Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 2 – Still ‘Living the Dream’ in Rural Ireland

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Can complacency with one’s comfort zone and the status quo cause us to miss out on potential adventures that are literally far from “home?” “Yes, I believe so,” says multi-published author Nick Albert. “Certainly it’s easy to get so stuck in the rut of modern life as to miss the opportunity to explore, but it’s important to realize adventure is largely a matter of perspective. Many people would consider taking a flying lesson as a great adventure but, for the instructor, it’s just another day at work.” Nick’s own perspective change helped him as a writer to recognize the adventure that is all around.  “Some people may call it Mindfulness. For me, it’s just a way of looking for the positive story hidden in everyday events. Viewed from the right perspective, life is one big adventure.”

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Many an aspiring author has decided to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) following a life-changing experience which caused him/her to rethink perspectives and priorities. Was this the case for you?

A: I suppose the short answer is yes. However, things are seldom that simple. In retrospect I can recognize the succession of events which contributed to our overall feeling of discontentment with our lifestyle in England. Sometimes we get so focused on the task at hand, making a living, paying the bills and trying to save a little money that we completely forsake the pleasure of living. We were so busy playing the game, we forgot to stop and smell the flowers. Like water pressure building behind a dam, events were conspiring, each causing little cracks to widen until the dam crumbled.

Although our life was outwardly wonderful – I had a great job, a lovely home, a desirable car and so on – my wife and I couldn’t get away from the feeling it was all just window dressing, a meaningless sham. Then, within a few short months, I experienced several upsetting events. My father passed away, a close friend was killed in a car crash, another friend was diagnosed with brain cancer and several thousand of my workmates were made redundant. When I had my own health scare, I found my perspective had changed irrevocably. That change in perspective jump-started a sequence of decisions culminating in my wife and I beginning a new life here in rural Ireland.

Did I decide to put pen to paper because of what happened? No. I’ve always been a writer. My first book, “The Adventures of Sticky, The Stick Insect,” was completed when I was eight. Just five pages long and sprinkled with spelling errors, it was not a big hit with the critics. Undaunted, over the next 35 years I continued to write, gradually developing my skills, but not my spelling. What moving to Ireland gave me was space. At last I had the time I needed to write.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of relocating to rural Ireland? And the easiest?

A: In fairness, we weren’t trying to land on the moon, but I suppose the logistics of getting all my ‘ducks’ lined up was the most challenging aspect. There were so many things which needed to happen in the correct order. It was frustrating trying to communicate with banks, lawyers and property inspectors remotely, particularly as the vendor was in South America and only contactable via a weekly fax message. Fortunately, I’m passionate about making lists and keeping track, so when things went awry I was able to react quickly. In the end, I moved over and rented a cottage until we flopped gratefully over the finish line.

The easiest part of the move? One word, commitment. Once we had made the choice to relocate to Ireland, there was never a moment when we doubted the decision. That kind of clarity in our lives was very refreshing. Considering the relocation and then the huge project of renovating the property without any previous experience, I believe I’ve realized that, with patience, tenacity, careful research and a lot of planning, you can pretty much achieve anything. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to do it all over again though. Once is definitely enough – at least for now.

Q: Along with your latest release, you’ve written two comedy memoirs, a twisty thriller, a children’s book and a golf instruction book. Shouldn’t you just pick one horse and ride it?

A: Is that a law? I don’t think so. If you’ve got a story to tell, and you know your stuff, don’t let protocol hold you back.

Q: So how do you cope with writing for such diverse audiences?

A: Wear a different hat perhaps? I guess it’s a bit like method acting. I just listen for the internal dialog I hear when I’m telling a story or a joke. As a qualified golf coach, when I write about that subject, it’s very much as if I’m giving someone a lesson. The same principle applies to my other works. The humorous sections in the Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series sound very similar to how I tell jokes and the thriller has the same tension and misdirects I would use if I were telling that tale. By the way, there is only one copy of the children’s book. I wrote it for my grandson, he seems to like it.

Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: I’m definitely a plotter. Before I start writing any book, I create voluminous lists and flowcharts. It’s a long and arduous process but essential to create the framework for my story. Once the fingers are flying and the words flowing, I can permit my butterfly mind to occasionally flit off-track, secure in the knowledge I will never lose my way. Having a plan isn’t restrictive, quite the opposite, it encourages creativity. When I was writing Wrecking Crew, there were a couple of times when I was astonished by an event that just popped into my head, particularly as it slotted perfectly into the storyline. About halfway through the book, the protagonist Eric Stone opens the trunk of a car and there was… well, I won’t spoil the surprise. I recall sitting back in astonishment as I really had no idea what was about to happen. Of course, it was just my imagination running along ahead, something that could only happen because it had a clear path to follow.

Q: How does writing a thriller like Wrecking Crew differ from the process you would follow for one of your memoirs?

A: Writing memoirs need strict adherence to a good timeline, particularly for me, otherwise it is all too easy to jump about chronologically and that can become very confusing for the reader. My timelines are usually dozens of pages of A4 covered in scribbled notes and yellow post-it’s. It can take months to get all the events in the correct order. Usually my notes are just single-line memory triggers, meaningless to anyone but me.

For a thriller like Wrecking Crew and the follow up, Stone Façade, which is still under construction, I made a storyboard with detailed notes about each scene including links to important events in the overall plot. When you are trying to slip clues into the narrative to help or sometimes misdirect the reader, it’s crucial to have a clear plan. Thriller writing requires a considerable amount of research,  particularly when the storyline touches on areas that are outside of the author’s experience. Google Earth and the internet is now a great resource for geographical research (and a real money-saver) but sometimes there is no substitute for getting hands-on. As part of my research for Wrecking Crew, I took a course in lock-picking as I knew it was a skill my protagonist would need to demonstrate. In the end, much of that scene ended up on the cutting room floor but it wasn’t for a lack of quality research.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s in progress?

A: I share every chapter and here’s why. I’m very consistent, so if I make an error the chances are I’m just going to keep repeating it. To my mind, it’s far better to have a reliable eye watching over me and picking up any problems before it’s too late. I would hate to get off-track and not find out until I’ve wasted 120,000 words. Trust me, it happens.

In Zoe Marr, I’m very fortunate to have access to a wonderful editor. She’s based in New Zealand and I’m on the other side of the world here in Ireland. That time difference works to our mutual advantage. At the end of my working day I can email her a chapter or two, secure in the knowledge her edits and helpful comments will be waiting for my attention just after breakfast. It’s a great way to work.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I began looking for a publisher at about the time the industry began this seismic shift away from the traditional publishing model, brought about by the success of Lulu and Amazon as publishing platforms. At first I approached several agents along with those few publishers who were still accepting direct submissions. All I got in return was silence or cold boilerplate rejection letters. As someone who accepts refusal about as well as a child in a sweetshop, I found it all very depressing. However, when I saw J.K.Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith) had experienced the same issue, I began to feel a bit less discouraged. Eventually I ran out of patience and opted for the self-published approach using the Amazon platform.

Over the next few years, I continued to make submissions, but now I had a better offering – a proven track record of sales, hundreds of great reviews and a solid social media presence. Finally, I received an offer to publish. In fact I had four within just six months. Suddenly, I had a dilemma. As a successful self-published author, what had I to gain from signing a contract to publish?

Most of the publishers were essentially offering to do what I was already doing but charge me a fee for the privilege. They were reticent to talk about marketing strategy, budgets or anticipated revenue, but were expecting me to sign over the artistic rights to my work. I chose to sign with Ant Press precisely because they were different. To begin with, they don’t sign books, they sign authors. Secondly, they have considerable experience publishing memoirs, so they really know their stuff. Thirdly, they asked me to make changes to my manuscripts – a lot of changes.

At that time I had two completed manuscripts, totaling almost 200,000 words. Ant Press asked me to make so many changes, it made my head spin. Even so, I was impressed they had such courage in their convictions. For a month we had robust but amicable discussions about what a new series of books would look like. I even rewrote a couple of chapters to see if I was comfortable with the stylistic changes they were proposing. Finally, we were in agreement and I became an Ant Press author. It was a proud day for me. I have no regrets.

Q: Where do you see the publishing industry moving in the next 10-20 years?

A: I see a lot of similarities between publishing and the film business just now. Since the financial crash, it feels like both industries have ceded editorial control to accountants. Whereas before the occasional blockbuster/bestseller supported the less financially successful, but equally important, remainder of their portfolios, now every book or film has to be a huge moneymaker. The financial pressures must be huge. I think this is why we’re seeing so many film remakes and sequels like, “The new blockbuster movie starring (insert famous name here)”. With both industries, this shift in focus has created some terrific opportunities for someone to come in and fill the void. Suddenly, we have Netflix, Sky and Amazon video producing exclusive content. Some of it is world class. The same thing has happened in publishing.

