Archive for December, 2010


For this year’s Christmas/New Year walk, I chose Pendle Hill. It’s not that far from home and we’ve been having some atrocious weather recently with heavy snowfall and temperatures down to minus seventeen, rarely rising above minus six, for weeks, so I wasn’t even sure I’d make it this far. But the UK has a very changeable climate, and temperatures today were up to eight degrees with 100% humidity, making for a very steamy walk, burdened down by a pack filled with winter gear that, although advisable, wasn’t needed.

The most popular ramble up the hill starts from the visitor centre at the lovely little hamlet of Barley, which nestles beneath the steep north face. However, I chose to approach it from the village of Downham today, along a recently established network of permissive paths, which approach from the less steep, but I think the infinitely more pleasing country to the east. I’ve never liked the ascent from Barley to be honest. Heavy erosion of the hill by countless witch-mad pilgrims in the past has resulted in a somewhat ugly and unsympathetic reinforcement of the paths. The approach from Downham however, could not have been finer, the way less trodden and fairly easy to follow in good weather.
Part of the Assheton Estate, Downham village is unusual in that the owners have traditionally forbidden things like overhead power cables, ‘phone lines, aerials or satellite dishes. The usual mad clutter of  signage that blights every other place is also missing here – I couldn’t even find a fingerpost pointing me to the visitor centre carpark. The result is that Downham is one of the most beautiful and beloved places in Lancashire. It possesses a timeless charm that makes it a favourite location for filming period dramas. It’s also famous as the setting for the 1961 movie “Whistle down the wind” starring Alan Bates and Hayley Mills. Oh,… and the car park was free.
The area’s association with witchcraft goes back to the infamous “Lancashire witch trials” of the seventeenth century – twelve individuals being rounded up in a political and religious purge, and accused of murder by the “dark arts”. The purge affected many parts of England, but it was the number of accused rounded up in Pendle area that has given it its notoriety. It’s still a subject of controversy in Lancashire, and even as recently as 2009, petitions were being presented to the government pleading for the cases to be reconsidered, and the accused pardoned. So far however, the convictions stand. I think the best that can be said is that in the summer of 1612, ten of those unfortunate twelve were executed by the state on the flimsiest of pretexts, and that there was considerably more than witchery at the bottom of it. 
The tale of the Lancashire Witches is a very dark one. The official “factual” verision of events are told in Thomas Potts’ The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancashire, (1612). The story was also the basis for William Harrison Ainsworths novel The Lancashire witches (1849) and Robert Neill’s Mist over Pendle (1951).

 Even today Pendle remains a mysterious and evocative hill. It’s more than just imagination and an having an awareness of its dark past that sometimes raises the hairs on the back of your neck when walking here; the hill  also has a history of inducing visions and mystical experiences in the pilgrims who wander up it. It’s best viewed from the A59, as you head west, from Ribchester, towards Clitheroe. From here it takes on a most dramatic appearance, often boiling with mist and very broody. At 1827 feet, it falls just short of being officially classed as a UK mountain. Its summit, although steep in the approach reveals a vast moorland plateau. You need a map and compass to wander about up here, and the nous to use them. 

  The route I followed is the one roughly described on the Walking Britain website at http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk/walks/walks/walk_b/1818/. It was about six and a half miles of fairly rough moorland terrain. I met no witches along the way, just good natured walking folks, several of whom shared with me a friendly greeting, comments on the weather, the route,… the season. There was even one kind soul on the summit sharing the coffee from his flask with a bunch of strangers who’d forgotten their refreshments. This sort of thing, though insignificant to the cynical, restores one’s confidence, and one’s sense of purpose.

I always feel better after returning from a hill, and today was no exception. On the summit of Pendle, the mists swirled up from below, they formed mysterious planes of shifting nothingness, cutting off the madness of the world below. And souls sat in isolation or gathered in small groups, quietly chatting, nibbling their sandwiches, sipping their drinks – an odd melancholic, meditative, and it has to be said a typical summit scene – good natured, satisfying.








