Feb 27th

Writing 'energy'

By Squidge

I've blogged today on the Scribbles about writing 'energy' and how thinly it has to be spread, sometimes. Not sure whether other cloudies have experienced the same kind of thing? I'd be interested to know if it's a product of my relatively undisciplined approach to how I write, or a function of a very creative brain!

Just click HERE to read the blog. And to see a rather fetching photo of me hedge-planting... ;)

 

Feb 25th

cocoa or khat?

By mike

    Someone mentioned Edith Wharton in a favorable light and I have just finished reading a historical novel; I think the category might be ‘historical romance’.   

   Wharton is quoted in a historical note at the end: ‘Slavish accuracy must necessarily reduce the novel to a piece of archaeological pedantry instead of a living image of the times.’ 

     The author refers to her novel as a ‘faction’ - a term she attributes to Truman Capote.  She has taken real events and merged them with those of her imagination.

         I do not read many books in this category and my opinions are of no account but!   My interest in the novel had been that it is set in the Arabia of the Regency period and concerns the slave trade.  A blue eyed Englishman in Turkish disguise  falls in love with an Abyssinian maid - a  slave girl.

        Some months ago, I took some material off word cloud very quickly, though I was interested in the comments.  The material came from a primary source document written at the time and place of the ‘faction‘ - the historical novel.   These were pieces of ‘archaeological pedantry’  - a portrayal of an Imam; a slave market and the views of an Arab on anybody who was not an Arab!  The past was clearly in the present.  

       Is this the case with the ‘living image of the times’ - the historical romance?   

      At the end of the book, issues are suggested; issues that could be raised at a book club discussion.  This is certainly not a criticism of the book and I may not be the target audience. The author - a historian -  would have been well aware these primary source documents

     I would raise one issue?  It is a rather long book and what sustenance should be used to facilitate the passage to ‘The End?’  Does the reader sip a cup of cocoa or chew some leaves of Khat?    (Apparently some 50% of the agricultural land in the Yemen had been used to grow Khat and it had also been exported to Europe.  It probably still is!)

      If you travelled down the Nile towards Abyssinia, in the 1820/1830 period, the only Europeans you might well have met would be other travel writers.   These books were very popular and the historical novel is based around one of these writers.  I think the aims of a historian and a writer of historical romances might well be different.  Rose coloured  spectacles come to mind.

 

Feb 24th

February's top writing comps and opportunities

By Loretta Milan

Hi. I've started compiling a list of the best writing competitions and opportunities on my blog each month. I'd been researching competitions for myself and thought sharing the list would help other writers too. I always find entering competitions pushes me to keep improving my writing and would highly recommend giving some a go!

The list is here.

Hope it's useful!

Loretta. 

Feb 20th

Dr Hairy and the QCQ - DVD trailer

By Edward Picot

The entire series of 'Dr Hairy and the QCQ' is now available on DVD, with 'The Calamitous Tale of Mr Punch' on a bonus DVD. Here is a short trailer:


 
- Edward Picot
http://edwardpicot.com - personal website

Feb 19th

Buzzard in my kitchen

By Purple witch

 

Last  evening  my son and I were  driving the 2 miles to  our  local  wildlife  beach when we spotted a large  bird laying on the opposite side of the road .

As we were going one way in our car, another vehicle was on the other side coming towards us. It passed over the top of the bird , but  luckily it was laid between the wheels.

 We  both looked at the bird ; then each other  as we went by.

 My Son said “ Ohhh mum, it’s still alive.  We’ve  gotta  check it.” We did a swift  U-turn and  went back.

 The bird was wobbling about and totally dazed. At  least  eighteen inches long from beak to tail tip, it was not  overly large,  but  not small either,  and definitely  not  the kind of  wildlife you should handle.  

 We  couldn't leave there so I took off my hoodie, and  wrapped it round the poor thing, sat it on my  lap in the car, and my  son drove us home. The bird   hardly  moved at all which  was  lucky for me as  its  claws and feet  were the size of my  little finger and its beak was lethal. We  guessed it was  a buzzard.

