Are you a WASPI woman? Do you know what it means?


I very rarely (make that almost never) post about anything political.  I see it all going on around me on social media – tweets, Facebook posts, and the like, and I hold my virtual tongue, because (a) I don’t consider myself that well informed and (b) rightly or wrongly feel that I don’t have time to get up to speed with most of it. I don’t want to get embroiled in an argument where I don’t have all the facts, or as importantly, an understanding of the facts.

I’ve made an exception for WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) because I understand one important thing about it: I will have to work until I am 66 years and 8 months old before I can claim my state pension. Given that I have a chronic disease (for which a life insurance company penalized me when my husband and I first took out a mortgage in 1990 because (in the words of the agent) ‘statistics show that you may not live as long’) well,  I have to wonder if I will make it. Fingers crossed, I will – but I wonder how many women born in the 1950’s won’t?

In case you are not up to speed on what WASPI is all about, in a nutshell it is this:

UK women born in the 1950’s were originally told that they would be able to claim their state pension at age 60. Starting in 1995, successive governments have increased the state pension age (the age at which you can claim the pension you have been paying into since you started work) so that now, the majority of women born in the 1950’s will not be able to claim their pension -which in many cases means they cannot retire from work because they will have no income- until they are 66 or 67 years old.  In my case, at today’s pension rate it means that I will have been deprived of approximately £41,397.00, or £6,203.00 per year, by the time I retire at 66 years and 8 months of age. My mother lived until the age of 77 (being born in 1930 she was able to claim her pension from age 60). Granted she was a smoker and had other health issues I don’t (to my knowledge!) have, but if I don’t make it beyond 77 the state will have made a nice little saving… and I will have worked for half a century in return for ten years’ pension. Hmmm, something feels wrong there.

The issue is not so much that this has happened (and I can see how, with the increasing age of the population and the dwindling pension pot – more people living longer, less money to go around – I dread to think at what age my son, who is now 24, will be able to retire if he is reliant on state pension), but that many women were not told about it, and so had no opportunity to make arrangements to prepare for the shortfall. Women like me have written to the DWP as part of the WASPI campaign, and have received standard replies which basically say ‘actually, we did send letters, and it was publicized‘. I did not get a letter, nor did many women I know; it seems to have been very hit-and-miss. And publishing details on the relevant government website or in newspapers will not (and clearly did not) reach everyone.

I gradually became aware of the pension age increase over a number of years, but not in a way that suggested to me I needed to do something about it if I wanted to retire at 60 – to be honest, it pretty much went over my head until I started writing books and got involved with social media – way too late for me to make any meaningful financial adjustment. Was I horrified? Yes.

I haven’t yet worked out what I am going to do – work on until I can claim my pension, or stop work and hope to survive on my husband’s pensions until I come of pension age.

It is, of course, too late to lock the stable door for many of us – the pension horse has long disappeared over yonder horizon. Perhaps we should have ‘paid more attention’ – but that isn’t really the point, is it? Governments have a duty of care, and as I see it, they have failed thousands of women in my situation by not communicating the true situation in a responsible manner.  Perhaps the DWP should have enlisted a well-known poster boy:

PDFtoJPG.me-1
(with apologies to Uncle Sam)

Well, perhaps not. But something that was ‘in your face’ was clearly needed.

Are you a female born in the  UK during the 1950’s? Did you know about the increase in your pension age, and if so, when did you find out? Have you been able to make adequate provision? How do you feel about the situation?

If you’d like more information, please go to the WASPI website: WASPI

                                                             ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Political rant over. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible…

Elaine

 

Lessons Learned: My Journey as an Indie Author


In the Beginning…

In August, 2014, I published my first science-fiction book on Amazon, ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘. As the title suggests, it is a collection of short stories, and the act of publication was a very exciting moment for me. It represented decades of wanting to be a published author but not having a clue how to go about it; two years of independent study with both Faber Academy and The Writer’s Workshop whilst holding down a stressful, full-time job; and two years (at least) developing and writing a full-length novel (working title ‘All Our Tomorrows‘) which would then only see the light of day in a much-reduced form, as the titular tale in ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘.

Keep Only What Serves the Story!

It was a very steep learning curve, and probably one of  the most important things I learned during that period was not to be afraid to cut out what doesn’t work. Ditching the best part of sixty thousand words (representing months of writing) and stripping the story down to the core to produce ‘The Journey’ was not an easy decision at all. As it happens, I believe  some of that material will probably be used somewhere else, one day… but it just wasn’t right for that particular story arc. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that… for now.

Keep it Up!

