Month: March 2014

At last; The Journals of Raymond Brooks, Second Edition is out!

I am excited and delighted to announce that the second edition of Amit Bobrov’s Fantasy tale The Journals of Raymond Brooks is out now and I edited it!

I first met Amit through Goodreads.com and I took a peep at the opening pages of this, his first novel. I was immediately grabbed by the opening premise; Modern day assassin creeping up on house with two vampire survivors from the middle-ages. I had to read it!

What I experienced was an enchanting tale which guided me safely though a complex set of ideas. There were only two things which let the book down slightly, a slightly under-developed (very understandable for an Israeli writer) view of the extreme religious period of the Late Middle Ages and a poor English edit.

Fortunately I have ample experience of the former through my personal genealogical research, which took me back to 1240 France, and the number of weighty academic books I have read on the Medieval. Amit and I were able to work together to address these issues. I also did a small amount of development editing.

The result is what must be the first installment of a sweeping epic tale. I know Amit is working on the second book and a third is in the pipeline.

If you want a quick synopsis I would say the story is rich and complex with at least three protagonists and two narrative perspectives, which is why I see it as an epic. By the end of the book there is Jaunee, an elf-like vampire, her partner in crime, Ray (Raymond) and one other mysterious character in the background. This last character will be developed in the next part of the story.

Ray is an immigrant who is struggling to survive on the streets of Late Medieval England. He becomes the apprentice to a blacksmith, whose daughter Ray falls in love with. Jaunee is another survivor, a street urchin, whose own adventures eventually lead her on a course which converges with Ray’s. Neither are typical characters, both are complex.

While other non-English writers might settle for something which is ‘vaguely right’, Amit was open to suggestions and listened very closely to my opinions on how he could get his tale across in the correct period-setting. I am very impressed by Amit’s love of his art and how far he is prepared to go to bring the reader a tale which feels authentic.

If you like fantasy with a few twists, and a writer that is not afraid to mix genres, try this one.

17 Days to War?

17 Days to War? This was the innocent looking subtitle for an episode of a recent high profile BBC series to mark the Centenary of World War One. It instantly upset me, not deeply – I mean I wasn’t throwing things at the TV or thinking about writing a letter because I was close to tears. But the grammar of that phrase bothered me! I think the Beeb made a shocking error here because their grammar is ambiguous and could mean something insulting. Let me explain:

17 Days to War may seem like an innocent phrase to you but it grates on me, as a writer, editor and reader. It grates especially because I know a thing or two about war, although I have never had to fight in one, for which I thank God in my heart almost every day! I am not a war-lover, despite writing fiction about it. I have an affection for the technology used but more than this, I love writing about people, people in difficult situations, and there are no more extreme situations than war. I would like to think it’s an emotive subject for anybody.

That’s why it is particularly important that the BBC get it right. That’s why I was disappointed that the BBC – known as Auntie Beeb to some of us since childhood because of its supposedly ‘teacher’ attitude to delivering content. One is supposed to be able to rely on the accuracy and correctness of anything they show us. I think the Beeb made a shocking error here because their grammar is ambiguous and could mean something insulting. Why do I think this?

Of course, such language might be part of this new trend to ‘dumb down’ everything for the masses. I hate the trend in adverts of taking good songs, even great songs, like All You Need is Love and not only getting a choir to sing them but actually changing the unusual original time signature to 4/4 and cutting out half a bar just so that ‘normal people’ can hum it more easily! How the hell did it become one of the biggest sellers of the 60s then if people couldn’t hum it! Are people becoming more stupid? Perhaps they will do if advertisers treat them that way. I also hate the poor grammar now used in adverts. All of this just makes BBC’s slip worse.

According to dictionaries:
Oxford Dictionary
The word ‘War’ can be a noun; 1- A state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state (ie Japan declared war on Germany), 2- A state of competition, conflict, or hostility between different people or groups (ie she was at war with her parents), 3- A sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition (ie a war on drugs).

