Thursday, June 3rd, 2021, Year 2 of The Time of Covid.

Guest Column in the Nation News

A significant period of time has elapsed since I last posted about our Covid-19 experience, and that is a good thing! It means that things are going fairly well, both here in Barbados, and back home in the UK. Apart from a few blips in the UK with the ‘Indian Variant’, numbers are going down and things are slowly starting to open up.

Barbados has had a few consecutive days with no new cases at all, and the UK has had a few days with no deaths! Vaccinations are going well, with the first wave of second vaccinations almost completed in Barbados (we had ours on the 17th of May), and first doses now being offered to people 3o years and over in the UK.

We are going home on the 29th of June. As Barbados is on the UK’s ‘Amber List’, as well as all the usual tests and documentation we will need to complete before we leave the island, we will also have to quarantine at home for 10 days after arrival, and pay for tests on days 2 and 8 before we are released. A small price to pay for 9 months in a tropical paradise, instead of being shut up in our house all winter.

I have been so impressed and thankful for the way Barbados has handled the pandemic that I felt compelled to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’ of the national news paper, The Nation News. I was surprised (and delighted) when they gave my little piece an entire page and categorized it as a “guest column”!

This is what I said:

“On the 29th of June we will be leaving Barbados after spending the last nine months here. For medical reasons, we left the UK last September, to avoid the second wave of the pandemic back home. Before we leave, I feel compelled to share my feelings about how impressed we have been with the way Barbados, as a tiny country, has handled this global crisis.

At the time we left, we had barely left our homes for over six months apart from to exercise or buy groceries. We knew there was a chance that we could face lockdowns and other restrictions in Barbados but were prepared to take that risk. Whatever happened, having to “stay at home” in the warm sunshine of Barbados where we could spend a lot of our time outdoors, had to be better than facing a long cold winter locked up in the house in the UK.

The day we set out for Heathrow we were nervous and fearful of contracting the virus on the journey. We hired a car to travel to the airport to avoid the need to interact with others on public transport but were horrified when, after dropping off the car at Heathrow we were transported to the terminal in a small mini-bus with several other strangers. We tried to keep as far away as possible from other people in the check-in and security queues, but no special precautions were being taken to ensure social distancing, and, other than being asked to wear our masks for the entire flight, and being offered a reduced meals service, no other measures were in place to help us keep our distance from our fellow travellers.

The moment we arrived in Barbados we heaved a huge sigh of relief. Now, here was a country that was taking this thing seriously! We were taken by bus to a special part of the airport where our temperatures were taken, we were “sanitised” and our negative test results re-examined before we were even allowed into the terminal.  We were given clear advice and instructions about what to do over the next 10 days from the public health team at the airport before we were allowed to leave. Once we got to our accommodation (we had rented a house in St. Philip) we were required to take our temperatures twice a day, record them on a form we had been given, and send them through to the Public Heath team by text message.

Although we arrived before the travel quarantine protocols were in place, for those 10 days, we tried to avoid close contact with other people unless it was absolutely necessary. We did have to go out to buy groceries and get a thermometer and were reassured further by the checks and precautions that were in place in shops and businesses. Hands were sanitised, contact details taken and temperature checks performed everywhere we went. Sadly, I can say that we had not witnessed such rigorous adherence to sanitising and social distancing procedures back in the UK.  Even mask wearing was not widely enforced at the time we left home and was not compulsory for children. In Barbados everyone was wearing a mask, from the octogenarian on his early morning walk, to the tiny tot on her way to school.

 It was clear from the outset that the people of Barbados were treating the virus with the degree of caution it warranted, and were respectful of, and compliant with, the guidance and advice of Prime Minister Mottley and her government. For us, this was a massive relief and we felt safer and more relaxed than we had done for a very long time. In those early days, I lost count of the number of times we congratulated each other on our decision.

And so, it has continued. Numbers have gone up and down. Crises have come and gone. The country has faced its own second wave with increased death rates and various clusters and outbreaks, including the now infamous “Boxing Day Bus Crawl”. There have been curfews and lockdowns and other restrictions that have been followed by one and all, almost without exception. Then, as if to add insult to injury, just when it was almost all over and things were slowly starting to return to normal, the country was hit by a devastating ash cloud from the La Soufriere eruption on St Vincent.

