STUFF

hoardingRecently I joined a local Creative Writing Group and the latest piece of ‘homework’ was to write a page or so around the prompt word of ‘Stuff’. Here is what I came up with.

STUFF

You reach for the floor beside the grubby mattress and your hand stops. Paper. Your eyes flicker to the pile of magazines; this section all sports but the top one is askew and from years of practise you ease it back to perfect alignment. A silent satisfied sigh slips between your lips. Lips, thirst, only now do you realise the rasping dry feeling in your throat, you gag, try to cough, to spit. Anything. Just tiny puffs of air that lift the dust from all around, it flutters freely in the gloomy air, some dancing in the shaft of light beaming through the torn curtain. Light, too much light. You need to eradicate the beam, to restore the darkness, to preserve your stuff. Slowly you ease yourself onto your ankles, wincing with pain, time standing still, each movement agony. Don’t need this. Really could do without this hassle. You mutter. To yourself. The left knee gives way and twisted you fall back onto your hideaway. Surrounded by piles of newspapers, magazines, records, memorabilia. It’s all junk, she said as you came back from the car boot sale. Was that the fourth time, or the twelfth? Just because it’s called a car boot sale doesn’t mean you need to fill it, she joked. At first. Beth was sweet, good, kind. She tried to stick with you, with it. You shake your head, the memory of her too much, too distant, another lifetime. The sunlight moves and blinded you lash out, fast, violently. As vicious as your swiped at Beth. You didn’t mean to hurt her, honestly. You did your time and were set free again. But are you? Ever? Again you lash out at the light, striking it back and forth, striking your cave of print material. You feel a gentle pummel first, then a cascade as first one pile wobbles then topples over. Over you. An endless colossal collapse of stuff. Are you free yet? Vincent?  

©Annika Perry

WELCOME TO SUNSHINE STATE CITIES

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Thank you for joining me on my posts about my recent trip to Florida. I’ll finish off this short series by sharing some photos and information about our visits to the two closest cities; New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine.

St. Augustine was one city we couldn’t wait to visit. It lies in North-East Florida and is known as the oldest city in America. Its Spanish roots are evident from the buildings in the town; at times I felt I’d been transported in time and location to 16th Century Spain. It was founded on 8th September (my birthday!) in 1565 by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He named it San Augustin as the land was first spotted on that Saint’s day eleven days earlier.

I’d read about the trolley buses in St. Augustine before we arrived – such a perfect mode of transport to the main attractions. They were handy to take either as a long tour or as a  hop-on hop-off trip as well as being so colourful, open to the air and having friendly informative drivers. However there was one moot point. No one had warned us about the hard and extremely uncomfortable hard seats! Heck! My mother’s ribs are only just recovering from the plastic moulded atrocities! Luckily I remained unscathed by leaning forward and clinging for dear life to the pole by the open doorway – precariously at times. Also suspension is NOT an added extra and one piece of sage advice I wish we’d been given is not consume food before embarking on the buses. It’s a rough ride and doubly so on the cobblestones!

On arrival we first chose to absorb the city’s atmosphere by enjoying a stroll down the pedestrianised St. George Street. We revelled in the beautiful architecture all around us, eyes glancing back and forth and then up to the wooden balustrades of the first floor verandahs adorned with flowers. At any moment I imagined a cowboy shoot-out up above and with a crack, the balustrade breaking and a man falling down below. (You can visualise my misspent youth here!)

We had fun browsing the quaint tourist shops and other endless array of shops, however I was all too conscious of my already burgeoning suitcase and kept purchases to a minimum! Restaurants too were plentiful along the street and they all looked so tempting!

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This delightful building, The  School House, is the oldest wood frame building still in existence in St. Augustine today. It was built over 250 years ago whilst Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain and was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails. Classes were held in the front room while the schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs.

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Two famous landmarks that symbolise St. Augustine are the San Marcos fortress and the imposing and impressive Bridge of Lions. The original wooden bridge of the nineteenth century was replaced in 1927 and then this was further renovated this century with the lions again reigning supreme.

