Two Conferences in Suffolk

I spent yesterday at a Regional Film Conference in Ipswich – full of keen young people. Run by Film Suffolk, started by an enthusiastic young Frenchman and Cad Taylor from Re-Create (incidentally Cad deserves to find success for herself – she is a great worker).

Wolf TeamI was with the national winners of a horror short-film award (suited me!). Belly of the Wolf won three awards, matched against the world; best film, best director, best actor. That team contains the cream of East Anglian talent, but they all find it very difficult to fight the financiers. They have a new project and need a little money. They are not alone but we do so very little to encourage the talent we have in this country.

BELLY OF THE WOLF Teaser/Trailer 2011 from mark fisher on Vimeo.

At the film conference we were presented with a venture capitalist – clearly only interested in money – demanding 50% cash upfront if they were to invest. They are the charlatans we now face, ready to exploit our talent just to make money. The upfront cash demand disgusts me – thousands are spent training these people, and for many it is the film-makers themselves who are now faced with life-long debts repaying student loans. These keen aspirants beg borrow and steal to buy equipment, and come up with the original ideas only to find the way blocked by a fat cat demanding they show more money (that they don’t have). It is disgusting!

We must support the talent we have in this country or it will end up stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Other speakers also opened my eyes to possibilities. Sarah’s family own Bentwaters Park. They have turned it into a fantastic location perfect for filmmakers. Khaki Devil hire First World War uniforms, obscure military props, and have a trench system, complete with No Man’s Land, and old barns for filming, all at Akenham.

In Norfolk and Suffolk we have NALEP, a local enterprise partnership whose Board of Directors come from local businesses (that’s big business or lawyers and accountants) and the chiefs of our councils. None of whom have much time, but they can attract large sums of cash (allegedly). The LEP could make a great difference but it needs to get its act together. Venture capitalists are hovering and alongside these leeches we have administrators who seem intent upon creating barriers, offering stupid deals, with hurdles that are difficult to jump, particularly if you just want to get on with the project.

What is going on? Government money is coming this way and disappearing into a hole controlled by shadowy figures, who appear to have no real interest other than feathering their own nests.

We need an open platform. We need to strip away barriers. Give people small amounts of cash, then encourage and support them, help them market their products. Why can’t we have an online ecommerce facility to encourage investors, to sell ideas and products? Why can’t we showcase our talent?

Instead we have a bizinfoportal (what a name) that offers links to training courses and meetings with consultants, most provided by folk who have little idea, or who have failed themselves. All boringly expensive.

Do I sound cross? I hope so. A 16 yr-old at the NALEP Skills Conference, a lovely girl called Grace, needs to be listened to. She told the delegates what was needed. They clapped, ate a sandwich, chatted to friends, and walked away.

(just an aside: Ipswich Borough Council charge £4.40 for 3 hours in the car park. People had to leave the conference to move their cars – to find the yellow peril beside their vehicles. How to encourage people to your town!)

NALEP Skills Conference

The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership held a Skills Conference on 28 November at the East of England Co-operative Society headquarters at Wherstead, near Ipswich, Suffolk.

It was well attended with delegates from many organisations across Norfolk and Suffolk. There will be a more detailed report later but this is my initial reaction.

MarkJeffries NALEP Vice Chair

This recording was made to assist members of the NALEP LinkedIn thread about Consultants.The recording is very poor, one of the microphones was not switched on.

The recording shows that this leading Board member seems to know very little about the Consultants report about which we have been asking questions for the last many months.!

Why Write

writingLet’s continue my earlier piece about you wanting to write and then publish your work.

Why Write?

You must ask that question of yourself and answer with absolute truthfulness. Why choose to write at all? Why not go watch the television like everyone else. Go find a lover. Go and be something! Why write? Why condemn yourself to loneliness, to a bad back, to hunched shoulders, to frustration and penury?

Take some time to consider that question. Reject any hopes of fame and fortune. That is a dream world upon which you must not rely as the average writer fails to receive any adequate recompense for their hours of labour. Look instead at more esoteric goals; to explore and perhaps improve yourself, to provide some explanation to others, to reveal a burning passion, just for the love of words or even because it really is so much better than watching TV. All are logical reasons. A good first step to identify your own reasons.

What to Write?

