Our Books Are Worth More Than That

 

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The other day I was on a writers’ internet forum when a member lamented that he had given his book away for free on Amazon. Instead of generating sales, it only prompted people to keep asking when his next novel would be out, and could they have a copy of that without payment as well.
The practice of giving away a book for free has been around for a long time. It’s supposed to prick up the interest of potential buyers and help to promote a fan base for the author. While I don’t doubt that some authors are lucky enough to pull this off, many do not. Time and time again I have read the same story from disappointed, usually first-time authors, eager to get themselves known.
Although many writers love to write, there is no doubt that the publishing industry, on the whole, is impervious to them as flesh and blood people with feelings. Publishers have to make money to stay in business. We all get that, but life would be so much better for us if they didn’t treat authors like something bad to wipe off their shoes
The reason for this behaviour is because there are so many of us competing for the few openings out there. Or to put it another way, publishers are like children with a bottomless supply of chocolates. They can cream off what they perceive as the best and discard the rest, because they know the supply isn’t going to dry up any time soon.
Because of this attitude, over the past ten years, many writers have turned to self-publishing, helped largely by Amazon. The stigma which once went with self-publication has dissipated. This looks good in theory, but not so good when you have a book to promote and no body of experienced people (publishers) with access to bookshops to help you get it on the shelves. So, authors have been giving their stories away for free in the hope of getting a good review and drawing more people’s attention to them. Except…many people read the books and don’t bother to leave a review at all.
I have been criticized by fellow-writers for being against giving a book away for free. Maybe they think I am mean, or not savvy enough to see the sprat to catch a mackerel scenario. Well, I’m neither mean nor daft.
Writing a book takes time…a lot of time. It’s not just a question of writing the story, checking it a few times and then saying it’s ready to publish. It takes months of perfecting and generally rending your clothing and gnashing you teeth over. After all that, I’m damned if I’m going to give it away for nothing.
That aside, I also worry about the message handing it over gratis gives to the public. I don’t care how much you might talk a book (or any commodity) up, the very action of giving it away for free immediately lowers its value. It says that all those weeks, months of editing weren’t worth a light. In fact, it says the author is desperate. Sadly, these factors both denigrate the book and its unsuspecting writer, not to mention subliminally telling the reader that their freebie is on the same level as a takeaway carton.

Sometimes, it’s Better Not to Say Anything.

 

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There are times when it’s best not to say anything. We all take a long time to learn this, especially people like myself, who favour being honest and open at all times. An example where some things were better left unsaid was when I was called upon to move one of my clients from a children’s home to a secure unit.
The child, a thirteen year-old girl, was being groomed by a group of Eastern European men for sexual purposes. The police were sure of this, but unable to prove anything. The situation was made worse by the fact that the girl and several of her friends, would leave the home each evening and not return until sometimes after the curfew, which was ten pm. In those days you couldn’t keep a child in when they wanted to go out. All you could do was warn them of the dangers, which usually went in one of their ears and straight out of the other. It’s probably best to mention here that these girls had all been rejected in one way or another by their parents. This left them with little self-esteem and made them ripe pickings for predatory men, with no work, who could pimp them out and make money.
In addition to getting up to, who knows what, each evening my client also displayed disruptive behaviour within the children’s home. The staff were at their wit’s end with her and were also uncomfortable that she wielded a lot of influence with the other children. It was decided that her disruptive behaviour was due to her unsavoury lifestyle and that she should be moved to a secure unit. This would keep her in each evening and, hopefully, would calm her down enough to give her some therapy.
Two policemen accompanied me the day I arrived to take the girl away. We expected a scene, because even after the adults always said otherwise, most children’s home kids regarded a secure unit as prison.
We waited in the lounge and the keyworker (a member of the home’s staff) brought the child to us. The girl was calm, and chatted quite well to the two policemen, who clearly wanted to get her out of the door without any problems. Then, the keyworker ruined everything by deciding to give the girl one last dressing-down about her behaviour. I couldn’t believe my ears when the following spilled out of the silly woman’s mouth, “You know you are only being moved because of the way you behaved. If you had come in earlier and not been so bad to the staff, this wouldn’t be happening.” The girl tried to argue her case, but the keyworker continued with “You are always disrupting mealtimes and you always left your room in a horrible mess. Worst of all, you started going with men older than yourself. You got the other children to run around for you…you did this…you did that…
The two policemen stared at the floor in their discomfort. I knew that intervening risked undermining the keyworker, but I had to do it. “I’m sure so and so is aware of what you think about her,” I blurted out. “And I don’t think she needs to hear anymore. She has some very good points and a spell at her new home will help to bring these out of her. The keyworker asked to see me outside and let rip about how I’d undermined her and that she would be making a formal complaint against me.
We managed to transport the girl without any unpleasantness. On the way home, the two policemen voiced how relieved they were when I interrupted the keyworker’s tirade. “It was inappropriate for a telling-off like that,” they said, “to be directed at a vulnerable young adult.” Although they didn’t know much about my client, they knew she came from a chaotic home with little or no parental input. In view of that, it was no wonder they said, that she behaved the way she did. They finished with, “If she (the keyworker) makes a complaint against you, contact us, and we’ll put in a good word for you.”
In the event, the keyworker didn’t file a complaint. Many times after that incident, I wished that some of the staff in children’s homes had received better training. Before getting my social worker qualification, I worked in several of these homes myself. I knew that for the most part, the staff were totally dedicated to their clients. There was always one or two, however, who just didn’t get it. They blamed the child for the circumstances they were in, and were too blinkered to see that actually, the child was very much the victim of these circumstances.

