(review) Echoes of the Underground: A Footsoldier’s Tales

I discovered this title through the more traditional author marketing campaign. Meeting the author face to face.

And what a pleasure it was, it is and shall always be.

Having been on the hunt for a copy of “Brainstorm” by Bryan Talbot I discovered that Lee Harris (the original publisher of Brainstorm and good friend of Talbot) sells brand new copies over the counter at “Alchemy”, the headshop he still runs in the frenzied, colourful guts of Portbello road. It was at this time he told he about the completion of “Echoes of the Underground”, asking most graciously if I would read it.

Covering his beginnings in South Africa before moving into a thought provoking account of the numerous individuals encountered in his life Harris has collected articles, insights and personal recollections over what appears to be a troubling but rich lifetime. Lee manages to capture his experiences of the sixties with a high degree of lucidity. His intelligent discussions around LSD, the Arts Lab and numerous other counter culture topics are a brilliant insight into the general mindset of the time. The capturing of the flux and reflux of the creative spirit, and the legalities surrounding the march of the free thinkers, is quite astounding.

As Harris recounts his time with various beautiful creatures of the time his curiosity and genuine interest in the human soul is evident. Lee is a curious and soulful individual indeed, as well as being a gentle and powerful writer. The memories he recounts read as if you are there with him, reeling in psychedelic delirium, frothing in hedonism, swimming in history.

In this Harris takes you by the hand through the multi-layered strands of his memories. If you’re looking for a genuine, applicable, honest account of the sixties culture look no further. Lee will be only too happy to take those rose tinted spectacles from your face.

A brilliant account of a lifetime that now seems a galaxy away.

@KrakenKreations

I interviewed Cath Janes some time ago now. I’d started reading her excellent blog and for many reasons could not pull myself away. This was a digital space with a heart to it. A large, thumping, flesh wrapped cluster bomb of a heart. I have to say I think I even fell in love with Cath. A bit. Her rage was a lull in the ocean for me. Her fury was my lullaby. A flat tide rolling over boiling water.

Then it all went a bit quiet. The edges blurred. Some break in stride I noticed. Then, one fiery morning, her public became witness to the birth of Kraken Creations, in her words “Handmade rays of sunshine for you and your home, online shop and one-woman war against ditzy florals.” I scratched my head. Had the claws retracted? Had the scaly form sunk deeper still in that volcanic tomb? I wanted to know more. Pray Miss Janes, tell me more.

Give me a vision of a typical day for you in five words.

Coffee, inspiration, determination, fun, coffee.

So what happened? First rage now sewing?

When I started writing on www.thekrakenwakes.org it was because I was recovering from a very serious mental breakdown, one which ended my career as a freelance broadsheet journalist. I’ve always felt passionately about social issues (and social idiocies) and the blog gave me a chance to get interested in writing again but without the pressure of deadlines or having to pay the mortgage. I found putting my rage into words deeply therapeutic and enormous fun. During this time I rediscovered my love of sewing, something I had abandoned and forgotten about during my career. I took it up again to give my days purpose and creativity and to give me something to look forward to. By the time I felt well enough to start earning money and coping with the outside world it was a no-brainer to turn my sewing hobby into a business which is now www.krakenkreations.co.uk. I enjoyed working alone and under my own steam so went for it. It shocks a lot of people when they hear the ever-enraged kraken now sews for a living but when they see some of the very sweary things I embroider it all makes sense.

You’ve raised a point recently about how female crafters squander their skills by endlessly making ‘home sweet home’ plaques and pink bunting. What do you feel is at the heart of the problem AND why aren’t there more male crafters?

The problem is multi-layered. In terms of what women make, I truly think that women have been told for so long that pink is a female colour that they naturally use it in products that are aimed at women. It’s a rut that millions of women fall into and in, my experience, it’s not until alternatives are pointed out to them that they see there is another way. The high street and its obsession with pink for women also gives the impression that pink is what women want to buy so when women set up their craft businesses they emulate this. As someone who sews, even mainstream fabrics are essentially floral which even gives us sewists less choice when we make our own items. Talk to any woman who eschews the pink and floral and they’ll tell you how hard it can be to find alternative prints. In all, it’s easier to go with the pink, floral flow than to forge your own way and this is what a lot of women do.

As for male crafters, there are a lot out there but they tend towards things like woordworking or metal crafts (in my experience). Women completely dominate the craft market at the mo and I suspect that is because they can do it from home and around the kids and they are falling back on skills they were taught in school. Also, the whole marketing of sewing at the mo is at women which doesn’t encourage men to do it too. You can pick up all sorts of sewing mags but many of them won’t have a single pic of a man in them. Saying that, The Great British Sewing Bee has a male judge (Patrick Grant) and this year a man won it so hopefully things are changing.

How do you organise your time? Seriously.

I am very structured. I go to my sewing shed every morning at about 9.30am and work for as long as I can until I pick up my daughter from school or after-school club. What I do during the day depends on whether I have commissions or want to start a new range of products. This means I either sew all day long or spend some of the day developing new patterns, assessing what I think will sell well if I make it, looking in books for inspiration, taking pics to share on the internet etc. This is all interspersed with social networking, without which I’d not sell anything. Mondays are utterly dedicated to scheduling my networking tweets for the week (it’s tedious but worth it) and planning how I want my week on the internet to look. Social media for crafters is an ever-hungry beast and I have to stay inventive to stay seen. Many people think that crafting means waiting for the muse to appear before floating around in a creative daze but the reality is way more business-like than that if you want to make money from what you do.