 We were not  hopeful: It looked  bad.

 At home, we put  it in a very large box, closed the lid, and covered it in a towel.  We phoned around to see who was  open and who might be able to help us.

 The RSPCA   told us ….call your local vets. The vets were unreachable and so was the local  wildlife centre  so we left  the box covered in the towel in the kitchen overnight.

 I really did not expect it to survive the night.

 Google images of  buzzards confirmed we were right. That was the bird in our box. It looked  young though.  

 

 This morning I missed usual early cuppa of the day, as I did not want to disturb my  visitor more than necessary. I stayed out of the kitchen until it was  time to move the box.

 There was no noise at all and I was convinced there was  going to be a sad  outcome.

 My  daughter in law, Kate, is a  veterinary  nurse and turned up to take a look. She brought a large  cat  basket , which would make transporting the  bird more secure.

 Her ‘look’  consisted of a  brief  glance through the gap in the  lid.There was  no  way we were  going to be able  to  transfer it from cardboard to cat box.

 The bird was so feisty we  decided to leave it where it was. Even in a box there was  no way it  was going to  sit quietly on my  lap  now.  It was  a cheeping,  feather-ball, of beak and claws: And so strong we had to put a house brick on the  lid flaps to keep it from jumping out.   

 We could see it could jump, but had no real idea if  its  wings and feathers were all right. Opening the box fully was not going to be an option; if it got out  we  were  nevergoing to get it back in.We needed expert help.

 Luckily, the  local vet gave us an emergency  appointment. I  filled out the  usual paperwork  and  named the bird Buzz. We  agreed  if it  was  fit enough we  would  release near to where we found it.

 After a five minute once over, the vet declared Buzz fit and able to fly.  He  had  also seen a  buzzard  a few days ago  who had  flown into  barbed  wire . Sadly that one  was  in  need  of  much  TLC and  recuperation.

  Our Buzz had fared  much better.

 A  last year’s hatchling  about  7/8 months old, Buzz had probably  flown into power lines as there were some close to where it had come down: Or it  may have  skimmed the shrubby hedge and  flown into the side of  a  car.  Whatever had happened , it was a very  lucky  buzzard.

 In  fields opposite where Buzz had fallen onto the road, we set the box  down and removed the brick. Before the  towel was fully  peeled back, Buzz had pushed the flap open hopped out and in mid hop had  taken off making a low flying  circuit of the field. A second, higher, circuit later and Buzz disappeared over the hedges and was gone.

 What a special moment watching that flight,and such a  good  feeling helping local wildlife . Especially one so  stunning.  

 I feel  very privileged to have been so close to  a beautiful, wild, bird of  prey  and extremely glad it  was able to fly, and continue to be  wild too.

 I’m feeling rather smug too - How  many people  can  say  they've had a buzzard sleepover in their kitchen?

Feb 17th

night shelters

By mike

 

      On Thursday Feb 15, a London paper reported the death of a homeless man in an underpass by Parliament.  The next day, the paper give a more extensive report. A charity called ‘Connections’  had tried to help the homeless man. He had used their ‘hight shelter’ and the staff of ‘Connections’  had also tried to help him in other ways.   ‘Connections’ is the charity associated with St Martins in the Fields’ in Trafalgar Square.   The money raised by ‘Stories for Homes’ all goes to a named charity ‘Shelter’ which provides similar help.

     On that Thursday morning I had caught a train to London and was immediately accosted in the forecourt by a young man who asked me if I could give him some food.   He was literate, if rather angry,  I am afraid I walked past him.   I immediately felt guilt.   I walked on to St Martin’s Lane where young women were handing out food parcels to some homeless people on the street.  I thanked them for what they were doing and asked where they usually were,  She replied they had been around St Martin’s in the Fields  I went back to the station, Charing Cross, which is a few minutes walk away,  But the beggar could have been anybody in the crowd.  His food supply was very, very close by.