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I cannot deny the allure of Apple’s iTunes. Since purchasing an iPod Touch, and more recently an iPad, I’ve been a regular customer of iTunes. I’ve bought music from it – obscure albums I’d never find in my high street stores, as well as cute “indy” applications that turn my devices into indispensible and fun gadgets delivering everything from the local weather forecast to the ability to write, edit and distribute fiction all over the globe. iTunes is simlply massive. Of course anything massive is going to attract its proportion of detractors, its proportion of doomesday conspirators, and you must make of this what you will, but as a writer, the most seductive aspect of iTunes is iBooks. Get your story on iBooks, and you’re made, right? I mean iTunes/iBooks is massive right?


For the independent author, a lisiting on Apple’s iBooks is really quite straight forward. It costs you nothing, and the simplest route is via Smashwords. I’ve written elsewhere about Smashwords and how to go about getting listed in their particular “cloud”. I posted my story “The Man Who Could Not Forget” on Smashwords a while ago as an experiment, and have since been  lamenting the relatively poor  download rates. Okay,… so here’s the downside the indy author needs to be aware of: getting listed on Smashwords, your work will also appear on iTunes, eventually, but let’s be honest here: in five months, 180 readers have downloaded “The Man Who”, from Smashwords/iTunes/whoever. You could achieve the same download rates on Feedbooks in a couple of days.

So do not be seduced by promises of glory, massive sales, or a possible “book deal”. You want distribution, dissemination, you want as many human beings as possible to have read what you have written.  If you are an unknown author and have your own website, I promise you more people will have read your work in five months on there than posting your work on Smashwords/iTunes. If you’re not in it for money then go purely for distribution and avoid sites that allow you to set a price for your work, because in my experience they’re just not getting the hits.

Put it on Feedbooks. You’ll earn nothing, and you’ll never be famous but a lot of people will read your work.

Keep Safe

Graeme out.

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I sometimes wonder why I called this and my homepage The Rivendale Review – I think Rivendale was a homage to Tolkein, a place of magic and soul searching counsel; home to Galadreil, Queen of the Elves, embodiment of wisdom and divine femininity, the earth goddess, the muse,…

And Review?… Well, when you’re publishing online, your stories are never finished. They’re always available for review. Every time I read a story I find myself editing it, smoothing it, clearing out the typos. I usually do this when transferring a story from one format to another, one cloud to another,… Website to Lulu.com, website to Feedbooks, to Smashwords or whatever.

At the moment I’m still wildly enthusiastic about Feedbooks. Its ability to reach a worlwide audience is without equal at present, and for most of 2010, I’ve not only been putting up my short stories on Feedbooks, but also “reviewing” my novels and putting them on there as well. Of all the novels I’ve penned though, I’ve been resisting a review of The Lavender and the Rose, if only because it was just so damned long, but also out of an irrational fear that I would no longer understand just what the hell I was on about in this story.

I’ve been chipping away at it though, managing to sweep up a few typos in the process, but also, crucially, managing to remain in tune with the narrative, and in sympathy with the characters. It’s a bit of a rum story to be honest and I’m not sure at all where it came from, but there it is. I put it up on Feedbooks on Boxing Day night, and by the following morning it had been downloaded a hundred times. This is not a measure of the merit of L+R, because those downloaders had no idea what they were getting, rather it is a measure of the reach and the popularity of Feedbooks.

The Lavender and the Rose is an erotic love story, an exploration of the nature of identity and reality, and a homage to a part of the world I consider to be my spiritual home.

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Do you write? Are you still waiting for that big break? For the stroke of luck that will elevate you from obscurity? It might happen yet, so don’t give up, but have you ever wondered that you might also be missing the point of what it is that you do?

It came as a great disappointment to me, when I discovered the hardest part about becoming a professional author was not pounding the keys with sufficient industry to finally finish that novel, but actually convincing anyone what you had written was worth reading and, more to the point, paying you enough for it to enable you to finally quit the day-job.