What first drew me to you was your clear strength and belief in yourself. Do you feel that self belief is key to sourcing your own creativity?

I have to admit to not always having self-belief and having days where I whimper and panic over whether I am doing the right things! I think self-belief is vital in being creative because if you assume you won’t be good at something you won’t even try it, which is the death knell for creativity. Crafting often consists of lots of fuck-ups but you learn and move on. Being fearful of those fuck-ups means you never try and therefore never succeed. On the walls of my sewing shed I have lot of images that I love and a few messages that make me keep going. One of them is by the author Neil Gaiman, explaining that he hopes the year to come is full of mistakes because it’s mistakes that lead us down exciting paths. I look at that every day. When setting up Kraken Kreations I went though a period of thinking, “What if it’s shit? What if I can’t do it?” but my husband reminded me that there was nothing to lose and he was right. If you have nothing to lose, fucking-up really isn’t fucking-up at all.

At what point did you think “I can actually do this”?

Really? Honestly? About three weeks ago. Kraken Kreations has been open for nine months and even though I know I’m on the right track it’s only in the last three weeks that I feel I’ve got a real grip on the balance of running a business again. After having a mental breakdown it can take a long time to stop doubting your abilities and I feel as if those doubts, those negative voices that crop up (I call it Shit FM because it used to play all of the time in my head when I was ill) are finally gone. This is the closest I have felt to a fully functioning human since 2010, the worst point of my breakdown!

How do you talk to your kids about self belief?

Oh, Kraken Junior gets endless pep talks from me. She says she wants to be an astronaut? I say, “If that’s what you want to do, do it!”. If she wants to roll about in a puddle of mud I say the same thing (unless I am dying with tiredness and need to collapse). Nothing but nothing makes me rage more than when parents tell their kids they’ll never be this or that because that’s not what ‘normal’ people do. When I see the amount of potential a child has it’s a crime to not encourage it. I try to be practical about these things too. If Kraken Junior wants to open a toy hospital (thanks Doc McStuffins!) we talk about what it would take to achieve that and how she can put that into action. It’s about encouraging her to see a problem or a goal, deconstruct it and find solutions. I think a huge part of self-belief can be about breaking issues down into manageable pieces and then making them work. You gain confidence and belief along the way.

Have you had any “personal” message requests you just couldn’t sew? If so please tell me what they are.

None yet. I’ll sew most things but nothing that involves Catholics, Tories, UKIP or the EDL. That covers most of the vile in the world.

Have your experiences made you think/act differently as a parent?

I’d certainly say that my happiness has a massive impact on the happiness of the family. When I had PND and PTSD, after giving birth to Kraken Junior, I was very ill for a long time and it completely impacted on my relationship with my girl. I didn’t even think she was my child for the first couple of years. Because of this I don’t know if I would have acted differently as a mum without having gone through my mental illness first. I only know life with it. However, my self realisation very clearly projects a strong image of me to my child. She sees me doing what I love and being self motivated enough to start my own business which I think teaches her so many things. She’s seven and already talks about having her own businesses, just like me, when she is older (a toy clinic mixed with a post office is the latest). My self realisation also makes me very conscious of allowing Kraken Junior to do what she loves because I now know that this is the key to most things in life. Parents set such a huge example to their kids and I want the lessons I have learned from my experience to be passed onto her.

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

Bloody hell! What a question! Don’t ask me how I’d pay for all of this or achieve it but how about:

Equality across gender, sexual, economic, health, social and political divides;
Eradication of the pink/ blue ‘rule’ for girls and boys;
Earlier retirement age for people who want to spend their remaining working days being creative;
The glorious smell of babies’ heads to be pumped into every household;
The use of blood, not blue water, in tampon ads.

A massive thank you to Cath for taking the time to give such an in-depth view of her life, some brilliant pearls of wisdom and a fat chunk of honesty. Do take a wander over to Kraken Kreations. The customer service is second to none. And lovingly sweary.

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Conversations with a Liar

I had this conversation with my three year old yesterday afternoon. A good lesson in how to set up a good hustle.

“Have you had a bath?”

“Yes”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll ask mummy y’know.”

(covering her mouth and whispering) “Will you ask mummy?”

“Yes. Then we’ll find out if you’re lying. Do you know about lying?”

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“No.”

So I start telling her about lying. I use examples to provide consequential outcomes. She seems to get it.

“Let’s say I break your lego castle while you’re at big school. Then, when you come home, you will say ‘Who broke my castle?’. How would you feel then?”

“Sad. And cross.”

“What happens next if I lie and say it was mummy who broke the castle?”

“I would laugh.”

“You would laugh.”

“Yup.” (big show of pretend laughing)

“Why?”

“Because it’s funny.”

“But then we’re all cross! Because of the lie I told you would then get cross with mummy. Then mummy gets cross with me.”

“And then mummy is cross then you are cross then you make me cross.”

“And how would we all feel if I had just told the truth in the first place.”

