If I die

This poem was inspired by the childhood prayer, which I always found rather morbid.

 

If I die before I wake, remember happy me,

a song for each occasion, busy bee.

Forget the eyebrows in the air, tut-tut.

Don’t think of the thankless, if only, but…

Remember the time I fell off my chair,

lay on the grass giggling, feet in the air.

Forget harsh words, regrets and sorry tears.

Remember dreams followed, conquering fears.

 

When my soul is taken away to rest,

remember me as my wonderful best.

Don’t think about things I shouldn’t have said.

Remember the cuddles, snuggled in bed.

Forget the many failings I acquired.

Remember wild dancing round the fire.

Know that I wished to be open and true.

And never forget, I died loving you.

The robots are coming

My son played me a video of the latest robot technology. It showed a strange creature, something reminiscent of the monstrous hound from Fahrenheit 451, walking, running and jumping. The engineers pushed the robot to make it overbalance, then right itself.  Suddenly, it appeared vulnerable. I found the image disturbing, even saddening.

The next day, I heard experts in a discussion on the radio suggest we will need to ensure robots can feel pain so that they react accordingly to get themselves out of difficult situations. With advances in artificial intelligence, robots will think and feel emotions just like us. This brings up ethical and moral questions. We will build these machines to do the unpleasant and dangerous tasks that humans would rather not do. We will subject them to terror, anguish and suffering. Considering the human capacity for cruelty and thoughtlessness towards animals and those who have less power or status, the future for robots seems pretty bleak to me.

Added to this, is the fact that robots are predicted to take over more and more of the jobs people currently do. Our world will be run by a robot workforce. To some, these scientific advances seem exciting and necessary. I simply feel concern. What are humans going to do with themselves when there is no work to be done? We are all ready becoming a civilisation of social media recluses; hiding behind our screens. Obesity and illness due to inactivity are growing issues. There is disconnection with the natural world and being out of doors which many believe is linked to mental health problems.

I am grateful for new technologies allowing me to surf the internet, discover knowledge at my fingertips and share this blog with the world. I am grateful for electric lights, central heating and a washing machine which make my life easier. I am grateful for medical procedures and antibiotics that keep me alive. I am grateful for cars and planes that carry me to far-flung places in the shortest of times. However, I am aware, as much as these advances have given us wonderful benefits, there are costs to the environment and our health.

We humans are always striving for more and better. We get carried away thinking about how we can improve our lives. The grass is always greener, if only we had this or that, life would be perfect. Our large brains look for solutions that give us more time on our hands; yet with less to do, we seem constantly busy, rushing from one pointless activity to the next, often not looking up from our phones. Fuelled by advertising and the media we fill our lives with stuff, but more technology makes our lives empty and we get further away from our natural selves.

I wonder if continuing to make advances just because we can is always a good idea. Maybe we don’t need a legion of robots to work for us. Maybe we need to scale back: keep only what we need; return to a simpler life, with some hard work involved, much of it outside under the sky. It might even save us.

The robots are coming

My son played me a video of the latest robot technology. It showed a strange creature, something reminiscent of the monstrous hound from Fahrenheit 451, walking, running and jumping. The engineers pushed the robot to make it overbalance, then right itself.  Suddenly, it appeared vulnerable. I found the image disturbing, even saddening.

The next day, I heard experts in a discussion on the radio suggest we will need to ensure robots can feel pain so that they react accordingly to get themselves out of difficult situations. With advances in artificial intelligence, robots will think and feel emotions just like us. This brings up ethical and moral questions. We will build these machines to do the unpleasant and dangerous tasks that humans would rather not do. We will subject them to terror, anguish and suffering. Considering the human capacity for cruelty and thoughtlessness towards animals and those who have less power or status, the future for robots seems pretty bleak to me.

Added to this, is the fact that robots are predicted to take over more and more of the jobs people currently do. Our world will be run by a robot workforce. To some, these scientific advances seem exciting and necessary. I simply feel concern. What are humans going to do with themselves when there is no work to be done? We are all ready becoming a civilisation of social media recluses; hiding behind our screens. Obesity and illness due to inactivity are growing issues. There is disconnection with the natural world and being out of doors which many believe is linked to mental health problems.

I am grateful for new technologies allowing me to surf the internet, discover knowledge at my fingertips and share this blog with the world. I am grateful for electric lights, central heating and a washing machine which make my life easier. I am grateful for medical procedures and antibiotics that keep me alive. I am grateful for cars and planes that carry me to far-flung places in the shortest of times. However, I am aware, as much as these advances have given us wonderful benefits, there are costs to the environment and our health.

