An interview with author Francis Powell

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I met Francis Powell through reading one of his rather quirky, and some might say disturbing, short stories. I don’t mind disturbing, and I liked the dark, witty humour in his story. I was intrigued. Is it true that writers can be known through the things they choose to write about? We sometimes make assumptions based on very little evidence. I decided to interview Francis and find out first hand more about him. Did I succeed? Read on…

L: Francis – let’s start at the very beginning. Where were you born, and where did you live as a child? Did you have an easy childhood?

F: I was born in a “dormitory town” called Reading, not famous for much, apart from a huge Rock festival, and for the fact that Oscar Wilde was sent to prison there and wrote ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’. My family then moved to a farm in the country, in Sussex, not too far from London. I was sent, aged eight, to a boarding school, so I would spend long periods away from my family. Imagine having regular prison sentences imposed upon you as a child. At some of the schools I attended there were psychotic teachers and cruel nasty children. I used to count the days when I could be reunited with my family. I became a recluse in the art room and painting was my salvation. I had a teacher who encouraged me to paint and introduced me to various artists, including Kandinsky. I went from austere harsh boarding schools to Art College, a very different environment.

L: Give me some insight into the man behind the writer, Francis. Are you generally an optimist or a pessimist?

F: Like most people I am a complicated mixture of idiosyncrasies. I can be intense, but at the same time very laid back. I have a steely determination that comes from my mother. I feel maybe I am an outsider trying to fit in and yet I am very anti-establishment. I want to be respected, my work to be liked or even admired, but I don’t receive praise well and feel uncomfortable with it. Some people might say I should see a psychiatrist, but at the same time, I can be very inwardly-calm and rational.

L: So when exactly did you begin writing? And how does your recent work compare with what you first wrote?

F: moved to a remote village in Austria. It was not far from Vienna, but a very oppressive and strange environment. I thought I should try writing a book. I launched into it…nothing came of it. I do many creative activities, painting as well as writing music. Writing lay dormant, put to one side. Then later, living in Paris at this point in time, via an advert I made contact with a man called Alan Clark, who had a literary magazine called ‘Rat Mort’ (dead rat). I submitted four short stories for this magazine, encouraged by Alan, I began to write more and more short stories, and developed a style…I guess if I compare these stories to earlier efforts at writing…there has been a huge development…I am sure my early attempts were imaginative but raw.

L: What about now – what are your current projects?

F: I am currently feverishly promoting my book Flight of Destiny, which was published in April.

L: What genre do you consider your stories to belong to? Have you ever thought of writing in another genre?

F: I write dark surreal short stories. I have tried children stories, but even these tended to be a bit on the dark side.

L: Have you ever been flattered by a comparison to a well-known author

F: I have been told my work is a bit like that of Edgar Alan Poe. It was a pleasant surprise to be compared in such a way.

L: Do you have a trademark writing style – something that makes your work recognizable?

F: My stories are very descriptive and visual. I would say they are very British in character. I would like to think they are dark, but also have an element of wit…maybe a British dark sense of humour. They are often anti-establishment. There are often reversals, characters people might expect to be bad (like the gangster Gecko in Bugeyes) who come across as being wise and good, and the types people might expect to appear good (for example there are a few preachers in my stories) who come across as the opposite, bad and inhumane. I would like to think I use rich language with sharp powerful sentences. The starts to my stories are also critical, for example my story Bugeyes begins with: Bugeyes was due a life of toil. Seed begins with: Captain Spender’s wife was ovulating. Cast from Hell begins with: There it was: I was to be banished from hell. It is important I start my stories powerfully, but also end them strongly.

L: Do you only write short stories?

F: I am a fully committed short story writer. One day I would like a novel published, but at the moment I just love the format of short stories.

L: What inspired you to put this collection together as your first book?

F: My book grew from building up a body of short stories, similar to my contributions in Rat Mort (the small literary magazine I mentioned). I also had short stories in a magazine called ‘Freakwave’ as well having short stories published on the internet. I was lucky enough to find a publisher who was prepared to put a whole lot of them together.

L: How do you come up with your titles?

F: A lot of my stories revolve around, fate, misfortune. ‘Flight of Destiny’ seemed to encompass a strong notion of this running through the book.

L: Are there any messages in your stories, and if so what are they?

F: There are quite a few. Principally: fight back; don’t let those who oppress you succeed. Fight off those chains and shackles.

L: How much are your stories based on reality, and how much are they based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

F: To some extent my stories are indirectly autobiographical. My life has not been a smooth journey, with many setbacks along the way. I don’t think I consciously draw a line between real events and the fiction I write. I doubtlessly draw from my experiences, good or bad.

L: What books have influenced your life the most? Are some of these different from your own genre of writing?

F: I am not sure books have directly influenced my life – it’s more the people and events surrounding my life.

L: Is there a character in one of your stories that really stands out for you? Could he or she be compared to any well-known literature character?

F: I guess ‘Bugeyes’ for me stands out. He is born into an aristocratic family, with a genetic fault (over-large enormous eyes) and is immediately rejected by his mother and sent to live with a servant on the estate. He is mocked cruelly due to his physical defect, as well as being denied his natural inheritance. He gets revenge in the end.

L: Do you have a favorite author and what is it about them that you admire?

F: Rupert Thompson, author of ‘Dreams of Leaving’ and many other fine books.

L: Are you ever shocked by some of your own writing/ideas?

F: There are some pretty crazy things that go on in my stories. They are surreal and dark and excruciating at times. I wouldn’t say ‘shocked’ but maybe retrospectively sometime in the future I might think did I really write that?

L: Do you see writing as a career?

F: It would be nice…it’s not my career at the moment…I am happy with what I have achieved in many different fields.

L: Were your parents avid readers? Have your family played a part in your writing career to date? How do they feel about your work?

F: My father had a strong work ethic, but when he relaxed he read Shakespeare and listened to Beethoven or Mozart at the same time. My mother certainly is and was an avid reader. My father is dead, but I imagine he would abhor a lot of my stories, as they show religious types in a very negative light, as well as other member of establishment. My mother has read some of my short stories and seemed to like my style.

L: What makes you feel proud of yourself as a writer?

F: Looking at my book, and thinking, I wrote that. I did a reading recently and people seemed to really respond to the story I was reading, that was a nice feeling.

L: How do you come up with the initial concept of a book?

F: Ideas seem to plant themselves in my head and I feel a need to expand on them and develop them. Sometimes newspapers provide excellent sources. I read obscure stories about people stealing other people’s identities, for instance a person who pretends he is a Duke, but in reality he is a fraud.

L: Who designed that amazing cover for your book – how did you choose it?

F: Me…I also did 22 illustrations, one for each story. This took a lot of work…but I am happy with the result…

L: What is the hardest part of being a writer?

F: Getting work published…rejections…Having a different vision to a publisher…many things… It is not about tapping merrily away in front of a typewriter, with a fire burning in the background…there is a lot involved as I am slowly discovering…

L: Do you have any advice for other writers?

F: Stick at it, don’t fall along the wayside.

L: Other than writing do you have any other interests and do they connect up with your writing?