As the rejections come thick and fast, disillusionment can all too easily set in and you begin to wonder if there’s a secret key to the publishing world that’s granted only to a select few; you wonder if you need to be a famous person, or if you need to have an influential contact in the publishing world, someone to raise your work above the level of the so called slush pile.

I’m sure all of the above are true to some extent, but once you start feeling bitter about it you should take a step back and reassess what it is you want or think you’re getting from your writing. Cynicism is an insidious poison and the last thing you want is for it to start creeping in to your writing, because then you’re lost. Readers may smile at a cynic’s complaint, but none will want to remain friends with him for long. There is no insight in cynicism, and it soon becomes tiresome.

All right, it’s obvious that if you work in the publishing business, you’re off to a head start, because you understand it from the inside out. And if you’re a famous name, say a celebrity A lister you can rest assured that you can write anything and it will sell millions of copies. You can’t blame publishers for courting celebrities  because publishing is about making money. Then again many writers of fiction have credentials as professional journalists – these people know the business too; they might rub shoulders with the publishing people in the big city, perhaps they went to university with them, get invited to their parties and book launches. But before we get carried away, we should remember it’s also true that complete unknowns also make it from time to time – just not many, at least in proportion to the number of sincere wannabes who pen their scripts and send them off in all innocence, hopeful of a glowing reception.

This is simply the nature of things; and we should remember that the lives of only a very few writers are lived in luxury and in the perpetually sunny glow of fame. More often it is a life of obscurity and a perpetual battle with the stormy seasons of one’s own self belief. Is it that my thoughts are not worthy of publication? the writer might ask himself. You have only to look at some of the tosh that’s been published to know this isn’t true. Is it that I didn’t have the proper education, that I didn’t do literature at university? That I didn’t go to university at all?


Your view of the world and your ability to put pen to paper are the only qualifications you need to wear the badge of “Writer” – it is not as exclusive a club as “published author” seems to be. Can’t spell? Grammar poor – then do a basic language course at night-class, or simply read a lot; let the words of past masters filter into your being, so that your grasp of the written word becomes instinctive and you understand the correctness of a thing simply by the way it feels.You’ll still make mistakes. But the more you write, and the more you read, the less mistakes you’ll make.

You do not need a book in the top ten bestsellers list to call yourself a writer. A writer is simply a person who writes. And more importantly writers lives are shaped, moved, indeed measured by their work. The desire that a reader should share, care about, or even recognise your world view is simply a desire for reassurance that one’s self belief is not misplaced. But as many readers will find discord as harmony in what you write, so you cannot rely upon a readership to bolster your self belief; she is a fickle mistress, and hard to please for long. Self belief is your own business, your own occasionally dark shadow, or sunny spell, and it cannot be won from the opinions of others.

That you feel the need to commit your thoughts to paper is reason enough for believing in yourself. Indeed the fact of your existence alone is reason enough to write because there is nothing in nature that is wasted, or without purpose – though that purpose in its highest forms may remain for ever a mystery to you.

Your life, your thoughts, your feelings, these are expressions of infinite value, therefore of infinite value too are your writings, even if you are never paid for them.They are the shape and the measure of your life. The person most influenced, most healed and most inspired by them, is always going to be you.

Because you write.

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Okay, serves me right for sounding like an Apple salesman in my last post. It’s been a while since I upgraded my iTunes version, a while since I’d upgraded or even synched my second gen and much beloved iPod Touch. I decided to bite the bullet and obey the prompts a few nights ago to upgrade to the latest operating system: iOS 4? What’s that? No idea. Okay,… go on then then. So, after about five hours of incredibly sluggish backing up and synching, I achieve iOS 4 status, but the downside of my attaining the dizzy heights of modernity is that all my music has been wiped and my iTunes library – not even sure what that is – has been wiped also. No music! No Videos! No Pictures! Damn!

Sync,… sync,… sync again? No way mate, your iPod is a blank slate.

And there we go,… another fine computerised mess that’s taken me two days to sort out.

Where would we be without them?

