Category Archives: Life

What is a book?

No wait, hear me out. Still there? Good.

If you’re reading this you’re probably looking for a little more than a literal answer, so here goes.

These days, books can take many forms. As well as a good old-fashioned charity shop find or a crisp new release hastily picked up from the airport newsagent before your flight, there is of course everyone’s favourite space-saver, the Kindle. Or indeed, the Kindle app if (like me) you’re slumming it just a little.

Delve into the world of online publication and you’ll have so much choice, you won’t know where to start. I’m guilty of perhaps not reading as much as I’d like to, but having dipped my toe into Amazonian waters, I discovered a few things pretty quickly.

Firstly, self-publishing makes it easier than ever before to get what’s inside your head out there for the public to enjoy. And if they don’t, well that’s their problem. At least you did it. This doesn’t have to be the 1000+ word fantasy epic you’ve been slaving away at for half your life though. These days, books take many forms. Your story may be great but you just find yourself wanting to get it over a little more quickly – that’s fine. In the world of self-publishing nobody looks down their nose at a novella.

It doesn’t even have to have a narrative either. From stream-of-consciousness ramblings and specialist cookbooks, to collected essays and structured how-to guides, pretty much anything can be a book these days.

So, get that idea out of your head and onto your screen and before long, it’ll be on everybody else’s screen as well.

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Filed under Authors, Books, Communication, Editing, Fantasy, horror, Life, Science Fiction, self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

Restoring Rivington

Whether living in Horwich as a young child or Chorley as a slightly older one, the unmistakable backdrop of Rivington was always a constant for me. What was that mysterious ‘castle’ on the hill? And was there a tower in the trees to the left as well? I can’t remember the very first time I actually went up to explore, but it could well have been on a Good Friday with my parents. The Easter hike to The Pike has long been a tradition for many in the Chorley, Horwich and surrounding areas, dating back to at least the 1800s.

riv1 sepiaAs a boy, the reason all of it was there never really crossed my mind, fixated as I was by not just those structures visible from far and wide, but bridges, terraces and secluded, overgrown pools. But as the years went by, I continued to visit from time to time, and gained a different perspective. I noticed that the walls weren’t really all that ancient, and I clearly remember the day I first saw the remainder of some black and white floor tiles. Curiosity got the better of me, so I began to dig a little deeper into Rivington’s history.

riv2sepiaIt’s a well-documented one, thanks in large part to the involvement of William Hesketh Lever, better known as  Lord Leverhulme, he of Port Sunlight and Sunlight soap fame. Needless to say, Lever was a bit of a magnate back in the day and owned a number of homes, one of which was The Bungalow at Rivington. This wasn’t just any old bungalow though. With the help of landscape gardener Thomas Mowson, Leverhulme built a spectacular terraced garden to accompany his lavish Lancashire pad. A morning stroll through the greenery would take him past pools and pagodas and across bridges, as he enjoyed the views. The whole thing was influenced very much by his travels around the world, and the Japanese and Italian gardens were a sight to behold. Following his death in 1925, Leverhulme’s home fell into disrepair and the rhododendron that were the fancy of many a stately home owner took over in his absence. Those and the ravages of time reduced this once proud home to enigmatic ruins.

Rivington

That is, until recently. My visit to Rivington in 2019 proves that I’m still a big kid, bounding around as I get caught up in the atmosphere of the day. As I round a corner though, I stop in my tracks. I’d seen pictures of the way the gardens used to be in a book once loaned to me by a family friend and for the first time since I saw those pictures, I was transported back to Leverhulme’s time. I walked along terraces, taking in the view of the ponds below…the layout of the gardens becoming more and more visible and Mowson’s design is coming to life once more. Turning another corner and my day is made complete, as I spot a group of people queuing to go inside the Pigeon Tower – a structure which had always been off limits in my lifetime.

This is all thanks to the Rivington Terraced Gardens team – RTG for short. They’re a group of volunteers who organize regular days where everyone can get involved in restoring the gardens, whether you’re a skilled fence-builder or amateur weed-puller. I spoke to some of them I encountered throughout the day, and what struck me is the collective passion not just for making Rivington more attractive to locals, but to everybody. The area, like it never has before, is becoming a real outdoor destination for people from all around the country. Hikers and ramblers will have plenty to keep them occupied, with a wealth of walks across Rivington and neighbouring Angelzarke waiting to be explored.

