Cèpes are back: not just a mushroom

Living in the french countryside has some serious advantages …

Have you ever eaten cèpe mushrooms? ……..They are unbeatable fried with garlic & shallots in duck fat.

collected 26 Sept (2)

And there are other recipes as well…

Some people think they are a meal in themselves…

But they make the best mushroom omelette ever!

collected 26 Sept (9)

DSCN0766

Some call them Porcini (in Italy) .. others .. Boletus edulis

They are free in the forest  ……    in the right weather conditions.

If you are lucky enough to find them…  ‘coz no-one’s gonna tell ya where there are!

 

??????????collected 26 Sept (1)

Advertisements

Word waterboarding! Less may be more

Why is it that some people seem to have the idea that the more words they write the better.  What do you think? I don’t think it is necessarily better for them or for the reading public. Indeed, it may be positively unhealthy as there even seems to be writers worrying about word count addiction and word count obsession.

A few days ago, I got involved in a discussion in a thread on LinkedIn where someone was asking how many words each day people write, and this was followed by a swathe of comments, some seemingly bragging about daily word count as if somehow “stream of consciousness” writing ten hours each day spewing out thousands of words was the “way to go”.   Other commentators on the LinkedIn discussion thread even wanted to include in their writing tally, their blogs and how many letters and memos they write at work and their shopping lists (no, I think I’m exaggerating there).  There are also these daily word count writing contests on twitter which I can understand help to motivate people to “put pen to paper” (so to speak) and the NaMoWriMo competitions which seem to encourage people to write a novel in a month.

I can understand that in this era where most authors earn very little from each book, most can only make a living from writing if they have lots of books out.  So the more you have out there the better: the more likely readers are going to buy one or more of your books and the better known you become.  Also I agree that to learn how to write, you need to write, but I do have serious reservations about  these various arrangements, competitions and schemes as they seem to me to be saying that word count is the main thing in writing.  Of course, if someone can write five thousand words each day and barely have to edit or correct them and it’s brilliant writing then I take my hat off to them. But I don’t believe that most writers can do this.

Even though I’ve only written one and a half novels and a few one-act plays, I did have the dubious good fortune of writing a PhD thesis many years ago and since then I’ve supervised and examined varous theses.  I’ve also written twenty or so academic and professional text books (in law), and to me, one of the basic rules learned from the writing of theses, is that about one third of the time is spent researching and developing the works, the second third in writing and the last third in polishing (revising, editing etc etc).  Of course academic writing isn’t the same as writing good literature.   But it seems to me that this sort of division of time is at least what is required in writing fiction and non-fiction as often writers don’t even start with a solid knowledge of the topic they are writing about (unlike a doctoral candidate) and have to acquire much of that along the way.

I’ve always thought that great writing should be a bit like poetry: each word being considered, carefully chosen and carrying a wealth of meaning.  Quality not quantity:  in an earlier post, I’ve already tried to come to grips with what “great writing” is.

So I would rather know how much time a writer is spending in editing and revising than how many words he or she is writing each day.

…..some other blogs (there are lots more):

http://mltrefry.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/oh-word-count-why-do-you-mock-me-so-a-slight-ramble/

http://edraby.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/rabyd-writer-writing-for-word-count/

http://concerningwriting.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/weekly-writing-wrap-up-september-20-26/

http://writepush.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/revisions-revisions-revisions/

Who’s blogging who? I blog therefore I am.

It seems to be settled wisdom that blogging a couple of times each week is the bare minimum if you want to make a name for yourself on social media.  This seems to be especially true if you are a writer:  Kristen Lamb calls it the “digital core of your author brand” in her wonderful book RISE OF THE MACHINES: HUMAN AUTHORS IN A DIGITAL WORLDI recommend it as a guide to all those social media beginners, like myself, who want to make the best use of all there is, but most of the time don’t know where to start or are conflicted about how to proceed.  But one of the big questions is: what am I going to say?

You need to understand who you’re talking to

Of course there is so much to learn, but for me, one of the most important lessons that I took from Kristen is that while it is great to have the supportive and positive company of other writers, they are not really the people that an author wants to connect with.  Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy and  appreciate interacting with others who are going through the same highs and lows, trials and torments as I am.  But it’s ordinary people who are our potential readers and of course we want to reach as many of them as possible. How do we do that? ……  Well we blog and tweet what resonates with ordinary people – just like we should be doing on Facebook. And to take it a step further, I try to do what I seem to remember another social media inspiration, Rachel Thompson suggests you do on Twitter:- each day try to follow fifty (though I settle for just a few) new people (and not other writers or publishers or agents ).   ….. If you choose people you like the look of, then it’s likely they’ll like the look of you and follow you back.  You can always unfollow those who turn out to be not what you’d hoped.