New technologies like Audible, Kindle and print on demand have created almost unrestricted routes to market for authors and modern cloud-based publishers. But, just like the internet, there’s a downside to this new freedom. The lack of editorial control on these platforms is degrading the market, swamping us with so many new books – many of them of questionable quality or subject matter – that it’s becoming difficult for customers to find what they want. I’ve read that 800-1,000 new books a day are published on the Amazon platform alone, with some genres becoming saturated. If the idea of self-publishing was to make it easier for aspiring authors to be seen, it’s close to failure. But there is some hope.

Much like the film and TV business, I think publishing will move further away from the traditional arrangement, work through this messy transitional phase and settle on a stovepipe model of quality exclusive content. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a Netflix sister company called Netbooks, asserting editorial control and producing top quality books and screenplays, written by their stable of authors and delivered exclusively to your device. Whatever happens, I’m confident the future will be exciting.

Q: If we were to take a peek at the bookshelves of your younger self, what might we have found there?

A: Hundreds of books piled chaotically. I was, and still am, a veracious reader, it’s an absolute must for any aspiring author. As a child, I was introduced to the wonderful world of books by my sister, when she gave me her well-thumbed copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. A short while later, I discovered The Story of Doctor Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting. I believe I read all 13 books in the series in a month. Introducing a child to the joys of reading is the greatest gift anyone can ever give.

When I was a student living in Norwich, England, my first flat was next door to the best secondhand bookshop in the city. What heaven! Back then I read a lot of sci-fi books and thrillers, purely for the escapism. Because I was from a forces family, I collected hundreds of military biographies. Other favorites in my collection were Clive James, David Niven and Spike Mulligan. These books were treasured possessions, I still have most of them now.

Q: And what would your current collection of reading material tell us about you as a person?

A: My collection is somewhat eclectic, I’m not sure what that says about me. I have a library and dozens of stacked boxes bulging with hundreds of golf books, biographies featuring authors from all walks of life, loads of thrillers, some sci-fi and the complete works of Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and William Shakespeare. I’m never without a book. One secret I can reveal, if I’m writing comedy, I’ll only read thrillers – and vice versa.

Q: If you could invite three famous authors (living or dead) to enjoy a bottle of wine and watch an Irish sunset with you, who would it be and why?

A: Only three? Tough choice.

  1. Gene Kranz, author of Failure Is Not an Option. Gene Kranz was present at the creation of America’s manned space program and was a key player in it for three decades. As a flight director in NASA’s Mission Control, Kranz witnessed firsthand the making of history. He participated in the space program from the early days of the Mercury program, through the moon landings to the last Apollo mission, and beyond. It would be fantastic to hear his story firsthand.
  2. Beth Haslam, author of the Fat Dogs and French Estates Beth is a fellow Ant Press memoirist and very much an inspiration to me as an author. She was brought up on a country estate in Wales. Her childhood was spent either on horseback, helping the gamekeepers raise pheasants, or out sailing. After a serious car crash, she set up her own consultancy business. As semi-retirement beckoned, Beth and her husband decided to buy a second home in France. This became a life-changing event where computers and mobile phones swapped places with understanding the foibles of the French, and tackling the language. Somehow, she found the time to write a bestselling series of memoirs. In many ways our journeys are similar. We’ve only chatted online, but I think she’d be great company over a glass of wine.
  3. Terry Pratchett. Because he died too soon and I’d like to have him back writing again.

Q: What’s the oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic item in your closet and what is your particular attachment to it?

A: An old Irish coin. It’s called a Punt and I found it in my father’s desk, when I was clearing it out shortly after his death. To the best of my knowledge my dad had never visited Ireland and he had no earthly reason to have or keep a coin that had no value. At that time my wife and I were planning our move to Ireland, so I felt it was a significant discovery, as if he were saying, “Go ahead, it’ll be grand!” which it was.

Q: What have you learned from your own journey as a writer that you would pass along to someone who came to you for advice about how to break into publication?

A: Before you write, read – a lot. Read what you enjoy. Read the kind of books you would like to write but be sure to observe the authors craft as you read. Take note of how they mix dialog with narration, how they paint their pictures and how they guide your mind. Try to look beyond the words to understand how the story was constructed. Do all this and more, before you put pen to paper.

When you begin writing, remember it is a craft, one that needs developing. No matter how talented you are at the beginning, your writing should always improve over time. You should expect your last book to be much better than your first. Never let anyone tell you that you are unworthy.

Understanding the difference between dreams and goals can make your task considerably less stressful. Dreams are the things we would like to achieve, but have very little control over – like winning the lottery. Goals are the steps we take towards achieving our dream – like buying that lottery ticket. Goals you control, dreams you don’t. That distinction is important. As a writer, you must focus your efforts and evaluate your success based only on the things you can control. Trying to do otherwise is a recipe for disaster.

Many excellent writers have given up because they made getting published their goal and failed.  Trying to get published won’t make you a better writer, but being a better writer, and building a large social media following of people who like your work, will definitely help you to get published. Focus on what you can control.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A: My ‘ideas folder’ is bulging with interesting storylines, but it would be a mistake to take on too much. Just now I’m writing the third book in the six-part Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series. It is progressing well and due out in early 2019. In the background I’m researching a book about my father’s fascinating life in the RAF. I’m also working on Stone Façade, the second in my Eric Stone thriller series. I am very excited about the twisty plot, which will bring Stone to Ireland in search of a missing journalist, but not all is as it seems…

Q: Where do you see yourself 30 years from now?

A: I hope I’ll still be writing. Perhaps my spelling will improve. If I can average a book a year until I’m 90, that would be something special to look back on.

Q: Anything else you’d like to share?

A: Writing is the loneliest job in the world. I have only my characters and four dogs to keep me company, but becoming a successful author is a team effort. I have to thank my wife, my publisher, my editor, my cover artist and, most of all, the thousands of authors whose books I have read. I humbly stand on the shoulders of these giants, so I can reach a little higher.

 

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Bright Pink Ink

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“Poetry,” wrote John Keats, “should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity. It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts and appear almost a remembrance.” In her new collection of poetry, Bright Pink Ink, Laura DiNovis Berry embraces this very idea of connectivity and relatability by penning poetic reflections that celebrate the pitfalls and joys of simply being alive through odes to rugby, ruminations on being a military spouse and falling in love.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and when you first knew this was what you wanted to do for a living.

A: I think I truly invested my time into writing once I ran out of new books to read in the little library of the elementary school I attended. I later went to West Chester University of Pennsylvania as an English Composition major, but it was only in my junior year that I rediscovered my adoration of poetry.

Q: Are there any other writers in your family?

A: Yes! My oldest sister, Christine Leonard, is also a published writer; she wrote an adorable children’s book, “Zebra Beeba,” a few years ago and is now working on a suspenseful Young Adult piece.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you ever had published?

A: If I remember correctly it was a poem I wrote when I was about eight years old or so. It was called “Sleepy Head” and encouraged laziness to the tenth degree. I think it was published in a collection called Young Poets of America – something to that effect anyway.

Q: Who are some of the authors and poets that had an influence on your writing style and your view of the world?

A: When I was young, the fantasy greats J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, held me in their thrall. Once I reached high school, John Updike was one the first writers who truly impacted how I approached my own work. His romanticism of the mundane struck a chord with me.

Q: Teachers often discourage poetry as a viable avenue for building a writing career. Agree or disagree?

A: It is extremely hard to make a living from simply producing a book of poetry. In addition to crafting poetry, I write book reviews which not only act as a form of income but serve as a platform for modern poets struggling to bring their work to the public’s attention.

Q: Did you choose poetry or did poetry choose you?

A: Poetry chose me. I only began writing verse when I felt teenage hormones first sink their hooks into me. In an attempt to translate how I was feeling, I started writing poetry. It served as a conduit for emotions I didn’t understand or quite knew how to express.

Q: Favorite poem by a famous author?

A: “Marriage Year 43” by Betsey Cullen. Cullen isn’t famous yet but she should be. Her chapbook, Our Place in Line, is an utter joy to read.

Q: What is it about this form of expression that particularly resonates with you?

A: It is fluid. Poetry does not want to become contained, and if you, the poet, find yourself trapped mentally then no good poetry can come of your efforts. Writing a good poem is like finding a four leaf clover. The harder you look, the harder it is to find.

Q: Describe what a typical writing day is like for you.

A: I’ll be honest – I don’t have a set writing schedule or a typical formula I follow; however, I have found my most productive writing sessions occur while I am flying. There is nothing else to do except sit and write and so, I sit and I write.

Q: Do you let anyone read your works in progress or do you make them wait until you’re finished?

A: I am a big believer in letting people view my work before I bring it to its completion. Different eyes can find treasures in a piece that the original poet couldn’t even have dreamed existed!

Q: You chose self-publishing rather than going the traditional route. What did you learn from the DIY experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I learned how to create a book cover which resulted in a fun (at times frustrating) little series of experiments!

Q: What are you doing to promote your work?

A: I am seeking out anyone willing to talk to me and was very happy to see my local library purchased a copy of my book! I’ve also sent free copies to some souls willing to read and review my work.

