On being 72 and what I’ve learned…

birthday cake with lit candles

Psalms 90:10 – ‘The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.’

Well, at least I’ve made it past the three score and ten but I am always conscious that I might ‘fly away’ any day. This got me thinking about what wisdom I might have gleaned over the years. This is probably not going to be the longest post that I’ve ever written as I’m not sure how much I’ve really learned. But here we go anyway –

Todays headlines are tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers

To explain to non-UK readers, when I was young and I went to my local fish and chip shop, I would order several meals for my extended family and, while these would be individually wrapped in fresh white paper, the whole order would then be consolidated and wrapped in several sheets of old newspapers. It’s an old saying that means that whatever you might think is important or sensational right now, it will soon be just old news relegated to wrapping fish suppers.

Lesson learned is that whatever you might find that’s upsetting or worrying right now is unlikely to last very long. Everything changes, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better, but nothing ever stays the same. Life is like roller coaster so buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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What the new year might bring for Mac Maguire and me…

I had high hopes for last year but it turned out to be quite a frustrating time for me. In the end, I did get a novel published but only just. Mac’s Christmas Present was published last December and, somewhat to my surprise, seems to be doing quite well. However, while I am outlining some goals that I hope to achieve this year, I am always aware of the many life events that can blow one off course. Anyway, here goes.

I would like to write yet another Mac Maguire mystery set at Christmas this year. Mac’s Christmas Present is around forty thousand words which is somewhat shorter than my other novels. That’s the reason that I set the price so low (currently $1.19 in the USA and £0.99 in the UK). I plan to keep the price low throughout this year. However, it would be nice if I could write a companion piece set at Christmas one year later on. This should bring the word count up to eighty thousand words or so and more in line with my other books.

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A Happy Christmas and God bless us, everyone

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Dickens was a great walker and he used to walk all over London seeing how people lived for himself. He wrote this passage to reflect the desperate situation that many people faced at the time, especially children. Remember that, in 1843 when the book was written, it was still considered to be good practice to lower children as young as three down chimneys to clean them. Beside the inevitable accidents which might maim or kill a child, many didn’t live long as they daily ingested dangerous amounts of carcinogens.

Nearly 180 years later, we might shake our heads and say how terrible conditions were for the poorer sections of Victorian society. Yet, it is my strong feeling that, in thinking this, we are as wrong as those smug Victorians who soothed their feeble consciences by saying that it was all ordained by God and nothing at all to do with them.

Dickens thought otherwise and he was horrified by reports of how poor working children were treated. He planned to write some crusading pamphlets but changed his mind when he had the idea for A Christmas Carol. The effect that this little book had on Victorian society cannot be overestimated. Poor children were no longer faceless and nameless, they were Tiny Tim.

But, as we look back, can we say that we are any better than those smug Victorians? In Dicken’s book two gentlemen go to Scrooge to ask for a donation as – ‘A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.’

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‘Mac’s Christmas Present’ – Just published!

I will be the first to admit that this has been a very difficult year. It has been a year when I have struggled to get into any kind of flow with my writing. Until very recently that is. I am so grateful that, at last, I will be able to publish something in 2022. Not only a book but a Christmas book too.

I have been trying for the last few years to write a Mac Maguire novel set at Christmas but, however hard I tried, nothing came to me. So, it is in something like wonder that, very late in the day, the plotlines for Mac’s Christmas Present popped into my head.

Like my third book, The Weeping Women, it features two cases. However, at around 40k words, it’s somewhat shorter than most of my books so I will be selling it at a reduced price.

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Some thoughts at Halloween…

Halloween, or the eve of All Hallows (All Saints Day), would appear to be something to do with the Christian religion but nothing could be further from the truth. It is, in fact, a vestige of the old Irish pagan religion and celebrates the feast of Samhain. Samhain is ancient and, with Beltane, was one of the most important festivals in the Celtic year.

