Looking for inspiration in all the wrong places

I’m wandering through a shopping mall.  Not exactly what you’d expect from a writer looking for ideas.

Not that I came to the mall with that in mind, we have to do some shopping and a visit to the bank.

It’s one of those odd things we writers do, subconsciously looking for characters, character traits, or plots.

One came to me when I saw someone running.  Had they stolen an item and were they running from the store manager?  Were they escaping from a situation?  Perhaps they were just trying to catch up to the rest of their party.

Then, in another corner, not so private from everyone else, a couple are having an argument.  They are young.  There could be any number of subplots going on, were they breaking up?  Had one found out the other was cheating?  Were they married and discovered they were about to have a child they couldn’t afford?

Shopping malls are not exactly places that can be woven into a story unless it’s about teen angst, and there’s a lot of that in the after school hours and k as the night shopping.  I have never understood the need for teens to gather together and wander the halls of a shopping center.  Perhaps it’s just to hang out, whatever that means.

My teens used to gather and go to the cinema.  Years later we discovered they used to get drunk first then go to the cinema and misbehave.  It seemed like one of the ‘passage of rites’ thing for young people.  Not in my day, but times were different for them.  Nowadays it’s all about drugs and rage parties

Is this the sort of angst that finds it’s way into YA novels even though they might have a paranormal and/or fantasy theme.  People are still people no matter what the setting, so are we trying to sort out the problems of youth living in the current perilous times using a mythical background?

So much for finding subplots, now I’m looking at solving the world’s problems. I guess it’s time to go to the bank and solve my own problems and leave the rest to more competent people than myself.

Still, food for thought.  Perhaps a short chat with my 15-year-old granddaughter might make some sense of it.

It was inevitable…

After dodging and weaving the corona virus, it was inevitable we’d finally cross paths.

And because I’m one of those paranoid types, self isolation has not been the trial it has been for others, and in the last 18 months I’ve rarely left the house, content to watch the many dramas around the world and at home unfold.

So much for thinking that isolation could save me.

Here in Queensland, Australia, we have been very lucky keeping the virus at bay, but given the insidiousness of the delta variant, it had to sneak over the border eventually.

Of course, hiding away, it may have not reached me, except someone in one of my granddaughters school tested positive, and the whole school is now in lockdown and every student and their family need to get tested.

OK, you say. You don’t live with your granddaughter so what’s the problem? We saw her on Wednesday, and spent several hours with her at one of my other granddaughters birthday parties.

We are now classified a close contact, and for the first time, I went to the testing place to be tortured by the swab up the nose.

Now we have to self isolate until we get the results.

You might ask why getting the Carina virus is a problem. Since I’m over 65 I should be vaccinated.

Not if you don’t want Astra-Zenica, and I don’t. A vaccine should not be as deadly as the disease, even if the death rate is, to the government, acceptable.

No, I’m not an antivaccer, I just want to have the Pfizer vaccine, but in this country you don’t get a choice, it’s AZ or nothing apparently, which, of course flies in the face of their mantra that everyone should get vaccinated.

What ever happened to being given a choice, it’s not like we don’t have millions of doses of Pfizer available.

So, it’s now a waiting game.

And if I get the corona virus, my odds of dying from it are about 85 percent due to underlying health issues. You would think my doctor would sign the form for me to get Pfizer, but he won’t.

So much for the medical profession caring about their patients.

Let’s just hope I don’t get it, and eventually someone makes it possible to get the vaccine of choice, and soon, or there’s going to be a lot more dead people out there because I know I’m not alone in preferring Pfizer.

It was inevitable…

After dodging and weaving the corona virus, it was inevitable we’d finally cross paths.

And because I’m one of those paranoid types, self isolation has not been the trial it has been for others, and in the last 18 months I’ve rarely left the house, content to watch the many dramas around the world and at home unfold.

So much for thinking that isolation could save me.

