Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Over and Out

It feels like two of the brightest beacons guiding us home have gone out. In the space of four months we have lost both our fathers. Dad, after a ten year fight with cancer, my father in law unexpectedly, heartbreakingly, a few days ago. I am quite sick with loss - if it weren't for the practicalities of getting the children half way round the world for the funeral, I would happily crawl into a dark room and stay there. But the pilot is away for two weeks, meeting us in England, and so the daily routine of lunchboxes, school runs, plane tickets and kennels, and meals and coping on, and on - goes on. You carry on. Life goes on. But nothing makes sense right now.

It does not seem possible that this man, this remarkable man has gone. He was a diplomat, a polymath. When I first met him nearly twenty five years ago, he was not much older than I am now. Within an hour I realised he had forgotten more about philosophy than I had learnt in a year of undergraduate study. He had one of the most brilliant minds I've ever come across, a deep and considered knowledge of any topic you cared to discuss - but he carried that brilliance modestly and generously. His working life in Africa, Russia, Japan, the UN reads like something from a Le Carre novel both good and bad - he watched his family thrown out of Uganda by Amin's troops, and marched onto the plane with a machine gun pointing at the head of his infant son. When he retired, he was decorated by the Queen. But more than that  - more than all of that, he was the most noble, genuine man I've ever known. I grew to love him for the kindness, the decency and true heart hidden behind that imposing exterior. He loved his family. He loved his home. He adored his wife, gave her a bouquet of flowers every Friday without fail. His study was lined floor to ceiling with literature, art, but also framed paintings and photographs from all his grandchildren. He loved us all, supported us 100%, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have him in my family, to look at my sister and husband, at all our children, and to see him there. I feel lucky, and grateful, and I am going to miss him more than I can say. We are all heading home from around the world, quite sick with loss, to mourn, and to celebrate this man. I've been looking, and searching for something to make sense of all of this - all the usual suspects, C S Lewis, W H Auden - none of it makes any sense. The line that keeps coming back to me is this, from Gibran:
'The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain ...'

He goes on:

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight ...
I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. 


To all those who are sitting with sorrow, I wish you well and may your joys soon awake. For now, it's over and out. If anyone has any wisdom to pass on and share, you know where the comments box is. Take care x

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Rules of the Playground


Sock Puppets - not big, not clever
(but for anyone who would like to make a real one for their children, this is via 


(Warning: today's video contains swearing and rude monkeys)

If you're online and interested in writing, you're probably up to speed with the latest scandals about sock-puppetry and trolling by a few successful authors. (If you're not, there was an excellent round-up splashed all over Twitter this morning, here). What do you make of it all? My initial response was 'why'? Writing or buying fake 5* reviews for yourself to trick Amazon's algorithms into promoting you is trashy enough, but why would someone that successful have so little self-esteem they need to slip into a fake identity and flame a supposed rival? When I explained what I'm blogging about to my ten year old, she said: 'what a bunch of losers,' then in a heavy US accent, 'haters are my motivation'.

Who knows where she got that one from - our children are growing up understanding that the online world has its dangers. To anyone my age and older, it's a shock when you hear about malicious behaviour. The writing community's sense of solidarity with the writers who have been targeted bears out my experiences - yes, there are a few bad eggs, but generally writers support writers. We have all been through the years and years of learning our craft, the rejections, the isolation, the sheer joy of seeing your work in print. People have helped me along the way, and I am more than happy to help others. Harlan Coben's tweet today says it all: 'Today's writing advice is also life advice: No one has to fail so I can succeed'.

I've reviewed books professionally, but have never bothered writing Amazon reviews. I'm going to now - maybe that's the only sensible response, dilute the effects of the fools who troll other authors with 1*s and plaster their own work with 5*s. So, starting this weekend, anything that's great gets 5*. If I have time I'll go through the bookshelves systematically and 5* the best books from the last couple of years. I've finished my research for the new book, and just done my bit for the publishing industry by downloading a stack of 20 or so books I've been dying to read, plus I have a very sexy box set of St Aubyn's 'Melrose' novels waiting on the bedside table, (loved them so much on Kindle I bought a 'real' set to re-read as a MA graduation present). All of them will get reviewed now. 

Maybe it's the dark underbelly of the online book world - there are so many, many good things about it, but learning to brush off malicious trolls is just another part of being a published author. One of the most excruciating reviews I ever got on Goodreads turned out to have come from another author, who - yes - had a novel on the same subject coming out a few months after mine ;) Meh. Sticks and stones. It's like being back in the playground - you just learn which kids are fun to hang out with, and leave the bullies to their own sad little games. The best revenge is perhaps living and writing well.

So, do good work, be kind to people and play nice out there x


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