A Merry Christmas!


We would like to wish all our readers who celebrate the season a
Very Merry Christmas.

For all others, we wish you Peace and Health.

We look forward to bringing you all more blog posts and ebooks in 2013 and hope that you will not only stay with us but that you will also tell your friends and families about us.  Hopefully, some of you will have received eReaders, books or vouchers for books/ebooks, to further enhance your reading for years to come.

For now, please enjoy a safe, peaceful, and healthy future.

It’s Christmas Eve, When Hope Shines Bright

Yes indeed, it’s Christmas Eve and all should look good, for tomorrow and the future.  The first thing I’d like to do is to wish all readers of this blog a Very Merry Christmas, with fun, friendship, family, peace, god health and good fortune.

In fact, for us, things are more complex.  A brother-in-law in hospital with serious health problems, who won’t see Christmas outside the hospital, which is miles from his home.  My father-in-law in a care home, at least temporarily, because of numerous falls and lost vision.  My own father, whose health has been precarious for a while now and who has also lost his sight, following an operation that was supposed to make it better!  And, of course, there’s my own health problems.  That’s been going on with a certain emotionality on my part, with memories of the sister I lost a few years ago and who I shared so much time at Christmas, when we were Children.

I’ll admit that two of these have had a considerable impact on me in the last few days.  I’ve been very susceptible to the kind of emotionally charged movies that are so often shown at this time of year, which is difficult for me in the sense that I always used to suppress my emotional reactions.

Memories of my sister, Gill, were triggered by a combination of a piece I wrote on Wattpad and the fact that we saw her on her last Christmas, not long before we lost her.  That was a rather magical occasion at the time.  While we were there, our visit was interrupted by callers.  Gill’s eldest daughter and many friends had gathered outside the house, all in Victorian costume, to sing Christmas carols to her.  Extremely moving.  I won’t pretend that we had a perfect relationship.  In fact, Christmas was one of the few times of year when we weren’t at loggerheads.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love her dearly!

My father’s condition is, obviously, of deep concern to me.  His health has been failing slowly, since my mother passed away several years ago.  He was a keen fisherman, much respected as such and often skippering a 45 foot charter boat for sea fishing parties.  He had to give that up some time ago, which came hard.  He is also an avid reader.  For many long years, he read favoured books that he obtained from the local library.  He wasn’t a keeper of books, just a reader.  In recent times, it’s become harder for him to get to the library and finding his preferred books has also become much harder, which has driven him to buy second hand books, and keep them if he enjoys them.  Now, he is giving away some of those books, because the print is too small.  If I believed that I could persuade him of the benefits, I’d try to get him an eReader with lots of books on it, as he’d be able to read any of them thanks to the ability to adjust font sizes.  I can’t recall ever seeing him without some books to hand.  The thought that he is losing that is painful.  The fact that we are also rather alike, in many ways, tends to make me wonder somewhat about my own future.

We tend to think about what we hope to gain at Christmas.  In youth, of course, we have that sense of invulnerability.  As the years pass and we lose family and friends, still we cling to the subconscious sense that such things only happen to others.  In advanced age, we’re not entirely deserted by a kind of blind optimism.  We all know folk who look on frail friends as “poor old things” even though those friends may be years, or even decades, younger than themselves.  Perhaps we need to devote at least part of our Christmas thoughts to being grateful for the things we have, or have had, rather than to things we want.

~ Steve

Darkness in December

There can be few people who haven’t heard the dreadful reports of the school shootings in Connecticut. This awful news hits the world as many Chinese are also rocked by a similar attack in a school there, by somebody wielding a knife. These events are unimaginable for most of us. How such things can happen is beyond comprehension. What drives a person to such an act of wanton slaughter? I dare say that we’ll learn more as time passes, but the fact remains that these terrible events have taken place and too many lives have been taken, so much potential wiped out. It is only natural that our hearts grieve.

For many years, the approach of Christmas has been received with mixed feelings by myself, for one. December sees far too many tragedies, and too many linked to criminal behaviour. From the family whose home is burglarised, depriving them of the gifts they may have barely managed to afford, to acts so heinous we can’t truly comprehend them. Homes are consumed in fires, traffic accidents steal lives or leave behind crippled bodies, people lonely beyond endurance commit the ultimate act of violence against themselves and commit suicide. These tragedies occur through accidents or acts of criminality, and sometimes in a combination of both, such as drunk drivers who bring their own form of criminal violence against random strangers. Of course such things happen at other times of the year, but they always seem to build to a crescendo in the run up to Christmas.

What does it say about us? The same tragedies every December. The ruination of a time of hope and love in the blink of an eye. We implore each other to behave better, to be more careful, to be more caring of others. And every year, without fail, the pattern is repeated. The sense of personal invulnerability we all enjoy is utterly false. Personally, the thought of losing just one member of my family or a friend is unbearable. Others must feel the same. How many of you have been driven to hug your children as news of another tragedy has struck?

