My Top Ten Children’s Books – a Personal List

I used to be a children’s librarian (way back) and I’ve always retained my love of books for all age groups. Many of these are from my own childhood, some from before I was born and a few from more recent times, but all of them stand out as personal favourites.

No Going BackMonica Edwards: No Going Back
I loved all of Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh stories when I was a kid. They are very gentle and of their time (written in the 1940s/50s/60s, though remaining in print and ‘current’ for many years.) Ponies, boats, adventures, a cast of interesting characters. The children are central, of coursem but the adults aren’t conveniently shuffled off in unlikely fashion so the kids can have adventures. Choosing a favourite is difficult because there are so many good ones. (Special mention to Storm Ahead based on the Mary Stanford of Rye lifeboat disaster which Monica Edwards experienced as a child waiting on the shore.) No Going Back is the one where the four protagonists are beginning to grow up and a special relationship develops between Tamzin and Meryon. Well, about time, too. Sadly these books are all long out of print, but you can pick some of them up from used bookstores at wildly varying prices.

PennK. M. Peyton: Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer
Patrick Pennington (known as Penn) is the school’s bad boy, out of control, self destructive, and heading for disaster, but he’s also a musical prodigy – a pianist with huge potential. This book has dated a little, especially the details of Penn’s secondary school (1970s) and the power the teachers had to make a student’s life miserable, but read it as a historical novel. The characterisation is excellent. Penn, despite being everything you should hate, is actually a sympathetic character because, despite all, he has a good heart. This is the first in a series.

J.K.Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
What can I say? The Potter phenomenon was well underway before I was tempted to read the first one and I was hooked. I didn’t enjoy them all equally (Harry was a bit of a brat in Order of the Phoenix, and the final book suffered from the endless camping trip) but I liked them sufficiently to grab the later ones as soon as they were published.

Horse & His BoyC. S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy
At the time when I was reading my way through every pony book in the children’s library I stumbled across this. It’s always been my favourite Narnia book. It was my gateway from pony books to fantasy. Lucy had to climb through the wardrobe to get into Narnia, but all I had to do was to open this book.

Alan Garner: Weirdstone of Brisingamen / The Moon of Gomrath
Breathless fiction that sucked me straight in. Visceral writing. A great sense of place. The scene in the tunnels with the backpack gave me nightmares (and still does). My all-time  favourite Garner books. Should both be read consecutively.

Eagle 9thRosemary Sutcliff: Eagle of the Ninth
I’ve always enjoyed Rosemary Sutcliff’s writing, but this tale of the Romans in Britain and what might have happened to the lost Ninth Legion which marched north from York, never to be seen again, is fascinating. I recall that the BBC children’s adaptation for television was much better than the recent Hollywood movie ‘Eagle’. Just read the book, it’s better than any screen version!

Marguerite Henry: King of the Wind
A Newberry Medal winner. The fictionalised story of how the Godolphin Arabian (one of the three ‘fathers’ of the English Thoroughbred) came to Britain, told through the viewpoint of Agba, the horse’s mute handler. Whether Agba existed or not, the Godolphin Arabian is real. I adored this book as a child.

DogsbodyDiana Wynne Jones: Dogsbody
The first Diana Wynne Jones book I ever came across. I became a fan of hers immediately and remain one to this day. When Sirius, the Dog Star, makes a mistake he’s sent to earth to rectify it – as a dog. Very neat.

Elyne Mitchell: The Silver Brumby
I loved this book so much during my pony phase that I’m almost scared to try and read it again, though it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. It’s all from the horse’s point of view – about a wild stallion, a brumby in the Australian Outback.

Dodie Smith: The Hundred and One Dalmations
The book from which the Disney movie was adapted, featuring Pongo, Missis and Perdita, the evil Cruella DeVille and missing puppies. Perdita and Missis were rolled into one character for the Disney animation, but in the book they are individuals.

ElephantsDavid Henry Wilson: Elephants Don’t Sit on Cars
The hilarious adventures (and misadventures) of Jeremy James, episodic in nature, chapter by chapter. The first chapter (the title story) is a gift to anyone who has to read a story out loud. I dare you to do it without breaking into fits of laughter. It’s about poo (and the elephant on daddy’s car). I bought another copy this Christmas for a small person in my life.

