Drug Driving Development

A significant change in the law comes in today aimed at reducing drug driving. Motorists in the UK will face prosecution if they exceed limits set for the presence of 8 illegal drugs including cannabis and cocaine.

There will be roadside tests to identify people driving under the influence of drugs.The limits set are so low to be virtually a zero tolerance approach, except very small amounts in the system due to secondary inhalation. Somebody could be still over the limit 12, 24, 36 hours after.

There are also levels set for prescription drugs including morphine and methadone. People prescribed strong drugs by their doctor might worry about this change in the law and fall foul of the system but the onus is on the individual to ensure their ability to drive is not impaired by prescription medication and of course on reading the leaflet in any packaging. However there is still a medical defence and people are being advised to carry proof of medication with them when driving.

The change in law comes in the wake of an extraordinary campaign by mother Natalie Grove following the sad death of her daughter Libby from a cannabis fuelled driver.

Cannabis is never “just weed.” Yet again this sad death is a reminder that cannabis is not a harmless drug.

I spoke with the support group Frank las week regarding cannabis and the support worker told me “cannabis is a potent, concentrated and strong drug, linked to mental illness in some users. Too many people deny its’ dangers…

Tips on planning your novel

There are plenty of books about planning and plotting a novel and I’ve found a great deal of useful tips and advice in books about writing.We pick up advice from our writing groups, from books about writing, magazines about writing and courses about writing. We chew, we digest and sometimes we spit out.

Writing a novel is a bit like baking a cake. You do need a recipe. You can’t just throw all sorts of ideas about everything into one bowl and pray that it will emerge as a bestseller.

But it’s also not like baking a cake. Baking a cake is about science. Its about precision. The kitchen is a chemistry lab and you need the correct temperature for the cake to rise. You need the basic essential ingredients that give the cake its’ texture, its’ taste and its’ constituency.

Writing a novel is about planning but also about a degree of flexibility. Begin with your skeleton idea. What do you want to write about? What do you want the reader to take away? The mouthwatering taste of chocolate or the fresh tang of lemon?
TIP 1: Plan your ending before your beginning. You have a responsibility as an author to make your reader either happy or sad. Their emotions are in your hands. When you bake a cake you have a responsibility as cook. You don’t want to poison or give your customer an allergic reaction. Where are the characters at the end? Will their mouths be burned by chilli or their tummies bloat with honey? Visualise the end and you will find that planning the rest is much easier.
TIP 2: Plan the first sentence very carefully. Plan the first paragraph careful and if you need to then keep going back to re write that first paragraph.
TIP 3: Spend time writing a paragraph about what your novel is about. Write 5 paragraphs of 5 possibilities for a story line. Your imagination will flow. I guarantee!
TIP 4: Type out a timeline of the main characters: date of birth, marriage, death, key events. Pin it to the wall. You will need to keep referring to it.
TIP 5. Don’t be afraid to be flexible. You will need to be. As you write the story you will be pulling in ideas from everywhere and so the novel will evolve. You’re a sponge – your ears will be open to thoughts from everywhere as you write. This is a journey and even with planning that journey might take you along a different route to the route you first imagined.
TIP 5: Most writing is re writing. Enjoy the re writes. First drafts never end up in print.

My film review of Fifty Shades of Grey

My film review of Fifty Shades of Grey. The long awaited film arrived to queues of cackling, giggling women arriving in the cinema foyer shaking their umbrellas and rushing to collect their mega buckets of popcorn before taking their seats in the packed auditorium.Except for a few male perverts (yes friends of mine!)the audience were all women, many of whom screeched like witches throughout the entire performance.

Even before the film opened we had our appetite whetted for what was to come: a string of condom, lipstick and perfume adverts created a seductive atmosphere and then when the film board displayed on the scene with its’ 18 rating warning that it contained strong sex one woman shouted out ‘I’ll take any kind of sex, it doesn’t have to be strong’ and the audience then started laughing.

