Hello, Is This Planet Earth?

planet earthOne of several space program related Christmas presents I received.

This book by British astronaut Tim Peake displays a selection of the photos he took during his 186 day mission to the International Space Station.

Each photo is accompanied by a brief comment by Peake, as well as a small map showing the approximate location of the ISS when the photo was taken.

At first I thought the brevity of the written content might detract from the book, but it doesn’t. The photographs are stunning, and Peake writes enough about each one to help the reader understand what is depicted in them.

Some subjects are obvious – the distinctive shape of Italy can’t be mistaken, even at night, but other photos aren’t as recognisable without the aid of the commentary.

The title of the book apparently comes from a wrong number called by Peake. Trying to phone a friend or family member from the ISS, he asked the puzzled call recipient, “Hello, is this planet earth”?

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to support The Prince’s Trust, Prince Charles’ charity aiding disadvantaged youth. Peake is an Ambassador for the charity.

The Baby Jesus, by Mary Alice Jones

baby jesusAnother of Gloria’s childhood books.

A young couple, Joseph and Mary, travel to Bethlehem but there are no vacancies available at the inn. Mary is pregnant and about to give birth, so the inn-keeper allows them to take shelter in the stable.

Overnight the baby is born and:

Joseph turned to look at Mary and the baby. “Even the skies seem to be happy tonight, Mary. The skies seem to be glad about your baby”

baby jesus2

Illustrated by Elizabeth Webbe.

As a special Christmas day bonus, what is in my opinion, the best performance of THE best Christmas song.

Song 25 of my “31 Songs”. 

Frisky Fox

friskyA small book recommended by Gloria.

A book given to her in 1970 by her brother Richard. A precious book because he died in 1977 of lymphoma.

A family of foxes decides to have a picnic, but the young Frisky gets lost and finds himself in danger, as his mother and father wonder where he is.

Colin McCahon: A Question of Faith

This is the catalogue for an exhibition of art by New Zealand painter Colin McCahon, held in a gallery in Amsterdam in 2002.

questionA group of essays by art historians, curators and McCahon’s son William, accompany illustrations of dozens of McCahon’s paintings.
McCahon’s work combined the NZ landscape, Maori lore with biblical and poetic texts, often in a limited pallet.

The closing section presents a year by year “biography” of the artists life and work, attempting to place it (and its influence) into the context of other New Zealand painting.

A more apt title to the book could be A Confusion of Faith.
McCahon’s use of biblical text in his paintings seems to puzzle most people, who tend to project their own biases into their understanding of his work, and perhaps reveal the extent to which human artistic creativity becomes a religion substitute for many. A religious leaning with its own “prophets” and teachers, presenting a sacred lore and esoteric ruminations that idealise art, literature and other cultural pursuits.

VOD2Victory Over Death 2. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
See more, including a video about the painting here: Victory Over Death 2

A Tale of Two Bibles

By far my favourite format of Bible has been The Books of the Bible published by the International Bible  Society (more recently Biblica).

There are several features I like about it.

  1. It removes chapter and verse references and therefore the distractions and interruptions they cause within the text.
  2.  Other inconvenient book divisions are also removed; for example the gospel of Luke and Acts are joined together to enhance the natural reading flow of Luke’s continuing narrative, and OT books traditionally divided into two parts, are recombined into continuous accounts.
  3.  The edition also groups the Bible’s books more logically than the traditionally used order. Therefore NT letters are printed either according to chronology or theme instead of the traditional order of length. I find this helps the natural narrative flow more than the chronological hopscotch evident in other Bible editions.
  4.  The text itself also appears more like a normal book, with text reading right across the page instead of the commonly used division into two columns.

My edtion of it is in the TNIV – probably not my preferred choice, but it was the only one available at the time I bought it. It seems a version was later published using the NIV, but to date I haven’t seen one myself.

My most recent Bible purchase was one I saw reviewed in a free newspaper I picked up from my local Christian book shop. The TYB (Trash Your Bible) is intended to be used to write and hi-light notes while being read.

The pages are promoted as being a heavier weight, allowing non bleed-through hi-lighting of text, however I’d suggest caution if using hi-lighter pens, some of which may be more prone to soak through pages, depending on the pen’s quality. A test seemed to give good results, but a slightly heavier hand with the pen could have caused problems.

This bible uses the 2011 translation of the NIV, and while sticking with the traditional book order, it also uses the more readable one column per page format of a normal book. A slightly wider edge margin (4.5cm)is provided for note taking.

Unfortunately,  in my opinion, the Psalms and other sections of poetry are all printed as if they are prose, losing the spacing appropriate for poetic writings. I seem to recall the promotional material made this seem like a benefit, but in reality it is more of a compromise to help reduce the size of the book by compressing the display of the poetic texts.

I bought two copies of the TYB – one for myself and one for Gloria.

peonyThere are several cover colours offered. I chose a navy for myself and Gloria’s was “peony pink”. The different colours are offered as lifestyle choices – but in reality, apart from favouring one shade above another, most of the presentation related to colour is more of a marketing ploy than anything practical.

Unfortunately, despite being well packaged and wrapped for mail delivery, Gloria’s Bible arrived with significant damage across the majority of pages. I contacted the supplier to see what can be done to fix the problem and they quickly replied to apologise and said they would send out a replacement copy.


The TYB also offers access to study notes via the publication website, as well as through a separate TYB Bible Companion.
Each Bible book provides a QR Code to give access to online study materials related to the book.

