Friday, March 07, 2014

The Bankrupt Viscount is coming!

It's all beginning to seem real!

On May 9th, my first Regency Romance, "The Bankrupt Viscount", is released by Museitup Publishing.

Will, Viscount Hadlow, inherited his title along with a rundown estate and crippling debts. He refuses to marry until he can support a wife, despite his growing attraction to his neighbour, Ella.
The fortune her grandfather left to her gives Ella an independence most women can only dream of. After a near miss with a fortune hunter she has sworn never to marry at all, and certainly not to a man who needs her money, but her feelings for Will test her resolve.
When a series of accidents and near misses put Ella in danger, Will vows to protect her from her unknown enemy. But who will protect Ella from Will? Or, for that matter, from herself?

The story of "The Bankrupt Viscount" takes place in the small community of Crompton Hadlow, in southern England in 1817. I'm currently working on the stories of some of Will and Ella's neighbours, and hope you will share them with me in the near future. Meanwhile, if you pre-order "The Bankrupt Viscount" direct from Museitup Publishing, you can save 20% on the list price. Details of this offer can be found on the Museitup site here: https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/coming-soon/the-bankrupt-viscount-detail

I value the opinions of readers highly, so do let me know what you think of the story.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Once you start you just can't stop!

When I first decided to try my hand at writing a romantic novel, I was very unsure of myself. What if I couldn't think of a story? What if the only backdrops to lovers' tales I could find were the ones I'd read in other books? What if I failed at the first hurdle?

I needn't have worried.

The first thing I did was take my dogs for a walk on the forest. (I live on Ashdown Forest, in the Sussex downlands.) As well as my own dogs, I was, at the time, dog sitting a spaniel for my daughter. This wilful, disobedient creature took it into her head to refuse to come back to me at the end of the walk. She thought it a great game to keep just out of my reach.

A (handsome) man on horseback came through. He saw the trouble I was having, dismounted and called the dog. Being a dog of very little brain, she trotted over to him and he grabbed her collar for me. Now, in real life, I thanked him, dragged the dog back to the car and went home. But in the computer file I'd just opened to store ideas for romantic plots...

Then there was the hotel where I went for dinner with friends. On visiting the ladies' powder room, I overheard the waitress and her visiting boyfriend...

The credit crunch provided several stories as people who'd left town drifted back when their jobs in the City disappeared. A trip to Kenya threw up two stories. And if I can't get a story out of the volcanic ash and the air problems, I have no right calling myself a writer.

I now have a number of stories. I have characters, situations, settings. All that's left is to get the stories out of my head and into the books.

As of today, number one is done. I can hardly wait to introduce myself to the lovers featured in number two. Coaxing them, getting them to trust me with their stories, is something I look forward to very much.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Almost there

I've been working away on my first romantic novel and am now just about finished. My hero, Rafe, has realised he loves my heroine, Ellie, and vice versa. But the decisions and actions they took earlier in the story have come back to bite them and it looks as if it's broken hearts all around. Can they overcome this feeling of betrayal, forgive each other and come together to live happily ever after?

Of course, they don't live in a vacuum. Rafe has a brother, Archie. He's gone off to France in hot pursuit of a feisty young woman called Charley, and his story is just bursting to be told next. And then, there is Ellie's step brother, Ben, who used to be an item with Rafe's PA, Katharine. Wonder what would happen if their paths crossed again. Ellie's sister, Jodie, is outgoing and friendly, and has yet to have her heart broken, and then there is always Ben's partner, Will, who has been Rafe's arch rival in business for years.

Helping all these people fall in love should certainly keep me busy over the next few months. I just hope readers enjoy their stories as much as I do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

RETRAK

Retrak is a UK registered charity working with street children in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. It began its work in Uganda under the name of “The Tiger’s Club”, and was renamed as it spread to neighbouring countries.