But the film failed to delight its’ all female audience on that front for this was far from hard porn. Its’ greatest disappointment was that we didn’t see a penis. The sex was largely left to our imagination, in the true British prude tradition that hasn’t really disappeared since the 1950s. The main scenes consisted of light whipping and the tying up of arms. Hardly the greatest turn on; more yawn inducing.

The main appeal of Fifty Shades seems to be in the way it alludes to romance even though romance is supposedly lacking. Women from toddlerhood love a romantic story. Cinderella has never lost its’ appeal and 50 Shades in a sense is a Cinderella story.

Is the film about love? Yes it is. Early on Christian Grey says ‘what are you doing to me?’ and ‘I’m incapable of leaving you alone.’ He doesn’t admit it because he’s fucked up in the mind having being abused as a kid but he loves Anastasia.

Anastasia played by Dakota Johnson is not a turn on.She wears Bridget Jones underwear and her breasts are tiny, her nipples dark and ugly and her ribs stick out. Christian played by Jamie Dornan looks like a 14 year old boy and his eyes are out of alignment. Not his fault but it’s off putting.

Overall rating 2 out of 5 stars!

Tips for authors thinking of self publishing a book

The first thing we were told at Swanick Writers’ School last summer was that there are now more writers in this country than readers. Yes you read that correctly. More writers than readers.

When I began purging my soul onto paper some twenty years ago I stood a much better chance of securing a contract with an agent than I would today. But it’s taken me twenty years to discover what it is I want to write about and it’s taken that long to improve my writing. Of course we never reach perfection. There’s no such thing. You can follow the rules, pick up tips, edit, edit edit and then you’re basically ready to hit that publish button.

Many authors are turning to self publishing because quite frankly they stand zero chance of securing an agent, unless they’re a celebrity or an established author. But doubtless some do succeed but the process can take years.

This is what I found out in my journey publishing The D Word. Take heed:

Tips for authors.
1. I saw several adverts in national papers for authors to submit their manuscripts. I sent my manuscript to three of them. All said yes. I was ecstatic. But what I hadn’t realized was that they were vanity publishers. They claim to be traditional publishers but they are not because they charge a fee to get you into print and will take on virtually any author. You pay them a small fortune to publish your book; double the price that self -publishing companies will charge. The company that offered me a contract wanted £2500 but they flattered me by saying ‘our board of directors was very impressed by The D Word.’ If they were impressed they wouldn’t be charging to publish. They also said that ‘I deserved to sit among the famous authors in Waterstones and WH Smith’ and ‘we will promote your book in the national media.’ It was a con.They lie to authors. They had no contract with any bookstore. They do not publicise your book. I know because I’ve since spoken with unhappy authors who fell into their trap and I investigated the matter.

2. There are 6 million books now on Amazon. It’s a giant boot fair. Don’t expect your book to see the light of day. There are far too many poorly written books on Amazon. Quite frankly my 10 year old could write a better book than some I’ve seen. Such authors, if you can call them that are just looking for the prestige of being a published author.They write badly. I’ve read many self published books and many are quite frankly rubbish and a distraction to the books that are well written,that do deserve sales; books that are well well crafted, professional and gripping, having spent years of hard work to get everything just right.

3. Don’t rely on friends and family to buy your book. You will be shocked when you discover that the only way they will read your book is by giving it to them as a present and even then it’s no guarantee.Getting a review out of them is also hard work. Like drawing blood from a stone.

4. There are plenty of Facebook author boost groups. The idea is that every author in the boost buys each others books once a week to boost everyone in the rankings. That means spending about £20 on other peoples’ books. And the result? Yes you will rise in the Amazon ranks but fall straight back again.

5. Look at the reality of self publishing head on: it means a lot of hard work to market your book. You will spend lots of money pinning leaflets to notice boards which go soggy in the rain or your leaflet will be covered by other notices in the newsagents window because some greedy newsagent just wants to take your money then create room for tons of other adverts. You will also stand in a windy shopping street for hours, weekend after weekend and not sell a single book.