Charm v Reality

 

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‘He was like a breath of spring’ the woman said. ‘He came into my life and changed everything.’ Yeah right, well he would wouldn’t he? I thought. He’s got his modus operandi down to a fine art, like all of them, and you are too needy to be able to see through the charade.
The woman I’m writing about was the mother of one of my clients, a seven year-old girl. Her real father had fled the home a couple of years before, leaving the mother lonely and struggling to pay the rent on her council home. She wasn’t a bad person, but like many other women her age, (under thirty), she was a victim, with her man vulnerability being unable to afford a decent lifestyle.
Then John (not his real name) came into her life. Unlike many other men in her social circle, John had a job and a car. He could afford to take her and her daughter on day-trips, he bought both of them presents and he paid compliments to the mother about her appearance and how pleasing she was to be around.
He moved into the family home, and the couple were soon talking about marriage. Then the bombshell came. The Child Protection social services, where I worked, got a call from the police to say that John had been in prison for a sex offence against a young female child. When I approached the mother with this, she said it wasn’t true, because he was such a good person and she had never seen him behave any other way but appropriately towards her daughter. Still under the spell of his courtship, she clearly found it painful to see that his attention towards her was not to enjoy her company but to gain access to the biggest prize of all – her daughter.
The child had to be placed on the Child Protection Register. At the first case conference, the mother reluctantly agreed to ask John to leave her home. This might have been the end of it, but for the fact that we had evidence to prove that she hadn’t given him up and that he was still making visits to the home. When confronted with this, she said that we were persecuting John. By then, she had come to accept that he had sexually abused a child in the past, but she maintained that he had served a prison sentence for this, which meant he would never do it again.
Many times, I and the police told the mother that sexual offenders almost always re-offend. They might do a sexual offenders course and learn how to control their behaviour, but even that couldn’t be banked upon to stop the urge to re-offend. In other words, John wasn’t like a burglar or somebody who had committed physical assault, done a stretch and decided never to break the law again. His behaviour was addictive. It was connected to a sexuality shaped in adolescence, rendering it fixed and impossible to change. A piece of rock can’t be turned into gold, if you paint it yellow. It is what it is and that’s it.
We were almost at the point of taking the case to court but events intervened. John let slip to a man in a pub that he had been convicted of sexually abusing a little girl. Like most offenders, he denied it, and like most offenders, said he was fitted up with the crime. Two days later, half of the neighbourhood laid siege to the home. They smashed the windows and daubed ‘pervert’ on the walls. The upshot of that was, John lit out and was never seen again.
It ended well for the child, in that she could remain with her mother. The mother’s demeanour in the aftermath, however, told us that she would take a long time to get over knowing her shining knight was, in fact, a highly damaged predator.

