Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A time to CELEBRATE Fairy Tales & Hell Hounds!


So last week Richard Dawkins, managed to upset almost everyone I know by doing a talk at the Cheltenham Science fair where he allegedly (and now stringently denies) said that ‘fairy tales are harmful to children’. What Mr Dawkins exactly said or implied make little difference the real thing of note to me was the masses of people jumping in to defend the centuries old tales. What more of testament and validation can fairy tales have? The sheer quantity of people who came forward to defend them proved that Fairy Tales are love adored by millions of people. Millions of sane people, who know that they are factious, yet are happy to defend them against any slander.

Maria Warner defends fairy tales, equating them to Wonder Tales, that promote thought experiments read more press here:

Of head over to the BBC News for a interesting debate with many professors who discuss the merits of all things Once upon a time, press here.

Then Philippa Francis talks about the love of fairy tales over on her blog in way of celebration and support to visit press here.

All in all whether Richard Dawkins intended to or not, he unleashed a wide spread debate about fair tales, and a mass declaration of love for them. This I think should be celebrated!


Hell Hounds, and my most favourite of the un-dead critters, there’s something rather wonderful about the Jungian primeval fear that wolves evoke in human kind, whether they are actual wolves, werewolves or dog-headed-people but Hell Hounds are the Daddy of wolf like critters.

Hell hounds, seem to be less unitised in fiction though, after racking my brain the only one I can think of is Miss Lupescu in Neil Gaiman’s, The Graveyard Book. But Hell Hound stories are plentiful and far stranger than fiction in history. One of the most fascinating is that of Thiess who in his werewolf trial in 1692 Livonian, admitted to being a werewolf, who descended into Hell to take back and release God’s Harvest that had been stolen by Saturn’s sorcerer Skeistan. Theiss’s own evidence that he was detested by the Devil, and that he was working with his fellow brotherhood of werewolves on god missions was enough to secure the old man life. to read more about Thiess, and translations of the trial read, Witches Werewolves and Fairies by Claude Lecoutex.

Large black wolves with burning fire-like eyes, pop up all over Europe in the Middle Ages, one of the most famous being The Beast of Gavaudin, who In the summer of 1764 terrorized the region in France slaughtering many people. After many attempts to kill or capture the beast, on orders from the King Louis XV a troop of his cavalry was sent to help with the mission. Eventually in June 1767 on a hunt involving 300 men the beast was shot. The body was displayed in the Versailles and was described as being; the size of a donkey and wolf-like, with ears that looked like pointed horns, long fangs it’s paws were larger than a man’s head and it eyes glowed red. Eventually the beast corpse was buried and lost. In fact all of the bodies of these immense creatures have been lost and so their existence relegated to myth. To find out more about The Beast of Gavaudin read Werewolves by Nigel Suckling.

The UK also had its share of Hell Hounds, including one that in a storm on 4th August, 1577 at the Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, broke in to the church and killed a man and boy before fleeing into the night. Now this is why I’m celebrating the Hell Hound, because every other Hell Hound corpse has been lost, all evidence of the huge creatures gone EXCEPT that archaeologist working in Suffolk have found the skeleton of a huge dog that on its hind legs would have been 7 foot long, and would have weighed over 200 pounds! The dog’s remains were found in a shallow grave close to The Holy Trinity Church in Blythburgh and date from about the same time. To find out more visit and see photo’s of the skeleton visit the Ancient Origins site press here.

So, although I never want to meet a living Hell Hound in the flesh, the fact that there existence is proven and they can be restored for myth, is in my view a cause for celebration.

Friday, 6 June 2014

My Two Months in a World Without the Web.

The world is getting smaller, people say, you can talk to someone the other side of the globe, even see them via Facetime. The world is getting faster, people say, no waiting for the post to deliver important letter or documents, no having to pace up and down next to the fax machine as it painfully prints the message. Unlike a hundred years ago when phones weren’t commonplace, and you had to send a post card to invite someone over for afternoon tea, or order bread from the bakers (they had up to four postal deliveries back then), now you simply pick up the phone, wherever you are. Unless that is you live where I live.

