Winter in the Subtropics

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Cold and frosty morning 2020 © Gretchen Bernet-Ward

In the depths of a July winter here in Brisbane, Queensland, I am sitting with a cold nose and knees, contemplating warmer weather.  Our winters probably seems mild to those countries with ice and snow.  We have misty mornings then clear blue skies and by lunchtime some clothing layers can be removed for a couple of hours before the cold creeps in again.

The issue is home heating.  Of course, I am not talking about the hermetically sealed grey boxes of the millennium.  This older house is built like thousands of others—for the heat.  We don’t have a fireplace, we don’t have insulation, we don’t have ducted heating, but we do have reverse cycle air-conditioning.  Problem is the unit swirls the air around at the edges so it never feels warm enough.

Brrr!  This is where an old three-bar radiator and a portable column oil heater come in handy for three months of the year.

So saying, we human beings are a contrary lot—I enjoy the wintertime.

Winter is more conducive to a brisk walk before settling down to writing.  Cold weather calls for cosy pursuits.  In a hot, humid summer, it’s more a case of lying around gasping after foolishly thinking some physical exercise like gardening was a good idea.  The lush, rampant growth of a subtropical summer is a sight to behold but right now the garden lacks happy vegetation; the leaves are brown, the grass is sparse, the earth is hard and dry.

This morning the temperature is currently 8 degrees Celsius, the sun is shining but the air is freezing.  Well, maybe not.  We don’t really do freezing, more on the chilly side.  I am going to make a hot beverage and pull on an extra pair of socks.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Cold winter, warm room © Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Pumpkin Chia Mini Muffins

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Pumpkin Chia Mini Muffins 2020

Following on from our large home-grown pumpkin and Grandma’s Pumpkin Scone Recipe, every cookery book containing a pumpkin formulation now comes under scrutiny.  Our most recent addition is Pumpkin Chia Mini Muffins.

Here’s the recipe if you feel like something tasty for lunch – with or without an accompaniment – and you can make them any size you wish!

Pumpkin Chia Mini Muffins

I N G R E D I E N T S 

80g ( ⅓ cup) Butter

1 Spring Onion, thinly sliced

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

250g (1 cup) Pumpkin, peeled, seeded, coarsely grated

375g (2 ½ cups) Self-Raising Flour

½ tsp Salt

120g (1 cup) Cheddar Cheese, coarsely grated

2 tbs Chia Seeds

1 Egg, lightly whisked

310ml (1 ¼ cups) Buttermilk

Chia Seeds, to sprinkle

Butter/Condiment, to serve

M E T H O D 

Preheat oven to 190°C  (374° F)

Grease a 12-hole (80ml) Muffin Pan (or 2 x 12-hole Mini Muffin Pans)

Heat 1 tbs of butter in a medium flying pan over medium heat.

Add spring onion and garlic and cook, stirring 3 mins until spring onion softens.

Add pumpkin and cook, stirring 5 mins or until pumpkin softens.

Set aside to cool.

Melt remaining butter into a saucepan over medium heat.

Combine flour and salt in a bowl.

Stir in cheddar cheese and chia seeds.

Whisk egg, buttermilk and melted butter in a bowl.

Season with salt.

Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture.

Add pumpkin mixture.

Use a large spoon to stir until just combined.

Spoon mixture into prepared pans.

Sprinkle with extra chia seeds on top.

Bake approx 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven.

Insert skewer to check, should come out clean.

Cool muffins in pan for 5 mins before turning onto wire rack.

N O T A T I O N S

Eat Pumpkin Chia Mini Muffins with soup, plain or with savoury topping.

Can be baked in muffin pans or paper patty pans for children.

Next time I would add corn or diced capsicum or chopped green herbs.

Using buttermilk seemed to make a difference.

Chia seeds taste is not very noticeable, but apparently is very good for you.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Draw-a-Soup Bowl
Pumpkin Soup

Wild Flamingos in Australia?

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Flamingos swamped by cheesecake topping 2020

Australia was once a continent graced by flamingos.  These tall pink birds are more associated with Africa and the Americas, but a long time ago they called Australia home.  For at least 20 million years, flamingos thrived on vast Australian inland lakes, until a drying of the outback ended their reign, perhaps a million years ago.

The Lake Eyre region in South Australia once had three species, more than Africa today.  Altogether Australia had at least six flamingo species, including the Greater flamingo – the main flamingo in Africa.  Australian museums have accumulated more of their fossils than of some regular Australian birds such as parrots.  At some sites their remains lay near those of outback crocodiles, dolphins and lungfish.

Flamingos are still regarded as Australian birds, for a very tenuous reason.  In 1988 a Greater flamingo dropped in on North Keeling Island, a remote Australian territory 2750km north-west of Perth, staying a couple of months.  Greater flamingos are found in Asia and southern Europe as well as Africa and this one had wandered over from India or Sri Lanka.

In Adelaide Zoo you could have seen the only flamingo left in Australia, a Chilean flamingo known warmly as ‘Chile’.  She was thought to have been imported in the late 1970s.  For quarantine reasons flamingos are now forbidden imports, which means that Australia is destined to become a flamingo-free zone unless another long-legged pink nomad wanders over from Asia.

