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Did I flinch? Oh, tell me I didn’t flinch!” On idolising stoicism

The line in the title comes from Lark Rise To Candleford, one of my favourite books and a very rare insight into the collective psyche of the British nation at the time of Queen Victoria. Strength, endurance, stamina and stoicism were so prized that girls delivering their first baby would beg the midwife to reassure them that they had not flinched, that they had endured their pain and suffering in appropriately stoic fashion. Some of that came from the supposed Biblical decree that the daughters of Eve would bear their children with great suffering and we must endure it without complaint, but some goes beyond the austere Christianity of the time and has its roots much deeper in a cultural identity.

Mustn’t grumble” is a bit of a mantra in Britain. We’re good at the whole understatement and self deprecation; “Not bad” is often meant as high praise over here, much to the mystification of other English speaking nations. You’ll often see certain phrases in obituaries: someone passes away “after a long illness bravely borne” and the highest praise for someone fighting a life threatening illness is, “She never complains”. On social media, that melting pot of shifting cultural memes, complaining, moaning, whining, whingeing are considered so unacceptable that most of us put a bright, cheerful face on so that we avoid any accusations of being a bit of a moaner. People preface very valid statements with, “I know I shouldn’t grumble” or “I know plenty of people have it much harder than I do so I shouldn’t complain.”

I do wonder if it might be killing some of us, keeping in the anguish, not sharing how we truly feel.

Oh I know we don’t want to make a fuss. We don’t want to be thought weak or pathetic, but why? It’s not as if these days admitting you’re ill, unwell, tired, elderly, frail are going to get you left behind with rations for a day while the tribe marches resolutely onward, leaving you to either starve or be finished off by the cold or wolves. It doesn’t make much sense to me. No one wants to be a burden on others, yet as we get older, inevitably we cannot expect to retain the complete independence of youth and full health and we will come to rely on others to help us. It’s a cycle. We aid the frail and infirm and one day, we too will need the same aid. For some, the frailty comes sooner than for others, but I believe that we are being subtly indoctrinated by the prevailing philosophies espoused by government, into believing that all human worth is based on fiscal usefulness. The Nazis exterminated all those they believed to be “useless bread gobblers” and it’s that fear of being useless that I suspect is what drives the idolisation of stoicism over compassion.

It’s subtle most of the time. We all know folks who never seem to pull their weight, who constantly seem to scrounge and complain and demand attention and it’s unattractive to most of us. We don’t want to be seen like that. No one wants to be known as the one who won’t stand their round at the pub. Because I am no longer working full time, in paid employment, I often feel a sense of shame that I am not earning the kind of salary expected for someone of my education and experience. I fear that I have somehow wasted my education, have done nothing with it – SOLELY BECAUSE I CANNOT SHOW A FINANCIAL RETURN ON IT.

This is palpably ludicrous and shows how seductive that way of thinking is. You cannot measure in fiscal terms my contribution to the world. I believe that the world has been a better place, if only in a very minute way, for me having been in it. I believe that my books, my blog, have aided people in dark times and light. I don’t get any remuneration for blogging and that’s fine because I write it for what I can offer, not for what I can get. Call it a vocation if you like. I earn very little from my books; at one time a year or two back, I thought I might earn, if not a living, then a decent income from my books, but so much has changed and there are so many more authors out there, so many more books, and with a few exceptions, everyone is getting a smaller and smaller slice of the book market pie. I left one Facebook writer group because I got fed up of certain members boasting on an almost daily basis about how many books they were selling and how much money they were earning. Book sales, as part of personal worth, are irrelevant per se. I know some superb authors who sell few books, yet whose work is of enormous skill and is full of soul; the people who are succeeding are those for whom branding and self promotion are not at odds with their ethics and character.

I don’t have any answers. I don’t really have any suggestions. I don’t like complaining but you know what? It’s the squeaky wheel that gets oiled. I might try being more open about how distressing I find life at times and hope that people might cut me some slack and accept that actually, stoicism may not be the healthiest of philosophies to base your life upon.

