Opinions. Everybody Has 'Em.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Out Now, With A Changing Perspective

As some people will know, last year my beloved Mum passed suddenly and unexpectedly, and although something about myself had been changing before that, her death acted as a kind of catalyst to those changes, some of which have come as no greater surprise to anyone than me! Anyway, moving forward and a little while ago I read something in an online psychology article ( damned if I can remember where or what the article was - I read a lot online and IRL, okay? ) and it struck a new chord in me.

The article basically concerned the belief that human beings get all the information they need about a person within the first few moments of an initial encounter, and that these ‘first impressions’ do indeed last and matter. Trouble is, this information tends to enter our minds on a subconscious level, and by the time we bring it to our conscious thinking it has passed through and been colored by several rinse cycles of everything from social expectations to self-criticism, the result being we start to doubt our own gut instinct. This made me think in general about whether that thing we term “love at first sight” really can happen and if so, why and how exactly does it happen? It also made me think specifically about my own first impressions of someone a very long time ago.

Long story short, I met someone and was struck for the first time in my life by an instant and overwhelming attraction, a total “Oh wow!” reaction. And yet…in that same moment of meeting her for the first time, my gut instinct about her all but screamed “This one is dangerously egotistical!” However, yes, it went through all those rinse cycles with the upshot being that I wasted time and energy on someone only to discover that my ‘first impression’ had indeed been completely and devastatingly on point. Since then I have tended to listen to my gut instincts more about people, and where love and relationships have been concerned, to err on the side of caution. Not extreme caution, but let’s just say I’m not the sort who has ever been comfortable with a blunt, in-your-face “Hi, fancy a shag?” approach. Nothing horrifies me more than the thought of taking that approach to someone myself - it’ll just never happen. And, if you want to be instantly and forever relegated to the ‘friend zone’ then just try taking that approach with me. I might handle your bluntness with humor but you’ll never get it taken seriously by me either. I may not be the quickest person to pick up on hints, you might need to be a wee bit more direct, but please, there is being too subtle and then there is taking a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

In my latest novel, ‘The Horseman’s Daughter’, a lesbian romance with a little touch of the supernatural ( see below for where to find details of that. ), I have written of an analyst friend of the main character, Kit, who subscribes to this theory of first impressions. Kit finds herself struggling with the self-doubts of just such an instant and overwhelming attraction to a woman she has just met, Ashley, who is very different from her and a bit of a mystery to her. Although the outline of the novel was written some two years ago and shelved, the subsequent first draft was written in just about two weeks of February 2016, and influenced by the online article and my own more recent experiences, both of which have made me re-think my stance on love, relationships, and human interactions in general. Of course we have always been able to find out a certain amount about the people we meet and take an interest in, but now we live in a time of instant and often extreme access to personal information ( assuming a person has an online presence which some do not ). Bearing this in mind and thinking about the psychology article, some of the more interesting, and personally revealing, questions that have come up in my mind are: is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you know very little or next-to-nothing about? And how do we ‘choose love’ anyway? Do we even ‘choose’ it at all? How much does all of that readily available information over-shade our own gut instincts - to the point where we perhaps dismiss people because they don’t meet some checklist of criteria and thus miss out on the possibility of falling for someone who is different from us? I had a romantic relationship with someone whom I knew very well and who was very similar to me in a lot of ways and, although we have remained best friends, the romance was ill-starred from the start and didn’t last terribly long. We were too familiar, too similar; there was no room for growth, either personal or together, no room for new and surprising discoveries about each other, and not enough room for compromise on differences either.

