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Benjamin and the Frog. Hmmm… Sounds like a children’s story doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, having recovered from a really sleepless night and an exciting day in The Out, I thought I would tell you all about my meeting with poet, Benjamin Zephaniah at Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, and a meeting with a little frog the night before.

I was very excited that I was going to read my poetry to Benjamin Zephaniah. He is someone Colin and I worshipped from afar in the 1980s, those heady days of alternative cabaret and comedy. Tadpole and Co majored in disasters set to jazz and poetry, such as Herculaneum and the Titanic. These were surprisingly popular considering they were in very bad taste. Those days in the mid-eighties were brief but happy times brought to a premature end by the surge in interest in samba bands and the desertion of our percussionist, Richard Bett, aka Riccardo Thunderfingers. He was the only man I have ever met who was capable of sustaining a rhythm on congas whilst simultaneously being thousands of people going down with a ship or getting buried by volcanic ash.

Yes, we certainly did some crazy back stuff then. We performed music and poetry in gigs and literature festivals from Hastings to Edinburgh. Some of it was even quite good but it was the comedic disasters that earned us our Yorkshire bookings, courtesy of Wild Willie, and the opportunity to share the stage with such worthies as Henry Normal and Jo Brand. We never performed with Ben, but he was “Up there!” and when the opportunity came to meet him at Boston, read some serious poetry and discuss it we leaped at the chance.

The night before recording the interview I couldn’t sleep. I was nervous, excited and in that terrible place where the more you try to sleep the less likely it is to come. Add to that an annoying tune that kept running through my head courtesy of an advert on TV… you get the picture. Eventually I must have dozed off and about three thirty to four in the morning I was woken by a cat coughing. Now, when said cat is a Himalayan and there is a history of heart murmurs in the breed you worry, so I got up to check on him.

He seemed fine, but was scrabbling around his water bowl. Then he pounced on a blanket I had hanging over a box full of stuff I really ought to sort through, donate, throw away… you know the sort of thing. I lifted the blanket and in the semi-darkness of my Pusheen nightlight, I saw what looked like a pile of poop.
“Urgh”, I said, turning the main light on, but it wasn’t poop, it was a frog! We have an empty vegetable container we use for trapping and releasing flies so I grabbed it quickly and, with the aid of a piece of card, I easily caught the sleepy looking frog.

By this time Colin was up and about and wandered into the bathroom.
“You wouldn’t believe what I just caught in my bed room,” I said.
“Just a minute,” he grumbled.
He must have been half asleep because the surprise of finding a frog in the house didn’t register. Nor did he offer to do the gentlemanly thing and put it out for me. So here I was, standing in my nightie and slippers in the twilight before dawn, trying to unlock the front door while Froggie got more and more excited and jumped up and down in his box. He was released to the water feature by the pond (I know frogs hide in there). I was surprised that he made no attempt to escape after the first hop. I guess he is a very laid back frog and in my experience frogs are not scared of people.

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Now, I have no idea how a frog came to be in my bedroom, nor do I have any idea how long he was in residence. All I know is that he certainly seemed settled under the blanket and that one of the cat water bowls showed signs of dust-bunnies and what I assumed was a frog poop right in the middle. Cue vigorous cat bowl scrubbing and changing of water… I then went back to bed and caught about three hours sleep before I had to get up for an early start and our journey to Boston where we were due to read poems and discuss immigration, Pilgrim Fathers and Boston amongst other things.

I suppose I was a bit ring-eyed and stupid for my interview with Ben. It took me a long time to relax and come out of my shell, but he is a lovely, genuine man and seemed interested in my poems and Colin’s too. When it was all over the three of us chatted for a little while about the eighties, alternative cabaret and the parallel universes we seemed to exist in. Somehow we never shared the stage with Benjamin Zephaniah back then. Hopefully when the programme comes out, we will finally get that wish.

Boston Calling airs on Radio 4 at 4-30pm on Sunday 20th August. I can’t guarantee the Tadpoles will feature, but I can promise you a good programme if you enjoy poetry, politics or Benjamin Zephaniah.

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I spend a lot of time on Twitter. Possibly (very likely) more than I should and that is possibly counterproductive in terms of time management, but I have grown my following by being real and interactive. Occasionally I am tempted to schedule tweets and I do find they can be effective for reaching people in the middle of the night. If I do, I always respond to follows and retweets as soon as I can.

Lately I have been seeing a lot of relatively small accounts growing their own followers by offering random retweets and telling you this is the way to go. It is almost like a follow train (another thing I won’t do) and while still within the rules it is only a matter of time before Twitter reacts to it and makes it harder to do. Already it is impossible to access your own likes for pinning to your profile later, you used to be able to keep them for years, now the limit is days. Favourites have been replaced by “moments” and I am not even sure what “moments” are. (Perhaps someone who is a real person can tell me in the comments?) That has been done for a reason, most likely to stop automation of this sort. It is very annoying when measures taken to discourage automation stop the user from sending real messages that quote your own old tweets… but there you go… It is the price we pay for these cheating Autotweet apps.

