Echo Chamber

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that … we all now live in our own echo chambers

It’s an accusation that keeps cropping up these days – the sad fact that we all now live in our own echo chambers. I’ve given this matter some thought. And my feeling is that this is fair comment. Social media has exacerbated the problem. It feeds on itself.

A good example is political discussion on FB – and the issue of Brexit in particular. You can see here how people draw the like-minded unto themselves and woe betide anyone who disagrees. If you raise your head above the parapet and make counter-arguments, you’ll either get shot down (often viciously and with foul language) or, worse, completely ignored. The reason most people post about politics is to get warm, fuzzy agreement. This makes us all feel better, of course. But it doesn’t help with reasoned debate. Or democracy. To be fair, I have occasionally seen reasoned, democratic debate on social media, but it is rare and in decline. Rather, it is mainly a place for people to reinforce stereotypes, get exactly the feedback they want to hear, and cosy up to others of the same ilk. If you get enough of your friends agreeing with you – then you must be right. Mustn’t you?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m probably just as guilty of this as the next person. It’s human nature. But it’s a bit of a trap this echo chamber. Far from widening our horizons, I think it’s making us batten down the hatches. It polarises views. Perhaps social media has the effect of magnifying, or even distorting, the human condition. We’ve all seen people say things over the ether that they wouldn’t dream of saying face to face.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to avoid the echo chamber. To try even harder to see the other person’s viewpoint – and to think it through properly rather than rejecting it out of hand. I may still reject it, of course, but hopefully only after reasoned debate – in my own head or with others.

And I’m going to try to apply this thinking to my reading and writing too. I’m going to try to escape from my own echo chamber of genres and authors. And I’d add movies into that mix as well.

So I’m going to ditch the echo chamber in 2017 and instead use the sounding board – the biggest sounding board I can muster. One that can reflect, or receive, worldwide … from Greenbank to The Gambia. Anything that is the antithesis of an echo chamber.

Liz Sandbach 8/12/16

VRWG November blog by Joan Carter

Right, let’s get this writ!

Ten minutes set on my egg-shaped egg-timer and away I go monkey writing…

I think I’ll write a Satsuma… sastuma.. whatever it’s called, I’ll look up the name later…. it’s that poetry form in which segments get repeated in different orders. Hmm, auto-wrote “indifferent orders”, we’ll see about that!

Agenda.. agenda.. get the agenda..


For the first time in ages I didn’t make notes.. typical to go and volunteer to write this at the end of the meeting, when it’s too late to start notetaking!

Welcome – yes, Bob definitely welcomed us all. And a jolly large crowd there was, to meet and hear Special Guest, Zara Stoneley, who has written erotic and Rom Com thingummie books too (or is it Rom Com Tiddle I Po?) I looked her up on Google the other day… and her books must be pretty steamy cos my home laptop wouldn’t let me see them!! And not even on a library computer as I say, at home! I forgot to get myself a long cold drink for the meeting to cool me down if necessary, so as Zara started to read I nervously eyed my agenda to see if I could improvise a ladylike fan….

But luckily Zara read from her less-steamy books – The Holiday Swap & Country Rivals – or at least from less-steamy parts of them – so my glasses didn’t even mist up. Zara first gave us an introduction to how she’d started writing – first novel at 13 – won an erotic writing competition in 2012 (preparing by reading loads of erotic books and also writing it in only weeks!?), the prize was a book deal – another contract from that – and so on and so on – and her latest book has sold 10,000 copies in a month!! We were all suitably impressed.

[OOPS, 10 minutes is up.. set the timer for the next 10… ]

Zara also took part in a very generous and informative Q&A session, covering: editing, plotting work, research (mostly write what you know, especially about emotions), using a nom de plume… and more..

