margaret Thatcher for example.
When I worked in the civil service there were several women who were staff officers or had other senior positions, although no one was actually at the top. No one remarked on this, either, because it was "normal". They were qualified and they could do the job and that was all that was asked. It was not a question of gender equality.
I remember one of the first jobs I had where the men got two weeks holidays and the women one. I worked there for about a week or so before going to see the Managing Director (I was his secretary) and asking him why the female employees didn't get the same length of holidays as the men. He looked at me in total surprise, I remember, before saying "do you want two weeks holidays?" To which I replied, not unsurprisingly, "yes, we do." "OK" he said and that was that. From then on we all had the same number of days off. He simply had not thought about it.
If women would only realise that a lot of "man power" ideas were the result of not thinking, were based on norms and customs from past centuries, I think we'd all loosen up more. We wouldn't feel the need to wear the t-shirt, to be forever harping on about "women novelists, women playing football, the first woman to kill a bear with her bare hands" - yes I am most definitely exaggerating now. What are we trying to prove, here? Men and women have always been equal. It has just taken men (and women) a long time to see that. We had to convince men that we could be trusted to vote, that we could open bank accounts ourselves - I could go on - and we have made a success of that without any fuss or roll of drums. Incidentally, many women were quite happy to go along with the "little woman" image in those days because it saved them a lot of hassle. Their husbands paid for everything, made all the decisions in many cases, although I suspect that clever women could always get what they wanted.
So let's just relax, ladies, we don't need to prove a thing. Toss that t-shirt into the laundry basket! 

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Light and Dark

Remember the good karma and the bad karma? It seems there are also light and dark triads. I guess some scientists and philosophers and those who reckon they are scientists and philosophers have nothing better to do than analyze us and keep on coming up with new ideas on The Human Condition.
What next? I ask myself. We all know lovable rogues, friends who get on our nerves because they always arrive late at the meet-up point, people who will help you at the drop of a hat, people who are genuinely caring, people who don't listen once they've asked you how you are. You don't have to be a scientist to understand human nature.
I think we should all be self-aware and I think most of us are. How many times have we thought "oh no, there I go again, putting my foot in it".
On the other hand, if you can't be separated from your mobile/social media, I reckon you don't get time to think about anything. On my walks to the beach I meet walkers, joggers, runners, who all have their ear plugs in and a blank look on their faces as they listen to a pod cast or whatever. Why bother getting out to the beach if you can't hear the sound of the waves slapping against the rocks or the sea gulls mewling or children shouting and laughing? Recently, I sat behind a young girl on the bus and during the 45 minute journey she kept taking selfies and viewing the result on her phone. How sad is that?
Yes, I know, there are tons of people out there, young and old who not only wake up and smell the coffee but also look around them and appreciate what they see. But there is a worrying trend and - let's face it - I am not the only one to have noticed it.

For a more professional report on the light and dark side of human nature, try this link:Discovery Magazine article on light and dark triads

Are you a loner or just lonely?

I watched an interesting video on the BBC website recently about the benefits of being alone. I don't suppose it told me anything I didn't know already. Some people are loners by nature, others like and need the company of others all the time. According to the BBC, surveys done on people around the world found that the main things people found relaxing were reading and being alone. Number 12 on the list was visiting friends and family.
When I shared a flat with four other girls, we were all happy to have the place to ourselves once in a while. We did enjoy each other's company but now and again, when everyone else was out for the evening, it was an absolute luxury to curl up and read or watch TV on one's own. I had one flatmate, though, who hated being on her own. On Sunday mornings when I was trying to sleep off a late night, she would come into my room and shuffle about until she had woken me up. She wasn't being cruel or insensitive, it was just that she needed company and wanted me to give her an account of how my date or the party the night before had gone.
Having watched the BBC video and talked to a few friends, I think I can say that I am a loner by nature. I have absolutely no problem travelling or going to a concert on my own. On the other hand, I do enjoy meeting up with friends, going out for a meal or a drink, and going to concerts with them, too.
Being a writer means that I spend time at my laptop away from everybody. One of the things the BBC discovered is that being on your own improves your creativity. That makes sense. We sometimes say "let me think", which is an indirect plea for the others to be quiet. Or we say: "I couldn't hear myself think" meaning there was too much going on around us.
Being lonely, on the other hand, is not being happy with solitude. We know that loneliness, the plague of our modern day and age, causes all sorts of diseases and illnesses. Not everyone has tons of friends and acquaintances. Studies of introverts show that although they have far fewer friends than their counterparts, these are close ties. Extroverts on the other hand, can have loads of acquaintances and friends without forming a very close alliance to any of them. They are usually the centre of attention and they like it that way.
It's an interesting subject. I suppose the bottom line is that we are who we are and if we are not unhappy about it, anything goes.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Goodbye to the Country Life

Only a few more days and I'll be back to being a townie again. I will miss hearing the pheasants call to each other. I occasionally get a glimpse of them. What beautiful birds they are! In the hedge outside the living room window, a song thrush has a nest as does a blackbird. On the other side of the garden, robins have found a safe haven. The starlings have all fledged. There is one solitary swallow who visits in the late afternoon, sweeping down into the garden before dashing off again. I could watch them all for hours. This morning, after several rainy days, the white clouds look near enough to touch. The mountains are a hazy blue. Now and again a patch of blue appears and the sun shines.
Ah, I'm going to miss it all.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Do Authors Base Characters on People They Know?