What Was She Thinking!

 

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Following on from my earlier post about some women being insecure about their looks, I was amused this morning to read that Madonna has had plumping injections in her buttocks. Now, I get that she’s in the public eye and that she has an image to play up to but…sheesh, what on earth was she thinking? Doubtless, she thought she would have a nice, perky little bum, like somebody half her age. Instead, she looks now like she’s fixed two saddle-bags full of boulders to her rear-end.
For the life of me I can’t imagine how somebody who spends most of her life in the gym, and therefore, would be toned in that region, believes that such a procedure would somehow enhance her body. Not many pop stars in their fifties can command the type of following that she has enjoyed for so many years. So why then did she ruin herself in this way? Didn’t she stop and think that the regard many of her fans had for her might well now vanish and replaced by derision at best and cringing embarrassment at worst?
Madonna and many of her younger counterparts espouse feminine power and pour scorn on some men’s propensity to objectify women. Yet, they gyrate about on stage wearing very little and move about as adept as any seasoned pole dancer in a sleazy nightclub. I and many other people, including some men I might add, find this paradoxical behaviour bewildering.
Madonna was one of the first to shuck down most of her clothes and push her stuff at the audience. When challenged, she used to say that the way she performed was empowering to women. It didn’t empower women – it demeaned us, in my opinion. And, every time she performed in this way it sent the message that women are sexual objects, put on this Earth solely to entice men.
Ironically, one of Madonna’s role models was Marilyn Monroe. But, it didn’t seem to occur to her that Marilyn had men falling at her feet because the sex appeal she exuded was natural. Very little of effort went into it. So, for an intelligent women, (which Madonna is purported to be), it’s a sad day for her when she can’t see that you either have sexual power or you don’t, and that you can’t get it from a syringe.
Of course, she may be injecting her body because she’s getting old. But the same applies. You can’t inject youth into your body and you can’t inject dignity into it either. Once the first has gone, the second must take over. But in Madonna’s case, both seem to have flown out of the window.

 

Tenacious and Constant

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Every spring, usually around the second week in March, male storks arrive in Bulgaria in order to get their nests ready for mating. They always go to the same spot. This, much to the delight of the locals in my village, who believe it is very lucky to have the same stork take up residence in his old nest year after year.
Most villages have two or three nests, and I count myself lucky to have a clear view of one not far from my office window. Two years ago, the male resident of the nest arrived. He tidied up a little…threw old bits of straw and got some new stuff to weave in. Not long afterwards, his mate arrived and she helped him with this task. However, their bliss was interrupted when another couple  of birds arrived and laid claim to the same nest. Friction, in the form of swooping and beak-fencing ensued. My husband and friends joked that we were witnessing a ‘storkgate’ type of drama. But eventually, everything calmed down, our usual resident male won back his nest and he and his mate produced three cute babies

In the summer of the same year, our mating pair taught their offspring to fly, and then left the nest to return to Africa. That should have been the end of it until the following spring, except..it wasn’t. During a particularly hot August day the telegraph wire, attached to the pole, (on top of which the nest was situated), caught fire and the entire nest burned down. This caused consternation throughout the village and we speculated as to what would happen when our stork pair returned in the spring.
When March finally arrived, we saw our confused male circling around the telegraph pole obviously wondering what on earth had happened. On tenterhooks, we thought he might give up and leave, but he proved to be much more tenacious than that. He spent the following two days building another nest and, my goodness, I have never seen such industrious workmanship. I mentally awarded him five stars for his effort.

Then, it all went wrong again because high winds arrived…seriously high winds and blew his new nest completely off the top of the pole. Shortly afterwards, his mate arrived and the two of them circled the pole. I imagined them pondering their misfortune and wondering what to do. She, heavily egged and in dire need of a place to watch her chicks hatch, would be telling her man that they should see that particular telegraph pole as jinxed, and they would be better off slinging their figurative hooks and looking elsewhere.
For the following two days we saw nothing of them, and my husband and I looked out at the bald telegraph pole, sadly convinced we had seen the last of them. But wait…they came back. They came back and worked from early morning until sundown to re-build their home, in exactly the same spot. It was such joy to see them stealing straw bits of this and that to make another construction. They went on to successfully raise three babies.

