23 December 2011


Here in Chorley, the supermarkets will be closed on Christmas Day. Yes, you've heard it right. Closed. All day.

As I write, the news appears to have spread far and wide. People are sitting in cars waiting to join the queue to crawl around the car park looking for a space.

Shelves are being emptied faster than pimply youths can fill them up. Items of dubious quality and doubtful value are being snapped up, thrown into trolleys and buried beneath shiny things from the seasonal goods aisle.

You are getting a first hand account from a man only recently returned from his own foray. The harassed checkout clerk told me it is Mad Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Tomorrow may, however, be worse. And I have to return.

Despite buying most of what was on my list, it turns out that this document was by no means exhaustive and lacked certain essential items which are needed for Christmas Dinner. I'm talking vegetables here. I also need two cat presents and a box of cereals. Ah well, I'll make an early start tomorrow.

All this buying leads me to contemplate the whole Christmas process. All the excitement and expense, all the effort and anticipation followed by anxiety and disappointment.

Everyone has to be happy at Christmas, even if they don't feel happy, they have to pretend in case they spoil everyone else's joy.

Everyone has to be grateful for each inappropriate gift and smile through the sadness of money ill-spent.

I have spent many Christmases in fear of unhappiness and discord. I have felt responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone around me. Not concern, not compassion but responsibility. As if I can somehow make everyone else's Christmas a happy one.

This Christmas, I am content. I have bought some interesting presents that will make my family smile. I have, as usual, sent very few Christmas cards yet continue to receive many.

Christmas is looking good from here, even if there may be no vegetables for dinner. As long as we have crackers and pigs in blankets, it will be glorious.

Happy Christmas, everyone. Or not, if you prefer.

7 December 2011

Making the Best of Things

I feed the cats twice every day. Two pouches of wet food and a handful of dry.

Most days, I open the cupboard in the utility room, take out two pouches, tear them open and plop them in the bowls. Not a lot of trouble and I am rewarded with two appreciative cats munching happily.

Yesterday was different. It was like I was treading through treacle all day, the more effort I made, the less progress. The simple process of cat feeding became a major chore. When I opened the cupboard door, I knocked over a bucket containing various household cleaners in squirty bottles. This particular bucket is used to carry the cleaning fluids and cloths from one bathroom to another and is a handy piece of kit to have around. Unfortunately its proximity to the cupboard containing the cat food meant that I either had to take the trouble to move it or allow the door to shove it aside. The latter choice proved to be the wrong one.

At this point let me point out that the difference between moving a bucket and knocking it over is the difference between a good day and a bad day. A happy day and a miserable day. An day full of positive energy and a day of listlessness.

The way I approached the bucket was the way I was approaching life.

When the contents of the bucket spread over the floor, I also knocked the box of cat food off the shelf. In trying unsuccessfully to prevent its fall, I grabbed at the foil packages, cutting my finger. I stood for a moment amongst 48 packs of food and several bottles of cleanser and bleach, then decided that my finger was dripping blood which would also need cleaning up unless I attended to the wound first.

I found a box of plasters, applied one to my poorly finger and apologised to the cats for the delay. Carefully, I gathered up all the food than fed the little angels. A pungent smell led me to the discovery that the top had detached from one of the bottles of cleaner, allowing its contents to leak over the utility room floor. The stuff was called Lime Lite, a particularly powerful little blighter which I use to get the most stubborn deposits off the sides of the shower. The scale of the spill was reasonably small, a few sheets of kitchen towel were all that was needed. All I had to do was to go upstairs, pull down the loft ladder, ascend, fish about a bit then descend clutching a fresh supply of kitchen towels. I then cleaned up the spill. When I went to throw away the soaked tissue in the kitchen bin, it was so full they wouldn't fit. With great difficulty, for the bin had been subject to several days of intense pressure every time an additional item had been added, I managed to extract the bin liner and carry it out to the wheelie bin. There were no bin liners left under the sink, I had to go out to the garage for a fresh supply, pop one in the bin and dispose of the tissues.

Feeding the cats was a microcosm of my whole day. Nothing was easy. If a thing could go wrong, it seemed to. Even my chickens were misbehaving, invading the conservatory when I have told them time and again not to come in the house. I got one egg, that's all, only one egg from four chickens.

Today, I also got one egg. Yippee, one beautiful egg just for me.

The hot water stopped working. I bathed using a kettle of hot water and the bucket. It was like being in India again, joyful.
The wind and rain snarled at me all day, I rejoiced at the warmth in my office.

I can't help having good days and not so good days. It's not what happens, it's how I'm feeling. If I had the choice I'd choose happy, but I don't always give myself the choice.

14 November 2011

Kerala Thoughts

As my first visit to India enters it's final few days, I am reflecting on how it has been.

First, and it's easy to forget the importance of this, I have remained vigorously healthy. The food and the climate seem to agree well with me. This vital element has allowed me to enjoy my adventure.

I have seen and appreciated the breathtaking natural beauty here in Kerala. An even greater source of joy has been the population.

Contrary to predictions, engaging with these wonderful people has filled my heart with joy. When I close my eyes, I can see the bright eyes and wide smiles that greet me everywhere I go.

I am under no illusions about the stark realities these people face, I do not seek to glamourise the grinding poverty and terrible living conditions. But, even under these circumstances, there is a strong family ethic, a society which has pride and high moral standards.

The strong base for this appears to be a matriarchal system where, in every family, the mother holds absolute sway. There is a saying which goes something like:

First my mother
Then my father
Then my teacher
Then God

This is a system of priorities that appears to work.

Women here are always immaculately dressed in bright saris and gold jewellery, even when they wade into the river and begin to slap washing on rocks.

I saw a Western female tourist walking on the beach yesterday. I have become so used to only seeing modestly dressed Indian women that I felt a little shocked.

Travelling alone has brought me face to face with some of my more laughable traits. The admonishing voice in my head has become something to laugh at rather than jumping to attention for. I am letting go of many habits on this trip. Whether they get picked up again when I am home is another matter.

My driver is a poor man with little formal education who has learned Hindi, English and Arabic to add to his native Malayam merely by talking to his passengers.

I asked him about religion. He said that it was fifty-fifty in Kerala. Fifty per cent Christian, fifty per cent Hindu and fifty percent Muslim.

I asked him what the differences were.

He said "No differences, we are all human beings."

It's a simple expression of truth that has stayed with me.

6 November 2011


Before I left England, I was warned to expect alot of very poor people living in squalor, children begging on the streets, hunger and poverty everywhere.

I have a history of being unable to deal with things like this. I feel very uncomfortable, I am ashamed of being so well off. I have no right to feel good, to be so comfortable and well fed when others are not so fortunate.

I prepared myself for a shock and expected to feel terrible.