Have I Lost My Love of Writing (part 2)

I don’t recall which year it was. I guess it would have been sometime in the early 1980s, but I may be wrong – it might have been later. I applied, and was accepted, into a Bachelor of Science degree course. While it was something I wanted to do at the time, I wasn’t confident of completing it.

I could only do it part time, trying to fit its requirements into family and working life, and it would have taken six or eight years (I don’t recall which) to complete. That seemed a VERY long time to maintain a commitment to something I wasn’t sure I was capable of handling.

The opportunity soon passed by.

It was several years later that I considered University again, but the second time the focus was on something completely different: Creative Writing. The local University had a Bachelor of Creative Arts program, with one of the offered majors centred on the written word.

I applied, was accepted, and left my job of 10 years to study fulltime, hoping to never again be condemned to making a living from office administrative work.

Only one week of study passed before I had second thoughts. There were compulsory aspects of the BCA course that I found irrelevant to my goals. I think the defining issue was having to be involved in a group performance of some kind. Memorising lines and acting has never been one of my strong points, so I applied to change over to a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Literature, that still allowed me to take all of the creative writing subjects I’d intended to take.

And so the academic journey to establishing a writing career began.

I started the course mid-year. Most of my classmates had already been there for the first part of that year and were familiar with the system and each other. I had a lot of introductory learning to do before I could confidently tackle the academic learning.

Somehow I got through that period and managed to work out how to write essays and stories in the required formats. Surprisingly I achieved very good grades and along the way even managed to include a science subject – introductory astronomy to the writing subjects I was studying.

My first creative writing assignments were stories loosely based on exaggerated, reworkings of personal experience. While they worked as gradable writing assignments, I was never personally happy with them as short stories. Later, confidence in my ability to write stories grew and came from a variety of  unexpected inspirational sources.

One time I was reading a short story by a best selling author, and was sure I knew how the story was going to end. But the ending was different to my expectation. So I took my expected ending and worked backwards to create a suitable beginning.

Another time, a classmate told me how he’d overome “writer’s block” by taking a story from the bible and working the themes, plot and characters into a different setting.

I tried that approach myself using the account of David and Bathsheba as the springboard to a story of obsession, in which I was able to include knowledge I’d gained from an interest in film animation. That added element moved the whole direction far away from the biblical inspiration to an original story I felt proud to write.

After only a few weeks I was getting into the social side of university life, but not too far away from the course I was doing. There were frequent readings of student’s work in the university bar. Despite my earlier reluctance to do subjects with a public performance requirement,  I found a liking for the opportunity to read my stories to the significant audience that attended these events.

While my first efforts were given a polite but restrained applause, I started to learn how to tailor a story for that particular audience and the response grew more enthusiastic and my enjoyment of the events increased.

For some reason my writing started to lean closer to the fringes of “horror” fiction – although restrained in many ways, possibly using “horror” tropes as a starting point, but holding back on the frequent excesses of much of the horror fiction of that time.

In one assignment that led to a satisfying story idea, we were told to take the elements of a ghost story and incorporate them into a non-ghost story. It was an interesting challenge, in which often cliched elements could be turned whichever way would best serve the story.

nightmareI used a similar approach in a later story of a man in his sickbed, whose perception of reality was clouded by his illness (or was it by whatever drugs his wife was feeding him?). This was very loosely based on the experience of my grandfather, who was bedridden on many occasions, and had a tendency to hallucinate  faces in wallpaper patterns.

I wrote that story to a background soundtrack of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare, and included allusions to Stephen King’s Misery, a film version of which I’d recently seen at that time.

From memory, the lead female character was named Alice, but at one stage her husband jokingly refered to her as Annie (as per the antagonist of the King story).




Have I lost my love of writing? (part 1)

The earliest ambition I recall having was to become a Beatle.

I must have been five or younger, and for some reason was obsessed with the Beatles. I don’t know why I wanted to be one of them, but the ambition was short-lived.

the_lookerA few years later my interests had moved on and I loved writing plays. They were mostly re-writings of stories I’d seen on the TV (a Jesse James film, Land of the Giants, The Champions). I also tried to adapt a story from an Archie comic book.

For a short time I had a teacher who allowed my little plays to be acted out in front of the class, using some classmates as actors.

Around that time I had decided I wanted to be a scriptwriter when I grew up, even though I didn’t know where or how such a career could be achieved. At that age those kind of details weren’t even thought of.

Moving on to High School, my favourite school assignments were related to written story telling: short stories, “radio” plays, poetry and even short video pieces – using pre-cassette video technology. Again my output was often derivative, influenced by The Goons, Morecambe and Wise, James Bond books…  But by then reality had amended my employment expectations, and making a living from writing wasn’t seen as a possibility.

My family was very traditional working class, not used to pursuing ambition.

Not used to thinking in terms of careers or career paths.

After school you got a job to pay your way in life. A job was a means to a liveable income enabling the purchase of a home and the support of a family.

Nobody in my wider family had been to university. As far as I’m aware no one in my wider family had ever considered university. We weren’t that kind of people. Those options had never been available to us.

The majority of the men in my family were (or had been) miners working in harsh, dangerous conditions. A good job was anything that avoided that path – like working in an office.


The bank where I got my first full time job

I found work in a bank, starting as an office junior, and since then all of my fulltime jobs have been office-bound, administration clerical positions.

A few times I tried to escape from the routine and tedium but somehow always found myself back where I started – back to where I am today, office bound, working for a large company doing mundane work.

Whenever I thought about escaping to pursue other possibilities, that very early writing ambition seemed to offer possibilities.
In the early 1990s I decided to do something about it. I resigned from my job and enrolled at University, studying creative writing and English literature.