As soon as I finished the anthology, I began writing my first full-length novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘, which funnily enough, was also inspired by  ‘The Journey‘. And again, I had to make a major decision during the writing. I didn’t have to lose so many words this time, though!  I had been so invested in Tom and Eva’s story (which began in ‘The Journey’ and continues in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’) that I made the mistake of making them the main characters in ‘Methuselah’. I soon realised that it just wasn’t working, and that the main character needed to be the time-traveller, James Moran. Once I accepted that, everything fell into place. So never be afraid to ask yourself – “Is my main character the right one?” Be honest, even if it feels rather like a betrayal to those characters. If you must, tell them that you are saving them for better things…!

Is Your Protagonist The Right Character for the Job?

Tom and Eva’s story had pretty much been told in ‘The Journey’ –  and ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ takes place almost a quarter of a decade later, when Tom and Eva’s daughter is abducted. Who has taken her – and why? It seems obvious in hindsight, but being emotionally invested in your characters, whilst it is a good thing, can also blind you to their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. So common sense prevailed, Tom and Eva took a back seat, and James and (to a lesser degree) Emma stepped forward. Hurrah!

Another Learning Curve… or two! 

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published two years (not quite to the day, but the same month!) after ‘The Journey…’, and I was already thinking about the next project. But hold on a minute – that’s not all I did during that time…

Almost a year before ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published (and whilst I was still working on it) I decided that I wanted to make a book trailer to promote it. Having taken a short course in screen-writing with The Writer’s Workshop , and because I love TV/Film drama, I wanted to try to bring my characters to the screen.

Incidentally… if someone out there would like to bring ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ to the screen, please do get in touch via admin@neonskybooks.com.

Crowdfunding – the Indie Creator’s Gateway

But how was I ever going to find the money to pay voice-artists/actors, graphic artists, a camera operator and a composer to realise my vision?  Crowdfunding worked wonderfully for me, and again that was another steep learning curve, with a whole other level of responsibility. If people are sending you money to help you create something, you had better get your sums right!  I used an awesome networking site for the film industry, Stage 32, to find a concept artist, Cat Archer-Wills, and using Patreon and GoFundMe -and some off-line funding from family members – I manage to raise enough, which was a huge relief because I had been working on the script since January 2015… We finally recorded material for several versions of the trailer in March, 2016, and completed several versions of the trailer just in time for the book launch in August 2016. Here’s one of them.  Kudos to everyone who helped make the trailer a reality – the teamwork of creative collaboration is just the best thing ever!

What’s Next?

One of my writing buddies (yes, you, MW!) described me as an ‘ideas machine’, and it is certainly true that I have more ideas and notes for new stories than I currently have time to write. I don’t have a full-time day job anymore (or as fellow author Nick Stephenson calls it, the DDJ – ‘dreaded day job’)  having graduated to a four-day week, but there are still never enough hours in the day!

Currently I have two novels on the back-burner (one of which is a follow-up to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’), a stage adaption of the same book, another short-story collection, and a Graphic Novel. I do like a challenge! First an anthology, then a novel and a trailer, now a comic book – whatever next?

‘Minding Mama’ – a Tale of Future Earth

Minding Mama‘, the Graphic Novel – or comic book, if you prefer – almost became one of the short stories in my next anthology (and still might). Originally written as a competition entry, I didn’t get to the required word-count before deciding that it was fine just as it was. I put it aside. Then I went back to it, and realised that it would work very well in a more visual medium… so back I went to Stage 32, and advertised for a concept artist, then later a storyboard artist/illustrator. Amanda Fullwood (who in addition to being a first class concept artist, is also a talented costumier/production designer) was first to join the ‘Minding Mama’ team, followed by Dan Schaefer . (Dan has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics and the film industry, creates documentaries, does graphic design for the advertising industry and was storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’). My long-time friend Sue Turner agreed to do the camera/editing work, and Matthew Thomason is on board to provide a theme. We have cast one of the two performer roles – David Learner (science-fiction readers will recognise David as Marvin the Paranoid Android in Television and stage versions of the late Douglas Adam’s best-selling novel, ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘)

As of August 2017, we have concept art and sample pages (fully coloured, but without text) and are well on the way to creating a trailer/pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign – you can find out more about that here!

I love the process of research, writing, then creating a team to take it all further. Geography is no limiter – our current team uses Skype to link participants in Camberley, Southsea, Norwich and Oregon. Isn’t technology great?

So You Want to Self-Publish?

