Why I wrote DEAD DOG FLOATING

Simon Kettlwell - DDF jacket copy

I promised myself many years ago that one day I would write DEAD DOG FLOATING. I wanted to write the story of a 12-year old boy, his dysfunctional family, his belief that he could somehow keep it together, and a cast of characters that personified a midlands industrial town in the early seventies. I wanted it to be funny, but at the same time hold a story with real depth. I wanted to pay tribute to three dead boys who would never become men, forgotten by all but those close to them. Most of all though, I wanted to write about the boy, his need for a stable family, to make sense of the world around him, surrounded by these people who know little more than he does about life beyond the smoking chimneys.

I do think there’s a lot to be said about adults getting in touch with their ‘inner child’. I’ve never had much of a problem, and my kids call me ‘giant child’. Adults in touch with their child know how to play, have fun, be irreverent without being hurtful, and never get tired of Lego. I found Derek Jackson, and together we told his story- DEAD DOG FLOATING. He told it to me just as it was, and I wrote it down. I scribed Derek’s view on the world, his beliefs, his honesty, and most of all his dreams, hopes and his desperation to believe in his father, despite every indication to the contrary. Derek took me by the hand back to 1972, the time and the place when Rod Stewart sang ‘Maggie May’, and workmen still got on their mopeds and drove to work at Rolls Royce, despite the factory being closed. We walked together down streets of terraced houses where people had sold off their sofas to rent a colour telly, and I felt joy. I felt joy that I was looking through the eyes of a twelve year old boy and how free he was from prejudice and full of often unintentional humour when adults made complete arses of themselves.

I’m not sure I‘ll ever write a character as wonderful, and as beautiful as Derek Jackson age 12 again. He made me happy to write him, and I miss him now we are done. Maybe we’ll meet again, but maybe not. I know he’s there, and perhaps it is because of him that I will always be known to my kids as ‘giant child’. I’d rather that than a boring old fart.

For those interested, I did set up on Derek Jackson’s behalf, his own Facebook page. Do take a look if you have the time.DEAD DOG FLOATING.

 

WHY I WROTE ‘THE TRUTH ABOUT US’.

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A few years ago I saw a snippet of a documentary on relationships. It was a snippet because my daughter was very young, I was the main parent, and for years rarely saw a whole programme in one sitting. In this documentary a very elegant older woman was talking about inviting her husband’s lover to come and live with them in a bid to hold their relationship together. That was it. That was all I saw. This didn’t sound like desperation on the woman’s part to keep a husband to herself, but more a recognition that they were older, and the thought of ending a long relationship and everything that would come with it would simply be too much.

Because I didn’t get to see the whole programme (I’m yet to find out what happens at the end of ‘Noddy and the pot of gold’!), I was intrigued to discover how it turned out. So I thought I’d write the story for myself and see where it went. It became ‘THE TRUTH ABOUT US’.

The woman from the documentary I called Nell Lewis, and her husband-Gordon; a misogynistic, bigoted, retired lawyer. They are both in their late sixties and have been married for 45 years. Gordon begins an affair with Cath, the daughter of a recently deceased family friend. Unable to envisage a future any different to the past she has known, Nell invites Cath to come and live with them. Cath’s personal circumstances are dire and so, much to Nell’s surprise, she accepts the offer.

I don’t feel comfortable when marriage is described as an institution or some kind of club when it seems to me that every relationship is unique in its own way. I do wonder if giving marriage this feeling of commonality bequeaths it a power it doesn’t actually possess. I don’t have a problem with good quality, reciprocal long-term relationships in which respect for one another plays a major part, but marriage for those hung up on it can become I believe, something of a destructive influence with all it’s archaic connotations. For others it works, probably because within they find a happy balance, which probably has nothing to do with marriage at all.

Developing older characters and getting inside their lives proved to be a fascinating exercise; especially through the eyes of this elegant, largely conventional woman who has tried all her life to do ‘the right thing’ and hold onto her marriage vows, despite her husband trashing them from time to time with his sordid and usually brief affairs. Gordon as those who have read the book will see is not Johnny Depp! More Johnny Vegas with hairy ears!

Once I’d written Cath (the lover) inside Nell and Gordon’s house, things begin to get interesting. Nell is able to see for the first time, and at close quarters exactly how utterly crap, cheesy and patronising her husband is with women. This isn’t news to Nell, but to see it so starkly was fun to write, and for her to witness it first hand made it quite clear that she is to an extent complicit in making their relationship what it is.

