The Fang has sharpened!

Just a quick announcement to make.

As of today, my new book, SWIFTLY SHARPENS THE FANG, is live!

And for a limited time, it’ll be just 99c/99p. Click here to snag yours!

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Some monsters are born… Others are created.

Find out how in this gripping psychological thriller penned by the author of the acclaimed SUBNORMAL trilogy.

Following the death of his father at the hands of terrorists, 22 year-old Joe suffers from depression. Using drink to kill the pain, he abuses himself and alienates his loved ones. His life in post-Brexit Britain is a chaos of binges and fights, while his dreams are haunted by repressed childhood memories.

When the black sheep of the family, Uncle Steve, takes Joe under his wing, the young man enters an ugly world of vice and fascism. Although gang membership means glory, fame and money, it comes at a cost to his soul.

Battling against his own conscience, Joe makes as many foes as friends. And soon, there is no escape from his uncle’s organisation and their racist violence.

Unlike Steve, Joe wasn’t born a monster. But his fangs are getting sharper every day.

“This story of a dystopian, post-Brexit Great Britain is an eye-opener and one that all right thinking people should read” – Amazon review
“I highly recommend to all fans of this genre and anyone who loves an intense, thought-provoking tale. Definitely 5*s!” – Amazon review
“This was one of the most intense books I have read in some time” – Amazon review
“SWIFTLY SHARPENS THE FANG is certainly controversial, hard hitting, and likely to cause a stir” – Amazon review
“There are adult themes and situations in this novel that wouldn’t be appropriate for children, but I think everyone from juniors and seniors in high school and older should read this story. I think we could all do with the reminders that it offers” – Amazon review
“Narrative is raw, disturbing and pulls no punches” – Amazon review
“A gangster novel for the Brexit era” – Amazon review
“Excellent writing, this is a gripping story” – Amazon review
“A cross between FIGHT CLUB and A TIME TO KILL” – Amazon review
“Kenyon’s writing style is excellent, the pace a fast pitched race” – Amazon review
“Swiftly Sharpens the Fang is a wake-up call, and it’s also an excellent psychological read” – Amazon review

Head here to read more of the reviews!

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Failed by the system

My blogs are almost like buses: you don’t see one for ages, and then two come along at once. In truth, this is a subject I’ve wanted to cover for months, but for one reason or another, I haven’t found the time. The holidays have forced the issue to the forefront of my mind, however.

Christmas is always a bitter-sweet time in the Kenyon household. Sweet because of the extra time we spend together as a family and the joy of Christmas morning; bitter because of the added anxieties faced by my autistic son, Max. His school term finishes a few days short of the 25th, and by this time, he’s glad to be at home. During the run-up to Christmas, his schooldays are disrupted by parties, plays and rehearsals for said plays. His routine, which he prefers to be rigid, is ruined, and he spends the whole of December confused and frustrated. Then, when he’s at home, the turmoil continues, with visits to family members and a host of new toys with which to contend (though we do try not to overwhelm him by giving him fewer gifts than his sister). Inevitably, the days are punctuated by meltdowns, and the last week or so has been a very challenging time for Max and his family.

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Over the last couple of years, these outbursts have become more violent, and as he grows larger, his aggression is becoming more of a problem. Perhaps the impending onset of puberty is to blame. Most worrying is the fact that much of his ire is directed at himself; he has a tendency, when upset, to bang his head against walls and windows. Of course, we try to thwart his self-abuse, but sometimes he’s too quick, and he refuses to wear the headguard that some of his peers sport. Nowadays he has a permanent bump on his forehead, and I fear that as well as risking his short term health, he will suffer long-term problems.

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Max’s perma-bump

With this in mind, we approached his paediatrician and asked to be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS). Our contention was thus: although Max’s autism was partly to blame for the triggers which ignited his meltdowns, his extreme anxiety exacerbated his condition. We resolved, after years of resisting the prospect, that medication should be prescribed to reduce his anxiety and prevent, or at least temper, the meltdowns.

We were met, however, by a brick wall of disinterest and apathy. Having battled for a referral to CAHMS for over a year, we were told that they couldn’t help us. In their opinion, Max’s challenging behaviour was caused only by his autism, not by a mental health issue. We argued that if Max wasn’t non-verbal, and he could tell them that sometimes he becomes so upset that he wants to harm himself, they would have no option but to act. His inability to talk means he’s being denied the help he needs, and we can only pray that he doesn’t hurt himself too badly. After a meeting with CAHMS, we were sent away with no solution to our problem. Their attitude verged on callous, their reluctance to listen as maddening as it was disappointing.

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Since Max was discharged, we’ve been told that CAHMS support varies in efficacy depending on location, as does provision for NHS care in general. In short, if we lived in neighbouring Warrington, for example, Max would be better treated. Budgetary constraints are undoubtedly to blame, but therein lies the rub. If the situation becomes too difficult for us to manage, Max will have to go into a residential home. Apart from breaking the hearts of all concerned, this would cost the taxpayer far more than any help we might be offered now. Sadly, this reactive, only-take-action-when-the-horse-has-already-bolted, no matter what the cost to the vulnerable, approach is all too common. We don’t have the means to relocate or seek private health care, or we would do so. I’ve attempted to contact my local Member of Parliament, the Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham MP, but he didn’t respond. It would appear that we’ve reached an impasse. Over the last year my wife has been ill, and she needs more assistance than ever before, but we can’t afford for me to reduce my hours at work. We’re at breaking point.

