Happy Valentine’s Day!

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ODE TO A WREN

A graveyard squats beyond a wall
Where they bury dreams with rocks.
As child, as adult, those dreams once called
And on those caskets knocked.

Each year a thinning wail would stray
From walls bulged thicker, taller.
Each day my prayers, more distant, play
In silence to the caller.

Until that sleety autumn noon
When quiet cloaked my pleadings,
As thorns and claws and hooks of Moon,
Tore love from spirit’s bleedings.

Now death puffs its heartless chest
On bones through broken soil,
A waxen, tuxedoed dinner guest
Slurps grinning at the spoil.

Time tried but failed to fix
My endless melancholy,
A constant acid reflux mix
A three-legged border collie.

Okay, so the dog makes zero sense,
I bet you can’t do better,
Onward then with the suspense,
As I struggle with every letter.

One day the calendar did turn,
And a wren, of fluffy breast,
Who’d dined on creepy-crawly things, and a worm
Flew by to build a nest.

The graveyard scared the birdy so,
It jettisoned its eating.
A deluge white as driven snow
Spattered barren soil in greeting.

And in that spattering, a seed was sown
It germinated quickly.
Then roots and trunk and branch were grown.
The plant grew tall, and thickly.

It burst the walls, it let in light,
The voice of hope returned.
The dreams with their attendant might,
Bore fruit in all I’d yearned.

Now love has settled where all was lost,
I’m no longer a complainer,
Remember—whatever the cost—
Keep hold of hope. That’s a no-brainer.

The moral of this poetic crime,
Strained from slurry, compost, grit?
No one’s more certain than I’m
That good can come from s**t.

 

A Valentine’s Day Poem…from Ben to you.

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(Ode to a Wren, Ben Starling, 2016)

Winter Ben-isms

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Aiming for the goal – everyone’s gotta have a dream!

#4,377 in Ben’s occasional series “Culinary Recommendation of the Day”: grind 4 nutmegs into 1/3rd pint of (fake) low fat double cream. Blend. Pour over freshly steamed Brussel sprouts. Eat. Smile.

2 hours in the gym, 475 calories burned. 2 minutes in Starbucks, 475 calories consumed (choc chip frappuccino). Well, my yoga teacher did say I needed to achieve balance in my life…

I NEED YOUR HELP!! Forget the presidential election. Brexit. David Bowie’s passing and global warming. My life has been ambushed by a far more sadistic, insidious and determined interloper. How do I deal with the frustration of an unopened pistachio?

I have men-flu. (It’s like man-flu but at least twice as bad).

What should today’s rhetorical question be?

Provisional title of my weight loss book: I’m Gonna Need a Smaller Parachute.

I’m informed that 45 of my Facebook friends have birthdays today. 4960/365 = 13.6. 3.3 times as many birthdays as the expected average? Anyone else notice the same thing? Or has Putin hacked Facebook and is playing with the numbers?

With 2016 drawing to a close, I’m naturally devastated to not be included in the New Years Honours List. Looks like I won’t be a Knight of the Realm. It being New Year’s, I shall drown my sorrows in the realm of the night.

Proud to see my cooking still fails the smoke alarm test.

(1) Estimate odds that utility company will screw things up. (2) Phone them to tell them they’ve mis-spelt my name and could they please send out a corrected bill. Make them repeat correct spelling. Twice. (3) Suppress astonishment that it will take 10 working days. (4) On thirteenth working day receive bill with name uncorrected. (5) Review (1) above and smile. There aren’t many dead certainties in life.

My phone suffers from phantom vibrate syndrome.

Following an unexpected explosion – a partial meltdown – a shock that made me jump – last night, my life was cast into darkness. Total, unrelenting darkness. Logic dictates that the eerie silence, the chill wind that accompanied it were coincidental; that the drop in temperature was a trick of body over mind. Alarmed observers might whisper, “Oh no, Ben – it could be a case of OW Syndrome (Open Window Syndrome)” …Time, I think, for a new lightbulb…

Tip of the Day: bored of that monotonous landline “bring-bring” ringtone? Looking for a constant ringing to make you feel wanted and keep the neighbours awake, even when no one is phoning you? Simply pour water down your phone socket.

 

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A Day at Amazon Academy

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I just spent a fascinating day at the launch of the Amazon Academy in London, on Wednesday. The location was the HQ of their new fashion label (yes, they do clothes too!) in Hoxton.

