Sunday, 22 May 2016

We have a title, thanks to you!!

Many thanks to all those lovely people who joined in my quest for a title for the ebook about Ecuador - both here and in my writing group. (If you've no idea what I'm talking about, scroll down to the previous post.)

It just shows (as if we didn't know) how impossible it is to please all the people all of the time. So I'm just going to run with the title that feels right to me. And, for those who disagree with me, here is my thinking:

I'm not going to use a title that includes 'boobies' - I floated that with tongue in cheek, knowing I'd never use it. I'm a feminist; I've signed the 'No More Page Three' petition; so I won't use female body parts just to make people titter. (And those who read this book will realise that I don't shrink from writing about hanky-panky. I'm no prude. And the birds and animals of Ecuador were having a lovely spring time while I was there!)

Which takes us on to Frogs and Frigate Birds - and the suggestion that I should drop the 'birds'. I can hear the poetry in Frogs and Frigates. But there are no warships in sight in this book. Not even one lurking in a harbour somewhere, nor creeping along the horizon. And so it feels, to me, misleading if I cut the 'birds'. I love poetry in titles as much as the next man or woman, but it also needs to give clues as to the contents of the book.

The next suggestion that needed much thinking: to add a third element. I recognise the strength of threes. But, to keep the rhythm of this, it needs a single-syllable word between the frogs and the frigate birds - making it Frogs, Fr?gs and Frigate Birds. Which, if I had met a frug or a frig or a frag would work - but I didn't. (Though wish I had ... What do you think a frug looks like ...)

So there we have it. Frogs and Frigate Birds it is.

Next stop - a cover.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

What's in a name?

I read a post the other day about about boobies - the anatomical kind. (No, I wasn't getting kinky: the post raised questions about how to name body parts and most of us, when we're writing, have to wrestle with that sometimes.)

When I was in the Galápagos Islands I saw hundreds of blue-footed boobies, and before you get to too excited, this is what they look like:

I bring this up now as I'm wrestling with a title for my new book about my trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. And here is now my thinking goes:

I saw so many birds and animals, I'm sure I can find something alliterative to make a good title. Something like Frogs and Frigate Birds - except most people don't know what frigate birds are. If you curious, they look like this:

Or maybe Bats and Boobies ... I've nothing against erotica in its place, and although I witnessed a little springtime hanky-panky I don't want mislead anyone.

Monkeys and Mocking birds ... Frogs and Finches ... Toucans and Tortoises ... Monkeys and Manta Rays ...

(The subtitle, predictably, will be Over the Hill goes to Ecuador.)

So if anyone has a great idea, or an opinion - now is the time to share it!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Ecuador, the book?

For all the lovely people who commented and followed the three old gits and a fat bloke as they canoed down the Thames (see previous post) - they did it!  One serious stormy day, the rest hot and sweaty. They have interesting tans. And sore bums from sitting on planks of wood and paddling for hours on end. And they've raised over £2000 for MS, which is totally amazing.

So, to change tack, what have I been doing since I got back from Ecuador? Sitting about, drooling over photographs, generally eating cake and grumbling about the weather?

Well, I've done some of that (especially the weather-grumbling). And I have been writing. As usual, I've trawled through my diaries. Then came the big question of finding the narrative. It felt a bit like hacking my way through the rainforest. There were scents of story and then - puff - gone again.

So I decided to just write it and then see what I'd got. If nothing else it's a great way to relive the whole experience (I take little encouragement to do that.)

Then, half way through the writing, came the earthquake in Ecuador. Suddenly I felt a need to publish this book - mainly so people can see that there is so much more to the country than fallen-down buildings and traumatised people. There are mountains and jungles and glorious beaches. Generous, welcoming people. It was time to press on with the writing with a bit more purpose.

Phew, first draft done. But I was still unsure. Was there more to it than 'woman has great time in Ecuador' (which, let's face it, is pretty boring as stories go)? So I gave it to a hyper-critical friend, knowing that if it was truly rubbish she would tell me.

Phew - again - she loves it. There are bits that need thinking about, and she hates my working title, but I've now got a framework and can tell you that there WILL be a book. I can't give you a timescale, as it needs a serious spit-and-polish, and there's all the usual preliminaries that seem to take ages before it sees the light of day on Amazon.

Here, just to keep you going, is a photograph of a hypnotised frog. Not something you'll bump into in the supermarket.

So, don't hold your breath. But it would be good if you kept a bit of space free on your e-readers!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Three old gits and a fat bloke.

This week three old gits and a fat bloke are canoeing down the Thames. Their words - not mine. As a feminist I know better than to comment on age or weight. (And one of them is my son-in-law; but I'm not saying which!)

But there's no getting away from it - these are not streamlined young men. They are ordinary men who have worked and drunk pints and played with their children and talked from time to time about getting fitter but let's have another beer first. So why canoe down the Thames? To raise money for people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.

Just over a week ago thousands of men and women, of all shapes and sizes, pounded the streets of London. Some just did it for fun (not my idea of fun, but hey ho!), and many did it to raise money - for huge appeals and for small local charities. A daughter and grandson are running the Race for Life this year (she is fit, and he is nine and even fitter), contributing to Breast Cancer charities.

If they can ... can't we all?

Actually, no - we can't all run marathons or row down the Thames. Some because we will never be fit or well enough. Some because we have commitments which make it impossible to leave those we care for long enough to do the training. Some because the idea of all that effort is enough to make us reach for the smelling salts.

Most of us do our best. We put the occasional tin or packet of something in the food bank bin at the supermarket. We stop to help the old person who has dropped his shopping. We help in charity shops or do our bit for small charities that keep our rivers clean or help young families. We dip into our pockets to sponsor friends and family doing wacky things.

