Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Love In The Time Of Corona

Well that escalated fast.

As of today, there are 216, 822 cases of coronavirus infections globally, and 8908 deaths. By the time you read this, those figures will be outdated. Schools have closed, flights cancelled and countries put on lockdown.

It is, without doubt, an incredibly scary time.

Here in the UK, as with every other country, the predictions are of rapidly increasing death tolls, unbearable burdens on the health service, and dire economic consequences.

We cannot escape the fact that life is going to look very different for all of us. But let us remember - this world has been through incredibly difficult times before and we've made it through.

We've faced the plague, the Spanish flu, two world wars, the threat of nuclear armageddon, 9/11, and various economic disasters. We'll get through this, too.

So in the interests of positivity, here are some developments I've gleaned from news reports and facebook, which I have fact-checked and which offer much-needed hope.

  1. China has closed down its last emergency coronavirus hospital in Wuhan. Not enough new cases to support them. 
  2. A team of hundreds of scientists has identified 50 drugs that may be effective in treating patients
  3. Dutch researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center claim to have found an antibody which may help treat or prevent coronavirus.
  4. A 103-year-old Chinese grandmother has made a full recovery from coronavirus after being treated for 6 days in Wuhan, China.
  5. A medical centre in Cleveland, US has developed a test that gives results in  just 2 hours, not days
  6. Good news from South Korea, where the number of new cases has dropped sharply.
  7. Italy is hit hard, experts say, largely because they have the oldest population in Europe and their young mingle more often with the elderly.
  8. About 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create a vaccine
  9. One of these - Boston-based biotech firm Moderna - is just about ready to enter human trials
  10. Plasma from newly recovered patients could be used to treat others infected by coronavirus

Two more facts to hold onto: The WHO says the vast majority of people who get coronavirus (80%) experience only mild symptoms, and the survival rate is being put at between 96 and 98%. It could even be more than that, because we know not all cases of infection are being counted.

Courage, everyone. It will be a bumpy ride, but we'll get through it side by side (even if we're standing two metres apart and wearing masks)

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Don't Panic!

It’s a bewildering thing.

I always thought we Brits were pretty stoic. But I went to my local supermarket today, and the shelves had been picked clean of toilet roll.

A lone assistant brought out a fresh stock of Andrex and was practically set upon by shoppers who snatched the packs up as if they held the secret to eternal life.

What the hell is happening?

Even if you have to isolate for two weeks... how many toilet rolls do you need?! (Actually I worked this out - a family of four each doing one poo and five wees a day would need 10 to 12 rolls for a fortnight.)

The comforting words on the front of the Douglas Adams classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have never been more relevant.

Stop panicking.

Stop nipping down to your local supermarket and clearing the shelves of toilet paper. For a start, running out of toilet paper is not an earth-shattering calamity. There are entire countries which do not use it. When I was a kid growing up in India, we used a jug of water and air-dried our butts. I know, not terribly sophisticated, but it’s hardly the end of life as we know it.

Consider that there are thousands of people currently crammed into refugee camps without nappies, sanitary towels, toothpaste, paracetamol, Netflix… am I making the point?

Coronavirus is undoubtedly a threat to the elderly and those with other health problems. And it will place a huge burden on our health services if our efforts to 'flatten the curve' do not succeed. But fear and uncertainty is making things infinitely worse.

Hold onto the facts. The fatality rate is relatively low. Children tend to suffer milder symptoms. And the vast majority of people recover.

It's a difficult time, yes. But clearing out supermarket shelves is selfish and hysterical. Supplies will only become limited if you stockpile. Who needs ten packets of pasta?

If you absolutely DO have to panic-buy, may I suggest books? After all, when we are all forced to self-isolate in our bunkers with our secret stash of toilet roll, hand sanitizers and penne, we might enjoy some reading material.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Unsocial Media

Is anyone else sick of social media?

It’s supposed to be a place where we share news and ideas, where communities of like-minded souls are allowed to thrive and grow. Where thoughts and opinions are exchanged freely, and people living in the most isolated places or under repressive regimes are given a voice.  At its best, it’s the world we should have – open, honest, engaging and supportive.

But at its worst, it’s a toxic, small-minded gossip factory spewing bile and hate. Where fake news is born and reasoned debate goes to die. Where every bigot and moron can spout their ridiculous views and call it ‘free-speech’ - until of course someone says something they don’t like and then that user is immediately pegged as racist, sexist, or xenophobic, and hounded until they delete their account or lose their job.

And underpinning it all is a particular type of cringing cowardice. Hurtful things are said on twitter that would never be said to the recipient’s face.  It’s the digital equivalent of Monty Python’s insane French soldier yelling ‘your mother is a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries’ at complete strangers from the safety of the castle walls.

Most right-minded people would never, for example, walk up to someone they’d never met and say “Your legs are disgusting, they’re like tree trunks!”