We humans are always striving for more and better. We get carried away thinking about how we can improve our lives. The grass is always greener, if only we had this or that, life would be perfect. Our large brains look for solutions that give us more time on our hands; yet with less to do, we seem constantly busy, rushing from one pointless activity to the next, often not looking up from our phones. Fuelled by advertising and the media we fill our lives with stuff, but more technology makes our lives empty and we get further away from our natural selves.

I wonder if continuing to make advances just because we can is always a good idea. Maybe we don’t need a legion of robots to work for us. Maybe we need to scale back: keep only what we need; return to a simpler life, with some hard work involved, much of it outside under the sky. It might even save us.

Chick mother

In the garden, the birds are getting busy. They sing beautiful, flirtatious songs. They flutter and spiral in aerial dances designed to impress.  They collect twigs and soft cashmere undercoat from the goats, helpfully deposited along the wire fence as they rub luxuriously along it. Two shiny blackbirds, bright yellow beaks and beady button eyes, face off at the bird feeder whilst a dowdy brown female watches with indifference. All is industry and love making. Soon, nests will be full of hatchlings; oversized beaks gaping and calling for food. Soon, parent birds will be even busier keeping their youngsters satisfied.

All this activity has reminded me of my old dog Sam, a few years back when he was a little more energetic. One spring afternoon, I stepped out of the back door to find him crouched on the pavement, head bowed. As I got closer, I noticed between his paws, two tiny featherless baby birds. On the fence, staring in anticipation, sat my three cats, licking their lips meaningfully. Helpless creatures fallen from the nest above, safe in Sam’s attentive care. He had protected them from becoming a tasty snack.

I’d noticed a pair of blue tits building a home in our rafters over the previous weeks. The babies had obviously tumbled down and landed on the path. Luckily for them, they were unhurt and Sam had found them before his feline friends. My heart was touched by his tenderness but I didn’t hold much hope for the pathetic little things. There was no way their parents could get them back in the nest and they were very young; bald, cold and eyes firmly shut. After Sam’s show of heroism, however, I couldn’t leave them to die so I scooped them up gently and took them indoors.

This was the start of a new role for me: chick mother. I found a little box, lined it with kitchen towel and placed them with care inside. Then I decided it would be more comfortable and warmer for them if they had a nest, so I took an old plastic bowl, put it in the box and filled it with shredded paper and tissue. They seemed happy in their new nest but still cold. I borrowed a small soft toy, a fluffy bear, from one of the children and sat him atop the nest like a surrogate mother bird. Then I searched the internet for any advice on rearing baby birds. Nothing encouraging came from my searching, mostly the information was don’t do it; never move a baby bird if you find one as its parents may return and rescue it. I could see the sense in this but my situation was different. If Sam hadn’t protected those birds, the cats would have had them for dinner. I had to bring them inside and see what I could do. I had to try. Further searching followed and I discovered that parent blue tits feed their young on green caterpillars that are abundant in the trees in springtime. They feed them many, many caterpillars every hour each day and into the night until dark. Never ever feed baby birds worms as these are too sticky.

My next job was a caterpillar hunt. There were plenty of trees; bashing the branches with a stick sent down all kinds of invertebrates onto my big white sheet of paper. There were quite a few caterpillars too. I took them inside and chopped them into pieces. A yucky, mucky job, poor caterpillars, but I knew parent birds regurgitate their offspring’s food and I wasn’t going to chew them! I found some cocktail sticks to use as a feeding implement. By this time, the baby birds were making quite a lot of noise and opening their beaks wide in starvation. I stabbed a piece of caterpillar and gave it to the first bird, which took it gratefully. This was the beginning of many days spent collecting caterpillars and feeding baby birds. Every two hours, to begin with, I fed my babies.

SONY DSCSadly, on the second morning, I came down to find one of the birds was dead. The process continued for the other bird, however, which seemed to be doing fine and ate greedily. After a few days, I bought some live meal worms and chopped them up to feed too. I was struggling to find enough caterpillars; the baby bird ate and ate. The more she ate, the stronger she got and the more food she wanted! I’d also developed a system for giving her a drink of water using a cotton bud. I called her Chickpea.