FlamingoSource Australian Geographic by Tim Low February 6, 2017

More flamingo facts and fabulous photographs:
https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2017/02/australia-was-once-full-of-flamingos/

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Laugh in the Bath

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Aussie Koala bath toy 2020 © Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bath Laugh 3

Sitting in my bath I heard a great big glug

Followed by a bubble followed by the plug

I must have pulled it out but I didn’t know

The water in my bath it began to go

It was getting lower way below my knees

I was getting colder and I began to freeze

I put a towel round me to try and get some heat

There I saw the plug lying at my feet

Then I picked it up off the bathroom floor

Put it back into the bath and filled it up once more.

Poem
by
William Worthless

“I like writing poems for everyone and try to bring enjoyment and make people feel happy after reading.”

March 2010 © William Worthless

More poems https://hellopoetry.com/william-worthless/

Raindrop

Winter Pumpkin Scone Recipe

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Home-grown Kent Jap Pumpkin ready for cooking – June 2020

Pumpkin scones are a traditional morning tea favourite in Queensland.  Unsophisticated yet delicious, these golden scones were much-loved by the late Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen, politician and wife of former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and she often baked them for public occasions.

Seen as tea-time treats, they are available by the half dozen in bakeries and displayed in the cookery section of annual shows and exhibitions.  For home cooking, pumpkin scones have stood the test of time due to their quick preparation and adaptability.  They can be eaten sweet with strawberry jam and whipped cream, or savoury with cheddar cheese and chutney.

For full flavour, pumpkin scones are best eaten warm from the oven, but they store well and a quick turn in the microwave gives them a boost on a chilly morning.

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Packed and ready for visiting family – June 2020

Grandma’s Pumpkin Scones

3 cups self raising flour

pinch salt

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup mashed pumpkin – cooled

1 egg

milk

Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg, add mashed pumpkin.  Sift in flour alternately with enough milk to make soft, light dough.  Pat out or roll on floured board to desired thickness.  Cut with round cutter.  Place on tray and brush with milk or lightly dust with flour.  Bake in a hot oven.  Serve warm; plain or with topping.

Above recipe is adapted from Jenny Purvis, “Kilmarnock” Clermont, Queensland.
Courtesy of “Country Hospitality: A Comprehensive Cookery Book” compiled by the Clermont Branch of Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association 1984 edition.

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Plain, buttered, chutney or jam topping?

A prayer follows the foreword by former Executive Officer, Queensland Council ICPA, Mr E C Powne MBE, and reprinted below:

My Kitchen Prayer

Bless my little kitchen, Lord,
I love its every nook,
And bless me as I do my work,
Wash pots and pans and cook.

May the meals that I prepare,
Be seasoned from above,
With thy blessing and thy grace,
But most of – thy Love.

As we partake of earthly food,
T
hy table Thou has spread,
We’ll not forget to thank thee, Lord,
For all our daily bread.

So bless my little kitchen, Lord,
And those who enter in,
May they find nought but joy and peace,
And happiness therein.          Amen.

 

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Nature’s winter bounty brightens our day – June 2020

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


ADDENDUMKent pumpkin (also known as Jap pumpkin) has ribbed, grey-green mottled skin and golden yellow flesh.  This pumpkin is of the sweeter variety, perfect for pumpkin scones, salads and baked dishes.  Great mashed, roasted or steamed and mixed with a variety of sweet or savoury foods.  Pumpkin is an excellent source of beta carotene and contains dietary fibre, potassium, and vitamins C and E for good health.

Favourite School Story – Helen Hollick on Ruby Ferguson’s Jill Series

After reading two of Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers mystery novels out of order, I decided to savour the series and start from the beginning with ‘Best Murder in Show’.  Debbie also writes St Brides, a British girls’ boarding school series for grown-ups, and in that vein she has interviewed award-winning historical and fantasy novelist Helen Hollick about her favourite childhood books.

Please read on…. Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Debbie Young

The fourth in my occasional series of interviews with author friends who love school stories

First in my own series of school stories for grown-ups

When I launched my St Bride’s series set in a British girls’ boarding school, I asked some author friends which school stories they’d most enjoyed when they were growing up and invited them to share their enthusiasm on my blog. So far I’ve run posts by Jean Gill talking about Anne of Green Gables, Helena Halme on Pippi Longstocking, and Clare Flynn on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – all very different books set in different countries: Canada, Sweden and Scotland.

Now at last it’s time for my home country to get a look in, as historical novelist Helen Hollick explains her passion for a classic English series: the Riding School stories by Ruby Ferguson.

Helen Hollick writes:

First in my own series…

View original post 1,502 more words

Shells and Summer Days

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I started to add tags to my photo and realised that most things associated with the beach start with the letter ‘S’ and I’d barely scratched the surface.  Sand, sea, swimming, shells.  I paused at shells because a sunbeam tinged my glass bowl of seashells which holds countless memories.

