When Evil Seems To Win.

A poet reflects on what inspired her latest piece of dark poetry.

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One of the things I find hardest to deal with in life is the perception that sometimes, evil seems to win.

I don’t know why it should surprise me each time it happens, but it still does. I don’t know why people’s cruelty and evil actions still shocks me, but it does.

Let me explain where this train of thought originated.

Not long ago, I witnessed the complete and irreversible downfall of someone I’ve known for some time. I haven’t always necessarily liked that person – less, in fact, as time went on, although that’s not really relevant to this post. I honestly thought that their behaviour couldn’t get any lower than what I had already witnessed, and what I already knew of him. I was wrong.

Please understand that in writing this post, I do not for one moment mean to suggest that I feel sorry for him. I don’t.
I do feel incredibly sorry for those whose trust he, and every other person like him, has broken and abused. My heart breaks for those who find themselves and the rest of their lives shattered among the trail of destruction they leave behind. These things leave permanent scars from which some people never recover.

And there is no denying that I am incredibly angry. How dare he? He can’t say he didn’t know it was wrong. He can’t say he didn’t know what he was thinking. He knew, and he went ahead and did it anyway.

So, as his life unravelled before my eyes, I was left feeling the same about him as I do about everyone who betrays the trust of the people they should be protecting.

Whether it’s broken friendship, corruption, or an absolute degradation of one person by another, I believe that there are powers in this world that celebrate when someone who has always taken a strongly moral stand falls from a position of leadership and finds themselves in a downward spiral of shame and humiliation, especially if it’s a person of faith.

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It was this chain of thought that led me to write ‘The Demons Dance’. It is grim imagery of demons dancing and celebrating around the crumpled form of their latest victim, upon whos miery and death they are completely drunk.

In this poem, as in a number of my others, my love of writing horror and the macabre has combined with my penchant for poetry to produce what I believe is poetry that is both grotesque and beautiful at the same time.

Click to read The Demons Dance.

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Songs and Poetry

Songs and Poetry: Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

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In an earlier post, I referred to song lyrics as being a form of poetry.

There are many songwriters who write deeply poetic songs. Elton John and Bernie Taupin, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Billy Joel— they are among the greats. Today, singer/songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry are among the artists whose songs contain some incredibly powerful poetry.

While it might be fun to come up with more examples, I have no desire to try to list them all – I don’t even think that’s really possible. Chances are, some who make my list might not be included in yours. I just named a few to get you thinking.

While many songs rely on a catchy hook or a beat that makes people want to dance, it’s the poetry of others that gives them the power to move a person emotionally, or to profoundly affect someone’s thoughts and actions.

Consider the influence John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ had on an entire generation. Similarly, Simon & Garfunkel touched hearts and lives worldwide with the soaring power of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, while the poignant emotion of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind” or “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” is still hard to resist.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but poetic songs seem to attach themselves to part of my soul and remain there, indelible and timeless.

This line of thinking led me to trying to work out which song contains my favourite “song poetry”. That’s actually a really tough question, so I decided I’d listen to a few of my favourites and try to narrow it down.
A week later, I think I have an answer. (Disclaimer: this answer is likely to change at any moment.)

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This song is a brilliant extended metaphor about identity and finding one’s place in the world. The contrast between a rock or an island with the vulnerability of being human, and the paradox of isolation being a form of sanctuary, are ideas which should be jarring, yet they are delivered with such finesse that we’re left thinking, “I totally get that!” They’re ideas and images we all understand, and the poet communicates uses a depth of emotion and human experience to say things that many other people could never bring themselves to verbalise.

The clincher for me is the final verse. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” That’s exactly what I do! I retreat into fictional worlds. I write stories and poems that help me to deal with life. I use poetry to crystallise my thoughts and feelings, and use my writing to communicate what it’s hard to say any other way.

As I was reflecting on that final verse, a poem I wrote last year came to mind. I’m not suggesting that I think I’m as good as Paul Simon, but it does explore similar ideas of hiding behind – or within – the books and words I have written.

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It was written during a time of great personal conflict and turbulence, and expresses the refuge I found in my writing. In different poems written during this period, I portrayed myself at different times as a fighter, as a hostage, and as a traveler. At no time did I portray myself as willing to surrender to the storm that raged around me, nor to anything else that tried to do me in. In my writing, I was strong. I was safe.

When I went back to read that poem as part of the process of writing this post, I was stunned to discover the similarity of the ideas to those explored by Paul Simon, even though my poem was neither based on nor drawn from his lyrics.