Where do we get new ideas for our stories? Some writers know exactly how the idea for a plot came to mind. There are crime novel writers who read cases in the newspapers or attend court cases which inspire them. I heard a story about a famous author of women's fiction falling out of her chair in a restaurant while trying to catch what the diners at the next table were saying.
Where do I get my ideas? I don't have any set method for doing it. Sometimes it is a phrase I've heard while sitting on the bus, sometimes the idea just comes out of the blue.
I've been house-sitting in the country these past few weeks. I have much more time to read and browse social media than when I am at home, although I can't really explain why that is so. Perhaps it is the quietness that does it. 
Be that as it may, I have done a lot of reading and I came across the term "imposter syndrome" several times. Oddly enough, this helped me with one of my characters in my Christmas novel which I am currently working on. I hasten to add that I do not know anyone suffering from it - the syndrome not the novel - but I do know a lot of people who have to work very hard at their jobs.
I think, on reflection, that all writers put bits of character from people they know into their stories. There are bossy people, stroppy people, really nice people who make you feel inadequate, go-getters, losers. In other words, there is a whole world of people out there, people you know and like and people who make you pick up your coat and make a run for it. They all make up that fascinating patchwork quilt known as humankind. And that is grist to a writer's mill.



Tuesday, 4 June 2019

A Short Stay in the Country

So here I am, house-sitting. Outside, the rain is coming down like Noah forgot to turn off the taps. Across the valley, the mountains are shrouded in clouds.The birds have gone to ground or to bush would be a  more exact phrase. All I can hear is the sound of the washing machine in the utility room. I wore my white pants yesterday and managed to get them dirty when I checked the flowers to see what needed dead-heading. So it's a white wash today.
Being in the country has many attractions.  For one thing, there are far fewer distractions. Peace and quiet broken only by the chirping of the starlings as they feed their chicks in nests on the roof or simply watching the song thrush toddle about with its mother are all uplifting. Who can get into a tizz over something trivial when you've got Nature on your doorstep?
And I've read three books since I arrived here a fortnight ago. Most enjoyable book? Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty definitely. I had seen it in the bookshops but somehow thought it was one of those weepy novels which are not my cup of tea. Instead, I stayed up late reading it and was sorry when it finished. And yes, I know it is a series on HBO and they are doing a second series, although the novel is so complete in itself that I think trying to do a follow on is not a good idea. I don't intend to watch the first series, either. I much prefer to stick to reading novels and forming my own ideas of how people look and anyway, you can't get that atmosphere on to the screen. One of my favourite novels is To Kill a Mocking Bird. I recently watched the film with Gregory Peck and, quite frankly, it missed so much of the style of Harper Lee's story and of the atmosphere of the times which she so expertly depicted. But there, I'm getting on my hobby horse!
I should be writing. I did quite a bit yesterday but made the classic mistake of finishing one chapter and leaving a blank for this morning. The golden rule is, as many authors know, to stop in full flow so that you have something to continue next day. Hey-ho! I'd better stop here and try to get my mojo back on track.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Job Done or is it?

Finishing a novel when you've been working on it for so long, is always a bit of an anti-climax. Nearly every day, I do a bit of editing on what I have written the previous day. This is useful, as it keeps me from straying a bit - I have been known to start a novel in November and to have jumped by some strange miracle to the flowering month of May within a few pages. This is a warning sign to me that I still have to do a bit, well let's say a lot more work on the the setting - including the time of year!
There are writers who are so disciplined that they write out a synopsis of each chapter before they start the actual work of writing the story. I can only salute them. I start off with an idea and a character in my head. After a few weeks, the character will have been joined by other characters and the original idea will have been changed, fleshed out a bit, or completely readjusted. I can never get into the business of writing a plan for the whole novel. I know where and how it is going to end before I start. The journey, however, can twist and turn as characters take on a life of their own and pull me in different ways. That's the fun of writing!
Now that I have finished my final edit of A MAN CALLED GREGOR which I plan to self publish next month, I have just started thinking about a Christmas novel and looked over the beginning of the first chapter which I wrote last month. I'll probably change the plot a bit and possibly one of the characters might have to go as well. I know one thing for sure, it's not going to be the original story I had in my head! I'll have a short break from writing and then it's back to see what my characters are up to. Next week I'll be doing my annual house-sitting in the country, so I'll have loads of peace and quiet and country air to help me concentrate. Wish me luck!