Berserker

Berserker

Inside I am a warrior
But stripped of all armour
Naked but for the blood
That paints my trembling skin.
The axe I wield with one hand
A sword in the other,
Both held high.
The red mist waits,
Patient as a stone.
All you see is a woman
Middle-age spread
Greying hairs
Sagging breasts,
Virtually invisible, worthless.
But inside I am a warrior,
Waiting.
Don’t push me.
You won’t like the bear.

Méchant Loup

Méchant Loup

The wolf-whistle cut across the cool evening air, shrill and insistent but the girl in red did not respond. Instead, her pace picked up as her shiny red shoes clattered along the path.

From a dozen yards away, the man in the wolf costume bristled with indignation as his bid to gain her attention failed. The heels of the shoes were too high for her to walk fast enough to get out of sight quickly, and the height of them made her wobble in a way he found most appealing. Glancing at her retreating figure he watched as her long legs in fishnet stockings tried to stride, but the combination of short, tight skirt and those absurd high heels meant she could not take more than short steps. The percussive sound of the heels on the concrete path was music to his ears(the real ones under the furry ones) and he levered himself off the bench and started to saunter after the retreating girl. His long loping gait caught her up in a very short time and he saw that she was indeed a real prize worth pursuing.

She glanced back at him as he caught her up, sweet, heart-shaped little face hidden amid the folds of the crimson hood. He smelled her scent, warm and woody and with a hint of hazelnuts and saw that under the short cloak, she was carrying a wicker basket filled with nuts and fruits. Apples and pears jostled with walnuts and chestnuts and hazelnuts and their mingled fragrance added to the enticing aroma of warm woman.

Going somewhere nice?” he said but she tried to ignore him.

Don’t be like that,” he called as she broke into an awkward run. “I’m only being friendly. What’s the matter with you? Bet you look so lovely when you smile!”

The path dipped into a wooded area, and the light from the park lamps dimmed. The girl was only a few paces ahead, stalled by cramp and doubled over panting.

Leave me alone,” she said, her voice hoarse and quivering with fear.

I’m just being friendly,” he said again.

The girl slid her shoes off, placed them in the basket, and took off like a hare, red cloak flapping. She’d hitched her skirt up so as she ran he could see the tops of her stockings. He licked his lips, appreciatively. The path wound into the spinney at the end of the park, twisting and turning in the town planner’s attempt to make the park seem huge and wild. Her nylon-clad feet made a dull thudding as she ran into the trees before vanishing from sight.

He set off after her, letting out a wild howl of enthusiasm, his trainers scuffling through the fallen leaves. He liked the howl, so he did it again and again, feeling the pulse of blood through his body, exciting and primeval. The joy of the hunt, he thought, in delight.

After about five seconds of running he stopped dead in his tracks as his howl was answered by one that was so much wilder it made his heart skip a beat. It’s a dog, he said, but when it came again, louder and closer, he knew with ancient instinct it was no such thing. Around him, the trees seemed to close in, cutting out the light and sounds of the city beyond the park. The path ahead of him had vanished amid nettles and brambles so dense there was no way through. He pushed back the wolf’s head of fake fur and lolling comedy tongue and tried to see what was going on.

He was surrounded by black forest, huge trees and tight undergrowth, and his breath hung in clouds around him. Frost coated the carpet of fallen leaves and as he marvelled at the sudden drop in temperature, he heard the growl.

Deep shining eyes, tinted with scarlet, were watching him, and the breathing of the creature was mixed with a low, menacing growl. His nerve broke and he started to run, pell-mell, not looking where he was going, his whole being consumed with survival instinct. He didn’t stop running until he floundered into the oozy black mud of the boating lake, drained for the winter, and fell on his face into it.

As the foul-smelling mud seeped into his costume, he listened, hoping that he was hidden from the thing that chased him. When nothing happened he eased himself up from the muck and headed homeward, Hallow E’en party and girl forgotten. As he reached the park entrance, he stopped for a moment, reeking with filth and with fear. A howl rang out, long and mournful, the sound muffled as if by trees, and ended in a peal of what sounded very much like laughter.

