Friday, December 14, 2012

Memories of Christmas Past

Now that Christmas is open us, what are your memories of Christmas past?

I find myself thinking back to earlier times, reflecting on all those feel good memories.  One memory that stays in my mind is collecting holly laden with red berries with my grandfather on the canal bank and taking it back to my grandparents' home, where it was used as decoration.  Back in those days, the winters were freezing and we had coal fires.  The snow often seemed to be up to my knees when we were sent home from school, the school milk had frozen solid in those tiny glass bottles and the boiler had gone on the blink.

We didn't seem to expect too much from Father Christmas either, [maybe a favourite must have toy or two, like a new bike, toy pram, train set or special doll], a selection box and a Christmas stocking filled with such delights as chocolate coins covered in gold foil, a chocolate Santa, a tangerine and a few small toys that would fit in the stocking.

Santa arrived at our house during the early hours of Christmas day and I knew he'd arrived as my legs felt heavy as the quilt on my bed was laden with gifts.  In those days we lived near a dairy and the milk floats passed the house even on Christmas day.  So I would guess I must have woken at 5 am or 6.  The first port of call would be to wake my brother up and we'd both go downstairs and make a start on our chocolate selection boxes, even before eating breakfast.  My parents would still be fast asleep upstairs.  My father usually went to the pub on Christmas Eve, so he'd have quite a long lie in.

Then it was on with the black and white TV for us kids to watch a star like Leslie Crowther visiting a London Children's Hospital.  The children there would be presented with gifts and the nurses made their uniforms look festive, decking their hats with tinsel.

My grandparents were early risers, so me and my brother would run to their house which was just 3 doors away to show them all the gifts we'd got.  My gran usually gave me a Bunty annual every year which she'd sign and my brother got a Beano or Dandy annual.  She'd also give us money so we could buy what we wanted after Christmas.

Later my mother would get up and light the coal fire and set the table, which was moved into the middle of the room, for Christmas dinner.  We'd have things on the table we didn't use the rest of the year, like a special red table cloth with festive prints and matching serviettes.  We always got to drink those miniature bottles of Babycham with the meal, which was usually turkey and the trimmings followed by Christmas Pudding, Mrs Peeks in the blue cellophane wrap which was boiled for a couple of hours in the already small, steamed up kitchen.

During the afternoon there'd be Christmas Top of the Pops, playing the Christmas number one for that particular year.  This was followed by the Queen's Speech.  In the evening, the whole family sat down to watch The Morcambe and Wise Christmas Show.  They always had a special guest on who joined in the fun, like Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones.  I'll never forget the year, Ms. Bassey stood there singing 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes' as Eric jammed her foot into a workman's boot!

There would be so much eating that day that we'd feel quite full by the time we got to bed.  Of course the evening was usually an anti climax because for me the expectation of Christmas on Christmas Eve was always the best part.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"How to Spot a Fake Facebook Account"

The number of fake accounts on Facebook is roughly the size of Egypt’s population and larger than most of the world’s countries, Facebook recently disclosed.

So how do you determine who is real and who is fake in your Facebook friend list?

It's great if you know your FB friends in real life, not so great if they live elsewhere and you can't find anything out about them. It's now possible however, to click and drag a FB image of someone you suspect as being fake and insert into Google Images which will then scan the photograph and throw up possible links to it.

Googling names and images are two ways to research. If they are fake then you might find the image popping up at lots of different websites, networking communities etc, using different names. Also if the person says they are a marathon runner or well known for something in particular, then there should be a link somewhere online for that. I, myself, have a high Internet profile as I've had books, articles and short stories published, so I'm easy to find. So if I tell someone I'm a writer, then they'll know if they Google 'Lynette Rees', that they're sure to find me.

Some other things to look out for are:

1. Does your FB friend have friends in their own community who message them on their wall and appear to know them personally? If not, they could be fake.

2. Do they have photographs of family and friends in their albums or are they just studio pics lifted from the Net and photographs of objects/places and nothing else personal? This doesn't necessarily mean they are fake, but it's more unusual and might be an idea to use the 'drag/drop' Google image option to suss them out.

3. Can you see evidence of your FB friend being tagged on nights out/events with friends and family? [Of course they might just choose to disable the tagging option!]

4. Often someone who has a false profile doesn't offer much information about themselves and when they do, often it doesn't tie in with their profile picture. For example they might word their information using terms a middle aged person might use, but then they post a profile pic of a young person.

