Is ‘The Café’, a writer’s retreat?

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Now I like coffee as much as the next person but in my little village there are six cafés, with two more planned, I hear. That’s one café for every 1,800 of the population. Surely, that can’t be sustainable even if it does give diversity of choice.

Personally, I prefer the privately owned small outlets rather than the larger chains but the very reasons I like them, might be a cause of their possible demise. They are less busy, so quieter; the Yummy Mummy brigade with their pushchairs and wailing kids seem to prefer the chains (thank god), but they are regular spenders that the small cafés miss out on. Often, the smaller places don’t have wi-fi and that’s a major deficiency now, especially for a writer.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to frequent the multiples just to people watch. What is that meeting all about, are they plotting against someone; why does the man of that couple keep looking over his shoulder, are they married but not to each other; that lady looks lonely and sad, I wonder if she’s recently bereaved?

So, what’s the verdict, large or small, private or corporate, or do both have their place in our time? Probably, but eight in one small village?

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

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Have you heard the one about … Writing comedy.

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The trouble with humour is it isn’t always funny. For instance, I’ve been at London’s, ‘Hammersmith Apollo’ when all around me are in stitches, whilst I am silent and wondering what they find amusing. Conversely, I’ve found fun in a comedian’s quips whilst some others remain silent. So, either I’m weird or, humour is very personal; I think I’ll go for personal.

On occasion, I do hear of a comedian, ‘tailoring’ their material to the audience they have before them. In doing so, they often play on class; the upper classes being picked upon for their reserve. ‘What do you call a public schoolboy who was buggered once during his schooling? Frigid’.

The working classes receive attention too. ‘If a miner and a veterinary assistant marry, what do you get? A dead miner, she won’t let the canary down the mine. ‘Was that sexist by the way? Did I just assume the man was the miner and the woman the veterinary assistant.

Then there’s personal satire. ‘After a few beers, a man admits to his drinking buddy that he likes period dramas. His mate laughs and asks him what his husband likes.’ Not to everyone’s taste and an alternative, and closer to the mark, punch line might be, ‘ Really? I normally arrange to be out that day.’

Humour is quite difficult in the cold light of day; nothing better breeds laughter, than laughter and one liners are great for drawing that. Tommy Cooper was the master of one liners and many try to emulate him. ‘ I’ve just sent my wife to the West Indies’.
‘Jamaica?’
‘No, she went of her own accord.’ Boom, boom! Actually, I think that was Groucho Marx, another brilliant early humorist who had some great throw away lines. And in case your wondering, I wrote this blog a week ago, before Brucie massacred that joke on Strictly (UK) last night (except that bit obviously, otherwise I’d have known the letters numbers too).

Situational awareness is also popular where a comedian makes fun of day to day life. For instance, Michael McIntre’s, ‘man drawer.’. Every man has a man drawer with many single and bunches of keys and he no longer knows what they’re for but won’t throw away; old foreigh coins, some from bygone currencies; batteries, some charged, some not and old woodscrews. After all, who knows when you might have a need for a half dead battery, a French franc and a rusty flathead screw?

Family humour is also popular. Making fun of wife, kids, brothers, sisters, mother in law, whatever. ‘I’ve just suggested my mother in law take up walking for exercise.’
‘Really.’
‘Yes, five miles a day should do it, by the weekend she’ll be twenty five miles away.’ Classic.

In my writing I’ve tried to introduce humour, but I don’t find it easy. In real life, I believe I’m quite funny (well I think people are laughing with me, not at me) but in my writing I have to go back and act out the conversational pieces to think of the humour and then add it in. It’s a good way of editing though, makes it more interesting.

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

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Writing tips. My particular method of writing.

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I don’t know about you, but when I am writing a book, on my Mac Air, I quickly get the concept down, and then I stop writing and structure the chapters. Within these chapters, I create bullet points as reminders as to what I expect to write about at that part of the story. I choose an arbitrary number of chapters, say twenty, but nothing is set in stone and that can increase or decrease. The book I’m writing now, Drifting Sands, has only twenty-five thousand words written at present, but I’m up to twenty-six chapters.

