Not a word of it a lie…

Not a word of it a lie…

Englebert Humperdink, Errol Flynn, polar bears and pirates.. and that’s just the half of it…

Having gone through another slice and dice interaction with my friendly local surgeon, I have spent the past week enduring the challenges that naturally follow. They joy of simply breaking wind without bursting stitches is one memory I will hold with me in particular.

Now those of you who know me, know I have had a chequered history with medical procedures and I have given plenty of blow by blow detail in the past. So, this time I thought, rather than give you all the gory details, I might take a different approach.  You see, I was examining my wounds as my dressings were being changed and I saw, as I would, an opportunity to perhaps reinvent how these scars came about, with particular consideration to any grandchildren that I may someday be blessed with in the future.

With that in mind, I am going to tell you the ‘true’ story of how my fabulous body was scarred as a result of a particular adventure that I went on many years ago. This is what I will tell the grand kids when they ask about my scars. So, let’s begin with this one off to the side, the nasty raw looking one that’s killing me.

Now I can’t remember the year exactly, but it was a long time ago now and I was given the opportunity to work with the Arctic Restoration and Scientific Evaluation group (A.R.S.E.), an environmental group working to restore the Arctic to its pre-polluted state. For those unfamiliar with the organisation, one of their early technical research projects helped Inuit groups fish more efficiently, using a machine powered by the sun which drills multiple holes in the ice at once, so they could fish on a more sustainable level. The locals called them A.R.S.E. holes, or at least I think they were referring to the ice holes when they shouted this over to us.

Following on from the success of that project, Dr Herman von Tinklebaum, came up with an innovative prototype for an ice transport system using tennis balls, chewing gum and ladies tights, to haul almost anything through the roughest of ice fields. That’s where I came in. It was my job to deliver half a million tennis balls across the vast snowy north in a line of giant baskets hauled by my husky pack.

Alone in the empty wasteland, my husky companions tucked up for the night, I decided to have a tinkle behind one of the largest baskets, when a low snort alerted me to the fact that I was being observed from behind by a rather hungry looking polar bear. Before I had a chance to escape, he came thundering toward me, with only one thing on his mind. I was to be dinner.  With no where to run and no weapon to protect myself, I dived headlong into the massive basket of tennis balls, a mere second ahead of the giant bear. He dived in straight after me, thrashing about desperate to eat me for dinner.

When he stood up, I was in his mouth and he shook me from side to side like a seal pup. But something was wrong and he was confused. In his eagerness to gobble me up, he had opened his mouth extra wide before snapping down on me. Fortunately for me, in addition to my cold body, his mouth collected at least 40 tennis balls – which stuck to all of his teeth but one big incisor to the front. That one pieced my side, and gave me the scar I am looking at as I type. The tennis balls saved me and in his moment of confusion, I had to act fast. I don’t know what made me try it, but I was desperate. I grabbed a tennis ball and waved it in front of his face. He was mesmerized and couldn’t take his eyes off it. Like a puppy, he wanted the ball so I threw it over his head. He dropped me like a hot stone and went chasing after the bouncing yellow ball, his new fixation.

Now I know what you’re thinking… lucky escape. But no. His attack had loosened the pack ice beneath me and as I sat there feeling my bloody side and thinking how lucky I had indeed been, the Ice broke away, and drifted southwards off to sea. I spent many months drifting along, surviving on water from the ever-melting mini-iceberg and catching dog fish with my tennis balls to eat. Just when I thought I was never going to be able to eat another dog fish, I awoke one morning to find myself stranded on a beach on a tropical island where I later learned, the MmmBalaWala tribe ruled. The largest scar on my belly comes from my first encounter with a man called Umfeffibollongo (meaning – smart arse), the tribal leader.  They found me on the beach with no visible means of transport because my Iceberg had melted in the tropical sun and to them, it was as though I had appeared from space. Umfeffibollongo poked me hard in the belly, driving the spear into my belly button and shouting “MMMBALAWALA.”  I later discovered that this tribal name actually meant “MMM, man food.” They were a very literal people.

Sinking to my knees, convinced I had met my end, I looked up to see what looked like a crude tribal tattoo of a face on his calf, that looked very much like Englebert Humperdink. It couldn’t be I thought, but desperate once more to stay alive I would try anything. Facing certain death, I started to sing.

“Please release me, let me go.” I began “For I don’t love you anymore.”

Astoundingly and to a man, the warriors dropped to their knees in praise.

“To waste our lives would be a sin…” and so on to the end of the song, at which point they carried me triumphantly on their shoulders back to the village and not just fixed up my wounds, but bestowed me with many gifts from their collection of things washed up on shore. This included a toilet brush which I still use and treasure to this day, a kettle, a magnifying glass and three packets of pop rock.   Now in the interest of keeping it brief, it transpired that a missionary had landed on the island 20 years before. He was promptly eaten but left behind a windup gramophone and an album of Engelbert Humperdinck’s greatest hits. Having never heard music before, the tribe fell in love with the album and treasured it ever since, playing it once a year but only on their annual feast day as it was so special.

