Not Too Bad, All Things Considered – 2022 and all that it involved.

Not Too Bad, All Things Considered – 2022 and all that it involved.

There’s a profound difference how different nationalities respond to being asked how they are. The wonderful Bill Bailey evokes such differences in his sketch, “Not too bad all things considered.” (I’m not doing links to anything but this sketch is to be found on You Tube) I’d recommend watching it because it does encapsulate how most Brits are. Self-effacing and with a level of quiet pessimism, we’re often incapable of being enthusiastic about how things are going. Maybe there’s a fear the gods will hear us and think, “Ha ha, let’s see about that then!” and send us something truly awful. Maybe it’s the constitutional reluctance to boast about the good things (again, lest they be ripped away from us). Whatever it is we’re often to be found playing down both the good and the bad that life sends us. Well, I am, anyway, hence the title of this blog.

I’ve only blogged once this year till now. Given I began blogging in 2009 and sometimes blogged a number of times a week and even daily, that’s a huge change. Blogging itself is not the draw it used to be, either for readers or for bloggers. The instant-noodle appeal of such platforms as TikTok (avoid, avoid!) have taken over, though I hope that will change. I can’t cope with short form anything and I can’t watch TED talks, or listen to podcasts. It’s rare I can watch anything much; it grates on my nerves.

So how has the year been? Another curate’s egg, I fear: excellent in parts. I published “A Voice From The Cave”, which did very nicely for a few days, being a mover and shaker in Hot New Releases, and was a bestseller for a few small categories on Amazon. I have doggedly continued to chip away at one work in progress “On Hob Hill” and it stands at 85k words, and almost finished. The hardest bit by far is to come: to complete it, tying up all loose ends in a neat and entertaining bow. I need a couple of weeks without any sort of crisis, chaos or difficulty. Other works in progress await me getting back to them.

There has been too much of ongoing health challenges, both mental and physical, to find energy for much more than surviving. Every time I think I might have carved out some time for me, for writing or for exploration, something else comes along. Given that my cousin died shortly before Christmas, I am reminded that life is uncertain and one needs to carpe diem (seize the day) but I’d rather just watch the carp instead.

Day job, I had a single assignment this year which I enjoyed immensely, working with a primary school group, and visiting the beautiful and historic city of York for a couple of days in May. There was an incident in the hotel we stayed in that may one day be woven into a ghost story but I won’t spoil that by explaining further. Keep your powder dry (so to speak) is good advice for writers.

I’ve read a fair bit; my notebook tells me I’ve finished reading 57 books, but it may be higher as I kept forgetting to write them down after I finished them. Highlights include, “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, “Maus” by Art Spieglman. “A Closed and Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers, “Precious Bane” by Mary Webb, “Transforming Depression” by David Rosen, “Bone” and “The Maiden King” by Marion Woodman, “Gathering Moss” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf and “The Mystery of the Coniunctio” by Edward Edinger. I was less than impressed by “The Thursday Murder Club” by Richard Osman but given the propensity of celebs/celeb writers scouring the web for criticism, I’m being cautious in my comments. I will say that I won’t be bothering with the rest; were the author not already a celebrity I would not have felt that was a sufficiently impressive debut to justify to continuing series. There are many superb writers whose series got cancelled because their first book didn’t do well enough. Publishing is almost entirely about money, something I still find difficult to accept.

I’d like to thank anyone who has bought, read or reviewed any of mine this year. You don’t know how much that has meant to me. I feel ever more invisible and without value or worth, and that makes it even harder to keep writing and publishing to a largely indifferent market. I keep telling myself it’s not about the numbers but it’s hard not to feel useless.

As 2022 ticks (not toks!) to its conclusion, I would wish all my readers (long-standing and new) the very best. I saw a meme recently that talked about how instead of hoping for good things to come to oneself in the coming year but rather resolving to BRING good things to it, and to others, and that is what my own resolve is. To bring good into the world in whatever ways I can manage.

May 2023 bring you blessings, though. We all like those.

Love,

Viv xx

Voice from the Cave – a new book

Voice from the Cave – a new book

I’ve not written a blog since November last year. Six months of silence. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. I have. I kept thinking of all the things I want to say, and the words just drained away like spilled water down a sink. Depression has bitten deep and held on hard. I look at the various news stories, UK and worldwide, and sink further. That carrion comfort, as Hopkins called it, despair, has been my companion. Outwardly I have functioned. I’ve talked with people, done things, smiled, laughed, and inside, there’s still that aching, resonant, black void of everything.