I have come to realize that there is such a thing as an instant ‘chemistry’ between people. A connection, spark, or rapport, or whatever label you wish to put on it. And it comes as a direct result of the first impressions garnered within the initial moments of meeting. However, I do still believe that the interpretation of these first impressions need some logic and reason applied, especially when there is a romantic or sexual attraction: is it love? is it lust? is it mutual? Or is it something that would simply form the basis of a friendship but nothing more? Also, there is the question of will it sustain? I’ve explored these questions in Kit’s story but the conclusions and outcomes for her are very much hers, and I won’t spoil the story by giving those away. As for me, as much as I may have opened my mind - and my life - to possibilities that I scoffed at before, I suspect that I’ll remain someone who subsequently applies logic and reasoning, and a certain amount of caution, in all matters romantic.



Tuesday, 12 April 2016

New Stories Out And Coming Out

So, after several years of a complete lack of production of writing and intense dislike of even putting pen to paper, it seems that The Muse has made a return and I have made a return to, well, putting pen to paper. Without dislike. Two collections of general fiction short stories and novellas, A Night At Castle Kozlak & Other Stories, and Down At Pomba Gira’s & Other Stories, have been completed and are active on Kindle at Amazon, and a new LGBT supernatural romance, The Horseman’s Daughter, has just gone to be formatted and should be available within a couple weeks.

I’m particularly happy with the latter as I really, really got sick and tired for a long time of everything and anything LGBT. No need to take the rake to that pile again, suffice it to say my general feelings about the ‘les-fic community’ have not changed. I’m simply relieved to have my personal writing ability back despite it.
The short story/novella collections are general fiction, mainly culled from stories written years ago, some of which were published in small press magazines, and a few new ones. There is some humor, some horror, some folklore and mythology, and even a wee bit of romance. The Nuckelavee and The Magic Of Tradition are both based on local Orcadian tales, and the collection is dedicated to my late Mum because The Magic Of Tradition was one of my few ‘nice’ stories that she read and liked. You know mums when your preferred genre is horror…“Why can’t you write more nice stories?” “Because I have a dark mind, Mum” is generally not the best answer to that.

The Horseman’s Daughter, my first Orkney-based novel, takes the legend of the sea-monster the Nuckelavee and expands on that, but it is mainly a romance, something which took me by complete surprise. The basic outline and characters were sketched out over two years ago and then shelved along with pretty much everything else, until earlier this year when the first draft practically wrote itself in a couple of weeks! Blurb and cover can be viewed on my website if you want an idea of what you’ll be getting. Otherwise, I’m working on something completely new for my publishers, Untreed Reads, a general fiction romance also with a supernatural tint and also Orkney-based. I have begun work again on Book 3 of the Vampires of Hollywood series but, sorry, no idea at all of when that will be complete. Ditto for the New Orleans Mysteries series.

Patience, Grasshoppers.

The creative ghosts and demons have been worked out

Monday, 14 March 2016

Fair Warning Of Foul ( But Funny ) Language As the Joneses Try To Keep Up


I saw this meme on Facebook a few weeks ago and it made me laugh then. It’s a bit raw, yes, but this week it seems entirely appropriate to the antics of the person known to me and Housemate as The Diva Next Door. I thought I’d put it here then, on my own blog, and issue a fair warning of foul language. And explain why it suddenly seems so appropriate.

A little background first.

Two years ago we got a six-foot fence put up around our back garden and, in order for this to go up, The Diva’s trees and bushes needed cut back. After he ignored three separate requests from the landlords to do this, and our fence work was due to be started next day, we went ahead and did the cutting back ( and boy, was that some hard work for two not-terribly tall, slightly unfit forty-something women! ) and we dumped the cuttings on his side of the fence.

Well, did he pout and scream!

Too bad for him that the landlords agreed with us: his cuttings, his problem to dispose of them. Should have done it when he was asked.

Anyway, after years of ignoring his gardens, fast forward a bit and he had a burd move in with him. They’re a good match, I must say. He’s a diva and she’s a self-important little snob. Lifts her perfectly makeup’d nose every time she passes you. Apparently she’s been too tight-arsed from day one to even squeeze a polite smile out. Screw you, hen. I’ll be polite once and if you insist on acting like a twat about it, I’ll never try again.

Quick aside.

