Saturday, 30 January 2016

Vanishing Birds and the Green Man

We are now the proud owners of an exercise bike.  Richard's worn out just assembling the thing.  I chickened out of that little job, opting to walk the dogs round the park instead, which was pleasant despite the bitterly cold edge to the wind whistling off the Mersey.

With a group of other people, I took part in the RSPB's annual Big Garden Birdwatch.  There we all were, sat in an enthusiastic row by the windows, binoculars at the ready, armed with shortcake and tea, and eager to spot wild birds...and there was hardly a bird to be seen.  The entire hour-long count scooped all of two magpies, one sparrow, six woodpigeons, one crow and a seagull - and the RSPB's list of desirable birds to spot didn't include crows or seagulls anyway.  Normally there are all sorts of birds hopping around.  Oh, well.

My sister Evelyn gave me a pretty white and purple cyclamen a couple of years ago, and it was among the plants transplanted from our old garden and brought here when we moved house.  It has come into flower again, which is lovely.  It's now growing in a recycled rubber cauldron-shaped tub along with snowdrops which are pushing up through the soil, and with a small Lady's mantle (alchemilla mollis).

I'm currently reading a real page-turner called Thunderhead by Duncan Preston and Lincoln Child, which has a strong archaelogical theme based around the discovery of an Anasazi Indian city in Utah.  I've read a few of their Agent Pendergast novels over recent months and have thoroughly enjoyed those, too.  If you enjoy thrillers, I recomend these novels.

People sometimes ask me what books I read, and the simple truth is that I read all sorts, non-fiction and fiction alike, and I read a broad range of fiction genres.  It all depends on how I feel at the time, and on whether something about the proposed plot catches my attention.  I'm not one of those people who feel compelled to finish a book; if a story bores me, then I'll abandon it happily in favour of something else.

Above is my latest watercolour painting.  Richard says that the eyes (in the original painting) seem to follow him round the room.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Book Review: The Grumpets

There is a short but sweet review of The Grumpets here.

Book blurb for The Grumpets: Grumpets are shy creatures who live in compost heaps. They are small and wrinkly, with many long, pale limbs, and like nothing better than burrowing into fresh grass clippings.

But the heap can be a dangerous place.

Follow the adventures of young Chip Grumpet as ravenous Slimers and the dreaded Time of Turning threaten to destroy the Grumpet's world! 

To date, this is my one excursion into the realm of fiction for children.  It was fun to write, and to be perfectly honest I was unsure how people might react to this total change of direction from me.  But such things are always beyond the control of the person who creates anything.  All we can do is launch a project on its way and wait to see how things go.

Monday, 11 January 2016

David Bowie

David Bowie died today, aged 69, following an 18-month struggle with cancer.

I never met him, not even briefly, but his music has been an important part of my life since he first appeared on "Top of the Pops" as Ziggy Stardust.  I was still a child then, but already into Marc Bolan's music.  David Bowie's music has been on my turntable, then cassette deck, then stack systems, then CD players ever since.  (I can't be bothered with my iPod; it's more trouble than it's worth and so gathers dust in a cupboard drawer.)

Who could forget attending those "Bowie Nights" years ago, at Olivers nightclub in Leigh, when a perfectly mundane small-town disco would be transformed largely by an act of imagination into a doorway into another realm dedicated to the creative outpourings of Mr Bowie himself?  Everyday teens and twenties would tog themselves in theatrical replicas of his stage clothes, and dance the night away - or mime the night away, if a person was really devoted - to track after track by Bowie, Japan, Roxy Music, early Human League and the seemingly mandatory "I Travel" by Simple Minds.

And later, when I lived on my own for around eleven years, first in St Helens and then in Aigburth, Liverpool, Bowie's music was always there, changing as his creative vision continued to expand.  While my tastes in music have also expanded to encompass classical, jazz, prog rock, rock and folk, I've always kept playing his music.

It feels sad to recognise that there will be no more music from him; his creative genius has been halted here.  His experimental search for artistic self-expression was wonderfully individualistic.  He will be truly missed.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Goals for 2016

Since 2012, I've created a list of annual goals which I hope to achieve within the following twelve months.  This is one way to keep track of the progress of various projects and it's a bit of self-entertainment.