Although many charities try to help children living on the streets, most do so through providing places in residential homes. The problem with this is, residential homes are quickly filled and the children stay there until they reach the age of eighteen, when they have to leave. Meantime, other children cannot be accommodated. Retrak’s approach is to try to put children into families, making their residential homes transitional, and this means there is greater ability to help more children, more regularly.

Where possible, Retrak helps to reunite children with their families. This can mean reuniting with mothers and fathers, or siblings, but where this is not possible, it can also mean putting children together with members of their extended families – uncles, aunts and so forth. At present 70% of the children Retrak deals with are reunited with family. This is the preferred method of working, and Retrak has even resettled children into the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps, if that is where their families are now living. The camps are, at least, a community, and preferable to life on the streets, fending for themselves.

Where reunification with their own family is not possible, Retrak endeavours to place street children in foster families, which is not a widely accepted practice in this part of the world. Fostering of children who are not related to the carers is unusual within East African culture, on top of which, children who live on the street are not generally valued by the local community, but are often seen as pests, thieves, nuisances, even vermin to be exterminated. Known by the derogatory term “chockera”, street children are ignored by the rest of the population at best, and at worst can be subjected to beatings and other abuses. For a family to take one into their home is, therefore, a big deal and the problems faced in making a placement work can be huge.
As in the west, fostering works better with younger children, although Retrak do try to help older children as well, providing the funds and support necessary to put them through schooling and vocational training support. However, experience has taught them that it is incredibly hard to help children who are older than about fourteen, as there is simply too much to put right in their lives. As well, children over the age of twelve are unwilling to stay in residential places and orphanages, and their return to the streets make working with them very difficult.

There are many reasons why children end up on the street. Sometimes, they have lost their parents, as the result of illnesses such as AIDS, or as a result of war and other conflicts. Sometimes, they have run away from unhappy situations at home. Many come to the capital cities from desperately poor rural areas, like modern day Dick Whittingtons, hoping to find streets paved with gold and finding instead broken dreams and shattered hopes. Sometimes, they are victims of their culture. If their father dies, their mother may have little choice but to remarry. Her new husband may then reject the children of her first husband, insisting they leave and his own children take precedence. She can do nothing to prevent this happening. In East African culture, the children of a marriage do not “belong” to her, but to the family of their father. If that family cannot or will not take care of the children once her new husband has ejected them, the children will have no choice but to live on the streets.

In Ethiopia, there are a phenomenal number of children, and others, on the streets. They seem to be everywhere – on main roads the central reservations are lined with them. They sleep under roads, in sewers, anywhere they can find a space. It has been estimated that there are 60,000 children sleeping rough on the streets of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, and it is these children that the charity seeks to help.

In Kenya, there is a big problem with street children. There are large numbers of children in need in all five of Kenya’s biggest cities – Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kisumu.In 2002, following complaints about these children, the Kenyan Government took action against them, rounding them up and trying to get them off the streets and sent back to the homes they had left. However, although money was provided for the round up programme, no funds were made available for the after care needed by these children. In many cases, the Government simply gave the children the bus fare to go home, and didn’t check to see if that was what they had done. The result of all this activity was, the terrified children disappeared from the main city streets, hiding themselves in the crowded slums where they could be less visible to the authorities. Unfortunately, this made them less visible to those who would help them as well.

The work of Retrak produces results. They have not tried to diversify, but have continued to work in their areas of expertise, and this has made them very successful in what they do. By reintegrating children into both their families and society, they give them a sense of belonging. The children are not thrown back onto the streets at the age of eighteen, as they would be from residential homes. As a result, a new generation of young adults finds itself with a hope for a brighter future.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In May I went with a group from my Church on a 12 day trip to Kenya. We were there to learn more about the country and its people, and to learn more about the Mission partners the Church supports in that country and to encourage them. Our intent is to write a book about the trip and what we encountered there. The proceeds of the book will be used to further the work of the three Mission partners.

Over the next few days, I will print extracts from the book on here. Hopefully, they'll give a flavour of the book, and an idea of what Kenya is really like.

Today's extract tells of The Green Bag, a Christian counselling tool that is helping traumatised and troubled children in some of the poorest nations on earth.

