Never work with children – except when it works

I recently had the unalloyed pleasure of working with groups of children from 6 schools – the children were all around 11 years old.

Although I did raise children, mine are much, much older and I found it difficult, before the day, to judge how to pitch the event.  What I was supposed to do was to help them in their attempts to write historical fiction.

To say I was impressed at the calibre of the ideas coming out of these young people would be an understatement.  One of the stories I was using to build up the idea of historical fiction was my own Cold Service – which is a re-telling of the death of Agamemnon, taking into account small things that the original seems to skate by, such as how Clytemnestra felt as the ships sailed, and how one would go about taking an *axe* into a bathing chamber without someone noticing…  Many of the young people knew all about the Trojan war, and were remarkably inventive in coming up with new, alternative ways of doing away with the king!

I then moved on to talk about my writing about vampires but found out almost immediately that here, I had seriously miscalculated – they were too young for that (my stories contain very little that would get them banned from young readers, very little sex and very little gore but still….).  So I glossed over that entire idea, and set them to think about what happened to the colony at Roanoke.  They did very, very well!

If this is the calibre of the next generation, and the calibre of the teachers who teach them and the people who parent them – we’re going to be ok, I think.


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The Shining Cities published!

Have you ever wondered what the elder gods (not in the Lovecraftian sense) think about modern physics?  I have a short story in the N.A. anthology that deals with this – my story is called Explanation, and the anthology is called, “The Shining Cities”.

It’s available through Amazon, and much to my liking, is available for download as well as in print! 

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Senchán’s journey

Ugly, misshapen

                The monster on the shore

Calls out to Senchán

                “Than these, I can serve you more!”

The poets he had gathered round him

                In gold and satin clad

Did not know who addressed them

                And begged to leave the lad

Upon the shore – “He is not fit

                With us to travel on the sea!”

But Senchán, more wise than they

                Allowed, “No, he may travel with me.”

The old woman they find among the rocks

                Famine-thin, and with care bowed down

Challenged Senchán

                And they whom him surround

They could not answer her

                Senchán himself was dumb

‘Twas only the lad who knew the lore

                And he, for this, had come

Endured the ridicule

                Of those who could not see

That beneath the rags

                Stood Poetry.

Listen then, and learn – who would a poet be

Look not on what is without – but open your heart – and see.


(First published in Dancing God)

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List of books….

There have been discussions lately (and, I think, always) about “essential” books.

This amuses me, particularly when they are “Pagan Essential Books” – as so many people insist that one of the values of Paganism is the lack of a central authority – if there is no authority, how can there be “essential” books? (Yes, the comment is slightly mischievous – but only slightly so).

I’m not about to offer a list of “books one should read” even though I think there are some of those… I’d be very happy if most people had read The Republic, for instance, and understood it and worried at it and thought about it.  Saying that, it’s been years since I read it.  The same holds for the Symposium.  (I was amused the other day to be speaking to a student, who was from Greece, who didn’t recognise my pseudonym.  When her professor arrived and asked what we were discussing, I told him I had tasked the student to reread Plato over the break). 🙂

So, no list of books.

But – a list of suggestions ABOUT books.  These aren’t things I suggest anyone else does – this is what I do.  And this is only for books that purport to dispense knowledge – fiction, poetry – those are different genre and live to different rules.

The flashier the cover, the less likely I am to buy the book.  Oh, I might pick it up and look at it – there’s a reason they call those things, “eyecatching”.  And I’m in no way put off by a beautiful cover.  But still…

I don’t pay much attention at all to those blurbs that tell you that X person thinks this book is the best thing since sliced honey loaf UNLESS that X person is someone whose writing I know and trust already.

I check who the author is and why they are writing this book.  I have a penchant for books written by scholars – but a book written by Joe Bloggs, PhD, that then has no mention of what that PhD was in, or how it applies to the subject at hand, is not nearly as impressive to me as a book written by Joe Bloggs, MA, which says the MA was in the subject of the book at X university.

If the author is “the author of 11 million popular books on this subject!!!” – well, I won’t necessarily put it back on the shelf, but I’m a lot less inclined to shell out more of your earth pounds for such a tome.

Basically, I want the author to explain why she thinks she has the nous to write this book, and why I should listen to her voice, among all the others clamouring for my attention (and money).  And that means, “Lifelong practitioner” is going to carry more weight than “PhD in entirely unrelated subject” – assuming the lifelong practice is in the subject of the book.

I look at the reference list.  I want there to BE a reference list.  I want it to be wide ranging, I want it to be organised, I want it to be properly cited.  I want it to refer to the literature in whatever field is being discussed.

And I read a couple of paragraphs from somewhere random in the book. (I don’t read the whole thing or even whole chapters.  I know people disagree with me about this but reading a book that is being sold, when one has no intention of buying it, seems to me to be stealing). (No, I don’t download music or films without paying for them, either. I’m odd, that way).

I want to be drawn in, by those paragraphs.  I want to know that the author’s style won’t have me running for the hills – I have to read shedloads of dry stuff for work, I’m not about to slog through too much of it outside of work.

I want to know that the author knows when to cite the literature – if she says, “It’s well known that purple is the best possible colour for landscapes”  I want that to be followed by some sort of support from the field.

If those couple of paragraphs contain unsubstantiated claims, if they contain mistranslations of ancient texts, or no translation at all or no indication that the author has ever bothered to read the ancient text or an authoritative translation (I can’t tell you some of the messes I’ve seen – including one whole rant by an author about something in an ancient text which was clearly written as satire, but was being taken as truthful report, because either the author didn’t read the language in question – my bet is on that – or didn’t bother to read the whole work – or some other explanation), if the author is trying to convince me of something outlandish on flimsy evidence – the book goes back on the shelf.

I think about what else I could do with the money – will this be a reasonable amount to spend?

And then I either put it back on the shelf, or I buy it.

Sometimes, I buy it in spite of all the above – one memorable time I did this because a friend begged me to read a book that was constantly being recommended to him as a fantastic book.  It wasn’t.  Well, yes, it was – but in the old, high sense of “fantastic” in that what it tried to convince the reader was history was generally fantasy….

And I have a bizarre sense of humour. I have lots and lots of books about the grail, and conspiracies and all sorts.  They amuse me.

So in reality, the main touchstone I use for whether or not to buy a book is if it appeals to me.

Which seems an entirely sensible way to decide. 🙂

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The first review of the audio book is up – five start out of five!  Thank you!


Review is here

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“Put your soul upon the page     

Write  it straight from the heart

Write not in ink but in heart’s dark blood

            Reveal the torn-apart


For you are not whole

            Nor are you sound

You are not in one piece


Poetry comes from the dark

            The anguish gives it lease

To live and breathe

            On what you give


And indeed on what you lack

Give voice, then

To everyone’s pain”

But the poet answers back:


“Why me, oh muse,

            why my heart’s blood

            why my soul upon the line?


Can’t you find someone else

            To write your words sublime?”


A sardonic smile

            And irony

            Aids the answering muse:


“Well, I could go

            and leave you here

            but think what you would loose –


You can write

            Because you feel

What you relate

            Is what is real


Would you rather live on a level plane

            And see the world – as mundane?”


And I might as well

            Have saved by breath –

A mundane world?

            I’d be bored to death.

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The audio book of Tales in Vein is now available at Amazon!

There are some clips there, as well, so you can sample the wonderful voice of David Shaw-Parker.

I’d be very grateful for any suggestions about where to advertise this!

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