“Happy. And I would say ‘don’t worry daddy. We can fix it together.’”

(One hour later. In walks mummy. To much delight a question is asked.)

“Mummy we have something to ask you. Have I had a bath today?”

“Yes.”

“Ha ha.”

The look she shot me when she’d seen I had realised she’d been telling the truth all along was the only lesson I learned worth remembering that day. Adults don’t know anything.

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Creativity, Sobriety and Chester P

Creativity is an overused word. We are all creative. The process is the important factor. Sourcing that piece of you that puts fire in your belly. It doesn’t have to be painting. Or writing. Or music. Creativity has no mould for stereotypes.

I’ve written about drugs before. How to explain what drugs are to a child. Why people use drugs (you can read it in my book). Because people use them for a reason. And there’s no question they’ve played their part in my life. Some opening paths, answering questions I already knew the answers to. Connecting with nature. Dancing in the sharp shadows of enlightenment. Positive and negative. Dark and light. Seeing life from all angles. Embracing decay.

Artists lining my shelves have nearly all at one stage taken, enjoyed, written about and been consumed by drugs. Suffering it all. Coming back for more. Bill Hicks, Nick Cave, Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway, Reznor, Hendrix, Manson, Iggy Pop. Safe to say there’s a fascination there for me. The connection to the elusive self that these drugs provide. Or the escape from that self. And what then? Do the semantics of that art produced then lose colour and heat in sobriety? Does the artist lose faith in their work while they lose faith in themselves? What happens to the fire when all the fun stops?

Chester P is one of the founding members of the legendary UK hip hop crew Taskforce. Known for his freestyling I was initially drawn to his lyrics. Nightmares. Beauty. Jaw dropping at times.

Having met Chester some time ago we had touched on his then more recent sobriety. It was clear to me at the time it was having a positive affect on his life. More recently I wanted to ask the man some questions. And this is what he said.

Is it fair to say that without certain drugs you would not be as successful as you are?

No I think it’s fair to say without certain drugs I would be more successful than I am, smoking weed habitually everyday for the best part of 30 years definitely left me somewhat reclusive, cocaine almost killed me and certainly knocked the wind out my creative sail, that said I became as successful as I intended I am not one for fame, I enjoy a humble life out of a constant limelight.

Is it fair to say that without certain drugs you would not be as self aware as you are?

Yes I think it’s fair to say things like L.S.D played a huge part in my awareness in general, along with many other hallucogens, but L.S.D I have been an avid user of, I have had many enlightening moments using it, on the flip side it’s not something to abuse and I am a very excessive person with an addictive personality so I have had my fair share of trouble with acid and all drugs too, it’s about knowing the difference between recreational drug use and taking drugs for spiritual purposes, and L.S.D particularly will kick your arse if it’s used abusively.

Describe your first trip for me

In all honesty it was a very long time ago, I was taking L.S.D every day of my life between the age of 14 to 16 and I honestly can’t remember my first all I do know is it was a thing that instantly became a part of my world, there are great experiences within the realms of acid.

Which drugs would you advocate and which would you question?

I question anything being used as a crutch to help you through reality, now I am older I can see that spiritual enlightenment is not found in the highs and lows of “drugs” it is something within us that must be unlocked, I will admit that you can attain shortcuts to wisdom via certain substances but these shortcuts can in fact be dangerous to your spiritual well being as they take you somewhere you may not of been naturally prepared for and can leave you severely depressed after it’s worn off, I think L.S.D is a beautiful thing used in the right environment for the right reason with the right people, but all our experiences are different and it really won’t agree with some people, meditation and working the middle path inwardly would be far more rewarding as tools to spiritual enlightenment though.

Do you feel your approach to work has changed since you’ve become sober?

Being sober for me was a matter of life and death, as I said I’m excessive and had an alcohol problem which would always lead me to cocaine and anyone honest with themselves who has or does take cocaine should admit that it’s the closest thing to the devil around, I had to stop doing it I was on a £150 a day habit in my 30’s, it destroyed my world, it ruined my soul, so funnily enough one night on L.S.D I had an epiphany, a realisation or a moment of clarity, and I saw who I was through honest eyes and then saw who I was supposed to be, and felt a strength grow inside me, like in a rocky film (anyone of them as they all have this scene) when he’s losing the fight and against the ropes being pulped, and he suddenly snaps out of it and fights back and goes on to defeat his opponent, that was me, I became tee total because if I continued smoking I would drink and if I drank I would sniff and that is my downfall, I am aware not everyone has the same excessiveness and if you take drugs and enjoy it in moderation and it brings you happiness I’m not trying to say don’t, I’m saying as long as you use drugs and they don’t use you then it’s ok, but we must analyse the fact that escapism is not really going to help in the long run, we must all of us face our reality one day, and the sooner the better.

Has accessing your creative powers become easier? Was it a challenge at first?

I always convinced myself weed was a major factor in my creativity, scared I wouldn’t be creative without it, I threw these cautions to the wind, in my mind I would rather of lost my creative flare and get sober than stay high and write poems, thankfully it wasn’t the case, I realise it is me who is creative weed was just something I did daily and I never knew how I wound live without it, or who I was without even, I’m much happier and much more creative than I had been, as a young man in my late teens up to my late 20’s I was highly prolific, this is not due to drugs it’s due to age, becoming in tune with my opinions and learning to express them creatively, I write less now than those days but I wasn’t really writing at all throughout the past 5 years, cocaine was all I was thinking about, sadly.