Just a reminder that today The Hedgeway is being launched, officially, with a party over on Facebook  here

The book itself is available as paperback or as e-book. You don’t need a Kindle to buy e-books; there are apps for phones, pcs, tablets and Macs.

Here are the links for UK and US for the ebook version.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hedgeway-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00OW3TUY8/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414739747&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Hedgeway-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00OW3TUY8/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414739747&sr=1-2

For the paperback, go to my Amazon page and scroll down

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vivienne-Tuffnell/e/B00766135C/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

 

For other Amazon shops, either type my name into the search bar, or (neat trick) click the UK  or US link, then go to the address bar where the URL is displayed, click on it and alter the dot com or .co.uk to whichever suffix you desire, such as dot.de or dot.au.

The book is a short novella or longer short story and is only 77p or local equivalent for a limited time only. Reviews VERY welcome, but remember NO SPOILERS!

The party will be filled with a lot of fun activities, including a n attempt at live, interactive storytelling. Do join us, or drop by and enjoy the evening wherever you are. I am told I throw a great virtual party. Bring yourself, your music suggestions, stories (and even links to your own spooky tales) and have some fun.

 

Samhain, the thinning of the veils and why darkness is important.

Samhain, the Summer’s End of the Celtic peoples, is almost upon us. You might know it better as Hallow E’en or All Hallow’s Eve. The plethora of parties and pumpkins these days masks the traditional view of the day as both the gateway to winter and the time when the veils between the worlds became thin and the dead can visit with the living. There is a mountain of folklore and tales of this time and the church too marks it as a time of remembrance, for marking the passing of those we have loved and remembering them with rituals designed to bring peace and ease to both sides of the veils.

When we lived in rural Norfolk the first time, most Samhains were spent over in the garden of my friend Sam, with a bonfire and story telling into the night. Food was left out for the ancestors visiting with us at that time and candles burned on every window ledge. It was a magical, somewhat spooky time that I look back on with great fondness. The darkness was not to be feared, yet a frisson of fright certainly made me shiver more than once.

I struggle with winter more and more as I get older. The drawing in of the nights bothers me, and I have a SAD lamp on my desk for the days when the dull grey light seems to send me into a low mood. Yet there is a specialness to the darker days that I cherish too. There is the sense of retreating into a cave, of becoming inward and deeply thoughtful. I like my own rituals of lighting candles on the mantle-piece as the light fades each afternoon. I sleep a little better when the morning light does not appear at 4am to disturb my sleep cycles (indeed, sleeping in a fully darkened room is recommended to reset unsettled sleep patterns as the brain chemicals needed for decent sleep are only produced in darkness). I like the spectacle of the trees shedding their leaves in a flurry of colour and crispness and I love the clear naked shapes of winter woodland. Everything is stripped to the bone and you can start to see what is real, what is the foundation of a land and what was the ephemeral loveliness of petal and foliage. Readying a garden for winter means clearing away dead growth to the ground and in doing so, one usually sees the tiny points of bulbs poised and ready for spring.

Storytelling has been a huge part of human life as winter draws on. Sitting at a fire, telling tales to while away the long nights, connects us to our ancestors and makes a continuous line that stretches in both directions. At Samhain, ghost stories are the most popular tales, intended to terrify and tantalise. I’ve seen enough weird things in my life to accept the probable existence of ghosts and spirits, though I would not like to define precisely what they are. My father would maintain they are an etheric recording of past events, imprinted on stone and brick and the fabric of a place; others would say they are indeed the spirits of the departed, allowed to communicate with the living.

Light is important, but so too is darkness. Darkness allows us to rest, whether from our labours or from our woes. For me, when I am depressed, sleep is the most accessible refuge from the internal pain. Night is when many creatures are able to move and feed and live their lives. I’ve rescued (so far) two young hedgehogs, which had lost their mother, and each evening now I go into the garden with a torch to see if any more little hoglets are in need of assistance. I do not fear the darkness for it is a kinder thing than people believe.