Often someone who has a fake profile does so because they intend scamming you in some way. Recently someone added me as a friend, supposedly a female from the US, and I guessed straight away by the lack of info and 'her terminology' that 'she' was lying. So I chatted online to her and discovered she was a young man in Ghana lol! I also got his email address from him, Googled that and discovered he had scammed loads of people by pretending to be an American man. There were warnings about him all over the Net! He probably had his reasons for doing what he did, namely to extort money from gullible people, but a lot of people fell for it.

Sometimes Facebook fakers are scammers sitting in an Internet cafe in Lagos Nigeria or elsewhere pretending to be a war hero in Afghanistan and will lure a lady into an Internet romance by displaying an attractive photograph and lavishing lots of attention. Later they ask for money to get back home! People do fall for this and have lost their life savings as a result.

Beware as not everyone is who they appear to be. If after running checks you still aren't certain and you intend meeting your friend, then ask them to post a picture of themselves holding up a newspaper with that day's date on it. It won't necessarily mean they are trustworthy, but it will prove if their profile photograph is authentic or not.

Always bear this in mind...If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!

Visit my Catfished Blog to find out more!

Monday, October 29, 2012

“Is Fear holding you back as a writer?”

I want to pose this question to you today.  What is stopping you from writing?  There are times in our lives, and this has happened to me, where I have feared putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Yet, I have learned that the more I write, the more I am able to write, if that makes sense.

Going back between 1999 [when I first started writing seriously] and 2009, I was a prolific writer.  I’ve always written but it was after attending a nurses’ twenty year reunion in May of 1999,  I really went for it.  They were such an inspiring group of people, some whom I’d kept in touch with for years, others I hadn’t seen since 1982, but that night lit a flame for me.   I went home and wrote a short story entitled ‘The Reunion’ based on that night.

I typed it up and submitted it to Woman’s Realm.  I only had an electric typewriter back then although soon I had a computer and went on line and it changed my world.  That short story was rejected but I received a handwritten message from the editor which I still have somewhere which said, ‘I am SO sorry we don’t accept unsolicited stories.  Good luck!’  I didn’t even know what unsolicited meant back then.  Although it was a rejection, somehow it gave me hope.  I read into that message, rightly or wrongly, that she liked the story and it might be worth submitting elsewhere.  So I thought the best thing to do might be to mix with other writers and learn more.

I joined a writing group that was run by a tutor from Cardiff University, this was at Dowlais library.  And whilst I imagined the members would be men in dickie bows who liked nothing better than to smoke cigars and sport monocles; and women in their satin dressing gowns who reclined on chaise lounges like Barbara Cartland, they were nothing of the sort.  They were just every day folk who had a talent for writing and I learned so much from them.

Once I started going to the group every Tuesday afternoon, which was held in the basement of Dowlais library, there was no holding me back.  We were given writing exercises and expected to return with a short story, poem or essay by the following Tuesday, and I always did!  The thought of showing up the following week not having anything to read out to the group, mortified me.  Often though, I would scribble something down quickly before I left the house or in a cafĂ© in town before taking the bus to Dowlais.  Yet, the funny thing was, those off-the-cuff pieces were often my best work.

Since then I’ve hardly stopped writing, even though I no longer attend the group.  I’ve written short stories, articles, poems and novels.  I’ve even had work published in magazines, on websites and at publishing houses.  I’ve written during breaks at work, on buses, trains, waiting rooms, park benches, etc.

I am a big believer in the fact that if you want to write you will.  Nothing or no one will stop you.
Something highly traumatic happened to me during August of 2009.  I had just completed the first year of my Open University Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing.  I could have given it up the way I felt as my world crumbled.  It was if someone had stepped into my life and thrown a grenade.  Nothing made sense to me any longer.   

I am convinced that keeping a daily journal of my thoughts and feelings kept me sane and focused.  It also stopped me from getting badly depressed.  I had little sleep and would wake maybe at 5 am and sometimes would cry as soon as I opened my eyes.  My routine was to keep my journal by the bed to record my inner thoughts and feelings.  Putting pen to paper was so cathartic.  Often I’d transfer the words to my blog next day but after a while I removed them.  They still exist in draft form and could form the basis of some sort of self help book for other women who were devastated in the same way I was over a relationship breakdown.

I decided the best thing I could do for myself was to sign up for the second year with the Open University even though it was costly, but it was the best thing I ever did as I still had to produce short stories and poems.   In fact, it was during that awful time that I wrote some of my best work as the emotion I was feeling poured out into my stories and poems.  The only thing I had problems with was novel writing back then.   I set a couple of half started novels to one side.  Although now I am back into the swing of things.

What I’m saying to you is that unless you are really ill, depressed or suffering from some sort of trauma, there is no excuse not to write.  Although even then as in my case it could actually help you to write through those times!  In fact, to be honest you are probably making some sort of excuse not to write in your life right now.
Often, I think it’s fear that holds back a writer.  Fear of not being able to produce something, fear of not finishing something and fear it’s no good.