… I drifted away… the smell of sunscreen and the feel of sand sifting through my fingers… one day I will take those shells back to the ocean…

In case you missed my front page Photo Of The Week, below I have reproduced the wording which accompanied a close-up photo of my shell collection.  More scientific than personal but nonetheless I found it fascinating:


SHELLS are made of calcium carbonate, in the mineral form of calcite or aragonite.  Animals build their shells by extracting the necessary ingredients—dissolved calcium and bicarbonate—from their environment.  As the animal grows, its home—the protective shell that surrounds it—must get bigger, and so they grow their shells layer upon layer, creating ‘growth-bands’, or growth increments, within the shell.

“Some of these growth increments are visible on the external surface of the shell, while others are only visible in the internal structure.  But the interesting thing about the growth increments is that their width, or thickness, is affected by environmental conditions, like temperature.  Some growth increments are a reflection of tidal cycles, some show annual periodicity.

“So the series of growth increments within a shell are essentially a record of the animal’s lifetime and, similar to the study of tree-rings, some scientists study them to make interpretations about the environment where that animal lived and grew.  The oldest known individual animal lived in a shell—a specimen of the shellfish Arctica islandica has been documented to be 507 years old.”

For colours, shapes, biodiversity visit Academy of Science
https://www.science.org.au/curious/earth-environment/sea-shells

FOSSIL collector, dealer and palaeontologist Mary Anning (1799 –1847) was the inspiration for the tongue twister “She sells sea shells by the sea shore” from the original song written in 1908 by Terry Sullivan relating to Mary Anning’s beach-combing lifestyle.  Anning is known for the important finds she made in Jurassic marine fossil beds in the cliffs along the English Channel at Lyme Regis in the county of Dorset in Southwest England.

The fascinating truth behind the old tongue twister
https://www.littlethings.com/she-sells-seashells-meaning

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Shortbread Surprise in Self-Isolation

When you are stuck at home for weeks on end, the stuff and junk around your home can become unbearable.

It does at my place.

Shelves seem crowded, cupboards appear to bulge, clothes hang on available doorknobs, and too many cardboard boxes hold bits and pieces of my memories.

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During my Covid-inspired clean-up, I unearthed one particular item decades old.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE, MAESTRO…

 

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McKENZIE’S RICE FLOUR SHORTBREAD RECIPE

225g plain flour
1 pinch salt
115g rice flour
115g castor sugar
225g butter

Sieve flour, rice flour, sugar into basin, rub in butter and knead until smooth paste formed.  Turn on to floured board, make shape or shapes as desired, prick with a fork.  Place on cold greased slide, cook in a slow oven ¾ hour to an hour, until a pale brown.

MY FATHER’S FAVOURITE SHORTBREAD RECIPE

Reproduced in original style from my mother’s PWMU Cookery Book 1976
Printed in Australia by Simpson Halligan Co Pty Ltd
Distributed by Jolly Book Supplies, Brisbane
Twenty-first edition revised and enlarged with over 200,000 copies issued

Mix 227g (1/2 lb) butter and 113g (1/4 lb) fine white sugar or icing sugar; add pinch salt and .45kg (1 lb) plain flour; knead all well together; roll out to the thickness of about half an inch, cut into rounds or finger lengths; prick with fork.  Note 340g (¾ lb) flour and 113g (1/4 lb) rice flour may be substituted for .45g (1 lb) flour.  Bake in slow oven about 40 minutes until fawn colour.

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Bought new rice flour

Put the kettle on

Time for a cuppa!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Dr Claire Weekes ‘Self-Help For Your Nerves’ Cracking the Anxiety Code

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Face, Accept, Float, Let time pass.

In other words, face your reactions, accept them, do not fight them, float with your feelings, and gradually let time pass.  If you are having a panic attack, your body throws up danger signals while your mind goes into worse case scenario.  I know, I’ve been there.  Dr Claire Weekes advice is simple and it worked for me.

My older family members also recall being helped by Dr Claire Weekes’ publications, including my mother who purchased one of her books in early 1970s.  My mother often used to quote a paragraph here or there for the benefit of others with ‘nervous tension’.  Gradually the name ‘Dr Claire Weekes’ became synonymous with staying calm (not controlling or fighting the anxiety) and floating through it.

Dr Claire Weekes Self Help For Your Nerves Book

My aunt took Valium (Diazepam) to control her panic attacks, masking the cause, and no guidance was offered to help her understand what was happening to her body.  Stress, palpitations, pins and needles, shortness of breath, fear of collapse.  She read ‘Self-Help For Your Nerves’ and was able to recognise what was happening and float through it without medication.

This may not work for everyone, especially if there are other symptoms involved.

Dr Claire Weekes wrote five books during her lifetime

  1.     Self Help for Your Nerves (1962)
  2.     Peace from Nervous Suffering (1972)
  3.     Simple Effective Treatment of Agoraphobia (1976)
  4.     More Help for Your Nerves (1984)
  5.     The Latest Help for Your Nerves (1989)

Now a book has been written about her life

‘The Woman Who Cracked the Anxiety Code: The Extraordinary Life of Dr Claire Weekes’
Judith Hoare author (2019) non-fiction, Melbourne Scribe Publications.