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Growing up in the 70’s I was fortunate in bearing witness to the early development of the personal computer. My interest in computers was driven initially by my training as an engineer and the realisation that many of the calculations I was having to painstakingly go through by hand, both in my studies and in the practice of my profession, could be done in an instant by even the rudimentary devices of the day. I trained as a mechanical engineer, though always marvelled, with the eye of one observing a master magician at work when I saw the electronics designers at their benches with their soldering irons, fixing their early integrated circuits into scraps of Vero board. A fellow apprentice once remarked to me that “so and so” had built his own micro-processor, and being ever the pragmatic I asked him: what will it do? And he replied, somewhat nonplussed: well,… anything!

So I have owned the whole Sinclair stable – the ZX81, the Spectrum, the QL, and later, when I became more interested in such machines as mere wordprocessors, the Amstrad NC 200, then a host of early IBM clone PC’s running windows ’98 and XP. Now I have three Windows machines, all opening up the interconnected world, but none of them have proved to be so handy, so ubiquitous, so damned user friendly, nor so influential, as my little  iPod touch.

I bought it in the winter of 2008. Unlike my Windows machines which can take five to ten minutes to from power on to typing into a Google box, the iPod touch was instantly on, instantly available. If I want to quickly check my email, I no longer bother with the Windows machines. I pull up of an evening after work, step out of the car and I’m within WiFi range of my router. I’m usually listening to a podcast from Frisky Radio on the iPod anyway, so I’ve only to touch the mail app and my messages are already there.

I’m getting an iPad for my birthday, which I’m interpreting as a larger iPod touch – the big five oh this time – and while this is a dream of a machine to fondle, and the larger format will undoubtedly enhance the experience of certain apps, the smaller, pocketable iPod touch will remain my point of reference in the online world. It was also the device that  drew my writing away from the dead end world of commercial publishing and clued me in to the potential of the free e-book. It took me from tapping stories on my QL into the oblivion of a bottom drawer, to the uploading of a story to Feedbooks one evening, the reading of it by a complete stranger on the other side of the world the following morning, and their commenting back on it by the following day.

Why is this important?

I remember back in the eighties, fiddling about with IBM PCs. You needed a working knowledge of DOS to do anything with them, but the more progressive, longer haired, guys in the office were already playing about with Apple Lisas. They were different. They used pictures, icons, you dragged and dropped files instead of laboriously typing in instructions. The tech guys didn’t like the Lisas. They were for babies, for ordinary non techie types. But if all you wanted to do was compose a document, or do some calcs, and print it out, then Lisa was your gal. I was a tech kind of guy and liked the brute power and kilobytes of the PC’s but if you wanted a quick job doing, and doing neatly, then I’d sneak some time in with Lisa, after hours. 

The IBMs were always a bit dodgy. They caught viruses and they crashed. I wiped out two vital machines in the late nineties by a virus caught off a floppy disc I’d borrowed from another department. It took me a weekend of unpaid overtime to rebuild them. My home PC’s? I’m paranoid about viruses and hackers, and the security I run slows my machines down to half their potential. The iPod touch, distant cousin of little Lisa,… you just switch it on and up it comes. Anti-virus? Firewall? What the hell are those?

What time is it? I check the iPod: 22:22?

(Updated 8/12/10) Do I sound like an Apple salesman?  What happened next serves me right.

Good night all.

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Streams full of stars like skies at night
I remember reading this phrase “British Doom and Gloom” in an American sci fi magazine, it being a literary critic’s somewhat dismissive take on what he saw as our uniquely downbeat approach to the genre. The implication was that our sci fi stories tend never to end well, and either predict or depict worlds in which no right minded person would ever want to live. I think the critic had a point. Sometimes it’s as if we’re afraid the positives will seem too wishful, too airy fairy and anyway, happy endings are for children or emotional simpletons, aren’t they? And the future’s hopeless – any fool can see that.