I then, create a dynamically linked index (a hyperlink to chapter numbers with a short overview of proposed content). This basic structure allows me to move quickly to a particular chapter, to check back on what I’ve already written or, to add chapters in the correct places.

I don’t write my books from start to finish, I dart about writing about what has come to me recently on a subject and sometimes new discoveries will change my storyline (I write science fiction adventure). The linked index permits me to choose which part of the story I want to write about on a particular day without wasting time searching for where my thoughts should go. I can see an overview of the bullet points in the chapters and pick what I want to write about. As I flesh out a bullet point, I remove it from the list.

This reminds me of the way pool is played, if I see a ball over a pocket that’s a dead cert, I might bank it for later and play a ball against the cushion. In the same way, if I see a bullet point, and I know what I am going to write on that subject, I might not pick that and choose a harder subject instead. Unlike pool however, when all the bullet points are potted, the game is not over.

Ken Balneaves also wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

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Is observation a writer’s subconscious skill?

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Last evening, after work, I drove to my local pub and had a few pints with a friend. Later, my daughter drove me home in her car. My own car spent the night in the pub car park, a bit of a worry but it was fine when I collected it the morning.

To get to it, my wife gave me a lift, part of the way at least, on her way to work. The remainder of my journey was on foot, about half a mile or so. Me, walk, unheard of, but I quite enjoyed it, passing and actually seeing houses that I’ve been past a thousand times before but have never really noticed. I also went by two schools and observed just how many fathers take their kids to school these days; changed times, I was almost the only one when I did the school run when my kids were young.

I exchanged ‘good morning’ with the lollipop man at the zebra crossing near the school. He then shouted hello to a passing bread delivery van driver, who I’m guessing, he sees every day, a passing friendship. I noted interaction between many people, smiling and talking as they met each other; parents cajoling their children along as they did so.

I also wondered why there was no queuing traffic at the junction with the main road as there always is when I’m in the car or is that just my perception when driving, trying to get somewhere in a hurry?

The sauntered walk was no more than ten minutes or so but I saw so much more of life in that time than I normally do when driving. The thing is, until my journey was over, I hadn’t realised I had taken all of this in, but I now have more stored memories to draw upon whilst writing.

So, the moral of the story? More drive drinking I think; or, I could get a dog. Either way, I think that, as a writer, due to my unconscious observational skills, my writing will benefit, and I might lose the beer belly too, haha.

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

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#Revenge of a #victim. #Death Row.

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These two look as though they’re likely candidates. I mean, it’s dark, desolate, deathly quiet and they, depict desperatation. Yes, sure enough, watch them, trying the door handles of the cars in the row to see if one’s open. Saves them breaking the glass you see, quieter that way.

No, not tonight, none left open by a careless owner. I guess it’ll be the usual then; the last car gets it. A quick snap to the glass in the quarterlight with an automatic centrepunch, push the shattered glass in, a hand through to the lock, pull, pull again and they’re in. No alarm? No; too old.

With the doors quietly shut behind them, the courtesy lights go out. One rogue in the back, rummaging around for whatever he can find; one in the front, pilfering the radio.

A few seconds later and the it’s nearly out, cables everywhere, just a final pull on the wiring should do it. The one in the back still blindly foraging; oops, he’s spilt a petrol can, clumsy lad.

The final pull on the loom doesn’t free the radio but sparks fly and a short circuit locks the doors. Desperation mode now; they tug on the door handles, to no avail. ‘The centre punch, use that,’ one cries. But in his panic, the other drops it down the side of the seat, just as the first tugs again on the radio. The punch lost, the doors locked, the petrol fumes now burning their eyes, the final wrench, the wiring shorts again.

