May 30th

Squidge's School Reports: The early years.

By Squidge

Thanks to a reunion with some old school friends who I had not seen for thirty-two years, I looked out some old school reports. These are selected highlights from when I was in the Juniors (Y3-6 in current school years.)

So maybe I was always destined to be an author...?



'Her creative writing is imaginative and carefully expressed with colourful descriptions and good vocabulary.'

'Katherine works hard but fairly slowly.' (in Maths)

'She works hard and responds well in PE and seems to enjoy herself.'


'Her spelling and vocabulary are extremely good. She puts these to good use in her creative writing, which is always lively and interesting, and sustained at length.' (Teacher speak for 'she doesn't half go on!?)

'Katherine has a very fine singing voice, and a good sense of rhythm, and thoroughly enjoys music.'


'Creative English has been outstanding...She is able to express feelings and details and shows a sympathy for her characters. She writes lengthy stories...and her work is most enjoyable to read.'

'PE is more difficult for her. She is slight and has no great strength, but she does well in gymnastics. Games lessons she does not enjoy.' (I hated PE with a vengeance!)

'She enjoys making dramatic statements which produce a howl of protest from the class and enjoys tantalising them with some of the roles she assumes!' (I honestly have no idea what on earth I used to do to deserve this!)


'Katherine has worked carefully and methodically, if a little slowly, at Mathematics...'

'In her creative English work, Katherine is highly imaginative...Her stories are lengthy and follow a well developed plot. The excitement generated by the dialogue and the action shows that Katherine derives much pleasure from writing her stories...Her extensive vocabulary reflects her love of words and the depth of her reading.'

'She sang and danced with energy and flair in the Christmas play.' (Wonder if that was the wizard and beggar one?)

'...always works to the best of her limited ability in PE and games.'


Dodgy school photos are on the Scribbles if you want even more of a laugh.

May 30th

A visit to KOSOVO, 2000

By stephenterry

Background of the conflict that resulted in Aid Agencies being swamped with millions in donations - the largest ever at that time.

Diplomatic negotiations began in Rambouillet, France, in February 1999 but broke down the following month. On March 24 NATO began air strikes against Serbian military targets. In response, Yugoslav and Serbian forces drove out all of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, displacing hundreds of thousands of people into Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. The NATO bombing campaign lasted 11 weeks and eventually expanded to Belgrade, where significant damage to the Serbian infrastructure occurred. In June NATO and Yugoslavia signed a peace accord outlining troop withdrawal and the return of nearly one million ethnic Albanians as well as another 500,000 displaced within the province. Most Serbs left the region, and there were occasional reprisals against those who remained. UN peacekeeping forces were deployed in Kosovo, which came under UN administration.

I'd been with my humanitarian agency for a few months - a bit wet behind the ears - when my manager thought it an appropriate time to send me to Kosovo.

'See if we're spending wisely,' he said. 'Arrangements have been made.'

Air ticket to Skopje in Macedonia, an overnight stay, and then road transport across the boder to Prishtina, where I was to spend the next ten days, figuring out what the hell was going on.

Skopje, a city with one of the world's lowest crime rates (at that time) harboured one of our newer offices, set up to monitor truckloads of refugees/Aid workers/UN forces/US forces going in and out of Kosovo (plus another reason). I was put up in a quiet pension, and welcomed a relaxing evening before the trip, enjoying a sparse dinner and a beer.

It would soon change.

The short trip to the border in a Jeep was uneventful,until we came to a halt at the traffic queue. I sat in the front passenger seat, with a cloth sack under my seat for company. I had no reason to pry and no-one told me its contents.

At the head of the queue, Macedonia Immigration - armed soldiers who waved us through after examining passports. There was a no-man's land area where we were again halted, and my driver walked across to (what I think was a temporary permission to enter Kosovo visa office), and got my passport stamped.

That took about thirty minutes, and I spent the time watching armed soldiers of different nationalities who were pacing up and down, sometimes poking into vehicles, sometimes questioning the occupants. Our name-emblazoned Air agency vehicle was ignored. So was I.

