Saturday, 10 June 2017

Sleepwalking Towards Gilead

Margaret Atwood's Dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale, written over a 2 year period from 1984-5, is based upon the 'unlikely' premise that a far-right religious extremist group overthrows the US government, suspends the constitution and forms an authoritarian regime, the Republic of Gilead, in which women are not allowed to work, read, or write and are only valued by their fertility.

At the time she was writing it, the scenario seemed utterly far-fetched. As Atwood commented recently: ''Back in 1984 the main premise seemed ~ even to me fairly outrageous. Would I be able to persuade readers that the United States had suffered a coup that had transformed an erstwhile liberal democracy into a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship?'' (New York Times Book Review)

Unlikely as her concept seemed then, the history of Gilead and the 'herstory' of Offred resonates  strongly today. I believe, personally, that we are sleepwalking towards Gilead, although we are as yet unaware that we have embarked upon the journey. My view is founded upon the way that certain rights are under threat in this country (UK) in a way they have never been before. This is how the journey is unfolding.

*  Control of Language 
Without our conscious awareness, we are subtly being fed new meanings to words that alter our perception of the people to whom they apply. Take the word immigrant for instance: do you not find yourself adding 'illegal' to it? How about Benefit ~ applicant or scrounger? This demonization of certain groups in society has been validated by the government and numerous TV reality programmes, where selective cutting creates a picture of people outside mainstream society.

* Control of the Streets
In the wake of the London/Manchester attacks, how many times have we walked past men in body armour carrying guns? When did this become normal? At what point do we tacitly accept that our 'freedom' is dependant upon men with guns patrolling our streets? Men who are trained to shoot and kill.

*Control of Rights
Theresa May has made it quite clear that she is prepared to 'rip up human rights laws to fight terror'. It sounds 'strong and stable', but behind the rhetoric is a frightening prospect. Consider what human rights consist of:
Right to life
Freedom from torture
Freedom from slavery
Freedom of speech
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Freedom of movement

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Which right are you happy to be ripped up? And if one, why not two, three, or more? It is a slippery slope. Currently, we stand at the top of it looking down.

*Control of Conscience
We live in a pluralistic multi-culture, where 'citizens of the world' rub shoulders. Many diverse faiths, beliefs exist side by side. I would never question your deity (or none), but when religion and politics shake hands, it makes me uneasy. Theresa May's power-hunger decision to hold on to her job at all cost, has led her to seek support from the DUP, a strict Protestant group that holds strong views on women's rights and marriage. Is this another step on the road to Gilead? In agreeing to prop up her party in the House of Commons, what will they want in return? 

*Control of Nationality
We are beginning to glimpse the forces behind Brexit: the vast sums poured into campaigns, the outright and manipulative lies peddled, the use of analytics and 'bots' to influence the outcome. The dismissal of any 'experts' speaking against the project, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are correct, are dismissed. We 'want our sovereignty back', we 'want to be in control of our borders'. We are continually told that we will have greater freedom post Brexit. In Gilead, Aunt Lydia spoke of 'freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from.' My question is: how can you be 'given' freedom? (see section on human rights)

None of this has happened suddenly, it has been slowly creeping into our national subconscious, aided and abetted by the popular press that peddles its faux outrage, or attacks with vicious venom, any individual or institution that it does not want us to like. As each shock event occurs, here or elsewhere, it seems that fear is used as a pretext to tighten rules and regulations, suspend laws and restrict freedoms. Anybody who speaks out is branded a traitor.

The cry 'it couldn't possibly happen here' echoes hollowly down the ages. It was said by my German Jewish grandparents as the Nuremberg Race Laws were drawn up. The belief that people would come to their senses, and reject what those in government were proposing to do, stopped them from leaving Berlin, and ended with their deportation and deaths in Auschwitz concentration camp. 

As Offred, the heroine of Atwood's novel says: ''We didn't look up from our phones until it was too late.'' We need collectively to wake up, look up, and understand the current direction of travel, before we forget where we started out from.