Q: Best advice to aspiring poets?

A: First, edit. Next, allow a friendly, but discerning, editor to survey your piece. Then edit and edit again.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  I have two works in progress currently. One is a memoir about achieving my lifelong dream of owning a dog, and the second is a poetry collection dedicated to those fascinating animals.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I am on twitter @rightoffthevine and my book reviews can be read on Vocal.Media at https://vocal.media/authors/laura-dinovis-berry

 

 

Keeping The Balance

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It’s challenging enough for most of us to deal with the Here and Now, with the interactions we have with others and the oftentimes complicated relationship we have with our own selves. But what happens when disruptions come from otherworldly forces that are beyond our comprehension, frame of reference and personal control? In her new book, Keeping the Balance, Sue Churchill taps the spiritual clearance work that she and her husband do in order to help their clients resolve psychic attacks, spirit possession and residual energies associated with paranormal activity.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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 Q: What attracted you to the realm of spirituality?

A: My parents were spiritualists, so it was always an open subject in our house. I questioned my own beliefs when I was in my teens as I had an interest in different religions but, in my heart, I felt that the soul or spirit surviving physical death was the truth. I spent many years developing my mediumship skills through joining different development groups. I am still developing; it is a life-long lesson. Apart from learning how to connect with spirit, I was introduced to healing and rescue work. My husband, Mick, who I work with spiritually, thankfully shared my interest and he also started to work on his development and we attended several groups together. I spent several years serving spiritualist churches as a medium: we both also began training as spiritual healers and embarked on our journey conducting spiritual clearances. This started after we experienced our own spiritual activity and worked with a medium to resolve it. Our first case was helping a close friend and gradually more people needing help were guided to us: we were broken in gently and developed more skills with each situation. Sensitive communication skills are central to spiritual working; many people you deal with are distressed and they find themselves in scary situations which they don’t understand. Mick is a trained bereavement counsellor and I have spent many years in the field of care and care training; this has given us both useful communication tools for interacting with people and handling sensitive situations.

Q: How does your background in spirituality interface with your journey as a writer?

A: I find they work quite well together. Prior to writing and publishing my first book, I had only ever composed small “inspirational prose” pieces. I wasn’t an organized writer, I would feel inspired with a few words and set them down on whatever I could find at the time. I believe some of what I wrote was inspired by spirit and served to provide philosophical insight to help with comprehending the spirit world. A medium once advised me that any philosophy I received from spirit was not specifically for me, it should be shared with others to promote a wider learning. My book explains some of the work we have done which may help others understand their own situations and how to find help as well as provide them with a better understanding and food for thought to inspire and assist them on their own spiritual journey.

Q: What was your inspiration for writing this book?

A: I noticed many of our clients we had helped spiritually were very interested in the work which we did. In 2014 I broke my arm and was unable to go to work for about three months. It was then I had the time to write so I simply started writing about some of the cases we had resolved. I wanted to help people understand what we did, how we did it and about the knowledge of life-after-death and spiritual aspects which we had learned over time. I also hoped the book would help people who are experiencing paranormal activity or spiritual problems to understand more about them and where they can go to get help.

Q: What does the title mean?

A: From my title, Keeping The Balance, it isn’t clear what the book is about, hence, the subtitle: Our Journey Through Spiritual Hell. This still doesn’t fully explain but it at least highlights the subject area. I see the spiritual work we do as tipping the scales towards the light. In my view there are many energies in the universe, most of them not yet recognised nor understood by science and mankind generally. On the one hand there is positive or good energy and on the other there is negative or dark energy. There is a constant battle between these energies to overcome each other and gain some ground. We play our part to ensure the positive energy stays strong and keep the negative energy at bay: we are keeping the balance.

Q: Paranormal activity and problems don’t happen to everyone. Are there contributory factors which can lead to a person being affected versus being left alone?

A: It doesn’t affect everyone, but it can affect anyone and there isn’t one single factor which may cause it to happen. A common question we have been asked by the people we help is, “Why me?” Sometimes there may be environmental reasons for a person or household being affected: energy lines or leys may be causing more spiritual activity or exacerbating it. Historically, there may have been distressing and fatal accidents or events in the area resulting in many lost souls who need help crossing over. Some properties are very close to electricity pylons; pylons emit high amounts of electro – magnetic energy and this can cause people to experience goose bumps, mood changes and paranoia which can be mistaken for paranormal experiences. Difficult personal circumstances causing low mood, anxiety or depression may leave a person more vulnerable as negative energy can build up around them. As the negative energy grows, it will then affect them causing their low mood to worsen and intensifying the negative energy. A concentration of negative energy may cause problems and attract more energies and spirits. There is a lot to be said for confronting and trying to deal with your feelings and trying to keep positive. Personal spiritual protection for those who undertake paranormal investigation or spiritual work is important. Without it, a person can be vulnerable to attack or attachment by spirit and energies.

Q: Have you ever been attacked by spirits or experienced any unpleasant episodes of your own?

A: During one difficult case where a woman was possessed, and it required many visits to resolve, my husband was almost dragged out of bed by a spirit. He awoke in the early hours of the morning to find something had hold of his leg and was pulling it. He called out to wake me up and between us we managed to clear the energy. It was very unnerving. Due to the nature of our work to help people who are undergoing spiritual attacks or activity, we have found this can render us targets. We often find that prior to our first visit we experience negative spiritual activity at home or things crop up to stop or deter us from visiting. We have learned how to protect ourselves effectively and deal with anything which happens to us, but we still have to be on our guard.

Q: Conversely, have you ever had pleasant/positive experiences from paranormal interventions?

A: Helping a person plagued by unwanted and often negative spiritual activity where the result is peace for them gives us a good feeling and an awareness we have achieved something positive. In addition, some of the work we carry out involves spirit rescue—guiding lost and trapped souls to the light where they can find healing, understanding and continue their own journey in the spirit world. On one occasion, a few days after one such case, the spirit of the man we had helped over appeared before my husband; he immediately thought he hadn’t passed over, it hadn’t worked, and he was still earthbound. As the man smiled and then faded, my husband realized he had simply returned to thank him—a good and rewarding result.

Q: If books are judged by their covers (and I truly believe they are), what do you feel your own cover design says about what prospective readers can expect from the content?

A:  I wanted the cover to be eye-catching and sum up the philosophy of the book and our spiritual work. Mick had the initial vision of what he felt would look good and symbolise our spiritual work. He loves images of the grim reaper so that was a must, plus he felt it was a good representation of death. He felt the yin and yang symbol superimposed on an image of the earth held in the reaper’s hand would sum up the wider message in the book—yin and yang representing the balance of energies and the reaper holding that balance in his hand. Once he had the ideas and some images for the cover, an artist friend of our son came up with the final design. We both liked images of the moonlight through trees so that was a perfect choice for the background. I just hope readers won’t see the cover design as being too scary!

Q: What was your experience like in finding a publisher?

A: Although I started writing in 2014, I didn’t finish my book until early this year. I had investigated the process of publishing and I felt very overwhelmed, so I concentrated on finishing the book. I looked at companies who can sell you a package with different levels of help to publish. I was quite keen on this method until I realised that the company own the ISBN and rights. Our youngest son came to the rescue and introduced me to self-publishing. He published his first book towards the end of 2017; he managed it very quickly as he wanted it to be out before Christmas. He introduced me to Createspace and was there for me when I had little niggles and questions. I initially published in paperback and I found the guide they provide very useful and explanatory. Once it was live I decided to look at doing an electronic version. Personally, I like a proper book but I realise so many people prefer electronic now. I am quite good with computers but not an expert and it took me about three solid days to get my book Kindle-ready. My advice for anyone publishing for Kindle is to download everything available from the site to help you format your book so it is Kindle-ready.

Q: What are you doing to market it?

A: As a virgin author who self-published, I haven’t found it easy. I didn’t have the foresight to think about marketing prior to publishing. I was too busy working and trying to finish the book when I had spare time. After an intense couple of weeks in the final stages of publishing, the book was live, and I finally relaxed for a moment. I then realised I needed to market it. I regularly share my book and links to it over social media, trying to target those who have a spiritual interest and I share on pages used by potential readers such as paranormal investigators, mediums and healers. I recently discovered Book Connectors on Facebook which is a very friendly, helpful group where you can find bloggers, other authors and advice. I have also sent copies to spiritual publications and asked for a review. I have paid for two adverts. The first was in a popular spiritual magazine with a good distribution; it cost around £50 for a small paragraph with colour picture. I then came across a US company online, Whizbuzz Books. Your book remains on their site forever and they also advertise it regularly over the whole range of social media for a year; you can include a decent size description and links to your own website. Unless you have deep pockets, you must be resourceful to find as much free advertising as you can.

 Q: Your book addresses spiritual areas and beliefs which many may see as controversial or unbelievable. Do you think it would be well received or of interest to those from different belief systems?