Life on the streets is tough for children. Fending for themselves, finding food and shelter is hard enough, but street children are also vulnerable in many ways, emotionally, physically and mentally. They have to cope with issues and events that should be beyond their imagination. Many are also traumatised by the events that led to them being street children in the first place – the death of a parent, a change in family circumstances, conflict. All over the world, children are the cannon fodder in the battle of life. They take the brunt of adult fire and limp away, damaged, shell shocked, in need of healing.

The Green Bag project is a Christian counselling tool that was designed specifically to help children living on the streets of the world. Itallows the child to encounter God and feel his healing and his love. In all countries where it has been used, its success has left trained and experienced psychologists open mouthed in awe and wonder.

The first job for the counsellor is to identify a child who needs help. There are many signs that trained people will spot, low self esteem is an outward symptom of inner turmoil, as is the act of constantly picking fights and a tendency to be volatile emotionally. Children displaying these behaviours get caught in a negative cycle – they feel bad and it manifests itself in low self esteem and “bad” behaviour, which makes others react badly to them, which makes them feel worse, which reinforces their lack of self worth and starts the process all over again. By changing how the child feels about themselves, the Green Bag scheme changes lives.

The sessions, normally one on one, last about forty five minutes, and begin with the counsellor chatting and playing with the child, to build trust. Then the bag is introduced. It is a bright green heavy canvas, about the size of a thick briefcase, and is filled with files and picture cards, which are brought into the session in a specific order.

First come pictures of street children around the world. The child is often amazed to discover that there are others who face the same difficulties and life struggles as they do. They laugh and point at things they recognise as part of their own lives, relieved at the recognition and put at ease.

Next the counsellor will ask the child about the happiest memory they have and they will talk about this for a while before gently easing into something that makes the child sad. In this way, they often get the child to open up and tell them things that have never been spoken of before. It can be anything from the death of a parent or beloved sibling to terrible abuse. Often, the most horrendous events are recounted in the most deadpan of voices. The counsellor listens, does not judge, but simply asks, “How did this make you feel?”

The counsellor pulls more picture cards from the bag. They announce to the child that they once knew a child whose experience was similar to the one being discussed today, and ask “Can I tell you their story?” With careful use of picture cards and vocalising the story as if it is about a different, anonymous child, the counsellor re-tells the child’s own story back to them. It puts the child at ease, makes them feel they are not alone, and enables them to listen without discomfort. At this point in a session, many children break down and cry. It’s as if they have been holding in their self pity but will allow themselves to cry for someone else. The counsellor never tries to stop the tears, these children need to cry and are given precious little opportunity.

The pictures are carefully designed to draw the child into their world. The pictures of emotions are black and white line drawings, onto which it is easy to project oneself. An object, such as those to which the child relates, is brightly coloured, giving a feeling of tangible worth. Events, such as the ones that have traumatised the child, are depicted in more subdued colours, which quietens the event and makes it more manageable than bright colours would allow.

Once the child has allowed the counsellor to tell the story of their “model child”, the next step is to say “There was another story and hearing it helped this child. Would you like to hear it?” The counsellor then uses pictures to tell the story of Jesus rebuking his disciples and saying “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The power of this story is tremendous. These children have not been valued in their lives at all. Living on the streets, unloved, unwanted, they are known as "chockera" – a derogatory term meaning rubbish and vermin. They are kicked, beaten, pushed about, exploited and abused, and suddenly they learn that someone values them enough to want them in his presence. The story also brings laughter to the session – all children love to hear about adults being told off.

The counsellor then goes on to use picture cards to tell another story that will be helpful to the child. If the child has expressed fear, for instance, the counsellor may tell the story about the storm at sea and how Jesus calmed the wind and waves. Through this they can show that Jesus knows and cares when we are afraid. They then ask the child how they feel about this. The response is usually very good indeed.

Although the stories are about Jesus and his amazing love and empathy, they are all stories which show his healing power. They are not evangelistic. The purpose of the Green Bag is primarily to heal broken lives, not convert.