It troubles me. The night before last, I fell asleep on the sofa. I had the most vivid, memorable dream I can remember in ages. In that dream, it was a day of happiness, in which I was with a very young grandson, exploring a heathland. That grandson was named Tom, though I have no such grandchild. The happiness, however, turned to nightmare when I couldn’t find Tom. In the dream, I covered miles, from heath to shopping centre, trudging despairingly along major roads, always hunting. Not once did it occur to me to call the police or anybody else. The nightmare was wholly mine! And when I woke, the nightmare unfinished, I was still grieving for a lost child, a child who had never been real. Later, the dreadful events that unfolded in the real world seemed to somehow hit me more strongly because of that nightmare. I could probably figure out the causes of the dream, but it strikes me as a very strange coincidence with real events.

So many children, of all ages, were lost. I will grieve for them, in my own way. I won’t, however, expect the losses to bring changes. Next December will have its darkness, as always.

~ Steve

No Turkey For Christmas

With the eternal problem of what to give people for Christmas, many will fall back on the old favourite option of books.  These days, there are more options, of course.  You can buy actual books if you’re confident that you know the recipient’s tastes, or good old book tokens if you’re not.  You can also buy gift cards in many places for web sites like Amazon.  If you’re happy to do it, you can also buy e-vouchers or even ebooks, giving the necessary codes/links via a card or such.  Sounds simple enough.

In reality, there are probably more Christmas gift books left unread than you’d care to know.  It’s far too easy to buy what the recipient (privately) regards as something of a Christmas turkey!  You may not know their tastes as well as you think, or you may simply buy something in the right genre but that’s not to their taste, or you might duplicate books they already possess.  That’s why book tokens have always been so popular.  They give the recipient a free choice.  The same problem applies to electronic alternatives.  You may see an ebook that seems perfect for somebody, but it’s still a gamble.  The purchase of e-vouchers makes sense, but conveying the proper information is a problem.  Gift cards for the likes of Amazon, however, fix where the recipient must shop.  Beware, too, about the format of ebooks!  Not everybody owns a Kindle.  There are plenty of eReaders that require the ePub format, rather than the Kindle’s mobi format.

I would love to say that you should consider supporting Indie authors.  Unfortunately, to do so, you need to read their work yourself.  There’s no other way that you can make an honest recommendation.  I’ve no problem with saying that you should think about Indie authors, as many provide excellent ebooks.  The problem lies more in just how willing you are to read works that may not suit you but may suit a gift recipient.  I would suggest that, if you really wish to support Indie authors, you buy e-vouchers and simply offer a few suggestions as to where to find works you think the recipient may like.

I know that many people think of gift vouchers and book tokens as something of a cop-out.  In fact, they show that you recognise the recipients love of reading and have applied some commonsense to how you choose to provide a suitable gift.

~ Steve

Thoughts of a Reader and Writer

The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. ~Holbrook Jackson

December, with cold seeping into bones and forcing pain levels ever higher.  December, with snow falling in dribs and drabs, between days of sun or rain.  December, when the gaudiness of Christmas outweighs the feast day’s meaning.  December, when melancholy is as common as eager anticipation, when memories may hurt or please.  December, when hope and despair collide most forcefully.

Christmas is close and our children are in the swing of things already, and not only because they have young children of their own.  We feel a little pride and a lot of pleasure that we managed to instill a love of the season in them all, a love that is even greater than our own.  Of course, our feelings at Christmas are more mixed, which is inevitable as we grow older.  Our kids have flown the nest and we are just two.  Then there are the loved ones we have lost, their absence felt most keenly now.  Yet we try hard, to demonstrate our belief that this is truly a very special time of the year, even if we don’t deck our home in all the trappings of the modern Christmas.

I probably read less at this time of year than at any other.  That’s odd when you consider that books are one of the most popular gifts at Christmas.  It hasn’t always been that way.  I used to read some of the Christmas classics in December, to help me to both get in the spirit of it, and to remind me of its problems.  Then, too, it was something of a tradition, when our kids were small, for me to read The Night Before Christmas, by Clement C Moore, to the three of them, many times over.  We had a beautiful copy, illustrated by Douglas Gorsline and published by Random House in their Pictureback® series.  In fact, we still have it, and just seeing it brings back many fond memories.  I think it’s an important book, too.  It is everything a child needs to draw them into the world of literature.

Way, way back, before I started writing in earnest, and when I was under 13 years old, I wrote a Christmas play.  It wasn’t an act of genius, and it definitely got sidetracked part of the way through.  It was, however, the first hint that the written word would become extremely important to me.  Why a play?  Well, that wasn’t surprising, really, as my eldest brother was very deeply involved in amateur dramatics, gaining a fine reputation for it, and I would often be enlisted in helping him to learn his lines.  I never had the courage to show him that one, and only, play that I wrote.

