Yesterday, I got the first of two doses of the Covid-19 vaccination. The process was easy and well organised, and I’m feeling fine, thank you.
No country is perfect, Israel included, but it’s in times like these that I feel most proud of my little country. I think this article does a good job of explaining why Israel has succeeded in vaccinating a much higher proportion of its population than any other country. Basically, it’s due to our health service and the way it’s run, with clinics all over the country, and our ability to mobilise in times of emergency.
When makes me annoyed? When I read in the foreign press that Israel is going ahead with vaccinating while Palestinians have to wait. The fact is that Israeli Arabs have the same rights to health care (including vaccinations) as everyone else in Israel. Those who live in the Palestinian Authority have their own systems in place, independent of Israel. Israel is not responsible for their vaccination programme, although it will probably help them.
My appointment for the second injection is in three weeks. I would love for it to be followed by a trip to the UK, my home away from home. Sadly, I don’t see that happening.
Stay safe and healthy, everyone, wherever you are.
Gill Downs. 1st February 1953 – 18th November 2020
The six days that have passed since I heard the sad news of Gill’s passing haven’t made this any easier to grasp. The suddenness has made it difficult for everyone, especially for her family. No one expected this.
I first met Gillian at school. She was in my year, but never in my class, and I remember her mostly from the coach that took us to kosher dinners and back. Probably most of the girls who went didn’t eat kosher at home, but their parents saw it as a way for them to meet other Jews.
Gill was much more sophisticated than me, more knowledgeable about things outside school. I was younger than most of them and young for my age and, like all the girls I hung around with, she bullied me. I never called it bullying then. Bullying, I thought then but don’t think now, had to be physical. I called it teasing. It wasn’t pleasant. And yet, despite the way they treated me, I continued to hang around with them, every day, there and back and while we ate our kosher meals. Why? Because the alternative would have been to be on my own, and I knew that would be worse.
No one in that group of girls was the highest in the bullying ranking. There were a couple of others – one in particular – who won that title. And Gill, I remember, even agreed to sit next to me when I found myself in the same Maths class as her.
Eventually, school fizzled out. I left with pleasure and a vow never to be in contact with any of the girls from school again. Fortunately, university was much better. But my experiences of school, and childhood in general, continued to have an effect on me as a person. I often kept quiet and when I did talk, I found self-expression difficult and sounded hesitant.
I moved countries, got married, had three children. I worked as a computer programmer and then as a technical writer. My life was good but the problems didn’t go away.
In 2002, I added myself to the list for my school on Friends Reunited (a forerunner to Facebook). Never did I expect anyone would contact me, but they did – first Jane and then Gill. For a long time, Gill and I emailed each other practically every day. It was the perfect medium for me. It gave me time to consider my words, yet provided an immediacy that letters never could. I poured out my problems and thoughts, and she listened and reacted, showing that she understood. She gave advice and eventually told me about social anxiety. It was hard for me to believe that anyone else in the world could have similar problems, so it was most surprising to discover the name, support groups and therapy.
One thing that bothered me was that Gill continued to feel guilty for what she did to me as a child. (She had a different word for it: victimisation.) I tried to make her see that she was too young and immature to know what she was doing to me then. I said any blame should be laid on the adults in our lives – mostly the teachers, and perhaps even that isn’t fair because they didn’t know, either.
Without Gill, I’d have remained the same person, quiet and closed to the world. Probably, many people I meet still see me that way. But, through Gill, I’ve learned to write down my thoughts. Without her, I would never have become an author.
It’s hard to believe that I can no longer reach Gill by any means, technological or otherwise. For her, I’m glad, at least, that decades of enduring pain and disability ended so suddenly. For her family, the suddenness has added to their grief and for that I’m very sorry.
I’ll never forget Gill and all she did for me these past eighteen years. Yehi zichra baruch – may her memory be a blessing.
I’m delighted to welcome the author Tim Taylor to the blog. Tim has been a friend of mine for several years. His blog is full of his brilliant short stories and poems. Today, he’s here to tell us about something a bit different. Over to you, Tim.
Hello Miriam, thank you very much for hosting me today.
I’d like to talk about a new anthology of speculative fiction that I’ve been involved in. Darkness, published by Twisted Fate Publishing on 10 October, is a mix of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, by a group of previously published writers who have come together to make a book in aid of the mental health charity, MIND. All the stories relate to the theme of darkness, in many different literal and metaphorical ways.