This morning, I listened to the Today Programme on the radio. As usual, it was full of harrowing stories of violence, conflict and tragedy. Then, I looked out of my window, saw the storks’ nest and basked in a warm glow. They would be back, I told myself. And, oblivious to the dark constant of their human neighbours, they would return to re-define their own constant, one which is simple, single-layered, but always full of hope.

 

Katherine’s Knight

A Christmas Tale by: Sandy Hyatt-James

 

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Katherine lay back and let the warm bubbles swash over her body. Her head now resting on the back of the bath, she gazed at the high ceiling with its wood-panelling and old-fashioned light fitting. Looking around the bathroom she then viewed the wall panelling, the old-fashioned chain-pull toilet, and thick tiles around the Victorian basin. What a good idea, she thought to come to a place like this for Christmas.
She usually spent Christmas in large houses, but going to a converted medieval castle, in the Northumbrian hills, like this one, was a novelty. She’d wanted her family to come. It’s been made into a five star hotel, she told them and there will be so many different people to see there. And anyway, why do we always have to do the same old thing each year, let’s go somewhere different. But, her family refused to come, and they urged her not to go as well. “Being on your own won’t be as productive as being with us,” they said. “You might be lonely. Your place is with us and together, we can make have much more seasonal fun.” But she wanted to know what sort of people visited a castle for the Festive Season and whether any were like her.
She closed her eyes, basked in the steamy stillness and listened to the echoing drip, drip of the basin’s tap. She told herself that she really should get out and dry herself before the water got cold, but she was too comfortable to move.
The first thing alerting her that something was wrong was when the swoosh of the bath water rose up like a tsunami and splashed over her face. Then she felt two feet which, if she hadn’t moved her legs in time, would have stood right on her. When the shower fitting seemingly lifted out of its cradle and ejected freezing cold water, she jumped out of the bath.
Then, she saw the intruder. With his back to her, he closed the curtains and sang in a pleasant baritone: Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holy. While he showered, she grabbed the towel and ran out.
Now in the bedroom, she dried herself and threw on her dress. But, still in shock, her fingers fumbled over the fastenings. She’d just got to the last one when he appeared in the doorway with a towel round his waist. She made for the door, hoping he wouldn’t see her.
“Wait,” he called out.
She turned and noted his athletic build and dark brown hair.
“Do you live here,” he asked.
“Er no, I’m just a guest.”
“Oh, so am I.” He looked her up and down with an expression which told her that liked what he saw. “There seems to have been some sort of mix-up with the rooms”
For a moment, they stared at each, as though discovering chocolate for the first time.
“Are you going to the Christmas Eve fancy dress tonight?” he asked.
“I, well I should think I will be.”
He walked up to her. “Then, maybe I’ll see you there?”
She gazed at his blue eyes and – didn’t answer.
“In the meantime,” he said, I’ll see if I can find another room. The hotel obviously messed up with the bookings somewhere.”
“Oh, no need,” she replied. “I can make other arrangements.”
He smiled. “That’s generous of you. So, I’ll see you tonight then.”
“What?”
“At the dance.”
“Oh, of course. Yes.”
“My name’s Edward,” by the way. And yours?”
“Katherine”

* * * *

Katherine didn’t join the other guests at the fancy dress dinner. However, her heart lifted when, peeping through the dining room door, she saw Edward. Clad in medieval knight’s finery he sat on the end of the long refectory table. She turned away and told herself that really, she shouldn’t let herself get interested in him because such a relationship would never work. If she were to allow herself to fall for somebody so….different like him, what would her friends and family have to say? She knew they would disapprove.
Once the dinner was over, he saw her sitting at the large bay window in the ballroom, and strode across the floor to greet her.
He seemed so pleased to see her. In fact, she found the way he treated her: as though she was the only woman in the room, quite intoxicating. I don’t give a fig about convention, she told herself at that moment and….to hell with…more suitable men. An encounter like this comes only once in a lifetime, so I’m going to make the very most of every minute of it!
They danced all night, only stopping now and again, to gaze at each other, chat a little, and feel so very glad that they’d met. So oblivious to outside forces were they, it was as though the other guests weren’t even there. Only once, when several of the dancers passed by the bay window and looked at them oddly, were they aware that, actually, they were in the middle of a noisy, social occasion.
Later, when the dance finished, they spent the night together, ending a special day with the most sublime moments of all.