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man

In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me

Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan

With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,

O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.

Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,

Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.

Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród

Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year

Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

There are many good things in my life, without a doubt, things that I am grateful for, but I feel almost nothing. Anger is my go-to emotion, closely followed by resignation and withdrawal. The causes of all this are clear but there is nothing I can do but keep on keeping on. So I have.

Long time readers of this blog will have seen the various posts over ten years, where I have written about a cave, a mythic, mystical location. I have had requests for them to be collected into book form, and with what I can only describe as a gargantuan effort disproportionate to the task as perceived from outside, I have now done so. One of the hardest parts was writing a blurb. Every writer I know loathes doing this. How do you sum something up in a few hundred words? I came across a couple of paragraphs in a book that inspired me and helped find the right words.

According to the Sufis, there is a human world, and a world of pure spirit and an intermediate world of the imagination in which those two worlds can interact.” Raff, Jung and the Alchemical Imagination p 141

…there is the normal human world of ordinary reality and there is the divine world that transcends reality as we know it. Between these worlds is the world of the imagination, in which spirits and the divinity Itself may personify themselves as imaginal figures. Since relating to the image is the same as relating to the entity itself, it is through imaginative experiences that the divinity may be known and transformed.” Raff, Jung and the Alchemical Imagination p 144.

The finished blurb is as follows:

I found the cave high in the mountains by accident, if such things exist, wandering through tunnels of ancient rock, in pitch darkness, feeling my way for miles…”

This is a work that hovers between fiction and non-fiction, in that imaginal space that is both and neither. That imaginal world, known to the Sufi mystics, is where the human world of ordinary reality and the world of pure spirit and imagination, meet and interact. Outside of the limitations of linear time and space, I have explored a small segment of my own imaginal world; in it I have met with guides and with challenges that have pushed me to my limits and then beyond.  Each fragment is from one of those festivals during which we mark the growing and the waning of the solar year and the passing of the moon cycles within those. Time does not pass as you think it should and nothing is quite as simple as it seems. 
(This is a shorter work of around 8,500 words)

The cover art was done by my friend Bethan Christopher http://www.bethanchristopher.com/  who did the cover for “Ice Cream for Breakfast” and the graphic design by my friend Karl from We Lack Discipline https://welackdiscipline.com/ 

The book is available through all Amazon channels, in paperback and in kindle form. It’s only a short thing, but the effort of getting all my metaphorical (and metaphysical) ducks in a row was exhausting. I’d strongly urge you to consider reviewing it after reading, because reviews help visibility. I have a small (and I do mean small) stock of my own copies and within the UK I can potentially do signed copies, though if you have a problem with buying anything from the mighty ‘Zon, then be aware my copies are directly from them so I am merely acting as your sin-eater so to speak. I have no other way of getting books out there than using this means. 

I am proud of this little book, because it is good (putting it simply) but it is also an oddity. It doesn’t fit neatly into any big genre or category. When I got the paperback out, it charted in the category Gaia and in shamanism. I’d love to see it hit number 1 in one or both of those if possible. 

Anyway, here’s the link to the UK page, and for all others, change the UK part of the URL to whichever store you buy from, or put the title and my name into the search facility. 

Thank you for reading. I am hoping it won’t be another six months before I write anything here! 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0B14RT5F8/ 

Nine Perfect Strangers versus Six Imperfect Pilgrims

Nine Perfect Strangers versus Six Imperfect Pilgrims

I’ve been a subscriber to New Scientist magazine for many years; indeed, I’ve had a couple of letters published and I even won “The Last Word” once. We moved to digital only and I stopped reading it, largely because I don’t find reading on screen pleasant. The irony of writing that on a blog is not lost on me. A few months back, we started getting the paper magazine again; it means I can pass on copies when we have read them and I can stuff a couple into a bag if I am going somewhere where I am likely to be waiting around. Experience has shown me that sitting reading a copy of this magazine while waiting for a medical consultation improves my outcome of being listened to; following a botched (ish surgery) around 10 years ago, the same (admittedly exhausted) doctor responded very differently to me the morning after the surgery when he and the ward sister found me reading a copy (and a couple of novels in French laid on my side table too) from the night before when my belongings were still in my bag. We had an actual proper conversation; their opinion of me shifted in the light of my reading material. Sad but true.