A lot has been written about the mental health benefits of certain hallucinogens. What’s your take?

Mental health will be affected in both positive and negative ways, what goes up must come down, for some people it could be really dangerous as they may not be ready to cope with what they find in their subconscious minds, for some it may awaken sleeping wisdoms and offer beautiful alternatives to the world they know, for all of us we must acknowledge there is good and bad in everything, don’t expect one without the other.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of going clean?

No advice really, if you want it you will do it, when you realise all the fun has gone, and it only brings a monotonous pain then you will quit, some things are obviously harder to quit than others alcohol and heroin have severe physical withdrawal symptoms, (I never took heroin as I saw it’s damage first hand) not so easy to stop, but it’s all a matter of will, I have a huge strength of will I saw it like I was being bullied and all tough talk aside I will not let no one or thing bully me!

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

I would never rule the world, I long for a day we as humans find confidence and self awareness enough to rule ourselves, individually, I seek not the power to rule and refuse to be ruled, I am governed by the natural laws of magnetism, I study hermetic laws, inner alchemy, I wish only for freedom for all, be here now, anywhere else is futile, love yourself and all life that surrounds you, learn that we are all one, I mean the planets, stars, suns and moons, the animals and people, the trees and plants we all share one cosmic soul! Respect that soul and a lot of understanding will open for you!

Peace and love.

Huge respect to Chester for taking the time to not only share his wisdom but to do so with such honesty. You can follow him at @ChesterP_TF for more of the same.

And for the uninitiated here is a great start.

@motherwriting

I’ve been reading old blog content. Some of it is really bad. Some of it is great. I really, mostly enjoyed reading my interviews backlog. I thought it would be interesting to revisit these people again. Just to see if any wisdom could be passed on. I had to of course talk to Fran. I owe Fran a great deal. She’s done me numerous favours, never said no, always been on time and always been a friend. I’ve followed her recent and ongoing antics from a distance but it really has now become time to break some legs with @motherwriting herself again. And as I’m writing this she’ll be wrapping up her first performance with Monkey Trousers. Exciting.

So how are you?

Very well thank you.

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Tell me everything I need to know about Monkey Trousers.

Monkey Trousers Theatre is a Bristol-based theatre company that performs original plays for children. My friend Charlotte and I set it up following a conversation we had a few months ago about how there was a gap in the market for affordable, good quality, purely fun theatrical shows for the kids in our local community. We’re both experienced in non-professional theatre, plus I’m a writer and Charlotte is a puppeteer, so we have the skills in place. It just made sense to pick a performance date, book the venue, and get going. Everything developed at a crazy pace from there. We’ve just done a preview show, and our first public performances coming this Easter weekend have already sold out.

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What challenges did you face setting up Monkey Trousers?

All the creative stuff is the easy bit for me – writing, making costumes, rehearsing, performing, set dressing, sourcing props, redrafting scripts, learning songs etc. The challenges come from the business side of things: how to sell our product, how to deal with the money, setting up a website, creating a brand, all the administrative tasks that are a pain in the arse to do. Both Charlotte and I agreed that we’d need help with all that. We’re fortunate to know some super-lovely people who are very generous with their time and talents. At some point we’ll be able to pay them! Generally, the amount of support we’ve had has been overwhelming. Charlotte and I might be the public face of Monkey Trousers Theatre, but we have a dedicated team of Monkeys behind us. Couldn’t have done it without them.

When we first met you were on benefits as a single mother. Looking back from where you are now what steps did you take to realise your creative ambition?

Well I’m still a single mother on benefits. I think setting up this business is a way for me to do a job I love rather than simply seeing it as a money-making exercise. It would be fantastic to think we’d make a fortune from doing this but we have to be realistic! In the long-term there are ways to expand the business and we do have plans. For now, we’d just like to get everything going. I don’t know that this has particularly been my creative ambition, but now I’m doing it, I’m enjoying every second.

At what point did you think “I can actually do this”?

Everything has happened relatively quickly – I’d say within the space of roughly four months I’ve gone from full-time SAHM to actor/writer and co-director of my own theatre company. I haven’t had time to think ‘I can actually do this’! It just got done! With reflection, maybe when I’d finished the first draft of the script it kind of hit me that we had a product – something to sell – and that it was a good, solid idea with a lot of potential – maybe that’s when it first felt real.

What’s it like performing in front of children? Describe your first performance for me.

I get nervous performing in front of adults so it felt natural to be nervous in front of children as well. I was going to say it’s easier because they’re not as discerning but actually that’s bollocks. Kids are harder to entertain. I have a newfound respect for Justin Fletcher. For our first performance, I was more worried about what my daughter would think. She’d never seen me perform before. I’d been prepping her for a few weeks beforehand – ‘You can wave at mummy but mummy can’t wave back’ sort of thing – and I had a genuine fear that she would either storm the stage or get so hysterically upset that we’d have to stop. Yet it turned out that she loved it. I kept glimpsing her face and she was totally engaged. Her concern was that I would still be her mummy after I’d finished being someone else, so I’ve been reassuring her a lot on that point. Some of my friends’ children also seemed faintly disturbed by my transformation. Hope I didn’t give them nightmares…

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Has your experience of self realisation made you think/act differently as a mother?