4-The word ‘War’ can also be a verb; Engage in a warm (ie small states warred against each other)

5-According to Macmillan Dictionary it can also mean: b) [COUNTABLE] a particular period of fighting between countries or groups of people

Let’s look at possible uses of these terms in sentences

I may as well say in advance that I don’t think any of them do but if you think differently, please let me know:

However, the usual construction for indicating a period leading up to war would be ’17 Days until War’, not ’17 days to War’. Nowhere can I find an erudite quote using that sentence construction. It seems to me that the BBC has erred shamefully here. And it’s not even a main title!

I could accept it if it were a main title. There are many book, film and newspaper article titles that do not use good grammar. Just to gran somebody’s attention, I think its acceptable to bend the rules a bit. But here it is just a subtitle so it should fit one of the correct forms

Similar Examples

Another word that is both a noun and a verb is ‘sleep’. It too is a state, can be a period in time and can also be something you do.

You can say, “We are going to sleep.”

You can say, “We are sleeping

But you wouldn’t normally say 17 hours to sleep because that can mean two things; 17 hours of sleep or 17 hours available in which to sleep. They are both quite different.

Yet another word which can be both a noun ( a state) and a verb is holiday

You can say, “We are going to holiday.”

You can say, “We are holidaying

Now if you say 17 hours to holiday, that can only mean that you have 17 hours in which to holiday.

Looking at the phrase in a purely temporal setting:

Can you say 12 hours to noon?
It sounds weird. That’s because it is wrong!

12 hours to live makes you think of 12 hours left to live.

You don’t say one month to Christmas. You say one month until Christmas.

I would love to know that the BBC’s title is correct. But I don’t think it is and I think the meaning suggested by the phrase, ’17 Days to War’ is 17 days within which to make war! This is an insult to all those who suffered in the Great War or remember somebody who did. Not only that but it also contradicts the whole mood of the series, which aims to show how almost everybody did their utmost to avoid war. If I was a conspiracy theorist I might even believe that the War was deliberately started by the British Government and that the BBC is secretly trying to divulge this! Either way, shame on you BBC!

Is there a specific grammatical rule for war and time that I don’t know of? I would like to think the BBC knows some archaic grammar rule regarding the word War. I would be a lot happier if there was one and I knew it. But have searched on the internet and I can’t find it. Perhaps there is, and if if allows the phrase 17 Days to War, please can you let me know?

The Serenity of Spring – Are Nature’s Days Numbered?

The Serenity of Spring – Are Nature’s Days Numbered?

Lovely photos. Is it england Rachel?

Globe Drifting

SAM_0031Snowdrops unwilling to part with winter, entrench springtime in a bed of snow-white wintry pearls.

‘You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.’ ― Pablo Neruda

With a sigh of dismay, we shake our heads in disdain at the human civilization and disparage its deepening potential for destruction as we learn of once frosty Arctic bears perishing amidst their liquefying home, Gabon elephants tortured for their regal tusks, torched Brazilian rainforests, Cambodian natural treasures disfigured by landfill & nature turning in on itself in a revengeful rage against man with floods & tsunamis. We quarantine ourselves away from the natural world in a sphere of technology and are left to tweet of global warming, talk of drought on our touch-screen TVs and bemoan on our smartphones, the fate of our children, who will inherit nothing more than an over-blazing sun and an outdated Iphone

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Do you get angry about how our environment is being treated?

this was just going to be a Facebook post but I got too worked up!

Tesco Low-Energy light bulbs
What happened to low-energy bulbs (the ones with the curly tubes)? I was in Tesco (yes, let’s name names) and I needed a bulb cos my hallway 40w has blown and its too dark – no window. So I go to the shelf with 50 types of bulb and there are 2 single 100w low-energy bulbs! Anyway, frustrated, I go to the counter with a pack of 2 40w bayonet, old style bulbs and they don’t scan! I am at the head of a big queue but luckily the shelf is only 20 feet away.
“You have to buy another. We can’t sell you this!” the cashier says.
“But it’s Tesco’s own brand!” I counter.
“Can’t sell it to you!”
I run to the shelf and an assistant comes to help. He can’t find any other 40w bayonet bulbs so have to give up. I go back to pay for the rest of my shopping and ask:
“Why don’t you stock low-energy bulbs any more?”
“We did once. Then we stopped.”

Great!

So not only doesn’t Tesco stock low-energy bulbs any more but Tesco is stocking its own brand bulbs which it can’t sell? How surreal is that?