This book is the first to tell that story, and to tell Weekes’ own remarkable tale, of how a mistaken diagnosis of tuberculosis led to heart palpitations, beginning her fascinating journey to a practical treatment for anxiety that put power back in the hands of the individual.”  https://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/the-woman-who-cracked-the-anxiety-code

Dr Claire Weekes Book by Judith Hoare

A book review and a quotation offering insight…

MY COMMENT After pointing out the non-scientific nature of Dr Claire Weekes work, and skirting round the fact that she was up against privileged white males who ignored women’s problems (like my mother) Professor of Psychology at University of Melbourne, Nick Haslam writes the following:

“Ages of Anxiety” by Nick Haslam
QUOTE “…Weekes deserves our recognition not for making grand discoveries about the nature of anxiety.  She deserves it for recognising the vast but often hidden suffering caused by “nerves”, for developing an accessible method for reducing it on a grand scale at a time when most treatment was one-to-one and ineffective, and for having the energy and determination to promote that method around the world.

“It is impossible to quantify the human suffering that Weekes’s work has alleviated, but major awards and honours are routinely given for scientific discoveries that have surely had far less benefit.  Contributions of this kind — high in influence but low in prestige, because ‘popular’ — are often overlooked.  In this fine book, Judith Hoare has rescued the legacy of a great Australian from that fate.”
https://insidestory.org.au/ages-of-anxiety/

“The Claire Weekes Approach to Anxiety” by Calm Clinic
QUOTE “Dr Claire Weekes, an Australian psychiatrist who lived between 1903 and 1990, had some revolutionary ideas about anxiety that are still noted today for being ahead of their time.  The books she wrote on the nature of anxiety, which also included the details of the simple exercises she used to treat both her patients’ anxiety and her own, are still sold today”.
https://www.calmclinic.com/treatmentclaire-weekes

Poetry Clipart 13This blog post started off as a way to express my family’s gratitude for the work of Dr Claire Weekes and it may have ended up seeming like a product endorsement.  Let me state that I am only commenting and not endorsing the books, the benefits or the quotations.  YOU HAVE TO MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND AND SEEK HELP IF YOU NEED IT.  LIKEWISE, OFFER HELP IF YOU SEE ANOTHER PERSON SUFFERING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Good health and happiness!

Test Tube Alien Resurrection 2020

After remaining dormant for approximately thirteen years, encased in a white crystalline cocoon in a test tube at the back of a bookcase, the Alien was resurrected on St George’s Day 23rd April 2020.  He had patiently waited for this momentous day.

Test Tube Aliens were released in UK and Australia in late 2006.  My photographs show an Alien named Samaru given as a birthday gift in 2007.  Apparently there were good Aliens and bad Aliens.  I certainly hope this fellow is a ‘good’ Alien because he was revealed at the height of COVID-19 pandemic.

Originally named Samaru by the manufacturer, he has been nicknamed Boris.  There was no packaging or paperwork with his test tube, and apart from the now adult owner remembering throwing out a sachet of sloog (activation powder), Boris was a completely unknown quantity.  First, he had to be rinsed out.

Test Tube Alien Samaru Boris appears to be fully functional and quite a sophisticated toy.  Like the gift-giver, he had been forgotten long enough for creator websites to be inactive.  He cannot ‘phone home’.


Invented by JKID Ltd and released by 4Kidz Inc, the following information has been sourced from:

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2007/03/10/general/hits-failure-to-woo-japan-baffles-inventor/#.XrZyrzngqpo

IMG_20200505_121227Mike Simpson, the inventor of Test Tube Aliens, started up his own Japanese company called Mike Simpson Design.  It was through hooking up with another British inventor, Matthew Bickerton back in the UK, that Simpson was able to create a new toy company called JKID and together he and Bickerton co-invented Test Tube Aliens.

QUOTE  Inventor Mike Simpson said “There are six Aliens to choose from, all with names with a Japanese twist, the most obvious of which is Shako. (He’s a baddie, by the way.)  Each Alien comes in a clear plastic test tube, inside which is a solid cocoon.  Pour in water and the cocoon fizzes and dissolves to reveal the Alien with a visible heartbeat.  They then have to be fed (with sloog) and cared for to stay alive.

“These aliens, who have liquid-and-light-sensing technologies, physically grow to fill their test tubes within the first couple of weeks of their lives.

“Enter TTA’s Web site, and the first message received reads: The Invasion Begins: From a dying world they come to our own! The better you treat ’em, the longer they live!

“Kids are encouraged to use their imagination and take responsibility.  Cause and effect.

“Each Alien has its own number that can be registered and certified online. The background to each character — the story of how and why they have come to earth — place the characters in context.  Children can also interact with their Alien pal online through asking questions and provoking it directly by holding it up to the flashing screen.

“TTA is the Web’s first interactive toy,” Simpson says happily.”  UNQUOTE

Older websites have information on some of the Test Tube Alien clan but not specifically IMG_20200510_135031Samaru Boris, and he is not able to connect with the company’s disabled website.  He does have Red Light meaning ‘comfortably happy’ and Green Light meaning ‘uncomfortably drowning’ as shown in my photographs.  On activation, he did momentarily flash an Amber Light but the meaning of this is unknown.