To find out more, I spoke to Andrew Suter, Heritage Programmes Manager for Groundwork Cheshire, Lancashire and Merseyside, the body currently overseeing the project. I began by asking him when the effort to restore the gardens began:

“There have been a number of unsuccessful efforts over the years to source funding to repair and conserve the Terraced Gardens. They are grade II listed and contain a further 11 structures which are also listed. Rivington Heritage Trust was formed in 1997 to coordinate this process and give it more focus.  They eventually contacted Groundwork CLM in 2004 with a request for help progressing a plan and then application to the Lottery Heritage Fund. The project will run until the end of 2020, with capital work due to be complete by the end of July this year.”

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The most obvious structural change I noticed was the Pigeon Tower. I asked Andrew more about it: “The Pigeon Tower is a grade II listed building.  It has been condemned and closed to the public for over 40 years.  As part of the work we have re-pointed the walls and chimney, replaced and rebuilt the roof, replaced all three floors and installed new windows and a door.  We have also installed a wood stove and intend to open the tower to visitors on a regular basis. We opened the building to the public for the first time on 23rd March 2019, when over 4000 people attended, with around 800 getting to see inside. We have opened it four times since, and have had queues each time”.

Not surprising! So what about some of the other structures?
“11 structures in the gardens are listed, including a few stone gate posts.  There are 5 summerhouses and a loggia which are listed. All were condemned and each have had extensive work carried out – new ceilings waterproofing and pointing, handrails and new gates and associated metalwork.  The internal floor have also been lifted and replaced. All will be open to the public again during events.”

Rivington Pigeon Tower

The Rhododendron were such a huge part of the landscape when I was a child, so I asked Andrew more about the efforts to remove them:
“The Rhododendron carried a disease called Phytophthora Ramorum, commonly known as Sudden Oak Death.  Once it was discovered, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ordered them to be removed.  In a way, this was a catalyst for the current project, as many of the structures and pathways had become overgrown.  The disease is still present, so Rhododendron cannot be replanted.”

So with that in mind, what kind of wildlife can we expect to see today?
“Rhododendron further acidified the existing soil.  They are also a foreign plant, meaning native insects will not predate on them, and they out-competed local flora. Since their removal, the soil has reverted to a more natural PH and native species have begun to colonise the gardens again. We are under-planting with native species and thinning the existing woodland to improve the habitat further as part of the current project.  Every year, the range and extent of flora has improved, in particular native bluebells and foxgloves are making a comeback.  This in turn provides more food for insects, small mammals and birds”.

Good to hear! So what’s next for the gardens, and what kind of events can visitors look forward to seeing?
“The capital work will be complete later this summer, new signage and interpretation will be one of the last items installed. Going forward we intend to continue to offer lots of walks, talks, education visits and a growing range of events including an afternoon tea on the lawn in July, and in August,  an annual Viking themed fancy dress hike as well as a Rivington Music Festival.  We have a mushroom festival in September, a fright night in October and a bonfire night party left to deliver this year alone.  In future years we will develop these ideas further and work to deliver an engaging programme with our fantastic volunteers, which hopefully will continue to capture the public imagination and support”.

To find out more about upcoming events at Rivington or how you can get involved, visit: www.rivingtonterracedgardens.org.uk

All pictures by Simon Brotherton

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Filed under Family, history, Holidays, Life, local history, Travel, Uncategorized

On Communication

man wearing brown suit jacket mocking on white telephone

Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

Communication is at the heart of what we do. I’m communicating with you right now, and you’ll probably communicate in several ways today without even thinking about it. Whether you’re replying to that email, accepting a LinkedIn invitation from someone that you’re desperately trying to remember, or making a call to organise an appointment, you’re communicating.

It’s ironic that in today’s age of multiple communication platforms, where news is immediate and everyone can share their opinions in an instant, poor communication is still a massive problem. Ask any employee, middle manager or company executive and they’ll likely agree that poor communication is always high up on the list of gripes. It sounds completely obvious, but communication is a two-way street.

If you’re not interested in using that article I pitched to you, just tell me. Communicate with me. I won’t be offended, because I know you get loads of submissions. Just let me know where I am, so I can ask someone else. And if you can’t get round to doing that job on my house, communicate with me – I understand that work can get on top of you. If you’ve decided you’d rather edit your book  yourself, I get it. Money’s tight – just let me know. OK, so you can’t meet up next week, just communicate with me. I won’t be angry (for long, anyway). We can do it another time. Just let me know a little earlier than the night before.

You get the idea. It’s really nothing more than common sense and the same logic can apply to everything from a simple get-together with friends to a make-or-break meeting. So, whether you’re wading through a sea of freelance submissions or really don’t think a job’s worth taking on, communicate. Everyone will be better off for it.

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Filed under Communication, Editing, Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Remember your memories

black and white photos of toddlers

Photo by Rodolfo Clix on Pexels.com

This week’s poignant D-Day commemorations reminded me of how fortunate we are to still have first-hand accounts to relate to.