The past ten months have been rather hectic in the Poyton household, we’ve relocated from Oxfordshire to Buckinghamshire, which has meant new everything; school, clubs, doctors, dentist, opticians, everything. My husband has changed jobs. We’ve moved three times, in addition to moving out of our original house. Which has all been A-MAD, B- Creatively Stifling, C-Exhausting. But ultimately the right thing for the family. But one thing I hadn't been until April, was stressed.

In April we moved to a lovely house where we will stay for the foreseeable future (thankfully), but it seems to be in part of Buckinghamshire which is the equivalent to the DARK AGES when it comes to communication infrastructure. With No Mobile Phone Signal. No Internet, and most of the time NO PHONE LINE.

The lack of communication infrastructure was stressful. Despite people helpfully suggesting that I view it as a retreat and I should get loads of writing done. The problem is our lovely house is in the middle of nowhere, it’s a half an hour walk to any other village with amenities. 

But stressful it is: What if there was an emergency? How would I contact the emergency services?

One day my son was ill at school, but because I was at home and un-contactable, they had to call his granny. What if my mum had been out?

I applied for a job (first one in near on 15 years) and got an interview (yeah!!!), but how was I going to get the feedback or message with no e-mail? (I didn't get the job, but better luck next time).

I volunteer for a number of societies, which are voluntary run with volunteers from all across the uk and is entirely run over the web and via social networking groups. I could NOT be an active member, and I was stressed that people would think I was shirking. Let alone about getting behind on my responsibilities.

I’m on submission – really, I’m sure I don’t need to say any more about that.

Then there’s the simple house keeping things, how to change address? Check bank balance? Pay bills when all our accounts are online.

But you may say easy fix, go to a café, drink coffee, eat cake, use the wi-fi. AH, not as easy as you think. My e-mail isn’t web-based. So my lovely husband managed to rig a kind of patchwork e-mail system up so my e-mails were visible on line and off I trotted. This was especially imperative I got the e-mails as I had a very important time sensitive one to send.

Try one: Sunday: Coffee shop – Wi-fi Down.

Try Two: Wednesday: John Lewis: Everyone gets internet access but me! The lovely internal support man came and tried to help only to discover that my (relatively new high-spec laptop) has a fault driver that stopped me connecting to the Wi-Fi, and needed re-installing. Guess what to re-install it, it needs to connect to the internet!

Try Three: With my hubby gone away on a business trip taking my laptop with him to try and re-install the drivers, I was left with an i-pad. So off I trot to town with the, i-pad to try and send the e-mail. This isn’t great as the i-pad’s autocorrect is not very dyslexia friendly, and tends to make my writing less coherent, but needs must. So in town, and EVERY café or establishment with Wi-Fi, was either closed or the Wi-Fi was not working. Eventually we find the Library has functioning wi-fi, and after being set up, I log on to find, my husband has changed the password to the e-mail and not told me! He is also contactable. 

This was just one of the many stressful and eventful experiences I had in my two months being dis-connected. Far from making my life simpler and more relaxed, having no internet in a world that evolved to it presence is stressful, and makes it difficult to function. We are now connected, and I’m working to catch up, and unwind. And so you may see some more posts from me now I have the means to post them!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour; Work in Progress, Springbatts and Spreadsheets!

Last week the lovely Chitra Soundar tagged me in on her blog post, to be part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. She equated herself to a mosquito and gave a charming and funny insight into her current WIP’s and writing processes, so please check out her post by pressing here.

Firstly thanks to Chitra for tagging me in, and second, just to answer a question posed to me by Chitra last week; A Springbatt is what you get if you bread a Basset Hound with a Springer Spaniel, it’s a very short, hyperactive manically depressive bi-polar dog, that look rather like this…

What am I working on?

This is ALWAYS a difficult question, as it’s never just one project! I'm currently editing my YA science Fiction Novel Journey to the Bone Factory (which was longlisted for this years The Times / Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition), trying to get it ready for submission.

I'm also researching for a new novel which is in the midst of forming into a plot in my mind, which (hopefully) will be a YA Urban Fantasy Romance, about Eros/Cupid’s lesser known brother Anteros the god of mutual and unrequited love.