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Image from Google

The Castillo de San Marcos is the only remaining 17th-century military stone fortress still in existence in the US. It was built out of the local coquina stone –  a soft limestone composed of broken shells which took up to three years to dry before being ready to use. During the centuries San Marcos has had four flags flown over it: the original Spanish builders and rulers, then British, for a brief while the Confederate States of America  flag during the Civil War before finally coming under the United States flag.

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Image from Google

The recent history of St. Augustine seems to be centred around the colourful character of Henry Flagler.  As the trolley tour wound its way through the idyllic streets his power and money is evident all around from the buildings he helped finance.

His former Alcazar Hotel is now the Lightner Museum, which considers itself Florida’s Smithsonian and houses artefacts from the natural world, to Tiffany glass and a Victorian village.

After hours of sightseeing we sought refuge from the busy bustle of town and happily discovered the serenity of St. Photios Greek Shrine. The shrine and the museum are dedicated to the first Greek colony in the US.

With all this sightseeing another break was required and our thirst was quenched by the delicious cooling, fruity taste of a Sangria. What could be more perfect? Our only regret was that we had too little time in this wonderful city to do it justice – we so wished we could have stayed longer!

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On our first visit to New Smyrna Beach (it soon became our regular haunt!) I felt I’d stepped into a movie set. The main street seemed to consist of front facades of shops and restaurants! The heat was unbelievable, stifling; the sunlight diffused in the warmth; the air echoed with the sounds of cicadas, otherwise silence. Silence as there was no one around! A few 4x4s parked along the road, an odd car driving past, otherwise the main street – Flagler Avenue (see how he got everywhere!) was quiet. We tried a shop; empty apart from the friendly sales assistant. We passed a couple of restaurants, with only a couple of diners. I tried but failed to turn off the theme music from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ playing in my head.

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The more I got my brain round this wonderful town the more I came to enjoy it. The art shops were a delight, particularly the aptly named Ta’Da’ shop which had many unique finds within. Only later did I learn that New Smyrna Beach is recognised as on of the Top 100 Art Towns in US, selling locally produced art, imported wares from Colombia amongst other countries, framed paintings and pictures. Of course, there was the odd tourist shop as well…always a must for us…hmmm…tourists!

There were restaurants galore and the quiet of the daytime was replaced by a lively night scene.  We visited one particular restaurant three times – after all how could we resist Norwoods Tree House restaurant.  What a fantastical concept with superb food, great service and live music.

Mexican is not a type of restaurant found often in the UK so it was a joy to visit one in New Smyrna Beach and after having some friendly help deciphering the menu we ordered and soon tucked into a delicious meal.

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Not to be out done the Italians were represented en masse too and one place we visited had the most unusual textured ceiling covered with corks!

Each step outside on the pavements along the avenue brought a moment of reflection as we gazed down at the names inscribed upon the red brick path. Instead of those of famous celebrities that I’ve seen elsewhere I was touched to see a local sway to these dedicated memorials and celebrations.

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At last I complete my trio of posts about my Florida break and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. May they have brought you some of those wonderful  restorative, exciting and blissful feelings that engulfed me. There is one fact that I’m glad I was unaware of though: that this area has the dubious distinction of being knows as the world’s shark bite capital!

Photos copyright ©Annika Perry unless otherwise specified.

GHOST CRABS ET AL

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‘Hey folks! Have you got the photo yet? I’m getting pretty bored with this posing lark!’

I noticed the  perfect round holes first. 

What lived in these burrows visible across the beach? Soon after I began to catch glimpses of the elusive crustaceans as they scuttled across the sand and as if leaping, disappeared into their holes.  Impossibly so,  I felt as the crabs were far broader than its habitat. Intrigued I wondered about their appearance, colouring. Not the usual dark brown crabs from the North Sea coast, that much I could see. 