   These young women have given their own time and abilities to help the homeless.  Given the option I  would prefer to give them money than the young man who accosted me.  

Feb 15th

Unknown, Alternative Historical Facts

By Dolly

                                     Richard the Lionheart

                                1157 1199

Richard the Lionheart was a Plantagenet. He was also known as Coeur de Lion, and sometimes Dick or Dickey, or even Rick, or Ricky Plantagenet to his wife and friends. He was born in 1157, and was involved in a lot of ferocious squabbling with various people, including family, which resulted in a reputation of him being more than a bit argumentative. He became king of England in 1189, and for the rest of his life, spent little time there. He didn’t like England much, and was quoted as saying, ‘its always cold and raining.’ Instead, he created the Third Crusade. There are some historians who take a cynical view of this, claiming Richard created the third crusade as he wanted some decent weather. A bit of sun on his back so to speak. Whether there is any truth in this or not is unknown, and he set sail for the Holy Land on June 4. On July the first he gained control of Cyprus. On July 11 he took Tyre and marched on Acre.

However, having spent what seemed to be a large part of his life, tramping up and down, fighting and winning battles was starting to get on Richard’s nerves.

‘It’s getting on my nerves,’ he said to his personal envoy, Sir Percy.

When he reached the city of Acre, he thought he would try a different tactic, and prove that he wasn’t a war warmongering bastard all the time. He would show them he could be reasonable and was willing to negotiate, be a good old boy, hands across the sea and all that. With this in mind he summoned his personal envoy Sir Percy.

‘Right Sir Percy,’ he said. ‘I thought we might try something different this time.’

‘Something different my Liege?’ said Sir Percy.

‘Yeah, you know, something different. I thought instead of just charging in, killing everybody and burning the place to the ground, we might try and negotiate.’

‘Negotiate your Majesty?’ said a puzzled Sir Percy.

‘Yeah,’ said Richard, warming to the subject. ‘I thought, why don’t we just go down there and ask if we could come in and take over. It would save a lot of messing about.’

Sir Percy was even more puzzled. This was a new Richard, and he didn’t quite know what to make of it. Normally he just went straight in and knocked seven bells out of everything and everyone and that was that. ‘What do you have in mind sire?’ he asked.

‘Well, tomorrow morning, I want you to go down to the city. Tell them who you are, and who I am, then ask them if it’s alright if we come in and take over. Don’t be funny or anything. Be nice and polite. No argy-bargy. You know, hands across the sea and all that stuff.’

The following morning, Sir Percy and his squire arrived at the gates of the city of Acre. He banged on the gates three times with the handle of his battleaxe. There was no response. He tried again, this time harder. This seemed to have the desired effect, as a small door in the big door opened and a head poked out.

‘What do you want?’ said the head.

‘I am Sir Percy, personal envoy of His Majesty, King Richard of England!’

‘So?’ said the head. ‘What do you want?’

‘Well, we want to come in, and sort of take over the place.’

‘Have you got a pass?’

‘A pass?’

‘Yeah. A pass. You can’t come in without a pass.’

‘We haven’t got a pass.’

‘Then you can’t come in!’

‘How do we get one then?’

‘From the Lord Mayor.’

‘Well, can we see him?’

‘Not a chance. He wouldn’t give you one anyway.’

‘Why not?’ said Sir Percy, who was starting to get a bit peeved.

‘Well, you’re foreigners for a start, and we don‘t like foreigners here. They always cause trouble.’

‘Foreigners?’ said an indignant Sir Percy. ‘Foreigners? We’re not foreigners, we’re English!’

The head was unimpressed.. ‘You still can’t come in, you’re in breach of the

dress code.’

Sir Percy had gone from being peeved to being indignant, and was fast approaching the state of being pissed off. ‘Dress code?’ he said, controlling his temper. ‘What dress code?’

