Where I live, we are still in lockdown level 4. Many people I know are struggling. Yesterday, the youngest son’s school sent us this “important note.”
Lockdown is tough on everyone.
We all have some days that are better than others.
Look after yourself.

Get exercise each day.
Offer to help others in your bubble.
Be kind to yourself and others.
Do something you enjoy.
Get help when you need it.

I appreciated the encouragement. The schools are aware that we parents are doing the hard yards. On our family chat on Facebook, various members said they didn’t think they could cope with another week of level 4. They needed face-to-face interactions.

“One more week of this and I’ll go crazy,” said the mother with two children under five.

Everyone from all walks of life has talked about feeling blue. At the grocery store, the lovely university student who works there part-time said the universities and adult training institutes had just announced there would be no more lectures on campus the rest of this year. “I’m over it,” she said. “This is seriously getting me down.”

These days such topics as depression are talked about more openly, which is a healthy thing. It’s good to hear family members and friends discussing their feelings. This year, however, I was shocked to discover that more than half the people I know live on anti-depressants as a way of life. In my post a couple of weeks ago, Hold Onto Your Joy, I shared various fun things I do with my kids to keep our spirits up. Hearing people discuss their fears and anxieties since then, it seemed appropriate to add another chapter to the discussion about positive health alternatives.

One of the things we do is a little thing called forest bathing. Have you ever heard of it? In Japan, people practice forest bathing, where they spend quiet time absorbing the wisdom of ancient forests, taking long walks among the trees to stimulate their immune system. There are lots of urban nature reserves where we live, and we walk through the trees daily.

This solution is not at all new. “The tonic of the wilderness” was Henry David Thoreau’s classic prescription for civilization and its discontents, offered in the 1854 essay Walden: Or, Life in the Woods. In Taoism, generations of students have been encouraged to meditate among trees. They believe that the trees will absorb negative energies, replacing them with healthy ones.

Trees are seen as a source of emotional and physical healing and as meditators, absorbing universal energies.

Now there’s scientific evidence supporting eco-therapy. Experiments on forest bathing conducted by the Center for Environment, Health and Field Sciences in Japan measured its physiological effects. “The team measured the subjects’ salivary cortisol (which increases with stress), blood pressure, pulse rate, and heart rate variability during a day spent in the city and compared those to the same biometrics taken during a day with a 30-minute forest visit. Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” the study concluded. This is due to various essential oils, generally called phytoncide, found in wood, plants, and some fruit and vegetables, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.

Forest air doesn’t just feel fresher. It is better for you!

City dwellers can also benefit from the effects of trees with a visit to the park. Brief exposure to greenery in urban environments can relieve stress levels, and experts have recommended “doses of nature” as part of the treatment for attention disorders in children. The evidence suggests that we don’t need to spend a lot of time in nature to gain the numerous benefits of forest bathing. But regular contact with trees does appear to improve our immune system function and our wellbeing. Our health has never been more vital than it is now. The same goes for our mental health. We have to do everything we can to preserve both.
Let’s face it, while we’re in lockdown, what better time is there to go for a stroll in nature? Do you like forest walks? Have you ever tried forest bathing?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Happiness grows at our own firesides, and is not to be picked in strangers’ gardens.” – Douglas Jerrold.


 
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I have finished reading my fifteenth novel for 2021, Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins by Carlos Fuentes. It was one in a pile of books I picked up while visiting my sister on Waiheke Island in the upper north island of New Zealand. We popped into the Salvation Army shop. I drifted into the books section and walked out thirty minutes later with two bags of books! That always happens. I got the lot for ten bucks. You’ve got to love that.
Usually, I stick to reading within my genre of middle-grade fiction, but I will also buy anything that takes my fancy. Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins sounded so quirky. I thought, what is that about? And I recognized the author.