If there is one thing drives me batshit crazy it’s “Monkey see, monkey do” neighbors. Two months after we put our back garden fence up, guy across the road stuck a five-foot fence up around his front garden ( minus even bothering to ask for the planning permission that we had been denied for our front garden to do the same ). Then, not long after Diva’s burd moved in, she stuck a fancy bird feeder up on the tree in their front garden. We already had one in our back garden. Monkeys see…

Anyway, recently the neighbor on our other side moved out and the landlords cleared the urban jungle that used to exist in his gardens, as is their policy. And what have Diva and his burd done this week?

Yep, they’ve cleared their front garden and put a patio in. Not just plain old paving, you understand, no. Not for her. It’s a patio ( and yes, please feel free to say that in a suitably pan-loafy Kelvinside accent ). A year ago we had plans - got the quotes and the guys out to plan it and everything - to pave part of our front garden, which becomes an unworkable bog every winter and stays that way until around June and then becomes less irritating for maybe two months before turning back to bog. But The Dog needed two unexpected - and costly - operations and the money we had saved went on that. The Dog is, after all, more important than any damned garden.

But just watching her prance around this week, snipping wee bits of bush and tree here and there, whilst Diva ( who has suddenly become Mr DIY Expert of The Fucking Year ) smiles indulgently and does the ‘manly work’ of laying the patio, has rather made us see in a vivid shade of "Oh for fuck's sake!" especially when considering his pouting and screaming over a few cuttings two years ago. And it made this meme appropriate.

All being well, this year will be the one when our front garden goes from unworkable bog to so goddamned presentable it will make the eyes of Diva & Burd water with envy. Of course, if anything more important comes up again that needs this year's available savings, then it’ll be a big “Screw you!” to them and we can then look forward to making them crazy with our nasty-ass blot on their perfect little landscape.

Damned if I don’t just feel a good deal happier about those gates being left open…!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Where Is Devon Marshall...? Scribbles Update!

 Some while ago, after a long,  long time of being unable to write anything at all, I was graced with the return of The Muse - once more I could write, hurrah! My delight was premature, however. I soon realized that The Muse’s sticking around was to be conditional upon exactly what I wrote.
  Long story short, my inability to write turned out to be based in an ennui with the specific genre in which I was writing. As soon as I tried to restart work on either The Vampires of Hollywood or The New Orleans Mysteries series, my irritation with this genre and subsequently these works increased tenfold, and The Muse deserted me once more.
  I wish I could bring better news to the readers of these series who have been so enjoying them as they progress, but the only solution for me has been to just walk away. To simply put the work aside and not waste my time and energy, not to mention destroy what precious good mental health I possess day-to-day, worrying about something largely beyond my control. I can say that both of these series will continue…I simply cannot say when this will happen. As Jay Hartman at Untreed Reads, says: “There is nothing worse you could do as a writer than try to write something you just aren’t feeling.”
 I could not have put it better myself. Neither is forcing myself to write an option: sitting down to churn out X-amount of words per day only to return and slash it all away next day serves only to increase my irritation, and my desire to ( figuratively speaking ) rip it all up and throw the pieces on the fire. What works for one writer, may not work for another. Different folks, different strokes. And all that.
 All has not been lost, however. In the meantime, I have rediscovered my love of writing short stories. I have spent some time lately revisiting short stories which I had published in my very early days, mostly in magazines and by small presses now ( sadly ) defunct or out of print. I have reworked these stories, had them re-edited, and now they will appear in two collections. The first of these collections, a quartet of spooky/horror stories titled A Night At Castle Kozlak and Other Stories, is available on Kindle here in the UK and here in the US. A second collection titled The Beast of Ben Arden and Other Stories is at present in the second writing stage and shall hopefully be available around Christmas 2015 ( depending on the business of editors and formatters ). These are also spooky/horror stories, all of them based in and around the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Furthermore, I have reworked a novella, Down At Pomba Gira’s, and this I hope to have available by early 2016. These stories are general fiction, NOT specifically lesbian or even LGBT fiction, but if you are craving a wee dose of my scribbles, well, it’s better than nothing, isn’t it?
 At present I am working on a general fiction novel and in between this I continue to pen bits and pieces of The Vampires of Hollywood series ( Book 3 ), doing so when and if I feel I can without danger of ripping up and setting fire to things.
 I do offer my apologies to my readers who have had a long wait to see what happens next to Dante, Ellis et al. All I can say to you is this: I would prefer to give you something with which I am happy rather than something with which I am dreadfully unhappy, even if that takes as much time as it is going to take to achieve.
 I thank you all for your patience and understanding. I remain hopeful that by giving myself this complete break from the genre I will be able to return to it, minus the ennui.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Unexplained Orkney Part 1 : Visitors From Above