Here in Queensland, Australia, we have been very lucky keeping the virus at bay, but given the insidiousness of the delta variant, it had to sneak over the border eventually.

Of course, hiding away, it may have not reached me, except someone in one of my granddaughters school tested positive, and the whole school is now in lockdown and every student and their family need to get tested.

OK, you say. You don’t live with your granddaughter so what’s the problem? We saw her on Wednesday, and spent several hours with her at one of my other granddaughters birthday parties.

We are now classified a close contact, and for the first time, I went to the testing place to be tortured by the swab up the nose.

Now we have to self isolate until we get the results.

You might ask why getting the Carina virus is a problem. Since I’m over 65 I should be vaccinated.

Not if you don’t want Astra-Zenica, and I don’t. A vaccine should not be as deadly as the disease, even if the death rate is, to the government, acceptable.

No, I’m not an antivaccer, I just want to have the Pfizer vaccine, but in this country you don’t get a choice, it’s AZ or nothing apparently, which, of course flies in the face of their mantra that everyone should get vaccinated.

What ever happened to being given a choice, it’s not like we don’t have millions of doses of Pfizer available.

So, it’s now a waiting game.

And if I get the corona virus, my odds of dying from it are about 85 percent due to underlying health issues. You would think my doctor would sign the form for me to get Pfizer, but he won’t.

So much for the medical profession caring about their patients.

Let’s just hope I don’t get it, and eventually someone makes it possible to get the vaccine of choice, and soon, or there’s going to be a lot more dead people out there because I know I’m not alone in preferring Pfizer.

I’m not perfect…

I was told a long time ago I wasn’t perfect, and it didn’t bother me. Then.

But it’s true. I don’t always get it right, sometimes I get annoyed and say things in the heat of the moment that perhaps shouldn’t be said, and sometimes I can be ‘difficult’.

I’ll be the first in line to say my blog isn’t perfect, in fact sometimes it bothers me some of the bits and pieces that go up because I doubt if they’re interesting, at the time, to anyone but me.

Perhaps it’s because I chose to be a writer.

It’s a hard slog at the best of times. Getting ideas, carving out time to write, having to live a normal life as distinct from that of living in a garret, on your own, writing that next great Nobel prize for literature, or is it a Pulitzer?

I don’t get that, I don’t have that, and I don’t want that.

For those of us living on that ‘edge’ of finding time to write, maintain a blog, keep up with social media, do the daily chores and watch some television, something has to give.

So, I’m not getting any writing done if I’m working on the blog, or I’m on social media. If I’m doing the blog, something else has to be sacrificed.

Mostly it’s my blog. My blog is about writing stuff, visiting places that have been or will be used in stories, and once, a recalcitrant cat who sadly has passed on. It also has running episodic stories, usually four different at a time.

It also had about 2,000 past posts. When I don’t get the time to do my blog, which has been mostly for the last three months off and on, I sometimes repackage or repeat past posts, just to keep it ticking over, much like a scoreboard.

It is also a tool for advertising my books and stories, and what’s coming (if only I stopped using social media) and these are repeated every four or five days. It’d the equivalent of advertising because I can’t afford other advertising. If this is an annoyance, I’m sorry.

And just so everyone knows, I will always keep writing, not because I want to become the next James Patterson, though it would be nice, I write because I want to, and it pleases me when someone reads something I write, and they like it. It is the greatest compliment of all, and I believe in encouragement. It’s why I spend a lot of that social media time highlighting other writers so they can build a following.

After all, we are all in the same boat, it would just be nice if we were all rowing in the same direction.

Getting the lie of the land

A lot of locations for stories are based on places that I’ve visited. So, any time I’m on holiday, I’m also discreetly observing, and noting, the places with an ulterior motive.

At some point in time they’ll finish up in a story.

Places like Florence, London, Paris, New York and Venice have all been used in recent stories.