The next day a local newsreader gave the two boys a mention in her newscast. “Last night, two young boys died in a car fire after they broke into it in the eastside of town, the police said they had been identified by their dental records. They had apparently broken in to steal the radio. In another incident …”

Ten seconds of news, not much for their lives but then they weren’t living much of a life, thieving to fund their habit. The newsreader didn’t mention me; I was completely burnt out, my radio still hanging from my dashboard. But I’m so old, I’m worth restoring. I’ll live again in beautiful splendour. Shame about the boys though, wasn’t it; I did say it was deathly quiet, didn’t I?

Ken Balneaves also wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

A writer’s research, a murderous business.

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I was making a few notes the other day after researching on the Internet, something for my latest novel, when it suddenly struck me. If someone close to me were to die under suspicious circumstances there’s a whole load of potentially incriminating material on my iPhone. I have, in Notes, subjects such as war, rioting and ballistics as well as the effects of Cesium-137 and methods of committing suicide.

All of this is of course so I can use it to knowledgeably write about these subjects in my latest novel (honest), but I now realise that in the event of me being investigated, the Police might misinterpret this. And, if I died, they may think it was suicide, so no payout for my wife on the life policy. Haha. (Oops, did I say that out loud?)

My immediate action was to inform my wife what sort of content I have recorded; thank god I don’t write about children or pornography or both! That would take some explaining (Remember Pete Townshend?). However, when I told her the nature of my research including ways of committing murder, she just gave me an incredulous look and said, ‘okay’; what a trusting woman.

I jest but in the words of the prayer,

‘If I should die before I wake’,
Will someone please delete my iPhone notes, for goodness sake.

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

The mating game; friend, #lover or foe?

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I hope you don’t mind, I’d like to conduct an experiment. I apologise if you’ve read this blog before. I posted it four days ago with the title “The #aliens are coming, it could be the end.”; it bombed, with only a relatively small number of hits. So, here it is again with a sexier title and seven more words. I’ll let you know in a few days how it goes this time.

“As a science fiction writer, I spend most of my life thinking about the, ‘what if’ of life and beyond. Recently, on Discovery, I watched a, ‘How the universe works’ programme about the likelihood of alien existence and it set me thinking about what has to be the biggest, ‘what if’ of all time.

But what if they do exist? Religion, race, colour, creed, wealth and power have all at some time acted singularly or conspired to keep the human race at odds with each other. To a lesser or greater extent, these factors have succeeded over countless centuries, causing wars between individuals, families, tribes, counties, countries and continents. How then, would we deal with aliens, a truly ‘different’ race from other worlds?

They might be so vastly different from us as to be totally repugnant, or they might be some sort of super race and we know what happened the last time someone tried to create that. Either way, it is likely that the differences would cause us to want to defend ourselves from the unknown. To man and woman, the unknown is fearsome and ‘alien’ in any guise, until one acquires an understanding of those differences and their aspirations, whereupon previously held prejudices can often be set aside. Some might become friends or even lovers!

It’s not so long ago that we, as a human race, considered ourselves to be split into three. Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negro. These classifications were not very helpful in terms of unification of the people of the world and thankfully, are now all but dead. But the fact remains that we are all different and until and unless we understand these differences, we will continue to fight for our corner of this planet. Still, it’s a sad edictment that there are many wars going on in our World right now. I Google searched on how many, which returned varying answers from 16 to 43. One answer however simply said ‘to many’ (sic) so I have added another, the one against ignorance. And that brings me nicely back to the reason for those wars. Let’s all hope we have a long period of amail (alien mail) contact with our intrepid interplanetary travellers, ahead of when they arrive or before we visit them. If they speak one of our native tongues that is, otherwise, it could be the end of civilisation as we know it, the ultimate war; sometimes, only survival counts.”

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

The #aliens are coming, it could be the end.

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As a science fiction writer, I spend most of my life thinking about the, ‘what if’ of life and beyond. Recently, on Discovery, I watched a, ‘How the universe works’ programme about the likelihood of alien existence and it set me thinking about what has to be the biggest, ‘what if’ of all time.

But what if they do exist? Religion, race, colour, creed, wealth and power have all at some time acted singularly or conspired to keep the human race at odds with each other. To a lesser or greater extent, these factors have succeeded over countless centuries, causing wars between individuals, families, tribes, counties, countries and continents. How then, would we deal with aliens, a truly ‘different’ race from other worlds?

