I hardly dare say it but it seems as though the battering is over. And although I’d have liked to have shared my best storm pics with you sooner, to be honest, I didn’t have the heart to post them up.

There’s only so much storm rattling a caravan dweller can take before his brain gets scrambled and his insides go mushy. That level was reached probably sometime in December. But that said, I did get out to some weather-beaten spots and took some snaps on my phone.

If you want to use any of them for any reason – please make sure you attribute them to me ;-)

This first one, I took on my way down to Lizard point. The storm was brewing – I kind of like this picture.

The Lizard

Hercules 2 makes landfall the Lizard Cornwall

Hercules II makes landfall the Lizard, Cornwall 1st Feb 2014

Here’s the old lifeboat station from above.

Old Lizard lifeboat station

Old Lizard lifeboat station

And here’s one from closer to the action:

Stormy waters, the Lizard

Stormy waters, the Lizard

Porthtowan

20140106_134619

At its peak…

20140216_155538

…and on a calmer day

Chapelporth

Chapelporth

Chapelporth

Fed up with hearing about greedy bankers, faceless corporations, useless politicians?

Here’s the antidote!

I’ve been busy making a video to promote my cards. What with Christmas coming up, I thought surely there’d be plenty of people out there searching for that perfect gift – not too expensive but very nice – and here it is!

Here’s the video:

I hope you like it!

Now I’m all plugged into the mains, I’m having to pay more for my electric. In fact, the electric switch on represents a 16% increase in my household bills. But on the bright side, it’s 16% of not a lot. The ‘not a lot’ being the chief advantage of living in a 12 ft caravan.

The disadvantages are the damp, the cold, the lingering winter chest infections and all that. But perhaps not anymore…more of that in a sec.

Another bonus of the caravan thing is that bills are payable to a trustworthy person. The tariff is transparent. No one is ripping me off. It’s a good feeling. Anyway – enough. I’m not going to waste your time with a slating of the big six energy companies and their labyrinthine charging systems – except to say…

Playground bullies

bully chops 3543tt4

Were you ever roughed up at school by a kid taking advantage of early onset puberty? Did you ever have your dinner money nicked off you by a pimpled lad with muscles and the rank smell of unwashed armpits? Well I haven’t. When I was 12, I would have reacted with extreme violence to such an affront – so I never had to suffer.

However, a few weeks back I got a final reminder from n-power. They reckoned I owed them thirty odd quid for power to a property I left two and a half years ago. I was taken aback by the threat of bailiffs so rang to ask why they thought I owed them money. Perplexing since I’d been sure to give them final meter readings at the time.

It turned out I didn’t in fact owe them anything. They couldn’t work out why the system had suddenly generated a threatening letter. Great. My question is – what about all the other people who get threatening letters demanding money they don’t even owe. How many of them pay up? How much money is n-power making by however inadvertently, metaphorically flushing ex-customers heads down the toilet???

Central heating

Please take a moment to marvel at my new central heating system.

2013-11-22 11.06.43

If you’re wondering where it is, it’s the brick on top of the wood burner. Not just any old brick but one of the ones from an old night storage heater. You see it on ‘level one’. If it gets very cold, it has a second setting, known as ‘level two’, whereupon I get a second night storage heater block and plonk it on top. When the fire dies down in the middle of the night, rather than wake up feeling for my hat and extra blanket, I simply sleep on, heated to perfection by my central heating. Well that’s the theory. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The big six (or seven if you count Cameron and his cronies) can get stuffed.

 

I defy anyone in a position of skintness, disablement, unemployment or some other form of misery, not to feel sympathy for the rantings of Russell Brand. If you were too busy slaving for a feudal overlord to read his article in the New Statesman, or if you’re a member of the ‘comfortable classes’ more interested in Strictly than social diseases, here’s the Paxman interview on Newsnight:

I don’t see why Brand’s decision not to vote has caused such outrage among members of the establishment and the public. It makes sense to me. Why participate in a political system that puts the interests of big business and the elite ahead of the needs of people and the planet?

And anyway, this isn’t a new view. Good old Henry Thoreau was saying pretty much the same thing back in the 19th Century. The issue was slavery then, just as it’s economic slavery now. His advice then was to refuse to acknowledge the authority of the government. For him, this meant not paying his taxes. For Russell Brand it means ranting and raving on TV. For Thoreau it meant living in a shack in the woods. For Brand it means jetting off to his home in California. Hmm.

Anyway. My two pennyworth is this – dissatisfied with the status quo, depressed by more or less everything you read in the paper, cheesed off that in 2013, Prince Charles is absolved corporation tax on his 53,000 hectare estate?

Make cider

Ingredients: Friends. Apples.

Step one

Friends gather around an apple tree, laugh quite a bit, pickup wind falls, put them in a container. Give organic, tax free apples that owe nothin’ to nobody a rinse under the tap.

2013-10-26 16.44.08

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2

Distribute tasks equally between friends. Tasks are: cutting up apples, putting them through a juicer, putting the pulp in a tea towel and squeezing out the juice, getting more apples ready, emptying the tea towel of spent pulp.