Each story is designed to connect with the child’s individual circumstances and show how Jesus feels their pain. Through the stories, they learn that God loves them. As this knowledge sinks in, children often open up, confiding things they have never spoken of before.

The session is nearly at an end. The child is now shown a group of cards, each one about the size of a playing card. On one side is a black and white picture, showing aspects of God and the child, together with a short Bible verse. On the reverse of the card, it reads: “God loves...” and there is space for the child to write their own name. This card is theirs to take away. They treasure the cards, keeping them safe when all else is taken from them. A year later, many children will still have the cards, carefully looked after, kept close to their hearts.

The children do not feel they have been counselled, but they do feel better. That this is true is evidenced by the fact that children who have been counselled not only return for further sessions for themselves, but often they bring their friends, asking the counsellor to talk to their friends.

The genius of the Green Bag scheme is that anyone can learn to use it. It doesn’t take university education or degrees in psychology, just heart and compassion for the children.

Trained psychologists were intrigued by the success of the project, and they studied it in depth. They observed sessions and accepted that much of what was done within them was similar to what would be done in ordinary counselling sessions. However, most traumatised children take months of care to show signs of healing, and those going through the Green Bag scheme were showing marked improvements within one forty five minute session. After careful observation and study of the scheme, the psychologists reported that they wanted more information on “the Jesus factor”, as this was the only thing that was different to accepted counselling sessions, and was the only thing that could account for the remarkable success of the scheme.

Jesus, it seems, changes lives.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In May I went with a group from my Church on a 12 day trip to Kenya. We were there to learn more about the country and its people, and to learn more about the Mission partners the Church supports in that country and to encourage them. Our intent is to write a book about the trip and what we encountered there. The proceeds of the book will be used to further the work of the three Mission partners.

Over the next few days, I will print extracts from the book on here. Hopefully, they'll give a flavour of the book, and an idea of what Kenya is really like.

The first one deals with the violence that followed the Presidential election of December 2007. It looms large over the country and cannot be ignored. Everyone we met was affected by it in some way, all had their stories. Here is just a part of what we learned.

Post Election Violence

In late December 2007, there was a presidential election in Kenya. The declared winner of the election was the incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki. However, Mr Kibaki’s main opponent, Raila Odinga, alleged that electoral manipulation had taken place and called the results into question. Whether his allegations were true or not, they sparked unrest and protests, which quickly became violent. From political protest to ethnically based violence was a short step in a land where so many tribes live in close proximity to one another. Much of this violence was aimed at the people of the Kikuyu tribe, the tribe to which Mr Kibaki belongs, although in some instances, Kikuyu gangs also perpetrated violence against other tribes.

Although there were pockets of violence all over, the worst hit areas were in the Rift Valley, from Nairobi, through Nakuru and up to Eldoret, and in the slums of Nairobi. In one of the worst incidents of the violence, a church was attacked and set on fire in the small settlement of Kiambaa, just outside Eldoret, and more than thirty people sheltering within it lost their lives. Many others were badly burned or slashed with machetes, and needed extensive medical treatment for their wounds.

The violence in the slums of Nairobi was exacerbated by the people’s anger at their extreme poverty and, it is alleged, the flames of this anger were fanned by criminal gangs such as the Mungiki, who used the situation for their own ends.

The then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan brokered a settlement between the two main political parties and in February 2008, a power sharing agreement was signed. This allowed Mr Kibaki to remain as president whilst Mr Odinga became prime Minister, and by April 2008, a coalition government was brought into being, which in turn has brought an uneasy peace. However, there are still many people living in IDP camps, too frightened to return to their homes, and an atmosphere of suspicion still hangs over much of the country. Tribal affiliations run deep.

We were able to talk to several people about what had happened during the time of violence. (Below are just two of the stories we heard.)