My hotel room overlooked a slum, makeshift shacks crowded together covered with corrugated iron and plastic sheets. I awoke to what I first thought was gunfire. It was just after 7 am, I used my football binoculars to see what was going on. A handful of barefooted children were setting off firecrackers. They lit them then ran away, hiding behind bushes. Unsuspecting adults were walking past and occasionally jumped in alarm as the crackers banged and spat around their feet. I could feel the huge gust of merriment from the kids even at distance.

The adults were emerging from the slums, not filthy and ashamed but upright and proud. Women, stunning in bright saris, men well groomed and clean shaven apart from the seeming obligatory hairy caterpillar on their upper lips.

My friend Prakash took me over to Navi Mumbai to visit his steel fabrication factory. As we left, the neighbouring factories were finishing for the day. Almost all the workers were walking as no public transport serves the industrial area. As we drove slowly through the throng, I saw smiles and laughter, people walking with grace.

Don't get me wrong, it's a terrible thing that people are living like that. What I find uplifting is the beautiful dignity and resilience of the human spirit that they display.

For my own part, I realise that my anticipated discomfort was born out of my need to control and fix everything I encounter. Now, I accept that even I can't expect myself to alleviate the poverty of half a billion people. Things are as they are.

Most of the people I meet here are poor, very poor. All of them have shown genuine kindness to me. I am humbled by their generosity of spirit.

And inspired.

4 November 2011

I don't believe it!

Those of you who know me will recognise the circumstances that I find difficult to cope with. Situations that send me out of control, things that I try to avoid at all costs.

I could give you a list, but that would take too much blog space. Let's concentrate on two of my worst phobias.

The first one, I'll skip over. Let's just say that I don't like using public toilets. Couple that with a lot of travelling around Mumbai which has 300 public toilets against a requirement of 50,000 and the almost inevitable looseness associated with a visit to the sub-continent, you might appreciate my trepidation when planning this trip.

The second involves the anxiety that catching a plane puts me through. I normally arrive several hours before the recommended check-in time. The night before would actually suit me better.

Today, I had to catch a flight from Mumbai to Kerala. The flight was due to depart at 10:30 am, I had already checked in on-line so an hour to drop my bag and get through security seemed reasonable. The Mumbai traffic is pretty bad, especially at that time of day, so I allowed an hour for what should be a half hour journey.

My friend booked a taxi to pick me up at 8:00 am and take me to the domestic airport. I looked at my tickets when I got back to my hotel and they said that I departed from the international airport. These two airports are on the opposite sides of Mumbai. They are not close together at all. The importance of this information will become clear in a moment.

I rang Kingfisher and asked them which airport I should fly from. The nice man confirmed it was the international one. I worried that I might get a driver who didn't speak English and would insist on taking me to the wrong airport so I rang the taxi company and changed the booking, just to be on the safe side.

Bear with me, this is actually leading to some interesting personal issues.

I woke early, packed quickly, went for breakfast and was standing with the concierge waiting for the cab at 7:45.

At 8:00, the concierge rang the cab firm who assured him that their cab was at the entrance waiting to pass through security. This normally takes about five minutes, they search the car for bombs, take swabs, analyse these for explosive residues and poke around under the car with a mirror. On the way in, there had been two cars in front of my taxi so it took ten or fifteen minutes to get through.

At 8:30 I was still waiting, I was informed that there was a big convention on and a queue for security. I watched myself tensing up, smiled at the all to familiar feeling and let it go.

Just before 9, the cab arrived. Ah well, half an hour to get there, should still be there in plenty of time. The traffic was merciless. I remained mildly amused at the state I was trying to revert to. There was none of that stomach sinking panic that I always get on the way to catch a plane.

My equanimity was rewarded by the traffic clearing enough for us to get to the international airport with just over an hour to go before the plane took off. Deep joy.

I paid the cab driver and showed an old soldier my passport so that he let me into the terminal. I asked a Kingfisher rep where to drop my suitcase and she looked at my ticket.
"Look" she pointed "it says Terminal 1A. That's at the domestic airport. You need to go there."
"But" I started to complain that a man at Kingfisher had told me the wrong airport and that I had ignored the advice of my friend, who after all should know as he has a home in Kerala. Instead I thanked her politely and went back to the old soldier on the door.
"I need to go to the domestic airport" I'm not sure what I expected him to do about it, but he seemed helpful enough.
"OK, show me you passport."
I gave him my passport and he spent valuable minutes examining it closely.
"You can go." He passed it back to me and went about his business.

After several abortive tries, I located a taxi and asked him to take me to the domestic airport. These were the only two words of English he understood, unless you include his reply of "200 rupees" which I don't.

"Please hurry" I said.

He shrugged at each exhortation then began to weave his way slowly through the traffic jams until he join the longest queue I have seen at a petrol station since the tanker drivers went on strike. The amazing thing about this all was that I felt great. No gnashing or snarling or Fawlty-like histrionics. It wasn't the taxi driver's problem, it was entirely of my own making.

What a wonderfully liberating experience!

Anyway, that's what this trip is all about, I guess.

Next time I'll describe the Mumbai slums and my reaction to them. That was another big worry for me.

3 November 2011

First Impressions

One of my ambitions has been to be met at an airport by someone holding a piece of cardboard with my name on it. This may seem a strange thing but it has me scanning the throng at every arrivals area. Yesterday, I walked out of Mumbai airport and luxuriated in a slow walk down a long line of anxious faces above variegated placards. There was one with my name on it, held by an ernest young man with a neat black moustache and a crisp blue shirt. He took me to receive the warmest welcome I have ever received. Two magnificent ladies thrust flowers into my hands and told me they recognised me because I looked like my son who they spoke of in glowing terms.

It was wonderful to be greeted in this way, a perfect beginning to my Indian adventure.

The Mumbai traffic is interesting. Five or six ragged lanes of vehicles ranging from motorcycles and motorised rickshaws to heavy goods vehicles and JCB's fight for progress. None of these appears to possess working indicators that might reduce the surprise of their sudden and haphazard changes in direction. There is no system of priorities, if a gap appears in the general direction they are heading, every vehicle competes for it even if it is too small to accommodate them. Anything turning across the flow of traffic appears to have equal rights. Sprinkle in a good measure of foolhardy pedestrians and you have the perfect mix for chaos.

What strikes me is the equanimity with which the lurching lack of progress is endured. Although everyone is constantly leaning on their horns there is a complete absence of negative reaction. They all seem grateful just to remain unscathed after their latest suicidal manoeuvre. Tempers are conspicuous by their absence. Where there are no rules, none get broken and there is nothing to get shirty about.

One thing I love is the way that everyone addresses me as Mr. David. It has a remarkable quality that combines respect with friendliness. I may encourage this form of address when I get home.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

31 October 2011

Passage to India

One more sleep then I'll be in India, or at least on my way.  Then I'll spend a good few days trying to work out what time it is before I realise it doesn't matter, I'm still tired.