Amazon laid on a range of lectures and expert-led panel discussions to demonstrate what’s on offer which included KDP (Kindle), Alexa and Amazon Marketplace workshops. There were guest panels in the morning and break-out sessions with Q&A in the afternoon. It wasn’t just for authors – there were also experts who spoke on Amazon Web Services (for serious techies and programmers) and a new service that targets entrepreneurs in the food and beverage space. Professional, entertaining, friendly.

img_3774The company is forging ahead with interesting ideas and isn’t resting on its laurels. The event was a well-planned, precision-executed taste of corporate America before a taste of vegetarian (other diets catered for too) lunch.

Deputy Mayor of London for Business, Rajesh Agrawal, told an amusing anecdote about arriving penniless in London from India in 2001. He spent weeks working on a business plan which he took to the bank hoping for a £10,000 loan. He was turned down. He returned a few days later with a request for £20,000 for a car…which was approved. And guess what he used the money for? He quickly added that the bank has been paid back in full!

img_3771Lessons learned? The company treats its writers as valued customers. Despite its size, Amazon demonstrated a human face and will continue to trial the Academy concept.

As a writer, what did I take away with me? Lots of great tips!

In particular, I learned from the mouth of author/entrepreneur Mark Dawson:

  • have at least one free book on offer;
  • build a loyal following via interaction;
  • have a well though out and researched marketing plan before you begin to spend your budget,

and from the Founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross:

  • develop your own email distribution list as one of your key pillars in your marketing plan,
  • speed up your operation by using a database manager like Mailchimp and
  • don’t start spending money on advertising until you have at least three books out there.

So far, there have been two other Amazon Academy events on this side of the pond: one previously in Dublin and this one in London. And there will be one more in Newcastle coming soon! After that, Amazon will review feedback to see if they will do it again.

And I, for one, hope they will.

More Ben-isms

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I TORE UP the gym this morning. Time for a brief recuperative horizontalisation.

White spirit removes oil-based paint from your hands but white rum doesn’t—although it’s both white and a spirit. Explanations on a postcard, please.

Today I failed to change the world. Some things never change.

Dear US Intelligence Services – you want to extract information from someone? Waterboarding is SO last year. Simply have the target wait ALL DAY (in a house with no furniture), for IKEA to deliver, who don’t bother to ring to explain why they are running hours late, and then have the screws not fit and throw in an incorrect diagram or two for fun! Maybe deliver the wrong thing and miss out something too – that’ll be really funny! Or deliver something damaged. The target will crack much sooner and you won’t have breached the Geneva Convention. Probably.

I am proud to announce I am launching a beginners’ class in IKEA YOGA. Enjoy the double benefit of contorting your body in unbelievable shapes while building furniture! First session free but bring unassembled MALM bedside table. After four weeks, move on to my ADVANCED class (HEMNES day bed) and experience palm haematoma and trigger irreversible wrist arthritis! Stay-calm breathing exercises and how to swear in Swedish available as optional extras in 50% of classes (depending on whether parts have been correctly drilled, drawings make sense, etc.). IMPORTANT: don’t miss your class! We start promptly some time between 10am and 4pm but I reserve the right to start at 7.30pm, without notice…and to blame it on the traffic. Inbox me for full details.

I AM BLESSED. To a very few people, it happens every several years. To others, every other year. To some, as regularly as once a year! But the heavens are treating me differently this year. I have been singled out. Chosen. And I don’t even know what I did to deserve it but…(drum roll please)…I have my third cold!

Forgot to add the garlic croutons to my salad 😦
But there’s a heatwave forecast for tomorrow 🙂
Life is indeed a minestrone :-/
Pass the parmesan cheese 😉

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Jodi Bartle: On Writing & Gender

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I am a woman, and a parent, and I write a blog about my life in London with my family.

big-ben-london-eye-1215522-639x1005It started as a way to connect with family and friends who were in New Zealand – a distance a little too far for people to come and spend time with us and to see where we live and work. Too far to meet me for coffee and compare pregnancies and toddler notes, first days at school and the millions of triumphs and tragedies that season an inconsequential life.

gender-symbols-1-1245741-1279x914Initially writing about this stuff was a way of remembering and being remembered by people back home. What it has grown into is a confessional, a catharsis, an outlet for me to rage and laugh and despair. I wonder how much of this writing as therapy comes from my central starting point – that of my gender.

scrabble-stock-xchng-4-1557505-1599x1200-1Women have always shared with each other; certainly, the women in my family have been able to talk about many things in unabashed, frank ways. I remember Southern Hemisphere summers spent on the coast in a caravan, and my mother and her sisters playing Scrabble together late into the night. And talking. Talking about everything and everyone.