There is a blog post written Friday 28th December 2007
http://nunyaax.blogspot.com/2007/12/test-tube-aliens.html
and a fan wiki
https://extraterrestrials.fandom.com/wiki/Test_Tube_Aliens

To quote Alien Wiki “The evil Aliens were responsible for the destruction of Nratuatuko and pursued the five good Aliens throughout the Universe, determined not to let their quarry escape for good.  However, in 2011 it was revealed that all of the Aliens were evil, including the ‘good’ Aliens.  The true good Aliens were in the Test Tube Aliens X series.  The Aliens wanted to be marketed in test tubes so that they would appear to be dead, they would be thrown into a rubbish bin, so that they could take over the rivers and seas of the Earth. This was followed by the release of the Test Tube Aliens: Pure Evil series, with six ‘pure evil’ Aliens.”

“New Alien Invasion a Must-have” shouted the headlines in Central Queensland News on 15th July 2011 and apparently “They’re ultra-cool and they’re pure evil.  The Electronic Test Tube Aliens are back – and they are the ‘must-have’ toy for 2011.”
https://www.cqnews.com.au/news/new-alien-invasion-a-wicked-must-have/905581/

What TTA clan does Samaru Boris belong to?  More research is needed, just in case…

He responds to movement (I found this out when I accidentally bumped him over) and light.  He needs 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night-time.  After this was observed, he stopped getting fast flashes and settled into a steady beat.  Likewise if his water level is low, his green light will blink rapidly in distress until topped up.

The test tube is not able to be opened without breaking it.  There is a small opening to drip water into the tube but sadly he is entombed for life.  A quasi-humorous website claims the Alien test tube is a ‘malicious and cruel torture device’. IMG_20200509_182453

I am not sure of Alien growth rate but at the time of writing, May 2020, Samaru Boris is nearly four weeks old and approximately 16cm tall with antennae almost bumping the top of his test tube.  He has filled out and his features are steadily becoming more defined.

He almost looks like a portly older gentleman surveying his domain.

You may know more about these Aliens; you may have raised one.  Or there may be one lurking at the back of your cupboard.  Perhaps your Alien is waiting to connect telepathically with Samaru Boris and together they will activate their master plan.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

A Novel is Not a Screenplay

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To assist the modification from page to screen by meeting the market half-way, writers are chasing the more lucrative side of wordsmithing by hammering out books which have the actions, expressions and dialogue of movie characters.

If you are dreaming of seeing your work as a major motion picture, professional screenwriters can adapt existing books, hence the words ‘based on’ when you view a book-to-movie deal.

Read on for my thoughts on the situation…

Film Camera Lights Action Movie

Good news for the future of the film industry but what about the book industry?

Should a writer write a novel similar to a filmscript?  I guess if you are determined enough you can learn, but what are you sacrificing along the way?  Formatting is important; not too much, not too little.  Your characters will be noticeably shallower, the scenery will be sketchy and the action will be like every TV series you have ever watched.

Bend to a market whim?  What makes the difference is being different!  With or without a movie contract, if you write in a hybrid format, your novel has less chance of standing amongst the notables of your decade.  I’ve read several amalgams in the last month.  Believe me, it shows.

Film Cameraman Movie Camera

In my opinion, there is a market for the TV-ready book/screen blend of writing but it is light-weight and not the same as solid, descriptive, memorable words which feed a book reader’s imagination.

And herein lies the problem.  There are eager new readers just the same as in the past, but now they are looking for ‘movie action’ because they have grown up with on-demand screens.  Substance is not as favourable, skimming is the name of the game.

Again, I say this is a disservice to the reader as well as the book industry.

It’s a long haul and immediate gain for the primary writer is unlikely.  Say a director/producer likes your work, every page you have written means extra money is needed in production and, as we know, the financial aspect rules.  Gone are the days of blockbuster world success—think LOTR or J K Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Film Clapper Board Movie

Durability is the name of the game.  You can find countless info and advice on writing a screenplay or TV script and if you want to do it you will—bearing in mind that any formula has restrictions, your manuscript will not resemble the finished product.

Look closely at Michael Connelly and other writers who have made the transition, in particular their previous jobs.  They will have ‘connections’, they will move house ‘to be closer to their work’, they will have ‘legal advice’, an abundance of ‘good luck’, an ‘understanding family’ and other clichés but not the words ‘smooth sailing’.

Write with your heart, write something strong and original, write a standalone which shines with your own unique qualities.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Three Things #10

Bookshelf for ABC Radio 04

Did not think I would get to number ten on my Three Things list!  One post in three parts “Reading Looking Thinking” a clever idea started by Book Jotter blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley for those little things in life.  I have posted TT irregularly since June 2018.


READING

‘The Strings of Murder’ by Oscar de Muriel

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

This lurid Gothic treat took me by surprise!

For starters, I didn’t exactly click with the protagonists Inspector Ian Frey and Inspector Nine-Nails McGray.