Mental health is a subject close to my heart, as mentioned in my last blog. Max isn’t the person failed by the system, and as austerity continues in the UK and funding plummets, he certainly won’t be the last. Which seamlessly leads me to my conclusion – my new book, SWIFTLY SHARPENS THE FANG, which tells the tale of an impressionable young man with mental health issues, is now available to pre-order. Like my son, and a lot of people with these conditions, protagonist Joe Travis is failed by the system, and he’s vulnerable to the predatory. SWIFTLY publishes 30th January 2017, and for a limited time it will cost just 99c/99p. If it’s a commercial success, we’ll be obtaining private health care for Max!

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Writing away the blues!

Greetings, one and all! I trust you’re well and are surviving the build up to Christmas.
Firstly, regarding my recent silence. I’ve been reliably informed that there is no point saying sorry for something if there’s a chance you might do it again; nevertheless, I apologise.

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However, I have an excuse. Over the last few months, I’ve been writing, editing and marketing my fourth novel, Swiftly Sharpens the Fang (see synopsis at the bottom of the page). It tells the dystopian tale of an impressionable young British man with personal problems, who is targetted for radicalisation. It is, in my opinion, my best work to date. Whilst working, I’ve been consumed by a focus the likes of which I’ve never before experienced. The first draft, which is approximately 73,000 words, took ten weeks to complete. Compare this to Postnormal (SUBNORMAL Book 3) at 96,000 words, which was six months in the making. Therefore, I wrote Swiftly Sharpens the Fang at nearly double the speed, and this had an impact on my other authorly pursuits, like blogging. And why? I asked myself. How come I was so driven this time around? The answer is a simple one: the lead character, Joe Travis.

 

Of course, I’ve made no secret of the fact that some of Paul (SUBNORMAL protagonist) Kelly’s traits are based on my own. But if Paul Kelly is similar to me in his thoughts, Joe Travis, of fictional Manchester suburb Grangeheath, is more like me in his heart. At times, particularly in the early stages of the book, Swiftly Sharpens the Fang is almost semi-autobiographical. Like young Joe, I’ve suffered with depression over the years. In fact, until I started writing in 2014, I’d found no solution to my mental health issues, much to the detriment of my marriage and the emotional well-being of my wife. Until I found writing.

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The imagining of worlds; the creation of fictional characters; the endless plotting – these began to dominate my mind. I no longer had time to dwell on the thoughts which made me feel low. And once I’d finished my first novel, any remaining head-space was occupied by marketing – social media, website-building and the like. Being an author has, in my opinion, preserved my marriage and has probably added a few years to my life. Not that I don’t still struggle at times, and I am far from the perfect husband, but I’m a lot healthier in my mind. As a result, I’m treating those around me with more patience and consideration. Writing has succeeded where numerous pills have failed, and the dependence upon drugs is another theme I explore in Swiftly, as it was in my SUBNORMAL trilogy. The downside to my medication of choice is that I have a tendency to becoming too motivated, spending my days with my head in the clouds as I mentally tinker with narrative arcs and twists. But it beats the alternative!

Writing has now become a compulsion. Due to my full time job and hectic home life, I practice my art on public transport, on the commutes to and from work. Using a laptop is impractical on crowded buses, so I pen every word on my smartphone. Last year, when circumstances meant I had to drive the car to the office, I dictated my work to my phone, and typed the transcripts on my lunch hour. Nothing gets in the way. Why? I’m not sure. As mentioned in my inaugural blog, I was tested for Asperger’s a few years ago; perhaps this might explain my obsession. But it’s a healthy obsession.

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The £25 phone I used to write Swiftly

Unfortunately, Joe, the anti-hero at the heart of Swiftly, has just one coping mechanism: alcohol. Unlike me, his depression is caused by a life-changing event – the death of his father at the hands of jihadist terrorists – which means he’s vulnerable when Uncle Steve, the leader of a fascist gang, begins to pour poison in his ear. Joe is a tragic figure; he’s not a particularly likable chap, but he does, I hope, inspire sympathy. Depression and other mental illnesses are a worsening problem in the UK, with suicide the number one killer of young males. And I hope my readers will enjoy reading about Joe’s descent into a world of vice, villainy and vengeance.

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Originally, I was inspired to write Swiftly by the Brexit result, and the implicit rightwards lurch in British socio-political ideology. Racism – a subject I’ve discussed before – has, to my mind, been legitimatised by the Out vote (before anyone shoots me down, I’m not accusing Brexiteers of prejudice; see my previous blog for a full explanation), and I fear that the same is happening stateside. My SUBNORMAL books had a strong political message, too. As I wrote, though, I realised that my smart-arsed pseudo-intellectualism had taken a backseat to Joe’s story, as was the case with Paul Kelly and company in Subnormal, Supernormal and Postnormal. I am a better storyteller than I am a theorist, and this is supported by the numerous positive reviews I’ve received over the last couple of years. If you don’t believe me, feel free to check out free samples of my SUBNORMAL books.

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Swiftly Sharpens the Fang will be published on the 30th of January next year, and it will be available for pre-order soon. Subscribe to my mailing list, and you’ll be informed as soon as pre-order begins. In the meantime, if you’d like to be in with a chance of receiving an advance preview copy, please contact me. I’m always happy to talk to readers.

I wish you all the best for the holiday season!

 

SWIFTLY SHARPENS THE FANG

Some monsters are born… Others are created

Following the death of his father at the hands of terrorists, 22 year-old Joe suffers from depression. Using drink to kill the pain, he abuses himself and alienates his loved ones. His life in post-Brexit Britain is a chaos of binges and fights, while his dreams are haunted by repressed childhood memories.

When the black sheep of the family, Uncle Steve, takes Joe under his wing, the young man enters an ugly world of vice and fascism. Although gang membership means glory, fame and money, it comes at a cost to his soul.

