Love isn’t…

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to statistics, one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence in their lives, with approximately two women killed by their partners per week. I’ve sadly had a couple of friends who’ve been involved in relationships which are not built on love, respect and treating each other with kindness. This was written after hearing about a friends beating at the hands of the man who supposedly loved her.

Love isn’t

Love isn’t arguments
Followed by blows
Asking forgiveness
With the giving of a rose

Love isn’t possession
And threats should you leave
Love isn’t restrictive
Not letting you breathe

Love isn’t impatient
Love isn’t unkind
Love isn’t playing games
That destroy your mind

Love isn’t stressful
Nail biting, or fearful
Love isn’t angry
Or constantly tearful

Love isn’t angry
Resentful or jealous
Love isn’t hurtful
Or cruelly malicious

Please heed my words
As you lovers abound
Treat people badly
What goes, comes around

If you or anyone you care about has been affected by domestic violence, please seek help. Here’s the link to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, run by Refuge and Women’s Aid, on 0808 2000 247 – or if you are in an LGBT relationship, you can also call the helpline run by Galop UK on 0800 999 5428. Male victims can call also the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.

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The North Wind

The North Wind

The northward shift of the wind
Picked at the evening still
She sat on her porch and looked
Out over the trees and hills
That had caged her body
From youth to old age
Held prisoner in this place
Her life had moved along
She a mere voyeur

As her family grew strong
They escaped this valley
And never saw her again

The northward wind called to her

Her gaze fixing on the clouds
It’s intention was clear
It didn’t need to ask so loud
It wanted her attention
More demanding than a child

The time had come to join the wind
Which roared with the voices
Of ancestors long passed
They called to her to join their dance
As they passed her by

She knew she had to join them
And say to the valley goodbye

What price for my soul?

I’ve worked at a number of temporary jobs, some good, some bad, some I couldn’t run out of quickly enough and others where I’ve made amazing friends. I’ve managed to use many of my experiences in my writing (one character in The Vampire’s Bodyguard’ is a culmination of all the horrid people I’ve worked for, including one who said ‘I’m not going to bother to learn your name as you won’t be here long enough for me to use it!’ I was offered a permanent job and went on to become her manager). During one particularly unpleasant assignment, I wrote this poem.

What Price for My Soul

What price for my soul

Job that takes without giving

People without humour

Mind numbing tedium

No explanation given

In this colourless land

The grim overlord

With whipping glare

I know the price for my time

But no matter what you do

You’ll not have my soul

Because I will escape

Perhaps to new overlord

Or lands unknown

But always to my writing

Where words are my soul

Inspiration for Weird Wild

Weird-Wild

My collection of short stories, Weird Wild, was published on 20 March 2014. The first story I wrote for it was called ‘The Lake’ and was written as part of an online writing challenge. I didn’t know then what it would grow into!

My book babies, out in the wild!

I’ve always loved the woods. There’s nothing more relaxing than walking through forests, unless you’re being chased by a werewolf! We’ve visited forests in the UK, including ‘Wistman’s Wood’ in Dartmoor, as well as rainforests in Latin America and Asia and all helped inspire ‘Weird Wild’, with creepy mists, crooked trees and hidden dens.

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Wistman’s Wood, Dartmoor

The Stone Circle in Weird Wild is definitely inspired by my love of archaeology. I love Stonehenge and have been fascinated by stone circles, both in terms of what they tell us about our ancestors, but also the more mystical elements. My logical, scientific brain (and a number of my tutors!) debunked the idea of ley lines but there’s still something magical about these stones. Who’s to say they aren’t portals to the fairy realm?

Stonehenge. I visited it while studying and the image of the stones rising from the earth has stayed with me. Magical

How pretty are bluebells? It was an annual tradition growing up to visit ‘Bluebell Woods’ and see them when they bloomed each spring. I was fascinated to learn some of the more nefarious uses of this beautiful, if deadly, bell. I’d also never claim to be a poet, but the poem for Weird Wild was written fairly quickly, the voices and the bells ringing clearly.

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Bluebells near where I grew up.

 

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Dartmoor, UK

So many beautiful lakes inspired ‘The Lake’. Whilst Lago Roja in Bolivia isn’t surrounded by trees like the lake in Weird Wild, the stillness and sense of isolation crept into the story.