At Samhain, people would celebrate the harvest and they would feast and light fires to acknowledge the coming of winter. They also believed that it was a very special time when this world and the spirit world could touch each other. Spirits and fairies known the Aos Si could pass freely into this world and roam around. They also believed that their ancestors could rise from the dead and they would even lay places at their tables for the dead.

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Strange decisions for strange times…

Here in the UK, we are in a deep dark economic hole. It all started when the traditional party of power became high on Brexit. However, it turned out to be not a golden ticket to a brighter future but a one-way ticket to being a third world country. After the party in power knowingly voted for a serial liar and cheat to be their leader, there was never going to be any happy ending. Despite everyone trying very hard not to see the enormous elephant in the living room, they kept on supporting him. Lie upon glib lie and they all cheered. That was only until their leader, bloated with corruption and power, tried to protect a serial sexual predator, one that he put into a position of great power knowing what this awful man was like, only then did the party finally find any sort of conscience and finally vote him out of power.

What followed made all this look like a mere molehill. The new leader, fired by winning and a streak of sheer lunacy, put all our money on a mad bet in the global casino and lost big time. In a matter of weeks, the UK’s global economic reputation was in tatters and we are all the poorer for it. Why someone isn’t doing prison time for the enormous suffering they are causing is beyond me. Ordinary people in their millions will freeze, go hungry and become homeless as a direct result of this reckless act. Children will go hungry this Christmas.

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I want to write my first crime novel but how and where to start?

I was asked this question by someone recently and I gave them an honest answer.

‘I’ve no idea,’ I replied.

I got quite a puzzled look when I said this as I had just told the person who had asked the question that I had published twelve crime books so far. I had to explain further. What I meant by this was that, if there was a right or easy way to write your first book, I certainly hadn’t found it. If my journey in writing could be compared to a drive say, from New York City to Washington DC, some two hundred miles or more, then my journey would have taken in Washington State some three thousand miles away. Nothing about the route I took towards publishing my first book, The Body in the Boot, was straightforward. Let me explain…

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Living in a world of anger

As much as I like my posts to be positive, or at least informative, this topic has been on my mind for a while. I’m old enough to remember the Age of Aquarius, peace-love-dope and The Beatles singing ‘All You Need is Love’ to the entire world. It was possibly a reaction to the black days of the Cuban missile crisis but I remember it as being a time of hope, a time when everyone seemed to buy into the idea that the only way forward for the human race was to get on with each other.

We seem to be living in the polar opposite of those times. For ‘Peace’ read ‘Turmoil’, for ‘Love’ read ‘Hate’.

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The dreaded writer’s block…

Since 2015 I’ve managed to write two books a year so, if I am to keep that up, I would now have a book ready to be published. I haven’t.

I’ve got two books on the go, both of which are around a third of the way there, but even that doesn’t add up to a whole book. So what happened? I could point to catching Covid, which I feared was turning into the long version for a while, then there are my aches and pains and other medical issues. I could even blame being on Facebook where I found that I spent too much time doom-scrolling which usually left me feeling more than depressed. I could blame lots of things but, for me, writing has always been a refuge at those times when my pain issues were bad and things were tough.

I can only conclude that it was the dreaded writer’s block.

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If you keep doing the same thing…

“If you are defeated once and tell yourself you will overcome, but carry on as before, know in the end you’ll be so ill and weakened that eventually you won’t even notice your mistake and will begin to rationalize your behavior.” —EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 2.18.31

The quotation above is from today’s entry in The Daily Stoic. Just before I read the above, I read the latest news. After some two thousand years, the quote has rarely been more apposite. The quote was paraphrased by Einstein –

‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’

Yet, here we see political leaders going down a well-worn path. Create an enemy, you know, them. It doesn’t really matter who but Jews, Black and Brown people, Roma and, of course, immigrants are handy punchbags. Anyone who can be categorised as ‘other’ will do. Then tell lies about them.

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