Of course places change, and there are some that I can’t get to, so it’s useful having Google Maps and Street View. These can either make up for lack of memory and a be a refresher.

Especially if you need to visit Africa. Parts of several stories are set in Nigeria, not exactly a place I would go, no matter how much I wanted to get the lie of the land, nor would I go to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda, maybe, but in investigating locations, it is interesting to discover that places like Kenya and Rwanda are reasonbly safe. Uganda is more or less the same, but whether I’d visit, as inviting as it might be to see the wildlife (animals that is) I’m thinking Google Maps will do for now.

And, of course, at the moment there is another reason why I can’t get a practical look at overseas locations. Covid-19.

I have always had a fascination for other places, from way back when I was in school and we did a subject called geography. Back then, nearly 60 years ago, we had school atlases that had all of the British colonies, even if they had become independent, coloured red on the maps, and there was a lot of them.

Places like London, of which we also studied in history, always held a fascination for me, and, in particular, the royal family. Oddly enough, I knew all of the kings and queens from 1066 onwards, and yet had no idea who our Prime Ministers in Australia were.

It wasn’t until much later we learned about Australian history.

But seeing places foreign are only part of the story. I have had time during the pandemic when we were not allowed to leave home, to delve into the historical side of Australia, and it has created a fascination for writing a story that has basis in fact.

This was unwittingly pushed along when my grand daughter came home from school with the assignment of writing a story about a character that was affected by a historical event. Thus Eliza at the Eureka Stockade was created.

I remember back in university days when working on the narrative part of my literature stream we were set an assignment based on pictures from a certain period, and a series of written documents to put together a story. Mine was about a passenger on a ship from Melbourne to Geelong in the days before rail around the time of the gold rush.

I’m guessing that’s what is called historical fiction.

Well, it’s time to get back to the mists of time…


The past creeps back when you least expect it

Over the last few weeks I’ve been lamenting the loss of many things that once existed, once upon a time.

All children have memories of their childhood, but some dissipate over time and become forgotten, almost to the point where it is as if they never existed.

Like my grandmothers house in the country, bulldozed to widen a main highway. I have a lot of difficulty in remembering it even though we had spent many Christmas holidays there.

Other, more insignificant items just simply disappeared into the mists of time, as the manufacturers were slowly bought out by overseas companies and in their desire for globalisation, parochial items made for what seems, to them, to be too small for their economies of scale were no longer made.

No thought is ever given to the consumer. Nor does it matter that the item, made in this country for a hundred years, is especially attuned to the tastes of the people of this country, and therefore have a continuous core market.

Of course, as a child over 60 years ago, most of thise items were confectionary. Names of brands such as Hoadleys and Rowntree have long since disappeared. Products like licorice squares, polly waffles, toscas and crispins have gone too.

Some products like Kit Kats still exist, but are made by new manufacturers like Nestle but with the change no longer taste anything like they used to.

But what started of this lament for the old days was triggered by seeing an old, old favourite called Life Savers, which came in friut flavours, peppermint, and musk. My all time favourite was musk and walking through the supermarket I saw the words Life Savers on a box almost hidden on the bottom shelf and lo and behold they had musk.

The packaging had changed, the manufacturer had changed, but that timeless confectionary had reappeared. Given its shelf location, I don’t think it will be for long.

Now, if only they could bring back Toscas, and Tarax soft drinks in small bottles. Raspberry and cola were my all time favourites.

I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 21

There’s no swashbuckling for the captain

I turned, and saw what appeared to be a relatively unkempt man standing behind me.

Jerome Kennedy. Astro physicist.  A man who was mocked rather than revered for his theories on space, and in particular, space travel.

And those theories were, to put it mildly, interesting.

It was probably why the Admiral conscripted him for this voyage into the unknown.

“I though that was only in the imagination of television script writers.”

“Possibly, but we just witnessed something that none of us can rationally explain.  One minute they were there, the next, poof.”