But the main project is a yet to be named YA Near Future Tale, that I'm penning about a group of kids and teens strive to care for the surviving animals in a city zoo, after an epidemic which has wiped out all adults. They have to face problems on how to feed the large carnivores, how to keep reptiles warm, and the perilous task of protecting the animals and themselves from the hungry marauding savages that see them as easy meat.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I believe this will be different as although it could be described as dystopian as it’s set in a world where infrastructure and government has broken down, but it’s not about a struggle against oppressors, but a group of children who work together to overcome obstacles for a united cause of looking after the incarcerated creatures that would otherwise perish. It’s study of nature and survival, which also brings animals in to YA.

It always amazes me that whenever you go into a bookshop or library the shelves are stuffed full of book featuring animals for children but stop abruptly when it gets to YA. Do teens suddenly stop caring about animals? I don’t think so, not if you think of how many teenagers want to be Vets, or veterinary nurses, or work with animals in some other capacity. So I’m writing this book for all the teen (who like I was as a teen) who still like to read about animals.

Why do I write what I do?

I write the stories that come to me. They gradually seep into my mind and take form refusing to leave until I write them down. Most the concepts evolve in my brain for months before I put pen to paper, but the ones I do write are the ones that scream the loudest, the one that want to be told. I believe that if the stories are so passionate and ignite my imagination, that other people will enjoy them too.

With the Zoo book, I believe that I've had the upbringing to write this book, as when I was a child, we as a family, bread and hand-reared parrots, kept lizards, fish, pigeons, goats and even a stickleback. This gives me a wealth of knowledge about animal husbandry which is a great platform to start research from. 

How does your writing process work?

Well writing is a craft and my writing process is constantly evolving and I like to think improving. Each project that has had a different process of getting it down on paper, but the world building, character development and plotting process is pretty much the same. Every project starts with a an idea that lodges itself in my brain and won’t stop nagging until I do something with it. First, I write the first scene that I've imagined, capturing the voice and I note down any plot points, and character notes that have come to be, at which point I file it until I have time to devote to writing the story properly. 

When I do have the time to devote to the story, I’ll dig out the files, and think, walk, and research anything that I think will help, whist brain storming the plot and profiling characters. When I’m ready I do a brief plot plan, separating the plot into acts, and chapters and planning what I think should happen when, before writing. 

The writing is fuelled by caffeine, and the ideas by walking (so much so I brought the aforementioned Springbatt's, so when I talk the dialogue to myself that people will think I'm talking to the dogs!) or driving and I write on both my PC, and pen and paper. This happens pretty quickly and the story and character evolve and strengthen along the way, bring surprises which is always a reassuring sign that the story is alive.

I tend to use spreadsheets for plotting and editing, to make sure that i don't drop any threads. I find that to make a real convincing world, that I need to be able to visualize and even taste and feel the world. So I will spend time and draw, and collect objects to help build up the images in my mind. In Journey to the Bone Factory one character can turn gold to lead, so I ALWAYS had a piece of gold and lead on my desk.

When the first draft is done I start editing, and when it’s ready my lovely critique group read it and give me honest constructive feedback, which after I've processes I use to improve the manuscript in further edits.

Finally my long suffering husband translates my manuscript into my bespoke dyslexic form of English into actual English!

So now I hand over the baton to my two tagged authors…

Gabby Aquilina who I met at my first ever critique group, Abingdon Writers. I now hand over to Gabby to introduce herself…

I've lived in four different countries in my life and finally decided England is the place for me (although never say never. I'll probably get itchy feet again one day!). I have a degree in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University. co-founded the very successful writer's group, Abingdon Writers, and am in the fingernail-biting stage of waiting for responses from agent submissions! I'm doing a lot of baking (and running to offset the cake-eating) whilst trying my hardest not to constantly refresh my emails... 

Check out Gabby’s blog next Monday the 24th March on http://gabrielleaquilina.blogspot.co.uk/

Dawn Finch a fellow SCBWI folk who I met in the wonderful web world…

Dawn Finch spent over a quarter of a century working in libraries, with over a decade of that specialising in children's libraries and children's literature. She was thrilled to discover that children's books come with children attached, and has carved out a career working with children and their development as readers and writers.

After many years of trying she managed to get her own book for young people published and in 2013 her first novel - Brotherhood of Shades - was published to great reviews. She is currently working on the sequel as well as a YA novel about a fifteen year old serial killer.

You can find out more about Dawn at her website; www.dawnfinch.com or follow her on Twitter @dawnafinch

To read Dawn’s post next Monday check out her blog at www.deefinch.wordpress.com