Today, I need to complete my packing.  I have decided to take one suitcase and a rucksack.  The idea of the rucksack is to keep at least one hand free for swatting things as I drag my suitcase behind me like a gypsy caravan.

Packing to date has resulted in a case half full of medical items.  I have bug cream, bug spray, bug repellant, bug bite soother, bug bite antiseptic cream and anti-itch lotion.  I am expecting there to be insects.  Just a hunch of mine.  We don't have many insects in England, they must all be somewhere hot and crowded.  My bet is India.

There are also tablets of various kinds, just in case I feel a bit woozy.  I've got more or less everything bar laxatives.  I have another hunch that constipation might not be one of the higher risk conditions.

There seems little room for clothes, but I'm only there for a couple of weeks and it's reputed to be hot so I'll not really need much in the way of clothes.  Of course I'll take a warm coat and a jumper, there's no point being foolhardy.

It has been suggested that I might do well to take a hat.  Now, I did have one but I gave it to my son.  It lit up so you could find your way in the dark.  Perfect for pub toilets, according to my son.  I have no idea of the prevalence of street lamps where I'm going.

That's the great thing about this adventure.  I have only a very vague idea of what to expect.  My need to have everything safe and predictable is being sorely tested.  I am way outside my comfort zone.

That's the whole point.

21 October 2011

The Economic Future of Europe

There are more euros in circulation than any other currency, including the US dollar.  About 900 billion.

There was once a suggestion that it would be adopted by the UK, but we sensibly decided that it wouldn't work and decided to opt out.  Unfortunately, we are inextricably linked into the EU economy and so to the unfortunate consequences of this piece of arrogant stupidity.

Now, I must make it clear that I am not an economist.  I am a writer.  Yet how is it that I could anticipate the inevitable disaster from the moment the prospects of the euro were first announced?  Surely, much cleverer people than I were involved in the euro's creation?

It appears not.

My limited understanding of these matters is as follows:

Currency is important to a country because it has a controlling effect on its economy. As an economy strengthens, the value of its currency rises.  More people want to hold it and deal in it.  As it rises, the cost of exports effectively rises as well.  This makes exports less competitive but has the benefit of reducing the cost of imports.  By manipulating interest rates, a government can fine tune the situation and find a balance.

Someone managed to persuade rather alot of people that having the same currency as Germany would be good for them.  It wasn't.  It has only been good for Germany.

The currency weakness created by having Greece, Portugal and Italy in the same economic zone has allowed Germany to export lots of Porsches, Mercs, Audis and VW's and other stuff.  Now they are faced with a request from the rest of Europe to share some of their gains and they aren't keen to do that.

The consequencies of a eurozone break up may well be better than to paper over the cracks with newly printed banknotes.  The alternative would be to make europe one big ungovernable country.  Either way, there's going to be lots of civil unrest and uncertainty.

The idea that growth is the way out of this mess is also not tenable.  Buying stuff with money we have borrowed is exactly the reason we are now financially insecure and suffering huge cutbacks in employment.  Consumption is how we arrived in this parlous state.  Buying things we don't need with other people's money can't be a good thing, even if your country is leading by example.

There's no easy solution to our economic plight.  My policy is to think carefully about everything I consume.  Do I really need it?  Can I afford it? What effect am I having on the world?

Reducing consumption will save the world even if done a tiny bit at a time.  It's not hopeless, far from it.  It can be a joyful experience, deciding what really matters in my life and realising how much I can easily let go.

7 October 2011

Blind Alleys

I am indebted to the estimable Bernard Cornwell and the interview he gave recently to the Telegraph. In it, he described his job as putting doors in blind alleys. He would have his hero, Sharpe, up a blind alley with no means of escape then, hey presto, a door appears and he is saved. The clever bit is that his readers already know about the door because he casually mentioned it a few chapters before. The even cleverer bit is that Bernard stuck this information in only after he realised he needed it.

So, to someone like me who writes chronologically, without plotting anything in advance, this has come as a bit of an eye opener. What's written already can be changed, modified, added to or even deleted! I use the exclamation mark to denote the sharp intake of breath I was forced to make when I realised the implications.

I am putting what I fondly imagine will be the final touches to the second draft of Due Diligence. The first draft ended a little too abruptly, I have to admit. The magic 75,000 words had been reached and, well, there was a decent novel's worth there already. So I rather skimped on the ending, leaving a few items unclear. Mainly because I was unsure about them myself, after all when I write in first person, I can't be expected to have all the answers.

Now Bernard has come to the rescue. A couple of lines added to Chapter 1 and suddenly it all makes more sense.

The ending is much more satisfying, I feel good about it now. My readers will certainly get their money's worth and will not have to guess or speculate.

Thanks, Bernard.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

16 September 2011

Singing my own Song

Twitter occasionally sends me something good.

Today I received a quote from Osho, who is a very interesting and entertaining man. I use the present tense even though he is dead. There's no problem being interesting, entertaining and dead all at once as far as I'm concerned. That's what us writers are all about.

Osho wasn't a writer, he said stuff which someone wrote down and produced loads of books from. One of my favourites is "Compassion" which includes a rather off putting (at first) dvd of the great man sitting in a big chair talking sibilantly through his beard. Once you get used to him, he's fine. He does take a bit of getting used to, though.

In "Compassion" he tells me that the basis of all love is love for oneself. This is not what I was taught at school.

Today's quote involved Zen. "It does not argue, it simply sings its own song."

That's what I want to do, sing my own song.

Anyway, check Osho out on You Tube if you haven't already. Then read all his books.

Another, less bearded and much more immediately agreeable man who also has a lot of good sense and inspirational wisdom to impart is my friend Christian Pankhurst. He's not dead, on the contrary he's very much alive and you can get free live access to him by clicking this link:


7 September 2011

In the Wrong

If you're anything like me, you probably can't remember the last time you were wrong about something.  As for admitting it, well, that's not going to happen.  Ever.

Imagine my surprise and consternation on discovering something I was wrong about and am willing to admit it.

It all started when I went to put a few tins of beans in the big cupboard in the utility room.  As I pushed the tins onto the crowded shelf, they displaced several empty jam jars which threatened to shower down a hail of deadly glass projectiles and injure me terribly.

I complained loudly to my wife, who was responsible for carefully washing and saving every glass jar we emptied.  "They're taking up valuable space."  I complained "There's no room for my beans or any other nutritious foodstuffs for that matter."

Now you see where the stilted dialogue in my novels comes from.  I am only reporting the pedantic way in which I carry on a conversation.

Grumpily, the only appropriate disposition for carrying out household tasks, I decanted the glass items into several cardboard boxes and dumped them in the conservatory.  The effort of actually chucking them out proved too much for me and they remained cluttering up the place until very recently.