Lago Roja, Bolivia. It was so peaceful and ethereal here

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Out in the wild!

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As always, any sticky plot points were worked out during long walks. There’s something about being outside which definitely clears the fog and helps the writing process.

Check out those wild flowers!

 

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You can get your copy of Weird Wild from Amazon, or contact me below for a signed copy!

The Big Interview: Kalkidan Legesse

One of the things I love about where we live is that there are so many independent shops selling a range of local, handmade and ethical products. One of my favourites is ‘Sancho’s Dress‘ which sells ethical and sustainable clothing. Co-owner, Kalkidan Legesse has a fantastic eye for fashion and all will fit you with the perfect outfit, either for a special occasion or day-to-day wear.

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I spoke to Kalkidan about her inspiration for Sancho’s Dress, how she selects pieces for the shop and what she has planned for the future.

GCH: Your inspiration for Sancho grew after your travels through Ethiopia. That’s an unusual destination for tourists, so what drew you to the region?

KL: Well the main reason is because I am Ethiopian. My family migrated to the UK when I was 5, and I grew up in Reading with a warm and family orientated Ethiopian community. We returned to Ethiopia for the first time when I was around 15 and then when I was 20 I returned again to work for the NGO World Vision Ethiopia for a 6 month period. As is the case for many first generation immigrants I sought to understand the country and culture that I was from to find some answers to the questions I held about myself. In Ethiopia I was first introduced to weaving, spinning, design and the textile markets of Africa’s largest outdoor market. I fell in love with the skill, the joy and the life of making and the independence and dignity of the makers themselves.

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GCH: Can you tell us a little about Sancho and its ethos?

KL: Sancho’s is a sustainable clothing company that helps people, mainly here in the UK, find clothing and gifts which have been made in a way that protects the environment and helps makers to thrive in their craft. We curate contemporary slow fashion pieces at affordable prices, striving to connect brands which are doing amazing work to you. We have jewellery made by communities who, before their current work, lived in the largest slums in the world. 90% of our cotton clothing is made from organic cotton, protecting land from deteriorating and farmers from cycles of life threatening debt. It all makes a positive impact in the world by fighting poverty and climate change.

GCH: Given the disposable, cheap fashion available in stores, how do you aim to change people’s perception of ethical, fair trade and quality clothes?

KL: I believe the most important thing is that we exist, we provide an example of an alternative, of clothing which is made to last and ethically made, clothing which of course is beautiful. Then people are put in the position where they need to make a decision, I think some people are more conscious of this than others, which is natural as with all social movements there are early actors and late actors and people who are never too keen.

I also think that we need to be working hard to provide options for people, we are working to carry larger ranges with more items in them..think swimwear.. so that people can choose.

Finally outreach is important, we use our instagram and facebook pages to talk about the ethos of our business and help people understand that organic clothing can be as significant as organic food and that fair trade is as powerful if not more so as aid in lifting people out of poverty.

Its all a work in progress but  I think we’ll get there.

GCH: How do you ensure your products are ethical, fair trade and organic?

KL: We have a sourcing criteria for the shop to make sure all the styles we carry are doing good in the world. The first is certification, there are some amazing audit bodies like GOTS, WFTO, BAFTS and the Fairtrade Foundation which set out a criteria for cotton farmers, and garment manufactures to follow in order to minimise their environmental impact and ensure poverty alleviation. These are often called the ‘10 Fair trade principles‘ and they protect the workers rights, ensure safe and fairly paid conditions and absence of forced work. We source 70% of our items from fully certified brands. The remaining 30% is sourced from designer-makers, usually made here in Devon. They are independent, and usually at least partially self employed, and their craft helps them to earn a portion of their living.

GCH: What makes you different from other stores on the high street?

KL: Profits are not the basis of our business, we are motivated by the belief that we can make a difference in the world by helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and to connect them with makers in the UK and in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

We also spend a lot of time with our customers helping them to find items of clothing that suit them, make sense in their wardrobe, clothing which they can wear on a multitude of occasions and will last them at least more than 30 wears.

GCH: What’s your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?

KL: I love that work is as serious or as playful as I need it to be, my partner and I can go from concentrating on strategic meetings to dancing to whatever is on BBC 6. There is a lot of joy in working with someone you love and trust, whose vision you share.