I spend three months there, playing every Friday and Saturday at the big Tikki hut or as it later became known the Tikki club, until they agreed (with great sadness) to set me free in their finest canoe with an old pirate cutlass to cut open the coconuts, a supply of coconuts, mangoes, water and dried fish for my journey. In return I promised to get them some other albums.

The cutlass it transpired turned out to be a life saver, as after only a week at sea, I was attacked from below by a very feisty swordfish who I promptly christened Errol Flynn. He sneak-attacked my canoe, driving his sword into my side through the bottom of the boat, (that’s another scar) whereupon I leapt to my feet, grabbed my cutlass and dueled him all through the night. It was a swordfight like no other, me frantically fending off a 400pound swordfish with a cutlass in one hand, while bailing out the boat with the other and at the end we were both exhausted, neither willing to give up until we simply had no fight left in either of us.

My little canoe finally sunk beneath the waves and I was sure I was doomed. However, such was the respect that had built up between Errol and I, he decided to help me and allowed me to cling to his fin as we bobbled along on the waves. It was with great relief that a passing old sailing ship spotted me in the water and hauled me aboard.

Relieved to be out of the water, it was too late when I noticed the Jolly Roger flying high above me. When the captain stood above me and offered me his hook to help me to my feet, I knew I was in trouble. His name was Greenbeard, a name given to him due to a peroxide hair-dying accident with his once ginger beard, and he wore a patch over his left eye. He explained that he had been diagnosed with lazy eye and was trying to get his bad eye to work better in accordance with doctor’s advice. Besides, he liked the look and he was after all, a pirate.

Seeing my toilet brush tucked into my belt, Greenbeard immediately took a shine to it and demanded I hand it over. Apparently, it was just the thing they needed. Life on board a pirate ship filled with an all-male crew eating biscuits, fish and beans, and drinking way too much rum, had apparently left their portaloo in a terrible state.

When I refused, he immediately challenged me to a duel, but being a pirate, he cheated. Before we started he told me, we had to shake hands. I reached out and took his hand, only to find he gut-hooked me with his rusty hook while we shook….

Now there is more, or I should say, there will be for my grand chiddlers to enjoy some day, and that very toilet brush will be in the bathroom with its own tales to tell, along with the coasters I took from the captain’s cabin later in that same day, oh… and a pencil that went to the moon with Neil Armstrong, – but that’s another story.

And thanks for stopping by… I’m on the mend thankfully, hoping to do something meaningful with my life one of these days, now talk to you later, I have to take my meds and get some much needed rest…

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A ramble through the debris…

A ramble through the debris…

Be grateful for the struggle – in there we find our strength.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but ‘they’ don’t speak for everyone. In my own case, I have gained much from the worst that life has thrown at me but I don’t believe everyone has the same experience. Often what doesn’t kill you, leaves you mortally wounded.

While I say that I have gained much from that which should have crushed my spirit, there have been times in my life where I have indeed felt broken. Grief was something I struggled with and if I am honest, I handled it badly for many years. In some ways I was lucky to come out the other side.

What that difference is, that thing that makes you or breaks you, is not something I can put my finger on with any fact-based analysis, I can only speculate based on observation. Who you have in your life, that person or people that you can depend on and lean on, is without doubt a key factor? But it’s never just that. One’s own personality is a big element. It certainly was in my case but I won’t call it inner strength, for in those few bad times in my life where things were running away from me, I know I was running on empty. There was nothing strong in my survival. Circumstance and timing, experience and mental muscle memory, there are so many things that are needed to push people through a crisis. What may be minor can turn to tragedy with little more than a nudge. At some point in our lives, we all stand on the edge of a precipice, a step away from disaster.

I believe myself to be fortunate. The many trials I have encountered in life are no more than others, far less I know to be the truth, yet I have indeed encountered challenges that could have broken me irreparably, were it not for that thing I cannot pin down. We each are gifted with a personality at birth, one that gets something spilled on it every now and then, leaving a fresh stain to taint the innocence behind the eyes that first opened to the world as babies. I came with a dark streak of melancholy and I often wonder if on the day I first opened my eyes and looked out upon the world, if through the haze and confusion of birth, my first thought was perhaps a sad one.

That my journey through life is good now, is almost an irrelevance when sadness comes to join me on my walk. Fortunately, I am calmer now than in my youth and having melancholy as my companion is something I have learned to get used to, not something to fear. For many, some of the challenges that come along can be overwhelming. It might be financial burdens, family worries or deeply personal emotional challenges that can overwhelm the strongest of people. We cannot always rely on what we perceive to be strength, when overpowered by grief or other stronger forces.

In the heat of despair there is nothing to drink sometimes and a parched soul can wither. It is all to easy to offer platitudes in such circumstances. Even the most empathetic can feel like they don’t understand you, for it is had to reveal whatever your full secret of despair might be, to even the closest of friends and as such impossible for them to understand.  It’s not their fault, nor is it ours. Such is the human condition.

Sometimes we simply break. That feeling, is not a thing to speak lightly of, nor to diminish by saying everything will be fine. We cannot always imagine the light when all we see is darkness. Blundering around unable to see anything in the abyss, light can be unimaginable for some.