F: As I have explained, I do so many things…write music…make videos…paint…make sculptures from found objects…and I guess a lot of these activities link up…

L: Are there any films that have influenced your writing? What kind do you like?

F: I love films…and I am sure a lot have indirectly influenced my writing…A couple of my favorite films would be ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ and ‘Amadeus’. I like films that are historical, psychological, unusual, films that make me think, films that educate me. Films that are witty.

L: If your stories were adapted into films, which director dead or alive would you want to direct them? Which actors would you like in them? What would be the overriding mood of the film?

F: Let’s dig up Stanley Kubrick; his films were great and varied in subject matter. Let’s put Jack Nicholson in a role, a younger Johnny Depp, alongside Wynona Rider or Christine Ricci – maybe it’s getting a bit confused, and it’s starting to look like a Tim Burton film. David Lynch would do a great job, but apparently he’s not such a nice man…I saw him once in Paris, I went to his art show and was lucky enough to be allowed into his press preview. The mood would be dark…but witty…

L: Do you socialize with other writers or creative people? Do you know any obscure or up and coming authors/or perhaps other creative people who deserve recognition?

F: I am going to start to mix with other writers in Paris. I have been lucky enough to meet a range of talented people during my lifetime. I know many people who deserve recognition for what they do…an artist called Andrew Tyler for example.

L: Thank you, Francis. Just one more question, and I think I can guess the answer, but I’ll ask you anyway… Is there a particular theme you realize is most prevalent in your stories?

F: There are many different themes: injustice, inequality, sibling rivalry, death, torture, it’s all in there.

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You can find Flight of Destiny on Amazon: http://www.theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/flightofdestinyshortstories

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwNl0F6095Q

Father’s Day 2015

Wisdom - Look for it as Silver - Proverb

This Sunday in England it is Father’s Day – a tradition that was begun in America 100 years ago. My father will have been dead for eleven years this year. It seems impossible that so much time has passed. It goes by faster all the time. As I get older I appreciate increasingly the poignancy of life’s ephemeral quality. Now you see it, now you don’t. So you have to make sure you are noticing as much of it as you can while you’re here. Sometimes I fear that there won’t be enough time to do everything I need to do before I go, or say everything I need to say to those I love. For many years now I’ve done my best to keep up to date with them for that reason.

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This year I’ve been thinking not so much about my father as my son, Jason. He is father to three gorgeous boys: Alex, Angus and Archie. They are all quite stunning looking lads, much like my son, and now all three of them are bright, funny, articulate teenagers with a great sense of humour. Jason is a good father, a fact I’ve had plenty of time now to observe. He is firm when required and a friend to them when it matters. He is good at setting boundaries and being flexible when that looks like a better option. He is kind, but not sentimental. He gives them plenty of attention and boundless opportunities for physical play and mental exercise when they are with him. He also makes sure they develop their innate skills and keeps a watchful eye on their education. They are lucky boys. They will never know, as Jason had to, what it is like to grow up without a dad.

Jason with Angus and Archie-2013

I admire my son for having managed to work out what’s required of a father without ever having had a healthy model for what that is beyond the age of four. He had my father, his granddad, there in the background, which was some kind of saving grace, and for several years a temporary stepfather who unfortunately provided little in the way of understanding a boy’s emotional needs. Nevertheless, my beautiful, sensitive son somehow survived unscathed, just about, his formative years and adolescence, and became increasingly a lovely, kind, generous and thoughtful man, who would probably laugh off this much praise and ask why I didn’t mention his dark side. It’s not that I don’t know he has one. It’s enough for me to know that he knows about it. There’s nothing worse than someone who is denial about their dark side. Trust me, I know.

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One of the things that has seemed for many years to symbolise a precious aspect of my son’s personality is an object he bought as a present for me at a School Bazaar, when he was about thirteen. It’s a smooth, round stone, big enough to fit into my palm and heavy enough to use as a paperweight. It was painted and varnished, and in all the years since then the colours have hardly faded. It shows a picture of Snoopy as Scout Leader leading a couple of Woodstock scouts, with the words inscribed: “All right troops, follow me!” It brought tears to my eyes when he first gave it to me, and has every time I’ve thought of it or looked at it since. For me it revealed how much he had already taken on the mantle of adult male, prepared to take care of his mother and sister and show them the way out of the darkening woods.

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Whenever I’ve mentioned it to Jason he’s said: “No, it was just that you were really into Snoopy, and I guessed you’d like it. Nothing deeper than that!” But I’m his mum and a psychotherapist to boot, so perhaps I’m bound to read too much into it – or maybe it’s enough that what I see is true for me. Symbolism is in the eye of the beholder when it comes down to it. But I know what a brilliant support he was to me then and has continued to be, especially in so many practical ways, and with a wonderful skill for lighting up a room with his laughter and optimism. One time a few years ago when we were all going out for a meal as a family, he led us across the street from the restaurant as we walked back to the centre of town to get the bus. We all automatically followed him, chatting away as we went, but then I asked him why he’d crossed the road when he did, as the bus stop was on the side where we were originally. “It was sunny over here,” he said. “Why walk in the shade when you can choose not to?” It’s that kind of remark that makes me realise how wise he is, and how fortunate his boys are to have him as a role model.

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Another significant memory I have of my son is of an occasion about ten years ago, on the beach at Brighton. I was collecting stones for my garden to take back with me to Oxford, and every so often he would hand me one, and it was always perfectly in tune with what I wanted. Eventually I said to him: “How come each time you give me the stones that are exactly right?” He shrugged and said: “Well, it was easy. I noticed what you were scanning for, and then filtered for them.” I hadn’t known consciously which stones I was searching for, but he’d observed me closely enough to work it out. I’ve watched him since, and seen how he does that with everyone. He is quick and smart, altruistic and considerate – a great combination. He has developed as a person, in all the ways that matter, and all the ways I’d hoped for him when he was born, and he reminds me of my father more and more. As the years go by my respect for him grows – as a man, and as a friend. And today I’ll be thinking of him with love, as I always do every day, celebrating him as a father, too.

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An interview with Nico Laeser

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I met Nico Laeser through an indie author group in facebook, but to be honest I would have known him anywhere. We only recently discovered that we almost share a birthday (just a few hours and a good number of years apart) and I was not surprised. We are that rather old fashioned word my father would have used, ascribing to it the highest praise… sympatico – we have read each other’s books and love each other’s style of writing. Nico’s recent novel ‘Infinity: An Anonymous Biography’ is one of the best I have read, and I reviewed it on Amazon earlier this year. http://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Biography-Nico-Laeser-ebook/dp/B00V7QERDW/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Nico is a talented artist, an accomplished writer, and a great wit – another thing we share is a dry, sometimes dark humour. He has also selflessly poured energy, time, and his considerable wherewithal into helping to bring into being the Charity Anthology ‘You’re not Alone’ https://www.facebook.com/yourenotalone2015

I offered Nico a series of ponderables, about his books, his life, his journey and vision as a writer, and to round the interview off, questions about who he would like to invite as dinner guests and what music he would pick as the soundtrack for one of his novels. I hoped he would choose ‘Infinity’ for that, and he did.