As I have mentioned before, it was my Dad who encouraged my interest in the unexplained - rather surprising since Dad was a very logic-driven guy, sometimes maddeningly so! As a Royal Navy petty officer and a civilian engineer who, one way or another, spent all of his adult life working for the MoD, it was even more surprising that he had a healthy distrust of taking the word of our government and military overlords…or maybe that's not so surprising! Anyway, he encouraged my interest at an early age when he gave me a copy of Erich von Danniken’s book Chariots of the Gods, and then steered me toward many other such writers including Charles Fort, Zecheriah Sitchin, and Jim Marrs.

I’ve lived for more than a decade now in Orkney ( for the geographically-challenged, Orkney is one of those remote island chains at the very, very top of Scotland, the ones which often look like an accidental ink blot on some maps and most TV weather forecast graphics ) and although I’ve long known of the rich depth and breadth of its mythology - everything from scary sea monsters to the helpful hogboon - I have only recently thought to take a closer look at the area’s history of UFO sightings and mysterious happenings. And there was more of it to be found than I had imagined.

What set me off on my research was an incident occurring in April of 2014 when a massive power outage saw the entire Highlands & Islands regions of Scotland blacked-out for several hours starting around 8.30pm. Almost two-thirds of the country was in total darkness because something hit the power lines at some point along a 55-mile stretch of extremely remote line in the Highlands. The mysterious thing about it was that despite a ‘full investigation’ by Scottish & Southern Electricity no actual cause has ever been found for the disruption. The best anyone has been able to say is that “something” must have hit the power lines - birds, flying debris, lightning. Problem with this is that there were no storms, no adverse weather conditions at all, and birds or debris tend to leave physical evidence in the vicinity, of which there was nothing, despite extensive ground searches. That’s when my mind drifted to other possible explanations… 

Sure, a very earthly military craft could have hit the power lines and the MoD would have calmly and believably denied having any aircraft in the area, it’s not like they haven’t got a track record for such bald-faced denials, right? It is true that as the jet-fighter flies Cape Wrath, one of the MoD's flight-testing sites, is a mere blip on the radar away from the area where the power lines came down. And I certainly have no problem recalling how we spent our second summer in Orkney having our satellite signal constantly and violently disrupted, much to the puzzlement ( and chagrin ) of our local satellite engineers. Everyone knew there had been test flights of new jet-fighters over Orkney, originating out of Cape Wrath, you couldn't miss the regular sonic booms they made, but no one seemed able to explain how those jets would have interfered with our satellite signal...well, what if it wasn't the jets doing the interference but something else that was following the jets, mm-mm...? Anyway, for the MoD to deny that one of their craft blacked-out almost an entire nation and for nobody to have blown the whistle, or at least started a rumor or two…? I have a harder time believing that than I do believing that extraterrestrial craft might have been shadowing the jet-testing and disrupted our satellite signal so badly we ended up being given a brand new dish free of charge by the despairing engineers! So is it really much more of a stretch to ask what if it had been some less earthly craft which got tangled with the power lines over the remote Highlands?