As it happened, a blessing.

Finally another check-point, passports examined, and we were waved through.

And then the long drive to Prishtina through acres and acres of flat farmlands past an occasional deserted cottage, abandoned by the look of them.

Empty scenery, devoid of farmworkers - of life. 

Finally, late afternoon we breasted a hill, and there in the deep hollow was one of the most beautiful cities, I've witnessed. A panoramic view of Prishtina ahead - a backdrop of mountains behind. 

I was later told that the cloth sack from Skopje contained US $20K - the only way to get money in - I was an unwitting smuggler. 

Next instalment for anyone interested. Bizzare life in Prishtina.




May 27th

What's in a Home

By Catasshe

Fantastic new short story published on the Stories for Homes site. Check it out here:

Congratulations on this excellent story to the talented Douglas Bruton. 

May 27th

Bric And Monica Go Mad In Montenegro

By Monica Handle

I used to hate the outdoors.  I was the person, on the friends’ day out to the beach, who stood gloomy and dressed in black at the point where the road ends and all the fun starts, smoking and wondering if it was time to go home.  I thought I had more luck looking enigmatic (though not much, in truth) in urban settings.  If I was persuaded to climb a hill, I would deliberately turn back before reaching the summit, and then enjoy ignoring the wheedling entreaties of my fellow climbers.  Remember the scene in Trainspotting 1, wherein Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and the One Who Dies take a train to a remote halt in the Scottish countryside?  The one with Renton’s fabulous rant about how shite it is to be Scottish, to be a nation that has allowed itself to be colonised by effete wankers?  They end up staring uncomprehendingly at all the beauty, take another swig of cheap vodka, and wait for the next train.  That was me, sort of, but obviously without the heroin addiction.  Renton, preferably, since you ask, but I’d have taken Sick Boy at a pinch.

Anyhow, sometime in the mid-80’s I was cured of my curmudgeonly and entirely pointless antipathy to fresh air, open water, sweeping vistas and biting insects by my then girlfriend.  She used what we now call ‘nudge techniques’; repeated, un-pushy, non-judgemental opportunities to choose life (as Renton would say) over smoky bars and always sitting in a darkened room with a difficult book.

Ever since then, I’ve been immensely grateful for her wisdom and patience. I’ve now tried just about all the various types of ‘outside’ and found that, if approached in a positive way, they are often very pleasant and sometimes quite instructional.  I was so grateful, in fact, that in 1990 I married said girlfriend – as a kind of ‘thank you’ – and we have continued to enjoy our adventures in the actual, real world.  I’ve even become that awful thing, an ‘enthusiast’, about wild swimming.

That’s where this piece comes in.  We’re shortly off to Montenegro for a week of Adriatic swimming, between islands, up rivers and across a lake or two.  We chose this part of the world simply because we don’t know it at all and it looks stunning – think warm Norwegian fjords.  But having opted for the Bay of Kotor, it occurred to me later that it might just be the location my wife’s been looking for, for one of her series of sexy chemical engineering detective novels.  I don’t know much about south east Europe, but I’ve managed to understand a few things: it’s relatively unknown to western travellers and famous for intrigue, banditry and ethnic tensions.  If you want to set your hero down somewhere volatile and a bit dark, it seems ideal.  I’m hoping that a future edition of The Chemical Detective will feature ludicrous super-yachts, mini-submarines, death by jellyfish, the largest aluminium smelter in southern Europe, delicious seafood and a daring escape by swimming across the border to Albania.  The latter, in particular, since that’s exactly what we’re doing on the final day: swimming from Montenegrin soil to Albania.  And back, I hope.

It’s all a bit daunting, in some ways.  We’re going to be in the company of some terrifyingly able fellow swimmers, including four Icelanders who have swum the channel and competed at high level, a chap who has done the Alcatraz and Bosphorus crossings, and someone who can swim literally three times faster than me.  Happily, there’s a group of slow-coaches as well, so we shouldn’t be swimming alone.