'We have to speak up now' (Jane Mulkerrins. Guardian 10th June 2017)
The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood. publ. Vintage 1966)
No is not enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics (Naomi Klein. publ. Allen Lane June 2017)

The PINK SOFA meets writer, life-coach Shelley Wilson

When THE PINK SOFA, itself no slouch at the writing game (its latest epic: Sofa So Good is currently at number 2 in the Amazon 'No, seriously?' chart) heard that its very good friend Shelley Wilson had a new book out, an instant invitation, with cake, was dispatched! Shelley is a multi-stranded writer of non-fiction, and YA, a blogger and reviewer. So much to discover ...

''I am thrilled to be sitting on the Pink Sofa! To languish in such a well-known spot surrounded by tea and cakes has been on my bucket list for some time so thank you, Carol, for inviting me. I’ll make sure to clear up the crumbs before I leave.
I thought I’d talk about a quirky process I have when writing my books. As you know, I’m a Jekyll and Hyde writer. I pen non-fiction books for the personal development/self-help genre, and I also write young adult (YA) fantasy fiction. The two themes do occasionally overlap, and this is what I believe the gurus call ‘balance.'
In my YA Guardians trilogy, I explored the chakras and working with energy, something I used to do every day in the day job as a Holistic Therapist. To incorporate this into my fantasy books was fun and those readers who understood the law of the universe, energy, and magic could relate to the books on another level.
One of my favourite personal development tools is the vision board. This is a simple process of sticking images and quotes to a notice board and setting the intention to be, do, or have a representation of the pictures in real life. For example, if I wanted to live by the sea I would cover my board in coastal images, seaside cottages, the beach, etc.
With my fantasy fiction, I use the vision board process in a completely different way. I’ll use it as inspiration and motivation to write my novel. I choose images that represent my setting and characters, and I might add pictures of specific outfits or hairstyles.
Here are some of the pictures I added to my board for character inspiration in my new release, Oath Breaker.



Seeing their pictures on the wall as I write brings them to life for me. I can look into their eyes and imagine what they would say or how they might act in a certain scene.
I chose Nottinghamshire as the setting for Oath Breaker and even took my children for a camping holiday to Sherwood Forest so I could get a feel for living in the woods. I added some of the photographs I took to my board.
As a visual learner, I find this part of the writing process to be the most helpful. As I write, the book plays out like a movie in my mind and so having the images to hand keeps that film reel going until ‘The End.’
I wonder if anyone else uses a similar process. I’d love to find out, or perhaps your wonderful blog readers have other ways to inspire and motivate their work.

My latest book Oath Breaker is available now in paperback and eBook.
Book Blurb:
Will she follow the pack
Or will she destroy them?
A dead mother.
A violent father.
A missing brother.
When Mia’s father is murdered, it’s her estranged uncle that comes to the rescue, but what he offers her in return for his help could be worse than the life she is leaving behind.
Taken to Hood Academy, a unique school deep in the forest, she discovers friendships, love, and the courage to stand on her own.
As she trains hard, Mia takes the oath that seals her future as a werewolf hunter, but not everyone wants Mia to succeed.
Screams in the night. Secret rooms. Hidden letters. Mia becomes an important piece in a game she doesn’t want to play.
Will the truth set her free, or will it destroy her?
(Opening scene from Oath Breaker)
The blue flashing lights pulsed through the fractured front window, illuminating the blood splatter on the walls. The click-click of the forensic team’s camera ate into the sterile silence as the officers combed through the living room.
Like something out of a macabre horror show the blood covered everything, coating the threadbare rug in front of the fireplace with its crimson wash. The splintered remains of the coffee table littered the overturned chair, and the smell of death clung to the walls.
I lifted my eyes to look at the police officer who knelt in front of me, his face a mask of professionalism even though he must be wishing he was anywhere but here.
‘Did you see who killed your dad?’ I slowly shook my head as the officer tried to determine what had happened.
‘Someone tried to kill you, miss. I want to help. Did you see who broke in and attacked you?’
I couldn’t answer. The words were stuck in my throat. How could I tell him that my dad was the one who tried to kill me and that a wolf had jumped through the window and ripped out his throat? Who would believe me?
The paramedic dropped a medical kit at my feet and began wiping the blood from my face, the sudden cold of the antiseptic wipe causing an involuntary shudder to run through my bones. The police officer and paramedic exchanged a look. The same kind of look that my teacher and headmaster used to give each other when I tried to cover up the bruises down my arms.
I slumped a little further into the kitchen chair, letting my long dark hair fall around my face.
‘Anything you can give us by way of a description will help.’ The police officer clicked the end of his pen and poised it over the clean sheet of notepaper.
‘Big,’ I managed to say. My lips cracked as I spoke, and I could feel a trickle of blood slide down the side of my mouth. The paramedic wiped it up before moving to the gash on my forehead.
‘It … he was big. Dark hair. Brown eyes.’
The officer noted it down and let out a deep sigh. Not the best description for them to go on, but it was all I could give him. If I’d told him the attacker was hairy, with sharp claws and fangs, the paramedic would have had me committed. I didn’t need to escape from one prison to then find myself in another.
Buying Links:
You can find out about all my titles (non-fiction & YA) on my website or via my publisher
I can also be found lurking with regularity on Twitter and Facebook
Or you can find me on my blog at
Thank you so much for having me, Carol. I’ll just finish this last slice of Victoria Sponge, and then I’ll be off. Xxx