Londoner Frey is foppish and fastidious about his clothes, and Scottish McGray is the opposite, a rough tough fellow who believes in the supernatural.  McGray has formed Elucidation Of Unsolved Cases Presumably Related To The Odd And Ghostly subdivision within Edinburgh CID.  This goes against the grain for scientific Frey who resents being posted to Edinburgh under the pretext of hunting a copycat Jack The Ripper.  Animosity and resentment bounces between the two men most of the time, especially when McGray gives Frey an effeminate name.

Frey and McGray investigate the ghastly slaughter of prominent violin players in Edinburgh who used beautiful old violins prior to their death.  Clues range from an ancient curse, a Will, madness, and the work of the devil himself.  What is that shadowy apparition the townsfolk see at night?

This is the first book in the series (four other books) so I overlooked many of the author’s foibles in relation to the Victorian era, but will mention these:

  1. Characters regardless of status say ‘erm’ before they hesitantly speak.
  2. Characters, particularly Frey, continually raise or arch their eyebrows in surprise.
  3. Characters blush visibly; flush with fury; go red-faced; red with rage, etc.
  4. People are described as fat or thin and most are ‘coarse’ in looks or behaviour.
  5. Female characters are secondary and written as lowly, crazy, slovenly, weird, etc.
  6. The unwarranted inclusion of horses for the Inspectors.

Regardless of the above, I did enjoy the paranormal plot with its clever use of clairvoyance and chemistry.  It has some gruesome yet original chapters, with the occasional clue more obvious than others, but it’s written in a way that lead me through the story at a fast pace.  I wanted to find out what was going on!

The author Oscar de Muriel was born in Mexico City.  He lives in Manchester after moving to UK to complete his PhD in Chemistry.  Oscar is a violinist and chemist, and both professions are used to great effect in his Frey and McGray series. GBW.


LOOKING

Computer 10

Of course I am looking at a screen!

Today, two of the main things holding my world together
are the internet and my computer screen.
GBW.


THINKING

My current thoughts!

  Thought One

Since my forays out into the real world have been curtailed by The Pandemic, my writing has suffered.  As mentioned above, a screen has replaced real human contact (except for family) to the extent that my ideas and creative stimulation have been subdued.  Yes, I can Zoom and watch as much as I like online—more than ever before—but it’s not enough, it’s not the same as laughing and chatting in a coffee shop with best friends.  Okay, yes, I know I’m an introvert who enjoys ‘stay home days’.  However, there is a limit.  It’s not necessarily tolerance, or intolerance, more a case of suspended animation.  Australia has done well facing the COVID-19 challenge, we have done all that was asked of us as a nation.  Now, as the country slowly grinds back into action, we are wondering how much has changed, how much will never be the same again. GBW.

  Thought Two

I have long believed that everyone should read anything they like and that includes comic books.  The more we read, the more we discover what we like to read, and sooner or later we become aware of the good authors and the not-so-good authors.  Then it’s not long before we realise there are divisions in the reading world.  We falter, we question our choices in literature.  The Guardian article (below) says do not let snobbish separatists stop you from enjoying your favourite books. GBW.

The link to an edited version of the speech delivered by Emily Maguire at The Stella Prize 2019 longlist announcement  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/08/theres-no-shame-in-reading-whatever-books-you-want-literary-snobs-be-damned

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“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” Attributed to US author poet Albert Pike

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

ANZAC Day At Home

ANZAC Day At Home 2020

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As part of the RSL Queensland’s ‘Light up the Dawn’ campaign, all residents are encouraged to say The Ode and take the pledge by standing in your driveway, on your balcony or in your living room at 6am on ANZAC Day to remember all those who have served.  You can learn more on the link below.

RSL https://rslqld.org/News/Latest-News/Light-up-the-Dawn

In memory of the men and women in my family.

♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘You Yet Shall Die’ by Jennifer Barraclough

You Yet Shall Die by Jennifer Barraclough 02

Hidden at the heart of the Harper family, veiled in secrets, is a mystery waiting to be solved.  A skilfully plotted novel with intriguing characters, crime, cats and a brother and sister unaware of what they will expose when they start peeling back the layers.

Set in south-east England around 2005, Hilda Harper tramps across the North Kent marshland on a summer’s evening.  She is mulling over an unusual meeting she had earlier in the day.  A woman named Nicky had knocked at her door and revealed some astounding news.  This unexpected visit impels Hilda to explore the truth about her family’s past.

How well did she know her father?  What was the cause of her mother’s death?  Is Nicky really who she says? 

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The story is told through the three main characters, Hilda, Dunstan and Nicky, each with their own chapters and different points of view.  Hilda and her younger brother, Dunstan, approach their deceased parents anomalous behaviour in varied ways.  The plot revolves around their strict, controlling father Dr Nicolas Harper and their religious mother Violet who suffered from a cardiac disorder.

Dunstan believes his father could do no wrong but Hilda couldn’t wait to leave home and start rescuing abandoned cats and kittens.  Dunstan says “My sister Hilda is, to put it kindly, rather eccentric.”  I agree, but she is a great character.  I think Dunstan has way more hang-ups to overcome, courtesy of his disenchanted upbringing.