SONY DSCOver the days and weeks, Chickpea grew bigger and more active. Her eyes opened and she grew feathers, downy at first and then beginning to show her true blue tit colours. As she began to move around more, I realized the box was no longer a safe home so I constructed a makeshift cage from a bigger box and a clear plastic seed tray lid. I put in a small branch as a perch. She began to hop out of the nest and flutter clumsily onto the branch. Soon I realized she would need lessons in feeding herself and flying practice.  I started squashing meal worms onto the branch where she could pick them off. At least the gaps between feeding times were growing longer. Eventually, she had a bowl of meal worms to pick at as she chose. Then I started letting her out of the cage so her wings could grow strong. She would fly up onto my shoulder, then back to the perch, then up to a shelf and back to me. Once she was flying with confidence and feeding herself happily, I realized it was time for her release back into the wild.

One morning, just after dawn, I carried Chickpea, tucked safe in her box, far into the woods. When I got to a tranquil spot, full of the calls of other blue tits, next to a babbling stream, I opened the lid. She didn’t waste a moment, out she flew, up into a tall pine. She sat on an uppermost branch and sang. Then she pecked at the mossy bark and flew away. I’m not sure if I ever saw her again. On my woodland walks, I often hear a familiar trill but there are many, many blue tits living in the woods. I hope she lives there happily with them.

Characters not caricatures

People are not simple. They are full of complexities and contradictions. As writers we must be careful to create characters that are not cardboard cut-outs or stereotypes. We must make our characters come alive and appear real. We want our readers to be engaged, to believe in them. They may not like them but they must be willing to invest time and interest in them. After all, our main aim is to keep our readers reading.

How do writers do this? How do we reveal our characters in ways which make them seem true to life? There are many techniques we can use. We can provide a physical description of the character: how do they move, look, smell, how does the way they look affect the things they do? We can write about the character’s behaviour in their world: how they interact with others; any habits they have; how they react to external forces. We can use dialogue: what the character says; any speech patterns or phrases; what the character doesn’t say. We can think about the character’s back story: how this made them into the person they are. We can reveal the character’s inner life and thought processes.

As writers, we must be observant of people in our everyday lives. We must notice the ways they behave, the things they say, how they react to each other and their environment. We must remember to use our notebooks and keep a record of what we see and hear. These life experiences will help us develop our characters.

We must be readers too. We must study the way other writers portray characters. Do we believe in the character we are reading about? What techniques is the writer using? What works well and what doesn’t? We can keep notes on character portrayals that we find useful or particularly good.

Before we begin to write a story, we can make a character profile. This can include: the character’s looks, relationships, behaviours, habits, likes, dislikes, back story and motivations. This will help us make our characters well-rounded, fully developed people. Not forgetting, of course, that sometimes people can behave ‘out of character’. We are not straightforward after all and cannot be put into neat boxes. That’s what makes being a writer so interesting.

 

How do you develop characters in your stories? Do you write character profiles before you begin?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sitting in the grey and slate reception of a plain, somewhat dowdy, office building in lovely, ugly Swansea, I wonder what it would be like to be a receptionist. I have no idea what the role actually entails. I assume one would have to welcome people, organize appointments, do administration of some kind, talk on the telephone, tap on a keyboard, look at stuff on a computer screen, be smart and smiley.  This one is friendly and helpful. She has made me a cup of tea while I wait for my interview, which is running half an hour late.

It’s a worrying problem deciding what you want to be when you grow up. I envy people who are driven. As a child, I sometimes pretended to be working in an office. At the dining room table, I would sit, toy phone, typewriter, notepad and pen by my side: “Mr. So and So will see you now.” My father, on being told I was clever at school, said to me, “You can be whatever you want. You can be a secretary!” I had bigger ambitions. Enjoying telling stories, I dreamt of being a writer and journalist. Travelling the world, I would search out and share exciting tales.

My second ambition was to become a vet. I adored the James Herriot stories. Once qualified, I would publish hilarious tales about my antics. This, however, did not come to pass. On a work experience, aged fourteen, at a local veterinarian practice, my mind was changed by the old, head vet who told me of his experiments on calves as a student; transplanting their livers into their necks. Despite his assurances that it was pioneering work, allowing successful organ transplants in humans today, I was horrified. I wanted to be a vet to help, not harm, animals. That same vet had me wash his car too!

As for journalism, I went off that idea when I got bored in typing classes: the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. How could I be a successful writer if I couldn’t touch type? Instead, I became a teacher, sharing my love of books and writing with others. In fact, that is why I’m waiting in this reception today. I have an interview to join a teaching agency. After fourteen years of home educating my children, I’m going back to the world of paid work. It’s a scary thought, especially as I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life, despite supposedly being a grown up!