I therefore now present to you Nico Laeser, awesome friend, fellow scribe and dream weaver, in his own words…

“In the beginning, the collective energy that some of our species have come to worship became aware of itself and exploded into physical existence, and so the experiment began. 13.75 billion years later during a dark and stormy night, (average nightly forecast for most of England) I was born.

I travelled to Canada in my early twenties, fell in love with the place and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was home. Since I could think and feel I’ve had a passion for art, music, and literature, and have used each like a drug, and as a catharsis, to perform that ever necessary purge of mental and emotional baggage.

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed stories in instalments. Each night, almost consecutively, the next episode of a story plays in my dream like a movie, and over the years, I began wondering if any of those stories were good enough to share.

I’ve always written stories, some good, some terrible, and like most aspiring authors most of my stories remained unfinished. It was only after setting my mind to writing and finishing an actual novel, that I began to take it seriously. Once I’d finished the first draft of my first full-length novel, I began wondering if it would be good enough to publish. It wasn’t, and I didn’t try. Instead, I put the novel aside, patted myself on the back for having completed the marathon that is writing a novel and set my sights on improving my technique, reading countless books and articles on the craft. By the time I came back to the novel, I had improved enough to pick it apart flaw by flaw, and I did. I tried to fix it, to polish it, but it was too rough. Knowing what I know now, I could have quoted Hemingway and reassured myself that “All first drafts are shit.” Instead, I experienced my first ‘I’m a hack’ slump.

Once I stopped beating myself up, I began again. I wrote a second draft, scrapped it and wrote a new first draft, then a second, and third. For me, there was no greater creative writing teacher than my first book. I rewrote until I was happy, put it away and wrote another novel using the skills I had cultivated from each failed draft. When I returned to my first completed novel, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, and ‘not bad’ was a good start.

I read in almost all genres and find myself inspired by every well written story. My influences are too vast to name all, and it would be unfair to the rest to name just a few. My love for all genres has made it hard for me to choose a genre, or perhaps reluctant to do so. I’m currently working on two novels, one that could easily squeeze into the horror genre, and the other is a dark comedy. I’m not ready to pigeon-hole myself into one genre, but my novels all have a common thread (loose as it may be and in whatever form) of transcendence, but to some degree all stories share this thread.

When I’m not writing, I’m painting, or loosing arrows at a target, or spending quality time with my beautiful wife and children. Even though I left England fifteen or so years ago, I still enjoy British comedy, and am always looking for shows that I’ve missed over the years of my absence from ‘Old Blighty.’ Nothing makes me laugh harder than dry British wit, and intelligent dark comedy.

If I could have a dinner party with guests from any time period, I would invite Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, the full cast of Monty Python, George Carlin, Bill Hicks, and Ricky Gervais. I would also leave an open invitation out to Charles Darwin and Jesus Christ. It would be an interesting night, but I’m not sure that all would show up, or stay for the whole thing.

If I had to pick a song for ‘Infinity: An Anonymous Biography’ it would be either Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, or ‘Dazed and Abused’ by Seether. Both are tragic and beautiful in their own way, and both move me emotionally, as I hope my novels will for my readers.”

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Thank you, Nico. Having listened to this soulful track ‘Dazed and Abused’, I agree it’s the perfect choice.

The other novel by Nico Laeser I have already on my kindle, is ‘Skin Cage’ http://www.amazon.com/Skin-Cage-Nico-Laeser-ebook/dp/B00RYDGWIA/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 It’s such a joy to have a novel waiting on my virtual bookshelf that I know without reservation I will delight in reading.

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Nico’s Amazon author page is: http://www.amazon.com/Nico-Laeser/e/B00SF3C732/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1431991295&sr=8-1

For more information, or just to say hi, you can like his author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nico-Laeser/1439659402974977

Or email him at: http://nicolaeser@gmail.com

An interview with author Ian D. Moore

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I first met Ian D. Moore in an indie author facebook group to which we both belong, and then was invited by him to join the team that evolved to produce the inspired You’re Not Alone – An Indie Author Anthology. https://www.facebook.com/yourenotalone2015 Ian has been the driving force behind this, and has worked incredibly hard to make it happen. Knowing him has been a privilege, especially as I’m aware of the personal grief that first fired his enthusiasm to create a way to contribute meaningfully to a charity dear to his heart. I wanted to understand more about the man as well as the writer, and so I invited him to be interviewed on my blog.

Ian, what else can you tell me about yourself?

Well, my full title is actually Ian David Charles Moore, which is quite a mouthful to say the least. I’m a 43 year old trucker, originally from Birmingham, West Midlands but have been living ‘up north’ in Yorkshire for the last 10 years. I have two sons aged 16 and 9 and a step-son aged 17 and step-daughter aged 15 with my partner of almost 4 years. I tend to be quite practical, not the most emotional person I know. If it’s broken, I’ll try to find the fastest, most efficient way to fix it. If it needs doing, I’ll get it done, one way or another. In a nutshell, that’s me.

What about your writing history – when was the first time you decided to write, and what prompted you to begin?

I have always loved the written word. I’m quite inward focused in real life, not one for making small talk, and I usually avoid crowds. This has meant that I find it much easier to write than to talk, though it is arguable as to which one I do best. So far, I’ve just one fully completed novel entitled Salby Damned. The idea came from a radio broadcast I heard about fracking. It triggered an immediate response in me, and the story was originally written on my Samsung mobile phone and posted chapter by chapter in real time on to Facebook – until it got to be too big. It took just 7 weeks to write the story, and a further 9 months to edit it. This was my first attempt at a full scale professional novel. I had written a few short stories many moons ago, never published and long since lost. I’m prone to poetry from time to time, sometimes funny, sometimes a little more serious.

Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?

My younger sister Helen was the one who gave me the push to write a professional story. She knew that I could write and encouraged me to try to write a ‘zombie story for grown-ups’ – that’s what she asked for. I hope I didn’t disappoint her.

When did you decide to write in your chosen genre?

From a very early age I was always fascinated with the darker side of life, the horrors and thrillers of this world, from the bizarre such as Animal Farm, to the plausible and one of the greats, Fahrenheit 451, and then, when I got older, James Herbert – Portent, and Dean Koontz to name but a few. The macabre, psychological, paranormal and generally weird always seems to pique my imagination. It felt right to write in a genre that I love so much.

Tell me more about the concept behind your book. How exactly did you get the idea?

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Well, as I said, I was given specific instructions by my sister to write an adult zombie story. And then, at work trucking one day, the radio announced that gas and energy companies could now legally drill under our houses from miles away to extract shale gas… the creative juices started to flow, and the ‘Deadheads’ were born.

What about your life outside of writing?

Life is very busy, as you can imagine with four children, two of which (mine) still live in Birmingham over a 120 miles to the south. I spend my days off alternating between home life in Yorkshire and time with my boys in Birmingham. My trucking work sees me out 60 hours a week on the road and I also run an internet based bed/mattress business which can mean long hours delivering nationwide in my free time.

What makes you laugh?