6. Write because you enjoy writing and give up the obsession to see your name in print. Why not just get a few copies to give to friends as presents?

Unless you have stacks of money to burn you certainly aren’t going to make pots of money. You will sink money in and never see much return. Don’t let anyone convince you that it’s any different. Very few self published authors have ever got lucky and these rare stories are becoming rarer still as more and more people jump on the bandwagon.

D is for Doughnut.

And yes the correct spelling is doughnut not donut. In American and Canada neon signs embraced the fever for these round sticky calorie laden deep fried treats and it was simply easier to shorter the word on the signage to donuts.

The American way of making doughnuts remains the central way for they were introduced into the country in the 1800s by Dutch immigrants and served to troops to keep their energy levels up during the first world war. The war gave rise to this mass produced treat we enjoy today, the world over and the big doughnut chains began from the 1960s but there were a few speciality shops from the 1950s.  Doughnut fever is global and growing in countries like China and India. The first doughnut machine was invented by Adolph Levitt in 1920 and John Haight holds the Guinness World record for eating 29 doughnuts in 6 minutes. And the largest doughnut ever made weighed 1.7 tons. I hate to think how many calories it contained and the damage it would do to the arteries or the blood sugar of a diabetic.

Canada reigns as doughnut capital of the world; per capita the country has more doughnut shops than any other country. The first Friday of June is National Doughnut Day and the top 10 brands of doughnut bought in a whopping $508 million in sales in 2009.

Disclaimer: I am no expert on the doughnut business. I don’t really like them. I find they are tasteless and doughy. All that sugar gives me a banging headache and all the dough makes me swell up!

However the character in my next book is an expert on the doughnut industry. What he doesn’t know about doughnuts isn’t worth knowing. Unfortunately he can’t eat them because he’s diabetic. Meet him very soon!

Dodgy Dating: Great character, crap partner

Over the years I’ve dated many men; some for just a couple of dates, others for longer. All these men have added to the rich tapestry of life, bringing smiles and tears, coiling me into an emotional ball but also bringing me to life in different ways.

Many of these men would make crap partners. Dodgy Dating Disasters I call them. One guy on the first date let it slip that he kept a motorbike in his kitchen and was restoring another motorbike in his lounge. Crap partner alert but great character in a novel. Another guy sent a text asking where I was. Up in Leicester visiting my Dad, I told him. ‘I didn’t realise they were playing.’ Same guy on asking what he was up to said ‘The usual evening, flicking through Sky wondering which game to follow. I’ve gone with Dortmund v Ipswich.’ Great, I’d found a football obsessive who when he wasn’t watching footie watched golf instead. And when he wasn’t watching golf he was playing snooker. Crap partner alert, great character in novel.

Another guy, perfectly kind and charming was in fact nauseatingly kind. Telling him about a bad night shift at work he’d reply ‘sit on the carpet and take a deep breathe and let the karma flow through you young lady. I’m sending positive waves to you.’ Fuck off I wanted to reply. Irritating partner, great character in novel.

Some dates are plain dull but just when you think there isn’t even a great character for a novel within the person they reveal smidgens about themselves making you detest them as partners but making you smile because they’ve fed you their character for your next novel. One guy never failed to talk about his precious pension every date. He regularly checked how it was doing. I asked him if he would ever live with someone again. His answer ‘why would I live with someone? I’ve got my pension to protect.’ Crap partner, great character.

And then there are the truly evil and chilling dates; the ones who in an argument wish you or joggers passing by cancer (and maybe mean it, who knows) or reveal their deepest thoughts – that of wishing your three children dead or referring to them as ‘the bitch, the mongrel and the bastard.’ Such men carry big warning signs – ‘avoid me like the plaque’ but actually as an author they make you smile because they are the characters that grip the readers who eagerly turn the pages with bated breath waiting to see what they are going to do next.

