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Welcome to March Edition of Hackwriters
We've got travels in the Outback, searching for Jews in China (Not as sinister as it sounds), stories about fathers and daughters, missing Diners in New Jersey, love stories, reviews, and of course our regular columnns from James Campion and James Skinner - putting their fingers on the pulse as it were and more to come...

If you're looking for an exciting YA book - download 'The Repercussions of Tomas D'.
All proceeds go to keeping Hackwriters going.

March 15th:
My phone woke me up at 4am today. Message from Twitter. You haven't tweeted. Message from Facebook: You haven't posted. Message from Linked In: Yet another person I don't know wants to link.
Social Media is worse than the Catholic Church. It's all guilt guilt guilt.
You have to keep using, praying or the sky will fall in.

Last I looked the sky was still there.

So I've been busy. My latest book (First part) ends at 84,000 words and my agent gave me a bollocking saying no one will read anything over 70,000 words anymore. All well and good but editing from 84 Thou to 70 Thou is tough. 'I know you can do it'. Sure, ask an artist the same thing. Can you saw off a quarter of your canvas for me? A photographer, can you crop out all the minor characters....? it can be done but what are you losing?
I guess nuances.
In screenwriting you cut out anything that doesn't move the plot along. But years ago I discovered the films I most enjoyed were the ones that embellished scenes, allowed time for characters to blossom, reveal themselves in scenes that weren't against the clock. Wes Anderson films for example are not really plot driven, it's all about character and the visual appeal. Moonrise Kingdom was an exemplar of that. The little details building up one by one, the arched eyebrow, the furtive glances, the seemingly throwaway lines.

So I have been bish bash boshing and losing scenes. Again my agent: 'Get rid of all the scenes where she is thinking or wandering around her empty city'. Apparently he doesn't think teenage girls should reflect. I know these scenes well. I absolutely agree they can go without destroying the book, but it is what they add to a book that is important to me.
For example: The city in question has been bombed to smithereens, virtually nothing left and most of the population live underground in shelters. My heroine discovers an old inn, deserted, mouldy plates and glasses on the tables, signs still up serving hot dinners 24 hours a day. She hasn't had a hot dinner in three years. Does it move the plot forward - no. Does it make the girl in question feel loss and pain for the city now in rubble. Yes. Does the scene go. Yeah. And all the others that are about emotion or reaction.

One of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami writes endless scenes in his novels of people just like you or me, stirring their coffee, cooking a meal, washing their teeth. Sure there's a story coming along, but he knows, like some don't apparently, that we, the reader, also like a moment to reflect and a character becomes more real just for the very fact that he or she has basic needs and moments to think about them. Die Hard it is not - but I like to stop and smell the coffee.

My new story is now 69,548 words long. It's faster. But now it's like a new haircut, I can't wait to let it grow again.

March 9th 2013
I need a 'I Survived World Book Day' badge .

Around 150 x 12 year olds between myself and writer Beverley Birch at the very well run Catholic School in Harlesden. Trying to get kids to come up with stories in the time allotted is hard. Not because the kids can't do it, clearly some have great imagination, but the sudden 'freedom' to write in the school curriculum is rather like a bunny frozen in the headlights moment for some. You have permission to imagine for one double period and that's it kids. Shows over.

But one thing did occur to me, history and the concept of 'period' is a tad lost on 12 year olds. One can make it fun and I do try to get them to step in the poo of the past, as it were, but trying to take thirty kids at once back in time and smell the air and imagine the past is quite a challenge.

Question: It's the great fire of London (1666). You have five minutes before the fire will arrive and burn everything. What will you save?
Answer: Blank looks pretty universal. Finally... My phone. The TV.
Writer sighs.

Remedy? I think kids need a much more solid immersion in the past to help appreciate the present and that means discussing uncomfortable things too. Attitudes, laws, race, religion. OK you say, hey they're only 12 or 13. But to be honest I think history (along with a study of the local area in depth) could be a much bigger part of the curriculum (and that doesn't mean Royal Family and learning dates by rote). Knowing how commerce and need drove the economy and how immigration or starvation, or war, changes society should be a big part of the knowledge bank, rather than the afterthought it is now. I was lucky I grew up in a time when history was taught well and they tried to relate it to our own lives and surroundings. A visit to the nearby Castle to discuss why it was built this way, how it withstood sieges, how they ate, preserved food, lived in the main without privacy and entertained themselves brought it all to life.

In the end the only way kids are going to know about history is if they read historical fiction - and yet publishers keep saying there is no demand. Kids want to know, they really do, but are just not being taken there at school often enough.

March Editorial: On Caring -

There are currently 400,000 elderly in care homes in the UK with perhaps another 100,000 at any one time in hospitals and then perhaps as many as two to three million (no one is quite sure) receiving care in the home. (Currently approx 11.5 million people over the age of 65 in the UK). Of those there are about 820,000 people in the UK with dementia (Alzheimer's Research Trust 2010).  Some will be people living with an undiagnosed dementia. *There are 15,000 people in the UK under the age of 65 who have dementia.

According to a government report in 2011 (surveying 13,000 institutions) 15% of hospitals and 20% of nursing homes failed to ensure residents had enough food and drink and help to avoid malnutrition.   So going into a care home, unless you have around £40,000 a year to spend on a decent one, is not really an option if you don’t want starve to death.  (Or be kicked and abused or drugged which seems to be the caring of choice in many care homes judging by recent prosecutions).