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer Ian Wilfred

The PINK SOFA is delighted, chuffed and generally over the moon to welcome writer and all-round good egg Ian Wilfred to the Writing Attic. Ian is a total sweetie. If ever there was a thoroughly nice person who deserves all the lovely things in the world, it is he. (And not just because he arrived bringing coffee and a selection of delicious Norfolk delicacies!)

Ian describes himself on Twitter as: ''a 50+ fella that writes female fiction - new book March 2017 - Love my books, garden, westie, husband and Norfolk beaches not necessary in that order.'' So of course the PINK SOFA wanted to know all about the new book, and how Ian felt to be a twice-published author!

''Thank you very much for inviting me onto the pink sofa. As you know my new book The Little Terrace Of Friendships has been out over a month now, and I have talked about it on a few blogs and don't want to repeat myself.

I thought today I would share with you the excitement of my publishing day, but first I must say what an enjoyable time I had getting my book out into the world. Working with Rebecca Emin was so enjoyable: so many laughs and that's just in emails to and fro. The book came out in March, but I had not told anyone, family, friends, or work colleagues, apart from my other half, and to be honest that's the way I was going to keep it. I had ordered a couple of copies of the paperback as a surprise for my sister and step daughter. I wanted it to be very low key as when my first book came out, I told everyone and there was a lot of pressure on me

My publishing day started at 5am on the old Twitter. I could not get over how many people tweeted mentions of it throughout the day. I felt so overwhelmed with the kindness. When the other half was up he asked how things were going, and I said if it got into the top 500 holiday chart and the top 5000 romantic comedy chart on Amazon, I would be over the moon. I kept telling him how it was doing, and we spent the day giggling as at four o'clock in the afternoon it was top 20 holiday reads and 190 romantic comedy. But the biggest shock was when it got into the top 2000 Kindle chart. This was insane ~ way way past anything I could have ever hoped for! We went off and celebrated with fish and chips, sitting looking out to sea on the beautiful Norfolk coast. The perfect end to a funny, strange day 

Moving on a few weeks: the excitement hasn't really died down. The book is doing far better than I could ever have dreamed it would, and I've started telling friends and family about it. I will never make anything near a living from my books and I will be doing the day job way past my retirement age, but earning money from writing was never the aim. I just love writing creating my characters, bringing them to life. Also I have so much pleasure chatting on Twitter to such lovely authors, bloggers and readers. I look at The Little Terrace of Friendships as the icing on my cake. I live five minutes walk from the beach, which I go on every morning with the dog before I settle down to a bit of writing and Twitter, and then in the afternoon I go off to work. I'm so very blessed

As for the future, there will be book three out. This time it's set on the stunning Norfolk coast, and the main character is another strong female! Thank you again for having me on the PINK SOFA: it been so lovely talking to you about one of the happiest days I've ever had my publishing day for The Little Terrace of Friendships.''