A: I hope so, as many people are exploring different philosophies nowadays and seeking answers. Part 1 of the book describes a cross section of the spiritual clearance cases we have resolved and is, therefore, factual. However, each of these clients were from different backgrounds and belief systems. I explain how we conducted each clearance and how, in some cases we adapted according to the beliefs or religion of the client in question. Negative spiritual activity does not discriminate, it can affect anyone. One of our clients was Catholic and her parents were Baptist. After we helped her, I talked her through methods and techniques for keeping positive, moving forward and protection. She liked to use prayer and I supported that because it was her belief and her confidence in prayer which helped her through this negative episode. In Part 2, I speculate and theorise around spiritualism and belief systems which I hope will encourage readers to explore for themselves. I make it very clear my conjecture is according to our experiences and how my understanding and knowledge has grown from them.

Q: There are lots of books about spirituality out there. A simple search on Amazon, for instance, reveals over 60,000. Can books help readers glean a better understanding of spiritual subjects? If so, how do they possibly go about choosing which ones will be the best fit for them?

A: Books can help immensely with gaining a basic understanding of many areas and helping an individual look at the different paths. There are many which provide fundamental information on auras, chakra, meditation and spiritual protection. However, I feel it’s important to remember that some of the information written will be the authors’ opinion, not necessarily fact. When choosing a book, you may have specific authors or books which have been recommended to you, but it’s still difficult to select which is right for you. Have a good look through bookstores. Amazon is great as there is so much choice but that isn’t always helpful. Going to a good book shop and taking your time to browse is often better. There’s nothing like handling a book to get a feel for what it is like. If it seems to be right for the subject area you’re seeking, then go with your gut feeling for which is best—the one which feels right, the one your eyes want to go back to. Listen to your intuition. Never take everything as gospel. You will begin to recognise authors you like or indeed practitioners, like us, who publish their experiences.

Q: If readers are having spiritual problems, what do you recommend as a starting point for them to seek resolution?

A: It depends on the person affected and their beliefs. A strongly religious person may be better off approaching their own minister for advice as a first step. Otherwise, I would suggest a local spiritualist church or centre or a recommended paranormal investigation group. Spiritualist churches (you can find lists on the Internet), will usually be able to help or suggest a local medium who is able to help. I strongly advise against finding a medium, psychic or paranormal investigation group online unless they have been recommended or you are able to check them; there are so many who do not know what they are doing.

Q: What’s your advice for fellow wordsmiths who—like you—are planning to write their first book?

A: My advice is, do it! Life is for doing, not for regretting missed opportunities. Last year I enrolled on a distance learning creative writing course which I am finding very beneficial and I would recommend. Not only does it help with writing styles for different genres, it also teaches the processes for progression in different areas of professional writing. For this book, I did no planning, I just started writing and although it worked quite well as it is non-fiction, it did cause me more work going back and forth and re reading to complete. I would also advise making a careful note of any quotations or references to other works so when it comes to acknowledging them, they are easy to find, and you don’t miss any.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: For anyone who is experiencing upsetting spiritual activity or problems, no, you are not mad. Don’t suffer alone in silence; seek help. You can check out our website or contact for a chat https://suechurchill966.wixsite.com/spiritualbalance and suechurchill966@yahoo.com. If you’re a new writer, there are many people out there who are keen to help you along the way. Join groups, connect on Facebook; they will all help to guide you and it can open doors to more help and connections.

 

 

A Chat With Lorelei Kay

Lorelei Kay picture
After living 50 years as a devout Mormon, Lorelei Kay accepted a “calling” from her bishop which caused the doctrinal foundation of her world to crumble. That journey is captured in her new book, From Mormon to Mermaid – One Woman’s Voyage from Oppression to Freedom.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: With 50 years of your life invested in the Mormon Church, what prompted you to leave?

A: My transformation began when my bishop called me to teach Gospel Doctrine, the scripture class for adults. Like anything else any bishop had ever asked me to do, I put my whole heart and soul into it. I spent over ten hours a week in preparation for my class each Sunday. As I began to realize the depth of problems in Mormon doctrine, my spirituality changed from a placid sea into a raging torrent. Then, as I tell in my memoir, “All halibut broke loose.”

Q: Your book has an intriguing title. How did it come about?

A: While my father was a soldier stationed in Italy during World War II, he heard the enchanting story of the Lorelei—the German mermaid who perches on the River Rhine. After he returned home, still fascinated by the tale, he named his first-born daughter Lorelei. That’s me!

As a child, I felt embarrassed I had been named for a half-naked siren. It took a few years, but I came to appreciate and claim my mermaid heritage.

After I left the church, I found many people interested in the controversial and complicated doctrines that makes up Mormonism. One day I was sharing with a friend the Mormon belief that God is a polygamist, and he said, “You should write a book—and call it, From Mormonism to Mermaidism. Great idea!

I shortened his suggested title to From Mormon to Mermaid and began writing my memoir. I used an aquatic metaphor because of my name. I found using my sea-theme throughout gave me a net to hang my story on.

For example, some of my chapters titles are, “Hook, Line, and Thinker,” “The Undertow of Underwear,” “Kissing the Sails of Ships,” and “Prying Open the Oyster Shell.” The chapter on sex is called, “Wet.”

Q: Who is your target audience and what do you envision as the book’s takeaway value for them?

A: Women! Men! Inquiring minds! Mormons struggling with their faith! Mormons not struggling who want to understand why people leave! People who want to understand how Mormon doctrine influences the daily life of its members.

Many people hear, “Family first,” and have a lofty false impression about Mormon family life. The truth is, “Follow the Prophet” comes first, often at the expense of the family. And while the men are taught to work toward godhood, the women are kept bound to the shoreline by men who wield all the power.

I tell my story of my life as a Mormon woman to encourage people to break free from damaging doctrines and limiting belief systems—and claim their own authentic lives.

Q: There’s no question that penning a memoir is a cathartic experience. Catharsis, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to commercial success. What did you envision in this regard at the outset and has that objective been met?

A: Commercial success is a long voyage, and I’m still on that trail.

Q: To what personality traits do you attribute your passion and commitment to the craft of writing?

A: Loving my dad and following his example.

Q: Were there particular parts of your memoir that were challenging for you to write?

A: I didn’t want to write about my divorce—I didn’t want to rehash it or relive it. But after my first editor pointed out I couldn’t just sail along and then say, “we got a divorce,” I tackled it. This caused me to rewrite much of the memoir. In fact, I did a complete edit from my ex-husband’s point of view just to make sure I was being fair. But it’s richer. And because of that edit, I gained new insights.

Q: What constitutes a safety net for you … or do you have one?

A: The California Writers Club has been a terrific safety net. Friends there have provided critique, information, networking, and support. The club we have here in the High Desert is a tremendous asset.

Q: What prompted you to go the self-publishing route?

A: After ten years of hard work, I wanted a professional edit before sending my memoir out to the world. I went with Dog Ear publishing because I was impressed with the editing done there by Stephanie Seiifert-Stringham, Managing Editor. That worked very well for me because Dog Ear awarded it their “Literary Award of Excellence,” which they bequeath annually to just a few authors. Stephanie also wrote a wonderful blurb for my book cover.

Q: What did you learn from this DIY experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: That’s a whole other book . . .

Q: Appendix/footnotes are unusual for a memoir. What inspired you to include all the references?

A: When I shared my memoir with a good friend who had been an active Mormon, he said, “No one is going to believe the shocking doctrines you share about the Mormon Church—unless you give them proof.” He suggested footnotes, which I tried at one point. But it looked too scholarly, not friendly enough. So I moved them all to the back under the title of Appendix. That way, no one can say I misunderstood, or my family misinterpreted doctrine, or my bishop didn’t explain things correctly. I quote Mormon scripture and prophets. I give references. There can be no question about my claims about the doctrines espoused by the Mormon Church. I back up every claim I make.

Q: The book has accrued no shortage of reviews since its publication. Which reviews have personally been the most meaningful to you?

A: One of my strongest and most meaningful reviews on Amazon came from an active Mormon woman who loved my book. Many Mormon and ex-Mormon women have written me expressing gratitude for writing a book showing the demeaning and oppressive role of woman they experienced while members of  the Mormon Church. Many have shared with me that reading my story has given them the courage to make changes in their lives, and that’s been most gratifying.

Q: I understand you’ve won some awards, too. Tell us about them.

A: I was thrilled when Dog Ear Publishing awarded From Mormon to Mermaid an “Award of Literary Excellence” upon publication. Also, Shelf Unbound awarded it a “Best Indie book for 2016 Runner-up.” Hip hip hooray!

Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your decision to be a writer?

A: When I was in third grade, my father sat me down and helped me with my first poem. I was hooked.

I also saw my father’s dedication to writing his own book about the Book of Mormon and writing family history. Since he couldn’t find any room in our small home for writing, he carved out a place in the crawl space under the house, made a desk using an old door sitting on cinder blocks, and set his Royal manual typewriter on top. And he wrote.