Fact or fiction. The choice is yours, though the distinction is not always clear-cut. I’ve been helping writers publish their own work for many years and have found (this sounds stupid but it is relevant) writers write for many reasons, but for most people non-fiction work is often strongly biographical or there is a specific subject area that is dear to the heart of the writer. Both forms of non-fiction require creativity, for if they are to work both will demand that the inner soul of the writer is revealed. The writing focus section of this book must be read with that in mind. Writing non-fiction is a creative process.

Then ask yourself one vitally important question. One that must be repeated as you continue to write, ‘Who am I writing this book for? Who is the intended reader?’ Without some understanding of that audience writing becomes a totally self-indulgent activity. That may be the real reason for starting to write, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be a useful exercise, often a cathartic form of therapy. It may be why you start, and then continue to the end of the piece but in the middle somewhere is an altruistic passion to share something with the reader. If there isn’t then put your words in a drawer and let them fester for a while.

Dick Whittington at the Wolsey

Dick WhittingtonIt’s that time again at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. You can’t miss the rock ‘n roll panto!

Fairy Bow Bells is Holding Out for A Hero to save London from the evil King Rat. Down from Ipswich to seek his fame and fortune comes Richard Whittington.

There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough to stop Dick falling for Uptown Girl, Alice Fitzwarren, while Taffy the Cat and her Tiger Feet kick the revolting rodents out of town until everyone is simply Walkin’ On Sunshine.

The streets are paved with rock ‘n’ roll classics in the New Wolsey’s musical twist on this traditional tale. The best of pantomime and the greatest pop songs all served up by our astonishing company of actor-musicians in a festive feast for all the family.


Want to Write

Hemingway quoteI’ve been invited to talk at a Book Festival next year – more about that later – but it prompts me to resurrect a book I wrote well over a decade ago. Pathways to Publication was designed to help writers who wanted to publish their own work.

Let’s make a start:

You want to be a Writer?

Of course you do, why would you want to be anything else? With that question out of the way this book does little more than offer comfort and support. It will not solve your obsession although it does indicate possible pathways. You may have many reasons for wanting to write, our hope is that you write for yourself. Nobody else really matters.

That said we assume that one eventual aim is for the writer to reach a reader. Showing writers how that can be achieved is an interesting prospect. To satisfy the reader the writer must work steadily through a number of processes. We want you to produce something that will be read by someone other than its creator.

These pages will follow a central pathway but will allow deviation – plenty of it – as you and other writers contribute, as different styles of writing and of presentation are all examined. Your latest project will never end.

Let’s start at an end. One aim may be to produce a book; just an ink-smeared-on-dead-trees book. You may choose a different format. There’s plenty of choice, and we will describe each in turn.

  • Printed Book
  • Ebook
  • Audiobook
  • App
  • Videos
  • Online (content management software)
  • Games
  • DAISY (for blind and partially sited)
  • Blogs and Web sites

There’s plenty to choose from.

Whatever process is finally chosen, the production of the final book must be as good as you can make it.

It’s not just about content, which, importantly, should always be subjected to close scrutiny by a disinterested third party, preferably a professional editor or proof-reader, but also the physical quality of the work.

Unless a book looks and feels good, with a well designed cover, the correct choice of paper, of font and of page layout, it will fail. No matter how good the content. There remains a prejudice against self-published work that can only be overcome by ensuring that the standards of preparation and presentation are rigorously maintained.

For too long badly produced booklets, with mono-spaced type, smudged photocopy and bent staples hanging onto a flimsy card cover have dominated the image. That must stop. It is no longer acceptable. We have the technology!

In the production process many obstacles have to be overcome but unless the work itself is relevant to an audience no amount of colour, graphic design, expensive paper or hand-crafted binding will hide egotistical, crass or illiterate words on a page.

Being honest to yourself is vital, and the questions asked must be truthfully tackled. What is most important to you? Consider that question carefully, before jumping on a plane to Honolulu with your lover.

How will you accomplish your aims and objectives with this publication? What are the priorities and what is your relationship to others, to relatives and friends, and to the community at large? How will your ambitions change these relationships? Importantly, consider where your writing fits into the world? What would be missing if it had never existed? What messages do you have?


Xmas TreeIt’s that time of year again. The shops have shelves of glittering baubles and other trivia. There’s even a range of artificial Xmas trees to choose from. Stacks of brightly coloured boxes that are all designed to attract children, who now have time to pester parents with their demands as we approach the annual overspend.