Lee Evans, generally speaking. His humour is outstanding. I warm to people who don’t take life too seriously – it is far too short for that. I find that seeing my children happy and smiling lifts me beyond words, and equally to see my partner happy also turns a dark day into bright sunshine.

Who would you like to invite for dinner?

The Head of NASA and the complete crew of Apollo 14 – what a story they would have to tell.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

In the Arms of the Angel by Sarah McLachlan – it’s a VERY haunting melody. https://youtu.be/3pvf_OBuJVE

What are you working on now?

Currently, every waking minute is spent on the Indie Authors Charity Anthology, along with a multitude of wonderful writers, to complete a book of short stories in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support. It is a very exciting project indeed and, as far as I’m aware, a first for the charity.

I also have the sequel to Salby Damned in progress – Nathan Cross is still semi-naked and walking out of the shower towards a gawping Evie… but that’s enough for now. And then I’ve another book I’ve started, something a little different in that it’s a paranormal thriller – thought I might try and bend my genre a little, reach outwards and see if I can do it. Watch this space…

You have created some great characters. Which one is your favourite?

In Salby Damned, it would have to be Colin Snape. He was just the best character to create, everything loathsome in a human being and I got to write it all down… a lot of fun indeed.

Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?

Nathan Cross would be Hugh Jackman, Evelyn Shepherd would have to be Keira Knightly. The officers in the book would be Hugh Laurie and Sean Connery. Corporal Simms would have to be played by Uma Thurman.

Are you like any of the characters, and if so how?

Nathan Cross was based upon my experiences – he is smarter, braver and considerably better looking than me, but hey, that’s why I write fiction. No, really – he has a lot of my traits and would do many of the things I could see myself doing.

Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?

Salby Damned literally poured out of me. It’s as if it had been waiting for years to be written down. I was gutted when I came to the end of the story, and honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to write another again. Truthfully, I still don’t, but I seem to be inspired none the less to try. The plots, characters and scenes I could see in my mind’s eye as if I were actually there.

What is your main reason for writing?

I love to write. For me, it is an escape and allows me the freedom to express my feelings in a way that I struggle to do in spoken words. If, by some miracle, others enjoy what I produce, that can only be a bonus. Do I write seriously? Yes of course. Does it matter to me what I put out? Absolutely. Am I competitive in my writing? No, but I think we should all push ourselves to be better if we’re going to sell what we write.

I‘ve only read your first book, Salby Damned, so far. Is it going to be part of a series?

You’ll have to wait for the sequel! Even I’m not sure where it will go yet, but I do have a couple of open options.

What for you are the best and worst aspects of writing?

Having the freedom to create whatever you want is very liberating. Your own worlds, scenarios and characters can come to life from mind to paper. I think I’ll always get excited when the first proof of a book drops on the mat – that has to be the best moment.

The worst bit is the dreaded editing. It can be time consuming, frustrating; heartbreaking at times too, especially if you’re learning the ropes as you go along – as I have, really. It is a necessary evil though – polish your work until it shines… then go and polish it again.

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

Marketing means different things to different people, depending upon how you see yourself as a writer. There are some who thrust flyer ads and media into the public eye on a daily basis – they may depend upon book sales for income. I do not. I’ll advertise every few weeks or so but have found the best way to get sales is to socialise with other like-minded souls. There is no better advert than a FREE one in the form of a review that is reposted several times. It carries so much more weight.

Tell us one odd thing about you and one really mundane thing.

Although fairly diplomatic, I’m a fan of body art – tattoos to be specific. You would never know it to look at me, even in a short-sleeved shirt, but I have three, AND a piercing. Perhaps it’s my rebellion against ‘the norm’. I successfully gave up smoking after 28 years almost 6 months ago to the day. Is that mundane enough?

Who are your editors and how do you quality control your books?

My work remains self-edited. It is not easy as an indie to afford the high prices for editors and they may not be in tune with a writer’s style or expression. I choose to self-edit but have a team of willing victims… I mean volunteers, who will read a new piece and either throw it back at me or hand it back with a wink and a smile.

How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?

Self-publishing has been a roller-coaster ride of blood, sweat, tears and laughter. It is a learning curve, an ongoing thing, and to have published one, or even three books doesn’t make you anywhere near an expert. Anyone can self-publish, but you must have a certain discipline to get it right and to a high enough quality. The high point for anyone has to be seeing your book online, and possibly googling your own name and having it come up! The low points are when you go back to look at your work after a few weeks and wonder why on earth you wrote it that way – so begins the after edit fallout.

What is your advice to new writers?

If you have a story – tell it. Go and find yourself a good online writers group, not a paid review group. A group where indies meet, like a watering hole. Get to know them, participate in the posts and events – you’ll learn more in one week than you’d learn in a month on your own. There is a lot to learn – writing the story is the easy part, but don’t give up! Polish your work until it glows in the dark and ALWAYS get a second opinion.

Who are your favourite independent writers?

From those I’ve read so far as follows: Lesley Hayes, Patrick Christopher Power, Tom Benson, Nico Laeser, Eric Lahti, Sharon Brownlie, to name but a few. These are the ones who stand out for me.

Who are your favourite authors?

I’ve always liked Stephen King, James Herbert, Dean Koontz, Nelson De Mille, Ray Bradbury and recently Andy McNab.

What is your favourite book?

There are two that have stayed with me. By The Rivers Of Babylon – Nelson De Mille and Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

What book are you currently reading and in which format?

I’m currently reading Sharon Brownlie’s e-book, Betrayal – a gritty, gripping tale of revenge.

What (not who) would you like to take to a lonely island?

My kindle and possibly a good MP3 Player loaded with music.

What would your friends say are your best and your oddest quality?

I can be quite solitary sometimes, away with the fairies in my own little world, usually immersed in thought about a plot or character. My temper – while longer as I’ve gotten older, is still pretty short though I have a lot more scope for understanding now than I once did.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

With the introduction of e-readers, kindles, mobile phone apps, everyone becomes an instant book critic. There will be some who delight in leaving a good, honest and positive review, and to balance those there will be others who leave a negative one simply because they can. The thing about reviews and criticism is to take what is important from them, to look objectively at what has been said and see if it is based upon truth or emotion. In sticking your head above the parapet and putting your work out there, it is reasonable to expect that some will like it, others will not – don’t try to please everyone!

You can find Ian and read more about Salby Damned by following any of these links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23115462-salby-damned?ac=1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iandcmoore?fref=ts

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Salby-Damned-Ian-D-Moore-ebook/dp/B00MVXFHFC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430998470&sr=8-1&keywords=salby+damned

An echo of things past

springs-embers--cherry-blossom-petals-on-the-surface-of-a-pond-vivienne-gucwa

Today, as I was walking home, the fragile sunlight dissolved into sudden gentle rain, and I was overwhelmed by an inexplicable emotion that was something like joy, something like grief, the most peculiar happiness. And then I understood. It was one of those Proust’s madeleine moments that took me back to the first time I went to Glastonbury with the love of my life. We had been together for a year and a day and we went there to celebrate, for our own private handfasting.