Then one morning one of the mysterious ghost crabs obligingly paused by its burrow and looked up. Its expression was priceless; slightly disarming, slightly grumpy. It stayed still. Waiting patiently as camera phone was found, put on correct setting, sun glasses removed in order to see the screen. Ready at last! The black piercing eyes were unmoving, its shell pale and almost translucent. In contrast the legs shone with gentle light golden hues, furry-like at the tips. The two claws were of uneven size; a characteristic of the ghost crabs – so named for its pale complexion and chameleon ability to blend in with its environment and the shading of the body adjusts according to the time of day.

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The first morning I was mesmerised by a flock of large birds swooping and gliding across the ocean. Five clearly visible although other days up to eighteen would fly across the water close to shore. Suddenly one dived into the ocean before quickly reappearing. What were these majestic birds? Soon I had my answer. Pelicans! I was in utter awe; before I had only seen Pelicans in zoos. It was a joy and privilege to view them on a daily basis in the wild.  Often during meal times three pelicans would pass within two metres of our balcony, their heads and wings clearly visible. An awesome overwhelming sight and we sat in silence savouring the experience.

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One particularly elegant and regal bird was a constant visitor on the shores, purposefully striding along the waters edge, its crisp white plumage gleaming in the sunlight. Always keeping its distance from each other, the little egret, a type of heron, occasionally bopped its black beak into the wet sand before moving on with its striking yellow feet. Time stood still as I watched the egret; sheer peace and harmony. The only time it seemed bothered was as the wind increased following the hurricane and then it tucked its head snuggly against the body, seeking lee within itself.

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Partly hidden under the bottom wooden stair down to the beach, the turtle’s head stretched beyond the step. Oh no! It should have returned hours earlier back to the sea but then I saw its injury, a large chunk of shell lying by its side, no doubt attacked by the seagulls during the night. My heart went out to the poor animal. After our walk it was still on the beach, but heading in the right direction. Later it had disappeared, hopefully after making its own way to the sea!

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Geckos galore! That is the only way to describe the paths around the condo building by the car park as geckos of all sizes crowded the paths. I had to keenly observe the path I walked along, particularly as the baby ones were only a cute centimetre long!

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The sunlight sparkled from this alien orb on the sand; hypnotic in its strange beauty. Was it alive? The answer I found out was no as this was the the ‘jelly’ remains of a jellyfish. Called the mesoglea, this is the last part to decompose when a jellyfish dies, usually after being torn apart by fish, turtles or rough weather. It doesn’t sting but not knowing that at the time I wasn’t taking a chance!

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Butterfly clams were a delight of tiny proportions. Visible briefly as the waves washed over the sand, the butterfly clams use the water to move around on the beach before quickly burrowing themselves again. This recurrent movement is known as the “dance of the coquina”.  Although it was difficult and rare to catch sight of the clams themselves, their shells were scattered across the beach and the child within me eagerly collected a handful of the 15-25 mm empty shells.

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Image from Google

Finally, a mystery! These little birds were a common sight on the beach, pecking away at the sand along the water’s edge. They were among our favourite animals in Florida, so cute and particularly endearing as with each oncoming wave they would dash quickly away up the beach, their little legs stepping so fast. Despite numerous conversations with other walkers along the stretch of coast we became no wiser as to what these birds were actually called. Can anyone help?  Below are my first attempt to upload my own videos from Vimeo – fingers crossed they work!

I hope you have enjoyed the visit to the animal kingdom from New Smyrna Beach; my next post will visit the bricks and mortar of the towns in the area.

Unless specified all photos copyright © Annika Perry

BALCONY WITH A VIEW

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For sixteen days my soul is lulled into a state of soporific bliss as I wander the unspoilt beach on the East Coast of Florida.  New Smyrna Beach stretches for thirteen unspoilt miles to the North and South of our condo residence these last weeks.

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Now, newly returned from the States and as I wait for my mind and spirit to catch up with my body, I would like to share some of the amazing and moving  photographs of the landscape, wildlife and towns. To do them justice I will write three consecutive posts – one on each topic. 