No not really. Not that I’ve noticed anyway. I still face the challenges of parenting – I still get frustrated, annoyed, sad, furious, to some extent – every single day. Me getting fulfilment from a career that ticks all my boxes is brilliant, but I don’t think it’s impacted on how I want to bring up my daughter. I don’t feel that I’ve changed in that respect. Some days I feel like I’m a shit parent, some days not. Hopefully the days when I don’t feel like a failure outweigh the days that I do! I think that’s the same for everyone, isn’t it?

What’s your favourite smell?

I have a few. They all evoke strong memories for me: tomato plants, creosote, Oil of Ulay, frying onions. Bit weird, I know. Should I say something more normal? Freshly baked bread.

If you could rule the world which five rules would you implement first?

This could get messy. I strongly suspect I’d be a terrible ruler – vaguely despotic, utterly power-mad – so I’m going to take the easy way out and say I’d want peace, love, harmony, justice and biscuits for all

A huge thank you to Fran for taking the time to talk to me again. Let’s see what’s happening in another couple of years. I for one cannot wait.

For more Monkey Trousers go here: http://monkeytrouserstheatre.com/ and the FB page https://www.facebook.com/monkeytrouserstheatre, the Twitter account https://twitter.com/monkey_trousers, and Fran’s blog (not that she updates it that often but oh well) https://motherwriting.wordpress.com/

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@eddsnotdead

I can remember how I first ran into Ed. We talked seriously about WWF wrestling on Twitter. I checked his timeline, as you normally do. It was clear, and has been proven so, that Ed has a lot of time for a lot of people. A kind decent man. Unshakable in some filthy conviction. He was perfect online company for an impending, frightening job interview in his home town. He might know he made my day a whole lot easier. And he writes beautifully. A pen and hammer combination. Sturdy and delicate. Like so.

“Hi, my name is Ed. I was born in London but I really became who I am now in a town on the south coast of England. I didn’t apply myself at school at all and so I never did the great university adventure. Instead I married, we had a whole bunch of kids and I let life teach me what I needed to know.

I first started writing with conviction in 2002. I discovered quickly that I wasn’t very good at it, so I practiced. I’ve gotten much better since then. I’ve written eight books (I’ve self-published two of them), and three screenplays. My greatest achievement to date is clearly my marriage and relationship with my kids and family. It always will be.”

edhead

Who is Gita Askari to you?

When I came to write Blank Canvas I laid down a series of rules that I would stick to. Rules that would shape the story, yes, but also ones that would shape this character. I wasn’t allowed to shout ‘Zombies Attack’ when a problem appeared in the book, or I found it difficult to get to the next piece. I wasn’t allowed any random violence or any untimely explosions to create chase scenes. I wasn’t allowed to take the easy door. At first this seemed like I setting myself up to fail by removing some basic plot shake-ups, but then I realised that the book was purely about this character. It was her, alone, and that I had to focus all of my attention on her, or I’d lose. So I did just that. I focused and found that she represented the single hardest challenge I’d faced in writing to that date. I knew she’d make it through, and I knew she’d triumph in her own way, but I also knew her story wasn’t done.

Gita Askari represents much of what I think makes up modern Britain. She’s complicated – a product of a difficult relationship that continues to prove turbulent. She is royalty, and yet she has no power, no sway. She reminds me of the past and yet she wears the face of modern Britain – an empowered and artistic Anglo Asian woman that is aware of her roots, but is very much a part of the thriving western society. Yet within that society she sees the lies and the ugliness of privilege, and though she feels great waves of emotion her default setting is one very much set to stiff upper lip.

The decision she makes at the beginning of the second book sets her on a path that many must walk. How do we cope when everything is taken away from us? How much can we really take before we brake and realistically, above all those things, are we really strong enough to make the hard decisions to affect change in our lives.

Gita Askari has a wounded soul, but it doesn’t stop her being an explorer, a philosopher, an artist and a human being. In fact, it’s that damage that drives her forward.

How deep do you go in terms of character manifestation?

For me, I don’t do method stuff (is method writing a thing?). I have a great key that unlocks the story, the characters, the events If a and the reactions of those people I include in the story – they are unlocked by the wonder of music. I find albums that have the right ‘feel’. Those albums are listened to as often as possible before I start and then I use them in the writing time. It becomes an easy way to switch off, meditate and just write, plus, I can make decisions about the book while washing up, because the music is there for me to feed on.

Mood, that’s the key. If I get the mood right then I can smash out large word counts and be safe in the knowledge that they are going to at least be partially useable. That they will fit into the rest of the work, if they are indeed good enough. The characters come from the mood I strike when I think about them. They do what they want to on the page. Obviously there will always be pieces of me in there, and pieces of the other important people in my life too. That’s unavoidable. And they have to drive the story forward. They have to follow some rules. But the majority of the time they write it for me and I just stick my fingers on the keys.

As an experienced self-publisher what lessons have you learned?

Write as much as you can. If you have finished a book, great! Get on a blog and write about it! Don’t gather dust waiting for the ‘breakthrough’. You have to make your own luck, you have to push your own story and you have to keep your eye in. Write.