If you are just starting out on your self-publishing journey, and have doubts about whether you can do it, my advice to you is to keep at it! I’ve learned so much since I started on this journey, and have met some wonderful, very talented people. There’s a commonly-held misconception that writing is a lonely calling, and perhaps some of the time, it is. But I don’t see it that way. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company, and when I’m working with a team of fellow creatives, be it my cover designer (waves to Rachel Lawston and Harry Saxon) illustrators, actors/voice artists (hello to Simon Bugg, Richard Oliver , Amelia Sefton and David Learner), composer (here’s to you, Matthew Thomason) camera operator/video editor (waves to Sue Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk), stills photographer (thanks to Sue Thomason) and last but not least, all the lovely people whose crowdfunding support made the trailer for TMP a reality, it feels anything but lonely!  There is a wealth of online advice  to be had (some of it free, but some well worth paying for if you can afford it)  and you’ll find that most people are more than willing to share their experience and to help you however they can.  Go for it!

Elaine Jackson

Camberley, August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Singularity already under way?


Eminent scientists – among them Professor Stephen Hawking, who may have a brain the size of a planet – have been warning us for some time now that the advances made by AI could turn out to be the writing on the wall for mankind.  I mean, extinction. Hoist by our own petard, no less.

i, robot
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.

Now we learn that Facebook decided to shut down its very own AI program after it created its own language.  It wasn’t done with malice aforethought, or because the two Negotiating Bots (apparently named Will and Alice) wanted to take over the planet… they simply found it a more efficient way to communicate than using the English they had been taught.

Will our desperate race to create better and faster ways of doing things using AI (artificial intelligence) really be our undoing, as posited by Professor Hawking and a myriad of movies such as ‘BladeRunner’ (in which a group of artificially engineered and physically superior humans called Replicants returns to Earth to demand a longer lifespan from their creator – before killing him) – or are we all basically just AIs anyway, seeded by aliens who thought it might be interesting to see what happened… Whether we are truly indigenous or not, did the life-forms who were subsumed and/or destroyed by humanity’s rise from the primordial soup have the capacity to worry about it? Or were they blissfully unaware of the ticking time bomb in their midst until it was too late?  And would they have been able to do anything to stop it, even if they had realised what was going on?  You can read the original article here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m just going to swim back into the primordial soup and pretend this isn’t happening…

Elaine Jackson, July 2017

P.S. If you’re interested in the topics raised here, you might enjoy my next project, a graphic novel titled ‘Minding Mama’, which my team and I will be crowdfunding very soon.  It’s a dark tale which takes place amidst a ruined eco-system. Humanity has fled underground, leaving the surface to wither and die. Only the FarmBots can survive above ground…

Visit www.mindingmama.org to find out how you can help bring the project to life (if you dare) and earn some unique and very cool rewards!  

…and so it begins!


Beware the unintended consequences of a robot revolution

 

robot revolution_theguardian_ by alamy
art by Alamy via The Guardian

 

 

It’s always a thrilling and slightly scary moment when an author with a work in progress sees something online which has relevance to what they are working on. Thrilling, because it tells me that my content is current, and scary because, well, what if someone else gets there first?

That being said, I’m pretty confident that the project I’m working on, a graphic novel called ‘Minding Mama’, is not only topical but has characters readers will want to engage with. It started as a short story and might have stayed that way if I hadn’t had the blinding revelation that it would be even better in a visual medium. A film? Well, perhaps one day, if I’m very lucky. But for now, Mama, Cyril, Celia, and Bully will inhabit the pages of a comic book, brought to life by the combined talents of artists Amanda Fullwood and Dan Schaefer. and yours truly.

I’ll be appearing at Lazlar Lyricon 3 in Stoke-on-Trent on 9-11th June – organised by ZZ9, the only official ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ appreciation society, so why not come along?  You can book here.  The Hitch Hiker’s Guide, of course, had its own share of robots – perhaps the most famous being Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Created by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, Marvin was a prototype ‘genuine people personality’ (“You can tell, can’t you?” he asks morosely of human Arthur Dent). Douglas Adams, always a man ahead of his time until his life was cut tragically short, foresaw the advent of robots with emotions and the ability to think for themselves.

Whilst The Guardian’s article talks more about the impact that a robot workforce will have on our lives in practical terms – massive job losses for human workers, an event most recently and chillingly referenced in Channel 4’s drama ‘Humans’ – being just the tip of the iceberg, the idea that robots may one day be able to think for themselves is fast approaching. Known as the singularity, when luminaries like Professor Stephen Hawking are warning us of the potential dangers, it is more than slightly worrying that no-one seems to be taking much notice. So whilst ‘Minding Mama’ is, first and foremost, storytelling with the intention to entertain, it does pose the question – do we really know what we’re doing, and how will we cope if it all goes pear-shaped?