 

Oh, that’s eleven out of ten already and I haven’t even mentioned Leon Garfield’s The Ghost Downstairs, or Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, or even Each Peach Pear Plumb by Janet Ahlberg, which I read so often to my kids that I can still remember it word for word and recite it as a poem.

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NaNoWriMo – almost the halfway point

My current project is the third book in my Rowankind trilogy, due for publication by DAW in November 2018, but because publishing always takes longer than you think it’s going to, I need to send in my finished piece (for editorial comment) by the end of February. I’m aiming at a finished length of 130,000 words, but I’ll be happy with 110,000 words because I always tend to add a bit more detail at the editorial stage.

So, it’s November and I’m busy writing like mad to keep up with the NaNoWriMo target of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. Today is 14th, and I’m pleased to say that as of last night (13th) I’d hit 26,135 words, just slightly ahead of the curve. Fifty thousand words in a month sounds like a slog, but it’s not really, as long as you write every day. If you can manage 1,667 words a day, consistently, you can do 50,000 in a month. I’m aiming for 60,000 by 30th November, which, I think, is a realistic target.

Of course, though I’ve cleared the decks as much as possible, I still have the day job (my music agency) so It’s not a question of sitting writing all day every day. On the days when I get the opportunity to do that I can manage an easy 4,000 – 5,000 words a day without pushing too hard. On a normal working day I can manage 2000 words.

Chantry today

I would, however, get more work done if I didn’t stop to do a bit of research along the way. I’ve been writing about Ross and Corwen having to solve the problem of  a troll occupying a bridge. They say write what you know, so the bridge I’ve chosen is Wakefield’s Chantry bridge. The chapel, one of only a handful still surviving in Britain, is built into the structure of the medieval bridge (which is probably what has saved it from demolition over the years)

. I lived in Wakefield in my late teens and early 20s so I thought I knew the bridge, however I needed to know what it looked like in 1802. So here, I’m sharing some of my research…

Chantry 1793 Philip Reinagle

The St Mary the Virgin Chantry Chapel was built between 1342 and 1347. Chantries, built by bequests, were established as places where priests prayed for the soul of the deceased. The chapel underwent major renovations in 1848. So I needed to know what it looked like before the renovations. There’s a paining by Philip Reinagle (1793) which gives me the river bank as well as the nine-arched bridge and the little house at the far end, which was built as the priest’s residence.

This is what it looked like from the water in this century. There’s a new bridge now, but the old one is carefully preserved. This old postcard is (I guess) from around the 1950s.

Chatry chapel from the water

It turns out that I passed the original frontage of the old chapel every time I took the bus into Wakefield because the original facade of the Chantry is on the grounds of Kettlethorpe Hall on the outskirts of the city. I don’t know if it can still be seen as I haven’t been back for many years, but you used to be able to see it from the top deck of the Wakefield bus.

Chantry-Chapel-old-facade-pc-l

The chapel fell into other (non religious) use before being restored to the Church of England, and as far as I can tell, in 1802 at the time of my story, it was in use as a library… oh good, a troll who likes books

 

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It’s Official!

With the Psi-Tech Trilogy completed, and Nimbus now in the shops, I’ve signed a contract for the third Rowankind book, called simply: Rowankind, and due for publication in late 2018 from DAW in the USA.

Winterwood front cover-smallIt follows on from Winterwood and Silverwolf, as Ross and Corwen try to stop the Mysterium’s persecution of magic users, particularly the rowankind, in the Britain of 1802. If they don’t succeed, the Fae will take action, and their solution might be radical enough to obliterate King George and Parliament, and leave a smoking hole where London used to be.

The declaration of peace between Britain and France poses a serious problem for the crew of Ross’ ship, the Heart of Oak as they have to make a change of occupation from privateering to something more peaceful. When Ross suggests they find a legitimate trade, she doesn’t mean smuggling.

In the meantime, Corwen’s shapechanging brother, Freddie, is an unhappy wolf which makes him dangerous. Without locking him up, or worse, how will they calm his violent temper?

silverwolf-final-cvr-400Corwen’s sister Lily has fallen for a handsome Mysterium officer, and he for her, but can their love survive the revelation that she’s the very thing that he’s hunting?

It seems that the only young member of the family not in trouble is Ross’ Fae half-brother, David, but wait… David wants to marry his childhood sweetheart, the rowankind girl, Annie, while his Fae father, Larien, has a noble marriage alliance in mind.