Don’t rush. Approach agents when your work has been edited. Get someone else to do that. You won’t find the mistakes, they will. Once a piece of work is done I’ll run through it, then I’ll send it out to readers. I know there are a tonne of mistakes, as do they, but I also know a copy editor will sort them out. The readers are there to make sure it actually works. If a certain event is flagged up by one test reader as having a problem then that’s probably taste. If three people highlight it then it bears looking at seriously. If five people point to the same bit of the book and flag up problems then I have to swallow my pride and change it, no matter how much I like it as it is.

Sink all the love you can into the book. Write with passion and pleasure. Make yourself cry and laugh. Invest your soul. Then, when you have finished writing it take a day or two, before returning to the beginning and editing, picking at the fabric of the rug, neatening the edges, being anal. Each stage of the writing process requires commitment to the work. You have to put your head down and go at it. It’s hard work. Take the leap and get an editor. She/he may be a copy editor or be up there for a full editorial role, that’s up to you and your wallet to decide, but engage one so you can selfpublish with confidence, or approach agents and know they are getting a book in the best shape it can be.

Oh, and don’t give up. If you write one hundred words a day for three months then you end up with somewhere around nine thousand words. Do that for a year and you have thirty six thousand words. Do that for two years? Seventy two thousand words. Boom. Even better, take a target date and give yourself a realistic goal, but one that requires you to really put the hours in. Let the people around you know this is happening, so they understand you will be going into writing tunnel vision mode, and then write with conviction. Make the story come alive. You have to put the hours in to improve, to reach your goals, to find the things that work for you, and also the things that don’t.

A diamond is a pretty piece of coal. It was forged with the application of time and pressure – make your own diamonds.

How do you find the time to write?

I work in the construction industry as a labourer. There are times when work just simply isn’t about. When that happens then I write all the hours I can and make the most of the time. When I’m working then that becomes more difficult. In the end though, it’s important to me, so I make the time. Currently I’m engaged in a fairly long contract and I’ve been booked for work straight after this one finishes. That means I have to MAKE time, this is one of those times that the music comes in handy. I have the mp3 player rolling all day. I get home and cook for a family of nine, then pitch in and either do the washing up or bath the kids. Realistically, eight o clock is the earliest start I can make on a week day. That’s not so bad though, I’ve spent all day preparing through the music. I stick the c.d in, switch the computer on, spend twenty minutes checking email, talking to my Twitter pals and looking into the movie news, then I write.

Generally I’ll set myself a goal based on how hard a day I’ve had, what time I start and what kind of period the book is in. If it’s flowing then I’ll give myself another five hundred words to hit on top, generally I don’t walk away from the computer until I’ve hit at least one thousand five hundred words. I generally hit one thousand eight hundred an hour if I’m flowing and typing well, so that isn’t so hard to hit for me. I like the feeling of knowing I’ve done a full days work and then still cranked out three thousand words. That makes me feel like a writer.

What is your favourite smell?

An odd question for me as I have a really bad sense of smell. I think it’s probably due to all the dust from building sites, but I can’t say I have strong reactions to smells. I can tell you I love the smell of slightly sugared tea just as it slips under my nose. Tar and also the distant whiff of tobacco are up there too (I used to smoke, and in truth, I loved it).

If you had superpowers (you can choose two) what would they be and how would they combine to benefit the other?

Well, on face value I’d be interested in some standard hero packages. You know? The Wolverine – Healing factor and Adamantium skeleton. Or the Nightcrawler – Teleportation and stealth. Looking closer though I know I’m not a fan of pain and so would hate being cut up constantly, and if I could sneak about I just wouldn’t trust myself. Before long I’d be watching people getting naked, or nicking their bank codes and accounts. It wouldn’t be good.

From a standard role I’d have to pick Captain Britain’s power set. Flight and super strength. Big amounts of power that are aided by his magical force field. He’s powerful, but not like Superman. The burden would be less, I feel.

In reality though I’d much rather have the ability to connect with technological equipment and interface with ease. I could write while I worked on site, getting ideas down and always storing those stray story ideas that I get but lose because I don’t write them down quick enough. Back that up with an ability to conjure tea out of thin air and I’d be laughing.

Why the beard?

As it stands, I have a very young face. I was always getting carded in pubs and clubs in my drinking days (now long gone, I’ve been t-total for about ten years now). I always used to grow what I could thinking that it would make me look older. It didn’t, it just made me look scruffy. Why do I have the full on mountain man beard now? Well, shaving is boring. My wife likes it. It keeps my face warm in winter. I like to know what I had for dinner yesterday?

You can follow Ed at @eddsnotdead and purchase the stories (and lovely cover art) of Gita Askari here (Still Life) and the following Blank Canvas here. I’d suggest doing all three.

Still Life Final

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Instructions

Everything dies, Everything is born. Again and again. Just like you.

There is no meaning to life. It just is. Unrelenting chaos. Why search for something that you know isn’t there? To become another flapping flesh socket blabbing about itself?

Life has no meaning, You give it some crutch. Make it your own. It is that simple.

Bully

To be a bully. Flicking cigarette ash in hoods. Leaving vile drawings in books. Tipping bags on the floor. Sitting next to victims on the school bus. Watching them quiver. Feeding off the power. To be a bully. They come in many shades. I have learned that essentially they are all the same.