The book consists of five short stories. In the title story, a kind and happy husband discovers the true nature of his marriage. ‘As though he has walked through a mirror and found that the life held in the glass was not his own at all.’ ‘…you repeatedly seem to shudder awake, you think you’ve opened your eyes, but in fact, you’ve only introduced one dream inside another.’ I would try to precis the stories, but I fear that might be beyond me. From a doll coming to represent a human woman to a story narrator in bed with a ghost, the stories pitch you from the boat into a dark swirling morass of imagery and ideas in which there is no life raft. There is no way of making sense of the stories contained within this book. The stories located from Savannah, Georgia to Glasgow, depict the moments in life when worlds collide, and they are fittingly chaotic.
Carlos Fuentes Macías (1928 – 2012) was a Mexican writer. He also served as a diplomat in 1965 in London, Paris (as ambassador), and other capitals. Though he became one of the best-known novelists of the 20th century in the Spanish-speaking world, he found the time to teach courses at Brown, Princeton, Harvard, Penn, George Mason, Columbia, and Cambridge. The author of thirty works, his first book, Aura, was published in 1962. He published Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins, in Spanish, Constanciay otras novelas para virgines by Mandadori Espana, in 1989.

The book received mixed reviews. The deconstructionists of the world heralded Constancia as a miraculous conception and a great example of the ‘imagination unbound.’ The great unwashed masses, of whom I count myself one, reviled the book, like a big shiny house to which we did not possess the key to get in. There are no story structures, nothing to grasp, no compass or road map through the forest of words.
I would not go so far as to say what some of the critics said. I wouldn’t call the book ‘the ravings of a madman,’ or ‘a senseless mess,’ or ‘UNREADABLE.’ But I will tell my ultimate truth, and that is I couldn’t finish it. It’s not often I can say a book has beaten me. This one did. It is one of the few books I have put down halfway through and walked away from. I literally could not take another word of such nonsense. Magical Realism. Definitely. Not. My. Genre.
My rating: No stars. But I will give it two groans.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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As a literary fiction style, magic realism paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements, often dealing with the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality. ~ Wikipedia

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

September 1 question – How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?
Without question, success is holding the book in my hand. I guess that is because I wrote stories for half my life before I published a book. Although I started writing fiction at age 17 and had a story and an article published in other people’s books, I didn’t produce a book until I was 50. I think the moment I laid eyes on that first novel is engraved forever in my memory. I was so excited, taking numerous photos and bombarding social media. It was unbelievable, overwhelming and the satisfaction was complete.

To me, it felt like the ultimate vindication and success because the road to publication had not been a straight one. An idealist, I had expected the publishing side of being a writer would be as much fun as doing the writing. Find an agent, grab a great deal with a publishing house, and make lots of money. Easy. In the 80’s I found myself an agent, and I carried on writing children’s stories, thinking the agent would take care of finding homes for my books. Four years later, he still had not sold a single manuscript. I fired the agent and started sending the manuscripts out myself. After many nibbles, I had one story, a re-telling of the folk tale, The Ice Queen, accepted by a traditional publishing house. I waited a year, then they returned the manuscript, saying they had been unable to fit me into their schedule. No way.
Another year I had one of my picture book manuscripts, Free Wally, accepted by a publisher in Wellington. But they wanted to change the names of all the characters. I couldn’t handle that! Give me money, do all the work of publishing, fine, but change the details of my creative progeny? No deal.

I carried on writing (and illustrating) and sending out stories, finally gaining another acceptance for a picture book, The Unsightly Wet Nightie. Whoopee! I thought. Then I read the fine print. They were only offering me a 5% royalty fee, which at the time for authors was usually 10%. I said, No dice.
A year later, I entered my story, The Or’in of Tane into an international writing competition. The prize was the publication of the book. I waited, revisiting the website day and night, waiting for news of who had made the shortlist. The publishers released a statement, saying if you had not heard back from them, you had made the shortlist. Happy dance! I had not heard back and was euphoric. A month later, the shortlist then the winner and runner-up were announced. My name did not appear. When I followed up on my story, they told me that due to the time difference between here and there, my competition entry had arrived a day later than their deadline, and they had disqualified me.