Fear is the enemy, acceptance is the key.

Accept that you might write rubbish to begin with.  You can always rewrite that rubbish but no one can fix a blank page.

Keep a journal of daily thoughts, memories and activities that might get you back into the swing of writing.
Please don’t tell me you don’t have the time to write.  That’s rubbish and you know it.  So often people say that.  If you really want to write you will.  It might mean making sacrifices during your busy day, like getting up an hour earlier, staying up later, recording your favourite television programme, etc.   

It’s very rare that no one has time to write anything!  I might forgive if you if you are the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe though!  Not if you’re an everyday person who has time to watch television, dwindle away hours on Facebook or spend time doing other things.

So, what’s stopping you?  Pick up that pen and write or place fingers on keyboard and start today.  You’ll be amazed what you can achieve because even if you don’t feel like writing to begin with, once you get into the flow you will want to keep writing.

It’s all about how much writing means to you.  You need that burning passion that’s as important to you as the air that you breathe.  Do you have it or not?  Because if you don’t, you aren’t a writer, you are someone who likes to think they could be a writer without the blood, sweat and tears.   And as we all know, without pain there is no gain…

Friday, August 31, 2012

Facebook: Fun or Folly?

I've been a member of the social networking site, Facebook, for four years now.  But recently, I've considered closing down my account.


Because what started out as a bit of fun has turned into something that started causing me grief.

It all began back in 2008 when I'd first had a couple of novels published.  I wanted to promote them so I joined another social networking site called, Bebo.  Funny we hardly hear anything from My Space or Bebo these days, do we?  So, I built up a few friends and posted a little.  To be honest, I wasn't all that interested in it and only logged on occasionally.  I think I only ever updated my status a couple of times.

However one day I signed up for a  Facebook account.   I didn't use it and forgot all about it, then one day I got an email message to say that someone had added me as a friend.  It turned out to be a fellow author.  How she knew it was me I have no idea as there was no information about me on my profile page or a photograph.

I then added some of her author friends and some added me.  Then I added a profile pic and local friends started adding me, my number of Facebook friends grew and grew.  I began to enjoy socialising with new friends and old.  It was also a good way to promote my books.

It seemed as if nothing could go wrong...

But it did.  I was surprised how people could leave snipey comments on my wall and my inbox, sometimes seeming to get worked up by trivial things.  I ended up blocking a handful of people.  Things got worse though when I set up a Facebook group that grew so large it had over 1000 members from all over the world.  The aim of the group was to encourage people from my home town to socialise online with one another and we also had regular monthly meetings at a local pub

It was enjoyable to begin with, but then I started getting inbox messages every so often from group members moaning about other members, complaining about various posts at the group, people stirring things up at the group, etc.  In fact everything from bad feeling to bad mouthing others.  For some reason some members seemed to think as I ran the group I was responsible for all sorts of things.  I had messages from men who fancied particular females in the group.  I received messages from women harassed by male members of the group.  Things that went on outside in the community too they contacted me about.  It felt as though I was responsible for the world and his wife.

I decided for my own sanity to leave the group I had created.  Leaving behind a handful of admins who could run the group.  That in itself left a lot of members inboxing me with this, that and the other.  Tittle tattling about other members and stirring things up.  It got me down, from my understanding the group had now split into two since I'd left with two separate meetings planned at two different venues. It will go on with out me.  Mind you, I also received lots of lovely inbox messages too, people telling me how they would miss my posts and what a good administrator I was . But all of that wasn't enough to persuade me to hang on to the group.  I knew I was doing the right thing in letting it go as I've got back into novel writing and go online to chill out, which I couldn't do when I was having so many inbox messages from the group.  I also decided to deactivate my account of nearly 300 Facebook friends and have set up a new profile with just a handful of friends.

The benefits of doing this have been many fold so far.  I now have a bit of peace, no more inboxing with queries and comments that got me down, after all I wasn't getting paid to run the group and now I am interacting with less friends, but select ones that mean a lot to me.  I may add a few more when I've had a think who was on my old friend list.

I think you know when you have too many inconsequential Facebook friends when some suddenly show up in your news feed and you think, "Who on earth are you?"

Facebook is the thief of time.  I used to log on and would get so wrapped up in things that an hour would pass like 5 minutes and there would still be dirty dishes waiting in the sink.

Too much time is spent reading mindless statuses that read things like: "Just going to make a cup of tea!"  Or: "OMG can you believe this?"  The person who posts the latter is usually attention seeking to get others to ask what's going on.  A Drama King or Queen of the highest order.