I know lots of people who used to interact personally and reciprocate RTs are now using random apps instead of spending time on Twitter. They no longer respond or reciprocate so I no longer retweet them. In my limited time I want to interact with real people, not be overlooked by third party apps. So, that is my curmudgeonly musing for the day. If you ARE a new retweet app user you are losing the impressions my RTs would have given you. I prefer the real deal!

There was a time, not too long ago, when to have a well-rounded liberal education was considered a good thing. I grew up in such a system. My education in areas of health, careers and financial management was non-existent but I could read and speak a little in three languages, knew a little Latin and dabbled in music and poetry while studying towards maths and science A-levels. That was the point at which things started to change for me.

I was blessed with a Maths teacher who was somewhat of a genius mathematically but not very gifted as a pedagogue. He expected us all to understand instinctively what was needed to solve problems. For the A* students that was no problem but most of us struggled. For me, it fell apart with integral calculus and that, I was told, was essential for A level Chemistry. Without Maths and Chemistry my best subject, Biology, had to be dropped much against my protests and those of Mr Howard my Biology teacher. Why? Well, in those days one science A level was apparently no use to anyone when it came to University entrance so when I dug my heels in and refused to give up A level Music and have extra maths homework I was reassigned to taking English and French midway through my second term.

I suppose I had these difficulties because I was a bit of a polymath which was fine up to year twelve (sixth-form we were called then) but afterwards you had to think about University and careers. Had my Maths teacher been more imaginative I could possibly have conquered the little block I had on integral calculus; at that time I could do it mechanically but didn’t understand its application to real life problems. I would have completed my science courses as planned, but I didn’t. In such circumstances I would probably have gone on to study music therapy, which needed science and music, or psychology which fascinated me then and still does – or even both – but as it was I was left with arts subjects and no ambition.

The whole experience was demoralising and I dropped out for a while after passing those exams. What followed was two years in the retail trade, then a four year degree in teaching and a lifetime drifting through the education system in various incarnations, cover teacher, class teacher, college lecturer and peripatetic music teacher. It was a good career but it never set me alight. I spent my free time variously scribbling poetry, stories and scripts, making musical arrangements for guitar, writing songs and composing my own serious “classical” music.

So many years later, I regret nothing. I did what I had to do and followed the paths I was told to follow by my elders and betters. Now I find I am still torn by many interests; history, politics, science, the environment, animals and nature – not to mention a spiritual side I usually keep under wraps. I am content if not happy. In this life nobody can be completely happy if they are aware of the plight of others. We all experience loss, which we learn to accept, and horror at terrible events, which is perhaps harder to cope with. I have fans who listen to my music on internet radio. I sell musical arrangements and compositions worldwide. I have just published my second novel which, until last week, was selling and being read. I have four books of poetry under my belt and I am working on several projects when the cats allow me some free time.

Why do I write this now? Well, as an author, I am daunted by the importance of genre and tropes. I see specialism is not confined to the sciences now but has filtered through into the arts too. Authors are expected to use pen names when they write in different genres. This is a process that is all about selling and targeting readers. The great writers of history did not confine themselves in such an unnatural way. Shakespeare wrote tragedies and comedies. He toyed with history and the paranormal. Edgar Allen Poe dabbled with detective fiction, science fiction and poetry although he is remembered for horror. Oscar Wilde dabbled in horror, moral tales and poetry although he was best known for satire, wit, and the theatre.

Take a look at my page at Author Central if you want to see diversity:

Lisa Gabriel on Author Central

If you travel over to iTunes and look me up there you will see my music is not particularly specialised either:

Lisa Marie Gabriel on iTunes

It’s just that sometimes creative people need that bit of freedom just to BE. The selling is something we would hope, often in vain, that others with entrepreneurial abilities might do for us and in this day and age that becomes less and less likely. So please forgive the polymaths of the world, the multi-genre authors and the fusion musicians. We are not trying to deceive you, we are just who we are. I hope you all had a wonderful Easter, Ostara or whatever else you like to call it and may your God/dess bless and keep you whoever He/She is.

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Author Kyra Halland writes some great books, but best of all she loves cats so she deserves pride of place here today. Thank you Kyra. I asked her the following questions:

1. What is your routine as a writer?

Writing is my full-time job. In the mornings, I take care of social media, correspondence, blog posts, finances, stuff like that. My writing workday starts late in the morning or early in the afternoon. I spend the first half writing on a new project; right now my aim is 1300 words a day. The second half I spend on revising and editing my next book to be released. I take breaks about every half hour to move around, do some chores, play a non-verbal game to clear my mind.