GCH: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful?

KL: I would say you have to be willing to learn, they are so many mistakes to make and you will probably make them all, and unless you can reflect on that and improve you’ll just go in circles. You have to be able to communicate your idea and the value of it, people are bombarded by different causes and worries in the world not to mention their own lives so unless you can speak to them you wont hold their attention. Finally, you have to enjoy your work, there is a LOT of hard and dull aspects of being an entrepreneur and unless you can find joy in them, or in between them you are not going to have much fun.

GCH: I love your Instagram account. How important is social media to your business?

KL: It is the primary way in which we communicate with our customers and friends so I would say it is of huge importance to our business. Social media is fantastic as it works to start leveling the playing field between huge companies and independents, it has allowed us to capture the attention of our customers in a way that other business on the high street, with less heart, can’t and something like a TV ad probably wouldn’t have.

GCH: What are your plans for Sancho in the future?

KL: So many plans, I want there to be a sustainable shop that everyone in the UK can access within the next 10 years. We’re currently laying down the groundwork for the next shop so we’ll see if we can make that dream a reality.

GCH: What’s your favourite or most meaningful piece you’ve sold in Sancho?

KL: What a lovely question, everything we sell is hand picked, tested and curated by me so I feel an attachment with all of it. The past few days, when I’ve been walking through town or by the river I’ve seen a few dozen people wearing items from Sancho’s, and each time my heart leaps. I never know if I should introduce myself or if that would be too weird, but yeah at the moment I don’t have a favourite item but I absolutely love seeing people wear our collections.

GCH: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

KL: Well I’m a fortified member of the Beehive and I am in awe of Beyonce’s bold and brazen power, creativity and femininity as the mug says ‘Beyonce has the same hours in a day as you’ so I try to remind myself. More deeply though I love and respect my parents and all that they sacrificed and invested in order to raise me and my sister in the UK. From my experience, migrating to another country is one of the hardest journeys to take so I see their strength and perseverance as a source of my own.

GCH: What drew you to Exeter?

KL: I came to Exeter university to study PPE and I stayed because of the amazing people, the liberal and inclusive community and the easy access to fish and chips by the sea!

GCH: It’s no secret that I love books and there are some special ones I always keep close by. Do you have a favourite book and why?

KL: I have to say I haven’t read a lot recently although I have 11 more books to read before the end of the year. Now that I’ve told you the context, I love the poetry of E.E Cummings, disjointed yet whole – it’s beautiful. I love Othello, the perception of black males in western society hasn’t moved too far forward and it is eternally relevant. I loved the vampire novels of Anne Rice I grew up with a crush on Lestat rather than Edward of Jacob. I’m reading a few management books at the moment haha, they are not so exciting. And if podcasts count, they count right? I’ve completely addicted to the Serial series right now.

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GCH: Your passion for your work is clear, but what do you do in your spare time? (if you have any!)

KL: In my spare time I like to run, to cycle, to see my friends to hang out with my boyfriend. We have this thing where we harmonise badly on acoustic songs which we enjoy a little too much. I’ve always loved writing poetry so I’m trying to do more of that. I love to travel, so I like to make plans in my mind and wish them into reality, I have 3 trips planned this summer so it’s kinda working.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

KL: Hmm, lets see… I a huge star trek fan and wish I got to speak about that more often. Does that count? If not DM me. (GCH. You all know we love our geek shows here! I’ll let you decide who the best ‘Enterprise’ Captain is, although I do love Picard personally)

If you’d like to know more about what Kalkidan is up to, check out her blog, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Throwback Thursday: Exeter Respect 2012

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We have an annual festival in Exeter called the ‘Respect Festival’ which celebrates the city’s diversity. Way back in 2012 I’d help set up ‘Resident Writers’ and we did ‘flag poetry’ The idea was that there were different words written on the ‘flags’. Everyone was given five flags, and then had the option of adding three more words to create their poem.

My poem read: Love Means The Time Given to Ghosts

 

 

My Path to Publication

Geri meets Aggy

The publishing world has undergone a rapid shift in recent years, even in the time since I dipped my toes into the ocean of books, agents, ebooks etc. However, I’m often asked how I got my work published so I thought I’d share my story in case it helps someone else on their journey to publication and a few tips based on my experiences.