Tesco Carrier Bags
It’s almost as crazy as the plastic carrier bag fiasco. Most supermarkets stopped doing carrier bags for a few weeks. You had to buy a tough, canvas reusable one for about £2 (or a cheap plastic reusable one for £1) and carry it with you to work (if you worked) and then all the way back to the supermarket when you shopped on the way home. It was a pain. Then I noticed that they were starting to give people the £1 plastic reusable bags because people had no bags and no money for the reusable bags and supermarkets who didn’t have plastic bags where haemhoraging customers. So about two weeks after this they start doing the disposable plastic bags again. I guess they admitted defeat on the environmental issue.

I feel sorry for the poor inhabitants of that island in the Caribbean where all the carrier bags and plastic garbage from around the world washes up. Did anybody tell them we have given up on recycling and environmentally friendly policies?

Car Pollution
On the way back from the supermarket about 12 noon today) I passed Balfour Beatty roadworks on Tottenham High Road just outside the Town Hall. I had noticed a a Balfour Beatty diesel Vauxhall Astra with its driver sitting in it and the engine ticking over on my way to the supermarket. When I returned it was still ticking over, he was still in it, and all the time, 1 hour, he had the driver window wound all the way down. It’s not particularly cold today so why did he have to have the engine generating heat just so he could sit there with his window open talking on his mobile – for 1 hour!
Wasteful
I didn’t take his number plate, but Mister, you know who you are!

Five minutes later I came to another building site (Loughman) – right outside Tottenham Arts Centre. I had passed a digger that was sitting empty. I had seen it being operated on the way to Tesco with about half a dozen men around it. I guess they had gone for a tea break or to lunch but the men were nowhere to be seen. And the engine was still ticking over (don’t know if petrol or diesel)!

Wasteful.
Again you know who you are.

If you are from Balfour Beatty or Loughman I would love to hear from you, especially if you are the drivers of those two vehicles. You can defend yourselves here.

Continuing on my theme: I mean, I know it’s obvious that the Conservative Government has give up on reusable energy. What is it Dave Cameron said off-camera to another MP, “Enough of that environmental shit!”
But when did the public and retailers give up? When did we all give up?

Am I wrong, or are we seeing the first signs of a kind of fatalism creeping in about recycling and environmentally friendly policies?

What is your view? if these stories make you angry and you feel anything at all, have your say by leaving a comment.

Do you wash your hands when you come home?

I have now created a survey to ask people about hand washing. What I want is to get a feel for whether people without OCD wash their hands when they come home or not, and if they only do it sometimes, when?
If you don’t have OCD and would like to take a moment to help the OCD community, please complete the single question: it will only take you a few seconds and you won’t have to leave any personal details. Please only complete this if you do NOT have OCD.

I want to answer the question.

This survey link will always be available on my OCD page in the menu at the top of this page.

How does OCD affect your life?

This week: FREE offer, a new Sneak Preview and: How Does Obsessive Compulsive Disorder affect your life?

Vampire: Beneficence: (Short Stories Volume III) is FREE this week on Amazon. A vampire fights to save his lover and daughter. “Brilliant” “Fast paced and gripping”
Also included are other short stories and first chapters of Ordo Lupua and the Temple Gate, Too Bright the Sun and Attack Hitler’s Bunker! Snap it up!

How does OCD affect your life?
It’s been a while sinced I blogged about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I have been receiving intensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and here is an update on my progress.

Background
From work with my therapist, I now think my OCD started in about 1993. It is often latent in children so it may go back further but I first noticed something was strange – I didn’t think of it as ‘wrong’ then – when I gave up full-time busking in 1993. I was just about to complete my second music album as a 12″ vinyl record. I was very proud of this but I knew that my career in music would have to be put on hold. We were in a deep recession in the UK then and I was not making any money. Worse, musicians were abandoning the cause like flies and I couldn’t even find musicians good enough and dedicated to continue performing with a band.

My last performance in London was at the Jazz Club in the basement of the Pizza Parlour in Wardour Street. I had written a blues song years before and a next-door neighbour turned out to be a jazz/blues singer of some reputation, having recorded quite a lot with Marc Bolan late in her career. She recorded my song and then asked me to make a guest appearance at the Jazz Club one night in late 1993. I wasn’t even going to go. I remember eating my dinner and then saying:
“What the fuck! Let’s do it!”