In a village near Eldoret, we met Gideon, a kikuyu. He told us he was in the shower and covered with soap when someone shouted that the mob was coming. He pulled clothes over his soapy body and ran from a gang of several thousand youths armed with clubs, bows and arrows, knives and machetes. They were threatening not just to kill, but to decapitate all kikuyu that they caught. Some kikuyu took refuge in a police station but the rioters descended on it and it was burned. The police did their best, he said, but they were too thinly spread to be able to protect those inside their buildings. Some officers were deployed elsewhere, trying to protect the local population, others died doing their duty, although a few turned and ran.

Gideon quickly realised there was no way out of the area. The mobs had set up roadblocks, looking for victims, and they were determined to find and kill as many as possible. People had to hide wherever they could. Gideon himself took refuge in the District Commissioner’s office. This was threatened and for a short while it looked hopeless, but in the nick of time a contingent of police arrived. The police had guns and ammunition, and the rioters did not, so the rioters decided to try elsewhere and the people inside the office were saved.

Gideon was at pains to tell us that God had spared him and that he was very grateful to the Lord for his mercy. He also thanked God for giving him the gift of forgiveness. After six months, Gideon had felt able to go home and make peace with the neighbours who had threatened and attacked him. Gideon asked us to pray that others who had been attacked might find it in them to forgive. He knew it wasn’t easy for those who had lost homes and family but he felt the country would never heal without it. “Forgiveness is essential,” he told us, “or the bitterness festers.”

All around the region, there is evidence of the violence and destruction that followed the elections. Derelict houses, their mud walls crumbled, their wood beams charred, sit in patches of overgrown weeds where once were carefully tended crops. Small temporary homes, looking like large garden sheds dot the countryside, each one bearing a gleaming metal roof with “Red Cross” written large across it. IDP camps litter the landscape. The largest of these camps, we were told, is inside what used to be the Eldoret Showground, where more than a year after Kofi Annan brokered a peace, thousands of people still live, too frightened to return to their homes.

One of the worst incidents to take place during the post election violence happened on New Year’s Day 2008. The small settlement of Kiambaa, just south of Eldoret, was almost entirely peopled by members of the Kikuyu tribe. Most of the families had originally come from the Kiambu slum in Nairobi and had travelled up-country to this remote spot in search of a better life. They lived in houses made of mud, with banana thatch roofs, and they grew crops to feed themselves and to trade for an income. The post election violence left them vulnerable. Most of the homes in the little hamlet were burned by the mobs, and the inhabitants took shelter in the one building they believed would be safe – their church. The women and children were put inside the building while the men stood guard outside. The belongings they had salvaged from their houses were also left outside, since there was no room within the little church for them, and this was to prove fatal, because among the possessions were mattresses, that burned easily.

On New Year’s morning, the mob arrived. Witnesses put its number at anywhere between 800 and 4000 strong. Whichever is the true estimate, it was too large for the handful of defenders, who were quickly slashed with machetes, stabbed with sharpened sticks and knives, and shot with bows and arrows. Some of the guards died. Some were horribly injured. Some fled.

The mob grabbed the mattresses and piled them up against the church, blocking escape routes. Then they set them, and the building, on fire. Women, children, the old and the disabled screamed and struggled to get out. Some managed to escape the inferno only to be cut down outside. Others perished in the smoke and flames. Thirty seven are known to have died, the figure may have been higher. Some of the bodies were so badly burned they were never identified. The youngest victim was two months old.
After a bout of flu and inactivity, I am back in the swing of things. I've done the first 8000 words of my novel, and am putting the finishing touches to my account of our Mission trip to Kenya, which took place in May.

My latest play is now published. Twelve copies of Life Support landed on my doorstep this week. It never palls, seeing one's work in print.

There's a new blogger on the block. Surviving Pilgrim is the blog from World In Need, the charity I am most heavily involved with. Please go and read what they have to say.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

At last! I am writing again in a regular way. I wrote the first part of the first scene of this play I want to do about AIDS orphans and street children. I'm really pleased with the way the characters are getting to make themselves known as well.

Now, if I could just learn the lines for these two productions I am in...