Throughout it all the people of Barbados have remained cheerful and positive. Smiling and joking. Making light of what was in reality, a very difficult situation for many. Just getting on with what needed to be done without complaint or excuse. They are truly one of the most resilient and strongest nations I have come across and I am both grateful for the way they have made us feel welcome and at home during our time here, and proud and privileged to have borne witness to their fight against Covid-19.

One thing that I began to think might have been the only negative aspect to our decision to ride out the second wave in Barbados was a potentially missed opportunity to access the vaccination. My husband is a Barbadian citizen and has a medical condition which placed him in one of the priority groups for vaccination during the early days that it became available in Barbados. Unfortunately, I am and too young and too fit and healthy to be eligible at this stage in Barbados but would have been offered it in the UK. I have applied for citizenship by marriage and, while this has been approved and I paid the fee back in March, I am yet to receive any documentation that would enable me to obtain an ID number. So, I just assumed I would not be able to get the vaccine until I got home.

I could not have been more wrong. The day my husband went to the David Thompson polyclinic to get his vaccination I stayed at home, only to get a call to say that, to avoid wasting the contents of the vial that had been opened for his dose, they wondered if I would like to be vaccinated as well. I jumped at the chance. We received our second vaccinations on Monday the 17th of May so are now fully vaccinated and hopefully immune for our journey home.

So, I just wanted to say; a huge THANKYOU to Barbados and that you should all be proud of your people and your government, who have by far punched above their weight in the global fight against Covid-19.

Video Trailer for Wait for Me

My incredibly talented young nephew, Geordie Bottomley, recently graduated from Leeds Beckett University with a 1st Class Honours in Fine Art. He now works as a freelance artist, video editor and filmmaker.

I cheekily asked him if he could make me a little video trailer for my novel, Wait for Me, and this is the result.

Check out some of his work at geordiebottomley.co.uk

Wait for Me by J.M. McKenzie

In 2011, I started writing my first novel, The Ice Factory. Inspired by a personal childhood trauma, it was a difficult story to tell, and I didn’t feel able to do it justice at the time. And so, on the advice of some fellow writers, I decided to hone my novice writing skills on something “lighter”.

Something lighter turned into Wait for Me, the story of one ordinary woman’s extraordinary journey to get home to her partner after a bioterrorism attack triggers a Zombie Apocalypse in the UK! I know, its certainly not a lighter subject matter, but it was a much lighter story to tell and I’ve had a lot of fun with it!

Anyway, I started it in 2015, finished it in 2017, decided it could be better and decided to re-write it in 2018. I’m delighted to announce that it is finally finished and available to purchase on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions.

http://mybook.to/WaitforMe

I’d absolutely love it if you bought a copy and would welcome your reviews and feedback on my first novel!

Now, I need to decide whether to go back to The Ice Factory or write a sequel to Wait for Me!

My Rachel, S.J. Gibbs and J.M. McKenzie

Over the past year, I have been working on a biography project with a friend and fellow writer, S.J. Gibbs (Shelley). The project is essentially a personal memoir of Shelley’s life, and the life of her daughter, Rachel.

Rachel, who is now in her 30’s, was born with severe Cerebral Palsy and the book tells the story of their fight for life, truth and justice.

I am privileged that Shelley asked me to help her tell their story, and extremely proud to have been involved.

The book is now available on Amazon in both Kindle (£2.99) and Paperback (£9.99) formats. Click here to buy a copy.

An interview with Michael Andrews, author of Children of the Sun

J: We’re here today to celebrate and talk about your latest book, the last in the series of The Alex Hayden Chronicles, Children of the Sun. Let’s start by talking about that.

J: So, how does it feel to have finally, finished the last book in the Alex Hayden Chronicles?

 M: Mixed, to be honest. Relief, sadness, and excitement.

Relief that I’ve finally finished it. At one point three years ago, it looked as if it wasn’t going to happen due to a technical disaster when I was writing Dragonfire and almost lost all my work.

Sadness that a six-year chapter of my writing life is coming to an end.

Excitement about picking up other projects that have been on the back burner for a long time.

J: Are you happy with how it all ended, and do you think your readers will be?

M: Yes and no.

I’m happy with how the plot came together and how all the loose ends were tied in a very natural and un-contrived way. That should please my readers too.  

I was unsure whether I should have had just one more battle at the end, but I have said from the start that I didn’t want the series to become too Twighlightesque, so I am happy with how I left it.

 J: Is this definitely the end? Will we ever hear any more about Alex and his friends?