My goals for 2015 were:-
  1.  Move house;
  2. Finish Fabian;
  3. Write at least one short story or poem a month;
  4. Finish the NCC Skills course.;
  5. Continue with the NVQ Level 3 course;
  6. Fun stuff - swimming; doll collecting; photography; art.
We certainly moved house.  We sold our 1940s box-like semi in West Kirby and bought this lovely four-bedroom Victorian home, built in 1879, in Oxton.  Both of us consider that buying this house was one of the best decisions we've ever made.  We have a garden, an art room, we both have our own rooms - his for his films, music and Dr Who collection, and mine is where I write and keep my dolls houses and doll collection.  The dogs have settled in well.  The only thing I miss about our previous house is my pond.  I have been eyeing a corner of the lawn.

Fabian is finished.  More or less.  It's currently being edited and polished in readiness for publication in the spring (date TBC).  The front cover isn't done yet, but the props for the photoshoot are ready and waiting.  Memo to self: buy camera batteries.

I successfully completed the NCC Skills course.  However, the NVQ course is still in progress; I had hoped to have finished this, but the course turned out to be much longer than anticipated.  My tutor, a lovely bubbly lady, recently said I'd probably have it finished by July/August.  The course requires a huge amount of writing, which seems silly for what is supposed to be a vocational course.  I could have had another novel written in the time it's taken me to do this!

In August, I changed jobs; still with a similar role but with a much larger company.  There was an in-depth induction training programme, which I have now completed.  I genuinely like my new job, which also brought a nice pay rise and improved working conditions.

These changes, and the time consumed by doing courses, has meant that my intention to write at least one poem or short story per month totally went to the wall!  I wrote all of five poems and didn't complete any short stories.  There is a story on the backburner, which looks likely to evolve into a novella rather than a short story.  I'd 20,000 words of it drafted already before my old PC died - and guess who'd not made a copy on disc.  I began re-writing it, but it seems to be morphing into a quite different tale this time - but that's perfectly ok. 

I haven't been swimming for nearly a year, which is something I hope to fix soon.  I miss going and its good exercise.  It's also quite meditative, focusing on the pull of muscles through the water.  We're looking to buy an exercise bike for the house, but this won't be as much fun as swimming.  On the other hand the background music will be better.

My doll collection has only four new additions, and I've not done much photography.  However, I have been making good use of our art room, creating several watercolour paintings. I've also been doing some rapid sketching around Birkenhead Park.  Some of these have been posted here on this blog over recent months.

So, here are my goals for 2016:-
  1. Publish Fabian;
  2. Finish the NVQ Level 3 course;
  3. Write more poems and short stories;
  4. Create more art and photography.
My list of goals seems to get simpler each year.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Dumbledore and the Leaky Wall.

Watercolour study of oak leaves.
I'm typing this while waiting for a builder arrive.  An ominous horizontal damp patch has appeared along our dining room wall.  Judging from the ridges in the plaster beneath the new-ish wallpaper, this has been a recurring problem for some time.

So next-door's builder came in to offer his opinion, and he pointed out that the damp course along that section of the house is too low to the path so it can't do it's job.  One option would be to jack-hammer out a trench "soak away" beside the wall and hope the old damp course would then work ok.  He recommended that it would be easier to simply install a new damp course.  The spoiled plaster needs to be replaced, which means the radiator has to come off first.  Also, an original Victorian downspout has rusted through quite badly and needs replacing with a new plastic one.  It's a pity to lose the historical one but carbuncles of rust are bubbling through the paint along its entire length so it's obviously come to the end of its useful life.

I celebrated so-called "Black Friday" by ignoring it completely.  As I see the issue, something is only a bargain if (a) you actually needed the item, and (b) it's a quality product at (c) a genuinely reduced price.

At the same time, I've been busy giving Spooky Cute Designs a major overhaul.  My online store now has a new layout, making it even easier for people to find what they want.  New designs have been added and there's an entirely new range aimed specifically at people interested in arts and crafts.  I've also assembled a collection of goods for the home so these can be found in one place rather than scattered throughout the various ranges.  Take a peek and let me know what you think.

...Ah, my builder's just arrived.

We've been working our way through the Harry Potter films again, watching them in sequence, one each Saturday.  Last night's film saw Dumbledore die.  Richard enjoys planning these mini film seasons, running through a theme.  We've been working our way through the entire X-Files for nearly four years.  Right now, Mulder has been abducted by a UFO and Scully is working with the guy from Terminator.  And we're about half way through a film noir boxed set of oldies which have been excellent - good, solid plots and believable characters.  I really like the way the female characters were written.  Too many contemporary film roles for women seem insubstantial, as if the main topic of interest in a woman's life is the man she's with or wants to be with.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Wild Swans and Stuff in Frames.