2013-10-26 16.43.51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it starts to pour with rain head indoors, keep juicing.

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Step 3 

Put juice in a large container. Put container under Lisa’s bed (I’m told this is the magic part of the process). Sorry but if you don’t have a Lisa, or if you have a Lisa but no bed, you’re a bit screwed. After two weeks under the bed, put the juice in a demijohn with an air-lock and ferment until fermented. Then bottle and wait until spring.

2013-10-26 17.30.25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 4

Drink cider made by free people of their own free will, made in their own free time, made possible by neighbourly cooperation in the noble cause of community drunkenness.

It’s not ideal living in a field – sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s not – but it could be worse. Barring a radical reversal of fortunes nothing is likely to change. It seems to me there’s no point bothering bemoaning the politicians, the authorities, the elite, the corporations. They have no interest in the needs of the likes of us, nor frankly have I in them. So what can we do?

Turn our backs on all of it, and walk away? If Russell Brand is right, this is taking power, not giving it up.

 

 

Character, setting or plot? How to write a novel? How to generate that killer idea for a new story? That’s a question I’m asking myself as I prepare to begin work on my next novel. Thinking back to when I started writing about Jacob Penhallow, the protagonist of my surf inspired debut effort, I wonder now how on earth I did it.

At the time I was going to a creative writing workshop run by the magnificent Kath Morgan. All I had to show for two terms of toil was a rhyming story for young children. I hadn’t anything to take with me to class, I hadn’t written for weeks. It was embarrassing. I needed the start of something, or at least a plan.

At the time I was thinking these thoughts, I was sitting in my clapped out ex-Post Office van, in Porthtowan. I remember I was munching my way through a portion of chips. I’d been surfing . Surfing makes you VERY hungry.

I happened to look across to the surf lifesaving club – a few young lifesavers were running about, all sporting Porthtowan SLSC t-shirts. They say write about what you know, and I was a lifeguard, and I was a member of a lifesaving club – so why not write about that?

Setting

porthtowan

 

 

 

The first thing then (for me at least) is setting, the place where the action is to take place. But who’s going to do what, and with whom? Questions, questions. I wiped my greasy fingers on my shorts and grabbed a pen and an old envelope.

This is what I wrote:

The mermaid of Zennor.

It’s an old Cornish folktale. A mermaid hears the sweet sound of a local lad singing in church. She creeps from the sea on her fishy tail to listen. She does it a few times. She gets more and more intrigued. She sneaks into the back of the church. The boy turns round, catches her eye and is enchanted. When the mermaid plops back into the sea, he follows and is never seen again.

I thought, right well that’s easy enough, I’ll write a tale of obsession about a kid in a lifesaving club falling for an unobtainable girl.

And then I started writing.

Plot

Zennor_Mermaid_Chair

The original pew from the church at Zennor

OK so that’s a very simple plot, and not even my plot – but what does it matter? How many new plots are there are anyway? None that I know of. It’s a starting point, and that’s all I needed. Like looking for the end on a roll of Sellotape. You just need the point to start unpicking from.

But who was I writing about? How did I get that distinctive Jacob Penhallow voice? I’m so used to writing as him now, I’ve almost forgotten where he came from. Was it really just a case of, I started writing and out he popped. Well yes and no.

I do remember I was in the sort of mood where I wouldn’t have minded if someone were to say the wrong thing to me. Bolshy – that’s the word I’m looking for. I was bolshy. I put that attitude into the opening paragraphs of my story and Jacob Penhallow was born.

 

 

Character

That’s the voice. Bolshy boy in a lifesaving club gets obsessed with a girl. But that’s not the story now. My book isn’t the Mermaid of Zennor, but that theme is still there, albeit a minor part of the plot. The writing and the rewriting is what revealed the story and refined the character’s voice. I had the bones of Jacob Penhallow from the get go, but the act of writing was what fleshed him out.

So there you have it, the answer to the chicken egg question. Setting, plot, character. The rest is a load of work, and letting your characters take you where they want to go.

But if you were to ask me why I think Jacob Penhallow is an awesome character, I have a simple answer. This character kept me interested and engaged for the two years it’s taken me to write the book. Why? Because he’s not me.

Makes sense when you think about it.

 

I had a lightbulb moment last Sunday…

I moved my caravan and woodpiles to the other side of the field and plugged in my electric hookup. After two years and four months with no electricity I can now flick a switch and, ‘Hey Presto!’ light.

So what’s it like moving from the 19th century to the 21st? Convenient. Normally if I buy some ham, I have to eat it all the same day. A massive sandwich for lunch followed by something extremely hammy in the evening. And in the meantime, the ham goes under the duvet, the most well insulated place in the caravan.

Now though, cold meat goes straight in the fridge – although it takes a bit of remembering to do so. Just think, no more slipping into bed to be surprised by ham. That’s a bonus.

People ask me why I never sorted something out sooner. God knows. The only answer that seems to make any sense to anyone is that you can get used to anything. I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t have hooked up a battery and used the 12 V circuit. I just never did.