Most of the comments people say on Facebook would bore us to death if those people made those same comments live in our living rooms or in the pub on a night out.  Yet, we end up pressing that inane 'Like' button to give our approval.

I now spend less time logged into Facebook and feel I am getting my life back. I spend longer doing the housework, listening to music, much more time in the real world than the Facebook one.  My mind feels more peaceful.

That quote, "Facebook: Wasting people's lives since 2004"was true in my case.  Is it true for you?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Seven Points to Consider When Presenting Your Work

Seven Points to Consider When Presenting Your  Work

I want to discuss the presentation of your work.  If you are into the swing of writing it’s quite possible that you might seek publication one day.  So it’s best to get into good habits now.  You need to format your work so that it’s reader friendly, in other words, so it makes the reader want to read on. 
Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way as a writer:

1.  Don’t use too many long words.  

Sometimes we feel the need to impress others, but if the language used is too elaborate it only seeks to confuse people and slow down the reading process.  After all, do you really want readers to have to pull a dictionary down off the shelf to translate?  

2.  Less is more.  

It’s easy to get carried away and repeat ourselves.  When we post to the group it’s more likely to be a first draft, but if seeking publication, it’s often a good idea to pare your work down beforehand.  Magazines, publishing houses and websites often have a specific word count and no matter how good your work is, they will reject it if it goes well over that count.

3.  Show lots of white space!  

This makes it easier on the eye for the reader.  Construct paragraphs.  Do you know when you need to use a new paragraph?  I always begin one when there is something new to say, or when a different person speaks.  I don’t indent paragraphs for online purposes, I just double line space.  I do the same thing when I submit to publishers.  These are known as ‘block paragraphs’.  Just the way I’ve written this!

4.  Avoid the use of ALL CAPITALS! 

Most of us have used all caps at some time or another, but it can give the reader the wrong impression, especially online as it’s associated with shouting.  As well as that, if you decide you want to submit your work for publication it becomes hard work as you have to rewrite the entire piece of work as editors will not accept work written in capital letters.

5.  Use speech marks.

When writing a short story, personal essay or novel, if you need to indicate someone is speaking then you need to employ speech marks, either “  ” or ‘ ’.  Various publishing houses use either.  I prefer “ ” for speech marks and ‘’ to emphasise a point.  For example:

“Hello Jenny,” he said. “It’s been a long time...”

Jenny stood, motionless.  Ten years ago Matt Webster had seemed ‘the next best thing to sliced bread’, now looking at him in his blue scrubs he looked like all the other staff in the Accident and Emergency department, overworked, tired and a little rough around the edges...

6.  Begin near the end... 

This might sound like strange advice but often people get so caught up in setting the scene that they forget to get straight into the action.  Immediate actions helps to hook the reader and makes them want to read on.

 For example:
Sam rose out of bed and padded softly down the stairs.  He switched on the kettle to make himself a cup of tea. It was going to be an exciting day, his stomach churned at the thought of it.  He popped a tea bag into the awaiting cup all the while mulling things over, should he leave it for another day?  Were all his plans in action?  Could something go wrong?

The sound of the phone ringing diverted his attention.  He lifted the receiver.  “Hi Mum...”

His mother liked to phone him first thing in the morning.  She wanted to know what he was having for breakfast...  

Etc, etc, etc,

Sometimes writers luxuriate by composing several pages of inconsequential prose before getting right into the action.

How about instead:

“Stop what you’re doing...” Sam hissed at the counter clerk.  “I have a gun in this rolled up newspaper pointing straight at you... and I’ll blow your fucking head off if you don’t do as you’re told...I want all those notes beside you bundled up and placed in this bag.”  He slid a black cloth bag across the counter.

The clerk’s eyes widened with terror, his face a deathly shade of grey.  Sam watched the man become putty in his hands.  This was going to be like taking sweets from a baby and he took great satisfaction in that.

See how more exciting it is to get immediately into the action? Sam had planned to hold up the post office.  Do we need to bother telling readers about him getting out of bed, making a cup of tea, taking a phone call from his mother, etc? Why bore readers with mundane facts and actions before getting right into the nitty gritty of the story?

7.  Avoid text speak.

With modern technology we are used to abbreviations, especially when it comes to our mobile phones, but that kind of thing doesn’t translate well for the reader.  ‘Wat U up to en?’ Isn’t going to work in a short story, essay or novel, not unless one of the characters is reading a text message.  It’s hard work for a reader to decipher text speak and publishers will definitely not publish work like that.
Presentation is important it can mean the difference between publication and rejection and more importantly, whether we hook the reader in!