All very good for the economy, and in the early Spring retailers may be crowing over the marginal increase in their sales, share prices will rise as the leeches anticipate more profit, and the government will be able to boast about the ‘recovery’.

What does it all mean? Most of the celebrations have little to do with the birth of Christ. Some primary schools will see halls crammed with parents filming their beloveds, who stand sheepishly on stage wrapped in a flannelette sheet with a tea towel round their head. Many others will eschew such singular celebrations in favour of something more ethnically suitable.

It’s sad to see our national heritage slipping away. Most of the customs we have, or had, come from pre-Christian times. Yule respects the end of the year, and the beginning of the next. For a moment the world stands in balance, at the solstice. From this moment the sun will rise a little higher in the sky, a rebirth, heralded by the Oak King, the giver of life who has battled against the old Holly King, and finally won.

Such rituals were vital to an agricultural and hunting community. The seasons of the year brought feast or famine, and so were treated with respect.

For the past 1,000 years the Christian Church has tried to replace these old beliefs. In part it shared these festivals, made them into Christian celebrations. That Christ was born on 25th December remains unproven, but it slotted well into pagan symbolism, as did Easter (Ostara) and many other events. At times it has been a cruel battle. Old women, the herbalists and carers of their day, were persecuted, beaten and executed as witches. Communities were controlled by the Church, which demanded tithes, often 10% of everything produced. The Church was a hard taskmaster, ruling by decree and with promises of an afterlife, of Heaven if you conformed, Hell if you didn’t.

There are signs of change. Our enemy now is the government who really have absolute control. The taxes collected are only part of the story. We are ruled by administrators, with a hint of corruption and greed, by an elite who regard the population of people as a cash cow, to be squeezed dry. Privatisation is yet another way of removing power from the people. As a nation we have lost our sense of purpose. Do we exist to make profits for companies, many of whom are now foreign owned? Is that what our lives are really about?

A recent survey suggests that only one person in twenty now considers themselves to be a member the Christian Church. Less than 2% are regular churchgoers and the last Archbishop of Canterbury has even suggested that the Church is but one generation away from extinction.

That does make me think about the need for spirituality, if not religious belief. That’s a huge question. Not for me on a cold Sunday morning in late November. That’ll need time to be considered.

BBC in a Digital Age

Computer rageYears ago I sat on a government committee that looked at the archiving of digital material. Even then, in the early 90s, it was obvious that much of our society’s records would be in digital format. What to keep, and in what format? Two simple questions but they have never been adequately answered.

I raise it again because I’ve just struggled to regain my recent past after a computer crash. I’ll not bore you with details, but we’ve all been in a similar position, and been frustrated.

Technology now allows us to store much more data. That, in turn, allows more manipulation of that data. We see it happening every day. Its become an obsession within governments. The latest gimmick is to record the number of nurses on a ward at any time. How will they do that? More importantly how will the data collected be interpreted?

This week I submitted my responses to a BBC Trust questionnaire about BBC TV channels (you can do the same Starting to answer the questions my hackles began to rise. The transparency of desire shines through the questions. ‘What are the Strengths…’ always comes first.

We looked at BBC One, Two, Three, Four – why they didn’t include BBC Alba beats me.

What of BBC TV? Does it do it for you? My response was dismissive. For me the BBC is management-heavy, most could disappear, and it is controlled by an arrogant, middle-class, plutocracy who have scant regard for viewers, except as units. They recognise that lowest common denominator shows will create a following, and soaps are perfect. How these programmes affect the wider society, by the influence they have upon viewers, most of whom now seem to believe that anger, conflict and violence are the very stuff of normal living (which makes me a real oddball!).

Cost-cutting hasn’t stopped them repeating shows ad infinitum. Yet they continue to employ the same small coterie of presenters, time after time. Daytime TV is dire, clearly designed to bore the elderly and infirm into early graves. How many antiques are left in the country? Who would buy in a shop and sell in an auction? Anyway how does it help us, and a weak economy, to know that our forebears were very good at making – well, practically everything that we now buy as a plastic import. Couldn’t that time be put to better use? Show us the good side of our country? We have some wonderful people.

There’s a whole book of complaints. For now my biggest moan is that the data will be poorly collected and extracted. You can see BBC managers pulling relevant pieces out of the survey to suit their own agenda. It is, in effect, a waste of time. Watch Points of View to see how dismissive are BBC staff. They don’t care a jot.