The book is available on Amazon (via this link) for £9.99 in paperback or £3.99 on Kindle. All profits go to MIND. One of my two stories in the anthology is the first outing in print for a long-term sci-fi project I’ve been working at, on and off, for quite a while, in parallel with other writing. It involves a human community on a distant planet, ruled by a theocracy which diverts the resources of society towards the needs of its God. The people have lost their technology, and their history has been rewritten. However, as my story, Delving, explores, adventurous individuals may find bits of both in the ruins of ancient cities. Here is a short excerpt:
At last, they reached a tall wooden fence. It was twice the height of a man: Peiku wondered how they were going to get over it. But Ravakinu showed no inclination to do so, instead slowly following the fence to the left. At length they came upon a large bush. Ravakinu crouched down and motioned for the others to do so as well. The pale light illuminated his face once again.
“This is where we cross,” he whispered. “We can get under the fence here. Any second thoughts? It’s not too late to go back. If you get caught out here, it’s a breach of curfew and a slap on the wrist. Beyond the fence is forbidden ground. Get caught there and you are in major trouble. The Guardians are within their rights to execute anybody they find delving in the Old City, and sometimes they do. People I knew have died there.”
He looked pointedly at Peiku. “Still sure you want to go in?”
Peiku was not sure at all, but when he looked over at Vahe, her face had an uncharacteristic expression of grim determination. He couldn’t back out now.
“OK.” Ravakinu pulled aside some foliage to reveal a small space under the fence. It hardly seemed big enough to get through. “I’ll go first and make sure the coast is clear. Peiku, wait a few seconds and then follow me. Vahe, you go last and do a final check that we’re not being followed.”
He turned to Peiku. “You go through feet first. It’s tight, but you’re skinnier than me so you should be okay. Watch me. There’s another bush on the other side, so it’s a bit tricky getting out, but I’ll help you.” Ravakinu lay on the ground and put his feet through the hole. First pushing with his hands against the earth and then pulling upon the planks of the fence itself, he eased himself through. There was a rustle of branches on the far side, then silence. Peiku looked at Vahe. She nodded. He lay down and tried to copy what Ravakinu had done. He put his feet through the hole and found that his legs slipped through easily enough as he pushed against the ground. He could feel branches on the other side of the fence. Now his hips were beneath the fence and his body was hard against the ground. He pushed again and moved another few centimetres. But his clothing was snagged on the fence – he was stuck! He fumbled with the cloth, trying to pull it free, but that seemed to make things worse. Remembering what Ravakinu had done, he grabbed the bottom of the fence and tried to lever himself through, but to no avail. The hard wood was pressing down on his chest, biting into his ribs with every breath. He was trapped!
Many thanks once again for hosting me, Miriam!
Ooh, what a cliffhanger to end on! Thank you, Tim.
Tim (T. E.) Taylor grew up near Leek in Staffordshire and now lives in Meltham, West Yorkshire, at the opposite end of the Peak District, with his wife Rosa and 14 guitars. Having previously been a civil servant, he now divides his time between creative writing, academic research and teaching Ethics part-time at Leeds University.
Tim’s first two novels: Zeus of Ithome, which retells the real-life struggle of the ancient Messenian People to free themselves from Sparta; and Revolution Day, about an ageing dictator clinging on to power, were published by Crooked Cat. His first poetry collection, Sea Without a Shore, was published in 2019 by Maytree Press. Tim is currently working on a science fiction project.
Yesterday, I attended a Zoom presentation by the wonderful Miriam Lottner. Any talk she gives is fascinating and brilliantly-delivered. And while I don’t recognise in myself the habit of being influenced by social media that she mentioned, I certainly found something to grab onto.
“You don’t need to apologise,” she said. She told us about her offer to help people to present themselves in a better way on the job scene. The women who got in touch apologised for taking up her time. The men didn’t.
Miriam is right. We don’t need to apologise for what is rightfully ours, although I’m sure I often do. However, I do need to apologise for a recent blog post that confused some people. A group I belong to is talking of creating a website and considering using WordPress. I wanted to demonstrate something that WordPress can do, so I created a test post and added a password as the post was relevant only for the members of the group. But other people saw the link to the post and wondered about the password. For that confusion, I apologise. I wonder if there’s a better way to post something intended for a limited audience.
In other news, I’m planning a crime – a fictional one, of course. That will be my novel for NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, we won’t be meeting up in local restaurants, this year, but we’ll meet online. I’m looking forward to it.
We all make mistakes, sometimes. We all need to listen to advice, sometimes, especially when that advice comes from a voice of experience.
But equally important is the notion that we need to have confidence in our own abilities to think, so that, after listening to advice and learning all we can, we are able to make and follow our own decisions.