I was also confronted by the warning of the last two lines. I have to take care when I feel or experience something, or when I write something powerful, that I can’t afford to unpack and live there. I still have to live my life and be who I am, and I still have to deal with whatever life throws at me.

After all, I am neither a rock nor an island, no matter how much I might sometimes wish I were.


‘Safe’ is published in my book, ‘The Passing Of The Night’.

 

 

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The Poet’s Insights: ‘The Artist’

The poet tells the story behind her poem, ‘The Artist’.

‘The Artist’ is one of my favourite poems from ‘Leaf’, my first published book of poetry.

 

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The inspiration for this poem came from my long-time friend Nicky, who is an gifted artist.
Nicky was one of the people who really pushed me to pursue publication of my poetry. She is an infinite source of encouragement and support, but more than that, she is a loyal and constant friend and confidant.

I should preface this story by pointing out that I’ve never been good at drawing or painting. My grandfather was an artist. My sister once painted a brilliant life-size portrait of Charlie Chaplin that covered her bedroom door for years. My mother could draw animals, people, and groovy designs with a ball point pen and make them look fantastic.

And then, there’s me. The only thing I can draw is cash from an ATM, and the occasional stick figure.

One day, Nicky showed me one of her beautiful paintings, which she had just completed. I gazed at it for a while, and sighed,”I wished I could do that.”

The Artists Plain

Without missing a beat, she replied, “You do. You just do it with words.”

That came as a real revelation to me. At that point in my life, I just wrote poetry for myself, and shared the ones I liked with a couple of friends. I didn’t really consider myself a poet as such, nor did I think I’d ever be published.

With those words, she inspired this poem.

The Artist.

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As a poem, I believe it hass integrity. It feels and sounds good when reading it aloud, and the rhythm works well with the ideas of making brush strokes and splashing a bit of paint around. At the end, it’s a reflection of that moment when the artist stands back and is surprised by what she finds on the easel in front of her.

The artist in the poem is definitely me. Like the artworks in the poem, some of my writing is vivid and colourful, while other pieces are dark and tear-smudged. Even a poem that appears to be fictional, like ‘Misery’ – which has been included in a fairy tale anthology! – is deeply rooted in my own reality.

I have very great affection for ‘The Artist’ for the truth it tells about my own experience as a poet, but I also love the fact that it will always be about my friendship with Nicky, too. Without her inspiration and encouragement, I might still just have a bunch of notebooks full of poems that nobody else would ever read.

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I first told ‘The Artist’s story when Nicky spoke at my book launch for ‘Leaf’ in June, 2016. Completely unaware of the story behind the poem or the fact that she had inspired it, Nicky chose ‘The Artist’ as the poem she would like to read to the guests. When she finished her reading and speech, I followed with the account of the poem’s inspiration. It was a beautiful moment in time that highlighted the wonderful thing that we share in our friendship.

 

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Books, Authors, Double Standards and Snobbery.

There remains a commonly held view that all Indie books are somehow sub-standard. This perception could not be more wrong.

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I am perpetually frustrated by the disdain that many have for Indie authors. Indie artists, musicians, and filmmakers are applauded for daring to step out, break the mould and do their own thing in defiance of the industries that are perceived to have grown too big, too powerful, too rich.

Nobody hesitates to go to a doctor or lawyer who owns their own practice. People don’t think twice about having their car serviced by a mechanic who runs a local garage. They’re independent practitioners within their industry, too. Let’s face it, there are some shonky ones out there – in any industry – but they are the vast minority, and their behaviour should never be used as the yardstick by which all others are measured.

So why is the double standard against Indie authors still not only acceptable, but so widely endorsed?

woman with bookI won’t deny that I’ve picked up two or three books that I just couldn’t finish because they were either poorly written, poorly edited, or just not very good at all. But two or three out of more than 150 is a very small percentage, where the others have consistently ranged between very good and excellent quality in terms of both writing and production.

Having been an avid reader all my life, it’s also true that I’ve read – or rejected – a number of books that weren’t so great in the traditionally published world, too. Some I just couldn’t get into – even among the most famous and widely commended are certain ‘literary greats’ whose writing I just don’t appreciate. There are also traditionally published books that remain popular among less discerning readers and sell quite well, despite the fact that the writing and/or story lines really are… well… rubbish.

