Friday, 25 October 2013

Launched this week...

The 2013 anthology from Writers Abroad:


Writers Abroad is a group of expat writers around the globe whose mission is to 'develop new and seasoned writers'. For the fourth year, they've published an anthology consisting of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by writers who are living, or who have lived as, expats. 

This year's publication "explores the relationship between people and the landscapes they live in" and "evokes the diversities, similarities, connections and misunderstandings of life in foreign places". Yup, that about covers the ever-amazing expat life.

I'm very pleased to have a non-fiction piece in this publication...especially because the proceeds from the sale of the anthology this year support Book Aid International, a charity working to support access to books, literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Book Aid International provided 543,280 new books to over 2,000 libraries in 2012 and has sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954.

Aren't those incredible statistics? I'm happy to be a part of the effort. A friend in North Carolina posted the above photo to my Facebook page while I eagerly anticipate my own copy. It was nice to have a first photo-preview--and this first review, too. Thank you, Leslie! 
Congratulations on a lovely piece in the anthology "Foreign and Far Away." I won't give too much away for other readers, but I especially loved your description of a *petite* Malaysian shower. I could feel it and hear it: "You know if you went out it would throw you to the ground and wash you away with the detritus rushing down the gutters and broad, concrete drains."

Won't you order a copy* and help the children of Sub-Saharan Africa and also assist Writers Abroad with the important work they do? Everyone, including the authors, volunteers their time and work so your purchase contribution is maximised. 

Awww, go on, start shopping. Here's how: 
CLICK HERE to purchase on or CLICK HERE to purchase on

Foreign and Far Away is presently available in paperback; a Kindle edition is planned for early in 2014.

* Or two of more? Pssst!...the holidays are just around the corner...why not give the gift of literature--and literacy?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Hey! Dominica Malcolm's just about ready to release "ADRIFT"...and you can pre-order a copy now!

I met Dominica Malcolm at one of Sharon Bakar's "Readings@Seksan" events here in Kuala Lumpur. A fellow expat writer in Malaysia, I liked her energy, enthusiasm and determination to finish this not-strictly-a-romance but sorta lesbian, bi-sexual time-travelling, mermaid-mythology set in some cool places. Like Barbados. And Jamaica. And New York.

Dominica does a pretty fair pirate impersonation. Seriously. It's not like she doesn't know her stuff! That day, at 'Readings', she thankfully kept the pistol in its holster and only read to us about blunderbusses, did a lot of oh-ho-ho'ing and carried on like it was the 17th century. I sighed when the mermaid came out of the water. Some good stuff here.

I'm honoured and pleased to help Dominica with the launch of her new book, "ADRIFT". Read on and, if it's your cup of tea (or rum, matey!) then get in on the fun to win a copy or pre-order or support her Indiegogo efforts.

Well done, Dominica!

Title: Adrift 
Author: Dominica Malcolm 
Publisher: Solarwyrm Press 
Release date: September 19th, 2013 

The blurb It's the 21st century, and Jaclyn Rousseau is not where she should be. 1661 disappeared before her eyes, and there's no way home. That matters not to Jaclyn—she lost her lover, and everything else that meant anything to her, in the West Indies. In an adventure that crosses time and the Atlantic, a murderous pirate must find a place for herself in this new world. Can she escape her past, or will it catch up with her?

Other book details Adrift is an adult speculative fiction novel, sitting at approximately 104,000 words or 400 pages. Though the novel opens in the 21st century, with Jaclyn meeting a businessman, Dick, the chapters alternate time periods, so you can learn about her past as the story progresses.

With the exception of time travel and mermaid mythology, it is all set in the real world in the two different time periods, and includes locations such as London; New York City; Washington, DC; and various parts of the Caribbean like Barbados and Jamaica.

Though not strictly a romance novel, the main relationship in the book is a lesbian one. It was important to the author to write a story that represented someone different from the mainstream in the protagonist role. As someone who identifies as bisexual, seeing characters who fit her sexuality in media was rare, and sometimes when she did see it, it was used more for fantasies of men rather than representing the reality.

She believes people of all sexualities, colours, abilities, genders, and so forth, need to have better representation in the media—both in fiction and non-fiction—so they can find more acceptance in the world. Add the book on Goodreads.

Want to know more? Adrift is currently looking for crowdfunded support on Indiegogo, to help pay for marketing. You can pre-order the book and start reading it before the release date, as well as picking up some other exclusive items.

More information is provided on the Indiegogo page at From there, you can also download a preview of the entire first chapter.

Connect with the author Web site/blog:

Twitter: @dommalcolm

As part of the launch of the campaign, Dominica Malcolm, along with her partner at Solarwyrm Press, Jax Goss, are offering books in a rafflecopter giveaway! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

If I Had Gotten To The Letter "P"... the #AtoZ Blog Challenge, I would have had plenty to say.