I have inherited a glorious heritage of commitment to writing.

Q: What is your definition of happiness?

A: Living a life at peace with internal beliefs, and being able to explore new, fun adventures. For me, writing is always an adventure.

Q: What is your favorite quote that inspires you?

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is (sic) asking to do it, the men better let them.”    Sojourner truth, activist

I also get a big kick out of Gloria Steinem’s quote: “Women grow radical with age. One day an army of gray-haired women may quietly take over the earth.”  She just may be onto something.

Both of these quotes, along with many others, can be found in the book, Nasty Women’s Almanac – Feminine Voices Striving for a Brighter Day, which I published in 2016.

Q: If you could share a cab ride to the airport with any celebrity, who would it be and what would you talk about?

A: I would love to have a heart-to-heart conversation with Sojourner Truth. She was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery. She escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826 and went to court to recover her son. In 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. She has left us with a wealth of personal wisdom, and demonstrated how confidence in her abilities overcame huge adversities. What a shining example of overcoming obstacles!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m in the middle of writing a novel called Breath of the Dragon, which is based on a true story of a Mormon missionary. And madness.  I also continue my love of writing poetry, and I’m almost ready to publish a children’s book called Oh! The Places We’ve Been!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I’d like to leave you with is refrain included in From Mormon to Mermaid:

A symbol of transformation,

mermaids whisper from the sea:

“Live true to your inner heartstrings,

and your truth will set you free.”

 

 

A Chat With Jacquie Gauthier

Jacquie Gauthier

By Debbie A. McClure

Someone told Canadian ex-radio host, Jacquie Gauthier that we all need to “Find Your Elephant!” When I heard that quote, I had to laugh. After all this is a woman who has literally learned what that means. Imagine falling in love, leaving your country of birth, and starting all over in a foreign country, and in the process, finding yourself. For many years I listened to Jacquie on the local radio station in London, Ontario, Canada, and worked with her on a local Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraiser. However, I never dreamed she’d roam so far, or that one day we’d be talking about elephants and writing books. Welcome Jacquie!

Q: Tell us a little about your books and how you got started.

A: My first book, The Gift Of An Elephant: A Story About Life, Love, and Africa, really came as a result of my Uncle Ernest, who was a missionary in Africa. When I was a little girl, he gave me an ebony elephant carving. I loved that little carving, and it sparked my life-long love of elephants and Africa. In fact, little did I know that my love for him and the seeds he planted, would sprout much later in life.As a result of my great uncle, I’ve always had an affinity for Africa, and for helping other people. 

I’ve had what I believe is a pretty bumpy ride to where I’m at now, living in Africa with my husband, and my passionate involvement with elephant and African wildlife conservation.  I wanted to share my own personal experiences in Africa and Canada, and the journey that’s lead me here, in an effort to remind people that anything, literally anything, you feel deeply about can happen. But change isn’t easy—I don’t think it’s supposed to be. There is a lot of pain along the way, but if you keep going, keep believing in yourself and pursuing what’s important to you, you can create the changes you need in your life. I also know that Africa changes how you view life, yourself, and others. It’s an incredibly unique place on this planet, and I wanted to share some of what I’ve experienced with others.

Q: Explain how you went from London, Ontario to South Africa, and why?

A: A few years ago, when I was at my personal lowest, I decided to go on a mission trip with Canadian Aid For Southern Sudan. My job there was simple. I was to help the kids create art, assist with the music camp, and help work on plays for the kids. I have to tell you, I loved every minute of it!  

One day I went with a group of people to deliver some medicines and interview refugees not far from where we were staying. That’s where I met Johann, a South African paramedic who was working on a U.N. contract at the time. He is such a wonderful man, and we connected immediately. After we got married, Johann came to Canada on Permanent Residence, but he couldn’t find a job. Oddly enough, he landed a job in Mozambique, so returned to Africa to work. We absolutely didn’t want to deal with a long-distance marriage, so I moved to Africa with him, but I didn’t have the documentation to work. This meant I was going to have a lot of time on my hands, which worried me a bit, but I figured something would come along.  

When we were preparing to move to Africa from Canada, I contacted the television show, House Hunters International. What followed was a crazy, fun experience of having our massive life overhaul and move to a new country, filmed. It was a great experience, and we still get stopped on the street by people everywhere who have seen that episode and recognize us!

The problem for me with moving to Africa was that Johann was required to be gone for as much as a month at a time. Because I had the time, I decided to pursue a long-held dream of writing a book. With the success of The Gift Of An Elephant, I was encouraged to write my second book, Twenty-Eight Elephants: And Other Everyday Miracles.  

I won’t say much about Twenty-Eight Elephants right now, except that this book talks to the many experiences, happenstances, and yes, miracles, I’ve had or heard about throughout my life that have changed me irrevocably for the better.

I also have to say that I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to observe, first hand, the unrelenting, inspiring resilience of the people of Africa who’ve been misplaced by famine, war, and drought, yet are happier than many North Americans. Why? Because they value each other. They pay attention, and care for each other—that’s all they have—each other. I’m convinced that miracles, serendipity, God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it, happen all the time.  

Q: You now collaborate on a highly successful new artistic venture with a remarkable artist in Africa to raise funds, awareness, and build a brand new business. How did you and your artistic partner, Alicia Fordyce, meet? 

A: Alicia and I met at an art show in far off and exciting Hoedspruit Limpopo. Alicia was an exhibiting visual artist, and I fell in love with her work. Long story short; we chatted, clicked, and continued to run into each other socially on several occasions after that. Then I had this crazy idea to do fine art and photography on elephant dung paper, which is an amazing product that really isn’t as gross as it sounds. I’ll explain in a moment. The key thing is that Alicia thought it was a great idea too, so we decided to collaborate on this new art project, which we entitled; Two Girls And An Elephant (see link below). The plan was to start a new business by creating original art, sell it, and at the same time, raise funds and awareness of African elephants and rhinos, who are at an alarming risk of becoming extinct if people don’t do something, like NOW!

Q: Tell us about your artwork.

A: Well, we started out thinking of doing prints of Alicia’s paintings and my photography (another passion of mine) on high quality art paper and elephant dung paper . We planned to sell the prints to tourists visiting the area. Of course Alicia and I have the original art, but we weren’t sure it would be as big a seller as it is. Actually, it’s doing exceptionally well! Some of our original art has been exhibited at the Lion Sands Ivory Lodge in Saubi Sands, an absolutely incredible hotel that’s often called “one of the best hotels in the world”, which sits right on the banks of the Sabi River .  

Q: Okay, I gotta ask; what is dung paper, and how do you use it?

A: *laughs* It’s made from elephant dung, or poop. You see, elephants have poor digestive systems, so what remains is mostly grass. The grass is boiled in caustic soda, then water is added to make a paste, which is then spread out on a screen and left in the sun to dry. As you can imagine, it’s a very organic look and is an amazing medium. We work hand-in-hand with a local paper-maker to have the it refined to our precise design specification, which is thinner than what they would normally produce. 

The advantages of this product is that it has such an organic look and texture. This makes it completely different from anything else out there. We like to tell purchasers that this is a great way to bring an authentic piece of Africa home with them, and it is!

The disadvantages of the dung paper are very few. Alicia loves painting on it, however, I will say that printing on it is a bit more difficult, and supply is limited. In addition to larger pieces, we also do greeting cards, book markers, etc., all at different price points of course.

Q: Who benefits from the sale of the artwork?

A: We donate 10% of the proceeds from sales of the artwork to Elephant’s Alive South Africa. 

I’ve also become very involved with a local (African) organization, Wild Shots Outreach, which teaches kids how to use a camera to create beautiful images. It’s imperative we educate the country’s youth about what’s happening in their own backyard regarding the elephant, rhino, and other wildlife populations. They’re the future, so if they can learn to connect to nature, they’re far less likely to be swayed into becoming poachers later in life. They’re also taught the importance of preservation, and where each animal on the planet fits in with it’s natural habitat. Every animal impacts the environment and other animals around it. It’s a domino effect that’s in serious jeopardy of collapsing in several areas.

Q: Tell us a bit about the importance of elephant conservation. Why should people outside Africa care?

A: 36,000 elephants are brutally murdered every year. That’s 96 elephants A DAY, or one every 15 minutes, which is completely unacceptable!

You see, the elephant is what is known as a “keystone” species. In other words, it’s survival impacts the other animals and habitat. When an elephant knocks down a tree, leafy greens are accessed by smaller animals who otherwise wouldn’t have that food source, and the tree itself becomes a nest or hiding refuge for other animals. When an elephant walks in mud, then that mud solidifies, it creates a natural water bowl for smaller animals. Their droppings mean new seeds are delivered to new locations, conveniently encased in fertilizer. 