Wild Swans in Birkenhead Park
Birkenhead Park is currently home to two adult swans and their seven cygnets.  They're a delight to watch as they sail majestically through reflections cast on the water by autumnal trees and shrubbery.  The colours of the foliage are striking, and the ground is already thick with a crisp carpet of fallen leaves.  Everywhere you look, grey squirrels are munching acorns, fattening up for the coming winter.

Our dogs found a frog in our garden last night, the first amphibian we've seen in our new-to-us garden.  The one thing I miss about our old house is my frog pond.  I've been eyeing a corner of the lawn, with a view to creating a new one here.  It's a project which will have to go on the To Do list.

Meanwhile, I continue to work away at my second NVQ Level 3.  I have two modules, totalling 6 credits, left of the mandatory modules, and then I move on to the optional ones.  There is a huge amount of writing involved - enough for a novel, even.  Though I suspect it would make for spectacularly dull reading...!

I also attended a First Aid/CPR course where I learned that sealed bandages go off, which is something I'd not heard of before.  I'd last done a similar course some six years ago, so I was long overdue for a refresher.  I 'killed' my dummy human twice before managing correct CPR.  I sincerely hope some poor person never has to rely on me to save their life.  Making rubber breathe is harder than it looks.

Our immediate neighbour is renovating his house.  He has begun installing new windows, and threw the old Victorian sash-cord frames in the skip.  I spotted them and mentioned to Richard that they'd make a cold frame.  So Richard asked if he could have them, and then he set about assembling the sides using steel L-shaped brackets.  The lid is held on with two steel hinges.  He painted the wood with green-coloured sealant, and that was all there was to that little job!  Now we have a functional cold frame to over-winter some of our more delicate plants inside. 

The sealant was left over from last weekend when we painted the shed with it in preparation for winter.  We had to pull the shed away from the corner of the walled garden so we could paint all four sides.  Trying to push it back into place was much, much harder.

Birkenhead Park
I saw a really good exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery, which had many contributions from the Wirral Society of Arts.  I wish I'd had time to view it more than once, as I was impressed by the high standard of work.

I've been editing and re-writing bits of Fabian.  I had hoped to have this ready for publication by 1st December, but I'm going to put it back a little.  I would much sooner take my time with the MS and get it right, than rush ahead and release something which I know isn't quite ready.  My original aim was to have completed the first draft by the end of this year, and I have achieved that.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A Cure for Aging?

"All that we profess to do is but this, - to find out the secrets of the human frame; to know why the parts ossify and the blood stagnates, and to apply continual preventatives to the effort of time.  This is not magic; it is the art of medicine rightly understood.  In our order we hold most noble -, first, that knowledge which elevates the intellect; secondly, that which preserves the body.  But the mere art (extracted from the juices and simples) which recruits the animal vigour and arrests the progress of decay, or that more noble secret which I will only hint to thee at present, by which heat or calorific, as ye call it, being, as Heraclitus wisely taught, the primordial principle of life, can be made its perpectual renovator...."
Zanoni, book IV, chapter II, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, first published in 1842.

Oroboros keyring - Spooky Cute Designs

The idea of being able to achieve an immortal life is probably as old as human life itself.  Folklore and mythology abound with stories of people who tried to achieve this state.  Those who allegedly succeeded were portrayed as monsters, as vile betrayers of the supposed sancity of death.  Many other tales end in disaster, with hideous deaths woven through with dire moralistic warnings of the doom-laden consequences of attempting to evade the fate nature has in store for all of us.

151, 600 people die every day, apparently.  That's 6,316 people every hour, or 105 every minute.  What if we could change that?  What if we could cure old age with a course of medication?

Of course, accidents and murders would still occur, and so death could not be entirely overcome.  Consider, however, the possibilities afforded by the option of greatly - or indefinitely - extending your life.  Consider how much you could experience, explore, learn and discover if you could live for hundreds of years, or longer.

Where would we all live?  There's a whole universe out there, just waiting to be populated.  We're already living in space for long periods, on the International Space Station, and the possibility of colonising other planets is not far-fetched.  Professor Steven Hawking was reported as saying that "the long term future of the human race must be space and that it represents an important life insurance for our future survival, as it could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonising other planets."  Science-fiction writers have been playing around with this idea for a century or more, of course.

How would we have enough resources?  As a species, we need to invest and continue to develop technologies like solar power and hydroponic food production which enables food plants to grow without soil.  Only this week it was announced that NASA can confirm liquid water on Mars.  Who knows what exponential discoveries might be made over the next decades?