“That’s why you are along for the ride, to find explanations for the unexplainable.  I look forward to your report.”  Then, turning back to the navigator, “are we still in touch with the original alien vessel?”

“Just, and still heading towards Uranus.”

“Then let’s get after it, maximum speed when possible.”

I left the newly promoted number one in charge and went into the captains day room.  I was still getting used to the idea of actually bring captain, because the aura of previous inhabitant of this room was still there.  And it felt like he was in the room watching everything I did.

I shook my head, as if that would cast off the jitters I felt, and sat down behind the imposing desk, one thathad been made over a hundred years before, and from a vessel with the same name. 

I still didn’t have a lot to put in any report to the Admiral, but had a lot to think about.

I brought up the navigation screen and looked at the suggested path from where we were to Uranus, and the time it would take.

There was a buzzing sound, and a face appeared on my screen.  It was the Captain’s personal assistant for want of a better name, Louise Chalmers, an ex Lieutenant Colonel from the military, but not by much.  She had retired into this position, and, I suspect, another was for the military to keep up to date on the Captain’s decisions.

“Come in.”

The door opened, she came in, and it closed behind her.  There was no open door policy on this ship.

“Sir.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m not sure if you are aware, but I am here to serve whomever the current Captain is, and since Captain V is not here, that would be you in his stead.”

I had read that she was his choice for P A, and that it was a personal matter, as usually Captains didn’t have such staff members.

“I thought you were on board to serve only the previous captain “

“Not so.  If you read standing order 207615, you will realise my position was ratified as general crew member, serving the ship rather than an individual.  My job is to make your job easier.”

While she was speaking, I fetched the standing orders, and the one she referred, and a quick scan proved such to be the case.

“In what way?”

“Paperwork, the vane of any officers existence I’m told, and to organise all activities of a non urgent nature, like bring the daily reports to you.”

I knew that captain had to be appraised of everything that happened on board, just not every day.

“I take it you have the reports?”

“I have, and unfortunately, as per regulations, I have to make sure you have received them.  Your predecessor wanted me to summarise.  I can do the same for you.”

There would be no escaping it.  “Please.”

© Charles Heath 2021

I always wanted to see the planets – Episode 20

Just what do you talk to aliens about?

We were standing off the two ships, each about half the size of our ship.

I wondered briefly if the people on board were thinking the same as us.

What were the people like, friendly or hostile, what weapons the other had, and what technology?  We knew they could board us, by beaming in combatants, so I’d sent the third officer to organize the security team and other crew members to spread out through the ship and keep an eye out for boarders.

At the very least they knew we couldn’t send people over to their ships.

I walked over to the communications officer’s console where the communication expert sat, waiting.

“Can we broadcast a message so the other ship can hear us?”

“Assuming they understand any or all of the 32 languages we can convert any message to.”

And, if I read the crew briefing note on her correctly, she could speak fluently in every one of them.  Just, perhaps, not alien, but up till now, she didn’t have to.

“The last one I spoke to understood me just fine.”

“Very good.  Just speak when you are ready.  We’re transmitting now.”

I went back to stand in front of the Captain’s chair though I was not sure why.  I took a moment to consider what I should say, then proceeded with, “This is the commanding officer of the Earth space ship “Nautilus” hailing the two ships nearby.  We are following the vessel that kidnapped two of our crew members.  We have no quarrel with you, and this being the case, we will be proceeding with our pursuit forthwith.”

I put my hand up to indicate the message was done.

“Are systems online and ready to go?” I said in the direction of the helmsman who, like the rest of the crew, were looking at me.  Why I wasn’t sure.

The helmsman replied, “Ready when you are.”

I was going to give the alien ships five minutes, then leave.  They were either going to board us, or shoot at us, or maybe just let us go.

I looked at the military specialist.  “I assume we can retaliate if they start shooting at us?”

“It’s possible if they don’t hit any vital parts of the ship.”