M: It is definitely the end of the story at that point in history in terms of the fantasy story. But there will always be opportunities for prequels in terms of revisiting Alex’s past life, given that he has lived for over 1000 years! This is something I have been asked about by my readers and is always an option. However, I have no current plans to this as I have already started working on my next project.

 J: The latest book, in my opinion, is the goriest of the series. The books are aimed at a young adult audience. How do you think this level of violence will sit with them, and possibly even their parents?

M: I knew this might come up. Young adults for me are mid-teen and upwards. I believe much of the violence is left to the imagination of the reader and that this is not the same as seeing it on a screen, be that in a movie or a computer game. I don’t think it is any worse that the violence young people would be exposed to in the average 15 rated movie or computer game. It adds vital authenticity to the character of Alex – he is a vampire after all!

Besides, most of my long terms fans that take the trouble to reach out to me tend to be over 18 in fact. You could argue that the series seems to appeal more to a more mature audience than the typical young adult cohort.

J: I noticed a hidden reference to the village that we both live in in the Children of the Sun, and some of the characters are strangely familiar. Is this my imagination, or are you deliberately giving a secret nod to people and places that you know in your books?

M: From when I first started writing, friends who reading my books often asked if they could be represented in them. So, I do give some of my characters the names of people I know, but not necessarily their personalities. Because there are a lot of characters in the series, this technique helps me to keep track of them all.

With regard to the familiar “location”, I have always wanted a character to be placed away from Blackpool in a different type of environment. It was a playful act on my part to decide to locate one in my own village.

 J: Some of your characters have very unusual names. How do you select the names of your characters?

M: There are a few in particular that I think you might be referring to. Y’cart, is a friend’s name spelt backwards and Rivkah Picar is actually my editors name in different languages, I often google names to find ones that are relevant for period and place. For example, Clothar Pfaff is a Germanic name that means priest and Eirwen was a name I just liked that popped up on one of these searches.

J: The Alex Hayden Chronicles is a very complex story with multiple characters and plot-lines that twist and turn throughout the series. Did you always know how it would end and how all the characters would relate to each other (I’m trying to avoid any spoilers here), or did you just let it unfold as it went along?

M: I knew most of the big things.  I wrote the end of the series while I was writing the first book, Under A Blood Moon and I always know the beginning and end of each book. Everything in between is just a journey that unfolds as the characters react to events. I love these journeys with my characters. That is the most enjoyable and fun part of writing for me.  

J: Is that how you write in general? Letting the plot develop rather than having it all planned out at the beginning?

M: Yes. It allows me to introduce minor threads and characters that may not have appeared if I had plotted out every detail. One of the most loved characters form my debut novel, For the Lost Soul, only appears as an afterthought in an early chapter.

J: Clearly, this is a young adult SFF series. Is this the only genre that you work in? Would you ever consider writing for the adult SFF market?

M: Although I have written in other genres, I definitely have a leaning towards fantasy and the paranormal. For the Lost Soul, is actually aimed at a slightly older audience. It wouldn’t be suitable for anyone under the age of 15. Coincidentally, I am currently working on a sequel to For the Lost Soul, with plans for a trilogy. I also have other adult paranormal projects on the back-burner.

J: Now some questions about you.

J: When did you first want to be writer and what inspired you?

M: I was 14 and a GCSE English assignment was to write the start of a novel. A TV series at the time (1985) called V was my inspiration.  My novel was a version of the V story that was set in the UK. I have written ever since and always dreamed of publishing. The Amazon self-publishing platform helped me to turn dream into a reality

J: What do you like to read and who are your favourite authors?

M: I like fantasy and Science Fiction, particularly stories with mythical twists. My favourite authors are Raymond E Feist (Magician), David Eddings (The Belgariad), Matthew Reilly (Jack West Series) and Orson Scott Card (Enders Game).

J: What is the first book that made you cry?

M: Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and The Unlikely Ones by Mary Brown

J: What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

M: Fairie Tale by Raymond E Feist

J: Have you got any themes and messages that you want to get across in your writing?

M: I mostly write for pleasure. Writing for me is simply an enjoyable creative release form my very factual day job as a Business Analyst.

However, bullying, and self-harm and suicide prevention in young people are subjects that are important to me and I have written about them. My poetry collection, The Empty Chair, has an anti-bullying theme.