It may be that writers, like anyone else, are influenced by the prevailing zeitgeist , which is being pedaled by the media as one of unremitting bleakness, and perhaps not without good reason. But I think writers, like the bards of old, also have a duty to shape the zeitgeist, to inspire their readers, to influence, or as a last resort – if things really are hopeless, then simply to cheer our readers up. Imagine the fate of a medieval bard who, finding himself residing in a besieged city, insisted on recounting epic sagas to his king that basically said: it’s hopeless your majesty, we’re all doomed!

So far then, I’m resisting the urge to cry into my beer, if for no other reason than I think it’s healthier, both emotionally and physically, to look on the bright side, no matter how inappropriate it might otherwise seem. Similarly, in my writing I’ve always avoided dreaming up distressing, dysfunctional lives, to be played out in ever more grungy environments, lives that end in ways that serve only to underline the pointlessness of,… well,… life. It helps I think that I don’t live in a city, but a rural village where green fields and wide open skies prevail. Of urban grunge there is not a trace, and I think urban writers forget that a great many of us only ever venture into a city as a last resort, and they’d do well get out into the countryside a bit more.

I find my childish optimism isn’t supported by the fact that an apparently learned survey conducted last year tells us we Brits might actually be justified in having a gloomy outlook. Our country was ranked bottom in a list of ten other European countries for its “quality of life”, and this is before we take into account any upcoming “austerity measures” that our politicians assure us are necessary in order to save the world as we know it.

I don’t know how one scientifically measures the quality of life. It’s probably very technical and excruciatingly statistical, but I’m guessing the gist of it is that long hours, inflexible working conditions, the high cost of living, and a miserly quota of holidays all seem purposely designed to make [Union] Jack a very dull boy.

During my morning commute, I used to listen to the car radio, but I began to find the politicians and the fiscal pundits on the current affairs programmes as irritating as the blather jocks on the music stations. The theme was always the same: how we had to make do with less money. How there was less to spend on public works like hospitals and libraries and welfare schemes and how the essential utilities like water and energy were being fiscalised to the greater benefit of the richest, and the disproportionate detriment of the poorest.

I’m beginning my sixth decade now. The sixth decade was once a time for taking stock, and for positioning yourself for leaving the world of work, for topping up your pension if you needed to, for sorting out your savings, your investments, and then hitting the glide slope for a safe landing into an early retirement, because in a downsizing culture no one works until they’re 65 any more do they?

Now, however, in common with many others in the UK, I’m faced with having to find double what I paid on the mortgage, just to send my children to university. The reason for this is the recent tripling of tuition fees, because those fiscal pundits tell me the financial bedrock of my country, indeed of the western world, has collapsed. As a working class kid you can still get to university if you’re bright enough, but you’re going to be in serious debt for the rest of your life on account of it, and I seem to remember the lesson of the last few years is that debt is a very bad thing. Neither of my children are going to be saddled with that nightmare if I can help it.

Meanwhile the previous generation have cashed in their pre-noughties high interest investment chips, and they’re watching us now from their armchairs while we gaze in disbelief at them, bemoaning the fact that our turn isn’t going to come, that the early retirement train has left the station, and we’re never going to catch it up.

The overwhelming impression, when you listen to material like this, day after day, is that life, at the risk of labouring a point, is all about money. And as the money disappears, or is squandered uselessly by the ignorant, or the corrupt, the quality of our lives will get worse. I suppose those politicians and fiscal pundits would argue that they’re dealing with the real world, and there’s no use naive hacks like me trying to bury our heads in the delusory sands of a happy ending, but I’m afraid my naive soul can no longer bear it. It needs a happy ending. And I’m irrationally convinced that there will be one.

I don’t listen to the radio during my commutes nowadays, and the world feels a lot better for it. I’ve still got to find the money for the university fees, still got to work until I’m sixty seven (at the last count). But as I scraped the frost off the car this morning in the misty light of dawn, while the thermometer hovered around minus six degrees, I looked at the world, at the pink streaked sky, and felt its heartbeat for a moment. And I’m sorry but the world felt good.