* * * *

The next morning, Edward descended the hotel stairs to meet his fiancé. He kissed her on the cheek and said, “They’ve forecast snow for today and knowing this part of the country, I thought you might be delayed!”
Jenny smiled, kissed him and didn’t note the hint of disappointment in his eyes. “Merry Christmas, darling. You know I’m so looking forward to everything! The receptionist told me that Christmas dinner will be at one o-clock; and then guests generally gather in the lounge for the Queen’s speech.” She hugged him. “What could be better? Spending Christmas Day in a spooky castle hotel with the man I love!”
He helped the porter carry her suitcases up the stairs. Glancing upwards, he saw Katherine standing at the top. She stared down at Jenny for a second, before blowing Edward a kiss and disappearing down the hall.
Edward thought back to the night before. While laying together, he’d told Katherine about Jenny. She said she understood and even said that, given the circumstance, she didn’t mind if he continued his relationship with Jenny, as long as he still saw her from time to time. But in his heart, he knew Katherine was the only woman for him now and, he couldn’t be dishonest and live a double life.
“So, how was your Christmas Eve,”Jenny asked. Was the fancy dress do good.”
He hesitated, feeling wretched about what he knew had to do. Should I tell her now and get it over with, or later, he thought. He decided on later; feeling that he had to honour the holiday arrangements since they’d gone to so much trouble to arrange them. “Oh, I went as a medieval knight.” he said.
She laughed. “Very fitting in surroundings like this!”
She took his arm and they continued ascending the stairs.

* * * *

On January the second, Edward and Jenny stood at the Reception Desk, ready to check out of the hotel. Jenny, now subdued and still red-eyed from the ghastly revelation of the night before stood some feet away in the Foyer, waiting for their taxi.
When we get back, he’ll move out of our flat and, we won’t meet again, she thought, sadly. Oh, he’d said he still thought a lot of her and that now and again, they could meet up for lunch. But their relationship was now over; as stale as last week’s mince pies, and all that remained was to keep her dignity and play along with the, “let’s still be chums” bit.
She didn’t see Katherine until she sat and glanced into the dining room. Good grief, she thought, there’s a beautiful woman dressed in a medieval gown over there.
Katherine brushed past her, cutting a route straight to Edward. After slipping her arm through his, she watched while he paid the receptionist. Moments later, she kissed him on the cheek, turned away and dissolved through the wooden wall panelling.
When Edward joined Jenny, she asked, “Who was that woman?”
“What woman?”
“She was here: dressed in a long green velvet dress. She had long, brown hair and a yellow sash around her waist. I saw her! She kissed you and then….just disappeared through the wall!”
He checked a smile. “Oh the hotel says this place is full of ghosts. But I didn’t see anything.”
While driving away, Edward glanced out of the window and saw Katherine standing on the castle’s turrets, waving to him. If he’d been on his own, he would have waved back. But he didn’t want to hurt Jenny any more than he already had.
He wanted to be with Katherine all the time now. If only he could. But she told him she could only manifest for fourteen days each year and always it had to at Christmas. Carrying out a relationship with such restrictions might seem bizarre to most people. But as smitten as he was, he knew he would comply with them.
As the taxi crunched along the gravel, out of the castle grounds, he looked down at the piece of paper in his hand. It was receipt from the hotel securing his stay there for the following Christmas.