Battling against his own conscience, Joe makes as many foes as friends. And soon, there is no escape from his uncle’s organisation and their racist violence.

Unlike Steve, Joe wasn’t born a monster. But his fangs are getting sharper every day.

swiftly-sharpens-the-fang

 

Referen-doomed

Greetings, everyone!

Readers in the UK should be more au fait with this topic, but I imagine those in the US will have seen some coverage of the momentous events over here. Just over two weeks ago, following months of draining bickering by both camps, 51.9% of British voters chose to leave the European Union, a decision whose ramifications are yet to be known. The long and short of it is thus: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will, at some point over the next few years, abandon its political ties with the EU.

brexit result

 

For those of you abroad who haven’t been subjected to the tit-for-tattery by the dishonourable gentlemen involved, I’ll try to summarise the whole sorry affair as succinctly as possible. The Remainers claimed that Britain is stronger in the EU, forecasting economical armageddon were we to vote out and lose untariffed access to the single market. Those in favour of a British exit (“Brexit”) insisted that our sovereignty was compromised by our membership, and that the free movement of people central to the ethos of the EU meant we were going to be further swamped by hordes of migrants. Neither team covered themselves in glory, with scaremongering, wild hypotheses, dirty tricks and unlikely promises aplenty.

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Firstly, I’ll explain my own reasons for my choice to pencil my cross in the “Remain” box. They weren’t particularly influenced by the likes of Cameron, Gove, Johnson, Osborne, Farage or the Bank of England, to be honest:

1) I fear the disintegration of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland were markedly pro-Remain, and there is an understandable resentment on either side of the Irish Sea. Many Scottish people and their Northern Irish cousins feel that they’re being strongarmed out of the EU by pro-Brexit England and Wales. Though they may be placated by plans for further devolution of powers from Westminster to Holyrood and Stormont, there is a strong possibility – especially in Scotland – that they will hold referenda of their own and vote to become independent of the UK. I predict that Scotland will be a country in its own right by 2020.

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2) The current Conservative government is, in my opinion, heartless and unconcerned with the “little people” it governs. Unfettered by the EU, it will ride roughshod over the rights of its electorate. The Labour and Liberal Democrat (remember them?) parties are too weak to provide meaningful opposition, leaving us at the mercy of the Tories for at least the next ten years. Whoever is chosen to succeed David Cameron, the Conservatives will do what they always do: protect their rich, privileged pals whilst shafting the most vulnerable.

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3) A vote to leave legitimatises the racism which, unfortunately, still pervades sections of our society. Now, before anyone shoots me down, I’m not saying that all Brexiteers voted because they don’t like foreigners. Or even most. I’m sure the vast majority will have made their choice for noble reasons, and there were compelling arguments put forward by the Eurosceptics. But already we’ve seen an increase in hate crimes. The moronic and bigoted have been emboldened by the referendum result and have directed their pathetic ire against EU migrants already resident in Britain – whose right to stay in Britain should hopefully be enshrined by law – and even against people from outwith the EU. The likes of Britain First, whose name blackened a previous blog of mine, are pedalling their usual bile. Hopefully, this alarming trend towards extremism will taper off, but as we’ve seen in America, these sentiments are growing in popularity and volume.

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So what next? The pound sterling and the stock exchange took a bit of a battering in the aftermath of the announcement, but things seemed to have settled down a little. Now the news is dominated by infighting within the main two parties, and talk of the quasi-mythical Article 50. It seems it will be a while before we see any real consequences of the omnishambles to which we’ve condemned ourselves. At least one of the more fantastical selling points has already been dispelled, though: the National Health Service will not get the purported £350,000,000 saved weekly by Brexit. Also, we may not have the border control that was so central to Leave campaign’s argument. And if anyone seriously believed that Turkey joining the EU – thereby leaving Britain open to millions of Turkish and even Syrian immigrants – was an imminent danger, they should probably stick to voting for their favourite X Factor wannabe. Greece and Cyprus would have to go the same way as Atlantis for them not to veto such a move.

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On a personal level, I was deeply disappointed by the outcome. I’ve never despaired so much of my fellow Brits, though I feel many of them have been manipulated. Nevertheless, the nation has spoken; I don’t subscribe to the idea of a second referendum. And at least I know which book to write next. I was toying with four different ideas; now I am decided. As a writer of dystopian fiction, I’m going to take full advantage of Brexit and paint a miserable Britain, blighted by intolerance and fascism. No doubt my apocalyptic vision will be derided as radically-pessimistic; however, remember this: I’ve been right before.

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Though my speculative Subnormal trilogy was a huge exaggeration of our woes, it was, if I do say so myself, alarmingly prophetic. When I wrote book 1 I told the story of disabled people being marginalised by a cruel tyrant. Since publication the treatment of those on disability benefits has worsened and will probably continue to deteriorate. Okay, my son hasn’t been sent to a concentration camp like Paul Kelly, but I’m sure you’ll allow me a little artistic licence. Book 2, which featured a fanatical cult of terrorists repeatedly attacking innocents to achieve their aims, was released last summer. Months later the worst orchestrated terror attacks in the western world since 9/11 were perpetrated in France and Belgium by a sect of lunatics. And in the final part of the trilogy, Scotland breaks away from England for the first time in three centuries amidst civil war. Unhappily, it appears I may be proved right again (minus the civil war).