I had seen a girlfriend, who was an excellent Jazz singer, perform there a few years before. The club was a smokey, cramped basement and all the great and good from the jazz world made informal appearances there; people like Andy Summers (ex-Police guitarist for those of you who are old enough to remember them), Jeff Beck and Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes (I think it was called The Flamingo in the 60s). A house band provided backing for any song you elected to sing and you took your turn on stage. In short, it terrified me! However, I wanted one last blast so I climbed on stage when my time came and sang an experimental song I had just written. The house band gave up after a few bars but I had a big round of applause and felt elated. Since then, I haven’t performed in public.

Perhaps my life, after that, seemed boring and that is what sparked the OCD. I remember cleaning the windows, as I did religiously every Monday, and having to repeat it because I didn’t feel I had done it ‘right’. I thought it odd then, but the thing with OCD is that it is so insidious. It creeps up on you. Over the next ten years I gradually had more difficulty doing basic tasks like cleaning and using public transport. It came to a head when I started working in a very prestigious position within the IT industry. I had lost contact with many of my musician friends, especially the buskers because buskers never give real addresses or telephone numbers; it’s an illegal profession. Many of my friends from school and my previous career in graphics had settled down and no longer ventured out at nights, even for drinks. I was lonely. My mind had plenty of time to dwell on past successes and failures and perhaps there seemed to be more failures than successes. In any case, I found that I was doing the laundry two or even three times, was avoiding letting my trousers touch weeds or curb-stones and washing up took hours, when I could actually face it. My biggest fears were of dust and dirt on items in my flat. Both were significantly different.

Fear of Dust
The fear of dust may well come from busking; I had to sing for up to ten hours per day, seven days per week, to pay for my rent, and food for myself and my cat, Beep. As any opera singer knows dust can aggravate a sore throat, or if you are really pushing your voice, make a voice sore. I used to spray water around the top of the room at nights to keep the dust down. That may be where my fear of dust was born. However there is also the little story of how I used to get frustrated painting my plastic model aircraft as a kid. There would always be a speck of dust on a wing and I would want to repaint it. I tried using an expensive airbrush, using the garage and spraying the garage with water (Aha! That’s where that technique came from!) but nothing worked. Eventually I would become dissatisfied with a model and would lose interest. I rarely finished any of them. My dad said I was too much of a perfectionist. Perhaps I was but other modelers didn’t seem to have the same problem. I once watched a friend paint a model. He did nothing special but the paint went on smoothly; no dust at all!

Fear of Dirt
The fear of dirt in the flat doesn’t seem to have been so bad until my marriage in 2006. For some reason, since my wife left, I don’t like touching anything she might have touched.

As I said, my OCD peaked in the early 2000s. I knew something was wrong and I started to make efforts to get to grips with it. It was clear to me it was ‘all in my mind’ because when I went to Kyrgyzstan for 6 weeks, getting to know my future wife, I didn’t seem to have OCD any more. Let’s face it, in a country where people wash their hands in puddles and some flats don’t even have running water, let alone soap, I didn’t have much choice. Things seemed to slowly improve after this.

It was when stress mounted at work in about 2010 that things started to deteriorate. Then somebody noticed my ‘sensitivity to dirt’ and the HR team sent me to see an occupational therapist. The conclusion was that I had OCD but that it was not too severe, in fact remarkably mild considering the length of time I had struggled with it, and that the prognosis was good. Using the private health scheme I was paid up to, I referred myself to one of the best therapists in the country; Dr David Veale. He has written an excellent self-heop book on OCD so if you are interested, it’s on Amazon here. I am going to create a permanent page here for OCD sufferers which will have the link to David’s book and a little bit of information. You will find the link in the menu at the top of this blog.
He then referred me to another therapist who I saw for 4 months during late 2012. My health scheme only gave me funding for about 8 sessions. During the last few I made a plan to carry out over the next year: I would employ a proper cleaner and get my flat cleaned regularly. This certainly seemed to help but then I was made redundant! I could no longer afford a cleaner. I was still useless at cleaning myself; either to fussy or simply afraid to do it.