Anyhow, whether or not the scenery and local colour finds its way into future fiction is up to Bric, aka my wife.  It took her much more time to persuade me to join the WC community (five years, in fact) than it did to knock some ‘outdoors’ sense into me.   But, yet again, she was right – it’s hugely enjoyable and very worthwhile being here.   I may even try for an Adriatic blog or two.  Would that make me an enthusiast?

May 27th

Shakespeare re-imagined

By mike

Conflict management.

     The reconstructed Globe  theatre on the Southbank is one of my favourite places in  London and I had intended to apply for volunteer work there.  It had been visits to the Globe that re-kindled my interest in the theatre.  But I had also taken a redundancy package in order to write full time and this has been abandoned too.

    A month or so ago, I drew attention to a rather surreal production of  of ‘’Romeo and Juliet' which began this year’s season. I rather reserved judgment  on the play and intend to see it again.   It costs £5  to stand in the pit.   The play is still running, but  I could only book towards the the end of June - one of the last performances.

   The play is running concurrently with a new version of ‘Twelfth Night’ and the same thing might occur.   These are popular productions. I asked at the enquiry desk and I was told that the Globe does try to fit everybody in, and they do get returns.  So, if you are passing by the Globe, you still might be able to see the play but  I suspect, on occasions, the  Globe could be full up.

    Stage lighting and a sound system have been installed.   In this production of ‘Twelfth Night’ music is provided by a trio of, I think, bass, drums and electric guitar and the music occasionally drowns the text.   Feste is  a well known cabaret performer but I think burlesque might be more to the point.

   I became aware that had been a vacancy at the Globe and Emma Rice, the director, is leaving.  I only read a few newspaper articles that were posted on the Internet.

   I am no Shakespeare scholar but I have no problem in thinking up plots and ideas. I think I can re-imagine a  ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that could reconcile the opposing viewpoints of Emma Rice and the Globe.  I saw most of her productions last year. it might be possible to feed off ideas in these productions and construct a version of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that retains a certain authenticity to Shakespeare’s text.   But the idea might be obvious and either rejected - or performed  - on previous occasions.

     The Globe did stage an Indian version of ‘Measure for Measure’ a few years ago and I could not understand a word.  I suspect many Anglo/Indian South Londoners would not have understood either as their origins are in Bangladesh!

     I would set ‘Romeo and Juliet’ within the Indian caste system during the Raj. The music would be provided by a sitar player seated on the stage. The music is Prokofiev’s ballet score re-imagined for a sitar with drumming! The Prince and his retinue would be English officers.   

    Making Romeo a Muslem and Juliet a Hindu and setting the play before partition might be an option, but I don’t think this idea is supported by Shakespeare’s text. 

!.   The trigger is the friar. In Rice’s production, the verse of the friar is recited with an Indian inflection.   At least I think it is.  I was so confused. I thought when Romeo said  - ‘Father’  - the was referring to his own father.  The Anglo/English version would be recited in Anglo/English patois.

   Romeo could be an untouchable and Juliet a Brahmin but this might be a bridge too far!

   This is only out of interest and I had no intention of applying for Emma Rice’s job.   

May 26th

Missing Links

By Caducean Whisks

Today, I am baby-sitting three chicks for my friend the primary school teacher. 

None of hers hatched this year in school, so they borrowed some from a farm; they have to go back at the weekend; both species of kids have had enough of each other. When the flock was dumped in my lounge, the cat rolled her eyes. Again? 

They’re not new-born, and have reached the dinosaur stage - two or three weeks? - when baby fluff is replaced by grown-up feathers. Two are turning white (one with flecks of black) and the third is turning tawny. For today anyway, they are my Queens of England flock: Elizabeth (nearly all white regal ermine), Victoria (black mourning spots and boots) and Katherine (tawny like Henry VIII). Since they’re that bit older and sturdy I’ve put them in my chicken run to see what happens. 