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From my mother’s and my first midnight arrival the sound of the ocean is bewitching. Not the gentle roll of waves I am used to from smaller beaches in the Mediterranean or even in the UK. Rather an unfathomable rolling roar as one crash upon the next reverberates along the coastline. Initially frightening, then quickly hypnotic and calming.

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Daylight ushers in a view of almost surreal beauty; unimaginable to our tired eyes. Stretching ahead is the widest of horizons; ocean meeting sky in a perfect horizontal line. The beach fades in the distance to our left and right, absorbed by the gentle sea mist. 

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The magic of the ocean becomes all pervasive and I know its sounds, sights and scents will inhabit my soul in the months and years ahead. I am at one with this mighty force; finding transcendental tranquility with the new-found union with nature. 

Each day solitary joggers pass in front of us as we sit on the balcony. The odd cyclists too make an early communion with the beach.

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Walkers too share its delight. Observing, we soon join them for long contemplative strolls. Ahead is a woman deep into her yoga, seemingly oblivious to the scatterings of folk around her. Sheer beauty and simplicity and surely how all yoga should be practiced. 

Many mealtimes are shared on the balcony and from here we note the quiet piercing rise of the sun – later I feel its blistering heat.

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A heat that the first few days is more a wall of hotness and humidity but  quickly we adjust to this new phenomena. We watch the placid roll of waves turn to an unruly fierceness as first the tropical storm and later Hurricane Hermine approaches.

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As the waves power their way to the shore mounds of seaweed are deposited high up on the beach. If this is just the edge of the hurricane I am glad not to witness its full ferocity. 

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On every visit to the beach I’m mesmerised by the various sensations underfoot. At first my soles sink in the soft near white sand until they resemble zombie feet! Then there is the harder darker wet sand which sends a jolt of pain on each step into the ankle as this feels harder than concrete. Then finally the tantalising breathtaking walk in the surf, a satisfying sinking feeling with each step, a small footprint indent left behind immediately filled and eradicated by the next wave.

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Around us, close to us is an abundance of wildlife – turtles, pelicans, dolphins, egrets, geckos to name a few. More of these in my next post…

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All photos ©Annika Perry

LOCAL GIRL MISSING: A BOOK REVIEW

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Wow! There are thrillers with twists and then there is Local Girl Missing. A slow burning thriller that builds up to a crescendo of twists!

Twenty years ago 21-year-old Sophie Collier disappeared one night in her small Somerset hometown of Oldcliffe-on-Sea. Her best friend, Frankie (Francesca Howe), is devastated and left the town soon after the tragedy. Now she is back, answering the desperate call by Sophie’s brother Daniel to help him. To help him finally discover what happened to his sister. The impetus to his renewed search for the truth is the discovery by the police of a woman’s foot – that believed to be of his long-lost sister after she vanished, leaving only her trainer on the seaside’s dilapidated pier.

The story is told through the present narrative of Frankie and through Sophie’s old diary entries from 1997, prior to her disappearance. Eerily the two voices weave back and forth, from the past to the present. From past shared loves, to the death of a boyfriend witnessed by the girls as young. To the present and renewed love interest between Daniel and Frankie, to her former boyfriend Leon who was Sophie’s big love the months before her disappearance.

All seems connected and as Frankie arrives the past seems to invade her present existence. Quickly she begins to regret her return as ghosts literally appear to haunt her in the town, around the flat she resides. Letters appear alluding to knowledge of a devastating secret. She hears a baby’s cry every night, yet no family resides in the other apartments. Frankie’s friendly father appears more and more in the past story-line. Why? He ran a hotel in which the girls worked. How far does family come before friends? Who really is the enemy? Can one tell? Frankie’s distress and confusion is palpable but still she remains in the Oldcliffe. Unwilling to leave Daniel. Desperate, it seems, to discover the truth of her best friend’s disappearance.