2. What is it that drives you personally as an author?

The need to tell stories. I have these characters living in my head demanding that I tell their stories. I have to give these characters life by writing their stories and releasing them into the world, or else they’ll never leave me alone.

3. I see you have an ambition to be a crazy cat lady. As someone who has already achieved said status, may I ask do you find your cats help you with your writing?

I have two cats, Kumo (Japanese for cloud), a longhaired gray cat, about 11 years old; we think he’s a Turkish Van (he was found as a stray or feral cat). And Sawyer, a shorthair tabby on top, white underneath, about 7 years old. They make sure I don’t sit down for too long (which is bad for your health) by asking me to feed them or let them out into the yard. And since I’m alone in the house all day (my kids have grown up and moved out, and my husband is at work all day), they give me someone to talk to. And, of course, any manuscript can be improved by the addition of a little cat hair.

4. Who is your favourite character to date and why?

Oh, goodness, that’s like asking me to choose my favorite of my kids and grandkids 🙂 I love all my characters, each for different reasons. Probably one of my most memorable characters is Roric Rossony, the professor of magical theory from The Lost Book of Anggird. He’s an extraordinarily complicated man; I was stuck on that book for years until he opened up and told me all about himself and his appalling past. Once I understood who he was and why he was the way he was, the book fell into place. And then there’s Silas Vendine, the bounty-hunting, gunslinging mage from my most recent books, the Daughter of the Wildings series, and his wife-student-sidekick Lainie Vendine, the rancher’s daughter who goes from being terrified of her magical powers to being a hugely powerful mage – maybe even more powerful than Silas!

5. Please say a few words about your latest book and why we should read it.

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My latest project is actually a multi-author boxed set that I’m very excited to be part of. It’s called Light in the Darkness: A Noblebright Fantasy Boxed Set. Basically, as C.J. Brightley, the coordinator of this boxed set, says, “Noblebright fantasy has at least one important character with noble, idealistic motives who does the right thing out of principle. The character is flawed, but his or her actions are generally defined by honesty, integrity, sacrifice, love, and kindness. The story upholds the goodness of the character; the character’s good qualities are not held up as naiveté, cluelessness, or stupidity, but rather shown to be worthwhile. Good characters can make a difference. Noblebright characters can learn and grow. They can deliberately choose to be kind when tempted to be unkind, they can choose generosity when it hurts, and they can influence their world and other characters for the better.” My book Beneath the Canyons is part of this set along with 11 other full-length novels and a handful of short stories, a great value for the price of $1.99. It releases on Tuesday Oct. 18, at these stores:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iTunes
Smashwords

Kyra’s Website
Kyra’s book catalogue
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More about Kyra on her Goodreads page

Last night I watched Scars of Dracula for probably the seventh or eighth time. These old horror films pull me in each time. From wondering at the incredibly young and boyish Dennis Waterman and the iconic Patrick Troughton to enjoying the sultry female vampire and the ultimate Prince of Darkness himself, the late lamented Christopher Lee, it was a classic Hammer Horror delight. It got me wondering how these old movies cling on and why we continually watch over and over again only to switch channel when the new ones come on.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of horror as a genre and include Stephen King, Anne Rice and James Herbert among my favourite writers, but I am not such a fan of modern horror. I could easily be hooked by The Walking Dead as a movie rather than a series but I am not fond of series because I miss an episode and lose the plot. I loved Interview with the Vampire which I thought was a modern film classic as well as the modern versions of Frankenstein with Kenneth Brannagh and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Gary Oldman, which I still think is superb. The problem for me is modern horror. Teen slasher movies are a particular turn off, not because of the horror but because the link up between gratuitous human violence and teenage self importance is simply boring. If a film ever has “teen” or “slasher” in the description, I switch over to watch crime or history. These films are not commercially targeted towards me of course, but to kids who probably shouldn’t be watching things that violent, and on the occasions I have tried to watch one I have usually fallen asleep on the sofa – literally.

I think, when it comes down to it, I would far rather watch something with a story than rapidly changing violent images that are hard to understand. I enjoyed the Twilight series, which to me was the redemption of modern horror films – despite teen characters it has a story even adults can relate to. I haven’t read the book yet because I don’t want it to impact on the vampire novels I write but I suppose that when I have done with vampires – sparkly or otherwise – I might dip into some Stephenie Meyer. I also enjoyed The Mummy films. I would rather hear dialogue than an endless stream of sound effects, musical groans, bad language and screams. I have been scarred forever by Dracula and his story with all its stereotypical paranoid peasants, beautiful, wicked women, evil seducers and the ultimate sticky end. When offered a choice between a modern horror and an old classic I will take the old classics like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein any day – I am just a sucker for a good vampire yarn.