The Little Terrace of Friendships:
Putting Right the Past:

Twitter: @Ianwilfred39

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Ankles, eMacs and other disasters

They say disasters never come singly. Whoever 'they' are and if you know who 'they' are, please can you give me their names and addresses so I can go round and complain.

All is not currently well at Hedges Towers. Four weeks and two days ago, as I was walking through St Albans to collect the grandchildren, my right ankle gave way suddenly, pitching me into the middle of the street. Not the first time it has done this, unreliable body-part that it is, but by far the most agonising.

Such was the pain coupled with the shock, that I just stayed where I ended up and howled. A car edged slowly round me without stopping. I howled some more. Finally, a nice young woman approached, asked if I was OK (clearly not) and suggested it might be a good idea if I got out of the road.

It appears from the subsequent X-ray that I have torn a ligament. Over a month on and I still can't see my ankle bone and there are interesting blue areas in unexpected places. Oh yes, I hear you chorus, now you'll have lots of time to write the next book. Lucky you, wish I could bust a ligament. Ah but you see, gentle reader, you are reckoning without the 'never coming singly' rule.

My beloved eMac has died. For the computer experts reading this: something has overheated/melted/ buggered/come unattached and I can't access the Hard Disc Drive. For the rest of you: 13k words of the next book are currently stuck inside a dead computer.

A frustrating evening has just been spent in the company of Brian the Super-Techie, a special cable and his reserve Apple Mac trying to access my files. We turned the computer on and off many times. We held down C keys, P keys and T keys. I said F rather a lot.

We ran a diagnostic CD: everything was OK apparently, just not OK enough to let me get at it. We watched an interesting video about taking an eMac apart to extract the HDD. There was a bit where the bloke on the video said : 'Uh-oh, you really want to be very careful if you do this, as it could all explode'  which was a tad worrying.

Trying-to-be-helpful people have said: 'Surely you could just re-write the first part of the book?' Or 'You could always carry on from where you got up to.' Oh, if it were only that easy!

 Last night I dreamed I was trying to remove the hard drive from my 2CV. Makes a change from Manderley, I suppose....

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Pink Sofa meets writer Amanda James

The PINK SOFA is always delighted to welcome back guests, especially when they bring scones. Therefore it is delighted to host Amanda James, who comes armed with bakery goods and a new book. She's visiting the Writer's  Attic to share what inspires her lovely novels. (With added scones, and Cornish clotted cream of course ...)

Inspiration comes from many places ... and sometimes out of the blue Cornish sky!
''Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog today, Carol. I thought I’d talk to you today about inspiration. I am often asked where my inspiration comes from when writing and the answer is not straightforward. There is no one place or thing, it comes from anywhere and sometimes I’m not too sure where my ideas pop up from.

As you know my first book with Choc Lit was A Stitch in Time which I adored writing and it only took me six weeks for the first draft. I have never written one as fast before or since, but the ideas just flowed. I feel most comfortable with the suspense/mystery genre however, as those are the kinds of books I enjoy reading the most. Though I guess really, even though it is time travel, A Stitch in Time is full of suspense and mystery and I was so pleased to be able to return to the characters to see what they had been up to when I wrote my sequel Cross Stitch.

Anyway, I digress. I was inspired by the novels of suspense authors, Dean Koontz in particular. He has sold over 450 million books yet still had the time to answer my letters in his own hand. He encouraged me to keep writing! As a reader, I love to try and figure out what is going to happen, what the secret is or who done it etc. He often has a romantic element in his stories and so do I. Koontz often has a paranormal angle also and I enjoy writing those too. I like reading straight suspense novels, but the added excitement and freedom to go ‘outside the box’ which is afforded by the paranormal is very liberating as both a reader and writer.