What happens is what always happens: the adults treat them as alien beings: come for a cautious look then cluck loudly, scurry away, peck if the babies run up. 

The kids don't take a blind bit of notice and explore as children do, tasting this, scratching that. All three jumped in a food bowl just now and tried out sultanas, corn, grass, melon, anything that wasn’t chick crumb. As I write, they’re working their way around the run. On and off perches, seeing what they can eat. The big girls all have their beaks out of joint. The foxes in the next pen want to know what’s up. I’m being told loudly and clearly that my hens are not best pleased; and all the neighbours are being told, too.

But they’re good girls. They’re not harming the little ones beyond a peck on the head when they encroach. It’s chicken discipline. It’s OK. 

The farm that spawned them says they’re getting a lot of boys born this year, so thinks they’ll probably be boys.

I’ve been lucky in the past: all the adults I’ve taken on, I know are girls. All the babies I’ve taken on have turned out to be girls (except Beryl the Guinea Fowl who turned into Errol, but apart from him).

It’s got me thinking (again). 

None of the chickens I’ve ever had - in thirteen years of keeping them - has ever been born into a natural family. They’ve never seen a boy chicken; don’t know such a thing exists. Likewise, they’ve never hatched their own chicks and so have no idea that these insolent little balls of fluff are their own species. 

And I wonder what that must be like, to have no concept of the missing half of your species, or a missing generation of children. 

The girls certainly have sexual urges but have no clue what to do with them. They squat down in front of me when they’re feeling sexy, as I’m the top bird around here and something tells them to submit. It’s not all the time - I guess it’s when they ovulate. They also squat down in front of one who’s in a bad temper - aka ultra-assertive and pecky. 

Occasionally one’s gone broody in the past, and sat on eggs forever. It’s too sad, but once when I tried to give a broody hen some fertile eggs to hatch, she didn’t get it right. Again, an urge she had, which she didn’t know how to express; never had mothering, never seen it done. 

Looking out now, I see the little Queens are flopped out in the sun with full tummies, while the adults have disappeared up the far end, away from those scary strange creatures. Can’t see a single one. 

However it’s going better than it’s done in the past. When teacher comes to collect them, I may have to say sorry, they’ve flown away, or a sabre-toothed tiger broke in, or something; I’ve never had white chickens. They may be boys though. That would be interesting if they were - give my girlies an experience of the real thing and if they grow up together as brothers, I’m told they get along. 

I return to my central question: what must it be like to have no inking of two crucial and fundamental elements of your own kind when they’ve been missing from your entire life and from the lives of those around you. I can’t imagine it. Perhaps that’s the point - they can’t imagine it either. Odd thought, isn’t it. 

It must have taken a long time before humans made the connection between sex and babies, given that there’s such a time lag between the events and it’s not an automatic (or obvious) cause and effect. I wonder if there’s something else about humans that we can’t imagine because it’s entirely out of our experience, but would explain all sorts of things if we did.










May 25th

How to self publish ? (Part 2) Prepare the ground

By jonmark

How to self publish ?    (Part 2)

Prepare the ground

For the purposes of this article I am assuming you want to self publish a novel. My steps in these blogs will concentrate on how you find readers. If you want to self publish something to send to friends and family then none of this is necessary but if you are serious about finding readers then you should stick to a clear plan and be determined.  

If you are an unknown author  then the hardest bit is building your audience. When you are languishing at number 70,000 on the Amazon charts, the average curious reader will have an almost zero chance of finding your novel. You must get into the top 100 in one of the many charts on Amazon so that the casual reader will find your book and buy it. Having said that, the importance of this has absolutely nothing to do with royalty payments.  The first novel is about finding readers.  My book has been on Amazon for just about one month. To date, the highest, I've been is number 82 in one chart. However as I write my sales have diminished but it is not over yet. Despite what people on the internet tell you, self publication is  not a walk in the park. It requires a lot of dedication and time, not to mention self belief.  My dip in sales was entirely to be expected but I am not dead yet. It is just another step in the author's journey. Anyway lets reel back and think about the steps before publication. What should you do before anything else.