I’ve read almost exclusively Indie books for more than a year. I am continually impressed by the originality of the stories, the high standard of writing, and the depth of creative talent. I’ve posted countless book reviews for these books, and have shared my appreciation of both books and authors far and wide, because those books deserve to be read and appreciated.

Having been an avid reader all my life, I’ve read – or rejected – a number of books that weren’t so great in the traditionally published world, too. Some I just couldn’t get into – even among the most famous and widely commended are certain ‘literary greats’ whose writing I just don’t appreciate. There are also traditionally published books that remain popular among less discerning readers and sell quite well, despite the fact that the writing and/or storylines really are rubbish.

Indie authors are, more often than not, Indie by choice. For many, the first foray into traditional publishing has ended up being a very negative and traumatic experience. For some, their publishers have closed down, leaving the author without their rights, unpaid and unable to sell or market their work. Other companies have published books and then done nothing, leaving them to languish in obscurity unless the author does their own marketing.

Sure, that hasn’t happened to J.K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin. People need to understand, though, that they are the exceptions, not the rule. That kind of success doesn’t just happen for everyone who writes a fantastic book or series, and it’s well-established fact that it almost didn’t happen for Rowling either.

Last week, I saw someone comment on social media platform in a most derisive tone that “traditional publishers won’t touch anything that’s been self-published”. My response was that it’s their loss. And when it comes to my own work, they’re not welcome to.

Like many others, I choose to be Indie because I control my own intellectual property, I retain my legal rights to my work, and I earn the royalties for my books. My hard work is not lining the pockets of some faceless company that pays a small fraction of the earnings of a book to the author and gets fat on the rest, without actually doing much in the way of marketing or promotion. Marketing and promotion is really hard work, there’s no doubt about it. But if I have to do the schlepp work anyway, why would I let someone else have control of my work? And I can take pride in the fact that I have earned every review, every award, and every cent, on my own.

In the end, I choose to be Indie because there is nobody in this world as committed to my books or my career as an author than I am.

It’s time we got rid of the double standard that celebrates Indie music and art, and which takes pride in supporting local and artisan businesses, but considers Indie books and authors to be something less than their traditional counterparts.

Indie authors are doing their part by writing and producing excellent books.

Readers are doing themselves a gross disservice by accepting the kind of intellectual snobbery at the heart of this double standard. I’m confident they will be more than pleasantly surprised when they finally choose to set prejudice aside and find out what they’ve been missing out on.

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T.S. Eliot’s letter of advice to a sixteen year old aspiring writer

This article is a marvellous piece of writing in itself.  I really hope you’ll take the time to read it. 

Every now and then, I stumble across an absolute gem of inspiration. Sometimes it’s in a book. Sometimes it’s a quotation. Sometimes, as it was tonight, it was a blog post written by someone else.

This article is a marvellous piece of writing in itself.  It’s beautifully put together and composed, and the content is just magnificent.

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It’s something every author, whether published or aspiring, should read because it addresses that infernal question with which we all torture ourselves: What’s the right way to do this? And the answers come from T.S. Eliot himself, esteemed 20th century author and poet.

I really hope you’ll take the time to read it.

You’ll find the post titled T.S. Eliot’s letter of advice to a sixteen year old aspiring writer on the Nothing In The Rule Book blog,

Women in Horror Month: Facing My Own Fears

An Author’s Perspective on Facing One’s Own Fears In Writing.

One of the principles of writing good horror is tapping into your readers’ fears and anxieties, albeit in a controlled manner – I don’t want to trigger a heart attack or a psychosis, but I do want their skin to crawl and their innards to lurch. After all, that’s why they pick up a horror book or film in the first place.

It’s interesting – at least to me, at any rate – that I haven’t got any better at confronting my own fears.

I have always been, and still am, terrified of spiders and snakes. Of course, I do live in Australia where just about everything that crawls or slithers is deadly, so that is quite sensible. We’ll call it a healthy sense of self-preservation. Butterflies and moths, though… not so much. And crickets: ugh! Not exactly the stuff of nightmares— until they touch me. That’s when I lose all sense of reality.

fear-of-heights-2040805_960_720When I was a child, I considered that I had a fear of heights. As I grew older, I realised that what I actually have is a fear of falling. I can look out of the window of a plane that is flying at altitude, and it doesn’t bother me a bit. Ask me to step onto the balcony of a lookout at the top of a mountain, or to walk on stairs or a surface where I can see through to underneath, and you will only ever be disappointed. It’s not going to happen. The times I have been in such places, I have frozen to the ground in fear.