Touching on mental issues, domestic bullying and unsettled memories, there comes a time when the scales dip towards a desperate action.  Poor Dunstan goes off the rails.  A cliff-hanger tempted me to untap my bookmark and keep reading into the night.  I followed the clever twists and turns until I arrived at two startling discoveries.  One more shocking than the other.

Family secrets can be destructive, changing the course of lives.IMG_20200417_133141

For me, the sense-of-place is strong and characters are easily envisaged.  Nicky is quite lively yet generally I felt a genteel vibe and imagine the setting would work equally well further back in time.  I liked the medical details, and Hilda’s love of cats; her rescue of tiny Magic echoes author Jennifer Barraclough’s support for animal welfare.

The book title is taken from “The Yew Tree” poem by Valerie Dohren, but I will close with a quote from Hilda “I need a walk to clear my troubled mind, so after lunch I put on my oilskins and gumboots and set off over the desolate marshland towards the Thames.  It is a cool and misty day with a light rain falling and there are no other people about, just a few sheep and gypsy ponies.”  A perfect remedy.

Top marks for “You Yet Shall Die” an absorbing crime and mystery story without the gory bits.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Cat Black and White 04AUTHOR PROFILE

Formerly a medical doctor in England, Jennifer Barraclough now lives in New Zealand and writes novelsnon-fiction books and a blog.  Jennifer is a cat owner and Magic has a cameo in her latest book You Yet Shall Die a novel in the “domestic noir” genre, set in the North Kent marshes near her childhood home.

After moving to her husband’s native New Zealand in 2000, Jennifer studied natural healing, and ran a Bach flower practice for ten years.  Writing is her main occupation now but her other interests include animal welfare activities, choral singing, and visiting the local beaches and cafés.

Jennifer’s new novel You Yet Shall Die and all her book publications like Wellbeing of Writers can be found at Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk   Smashwords.com  and other online retailers.


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ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My thanks to the author for a complimentary copy of this book.  I appreciate the opportunity to read and review “You Yet Shall Die”
—GBW.


Cat Drawing Guttenburg Project

FOR LOVERS OF CATS AND ILLUSTRATIONS – GUTENBERG CAT FILE
https://www.gutenberg.org/files/35450/35450-h/35450-h.htm
The Project Gutenberg eBook ofOur Cats and All About Them” by Harrison Weir (1892) a well researched and remarkable volume.  Full Title: “Our Cats and All About Them.  Their Varieties, Habits, and Management; and for Show, the Standard of Excellence and Beauty; Described and Pictured”.

Tale of a Cat Refugee

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The cat stared through the screen door as though Darth Vader was chasing him.  “You are my only hope, G-Obi-Wan Kenobi.”  I doubted that, but knew in these pandemic-plagued times there are thousands of pets being abandoned just when a person-pet bond is needed the most.

The day before materialising at our back door, this grey cat had meowed in a distressed and pitiful fashion outside our house.

Like a feline Romeo, he looked up at our balcony hoping for a comforting word and perhaps a tasty treat…

I had seen him doing similar acts of desperation at other houses.  One evening when I left to buy groceries, he ran across the road in front of my car.  “That darn cat,” I muttered.

And then later, well, I leaned over and a small piece of sausage happened to hit the concrete below the balcony—it was pounced upon and disappeared immediately.

The cat licked his lips and the glint in his eye said “Foolish move, human”.

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Next morning he was waiting outside the door as I filled the kettle with water and popped bread into the toaster.

Tentatively he began to meow.  Gradually he started a high-pitched, upset-cat mewling.  As he wailed, he placed a paw on the screen door.  He started twanging on the metal mesh.

One claw at a time.  Ping, ping, ping…

The noise reverberated around the metal door frame.  I told him to cut it out or he might impale himself “Hanging by one paw won’t get you sympathy”.  Ping.  Ping.  Ping.  He timed it just right.  Every.  Time.

I gave him some cooked chicken and he practically breathed it in.

Our late lamented dog would have been disgruntled to see a cat lapping at her water bowl.  But I think she would have appreciated the irony; the ceramic pattern of dogs and bones.

It became apparent that he was desperate to come inside.  Just what I did not need.  An inside cat.  With my allergies.

He was quickly named Jo-Jo.  As we try to navigate the back door, you may recall The Beatles song and understand why this name stuck.

As befitted a homeless feline, Jo-Jo was lean with dull, dusty fur.  I visited the local pet supplies warehouse and came out with a heavy carry bag and a lighter bank balance.

Nothing fancy, I said, he’s not my cat…

One week later and Jo-Jo is still yowling at the back door and pinging the mesh screen.

But our stray is sleeker, his meow is less anxious, and his is more accepting of the morning-evening no snacking between meals timeline.  He doesn’t have the luxury of grazing because other creatures, like ants and possums, are partial to cat food.

Jo-Jo is partial to a chin-scratch.