Meltdown. Tears for days. Gloom and doom.
Was I beaten?
Well, initially, yes.
Then I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and decided to take my fate into my own hands. For the first time, I seriously considered going Indie. I began to venture online and learn about self-publishing. And the rest, as they say, is history. I did the spadework and self-published my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, in 2020. Talk about a moment of triumph. The books were well received, gaining a 9.8 out of 10 ratings by one popular book reviewer.

Every time I see those books on the shelf, I get a thrill.

Holding my book in my hand, that spells success to me. Because I know what it took to get here and all the years of solitary blood, sweat, and tears that went into this. Self-publishing is hard work. However, that’s the buzz, isn’t it? Hard work makes you feel good.
It has been fulfilling to produce something my kids and grandkids can hold in their hands. Now, I leave physical books sitting in libraries and on bookshelves and lodged within the hallowed halls of the National Library of New Zealand. To create is the best, and then to share that creation is ‘reason I am here’ material.
When you take things into your own hands with your career, the world is your oyster! How do you define success as a writer?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Regardless of your genre, your task is to get your book in front of readers. ~ Jaq D Hawkins


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Currently, we are in lockdown level 4 in New Zealand. I have been watching the news (I normally do not watch it at all). It is easy to spend time worrying about businesses trying to pay staff during the lockdown, all the overworked essential workers, and our healthcare system under pressure. You feel for the parents working from home, especially the solo parents, those with small children, the lonely old folk, and the teachers trying to teach online. It is not an easy time. However, I have noticed a heartening difference in the way people in my neighbourhood behave. The first time we went into Level 4 lockdown in 2020, when out walking, other walkers and runners would look down or away while crossing the street to avoid you. This time around we are still keeping our distance, but the other people out exercising have looked at me and waved, calling cheery hellos, and smiling behind their masks. I think there is a collective understanding that we have been through this before, and we will get through it again given the right attitude.
There also seems to be a realization we need each other, and we are more aware that we miss those human interactions when we are confined to our bubbles.

A lot of people get swept up by the fear and stressed out. I rang the doctor this morning, and the receptionist said Kia ora like she would bite my head off in one gulp. The stress is real. We have to find coping mechanisms that work for us. I always tell my friends to shut off all the devices in the house and pick up a good book. Looking back, I realized that apart from taking long breaks from the news, it was writing and reading that really helped me through the lockdown in 2020. The same coping mechanisms will help get me through the lockdowns in 2021. I have a few excellent books on the go at the moment. I’m reading, Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman, Spirit Animals Fire, and Ice, by Shannon Hale, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare (thanks to fellow writer Susan Baury Rouchard for sending me that one).

If I find myself panicking, I turn off the devices, then do something I love, whether it be reading, gardening, walking, painting, or just watching a movie eating bon-bons.

Yesterday, a friend said, It looks like things are going to be turbulent for a while. I replied, We have to hold onto our joy more tightly. There is nothing we can do to alter what is going on out there. But we do have control over how we react and act while we are in isolation. There are a few tricks I have learned since 2020 about how to keep my family’s spirits up while we’re in isolation.
My Top Tips:
Limit news updates/turn off your devices
Paint your toenails (and your kids’ toenails – my boys think it is hilarious)
Sleep in! (For a lifelong early riser like myself, this has been a revelation!)
Wear bright colours. (I have shelved all the grey and black in my wardrobe. It is a simple trick, but it makes me feel happier to wear all the brightest clothes I own)
Bake!