The novel quickly builds to one where everyone is held under suspicion by Frankie.

I had expected a great novel by Claire Douglas as I’d been hooked by her nail-biting debut of ‘The Sisters’ where nothing was as it seemed. This book only confirms the expertise and adeptness of the author. The writing is taut, tense and gripping. The undercurrent of menace bubbles beneath the surface – a real psychological drama. Intense, shocking and frightening. Absolutely wonderful.

netgalley I received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

Rating:                    4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:               Penguin UK

Publication Date: 11th August 2016

Price:                        £ 4.99 Kindle – Amazon UK          

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Local-Girl-Missing-Claire-Douglas-ebook/dp/B01CL290HI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1471982528&sr=1-1&keywords=local+girl+missing

                                  £ 3.85 Paperback – Amazon UK    

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Local-Girl-Missing-Claire-Douglas/dp/1405926392/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1471975196&sr=8-1

                                $ 6.03 Paperback – Amazon US      

https://www.amazon.com/Pier-Claire-Douglas/dp/1405926392/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471975429&sr=1-1&keywords=local+girl+missing

THE FUTURE LIBRARY

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Imagine writing a book only to have it safely stored unseen by anyone for up to 100 years.

This is the reality to which famous writers and poets are subjecting their work as part of The Future Library project. 

It all starts with a forest of 1,000 trees planted near Oslo, Norway, which we will be harvested in 100 years and used to print a unique anthology – for people yet to be born! The anthology will be from books, poems or texts submitted by one author per year (one piece of work only)  for the next 100 years and apart from its creator no other human being alive will have seen their work. 

The creator of this living conceptual artwork is Katie Paterson, a Glaswegian visual artist. Trust is central to this project: trust that there is a future; trust that there will be a future that cares about art and the written word; trust that the work will be carried on; trust that writers have handed in complete work. After all – who is to know if only a sheaf of empty pages is handed over.

Katie Paterson says that ‘tending the forest and ensuring its preservation for the 100-year duration of the artwork finds conceptual counterpoint in the invitation extended to each writer: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future’.

This is the beauty about this concept; it runs contrary to all expectations and desires of writers and readers. Often the writers battle to have their work read. Readers are always eager for an immediate access to the book. 

The first contributor to The Future Library was Margaret Atwood with her piece entitled ‘Scribbler Moon’. That is all we and anyone knows about the book. Although it might be a poem, a short story. No one knows.

Will her name still be known 100 years hence? Will her grandchildren or great-grandchildren attend the unveiling of the anthology in 2114? 

‘I am sending a manuscript into time,’ Margaret Atwood said at the time of delivering her work to The Future Library. ‘Will any human beings be waiting there to receive it? Will there be a ‘Norway’? Will there be a ‘forest’? Will there be a ‘library’?

‘How strange it is to think of my own voice – silent by then for a long time – suddenly being awakened, after a hundred years.

‘There’s something magical about it. It’s like Sleeping Beauty. The texts are going to slumber for 100 years and then they’ll wake up, come to life again. It’s a fairytale length of time. She slept for 100 years.’

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David Mitchell’s book, entitled ‘From Me Flows What We Call Time’ is the second written text secreted within what is envisaged to be a specially designated room at the New Public Deichmanske Library, Oslo. Here the name of each writer and the name of their work will be on display in front of their work, hidden from view.  The famous ‘Cloud Atlas’ author found the writing process liberating and thrived in knowing he wouldn’t be alive for criticism. Furthermore he added, ‘Isn’t the prospect of a berth aboard an Ark of Literature with fellow-passengers of this calibre not a tempting one?’’

He stressed the topic of trust and belief in the future in his eloquent speech about the project.

‘Firstly, the Future Library project is a vote of confidence in the future.

‘We have to trust our successors, and their successors, and theirs, to steer the project through a hundred years of political skulduggery, climate change, budget cutbacks and zombie apocalypses. 

‘We have to trust that ‘digital archeologists’ will manage to get inside ancient USB sticks.’ 