I’ve just made a decision about one of my books, one that I should and would have made sooner if I’d had more confidence to follow the path I’d chosen. Because no matter who the person is who advised changing direction, the final decision should have been mine.
I’m not going to explain any more now, but in about three months I’ll refer back to this post.
In the meantime, the message of this post is universal:
You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.
Writing is tough. Life is tough. But we can do it.
I just came across this article. Have a read – it’s not long.
Apart from being a fascinating read, it made me think:
Maybe I’m normal, after all.
Because it says that not only do most writers have conversations with their characters, but most people have conversations in their heads with people they know.
The picture above shows me talking to Asaf, one of the characters in the novel I’m still planning. We haven’t really spoken much, but I expect we will once the writing gets underway.
According to the article, most people have conversations in their heads with real people. I do that, too. The conversations in my head are never like real life because they flow much better than the real ones do. Hmm. I guess that means I’m not normal. Yeah, I knew that really.
They’re excellent tips – the sort of tips that make you think, “I can nail this!” Even I started to think that as I read. But I checked myself: “No, I can’t,” and this was the trigger:
Imagine that they’re sitting opposite you. Imagine it’s a friend or acquaintance who has a genuine interest in your book and wants to know more about it. Chat away to that presenter as you would to anybody.
The way I would chat to anybody isn’t what you want to hear on the radio. That’s why I’m not going to do this. I would need to plan my words in advance, as in a presentation.
But you can do it, I’m sure. If you’re considering a radio interview about your book(s), read the tips and go for it!
In contrast, I was delighted to be interviewed by Paula R. C. Readman recently because [spoiler alert] the clubhouse tearoom is virtual and I had plenty of time to plan my answers.
I just finished a book. It’s called The True Adventures of Gidon Lev by Julie Gray, and I want to sing its praises from the rooftops.
The True Adventures is an amazing book, unlike any other that I’ve read. It started out as an account of the full and unusual life of Gidon Lev, but very soon the author slotted into the story, as the two became, as Gray calls their relationship, “Loving Life Buddies.”
The subtitle for the book is: “Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.” It tells you immediately that this read will be poignant and humorous. It might make you wonder: How can you have humour in a book about a Holocaust survivor? My answer, in the typical Jewish habit of answering a question with another question, is: How can you not have humour when the survivor is a person who always has a smile ready to burst out? In every photo I’ve seen of him, every video, that cheeky smile is what I notice first. This is a man who never wanted his Holocaust experiences to define him, and they don’t. He is so much more than that.
I love the way the book is arranged, with Gray’s voice interspersed with quotes from various people and in particular from Gidon himself. In the middle of Gidon’s and Julie’s 2019 tour of Prague, for example, Gidon tells of Prague in 1938. When Gidon disagrees with something Julie wrote, his version pops up, too.
The writing itself includes some gems, like this description of Gidon: “merry, a bit kooky, with great intentions, always headed toward adventure and sometimes tilting toward windmills.” Also: “Memory is a famously mysterious phenomenon; the more we tell our stories, the more details we add, edit, or exclude.” And: “Anybody could relate to stories about relationships or jobs with bad bosses or a fun vacation. But when you experience something very specific, such as war or the suicide of a loved one or cancer, you occupy a different space. A lonelier one.”
Gidon was adamant from the beginning: the book was to be about his whole life and not just the Holocaust. I agree with him and yet… The Holocaust parts are so important, so poignant, so inescapably, unavoidably present, that they were what made the book for me, and it was right that the topic of the Holocaust kept returning in the narrative. It had to. You can’t go through an experience like that and just move on. It has to influence everything that comes after.
The Israel parts felt closer, perhaps too close, because naturally there were sections I didn’t agree with. I found myself thinking: I’ve lived here for forty-four years; how dare this newcomer say such things! But I took myself to task, because of course she’s had time to create her own views, and living here gives her the right to express them. Still, when I read that the Snake Path leading to the top of Masada is dangerous, I shouted back, “It isn’t! I’ve climbed it and it isn’t!”
The personal parts of the book were interesting as other people’s lives often are. I couldn’t imagine being in some of the knots Gidon found himself in. I marvelled at his ability to disentangle himself, even if not always in the best way.
I learned plenty from the snippets of information dotted around. “The word holocaust,” Gray writes, “was first used to describe the Hamidian (or, in modern terms, Armenian) Massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks from 1894 to 1896.”
I hardly need to add that I heartily recommend this book to everyone.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review. In no way did that affect my opinions, voiced above.
More information is available on the website. The photos are taken from there, with permission.