But that is exactly what’s being tweeted about a certain contestant on Love Island. Now, while we are all entitled to question the value of this reality show – and indeed laugh at the juvenile antics of semi-naked young folk who honestly believe they’ll find ‘love’ under the glare of several million viewers (not to mention the chance of winning £50,000 prize money), what we are NOT entitled to do is troll them for their looks.

Body-shaming is not okay. Not even for people who’ve knowingly put themselves into the public eye for entertainment. Not  when we live in an age where social media is known to impact on young people’s mental health.

And it’s not just strangers passing comment on strangers. When the leader of the free world tweets slurs about his political rivals (Crooked Hillary Clinton; Crazy Nancy Pelosi; Lyin’ Ted Cruz) it legitimises social media as a way of trading insults.

Social media is an amazing, ground-breaking tool in the way we communicate and spread information. It plays a powerful role in all our lives.

Please, let’s not use it as a weapon.

Friday, 17 January 2020

2020 Vision

And we're off. 

The New Year lies ahead, an undiscovered country. As with all fresh beginnings, there is the thrill of endless possibilities as we look ahead to the next twelve months, and dust off our usual resolutions to exercise more/ eat less/ become more [insert adjective here].

But before we close the door on the last decade, let's take a quick look in the rear-view mirror.

2019 was a smorgasbord of highs and lows for most people.

Good bits: first all-women space-walk; the EU banning single-use plastic; the Humpback Whale recovering  from the brink of extinction; kids ditching their smartphones long enough to join a global campaign against climate change.

Bad bits: the continuing uncertainty over Brexit; England losing the Rugby World Cup; well-known  businesses going bust including Thomas Cook and Mothercare; Grumpy Cat dying; that Game of Thrones finale.

On a personal level, I wrote and published books 2 and 3 of my Daughter of Kali trilogy. Yay! But that means I now have to come up with a new idea for more books. Boo!

My daughter got a decent set of results in her GCSEs. Yay! Now we start the bumpy path towards A levels and beyond. Boo!

My husband got a fab new job with a big international broadcaster. Yay! He’s living abroad. Boo!

I could go on. I’m sure your lives are the same – an endless roller-coaster of ups and downs. When does it flatten out? Do we ever look at the road ahead and say to ourselves “Yep, I know exactly what’s coming and it’s all good”?

No, didn’t think so.

The Chinese have a curse – may you live in interesting times. As far as I can see, these days, it’s interesting all the time. 

So let me give you some things to look forward to in 2020;
  1. Summer Olympics/Paralympics in Tokyo – the only time people can get genuinely excited about beach volleyball.
  2. Trump’s impeachment trial – yeah, I know he’ll win it but it’s still fun!
  3. Loads of new Superhero movies including the female-led Wonder Woman 2, Birds of Prey and Black Widow. So exciting. Oh, just me? 
  4. NASA is sending a new probe to Mars to check if humans can ever live there.  So at least we have a plan B if we can’t save the planet we’re already on.
  5. Killing Eve is back for  a new series. Enough said.

My hopes for 2020? Personally, after everything that's been in the news lately, I just want it to be the Year Of Being Kinder. I know, I'm wishing for miracles. But if we could all be even a teeny bit more tolerant and nicer to each other, that would be something. 

What are you hoping for? Let me know. Welcome to the Roaring Twenties everyone!

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Present And Correct

Is it nearly Christmas again already?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. The tree decorating, the purchase of festive pyjamas, the traditional baking of the Christmas cake, the annual attempt to make the cat wear reindeer antlers… all are beloved family traditions in our house.

But does anyone else struggle with buying presents?

Every year I dither over what to buy for the loved ones in my life. Especially for my parents. My mum and dad are both in their eighties. They literally have everything. What do you buy a couple who’ve celebrated more than 160 Christmases between them?

I tend to go for things I know they’ll use: clothes, spa treatments, restaurant vouchers and the like. (After the embarrassment of buying them the same presents two years in a row, I now keep a list.)

The most successful present my sister and I ever bought for them was Amazon Alexa. Once we’d all got over the trauma of setting her up and activating her, Alexa is now like a daughter to them. Their favourite daughter, probably, as she never causes a mess and is always happy to discuss the most trivial and random things for hours on end without wandering away for a cuppa.

My dad is particularly hard to buy for – he’s diabetic and partially sighted. I can’t even get him a good book and some choccies. If anyone has any bright ideas – and I really mean that – please let me know. This year I’ve settled on a hamper of low-sugar goodies from Diabetic Hampers UK which will be delivered just before Christmas ( since you ask).

My daughter is easier. Anything from a cool brand is fine by her. Of course, her definition of cool is very particular. It doesn’t include Debenhams or Marks and Spencer, apparently.  But Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville are in.

Have you seen the clothes in Brandy Melville? Everything is one size, as long as that size is a twiglet.