I’ve always written. One of my first memories was of sitting with my cousin, writing a very long and protracted story. I can’t remember all the details but I do remember it ran to about eight pages, quite a feat as I was only about 7years old! At college I’d written for our local paper and had written some short stories for myself. When hubby and I decided to take a gap year, I decided that would be the perfect time for me to get that novel out.

I remember writing the opening chapters to what would become ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ while on a beach in Brazil. Reading it to hubby, he was excited and I was keen to learn what happened to Akane and her friends but it would be another few years before I had finished the novel. In the meantime I undertook the London School of Journalism’s Creative Writing Course which gave me some useful guidelines and helpful feedback from the tutors. I also worked on a few pieces featuring animals and people we’d met on our travels. In theory I’d love to publish them one day, but I know they’ll stay safely in my computer.

I completed ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ as part of a National Novel Writing Month challenge but it needed a LOT of work. As an aside, if you’ve not completed NaNoWriMo before and are an aspiring writer, give it a go. It’s a fun challenge which can set you up with some good writing practices.

When we returned to the UK I decided to try and sell some of my work. I attended a writers conference ‘FantasyCon’ and was bombarded with information – ways to get an agent, ways to self-publish your books, reasons not to have an agent, self-branding, writing for YA, ensuring your book will be the ‘next big thing’. It was frankly too much and everyone I met had an opinion on how to do it ‘correctly’. I left slightly more confused than when I arrived, but filled with ideas. I had also met some funny, interesting and people who would ultimately help me on my writing journey.

I’d got chatting to Adele Wearing the first night of the conference and she contacted me a few weeks later to discuss a project she was putting together. That was the start of ‘The Girls Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse‘. It was a really fun project, one I hold very dear, and which allowed me to try different writing styles, from tongue-in-cheek articles, to opinion pieces, to short stories. It also gave me the confidence to submit my stories to websites and I’m still very happy that I won the poll on Fantasy Faction for my short story ‘The Last Dragon Keeper’.

My interest in writing grew and I helped to set up ‘Resident Writers’ which prompted me to write an assortment of pieces, including poetry which is definitely not my forte! I continued submitting to different websites In the meantime, Adele had decided to collate and publish a book called ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon‘ and asked if I would like to submit. My short story ‘Into the Woods’ was accepted and I really enjoyed writing all the blood and guts. ‘Tales of the Nun and Dragon’ was well-received and launched at the next FantasyCon, with Adele deciding to set up Fox Spirit Books soon after. Further titles from Fox Spirit Books followed and Adele kindly agreed to publish my collection of short stories, Weird Wild, which included an adapted version of ‘Into the Woods’. The following year ‘Akane: Last of the Orions‘ was also published by Fox Spirit Books. All the while, I continued submitting my work, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so and writing on my blog.

I had a bit of a break when the toddler was born. The voices were still there, demanding attention, but not surprisingly there was a louder, more demanding voice who needed me, so my notebooks and ideas were put away. Although I still wrote a little, I had become rusty and my old website became slightly redundant. I briefly returned to work, but for a variety of reasons, decided to leave my job and devote myself to raising our daughter, trying my hand at crafting and focussing on my writing. In 2016 I took on the role of ‘Commissioning Editor’ for ‘Fennec Books’ an imprint of Fox Spirit Books and soon after my first pre-teen novel ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard‘ was published. I’m planning next year to try self-publishing so pop back regularly to see how that’s going and I’m also submitting to different magazines and publications, with a short story appearing in the June edition of Sirens Call.

So I’m by no means an ‘expert’ on getting published. My path is very different to other authors – I’ve met people who have agents but who have no books currently in print and others who’ve lots of work either self-published or published through small presses, I’ve met people who use Patreon and others who only show their work to family. However, I have a few suggestions (in no particular order) if you want to your your work out there.