A neighbour's tree has a branch which hangs over our garden.  This became replete with green plum-type fruit which began to litter the unfinished decorative stone surround to the geodome.  The rest of the stone has been ordered from Frankie but he has been in Kent for the last few months and hasn't got round to delivering it.  That's OK as we will probably change the design to incorporate growing beds instead.  It's more in keeping with our permaculture design ethos.

Anyway, these plums needed picking up so I threw the rotton ones onto the compost heap and made jam with the others.  Seven pots of delicious jam.

A friend has plum trees and so we made some jam with those.  The courgette harvest has been a particularly good one and yielded huge amounts of chutney.  When we were at Brands Hatch last week, the hotel car park had crab apple trees which we took advantage of and made crap apple jelly.  More pots were needed for this.

The boxes in the conservatory are emptying fast, at this rate I may need to buy some jam jars.  They cost £1 each!

So, I admit I was wrong.

I suppose there has to be a first time for everything.

1 September 2011

Snappy Titles

Pick the title, then write.

I do recommend this approach.  A good title can inspire and provide focus. 

Sometimes, I find what I write veers off the title's intent but that's fine as well.  As long as something's getting written.

Here is a list of my titles:

Completed Novels:

Technical Difficulties
Acceptable Behaviour
Divine Intervention
Due Diligence

Work in Progress:

Proceeds of Crime

Short Stories:

By The Light

What do those titles conjure up?  What can they possibly signify?

Aren't you just dying to read them?

Be patient.  Or ask nicely.

Isn't it a Shaman

Couldn't resist the title. Cheap shot you might think but there is a deeper thought behind this execrable pun.

It's about me actually living the life I am meant to live, to the full, to the best of my ability.

Instead of that, I take a few choice words of wisdom and regurgitate them when challenged. Here I am, in the present, in the moment, embodied, living in the now. You get the picture?

Thinking about it is good. Learning about it is good. Reading about it is good.

But living it is what it's all about, and that's a different thing altogether. Knowing how to do something is useful. Being able to do it is an entirely different thing.

However, the key for me is getting it wrong, falling short, letting myself down, acting like a giddy kipper and not beating myself up about it. Not even regretting it. Not feeling I haven't progressed, will never get it 'right'. Only observing, not judging. Being real, not wrapping my actions up in some old story.

This may sound a little bit odd but I am trying to explain how I am at this very moment. Writing, letting the words flow and not being judgemental regarding their meaning or merit. OK, I know what they say, I know if I like it, I know if I regard them as valid or well written. I have the choice to be like this or not. I have the ability to switch them off and on. I can even decide to erase the lot of them.

I suppose you are already aware of the outcome, after all, you must be reading something.

The title gives an example which made me think about myself. I am what I am, as Popeye reminds me, and that's all that i am. A shaman I'm not. No matter how many weekend courses in shamanism I attended I can never be a shaman. I might learn a bit about what a shaman is but no amount of information can change my nature.

I'm me. The sooner I get used to it, the better.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

19 August 2011

Passage to India

You might remember how excited I am about my chickens.  Every day they give me joy and eggs.

Now, I have decided to go on an adventure.  I know what you're thinking.  Chickens and an adventure in the same year?  Bit hasty?  Not a bit of it, I need to have these experiences while I can still breathe.

Changing the subject for a moment, I am detecting a positive change in my writing style that I ascribe to using Twitter.  Because it is limited to 140 characters, I have had to learn to edit out any redundant words,  Words like "just", "after all", "seems", "might", "very well", "have had to", "out", "any".

I am going to India in November.  On my own.

The last time I did anything like this I was fourteen or fifteen and I would regularly hitch hike up to Scotland and stay in Youth Hostels or anywhere else that would have me.  I lived on porridge oats and what I could scrounge from better equipped travellers in the hostel kitchen.  My successful technique was to sit mournfully at their table slowly stirring my thin gruel and sighing in the direction of their delicious supper.  I have a feeling that this will not work in India and I will need a better plan.

Because of my love of tea, I decided to go to Darjeerling.  Fly to Kolkata and take the little steam train known as the Toy Train that goes up the mountains and has documentaries made about it.  Sounds great.

My son has a very good friend whose family live in India and he told him about my intentions.  Immediately, he emailed me to invite me to Kerala and offered me his family home to stay in.  I replied that Darjeerling was my chosen destination, but thanks anyway.

I've been like this as long as I can remember.  I decide to do something, say eating an apple.  It is pointed out to me that the only available apple is bruised and maggot infested but that succulent juicy pears are available in abundance.  I eat the apple.  Why?

So I have caught myself in time, thrown away the apple, grabbed the juicy pear and am off to Kerala, the most beautiful place in the whole world.

10 August 2011

Manchester Riots

The definition of a riot involves the gathering of eleven or more people for the violent pursuit of an unlawful enterprise. The scenes in Manchester, London and elsewhere were certainly riots.

The BBC persistently described these rioters and looters as protestors. BBC television and radio filled their airtime by parading apologists who ascribed the riots to Government cuts, an uncaring society, the neglect of the poor, the MP's expenses scandal and the banker's bonuses.

When the riots were described as criminality, the BBC presenters were scornful and described this view as simplistic.

A BBC producer on Radio4 this afternoon was unapologetic when faced with the suggestion that television coverage had made matters worse. That the presence of the cameras had aggravated the situation and that the BBC had been instrumental in attracting more people to the incidents. She insisted that the BBC's purpose was to report and that it had no other responsibility. It might have been suggested that the worse the riots the better the BBC coverage looked but she was being interviewed on the BBC and the question wasn't asked.

These were not protestors, they were looters. They were not poor, they were bored. They killed people and destroyed livelihoods because they knew that, even if they were caught, nothing much could be done to them. One of them summed it up by saying that all he would get was an ASBO and he could live with that.

So, this is what all the appeasement politics and Human Rights legislation has brought us to. The inability to defend the rights of decent people against a lawless minority.

There were, however, three positive aspects that struck me:

First, the mobilisation of clean up squads. Young and old, sweeping up the debris in a spirit of community.

Secondly, the inspirational behaviour of our Asian communities. They epitomise decent, law abiding, family oriented society. Recognition that they provide a bedrock for Britain and not a threat is long overdue.

Thirdly, the way in which the looters are being condemned by every part of society. I get the impression that anyone offered cheap electronic equipment or designer clothes is now more likely to call the police than grab themselves a bargain. The old myth of victimless crimes, of robbing the rich, has been dramatically exposed.

I am sad about the BBC. It has been telling us its own version of the truth for a long time and now its agenda has been clearly exposed.

We can defend our cities against this threat. We can respect and empower our police force. We can foster a sense of community in our children. We can demonstrate by our own actions that quality of life and happiness are not a function of money and possessions.

Our children will not enjoy the resources and wealth that we have. It doesn't mean they can't lead much happier and rewarding lives.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

3 August 2011

Flying Sheds

It didn't work.