But on a serious note, Christmas isn’t fabulous for everyone. I know you know that. If you want to help make Christmas better for the less fortunate, and give yourself a warm fuzzy feeling, here are three ideas:
  1. Donate a Christmas present on someone else’s behalf. Lots of charities do this; Build Africa has a ‘shop’ where you can buy much-needed ‘alternative gifts’ that help families in Kenya and Uganda, like a school desk or a life-saving vaccination
  2. Secure a place at a shelter for a homeless person over Christmas. Crisis UK is running a campaign so those without a home don’t spend Christmas on the streets. It’s £28.87 per place
  3. Don't forget the elderly. A quarter of a million elderly people will spend Christmas alone. Many will go the entire Christmas period without seeing or speaking to anyone. Age UK has a list of things you can do which don’t cost money and don’t take much of your time, but could make a huge difference to a lonely person.

 Have a fabulous festive season everyone. See you on the other side! 

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Best Things Come In....

And it's here! Finally! 18 months after publishing the first in my Daughter of Kali series, I have just released the last book in the trilogy.

Infernal Destiny is now available on Amazon, almost four years to the day since I left Aljazeera to try my hand at writing young adult urban fantasy. And I don't regret that decision for a second. Writing fiction is the best fun you can have that a) isn't bad for your waistline and b) doesn't involve having to shower afterwards.

What's that, you ask? Have I made any money out of it?

Sweetie, if I'd made any money I would be writing my next book on a yacht moored up in the Med somewhere.

But it's not all about the money., is it? It's about the endorphins. And also, self-discovery.

For example, I have learned that I have quite a gruesome turn of mind sometimes. There's a lot of blood in the last instalment of my trilogy. A lot.

I'm also rubbish at self-promotion. I do the obligatory ads on Facebook and shout-outs on Twitter and Instagram, but to be honest, marketing is not my thing. So I am quite content to tell you guys about my book and... er... that's it really.

Choosing my book covers is one thing I have definitely improved at. Like the goddess Kali, my first book Awakening has had several incarnations.

Interestingly, it took me a year to write and publish book 2 after book 1, but only 6 months between books 2 and 3.  I'd be really interested to hear from other authors whether speeding up is common. Are we just getting the hang of it? Or are we getting less picky? Maybe writing books is like having children. You're really, really paranoid about the first one - but after that, you relax.

Or so I hear. How would I know? I have more books than kids.

Daughter of Kali: Infernal Destiny is available on Amazon. Click here and check it out.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Thrills and Chills

Hallowe'en is nearly upon us, like a scary shadow looming out of the dark.

And what better way to celebrate the spooky, the macabre, the downright frightening, than with a spine-chilling book on the scariest night of the year.

Below, I've listed some of my top picks of the horror books I read in my youth, usually at night under the bed-covers with a torch so my parents wouldn't yell at me to go to sleep. 

Back then, they scared the willies out of me. Do they stand the test of time? I'll let you be the judge. Read them alone, if you dare....

Salem's Lot (1975)

Stephen King is the master of horror. People normally point to The Shining or Carrie as his scarier tales, but for me it was his second novel that did it. Vampires! Taking over a town! The horror stayed with me for a long time.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1974)

Laird Koening wrote this gripping thriller about Rynn, a 13 year old girl who lives alone and murders people who threaten her. You actually end up rooting for her - but in 2015, readers voted her the 20th most evil child in literature. Psychologically creepy. 

The Rats (1974)

A classic of the 'killer creatures' genre. Giant mutant rats run wild devouring people and pets alive. Contains graphic details of mutilation and death. 10/10 for gross-out material. And it spawned three sequels. Can't say fairer than that.

Squirm (1978)

Man-eating worms on the loose! Okay, it doesn't sound great - but if you like your horror shlocky and gross, this is the one for you. Wierdly, this was a film first and then became a book. Not on a par with James Herbert or Stephen King, but it's a short read, and has some decent squirmy moments.

The Pan Book of Horror Stories (1959-1989)

My horror bible. A gruesome British series of short horror stories collected into thirty volumes. The anthologies cater to all tastes from the macabre, to the chilling, to the horrifically violent and feature tales from such famous authors as Peter Fleming, Bram Stoker, and L.P. Hartley.

There's also a fair bit of carnage in my latest book, 'Daughter of Kali: Infernal Destiny.' Those who have read the first two in the series will know book 2 ended with my main character, Kaz Deva, being taken over by a part-demon part-goddess supernatural force. And to say it's bloodthirsty is an understatement...

Infernal Destiny will be published on Amazon on 24th October. Reviewers and bookbloggers can claim an advance copy at StoryOrigin in exchange for honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads by clicking here and requesting a free download.

Happy Hallowe'en! And remember... sometimes when things go bump in the night, it's not always nothing.... bwah ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa