Categories
memories

Gill Downs: A Tribute

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.

Gill and Miriam, May 2009

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.

Categories
Books Social anxiety

Blog Tour, Stage 2

The lovely Sue Barnard has posted the next installment of my blog tour. Sue has been such a support over the years. A wonderful editor, too.

Website

Date

Title

Val Penny

2 August, 2017

Book Review: The Mill River Recluse

Sue Barnard

10 August, 2017

How I Discovered What I Had

 

The post is mostly about another friend – Gill Downs. Without her, none of what followed would have been possible.

Social Anxiety Revealed is released on Tuesday August 22, 2017.

CoverWeNeedToTalkAboutSocialAnxiety

Categories
Books Rhymes

Two Poems

As part of the May Mayhem challenge, I wrote two poems this month.

For the first, I took the acknowledgements from my novel, Neither Here Nor There, and turned them into rhyming verses.

Acknowledgements for Neither Here Nor There

NeitherHereNorThereCoverSeveral people a role they took.
Without them there would be no book.

Gill reappeared from a thorny past —
One that I had tried to cast
Away. She helped me understand
Myself, and taking me by the hand,
With friendship, advice and support,
She showed me the ball was in my court
And told me with tact and sobriety
All about social anxiety.

I joined a local writing group.
Its members formed a merry troupe.
They helped me learn how to write,
Critiquing till I saw some light.
Of David the mentor I’m in awe.
He always finds what no one saw.
Judy, who ran my other group,
Brought fresh ideas into my hoop.

Romance themed Sally’s excellent workshop,
Where I created a heroine and a heartthrob,
And devised a plot with conflicts in heaps
That threatened to separate these struggling young peeps.
Sue and Gail, course-made friends,
Critiqued my drafts from beginnings to ends,
Turning the words that came from my head
Into a novel that could be read.

I hadn’t let anyone close to me read,
Expecting disapproval I didn’t need.
But after acceptance Other Half found
Bloopers. So glad they left the ground.
Crooked Cat Publishers, Steph and Laurence,
Introduced me to authors in their torrents,
And produced an opus with delightful cover,
My name below its troubled lover.

A big THANK YOU to those and others, for they
Provided support and showed me the way.

Here are the original acknowledgements for comparison:

Several people made this novel possible and I will always be grateful to them.

Gill Downs, who has been my friend, advisor and supporter ever since we remet twelve years ago.

David Brauner and Judy Labensohn, who taught me about writing.

Sally Quilford, who ran the excellent pocket novel workshop that led me to consider writing a romance.

Sue Barnard and Gail Richards, who spared no time or effort in helping to turn my draft into a real novel.

David Drori, who pointed out several problems when I thought there were no more left.

Laurence and Steph Patterson of Crooked Cat Publishing, who accepted me into their warm basket of cats and used their professional expertise to produce a volume of high calibre.

Thank you to all, and to everyone else who gave me encouragement along the way.

***

In a rather nonsensical poem, I varied the number of lines in each verse: 9, 7, 5, 3, 1. Someone has probably done this before and given the form a name.

Eye Spy

I wonder why
There is no Y
That I can spy
In “shepherd’s pie”
But there is a Y
In “your red tie”
Which lost its dye
In a wash that I
Set too high.

It makes me sigh
And even cry
When in your eye
I see that I
Am seen as shy.
It’s a lie
That I decry.

The bread that I
Like best is rye.
It makes my
Smile wry.
Does that apply?

Saying “Hi,”
Drinking chai,
By the by.

Hello goodbye.

I’ll tell you how well I did with the challenge in another post, later today. Sorry it has to be today because it’s the end of the month. See you soon….

Categories
Uncategorized

Birthday, Interview and COMPETITION!

I’m one today.
Hip-hip-hooray!

To celebrate my first birthday, I’m posting my first interview and holding my first competition. Yes, at the end of this post you can win a prize. Here’s a clue to what that prize could be:

Interview

My guest today, Gill Downs, is not a writer, although, having been on the receiving end of many wonderful emails from her, I know she could be. She has appeared before in this blog, but this time she’s here to tell us about the business she has developed around the fascinating world of fractal images. Not having much idea of these, I began with the obvious question.

M: What are fractals?

G: Fractals are forms produced by fractal geometry and characteristically contain infinite copies of themselves at different points and scales, revealing more and more detail however closely you look at them.

Fractal geometry underlies the forms of the natural world, and the beauty of the patterns and structures seen in fractals are evocative of those found in nature – in, for example the self-similar patterns and forms of leaves and flowers, snowflakes, mountains, clouds and river networks.

M: What made you decide to create fractal images?

G: I came to making fractal images from a long-standing interest in fractals. I remember watching a fascinating TV programme about the Mandelbrot Set [M: see http://inpotential.com/wordpress/articles/numerology/arthur-clarke-fractals-colors-infinity/ for another fascinating programme] years ago when computers powerful enough to generate them were first available, so when I eventually had a half decent computer myself I began investigating fractal generating software. I had no idea before this that sophisticated fractal graphics programs had been developed and that there existed a whole world of fractal art and artists creating beautiful fractal images.

M: What have you learnt from this venture? Has it changed your aspect on life in any way?

G: I’ve learned a great deal of technical stuff, and I’ve acquired a lot of new skills which have wider applications. And it has changed my aspect on life through a deeper understanding of the role fractal geometry plays in shaping the universe. It’s also led me to becoming involved in communities, both real and virtual, based around fractals and/or art and artists.

M: Do you have to know a lot of maths to create the images or does the software do it all for you?

G: Well that’s not really an either/or question. No, you don’t have to understand the underlying maths to use the software, but even so it certainly doesn’t do it all for you. There are fortunately some very brainy formula writers who write the fractal formulas and colouring algorithms for the principal software I use, Ultra Fractal, but the parameters of the formulae can be changed and combined by the user in numerous ways to create an infinite variety of possible images, the characteristics of which are user-defined.

One of the virtual communities I’ve become involved with is the Ultra Fractal mailing list, on which formula writers and fractal artists share their work and knowledge. People ‘tweak’ each other’s images, answer questions, post tutorials and challenges etc. – it really is a wonderful resource for anyone who might be interested in trying their hand at making fractal images 🙂

**********

Gill, thank you so much for giving us a brief introduction to this complex topic.

Gill’s company is called ex entropy. If you want to know where the name comes from or any other information about fractal images and the cards and prints that ex entropy produces, you’ll probably find the answer at http://www.exentropy.co.uk/.

Competition

Gill has very kindly offered to give away three of her images to the winner of my competition. These will be of their own choosing, selected from any on the website, and will be sent rolled in a tube to wherever the winner is in the world.

So, here’s what you have to do. Write a story about a character who suffers from social anxiety or just describe such a character. If you’ve read some of my blog, you might have an idea about how such a character would behave. Or you might know someone who fits the bill. Or you can find explanations on the Internet.

The winner will be the person whose description or story best captures the essence of the disorder, in my opinion.

Rules: maximum 200 words, to be sent to miriamcompetition@yahoo.co.uk or as a comment to this post by Monday, April 5.

While you’re busy writing, I’ll be busy too – sping cleaning. Grrrrr!