Today I propose that we raise a glass to all those who go that extra mile (so to speak) and actually put their effort into doing arduous physical challenges to raise money to help people they don't know. They cope with wind, rain, and bodies aching in places where they didn't know they had muscles. I couldn't do it - and I suspect a few of you who drop by here couldn't do it either?

So cheers to you, three old gits and a fat bloke. I'll cheer your exploits from the safety of my sofa this week. And if you, too, want to see how they get on, you can find out more here: And if you live near the Thames, maybe you can work out when they pass you and stand on a bridge to cheer them on.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Earthquakes, and yet more earthquakes.

I can't believe I'm blogging about earthquakes again.

It feels as if the earth is very unsettled at the moment. Volcanoes are erupting. There are tremors all round the Pacific rim. And now the huge quakes in Japan and Ecuador.

I'm sure we've all seen the pictures. Sometimes I wonder if we don't see so many pictures that they  lose their capacity to shock. The collapsed buildings. Men and women, their heads thick with dust, weeping in the streets or scrabbling in the rubble with their bare hands searching for missing children.

One of the things I've learned, in all my travelling, is the universality of human needs. All over the world, men and women need people around them to love. We all need enough to eat and a safe roof over our heads at night. We all celebrate our rites of passage (births, deaths and marriages) by eating together, and often with dancing. We all punctuate the year with festivals (more eating and dancing).

Our differences - of skin colour, of gods, of the stories we tell to explain our existence - are insignificant beside the fundamentals of our samenesses.

So these people, hurt and frightened, have the same needs and feelings as you and me.

But what can we do? Weeping into our own beer isn't going to help. Not many of us can leap into a plane and fly across the world to help dig people out or help in the rebuilding.

Some of us can dip into our pockets, spare a pound or two. The house-build project had proved what can be achieved if we all work together.

And some of us can travel to places that - at first glance - would seem uninviting after such a disaster. One of the big lessons from my last trip to Nepal was the need for tourists to carry on visiting - these countries need foreign money now more than ever. So next time you've got the atlas out and are wondering where to go next, maybe it's worth thinking about countries that need you. For the money you spend while you are there all goes into rebuilding an economy - and therefore the lives of families with needs and feelings just like ours.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Shit happens

I've no idea what if those of you living outside the UK are being bombarded with health advice at the moment. It feels as if our government, our broadcasters, our newspapers are conspiring to remind us that our bodies are temples and we should treasure them.

Or maybe they've only just realised than an aging populating means an increasingly frail population which could strain our health service beyond its ability to deliver adequate care. And so those us of us with bus passes must be reminded how to look after ourselves for as long as possible and thus reduce the strain on the public purse. Or am I being too cynical here?

I've no problem with the occasional reminder to eat well and maybe move about a bit. There may be people who don't realise that a diet of cake and chips and alcohol isn't the best. They may spend their lives flopping about on the sofa and not realise that walking upstairs occasionally, even if it makes them puff, is a Good Thing.

But I've had such advice rammed down my throat a bit recently - and some has even come with the implication that 'keeping myself young' (whatever that means) is a protection from the disease of aging.

Which diseases of aging did they reference particularly? Arthritis and cancer.

And that's where my hackles rise. I have arthritis - not because I don't eat my greens, but because my grandmother had arthritis and I climb mountains. One day I'll need expensive new knees, though I'll  keep myself going for as long as possible.

But the implications for cancer sufferers makes me even crosser. I know people with cancer, who have had cancer, or are half-expecting a diagnosis. Are the health-advisers seriously suggesting that this is their fault?

As I understand it, there is a statistical connection between living in an affluent society and cancer rates. That's a statistic - not a cause. We understand the origins of some cancers (like skin), but others need much more research before we can pin-point causes. And yet some bod on the telly feels we need reminding us to eat our broccoli and skip about a bit because if we don't we'll get cancer and it might (note that 'might' - enough to make the implication but not enough to be sued if they've got it wrong) be our own fault.

Shit happens. It can happen to anyone. The least constructive response to the cancer-shit is to make someone feel guilty.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

They tell us we're a highly developed country. Really?

As you know, I've travelled a bit - and often in countries that are defined as 'developing'. As I understand it, the word refers to these countries efforts to modernise their economic systems, thus involving as many people as possible in the commercial life of the country and bringing prosperity to as many as possible.

It's a complex process, underpinned by education. There is a drive to ensure that children all over the world learn to read and write, and that even the most disadvantaged have access to books. When I first visited Nepal books were scarce - often only tattered copies left behind by trekkers or printed on such thin paper you could put your thumb through it. There is now a library in Pokhara, a facility well-used by both children and their parents, with no regard for income nor social status.

But countries can't wait for this generation to mature. They need their economies to grow now. For many, this means providing transport for as many as possible to reach markets - where they can sell their own produce and buy goods from their neighbours. It is a basic means of exchange and can be the prelude to more ambitious trading. Rickety buses trundle up dirt tracks and ford streams in order to make such trading possible. I have shared a bus seat with a woman with a chicken on her knee and another where someone hoped to buy her fare with cucumbers.

This is what I understand by development: the inclusion of as many people as possible in social and economic life, in order to promote the prosperity of the many.

Or am I missing something? For here in the UK, with what we are told is the fifth biggest economy in the world, we are closing libraries (excluding the disadvantaged from access to books) and - here in rural Wiltshire - we are cutting buses (excluding the disadvantaged from access to markets and social interaction).

Or does 'development' only apply to the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' don't matter any more?