Read! (Maybe I will make progress through my tower of to-be-read novels)
Coloured lights! (Drag out your fairy lights, or any twinkle lights and have them on all day as well as at night)
Flowers. (I pick flowers daily on my morning walk along the verges and alleyways and set out mini posies around the house)
Music! (Play your favourite tunes, sing-along, and dance like nobody is watching)
Talk! (Phone your loved ones. Talk across the fence to your neighbours. Sit and talk with the family members in your household). Check on the people you know.
Work in the garden
Dress up in crazy clothes (it makes the boys and I laugh to wear silly hats)

Exercise
Do something creative (my friend said she has started writing limericks because they make her think and make her laugh)
Do a jigsaw (My father’s favourite pastime is fun and calming)
Meditate
Write a gratitude journal
Be kind
We will get through this, just like we have done before. Stay calm and carry on and remember to hold onto your joy tightly!
What are your top tips for staying positive during lockdown?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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As we traverse this very unstable time, it is so important that we keep track of our real joy and our vitality. ~ Jai Dev Singh
 


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I have finished reading my fourteenth novel for 2021, The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle. Book two in the award-winning bestselling Storm Keeper Trilogy, they translated it into over 20 languages. The Lost Tide Warriors is the sequel to The Storm Keeper’s Island, followed by The Storm Keepers Battle. I have heard it said that book two is not a great entry point to the series, as there is not enough exposition to fill in a new reader as to what has come before. Nevertheless, I did jump in at book two.

When I see books at fairs, charity stores, and second-hand bookshops, I buy whatever appeals to me. I often do not know whether they are part of a series. I would hope that any book should be readable, whether it is part of a series or not. It is something I worked hard on with my trilogy and am doing with my current work-in-progress, making sure each novel can stand alone with its own story.
It is up to the author to make each story in a series accessible to everyone. That said, it is hard to do. I forgive Doyle for doing a less-than-great job filling me in as a new reader to the trilogy. The story was interesting, so I continued reading even though I did not fully understand what was going on. And the magic candles? I was still none the wiser by the time I finished. Perhaps the concept was too fantastic for my brain.

Catherine Doyle set The Storm Keeper Trilogy on the Irish island of Arranmore, a special place where her grandparents grew up. The stories draw on Irish folklore and magical history. In The Lost Tide Warriors, our youthful protagonist, Fionn Boyle, is the new Storm Keeper on the island of Arranmore. With the arrival of the terrifying soulstalkers, Fionn’s secret inner struggle, his seeming inability to wield the Storm Keeper’s magic becomes public knowledge. The threat is real. If the soulstalkers raise Morrigan from the dead, they will take over, and everyone on the island will die, as will many others. Only Fionn believes that with the help of a white conch shell, the Tide Summoner, he might be able to summon Dagda’s army of merrows to defeat the horrifying enemy.

The writing is taut, the setting atmospheric, the danger building, and the characters well depicted so that I imagined I knew them. The story problem was intriguing, and Doyle maintained the tension throughout. It was frightening in parts, and funny (thankfully) in others, and emotional. The strong relationship between Fionn and his grandfather, Malachy Boyle, formed the heart of the story. I love it when a story has a heartbeat. Fionn’s love for his grandfather was believable, palpable, and ultimately heart-wrenching. Their grandparent-grandchild bond was the solid bedrock for the rest of the tale. It was a hard book to walk away from at times which is always a good thing.

Catherine Boyle is forging a formidable career at a young age. Backed up by holding a BA in Psychology and an MA in Publishing, she wrote the Young Adult Blood for Blood trilogy (Vendetta, Inferno, and Mafiosa). Puffin published her re-imagining of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, The Miracle on Ebenezer Street in 2020. And her eagerly-anticipated new YA novel, Twin Crowns, is due for release in 2022.
How would I describe The Lost Tribe Warriors? A scary tale well told. However, I did not enjoy it fully, as the nasty treatment of Fionn by his sister Tara was jarring at times, and I found the soulstalkers amassing, the raising of the Morrigan to be somewhat disturbing. It was a tad too scary for me. I prefer not to read or watch horror in any form. Not to my taste, is all.
My rating: Nevertheless, three stars.


Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Flickers with rare and wonderful magic…An unforgettable story.” ~ Abi Elphinstone, author of Sky Song


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Recently I went to see the award-winning play Te Po with my friends, and to say I felt blown away would be a giant understatement. I consider myself a total Luddite compared to my friends. Right from the start, when I met my girlfriends in high school, they invited me to do such cultured things as take grapes to the park and read poetry. They fascinated, enlightened, and challenged me in many ways. As adults, they have coerced me into going to art galleries, shows, and performances I would never attend on my own. I have been to one other play in my life, Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. I was twelve. I felt a twinge of resistance when my friends suggested we attend a play together. But that is why these ladies are so good for me because they force me out of my low-brow comfort zone.

We met early in the evening for minestrone and then made our way to our local events center. Te Po, they told me, was part of the centenary celebration of New Zealand playwright Bruce Mason’s birth. The performers would appear in a theatre named after the playwright, and it was only on for two nights. Like a pop-up store, it was a pop-up theatre. Blink, and you would miss it. Luckily, I let my friends twist my arm, and we attended this lightning in a jar. Te Po, written by Carl Bland, is a comedy, as told by a policeman, a blind man, and a priest, about missing playwright Bruce Mason. And it is laugh-out-loud funny. Though sometimes, we wept.
Te Po is Maori for The Great Darkness, a destination for the dead. It is a place where the dead can revisit their potential and attain knowledge. The elderly Maori character anchors the piece, sings the songs, speaking melodic Maori and English, as the wise man who knows all. He bridges the gap between the worlds and brings spiritual depth.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Te Po. Live theatre is an enlivening experience. Who knew? The combination of a great story, plus fascinating human beings in 3-D, with lights, music, and special effects, was immersive, transformative, and captivating. I felt drawn further and further into the world they created. The mystery deepened in the first acts, and strange things happened, like, the furniture shifted unaided across the stage, giving us a visceral sense of being unsettled. At times, they closed the curtains, plunging us into darkness and playing the sounds of a wild crashing storm. The stage was incredible, with a writer’s office with windows that opened and bookshelves and chairs that moved across the stage. Towards the story apex, the colors deepened to sepia tones, and the whole set began to slide backwards, making the scene appear to dwindle. The effects were well done. Special mention must go to the puppeteer, who created a believable seagull and a captivating giraffe head that took our breath away.

It was interesting to compare how the script for a play follows similar conventions to writing fiction. The writer asked a question then withheld the answer. There was foreshadowing going on and red herrings that became important later. There were expectations set up then dashed. Though somewhat truncated, the characters each had an arc. And the rules changed most refreshingly as the story went along until we finally caught up to speed with the surreal nature of the piece. By then, we had abandoned ourselves to the ride anyway and didn’t care anymore. In the end, when the priest finally gives his last sermon, as promised, it provoked belly laughter from start to finish. We laughed till we cried. It was glorious.
I walked out energized, excited, and with a slightly altered view of the world (the whole intention of art). Now I understand why people around these parts have raved about this play. I am a convert to the wonders of live theatre. It is like a whole new world. Woohoo!

What about you, have you been to a live show lately?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Be at peace with where you’ve been and where you are. That’s how you win the battlefield of the mind. ~ Andrena Sawyer


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

August 4th optional question – What is your favorite craft writing book? And why?
My pick has to be the wonderful Into the Woods, How Stories Work And Why We Tell Them, by John Yorke. This book falls squarely into the category of learning something new every time I read it. ‘Terrifyingly clever’ was one reviewer’s comment which I thought apt. My eldest sister, the bookworm of the family (who still reads a book a week), gave me Into the Woods one year as a Christmas present. Knowing my sister, I figured she had spent a long time in a small independent bookstore somewhere, carefully studying each title until she found just the right book for me and for my penchant in life. Therefore, always respectful of the eldest’s taste, I started reading her gift on Boxing Day.
Gut reaction: big sister got it right, as usual.

Into the Woods is ostensibly a novel about the dramatic structure inherent in plays, films, TV drama, and all works of fiction, and yet it delivers so much more. Born of Yorkes’ intellectual need to understand the tenets of story structure, I admired how he distilled his findings to help us see the bones of stories. Yorke discovered there was a unifying shape to all fiction. He likened it to the fairytale journey into the woods, which works for me as an excellent analogy. The stories I’ve written so far have been literal journeys into the woods, coincidentally, so the analogy worked on all levels. It’s like poetry. However, Yorke can say it better than I can.