First, there would have been Photography, because I like that a lot. Then there would have been Publishing, because I'd like to be more of that, of course. But, really, what I might have keyed on would have been PLOT and PROMPT. Because the former is something I struggle with--and the latter is something that helps me deal with it.

Martha Alderson
So what happened to my #AtoZChallenge anyway? Months later, it's easy to answer because I'm not so annoyed about it. No sooner did I get past "M" for Malaysia but we nearly lost out Internet service completely! That's right, in 2013. *Poof* It was more than I could recover from. The Challenge moved on and by the time we had proper service restored, it was at "V". Never mind. I'm jumping back to "P" and taking deep breaths.

This post is about a book. A book about Plots and a book filled with Prompts related to plot. The author is Martha Alderson.

Do I recommend it? Heck, yes! That's why I'm here writing about it. This is my third Martha Alderson -- aka "The Plot Whisperer" -- book. First, I got The Plot Whisperer. It's reviewed on Amazon here. Next, I bought The Plot Whisperer Workbook. I reviewed that latter on and you can find it here.

And then? About two weeks ago I bought the Kindle version of The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts. I've been using said prompts daily since. The subtitle -- "Easy Exercises To Get You Writing" -- has been 100% true for me. I read a comment once on a review of an Alderson book and the commenter, who otherwise liked the book a lot, said there was "too much whispering". Frankly, that comment alone sold me, though I didn't need much selling since I'd been very pleased with the first two books in the series.

How does it work? The prompts are numbered. There's no date. There are simply 120 prompts related to plot. The first chapter is about setting writing goals, what the book's all about, how to use it. And then there is some basic Martha Alderson "Plot Planner" info to help you see how the prompts relate to plot.

Finally, there are the prompts themselves. Each of the 120 prompts consists of: 
  • An affirmation prompt (the whispery part, I suppose)
  • A plot prompt (something about your protagonist or goals and actions, for instance)
  • A writing prompt (an instruction/suggestion about what to write that day to address the plot prompt)
  • A record (a place to track the time, words, projected end date, energy level)
My result? From the beginning, I've found the prompts uncanny. If I was just starting a new book, this is what I would start with: a daily get-you-going semi-meditative exercise with some clearly defined, related things to think about. And a specific prompt to get your pen on paper. Mind you, I'm not just starting. I have well over 150,000 words in my current manuscript. But I also have plenty of holes, some glaring oopses, some really weak stuff, some backstory that's needed. You name it. I know it's there. Or not there.

This is helping me fix it. Each day, I repair something or rework something I know is weak, or missing. I am working through the prompts in order...1, 2, 3...though one day I skipped one and moved on. I might try jumping around soon. Whatever it is, there's something there I can work on each day.

How does it work? One day, for instance, it might be a prompt to write moment-by-moment action about something stands in my heroine's way and interferes with her getting what she wants. I do the affirmation first--each is different, they're very good and each one ends with "Today I write", which still makes me say "wow" every time I whisper it to myself (see? it's the whispering). Then Martha explains a bit and suggests what to write about--and why. And I think "Oh, yeah, that bit I never wrote about when Anna and Sergeant Roper fell off the cliff..." And then I note the time and take a whack at that in a notebook (with no lines!) and *poof*. When I stop later, guess what? I've usually got 700-1500 words that I needed and I trot off to Scrivener, do some typing and apply the patch.

What's next? My notion is that this practice will be great for the next book. Of course, I have to finish this one--but it's getting there. I'm aiming toward doing NaNoWriMo on November 1st and I sense that the plot work and daily writing to the prompts would be excellent daily starters. I might read through and pick out 30 prompts that address my greatest areas of need or weakness and go with it that way. Whatever it is, though, I know that beginning with the affirmation prompt (and repeating to myself  "Today I write.") is the way to go for me.

Interested in your own copy? Check it out on Amazon right here. Thanks, Martha!

p.s. You don't have to have the earlier books to get what you want out of this one. Martha makes a lot of information available via her blog, a very informative YouTube channel, and a newsletter filled with information. She is very generous with the free stuff; I noticed some prompts in her blog if you want to check them out. Oh, yes, Anna and Sergeant Roper didn't fall off a cliff.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

"M" is for Malaysia's Magnificent Mammals, Monkeys, Malamutes and Many More!

I love animals and Malaysia has some incredibly wonderful (and often endangered) ones. Photography is another passion of mine; I often try to marry photography and writing but, when it comes to animals, I confess I am more into the photos than the words, preferring silence and simple awe in their m-m-m-magnificent presence.

Here are a few of the animal photos I've taken in Malaysia. A book of my photography--animal and otherwise--along with some poetry can be read here in its entirety.

The Orang Utan

The Kuala Lumpur butterfly park is amazing...

...and so is the bird park!

"Moaz" came to visit from the US and loved the
Silver Leaf Monkeys
of Bukit Melawati...