At least Aunt Rosie and Leo are happily together now, and no one is threatening the good blacksmith of Summoner’s Well, and his new wife. But Aunt Rosie is worried about Walsingham, mortal enemy to the whole family and to all magical beings in Britain. Ross and Corwen trapped him on a ship and sent him into enemy waters to rot in a French prison, but the same inconvenient peace that scuppered the Heart of Oak’s activities, has released the prisoners, so Walsingham is free again. He may be blind and maimed, but don’t think he’s harmless. The notebook with all his dark spells is missing. Does the pirate Old Nick have it? Can Ross and Corwen find it before Walsingham does?

So there you have it. That’s what i’m writing now. Watch this space.

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The Writer’s Pen

This in not a blog post about writing, it’s about writing implements, specifically fountain pens. You can blame Karen Traviss, because she reminded me how much I used to enjoy writing with a fountain pen, and… well… one thing led to another and now I have a pot of seventeen fountain pens and a bank of fifteen bottles of different coloured inks.

Yeah, okay, they are not going to improve my prose, but I’m really enjoying writing with them.

I keep a bullet journal by my right elbow. It helps me to organise my life because it’s a to-do list, a day book and a things-done list all in one, plus a diary. If you want to know more about bullet journals take a look at Anne Lyle’s blog. All I can say is that it works for me. I’ve been keeping a bullet journal since 2015, and I’ve got my daughter hooked, too. We both keep slightly different styles of journal, but once you acquire the general principle, you can adapt to suit. She has a handbag sized notebook, I have a desktop sized tome. Something with at least 31 lines to a page works best because at the beginning of each month, you write a forward calendar for the coming month with reminders that you can transfer to your day by day journal. (At the beginning of the year you do a twelve month forward-plan, number your pages, and leave space to index the important things you might need to refer back to.) Your daily entries consist of bullet points of appointments, reminders, messages and things to do, either crossed out or with a forward arrow if you’ve not managed to do something but need to move it forward to another day.

All that is by way of saying that I do a fair amount of handwriting. One of the nice things about bullet journals is that they are a pleasure to use if you use a good quality notebook and – yes – a fountain pen.

So, back to Karen Traviss’ reminder and the fountain pen saga.

Karen was crooning over a new Jinhao pen, so it set me thinking, so I wandered out of the office and  rummaged through the top drawer of the desk in the living room – a desk I don’t use for actual work, so things can sometimes sit in the drawers for years. In this case for decades. Right in the back of the drawer I found the pens I knew were there, but had rarely looked at in later years: my late father’s Parker 51, and my own Parker 61. The former was the pen Dad treated himself to when he got his first management job in the 1950s. He lent it to me to do my Eleven Plus exam (yes, I am that old!) and when I passed the exam and got a place at the Barnsley Girls’ High School, he bought me my very own Parker Pen, the 61. In those days – before the availability of the kind of felt tips that are almost indistinguishable from fountain pens – ball points were forbidden in school. It was pencils for writing in our cheap ‘rough books’ and fountain pens for everything else. My Parker 61 has seen some mileage. I may have sat my Eleven Plus with the 51, but I took both O-Levels and A-Levels with the 61, and probably used it throughout college as well. (I have a weird memory gap about that.)

Parker Pens

If not the Rolls Royce of pens, Parkers were certainly the BMWs of their time. Sleek cigar-shaped bodies, hooded nibs and the elegant and distinctive arrow clip on the cap. They wouldn’t still work after decades of residing in a drawer, would they? Surely the ink reservoirs would have perished by now, or the ink so dried up in the nibs that I’d never get them writing again. I had a trusty bottle of Quink Ink (Parker’s standard blue) so with paper towels handy in case of leakage, I filled the 51, and lo… no leakage and it worked perfectly. The 61 has a different fill-system, a weird vac fill that no one seems to understand, but it worked, too. Both pens write like a dream. They glide over paper, smoothly and my sloppy handwriting is suddenly more considered… neater.

My dad died in 1987, but here I was, suddenly writing with his prized pen. It almost gave me the shivers.

As I said, one thing led to another, and my pen pot now contains pens by Pilot, Jinhao, Lamy, Platinum, and Kaweko. I have cartridges in a multitude of colours, and ink pots from Basic Quink and Watermans to Diamine Shimmertastic Enchanted Ocean. Yes, sparkly ink, but subtle, as opposed to my-little-unicorn glittery.