Certain people inspire me to keep going when the going gets tough too. There are many, but one in particular sticks in my mind. Korczak Ziowalski was a sculptor who decided to dedicate his life to carving a memorial to Crazy Horse the great Sioux leader. The sculpture is actually made from a mountain in South Dakota! It is as yet unfinished and being continued by his family after Korczak’s death more than twenty years ago. He started it all by himself in 1948 with a tent, an old Jeep, $174, and a dream. His motto was , ‘Never forget your dreams.’ I added ‘never give’ up to that. I was lucky enough to visit the memorial and found it an enriching and life-affirming experience. His remarkable story can be found here :

I often get the whole story from a title. I can’t actually put finger to keyboard if I don’t have one. I think of a title, something catchy or familiar like ‘a stitch in time’ for example, and then I build the story around that. Somewhere Beyond the Sea was a combination of being by the sea, Doc Martin and the need for a catchy title. The old Bobby Darin song was perfect. Sometimes I really don’t know where I get ideas from. They just kind of pop up. The inspiration for Summer in Tintagel came from a walk along the cliff tops. As I stood on the edge looking onto the rocks I thought how easy it would be to step off and end it all ... if a person was so inclined. I’m not, in case you were wondering! Then it kind of came to me from there. I visited Tintagel Castle a few weeks later and thought that it was the perfect setting for a novel – full of history and mystery.

My new novel, Behind the Lie has lots of secrets, mystery, and suspense and set in London, but mostly on Crantock, the idyllic Cornish beach about twenty minutes from my house.
One day I was walking on the beach as I often do and looked up at a beach house. It was the kind of house that I tend to drool over from time to time, as although I can see the ocean from where I live, it is five-miles distant! It’s the white square one with all the big windows.

My imagination began to make up the person that lived in the house, and Holly West, my main character waved at me from the window. Well, she didn’t really, but you know what I mean.... Also the lonely rugged coast helped me to visualise Holly and all her problems and I knew I needed to help her solve them. I am also in love with the sea. My dream from being very small was to move to Cornwall particularly the north coast and I am overjoyed to have realised it. Just the sight and smell of the sea lifts my spirits and inspires me.''

Book Blurb Holly West has turned her life around. She’s found a successful and loving husband in Simon and is expecting twins. She is definitely a woman who has taken back control of her future.
Until she gives birth, only for one twin to survive. Holly can’t let it go.
Holly’s world is in a tailspin and suddenly she can’t trust herself or anyone else. No one believes her, not her husband or her best friend. Because she thinks she knows the truth…her son is still alive and she won’t stop until she finds him.

Mandy's books
Summer in Tintagel (Urbane Publications July 2016)
Cross Stitch (Choc Lit December 2014)
Somewhere Beyond the Sea ( Choc Lit April 2014)
Dancing in the Rain (Choc Lit March 2014)
A Stitch in Time (Choc Lit) -
Righteous Exposure (Crooked Cat) -


Author links 


Twitter  @akjames61

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Eyebrows & Other Annoying Stuff

The older I get (nearly 67 now!) the more I am baffled by the world and its wiles. Here are some of the things currently baffling me. Feel free to add your own.

1. Eyebrows 
One of my A level students has recently had her eyebrows 'enhanced', by whatever process this happens. She now has what looks like 2 furry caterpillars crawling across her face just above her eyes in a Frida Khalo sort of way.  It makes her face look all 'eyebrow' and I find myself addressing the whole lesson to them by default. I have noticed that a lot of the assistants in Space NK are similarly eyebrow-enhanced. And people I pass in the street,

My eyebrows have been slowly shrinking for years and now consist of a pathetic straggle of greying hair that I attempt to corral into some sort of arch with an eyebrow pencil. The right hand one always resembles a switchback as I can't draw with my left hand.

It is a sad truism that the older one gets, the more one needs some sort of facial enhancement before leaving the house. Failure to use make-up results in people asking if you are feeling OK. Or crossing the street. Or both. Too much makeup, and the elderly face resembles a cake left out in the rain: overfilled cracks and hollows, damp and patchy areas and, if one has unwisely applied rouge, what I call the Refugee from Clown Class look. 
One has to find the balance between crone and casual. It is not an easy thing to achieve, believe me. What amazes me is the amount of stuff I am supposed to put on my face in order to look as if I haven't actually put on any makeup. Cleanser (can't use soap any more apparently.Too drying), followed by toner, followed by serum, followed by moisturizer, followed by sunscreen, followed by colour corrector, followed by contour cream, followed by insanity.
There are a whole range of products just for making up one's mouth! If I religiously followed the 'correct' procedures, I'd probably never get out of the house pre-lunch.

3. Fashion 
I read the 'Style' sections of the Sunday Papers with a sense of growing dread. Not only is there nothing I'd ever want to wear, it is all at eye-watering prices. A small bracelet that looks like it's been made of paperclips: £2000. Seriously? Does anybody buy this stuff, let alone wear it? And I DO resent the 'drape it on some willowy older model and then we can claim it's a universal look' thing.

Last week, the Sunday Times Style featured a pair of gold hoop earrings at a price that might buy you a small terraced house in Doncaster. And chip your front teeth every time you suddenly turned your head. As for jeans ~ don't get me started. Mind you, women of my age are not supposed to wear jeans in the first place. Or any place. Not even the retro-sixties ones that are now back in fashion, and that we wore in the real sixties. Step away from your youth, sister. It no longer belongs to you!

So here I am, a castaway on a small unreconstructed island, watching the ship of style sailing away into the distance. I am browless, fashion-free and improperly made-up. Do I care? Ah, well, that's another story!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Brexit ~ Tudor Style

Queen Elizabeth 1: the Ermine Portrait

On 29th of March, Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's ambassador to the EU, entered the Europa building in Brussels carrying Prime Minister Theresa May's Article 50 letter, signifying the beginning of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. A momentous event with unseen consequences for every citizen of the United (so far) Kingdom.

 But it was not the first time that an exchange of diplomatic correspondence had far reaching consequences. On May 24th 1570, some time between 2 and 3 in the morning, John Felton, a wealthy Catholic, pinned a copy of Pope Pius V's Bull, 'Regnans in Excelsis', excommunicating Queen Elizabeth 1, to the gates of the Bishop of London's Palace, situated close to St Paul's cathedral.
A Papal bull with the 'bulla'
The Queen was served with this religious 'Brexit'  for ''usurping Supreme Control of the Church in England''. She was described as Elizabeth, pretended queen and daughter of iniquity”, and was in effect, publicly branded a heretic. The fallout was immediate: the whole country was cut off from doing any trade or business with Catholic Europe. At that time Philip 11 of Spain controlled most of trade in the Low Countries, especially in Antwerp, where 70% of the country's woolen cloth was traded. As a result there was a sudden and complete collapse of the most important of England's exports.

It became a matter of extreme urgency for the country to find new trading partners as quickly as possible. Elizabeth decided to send emissaries to Persia, North Africa and Turkey. These were Muslim countries, and were 'forbidden' territories in the eyes of the Catholic Church. It was therefore not only an act of desperation, but a sub-textual two-fingered reply to the Papal Bull.

As a result of the Queen's actions, great trading companies like the Turkey Company, the Muscovy Company and the Levant Company were formed. They traded in metals: lead and tin, taken from sacked Catholic churches and sold for the production of arms, which were in turn used against the Catholic church and its forces by the Islamic world. 
Spanish galleon

The other form of trade, far more questionable, was that of pillage and plunder. Spanish treasure ships were regularly targeted by the English fleet under Francis Drake, who was commissioned by Elizabeth in 1572 to act as a privateer targeting Spanish ports and raiding Spanish ships. The cargoes were looted and brought back to England to add to the Treasury. In one raid alone in 1573, Drake's men took 15 tons of silver ingots and about 100,000 pounds of silver coins. A fortune in contemporary terms.
Francis Drake

It is tempting to see the reign of Elizabeth 1 as a Golden Age, but that would be wrong. The loss of trade with Europe was considerable and was never compensated for by the long distances and astronomical costs of opening up new markets. The collapse of the woolen cloth industry and the rural economy that supported it meant that large parts of the agricultural population were reduced to starvation. 

It wasn't until James I came to the throne in 1603, uniting the two countries of England and Scotland, that any sort of economic stability was restored through his policy of deliberate re-engagement with the European continent. And although the situation in 1570 cannot be compared to that of today, the past still offers a salutary lesson for citizens of the UK as we stand upon the threshold of a second Brexit.

(Thanks to BBC Radio 4: The Long View presented by Jonathan Freedland, for inspiration)