 

DomeColour
concept art for ‘Minding Mama’ by Amanda Fullwood

 

The setting for ‘Minding Mama’ might be post-apocalyptic, but for me, the fascination lies in telling it from my character’s point of view. Mama goes on a journey of self-discovery which will challenge everything she thought she ever knew about herself and where she came from. I just hope her story never becomes a reality.

EJ Jackson, 17th April, 2017.

You can find out more about ‘Minding Mama’ here.

 

 

 

Lost for Words? The Passion to Write (and Publish) is Important!


I’m re-blogging this thought-provoking and empathetic post from fellow indie author and ex-pat Annabel, who asks the questions that countless indie writers (including me) have asked ourselves (and will no doubt continue to) – ‘Can I succeed?’ ‘Do I have what it takes?’ ‘How long will it take?’ For the record, I think that what Annabel has achieved so far is amazing – clearly she has the drive and the talent to succeed, even if (as we all do at some point) she sometimes needs a confidence/inspiration boost. Speaking for myself, in those moments of self-doubt, I find it helps me to remember why I wanted to do this in the first place… and what would I do with my spare time if I gave it all up now?

I’m in a slightly different position than Annabel – I have a part-time job which helps ensure that bills are paid. My problem is not having as much time to devote to pursuing my writing career as I would ideally like… both of our situations will be soooo familiar to thousands of indie writers around the world, which is kind of comforting. We Are Not Alone.

Could it be it as simple as “If you want it badly enough.” …? Perhaps it is – certainly those writers who fall by the wayside will never find out one way or the other. Personally, I believe it is a mix of passion and having the commitment to learning new ways of connecting to potential readers. Think of JK Rowling and the pile of rejection slips she collected before one savvy publishing house signed her up!

So for those of us who have the Passion to keep trying – here’s to us. We can do this!

Elaine Jackson August 2017

The Regina Monologue

inspiration

Feeling a bit hopeless right now. I haven’t posted about all the recent politics because I can’t think how to articulate my incredulity in any way that hasn’t been written a thousand times already. Brexit was bad enough… Trump is just unbelievable. Carl and I sat up watching the US election (alternating between BBC, CBC and Twitter, for ‘balance’) until it was clear that Hillary was not going to win; it was about 1am when we finally gave up and went to bed despairing of the world.  At the time I was angry and raging sarcastically online, but the next day I seemed to get a sort of political hangover. I didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t face going online in case there were still Trumpanzees on my Twitter feed, but couldn’t summon the motivation to go out and do anything else. I met up with friends and took the…

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‘The Methuselah Paradox’ edges closer to reality…?


It’s always an exciting moment in an author’s life when you see an item online that connects to something you have previously written about.  Particularly when you happen to write science-fiction, and have taken a leap of faith with a premise which may (or may not) ever be possible in real life – you know, the stuff that happens outside our heads, rather than inside them… 

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art by Catherine Archer-Wills

 

By the way, I should warn you now that there are spoilers for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ ahead – so please look away now if you haven’t yet read the book, head on over to Amazon and grab yourself a copy, read it… and then come back to this page (pretty please)!

 

So….imagine my reaction, then, when after writing about gene therapy  for longevity in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, I came across this interview in The Guardian  with biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish, who has caused concern in some scientific circles with her decision to test her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy – on herself.

I’m not going to enter the debating arena by coming down on one side or the other, nor will I get into a moral debate about Elizabeth Parrish’s choices. (I could argue that I already did that in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ – if you want to know what, if any, conclusion I came to, well… here’s that link again…)

As a writer, I take ideas (from existing science where possible, because that -to me- is more intriguing than simply ‘making stuff up’ – although I do that too, of course) and run with them.  What if someone did this, or that – what might the consequences be? Even if my science (and I don’t have a University Degree in anything, let alone a field as complex as genetics) is somewhat shaky (and I did talk to someone whose wasn’t!) , science-fiction is about possibilities, and that is what makes it exciting.

Suffice to say, as I sit carefully on the fence about whether or not I believe Elizabeth Parrish has done a very brave or a very foolhardy thing, I can still take some satisfaction in having my fictional scenario play out (at least in part) in real life. Whatever the consequences of that action, Parrish has the same motive as one of the characters in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ – she desires to help people with life-shortening conditions. Only history will reveal whether anyone’s life is improved, or appreciably lengthened, by what Elizabeth Parrish and her team are doing. But I can’t help admire that she at least has the courage of her convictions.

 

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cover art by Rachel Lawston