Maybe I’ll write more about some of my newer pen and ink acquisitions in future blogs, but if you’ve never tried using a fountain pen, I urge you give it a try. There are many good starter pens on the market for just a few pounds. It makes writing more of an experience and less of a chore.

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Happy Book Day To Me!

Nimbus front coverMy new book, NIMBUS, is out today.

Let me say that again because it never gets old.

My new book, NIMBUS, is out today!

It’s my fifth published book, and the third in my Psi-Tech universe. It represents a milestone because it completes my first trilogy. I’ve written over half a million words of space opera, and those are just the words that made it to the final cut.

It’s been a learning curve, sometimes a steep one. So what have I learned?

Writing short and adding takes a lot less time than writing long and cutting.
That may seem obvious, but a lot of us tend to write our way into a book, sometimes because we aren’t quite sure of the right starting point. We have ‘story’ in our heads but not necessarily in the right order. I started NIMBUS  four times before I found the right place to start. The other four beginnings were not necessarily scrapped, but they were not suitable as beginnings. One of them ended up being broken for scrap… err… backstory, and two ended up being middle chapters.

Even a pantser can plan when she has to.
Yes, even me.
I’ve always been a discovery writer, writing by the seat of my pants (a pantser, not a plotter.) My usual method of tackling a story is to start with a scene that presents itself particularly strongly. I sit down and write to see where and how far it will take me. At some point, usually between 10,000 and 25,000 words (yes it really does vary by that much) I reach a stopping point, and at that time I sit down and look at what I’ve done and where I think this might be heading. By this time I usually know what the end is (at least roughly), so I scribble a few notes and – hey presto! – that’s my plan. Now, that might work reasonably well for the first book in a series but what about the overall story arc? Exactly! I hear you say. Yes, you’re right. If you’re writing a trilogy, you need to plan. You need a story arc that can be delivered in (more or less) three equal segments, each with its own beginning, middle and (satisfying) end. And the climax of the final book has to provide a payoff, not just for that one book, but for all three books.

Writing the opening of a second or third book is monstrously difficult.
You hope that readers who liked the first book will come back for a second and third helping so that you’re writing for people who already know your world, but there are always those who pick up the second or third book, either without realising that they are coming into a story already part-told, or maybe they’ve just taken a fancy to the cover and the cover copy. So you need to dripfeed in enough backstory to set the scene without giving the whole game away. After all, you really hope that they’ll go back to the first book and play catchup.

You have to like your characters to write half a million words about them.
Fortunately I’ve enjoyed spending time with Cara Carlinni and Reska (Ben) Benjamin. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of telepathy and associated skills. Are they ever likely to exist? biologically, there’s no evidence to suggest that they will, but with a neural implant? Who knows? Cara is an implant-enhanced telepath, able to sling a thought across the galaxy. Ben’s telepathy is weak, but he’s a navigator, that is, he can find his way from anywhere to anywhere else. Cara has trust issues, which isn’t surprising given the nature of her one-time relationship with Ari van Blaiden. Ben’s trust issues are entirely the opposite. He tends to believe the best in people, which either means he’s horribly let down, or the people he believes in truly step up to the plate and become trustworthy. Sometimes he gets a good surprise. I also became fond of some of the supporting characters, so I enjoyed accompanying my characters through a landscape filled with trials and tribulations.

Psi-Tech 2015 6x4sm

Some readers are wary of buying the first book in a trilogy until all the books are published.
Yes, I can understand that. Like many readers I too have invested in the first two books of a trilogy, or the first five only to discover that the author and oublisher have parted company and the concluding part will never see bookstore shelves. No need to worry about the psi-techs. Cara and ben’s story is now complete. It’s available from all good book retailers in the USA and Canada:
Amazon.com (paperback and kindle)
Barnes and Noble (Paperback and nook)
Amazon.co.uk (paperback)

You can visit my website
Follow me on Facebook
Tweet me @jaceybedford

 

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IAm/Am Not a Word Machine

A reprint from a blog I did for Emerald Musings back in February 2017 – with updates.

Douglas Adams famously said: ‘I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.’ That may have worked for Mr. Adams and for those writers who have reached that elusive peak in their career where their publishers are grateful for their output, even if it arrives late, but for most of us deadlines are something that we should stick to.