Like an artist we observe, we paint what we see, we use what we know, we gather snippets from everyone we meet, as if foraging in the hedgerow.

As partners we loathe them, as characters we absolutely love them!

Crime author Peter James evening Brighton

A packed audience of fans of bestselling Brighton based crime author, Peter James gathered this evening in Exeter Street Community Hall Brighton to hear a superb interview with BBC Sussex Radio’s Danny Pike.

Born to a Jewish mother, educated at Charterhouse  Peter speaks as eloquently as he writes and his knowledge of Brighton, his birthplace is second to none.

With a sharp mind, a quick wit and candid in his thoughts Peter had some gritty stories to tell; stories which inspired his novels and the shaping of his characters.

There was no beating about the bush. With his extensive knowledge of policing in Brighton gained through observation and extensive interviews with officers and criminals he told us exactly what he thought. “The Tories” he said “are traditionally the party of law and order but this Government is anti Police and dangerous and Theresa May is a fucking lunatic.” “The Police are good people who hold civilised life together but the budget here in Sussex has been slashed by £50 million in the past 5 years.” “Sussex Police are desperately under resourced.”

There are 12 homicides a year in Sussex, compared to 25 gun shot deaths in a quiet weekend in Los Angeles.

Asked about what he thought of Brighton when he was growing up he said he never admitted to living there. In the 1950s it was a “sinister, seedy and tacky town” but today it is “the coolest place in the UK.” and he’s proud to live there. And its’ dark undertone of violence, he said makes it an ideal place for him, as a crime writer!

The definitive book on Brighton ‘Brighton Rock’ changed his life. He read it at 14. “It broke all the rules on crime writing.” He thought that to write crime you had to set  Agatha Christie style scenes in country manor houses.

Peter attributes his success to the fact that there was a shortage of crime writers at the time. His first novels made very little money and then Roy Grace came on the scene.

‘Dead Simple’ featuring a guy who is buried alive on his stag night was inspired by his own stag night experience in 1979 of being left naked on top of a pillar box, getting arrested and spending a night in jail.

‘Perfect People’ was inspired by a meeting with the head of brain genetics in the USA. He visited a clinic offering parents the chance to choose their baby’s level of empathy, hair colour, elimination of disease genes and he realised unless he wrote about it quick science would overtake him. “We struggle to keep up with science. It moves forward very quickly.”

Peter has interviewed criminals in Lewes Prison. One a burglar with 177 convictions told him that after the first stint in prison he realised it wasn’t worth burgling council flats in Mousecoombe; he’d get the same time if he burgled houses on Dyke Avenue. ‘What’s your dream?’ Peter asked. His answer was to stay in prison where it was warm and the food nice.

Patricia Cornwell bores him rigid and he loved ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’

Disclaimer: I was at the meeting and hopefully recorded his words accurately!

D is for Doctor. Worries over training review

Plans to reduce the length of time that doctors train for are worrying those in the profession who argue that there will be a serious compromise to patient care and safety.

For most people their only contact within the NHS will be through their local GP. The pressures GPs are facing in their roles are great and growing. Many have had enough. Some have reached burn out after just several years in the profession, others are buckling under the immense strains.  Some say they are fed up with the constant change within the NHS; new rules, practices, procedures, the ever growing bureaucracy, the constant need to save money. Some say their work load has doubled in the last 20 years.

I know several doctor’s wives who all complain that they never see their husbands and don’t have much of a family life. I used to think they were just grumbling and secretly I would think to myself well at least you’ve got a husband. But last week when I visited my own GP practice I saw that they weren’t exaggerating. I was booked in for a 5pm appointment and found a seat in the crowded waiting room where 30 downcast faces waited to see I believe, 3 doctors. I waited for 1 3/4 hours! Finally I left the surgery at 7pm. But I didn’t complain – I just felt so sorry for those doctors and the receptionists who work such long hours. My own doctor arrives at 7am each morning the receptionist told me and when he saw me he was still smiling, fresh, calm and professional as ever. After my appointment ended at 6.50pm he then had to do a couple of hours of paper work, getting home at around 9.30 -10pm.