‘You’re wearing armour and carrying weapons, and you can’t come in here if you’re wearing armour and carrying weapons, it’s the rules. Besides that, you haven’t got a pass and you’re foreigners. You haven’t got a chance of coming in, so you might as well bugger off home!’

With that parting shot the head disappeared, and the door slammed shut, leaving a fuming Sir Percy and his trusty squire staring at the locked gate.

‘He said what?’ yelled an angry King Richard.

‘We couldn’t come in,’ explained Sir Percy. ‘Because we didn’t have a pass from the Lord Mayor. We were foreigners, and we were dressed wrong.'

‘Foreigners?’ said an even angrier King Richard. ‘We’re not foreigners, we’re English!’

‘That’s what I said.’ Sir Percy shook his head. ‘He ignored it. In fact he was downright rude and slammed the door!’

‘Right, if that’s the way they want it!’

In the evening of the second day of the battle, after Sir Percy’s rebuttal at the gates of the city, King Richard the Lionheart, his personal envoy, Sir Percy and his trusty squire, sat on their horses and surveyed the rubble of what was left of the charred, smoking remains of the city of Acre.

‘You know your Majesty,’ said Sir Percy. ‘If that plonker hadn’t been such a dickhead with all his rules, this would never have happened.’

‘You right there Sir Percy,’ nodded Richard sadly. ‘Which only goes to prove to show, that no matter were you go, there’s always a twat!’

Which, if you'll excuse the pun, is a bit rich.

 

‘Well, let’s hope that Saladin chappie’s not like that,’added Sir Percy.

Feb 14th

Breaching the Citadel (aka Getting a Foothold in the Publishing World)

By Philippa

 

Everyone’s journey up there is different. Following fine Cloudie tradition, here is mine….

 

2010-2011: Way out on the flat plains

In June 2010, whilst changing NHS jobs, I had a week off work. For no particular reason, I got the first line of a novel in my head and decided to write the whole thing. I hadn’t written fiction since school.

Over 18 months I wrote about 70,000 words. It was fun, I was playing. I discovered the WordCloud and posted a section on the critiques forum. I got the sort of feedback you might expect, but also the comment, ‘you can clearly write.’ Hum, I thought, can I?

 

2011-2013: Gentle slopes

I tucked the novel up in the drawer (which remains closed to this day) and set about learning the craft of writing (this part of the journey was like hiking through a nettle patch – painful). I began to test my writing out with short stories. I liked these. I could faff about with 2,000 words at a time, fiddling over details, going all experimental, and ditching the ones that didn’t work without too much heart-ache. One of my stories fluked a runner-up prize in a competition. Headily, I entered the Bridport, Costa and Lightship awards and got absolutely nowhere. But I still liked writing. I was experimenting.

 

2013-2015: Ascending in earnest

I continued to write short stories, got better at researching the right places to submit them, and began to get a trickle of acceptances from small-scale lit mags and comps. My hit rate rose to about one-in-three, an improvement from my one-in-eight hit rate at the start. The secret (honestly?): I researched mags carefully (including reading issues of the mags I planned to sub to) and aimed LOW. I went for the mags I felt I had a good chance of getting into. (I’d caught the publication bug, but my ego was delicate.)

My plan? Keep improving and work my way up. Practice, practice, practice. When I was happy with each piece, I sought feedback, cried at the feedback, licked my wounds, and tried again. I was hard on myself. I went on free courses, read blogs, how-to-write books, anything I could get my hands on. I wanted to know everything I could about how to write (well). My motto at this time (and since) was from Samuel Beckett: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

 

September 2015: A turning point

I quit the NHS to set up my own part-time psychology clinic. I continued to write (better) short stories, and got some bigger successes. I’d probably composed about 30-40 short stories by this point (many consigned to the drawer with the first novel).

A new novel had been brewing in my head for a while. It was little more than a premise and a few characters at this stage, but I had deliberately given myself more time to write, so what else should I do but get on with it?