 

Wishing everybody a merry Christmas and a happy new 2019

 

Tough Love

 

 

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When I became a frontline manager in child protection social work, one of my first problems was in dealing with a client with mental health problems. During supervision with one of my staff, it emerged that this person, a mother of a four year-old boy, had a history of psychotic episodes, punctuated with reasonably long periods of adequate functioning. By that I mean, after losing touch with reality, she was a good, loving mother who provided a decent home for her son. The problem was that she needed medication to keep her on an even keel. The factor which brought her to the attention of my department was in her believing that she no longer needed the medication, and ceasing to take it.
At a case conference, the child’s maternal grandmother said that her daughter (who wasn’t in attendance), after a long period on the medication, believed that she was cured of her problem. After she stopped taking it, she would gradually slide downhill, unaware of the changes this made to her behaviour. The mental health professionals assigned to her would try and reason with her, but she refused to listen, saying that the meds made her feel lacklustre, and that she was perfectly all right.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t. This came to a head one day when the child’s nursery rang the department to say that the boy had told everybody that his mother was seeing giant snakes in the bath. Though only four, he said this wasn’t true. Even so, the concern was that he was young and vulnerable enough to be frightened by his mother’s psychotic episodes.
The mental health authorities admitted the mother to hospital, and we had no choice but to look around for a placement for the child. The maternal grandmother offered to give him a home. The department ran checks on her, and she was deemed suitable. Consequently, she gave up her job and, with the allowance given to her by our department, was able to look after her grandson full-time. On top of this allowance she would receive one-off payments for clothing and presents for the child’s birthdays and Christmas.
The mental health professionals said the child’ mother had gone into a particularly bad state and that that treatment would take a long time. Or, she might not recover sufficiently to be take over the care of her child again. This, of course, meant that the child couldn’t return to his mother and we were glad that at least he was placed within the family.
A long-term placement within the family would usually mean less trauma for the child at being separated from its mother. You would think so – but in this case, maybe not so.
It emerged that the maternal grandmother knew the workings of the social services department quite well. I was astounded and dismayed to learn that, within a week of taking over the care of the child, she came to us asking when we were going to arrange respite care for him. She wanted the child to be out of her home every weekend, with respite foster carers. When I asked her why, she looked at me as though I was crazy and replied, “That’s what all foster carers get, and I’m his foster carer.”
“Em, yes you are technically his foster carer, but you are also his grandmother,” I replied.
The conversation took a turn for the worse from this point on. The social worker on the case, whom I was supervising, shuffled around and looked embarrassed, and the grandmother looked angry. “That’s got nothing to do with it,” the grandmother retorted.
“Is he (the child) misbehaving,” I asked. “I mean is he giving you such a hard time that you feel you need to have a rest from him every weekend?”
“No. But all foster carers get respite care, and I don’t think I should be any different, just because I’m his grandmother.”
“Mrs Bla,bla,bla,” I said. “If you are asking for respite care for your grandson, when he isn’t causing you any problems, I can only deduce that you aren’t attached to him as we first thought. Your grandson is young enough to be put up for adoption. That is, he could be placed with carers who desperately want a child of their own, who want to make a long-term commitment to him.

After the conversation ended, the grandmother reported me to my line management, to whom I eventually gave these concerns: The fact that the grandmother is asking for respite care from her own flesh and blood, for no reason, indicates that she isn’t bonded to the child and isn’t likely to be in the future. Furthermore, it also begs the question as to how much input from the grandmother contributed towards her own daughter’s illness.

There were long discussions with the legal department (who largely agreed with me) and the Family Placement department (who thought I was Medusa incarnate). In the event, the department decided the child should remain with the grandmother. Foster carers were in short supply, and I would do well not to pass judgement on them, they told me. As mentioned, the Family Placement department in particular got very uppity with me, for upsetting their client (the grandmother). They argued that she was doing all she could for her grandson, and that respite care should and would be granted to her.

So, that was that. I was overruled. I didn’t have a problem with that. But every time I thought of that child being hustled out of the home every weekend, just so his grandmother could avail herself of ‘her rights’, I balked. I knew he was a well-behaved child, I had spoken to him and his nursery confirmed that he was no trouble. How, then, was he going to sort through his young mind and find a reason for why he had to leave his new home and his grandmother every weekend?

Perhaps I was being too judgemental. Perhaps I mistakenly put my own take on the situation. I knew that if I had to take over the care of my own grandchild, I would be honoured to do the task. But the situation was decided by those who though they were doing right by the child, and I had to forget my own feelings and just suck it all up.