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Anyway, that’s enough doom and gloom and “I told you so” from me. If you want to check out my Subnormal series, the first novel is always only 99c/99p. From tomorrow, 11th July, until Sunday 17th July, part 2 (Supernormal) will be on Kindle Countdown, meaning that it’ll be discounted to 99c/99p for seven days. The following week, book 3 (Postnormal) will also be on Kindle Countdown, so it’ll cost just 99c/99p.

Thanks for dropping by, and please leave a comment!

Postnormal – shameless plug

Hello everyone!

Again, I must apologise for my recent lack of bloggage. We’ve had illness in the family and an ongoing fight with CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – who aren’t actually that bothered about Child and Adolescent Mental Health, but that’s a post for another day) with which to contend, and I’ve been using my remaining spare time to write since my last effort. Even so, I’ve neglected my blog and will endeavour to rectify this over the coming months.

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I’d love to say that I’m going to mark my return with a scintillating, witty piece full of insight. If that does prove to be the case, it will be by accident because today, I’m here to do one thing, and one thing only: I’m going to promote my new book, POSTNORMAL.
It’s not really the done thing to admit that your intentions are purely selfish. But what’s the point in trying to deceive? Being an independent author isn’t easy, after all. Unless you’re already successful (and even if you are), you’ve got to do a lot of shouting to get people to listen and buy the books you’ve worked so hard to produce. I’ve always felt a little reluctant to brag about my SUBNORMAL series. Perhaps it’s my British reserve, or maybe it’s my natural disinclination to self-applause, but I’ve not been as vocal as I should’ve been. Would it have made a difference if I’d bombarded my followers with regular promo? I don’t know.

PN cover

Anyway, I’m digressing. Tomorrow, the third and final part of my SUBNORMAL series, Postnormal, will be available to buy. For a short time, it’ll be just 99p/99c. To mark the occasion, I’m giving away the original, Subnormal, for FREE, and I’m dropping the price of part 2, Supernormal, to 99p/99c. So all three books for less than the cost of a cup of coffee. I can’t, like Starbucks, Costa et al, promise to plant any trees or divert South American youths from cocaine gangs to coffee farming, but I can offer several hours of immersive, suspenseful, dystopian reading. Plus, as with my previous books, I’m donating a chunk of my royalties to charity.

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Postnormal is, in my opinion, my best novel so far. Not that I’m saying my books are great, or anything… Actually, ignore that last sentence – I’m being modest again. <salesman mode>They are good. Check out the reviews if you don’t believe me. If you’re still unsure, have a look at these free samples. If dystopian fiction isn’t your thing, fair enough, but I’m confident that you’ll enjoy them. And if you disagree, let me know where I’m going wrong.</salesman mode>

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Looking back through this post, I’m assailed by doubts. Have I gone too far in my transformation from self-deprecating, anxiety-riddled introvert to shameless self-promoter? Am I coming across as arrogant? Are people still reading at this stage? Are they bored of me and my verbal diarrhoea?

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Therefore, I’ll stop here, and I’ll end with more honesty. Why do I want my books to succeed? Obviously, I’d be delighted to be able to donate a large sum to charity. And I hope to raise awareness of the treatment of disabled people in Britain and offer a warning regarding the growing popularity of right-wing politics. However, my main reasons are selfish. I want a bigger house and car. I’m fed up of telling people they can’t claim for their roof to be repaired on their home insurance because the wind speed wasn’t over 48mph. Moreover, I want to stay at home and help my beleaguered wife look after my son.

If my pitiful sob story hasn’t put you off, head here between 20th & 24th May and snag the SUBNORMAL trilogy for a pittance.

new SN cover     new SPN cover    PN cover

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Disabled & demonised

Hello to all! I hope you’ve had a good Easter.

Firstly I’d like to apologise for my recent silence. We’ve had a new bathroom and kitchen installed, and I’ve been the victim of the kind of IT problems that would have Scottie from Star Trek requesting a transfer. To the extent that I had to finish the third and final instalment in my SUBNORMAL trilogy, POSTNORMAL, on this:

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Half a gig of RAM. Wow.

As budget smartphones go, the Alcatel Pixi is fine should you want to check the news or Facebook, but it falls short when it comes to writing novels or participating in Twitter promotion. So I also wish to say sorry to any fellow authors to whom I’ve not offered the level of support they’ve given me.

Anyway, that’s more than enough about me. Today, I’m going to talk about a subject close to my heart: the cuts to disabled services in Britain.

Back in 2013, I read a book by Ken Follett titled Winter of the World. Based during World War 2, it features a section in which a sickly German child is sent to an institution, ostensibly for groundbreaking treatment. In truth, the doomed innocent is scheduled for euthanasia as part of the Nazis’ Aktion T4, much like the Jews, homosexuals and other undesirables living in the Third Reich. As mentioned in my last blog, I am the proud father of a severely-autistic son, so the subject of arbitrary murder of disabled people struck a chord with me. For the first and only time, I was moved to tears by a book. Appallingly, the programme claimed over 70,000 such victims between 1939 and 1941; if my family and I had been German citizens at the time, our son would’ve likely been among their number.

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Aktion T4

However, this wasn’t my sole inspiration for writing the SUBNORMAL series. Back in 2010, a brutal reduction of Disability Living Allowance payments was actioned, with 20% of all recipients affected. Fast forward to 2013, when Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, proposed new draconian measures to save money on disability welfare. Claimants were scrutinised as never before, with the “disabled people running marathons/going white-water rafting” tales as mitigation.