Now, before Zara started her talk, Bob asked the group to quickly update us all on any news – and there was plenty – I won’t remember it all, sorry! – Debbie Bennett had done an author session at which she walked in to see a cardboard cutout of herself, a surprise from which it seems she didn’t quite recover, although she was neither mobbed nor totally ignored by the teenage audience, hurrah! – Natalie quietly mentioned she had a story in a new anthology she’d brought in – someone else (sorry someone, I don’t know your name, please add it in the comments – if there are comments? – if you’ve taken the time to read this far) had sent a letter of complaint to The Times and had it published – Joan C (me) had been published – not words but one of her etchings is included in the 2017 Northwich Calendar (available from the Northwich Art Shop and Library) – as Marian said, I am Miss September 😉

In the coffee break between Act 1 and Act 2 from Zara, I asked Natalie if I could take a peep at her gorgeously bound book, Murder Mayhem Short Stories. As I stroked the title page with its lush engraved design I commented that it made me think of a book by Edgar Allen Poe or someone. Natalie diffidently said that was what the publishers wanted as it was an anthology of old and new writers. I casually read the contents page and discovered something so astonishing that I did several double takes. With Natalie’s permission I took the book to show Bob. He was equally amazed and delighted, took the book and read out from it (before re-introducing Zara), to let everyone else know what Natalie had modestly held back from telling us – that listed among other classic authors with whose work her story appears are… GK Chesterton… Wilkie Collins… Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.. and… Charles Dickens !! Wow.. So, another well-deserved round of applause for Natalie…

[10 more minutes up a while ago and I didn’t even notice! Good old monkey-writing]

As if all the above excitement wasn’t enough, papers were being circulated for ticking about Drinks, Being Present and the Xmas Meal (Dec 4th, hurrah!) – and the Winter Wordfest was mentioned (Dec 13th Hurrah, Hurrah) – and at the end piles of cash were growing re: Drinks, Being Present and the Xmas Meal…

Then a volunteer to write this was requested and I rashly said Yes.

And then most of us pushed off home while the Management Committee had another meeting.

So that’s it! And not a Satsuma – or even Sastuma – in sight! Or is it Retsina?

All I have to say now, as I sit on the school table in my gymslip with my legs swinging*, is:

And this is wot is a blog. It is. It’s true!

(*Ref: Morwenna Banks’ “Little Girl” in Absolutely)

PS: Can these 849 words count towards my NaNoWriMo quota please? I’m 6 days behind!

Horrid Henry acronyms and building up a head of steam

I was thinking the other day about an induction course I was sent on when joining the nuclear industry as a copy editor working on the Sizewell B Pre-Construction Safety Report. The day-long course was entitled ‘Induction SHORT course – a Short History of Reactor Theory’. “By the end of the day”, the notification purred, “you will have gained a basic insight into how nuclear reactors work and will be able to build your own reactor from a kettle.” Wow, I thought, now there’s something I’ve always longed to do! And it’s only going to take a day! But my other thought was that I couldn’t decide if the acronym used for this SHORT course was rather clever or just downright corny.

The definition of ‘acronym’ (which dates back to the 1940s) is that it is formed from the initial letters of other words but is pronounceable as a word in itself (e.g. ASCII) – as opposed to an initialism where the letters are pronounced separately (e.g. BBC). We’ll all be familiar with loads of acronyms. Many of them have been assimilated into everyday language – think radar, taser, ‘smart’ car, scuba. And so well assimilated that we may no longer know what the words actually stand for. With that in mind, here’s a bit of wacky information. Taser stands for ‘Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle’. The guy who invented the taser, a certain John H. Cover (who, incidentally, is a former chief scientist of Aerospace’s Apollo Moon Landing Programme), named the device after his boyhood literary hero Tom Swift. One of the books is called ‘Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle’. Seriously, you couldn’t make it up.

Of course, not only are acronyms cute, they’re also useful. In our full-speed-ahead modern world, we need all the help we can get to cut to the chase and save time and brain power, so things are done asap. Any techy arena will inevitably be awash with them – the IT (not an acronym!) industry, the medical profession, the military. CRUD’s a good one from the IT sector (create, read, update and delete – well if it’s crud, you would, wouldn’t you). But do you ever wonder if an acronym is so damn clever and cute that it’s been crafted into oblivion? That the main aim of the exercise has been to find a great acronym, and then make the words fit it? And that in so doing, we’re being fed something that isn’t wholly accurate? Or at least might have been told to us in a better, truer way, had the dreaded acronym not been invented? I’m thinking here more along the lines of new-fangled acronyms in the workplace. Marketing and advertising has AIDA, BANT, CoCA, WOMM – there’s more than you can shake a stick at. Do you speak acronym in your workplace? Does knowing them and being able to speak in shorthand make you fit in and feel part of the club?