This isn’t just important for hugely significant moments in history, but in our own lives as well. It’s often said that we should cherish our precious memories, but what does that actually mean? Are they merely a mental treasure-trove that gradually fades over time, sitting around for us to dip into when things get tough?

Well, they can be, but there’s no reason for them to stay that way, because we can write them down. Whether that’s an account of a fantastic family day, or something crazy that just happened, make a note of it. That’s because, before too long, life gets in the way. If you’ve read my blog on procrastination, you’ll know what I mean.

And why stop there? If you’re one of those people who can still remember things that happened when you were four or five, write them down:

“I remember being frightened as my mum let go of my hand. I was led to a table next to another boy and when I sat down, I looked up just in time to see her wave as she left. Our first task was to copy a sentence, or something like that. It was word-related anyway. I think that was the first time I realised how much words can capture your imagination, because for a minute, I forgot I was in a room full of strangers without my mother.”

That’s pretty much all I can remember from my first day at school and it’s the first time I’ve written it down.

It’s important to make a note of the sad times too. Why? You may ask. I’d sooner forget all that stuff! That’s true, but it was the act of writing things down that helped me to grieve.

So, get typing and bring those memories to life. Start with today.

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Filed under D-Day, Family, history, Life, mental health, Uncategorized, Writing

Literary musings

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I touch on specific authors in other blog posts, but this particular post is just a bit more of a free-form ramble about things I’ve read. I add to it periodically, with the most recent books I’ve finished at the top of the post.

 

I’m sure the author would appreciate my candour in admitting that the first reason I downloaded How to Punch Kids in Bathrooms is that it was free. It is in fact a stretch to call it a book, something which Marszalkowski readily admits close to the end of its 32 pages. Offering frank and insightful recollections of his childhood feelings and experiences, it’s an interesting read but is really more of an extended advertisement for his next book. That said it’s free and is a great taster for an author I now find myself wanting to read more of.

Is it really that long since my last holiday read? Well, time as they say flies, and it also plays a massive part in the book I spent my time poolside reading last year. Michael Moorcock’s quirky and unmistakable shadow looms large over the science fiction world, so I’m even more ashamed to admit that I never got around to reading him until last summer. I found Dancers at the End of Time in the superb Bookends in Carlisle, Cumbria (Attention bookworms, if you haven’t been, please do, you’ll be there all day) and picked it up solely because it was three books in one. No ‘you must read this one first’ sage advice for me. Thrift won out. Regardless, it’s a fantastically imaginative read. Based in a far-off future society where mankind has grown bored and complacent, it’s brimming with dark humour, cautionary warnings and plenty of time travel.

Having now polished off Andrew Hall’s complete Tabitha trilogy, I can honestly recommend this to anyone who loves science fiction, fantasy, or just a damned good story. Anyone who has not had the pleasure of immersing themselves in Hall’s strange and colourful world(s), well, I actually envy you, in that you’ll be able to read the whole thing in one go, one book after the other.

For sheer escapism and more than a little political history, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (American date format you understand) takes some beating. Say what you want about Stevie, he tells a cracking yarn and this ambitious what-if about a man’s mission to foil the Kennedy assassination plot is every bit the spectacle you’d hope it to be. I had my doubts on how King would tackle such a historical legend but crazy as it sounds, this story isn’t really about Handsome Jack, more so the book’s protagonist, his issues with time travel and very significantly, the people he meets on his travels.

Everyone’s favourite punk rock nihilist, sometime Hollywood actor and successful spoken word performer to boot, Henry Rollins is someone I’ve been wanting to read for a while. Broken Summers is a fascinating and very accurate look at life on the road, consisting of Hank’s tour diaries from various times in his life, while Black Coffee Blues is a stream of consciousness collection of short (in some cases, positively minute) stories, dream recollections and tour diaries to boot. I found Summers far more satisfying, possible because of what I was doing while reading it, and Black Coffee… a little too fragmented, but certainly extremely thought provoking. Hell, I love a narrative and Black Coffee isn’t really about that – more of a ‘dip-in’ job. Gearing up for Black Coffee Blues 2.

Ah, the much-touted Ready Player One from Ernest Cline. As a child of the 80s and a Science Fiction geek to boot, I absolutely loved this! I read it quite a long time before the film came out, and was beseeching everyone to read it first, so they could appreciate where it was coming from originally. Suffice it say, the film version, though successful in its own right, was a completely different animal.

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Filed under Authors, Books, Editing, Fantasy, Life, mental health, Science Fiction, Writing