It was a rather sardonic reply, or maybe that was her usual tone.  I didn’t get time to reflect on it.

“You might want to reconsider that plan, Earth ship Nautilus.”

It was an accented version of English, British perhaps, but very precise, and most likely the result of a translator.

“Who am I speaking to?”

“You may call me the commanding officer of my spaceship. 

“Are you with the people who kidnapped my crew members?”

There was silence, a period where I assumed they were considering a response.  Then, “I am not sure what you mean by with but were are of the same people, yes, but the one you speak of is not like us.  We have been seeking them as you appear to be, but for different reasons.”

“So why are here, impeding our progress, if you are not helping them?”

“We wanted to see who they have mistreated, and what they have done.  This is not the first time they have ventured into uncharted space.”

“Where have you come from?”

“Several thousands of what you call light-years away, in a system similar to yours, only each of the planets have a different people.  The people who have taken your crew come from one of the planets who are looking for weapons to fight a war they are losing.”

“Then I think you people are in a great deal of trouble.  They have also stolen a shipment of plutonium, which if they know what they’re doing, can be used to make bombs that can render a place unliveable for thousands of what we call years.  Believe me when I say it’s a very long time.”

“Nuclear bombs?”

“You’ve heard of them?”

“In a roundabout way.  You should know we are currently chasing the people who did this, and we are here to advise against you proceeding with your rescue mission.  The people you are chasing have a vastly superior ship, and weapons than you, as I suspect your ship is to you, a marvel, but to us, about a hundred of your earth years behind us.  We always believed your differences with your fellow humans would always hinder your space programs to the point where Mars would be the furthest you could travel.”

“You should realize we are out there on the very edge of our galaxy ready to find new ones.”

“That we cannot stop.  But I give you this warning, not everyone out there is ready to accept new people from other planets or systems.  And they are all more technologically advanced.”

Nothing surprising there.

“We’re still going out there, danger withstanding.”

“Be that on your head.  I suggest, however, that you do not follow those who have taken your crew members.  We will take care of them, and return your people in due course.”

“Thanks for the warning, but we do not abandon our people.”

“Then don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Then, before our eyes, the two ships left, or that is to say, disappeared into a bright light that lasted a few seconds before the inky black returned.

“What just happened,” I said before I realized I’d said it out loud.

A voice from behind said, in reply, “I believe they disappeared into what might be described as a wormhole.”

© Charles Heath 2021

When products are rushed to market

If it was a car, or plane, or something else, it would have the consumer protection agencies up in arms, but because we are in the middle of a pandemic, still, it seems anything goes.

But let’s be very clear about one very important point, I am not an anti vaxxer, nor do I think vaccines, and particularly those that save lives of potential Covid victims, should be ignored.

If anything, if a vaccine is available, take it.  The evidence overwhelmingly suggests it will save your life.

My commentary is mostly about the side effects, and the long term efficacy, and particularly in relation my own case.

I’m not a doctor, but I can read, and have a modicum of understanding statistics, and if the data we are being given is correct, there is a small area of concern for an even smaller percentage of the population.

Firstly, I don’t believe the vaccines have been properly, or sufficiently tested on people like me.  I can understand why the drug companies wouldn’t because if a large percentage of us were adversely affected, it would affect credibility.

Instead, there are ‘recommendations’, and in my case, it is to have the Astra Venica vaccine simply because I’m over 65.  Personally if anything can go wrong with me, it will, so I figure I’ll get the Phizer vaccine, only my age group cannot have it.

It’s for those under 65.

But even that’s not my real concern.

What bothers me is the number of Governments and people who believe once a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, everything will go back to normal.

The evidence we are reading every day proves otherwise.

Vaccinated or not, you can carry the virus and pass it on. Sure, at the moment, if you are vaccinated, you should not be hospitalised, but even that does not seem to be the case. Vaccinated people are also getting very ill, and worse, dying.