Lapped up by the tabloids, such legends were, in part, employed to turn the public against society’s most vulnerable. Disadvantaged people were demonised in the same way as the unemployed and immigrants and, judging by their successful election campaign in in 2015, the narrative was accepted. It must’ve been, for how else could millions of normal, decent voters justify choosing a party so morally-wanting?

benefits

 

Of course, there have been many dissenting voices. One only has to browse social media to see protests against the cuts, and the ongoing story is in and out of the media spotlight on a regular basis. Politicians, including some Tories, have protested against the harshness of the cuts, and even the elite – the House of Lords – have spoken out, as they did against Tax Credits reform. Nevertheless, these protests have been drowned out by the silent majority, those who visited the ballot box a year ago and condemned us to five more years of austerity.

One of the results of which was the new round of measures announced last week. According to the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, Personal Independence Payments will be cut by up to £1.3 billion over five years, meaning that 370,000 disabled people will lose an average of £3,500 per annum. Iain Duncan Smith resigned, a pointless gesture motivated by internal manoeuvring within the Conservative Party rather than idealism. Henceforth, adults with disabilities will lose thousands of pounds and their lives will become more difficult than they already are.

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IDS says goodbye

 

Why do the Tories pick on the disabled? one might ask. Because they are an easy target. Money could be saved by means-testing winter fuel payments, or even state pensions, and taxing big businesses properly. But the elderly are worth wooing due to their willingness to vote, and there are too many vested interests which would be threatened if the Government were to get tough with the likes of Google and Facebook. Many disabled people are unable to exercise their democratic rights, and are seen as net-beneficiaries, a “drain on society,” in their eyes. The policy on disability welfare is misjudged at best, and downright vicious at worst.

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And it is not limited to the obvious. Due to the slashing of NHS and local authority funding, the provision of care for the disabled and those afflicted by mental health issues has reached a new low. Recently, my wife and I were told that our son could not be adequately treated due to fiscal constraints. We are far from alone in this regard, as public health is kicked around like a political football by those in power.

Yet these were the individuals the majority of the electorate backed. Are they the sort of people we want in charge of our country? Bullying, opportunistic, self-interested tyrants without a conscience? It certainly seems so, because the Conservatives won power with a considerable majority.

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In my books, the general population are duped into tolerating the ill-treatment of the disabled by a drug. Granted, the fate suffered by my characters is much worse than that faced by the UK’s disabled today, but the British people who ticked the blue box have been much easier to persuade. The drug which has blinded contemporary Britain is the media, a medicine which it seems all are too happy to take. Our country is being attacked from within by a cancerous administration, with the EU referendum another distraction from the villainy of our leaders.

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Before I’m labelled as a liberal loony, I’d like to point out that I don’t think all Conservative voters are heartless monsters, just as I don’t dismiss all Ukippers as racists. Like most, I cast my vote for selfish reasons, and I’m sure those who supported Cameron’s party at the last General Election did the same. But did they consider the ramifications for society as a whole? Did they imagine the pain and misery a Tory government could cause?

If you believe George Osborne, his penny-pinching will ensure Britain’s economical security for future generations. His detractors say otherwise, but even if we play devil’s advocate and suppose that his policies have proved successful, will it be worth the price paid by our most needy? Conversely, if the naysayers are right and austerity is failing, then all that suffering will be for nothing, apart from the continuing good fortune of the 1% at the top.

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If you share my pessimism and sense of injustice, and enjoy a good read, consider buying my books. The first two are available now, with the third due to be released within the next few weeks. A portion of my royalties is donated to a local special educational needs school. Also, you might want to subscribe to my mailing list.

Feel free to leave a comment, and thanks for reading!

How NOT to be an autism parent

Happy New Year to all! I trust you’ve enjoyed the festive period and aren’t too dismayed by the month of self-flagellation we call January. Today, I’m going to talk about a subject close to my heart, one more grounded and personal than my last blog on the sorry state of the world at the moment.

I have five roles in life at which I attempt to excel. In no particular order, they are:

1) Writer
Without wanting to sound arrogant, this is my strongest suit. I may not sell nearly as many copies of my books as I’d like, but my readers have – in the main – been delighted with my work do far.
2) Husband
A work in progress. Ten years ago, I was a feckless fool who preferred a night out with the lads to an evening with my wonderful wife, but I’ve grown up now and learnt to appreciate domestic life.
3) Insurance advisor
Regarding the 9-5, it’s a resounding “meh” from this “insurance associate.” It pays the bills, but the world of perils, risks and insurable interest will never excite me.
4) Father to a neurologically-typical daughter
One of the easiest. At the risk of sounding flippant, caring for my daughter is relatively easy – at the moment. She’s only 7, though, so I have the teenage years to come…
5) Father to an autistic son
Compared to the rest, I suck at this one. Granted, I’m better than I used to be and, under the patient tutelage of my autism-expert wife, I plan to get better. Therefore, I will describe my failings, in the hope that others in my position might benefit. Below follows my second blog on autism: a masterclass in how NOT to be an autism parent.

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I’m not this bad, though

 

Taking things personally

Our son, Max, is prone to physically violent outbursts caused by anxiety, which usually stems from routines being interrupted by unforeseen circumstances. My problem is that I often take these episodes of aggression personally, rather than accepting that they are merely symptoms of his anxiety. He doesn’t want to hurt his mum or me; he is suffering. Even reacting with an “ouch” can make him more distraught. One day, I will hopefully have the strength to silently accept the scratches, bites and blows every time he has a meltdown, not just sometimes.

Being selfish

We can all be guilty of selfishness – especially men (or so I’m told). And in my defence, I’ve rarely been self-centred by design. Yet when my son has been upset, I’ve too often focussed on the suffering he’s causing others, instead of the pain he’s suffering himself. When he’s having a meltdown, as is often the case with autistic individuals, he’s hurting both physically and mentally. It’s not a tantrum or trying to get his own way – he’s experiencing torment the rest of us can barely imagine.

