Writing


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.

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.

There is a dubious mindset that winning is all, to the victor come all the spoils, that it doesn’t matter how you win so long as you do and all the world loves a winner. That way lies madness. A certain billionaire has just found to his cost that while money can buy prestige and position and incitement to hatred can win votes it can only bring a Pyrrhic victory. One billionaire is much the same as another in my book and you can’t force people to love and respect you in this life but I have to confess to feeling just a little bit sorry for this one. I’m sure it wasn’t what he was promised by his backers nor did he expect such a huge reaction against his victory. Here is a man who wants to be adored by millions and yet the streets are empty for his biggest ever moment and full of pussy power demonstrators the day after.

I am also saddened by the way some people I thought I knew have embraced a philosophy of hating those who disagree. Of course those people are not presently marching in protest. I don’t know if they would be marching had the outcome been different and I don’t think they will ever understand why millions are. To call everyone who disagrees with his method of winning or with the madness of hatred a “loser” or a “dangerous leftist” and maintain that you despise “leftists” loses sight of the fact that many of these people are not adherents of the left wing at all. They may be disillusioned conservatives, some are even Republicans; they may be Democrats who feel that what amounts to an act of treason robbed their own candidate of victory; finally, they might even be centrists appalled by unholy alliances of religion and politics on both sides.

That’s right, many of them are centrists like me; conservatives with a little “c”, liberals with a small “l”. In my country the word liberal is not yet an insult although I will happily wear the insult “Libtard” as a badge of honour because it means I reject the politics of hatred and division. We have a fine liberal tradition in Britain dating back centuries and we are justifiably proud of it. We are also proud that we have stood up to hatred and racism in the past – as the underdogs and on our own for several years I might add – and we don’t want to see the sacrifices of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents forgotten. Many of them suffered or even died to maintain Europe’s freedom from a Third Reich that thrived on hatred. We honour them for it. That does not make us “leftists” or “losers”.

I think there are so many emotionally charged issues that any incumbent lawmaker needs to address and for any one political party to lay claim to personal moral viewpoints is simply WRONG. It doesn’t happen here. Maybe it would if we were a nation of proselytising evangelicals, but we are not. We respect freedom; we do not take arms up against people whose morals we might find lacking or whose religion is different from ours. We do not take away choice from desperate women – whatever our personal views – because we know the alternative to choice is something far worse for society; criminal behaviour, neglect, death and people in abject poverty. There are a lot of things wrong in this world, but they will not be changed by screaming abuse or sanctioning violence and exclusion of whole groups of people different from ourselves in some way.

I could go on and on but I won’t because it saddens me too much to see people sinking to such depths of anger. All I ask is that we just pause for a minute and think about the refugee crisis and terrorism. Where does the money come from for terrorists? Where do the arms come from that they buy with this money? Who suffers most in any war? Who profits most from war and division? Why are there so many refugees? Why are civilians consistently being bombed? Who stirred up a hornet’s nest by declaring a war on terrorism in the first place? What is that one word that is at the root of the West’s obsession with the Middle East? Can we actually do without it? If not, why not?

I want to finish by directing you to an article written April 29th 2013 by Janice Harper Ph.D. in Psychology Today:

The Fertility and Futility of Hatred – When hatred fills our hearts, it grows, but to what end?

Please read it, whichever side of the divide you stand on. It might persuade you to drop that hot stone before it burns your hand badly…

The other day one of my readers said:
“I enjoyed The Wings to Fly but there’s a lot about flying in it, isn’t there?”
“Yes, there is.” I said.
“It’s different. It’s not often you read a historical romance with much history in these days. They tend to about the chase and the catch and the good sex at the end.”
“Well, that’s your standard romance isn’t it? Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, things happen, boy gets girl back, happy ever after?”
“Yours isn’t like that though.”
“Why? What do you mean? Apart from the girls of course…”
She went on to explain that she felt this was more about a group of people, real people and their lives. Romance was a strong element but not the main one and there were boy/girl romances everywhere, plus a couple of girl/girl ones and not too much action between the sheets. I asked her if she was OK with that.
“Isn’t that what life’s like? It’s not just about two people between the sheets, it’s about all of us, our friends and what happens around us,” she replied.