I used Skylark’s unbroken chain and set out to write 1,000 words a day for three months (Dec-Feb). 90,000 words = a novel, right? Sometimes the 1,000 words were hard to write, sometimes easier. Sometimes it would take me all day to come up with a scene (pantsing, anyone?). I hit the 30,000-word doldrums, found Emma Darwin’s blog about it and kept going. I had no direction, I just kept writing (tip: try not to do this; a bit of direction is usually good).

I ended up with 82,000 words of… something. I wrote THE END on the final page anyway. Draft 0, aka the shitty first draft. Mine was very shitty.

 

2015-2016: A steeper gradient

I had written a mess, basically a patchwork of random scenes. It had no plot, no shape, no theme. There was a story in there somewhere if you looked hard enough, but it was buried under chaos. I tidied up what I could and gave it (now called draft 2) to my sister. Always my biggest critic, I knew she’d be honest. She had a lot to say, some positive, a lot on what needed improving, all of it valid. I wanted to make it better but I was completely overwhelmed.

I signed up for Emma and Debi’s self-edit course, hoping to find some nice folk to hold my hand and give me tissues while I tackled the rewrites. The course was great, I leant a lot – stuff I hadn’t figured out even after six years of learning my craft – and came out with a clearer idea of what I was doing.

I rewrote and rewrote.

 

September 2016: Crossing a threshold

I went to the fantastic York Festival of Writing for the first time. I had two one-to-ones, and immediately liked the look of the first agent I sat down with (SM). She had some pertinent feedback (the whole weird omniscient narrator bit wasn’t working AT ALL), but asked to see the full thing. Maybe I liked her because she asked for the full, but I think I liked her anyway. The other agent (RL) didn’t think much of my cover letter, wanted to know where the story was going, hummed and hawed and said maybe I could send her a longer extract.

The novel, though, was nowhere near finished. It was still a mess. I was still rewriting and rewriting.

 

2016-2017: Steep slopes and false summits

I entered Twitter’s #Pitch CB competition, and got a ‘favourite’ from agent SC. I sent her a submission (draft 8a). She replied within 3 hours (??!!!) highlighting issues with plot, pacing and voice – so most of it, then. She passed with some nice noises and a suggestion to R&R, if I revised it ‘considerably’.

In December 2016, I was awarded a place on a mentorship scheme with Writing East Midlands. It was a new glimmer of hope that I was getting something right. Over the next six months, I worked with lovely author Judith Allnatt. We revised voice, plot, pacing, prose, characters – the lot. Every time I thought I was there, I wasn’t (false summits, anyone?), BUT I felt the MS getting stronger and tighter each time.

I continued to redraft. Things were happening. Things were getting serious. I wanted to realise my vision and make this book work. 

 

August-September 2017: Scaling the ramparts

By now, York Festival was coming round again. I had finished the MS as best I could and the full was finally ready to send. By now it was on draft 12.

I sent the full to agent SM (the agent I liked). I sent the longer extract (3 chaps) to agent RL as requested (and never heard back from her – I’ve since heard she’s had a baby). I sent cold subs to two other agents, and booked two more one-to-ones for York.

SM was at York with my full MS somewhere in her inbox. I tried to stalk her and avoid her at the same time. AWKWARD.

At my one-to-ones, agent JB was very excited and asked for the full. I was thrilled (and shrieked with excitement down the phone to my husband), but I could also tell straight off that she had got the wrong idea about my book. She thought it was a pacey thriller; I knew that it wasn’t. This was going to be embarrassing. More cringe. The other agent (EF) was very lovely and very positive, but in the end the book wasn’t for her.

On the train home from the festival I emailed SM and told her I’d had another request for the full. She emailed back within an hour or so to say she’s started reading last week, and would let me know her thoughts once she had finished.