Why go on about this?  Well I am a carer.  I had little choice in this since I lack £40,000 to throw at the problem.  I am an unpaid carer, as indeed many people are who have to care for their parents (for the sake of argument I am leaving out carers of sick children).

If you assume that there are between two and three million people needing care in their homes, you can add, at the very least, another two million people, like myself, providing that care.  Yes, of course it is a duty, but not everyone wants to do it and anyone who has ever cared for a grumpy, bedridden person will know, gratitude is often in short supply. But nevertheless, it's your parent and increasingly you cannot leave it up to the state.

It’s a sobering thought that more nappies are used by the elderly in Japan than by newborns.  This the trend in most Western economies and China (where the one child policy has skewed population stats and the population is ageing rapidly).

Caring is often a really unpleasant job.  Bodily fluids, intimate washing, cleaning bed-linen, disposing of nappies, attending to bed sores that never heal, leg sores, aches and pains, making sure pills are taken, bodies rotated, dietary requirements and dealing with smells are part of the daily routine.  Keeping their spirits up too is important, as it is much harder to care for someone depressed than content. (I find getting her to sit in a sunbeam works wonders).

Your own life is usually totally on hold.  Depending on how long someone might live, you may never get ‘your life’ back until too late to live one.  Certainly my own mother, who is now 93, and came to me to see out her last moments eight years ago ('I won’t last six months – I won’t be any trouble') is determined to live forever. Quite what motivates her I am not sure, but she is from the generation that survived the depression, followed by the blitz, and then rationing. Old age is just another darn thing to survive.

This army of carers that exist out there, sometimes eligible for ‘carers allowance’ sometimes not, it seems arbitrary, (I am not) must give at least 35 hours care a week to be recognised as a carer.  I am not sure where this figure comes from because I know I am on duty 24 hours every day, with no breaks unless, I pay someone to stand in and they are far from flexible about what they will or won’t do.  Helping someone get up from a bed or toilet for example is beyond their skills it seems, as is cooking anything other than toast.

If those full time carers for their relatives are anything like me, I am pretty sure that they are thinking that there is not a cat in hell’s chance of wanting to be in this situation themselves.  There is absolutely no way I’d want to spend eight years in a bed, sleeping in wet nappies, unable to make even a cup of tea for myself, watching ten episodes of CSI a day.  If euthanasia isn’t legal (or compulsory) by the time I am old, I have promised myself to find a way to prevent ‘care’.  (My best friend, Kit did promise to push me off a cliff in a wheelchair when the time comes and I’ll try to make her keep her word.  As long as it is a very high cliff.)  The Boomers are all going to find it pretty hard to get help or compassion, if only because there will be so many of them and if they all sell their homes at the same time to pay for care, there will be one hell of a property crash in ten to twelve years time.

I am sure there are compassionate people out there who see caring as rewarding, not merely a duty.  But on a daily basis, it can be a lot like house arrest with access to the local supermarket a brief escape plan.  (One can get out for the odd coffee on good days, but they have to be ‘good days’ when they aren't falling or dizzy or sick or run out of CSI repeats).

They say loneliness is the killer for old people.  I’d say that many carers are often isolated and are in worse shape.  I’m lucky, I’m a writer, I like being home.  But there’s a huge difference between being a solitary writer at home working on a novel or struggling with a plot and being a carer at home and dealing with every interruption.  I spoke with writers who have kids and they struggle exactly the same, as no one ever recognises that you might be thinking of mid-sentence and to leave off is to risk never quite getting into that groove again.  But kids go to school – you can even send them to boarding school so you never have to see them at all.  (Yep my sweet old Mamma sent me off at aged five and I didn’t get back home till eighteen.)  Old people however stay home, stay in bed, and if you feed them – last forever.

You’ll miss her when she’s gone, a friend suggested.
But to tell the truth, I already miss the woman who used to be my mother before she took to her bed like the Queen of Sheba and started demanding attendance to every whim.  I miss the person who used to throw parties and be on the stage and had a sense of humour.  The sad thing is that old age robs you of your soul, well and truly before it also takes your body.

No, I’ll not enter into discussion on this.  Like the other two million carers out there, I am sure they don’t want to discuss it either. One day this may make sense to you. But a word of caution, if your elderly parent arrives with a suitcase - you might want to reconsider opening that door!

© The Editor - March 2013
Read and Buy Sam Hawksmoor's new YA book all proceeds go to supporting Hackwriters.com
The Repercussions of Tomas D
'One Small Lie - Can Change History Forever'

Sam is shortlisted for the Amazing Book Award 2013

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Sam North is the author of Diamonds – The Rush of 72 (Print & ebook))
The Great Californian Diamond Rush of 1872 - a grand American West true life story that made many rich and ruined the lives of almost everyone it touched.
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The Repossession by Sam Hawksmoor. View the Trailer here -
a fast paced edgy romantic thriller
'The Repossession... will blow your mind and keep you guessing until the very end'.
A Dream of Books (SJH)
'Smart, dark and graceful, this story is sure to send chills down your spine...one of the best, and most fascinating, debut novels I've ever read'. Evie-bookish.blogspot
Shortlisted for the Leeds Book Awards 2013
And shortlisted for the Amazing Books Awards in Sussex

Out Now - The Hunting - the thrilling sequel - order yours from Amazon or Waterstones
See Sam's previous guest editorial here: Hawksmoor

'The Repossession is an absolutely wonderful sci-fi mystery... that will never let you go.’
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