And so did big brother Omer
   Yes, it's a hornbill! 
 Love the cheeky babies...a lot. And the moms will share them.

...and the heart-shaped face!
Silver leaf monkeys are born bright orange, and change
colour with age.

An elephant at Kuala Gandah Sanctuary

Tiger, tiger...sadly, endangered tiger.

"Malamutes" qualify for wild beasties in Malaysia, too (Solo thinks).
 He prefers a swimming pool.

Rogue gets her feet wet in the South China sea.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

"L" is for Language, Which I Love And Am Endlessly Fascinated By...

One of the fascinating things about moving to a new country is the language. Or languages, in the case of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. There's the Malay language (Bahasa Malayu) which is native to Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore as well. Malays comprise slightly over half the population. Then there are the Chinese, the second largest population group, who may well speak any or all of Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, English and others. The smallest group here are the Indians, so let's add Hindu, Punjabi, Tamil and any of 17 others to the list.

Don't take my word about it: read about it here. Fortunately for us expats, many people in Malaysia speak excellent English (impressive English!). A very large number speak very passable English. This is one of those places where it's pretty darned easy to come as an English-speaking tourist and get around just fine.

There's a vibrant English writing community, too. Novels, anthologies, and books of poetry written by
Malaysian English language
literature, home-grown!
Malaysian authors and published by Malaysian publishers are to be found on the bookshelves--in English. There are public readings for aspiring writers in several locations regularly and it's sometimes difficult to get a space in one of Sharon Bakar's Word Works English language writing classes. Malaysia has it's own George Town Literary Festival (there's also one in Singapore as well), held in Penang each November. It's a happenin' place!

OK, so what's the catch? For me, the 'catch' has been coming to terms with speaking English whilst, at the same time, not speaking English. Some people use the term "Chinglish" (English influenced by Chinese) to describe it but I find it a broader, more interesting (and sometimes hopeless but always amusing when I look back at it in a later sane moment) situation. And, when you add the cultural context of "timeliness"--as if such existed here--it can be hilarious.

First, the key words you need to know: OK, OK-OK, Can, Can-Can, No-Can, No have, Finish*. I am convinced that, with the addition of some arm-waving and possibly a pencil and scrap of paper in the case of numerical negotiations or the need to exchange phone numbers, much service-related commerce in Malaysia can be completed. OK, so armed with that, let's call for service.

Enter the plumber. My working hypothesis is that, in Malaysia, there are only three possibilities for any appointment:   1) The person will be early;  2) The person will be late; 3) The person will not show up at all. That's it. There are no others.

So. I made an appointment with the plumber, Mr Woo, for one Thursday last year. It wasn't urgent. I settled in to spend the day writing on the Tuesday immediately preceding. A blissful morning and afternoon awaited me. The phone rang.

ME:          "Hello?"
WOO:      "Come now."
ME:          "Why? Have appointment for Thursday."
WOO:      "Thursday no can. Come now."
ME:          "OK-OK, what time?"
WOO:       "Come now." 
ME:           "OK-OK, come now."  

OUTCOME:  Mr Woo arrived on Thursday two hours before the originally scheduled time. All my time waiting for him on Tuesday (informing security, locking the dogs up, peering out the window while I didn't write) was wasted. He made no comment regarding what happened on Tuesday. I am certain that if I'd asked why he hadn't come on Tuesday, he would have said "No can."

Then there's That Literal Thing. Recently I went with two friends to an upscale coffee house, Dr Cafe. I went to order three drinks and three different pastries. "JJ", an American friend, wanted the one lonely blueberry muffin in the display case. It was closest to the class and had a little sign next to it which said "BLUEBERRY MUFFIN RM7" (RM7 is the price).

Here's how it went. (HELP = Counter Help)

HELP:    “Can help you?”
ME:       "Yes, I’d like a blueberry muffin."
HELP:    "Blueberry muffin?"
ME         (pointing): "Yes, blueberry muffin." 
HELP:    "No have."
ME:        (pointing at muffin nearest the front of the display case and tapping on glass) "What’s that? That’s a blueberry muffin right there, with the round blue things on the top."
HELP:    "No have."
ME:        "Really? But what is that muffin right there, with the blue berries in it? (tapping on glass and pointing at sign next to muffin with round blue exposed blueberries)
ME:        "But it's still a BLUEBERRY muffin."

ME:        (biting tongue, smiling, caving in). OK, I’ll have the LOWFATBLUEBERRY muffin. (sigh)

* Finish: A word which means 1) we're out of what you want; 2) we're out of what you want and I have no idea when there will be any more so don't ask; 3) you should have asked me last week; it's too late now, foot; 4) you're too late and I'm not helping you; 5) I don't know what you're asking for so I'm just going to let you know you aren't getting any.

"K" is for KL, as in Kuala Lumpur, where I now live, and Ketupat, which is nice, too.