I thought I’d throw in a ‘curve-ball’ too, so I introduced John Boyd. John is a similar age to Nell and the antithesis of Gordon. This new ingredient gave me the opportunity to reduce Nell’s potential to become a victim as she develops feelings for this gentle, down to earth man.

I took advice from a number of women of varying ages with this book to create the character of Nell. I did this so that I could accurately reflect her age, her generation, and also the authenticity of her situation. I was surprised how the younger women could also relate to her dilemma and the age-old patterns and pitfalls that can perpetuate an intractable set of circumstances where no one gets what they want.

I called the book THE TRUTH ABOUT US because I wanted the characters to face the uncomfortable truths about themselves, and in doing so create choices, equally hard to face, but with the potential for liberation. We should all feel liberated in life. It is too short to be otherwise.

IF I RULED THE WORLD (WESTERN MORNING NEWS ARTICLE- TRANSCRIPT)

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If I ruled the world

 Okay, we’re not messing here. I’m in charge. Right! The first law is ‘no whistling’. On with the Cabinet- John Lydon (Sex Pistols) for PM. Straight-talking, tells it like it is, and no matter how clever we think we all might be, reminds us that we can at some crucial moments be ‘Pretty Vacant’- (fill in your own examples here, but for a kick off- Millenium Dome). On the Environment, we’ve got ‘The Wombles’. For Health there’s Keith Richards, continuing his excellent work on re-defining the term ‘well-being’, and on Transport, Guy Martin with his spanners. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and everything else that is about being an incredible human being, it must be Malala Yousafzai. I will look to the young as my chief advisers to ensure that our policies are free from politics, prejudice, inequality, lack of imagination, oppression of the poor, and anything that impinges on basic human rights. You may be wondering why this is different from the rhetoric of previous governments. I’ll tell you why- this isn’t rhetoric, and furthermore we’ll waft this through the no longer existent Parliament faster than Bono can knock out a charity single, and oh yes, we will make this look good!

Now where were we? Ah yes- The capital city. Don’t need one. Plymouth and Exeter are as great as London as Manchester as Birmingham. It is the people who make a place, and we shall make the people proud. Proud people make happy places, and happy places thrive. I like that. I’ll get Ed Sheeran to knock up a tune, and we’ll recover the national debt by Christmas. Think on Mr Cowell!

On the issue of migration, I have a long-term plan. This will run like an exchange scheme where it is possible for people living in a safe, ‘I’m all right jack, keep your hands off my stack’ environment, to swap with those living in places where there is a constant threat of danger. We do this in the hope that those people who currently don’t, might see the other side of the argument and realise just how lucky they are. And you are all very lucky, because you’ve got me, Johnny Rotten, Keef, the Wombles, Guy and Malala for your government!

Of course, you won’t have any of this if we don’t get elected, so the voting system needs to be changed. The voting age would be lowered to 14, no, let’s say 12. The reason for this (and you can see that we are spontaneously flexible) is that some grown-ups make too much noise (particularly the ones in the stripy suits!), and often drown out the sound of youth, which is not wasted on the young, as those who are no longer spring chickens would have us believe. Much of young noise is good and important, and joyously free. Give them a vote, let them elect some flamboyant pop star to raise the plight of those in need. It worked with Geldof and Jimmy Osmond, it can work again. Remember Live Aid. I can’t. I mean, I was there. I just can’t remember it! I think I was with Keith Richards! We will also hold Glasto’ every three months should you still be ‘a floater’, and we’ll throw in a couple of Wombles to pick up the litter.

The stance on equality. There will be no policy, laws, large documents, so-called experts, spouting academics, campaigns, leaflets, special days or anything else that pays homage, but does little to eradicate the problem. Equality is a human right. It is as vital as the air we breath. Without it we are undone, and rather than fighting the problems of the world, we will continue to fight ourselves until we are finished. We’re lucky of course to have Malala Yousafzai, and those who have gone before- Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi to name but three. We will not let them down and we will thrive in the only way possible; together.

Okay. What would we ban? Well, it goes without saying: – whistling, and smacking children (please see our equality policy). What would we make legal?- The right to choose to die.

I don’t rule the world of course, but if by a quirk of fate this does happen I will declare a national holiday until I can locate the Wombles. You can also rest assured that there will be no coffee cups that look like glass vases, saucers where the dip isn’t in the middle, and yes you’ve got it- whistling!!!!!

Pause for Thought- 7 ‘Got to keep the loonies on the path’.

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Got to keep the loonies on the path.