“In stories throughout the ages, there is one motif that continually recurs – the journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within. This book attempts to find what lurks at the heart of the forest. All stories begin here…”

I read this book slowly, going back and re-reading many times to make sure I understood. My copy has post-it flags sticking up from a dozen pages. There are passages I’ve highlighted in fluorescent yellow and pencil notes in the margins. I found there was so much helpful information about story structure, character, and dialogue, that I knew at once it was information I would refer to again. And so it has been. I sometimes refer to it as I write new stories. I’ve presented some of the information in the form of a speech for Toastmasters. And I’ve also included excerpts and quotes from Into the Woods in numerous posts over the last seven years of blogging.


The book has become something of a touchstone.

The material takes multiple re-readings for people of ‘small brain’ like me to take the information on board. Therefore, Into the Woods enjoys pride of place on my desk rather than being relegated to the bookshelf.

John Yorke, a creator of the BBC Writers Academy and managing director of Company Pictures, used to work for the BBC in television and radio, and today is also a visiting professor of English Language and Literature. He writes non-fiction with authority, and it’s the heft of the research he has done on the subject of story structure that lends weight to Into the Woods. In my opinion, it should become a future classic.


‘First, learn to be a craftsman; it won’t keep you from being a genius.’ A Delacroix quote which features in the Introduction. How cool is that?


What about you, which book do you refer to the most?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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“The best book on the subject I’ve read.” ~ Tony Jordan


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Information theft is a crime like any other. It’s invasive, terrifying, and overwhelming. You find your contacts compromised, your identity used, your name degraded. It affects your health in terms of stress and anxiety when hackers steal your information. But the thing these crooks steal the most of is our time. Dealing with the fall-out of hacking can take days of effort. The thing that held me up most when I fell victim to a phishing scam was that I didn’t know what to do. When my initial attempts to regain control of my accounts failed, I had no idea how to fix things. The crooks had stolen the keys and locked me out. It was a powerless feeling. I had to get up to speed fast, and the way I did that was by ringing the police and getting their advice, which was helpful. Then I spoke to my eldest sister – aka the fount of all wisdom – and lastly, I went to see an I.T professional.

In the afterword of being hacked, being virtually locked out of my accounts, and spending four days fixing the mess, I guess the silver lining is I am more aware of cyber safety.
I am far more security conscious. As a writer, my natural reaction is to write about it. We need to protect ourselves from the dirty rotten scoundrels of this world by sharing our stories. There is strength in numbers and power in information and networking.
It’s times like these when a blog comes in real handy. Last week, I shared a hacking checklist and the warning signs to watch out for in my first post, Dirty Rotten Hackers, Part 1. This week, let’s talk about how to prevent it from happening to you.

Prevention:
*If in doubt about those emails and messages that seem like phishing, run them by a site like http://www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en/money-troubles/scams/types-of-scam
Or try those sites found on your police website like those offered by our New Zealand police force. https://www.cert.govt.nz/individuals/explore/scams-and-fraud/?topic=scams-and-fraud

*Unfortunately, when it comes to phishing emails, while you can not stop them altogether, there are some things you can do to mitigate these emails from coming through to you. Firstly you can block the senders. The following page has some information on how to stop particular email addresses from being able to email you:
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/block-senders-or-unblock-senders-in-outlook-on-the-web-9bf812d4-6995-4d19-901a-76d6e26939b0

*You can also change the rules on your email spam filter to catch these types of emails. You can find information on how to update your spam filter here:
https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/change-the-level-of-protection-in-the-junk-email-filter-e89c12d8-9d61-4320-8c57-d982c8d52f6b

*Become more aware of how to stay secure online https://www.cert.govt.nz/individuals/guides/get-started-cyber-security/
*Look up the best password managers available. Some are free, some have monthly fees, but all offer a safe place to store all your passwords.
*Log in and log out each time you use online accounts
*Remove the “shortcuts” to your accounts from your desktop
*Do not click on links or attachments. When in doubt, phone the people/company involved.