I promised a picture of the flying shed if people posted comments on the previous blog. There was even the interesting (or so I thought) tattoo related competition which only one person bothered to enter. Alison Bruce suggested, via Twitter, a broken lightbulb on the forehead so I declare her the official winner.

In the spirit of forgiveness, though, I have decided to show you all the flying shed anyway.

Oops, this isn't it. This is a photo of some people in front of their holiday cottage. Sorry.

Ah, that's better. The Flying Shed in all its magnificence.

I will explain the significance of it, how it got like that and what functions it serves.

But not today.

You aren't completely forgiven, apart from Alison, of course.

My newest novel, Due Diligence, has received rave reviews from beta readers, even Mick at the office enjoyed it.

I have appointed an editor, she is busily doing a line edit as I write, and I intend to submit the finished article before the end of August. It's a bit sudden and daunting, but if I don't get something out there soon I'll be too old to enjoy all that wealth and fame.

Next time, I'll update you on the exciting battle between the photovoltaics on my roof and my blog.

25 July 2011

Good Sport

They are closing the roads near to where I live next weekend. The whole area will be cut off or disrupted most of the time, getting to and from my daughter's house will be nigh on impossible. So I won't be able to look after her chickens while she is on holiday.

The occasion?

There is what they refer to as an Ironman competition. This involves men swimming 2.4 miles in a cold reservoir then riding 112 miles on a bicycle followed immediately by a 26 mile run. I assume that no women are involved on the basis that it's called Ironman and not Ironperson and that women have more sense. I may, however, be wrong about this, in which case I apologise to any female participants who might be reading this and feel slighted.

No wonder the roads will be closed, they'll need access for the ambulances and men in white coats carrying straight jackets.

Last night I watched another sport on TV. This involved a squat, rotund guy with thinning hair. He was up against a bulky guy with glasses wearing a black shirt and a tortured expression. The winner had a very bad tattoo on the inside of his right arm, it looked like something he might have done himself and, if so, confirmed his right handedness. The tattoo said simply enough "The Power".

Both men (again, I saw no evidence of women participants though there were many in the audience) threw darts at a board for an hour or two. Most of the time the darts stuck in the board. At the end, The Power triumphed. He was very happy even though he had been winning everything for the last twenty years. The commentators seemed surprised at just how good he was, even though they had seen it all many times before.

I don't expect that either of these guys will turn up for the Ironman competition next week.

It strikes me that both these activities are classified under the general heading of sport.

I have a feeling that neither is to be recommended as a way towards better health.

The winner of the Ironman should be given a tattoo as his prize.

Suggestions, please.

Offerings will be judged on the basis of wording and placement.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

16 July 2011

Money is Time

Today I have the delightful job of dog sitting. This involves an initial frenzy of riotous jumping and licking followed by a few hours of quiet. Now and then we might take a stroll in each other's company. Walking with a dog beside me feels comfortable and right. Walking without a dog, I might be mistaken for someone up to no good, a prowler even.

Time to write a blog post is included in the dog sitting deal.

This morning there was a nice article in the Daily Telegraph about the Scottish couple who won £168 million on the lottery. Their win makes them the 26th richest people in Scotland. They have roughly the same amount of money as Posh and Becks. So, they were asked, what will change? How will their new riches change their lives?

The questions got me playing the 'what if I won the lottery how would it change my life' game. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has spent at least a little time speculating about that.

It got me thinking that once my basic needs of food, shelter and security have been met, money really only buys me time. I can buy a washing machine to save me time. I can buy a car to save time walking or queuing for a bus. 


In Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief, the currency of the world he creates is time itself. People have a personal clock that allows time to be traded. When your time runs out, you die (go Quiet).

We all have time, some have more than others. It's how we use it that matters. If I had an extra £165 million it might allow me a bit more flexibility and choice about how I use my time but it wouldn't create any more of it for me.

I don't spend enough of my time consciously. I let it slip away while I perform the routine tasks I'm used to doing. Whole days can be spent pottering about without me noticing.  I while away time, supposedly waiting for some 'better' time to come along.

It's not really about what I am doing, it's whether I am actually alive while I'm doing it. It's a matter of me being aware, feeling how I am, savouring the moment, enjoying breathing in and out.

So I don't need to win the lottery.

I already have plenty of time.

I will begin to spend it more consciously.

7 July 2011

News Update

Remarkably, in direct conflict with the information contained in my previous blog, I have started to write a new novel, a follow up to Due Diligence called Proceeds of Crime.  Obviously this is a device to avoid having to rewrite Technical Difficulties.

Maybe not.

I have come up with a major breakthrough in writing technique.  It's called a synopsis.

Instead of wading through hundreds of thousands of precious words putting a comma here and a new word there, I am writing down the story.  I will then have a good idea of which bits are necessary, which bits are not and where bits need adding.  It might seem obvious to you but I have only just twigged that this is how to start editing.

So, today has been a good writing day.

I am also impressed by the heavy showers we are getting this summer.  The weather forecasters promised a searing hot summer with dreadful water shortages.  I installed water butts and rejoiced as the rains filled them.  Since then, it has not been warm and certainly not dry.  When I looked at my poor dishevelled chickens this morning I wondered if I might have been better getting ducks.

As I was walking in Chorley, a shower forced me into a doorway and into conversation of a fairly elderly man.  OK, he was probably not much older than I am but in my book that makes him elderly.  He opened by wondering whether we might collect more of this rain and export to somewhere it is needed.  Our thoughts turned to Kenya and the Horn of Africa, to those distressing scenes of helpless women and starving children.  My acquaintance expressed his surprise that those unfortunate women had so many children when they couldn't feed them.

This conversation made me realise how easily I find an excuse to feel disconnected from people who aren't pretty much exactly like myself.  It's as if I am endeavouring to convince myself that their plight doesn't matter as much because they're different.

Well, they're not.

If anyone is different, it's me.  90% of the world's population doesn't have the full belly, the comfort and the security that I do.

I may not be able to send the rain but I can send them something.


6 July 2011

The China Syndrome

Well, that's a relief.

I have been getting discouraged about how difficult it will be to get my manuscipt to the degree of perfection that might allow it to be published and read. Now, I am feeling a little more relaxed about the whole thing.

I sat in a car at the weekend and was driven to and from Nuremburg, a 1700 mile round trip if you exclude the ferry.  Apart from a sore bum, I emerged unscathed and having read Kraken by China Mieville on the journey.  I may have become a bit picky with all this editing I am trying to do but Mr. Mieville's lengthy tome seemed riddled with mistakes.  Bear in mind this book has been published by one of the leading imprints and would have received the full editorial treatment.

China Mieville is one of the most original and innovative writers around.  His Perdido St. Station was wonderful and so was The Scar.  Kraken is a bit patchy to say the least.