There are so many ways the African elephant impacts it’s habitat in a positive manner. That’s why I’m doing what I can to raise awareness and funds to help out. Did you know that elephants cry, form complex matriarchal societies, and mourn their dead? These animals matter in a very significant way, and people can definitely do a lot to help end poaching. Can you imagine a world without these majestic, intelligent creatures?

Losing any species off our planet is scary, and potentially dangerous, in ways we can’t even predict yet, but time is our enemy. Things have to change, or in 15 years—15 years, we won’t have wild African elephants at all! A few years ago, scientists predicted that we had maybe 20 years left to protect and preserve the African wild elephant, but it’s happening much faster than originally thought. Awareness from the rest of the world is part of the answer. After all, if people don’t know there’s a problem, we don’t know how or why we need to correct it. I think the answer is in educating young people about nature and the ripple effects. The fact is, many children living close to Kruger National Park have never seen an elephant. This means they have no affinity for the animals. For the adults of a community village, poaching means money—more money than they’ve ever seen before. It’s hard or impossible to say no to that kind of offering, especially if you have a family to feed. When there’s no understanding of why the elephant is important, there’s no reason not to take the money. If people the world over would stop buying ivory, there’d be no demand, and no need to slaughter the animal. Again, it’s about education on many levels. 

Another organization that’s doing its part on behalf of education is “Nourish”. They’re working on building self-sustaining communities to banish poverty. By focusing on early childhood development, food security, English literacy, environmental education, conservation experiences, and entrepreneurial training, they’re making significant inroads with the people living in and around the wildlife areas and game reserves. Teaching the people about how they can benefit from tourism for years to come by helping to preserve it, is a key factor. 

Q: How can people reading this help?

A: *laughs* Donate! Support a charity, buy a product, (like our art) that helps the people living in and around the African elephants and other wildlife, to become more self-sustaining. When you do, you create your own ripple effect, even though you may not necessarily see it first-hand. This actually goes for all wildlife anywhere in the world. What you see us doing in South Africa, can be adapted for other areas of wildlife in need. This our planet. We created these serious problems, but we can fix it too. We just have to do it together.

By sharing my personal experiences in my books, I hope to inspire others to take on new challenges, and recognize the connectivity we are all a part of.

Website: http://www.twogirlsandanelephant.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jacquie.gauthier.5

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquie-gauthier-10983a16/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jacquie-Gauthier/e/B014V288DS

Instagram: jacquie_gauthier_author

Nourish: http://www.nourishnpo.co.za/

Elephants Alive: http://www.elephantsalive.org/

Wildshots Outreach Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wildshotsoutreach/

Ivory Lodge Game Reserve:  https://www.sabi-sands.com/lion-sands-ivory-lodge.html

 

 

 

 

A Chat With Eddi Fiegel

Eddi Fiegel byline photo

The same year the United States entered World War II, a first-born baby girl named Ellen Naomi Cohen entered the lives of a Jewish family in Baltimore. Thirty-two years later, following a headlining performance at the London Palladium, the singer who had come to be known as Mama Cass was found dead at Harry Nilsson’s flat in Mayfair. As much an enigma in death as she was in life, her roller coaster journey of sex, drugs, politics and folk music became open for review in Dream a Little Dream of Me by British author and BBC correspondent Eddi Fiegel.

I met Eddi when her book first came out in 2005. Happily, we have reconnected in 2017 to chat about her latest project which focuses on the generation of young females who went crazy about one of Britain’s most popular exports, The Beatles.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: You belong to a generation that came into its own long after The Mamas and Papas had already disbanded. When did you first discover their music and allow it to captivate you?

A:  I loved The Beatles from an early age even though I was too young to have enjoyed them while they were still together and I soon realised that I loved the sound of other records from the ‘60s too. I remember vividly hearing The Mamas and Papas’ ‘Creeque Alley’ for the first time on the radio and immediately wanting to find out who it was by and where I could get a copy. I think it was the infectiousness of the melody and the gorgeous harmonies that just sounded so upbeat and captivating, particularly in grey London.

Q: Did you come from a musical background/childhood?

A: My mother grew up with classical music and when I was a child, she always had classical music on the radio or playing on a record. I also grew up playing piano and always loved music. Pop music, however, was my own domain, in contrast to classical which belonged very much to my parents’ world.

Q: Was music ever something you wanted to pursue as a professional career?

A:  I loved the idea of becoming a professional pianist as a child but was discouraged by my mother and a piano teacher who apparently told her I was unlikely to become a female Vladimir Ashkenazi. If I had another life, I’ve always thought it would be incredible to play a piano concerto with an orchestra.

Q: Tell us about your foray into the world of BBC reporting and how it shaped your decision to do feature interviews and biographies.

A: I worked as a BBC radio reporter for several years. I started off reporting from Spain where I was living in Barcelona at the time, doing reports on young people and music in the city. Then when I moved back to London, I began doing feature interviews with musicians and reporting from music events. I met some wonderful artists during that time. Amongst my favourites were Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Philip Glass, world music artist Anjelique Kidjo and Nitin Sawhney.

I had always wanted to write however and magazines like Mojo had begun asking me to write up some of my interviews so it was an easy progression. I also found that many of the skills I had learnt whilst training as a BBC reporter related equally to writing and were very much transferrable skills.

Q: What particularly made you want to write about the life and times of Cass Elliot?

A: I had always loved her version of ‘Dream A Little Dream of Me’. In fact I had a seven inch of it as a child and used to love singing along, as although I don’t have a voice to speak of at all, my voice could more or less match her pitch so I could sing along easily.

Then in the early 1990s I discovered Cass Elliot’s solo albums.  I particularly loved tracks like It’s Getting Better, One Way Ticket and Make Your Own Kind of Music so I started trying to find out more about her. I was amazed and intrigued by what I discovered. I found out that she was born Ellen Naomi Cohen but that she had died young in London, under ambiguous circumstances. I also learnt that during her years with The Mamas and Papas, she had been a leading light of the LA social scene, hosting unofficial salons attended by everyone from The Beatles to Hollywood A-listers like Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.

She was responsible for introducing David Crosby to Graham Nash and had been friends with Joni Mitchell. All this made me want to know more so I looked for a book on her life and saw that no biography had been written. I was looking for a subject for my next book around this time and I knew then that I had found it.

Q: Was this your first music biography?

A: No. I had written the biography of British film composer John Barry before. John is most famous for writing the scores to the original James Bond films as well as the Oscar winning Born Free, but he had also led a fascinating life. I have also co-written biographies of Madonna and Cher.

Q: What do you feel most distinguished her in a music industry which, at the time, was dominated by men?

A: Cass had an astounding voice and the determination to be accepted on her own terms. When she started out in music, she was constantly rejected by musicians, managers and agents who took one look at her and refused to believe that a woman of her size could become a star. As soon as they heard her sing, however, they were nearly always bowled over by her voice and charisma.

Q: What was the most astonishing takeaway you found when you were doing your research?

A: There were various points which I found fascinating in different ways. I had known that amphetamines had been routinely prescribed as a dieting aid during the 1960s but it was still alarming to hear about Cass having had them prescribed by her doctor when she was still an adolescent.  I was also fascinated to hear one of my female interviewees talk about her experience of the ‘free love’ ethos in the late 60s. She told me that she had felt there was as much pressure during that era to ‘be free’ with your love as there had been not to be free in the more buttoned up era which immediately preceded it. This seems obvious in hindsight but the way that era is presented rarely focuses on this particular female viewpoint.

Q: How long did the book take you to write?

A: Four years.

Q: Had she lived, do you think Cass Elliot would have stayed viable in the music business or done something else?

A: The 70s and early 80s were a difficult time for many performers who had become famous during the 60s, particularly those who, like Cass, didn’t write their own material. But from the mid 80s onwards, a new generation started discovering the music of the 60s and there was a renewed interest in them and their work.

I think Cass would have benefited from that and been championed by young artists and consequently the music industry itself. Musicians including Boy George, kd Lang and Antony Kiedis from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers have all talked about how much they admire her voice.

I also think she would have become successful as a TV star and possibly explored the world of politics further. She campaigned for George McGovern when he stood as presidential candidate against Nixon in the 1972 election and she talked about how she liked the idea of exploring that that area further.

Q: You have something interesting trivia to share about Cass’ high school class and the musical Grease. What is it and how does it speak to the younger generation today about trying to straddle the line between popularity and individuality?

A: Cass attended Forest Park High School in Baltimore which has often been talked about as providing part of the inspiration for the musical Grease. The musical was originally produced by two friends and ex-classmates of Cass’s– Ken Waissman and Maxine Fox, and the culture it portrays was very much the way things were for her. Classmates of hers remember the pressure amongst pupils to fit in and be liked but also to be quick-witted and smart.

The musical clearly portrays that and the idea of being yourself and having the strength to resist peer pressure is obviously still relevant today, particularly amongst high school students.

Q: You interviewed many fascinating and high profile interviewees from David Crosby and Graham Nash to the late senator and U.S presidential candidate George McGovern. Was it difficult to get interviews with some of these people and how did they respond to your request?