Jacey Office 4At the risk of pointing out a tiny fact that we all know: writing is hard. We do it in a vacuum. There’s no instant feedback for a writer. Nothing that gives us a pat on the back for producing excellent prose, or a tight-knit plot, or solving a particular character problem with a brilliant stroke of imagination. We get exactly the same feedback for three lines of hackneyed prose dragged out of our brain letter by painful letter as we do for five thousand words of sheer genius produced in one wild outpouring of fevered creativity. That is to say: none—at least not at the time.

We stare at a screen and type. The screen stares back. It’s not even grateful for our attention.

So why do we do it? Why do I do it?

To be honest, half the time I don’t know. But the other half of the time I know that it’s the best thing I could possibly do. I write because I have to. I write because I simply can’t NOT write. Sure, I can take a few days off from writing every now and then, but leave it too long and I start to get twitchy. I’m sure a lot of other writers go through the same thing.

Once you get to the stage where someone is paying you to write, however, you encounter deadlines. I love writing. I don’t necessarily love writing fast. I often have other demands on my time: a day job, family commitments, cooking dinner, entertaining guests, taking my mum to the supermarket, walking the dog. Somehow all those things try to take priority over writing because the words can wait. They’ll always be there when I need them. I can take the time to stack the dishwasher and then start to write… can’t I?

The answer is yes… and then, possibly, no. No one is forcing me to pay attention to my writing. The computer screen isn’t screaming at me. The notebook isn’t jumping up and down demanding to go for a walk around the block, however… At the back of my mind, there’s that itchy-scratchy feeling that tells me my characters are at the starting gate and ready for off—anxiously waiting for whatever I’ve decided to put them through today. I need to listen to those voices.

I need the ability to say: sure the dishwasher needs stacking, but no one is going to die because the pots sit around in the sink for a couple of hours. On the other hand, last night I left my characters in a burning building and who is going to get them out if I don’t?

Writing is what I do. It’s a part of me and I need to give it space to breathe. (Listen to John Cleese speaking about creativity and getting into the right headspace to allow it to happen: https://youtu.be/5xPvvPTQaMI) Making time for writing is harder before you’ve achieved publication, of course, because sometimes families/partners/spouses don’t get it. My family didn’t always get it, but they indulged me. Or perhaps thought I was indulging myself, but they went along with it anyway, for which I am eternally grateful.

Like most published writers I spent many years as an unpublished one. I learned that if you don’t finish a piece/story/book and send it out, it will never be published. So if you’re serious about publication you need to apply the seat of your pants to the office chair, and your fingers to the keyboard, and write. You must not only write, but you must finish what you write, revise it, edit it, polish it, and send it out. If it comes whistling back with a rejection, send it out again. And again.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the more stories you send out the more you sell. (Yeah, who’d have thought it?) At the beginning of 2015, I had a spurt of submitting hitherto unsold stories to magazines and anthologies, and also some previously sold stories to reprint and foreign language markets. (I’ve been translated into Estonian, Polish and Galician. How cool is that?) Altogether I sold about seventeen or eighteen short stories in that three-month burst of activity, but after that, I got really busy with the novels and stopped sending out story subs. Surprise, surprise, my short story sales tailed off dramatically.

3bookpsitech

Nimbus, my fifth novel (the final novel in the Psi-Tech trilogy) is out on 3rd October 2017. It’s the fifth novel I’ve sold for publication. If you count the ones I wrote before I got my publishing deals it’s my tenth. Plus around fifty short stories—more than thirty of which have been published. That’s a lot of words. At a rough estimate 1,500,000 words, and those are just the ones that made it to the final edit.

People ask what motivates me. I can only say that it’s a mixture of enjoying what I do and knowing that I have signed a contract to deliver the next book and that I’ve agreed a timescale. If I didn’t enjoy doing what I do, I could never have committed to doing the work. It is work. Enjoyable work. Work I love to do, but it’s work. I have to respect it as such.