Then I met my new partner and it was quickly clear that the OCD was going to damage our relationship. Something had to be done. I went to my GP and told him I needed more help. They recommended me to a clinic nearby so that I could get treatment on the NHS. The waiting list was about 3 months but since then I have been under intensive CBT. This is every week and very different to the previous therapy. It is focused on giving me practical tools to deal with the OCD myself rather than simply focusing on understanding the root of the problem. I have two weeks left to go of the current course and again, I am developing a plan to help me carry on recovering after the course starts.

So what has changed?
Am I recovering? Yes, I think I am. This week I have drank from a cup which I know contained dust. How do I know this? I took a torch with me into the kitchen, and after I rubbed my hands (which I always do to remove dust before touching food) I shone the torch over the cup and saw dust! What is more I saw dust going into the cup. It proves to me that no matter what I do, there will always be dust everywhere. I cannot stop it going in my mouth. Strangely, I have found that science often helps me overcome OCD (Perhaps this is because I had a scientific upbringing; my dad was an engineer and fascinated by science).

Several times my arms have touched parts of the flat which I felt were dirty and I have not given in to the urge to wash that part of my body. This would have been impossible a few months ago. My therapist says that when I touch something which I feel is dirty and I am trying to counter the urge to clean, I should consider that I am ‘cleansed by life’. This certainly seems to work for me.

Furthermore I have decided to take a pragmatic idealist approach to hygiene. I think I am possibly a pragmatic idealist (if you are interested look up Josiah Royce), although perhaps I am in a subdivision: those who aim for a vision or ideal but can accept less than this (pragmatic approach) for a limited amount of time to get from A to B. I apply this principle to most of my life but I never applied it to hygiene. I don’t know why but now I will try. This will mean accepting the concept of ‘degrees of cleanliness’ rather than having a black and white view; ‘there was a spec of dust and therefore everything is dirty’. I hope this will help. Today I am going to try another exercise to put this idea into practice.

I have also managed to make progress with ‘hesitation’, which is a common problem for people with OCD and is sometimes referred to as brain-lock. IT is well known, though not understood, that OCD sufferers have great difficulty going from a static state (ie thinking, sitting, sleeping, watching tv) to an active state (moving, walking, using the remote control). The moment of decision often produces a disconnect in the chain of thoughts and leads to a kind of hesitation. This can be very bad and sometimes force people to repeat tasks over and over again, or complete rituals to escape the disconnect.

Finally, I would like to end on a funny story: OCD can be really very funny sometimes. Last night, I had to clean my mouth out because of a mistake. In the old days this would have been with hand soap, but now we have good quality mouth washes (incidentally, like most OCD sufferers, I used to use pure bleach to clean my hands but my life has changed now with anti-bacterial hand lotions and soaps). Anyway, part of this ritual is to stand absolutely stock still in the kitchen for twenty minutes. Now you have to know here that we have had very occasional visits by mice to our flat for years. Our block is old and full of dodgy plumbing, with holes in the walls around poorly-fitting pipes. So I am standing there, stock still, and, after only two minutes, I see a little black shape emerge from behind the washing machine and scuttle across the floor. I nearly jumped out of my skin, but then that would be moving so I controlled it and tried to remain calm. Guess what? The little bugger decided to investigate my feet and came right up to my slippers. I could just see him out of the corner of my eye – I am trying to look straight ahead you understand – sniffing around my slippers. He walked right around this giant ‘human statue’, as he must have thought it was. I actually flinched and he was gone in a flash.
“Thank God!” I thought.
But a minute later I saw him peeping out of a cupboard and then he came back! And I still had over fifteen minutes left! This time he went behind me, out of view, and then I felt something tickling my ankle. The little bastard was either nibbling my ankle – God knows why cos I don’t think I taste that nice – or trying to climb up my socks. I wasn’t actually wearing any trousers so the thought occurred to me that if he was going to get any higher he would have to dig his little claws into my flesh.
‘Argh!’ I thought. “Please God, no!” For any human this would be bad enough, but for an OCD sufferer, it is beyond your wildest nightmare.
‘And what will happen when he gets to my underpants?’
Anyway, I was relieved when I didn’t feel the dreaded claws in my flesh and then I saw him regain the safety of the open cupboard. I was careful to wiggle my toes every minute after this and so we reached a sort of truce, a peace treaty, which lasted until the twenty minutes were up. Of course I tried to find him at the end but he had gone, through whatever dark passage he used to get into the flat.