These days I think it may be even harder for younger generations. Whenever I have struggled in life, I had a scaffold built through my experiences as a child, to help keep me up. That I had to find toughness even though I had such a soft heart as a little boy, is my own very personal tragedy, but in my own way I was empowered by anguish for much that was to follow, by all that had preceded my transformation from boy to man. What I lost as a boy bolstered me as a man. While I hardly recommend such a training, for such a troubled early life is in of itself a contributory factor to much of my failings in later life, I do know I was at least in some way prepared.

The challenges that young men and women today face, come on the back of a lie in many cases. The lie that you are special, that you are great, that you are a prince or princess without compare is the lie that grows like a giant if not tempered with the truth. We should all be empowered as children to believe in ourselves, but not to believe in ourselves as entitled nor through intuition, righteous.

Humility over hubris, generosity before greed, strength through tenderness, there are things that only experience can teach and then there are things we need to teach our children. The notion that it takes a village to raise a child is very true but can sometimes manifest as our human desire to fit in, to be like everyone else. Being yourself can be hard in such circumstances. Making mistakes can seem like the worst thing you can do and it can crush the spirit of those who feel they can never do right. But failing is nothing more than learning and we need to be thought this and reminded of it constantly, for the human spirit is fragile at times.

Fundamental to surviving the worst of ourselves, is an ability to find a way to avoid the abyss, when it lies before us.  We should teach our children well through considered, meaningful dialogue. Without the arsenal of thought and a desire to understand, we as a species are little more than a herd of animals, destined to follow each other off the nearest cliff. Nothing we do is pointless unless we choose to believe that we cannot succeed. Learning to fail with aplomb teaches us to understand the joy of success, the happiness beyond the sorrow, the true meaning of life.

When we throw an imagined blanket of invincibility over our children, we delay their ability to build character and grow through real learning.  We are challenged, we are error strewn and we are limited. The challenges we face need to be worked through to gain strength, the mistakes we make teach us lessons, and our limitations show us how we can get better, improve and grow.

Children need love and guidance. We can be there when they fall, but fall they must. We must all walk our own path through life. We all fall at some point, but sometimes; we must get up alone. We save ourselves. My boy-self became a man not through someone holding my hand, but not without it either. It is good to feel the security of another holding you up, but sometimes we must let go and this most important lesson should begin early in life.

I guess I am grateful all too late in life. Being blind when you’ve never seen, means that you don’t truly know what you’ve missed. The older I get, the more I depend on glasses, but the easier I find it to see. Maybe wisdom really does come with age or maybe I’m a slow learner. Whatever comes my way, what the next trial may be, I hope I have learned if not completely, but at least enough, to face it with sufficient strength to get through it and carry on. May it be the same for you. Let me finish with a quote from a far more eloquent Irish writer…

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” – G.B. Shaw.

While you are here, please check out the links to my writing below:
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Every picture tells a story

Every picture tells a story

Little Big Boy cover reveal..
..Long before I finish writing a book, I have an idea in my head as to how the cover will look.  It never ends up quite how I first imagine because while the concept always comes from the writing, the translation to an image is something I leave to my very talented daughter.

For Darkly Wood, I simply gave her a notional sense of what I wanted and she created what is a stunning and simple representation of the feeling that I wanted to evoke.  Cover design is for me, as much about emotion as imagery.  I want my book covers to be suggestive of something but not too revealing.  Maybe this is because it suits my story telling style.  I like to tease, entice and I never really want to let the reader in on the full secret until the moment is right.

The closeness of our father-daughter bond helps in that above and beyond her talent, she gets me.  There are few people in this world who can claim to really know me but for sure she is one of them.  When I wanted the drama that is her design for the cover of Larry Flynn, once again she stunned me with her translation of the elements I wanted to incorporate on the cover of my book.  It is full of subtleties and bold images all at the same time.  Indeed I think it is perhaps the most striking of her designs.

For Bad Blood she was given an entirely different, less clear concept to portray as suits the story. As always, she hit the nail right on the head and delivered just the right hint of the concept.  Beyond that I have some very rigid guidelines that I insist we work within and somehow, time after time she delivers.  I don’t even always want the same amount of detail and I change my mind like you would not believe but somehow she delivers exactly what I want.

My next book to be released hopefully in late March is now in the editing- re-editing phase and Little Big Boy needed something special.  As with all books sometimes the imagery on the cover makes more sense in the reading, but while again we began with a simple concept, where it has ended up is I have to say, something beyond what I had hoped for.

All artists have to let go of at least some element of their work and for me it is the cover design.  I know it is an area where many authors struggle, while others simply out-source the job to someone else without a second thought.  I am blessed to have the confidence to be able to entrust this very important part of my work, to someone who is not just talented but to someone I trust, love and admire.  Here you see the cover design for ‘Little Big Boy’ ….
Ciara Power… Take a bow.

Little Big Boy is due for release late March 2015 For more details keep checking in to my blog or find details on or on twitter @maxpowerbooks