Interestingly, these are not fears that I have explored in my own writing— not yet, anyway. I’m far more comfortable playing on someone else’s weaknesses. Death. Hell. Demons. Fire. Hair. Monsters. Ghosts. Superstition. Possession. Unexplained coincidences. Easy peasy!

Maybe I will try to address one of my own fears in my writing this month, given that it is Women in Horror Month, and I happen to be a woman who very much enjoys writing horror.

I’ll get back to you on that one.

Maybe.

My Favourite Escape.

When life takes an unexpected turn, there is no better place to escape than into a book.

What a week!

It was the first full week back at school with students after the summer break. New students, new classes, new schedules, new demands.  Not only was I ready, I was keen! I was determined to get through the week without falling in a heap.

The first day was great.

Then, just after recess on Wednesday, I got a call from my local medical clinic. My elderly father was unwell – again – and was on his way to hospital in an ambulance. Everything stopped except my mind: Is this it? Is this the beginning of the end? Must let the others know. Must tell the boss that I have to leave work. Must keep breathing. Can’t breathe. Okay. One thing at a time. Call the boss. Explain. No – don’t fall apart now. You don’t have time. 

I got to the hospital half an hour ahead of Dad because I work in town and the ambulance had a 45 minute trip, plus some road works to negotiate. I completed the necessary paperwork for him, and sat down to wait.

Waiting rooms suck on a major level. You sit there, surrounded by other people’s pain and misery, feeling alone and fearful, and trying to keep everything under control in your own overactive imagination – it’s quite some challenge.

reading-wonder.jpegSo while I sat and waited, I took refuge in a book. It didn’t stop me from looking up every time an ambulance rolled in, wondering if that was Dad being wheeled in. It didn’t stop me checking my phone and answering messages and questions from my siblings. But it did give me somewhere to go.

For the six and a half hours that I sat by Dad’s bedside in the Emergency Department, with medical questions answered and initial treatment under way, I escaped back into the book whenever I could. Dad knew I was there, but he wasn’t up to conversation. Reading someone else’s story kept me from focusing on my own, and it kept me from being overwhelmed by the flood of emotions that threatened to sweep me away while witnessing the pain and distress of my increasingly frail father.

After a somewhat tearful journey home, I thought I might be exhausted enough to fall asleep as soon as I got to bed. Nope. No such luck. Yet again, it was a book that came to the rescue. It didn’t put me to sleep, but it did relax me enough to be able to rest.

Taking refuge in a book is something I have often done in the troubled times of my life. Over the past couple of years, that has taken the form of both reading them and writing them. There are times, though, when I can’t write because the pain and fear is actually too close to think about at that level of depth. Wednesday was one such day.

Thursday was a blur of medical consultations, visits with various physical therapists, and further tests for Dad. Thankfully, at the end of all of that, I was able to bring him home again. It will take time for him, and for me, to recover. There will, undoubtedly, be further moments when I feel the need to make the world around me stop by escaping into a book.

Today, I’ve tried to catch up on the things I’ve let slide over the last few days. I haven’t quite managed yet to pick up all the threads again. I use Buffer, so my Twitter feed has kept on rolling, but many other things, including my writing, are at a standstill. Social media has only had the occasional cursory glance. I’ll get there – but not today.

For now, I’m thankful that Dad and I both survived the week, and that things are starting to return to normal.

And to the authors who continually craft such brilliant stories for me to escape into: thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  Your gifts mean more to people than you realise.

 

 

 

Women in Horror Month: Inspirations

I want to acknowledge two authors who were my first inspirations with all things Gothic and macabre.

As a woman who both reads and writes horror, that’s an exciting prospect. I am set to be be featured on some blogs and websites this month, and I’ll be sharing posts featuring other authors on my social media, too.

First though, I want to acknowledge two authors who were my first inspirations with all things Gothic and macabre.

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Emily Bronte was the author of the Victorian Gothic classic ‘Wuthering Heights’ and some very dark, moody poetry. It was a significant change in the literature of the time – it was so dark and fraught with anger and tension that many readers really had no idea how to respond to it. I also think it is a sign of her literary genius that she wrote a book that became recognised world-wide as a masterpiece and a classic, despite the fact that there is not one single character who is likeable throughout the whole work!