A: Was it difficult to get to some of the people? Yes. Getting to some of my interviews was indeed a very long drawn out process in many cases, but well worth it in the end!

David Crosby only agreed to talk to me after several people he knew and trusted had met me and presumably decided that I was ‘kosher’ and not a psychopath. Nevertheless, when Crosby finally agreed, he suggested we meet in a branch of the Coffee Bean near his home. I was surprised that we were going to conduct what I hoped would be a lengthy and in-depth interview in a café but after about 15 minutes, he suggested I follow his car to his home. I realised at this point that the café meeting had been my audition and that I had evidently passed.

The late Senator George McGovern meanwhile was someone I had initially written to requesting an interview but over a year later, I had had no reply. I had entirely given up on hearing from him, when, one night in the summer of 2003 my phone rang at around 1am. I happened to still be awake and answered the phone to find a very polite gentleman telling me down a very crackly phone line that this was George McGovern.

I can only assume he had not realised the time difference between the UK and US but he very graciously agreed to wait whilst I rushed to find my notes before we began our conversation. His memory of events some thirty years earlier was incredible and he was very complimentary in his recollections of Cass’s enthusiasm and support for his campaign and her ability to talk to supporters knowledgably.

Q: In an earlier interview I did with you, you observed that “Cass could have been Oprah before Oprah.” What did you mean by that?

A: Cass Elliot had a natural and winning way with people as well as a very quick wit, so she was perfect as a TV guest and I believe she would definitely have been offered work as a TV show host. There was in fact talk of this kind of thing with her manager and various people in TV before she died. Consequently I think had she lived, she would easily have hosted a show like Oprah’s and become equally successful doing that.

Q: What do you look for when deciding on the subjects for your books?

A: I have always tried to write books that I myself would like to read. So it has to be a person or a subject which intrigues me, that makes me want to know more.

Q: What do you think makes a great biography?

A: Good research, good writing, a passion for the subject from the author, and portraying the subject’s life in the context of the times they lived in.

Q: Your latest project is all about The Beatles. Tell us about it.

A: I’m working on a new book called She Loves You – The Girls Who Screamed for The Beatles.

We’ve all seen the newsreels and the photos of screaming girls waiting for The Beatles at Kennedy airport or at concerts both across the US and UK and we all know the story of The Beatles. What we don’t know is the story of those girls.

I want to find out who they were and how they came to be there. Did they tell their parents they were having a sleepover at a friend’s? Did they raid their pocket money savings to buy tickets? Did they wait for hours in the cold to see the group and what was it like when they did? What became of them in their lives subsequently? Did they go to college and get married?  Did they discover the women’s movement and live in a hippy commune? Where are they now and do they still love The Beatles? Do they have children or grandchildren who like The Beatles?

Each chapter of the book will tell the individual story of a different woman, using their experience of seeing or waiting for The Beatles as the starting point. I believe this generation of women have lived through particularly fascinating times and will have had wonderful and varied life experiences.  The book will, therefore, explore not only the story of Beatlemania but the story of a generation.

This book will also be a different experience for me in terms of the publisher. My previous books have been published by traditional publishers such as Macmillan but I am writing She Loves You for the award-winning UK publisher Unbound. Since they started six years ago they have had books nominated for major literary awards such as the Man Booker prize and hit books such as The Immigrant but the way they work is different in that they are a crowdfunding publisher.

When a lot of people hear this, they assume it’s virtually the same as self-publishing and this must be the last resort for an author who can’t get published anywhere else. This is not the case at all with Unbound. They have distribution of their books through Penguin/Random House ie major publishers who ensure that Unbound’s books are available in all bookshops as well as on Amazon etc and they have a commissioning, editing and marketing process just like traditional publishers.

‘So why would an author choose them?’ you’re probably wondering. Well, the reason is because Unbound allow authors much more control and input into aspects of the publishing process such as book jacket, editing, etc than traditional publishers. Crucially, Unbound also split profits with their authors, giving them 50% of the profits. With traditional publishers authors receive an advance; i.e., money upfront for writing the book (which we don’t get with Unbound) but then only about 2 or 3% of the proceeds from the cover price of the book.

The way the crowdfunding works is that everyone who supports the book gets their name printed in every edition of the book. Pledges start from $12 / £10 and there are different pledge levels from there on with different ‘rewards’ including signed copies of She Loves You and signed copies of my previous books. You can obviously pledge in your own name but some people also like to do this as a gift for a friend or relative.

If anyone reading this likes the sound of She Loves You, it would be wonderful if you could make a pledge, however small! All the details are here: www.unbound.com/books/she-loves-you

There’s a short video of me at the top of the page talking about the book and the pledge levels are detailed below.

Q: What is it about the decade of the1960s that so appeals to you?

A: Several different things. The 60s was an incredibly creative decade. There was an extraordinary explosion of talent with groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who and The Mamas and The Papas all emerging within a few years.

You also had great fashion and social revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic. In Britain’s ‘Swinging London’ the young generation were taking over and for the first time young people of all backgrounds and social classes were becoming stars in the worlds of theatre, film, fashion and literature.

In America, the Civil Rights Movement, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the hippie movement and the Vietnam War were all likewise momentous stages in America’s history.

I find these events fascinating in their own right and as they informed the lives of both Cass Elliot and John Barry, they have also made powerful and compelling backgrounds to their life stories. They will also have figured in the lives of the women whose stories I will be telling in She Loves You.

Q: In the 1960s, there was not as much overexposure of celebrities as there is today. What do you think she would say about the current trend of baring souls and bodies in order to dominate the Internet and appease fans?

A: Cass was full of contradictions, so I think on the one hand, she would have welcomed more openness and honesty about celebrity’s lives. She herself famously posed lying naked (stomach down) in a bed of daisies for a photograph advertising one of her albums. So in that respect she was a non-conformist who loved sticking two fingers up at the establishment and having a bit of a risqué thrill.

I also think that had she lived she may, like many people in the 70s, have explored therapy and may well have come to do some further soul-baring of her own when talking to the media.

On the other hand, that all said, she was a classy, dignified lady who had good taste and so I think she would have wanted to draw the line at a certain point and retain a certain amount of privacy for herself and her family.

Q: If there is one question you could have asked Cass Elliot personally, what would it be?

A: There are lots of things I could have asked her but in particular I would love to find out more from her about the circumstances of her death. One of the myths I dismantle in the book is that she died choking after eating a sandwich. There is no truth in this whatsoever – it was simply a case of people jumping to conclusions in the immediate aftermath of her death. The details are much more complex and I explore those but it would be great to know some of the missing details.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: For She Loves You, at www.unbound.com/books/she-loves-you on my own website: www.eddifiegel.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: No. Just to say: thank you very much for inviting me to talk about my work. I love the site and have enjoyed reading the interviews with other authors.

 

 

 

A Conversation with Don Martel

Don Martel

 

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure

 Don Martel is a Canadian photographer who has an eye for detail, and whose work is, by any standards, outstanding. He has a way of looking at the world around him, and at life, that most of us simply don’t have. He’s also not afraid to leap outside his comfort zone, as evidenced by his recent adventure of cycling solo across Canada in a bid to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s Disease. Even more surprising is the fact that until undertaking this monumental task, he hadn’t cycled since he was a child! Now, he’s written a book, Loaves and Fishes, about his incredible experience.  Welcome, Don Martel.

Q: Can you tell us how this whole incredible journey started?

A: Actually, I wasn’t intending on doing a story book at all. Initially I planned to do a Canada Coast to Coast photography book, since photography is what I know and do. The truth is, this book has been a journey. Since returning home, I often tell people that although I cycled solo, I was never alone. Loaves and Fishes is a collection of short stories about some of the miraculous events that happened to me during this epic adventure, and the wonderful people I met along the way.

Although I thought I was prepared, in fact, I knew little about cycling, especially long distance cycling, which is a whole other challenge. A chance meeting and one question started it all. I was in Temagami, Ontario for a photography workshop when I met a man, Marcel Cisv, and a woman, April Pennington, at a grocery story. They had all these bags on their bikes, so I asked them what they were doing. They explained they were cycling across the country to make memories for lost memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Intrigued, I invited them to the cottage I was staying at. Marcel customized his bike, and it looked awesome, so that aspect intrigued me as well. We shared a meal, talked long into the night, and in the morning we said goodbye and they headed east. That incident really sparked my imagination, so I started following their blog. They finished their journey in October 2014, and I saw on Facebook that they became engaged. I sent Marcel a note of congratulations and half-jokingly asked if they were looking for photographer. Marcel replied they were, and would love to have me out to be their photographer, but couldn’t afford to pay me my going rate. Instead, they sent me two tickets to Kelowna, B.C, and arranged for three nights in a local hotel for me. Marcel remembered how much I admired his bike, so he custom built one for me! In the meantime, a good friend’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. That became the catalyst for my entire journey. To me, it was a no-brainer that whatever I did, it had to be for Alzheimer’s. I got the bike in September, then trained from September to April in New Brunswick’s many hills and valleys. I cycled 66 km (approx. 41 miles), even in winter, just about every day, with few exceptions. I honestly thought that would get me ready for the Rockies, but I’ve since learned that nothing prepares you for the Rockies. *laughs* It’s a much bigger hill!