In this country it is believed that at least 1 in 4 people will experience some sort of mental health problem in their lifetime. This could be post-natal, due to grief, redundancy, isolation or childhood experiences and many more. It is all around us, it intrinsic to the human condition. Where there is stress, be it physical or mental, there is illness in consequence. So why is it so hard to deal with? Why is there such stigma? There are mental health days aimed at raising awareness of this problem. Do they? Even if awareness is raised what are we expected to do with it? I don’t know for sure. There are charities working tirelessly to plug the gaps in services where the demand is so great. There are working groups, users forums, conferences, thick documents charting the challenges faced for people with mental health problems and their impact on society. There are good things happening all the time, perpetuated and initiated by well-intentioned people. Yet, we still have a problem with mental health.

Perhaps we need to get to the baseline, clear the decks and begin again. If it is such a big problem, then we’re not getting it right. Obviously. Stigma is still there and often distrust of someone who might have had an ‘episode’, which deviates from the norm. Well don’t we all one way or another.

As this is my final ‘Pause for Thought’ this week, I’m going to share something with you. My heart is beating hard as I say this, a sign that I recognise even in myself that the stigma is still strong. I will say I don’t care, but we’ve got to know one another over the past week, so I can tell you that I most certainly do. It seems to me that people who suffer with mental health problems have one thing in common. WE often feel like outsiders. If you noticed at this early hour, yes, I said WE. I have experienced significant mental health problems since I was a teenager. That was some time ago. In the recent years I was given the label of having ‘Bi Polar Disorder’. There are different types, but suffice to say an episode as it is called, swings you round like a mouse in the jaws of a cat, and sets you down when it’s had enough, whenever it likes, leaving you and the people you love exhausted and bewildered, until the next time. There is always a next time. I was lucky, I had people around me who tried to see through the wall of madness and hang on to the person beneath. I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t.

Pink Floyd on their album Dark Side of the Moon said ‘got to keep the loonies on the path’ Do you mean us? Syd Barratt, schizophrenics, depressives and so on? Why? We’re not loonies. That’s the trouble. You can’t herd people, because they’re not cattle, they’re different. I have spoken to you every morning this week, I’ve turned up and enjoyed it, and hopefully we’ve engaged. I listened to one of our wonderful paralympians talking about her disability resulting from one of the train bombings in London. She said, had that not happened to her, she wouldn’t have become an Olympic Gold Medal winner, and would never have achieved such a wonderful thing. How’s that for courage. It’s another example why we shouldn’t judge. I became a writer because my life was turned on its head. I always wanted to write novels. I’m not sure I would ever have found the courage or the drive to do so if my life had been different. I wanted to express myself, finding it increasingly hard to do so in what we might call the conventional world. Though I end with cliché ; something I assiduously avoid in my fiction- it is sometimes wise ‘not to judge a book by its cover’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pause for Thought-6 (Devon Radio) ‘Mothers are unemployed!’

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Mothers are unemployed!

For the last 16 years, I have been the main carer for our 4 children. Men looking after their children are still a significant minority. Of course there are lots of good reasons for this. As a writer, I have been lucky to have this opportunity. It has been a privilege to share this time with my children, and they have probably taught me far more than I have them. They have helped me to become patient and tolerant, and to see the wonder in the little things that as adults pressurised by this fast-paced world, we often miss. I know nursery rhymes I would never have recited again, I am familiar with the pecking order of Moshlings, the plight of Ben 10, and the technicalities of a variety of complex Lego structures. I know that the welfare of a stranded beetle matters, and that rodents, despite their reputation hold real fascination for the young mind. In short, my children helped me to rediscover my inner child. They helped me to learn how to play, and never to decline a football game instead of a domestic chore. On my last day on this planet I won’t remember the unwashed dishes. That’s for sure. I’ll remember the delight on my son’s face when he tackled me and won the ball. That happens most of the time I have to say!

All of these positive things far outweigh any downside such as the type of fatigue that generally accompanies a bout of Glandular Fever. When they were little I remember thinking of that sign on the motorway, which says ‘tiredness can kill. Take a break’. Fat chance!

I have experienced though, over the years, a bombardment of cliché.- Here are a few:

‘Got the kids for the day? The wife doing something nice?’

‘Bet you’ll be glad to get back to work’.

‘Not as easy as it looks is it’, said the lady on the till at Tesco.

No it’s not, that’s true. But so are many things.