I had to admit that was true; that we don’t all fit into convenient pigeon holes anymore than The Wings to Fly fits into a convenient genre. Life is full of awakenings, discoveries, disappointments, tragedies and, in time, true happiness when we eventually find love.

“But what about the flying? Why was that so important to you?”
“I suppose it was the flying that brought the whole thing about. The book I mean. Without feeling the inspiration of those early aviation pioneers, the tragedy of war and the heroism of combat and ferry pilots I confess I’d just have finished my second vampire novel instead.”
“I’m glad you didn’t, I’m not too keen on horror, but that enthusiasm certainly comes through in The Wings to Fly . I really wanted to be up in the air with Midge in the Tiger Moth – and touch the clouds with John Magee in his Spitfire – I loved Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart. I could almost feel the wind in my hair in that biplane.”
“Really? That is just what I wanted. I can think of nothing more wonderful than flying a plane like that. Not a big commercial plane though. To me that’s like being on a bus in the air and it’s a little scary being out of control. But to feel the response of a Spitfire or the lightness of a Tiger Moth in the wind? Now that’s the romance of flight, that overwhelming sensation of freedom most of us only get when we do truly fall in love.”

The Wings to Fly is available on Kindle and in paperback and you can read it free with Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime. I hope you will and that you will enjoy it.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I always have. Twitter has an intellectual beauty and simplicity that speaks to me and has none of the artificial, ad revenue induced limitations of Facebook. If you want your content to reach a lot of people then judicious use of hashtags and pinned tweets will do just that. It is also annoyingly possible for people to list you and read content without having to follow anybody at all. This one-sidedness of Twitter seems a little hard-bitten to me. Usually if somebody follows me, I will follow them back if they seem reasonable. I don’t then un-follow them. Having said that, there are some folks who can’t abide clutter and a busy Twitter stream can appear very cluttered indeed. There are those people who don’t follow anyone at all, yet seem to have followers and do frequently re-tweet what you post. They achieve that using their own curated lists and hashtags in case you wondered. I follow a lot of people because I consider it common courtesy to follow back but I don’t follow everybody and in today’s blog post I want to deal with that first; in other words, when a follow on Twitter is not appropriate, when to mute and when to block.

Let’s take the no follow option first. I see increasingly numbers of people with an “egg” for a profile picture, no personal details and no tweets displayed on their profile. There are two main reasons for this. The first and most innocent reason is that they are new to Twitter – and we were all newbies once so you will see 5-10% follow-back on these profiles. The second reason (and the reason I will now not follow an empty or light profile) is that some of these people are scammers operating below the radar using lists and direct messages. Follow them and you will immediately receive a message asking you for an action that involves sharing something. Whether that something is money, assistance or information, these empty profiles are on the make. This is the realm of the beggar, the hacker or the 419 scam. I avoid them.

Some people will post an attractive picture, possibly of themselves but usually of a model or minor celeb, then they attract followers by posting and reposting the useless “trash” that clutters timelines. These posts are usually click-bait, badly spun articles on interesting themes that send you away to ads that often refuse to switch off. You are downloading malware at that point. This is a good point at which to use the “mute” function. You can mute someone who posts trashy or suspect content that clogs up the flow but there will always be someone else who innocently reposts it because it looks fun. That is the nature of click-bait and here is where the “block” function is very useful. Just please make sure you are blocking the right account or you will continue to receive trashy posts from other friends and followers. It is the original person you need to block, even if you are not following them, because you are getting the rubbish second-hand.

There is a much more annoying use of the “block” function. Some people on Twitter are plainly self-important, rude and selfish. They will follow you, then un-follow when you follow back. You may not know unless you use an un-follower app like who.unfollowed.me on Twitter. If you do and you un-follow then re-follow them thinking they made a mistake they will block you. I know, somebody in my circle of friends has done that to me years ago. I have never had an unpleasant dialogue with him and in fact I have no idea why he should have blocked me all those years ago except that I re-followed him. What a gutless thing to do! There was never a cross word exchanged, no spam involved and it is a total mystery to me, but he does have a LOT of followers. How do I know about this unreasonable action? You are notified if someone has blocked you if you ever visit their profile. That means you can’t read their stuff and they don’t have to see yours. It is a blunt but savage weapon that some “people collectors” use freely. They are important celebrities in their own little bubble and you are not. Annoy them with a re-follow and they will sting you hard using a function that is meant to protect. I know, and I am not impressed, in fact I blocked him back only this week.