Two years and two months ago I moved from the UK, where I'd lived since 1999 and was quite content, to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Initially, we moved for eight or nine months with the "possibility" that we'd stay longer. We stayed longer.

Until I began scrambling for a "K" word for the blog, I hadn't realised just how common words beginning with the letter K now are in my life. Hmmmmph. How did I miss that? I'd already eliminated Knowledge (too broad), Kindness (I was feeling grumpy) and King (couldn't think of a connection as there's no King in my novel--only a Queen, a Sultan and a Tsar or two.)

Kuala Lumpur Skyline, Wikipedia Commons file
So Kuala Lumpur it is! It turns out that there are many, many words in Malaysia which begin with the letter "K". It's far more Kommon, I'd wager, than "K" in the English language. Why? Because when the older Malay language was transliterated into English and simplified, things were spelled phonetically. Kinda Klever, if you ask me. It eliminated that old quandary for foreigners speaking English: is the "C"  pronounced like a C (as in cinnamon), an S (as in  , or a Ch or something else entirely (as in succinct)?

As a result, "K" became relatively common when the language was converted to English. As I understand it, the nice simple rule is this: If it's a hard "c" (as in car, for instance) it's changed to a "K". It it carries the sound of "ch", it's spelled (spelt) with a "c". Many words carried over from the English (the British were here, recall) and you can see it once you get used to them:

Examples of just a few (like 1/3 of the list I made) of my favourite beginner"K" words:

 Kelip-kelip at Kuala Selangor
  • Kacang is pronounced "ka-chang" (k = k) and (c - ch). It's a bean classification.
  • Kontrak is the word for Contract (spelled in Malay more or less as it is in English)
  • Kereta is the word for car  
  • Kepala is the word for head (could be related to Cephalo, Latin, from Kepalo, Greek?)
  • Keracik is a form of coconut used in cookin (pronounced ker-a-chik, of course)
  • Kari is the Malay word for Curry (couldn't call it churry, could we?)
  • Kiri and Kanan are the words for Left and Right (no, no origin comes to me!)
  • Kawan means 'friend'
  • Kecil means little (not ke-sill, of course, but ke-chil)
  • Kadang-kadang is one of the lovely Malay double words and it means 'sometime'
  • Kelip-kelip is another and it means 'firefly', something they do have here in Malaysia
  • And, finally, Ketupat is one of my absolutely favourite discoveries in Malaysia

Ketupat on sale in the market, above, and as served, right.
Woven leaves hold glutinous rice and coconut milk and are steamed to a wondrous perfection, 
particularly popular during Ramadan. I love it anytime I can get it, particularly served with chicken satay and peanut sauce. Yumm!

Photo, left:
Photo, right: 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

"J" is about how I became a cracking good speller, in spite of myself...

I don't have a particular fondness for the letter "J". In fact, it's linked to one of the worst memories of my young academic life and may explain why I became so fanatical about spelling.

When I was in the fifth grade--about age 9-10, I was already a good speller. I always scored 100% on Miss Dunaway's weekly spelling tests and was proud of it. Go on, throw me a pop quiz. I would spell 10 out of 10 words correctly every time.

I don't know why I could spell well; I just could. Nobody else in my family was ever called out for this particular skill; in fact, quite the opposite. They had other talents--like they could all water ski and ice skate, at both of which I was abysmal. It didn't seem fair but I got what I got. And they got the good stuff.

Eventually, I was recognised as the number one speller in my class. When I was in elementary school--in the late 1950s--this wasn't necessarily a good thing. Only "teacher's pet" people and real nerdy types were the best spellers. Or 'dorks'. This was about the time the word 'dork' came into being in Orange County, California. The last thing you wanted to be was one of them. It was far better to be a 'neat', popular kid. It was a burden, being able to spell, an automatic demotion to the lowest of the low.

Imagine my horror when Miss Dunaway announced that there was to be a District Spelling Bee and the two best spellers from our class were going to represent the fifth grade. It was me and a light blonde, blue-eyed kid with a square head and big brown thick-lensed glasses that had a strap on them so they wouldn't fall off. I'm not making this up: his name was Herbie Delight. The other kids said he was sweet on me. Alas, I was enamoured of Price Locke, a star-quality blonde kid with a cowlick. Three girls liked Price. Life just isn't fair, is it?

So off we went to the Spelling Bee on the appointed Sunny Southern California afternoon. The details fade but I do remember these things clearly:

  1. There were many children there; it must have been Kindergarten to 6th grade.
  2. It was noisy (see number 1. for explanation)
  3. There were nearly twice as many parents as children--so, hey, a lot of people overall.
  4. Both of my parents were there. This is big stuff because my dad didn't go to my concerts and other life events very often--he was busy being a flight test engineer and helping people break sound barriers and eventually go to the moon.
  5. I was wearing a red plaid dress my mother had made me (she made all my clothes). It had a full gathered skirt but I didn't have any nice full petticoats yet. They were on my Christmas list.
  6. I had on horrible brown saddle shoes which were corrective in nature because, apparently, I had something wrong with my feet that needed correcting (I have good feet now so the embarrassing shoes treatment must have worked).
  7. I was terrified and didn't want to be there at all.
Does anybody ever actually like these things? I didn't. The only worse thing was having to play organ concerts when my organ teacher--Miss Margaret--decided periodically to hold one and show off our budding musical talents. She had about two dozen Pekingese dogs and they were always all over the place so it made for an interesting event for a lot of reasons. (I'll save that for the "P" day blog, shall I?)