So that is my OCD. I know that post is a little long, but I hope in being as honest and open as I can, I might help other people who are suffering by showing that they are not alone. Perhaps a few of them will recognise some of the situations and this will help them.

Are you an OCD sufferer? If so, what course are you taking to manage or recover from it? Please get in touch by leaving a comment.

Sneak Preview
I don’t want to disappoint my regular visitors, who are not OCD sufferers, by only speaking about OCD this week so here is another sneak preview. This one is from my new project, provisionally entitled December Radio. I am hoping this will be published some time late in 2014.

December Radio
Copyright © 2013 by Lazlo Ferran
All Rights Reserved.

Carl deliberately arrived at the ball with Frida on his arm. Carl had paid a premium to have his one suit pressed on the ship’s only press in time for the party. It was held in a section of the Tivoli’s hold which the Countess he leaned on the Commodore to convert for her. Makeshift led down to a makeshift floor but a big effort had made the rest of the space look grand. Bunting hung between girders and the ship’s frame. Two large mirrors had been hung above a stage which was draped in blue cloth. Chairs and tables were placed around the edge of a dance space, each draped in a white tablecloth, courtesy of the ship’s stores. There was even a large chandelier which somebody had fabricated from bits of iron truss and spare chain. The inner sides of the hold had been given a lick of white paint, with blue decoration to resemble panelling and loud music blasted from the gramophone.
At the entrance, a grinning Hans Edelmann, dressed in a black tuxedo, handed out a pamphlet and glasses of champagne.
“Well, well!” Carl whispered in Frida’s ear. “This is fun! Champagne too. I must admit, Schumann and the Countess know how to organise a party.”
“I doubt Schumann has much to do with it. The Countess practically runs the show now! That’s probably why the rolling has eased. She personally asked the Commodore to seek calmer waters for tonight!”
“What does the sheet say?”
“Nicely printed! It says there will be a beauty pageant at 10 pm which will include bathing suits; a dance competition at 9 pm: three dances including a waltz, a foxtrot and one step of your choice; a beauty competition for men at 11 pm – wear your best suit and at midnight a talent contest. All competitions are for prizes. And the culmination of the evening is a surprise at 1 am.”
“I wonder what that is? Are you entering any of the competitions?”
“Of course. The beauty completion! The Countess wouldn’t let anyone off, even a Jewess! Actually I don’t think anybody has told the ignorant bitch I am Jewish!”
“You have a fine figure, Frida! Very fine!”
“Oh, it’s not bad for my age. Not as good as your Maria’s!”
“She’s not my Maria anymore!”
“Have you told her?”
“No. No chance but she will know by the end of tonight. Watch out for her Frida. She can be nasty.”
“You’re warning me?”
“Good. We should enter the dance contest.”
“Yes! And you must enter the male beauty contest!”
“No!”
“Oh you must! With those eyes…”
“I’ll think about it.”
They had hardly sat down to the hor deuvres of avocado and eggs when Maria, dressed in the fabulous red dress, tapped Carl on the shoulder. He ignored her. Roth quickly took the vacant seat at the table next to Carl.
“You don’t mind?”
“No. Of course not. Frida. This is Robert Stengler, a Luftwaffe pilot. He will be rescuing us if we need to make a quick getaway, back to the Third Reich! We first met in Trauen, some months ago now. Max; Frida Zimmet.”
“Charmed, I’m sure, Mac said curtly to Frida. He didn’t even glance at her. I fancy I saw the lovely Maria at Trauen too. But I may have been mistaken! Carl, she seems to have the eye for you. What is your secret?”
“Ha! What is yours?”
“Touché, as I think the lovely French say.”
Carl’s game of cat and mouse with Roth continued until the beauty contest. Half way through a five course meal was not the best time for the beauties to put on their new navel-baring swim suits but the women gamely put on a show. Carl had to admit Maria looked the best but he reserved his smiles only for Frida. Nonetheless Maria won, the Countess came a dubious second and Frida, third.