But it makes us who we are. Bullying does that. When you have enough fingers in your face. Being told you’re worthless. Violence. Intimidation. When you just keep being beaten and can’t face standing up again.

I was bullied at school. I moved around a lot as a kid. Starting a new primary school for six months before being moved to another. Another country mostly. Settling but not settling. Making friends and losing them. Mostly because I haven’t quite learned how to keep them. Preferring my own company from an early age.

I have a strange accent. An odd mix of Aberdonian and rather posh sounding English. My skin is quite dark as I grew up in the Middle East. When we moved to Aberdeen I was six. I had already been to five different schools. As a regular newcomer to many a class I was earmarked from the beginning until I left school. My father tells me “moving your kids around at a young age is fine. They adjust really quickly.” I don’t agree with that at all.

I was bullied because I was different. The wrong accent in a small town. Trying to fit in again. For me I reached breaking point and stopped trying to fit in altogether. Moving up through the education system I made some friends. Only one of them I would truly count as one today. Ask me how many friends I would invite to my wedding it would be her. Don’t ask me who I’m inviting to my funeral.

It started gradually. Small meaningless scuffles. Nothing I couldn’t handle. My reaction to it was to laugh. Revel in my differences. I grew my hair. Got tattoos. Socialised with an older peer group. I was a “freak” and remained one, purposefully or otherwise until I left school.

To be different. To stand out. To be beaten at the school gates and have no one in your corner. No one to pick up your bag. No one to wipe the spit from your face. I was hated for the sake of having something to hate. The first real bully I came across hated me because his sister thought I was attractive. He came with cigarette burns and a regular fist in the back of my skull. He also came from a large extended family. For my regular beating after school his backup was ten to fifteen family members of various sizes. I didn’t have anybody. People were afraid to be seen with me.

I kicked back. Started drinking. Putting myself in dangerous situations. All of this was of course some sorry attempt to find some level of confidence. I felt like I was nothing. A pointless worm. The more I hated them the more I hated me. The more I altered my own self the more I isolated myself. Trying to isolate myself yet paradoxically putting myself in the spotlight even more. I became accustomed to fear.

One of the worst. Followed home by a large gang of local kids spurred on by an older girl I’d never seen before. After refusing to fight with this girl I received a fair beating from her and her family in arms. After kicking me in the testicles several times she then suggested to her brother that he might like to drive over me with his car. I don’t remember much after hearing that. I was twelve years old.

This went on for a while. Small town mentality. It escalated to a ridiculous level. One particular loon became very fond of terrifying me after school. It reached a rather odd point whereby he had become so fanatical about me he searched every single bus after school, tearing up seats and smashing windows as he went. A desperate search as I was hiding at a friends house. This same individual later made several death threats, tried to burn my house down and eventually turned up outside our house threatening to rape my mother.

I went back to Aberdeen several years ago for a short while. One morning I saw that same bully begging for change outside the post office. He didn’t have any teeth. Track lines all down his arms. I dropped some change in his hat. The same orange skull hat he wore at school. The same fists that pummeled me in the face every day for months.

My most humiliating. Having my gym kit stuffed down the toilet. A very unpleasant young man with a gang of uglier friends behind him. Kicked to the front of the bus. Covered in spit and blood by the time I got home. I think I was ten.

My daughter is beautiful. She attracts a lot of attention. Already she tells me that she doesn’t like the boys at school. I’ve watched from a distance and seen her being targeted by a couple of them. It is hard not to get involved when you see it. Your child being hurt. Because that’s what bullying is. It is nothing more than a vindictive, often long term need to cause pain to something you don’t like or understand. So you try to destroy it because that is what humans do. Sometimes it is all we do.

Many of my assailants had abusive parents, drug problems, no real prospects or safety net. Yet I’ve witnessed hideous bullying from wealthy, comfortable people in very powerful positions. The only common, and general denominator between each party is despising oneself. That burning frustration. Remembering all those private moments you never tell anyone about. Clutching your skull in agony with the weight of it all. Carrying an ache in your chest wherever you go. Perhaps in retrospect my bullies and I were more similar than we might think. Each living some hell. Disappearing without the other.

And all of this was before the days of social media and smart phones. I did try to kill myself at one point and I’m certain that I would have done with todays modern technology.

From my experiences meeting bullying head on with further violence is a grey area. Learning how to defend yourself is vital. It does however rarely solve the problem. And what is the problem? What are the solutions? I don’t think there are any. What I do know is I never asked my bullies why I was being bullied in the first place. Perhaps then, with a little more understanding, it might have been a little bit easier.

Authority

I’ve never been a fan of authority. I’ve rarely taken direction from someone I haven’t respected. I don’t like being told what to do. This in itself can be somewhat of a problem.

I’ve been wrestling with the authority I now have as a parent. Because there is some degree of authority to being a parent. Now that Eve is three she’s able to communicate freely, express her emotions and her intentions. It is sometimes the case that her intentions and/or actions go against what constitutes as normal behaviour. Which can require a variety of management techniques.