It was spring, just like now, soon after the solstice, and we were so irreparably entwined with one another, so terribly, disastrously in love, with a twinly rapport that has only come once in this lifetime. We had booked the room – in a crazy place run by a mad woman (not that we knew that before we went) – that turned out to be in an annexe out in the garden. As she unlocked the door and we stood on the threshold, a sudden flurry of wind blew most of the blossom from the tree just outside. It gusted on to the floor, and across the bed – a breathtaking show of pink and white confetti that couldn’t have been better orchestrated if anyone had tried.

“It does that once a year,” she said airily. “Today is the day.”

Glastonbury is that kind of place. Magic is everywhere. Later, as we walked towards the town it began to rain, just like today, and we got soaked to the skin and had to go into a charity shop to buy dry clothes. In retrospect it seems symbolic, though at the time it was simply part of the glorious adventure that was our whole relationship. Why symbolic? Because there are times in your life when you shed a skin you didn’t even know you were wearing; a suit of clothes like a cocoon out of which your fragile new self can delicately emerge, somewhat damply, to dry in the sun. I do love a metaphor.

We kept going back to Glastonbury, all the years we were together. It pulled us towards it with a weird kind of magnetism. It was the place where our love sometimes found its most intense expression, even when we were unhappy together, much later on. Somebody who lived there told us once it acted as a portal; and that every time you visited, as you left you passed through into a new alternative version of your life. A sojourn in Glastonbury for any length of time makes such proclamations seem plausible.

Here, on the far distant shore of those islands of magical resonance, it seems a sweet delusion that in our innocence we readily believed that each portal would take us to a deeper place of shared connection. Portals are not that predictable. In a time of flux and transition in your life, they are just as likely to open the way to further turmoil. Sometimes that leads to the realisation that it’s time to move on, rather than keep repeating the same story you tell yourself about who you are.

It’s strange, to be drawn back again so powerfully into remembering the love of my life, the way we were, the beautiful folly of our love at the beginning. How could anyone be so completely full of joy without it spilling over into an ocean of bliss? We were blissful; we were wild with delight like children let out of the classroom to play. We were shocked by us, by the sheer improbability and yet inevitability of our having found one another. How could it be so easy to fall so deeply in love without drowning?

Neither of us had needed Glastonbury to provide a place to cross over into an alternative version of our self. We had both already gone through that first portal of transition. That day we met we were ready for change, for challenge, for the heady risk of a truly soulful relationship. It’s how it is in life – you imagine the possibility of something and then it arrives on your doorstep with the absurd power still to surprise you. Be careful what you wish for.

My memory of our love and its loss still lies on my chest with a sorrow deeper than any sigh could hope to relieve. Although, paradoxically, it also gives me the sweetest happiness, remembering how happy we were and how deeply we connected, when we did. We have been apart now for more years than we were together. There is a point at which you stop saying to yourself that you miss someone, and you just accept that that was then and this is now. And in a strange way, they are also always part of now; in that place inside you where they always were and never go away.

Interview with Christoph Fischer

It’s been a while since I blogged. I’ve been doing that thing that writers do, writing. But more of that another time. Today I am focusing on another writer, Christoph Fischer. I met him through the Indie Authors Review Exchange Group on facebook. We read and enjoyed one another’s books, and out of our mutual respect a dialogue gradually evolved. A few months ago, before a major move in his life to a dream location in Wales, Christoph interviewed me on his blog: http://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com Afterwards, I realised how much more I could learn about him by asking him some of the same searching questions. This interview is the result.

Christoph Fischer

Christoph, begin by telling me about your writing history. When was the first time you decided to write and when was the first time you did?

I always had a bit of a lively imagination. I wrote a few articles for my school’s student newspaper when I was younger. Then I did nothing of the sort for over twenty years until a psychic told me that I would write a book. I found it amusing. Then a different psychic told me the same thing and that raised my interest. Five years ago I sat down to try it. I wrote the first draft for Conditions and I haven’t stopped since.

Did anyone influence you / encourage you to become a writer?

My father was an avid reader; both my parents always encouraged creativity of any kind and I also had some excellent literature teachers when I was young. My sister and my partner were my first readers. They liked my books and gave me the confidence to show them to more people. My close friend and cover designer Daz Smith was the one who eventually pushed me to publish.

When did you decide to write in your chosen genre(s)

I’m an impulsive writer and would find it hard to stick with just one genre. I write about what interests me. For a while I got stuck in historical fiction because I love history. The research for one book always seemed to raise points of interest for the next one. I also wrote about mental health and Alzheimer’s disease, issues close to my heart. In January I published a thriller. I started out writing it as a book about Western medicine versus alternative healing but the story was better suited for a thriller.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on another thriller called The Gamblers. An accountant with a penchant for numbers and gambling wins the Lottery. He falls under the spell of a charismatic gambler and falls in love with a stewardess. After a brief honeymoon period things become very dubious and he finds himself torn between blind trust and paranoia.

Who would you cast to play the characters in a movie?

For Ben, the accountant, I would choose Ewan McGregor or Edward Norton.
Mirco, the gambler, could be played by either Alexander Skarsgard or Matthew McConaughey. Wendy, the stewardess could be played by Scarlett Johanson or Naomi Watts.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

There is a German song from 1986 called “Der Spieler” that partially inspired the book. Very moody and mysterious but it does not travel or translate well…
For the English version I would suggest “The Winner Takes It All” by Abba… or “Money Money Money” by Abba, or “Name of the Game” by Abba – even “Waterloo”….

How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?

Not sleeping. Not eating. Not answering the phone. Hide!

What do you like best about writing? What’s your least favourite thing?

Writing the first draft is the most enjoyable part for me: Not knowing for sure how the story is going to end and having all the options open.
My least favourite part is the marketing. I’d rather not tell people that my books are must-reads and would love it if people could be dears and discover my work quietly on their own.

What do you do when you don’t write?

Walk my dogs, go to the gym, read and watch silly comedy programmes on TV. Throw in the odd meditation and quality time with the family.

What makes you laugh?

Friends, Brooklyn 99, Big Bang Theory, Woody Allen, adolescent humour.

Who would you like to invite for dinner?

Susan Sarandon and Stephen Hawkins. I’d imagine them to be interesting guests.

How do you handle criticism of your work?

After a few years in the ‘business’ I think I handle it very well.
Constructive criticism can be very helpful to become a better writer and I’ll always welcome that.
If someone read my book, engaged with it and didn’t like it, fair enough. And those who use reviews to offload anger and hate – that comes with the territory of publishing and has to be endured. I don’t like it but I see it for what it is.
I also own a shotgun…

The book I read by Christoph that really made me sit up and notice him was The Healer

The Healer

When advertising executive Erica Whittaker is diagnosed with terminal cancer, western medicine fails her. The only hope left for her to survive is controversial healer Arpan. She locates the man whose touch could heal her but finds he has retired from the limelight and refuses to treat her. Erica, consumed by stage four pancreatic cancer, is desperate and desperate people are no longer logical nor are they willing to take no for an answer. Arpan has retired for good reasons, casting more than the shadow of a doubt over his abilities. So begins a journey that will challenge them both as the past threatens to catch up with him as much as with her. Can he really heal her? Can she trust him with her life? And will they both achieve what they set out to do before running out of time?