Acronym/initialism invention and usage is growing exponentially, thanks to the mobile world, where speed and space are of the essence. It’s a new language – think ‘fyi’, ‘omg’, ‘eop’, ‘btw’. And are you ever tempted, like me, to reinvent them? FYI becomes ‘F**k you, idiot’, ‘omg’ becomes ‘Off my gin!’, and so on. Then there’s the really cool up-to-the-minute ones – ‘YOLO’, ‘MILF’, ‘FUTAB’, ‘VUCA’ – which probably defy reinvention.

And let’s not forget the really incongruous ones. Take SMUTI, for instance. You’d think this would be something to do with soft porn or dirty jokes. But no, it stands for ‘strength monitoring using thermal imaging’. Alas, not quite so engaging.

But the best fun with acronyms is when they go horribly wrong. Let me introduce you to the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (CRAP), South Lake Union Trolley (SLUT) – the latter giving rise to T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Ride the SLUT’. Cringe. Or you could make some up: Anglo-Russian Space Entente (ARSE), DIET (Did I eat that?). And one especially for the odious Gove: DEPOT (don’t ever piss off teachers).

The takeout message is: acronyms are really great, honest! (AARGH!) But if you’re going to use them, then first, make sure you know what they mean: don’t send a commiseration ending with ‘lol’ – it usually means ‘laughing out loud’, not ‘lots of love’. And if you’re inventing one, then ‘coyff’ – check out your facts first!

Liz Sandbach, October 2016

I Blogs. You Blogs. Joe Bloggs

This is not the blog you are looking for. The real blog will be along in a minute and is much better than this rubbish (thanks Liz)

As usual in our group meeting, if things don’t go as expected then our fall back plan will probably fall over too. All the planning and nomination at the beginning of the year seems to go right out of the leaded windows if the usual crew aren’t manning the bridge. Except for Marian of course, who, after failing to nudge somebody into volunteering for captain Bob’s chair, toughed it out and manoeuvred us through our fractured, staccato opening to a relieved finale. A finale where I literally forgot to pay my dues to the stand-in chair (double-bubble next time Marian and keep the change!)

It was during this meeting that I somehow accidentally volunteered myself to be the blog master. And after a number of interim promotions I can now be officially recognised as the Blog Buddah. Those of you that have access to the VRWG Facebook page will already have seen my invitation to send your blogs, but I’ll give you the gist of it again here …

It became apparent during the process of finding a volunteer blogger for October that I noticed people were showing something of an interest but were put off by the technical aspect of it – the passwords, log-in etiquette, posting rules and all round electronic frippery that surrounds the dark arts of navigating the interweb.

If the problem was the electronic hurdle then the solution is to remove that hurdle, and that’s how we got to where we are now.

The new blogging approach is much easier than last time – for you at least – because all you have to do is what you are all obviously good at … writing. You write the blog, you send the blog to me and I post it on the VRWG website. The very website you’re looking at now.

In an ideal world it would be great if you wrote them and sent them as they pop into your head, so don’t worry about the timing of the meetings because I’ll be making sure they go up on the VRWG site at the right time. In a side room of the same ideal world there would be a blog cache, a digital fortress of blogs that we can call on at any time for the reading populace so don’t be put off if you have one ready and it’s a month before the next meeting – just send it so you can feel as smug as I do after providing the last two – but only if this counts as a blog … which it doesn’t because the real blog follows shortly.

The general rule for blogging is that it doesn’t have to have any semblance to anything that happened in the meeting. It’s really your chance to ramble on a subject that tickles or infuriates – or both if tickling infuriates you.

So write it, send it and I’ll post it. It really is as simple as that.

Send it to this address and I’ll do the rest. In the meantime you can scroll through this page and see the excellent contribution from Liz Sandbach.

Taedium Scriptum

Opening with an apology is usually the way to go with these things – especially when it’s as late as this thing is.