·         Create a Twitter Account

Before you can begin to think about self publication, I am sure you will have read about creating a presence on social media. You should start a twitter account immediately even if you have not finished writing the novel. All writers use Twitter. It is questionable whether Twitter is diminishing in importance but it is a great vehicle to get yourself known as a "writer". Don't tweet pictures of your cat because thousands do and they are boring. Don’t get too political but make sure your content is interesting. A good tweet will include a photo or a link to an interesting article on the internet.  The tweet I got the most views (nearly 4000) for was a photo of a Cornish beach which looked like the Caribbean .  I just wrote "Not the Carribbean. @Cornwall Today Porthcurno Beach"

·         Get your book cover professionally designed

You might be surprised that this is the next thing you should do. The reason for this is that if you have your book cover, you can use the cover artwork to build your website and also create a Facebook and Goodreads Author Page.  I used Spiffing Covers to design my cover but there are many other professional cover designers around. A good source for expertise in this field is . This website sells professional expertise and takes a commission on sales. You provide a brief and the professionals bid for your contract. There are some excellent people on this site selling their services.  You will be able to see examples of the work they've done and many have designed successful covers for top authors. You can of course do your own cover and if you are tech savvy then there are the tools on the Amazon websites to do this. The problem here is how professional can you make the cover using your own materials. You know the saying "Don't judge a book by it's cover." But people do! Your cover must stand out.

Rachel Abbott who self published and has sold over 2 million copies on Amazon told me that your cover needs to stand out when it is a "thumb nail" image on Amazon. She also said that when you are unknown concentrate on making your book's title stand out. Don't make your own name too prominent as nobody knows who you are and they don’t care.  Good advice.

Whoever you hire, you need to provide them with a brief on how you think the cover should look. It needs to convey a simple message about what the book is about. It needs not to be too cluttered but it also needs to look good against the competition. Have a look in a book shop and decide which covers really draw you in and grab your attention. Try and recreate that mood in your book cover.  To get a good job done, you might need to pay between £200 and £500. That is a lot of money which you might never recover, but compared to the endless hours you've spent writing the book it is a small price to pay.  As I said in Part one , there are loads of companies out there offering to publish your book. You could spend a small fortune but there are areas where you can do it yourself and pay nothing but in my opinion book covers is not where you can save money.

The truth is that there are far too many books out on Amazon and it is very difficult making your book known. I don't pretend that I have got it right. I am still finding out. The self published novelists who have made a success of this game are those that work hard and build content. I've only published one book. It could take me several books to make it work. 


Hope you are finding this useful. Let me know. 

May 25th

Business ethics?

By RichardB

There is a magazine article today in the BBC News website's business section, about a man who's been making money by running a chart-topping podcast. It starts like this.


When Jamie Morton started making his own podcast, he certainly picked an eyebrow-raising topic - reading out his dad's attempts at erotic fiction.


Jamie's father had sent him the first few chapters of the racy novel he'd been secretly writing.

"I naively assumed it would be some story of swashbuckling pirates or a spy thriller. It was only when I started reading it that I discovered he'd been penning porn," says Jamie, 29.


Bodice-ripping sentences he stumbled over included "the job interviewer had just asked her to remove her jacket and silk blouse" and "her black brassiere was working overtime".


Following the initial shock, Jamie decided to read his dad's adult literature to some friends down the pub. They immediately collapsed with laughter and piled in with their comments and critiques.


The evening was so much fun that it inspired London-based Jamie to launch a podcast called My Dad Wrote A Porno. Every week he and his friends, James Cooper and Alice Levine, discuss and analyse a different chapter of his father's unintentionally funny book, which is called Belinda Blinked.


Since its launch in September 2015 the podcast has been a surprise hit, surpassing 50 million downloads worldwide, and regularly dominating Apple's iTunes podcast chart.