On June 4th, 2015 I started out from Vancouver (mainland), British Columbia, and finished on August 15th, 2015 in Halifax, N.S. It took a whopping 76 days to complete and 8200 kilometers (approx. 5095 miles), and irrevocably changed my life.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your book, Loaves and Fishes? (www.donmartel.com)

A: It’s essentially a book about the people I met along the way, and the many crazy, sometimes miraculous adventures I had during that 76 days on the road.

I have a favourite saying that I think applies to this journey. Goethe said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitating. A chance to draw back. Always ineffectiveness. The moment one definitely commits oneself. Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one, that would have otherwise not occurred, and a whole stream of events issue from the decision. Raising one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidences and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.”

After reading the book people often ask if these events actually took place, or did I make them up.
These things did happen! The stories in the book needed to be told. Odd as it sounds, coincidences and timing became part of a recognizable pattern. Karma? God? Angels? Synchronicity? I’ve learned that amazing things happen when you go off the path. The trip changed me. I never for a moment dreamed I’d do something like this! But then again, writing a book is another thing I never thought I’d do, yet I have.

Q: Where did the title come from?

A: The title came from actual, literal stories about loaves and fishes. Let me explain a little. Christians understand the biblical stories about loaves and fishes, and how God was able to provide both when they were most needed. You see, when you cycle long distance, you eat flat bread (it doesn’t squish). However, I’d been cycling for hours and needed to eat, but ran out of bread, and there was no flat bread available in the stores of the town I was in at the time. Of course, I could get some the next day, so I resigned myself to a meager meal of peanut butter and a few bits and pieces I had on hand, but I was hungry, so this didn’t exactly thrill me. Still, I had little choice. I was cycling down the road that night, and saw a car coming toward me at a high rate of speed. Suddenly the car pulled over. I thought the driver needed directions, so I approached the car. The driver was French, and without preamble, he begins to tell me that he’s the best baker in Quebec. He tells me, “I’m a retired baker”. I’m waiting for punch line, and wonder why he’s telling me this. Then the driver got out of his car and went to the back of his car. He reaches in, and I think, “Oh, oh!”. The driver retrieves a huge baguette (of bread), then proceeds to break it in half. He hands half of it to me. Still confused, I thanked him. The driver then abruptly gets back into his car, and drives away, leaving me standing at the side of the road with my baguette. I’m completely astounded. Is this a coincidence, that I should be hungry and was needing to buy bread earlier in the day?

The next morning I arrived at the next town, and stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast. There, I met a man from London, Ontario, who was hitch-hiking. As we’re talking, another man approached. It’s the same man from previous night who gave me the bread! Excited, I took photo of the two men, then turned to put my camera away. When I turned back, the bread man was gone. I had no chance to ask why he stopped the night before, who he was, or where he went. When I asked, the hitch-hiker simply shrugged and said the other man said he had to get going, and walked away. Now that’s weird, and that’s part of how I got the title for the book. There are so many similar stories that it just seemed to fit.

Q: You are known for your outstanding photography, Don. What did it mean to you to be able to take this journey and really see this beautiful country, coast to coast, from a photographer’s perspective?

A: This was the original intent of the book. I’ve travelled cross-country by car and by plane, but on a bike, it’s slow. Slow is good. As a cyclist, you become aware of every crack in the highway. By cycling, you can observe things you wouldn’t ever normally see. When you go slow, you get to appreciate the small details you’d otherwise miss any other way. I was able to observe so much more of what was around me, moment by moment. When you cycle, you get to see more than just the normal tourist attractions, or destinations. I was able to see, up close and personal, that beauty is everywhere. Make no mistake, it’s a long ride, but it gave me time to take it all in. Any time I saw a potential photograph, I could stop and make the shot. Every mile, every stop, everything, was entirely up to me.

Q: This book is dedicated to everyone affected by Alzheimer’s. How has the disease affected and impacted you personally?

A: Obviously, it impacted me hugely when a friend’s mother was diagnosed. The more I talked about the disease, the more I realized just how many people are affected by it, or know someone who is affected. I hadn’t realized before how prevalent it is. Marjorie was very special to me, and it was incredibly heartbreaking to watch her decline. I wanted to do something to help make a difference.

Oddly enough, the coincidences (or whatever you want to call it) were at play from beginning to end. My birthday is May 21st. May 21st I signed the copyright for the book, and on that same day, May 21st, Marjorie Symons, my friend’s mother, passed away.

Q: What surprised you to learn about yourself while making this journey?

A: The amount of determination I had to do this trip! I don’t mind saying that it’s a huge task! I hadn’t realized I had that kind of persistence. I’m truly surprised that I was capable of it. The entire time I was cycling, I kept repeating to myself, “Keep going. You’ll get there.” Eventually I did, and I learned I’m capable of anything I truly put my mind to.

Q: What surprised you to learn about others?

A: I’m blown away by the generosity of Canadians coast to coast. So many contributed to my success. I keep saying that although I cycled alone, I was never alone. People cared about what I was trying to do. People took time to help, talk, and share what they had with me – food, stories, a warm place to sleep, whatever I needed.  I also learned that people love to tell their own stories. If you listen, they are so interesting. I also learned that laughter really is the common language, and so are tears. We are all the same. No matter who, what, or where you’re from. People actually just want to be friends and be helpful.

Q: What has been the ultimate take-away for you from this whole experience (the ride and creating the book)?

A: The greatest take-away for me is the realization that great things will happen when you get out of your comfort zone. Amazing things! It doesn’t have to be a huge coast to coast journey. It can be anything. It’s so important to be open to opportunity. Great things are possible when you get past being scared.

Q: How has your photography influenced how you see the world around you?

A: Photography forces you to change how you view the world. It forces you to go slow and really focus. You have to be willing to take the time to observe. You see, the camera sees differently from the human eye. Shadows are shown different from the naked eye. They are darker. You have to know what your camera is going to do before you make the shot. *laughs* I’ve been at this photography gig for 30 years now, but I’m still learning all the time.

Q: This is your first book. What have you learned about going through that process?

A: Oh! I’ve learned that writing a book is like having a baby! It’s a very painful process. Just when I thought it was done. It wasn’t done. I thought I knew, but I had to learn how to write. I had to learn how to write from passive voice to active voice. Writing is also very personal. It’s one thing to say you’re going to write a book, but it’s a completely different thing to actually sit down and do it. I guess you could say that the journey to write the book was similar to the cycling journey. Although I had to do write and compile it on my own, so many stepped up to help me make it the best it could be. Once it’s published, it’s fun. Now I get to talk to so many more interesting people. When people tell me they enjoy the stories, there’s absolutely nothing like it. I can honestly say that I never worried about what people would think of the book. Of course I want people to enjoy it, but I felt the material spoke for itself. They’re all amazing true stories, and people keep sharing their own remarkable, true stories with me, so I know I’m not alone.

Q: Would you publish another book? If so, what subject matter?

A: YES! I definitely do still want to do the photography book I thought I’d do when I started this whole adventure. I have literally thousands of photographs of that trip, and I want to share them with others. We live in such an incredibly diverse, beautiful country. I also want to write a book similar to this one. There are still so many more examples of amazing true life stories that have happened to me personally over the years. The truth is; the journey never ends. Maybe I’m open to it. I believe that if you aren’t out there, you can’t have the experiences.

Q: How has this experience changed your photography?

A: It’s made me slow down even more. Now, I look at things a little more carefully, and really seek the opportunities around me. They’re everywhere. Everything is more than it appears to be on the surface!

Q: When you teach photography workshops, what is the key take-away you hope people leave  with?

A: You’ll never see the same again. I have three principle elements I want people to understand. 1) Understand how the camera sees things different from your eyes. 2) The principals of visual design. The organization of shapes speaks volumes, and the art of subtraction is key. You have the whole world in front of you, but as a photographer, you have to narrow and focus on the subject. 3) Line, rhythm, dominance, balance, light, shadow, and how they all affect a photograph. Everything else is just practice, and continuing to being open to opportunities.

Q: What’s next for you, Don?

A: Maybe another ride across the country. *laughs* I want to explore new countries too, and bring new groups of people with me. I’m 59 years old now, but when I’m 65 I’d like to enter the Via Italia seniors cycling group. I may even try my hand in bike racing. Now that I’ve done it, I can’t stop cycling. I bike everywhere now. It gets in your blood. Besides, the benefits to my physical health are great. I guess I’ll keep biking, until I can’t.

Connect with Don Martel here:

Twitter: @donmartelphotography

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/Don-Martel-Photography-359216777621/timeline/

Website: www.donmartel.com

Instagram: don_martel_photography