Then, by chance, I found a couple stories in the Yesteryear page of the local newspaper, The Orcadian. Both stories were from 1914 and concerned the launch of local lifeboats after sightings of ‘red flares’ were reported by several witnesses on land. In one instance it seemed to the witnesses that there was “a ship on fire off Burgh Head”. In this case, the lifeboat set off a flare to signal that help was on the way at which point “the light further out to sea immediately disappeared and despite close searches no trace of any vessel was ever found”. Nothing was ever found in either case, in fact.

Fast forward to April 2009, just around midnight, and the thunderous roar of a helicopter flying window-rattingly low over our house disturbed myself and Housemate watching a late-night movie. It was the coastguard helicopter joining a search which also involved a couple of lifeboats and the on-land emergency services, sparked by several reported sightings of “red flares” over Kirkwall Bay. Despite an intensive four-hour search, nothing was found. Sounding familiar yet? Yes, well, unlike the 1914 incidents, after which everyone ( meaning, the Establishment and the newspaper who were likely at the mercy of the Establishment at that war-sensitive time ) just shut up about it as if it had never happened, in 2009 the blame was placed on the reason du jour for any kind of unexplained lights being seen in the sky…Chinese lanterns.

I’m sorry, pardon me, but whaaaat -?

Apparently these days we are to believe that people all over the UK are merrily setting off Chinese lanterns which other people are merrily mistaking for everything from distress flares to UFO’s…because the Establishment assume we’re all dumb as fence posts, I suppose. Also, sorry again, but Orkney is a tiny wee island ( in comparison to, well, just about anywhere else except perhaps Shetland or the Faroes ) and if anyone had been setting off Chinese lanterns that night, you better believe that dozens of people would have known exactly who it was and where they were, and someone of those would have informed either the coastguard or the police or both. So, Chinese lanterns my sharny arse! But hey, too bad the Establishment didn’t have Chinese lanterns to blame in 1914, eh?

Anyway, back to the present and these incidents, put together in my fervid little imagination, set me off on a research quest ( which I haven’t quite completed yet but I have enough to make a start here ) and what I have found is kinda fascinating. First of all, I noticed that there is a [ tenuous? ] link between extreme weather events and meteor events, and rashes of UFO sightings and other mysterious happenings. Severe thunderstorms, blizzards, gale force winds, torrential rain, and at other end of the scale, unseasonable heat-waves. Also earthquakes and other mystery underground rumblings and venting seem to occur in a loose conjunction with other phenomena. I’ll write about this other phenomena in the next post.

In 1913, for a period of about 16 weeks from roughly January to April, there were a rash of what have come to be known as ‘scareship’ sightings all over the UK, sightings of what were assumed to be German airships or Zeppelins. There has never been any verification, either official or unofficial, that what people were seeing were Zeppelins, however, and the descriptions of the behavior of some of these craft make you doubt that they could have been anything as lumbering as a Zeppelin. Sticking to Orkney, there were ‘scareships’ spotted on 28th February, off the isle of Sanday, heading southwards, and again in March, when one was sighted over Sanday again, also heading southwards, seen also by people in Deerness on Mainland ( the biggest of the Orkney isles ). "Considerable importance" was attached to this sighting because it occurred in daylight. Despite this, the report made stated only that "a great aerial craft [was] seen hovering over the island on Monday afternoon, March 3rd". The 9th April sighting was even more descriptive and intriguing. This time the 'scareship' hovered over Stronsay ( and outer isle which turns up time and again in relation to Orkney's weird happenings ) for two hours before midnight, displaying a "bright light seen at intervals" and with the hum of an engine being distinctly heard despite the ship being stationary. It then headed in a northwesterly direction off Stronsay and disappeared.