This feeling comes from more than just the course of Korean ginseng I’ve been taking. In truth I don’t know where it comes from exactly, but so long as moments like this continue to visit me, those politicians and fiscal pundits can blather all they like. The quality of life is a state of mind. Each generation has its own economic subtext, which seems like the end of the world, but life goes on and it’s stupid to adopt a frame of mind where the bottom line is always measured in dollars.

Some of my stories are grounded in a quagmire of gloom, but they also grope towards some form of escape, or transcendence, suggesting that it can be overcome. I’m happy to accept that my ideas are flimsy, airy-fairy, or childish, like a belief in fairies, but I hope they at least point in the right direction. The last thing I want to do is reinforce things by joining in with the gloomy chant that it’s hopeless and we’re all doomed. Because is isn’t, and we aren’t. I’m writing this from the rural North West of England. I can go for a walk in the woods with out worrying about stepping on a forgotten land-mine, or that my children will be kidnapped for child-soldiers in some benighted, war-torn country.

If you feel your quality of life is poor, that it offers nothing, then it’s right to change things if you can, but sometimes you can’t make the big changes, like retiring to the south of France. Sometimes you’re trapped, if not by your financial circumstances, then by your responsibilities. But we do not always need to focus on our material reality in order to bring about a liberation of the spirit. If we’re wise we’ll try to understand the nature of our suffering as a first step, because a profound change in our quality of life may simply be a question of reflecting on and re-assessing our values. Without this period of reflection all we end up doing is taking our troubles with us.

Eastern spiritual traditions are very good at giving us the analytical skills to understand why it is we feel miserable, and they teach us that it can sometimes take only a subtle mind shift to change everything for the better. We might remain materially poor, tied to the grindstone of our day job, and we may even have to work until we’re seventy, while being constantly “performance obsessed” by spotty faced kids with degrees in management-guru-speak. But if we’re feeling knotted up about it, it’s a sign we’re out of balance, that our vital energy is being drained by a system that is sick at its heart, and as Krishnamurti reminds me, “it’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

The way we live is based on the premise that we’re all temporarily enduring a means to an end. Maybe things aren’t great, but it’ll be worth it eventually and things will get better – we will finally enter the balmy summer-land of our lives and truly live at last. It takes age and experience however to realise that the end isn’t getting any nearer, that in fact there is no end, except the ultimate one of course, and we are patiently enduring the means without realising that the means is all there is. There’s nothing temporary about it, you see? Your life doesn’t start when you’ve paid the mortgage or seen the kids through university, or you’ve retired from the day job. These are the imaginary milestones in your life’s plan, and focussing on them can result in your missing the bigger picture. They are illusory. As soon as you cross one off, you’ll find yourself staring at another.

Your life is what you are doing, thinking and feeling right now.

I remember a craze for tee-shirts bearing the pseudo-knowing phrase: “life is shit and then you die.” Now that’s depressing! But life is only like that if you’ve been misled into believing the material part of it is the only valid dimension to reality. A more knowing phrase, a more penetrating one would have been simply: “Life is.” or “Life is now”

We have a clear choice: we can continue worshipping at the shrine of material consumerism, in which case we’re always going to be listening to those politicians and fiscal pundits preaching at us from their balance sheets, and wondering how we’re going to find the money to go on living in the way we’re accustomed, or we can wise up and seek to reconnect with something else, something less “material”, less easy to define, like the frost and that pink streaked sky this morning. If that means God to you, then so be it. If it means taking more time to kick back and explore the countryside, learning how to meditate, or taking up Yoga or meditative styles of Tai Chi, all these things will set you on a different path, and re-introduce you to the idea of an inner stillness. It is in connecting with this stillness you’ll discover a whole new way to be, a whole new way of seeing the world.

Have you ever seen a stream full of stars?

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.


William Henry Davies (1871-1940)


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Just noticed the change on Feedbook’s site. Yes, there’s now a section where you can pay to download books. Not sure what this is about yet, but I’ll be keeping my eye on it and I’ll report back here.

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