She is also a very fitting figurehead for Women in Horror Month, given that she and her sisters couldn’t get their books published until they deliberately put masculine pen names on them instead of their own. For the most part, we’ve moved beyond such Victorian prejudices and embraced the  myriad wonderful books that have been written by women, although there are still some today who suggest that women who write horror should publish under their initials or a pen name to avoid such discrimination. How is it even possible that this is still a reality 170 years later?

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Mary Shelley wrote  the Victorian Gothic/horror classic ‘Frankenstein’ in a competition with  her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet Lord Byron and another man named John Polidori to see who could write the best horror story in a given time. Not only did she write something incredibly powerful and ground-breaking on a number of levels, she beat three men at their own game in the process.

These are just two of the women in the course of literary history who made an event like Women in History Month a possibility for female authors and for readers of all persuasions in the 21st century.
What a debt of gratitude and honour we owe them.

Focus: Looking Beyond The Cloud In My Silver Lining.

It’s time to focus my time and energy on what really matters: writing.

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A week of camping by the river has given me opportunity for reflection about the past year, particularly in terms of my writing. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished – two new books of poetry, two deliciously macabre horror titles, and two reinvented fairy tale novellas in a completely unique and absolutely gorgeous anthology collection. I’ve also had poems included in a couple of themed anthologies and a number of magazines. I have received emails and messages when something I’ve written has moved or helped someone else in a powerful way, which gives me confidence that what I write is actually pretty good. At this point, I’m highly motivated to move on and write more.

There is, however, a cloud in my silver lining. In my experience, the biggest downside of being an Indie author is that the demands of social media can be a whirlwind – marketing, promotion, teasers, creating new material to keep up momentum, engaging so that others don’t think you’re only there to push your own stuff… It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex and start to believe that marketing is the be-all and end-all of your writing career.

Yes, marketing and promotion matters. I want to find readers who will be interested in my books. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me to invest my time and energy into is writing.

The time has come to redirect my focus. Of course, I will still engage in social media and promote my work there, but I need to do it differently so that I spend more time each day writing than I do trying to leap across people’s screens to get noticed. I’m going to work out how to use Facebook‘s mysterious algorithms, which are set to change yet again, to my advantage instead of the other way around. Furthermore, I’m not going to give them one cent to achieve that. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing on Twitter, as that’s working well for me thus far. My blogs will see some revision, and hopefully some renewed focus there will have good results.

There are so many stories and poems I want to write. Some of the stories are planned and outlined. Some are just ideas at this point in time. The poems happen when the muse overtakes me, but I have quite a few ideas written down so that they can simmer away on the back burner of my mind, developing slowly until they’re ready to go. A renewed focus on bringing my ideas to life on the page for others to read will serve me well: writing is the most satisfying and therapeutic thing I do.

 

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My New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: How Did I Do?

An honest response to the list of resolutions I wrote for myself a year ago.

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Lots of people are talking today about New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t always set a lot of importance upon them, but at the beginning of this year I did make some resolutions.

Today, I thought I should revisit them and evaluate my “performance”.

 

 

#1. Get 500 followers on Twitter.
Check! I started the year on about 317. Today, I have just over 3100.

#2. Write a review for every book I read.
So, there were two books for which I did not leave a review. They were… how do I say this nicely? The reviews would not have been positive, nor would they have helped to sell any further books.
I did, however, email both authors with my responses and comments. Hopefully they made some changes, hired an editor, and improved the quality of their book.
Goodreads tells me that I read and reviewed 68 books, so that’s a fair effort!
I’m checking that one off, too.

#3. Develop my book blog.Book Squirrel Reading TSF
This is something of which I am very proud. Book Squirrel has spent the year featuring books, authors, new releases, and book reviews. On December 15th, Book Squirrel announced the inaugural Golden Squirrel Awards for Indie books of excellence.
This is a definite check!

#4. Publish two more books.
Done! In fact, I added five (Five! How the heck did I manage that?) more books to my author’s shelf, two in a new genre for me, and two novellas in a wonderful collection of reinvented fairy tales. I also have two poems published in two different anthologies, one on forgiveness and one on fairy tales and folklore. Whew!

#5. Be nicer to people.
In all honesty, I’ve tried. I haven’t always succeeded. But when I wrote this on my note almost a year ago, I had no idea just how much grace or forbearance I was going to need in order to survive some of the treatment I’ve received this year, either.
I want to give this a check, but with a “work in progress” disclaimer.

 

All in all, I think I’ve done okay. Some of these will feed into my resolutions for 2018. I’ll be posting about those tomorrow!

If you have suggestions, or reflections on your own resolutions, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.