I thoroughly recommend The Healer. In fact I gave it a 5*review on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R3PY5WRS9PN9TE/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B00QIJ4DJ6&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=133140011&store=digital-text

If your interest has been aroused the following links will connect you with it:

Amazon: http://smarturl.it/thehealerthriller
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23662030-the-healer
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheHealerNovelbyChristophFischer?ref=hl

You can find details of all Christoph’s books on his website: http://www.christophfischerbooks.com

And at his Amazon Author Page: http:///www.amazon.co.uk/Christoph-Fischer/e/B00CLO9VMQ

Round Robin – The end of the road

hill with tree-2

Ah… so I have reached the end of another novel… and here comes the aftermath of grief. I really can’t justify a fifth trawl through for stray typos, grammar blunders and the like. As far as I can tell it is now as good as it gets, and further tinkering could just over-egg the pudding. It really is like the end of a love affair when I’ve completed a final draft. The memories linger on of what he said and she said and all the highs and lows that swept me up as I was writing. Those characters have arisen from my psyche like wraiths of a former self, imprinting themselves on the page and on my heart. I know them so well. I care for them deeply, every one of them. I want to know what happens next. But there is no ‘next’ – not for this cast of players on the stage of my imagination.

It is a peculiar kind of grief that arises when there is no more to add to the story that has so engaged me for so many months. Just as peculiar as the way the mood of a novel seeps into me, stirring up buried feelings and opening up new insights as I listen to what my characters are telling me. They are real people, surely? How could I just relinquish them when their last thoughts and words have been shared with me? I am simply the author, dictating their story on their behalf. I care passionately about their lives and about them as individuals. I feel their pain, I share their moments of joy and liberation. It feels as though they are leaving me, rather than the other way around. They don’t need me any longer. I must content myself with blogging about my grief and telling the world that our relationship is over.

I always forget when I start something new that this is how it will feel when it is complete. I begin with elation, excitement, the blank page inviting me further in with every step. I love the mystery that unfolds with a new relationship: the sharing of secrets, the deeper intimacy that comes from discovering facts you didn’t guess and feelings that only this person could possibly evoke. I am talking about a novel here, and not a love affair – although the same criteria apply. I have only a sketch outline in my mind when I begin writing – the characters develop their individual voices and reveal their motivations as the story gradually unfolds. They tap me on the shoulder at the most inconvenient times (in the shower, while asleep, waiting for a bus – whenever my mind is in free fall, I suppose) and insist on giving me vital new information. And now there is only silence in the place they used to be. But I have no regrets. As it is with the best of relationship break-ups, we have done what we needed to together, and moved on.

‘Round Robin’ is a novel about families – but it’s also about childhood: what blights it, what saves it, what remains of it unresolved in adulthood. Do you remember the child you were at almost eleven? This is the age of the child in this story: on the brink of puberty and all the changes that it brings, wise with the unique wisdom of the soul still largely unadulterated by the psychic pollution in the outside world. I remember how fully formed I felt myself to be at that age and how much I understood about life even though experience had yet to teach me the full nine yards of it (and I still have a way to go.) I remember my children at that age, too: so unaware of how innocent they still were, in spite of all the messiness of the adult world around them. My grandfather had a saying which the family considered naive: “There’s no deceit in children.” But I’ve come to agree with him. Children see situations clearly without the complications we attach to them in later life. They haven’t yet been burdened by what they are supposed to think, believe and feel.

‘Round Robin’ is as different from my previous two novels as they are from each other. You may recognise some of the themes – like all writers of fiction I am continually pursuing certain truths. Just like Robin at the beginning of the novel, I have always asked those most pertinent of existential questions: ‘Where did I come from? Where am I going? What does it all mean?’ and will continue to ponder them until my own story eventually reaches its conclusion – hopefully a good number of novels hence from now.

‘Round Robin’ is published on kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RZSILII and http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00RZSILII

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…

friendship poppies

I’m not really a party person – never have been. New Year’s Eve became many years ago one of those occasions I prefer to spend alone. Partly because there are still the faint stained shadows left of terrible New Year’s Eves when dreams and expectations were cruelly shattered at the very worst time – but more because I’ve come to value it as a time for quiet, private contemplation. For a number of years I would wait till midnight and then lay Tarot cards as an aid to reflect on the year gone by and the one yet to come. I don’t do that now. It feels these days as though my unconscious doesn’t need much prompting to bring to the surface those gems of insight.

This past year, since the very start of 2014, I have been immersed in writing – a process which continually encourages my unconscious and conscious to hold hands and reconnoitre. Typical of my ‘Let’s do it right now, and don’t hold the horses!’ Gemini personality I threw my intellect into the whole mind-bending process of publishing on kindle, creating a blog, rewriting my website, reframing my public profile and identity, leaping headlong into facebook and twitter, and behind the scenes not only preparing recently completed novels for publication, but dipping into the deep inkwell of the muse to create something entirely new. Looking back, I am astonished that I achieved so much in so relatively a short time – despite prolonged bouts of illness and the exhaustion left in its wake. (But don’t let’s dwell on that.)

(‘Yes, please, PLEASE let’s dwell on that’ says my body. But as usual I reply: ‘Look, you’ve already made your point’, and tell it not to make a fuss.)

More importantly than any of the above, it’s been a year during which I have unexpectedly made genuine connections with people through social media – something I would have once claimed was impossible. Out of those connections some real friendships have evolved. Not the kind of friendships where you hang out for hours and drink tea and set the world to rights, but the kind where you exchange not just thoughts but feelings, where you empathically bond and offer solace and support. ‘Keep it real’ has been my mantra ever since I crossed into the unknown territory of virtual reality. It’s been my mantra all my life, and is a recurring theme in my work as a therapist and in my writing.

What, after all, are we protecting when we pretend to be other than we are? And is it the best kind of protection to develop a false persona? The answer for me is emphatically no. If anything, I err on the side of being a bit too open and honest about myself – but that’s ok. I’m only another one just like you – a different storyline, perhaps, but the same core human needs and responses. It’s the human frailties of each of us that invariably touch me the most – how hard we strive to be the best we can for one another and ourselves. Falling over seven times we manage mostly to get up eight – and we encourage one another never to give up hope, even when we are at our most hopeless.

What has marked 2014 for me has been the often shocking accumulation of hopelessness on a global level. John Donne wrote in 1624: ‘Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind…’ And so it has felt, watching wars unfold and lives destroyed, at times despairing for all humanity. Will we ever learn? Is peace possible? What will these war scarred children make of their future? Happiness has felt unattainable while sensing the pain of those dispossessed by conflict, tragedy, sickness and bigotry. There seems so little to do except express outrage and sympathy in equal measures, and practice a deeper compassion right here in my own back yard where I can at least witness its healing effect.