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

I did NaNoWriMo 2016, that’s National Novel Writing Month. (I first did it in 2008, and I’m doing it again in 2017.) During the month of November, you sign up to the NaNoWriMo website and commit to writing 50,000 words in a month. If that sounds a lot when you break it down to a daily rate that’s 1,666 words per day. That sounds much more manageable, doesn’t it? It’s just a tiny bit longer than this blog piece. Of course, it doesn’t always work out at a steady 1,666 words per day, but I finished my 50,000 words on 29th November 2016. NaNoWriMo was originally for inexperienced writers, however, I know a lot of published writers who now pace themselves alongside NaNo, entering daily word counts into the meter on the web, racing their NaNo friends and other writer colleagues. You only count the words you write in November, of course, but since I started out with 19,900 words on 31st October, by the time I got to 30th November I had 70,000 words of my upcoming novel in the bag. I had a few slow days, but there were also days in the high two thousands, one day at just over four thousand, and one day at just over ten thousand. What I’m saying is that I’m not a word machine. I have poor days and brilliant days, but I keep my eye on the target and get there in the end.

2book-RowankindAnd that’s what I have to do when I have a book to write and a deadline looming. These days it’s the fashion for science fiction and fantasy books to be long. DAW, my publisher, tends towards long books. My historical fantasies, Winterwood and Silverwolf, are 133,000 and 134,000 words respectively. My science fiction (space operas) are around and 170,000 words, and I’m just beginning work on Rowankind, the third in the Rowankind fantasy trilogy. I’m aiming for 130,000 words, but I’ll be happy to finish the first draft on 100,000 – 110,000 words, at which point I’ll look and see where the gaps are and add in extra on the first revision pass. I used to write long and cut, but now I tend to write short and add.

Revision is all about getting the book’s structure and plot right, making sure the characters are well fleshed out and there are no great, gaping logic holes. I’m one of those writers who enjoys working on revisions and edits, adding in, moving round, taking out, smoothing off. Writing would be a difficult job, indeed, if you only liked one aspect of it.

Advice? Well, the one thing I would say is to stick with it. Being a writer is not an easy option, but if it’s for you, then you already have the drive to write. Listen to your inner writer and get those words down. The one thing you should know is that all writers have slow days and fast days. We are not machines, so don’t expect miracles of yourself, but do expect that if you keep going you will get there in the end. Good luck.

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Wars, refugees and the twilight of the spirit – a guest post by Alma Alexander

Wars seem to come naturally to our species. Too naturally. I once read  that we and a handful of species of ants are the only creatures on this earth that actually WAGE WAR upon others like ourselves, for whatever reason – booty, territory, the not-us syndrome, the if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us syndrome.

I don’t know about the ants. Maybe they have their own problems. But us humans… we’ve always fought, with something, with somebody, against some “foreign” idea or some person who looked different from ourselves. It’s always been easy to pick a fight, and even easier to roar defiance in response and accept a challenge flung – and off we all go again chasing each other with increasingly lethal weapons.

Wars began with armies. You had a Battle of [Something], and places gained fame throughout history by  being associated with particular locales. You will recognize them. Agincourt. Hattin. Culloden. Crimea. Gettysburg. Khyber Pass. Passchendaele. The Somme. Gallipoli. The Western Front.

You declared a war; you got an army together and often made them wear ridiculous uniforms (red coats, anyone?); your opponent got an army together, and made them wear some other ridiculous uniform to differentiate them from your guys. And then, like little boys with their little tin soldiers, the generals would move their armies across fields, facing one another – deciding on who would lead the van, how the enemy could be outflanked, where the charge would be released.

The armies fought and died on those fields, man against man, using increasingly sophisticated weaponry – bows and arrows, swords and daggers, spears, lances, halberds, axes, muskets, rifles, bayonets, machine guns, cannon, grenades. But by and large, it was army against army, men killing other men upon orders of yet more men, nations resolving disputes on the battlefield by throwing the cream of their manhood at one another and abiding by the battle outcomes.

The collateral damage of these wars has always been present – when men fight there are always those who aren’t combatants but who get in the way. The women, the children, the old, the crippled and the disabled – the ones who get run over when armies fight. The ones who get left to starve after their menfolk vanish into the battlefield blood and mire. The ones who get abandoned alongside fallow fields they can no longer till, or in houses from which they are turfed out because they cannot pay the rent, or who have to run because their side lost and they are now behind enemy lines in enemy territory and they speak the wrong language or worship the wrong god.

The refugees, ones who flee, the ones who are driven to run without pity and who run without hope, they have always been with us. There are enough accounts of them, enough drawings of them, enough paintings, enough evidence remains.