*Marketing gurus will tell you that you should get your domain and set up a branded email (MyName@MySite.com). Never use that email address to set up an account. If the domain registration expires, anyone who registers the domain will receive your emails. Go into your accounts and replace any MyName@MySite.com with, say, a Gmail account. (Thanks for the tip, Nate Hoffelder)


Here’s to halting the scammers and hackers in their tracks. How do we do that? By talking about it, as I have done through these posts.


Stay safe, everyone, and let’s foil the bad guys by staying one step ahead.

Keep Creating!
Take care,
Yvette Carol
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‘One day, you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through, and it will be someone else’s survival guide.’ ~ Bene Brown

Last weekend got off to a bad start. At 8 am Thursday, I woke up to find I was locked out of my Outlook and Facebook accounts, and dirty, rotten hackers had taken virtual control of my life. It seems I learned nothing from being scammed (by phone) back in 2016. I had fallen victim to a phishing scam. Gherkins!

Unfortunately, I am not alone. Hacking and scamming can happen to anyone anywhere. These jerks can take our money, ruin our credit rating, scam more people through us, and then they will sell our details to those people who compile sucker lists. One hour after changing the password to one of my accounts, I was alerted by my provider that there had been a new attempt to hack into the same account. Thursday morning, the suspicious activity came from Nigeria, and by Thursday afternoon, the suspicious activity had skipped countries to Australia!

Four days later, however, and I had restored peace on all fronts. Let me tell you how I did it, with a hacking checklist of the steps to take to recover control of your accounts. But, first, let us have a brush up on the signs to watch out for whenever you are online, so you can avoid getting hacked or scammed in the first place.

Three red flags to watch out for:


*First Red Flag: They will say they are from a big reputable company because you are more likely to take them seriously. Microsoft is one of the most commonly-used covers. Scammers called me on my old landline and told me they were calling from Microsoft in 2016, and then the hacking event last week came apparently from Microsoft Customer Service.
*My Tip: Find the local phone number. Every country, even little old New Zealand, will have a landline for a branch of a giant corporation like Microsoft, and you can ask them if the request for action you have received is bonafide.

*Second Red Flag: They want you to act immediately.
*My Tip: Anything can wait till the next day. If they have given you a deadline to act by, wait until morning. If you pass the deadline they have given you, and nothing happens, then you will know they are dirty rotten hackers.

*Third Red Flag: They always want money, sooner or later. The request might not come first or second, it might be months down the track, but as soon as they ask for money, you can smell a rat. In my case, they did not request money from me but from all my friends and contacts, who they asked to purchase $300 Amazon gift cards on my behalf.
*My Tip: As soon as they request money and you smell that rat, trust your instincts and ask for proof of identity. If they are your friend, ask how you know each other, where did you first meet? Or ask to speak to them by video face-to-face call. Then, see how fast they run.

Hacking Checklist:


*Call the police. Yes. Information theft is a crime, and you need to report it. It will not only grant you as the victim support and guidance, but it will also help the police protect others. In New Zealand, the police encourage us to email a report to the police as well, via the site https://www.cert.govt.nz/individuals/
*Find the phishing emails and forward them to the police, as this helps keep them up to date with cyber-crime. Then block the senders.
*Call the bank. Alert them to your situation, ask them to put a hold on your credit card until you have had your computer cleaned of viruses and malware.
*Contact all the people on your friend lists to alert them to your situation.
*Tell your email provider about the scam.
*Change your online passwords to ones that are long and strong. Make sure you create a unique password for each account. Enable two-factor authentication.
*To recover your Facebook account, follow the steps by visiting https://www.facebook.com/hacked Report the problem to Facebook.
*Take your computer to IT professionals and check your system for malware. It is the only way to be 100% certain you are free. I backed up all my files then had my laptop wiped clean and reset.
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In these ways I was able to reclaim control of my virtual life. I hope this post helps someone else! I will share Part Two next week with some of my tips on cyber security.