Moving forward to June 1940 and Hoy, where an anti-aircraft unit member tracked for 10 seconds a “flattened sphere moving rapidly on a horizontal course at an estimated 38,000ft”. Moving forward again to March 1962 when an object with “capabilities and appearance beyond earthly aircraft” was spotted somewhere over Orkney ( not specified in report ) and another similar object spotted “on the sea”. Not over the sea, but on the sea. And the most intriguing one of all…in 1992 there was a well-renowned rash of UFO sightings all across Scotland, including one over Orkney. On December 20th a UFO was tracked on radar near Orkney and an RAF fighter jet sent to intercept and investigate it. The incident was never reported in the media, but if you go to this site and read Tony Dodd’s article you will see that he claims a 'reliable source' to have informed him that at one point the jet fighter and UFO merged on radar and contact was lost with the jet-fighter. A search and rescue plane was dispatched to look for the missing jet and did indeed find it, hours later, intact, sitting in a remote and inhospitable spot in Orkney where landing would have been impossible. And no pilot.

Okay, I find the latter part of this story hard to credit. As I said, Orkney is a tiny wee place and anything like a downed jet-fighter, whether it landed there under its own steam, crashed, or was deposited out the arse-end of an intergalactic spacecraft, would have been bloody well noticed and no amount of government or MoD shushing would have stopped the island residents from jawing about it far and wide.

But what is intriguing about this story is Dodd's claim that another of his 'reliable sources' informed him of heavy UFO activity on the same day along the coast of Iceland. There is rumored to be an underwater UFO/maybe joint-MoD base in that area, and, well, remember that there are parts of England lie further from Orkney than does Iceland. And that makes me believe that the first part of this sighting story at least may be true.

Two last things about Orkney that makes me inclined to take the UFO thing seriously.

One is the rich deposit of uranium ore in Orkney. Many places around the world with deposits of uranium ore are visited by UFO's in noticeably large numbers. Mining for this uranium ore has been blocked for years by the islanders and their MP's. But that wouldn't stop others from benefiting from it, would it?

And two are the mysterious rumblings heard under parts of Orkney. The most widely-reported one of which occurred on 18th November 1955, on the isle of Shapinsay when a farmer there reported three rumblings within 45 minutes and another 6 hours later. The sound, he claimed, was like "a cartload of stones being emptied". His dog, normally a calm beast, was particularly perturbed by the incident. The 'official' explanation given was "venting from a natural gas reservoir running through a geological fault beneath Shapinsay". Funny, but it's either never happened again there, or no one on Shapinsay has ever bothered to report it since and the beasts must have got used to it! But this has not been the only strange underground rumbling heard on Orkney...there are others. Indeed, myself and Housemate have even heard one of these strange events! I can't recall the exact year but I think it was either 2008-09, one early evening we were sitting in the living room of our home when we heard - and felt - a deep, loud rumbling, like thunder but not thunder. We could feel it vibrating through the floor beneath our feet. It went on for maybe 3-5 seconds and then there was a loud, sharp bang that made both of our hairs stand on end. The kind of bang that would suggest ( it certainly did to us ) lightning striking an electrical transformer. However, there was no lightning, no storms, and no transformers went down that evening. Believe me when I say we have experienced the downing of a transformer, during the 'thundersnow' storms of 2014, and the power just goes out like, well, like a light! Some of our neighbors also noticed the phenomenon and it was reported to various agencies, but no official explanation was ever forthcoming. More like a collective shrug of Establishment shoulders was all we got.    

I have yet to finish my trawling through the island’s unexplained history, but so far these are some of the most intriguing stories I have found. Also, they are all ones which could not be easily dismissed as meteors or other fully explainable phenomena, such as the Kirkwall and Aberdeen coastguard’s reporting of a “bright spherical object with tail moving NW to SE, splitting in two” on 25th January 1985, or the “giant fireball” which lit up the skies over Orkney in vivid purple and white, traveling at a speed of 50,000mph from NE to SW on March 5th 1933. So, until next post…keep watching the skies. But try not to trip over any little grey men might be standing in your path!

And while you're at it, go visit this site to read more about mysterious Orkney. You won't be sorry!