My heart sank. She wasn’t gushing, she wasn’t rushing to finish the MS THAT NIGHT like agents obviously do when they like your book, she’d started last week and put it down, so clearly not gripped, and THAT all meant her email was clearly a kindly precursor to a ‘no’. I fell off my giddy high, missed my train stop, and had to take a round trip via Peterborough.

When I got home, dejected, my husband couldn’t understand what was wrong with me.

 

October 2017: Inching up the battlements

Agents are like buses. After two weeks of radio silence since York, agent JB passed on the full. The next day I received an email from agent SM. It said:

There is a lot I like here but I think at the moment it isn’t twisty enough for me to offer representation. I would love a call with you though to discuss some of my editorial thoughts as I do think it has real potential, but I think it would take a lot of work.

(For the record, I think this article clarifies what this meant. An odd one, but good.

http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.co.uk/2008/05/revisions-before-representation.html)

SM called. We spoke. She was right. It would take A LOT of work. She felt the plot needed a big twist. She thought (as did I) that it would work better written from two alternating POVs, instead of the current singular POV. This was (in her words) ‘a massive rewrite’. Was I up for it?

By now I’d already written this book 12 times. I had worked on it for almost two years. Now an agent was suggesting I rewrite the whole damn thing? Was I up for it?

HELL, YEAH.

To be honest, it wasn’t just that I had an agent interested. It was that I knew the book could – and therefore should – go up another level. Agent JB had put her finger on something: the premise had the flavour of a thriller, but the book – as it stood – wasn’t living up to this promise. I suspected I had written a book that was for me – a sort of coming-of-age-thing reflecting my own concerns and experiences. Now it was time to let go of that version and write a book for the outside world.

I told SM I would give it a go. We agreed I’d send her an outline of my new plot, and then an early draft. Nothing was guaranteed on either side.

 

November 2017: Clawing the air

Meanwhile, one of the cold-sub agents (RR) passed. It wasn’t for them, they said, but they were sure another agent would ‘jump on it’. Sure! Someone already almost had! I just had to come up with a GREAT TWIST IDEA.

I tried to think of one. I tried and tried, and rewrote and rewrote my synopsis and sent it to critique partners who weren’t at all convinced. I cried and had anxiety attacks and felt like I was completely losing myself. I couldn’t get my ideas to work. I was SO CLOSE but I was frozen: the air up here, on the ramparts of the citadel, was so thin and from here I had such a long way to fall.

After a week of this, I made myself stop. I banned myself from writing anything. I threw away all the notes I’d made. I ignored timescales and tried to have faith in my creative instincts.

I got a glimmer of an idea. It glowed, brightened, faded, went out, came back. It grew stronger. It was close, but not quite there. I tried to be patient, I tried not to panic at the weeks passing by. I tried not to think how much was at stake.

Eventually, I got it. An idea fell into place.

I emailed SM the plan. She loved it.

 

December 2017 – January 2018: Same again, the next ledge up

Now she asked me to send her the opening 30-50 pages, re-written with the new alternating POV structure.

I had never written anything with multiple POVs before, and this one change turned out to affect everything. I mean EVERYTHING. I saw I'd have to change character profiles, create new scenes, drop whole plot-lines, restructure story-arcs, and tweak almost every line of prose to create distinct voices.

I began to rewrite. I took draft chapters to my critique group. They tore them apart. I fell apart again: I’d bitten off more than I could chew. I didn’t have the writing skills for this. I had got this far and I was going to fail CATASTROPHICALLY.

But I kept trying. I wanted this so badly. I read everything I could about writing from alternating POVs. I made Emma write a blog about it. I worked 6-7 hours a day on my days off – hours and hours on just two chapters, three. I was a mess.

I wrote and rewrote, inching my way there. Finally, I achieved what I wanted with the chapters. Not perfect, but good enough to represent my vision. 

On the 25th January, I sent my first 47 pages to SM. She emailed back within a few hours. She loved them and wanted to represent me.

I jumped for joy, all about my house.