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As I type this today, Jo-Jo is languishing on our doormat in the warm autumn sun, fur gently ruffled by the breeze, safe in the knowledge that there is a cat cubby to snuggle into when the evenings grow cooler.  Dozing, sleepy now…

Food source assured; a smile curves as he sleeps…

Yesterday was different.  I saw a mysterious lump in the grass of our backyard.  A blob of something which blowflies were finding mighty interesting.

It was a bird, a dead bird.  Minus its wings.  A murder scenario was easy to reconstruct, but hard to fathom.  It looked more like a destructive act than a burning desire for a fresh meal.  The next bird was brought to the backdoor as an offering.

A decision will have to be made on the future of Jo-Jo.  Find his owner?  Find a foster home?  Send him to the animal shelter?  Take him to the vet for a microchip scan?  Cat-proof the house…?  Time will tell.

A discovery has already been made—our stray waif is a ‘she’ not a ‘he’.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Information

RSPCA Australia COVID-19 Response

Like all of us, the RSPCA is closely monitoring the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation.  We’re very aware of the possible risk to our people and impact on animals.  It’s possible that minimising this risk may require some changes to our operations.  For helpful advice to avoid inconvenience, please check our website and social media (Facebook, Twitter) regularly.

Information on COVID-19 and Companion Animals

There is no evidence that companion animals play a role in the spread of this human disease or that they become sick if they are exposed to the virus.  However, you should stay informed about how to minimise the effects of self-isolation or hospitalisation on your pets.  View all articles related to COVID-19 on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.

 

Review ‘One Moonlit Night’ by Caradog Prichard for Wales #dewithon20

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Rhys Kentish image is similar to Black Lake mentioned throughout the book. In the final chapter “It’s strange that they call it the Black Lake cos I can see the sky in it. Blue Lake would be a better name…”

A young narrator recounts the village life of Bethesda in Wales where he is growing up with his ailing Mam, best friends Huw and Moi, and an assortment of idiosyncratic people.  Set during the first World War and translated from the original Welsh, I found this classic novel hypnotic, one happenstance rolling into the next with lyrical prose and stunning imagery.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
A calm Llyn Idwal, Snowdonia, North Wales, UK

Photo (above) by Rhys Kentish on Unsplash

The boy’s awareness of adult behaviour is both naïve and heart-wrenching, as well as unsettling for a reader like me.  He has several graphic encounters, from death to mental illness, told without prejudice or judgement, and his stream-of-consciousness narrative remains strong.  One thing the boy is absolutely certain of—he will not work in the slate quarry.

Looking back as an adult, I recall feeling distanced from what was really going on.  This boy is in the thick of things and Prichard captures his thoughts so beautifully for adult readers.  Some chapters brought tears to my eyes.  In chapter 4, my favourite paragraphs are when the boy awakens after a picnic.  He feels the desolation of being left behind and desperately tries to find his way home.  I remember that type of heart-thumping experience!

A great description ‘It was raining stair rods in the morning and I was sitting in school with wet feet cos my shoes leaked’ and in search of dry socks, he discovers a dead body.  The quest to find out what happened is revealed in chatter between the boy and Huw.  Further into the book, disaster strikes with three significantly life-changing farewells.

Wales Readathon Dewithon 2019 08Often a bad experience is offset by a good one; a kind gesture (usually a slice of bread) parish humour, the choir, a football match, and rollicking outdoor adventures with school friends which paint a beautiful picture of his part of Wales.

It’s never defined but I think author Caradog Prichard is reliving his early life, factual elements blending with history and mystery.  These days it would probably be described drily as ‘social commentary’.

Modern writers would do well to study this slim volume.  Roaming in the grown-up world of teachers, priests, policemen and illness, the boy is observant but has no power of his own and that simplicity transcends time and place.  He is the epitome of first-person POV, surrounded by subtext which packs a thoughtfully aimed punch.

From a man who knew what he was writing about, ‘One Moonlit Night’ (‘Un Nos Ola Leuad’) is a fine example of storytelling.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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The village of Bethesda, North Wales, UK

Welsh FlagI participated in Wales Readathon and #dewithon20 group reading of this novel.
My thanks to Paula Bardell-Hedley for her super efforts in creating this event 1st to 31st March 2020.
https://bookjotter.com/2020/03/01/wales-readathon-2020/

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AUTHOR PROFILE

PRICHARD, CARADOG (1904-1980) journalist, novelist and poet from Wales UK.
I can recommend the author biography by Menna Baines on National Library of Wales website.  Apart from a detailed look at Prichard, it contains photos of the author at home with his dog.
Menna Baines documented his life’s work, and at one point says ‘He published a collection of short stories, Y Genod yn ein Bywyd (‘The Girls in Our Life’ 1964); being heavily autobiographical, they cast some interesting light on his life but have little literary value.’ Ouch!

Mother’s Day Stories & Poems Wanted

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Exactly what we need in these days of social-distancing!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

positivewordsmagazine

I’m looking for story and poetry submissions for the May issue. A nice way to honour a special person at a time when we might not be able to visit…

Mothers, grandmothers, daughters who have children of their own, special aunts and friends…send them in 🙂

Positive Words magazine

PO Box 798

Heathcote 3523 Victoria

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