Microsoft Word - NNautismsynchimage.docx

“Normal” brain activity vs autistic

Bemoaning the loss of the child I thought we’d have

For years, I railed against the injustice of my son’s genetic make-up. Why couldn’t I have a child I could have a conversation with? Take to Manchester United matches? Play football with at the park? Go for a pint with when he’s 18? Futile emotions, all of them. I’d have been better embracing the differences and enjoying my son’s quirks and uniqueness. But I’ve started to appreciate him more now, and we enjoy each other’s company much more.

max and daddy

Max and daddy

Living in the moment

A million Facebook memes will tell you to “live for the moment.” Sound advice though that may be for most, it doesn’t always follow for parents of a child with autism. Because some “moments” can be pretty traumatic. The obvious solution is to remember that every meltdown will eventually pass, but I have a tendency to become too immersed in each flashpoint, forgetting that respite or relief will always come – for both Max and us.

autism parents

Sweating the small stuff

My son sweats the small stuff like you wouldn’t believe. But he’s severely autistic and can’t help it. With a boy like mine, chaos, mess and objectionable routines are par for the course, and to try and impose order on his behaviour has proved a fruitless endeavour. There’s far less stress when we allow him to wreak havoc and tidy up afterwards, rather than following him around with a bin-bag. Fortunately, although he still has his moments, he’s become less manic over the last couple of years.

mess

Caring for myself

For too long, I vented in the wrong ways. I was, to my shame, prone to episodes of binge-drinking and I tested my family’s love on too many occasions. Nowadays, I use writing as therapy. Of course, this isn’t a viable method for everyone; however, when you feel like you’re in a war zone some days, you need a healthy way of escaping, and this can’t be found at the pub, the bookie’s, or in a giant tub of ice-cream. Not that having a drink or indulging in your vices every now and then is wrong per se, but when you’re hurting people it’s only going to end one way.

Accepting second best with provision

To be honest, this was more from ignorance than lack of initiative. We simply didn’t know how much support there is for families in our position. Over the last two years, we’ve been helped by charities, and two of their employees in particular have assisted us in all kinds of ways. It’s lamentable that the bodies who should assist – the NHS, local authorities and social services – are so financially and bureaucratically restricted, but that’s a discussion for another day.

 

Of course, Max’s happy and adorable personality (as described in a previous blog) makes all the above worthwhile. He’s a beautiful boy who is braver than anyone I know, and has enriched the lives of everyone who loves him.

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our handsome chap, Max

 

 

I’m far from being an expert as an autism daddy, and despite learning a lot, I doubt I’ll ever be the “finished article.” I am, however, keen to learn and spread awareness of autism spectrum disorders, hence the themes and characters found in my books and the charity donations I make every time someone purchases SUBNORMAL or SUPERNORMAL.

If you’ve found my ramblings interesting, consider signing up for my mailing list. And if you want to help children like Max – and enjoy a story with an unlikely hero – then buy both of my books for the combined price of a beer/coffee!

Joy to the World

The holiday season is well and truly upon us. In fact, according to major retailers, it’s been upon us for about six weeks. It’s a cliché, but it seems to start earlier every year – I suppose they have to do something with the “seasonal” aisle after Bonfire Night. So I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or whatever it is you use to justify (rightly) spoiling your children and loved ones.

xmas

Anyway, I’m not here to talk about a family of refugees seeking shelter in a harsh world – I covered that in my Rivers of Blood blog post on immigration a few weeks back. Mainly because I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy. I’m not a “bah, humbug” sort; I revel in the pleasure on my kids’ faces as much as the next man, but the idea of peace and goodwill to all men doesn’t fit with my world view. After all, I’m a writer of dystopian fiction.

As such, I watch world events wondering whether I’m writing the wrong kind of books. A positive person might say that it’s a great time to be a dystopian writer because there’s a lot of inspiration to be had, whereas the natural pessimist in me suspects the opposite. For want of a better term, the world is going to shit, and my predictions (the worsening demonisation of benefits claimants and the proliferation of terrorism) have come true in my first two books. To quote Millhouse from The Simpsons (Oliver Stone’s JFK): we are through the looking glass here, people, and I can only hope that some of my more outlandish fears aren’t realised.

millhouse

Perhaps the most dangerous and immediate threat is that of IS (or ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, The League of Extremist Gentlemen). A murderous death-cult (© David Cameron MP) who are determined to wreck western civilisation and impose their medieval utopia on the rest of the world. Like Revelation, the terrorist faction in SUPERNORMAL, they slaughter innocents for the sake of a flawed ideology. Their motivation is a perversion of a peaceful religion followed by millions of good people worldwide. Our response? Bomb the life out of millions, thereby creating the next generation of radicalised lunatics, a cycle which will continue until someone with brains gets involved.

is
For this is what we need: leaders possessing the foresight to tackle this problem intelligently with the future in mind, not just the present. Who do we have? Cameron, whose foreign policy is as consistent as a thirteen year old girl’s favourite member of One Direction. Obama – seemingly more concerned with meaningless pop culture cameos than the remainder of his term in charge of the world’s largest democracy.

obama

Who will replace them? Donald Trump? A man who makes our own Bigotmaster-General, Nigel Farage — who I covered in a previous blog — look like John Lennon. If not them, it would only be the usual money-hungry sharks with more vested-interests than scruples. The sort who masterminded the current shambles in the Middle East and will doubtless continue to dirty their hands in the future, regardless of the impact on victims in Baghdad, Paris and elsewhere.

