Balance.

I’m looking for positives. Feel free to help me out!

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pexels-photo-69213Balance is something I often aim for, but things don’t always work out that way.

I’ve just been looking at the poems I have written for my next collection, and the majority are quite dark. I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to write some more positive or happy poems to balance it out.

Easily done. All I need is for the universe to be nice to me, and for wonderful people and happy events to inspire me. No biggie… right?

If you’d like to inspire me, leave a story, an observation, or a happy experience in the comments!

When Evil Seems To Win.

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

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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A Favourite Poem: ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes

For National Poetry Month, enjoy ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes.

‘The Highwayman’ is one poem that I have always loved reading, but also one which I have considered an inspiration for my own writing. highwaymanHow I would love to be able to write poetry of this quality!

This poem tells a splendid tale of a dashing hero – even though he was an outlaw – and of daring, deceit and transcendent love.

The imagery is incredible – you only need to read the first verse to see what I mean – and you can almost hear the horse galloping in the rhythm as you read.

There are some old-fashioned words you may not be familiar with, so let me explain what they mean:

  • An ostler is a person responsible for stabling and caring for horses.
  • A galleon is a ship with three masts and squared sails. Think of a pirate ship!
  • A casement is a window.
  • A rapier is a long, narrow sword with a fancy handle designed to protect the user’s hand.

The Highwayman.

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

PART TWO

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

alfred-noyes_QFfuE

For your further enjoyment, you can listen to a recording of Alfred Noyes reciting ‘The Highwayman’.

International Women’s Day, 2018

Why We Should Celebrate International Women’s Day.

As I was driving to work this morning, a caller to my favourite radio station was critical of the fact that the station was observing International Women’s Day as part of the day’s programming.

“What’s it going to achieve? Do you think you’re going to change everything in one day?” He spoke politely, but went on to dismiss the value of this, and every other, “touchy-feely day”.

While my initial instinct was to dismiss him as a sexist pig, his cynicism challenged me to consider that there might be many folks out there, and possibly not just men, who doubt the benefit or validity of such an observance.

This is what I would like to say to those with that mindset:

Observing International Women’s Day is definitely not going to change everything on one day. That’s not what anyone is expecting.

It is a chance to celebrate the changes that have been made, and to remember those who worked so hard to introduce them. It’s not even exclusively about gender equality – so many women have made significant advances, even when it was still almost entirely a “man’s world”. Think of Marie Curie or Ruby Payne-Scott making significant scientific and mathematical discoveries that have had a huge impact in many other areas of society. Think of Rosa Parkes and her courage that inspired so many. Think of the countless women who have worked for freedom, or justice, or civil rights for all people, not just women.

It is a day to remember that the rights and freedoms I have as an Australian woman were fought for by many – not just the suffragettes. Nurses at the battlefields of major conflicts, teachers, doctors and medical researchers, writers, women who raised their sons to respect them and therefore other women, lawyers, filmmakers, journalists— they and countless others have contributed to the privileges I enjoy in the 21st century.

It is a day to remember my own mother, grandmothers and aunts who worked hard to provide and care for me, but also to teach me and demonstrate for me what it means to be a woman of strength, confidence and integrity. It’s also a day to think of my sisters, cousins and friends who encourage and stand beside me when life is hard, because they model those same qualities for me time and time again. They remind me of not just what I am, but who I am.

It is a day to consider what legacy I pass on to my nieces, my students, and my readers. What do I want them to learn from my example? I want them to know they are enough. Strong enough, good enough, beautiful enough, deserving enough, talented enough, smart enough, and worthy enough. They do not have to take any else’s bullying or abuse. They do not have to accept other people’s bad behaviour. They are under no obligation to “measure up” to the yardstick of anyone else, male or female. They can make of their lives anything that they decide upon and set their mind to. They can face challenges with courage, and they can overcome whatever would seek to undo or defeat them.

These are the women I write of in my poems, blog posts and stories about women of strength and beauty.

That, my friend, is what this day helps me to achieve, because it sharpens my focus on those things for a time.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2018.

I hope that you will think of it in terms of gratitude and humility. I also hope that every woman will use it to both be inspired and be inspirational.

Thank you, Mary Shelley.

How Mary Shelley Has Inspired Me, Yet Again!

Mary_Shelley
At the beginning of February, celebrated as Women in Horror Month, I wrote about Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, as one of my literary inspirations.

 

On this last day of the month, a friend shared with me a post from smithsonian.com titled ‘Frankenstein’ Manuscript Shows the Evolution of Mary Shelley’s Monster’ which speaks of a British publisher releasing 1500 facsimile copies of Mary Shelley’s original manuscript notebooks, complete with revisions and edits, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the book’s first publication.

 

Oh, my heart! I know I’ll never be able to own one of those 1500 copies, but how I would love to read that manuscript!