In my mid sixties now it’s not surprising that I have experienced a fair degree of personal loss in my time. Friendships can end for various reasons, and relationships don’t always work out. People move away, passion shuffles off with an apologetic backward glance, Titania wakes from her trance of infatuation and sees the asses head for what it is… I’ve become philosophical about all that. What endures is worth having. Some friendships have lasted almost thirty years, and some relationships have miraculously turned into beautiful friendships with fondness for the way we were. But some losses are not meant to be shrugged off, and I suppose as I get older I must get used to more of them. When a friend dies it’s as if a piece of your self has been torn away by time. You shared part of each other’s history and held it safe, like a much read book you could always take down from the shelf and revisit with affection. A friend I have known and loved for twenty five years died just before Christmas, and it’s reminded me how brief it all is, and how meaningless it would be without those special connections we make and the memories we spin out of times we shared and truths we confided, and love we felt.

The greatest gift we offer one another is that fellow feeling, the random kindness that springs from such a deep well inside us, that reaches out to touch another being with gentle words and a soft smile, and the innocent trust of a child. With our friends we can relax and share it, knowing we will not be rebuffed, that we’ll be accepted fully for who we are, with our crooked hearts and our never quite healed wounds. One less friend in my world, in spite of all the new friends I have made, is a small grief that sits heavily in my heart, even though I know he was ready to go and had suffered enough. What I remember most about him is his kindness, how much he cared about everyone, how much healing he brought into the world.

So here we all are, teetering on the brink of another year. I will bring to it what optimism I can, and remember that happiness is a choice and that to be here at all is a miracle, a blessing and a gift. And so to complete my refrain, in the familiar New Year tradition, let’s tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne…

Yoni’s mouse

Yoni-blog

If you remember, in my last post I mentioned an intrepid mouse that narrowly escaped death by cat. As it turned out, it didn’t perish after all. I waited almost a week for the tell-tale odour to indicate its passing, and meanwhile cleared up the remains of several more ‘gifts’ from Yoni that hadn’t fared so well. Emailing details of this to a friend she replied: “We had 15 dead birds in our house over the last year, and a blood bath on the carpet – got the carpet cleaner in and two days later on the same spot found another half dead blackbird, with blood and feathers all over the place.” As you can imagine, reading these gory details made me feel so much better.

I started to wonder whether Yoni has some form of Attention Deficit Disorder (along with all the other adverse personality traits) that causes him to be so easily distracted. He’s not really a dedicated assassin, more like a playful clumsy boy with instincts he hasn’t entirely mastered yet. This charitable interpretation of his behaviour is the basis for my continual forgiveness anyway. He isn’t really a murderer, is he? There’s nothing remotely personal in it. He just takes the game a bit too far sometimes. Well, always, if I’m honest.

And then the morning came when I opened the kitchen cupboard under the sink and saw a trail of mouse droppings weaving a path through the multiplicity of cleaning materials, there mostly for decorative purposes since I rarely clean anything. This was the golden opportunity for that cupboard to get cleaned, even though I dreaded finding a small corpse at the back of it. How can one person accumulate such a huge variety of spray containers of stuff for cleaning every conceivable surface? And when did I ever realistically believe I would want to polish stainless steel or add extra whitening to my washing load?

I followed the track of the mouse as I removed every item, using one of the sprays to disinfect as I went. Finally I came across a half chewed J-cloth and a tiny sieve (why did I ever get that? What would I even use it for?) filled to the brim with mouse droppings. Ah, finally it had been assigned a purpose! That intrigued me. Had it been designated a latrine for some arcane reason best known to the mouse, or was it simply the right size for the job? And the chewed J-cloth just broke my heart. Was it that desperate for food? Or was it building a nest? Suddenly my propensity for anthropomorphism kicked in and I started to over-empathise and worry about the mouse. I visualised it, isolated from its family, hiding out under the kitchen cupboards, subsisting on dust and J-cloths, pining for the water-logged fields from whence it had been dragged. I began to think of it as plucky and resourceful, making the best out of a bad situation, much like Anne Frank in Amsterdam during the Second World War.

I was relieved when the entire cupboard had been laid bare to find nothing but the vast amount of droppings as evidence of the mouse’s sojourn there. Perhaps she (by now it was definitely a ‘she’) had escaped somehow through an unseen hole under the sink unit and found her way back to her real home? I could but hope. The following morning I opened the cupboard again to take out the washing up liquid (I’m not an entire slob) and saw more droppings. She hadn’t escaped, then. Good on her, I thought, although I was a tad irritated by the need to clean up after her again. Then I opened the drawer under the sink to get out a tea-towel (I’m reasonably domesticated in some areas) and there she was…

We stared at one another, transfixed, for one of those breathless nanoseconds where you wait for your fight, flight or freeze mechanism to remind you of the animal you really are, and then she opted for flight, while I froze. Too late, I pulled the drawer wide and called out: “Anne! It’s ok! I’m here to rescue you!” She had already leapt from the back of the drawer down into the murky depths of the underworld beneath the sink. Yoni, meanwhile, was sleeping on the sofa, in that enviously profound state of unconsciousness that cats do so well. The mouse had looked suspiciously well fed, and I wondered whether it wasn’t just the cat down the road who was as usual blatantly stealing food from my boy’s bowl, but perhaps the mouse who had also developed a liking for it. Anything had to be an improvement on J-cloths, after all.

As the days passed, Anne and I developed an intuitive rapport. I would cautiously open the drawer with my mouse rescue kit at the ready and find a fresh pile of droppings decorously placed at the front. There was soap in the back of the drawer and I realised on seeing the tooth marks and shavings that Anne was desperate enough to survive on it. I felt racked with guilt. This mouse had set up home amid the squalor of my kitchen cupboard (admittedly remarkably much cleaner now) and I couldn’t even offer her a decent meal. I couldn’t bear to think of her starving, but I couldn’t possibly set a trap for her… or could I? I went out and bought a humane trap, designed to lure the mouse inside and then keep it there before being escorted back to the wild. Excitedly, I cleared the drawer of everything but this, and waited.

The next morning I discovered that Anne was cannier than I had realised. In spite of the ingenuity of the trap, which was weighted in such a way that a mouse stepping on to the feeding platform automatically caused the door to shut, she had got in, eaten the food, and dashed out again. I decided to seduce her with tasty morsels, and possibly fatten her up enough to slow her down. As the days went by this became our ritual. I primed the trap initially with cheese, then after some research found it’s actually not good for mice and peanut better would be preferable. Twice every day I laid the bait. Twice every day Anne exchanged it for healthy looking droppings in a corner of the drawer. I never actually saw her face to face again, but her calling card was evidence enough.

After a week of this I’d resigned myself to the fact that I actually had a pet mouse I kept in a kitchen drawer. I felt embarrassed. This had to be resolved. I went out and bought another humane trap. I tried to think myself inside the mind of a mouse. It’s hard enough with humans. At least there I have some clues in my own thought patterns and behaviour. This time I primed both traps with dollops of irresistible peanut butter. Surely one of them would work? I tried to imagine the frame of mind a mouse might be in with a full belly and an insatiable desire for derring-do. Would she risk the second trap just because she could? “Go girl!” I cheered her on in my own mind, almost believing that by now we had telepathic contact. (All right, I agree – I really should get out more.)