“Normal” behaviour is only what we as her parents perceive to be as such. In reality we can only bring to the table what we have learnt. The totality of the essence of any being comes from that individual being’s experience of life at that point in time. So what is normal? I’m not normal. I’ve met lots of people who don’t feel normal, all with brilliant, sparkly eyed children. All somehow guiding their children through their lives with particular patterns of behaviour. Somewhere a level of authority has to come into it. And power. A dangerous ability in the wrong hands.

Her actions which are life threatening to her or others need to be managed with a tight lipped diplomacy. I frequently lose sleep imagining some horrific accident involving my children so seeing it nearly happen first hand is quite stressful. It could be very easy to lose control in that instance, to rage at the child. I’ve seen it happen countless times. My daughter is three. She doesn’t understand the perils of deep water. Or why she can’t place her hand onto a opening door on the underground. These things need to be explained to her calmly so she can understand the situation. Life is filled with life threatening things. I don’t feel that using anger to make a point is of any use. Controlling my own stress levels is important.

Sometimes she feels that it’s her fault and that we’re angry with her. Sometimes her behaviour is just plain embarrassing. Occasionally her behaviour simply goes against what I feel is correct. I’ve now come to realise this is wholly irrelevant to her. My idea of what is correct, and my subsequent behaviour, is only based on what has been passed down from my peers and my own personal misadventures.

As I am now her peer I have to pass on what I know to her. In the finer details of life this becomes interesting. Table manners for example. Why I expect her to understand the importance of something like table manners is beyond me. Yet it bothers me. And I start to remind me and others around me of my father. My father was very strict about table manners.

But I’m not my father. And do I really care that much about table manners? For me this is where it all gets a bit messy. Who am I to tell her what’s right and wrong? I’d rather she developed the instinct and confidence to find out for herself.

I think it’s about finding what works for you. What you think is important and giving them the space to work it out for themselves. Allowing them to question it. But also being genuinely interested in what information they bring back to you. Because they can’t wait to tell you how they did it all by themselves. And to see how proud you will be.

Often what they’ve learned from a certain situation can be very different to what you might think or feel. It’s important to remember that your preconceived notions or ideas are yours, not your children’s. They might feel you’re wrong which is great because then you’re learning something. If you choose to listen to the reasons why. In any case if my children weren’t challenging me I’d be disappointed.

There are too many variables in so many lives to make any judgement calls. But my daughter sees the world through a curious telescope. I want her to tell me all about it.

Seeing Red

(Original published via @mammapolitico on bodkinpress.com. A collective, collaborative ezine which you can download here for free.)

I used to have violent flashes. Imagining streets falling apart. Pushing that bully off the bridge. Picturing a horrific car crash around the corner. Lucid images of my children being hurt. I would bite my bottom lip that hard. Leaving scars. I wasn’t allowed pets for a while. It’s under control now.

I’m a married father to two girls (2, 14 yrs). I am surrounded by females. Pets included. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Regardless of gender one thing I cannot stand is public displays of parents violently thrashing their children. Physically or verbally. Witnessing it starts a sick little fire in my gut. That horrible, uncontrollable little part of me. It’s familiar to the ashen faced, savage determination I display if my family are under threat. Yet horribly, indirectly misplaced. I start to bite my bottom lip.

There are parents who forget that they are extremely physically strong in comparison to their tiny child. There are parents who forget that their words resonate in that cold afternoon. Memories remain and expand beyond your own personal experiences and as my grandmother tells me; “your children always remember the bad things that happened. The bad memories.” Push hard enough and they leave a foul mark.

My main issue is that ultimately that parent has forgotten why they had the kid in the first place. Believe me I’ve been in situations where I would happily have thrown my child into the sea and walked away whistling. I realise I’m fortunate to have learned how to control these feelings. Meditation helps. But there is never any excuse for treating your own child like an inconvenience. Parents forget that their tiny, powerless versions of mushy genetics mashed together grow into frustrated, impressionable, endlessly demanding humans.

All children can turn out to be proud, kind, self assured adults. Or emotionally crippled, broken, scared versions of what they could have been. A parent thrashing their child in public for demanding something only makes me see how hard they want to beat themselves. How hard they hate themselves for putting themselves in their position. How much that child has ruined their life. How much they deserved to be punished for wanting more for themselves.

A two year old being punched in the back of the head for asking for a magazine. Then being told to shut the fuck up for crying. I have seen far worse. Categorically the broad necessary scope of the charity sector aiding vulnerable children and young adults leaves me cold. I’ve met parents who they can barely look after themselves let alone know how to cut their newborns nails.

It is easy to conceive a child. I can see the attraction believe me. But why have them when you don’t even love them? Why have them when all you do is pour your own self disgust down their throats? Why have them when all you do is lock them in bathrooms? Why have them when you leave deep scarlet bruises on their faces? Why have them when all you do is avoid them? Or hold them by the throat in the freezing depths of an ice cold bath? Or sneak into their bedrooms to do unimaginable things? Why would you have children in the first place when you can’t even bring yourself up?

I’m not judging anybody. Yet I lay the blame at the door of anyone who has children and believes that belittling, disrespecting, abusing and refusing to take the time to understand them is the proper way to bring up a child. Parenting is difficult but there is no excuse for taking your own self hatred out on someone who didn’t choose to be here in the first place. Doesn’t seem fair, does it.

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