 

February 2018: Breaching the citadel

Before officially saying yes, I asked SM for a meeting in London. (Partly for due diligence, partly because I wanted to live out my meet-the-agent-in-London fantasy). The run-up to this was a happy time: a chance to rest on my laurels and savour the moment.

I was nervous but happy to meet with her, and the meeting (yesterday) went very well – I asked my questions, she explained what I needed to know. We talked about the vision for the book, her plans for submitting, how her agency worked, my ideas for further books, and more.

We ultimately agreed that I would complete the draft rewrite over the next 6-9 months, then edit it with her, with a view to submitting to publishers this time next year.

Plan agreed, I formally accepted representation and signed with the wonderful Sarah Manning of The Bent Agency. She had been the one all along. 

 

Today: “I’ve made it into the lobby at least”

Since yesterday, I've juggled a mixture of happiness, excitement, fear and grief. Happiness and excitement for the obvious reasons. Fear because I’ve been signed on a book which effectively I have yet to write (can I do it??? What if I can’t??? Cue terror). And grief because this means saying goodbye to the writer who could write with 100% creative freedom – any idea that came into my head, writing of any quality. Now I am accountable.

I know that a whole new journey starts here. There remains no guarantees: whether or not that I can re-write the book properly, whether I will find a place with a publisher, or whether the book (currently unwritten) will sell. I am going to need a lot of faith.

Maybe I have made the journey here sound easy. IT HAS NOT BEEN, and I know it won’t get any easier going forwards. But I am proud and thrilled to have reached this stage (I’ve made it into the lobby at least), and I am overwhelmingly grateful to all on the Cloud for supporting me in my ascent to this point.

 

Love

Philippa 

Feb 13th

Myths, Cock ups and Perspective

By AlanP

In Britain we have a history for heroic failure that seems to rely on the innate belief in some quarters that we are in some way a sceptred isle, blessed by god. Even when we win there seems to be a spirited effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sometimes we don’t get that right even.

Let’s take, for example, the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In a foretaste of the Battle of Britain, of which more later, an overwhelmingly superior, large and heavily armed force approached the coast with military intent. Our plucky, well equipped lads inflicted a mighty defeat on Johnny Foreigner that day. Except perhaps not. It’s true that our lads were nippy, fast and very good at gunnery. Principally they were pirates, or privateers if you prefer, and so it was their stock in trade. In fact the leader of the navy, Sir Martin Frobisher, broke off from the hostilities more than once to take possession of isolated enemy galleons for profit, becoming rather pissed off when Drake sailed in, saved his arse and claimed a portion of the spoils. And really who can blame them? Queen Elizabeth wasn’t paying wages and in fact wouldn’t buy them enough ammo to do the job. It was because they were out of balls that they resorted to fire ships. Rather like our heroic cricket teams the weather came to the rescue and blew the Spanish fleet to destruction in unfamiliar waters. Later the navy was kept in port while they died of scurvy in order to avoid paying them off.

Consider Sir Robert Falcon Scott. Hailed as a hero for his heroic failure to beat that nasty cheating Amundson to the South Pole. Ripe for modern revisionism Scott declined to use dogs and did not wear furs. A revisionist view might say that he was quite correct, politically speaking. Furs were obtained from the slaughter of furry animals and ponies were more British than dogs. In reality Scott risked all on motor sleds, which subsequently failed and high tech fabrics which he was assured had better thermal performance than fur. There is more to this, obviously, such as that the ponies were never intended to haul them to the pole, they were quite unsuited to that task but needs must when your engine fails. The plan was to establish supply dumps for a return journey executed in stages and that was what the Ponies were for, carrying stuff. All very complicated with much that could go wrong. Most of it did. Amundson whipped his dogs to haul the sleds, shot and ate them as they became knackered, won the race to the pole and lived to tell the tale. Yet Scott was the hero and Amundson somehow became the villain (although more recently vindicated).