Luckily the latter point has been taken into consideration and alongside an easily formatted version of the written work there will also be a printed paper copy. Belts and braces!

Will these writers find a receptive audience ten decades from now? What will the future generations make of the written words? How relevant will they find the stories? What will they make of the project?

What about you? What do you think of The Future Library? 

Here is a video link to video link to Katie Paterson in Norway discussing her artwork, where she says she imagines the ‘tree rings like chapters in a book’.

https://vimeo.com/katiepaterson/future

‘Nature, the soul, love, and God, one recognises through the heart, and not through the reason… Reason is a tool, a machine, which is driven by the spiritual fire.’  Dostoevsky

TO HUNT A SUB: NOW RELEASED

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The wait is over!  The publication of what has for me been an eagerly awaited book is now available – ‘To Hunt a Sub’ by Jacqui Murray.

As Jacqui slowly started to give us an inkling about her first fiction book I was hooked. 

An unlikely team is America’s only chance

She reeled me when I read the summary.

A brilliant Ph.D. candidate, a cynical ex-SEAL, and a quirky experimental robot team up against terrorists intent on stealing America’s most powerful nuclear weapon, the Trident submarine. By all measures, they are an unlikely trio–one believes in brawn, another brains, and the third is all geek. What no one realizes is this trio has a secret weapon: the wisdom of a formidable female who died two million years ago.

An accomplished writer, Jacqui captured me with a sample chapter. Here is just a taster excerpt. Enjoy…and remember you can read buy the book now!

Within an hour, the massive warship had settled to the ocean floor like the carcass of a dead whale. It teetered atop an ocean ridge, listing starboard against a jagged seamount, and the gentle push of an underwater current from a cliff that plunged into a murky darkness. Every watertight door was closed. As per protocol, the oxygen level was reduced to suppress a fire hazard. Without climate controls, the interior had already reached 60 degrees. It would continue dipping as it strove to match the bone-chilling surrounding water temperature.  Hypothermia would soon be a problem. For now, though, they were alive. 

The hull groaned as though twisted by a giant squid.

The Captain peered into the gloomy waters that surrounded the sub. “Thoughts, XO?”

“We’re stable for the moment, barring a strong underwater current.” 

Based on the creaking protests from the hull, they were at or beyond crush depth. Any deeper, the outside pressure would snap the HY-80 outer hull and sea water would roar into the living compartments. Everyone would be dead in seconds, either drowned or impaled on the ragged remains of the sub by a force in excess of a Category Five hurricane.

selfJacqui Murray  is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

To Hunt a Sub is available to buy on Amazon. 

 £ 2.29      Amazon UK 

$ 2.99      Amazon US 

 

 

BRAVE THE CANVAS

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The weather might not reflect it but summer is here! As usual I will be mostly awol from WP for a few weeks as I disappear to a part of the world untouched by the internet, wifi & TV (I know, unbelievably these places still exist!).  I look forward to popping in at times when possible. 

I wish you all a lovely peaceful summer. May it be a time for recuperation and soul-searching, may it be a time to reflect where you are today, where you want to be tomorrow. For everyone out there, writers, artists, poets, may your creative energy flow keenly. For some inspiration I am honoured to share Thalia’s Gust’s latest poem. May we all Brave that Canvas, notebook, document…to find the courage to CREATE.

Brave the Canvas                              


An empty canvas can paralyse

Vincent tells us, he should know.

Let us be brave

Let us

Boldly put something down,

Even if we fail.

 

Try again, get up

Use your gifts, your tools,

Be it your work,

your writing, painting

or baking bread.

 

Boredom kills

We diminish ourselves,

automatons walking along,

eat, work and sleep

Until our days are past.

 

Yes, you will fail at times,

Spectacularly perhaps.

Equally, you might succeed,

Reaching someone’s heart.

 

Go ahead with passion,

do your best.

 

Glorious feeling,

when beauty ensues.