 

FrankensteinDraft
Even just looking at the photograph of two pages, my author-heart swelled. Here is the work of a woman I have admired almost all of my life, showing that her work, too, needed editing and revising. She understood that no piece of writing is perfect the first time, even if the story itself is brilliant.

 

This is so incredibly encouraging in the moments when I doubt myself, or my story, or my ability to communicate my ideas the way I want to. It reassures me when the words don’t flow for a time. And it reminds me that I’m by no means the first, or last, to experience these things. The doubts and writers block don’t make me any less of a writer; instead, it’s working through them and in spite of them that makes me a better one.

 

Through these images, Mary Shelley inspires me all over again.

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.

15960194728_e48e03bb3b_b
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: 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.

Emily_Brontë_by_Patrick_Branwell_Brontë_restored

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?

Mary_Shelley
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.

Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

A rare and beautiful moment.

Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.

Reading Wonder

Every now and then, as a reader, I experience an incredible moment of revelation when I take in an expression or image of something that is so powerful, it takes my breath away.

Today, I started reading as book called ‘Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head’ by Eric Tanafon.

No sooner had I started reading this book than I had to stop and catch my breath. I had just read an extraordinarily beautiful sentence: “The forest clearing was a web of moonlight and shadows.”

What perfect imagery! It is simple and direct, but powerfully evocative at the same time.

In that moment, I was there. I had been transported to that forest clearing and drawn into the world of the story, even before I knew anything else about it.

This is the magic a writer works when wielding the wand that is their pen.

The Power of the Posse.

Being an Indie author is a huge learning curve.

There are so many things you need to get right. When I started out, I knew nothing about marketing, very little about social media strategies, and had no idea how hard it is to promote a book and achieve sales.

There is one factor, more than any other, to which I attribute my survival and gradual success.

I have a group of “Indie sisters” who are the most incredible support, help, encouragement and backup anyone could ask for.Buddy The Gang Love Friendship Joy Funny

They’re all still learning, like I am. Individually, we’ve encountered pitfalls we never imagined, but we got through them with our integrity and sanity intact because of the support we’ve given each other. Together, we’ve done things that would have seemed near impossible on our own.

We’re selling books. We run Facebook groups for support, encouragement, and co-promotion for Indie authors. We’ve run events for Indie Authors Day, Valentine’s Day, book launches, author takeovers, cover reveals, and done a radio/podcast show. We’ve got websites, blogs, twitter and Instagram accounts, and multiple Facebook pages.

It all sounds too good to be true. To be honest, if you’d told me a year ago that five friends whom I had not yet met and I would be achieving these things, I’d have laughed. They probably would have, too.

The secret to what we’re achieving is not simply the sum total of our efforts. We have tapped into what I like to think of as ‘The Power of the Posse’. 

It’s incredibly encouraging to know, with absolute confidence, that on the days one of us feels like a failure or can’t see the way forward, the others have their back. We all know that if there’s a challenge, we are in it together. We sincerely and joyfully celebrate each other’s victories and achievements. We talk every day, about all sorts of things, simply because we enjoy each other’s company. We defend each other, and we’d willingly go down fighting to protect each other.

Power of the Posse 2

I know, it sounds unreal. But the magic of the “Indie Fabs” goes way beyond our own group. We believe in paying it forward. We read and review other people’s books. We are free with advice and words of experience for those who ask for them. We answer the call when another Indie author – quite often, one who isn’t part of our team – needs help. And we will not ask for payment, except that those we help also pay it forward by helping others out when they get the chance.

I can’t imagine doing all this without Jeannie, Renee, Aliya, Eva and Lyra. I don’t even want to contemplate how I might.

One organisation I know of tried to allocate author teams for their members. Mine, and many others, never got off the ground because it’s simply not possible to manufacture the kind of relationship and teamwork that is required for a posse to work the way it should.

I am absolutely convinced that life/fate/destiny/the literary gods chose my posse for me, and me for them. What we have is magic.

Power of the Posse

So how, you ask, can you get a posse of your own?

  • Join and participate in author’s groups on Facebook. There are hundreds of them – you can choose by genre, location, particular events or affiliation with a certain group.  Engage with the people there. Sooner or later, you’ll find the ones with whom you have an affinity.
  • Encourage and help others. Share posts, read and review books, offer help when it’s needed. Those who reciprocate and help you – they’re the ones you want to consider as potential members of your posse.
  • Introduce your author friends to each other. Groups will naturally form. Don’t be exclusive, but nurture the closer working/team relationships and see what grows.
  • Demonstrate integrity. Do what you say you will. Be honest in your encouragement and support for others. That really gets noticed, especially in online communities where so many people are out for themselves.
  • Take responsibility. Be honest about things you haven’t done well, or things you feel others haven’t done well, but take care to be constructive in the way you communicate that.
  • Give it time. It probably isn’t going to happen immediately. When the time is right though, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a group of authors who work well together, include each other in things, and have complementary strengths.
When you find them, treasure them. Encourage, praise and nurture them.
If they do the same for you, you’ve found your posse.
Bravo!