The article goes on to tell how he's made money by incorporating adverts into his podcasts, and then enlarges into general comments about how to be a successful podcaster. But not one word anywhere about the issue that, as a writer and a father myself, immediately occurs to me.


Where is Jamie's father in all this? How does he feel about his efforts at writing being publicly ridiculed all over the world? Okay, so maybe his writing is pretty poor stuff, but that's no excuse. Even if he did give his permission for the podcast, I bet his son didn't tell him about going down the pub to take the piss with his mates.


I suppose Dad must even be actively co-operating, if the podcast has been running for nearly two years. Obviously he must be better at taking a joke than I am, but I still think that initial session in the pub was a betrayal of trust. How would you feel if you'd shown your MS to your son or daughter and they did something like that?


No word about any of that anywhere in the article, just a celebration of a successful business venture. Is this an example of business ethics?

May 24th

£1000 in cash prizes - Competition for Young Writers (18-30)

By robert


Writers in Oxford is holding a competition for young writers (aged 18-30) from Oxfordshire ...

  • £1000 in cash prizes
  • Any genre
  • 500 words
  • Philip Pulman will chair judging panel
  • Deadline 31/8/17.

More details here:

May 24th

The Front Line

By Gerry

I was reading online about the Manchester bomber ( and wondering if he was basically a ‘school shooter’ who’d found an ideology to back him, when I read an interesting detail. Apparently the imam of his local mosque had preached against IS and had been rewarded with a ‘face of hate’ by the bomber-to-be.


There was a sidebar feature on ‘Lipstick and dresses return to Mosul’ ( so I clicked on this and found stories of what it was like to live under IS in Mosul. It’s like this, your seven year old daughter goes to the shops for sweets and talks to the man behind the counter. Along come the religious police and say it is wrong for an unaccompanied female to talk to a male, so your daughter must be punished. They send for the female religious police to carry out the sentence, which is to beat and pinch her on her face and hands. Your daughter screams till she passes out and her heart stops. She dies in front of you.


I say ‘your daughter’ because that is how I read the story. I put my daughter, when she was seven, into the story and wondered how it would feel.


At first it’s incredible. Then it’s all too credible.


Imagine internet trolls, in all their hate and helplessness, suddenly given power. Imagine all the real-life trolling they could get up to.


To get a glimpse of the sort of person you really wouldn’t want given power, you might like to watch the semi-famous Chicken McNuggets Attack’ video. ( Admittedly, this is partly fake because the sound was not originally recorded so has been added since. We cannot therefore be certain the woman wanted to ‘eat the face’ of the hapless drive-thru operative, but her actions suggest words of violence must have been spoken.


All this might seem to take us some distance from the Manchester attack, but not really. The point is there are lots of people carrying massive hate inside themselves, and, if they can feel justified – whether by IS propaganda or a certainty that McDonalds ought to serve a specific dish – then nothing can stop their determination.


And as writers, we know we can find those twisted feelings and justifications inside ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to write about them.


Let’s bring it even closer to home. We’ve probably all encountered people around us who are a bit off, whether at work, or neighbours, maybe even family members, whatever – and we’ve probably had dialogues inside ourselves where we put these people right on their silly, unjustifiable attitudes. And we’ve probably felt a churning in our stomachs because we don’t even want to bump into them, never mind say what needs saying.


There again, some people are impervious to what-needs-saying, so we’re stuck with the internal dialogue and the occasional tummy churn.


Now, the question is this: do we give in to dislike? To anger? To hate even? Do we – just on this one topic – become mini trolls, relishing the thought of giving them the exact verbals they deserve and more? Or do we insist on maintaining our standards, give them a polite hello, even though we know we’re going to be snubbed? Ask how they are, even if the reply – if any – is likely to be a hostile grunt?


That’s when we realise the front line is right here. Right where we stand. Right where we breathe. Each one of us.


Hate? Or decency?


Ain’t always easy.



Ultimately it’s never easy.


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