Do we look to the rest of the world? We are friendly with some of the worst human rights abusers in the Arab world. The most meme-friendly psychopath on Earth is in charge of Russia and its military might, and his sabre grows more rattlesome with every passing month. Right-wing politics grows in popularity across Europe. Africa is as impoverished as ever. And we still have a cartoon nutjob to worry about in North Korea, with his chubby little forefinger hovering over the nuke button.

putin

Just in case a global nuclear apocalypse doesn’t kill us, Mother Nature is ready to take revenge for the last two hundred years of industrialisation. It was 16°C in Manchester yesterday! (Didn’t stop the wife putting the fire and heating on, mind.) And what do we do? Charge 5p for a carrier bag while we consider fracking and building new runways, and China chokes us all to death.

If that weren’t enough, my beloved Manchester United are a mess. A trifling problem when compared with those already mentioned, but one which is in keeping with the general decline of the world as a whole. A once-great empire, bereft of leadership and beleaguered from all sides, is slipping into obscurity and chaos. The barbarians are at the gate; Rome is ripe for sacking. Like Nero, we play the fiddle, watching X Factor, idolising imbeciles and taking selfies as society crumbles. Sure, we’ve been through darker days, but are we as strong and united as were in the past?

apocalypse

Just in case you were thinking I’m completely devoid of festive cheer, I am looking forward to Christmas. A few days off work and time with my lovely wife and children, turkey with all the trimmings, the usual rubbish on TV.

Season’s Greetings to one and all!
If you share my world view, or even if you don’t, consider buying my books; they’d make great Christmas gifts. Despite what I’ve just said above. Also, subscribe to my newsletter here.

The broadest spectrum

When people talk about autism, they tend to view it from one of two perspectives. Either they know little about it apart from the stereotypes presented by the media, or they are involved with it in some way as family or professionals. Those in the larger former group often espouse certain misconceptions (autistic people are loners; they all have Rainman-esque super-brains; they are incapable of empathy). Those in the latter group – the minority – have a variety of views depending on their experience. As the father of a severely autistic son, I fall into the second group.

rainman

Not your typical person with autism

In my books, I try to depict Autistic Spectrum Disorder in a balanced way. My lead protagonist, Paul has Asperger’s Syndrome. His condition has benefits (intelligence, ingenuity, superior memory) but also some disadvantages (rigidity, trouble with social interaction, susceptibility to stress). Ally, Paul’s nephew, is at the opposite end of the spectrum and is more profoundly affected. He is non-verbal, developmentally delayed and hypersensitive to stimuli, though the last of these symptoms proves to be invaluable to his carers at times as he detects danger before it’s too late.
So where did I get my inspiration? Partly from my own personality – my wife sometimes cites my behaviour as “spectrum-y” – but also from my son. If it weren’t for his autism, I would never have written the SUBNORMAL series.
Therefore, I’m going to tell you a bit about him. Like Paul and Ally, his ASD manifests itself in a number of ways. Some are negative, but some are positive, too. He can be infuriating one minute, then hilarious the next, and because it’ll make for better reading, I’m going to focus on the things that entertain us, the little things that make him a cool kid.

MEMORY

Max cannot read. Though he understands some words, he sees them more as an image with meaning, and he doesn’t know place names. Yet he recognises landmarks, buildings and streets, and knows the whereabouts of every fast food outlet in a twenty mile radius (and in the north-west of England, that’s a lot).
Once he’s been to a locale, it is remembered forever, his brain like a salty-food sat-nav, a database of cholesterol.

Max's mind?

Max’s mind?

PHYSICALITY

Max is very large for his nine (soon to be ten) years. At about 4’10 in height and 9st/125lbs in weight, he dwarfs his peers. The sharpest among you will link this to his proclivity for junk food, which is something for which we must take the blame. In our defence, at the age of two, Max, like many people with autism, was a very fussy eater, and we introduced him to cheeseburgers and chips out of desperation.
Anyway, despite his exuberance and bulk, when running around a play area or a playground, he never crashes into another child. It’s as if he has inbuilt proximity sensor. Also, he is exceptionally strong. When he was three, he could do chin-ups; nowadays, he can overpower many adults. Of course, this has its drawbacks – he has headbutted a hole in the wall and smashed a window in the past – but it’s still pretty impressive.

baby

COMMUNICATION

Max is non-verbal, but he can tell us what he wants via PECS (picture cards) and Sign-Along, a more basic version of standard sign language. His favourite signal, which he was taught by school, is cake.
However, he has developed his own gestures which, I believe, are unique to him. Two hands together, creating an m-shape, represent the golden arches of McDonald’s. A pushing motion means he wants to go to the park and play on the swings.
Plus, he has adapted signals he’s learnt for his own purposes. “Sorry” – signified by a twirling forefinger pointed to the heart – also means “are we friends?” When he’s lost his temper, he insists that both he and his mother, father, sister et cetera make the “sorry” sign to show that all is well again. “Wait” is a sign we often use, and it involves rolling one’s hands over each other in an anticlockwise direction. He counters this with his own version – the same motion but clockwise – meaning “no, hurry up.”

TECHNOLOGY

Though he can’t write his own name, Max can use an iPad as well as you or me. He navigates YouTube, shares the videos he watches on Facebook and even overrides the TV with the “cast” button. On several occasions, I’ve been watching my beloved Manchester United when the screen has changed to a clip of SpongeBob or the Jungle Book.
Most impressively, he taught himself how to use his device, and quickly learns how to use any mobile phone or tablet he can get his hands on.

spongebob

RELATIONSHIPS

Max’s favourite person is his seven year-old sister, Poppy. She is an angel with him, very patient and selfless, but his attentions can be overbearing. If she is out, he sometimes grabs a photo of her and carries it around like a lost puppy. When she was born, despite the fact that we’d not been able to explain her impending arrival to him, or even that she was his new sibling, he instinctively loved her. There was no jealousy, just an innate understanding that she was his to cherish.