Me and my “brand”

Now this is all very well for writers wanting to develop their “brand”. But you are your “brand” and one of the areas where I start to nuance all the good advice that the best people give is when it comes to things I care about ….  and after all, we are human beings (hopefully intelligent) and we care about other things than writing and selling books or whatever. And it seems to me that the things we care about should be the things we blog about.

Often it’s said “don’t blog about politics or religion – you don’t want to alienate or offend anyone” but these things are more than central to each of us a human being.  Of course, I’m not talking about “ranting”. That’s crazy as no-one wants to listen to a “rant”, even if you agree with their basic values.  But I’ve been struggling with a tendency to send out occasional “social conscience” posts – pretty much what my personal FB page had been full of … until recently.

Of course, there are “ways of doing things”.

Now Kristen Lamb’s recent blog: WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL? BEWARE OF END-OF-THE-RAINBOW THINKING is a pretty good – perhaps a great – compromise.  It’s full of useful advice as usual, especially for writers – because that’s what she does – but it raises social issues as well; although discreetly.  Perhaps much more discreetly than I would.  But hey! its her blog and she has ten times more followers that I’ve had hot breakfasts despite my advancing age.

What I hear Kristen talking about in this blog is how so many people have crazy expectations, thinking that they should walk straight into top-paying jobs (or best-seller status) without putting in the hard graft.  Kristen also raises the point that something has happened in today’s society where we’ve forgotten what everyone knew in the past: before you exercise a trade you do an apprenticeship and it can take many more years to become a master craftsman.    I’ve often heard it said that it takes “10,000 hours” of hard work for anyone to become competent at what they are doing. That’s 5 years working  forty hour a week, 50 weeks a year.  After that, you can start to get better.

I just wanted to take these points a little further.

I wanted to ask the question: why?  Why do so many people, especially younger people think that we can “have it all” straight off the bat?  And what can we do to counter this fantasy about how life works.  Kristen makes the point that media glorification of  inane celebrity culture has something to do with it. Of course the media who pursue these stories of super rich celebrities, actors, sportsmen and callous corporate raiders will just say that they are giving the people what they want.  Don’t you believe it.  It’s like filling supermarket shelves with crisps and chocolate bars because people supposedly like to eat them.  Maybe occasionally we do, but they can’t be our regular diet.  Try it and see.

So who takes responsibility for a better moral compass?

Now, we’re not going to stop the media and the PR and food supply industries and others from selling us the cheapest stuff that makes the most profit for them – while usually doing us no good at all.  And governments don’t seem to want to take any responsibility in these areas.   So that leaves the family.  ….. As mums and dads, grandpas and grandmas, it is our responsibility to help this generation of kids and the next understand that we get nowhere without hard work and that the good things in life aren’t necessarily what the media, the marketers, the conscienceless corporations want to make us think they are.

So what does that mean for my blog?

To me, a blog must reflect the writer’s own personality and character. We’re real people not shallow marketing models. We’re not here to be politicians trying to please everyone.  We never will. So we should be ourselves.

But it doesn’t mean we should feel free to trample over other people’s personal beliefs and values just because they’re different from our own.  It’s just common sense. If you want someone to listen to you, it seems to me that there are a few basic rules … and I hope that I can follow them:

  • be true to who you are as a person; but
  • speak your readers’ language  – in other words, talk to them in terms they are likely to understand and identify with; and
  • show the same respect for other peoples’ values and beliefs that you would hope they’d show you.

Just how much do we have in common with our ancestors?

Baby_6107954460_eb385641b3

photo: Courtesy of Cary and Kacey Jordan; http://www.thejordancollective.com/

Ever wondered just how much you have in common with your ancestors?  We all – even young adults – know what it’s like to start seeing our parents in ourselves.  You know …. when you react to something a friend says or you say something to one of your children and ZAP!  You just know that you could hear your mother or your father saying that or reacting that way.  And don’t you just find this happening even if that reaction or expression was something that you didn’t particularly like about your mum or dad?

Of course, you’re going to say that we spend so much time with our parents that it’s no wonder this happens. It’s just learned behaviour.  But we spend lot of time with our siblings too but I, for one, never feel that I sound just like my brother.  No that’s not completely true.  There are times, though they’re pretty rare.  But do any of you think you sound like one of your grandparents?  Probably less often.  Of course, they’re another generation removed and we usually haven’t spent as much time with them as we do with our parents. Unless, that is, we’ve grown up in one of those cultures where both parents are busy working or are absent and we’ve been brought up by our grandparents.