Thinking about it, all four of we siblings had an abiding love of words, both written and spoken.  It was a fact which would lead to problems for the two youngest of us, as we strove to use an ever enlarging vocabulary, and good pronunciation.  Our peers saw that as snobbishness, treated us as trying to be better than them.  That was nonsense.  In fact, we never even really considered ourselves to be better than others.  We just loved words!

We had an excellent example in our father.  He would often be found, sat in his armchair, reading book after book.  Equally, we had the example of our mother, whose education had been severely damaged by the Second World War, and the bombing that accompanied it.  She struggled all her life with both spelling and writing, and we all loved her dearly.  How could we, then, ever believe that we were better than others simply because we had this love affair with words?  We were truly blessed, having both ends of literacy as our foundation examples?  To think like that would have meant thinking ourselves better than our mother.  Unthinkable!

I, for one, will always be deeply grateful to my parents, for all that they gave us.  They were always wise beyond measure and our lives were guided firmly but with a love that made us all, I hope, better people.  We discovered that family was something that was desirable beyond all other things.  We were taught the practicalities of life.  We had fun and discipline.  Yes, I mean that.  Discipline is as important to a child as anything else a parent can give, providing moral boundaries with firm gentility, always tempered by that deep, abiding love.  We also learnt about the world, especially the richness of nature and the beauty that can be found.  I can never express adequately the gratitude I feel, and the love.  My mother has gone now, and my father has severe health problems.  One of my sisters has gone too, she who was next in age to myself.  They are never forgotten, but the Christmas season recalls memories that can sadden or warm me.

Perhaps the most important thing that we gained from our parents was a desire to give.  We each have striven, in some way or other, to give something of ourselves, and therefore share something of our parents.  Whether we have succeeded or not isn’t for us to say.  I can only hope that we have, and that our children have also been instilled with at least some of the wisdom of my parents.  The evidence, so far, is that my three children have, indeed, been coloured by that upbringing.

When you are reaching that point in this season, when you begin to wonder whether it’s all worth the effort, I hope that you have the same strong foundations to your life, foundations that enable you to put aside the negative and to remember, and embrace, the positive.

~ Steve

Christmas Thoughts

Christmas TreeWith Christmas fast approaching (I’m convinced that it’s now coming around every six months!), I’ve been thinking about what it could mean for some.

On a personal level, I’ve not been concerned about any gifts I may get since I was a child.  In all honesty, I have nothing that I need so much that I would want any of my family to spend their much needed money on for my sake.  In fact, I usually become very uncooperative at Christmas time and near my birthday.  Of course, being human, there are things I would quite like to have, but I’m generally not going to divulge what they might be except under intense pressure.  This year, I’ve bowed to such pressure, but only after trying to find a sensible option.  That’s why I’ve informed my wife that I would be happy with a Kobo Mini eReader.  In truth, having looked at various such devices, I like the sound of that one most.  I do not, however, expect to get one!

It crossed my mind that many families will find themselves scattered around the world this Christmas.  It would be some compensation if these families could make use of modern technology.  Using webcams and computers, and/or other devices, it is perfectly feasible to bring families together as never before.  Of course, it’s likely that some adjustment to times of things would need to be made, but that would only require some mutual compromises.  Imagine it, if you will.  A family sits down to Christmas dinner, with a reasonably large screen occupying one part of the arranged seating.  The screen displays views of other family members from other parts of the world, also sitting down to their Christmas dinners.  The same arrangement could then be extended into the post-dinner period, including some games.  Such a coming together would, in my view, be the true culmination of technology’s shrinking our world.  Never mind business or political conferences using similar techniques.  They are simply using tools for profit or power.  Put into the scattered families arena, then technology proves a true benefit to ordinary people, in something far more significant and meaningful.

While much of this post is very definitely “off topic”, let’s look at ebooks and how they might be a positive influence on Christmas.  Of course, there’s the obvious aspect, with various well loved Christmas books being available for reading on any eReader.  Another option exists, however.  A family member could create an ebook that covered the family’s activities since the last Christmas, complete with photos.  Also, any storyteller in the family could produce little ebooks where their children, or younger nephews, nieces and/or grandchildren are the central characters, including little photos or even drawings.  These would make very pleasing gifts for anybody with a device that’s able to handle the  ebooks.  With the right software, it would even be possible to create printed copies for those without eReaders.

On the question of ebooks as presents, you don’t have to give what amounts to a gift voucher.  You could create a Christmas card that includes a CD containing the ebook(s), or even a pen drive.  I think that these would be more suitable than the more impersonal options.  There’s absolutely no reason, after all, why a CD or pen drive shouldn’t be made to look attractive in itself.

One final thought.  Apart from the personalised ebooks, similar ideas could be employed to produce personalised audio books.

~ Steve