Anyway, a copy from a couple of weeks ago caught my eye today because my daughter had mentioned something key from it the day before. She’d been checking out a mini series on Amazon prime called “Nine Perfect Strangers”, because the premise of it seemed at first glance to bear some resemblance to my novel “Strangers and Pilgrims”. The concept of troubled, damaged people seeking healing by going on a retreat somewhere remote and beautiful but with some sort of mystery at the heart of it, is not (thankfully) trademarked, and on reading the review of the series that appeared in New Scientist, I relaxed. The nine perfect strangers of the mini series could not be more different in circumstances than the six imperfect pilgrims in my novel. The nine are damaged and hurt people for sure, but their lives are otherwise ones of privilege and plenty. The wellness retreat of the series is plush, expensive and extremely well-ordered; visitors give regular blood samples to ensure their tailor made smoothies are perfect for them. The cottage, known as the House of the Wellspring (in “Strangers and Pilgrims”) is a tiny place, comfortable but not luxurious, and the food is plentiful but the pilgrims must work together to prepare, serve and wash up after eating. They choose classic, timeless comfort foods, of stews and crumbles and cheesy bakes, and the making and the baking is a part of their healing process. To spend time with others, cooking, eating, clearing away, serving each other, is a very elemental part of being human; to be waited on by servants is part of a form of elitism that is pernicious when it becomes something we see as our right rather than as an occasional treat or holiday.

At the heart of the “Nine Perfect Strangers” retreat is a guru; a mysterious, ethereal figure played by Nicole Kidman. At the heart of “Strangers and Pilgrims” is a mystery, yes, for each retreat member has come because they reached out, in their lowest ebb, to a shadowy but compelling figure, the Warden of the Wellspring. This person, in a series of emails, has shown both love and understanding to those who contacted the House of the Wellspring, and has offered the chance to visit and to drink the healing waters, that will heal their unbearable hurts. Each yearns to meet this Warden, to pour out their sorrow and rest in the quiet of understanding and of unconditional love. And so, they make their way there, trusting and hoping for healing.

I don’t have any streaming services for TV, so I haven’t seen “Nine Perfect Strangers”. I’m always late to the party; I’ve probably not missed much by not having any streaming. We watch only a very small amount of TV and these days I quite enjoy binge-watching a series I missed years ago, now that the hype is forgotten and the painful pressure of FOMO is gone. When it does come on ordinary free-view TV, I may well watch because it may be good drama. You may already have seen it. As I say, I’m always late to these kind of things. “Strangers and Pilgrims” was first published over ten years ago now, and it’s garnered some wonderful reviews. It’s also got one or two excoriating ones, because you can’t please everybody. It’s in need of a new cover, because things have moved on (and yes, I hope to do this at some point but I have zero energy and mojo), but the core of the book is what it was ten years ago, and if you didn’t read it then, perhaps now is the time to give it a try. The evenings will be drawing in and it’s a perfect autumn or winter read, especially around the time of All Hallows, during which the main part of the story is set.

“My heart is broken and I am dying inside.”

Six unconnected strangers type these words into an internet search engine and start the journey of a lifetime. Directed to The House of the Wellspring website, each begins a conversation with the mysterious warden, to discover whether the waters of the Wellspring, a source of powerful healing, can heal their unbearable hurts.

A journey of self discovery and healing awaits them, but will the Warden grant them their wish? Invited to spend some days at the House of the Wellspring each of the strangers comes with the hope of coming away whole again.

But where is the Warden they all longed to meet and where is the Wellspring they all came to find?

Chapter 3 gets the “We Lack Discipline” treatment

For those following this, the next chapter analysis is up.

It’s kind of like being psychoanalysed via one of my books; albeit the book that I probably feel most sense of pride and achievement about. Check it out.

https://welackdiscipline.com/2021/08/02/we-lack-discipline-reads-the-bet-chapter-3/

“The Bet” analysis of chapter 2

“The Bet” analysis of chapter 2

The inimitable “We Lack Discipline” are doing a chapter by chapter critique of my novel, “The Bet”. This is for chapter 2. I suspect it’s probably at least as long as the chapter itself.

Be aware that there are references to disturbing/upsetting themes, and some of the language is definitely not suitable for work. But it’s a superb analysis that has cheered me up enormously to know someone loved the book that much they’ve taken the time to work through it in this way.

https://welackdiscipline.com/2021/07/06/we-lack-discipline-reads-the-bet-chapter-2/

First chapter of “The Bet” gets a detailed critique…

https://welackdiscipline.com/2021/06/27/we-lack-discipline-reads-the-bet-chapter-1/

We Lack Discipline is doing a chapter-by-chapter review/critique of my novel “The Bet”. I cannot express how emotional I feel about this. It’s almost as if I were a writer of classic works. A real writer, even.