Fiction with an edge

Friday, 16 March 2012

So near and yet ...

The last few months have been taken up with my edit / rewrite of The Paradigm Culture. Today I am at page 190 of 199 - so, close to the end. Once it is finished and I have read the hard copy a couple of times - then re-edited, I can hand out hard copies to the readers who have offered to provide critique on it. 

To a writer, those who provide critique are worth their weight in gold. Their feedback can make or break a story - or, indeed, alter it in a way that the author didn't see coming when it was written. Being close to the story can often be a double-edged sword for a writer. It can mean that we don't see the wood for the trees and the 'critique readers' can tell us that. 

The Paradigm Culture was a cathartic journey for me and one I will explain here when the book is finished. I will also post sample chapters in the same way that I have with The Messenger - here on this site.  

In the meantime I will leave you with this quote from a spokesperson for the alien race who created our universe as a sanctuary from war in their universe: "It was going to give us breathing space. Somewhere to rebuild, rearm … repopulate. We evacuated tribes to what we thought were viable planets, yours and others, but our people became ill and died very quickly. Your planet was the only one where they lived a little longer. So, we concentrated on it. We still lost people, but we realised that if we could create a new race using the planet’s animal life form we might have the means to build a new army."

So, no higher being - just an experiment in logistics.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The 400th ...

Written by Nick Hopkins in the Guardian: 7th March 2012: 

"The death of the 400th Briton killed serving in Afghanistan is another grim statistic in a conflict that has been going on so long it would hardly be surprising if people became inured to the toll.
It offers another chance to pause and reflect, and to ask whether another milestone tells us anything significant about what has happened and is still happening in Afghanistan.
Context is important. Though UK forces have been in the country since 2001, only five British troops died in the first five years of combat. The numbers started rising fast in 2006, when 3,300 personnel from 16 Air Assault Brigade were sent to Helmand province amid fears the Taliban had reclaimed territory in the south of the country.
Explaining the decision to triple troop numbers, John Reid, then defence secretary, said the UK could "not risk Afghanistan once again becoming a sanctuary for terrorists".
However you characterise the Taliban, the British contingent quickly discovered they had arrived much too late, and with too few people. At times, they were in danger of being overrun.
In 2006, 39 British troops died, the following year 42. In the following three years, the figures rose sharply – 51, 108, 103. In 2011, the figure dropped to 46.
The curve on the graph tells you something about the fierceness of the fighting in 2009 and 2010. It does not explain how western governments so completely underestimated what needed to be done to impose some kind of stability and security in Afghanistan's contested heartlands. The drop in casualties last year came after the US "surged" 30,000 extra combat troops into the country, spearheading a campaign to take on the Taliban in its strongholds.
So the 400th death comes at a time when casualty rates are falling. But British fatalities have to be put in a Nato context, and a civilian one too.
In 2011, 418 American troops died in Afghanistan. In 2010, 499 were killed. On 1 January this year, a total of 1,864 US personnel had died in the conflict, much the highest of any nation in the military coalition.
Twenty-eight nations have lost troops in Afghanistan, but Canada – which has lost 158 – is the only other country to have suffered more than 100 casualties.
None of which compares to the number of Afghan civilians estimated to have died since 2006. The United Nations believes almost 10,000 died as a result of the conflict in the four years to 2010.
Within three years, only a few hundred British personnel will remain in Afghanistan. The withdrawal has already begun and, if trends continue, the number of British casualties is likely to fall as hundreds of troops head back to the UK this year, with thousands more to follow in 2013 and 2014.
Sometimes it is easy to look at the conflict through the prism of statistics, but 400 is not just a number. It is a person who will have a name, an age, and a rank. Their death will mean another family coping with the loss of a loved one; friends and colleagues with the pain of being told someone they cared for won't be coming home. The military will put a protective arm around those who are suffering; liaison officers will take families through the arrangements, commanders of regiments will write eulogies and, where possible, read lessons at funerals. Wives of other troops will form a tightly knit circle around women who have lost a husband or partner.
These formal and informal practices will carry on out of the spotlight, and bring comfort to relatives who will have good reason to question why British troops are still out there, and the price of the sacrifice they have made."

I quote Nick Hopkins report here not only because it is well written, but because it contains the fact that,in addition to our young men and women who are still being killed, an estimated 10,000 Afghan civilians have also been killed - many of whom will  be children. Of the ones who have survived, many will be injured, traumatised and left without parents, brothers and sisters - and will have known nothing but this conflict from the day they were born. To my mind the question here is: After a decade of death on all sides, when we and the rest of the world walk out of Afghanistan what will have changed?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

An Orchard of Kindles.

The Kindle presentation was well received at the conference room of our new library. It's interesting to see the number of new and potential authors who view the opportunity in this publishing method. This empowerment for the older writer, especially those who have tried the agent route without success, is allowing dreams and ambitions to be achieved.

Talking, recently, with people keen to develop their writing skills, some have said that they would like writing groups to cover not only novel writing, short stories and poetry, but journalism, writing for magazines, article writing for profit, etc. I began wondering how many groups teach all these elements and how many do it successfully - or whether trying to be all things to all people doesn't work. Any views will be appreciated.  

Last week I visited Orchard Studios, Gunnislake (Cornwall),     owned and run by Jay Hooper. Amongst other activities, she and her tutors are running creative writing workshops and courses not only at the studios, but around the east Cornwall area. Jay is keen to see a network of groups around the Devon and Cornwall writing community link to other groups in other parts of the country - an ethos close to my heart too. She is also keen to investigate the Kindle path to publication for her students. Hopefully, we can work together on this element.