The reason behind why it’s late is somewhere between; ‘I forgot to do it‘, ‘I had more interesting things taking up my time‘ and ‘I couldn’t be arsed

Those that know me well have already made their mind up about which of those is the most accurate. And those that know me less well will now have an inkling of what the others are thinking – and are following it up with “Why do you keep letting him back in?

Initially this was going to be a rambling blog (as is my way) about whatever it was that happened during our September meeting. I knew this on the night off the meeting so I knuckled down and took copious notes – and I can show them to you if you don’t believe me … once I find my pad. All I can remember is the running gag we had about Captain Bob being double-booked with our writing group and his panto group, which were in another room (“Oh no he wasn’t!“). Very reminiscent of those 70’s sitcoms where Terry Scott had the vicar over for dinner, while trying to also host the rugby club in the lounge at the same time. Poor June, I’m sure it happened in every series – it certainly felt that way.

Instead I’m going to ramble about not being arsed, because when it comes to writing I find myself more and more being afflicted with the effects of not being arsed.

There was a time when I’d be walking down the street and an idea would fly into my brain from nowhere, and I would hungrily devour every morsel of it – noting it in my pad, mentally masticating it during the walk, and then regurgitating it onto the page when I got home. These days though, I just can’t be arsed.

I find myself walking down the street, and while the ideas are now grazing on the plains at the same rate of decrease as the near extinction of the American buffalo, I still see one occasionally and can recognise it from a distance (an idea not a buffalo, although I do know what a buffalo looks like). The difference now is that once I have it I can’t be arsed doing anything with it. It’ll amuse me for a while but one moment it’s there and the next it’s gone. It might come back to me or it might not, like a butterfly gorging on a lilac tree.

When I was on a bit of form I looked forward to the readings and the members news because there was always a little ideas monkey scrambling round in my brain on a tiny motorbike, tossing handfuls of inspiration out like the confused but plentiful contents of a paper shredder. In those days I didn’t mind losing the odd bucketful because there was always more where that came from. And now there aren’t. Or isn’t. What’s the right way of saying that?

And here comes a perfect example of the subject in hand, because while I was wondering about the correct way to finish that last line, the rest of what I was going to write has left the Lilac tree, and try as I might I can’t tempt it back. And to be honest, I really can’t be arsed.

Les Green, September 2016

A Colourful Meeting

Colour me beautiful if you dare! We are the writers who love to write stories and poetry for all to read and share. I kissed your Cherry Red lips, they tasted divine, breathed in the scent of White musk perfume, you at last, are all mine!! A Rosy Red blush tinged your face as I kissed your lips once more, little do you know that in a short while Blood Red will drip onto the floor as you take your last gasp straight from Bob Barkers novel!!  After this I will feel so Blue as I simply won’t know what to do and how to keep the colour in this blog from disappearing down into the Brown Muddy swollen river rushing past me as I stand and stare green with envy on the side of the bank at everyone else not writing a blog at all, or even thinking about how to go about it, but sitting relaxed and bathed in warm Yellow Sunshine and having picnics instead! How happy the children and families are today as the sparkling sunlight casts its happy rays all around. I am reminded of a song “the sun has got its hat on hip hip hooray!” A cloudless Summer Blue sky gazes down on the tranquil Turquoise Blue sea as Orange embers burn radiantly on the Beach BBQ and burgers are browning nicely as the pure chilled White wine is poured.  There is a stillness as a Red Hot day turns to dusk the sky is alight with Crimson, then Pillar Box Red, Blood Orange fights for a place with soft Dusky Pink  which turns into a magnificent deep Fuchsia tinged sky before waving a final goodbye to the day and hello to the Inky Blue night! Sweet dreams to all, watch out for the figures in ghostly White as they tiptoe into your dreams, make sure you keep your eyes shut tight! This is the end of my little blog for all of the writers in VRWG who just love to write!! I hope you liked my first ever blog full of colour thanks to David who gave us an amazing exercise about using colour, assigning idioms to and giving us thought provoking inspiration to use in our writing work  on the first day of August at the very enjoyable VRWG meeting night!!  Linda Leigh.