But what interests me a more about this is to what extent we have outward, conscious characteristics or other behaviour in common with our more distant ancestors.  And more than that, just how much of what we are, what we know, what we believe, think and do is somehow traceable back to these ancestors.

Indeed, we inherit our genetic structure from our ancestors and the tiny variations in our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid),) that make us who we are, can certainly be traceable back to those ancestors.  DNA is the hereditary material present in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a particular person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.

dna-double-helix

DNA-Double-Helix

In recent years there’s been a lot of research into Mitochondrial DNA: that type of DNA which is only passed on from mothers to their children.  So, it’s a peculiarly female phenomenon – sons can’t pass it on – and variations and markers in MtDNA are used by scientists to trace maternal genealogy down through the centuries and indeed through millennia.  To some extent, the same can be said for the role of Y chromosomes in tracing male genealogy.  Variations and mutations in mtDNA and Y chromosomes can and do occur from time to time, but are rare.  These variants establish markers that can be a distinct and identifiable element of the genetic makeup of women and men living many hundreds of generations ago, but can be identical with that of many adults and children alive today.

That these links actually do exist and that lineage can be traced back in this way is real, though it seems almost science fiction.

How far might genetic links affect our consciousness?

Now comes the hard part.  All this raises another question: just how complex and meaningful are these genetic links and what are their implications?

Could they be, in some people, the basis for the transmission of some form of knowledge, insight or some degree of genetic memory?  I don’t believe that babies, like that beautiful little one pictured above, are born with minds like an unformatted hard disk drive.  In other words, it cannot be that there is absolutely nothing in a baby’s brain – neither memories nor instincts or whatever you want to call them – just because science has not yet identified them.  And if there is something present in a baby’s consciousness, then leaving divine intervention aside, where-else could it have come from than the genetic databank that they were born with?

If this is so, could we have some awareness or “memory” of the lives lived in the past by other people with whom we have intimate genetic links? This may be merely some insight into those ancestors’ beings or some empathy or identification with them; or possibly, an ephemeral sharing of moments in the lives of those ancestors can exist through these genetic links.  We must ask ourselves: can knowledge and memories somehow be imbued into the genes or the genetic make-up of humans and then passed on over generations?

While we all share genetic links with our ancestors, not everyone is aware of them and some people may be more sensitive to these links than others, just as there are a number of documented cases of children with an uncanny knowledge of the lives of persons who have passed on well before they were born.  Of course when you hear these stories, there are many sceptics and science demands that we be sceptical but it also demands that we keep an open mind.

Ethnic groups with more enhanced genetic links

Now there seem to be certain ethnic groups where this genetic link may be purer, more acute or identifiable and more direct than for others.  Notably these include certain families of Lebanese origin, whose ancestors were the Phoenicians and Canaanites living in the great middle-eastern melting pot of civilization at the time of the genesis of monotheism and other major cultural advances some four or five thousand years ago.  In this part of the world, hatreds and ‘tit-for-tat’ violence have trickled down through generations over thousands of years, perhaps founding many of the apparently irrational conflicts still going on today.

There is also the Basque people from the eastern corner of the north coast of Spain and south-west France, whose ethnic identity and genealogy were insulated and isolated through millennia by simple but significant geographical and cultural barriers.  The unique nature of the Basque language and ethnicity, with their roots in the dimness of their own antiquity may also be emblematic of modern Basque social conflict with its controversial origins and complicated and often fratricidal extremes.

Though these two ethnic groups may be completely different, I posed myself the question:  could they indeed have come into contact and have mixed their genetic material some three millennia ago?  There is evidence to suggest that this may have occurred, given the seafaring exploits and trading empire of the Phoenicians.  And this gave rise to the further question: would the descendants of this genetic fusion be more likely than most other people to have access to whatever memories of their ancestors’ histories and lives that might have been engendered into their DNA?

With all that in mind, I also thought that significant moments in the histories of these ethnic groups, particularly those involving … birth and death, battles and revenge, murder and survival … could provide a telling back-drop and moving social context within which to explore the implications of genetic memory links between women and men alive today and their far-distant, long-dead ancestors.

Well, all of this has been the inspiration for the historical themes and part of the underlying subject of my novel “Where A Life Begins”, which is as much about human identity and what makes each and every individual who they are, as it is about the grander themes mentioned above.  For anyone who may be interested, “Where a Life Begins” should be available within the next couple of months.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.

some other links