Give Birth to a dream.

 © Thalia Gust

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A BOY MADE OF BLOCKS: A BOOK REVIEW

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A Boy Made of Blocks is a debut novel by Keith Stuart and is inspired by his experience with his own autistic son.

In the book, Sam is eight-years-old and only recently diagnosed with autism.  The trauma of bringing him up – described early on as ‘he (Sam) was like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas – small, funny but at the flick of a mental switch, easily capable of extreme and demented violence’ – has reached crises point with his mother, Jody and his father, Alex living apart in a trial separation. 

Alex has never connected with his son and mostly left Jody to care for Sam whilst using his job as an estate agent as an excuse to avoid the family home.  

The book is told solely through Alex’s first person point of view and I personally felt this is flawed on two levels. Firstly, it restricts the novel to the character of Alex and although we see Sam and Jody through his eyes, I would have enjoyed a direct view of their world through their eyes. As it is Jody becomes rather stereotyped and typecast. 

Furthermore, Alex’s initial self-pitying, self-absorbed litany (admittedly often self-depreciating and funny) does at times become tiring. It is only as the novel develops that he is redeemed and finally becomes a likeable character with whom I felt empathy.

It becomes increasingly obvious that Alex’s relationship with the world is almost as alien as his son’s. Alex’s isolation and loneliness is not as a result of  autism but started the day he saw his older brother killed by a car when they were children leaving school. A day and a death he has never come to terms with and that eventually tore the family apart, driving his sister (Emma) into a life of a globe trotter, never settling down with anyone, anywhere.

The transformation of Alex and Sam’s relationship and of their lives as a whole occurs as the result of Minecraft – an impulse purchase by his wife to help Sam fit in with his peers at school.  Based on the author’s real-life experience with his son and with his own in-depth knowledge of the gaming industry as a writer, it is only with the introduction of Minecraft that the book takes off. (As well as helping provide the title of this book!)

Minecraft acts like an extended metaphor throughout the book – the more Sam interacts with the game, the more he becomes connected to Alex and the world as a whole. The games’s low and high points – its hell, demons, creepers and finally treasure – mirrors their lows and highs in real life. Whilst staying at his best friend’s (Dan) flat, Alex joins Sam in the virtual world of Minecraft and together they start ‘chatting’ for the first time in Sam’s life as they build and build. It is this journey that finally causes Alex to see his son as a real person and not merely as a problem to be handled. ‘I saw Sam as an obstacle, something I’d have to work around. But that was wrong. Sam was the guide. Sam was my guide.’ Finally Alex realises they have more in common than he ever imagined.

The beauty and magic of the world of Minecraft is brilliantly and descriptively explained, weaving its way through the book as it widens the world for Sam.  

The ghost of Alex’s brother refreshingly haunts the pages, recounting  the events of their childhood lives and also providing an amiable side-plot through the possible romance between Dan and Emma. An aunt adored by Sam and to whom he naturally connects.

The tense in the book is unusual as it is present tense throughout and brings a sense of immediacy and involvement with the story.

A Boy Made of Blocks builds to a satisfying exciting conclusion, with me rooting for Sam along with the rest of his family and friends.

Overall, I like this book a lot but curiously enough I don’t love it. It is very well written and constructed. The start lacked the fizz and unputdownable factor of many other books, although it did pick up and I am very glad to have finished it.

Sam is pivotal for the story and the success of the book – at times I felt he was the only one making sense of the confusing mess of this world. He has depth and immediately likeable, personable and always original. Sam shines through for me. The lesson he has learnt is applicable to us all: ‘Life is an adventure, not a walk. That’s why it’s difficult.’

netgalleyI received a free copy of this book from the NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

Rating:                           3.7 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                      Little Brown Book Goup UK

Publication Date:        1st September  2016                         

Price:          £ 6.99       Kindle       –   Amazon UK          

                     £ 7.99        Paperback – Amazon UK

                    $ 20.41        Hardback –   Amazon US