It’s not the hardest job in the world, but it does require many skills. Here’s a secret- Women can multi-task because they learn how to do it when they look after children. I know because I learnt it too! We can cook a meal, answer the phone, grab a falling toddler and open a drawer with a foot. They are skills. They come with the job.

Yes a job!

A year or so ago, I had reason to state my occupation to a young woman in her late twenties. It was an insurance policy or something. I can’t rightly remember. What I do remember though, are her words.

‘What do you do?’ she said.

‘I look after our children’

‘You don’t have a job then’.

‘I’ve just told you, I look after our children.’

‘But it’s not on the list,’ she said. ‘I’ll put you down as unemployed.’

I could have told her I write novels for a living. I wondered if her response might have been-

‘It’s not on the list. I’ll put loitering with intent.’

So it’s not a job. Helping to bring rounded, morally balanced people into a difficult world isn’t a job. I know there are terms such as house husband and house wife, but what do they say; that the person doing the child-care is an appendage, a supporting strut? I have met many men who would relish the chance to spend more time with their children. Mothers too, but circumstances have prevented it. I have been fortunate. The clichés and sometimes the isolation of being a man in what is still largely a woman’s world no longer bother me like they once did. I worry though that this might still be a measure of how far equality between the sexes has to go.

To any men who have the chance to play a larger part in the care of your children, give it a go. I guarantee once you find that child inside yourself you won’t look back.

Pause for Thought 5 (Radio Devon) – ‘The Demise of Hope’.

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The demise of hope

I can recall as a child my unshakeable belief in a whole host of magical things: kingdoms in the sky, underground cities, yetis, and so many more we know and love. There comes a point though when that belief turns to doubt. For a while, there lingered; or at least it did for me, a strand of hope; a belief that the world was more magical than my developing logical brain was beginning to tell me. I have a suspicion too, that this stage might last longer than most of us care to admit. Hope keeps us going, gets us up in the morning, gives us something to cling to when things aren’t going well. What’s wrong with that?

Stephen Hawking is a remarkable man. He has endured the most extreme physical challenges with great courage and dignity. He has given us insights into things hitherto unknown. The universe is expanding. Into what, I’m not sure. I guess if I asked him, Stephen could tell me in great detail. We are I understand, a product of a series of explosions creating matter. There may be as I speak, scientists shaking their heads at my limited knowledge, but I’m sure you get my point. I’m not advocating that we shouldn’t strive to understand more. But is there a threshold where our understanding of the universe, the mathematical principles that allegedly govern it, their assumptions and the brilliant minds behind them, take away the possibility of hope? How ridiculous is that I hear you say. Yet I wonder if the vast equations that most of us don’t understand, give our existence no more than an empirical basis, a quadratic on which stand our fragile lives.

I will be the first to agree that medical advances have given people enormous reason to hope. Just last week, the pioneering work that can now eradicate mitochondrial disease in certain children gives hope. Our understanding of genetics has taken us further along the road to discover the origins and the subsequent cure for many life-threatening diseases. This is all good, and continues to support the case for further investigation.

I know it sounds a bit daft to suggest that ignorance is bliss; especially when Hawking’s findings might save the planet from imminent demise. But aren’t all theories based on assumptions? When the assumption is disproved, then a new one must be found using the knowledge learnt from the first. The margins are becoming narrower, and eventually that little flicker of hope for the magical could be so tiny that we might no longer be able to see it.

I personally don’t believe that consciousness continues after death. I’d like to think it does, as long as we aren’t trapped inside our mortal bodies. There are those who tell us of ‘after life’ experiences. Maybe soon we will know for sure that this isn’t the case. Perhaps not. I’m not advocating the cessation of our investigation into the origins of the universe. After all we are human and we are curious. But curiosity has consequences, and I wonder if our hunger for ultimate knowledge and the eradication of any sense of magic, might leave us all a little less hopeful.

Pause for Thought- 4 (Radio Devon early show-transcript) ‘Does my bum look big in this?’

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Does my bum look big in this?

Getting children to tell the truth has to be one of the greatest challenges for any parent, yet it doesn’t always work both ways. We expect it from them, but don’t always give it back. Why? What’s the issue here? Don’t children deserve the truth? What have they done that they don’t deserve our honesty? We want them to tell us the truth for their own sake, for their safety and welfare, for their moral well-being. We want it from them, in all its glory so we can tackle the problem at hand. Do we always give them the same in return, even in its diluted form, or do we sometimes shy away?

Of course, sometimes not telling the truth can make life in the short-term easier. I’m a firm believer though, that one way or another the deceit will seek you out, trip you up, and put you on your face. The cliché- there’s always one- ‘The truth will out’.