Silences when the vowels got too few and the dictionary was hastily riffled through to find a made-up word that, with luck, might exist, but this silence was temporary. We fell asleep on camp-stretch beds in the awning lulled by the quiet hum of their long, single, wavering conversation together.

friends-and-family-1361132-1599x2132Women, I think, are encouraged to talk, to use words before fists, to confide and console and share with one another. Little girls have confidantes and these stay with you – best friends get told secrets and things are written down in a diary, and this early introduction to communication means women have outlets to express themselves in a way that I think boys and eventually men do not.

Openness and vulnerability are thought dismissively of as soft feminine traits – the opposite of the kind of front most men have been taught to project into the world. And it makes me sad, because the freedom I have to write frankly, to share explicitly, to receive intimacy back from anonymous readers and long-held friends is sometimes the only way to bear the load of being a grownup.

51_jodi-boysMy ability to write honestly about a painful marriage impasse, the exhausting and unrelenting toughness of parenting, the jolts and joys of family life in a city that pulses with noise and distraction like a faulty neon sign: writing about these things has made me a better thinker, a better friend, a better partner.

3-balloonsMaking these truths public, sometimes even the regrettable, shameful ones, has connected me to many other people who wish to communicate freely and frankly too.  My years of writing has given me a strong and distinct voice and an audience who reciprocates by sharing their stories with me.

Recently I wrote about losing a baby. Writing about the experience served a dual purpose – practically and pragmatically I could head off the well-meaning but painful enquiries into the size of my bump and due dates and indigestion, but more importantly I could write about my heartbreak honestly and tell my story in my words. I needed to.

coffee-1575043-1599x1066I wrote about the shock and the sadness and the physical and emotional emptiness after. I wrote about what is so often secreted away and, in the process, made it real and tangible. Other women wrote back to me and shared their stories too and thanked me for telling the truth about what happened and how it had felt. So this was good, a good thing to do, and I was thankful that I had a place to say what I needed to say.

But how do you grieve and heal when you have no place to share? My husband lost a baby too when my pregnancy suddenly had to end.

What do you do when you cannot write about rage and sadness? Who do you say these things to? Who knows how to listen? He is an articulate, caring, kind man and he is grieving, but he has never been given the tools or an outlet to express intimate,

difficult, internal things.

spring-notebook-1615550-1599x1066I am so glad that from a girl, I was taught to talk and write and state and share. The women in my family empowered me to use my voice and now words both help and heal me.

For my sons, I can only do my best to teach them that they can and should have their own voices; voices that must be heard because there is freedom and strength in that, regardless of gender.

jodi-bio-pic-2Jodi Bartle is a New Zealander in London who writes The Harridan, a blog about her family of five young boys, one tired husband and a dog. She likes Tom Ford and his lipsticking ways, large doses of wine, and overpriced clothes that she won’t ever wear from sample sales. She cooks, runs, yells at kids, reads, and chronically overshares. Find out more about Jodi and her work at www.theharridan.wordpress.com, on twitter at @JodiBartle and on instagram @harridan1.the-harridan-title

Ben Live at the Travelling Through Bookshop – Tomorrow Fri Oct 7th!

Join Ben tomorrow

FRIDAY 7th OCTOBER 2016.

He’ll be reading Chapter 1 from his novel, Something In The Water

at the Travelling Through Bookshop and Cafe.

131 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7AE

6:00 – 7:30pm

See you there!

 

GETTING THERE

Travelling Through Bookshop and Cafe is located close to Waterloo Station, on Lower Marsh Road. It is a modern fusion of independent bookshop, cafe, culture hub and art space with a specific focus on world culture, art and travel.

To view previous recordings, please go to http://bit.ly/1E7yU1k

Join us the Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/1WoNZUz

Follow us on Twitter @Novel_London

Or visit the website: www.novellondon.co.uk

This is a free event but please purchase a drink of snack from the bar during the breaks.

A very special thank you to our sponsor, Reedsy:

 

Olivia Teese Interviews Ben

Ben in cafeOlivia Teese has interviewed Ben. An Interview with Ben Starling is now live!

In this interview, Olivia talks to Ben about what it’s like to be a dad; his muse, a Great Dane named Edington; and about his newly released novel, Something in the Water, available now on Amazon…

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