The Occasional Moans

We all have a long list of objections. It’s Friday, a time for serious reflection about the weekend ahead, so it is time to mention some of the things and happenings that I dislike:

packagingAs an ancient my dislike of packaging knows few boundaries. I pay for it. I dislike it. Cellophane and rigid plastic bubble are two major crimes but packets generally need to be banned, or seriously reduced. It’s coming to something when I can’t get into a pack of biscuits or crisps without resorting to a sharp instrument.

Cars in towns: Wouldn’t it be simpler to add a computer chip into all vehicles so that they a) kept to the speed limit b) could only accelerate at walking pace? They remain killers. It’s not that they knock down pedestrians and cyclists their danger is always there. Would you put up with an animal belching methane into your face? Probably not. Yet we accept the noxious collection of gases that come out of the backsides of vehicles. Non-polluting vehicles only in towns. We have the technology.


Pedestrians using the streets

Yellow Lines: why do we need them? To assist the flow of traffic. Why do we need traffic? A more difficult question. Get rid of cars from our streets and public transport becomes usable. Remove yellow lines, let vehicles park anywhere on the road. Make it difficult for vehicles to move through towns. That needs a proviso (or possibly more than one). Cycle lanes are NOT places for vehicles to park. Any found should be removed and scrapped (helping the economy).

yellow lines

Make Art not money from motorists

Restaurants: those that use the cheapest ingredients, often prepared in bulk elsewhere, then charge an inordinate amount for poor service.service

Clearly this list is endless but I want you to enjoy your weekend. You deserve it. The sun will shine. Take a walk somewhere.

Philippines Aid

Donate Now aftermath of typhoonIt’s heart-breaking to see the people suffering after the typhoon hit the Philippines. The media, TV and the Internet are great communication methods but at times you are just left feeling helpless, particularly so as the reporter tells us all that the next scenes may be disturbing. Inwardly I shout, ‘don’t show them then’.

Our Prime Minister David Cameron announced initially that we would send £6 million in aid. That was quickly raised to £10 million. My maths are poor (I am an economist by LSE training) but if there are 60 million of us, and we give £10 million does that mean we are each giving £0.167777777 each? That’s 17 pence a head (rounded up).

We are sending a warship – that’s good. We spend about £42,000,000,000 a year on defence – which is a great deal more than 17 pence per head, and most of the time our military personnel seem to be away somewhere, fighting various enemies, and one suspects that many of these enemies wouldn’t be enemies if we stopped our killing, and the rape and mayhem that is an inevitable part of all wars.

It’s good to know our defence forces and personnel are helping people in need. I can support such initiatives.

Aid is desperately needed and I hope nobody will begrudge money if that will help.

Typhoon Damage

You may recall our Glorious Chancellor insisting that the Overseas Aid budget would not be cut. I wondered why. Not for long because most Aid is not Aid for the country concerned but a way of encouraging our exporters, or feathering a nest or two so that we get our own way. At least that’s the way its always been. It seems that we are now giving away a tad too much dosh, and it’s being kept by the wrong people.

That’s an of-the-cuff remark as I rely upon rumour but we do spend a lot of our hard-earned cash, and perhaps it’s time we looked at the returns on our investments.

In recent times we have handed over huge sums to Hamas, to Libya, Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, Jordan, Kenya, Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, India, Congo, Ethiopia, South Africa, Senegal, Mozambique, Zambia, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Tanzania and others. The total sum is mind-boggling.

Most of these countries are larger than us. Many have plenty of resources. Rightly or wrongly many have been shown how we run our affairs, often we have run their administrations for them, for a time. Very few seem to have gained much from our instruction. Yet all are keen to keep our money. Very often we don’t seem to know what they do with it. Surely it has little to do with the fact that big estates and companies in UK are now foreign-owned?

What do we get out of all this beneficence? Yesterday I spoke to a South African, now living in my town. He told me his father had ridden from Holland to SA on a bike, many years ago. Only the foolhardy can do that today. Being English I can’t buy freehold property in India – yet we allow Indians to buy here. Doesn’t seem fair.

One result of our interference upon the world stage, as the Robin of SuperMan USA, is that everyone now hates us. We can’t flash a British passport anywhere and expect cooperation.

That’s progress.