J: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

M: On a trip to London I visited St Paul’s Cathedral and asked to have access to the private chapel where two of my characters in the For the Lost Soul meet for the first time. I was given special access to the room and was so moved and excited that, later that evening, I messaged Raymond E. Feist to ask him if he had ever had a similar experience. He said he had but never one as exciting as mine!

J: What is your writing Kryptonite?

M: The telly.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

M: I am a member of a small group of fellow writers called JAMS Publishing. As well as working together to support other aspiring writers, we also meet once a month where we read and critique a short piece we have prepared based on a specific prompt. We give each other regular feedback and support with all our projects and have worked on some joint ones.

J: So, what’s next for Michael Andrews? What’s your next book going to be about and when can we expect it?

M: I am currently focusing on completing the Writers Bureau Creative Writing course to help me to hone my skills and further improve the quality of my writing. I am also working on the sequel to For the Lost Soul, A Soul Reclaimed. I don’t want to put myself under pressure to set a deadline to complete this. I just want to allow myself to enjoy the journey.  

However, I will have a special surprise for Alex fans around about Christmas time.

The Children of the Sun is available on Amazon at £2.99 for the Kindle version and £8.99 for the paperback.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Blog

When I made the decision to try and make a living out of my writing, everyone told me I needed a blog.
Really?
Well yes, they’re probably right. If I am trying to sell my services as a writer, what better way to showcase my skills?

adult-alone-black-and-white-551588 (1).jpgThat then raises a whole load of other questions. What to write about? How often to post? How long or short should the posts be? What style should I write them in? What will people want to read about? What is a blog anyway? Who is it for? What is its purpose?

For days my head was buzzing with questions like these. It was a phrase in Module 6 of my Writers Bureau Copywriting Course, that finally silenced the voices in my head. It said, a blog is “a bit like an online diary”. I liked that description. It takes all the pressure away, relieves one of the need to conform, to do it right.

And so, this blog is essentially going to be an on-line diary that showcases my writing. There!

I hope that’s ok? I hope that at least some parts of it will be of interest to some people.

One of the features of WordPress is that it allows you to sort your posts into categories. I like that too. It allows me to write about lots of different things in my “on-line diary” but to categorise them so that my readers can choose the bits that interest them the most.

I have chosen some initial categories that represent the things that interest me, the things that that I’d like to write about and the things that I think will help to showcase my writing. I should clarify at this point, that what I mean when I talk about showcasing my writing, is simply about sharing examples of my writing so that any prospective clients can get a feel for whether they want to work with me or not.

The categories I have chosen are;
• About Me – articles about me, my family and friends and my hobbies and interests
• Creative Writing – examples of, and links to, my creative writing
• Food and Drink – anything relating to food and drink including recipes and restaurant
• Travel – holidays and travel experiences including reviews of locations, hotels, destinations and travel companies
• Local News – as my main target client groups are local, small to local business, this category will include stories about local events, communities, businesses and organisations
• Reading – books I have read and want to read including reviews
• Writing – general articles about writing and my own endeavours to earn money from writing

So there it is…now to start writing and posting and see where it takes me…

Jackie Small Writing Services (JSWS)

So, I’ve finally done it! Last week I completed the Writers Bureau Copywriting Course and this week I’m finally setting up my own freelance writing business, Jackie Small Writing Services (JSWS).

I don’t plan to launch the business (or this web-site) until the 6th of April, the start of the new 2019/2020 tax year. I finished work on the 1st of March and get my final payment on the 28th. After that things will get real and I’ll be officially self-employed.

So far, I have;
• Bought a new computer
• Joined the Association of Freelance Writers
• Created a Swipe File
• Attended a number of LHH courses on Starting Your Own Business
• Bought my domain name from GoDaddy
• Bought my hosting and CMS from WordPress
• Bought a couple of books – WordPress All-In-One for Dummies and WordPress for Beginners 2019
• Started to build my web-site
• Created my own simple logoJSWS Logo 2
• Created my Letterhead
• Earmarked my business bank account
• Taken out Indemnity Insurance
• Set up an Accounts and Profit and Loss spreadsheet
• Updated my Linked In profile

Still to do are;
• Finish and launch my web-site
• Set up Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for JSWS
• Contact HMRC to register as Self-Employed
• Find an Accountant
• Further improve my Linked In page
• Create some Business Cards and A5 Flyers/Posters
• Register on Bark, Fiverr and Upwork
• Attend some local networking events
• Get out there and start selling my services!

WISH ME LUCK AND WATCH THIS SPACE!