Cutting to the chase: I made it to some sort of semi-final or maybe even the final round in my age group. I spelled some pretty impressive words. It's different when you're in the fifth grade and you don't even know what a word means. Like peripatetic. Or chrysanthemum. Or duodenum.  I could do it. I did it. I was almost there.

Miss Dunaway was with me and I could do it for her. But could I do it with my awe-inspiring whiz of a father, Mr Science, in the audience? That remained to be seen.

It was for all the marbles. There were four kids left, maybe six. I can't really remember, probably owing to some sort of psychological trauma filter my brain immediately invoked afterwards and still hasn't been willing to let go. Herbie had long since bowed out; I have no idea what he couldn't spell but I knew that when I heard him spell it, he had blown it. Poor Herbie.

A hush fell over the crowd. They always say that, don't they? Maybe it did and maybe it didn't. The spotlight, though I'm sure there wasn't one, felt like it had fallen on me. It was my turn. My turn. All the marbles. What did that mean, "all the marbles?" I couldn't remember. Oh god please let this be a word I can spell. I promise I'll clean my room without being told. I won't pick on my little brother. Honest, I won't...

"Cindi Saunders. The word is JURY. Please spell JURY," said the person with the microphone. Did I breathe? No. Did I think? No. Do I know how to spell JURY. Yes. Did I say "Jury, J-U-R-Y, Jury" in the prescribed manner? No. I did not.

Immediately, and for reasons unknown to this day, the image of my mother's Ladies Home JOURNAL Magazine, laying on the coffee table in the living room, crowded into my mind and overloaded every synapse, coursed through every tiny artery, sang in an exalted voice until I heard nothing else. 'I can spell it, I can spell it! I can win, I can win!

"Jury, J-O-U-R-Y, Jury," I said, loud and clear.

Well, that was that. It was over. I'm sure my parents weren't upset; I'm certain they were proud that I got there in the first place and got to some sort of final round. I, on the other hand, was humiliated, mortified, embarrassed and probably in tears though I don't recall that either. How could I miss spelling a four-letter word? I'll never know. I choked. I panicked. I didn't stop and think.

It didn't seem like it at the time but it was a good thing. I remember clearly, as if it had happened earlier this afternoon, vowing that I would never get caught again not being able to spell a word. And I seldom do. It's a heavy burden to bear sometimes--people are always saying things like "Oh, can you spell jaculiferous or juglandaceous or jectigation...?" and off I go again, hoping that I can, but at least thinking it through carefully. I'm much more careful now. 

Miss Dunaway would be proud of me.

Oh,, like, whatever became of Herbie? Well. I just Googled Herbie and there is one Herbert J Delight who's my age in the entire United States. He's living half an hour away from where we went to school. And his father is still alive, at age 95. Well, so is mine, just coming 90. Amazing. I haven't thought of Herbie in years. (Please don't tell him I said that.)

And Price Locke? Amazingly, he's right there, too, not three miles from where we grew up--over fifty years later. I think I'll stay right where I am.

Want to know more about the history of the National Spelling Bee in the U.S.? Click here!


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

"I" is for Isambard Kingdom Brunel

I'm certain that I had never heard of the man called Isambard Kingdom Brunel until I was about 50 years old. If you're not British, it's likely you haven't heard of him either. If you are from   Great Britain, you probably know that he was placed second in the  "Top 100 Britons" of all time in a BBC poll in 2002.

Go on, ask who beat him. (Winston Churchill). To put him in historical perspective, Brunel topped Princess Diana, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Sir Isaac Newton, Queen Elizabeth I, John Lennon, Admiral Horatio Nelson and Oliver Cromwell (in that order) for the Top 10. Now are you wondering who he was?

Robert Howlett photo, 1859
Yesterday, April 9th, would have been Mr Brunel's 207th birthday. A pity the months didn't sync just right for yesterday to be "I" day; that won't happen again until 2019 so I'm pressing on.

Because his is one of the most unusual names I've ever encountered -- Isambard -- and with a middle name like 'Kindgom', he stuck in my mind the first time I heard him mentioned. And there he has remained ever since. Because he didn't live to see his 54th birthday (a heavy smoker, he died of a stroke) his accomplishments are all the more amazing.