Plotwise, there was alot going for it.  Too much at times.  Plenty of good solid Mieville wordplay but I felt a touch let down by the way the nasty villian got his comeuppance.  He (or they) went from omnipotent and invulnerable to dead and gone too easily for it to be at all satisfactory.  The criminal mastermind was bested through the judicial use of a bit of sticky tape.  All this in a tale of gods, demons, angels, magic and the end of the world.

Even so, there was enough inventiveness to keep my interest.  There were also plenty of typos and poor grammar.  Worse still, the point of view shifted about alarmingly at times leaving me wondering whose voice I was supposed to be hearing and how they knew what was going on in other people's heads.

Don't let me put you off reading Kraken, if you like Mieville (or even Gaiman) you will almost certainly enjoy it.

What it has taught me is to be a lot more forgiving with myself, get my main characters established and the plot believable and don't get too hung up on the niceties of style and composition.

Due Diligence is out to beta readers, I'm hoping to get some good feedback very soon.  Maybe it won't need alot doing to it.


24 June 2011


Where do dreams come from? What do they mean? Why do I ask?

There was a man called Ian Wallace on Radio 2 today talking about his new book entitled 100 top dreams or something like that.

Why was I listening to Radio 2?

Well, I was driving down to Ross on Wye and I turned on the radio. It was tuned to Radio 2 because my wife had been the last one to drive the car and she likes to listen to that station.
I don't normally listen to Radio 2, I either let my iPod choose random Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Steve Earle songs (mainly) or I go to Radio 5live where I can get endless speculation about football transfers and descriptions of long traffic jams, some of which I have participated in. It makes me feel better if the queue I am in on the M6 has been reported on national radio. It comforts me to know that my slow progress is remarkable enough to be newsworthy, justifies my frustration, makes my predicament official.

The author began to speak about his dreams book as I pulled into a petrol station. By the time I had filled up and paid, he was already on to number two on the list, losing your teeth. In his estimation, losing teeth is the second most common dream and it indicates a loss of confidence in real life. You show your teeth when you are happy or angry, so that makes a kind of sense.

I gathered from the discussion that the top, number one, most common dream of all time is the one where you are being chased, but I missed what inferences he drew from that one.

I found all this only vaguely interesting until he announced the number three dream on the list. Not being able to find a toilet.

The interviewer was very sceptical that this came number three in the charts. He found it hard to believe that there were ninety six less common dreams in this man's book than this one about an inability to locate an appropriate place to pee.

I beg to differ. I would have expected it to be number one. It probably is number one but most people wouldn't admit to it and probably invented some claptrap about being chased while all their teeth fell out to avoid embarrassment.

The dream book man explained that this dream was an indication that the dreamer is not taking sufficient care of their own needs in waking life. That they would benefit from a clearer understanding of what they want and would do well to consider making their own needs a priority rather than constantly looking out for others.

Not that I am admitting to any particular kind of dream, you understand, but I may buy the book if that's OK with you.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

11 June 2011

Film Review

I don't normally do reviews, but I feel moved to tell you about the film I watched last night.

I need to begin this account a few months ago when we installed our wood burning stove in the living room.  Many years before, we had dithered over the choice between a real fire and a big plasma TV.  I was keen on the big telly but my wife was less than enthusiastic.  The man in the fireplace shop was the one who swung it.  "You don't want a real fire" he advised "they're smelly and sooty and make your whole house dirty."  Coming from a man who earned his livelihood selling fires, this was impossible to ignore and the plasma telly got the nod.

It was a mistake.  I admit it.  I repented, but only after several years of having it pointed out to me every day.

The wood burner was installed (by a more enthusiastic retailer) and the plasma telly had to make way, or be melted.

For a while, we made do with my daughter's bedroom TV but she returned home triumphantly from University and reclaimed it.  I went down to the local Comet and bought a new one which I chose on the basis that it seemed to have the brightest picture.  When I got it home it turned out to be an LED, whatever that might be, and HD.  I know what HD is, I already have a method of watching HD television.  It consists of wearing special glasses which the optician sold me alongside my reading glasses so that my far vision could be improved. Prior to that, there was the unfortunate episode involving bifocals, but I won't go into all that as need to get to the film review before I run out of blog.

Where was I?  Oh yes, buying a new DVD player to go with the TV.  I remember even if you don't.  This turned out to be BluRay and I suddenly became quite excited at the prospect of a HD LED TV coupled with a BluRay player and special HD super glasses.  What an exceptional viewing experience that might be.

With all the hardware installed and working, I popped down to Tesco to see what BluRay had to offer and was a little disappointed to find that I had seen most of the films on offer in that format.  There was one that I hadn't seen, though, and this caught my eye.  On the back of the packaging it had two recommendatory quotations.  "A sexy glamorous thriller" from the People and "a witty and suspenseful thriller" from the Daily Star.  The leading actors were Angelina Jolie, who, apart from being quite nice looking, was excellent in The Changeling, and Johnny Depp who I rather like, particular when he is doing his Keith Richards impression.  The screenplay was credited to three people, including Christopher McQuarrie who wrote The Usual Suspects.  It was quite beyond me how I had missed the opportunity to enjoy this masterpiece in the theatrical setting it so obviously deserved.  I quickly remedied the situation by parting with £14.99.

The Tourist.  That's the name of the film.  Remember it, you may be grateful that you did one day.

Anyway, the review.  Well, its crap.  Really crap.

There you are, I said I didn't do much in the way of film reviews, now you know why. 

I could tell you all the really bad bits in it but that would take too long.  The whole film depends on the viewer not spotting that Johnny Depp is actually the hero in disguise.  Although we all realise it the moment he appears on screen, Johnny acts throughout as if this important piece of information was never revealed to him. Which is a problem.

The establishment of Steven Berkhoff as the villian is in keeping with the rest of the film.  We first meet him on a plane where he is observing two henchmen playing poker.  "He's fluttering his eyes like a baby" he observes, "it's his tell, go all in."  Only a really evil mastermind would be so cruel as to spoil a game of cards he wasn't even involved in.  It comes as no surprise when we learn that he has not only murdered all the men that his wife slept with before he married her but, when he found out just how numerous these were, killed her as well.

There you are, stupid and pointless.  Like the film.

The director, who also claims a share of the blame for the hopeless script, is a man who calls himself Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck.

Watch out for him.

4 June 2011


I may have mentioned my SF novel, Technical Difficulties, that I am in the process of revising it for publication, that it is set in the near future and that weird things happen.

The main character was described as hapless by my editor. Actually, that's a watered down version of what he actually called him but it will do for our purposes today.

Hapless, maybe. I'll let you be the judge.

Let's imagine our hero is searching for something in, let's say, a fridge. As he rummages about, the fridge suddenly goes dark and silent. It's broken, he concludes. He empties out all the food and waits in for several days until the repairman calls. A small switch is pointed out to him. When pressed, the fridge bursts into renewed life. Our hero resolves to remember that handy switch and keep well away from it in future.