But they were always the flotsam and jetsam that washed up on the tide, where the tide was the greater war.

Until recently.

When war changed, I am not entirely sure – but it became prevalent during WW2 when everyone began bombing cities filled with civilians, including women and children… and worse. Think of the horror that was Stalingrad.  It was no longer a question of an army against an army and the civilians were left to suffer the side effects of the war – no, now it was no longer armies. Now war was being fought on the backs of those civilians, directly.

People’s homes and fields and livelihoods were being deliberately destroyed as a PART of war, not as unintended consequences.

Now… now we no longer need an army facing an army, a sword facing a sword, a rifle facing a rifle. Now we have other things. Now we have landmines. Now we have aircraft – the ones that strafe from above, and the ones who drop anonymous bombs which don’t care if they devastate an army on a battlefield or destroy a city – and even worse, we have  drones “flown” by “pilots” thousands of miles away who kill as easily as if their targets are only pixels in a computer game . Now we have white phosphorus and napalm and depleted uranium. Now we have the looming threat of nuclear war – and we know about what that is like because one nation on this globe (and only one) has used nukes against cities and civilians already.

Now the refugees who flee all this are endemic. They are everywhere. They are no longer running to escape a war, because war can no longer be escaped – things are burning everywhere. Now they’re running to see if their ten-year-old child has any hope of seeing his eleventh birthday, or if their twelve-year-old daughter  can escape being  raped and murdered by the wayside. Now they run with no more than the hope that they might end up somewhere that is better than the place they leave behind – now they run because the places they leave behind are being obliterated as they leave them. Not only is there nowhere to run, these days – there’s nowhere to run from, because as soon as you turn your back on your home and your past it somehow ceases to exist.

Human beings are being driven into a twilight of the spirit – there are more and more of these refugees every day. Some leave literal dust and ashes behind; others run because there is no longer a way to coexist with others who happen to be holding power in their home and who no longer wish to take the time to talk to anyone, not when they can throw a bomb at them instead.

Some end up hopeless and apathetic in refugee camps across the globe. Others radicalize and return to get revenge. They in turn will displace other refugees. It is a vicious self-perpetuating spiral, and it leads down into more and more human misery and human despair.

I have never fled from actual rubble and fire – never been hungry – never been forced to deny my history, my family, my culture, my name, if I wanted to accept help which is sometimes offered conditionally. But I know people who have. I think the world is getting to a place where most of us know someone like that, or know someone else who does – I don’t think there is a greater gap than those two degrees of separation. Some of us who have been born into a quiet and peaceful place and who have lived in comfort and safety all of our lives will find it hard to even begin to understand the mindset of somebody who has lost half their family and most of their possessions and who is grateful for a bowl of what we might consider to be inedible food for their supper. But it would take so little – so little! – for that person we cannot understand… to be ourselves. So little. The margins are so, so small. There but for the grace of God go all of us, every last one of us.

For some of us over here in the safe and comfortable enclaves, it is hard to look over there, hard to see, hard to comprehend, and when we do steal an appalled glance, the problem seems  so huge, so intractable, so impossible, that we cringe away and wring our hands and say, but what can we do? It is so much bigger than ourselves.

But there are things you can do. There are always things you can do.

children book cover final 2One such thing is the anthology “Children of a Different Sky”, a collection of twelve stories and two poems from a group of  authors who range from multiple award winners to writers who are seeing their first published work on these pages. The profits from the sales of this book will go directly to two charities working with refugees and migrants, both internationally (the International Medical Corps) and within the United States (Center for New Americans).

The problem is too big for any one of us to tackle alone – but those of us who can tell stories  can tell in fiction  stories which  illuminate that lost and bewildered and abandoned state of mind and how to overcome it.

The readers who pick up this book and read those stories are both picking up a treasure-house of tales which will deeply touch them, and supporting a cause which will directly help those who are living many such stories right now.

The problem is big. We, the storytellers,  are trying to do our part. Our readers will also be doing something tangible. Their purchase of a copy of the non-profit anthology “Children of a Different Sky” will mean they will be directly sending aid to charities who work with refuges who need help so desperately.. You can make the world a better place… by buying a book.

“Children of a Different Sky” can be preordered here (ebook or paperback): https://www.facebook.com/pg/KosBooks/shop/

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