So when should you use “block”? I use it on empty profiles that I find frightening. I am not prepared to elaborate on that one much, but I don’t want to be listed and possibly stalked by people whose tweets I can’t read. There are some dangerous groups out there. You will know them by their followers and possibly who else they are following – I always check it out. I also use “block” on people who spread hardcore porn on unconnected hashtags. I don’t usually see much porn in my stream and what I do see I generally just ignore, but there are a lot of apparently Russian porn accounts set up with English sounding names. These routinely tag “adult” pictures with proven successful hashtags that guarantee RTs – often from groups of writers, musicians, sportsmen and artists who use automatic programs to grow a following. Of course you also have the choice to report but the report options are limited and the nearest to hashtag abuse is “spam”.

The other use I make of “block” is for foul language related to hate speech and incitement to violence. I don’t mind people who disagree with me, I will interact with anyone politely, but when I see rudeness, disrespect or hate speech I hit the “block” button. I don’t use it too much because it can lead to account reviews and suspension of an individual. Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean they deserve a ban but nor do you have to endure viciousness. How you use Twitter is your own affair. It is a valuable tool for communication and, let’s face it, that’s why we all sign up. If you choose to be interactive you can make lots of friends and enjoy the experience. Thank you for reading. Have fun but be safe!

Well the easy answer is because that is her nature. Life as a writer would be infinitely more easy if our characters were less complex. If Midge were heterosexual that would throw open a much larger readership for me for a start. Schools and Christian readers would not be taken aback by her love for another women for example. Yet she would blend unseen into the infinitely large pile of boy meets girl romances. If she were to be a lesbian on the other hand that would make her life much less complicated for her and for my novel too. There would be a ready made niche audience of lesfic fans who I suspect would be somehow much more comfortable with her sexuality. There would be fewer triggers in the story although, for me, it would be less true to life and less interesting. Midge is neither gay nor straight and that shapes her life in unexpected ways. Although she is obviously drawn to women emotionally she enjoys the company of men as likeable human beings and has a strong sex drive which is modified by the era in which she was born. There will be those readers who say she always was a lesbian and just had to discover her true self; there will be some who castigate her for marrying a man just as there will be those who condemn her for being unfaithful to Richard. So why did I write her this way? Was I trying to be trendy?

In answer to the first, my writing tends to be character driven. I believe that our characters exist in some hidden dimension of space or time waiting to speak to those who will be most attentive to their needs. Maybe some will see that as paranormal; I think it more likely that it is a product of our own psyche, our conscious beliefs and our unconscious dreams. When a character like Midge is “born” she takes over the writing of the story and leads it down paths a little different possibly from those we had planned. I could no more force Midge to be gay or straight than I could force myself to eat melted blue cheese on cornflakes! She has a voice of her own and her scenes were almost dictated to me, as distinct from scenes I wrote for other characters after in depth historical research.

Was I trying to be trendy? Absolutely not. The concept of “bisexual being trendy” is really limited in my experience to the young and famous. For most honestly bisexual individuals it is not an easy label to take on or live with. The ideas many people have about bisexuals derive from sources that have a strong agenda. I won’t go into that now, but I will reference a superb book that addresses many of the misconceptions about bisexuals. This comes from my review of Purple Prose on Goodreads:

“Bisexual is not a “one size fits all” label. Being bisexual is not about being confused, trendy, greedy or dishonest. Bi-phobia and bi-erasure are institutionalised everywhere. Bisexuals are often, but not always, monogamous. They might identify as straight or gay/lesbian their entire lives but they know they have romantic feelings towards both genders and indeed sometimes to people whose gender falls outside the binary norm. A bisexual friend once said to me “I love a person, not a gender.” For those individuals who fall into the “monosexual” category gender assumes an overwhelming significance in partner choice. For bisexuals it does not – a person is loved for more than their intimate parts, their masculinity or femininity. This should be liberating. Often it is not.”

So I was not trying to be trendy and by being honest rather than reductionist in my writing I was probably always going to limit my book’s audience but if one person reads The Wings to Fly and says “I know that girl, she is like me” or “she is like my friend” then it will have been worthwhile. Sometimes life does not fit into convenient pigeonholes and neither do heroines in fiction.

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