Or how about our hero answers a firm knock on his front door to be confronted by a courier holding a cardboard box from which buzzing can be heard.
"Sign here, its your bees."
The instructions for inserting the bees into the hive are clear. Let them settle down before attempting anything, they advise. When the little things are nice and quiet, open the flap and quickly block up the entrance with the bung provided which is tied to a long piece of string. Retreat to a safe distance and pull out the bung, thus releasing the bees.
Our hero opens the flap but, before he can put the bung in, a bee escapes. The bee is not best pleased. It is actually looking for the City Link driver so that it can complain about the discomfort of the journey but our man is nearer so it chases him instead.
The instructions do not mention what to do if one bee gets out and is guarding the hive where the others are still trapped. The bung and piece of string ploy is the only one offered.
I think not. Resourceful, I would suggest. Our hero dons his all in one white chicken overalls, pulls up the hood, puts on a pair of ski gloves and strides purposefully back to the hive. Bravely, in the face of the fearsome adversary that any moment might abandon the distraction of the flower it is examining, he opens the flap, releases the bees and walks back to the house unscathed.
I suppose that makes up for the fridge episode.

All stories are character driven, or at least they ought to be. My editor wants to see my main character showing some increased awareness as he goes through his amazing adventures.
I can understand that.
I only wish my hero could.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

30 May 2011

The Super Human Effect

Here I am, faffing about as usual, making too little time for what I feel I need to do, too little time for what I know I want to do and almost no time at all for writing, which is who I am.

So, when my wife tells me that one of her friends has written a book and had it published and suggests that I might like to read it, I invite you to imagine the resistance I felt on so many different levels.

My ambition is to get published.

What's stopping me achieve my goal is this:

I have to revise my first drafts but don't have a mechanism in place to do it.

I rather write first drafts and feel compelled to start another one.

I have a shelf or two of books that I really do need to read. I haven't even finished The Heroes yet, how slack is that?

So, here is a friend of my wife who has somehow managed to get published and here she is offering me the opportunity to read his book.

Last night I picked it up and began reading the last chapter in order to convince myself that there was nothing here for me. I expected it to be pretty well unreadable. I was certain it would be entirely without interest.

I am writing this post quickly because I need to finish this remarkable book that immediately captivated me. It is full of honesty, it is written from the heart, it is about a man very much like myself experiencing the way that life is. I am finding it inspirational and helpful. It is about writing and life and all the best parts of the human experience. I heartily recommend it.

The Super Human Effect by Dennis Rodriguez

Meanwhile, the chickens are thriving, they have taken to sitting on my shoulders like giant parrots. The whole garden has been transformed by their presence. I am talking positively here, but there is an enormous amount of chicken poo to contend with.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

17 May 2011

Letting Go


I've been out and about lately.  First at a Freefall writing retreat with the wonderful Barbara and then in Devon for the wedding of two very dear friends.

I had to abandon my chickens to the care of my daughter.  I was concerned that she had not received the appropriate amount of training for such an important job, I was scared that my chickens would suffer terribly from my absence. 
Who would sit in a chair in the middle of our lawn watching them for hours as they pecked about? 
Who would get up at first light to let them out in case they were fed up of being cooped up (literally!)? 
Answer:  Nobody, if I'm not there.

I had to let these thoughts pass through my mind and then release them.  Chickens are only one symptom of my incessant worrying and speculating and wanting everything to stay exactly as it is.  Allowing them to just be as they are and trust everything is how it should be is good practice for the rest of my life.

In the event, my chickens were perfectly happy on my return, though my daughter was a little apprehensive in case they made some form of complaint against her.

The spokeschicken (above) had no comments other than "Can we have extra corn?"  so that was a relief all round.

My writing is better if I allow it to come rather than plot it out in my head and try to deliver some pre-conceived scenario.  It might not always go where I want, or even where I expect it to, but in many respects that's a much better way for me to be.  In writing as in life.

So, back to practising letting go, releasing, relinquishing control over the uncontrollable, feeling that everything is as it should be.

24 April 2011

Comfort or Despair

There are a lot of us about. Writers, that is. I have found an enormous community out there, all obsessed with writing, getting published, selling books. I don't know whether I should be comforted by so many similar people sharing similar goals or whether I should forget my own aspirations in the face of overwhelming competition.

Although we writers support and encourage each other, applaud every publishing contract, cheer every sale, the grim reality remains that those successes are not mine.

It's hard to get published, few manage it. Even that is not sufficient in itself. We writers need to be read. It's the fuel that powers our work. Again, this market is finite. If someone is reading your work, they aren't reading mine.

Worth comes into it in a big way for me. Is my writing worthy of a readership? Am I worthy enough to be a proper writer?

Based on comparison with a masterpiece like David Mitchell's "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet", the answer is a resounding "NO, NEVER!"

So why bother?

There's no prospect of me writing like a Mitchell or a Banks, but there would be no point to it either. They do the job perfectly.
Also, amazingly, not everyone wants to read Mitchell or Banks. I spoke to a friend who is a big fan of David Mitchell and she couldn't get through Thousand Autumns, found it uninteresting.

Also, readers read quicker than we authors write. Much quicker. And there are a lot more readers than writers.

I better get cracking then. Finish Due Diligence, edit Technical Difficulties, write as long and as well as I can.

My readers are waiting, agog.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

7 April 2011

Incompetants or Liars?

This post has been inspired by my friend Steve.  We were discussing the proposed high speed rail link between London and Manchester.  The Government have announced that this will be completed in 2030.
Steve commented that he expected to be beamed around the planet instantly well before then.

Science Fiction writers have done a great job of predicting things like space travel and computers.  Robots might not look humanoid, but we certainly rely on them to make Citroen Picasso cars and other things.  We have mobile communication devices that make the ones in Star Trek look unsophisticated. 

So, why didn't anyone predict that we would end up in 2011 hoping that by 2030 we will get trains that run a bit faster than the ones we had fifty years ago?

By now, it was also expected that our dependence on fossil fuels would have been long past, that power would be generated by fusion rather than fission.

Fusion power, for example, has been around since the 1950's and is expected to be developed on a commercial scale by about 2040 or so.  That's about a century of development.  Nothing takes a century to develop, for heaven's sake!  In the space of seventy years we moved from the Wright Brothers to Concorde. Within fifty years we went from the Turing machine to a computer in every home.

In contrast, cars have remained essentially the same for a hundred and twenty years.  Why?

Fifty years ago, the hydrogen fuel cell was well understood.  I actually made one at school.  It worked.

It is tempting to conclude that we develop the technology that we want rather than that we need.  The question then arises: Who decides?

Well, development of new forms of energy is in the hands of the organisations that have a huge investment in oil and gas and coal.

The development of new forms of transport is in the hands of the car manufacturers.

Maybe, these people don't really want any change.  Maybe, their vested interests are in stifling it.