In honour of the season, I am hosting a virtual party on Facebook, on Friday 31st of October. The party is an opportunity to share stories, music, recipes, anecdotes and fellowship. It’s also to celebrate the release of a new book of mine, called The Hedgeway. It’s a longer short story or short novella, intended for this time of year. It also connects me to my own past. The original story was one I wrote at 17, and which turned up after our last house move. I could see that even then my ‘voice’ was distinct and recognisable. I rewrote the whole story, keeping the central idea and characters but otherwise reworking the whole thing. The Hedgeway is a ghost story that connects past to present in more ways than one. For the season of Samhain it’s going to be on sale at the price of just 77p (or local equivalent) for a limited time.

Do join us at the party and do some virtual apple bobbing with us, and share your favourite scary tales, your own ones welcome as well as the traditional ones by classic authors like M.R James.

For a change, today I am interviewing an author friend. I’ve known Ailsa Abraham for some years via social media and she’s someone I’d love to sit down with in real life and enjoy a few mugs of tea with and put the world to rights.

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  1. Viv: I know from reading your blog you have done a good number of unusual jobs. Can I be nosey and ask you to list the ones you liked most and the ones you liked least?

Ailsa: Strangely, selling ice creams was one of my favourites, along with vet nurse and my least favourite the year I worked in a zoo. I was trying to work on “change from the inside” and failed dismally.

  1. Viv:I have read both your novels, Alchemy and Shaman’s Drum and I enjoyed them both. That said, I liked Alchemy more. I’d bought Shaman’s Drum ages back and started reading it but had stopped because the scenario it depicts, that of all major world religions being outlawed and banned, worried me. I’d seen this sort of idea from many atheist organisations and it makes me uncomfortable. It wasn’t until Alchemy came out and I could read the background to this state of affairs, that I felt I wanted to finish reading Shaman’s Drum. My question is this: do you think that the subject matter encompassing quite such a radical premise as a backdrop for the story is something that might put people off reading the book?

Ailsa: Possibly, which is why I don’t splurge that fact across my publicity. What I do suggest is that people read Alchemy first so they get the scene in context. Also, the banning of religion, as a solution, doesn’t work, as people will know if they read the books. Viv: So make sure to read them in the right order and it all falls into place? Understood!

  1. Viv: As a writer, I know better than to ask whether the characters in your books are based on people you’ve known in real life. That said, both Riga and Iamo are both such distinctive people and are so vivid, I can’t help but wonder if they may be based on someone you’ve known. Are they solely the product of your imagination or have they roots in real life?

Ailsa: Yes. Riga is me when I was younger, military and more feisty! Iamo is a combination of many pagan men I have known and probably my “prototype nearly ideal”.

  1. Viv: How much does your own eclectic spiritual path inform your writing? Both Alchemy and Shaman’s Drum include magic, shamanism and also a variety of other alternative practices (and a rather fabulous nun, too). Are these things from the realms of your imagination or are they things you have explored yourself?

Ailsa: All the things I mention are paths I have explored myself. I have studied many religions and known practitioners. Obviously my own experiences colour my writing.

  1. Viv: Most writers veer between too many ideas and not enough. Which stage are you at right now?

Ailsa: Too many and an inability to get them down.

  1. Viv: When I am working on some writing, I usually start by lighting a candle, burning some sweet-grass or some incense and taking a moment to centre myself. Do you have any rituals that help with your writing?

Ailsa: No. I just get my backside in the chair and start. This is because when I get the urge, I have to go with it. Even stopping to light a candle would put me off.

  1. Viv: Many writers talk about The Muse. I’ve never managed to personify a muse for myself, and I’m not sure how helpful it would be to me. Do you have an entity that you look to as inspiration that you might term a Muse.

Ailsa: No, just my own imagination coupled with some time. Everything I see and hear is fodder for that.

  1. Viv: You had a very serious accident recently that came close to killing you. I would imagine this has put a serious crimp on your writing. It’s becoming well accepted that writing helps heal psychological hurts, but do you think it might also help the brain heal itself after trauma? In other words, have you begun writing Book Three and if so, how is it going?

Ailsa: Book Three is on its way but yes, brain trauma has slowed me down. I am back to writing but not as often and much more slowly than before.