This is no life yet these professionals remain exactly that – completely professional under the strain. My doctor always has time for me. The receptionists do their very best to fit me in. Not only does my doctor give sound medical advice but he will impart such wise words about general life issues. His words are full of realism and years of insight. The best words I heard from one doctor, years ago on hearing that I was carrying a baby with multiple medical issues was “life is a shit.” Those words were great, to the point. They helped me to step back and to see that yes life is a bum and to take a philosophical approach. He couldn’t make my baby better but he had the right words at the right time and he made me smile. Another doctor said “you’ve done you’re very best for those kids; you couldn’t have done anymore.” We need this sort of support, especially when we’re alone and there is no one else in our life to offer kindness.

Appointments with such doctors are gold dust. My doctor’s words really do help me to make good decisions. If this type of dedicated doctor leaves the profession it will be a great loss indeed.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-31048279

Disclaimer: I am not a health professional. The above is in part my own experience and comments about the national situation are from simply from listening to the news this morning, 30/1/15.

Democracy Day 20 is today; join the debate

The 20th January 2015 is Democracy Day and marks the 750th anniversary of the first parliament of elected representatives at Westminster. The BBC is broadcasting a day of live events, discussions and debates about democracy.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/30876658

It is a shocking fact that 9000 women in the UK do not vote. I have been surprised when some of my female friends say they don’t bother to vote. Emily Pankhurst leader of the British Suffragette  Movement led a sustained and determined campaign to win the vote for women and so it is with great dismay to learn of this high number of women not choosing to exercise their democratic right to vote. I expect Pankhurst would be turning in her grave if she knew her efforts had been partly in vain. And 100 years ago Emily Davison jumped in front of King George v’s horse at Epsom Derby because she believed so strongly in the cause.

And so on this basis it makes me feel quite angry when I hear that some women can’t be bothered to vote. Of course it is their choice. Voting is not compulsory but they are doing the campaigners of the past a massive disservice by not voting. Many tell me ‘what’s the point? Every party is the same. They all a load of rubbish.’ If some women feel like this then it is time to change things. Stand as a local councillor. Start a campaign on an issue you want to change. Our institutions need to be represented by both sexes. The voice of both sexes needs to be heard.

 

D is for Deirdre a legend lost

One of British’s TV iconic figures has sadly died. Actor Anne Kirkbride just 60 passed away following a short illness and after battling with cancer.

I stopped watching Coronation Street in the year that Eastenders celebrated its’ 20th anniversary because I couldn’t believe that I had wasted so much of my life hooked on soaps. Over time Facebook and domestic chores took the place of soaps in the evening. I don’t know which is worse!

Soap operas served a good purpose for many years in my family. Everyone would watch them and chat about the issues raised and sagas that went on. But now my family are all glued to gadgets and tablets, confined to their bedrooms only emerging to eat. There is no longer a feeling of being part of a family.

As a child my grandparents, both struggling factory workers, living in a 2 up 2 down terraced house near Derby were avid fans of ‘Cora’ or ‘Corrie’ as it was fondly called. My Grandma would fill the room with the smoke of Park Drive, sip a Camp coffee as she watched and the only comments she made were ‘ow arrr me duck’ and she would mouth everything said. My first memory of Deirdre was in the early to mid 1970s. I can remember as clear as day her reaction to her daughter, baby Tracy getting kidnapped from her pram parked outside the Rovers. As a child I hated her huge glasses and wondered why she couldn’t wear small discreet ones! I can recall her husky laugh; a typical smokers laugh.

Corrie will not be the same and will be missed by thousands of fans. Long live this legend in our memories.