Then...

Then…

...Now

…Now

The autistic characters in my SUBNORMAL series are similar to Max, in that they have their own talents as well as weaknesses. There’s no card-counting or deciphering of top-secret Government codes, but they make the most of their skills. The lead antagonist, Prime Minister Latham, believes their disability makes them worthless, but they prove her wrong, repeatedly.
And that is my message: every person is of value and has the potential to change the world in some way.

our handsome chap, Max

Our special, handsome chap, Max

As always, I welcome your views and comments, and thank you for reading! If you’re interested in my books, you can get free sample chapters here.

Rivers of Blood

And now for something completely different. After the self-indulgent navel-gazing of my first blog, and the trivial nonsense of my second, I’m going to talk about a serious subject: racism and immigration.

It’s more than forty-eight years since Enoch Powell gave his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in the Houses of Parliament. Referring to Virgil’s Aeneid, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West spoke in apocalyptic terms about the supposed dangers of mass immigration. Despite the politician’s dismissal and the condemnation he received from his peers, the public mood at the time was not entirely at odds with the opinions he espoused. During the same decade, on the other side of the Atlantic, huge swathes of normal American people railed against the Civil Rights movement. Many still believed that African-Americans should be second-class citizens, with some willing to use lethal force to defend their point of view.

civil rights

It is perhaps heartening that we look back on these times with distaste; it seems that both nations have come a long way with regards to attitudes towards racial equality, opportunity and integration.

However, it seems that racism is becoming an issue again. In the UK, right-wing Euro-sceptic party UKIP are becoming more popular all the time. Of course, I accept that many UKIP supporters back Nigel Farage for the right reasons: they believe that his mission to separate from the European Union would benefit the country if it were realised. But not all are so well-meaning. If it weren’t for the much-derided first past the post electoral system, this band of reactionaries would have a firm foothold in the House of Commons. Which is worrying, because a significant proportion of UKIP voters are racist – to a degree, at least – and would probably vote for less-moderate right-wingers if they had the media platform UKIP have. Farage’s party hides overtly-xenophobic opinions such as “Africans are bringing HIV to Britain” behind less unsavoury theories like “Britain is being weakened by EU membership.” Their general message is this: we need to stop immigration and keep foreigners out, for they are the problem with Broken Britain. It saddens me that just seventy years after the end of World War Two, when fascism and bigotry were roundly defeated, UKIP got six million votes. They are exploiting the disenchantment caused by poverty and loss of national identity, just as the Nationalist Socialist party did in 1920s Germany.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage

UKIP leader Nigel Farage

And don’t even get me started on the likes of Britain First. This social-media savvy collection of ne’er-do-wells are becoming notorious for their Islamophobic views and protests. Judging by their poorly-attended demonstration in Luton, it appears most of their followers are internet warriors, happy to hit share or like but unwilling to put down their mobile/tablet/laptop and take to the street. But the popularity of such hate-peddlers is concerning nonetheless.

Islamophobes Britain First

Islamophobes Britain First

Perhaps the most damning indictment of national attitudes to race is the behaviour of our own government. I’m no fan of the current administration for a number of other reasons, but they can be saved for another day. Sticking with immigration, it has become so divisive that until recently, David Cameron was willing to let countless refugees drown rather than risk an anti-migration backlash. Though the rivers of Britain may not be foaming with blood, there is far too much being shed in the Mediterranean. Don’t be fooled by the selfless people who say “I’d have a refugee in my house” – there are still many who want to stop the refugees from landing on British soil, whatever the cost. Hence Theresa May’s draconian speech at the Tory Party Conference last week.
refugees

In the USA, racial tensions are on the rise, with actual blood being spilt. The Charleston church shooting, the riots in Ferguson and elsewhere and the supposed rise of the KKK suggest that, once again, racism is becoming an issue worth killing or dying for. Opportunistic rabble-rousers are using the situation to foment trouble, and Obama’s term in office, which began with such optimism, seems to have only worsened the divide. The fact that uber-bigot Donald Trump is even being considered as a candidate is indicative of the sad state of affairs in the Land of the Free.
race riots
Looking around the world, racism, sectarianism and bigotry are more of a problem than ever before. In the parched deserts of the Middle East, blood stains the sands with every passing minute as IS conduct their murderous campaign of oppression and expansion. The far-right is on the rise in Europe, as minorities are blamed for austerity and other social ills.

IS militants

IS militants

The common denominator is the use of scapegoats. Too many Britons see Eastern Europeans, Africans and Asians as the reason for their troubles when they should be blaming the bankers and the politicians for the recession. Similarly, plenty of Americans cite illegal immigration as the cause of economic hardship rather than the recession. Politically-driven scapegoating, discrimination and bigotry are central themes in my SUBNORMAL series. The victims in my books are disabled people, not ethnic minorities, but the message is the same: the wrong people are being blamed for our problems, and people are being hurt as a result. Communities are divided and human beings are wary of their fellows for no good reason.

subnormal

SU
Apologies if my piece has been markedly Anglo/American-centric. Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the rise in racial tensions in our two countries is the fact that our two countries owe a great deal to immigration and racial integration. Britain, a tiny island nation, has punched above its weight for centuries thanks in part to its multi-cultural make-up. The US has risen to prominence in just over two centuries. It’s no coincidence that America is also a melting-pot of different races.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and opinions!