A child wants to watch a DVD, but for one reason or another it doesn’t suit you.

“The DVD isn’t working today,” you might say, just to end the conversation. Let’s be clear- this is a lie, not a distraction. The child might take the bait the first time, maybe the second, but there almost inevitably will come a time when they see that the DVD does work, and no one came to fix it. A case in point I know, but you see what I mean. Maybe not as a result of that single occasion, but repeated many times, the child will begin to believe that this simple level of deceit is ok.

Take the retort- ‘we’ll see.’ How many times does it really mean no?

Parents try to give lessons in truth.

“Did you steal that money?” you ask. You know they did.

“No,” they say.

“That’s a lie!!!” you tell them. “It’s so bad to tell lies. It will get you into a lot of trouble. You must always tell the truth!” you say several times during the course of the next few hours. “Lies lead to trouble,” you remind them. Too true!

What the child should say of course is- “so why did you lie to me about the DVD?”

Here’s a classic situation:

Your partner asks, “does my bum look big in this?”

Remember- the truth can hurt.

“No,” you say. It isn’t true. You don’t believe it any more than you believe the moon is made of green cheese. But still you say it. Why? For an easy life, or because you think the full force of that truth will cause irrevocable damage? Maybe it won’t. Maybe the person you liberate from your own deceit might want to make their own choices. After all it is their truth and not yours. I know we can’t be purists, but you know what I mean. Of course you do!

Pause for Thought 3 (Radio Devon early show)- ‘No Comebacks!’

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No Comebacks!

Talking about fiction yesterday, I want to mention the book ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee. Most people know this book. It has recently celebrated it’s 50th birthday, so hard to miss. We now hear there is another book by Harper Lee, allegedly written before the first, serving as a sequel because the characters are older. Harper Lee has always shunned publicity. This is not something even the most reluctant authors can do today if they want to promote their work in the sea of books available. Harper Lee’s sister was her lawyer and always handled her affairs until the sister died recently aged 100. Current reports state that Harper Lee also in advancing years, would sign any papers her sister placed in front of her, such was her implicit trust over the years in her sibling. Now her sister is gone there are new people. Hot shot lawyers, accountants, media experts, starting what might inevitably become a feeding frenzy. There is speculation that Harper Lee may, with her failing health, be unaware that this book has been sold, or even exposed. For someone who wrote such a singular and profound piece, I sincerely hope that the decision to publish is hers, and that it works. Maybe we will never know the truth. ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ is one of my favourite books. The thought of a sequel filled me initially with excitement. Now I’m not so sure. How do you follow a book that has graced every school, every library and every bookshop, spawned countless theatre productions and films continuously for the last 50 years? This book will have to be one of the most brilliant ever written. The bar will need to be raised so high, I doubt we will be able to see it.

Whenever something amazing happens, humans often want more. Where lightning strikes, we want it to strike again. Once is rarely enough. We want to emulate, repeat, follow on, see sequels, prequels, and with films about chipmunks see ‘squeakels’. Yes I did say that. We want to repeat what went before. Tired and aged rock stars come out of retirement and play to jaded audiences. They play stuff that sounded great thirty years ago because we were all thirty years younger, and didn’t have a care in the world, a mortgage, children, tinnitus and piles. It wasn’t just about the music, it was about us. It was everything we were back then, sacrosanct and true.

Why can’t we leave these things alone? I have no quarrel with history, but I do have an issue with resurrection. Or even encores. How many times did Tina Turner retire? Did she keep coming back to see if the applause would be as it was? Of course it wasn’t. Most of the audience have got arthritis! There are a whole list of super groups who have traipsed across the world still doing the old stuff. Some have even done the new stuff, an album of hip hop or garage, to contrast with the earlier prog’ rock. No one was asking, and I’m not aware that in most cases many were buying. Some of course pull it off, and go on to forge a second career. And good for them. Look at Vera Lyn. But what about the rest of them. We turn up in the hope that the past might resurrect itself, because once they delivered it. Now, in truth they dish out disappointment, and it’s hard to take. We can’t go back, recreate a moment exactly as it was.

When I buy Harper Lee’s new book, and I know I will. I shall keep it for some time before opening it, wondering in the end whether it will tarnish one of the most significant books ever written. I really hope not, but I’m not holding my breath.

Pause for Thought 2 (Radio Devon early show)- ‘Why I Write’.

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Why I write.