Viv: Thank you very much indeed. All the very best to you and your writing!

BIO – Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France for over twenty years and is married with no children but six grandchildren. Her passion is motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding. She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn’t have all those, I’d have to work for a living, instead of writing, which is much more fun.”. Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and maybe move back to the UK. She has no intention of stopping writing.

As Ailsa Abraham :

mouse mat

Alchemy and Shaman’s Drum published by Crooked Cat

(Shaman’s Drum was nominated for the People’s Choice Book Award)

Four Go Mad in Catalonia – self-published, available from Smashwords

Twitter – @ailsaabraham

Facebook – Ailsa Abraham

Amazon Author Page

Web page

As Cameron Lawton

I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that”- promo no-nos and personal integrity

If you substitute the words “book sales” for love in that Meatloaf line, you’ll have a better idea of what I’m going on about. The last couple of months I’ve become a tad despondent about the amount of pressure to sell millions of books by any means available and legal. It’s as if authors really are starting to measure both their worth as people and the worth of their work in terms of how many units they have shifted that day, week, month or year. I’ve fallen into the bear-pit too often, lured into reading yet another article about how to increase your exposure and gain more sales. Net result is me feeling miserable and overwhelmed.

There’s no easy way to say this but selling books is hard. It might even be harder than writing them. It certainly gets in the way of writing them. There is an undercurrent of fear too, that says, take your eye off the game for a few days and you’ll lose traction and be swept away in the tsunami of slush and never be found again.

I’m also aware that one of the most delicate of things is under more threat than you’d imagine. Integrity.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve had a couple of emails that have troubled me. Most months I get an email or two about advertising on this blog, or guest posts from random strangers trying to (I think) build their portfolio or similar. I used to reply politely but now I just ignore them all. I have concerns about the concept of advertising in general; it’s a clever, devious business of trying to convince someone they want what you’re selling. I have things to sell here: my books. I happen to believe in them, and while I do want my readers to buy them, I’m of the hope and conviction that to some extent the books sell themselves. But to host other products on this space, that brings up a host of awkward questions I’m not willing to try to answer and most of those questions are about how those potential ads impact on my own ethics and integrity.

Back to the new emails. The first was from a company I won’t name, who sell software that highlights grammar issues and other such things. They also have a lot of humorous memes on Facebook and other places, about grammar misuse. The import of the email was to ask if I would like to host an info-graphic from them, about a hot topic. In return they would make a $50 donation to a children’s literacy charity. It caused me pause, you might say. I have what you might call a still small voice that tells me when something is bothering me at a subliminal level. So I did a bit of a look around and had a think. There was enough material out there concerning this company to make me feel uneasy. Not a scam, not really, but there’s times when something can sail so close to the wind that it might as well be. I can’t really say any more but the topic of the info-graphic decided me on saying no. I believe the term is “click bait”, a subject so emotive it’ll have people screaming the odds and as impossible to make any real conclusions as asking which makes the better pet, dogs or cats. Final confirmation of my decision came when I heard of other folks being contacted with the same email from the same company.

The second email was harder still to deal with. I received an email from a journalist at a big national newspaper (again, will remain nameless) that is infamous for its sensationalist approach and its somewhat flexible attitude to truth. She was looking for adult women who believed in fairies and having found my website (this blog) she wondered if I would be interested in being a part of this article. I assume she would have interviewed me or something. This really did give me pause. National newspaper exposure for Away With The Fairies is not to be thrown away lightly. I dithered for a very short time before being reminded of how this paper always make people look totally stupid at best and mentally deranged at worst. Do I want my beliefs and convictions derided and laughed at? So that email has also been ignored.

Perhaps you might think me too precious about both these invitations but as I said earlier, I believe in my books and I don’t think they or I would be best served by being pilloried by the national press, or by being caught up in a hurricane of acrimonious debate initiated by a company about whose ethics I have some doubts. In the end, I don’t think that potential book sales are worth compromising my own integrity over. There will be other opportunities at some stage that do not give me such concerns. In the meantime, I will write my books and know that there is more to being me, the author, than how many or how few books I sell each week.

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