But did he really do all that? Controversial new research suggests that his accomplishments may have been exaggerated, his projects error-plagued and, in some cases, that he may not have done what he is credited with. Oops. Good time for an inquiry.

To say that Brunel left his mark on England is an understatement. A quick look at Wikipedia and we learn that he was a "mechanical and civil engineer who built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship and numerous important bridges and tunnels." 

Bridge over the River Avon, Bristol (Mark Hadlow photo)
Did Isambard Kingdom Brunel really design
the Clifton Suspension Bridge?
His designs revolutionised public transportation and modern engineering. According to Britain Express, his most remarkable feat for the Great Western Railway was the Box Tunnel, between Bath and Chippenham. This amazing engineering feat was two miles long, took almost six years to complete and, when the crews funneling from each end met in the middle, it's said they were only 1.25 inches out of alignment. 

As a transplant to 'Old Blighty' myself, I have consistently been surprised at how often I've run into the name Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It seemed that everywhere I went or lived was somehow touched by the genius of Brunel. In fact, I lived in Kensal Green (London) for a year--and discovered on walk through the vast Kensal Green Cemetery one day that the man is buried there. It was nice to have him close by.

Why mention him now? Given how he and his many projects kept showing up, it was little surprise to me that I stumbled on a Brunel design when researching hospitals for my Crimean War-era novel. I'm not writing a book about Florence Nightingale so I wanted a different hospital setting than the ones commonly associated with her. It was then I discovered  Renkioi Hospital. And guess who designed it?

In February 1855, as war dragged on inconclusively and soldiers continued to die of things over than battlefield wounds, Brunel accepted the the task of designing and building--quickly--a temporary, pre-fabricated hospital that could be shipped to the Crimea and erected there. His team assembled designed, built, and shipped pre-fabricated wood and canvas buildings for the hospital--within five months.

Ward building design, Renkioi Hospital, Istanbul, 1955
Of particular note was the attention paid to hygiene, access to sanitation, ventilation, drainage, and even rudimentary temperature controls. The pre-fab units were a great success, with some sources stating that of the approximately 1,300 patients treated in the hospital, there were only 50 deaths. In the more familiar Scutari hospital itself, deaths were reported to be up to ten times that number.  

How can all this be true? Yes, it's a lot. And, sadly, as so often happens, further research sometimes sheds new light on our old beliefs. It is no different in Brunel's case. While I'm disappointed that this much-admired man's reputation and accomplishments have been called into question, it's also a pity that, if true, so many others didn't get credit for their work. 

So who's right? Consider the current debate. In a Telegraph article from 2011, biographer Adrian Vaughan claims, in his book, 'The Intemperate Engineer', that many of the things Brunel is credited with did not happen. After studying previously-unpublished Brunel writings, as well as engineering drawings of the period,  he also maintains that Brunel's work was littered with errors and problems--and often overdue and over budget. On the other hand...

Steven Brindle, an English Heritage historian, disagrees with Vaughan. Author of a book called "Brunel: The Man Who Built the WorldVaughan defends Brunel, the engineer, as well as his own conclusions. "Brunel,"he says, "was a genius at the level of Leonardo or Mozart. Again and again in his career, he had these fundamental insights....he was capable of what we would call blue sky thinking to a quite remarkable extent."

The answer? I don't know--but I would like to--and will continue to follow the debate. What do you think?

What I do know is that the engineering marvels of the Victorian era stand today, whoever designed them, as examples of a period of great innovation and change in the world. An impressive period indeed.

I also know that researching the illustrious reputation of  Isambard Kingdom Brunel for this "I" blog has been interesting, informative, illuminating, inspirational, intriguing, instructive and more...including my discovery of a fascinating list of words beginning with the letter I which calls me to look for even more.

Thanks for reading this April #AtoZChallenge blog! Comments and corrections welcome, please...

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

"H" is for Hashtag and some of what I've learned thus far...

Hashtags. You know, those funny things with a hash mark (or 'pound sign') in front of them. Appear on Twitter tweets and other places. Like here, with the #AtoZChallenge. See? That's a "hashtag". 

I'm not the only one who's onto hashtags today...the theme over at #AtoZChallenge Headquarters today is "Hashtag the heck out of us!" Lots of good information there. But here, a very basic primer on hashtags AND some information on Tagboard, a site I discovered just yesterday (see below).

But what are they for, and what do you do with them? (Spoiler alert: I'm not the expert, just learning a little bit here and there and have found value in marketing--and other pursuits--with the help of social media). One definition of Hashtags comes from and says that hashtags allow us to "listen, measure and engage in Twitter conversations and gain valuable social media insights".

And who does this? Hashtags can and are used for any industry, keyword, event, business, product, service or blog where the need to track traffic or measure results is required. Well, that just about covers most of the known world, doesn't it? I've used it to track incentive programmes, measure return on investment, see who's visiting the client's website, do fund-raising, make sure my complaint about a product gets seen. Never tried it? Just add # and the company name to your complaint tweet (make sure it's the Twitter account they use) and watch the customer service folks respond.