 

  1. Firstly, make sure your MS is ready for publication. Get others to read it and offer suggestions (it’s up to you if you accept them). Check, then check again for grammar and spelling mistakes (you never get them all but sending something filled with mistakes with get your MS rejected as agents don’t have the time to sort your laziness).
  2. Sounds daft but be passionate about your book when discussing it. If you’re not excited, how will anyone else be?
  3. Ive been told that you need a minimum of 10k followers on Twitter, as well as an author page on Facebook. I’d agree and disagree about needing 10k followers on Twitter. I’ve met established writers who struggle to make 1000! However, most publishers or agents are looking for some sort of online presence and Twitter is great for that. Few pointers – it’s SOCIAL media. Don’t spam people with ‘buy my book’ ads-nothing will get you blocked faster. Engage with people and make it fun. I tweet about books (and promote my own) but also chat with people about movies, crafts, dogs, anything really.
  4. A blog is also helpful as it gets you writing regularly and improves your writing but you need to keep it up to date, which is why I took mine down after having my daughter as I didn’t have time to maintain it and it looked a bit shabby and unloved. Websites are easy to set up and you can make it engaging by inviting blog-hops (where others contribute content. I do interviews with inspirational women who had interesting jobs or were challenging the establishment) or a regular item – I do ‘Make It Monday’ and movie reviews. On my old website, in the run up to an anthology I was in being published, I did a month of promo, inviting contributions, which was really fun & got word out there about the antho but it was hard work coordinating so many submissions and getting them all scheduled so it’s not for the faint-hearted. Facebook is a good media but a) think about your audience – for example it’s not the preferred social media for under 25’s or over 60’s so may not reach your target audience and b) I struggle with private/public so some authors keep separate accounts (I personally don’t bother). There’s also Instagram which I’m learning to use and Snapchat as well as Reddit and more popping up regularly. All have their pros and cons. Whichever you choose, post regularly, engage with people and don’t spam!
  5. I’d recommend going to writing conferences. There are many which are genre specific (Romance, World Con, and FantasyCon are a few which spring to mind but there’s loads). I was lucky and met some great people at these conferences, who I’m happy to say are now friends. My first conference I met a lot of wannabe authors and it sounds awful but they smelled of desperation – they were buying agents drinks and generally sucking up to everyone. One man actually turned his back on my husband as soon as he learned he wasn’t in ‘the biz’. So just get chatting to people and you never know who you’ll meet. (We did the awards dinner and I accidentally sat next to an agent who after chatting about tv shows etc offered to read my novel.) These conferences are also great for learning more about getting published or just about your favourite authors or subjects so go and enjoy.
  6. Agents. There are a lot of pros and cons about agents. In theory they get your book into the hands of publishers faster, sort contracts and generally look after you. However, I know authors signed to an agent who haven’t sold any of their manuscripts so it’s up to you. If you’re going to approach an agent, check their submission guidelines CAREFULLY. Nothing will get your MS thrown into the slush pile faster than sending it in Word and they wanted it in Pages or set out incorrectly. This sounds simple but don’t send it to a wrong agent. Like readers, agents have their own interest areas so I wouldn’t send my horror story to a romance agent – it’s wasting both our time. As I said, follow guidelines and be polite – Twitter is filled with authors sending snotty replies to agents who they feel have taken too long or rejected their work. Publishing is a small world and you don’t need that sort of negativity against your name. You’re trying to sell your books, but also yourself so acting like a child throwing a tantrum is not professional. If they reject, say thanks for their time and that’s it. Take on board any suggestions they may make. If you want an agent, keep going – they receive hundreds of manuscripts a month so yours needs to really stand out.
  7. If you get an agent, or work with a small press, read the small print of any contract – check about foreign rights, who gets what if it’s sold to TV or movies, rights for audiobooks, how long you’re entering into the contract and who gets the rights to our work when it ends, who pays for editing and formatting, and what type of publishing will they do (print or eformat).
  8. Which brings me to small presses and self publishing. Some people dismiss these as vanity presses but in recent years they’ve been putting out some good work. As with agents, follow their submission guidelines and also check their contracts as above. For example my contract means my publisher gets the rights to print and e-format for a year, then all rights return to me & I can sell it elsewhere if I want. They’re fantastic for new authors, but their budgets are small so be prepared to do a lot of self-promotion.
  9. I’d also recommend getting your name out there by submitting short stories & articles to magazines. A lot aren’t accepting submissions from unknowns anymore (eg Women’s Own used to do periodical mags just of fiction but I think they’ve stopped them now) but there’s loads of online places to submit. As above, check guidelines, proof your submission and write a good story.

These are only a few suggestions, if you’ve got more (and I’m sure you do!), let me know in the comments below.