Is it because they have not had it for long enough to build up an immunity, or is it because, and I heard this report the other day, because the vaccine does not stir up a immune response in certain people, and therefore leaves them vulnerable.

Or is it happening to those who’ve had the vaccine for over six months and it’s effectiveness is waning, hence the release of the news that drug companies are working on booster shots.

Or is it simply the case that everyone conveniently forgot to mention that viruses evolve, and only get worse, more intense, and more resistant to the anti viral vaccines over time. Look at our current anti biotic delimma where they are all but useless for certain bugs.

Someone said we pulled off a miracle creating a vaccine in such a short time, but that vaccine was for early versions of the virus. As the virus evolves, and why real vaccines take years to develop is the fact they have time to observe these changes and incorporate the remedy.

In this case we are playing catchup, and by the number of cases and outbreaks all over the world, we are losing the battle.

I’ll be getting the vaccine, my choice not theirs, when it’s available, but I fear that is not going to be enough.

I don’t know much about the Greek alphabet, but I do know Delta is bad. What then will be the situation by the time we reach Omega.

I earnestly suggest you do not watch the Charlton Heston movie version of ‘The Omega Man’. But if you wait long enough, it might just come true.

When products are rushed to market

If it was a car, or plane, or something else, it would have the consumer protection agencies up in arms, but because we are in the middle of a pandemic, still, it seems anything goes.

But let’s be very clear about one very important point, I am not an anti vaxxer, nor do I think vaccines, and particularly those that save lives of potential Covid victims, should be ignored.

If anything, if a vaccine is available, take it.  The evidence overwhelmingly suggests it will save your life.

My commentary is mostly about the side effects, and the long term efficacy, and particularly in relation my own case.

I’m not a doctor, but I can read, and have a modicum of understanding statistics, and if the data we are being given is correct, there is a small area of concern for an even smaller percentage of the population.

Firstly, I don’t believe the vaccines have been properly, or sufficiently tested on people like me.  I can understand why the drug companies wouldn’t because if a large percentage of us were adversely affected, it would affect credibility.

Instead, there are ‘recommendations’, and in my case, it is to have the Astra Venica vaccine simply because I’m over 65.  Personally if anything can go wrong with me, it will, so I figure I’ll get the Phizer vaccine, only my age group cannot have it.

It’s for those under 65.

But even that’s not my real concern.

What bothers me is the number of Governments and people who believe once a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, everything will go back to normal.

The evidence we are reading every day proves otherwise.

Vaccinated or not, you can carry the virus and pass it on. Sure, at the moment, if you are vaccinated, you should not be hospitalised, but even that does not seem to be the case. Vaccinated people are also getting very ill, and worse, dying.

Is it because they have not had it for long enough to build up an immunity, or is it because, and I heard this report the other day, because the vaccine does not stir up a immune response in certain people, and therefore leaves them vulnerable.

Or is it happening to those who’ve had the vaccine for over six months and it’s effectiveness is waning, hence the release of the news that drug companies are working on booster shots.

Or is it simply the case that everyone conveniently forgot to mention that viruses evolve, and only get worse, more intense, and more resistant to the anti viral vaccines over time. Look at our current anti biotic delimma where they are all but useless for certain bugs.

Someone said we pulled off a miracle creating a vaccine in such a short time, but that vaccine was for early versions of the virus. As the virus evolves, and why real vaccines take years to develop is the fact they have time to observe these changes and incorporate the remedy.

In this case we are playing catchup, and by the number of cases and outbreaks all over the world, we are losing the battle.

I’ll be getting the vaccine, my choice not theirs, when it’s available, but I fear that is not going to be enough.

I don’t know much about the Greek alphabet, but I do know Delta is bad. What then will be the situation by the time we reach Omega.

I earnestly suggest you do not watch the Charlton Heston movie version of ‘The Omega Man’. But if you wait long enough, it might just come true.