Ever wonder what "trending" is all about? Read this article and you're on your way.  See an example in the graph below.

Why does all this matter? Read this article for information on hashtag tracking and you'll have a great beginning....and then...

Take a look at #LadyGaga, for instance (an example most of us recognise). There is more data there than you'd ever want to know about Ms Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Not interested in her? Consider what you can learn if you track a specific issue or company--say #IBM, the #environment or #gaymarriage or #WallStreet or a person, like #BarackObama or #JoeDiffie or #JKRowling. Go one, have a look check it out!

Participants in the #AtoZChallenge use the official Challenge hashtag so that their tweets, for instance, are picked up in various feeds and services so prospective readers will see them OR, importantly, anyone else who is tracking or searches on #AtoZChallenge, in this example, will find all the Tweets which contain that hashtag. The organisation also uses it to track who completes their 26 A to Z days.

I set up a search in Tweetdeck (a free Twitter application I use) to receive a feed of all the #AtoZChallenge hashtags. Then I can choose the participant blogs I want to read each day based on what they've said about that day's blog in their Tweet.

I knew about and I'd gone there before to see if there was a specific hashtag, for instance, for something I was interested in. But I hadn't understood that, while anyone in the world can use the hashtag, for say, the #CrimeanWar (of interest to me) no one had actually registered that hashtag so wasn't measuring it.

Is the only one? Not by a long shot! It's only one site/service related to Twitter and tweeting. It may not provide anything to you and what you want to do.

More appropriate for some people could be, which allows users to "see the whole conversation, across networks, making it the perfect hub for social media." It still uses hashtags, though, so it's all a part of the same broader social media whole. It's a lot like Pinterest but built on hashtags.

When I used the hashtag #CrimeanWar (researching for my novel) and found all sorts of people posting information and photos. I registered a hashtag of my own, #ReedWrites, there, and when I use it in Tweets, people on tagboard will see my tweets (see left). This can serve to put me in touch with others with the same interest OR have them visit my site or blog for more information about my project.

Kinda fun, I thought, and potentially very useful for my research and eventual marketing efforts. Give it a try!

Comments, corrections and additional resources welcome! As noted above, I am not the expert but only a learner. Thank you for visiting.

Monday, 8 April 2013

"G" is for Good, No, GREAT Writing Quotes

"G" is the most difficult letter of the #AtoZChallenge alphabet yet. "K" looms large and knarly (or is it gnarly?) just ahead...but we're not there quite yet. I spent Sunday thinking, polled a few friends and ended up with a great big list of "G" words that, try as I might, I couldn't link to writing.

Nothing came to mind so, naturally, I turned to a favourite quote. It sits on my work table:

'When words don't come easy, I make do with silence and find something in nothing.' (Strider Marcus Jones)

Well, gee-whiz. So I listened, like the man said. And it came to me. "OK," I decided, "I'm taking the lazy way out and stealing a favourite idea from the second half of the alphabet!" Right, cheat. Got it. So, my "G" post is (tah-dah!) about the Good, Great, Glorious, Grand QUOTATIONS which have changed my day, or my life, or gotten me un-stuck or back on track somewhere along the way.

And here are some of them. (Spoiler alert: I have so many, I'm certain there'll be plenty left for Q-Day if nothing else comes along.)

FIRST, an an all-time favourite from an all-time favourite man, film critic and writer extraordinaire Roger Ebert:

"You are the writer. What you write is what is written. It is exactly right because it is exactly what you wrote. If someone else doesn't think so, fuck 'em. There is no objective goal, no objective right or wrong. Only the process. Your mind will set itself down in words. Do not criticize. Do not look back at every sentence. Just write. You have no idea where you are headed. Your words will lead you. This above all: Nothing is ever completed until it is started. Start. Don't look back. If at the end it doesn't meet your hopes, start again."

NEXT,  this one. I love what Clancy says because it makes my mind make grinding sounds just thinking about it:                                  

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” -Tom Clancy

BUT, some days I want a more mellow approach, something that puts the great big picture in something resembling perspective. Thich Nhat Hanh does that for me: 

"Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with truth." - Thich Nhat Hanh

And, FINALLY, for newest gleaned quote, just last week from an interview in an issue of Creative Nonfiction Magazine; it came along at just the right time. I needed a kick in the, well, you know. Isn't this just the most wonderful writing advice?

“Writing is hard for every last one of us—straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same. … so write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a Mother#^@%*&!"

Saturday, 6 April 2013

"F" is for Father (and a poem about flying with family in Idaho)

My family loves to fly. Dad was a WWII and Korean War bomber pilot, later a test pilot and then a private pilot until well into his 80s. Mom got her instrument rating in 1973, right after they bought their first plane: a six-passenger Beechcraft Bonanza A36.