In the morning I opened the drawer as usual. There was always a moment’s frisson of expectation, so far each time dashed. I checked the first trap and once again it was resoundingly empty. One stray dropping fell out of it as I picked it up. Sighing, I lifted up the second trap and noticed a faint suggestion of heaviness. I gently shook it, and there was definitely something inside. However, I’d been fooled a couple of times like this before and been disappointed. Imagination is a deceptive magician well practised in raising false hopes. I carefully carried the trap out of the kitchen and into the garden, shutting the door behind me to keep Yoni well out of the way. Gingerly, I placed the trap close to the ground and raised the closed flap at the front. Nothing happened. I crouched down, lifted it to eye level, and began to look inside – but at that same moment the mouse leapt from the trap, bounded across the flower bed and through the fence to the precarious future beyond.

“Anne!” I called out after her. “Take care. It’s a wild world out there!”

Not even a glance over her shoulder. Not one gesture of thanks or regret. I think I may have shed a little tear as I went back inside to disinfect the drawer for one last time. I would miss her.

The Chronicles of Yoni

Intellectual Yoni

Anyone who knows me is forced into a love/hate relationship with my cat, Yoni (Full name Yin-Yang Yoni, but don’t let’s stand on ceremony.) He is very clear about who is in charge around here, and I have learned to know my place (preferably on pouch-opening and kibble serving duty by the food bowls.) I used to spend my reclining hours in a room which I jokingly referred to as the Mistress Bedroom, slightly dominated by a conveniently Queen sized bed. That’s his room, now. I have conceded defeat. He tends to leave the room in a huff rather than move over if I ever attempt to reclaim the territory. Fortunately there is more than one bedroom in my house – although as all cat slaves will know, every room in a house is a potential bedroom for a cat. He also favours my chair in the room I use to see my therapy clients, and I must admit looks quite at home there, his inscrutable gaze and Buddha-like composure well suited to the role. Would it make much difference to clients if instead of shoving him out of the way to sit there I simply left him comfortably in situ to listen to them? It’s an experiment I haven’t so far dared to make.

I get the feeling he mostly tolerates me, and have asked myself a few times why I picked such an obvious loner from the litter of mostly friendly purring kittens. He was the one squealing with aggrieved insecurity as his mother showed clear preference for his cuddlier siblings. Perhaps we simply understand one another. He refuses to do anything as girlie as sit on my lap (I did think he was a girl initially until nature proved me wrong, and by then I was already committed and a bit in love with him.) However, when I’m sitting in an armchair with a furry rug at my feet, he will settle himself on the rug, paddle his feet a couple of times in the fur to get that mother cat buzz, and then look at me pointedly until I get down on the floor and provide a space between my legs for him to snuggle inside. It’s not the most comfortable position in which to relax. Not for me, anyway, with my bad back. However, I willingly trade-off one kind of comfort for another, as there is something infinitely consoling about the mutual appreciation between one barely tamed creature and another. They never could entirely domesticate me, I’m happy to say.

One morning a few months ago I got up at 6 a.m. for no better reason than that I was bored, having been awake since 4:30 contending with the continuing effects of a bout of pleurisy. “A nice cup of tea,” I thought optimistically. “That will help. And maybe then I can drift off again for a while.” But no, it wasn’t to be. I’d no sooner opened the kitchen door when Yoni came bounding in through the cat flap with a mouse dangling from his jaws – a very sweet, very alive and wriggly field mouse. “Put it down!” I yelled, as I invariably do. I had my mouse rescue kit ready. This comprises a large plastic tub originally containing soup and a piece of thin cardboard. With enough speed and dexterity it works. There was a time when I used to pick up the dear little creatures in my cupped hands and ferry them back outside again, as far away from Yoni’s grasp as possible, until the day when one ungrateful sod bit me and I spent the next seven hours in A&E waiting for a tetanus jab. Oh, how the nurses laughed. I still don’t understand what was quite so funny about being assaulted while in the throes of a compassionate mouse rescue operation. “That’s the third mouse bite today!” one of them said to another. “Strange how they go in threes.” Strange, indeed… I was distracted from my musings about a possible mouse revolution and an army of rodents plotting world domination by the jab of the needle. “You’ll need antibiotics, too,” the nurse said. At least we were ready for them.

However, back to my narrative… At the sound of my voice Yoni looked at me in disbelief. He never gets why I’m not as enthusiastic as he is about the mouse capturing game. He opened his mouth, possibly to make a sarcastic comment in cat speak, and the mouse saw his moment and made a valiant bid for freedom. I had to admire his chutzpah and his technique. He zipped across to one side of the kitchen, and by the time Yoni had figured out what had happened and followed him, the mouse had changed tack and sped back towards the opposite corner. There he squeezed himself through a hole at the side of the units you wouldn’t have thought you could get a paper clip through (but somehow mice manage it.) I sighed as I watched Yoni still sniffing at the place the mouse wasn’t. I knew this meant we were in for the long haul. We have been here before.

Eventually he followed the scent trail back to where the mouse had last been seen, but let’s face it, the mouse was by now in that vast hinterland beneath the kitchen units where he could survive for days if necessary. Did I mention that Yoni has a touch of OCD? Perhaps all cats do. His capacity to focus on the fine detail is astonishing. If there is a speck of the last rejected meal left in his food bowl, for instance, he will turn his nose up at anything fresh put on top of it and walk away in disdain. When it comes to escaped prisoners, his bent for obsessive attention is unleashed to the full. The last time this happened he sat in front of the freezer for 24 hours, with only the occasional comfort break, barely moving, staring intently, waiting for the escapee to emerge again out of hiding at the exact spot where he could still catch a lingering whiff of it. As if.

This day was no different. I knew, the mouse knew, and probably you as you read this know, that Yoni’s vigil by the kitchen cupboard was like waiting for Godot, an utterly futile exercise. I hate to say it, but the most likely exit point for the mouse – given my wealth of experience on this subject now – is going to be mouse heaven. Cats seem to be very good at demonstrating the power of hope over experience, however, and nothing was going to make him give up. I left him to it. He did get bored a few times during the day, or was possibly distracted by the thought of food (not really what he wanted, as usual – he has a bit of an eating disorder, too.) But each time he remembered the mouse he was back there on duty.

When I went to bed that night, he looked at me reluctantly, and if I could interpret cat speak I’m sure he would have been saying something like: “It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.” The next morning he looked like a cat who has not slept a wink (an unusual sight, given that they spend most of the day doing it.) He also seemed slightly depressed, as anyone who has invested too much energy and attention into a project that just hasn’t worked out is wont to look. Or am I projecting too much into what, let’s be real about it, is a blatantly expressionless expression on a cat’s face? In any event, he had given up. I felt sure that evidence of the escapee now being in mouse heaven was likely to soon follow, and would linger in the miasmic air of the kitchen for quite a while. As I said, we had been here before. However, that wasn’t quite what happened next, as I will reveal in my next post.

You can find out more about my books and about me at my website www.lesleyhayes.co.uk

… and there is a rather interesting cat called Morpheus in my novel ‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ who bears more than a passing resemblance to Yoni.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00GPN71GM

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