They might be so vastly different from us as to be totally repugnant, or they might be some sort of super race and we know what happened the last time someone tried to create that. Either way, it is likely that the differences would cause us to want to defend ourselves from the unknown. To man and woman, the unknown is fearsome and ‘alien’ in any guise, until one acquires an understanding of those differences and their aspirations, whereupon previously held prejudices can often be set aside.

It’s not so long ago that we, as a human race, considered ourselves to be split into three. Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negro. These classifications were not very helpful in terms of unification of the people of the world and thankfully, are now all but dead. But the fact remains that we are all different and until and unless we understand these differences, we will continue to fight for our corner of this planet. Still, it’s a sad edictment that there are many wars going on in our World right now. I Google searched on how many, which returned varying answers from 16 to 43. One answer however simply said ‘to many’ (sic) so I have added another, the one against ignorance. And that brings me nicely back to the reason for those wars. Let’s all hope we have a long period of amail (alien mail) contact with our intrepid interplanetary travellers, ahead of when they arrive or before we visit them. If they speak one of our native tongues that is, otherwise, it could be the end of civilisation as we know it, the ultimate war; sometimes, only survival counts.

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

Amaz[on]ing, can this be true?

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Today, from one if my American readers, I have been amazed to be told that Amazon might change manuscripts; I have yet to check this out for my book and she hasn’t read it through yet to confirm.

However, this lady has told me, “… Typically [with UK authors’ books] spellings are changed to Yanklish… words like “torch” changed to “flashlight”, etc…” and, ” It is done with everything. We don’t see Harry Potter or Tolkien or anything in the original here. It’s quite sad.”.

I did tell her, “It’s okay, I didn’t use the word torch.” But seriously, it is indeed quite sad and, if true, surely an infringement of an author’s copyright. Does anyone know if this is fact? She did mention that it definitely happens in paperback versions (possibly with the author’s consent?) but she was less sure if it was the case when only available in the US in Kindle version, as currently my book is.

However, can this be the case? I’d appreciate feedback from anyone who knows the truth.

Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)

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I don’t swear or use the word, ‘awesome’ but the UK #Paralympic Games were simply F*%>\ng Awesome.

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It was with complete and utter awe that I watched the closing ceremony of the Great Britain Paralympics’ Games last night. As a writer, I try not to swear too much although, on occasion, my characters do. However, the spectacle of the end of the Games was indeed F*%>\ng Awesome.

It was reported that there would be fire and there was; the imagination of the director, Kim Gavin knew no bounds this time. He had apparently said not to look for the derivation of his inspiration for the set pieces; they were, as it transpired, fantastically fictional and doubtless, entirely from his own cerebral invention, much like when writers write science fiction.

Its story however conveyed the message that these games, the Paralympics’ Games, were about the greatness of people. People who, for various reasons, are disabled; from relatively minor injuries or abnormalities to unbelievably debilitating conditions that have a huge impact on their way of life.

Their recent battle against such adversity making achievements against all odds cannot, and must not, be simply for the sake of the past ten days. They have striven for Great Britain for years to qualify and subsequently win medals, but even the taking part is more than admirable.

Let’s not forget the Olympians of course, they too have, ‘done us proud’ coming third in the World, like the Paralympians, was also a fantastic achievement.

And the Gamesmakers, what a fantastic bunch of people, working long hours and managing to maintain a cheerful demeanour, it was almost like being in a US Disney park and just as clean.

Thankfully there were no antics from the warring factions of this World. It was really great to see our troops (and the Police) there in a peaceful role, enjoying their work, making the Games memorable for the right reasons.

So finally, for the disabled, it’s up to us, those who are able bodied and minded. The mood in the UK towards them has palpably changed; let’s keep it that way and afford them as much assistance as they need and deserve. Well done Team GB.

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Ken Balneaves wrote, The Greatest Gift, available at http://amzn.to/QF7RLd (US), http://amzn.to/O12kgX (UK)