The scribbling has always gone on though. I’ve continued to create stories and scenarios in my head. If I get some teaching work with this agency, I fully intend to keep writing and working on poems, short stories and my novel. One letter tapped on the keyboard at a time.

I’m getting braver about sharing my work, so I mustn’t stop now.

Paradise Lost

The radio told me

as I buttered toast,

There is no paradise now.

Beautiful beaches are

wrecked on Bali’s coast.

 

Under a fresh blue sky,

no shores lie pristine.

There is no paradise now.

The salty sea’s cold tongue

cannot lick them clean.

 

Waves spit dirty rubbish

on damp silver sands.

There is no paradise now.

Only rainbow vomit

formed by human hands.

 

On shopping bag jellyfish,

turtles choke and die.

There is no paradise now.

We cannot close our eyes;

pretend, ignore, lie.

 

Marine creatures swim in

our colourful spew.

There is no paradise now.

No putting the world right

or making it new.

 

Those dreams of romantic

escapes are all dead.

There is no paradise now.

We made a wasteland; must

face ruin instead.

 

 

Sometimes the news creates a feeling of hopelessness in me. This story did just that. Since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, awareness is growing and people are starting to act but is it a case of too little, too late? How do we change attitudes on such an enormous scale?

(Picture: AFPG/Getty Images Newsround BBC)

 

Stuck in the mud

Today, I have a confession. Despite my writer’s resolutions, I haven’t had a good start to 2018. Yes, I have tried to write something every day – a bit of poetry, some thoughts and a few story ideas. But no, I haven’t worked much on my novel. If I’m being really honest, I’m feeling a little stuck with it. Like the gooey mud I trudge through daily to look after my goats, the bare pages suck and cling to my pen making progress slow. Like the grey, gloomy skies above, thick with rain cloud, my mind is a blank, heavy mass.

There is plenty of material to work with, I think,  but I cannot seem to organize it in a coherent way. My scribblings stretch across numerous notebooks, scraps of paper and sticky notes. I have part chapters and sections on my computer, along with completed ones. My method so far, if it can be called that, has been some sketchy planning and then writing with the flow. This has helped to develop some interesting ideas but also plenty of disorder. My writing style seems to have uncovered a secret me that I was unaware existed under my skin – a messy, uncoordinated me. Normally a fairly neat control freak, I seem to morph as a writer into a scruffy, chaotic hoarder.

Before I can carry on with my novel, I need to put this right. I need to find order so that I can get some clarity. My aim over the next week is to gather all my writings together in one folder. Then I think I’m going to continue my novel writing in one place – a large notebook. Once written in the notebook, I can transfer it to computer ready for editing. I’m still old-fashioned and write much better with a pen in my hand first time round, though I’m fully aware this is a much slower process.

I’m off to Ireland soon to visit a friend – on my own, what luxury! There I will have space, time and quiet. Surrounded by lush, green mountains, I hope to tackle more sections of my novel and come home feeling that I have achieved something. So, I have a deadline (which is good for me as I’m sure part of my problem is only being answerable to myself). I have to get sorted before my trip.

Wish me luck!

 

Is it just me or have you ever got stuck with your writing? Are you a muddled writer or highly efficient and organized?

Four lads go out for the day

Another poem using material gathered on my recent train journey.

 

Four lads go out for the day

 

Posing, strutting,

rubbing crotches

along the seat.

Shouting, braying

billy goats on heat.

 

Throw our cans,

crunch of tin,

on the luggage rack.

Furtive, frightened glances,

give ‘em a smile and wink back.

 

I’m a big man now.

Did anyone see?

Only me mam would

be ashamed of me.

 

A boyo’s day out,

rampage in the city.

Shake our tails,

feathers wide.

Don’t we look pretty?

 

Throw our wrappers,

plastic rustle,

on the dusty floor.

Tutted annoyance meets

with snorted guffaw.

 

I’m Jack the lad.

Look at me ‘ere.

Only me dad would

clout me ‘round the ear.

 

Attracting attention,

standing out

from the rest.

Silver-backed apes

beating our chests.

 

Throw a quick f-word,

sharply crude,

in the stuffy air.

Young kids in the next seat

but we don’t care.

 

I’m a foolish child.

Hear me loud.

Only me parents would

be so proud.