Eddie the Eagle. Where in creation did Eddie the Eagle come from? Well, literally he was from Cheltenham. He failed to make it as a downhill skier, in part because he was extremely short sighted (he was called Mr Magoo at some point) and his glasses used to mist up inside his goggles. But also because he was self funded, hard up and so couldn’t get anywhere decent to practice. In a leap (see what I did there?) of Olympic (and there!) proportions he switched to ski jumping. He was living in a mental hospital when informed that he was chosen to represent Britain, working as a plasterer, not as a patient, although…..  . Anyway, his practice routine seemed to be to launch himself from some kind of contraption in his aunties back garden. She had a long garden and sometimes he almost reached the fence. Quite naturally he came last in every contest he entered, but we celebrate him as a true British hero.

Queen Boudicca led the Iceni (and much of the rest of iron age Britain) in a rebellion against the forces of the Roman empire. There is no doubt that the Romans were a fairly nasty bunch, in the policy of governor Paulinus anyway. From the point of view of your average Brit at the time and by the standards of the age they had it coming. Yet, ultimately, the British forces were defeated, nay destroyed, at the Battle of Watling Street despite outnumbering the Roman force of some 10,000 odd by around twenty to one (according to Tacitus - who was Roman). Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the victorious commander, is pretty much lost outside discussions between scholars of ancient Rome - he was told off by the emperor but escaped serious sanction at the time. His eventual fate is not recorded, but he was on the losing side of a rebellion later in the year of the four emporers. Boudicca poisoned herself there and then. Yet Boudicca (Boadicea) is a mighty heroine.

The Charge of the Light Brigade – let’s sum this one up quickly. The Light Brigade charged into heavy, enfiladed Russian artillery who shot the shit out of them. They suffered massive casualties and achieved no gains whatsoever. Why? Not quite sure. Someone told them to do it, but meant somewhere else seems most likely. Nevertheless an heroic failure celebrated by Alfred Lord Tennyson, and the nation it seems.

The Battle of Britain (and Dunkirk). Backs to the wall, having screwed up royally in Europe leading up to the debacle of Dunkirk where the army lost most of its kit we were let off possibly because of fuel shortages although some say Hitler thought he could negotiate with Churchill if he didn'd flatten us. Britain faced the bad guys pretty much alone. And this one we won, but there are plentiful myths about this, many of which are false. The Spitfire was indeed superior to the ME 109, but not by much. The ME 109 was definitely superior to the Hawker Hurricane, although the Hurricane was good at tight turns and carried more ammo and fuel. The ME 109 was fast and a stable fighting platform. In any event, they always talk about the Spitfire as winning the battle, yet there were about 27 Hurricane Squadrons and 18 Spitfire squadrons and the recorded victories are about in that proportion. Also to fly a Spitfire took a lot of training and skill. The Hurricane was a quick study and more forgiving in the air. The first myth – Hurricanes were decisive, not Spitfires.

The invading forces were trying to escort slow bombers which dragged them down in altitude. In any event once over Britain they could only manage ten minutes flying time before turning back. Whereas we were playing at home could stay up much longer and only had to attack, no escort duties. Nevertheless, despite those advantages it was a close run thing and not the great victory due to British fighting spirit and superior nerve that was, and still is, trumpeted. It was an accident of geography and a lot of good luck. They don’t talk about El Alamein, a genuine military victory, in the same way they do Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain. I wonder why.

And I could go on, but that’s enough for today. Any thoughts on why we celebrate failure so much?

Feb 11th

Clueless

By Kimberley

I have no idea what to write here, I'm round my sisters at the moment, her youngest child is munching on crisps on her mums lap. My sisters worried about her six year old getting a boyfriend, as this morning her daughter came to her very serious and said she doesn't like her crush any more but has a new one, and her best friend told her old crush that my niece doesn't like him any more.

I'm going home tomorrow with my mum, and I was supposed to go out tonight and stay at a hotel, but he cancelled due to his nan becoming Ill. This is selfish I know but I dont get oppurtunities like this much, I hope it comes again.

 

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