If I could have an artistic wish, it would be to be musical. I love music from punk through to many of today’s acts, but I’m about as melodious as a group of howling cats. The thing about music, is that it’s instant. When you write a novel it takes so long that sometimes you forget what it was you were writing about in the first place. After that you have to wait for people to tell you what they think. That’s a tough one if you wait for a year to hear it’s rubbish. It’s different for music. You can share music right away, and feel the impact it has on an audience. But I guess art is art. Whether you’re Banksy, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, or Ernest Hemmingway, or a child doing a painting, or even me slogging at a laptop, it’s still art. It’s a form of innate expression, a way of interpreting and examining the strangeness and wonder of the world. You see art is everywhere. It’s how you decorate your home, shape a garden, the clothes you wear. It’s a statement that you can’t necessarily articulate in words alone.

For a long time I didn’t think of writing as an art. I was using words already created, rearranging them into an order that makes a point. A bit like Lego. But of course, music does the same thing, only with a predetermined set of notes. I realise now that it’s what you do with those words, those notes that make it magical. Like life I guess: it’s what you make of it.

I write fiction probably to hide the fact that I don’t know enough about one single subject to write a definitive text book. Unless it was on motorbikes, and there are thousands of those. Fiction though does have a role in conveying facts. People want to be entertained, carried along by a story. Why not. In that story though, it is possible to talk about things that people ordinarily wouldn’t show interest if it were on the news. My last book ‘Bread for the Bourgeoisie’ uses the back story of human trafficking and corruption wrapped up as a thriller. It is about the lengths that people will go to protect their family and their loved ones. It is in part a love story, but I hope brings across the message that these things happen not so far from our own families and homes, and they are horrific.

Fiction therefore has a job to do in telling not just stories, but within them, facts that we might not otherwise face. Not an easy job. Bernard Schlink the German writer does it brilliantly in his book- ‘The Reader’. The story focuses on the relationship between a young boy and an older woman who once worked as a guard in one of the Nazi concentration camps. It doesn’t dilute the gravity of what happened, but it does prompt the reader to think about the holocaust from other perspectives, whether it rests easy or not. Another is ‘The Road’ by Cormack McCarthy. It is the story of a young boy and his father making their way across post-apocalyptic America. The story is harrowing, but nevertheless it galvanises the truth about parental love, and moral dilemmas that hopefully we will never have to face, unlike many people in the world who do so on a daily basis. In short, fiction from around the world can provide if we want it, a worldview. It can get inside the reader’s head and sometimes if we are lucky, change the way they see the world for the better.

Pause for thought 1- Nobody Wins.

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Carl Sagan who died in 1996 was one of our most eminent astronomers. Involved with the American space programme, he worked on the Voyager project, taking images of the Solar System, searching for evidence, which might prove we are not alone. They found little. When Voyager 1 was about to go out of range, Carl asked for it to be turned around to take one last picture of earth. This picture was taken from 3.7 billion miles away. From this extraordinary vantage point, our planet looks like nothing more than a tiny mote of dust caught in a single sunbeam. When you think about it, earth is the only home we have ever known. It is us. That is it. End of story so far. On this mote of dust is everyone you love, every hopeful child, corrupt politician, superstar, saint or sinner. It is home for the thousands of religions, ideologies and tin-pot regimes we ever thought up. At times it is easy to forget that Earth is it, and we are mortal. We have no real evidence that there are life forms like us out there; at least within 3.7 billion miles. That’s a lot further than Land’s End! Our little planet is a very small stage. Our leaders and those who follow them have in their time, past and present created havoc, death and destruction on this tiny precious place. Yet with all our wisdom and desire to protect, the blood of innocent people still runs in rivers across the surface of this tiny planet because those who can, choose to tear the homelands of others apart.

Imagine two people cast adrift in a boat miles out at sea. They fight until the boat is burning, and they sink because the boat is all they ever had. What was it for? They lost everything. Nobody wins. If we carry on as we are, fighting, there is nowhere else to go, and just the same, nobody wins.

Looking out of the window of a plane, it is easy to see that we have barely scratched the surface of the earth, like insects on the bark of a tree. We look so small, insignificant, because in the grand scheme, the solar system, the cosmos, call it what you like, we are insignificant, and all that matters in the end is us, and how we choose to live out our lives.

Carl Sagan called the image of earth taken by Voyager ‘the pale blue dot’. Perhaps it should be on every billboard, an advert on the TV to remind us that from 3.7 billion miles away our wars, our anger and hatred of one another look nothing but futile, where nobody wins.