What about ethics? Ask yourself where is the moral superiority in condemning  151, 600 people to die every day, despite a cure being available.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Messing About on the Water(colour).

Marsh Sentinel; watercolour; Adele Cosgrove-Bray 2015.
This week saw me sailing down the Shropshire Union Canal in a narrowboat.  The weather was lovely,  warm with bright autumn sunlight which proved perfect for sitting on the prow of the Pot of Gold, eating egg and mayo sandwiches while ducking under towering weeping willow trees and dodging wasps which homed-in on the Victoria sponge cake.

The narrowboat is owned by the Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust, a charitable organisation crewed by trained volunteers.

We sailed past Waverton, and admired the houses whose gardens run right down to the water's edge.  Then we left suburbia behind and slid through open countryside, passing by a long, long line of narrowboats with permanent moorings.  It was like a floating village, some of the moorings being equipped with wind-power and solar-power systems.  Some narrowboats were cheerfully painted, others had more sombre colour schemes, a few looked rather rusty, while others' roofs were crammed with culinary plants or bright annuals.

Everyone found it fascinating, and the trip was greatly enjoyed by all in the group.

Marsh at Dawn; watercolour; Adele Cosgrove-Bray 2015.
 I've been experimenting with watercolour painting over recent weeks.  I've previously painted in oils, but the techniques used for watercolours are completely different and it's so long since I used this medium that, in effect, I'm having to re-learn everything but I truly don't mind that.  In fact, it's been fun.  Here are some of the results.  Click on the images to see them larger.

Boat on the Shore; watercolour; Adele Cosgrove-Bray 2015.

Landscape; watercolour; Adele Cosgrove-Bray 2015.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ducks, Bucks and a Bit of Sad News.

My brother-in-law, Andrew Hart, passed away on the 10th August.  He suffered a heart attack, following a stroke earlier this year.  His funeral took place on the 21st, at Southport Crematorium.  Andy was known on the northern club circuit for his singing, and in younger days for his musical contributions to Golborne Brass Band, The Philtones and the David Charles Dance Band.

Rapid sketches of ducks and geese, August 2015.
I was unable to attend the funeral, having started a new day-job all of nine days before this.  I've been talking to my sister Evelyn, though, and nagging her well-meaningly about eating decent meals and taking care of herself, making a joke of "sounding just like Mum".

There's not much anyone can really say at times like this.  It's instinctive to want to fix things for the person going through an awful experience, but really all anyone can do is simply listen.

So, I started a new job...  I'm still doing arts and crafts, and similar life-enhancing activities, but for a different company.  Having moved house in March this year, I wanted something more local to my new address as travelling to my old job added approximately three hours onto each working day - crazy, considering that I was only employed for four hours a day anyway.   Not only did I get my wish, location-wise, but I got a pay rise too - and I still only work four hours a day, which suits me fine as it leaves plenty of time for writing.  The new place seems like a pleasant working environment, and my new colleagues have been friendly and welcoming.

When I was still quite new to writing, I was genuinely surprised at how many of the other writers I met, either in person or through social networks, also held down ordinary jobs.  There was one  moderately well-known newspaper columnist and author of several non-fiction books - I won't name names - whose conversational, narrative writing style I'd admired for years, who still works as a postman as this, he wrote, is what actually pays his bills.  I know other writers, who have been traditionally published several times who also work as hairdressers, or with autistic children, as call centre operators or in sales, etc.  Unless they've retired already, or have a partner who is willing and able to support them, almost all the published writers I know also have day-jobs.  These aren't day-dreamers, the kind of writer who talks about writing but doesn't actually do much of it; I'm referring to skilled, imaginative, working writers, some of whose names you'd perhaps recognise.

Many well-known writers had day-jobs, such as in this list, or this list, or this list.  There are probably heaps more such lists, but that's enough Googling for me right now.

It's pouring with rain as I type this.  Last night, a tremendous thunder storm raged overhead, with huge, jagged forks of lightening cracking through the sky, making the sky look pink for a second before it plunged back to grey on black as torrential rain hammered down, turning the pavement into a stream.  Liverpool, usually visible over the river from our home on a hill, was engulfed in a thick bank of smoky-charcoal cloud.  This morning, the park smelled of wet soil and saturated leaves, and the pond banks were a muddy border flanked by dripping foliage, freshly patterned by webbed feet.

Speaking of ducks and geese, I've been doing a series of rapid sketches in the park using a very small pad and an ordinary fine line pen.  They fit into a pocket easily.  I've shared some of the results here.  I enjoy sketching - always have.