One of their two sons is a private charter pilot and still flies. The other son loved dune buggies and, for me, it was horses. Home was Southern California; work was to get out and go. They flew everywhere and traveled with little Honda 50s in the back. When there was nowhere else to go, they'd land on a dirt runway pitch a pop-up Coleman tent and ride the little motorcycles into the nearest town to grab a burger or a bowl of soup.

Sometime in 1976, my father discovered the Bitterroot Wilderness of Idaho
--something like one million acres of designated wilderness--and a series of U.S. Forestry Service-maintained runways truly in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, the family settled on Moose Creek (though there are lots of other wonderful places as well) and that was where we went.

Some families have lake cabins or mountain homes or places in the desert or at the seashore. We didn't. We had the beauty of Idaho, the bountiful rivers and lakes (most years) but sometimes couldn't fly in because of the fires, when the USFS would close the runways to all but fire-fighting use.

Over the years, Dad and Mom celebrated their anniversary at Moose Creek, camping all alone for a week, nearly every late September. Mom made cherry pies in the camp oven Daddy had bought her and he unearthed a cast iron griddle he kept buried in the hills (there was a treasure map to find it every year) and made hashed brown potatoes and bacon for breakfast.

In the summertime, we all, grand-kids, the odd great-grand-child and even my Alaskan Malamute, Wookie, who clambered on board quite cheerfully, sat herself in the second row with me and had a great old time, never noticing (apparently) that we were flying on our wingtip up a winding mountain cabin, a sparkling blue river a few thousand feet below. We hiked, we fished, we sat, we slept. We ate. And did it all over again. Especially the eating part.

Those times are over. One too many pacemaker replacements and Dad's pilot's licence went. Mom started having memory problems and wouldn't (and shouldn't) fly alone. It was time to pack it in. We made a few more trips with my brother, Ron, ferrying us all in and out.

The next-to-last trip was 2005--for my parents' 58th wedding anniversary and it was fabulous, memory-filled and the stuff that overwrites everything else. I even took my British fiance to meet the folks and whinge about sleeping on the ground with his feet hanging out of my parents' original 1970s pop tent while they lived like kings in the new Northface withstand-anything model.

The last trip was September 2007. Their 60th anniversary. And we almost made it to Moose Creek. Almost. Unfortunately, it was a fire year and, though we tried, visibility was compromised and we couldn't land. We turned and flew back south toward Boise and set up camp near Cascade Lake--sitting around the campfire pretending it was Moose Creek but knowing that it wasn't. And that there probably wouldn't be another trip to 'Moose'.

There wasn't. But 30 years in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho? It's a lot to be thankful for.

I wrote this poem about my dad a few weeks ago as an exercise in a Sharon Bakar class in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The memories are so strong it might have been last month that we sat around the fire at Cascade Lake, not at Moose Creek. Dad and Mom are well, the plane has been sold but Ron still flies and takes my dad up for a go whenever he can. Daddy, this one's for you...

                             Bitterroot Mountains

He’s old, facing ninety head-on, deep lines
framed by the latest in high-tech camping hats,
polar fleece doubled up against the
Coumadin cold of now-thin blood. He sits,
hands pocketed,  reading embers.

It’s the last trip. It has that feel, lastness,
together we will crown their sixty years,
but Idaho consecrates this anniversary
with fire.  Smoke obscures the canyon—
instruments or not—and we fly back.

Almost Moose Creek, not quite there but nearly
there, hunkered down around this lesser fire,
its orange-red cincture catching each cinder,
sending sooty signals into the endless heavens
above that special place in the Bitterroot
we have family-worshipped for so long.

His heart is going, her mind has gone--
not that we Know it yet, unequivocally, but
he has guessed and keeps her safe from us,
draws circles around their memories with his
own smoky screen of love sixty decades wide
and a lifetime long. 

Mom washes dishes as she always does
and Debbie dries. One plastic tub with creek water
hand carried, another to rinse and maybe
they’ll be dry by breakfast-time
to do it all over again, Saunders-style.

The girls roast marshmallows and giggle,
Derek and Ron count endless stars in a blueblack sky
and name constellations as if they could best the best
(or perhaps it is to let him win just one more time)

‘That’s not Omega,’ laughs my father
rousing himself to point skyward and last-inning
take the game he knows oh so well
 “it’s Cassiopea; see the ‘W’ shape, right there?”
grunts and turns back to his fire.

Across the ring our eyes meet as they do
once every fifteen years or so and I abdicate
my speaker’s role to wait for a different ending.
“Christ, he doesn’t say much,’’ I think, and exhale
blatant longing. “But when did he ever?   

He clears his throat, leans back, waits…
‘Wonder what the poor folks are doin’ tonight?’
A chuckle, a wink, a nod affirm that his life
is rich, descendants all around, the fire crackling,
unspoken love and memories rising
in the unknowable Bitterroot night.

                                    (c) 2013 Cynthia Reed