In the beginning

The great rejection of electricity came with my rejection of houses. The first six months (summer of 2011) I spent on the road, living in my old Post Office van.

The big switch on

The big switch on

 As an experience, it was magical. I swam in the sea every day, spent nights parked by remote beaches, was kept awake by the white noise of the surf – believe me, it drives you nuts in the end.  Autumn storms, rain hammering the roof. A spell on a garage forecourt waiting for the mechanic to get around to fixing the clutch. All good stuff.

And then I found the field – which was just as well –  swimming in the sea keeps you clean but November is a chilly month to be skinny dipping. I bought a caravan, and there I’ve been, ever since.

By that time I was used to not having power at home. I had a head torch and a candle. I had my studio / shop. Winters were cosy, candlelit and, with the wood burner, warm. Winters were also freezing cold, dark, damp, draining and plain miserable.

Summers – awesome.

So I liked the electric-free life, and I didn’t like it. It was something I chose and that I subjected myself to. As to why I did it? Who knows? I could pass it off as a daft experiment, but as it happens, I do know why I went without for so long.

Anyone for a ham sandwich?

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure other new writers must be a bit like me…

When I started writing my young adult novel, Fulmar a little over two years ago, I somehow imagined I’d type ‘THE END’, and that would be it. I’d simply send my masterpiece to an agent, they’d snap it up and I’d be published. It turns out to be quite a bit harder than that.

But not to worry. I have researched a few agents and submitted my book – finished for the 6th time last week. That’s another thing I hadn’t bargained for – all the re-writing. Better make sure you love your characters – you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them. Ha! I love mine. Two years after first getting the idea for my book, I still find myself laughing out loud when I re-read it. Arrogance? Noooo – I just got lucky – found a character with a lightness of step that makes me feel good.

Inspiration

Inspiration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now, I wait…and get on with the next story. That’s one good thing. I’m writing about the sea and surfing – not what you’d call a hardship. Every time I go for a walk along the cliff path, struggle into my wetsuit for the paddle out, or contemplate my beat up old plank of a surfboard – ideas float around in my mind. What a way to seek inspiration.

So will I be published or won’t I? Well if I’m not, it won’t be for lack of trying.

 

Catching a tasty lunch in Cornwall.

Avast, I have a nautical tale to tell. After years of telling all and sundry how much I would like the chance of going in a traditional Falmouth oyster dredger, I finally had the opportunity. Last weekend may have been Easter for most, but for us lot down here – it’s the bank holiday that happened to fall this year on the last day of the oyster dredging season.

If you don’t know, Falmouth oysters are the last to be dredged the proper way – under oar or sail. Dredges are small and restrictions on fishing imposed by the wind and weather make this possibly the oldest sustainable fishery in the land.

Alf-smythers

I went in the Ivy – not the the Alf Smythers (the boat in the photo), but both boats are run by Chris Ranger of Cornish Native Oysters. I was blown away by how stable the boat was – admittedly we weren’t carrying a great deal of sail, but well – it was brilliant.

We sailed from Mylor, headed up wind, then pretty much drifted back downwind and dredged. In all we spent about an hour chucking the dredges over the side, pulling them in and sorting the goodies from the ‘cultch’ – hard work but I have to say – I really enjoyed it. I knew I would.

Then we went aground. An occupational hazard I guess you could say. But luckily for us, we only had to wait about forty minutes for the tide to come back in, and then it was off to Flushing with our haul of…ahem…eleven oysters. There we found the ‘Oyster gathering’ in full flow. Beer, friends and a very tasty pheasant burger made a very satisfying end to a great day.

Many thanks to Chris and skipper, Mike for a glimpse of a way of life that might not make you rich but is in fact all the richer for that.

And next season – you never know – I may be asking if you need any crew.

Got the winter blues?

How are you feeling after the Christmas festivities?  Back at work?  Got a cold?  Summer seems like a long way off?  You may feel a bit fed up – down in the dumps.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone…

Does this mean anything to you?

\frac{[W + D-d] T^Q}{M N_a}

It’s OK, I haven’t gone all mathematical – if the truth be known, my maths GCSE was achieved through extra lessons and the skin of my teeth.  No  - this is the pseudo-scientific formula used to calculate ‘blue Monday’ – the most miserable day of the year.

Here is the key to it:

Weather=W

Debt=d,

Time since Christmas=T,

Time since failing our new year’s resolutions=Q,

Low motivational levels=M and the

Feeling of a need to take action=Na

D – Feel good factor

As you can see it’s complete nonsense – but this year, the international day of misery is set to fall on 21st January.  Which brings me to the point of this post.

Cheer up – it’s nearly spring.

A winter walk works wonders

A winter walk works wonders

And besides, we live in Cornwall.  Reserve your pity for our smog bound brothers and sisters of the cities.  While they battle through traffic and crowds – we can go for long walks by the sea.

Happy New Year one and all, and may 2013 bring you good things.  I’m going to paint, write and enjoy myself right up to the hilt – hope you do too.