Stay safe, everyone! Let’s foil the bad guys by staying one step ahead.

Keep Creating!
Take care,
Yvette Carol
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“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind!” – C.S. Lewis.

I’ve finished reading my thirteenth novel for 2021, The Enchanted Flute, by James Norcliffe.

‘A flute that will only play one mysterious song? A strange old man in a wheelchair somehow rejuvenated by this music? A leap from a window into a strange and often frightening world where nobody can be trusted and from which there seems to be no escape?’ So goes the promo material. The mythical base to this story and the new take by placing the protagonists in the modern day and age is solid. However, we readers can often be simple creatures, easily led. Here’s a secret some of your fantasy writers may want in on. As any fan will tell you, merely including a word like ‘enchanted’ in the title guarantees a certain amount of reader interest. I picked up this New Zealand novel purely for the word enchanted on the cover, so I congratulate Mr. Norcliffe on a wise choice.

The Enchanted Flute gives us fully realized believable urban fantasy. Norcliffe, an award-winning poet, author and lecturer in New Zealand, is an assured storyteller. I’m a sucker for anything to do with mythology, so I truly savoured the way he took mythology and more or less wove various strands together to give us a new twist. The Greek tale of Syrinx is about a chaste nymph pursued by the God Pan. Syrinx escapes by turning into some pond reeds. Pan scythes down the reeds and makes a flute to console himself. Mixed in with this key ingredient of Greek myth, the author adds parts of fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Jack in the beanstalk. It seemed admirable to me that Norcliffe could look at an ancient folktale in a new way and be bold enough to dare to say, What if I did this and this? I became quite fascinated as the modern story unfolded, reading about characters from mythology, and I really wanted to know what it all meant.

Close-up of a woman playing the flute. Musical concept

The flute Becky’s mother bought at a pawnshop turns out to be enchanted. Becky, herself, as the one who plays its enchanted music, becomes the focus of everyone’s needs and animosities. Because of this mythological flute, Becky Pym and Johnny Cadman literally jump from the realities of modern day life out a window into an ancient world. We experience this strange, scary, Arcadian place as they do, which makes the ride really exciting. It was seat-of-the-pants stuff. There seemed to be a palpable feeling of their entrapment, that there really seemed to be no way out. We were not let off the hook until the end. Talk about suspense.

Born on the West Coast (Kaiata, near Greymouth), James Norcliffe currently teaches at Lincoln University and lives in Church Bay with his wife and ‘an ungrateful cat named Pinky Bones.’ Norcliffe is both an award-winning poet and author of a dozen novels for young people including The Loblolly Boy series (Penguin Random), winner of the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award, published in the United States as The Boy Who Could Fly. His novel, The Assassin of Gleam, received an award for the best fantasy published in New Zealand in 2006.

Fresh off the heels of his enormous success with The Loblolly Boy and its sequel, The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer, I’m sure they expected much of his next title. The Enchanted Flute did not make quite the same splash. The reviews were mostly good and star ratings were excellent. However, some folk criticized the length of the story, as too slow and drawn out. Other people found a little too much juxtaposition between the two very young naive protagonists, Becky and Johnny, and the lecherous intentions of Faunus or Pan.

Those things aside, I dived into the narrative wholeheartedly. The base of ancient mythology, the twist by basing it in modern day, and taking us with the main characters step by step, never letting too much information slip, teasing out the answers so we cannot tear our eyes away, building the mystery and the oppressive feeling of being trapped in Arcadia with them is taut stuff. What a thriller. It’s a master class in fiction. As an author I’m always looking for the nuts and bolts but when the writing is next level, the mechanics become invisible. Am I biased because he’s a fellow Kiwi author? Yes! But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great fiction. Well done, James Norcliffe. Now I want to read The Loblolly Boy.

My rating: Nearly four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“Literature is news that STAYS news.” ~ Ezra Pound

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