Maybe, just maybe, the governments of developed nations don't think it would be in their interests if third world countries were spared the crippling costs of energy supply.

On the other hand, I am probably barking up the wrong tree.  Of course the oil companies would love it if they didn't have to dig up the oil sands and drill under the sea. 

Any way, it's interesting to speculate about these things.  My novel Technical Difficulties touches on some of these ideas.

What it fails to do is predict the high speed rail link that will knock an hour or so off the journey from Manchester to London.  Sorry.

31 March 2011

Beer and Television

Until recently, I would have told you that life would not seem to be worth living without my two main .... pleasures?  Distractions?  Ways of avoiding life?  Methods of wasting precious time?

Take television.  I used to sit down and watch whatever was on, then whatever came after that.  If I asked myself the next day I'll be surprised if I remembered anything about the programmes' content, or even what they were called.  Let's be conservative and say seven thirty to ten every night, that's two and a half hours.  Every night.  Nine hundred and twelve hours a year, that's the equivalent to TWENTY SIX WORKING WEEKS!  SIX MONTHS!

People ask how I manage to do a full time job and write 100,000 words a year.  That's how.  I stopped watching TV every night.  Now, if I watch it I decide what to watch and switch off as soon as it has finished.

It's not such a great rate of production either.  I can compose at the rate of about 1,000 words per hour.  So, if I wrote during all the time saved by not watching TV I ought to produce almost ten times what I actually do.  Almost a million words!

Now beer.  I love beer, I love the nice feeling of relaxation it brings, I love the taste.  I used to drink beer every day.  Most lunchtimes, I would have a beer.  The first thing I did when I got home was to grab a cold beer from the fridge and settle down with it in front of the TV.

I can't write worth a damn when I have drunk even the smallest amount of alcohol.  I know some people swear by it, but that's me.  I can't write, I don't actually want to write when I'm drinking.

Fortunately, it has given me up.  The desire for beer is now subdued by the desire to write.  I love beer but I love writing even more.  I love writing so much there is now no contest.

Beer and Television, I love you both but not enough to spend the rest of my life with you.

25 March 2011

Writer's Block

There is a condition called writer's block.  I don't suffer from it, probably because I have less time for writing than I need.  Friends and family might comment that I have never suffered from talker's block either.

I do suffer from feelings of unworthiness which I expect are common to many, if not all, writers.  It's that feeling that whatever I do it won't be good enough, so what's the point?  This can stop me in my tracks and make me abandon whatever it is I'm doing or carry on but take no pleasure from it.

In order to get over this problem the writing technique that works for me is simple.  I write stuff even if it's rubbish.  I write every day, even if it's a tiny bit.  I write what comes to me regardless of what I might have planned to write.

Sometimes I sit down to write with the intention of getting my protagonist from point A to point B.  There are clear steps needed to achieve this that have been running through my mind.  I begin writing and suddenly find my character has arrived at point C without any help from me.  This used to worry me, after all I'm the writer, I'm supposed to be in charge.

It's a question of detail. My favourite authors introduce their characters effortlessly.  A few well chosen words and I have a clear mental image.  They also move seamlessly from one scene to another without need for ticket purchase or stopping to put petrol in a tank.  I have a tendancy to get caught up in all that detail.  Things like the number on the bus, timetables, the names of the bus stops, a description of the driver, of the bus, of each of the passengers.... 

I have learned that very little of this needs to be written but that doesn't mean it's not needed.  As long as I know, the reader can relax in the knowledge that it has all been taken care of and they can be spared the detail.  It's up to me to make sure it all hangs together. 

In the film "Robin Hood", Kevin Costner arrives at Dover, having rowed all the way from Egypt, sets off walking and announces that he will be dining with his father in Nottingham that evening. The author obviously has no idea of the distance between Dover and Nottingham and has certainly never travelled on the East Coast Main Line.  I have to avoid that sort of mistake because readers have the tendancy to assume that if they identify one inconsistency in a story then the rest of it is almost certainly rubbish as well.

One more thing, I am proud to tell you that Christian Pankhurst has raised over $35,000 for children in Japan with the appeal I made in my previous blog.  Well done Christian!  You are a wonderful man with a great big heart.

21 March 2011


My science fiction writing is of the near future variety. In other words, I change our world just a little and speculate about the effect of these changes on people's lives. The terrible events in Japan have made our world a very different place from the one I have been writing from. The starting point has shifted dramatically.

The cataclysmic events in Japan are so extreme they are hard to believe. The graphic images that so clearly depict the devastation are themselves difficult to comprehend. I am tempted to consign them to the mental compartment I have assigned to Hollywood special effects.

The heroic efforts of the workers at Fukushima Diaiichi are quite breathtaking.

It isn't the events that touch me, it's the human experiences associated with them.

I feel guilty for being cosy and safe. I  feel sadness by imagining my own feelings if I were faced with the loss of loved ones.

As a Science Fiction writer, it is a reminder that it's people that matter more than events.  If I describe something remarkable, it must have an effect on someone's emotions for it to be interesting.  It is the human story that engages, that's what interests people.

On an unashamedly campaigning note I share the following with you.  I have mentioned Christian before and the profound positive influence he has in my own life.

He has just re-opened a special 'Lite' version of his Accelerated Awakening Coaching Program for just 48 hours and is giving away 100% of the proceeds (less credit card fees) to the Japan Tsunami victims.

This is a wonderful way to support those in need right now, while investing in your own awakening and growth.
Christian's work is all about living life from your Heart and getting more of who you are out and letting more of others in.

Last week, Christian sold out his coaching program and filled every one of his retreats around the world for the entire YEAR of 2011.
But although his coaching program has fully sold out, Christian decided to release a special discounted version (without the live events), available only for a couple of days, and you can get started for as little as $97. The price alone is amazing, but what's more incredible is that it's ALL going to support the Japanese tragedy that's happening right now.
Find out exactly what this program contains and make a difference today by clicking on the link below:


This is your chance to get access to one of the most profound and life transforming coaching programs for half price while supporting and making a massive difference to the lives of thousands who are suffering right now.
P.S. This sale closes at midnight Pacific on Thursday 24th March. After this date, this program will no longer be available.  Reserve your space now:

Go on, I dare you to.  Or are you chicken?

13 March 2011

Writing and Chickens

I have been telling anyone who might be interested, and many that aren't, how easy it is to get published these days. All you have to do, I tell them, is to upload your book to Kindle and there it is. Published. You are an author, not only a writer. Easy.

A friend from the writers circle who has heard me pronounce on this matter emailed me for more details. He also asked me how many of my own novels had I published in this way. This might seem a reasonable question, but it only served to confirm to me that I was at it again. By that I mean telling everyone else what to do without actually doing any of it myself.

My reply to his question was as follows:

"Technical Difficulties (250,000 words) has been edited, needs to be rewritten then re-edited, then rewritten again, then copy edited then submitted then published."

So there, that's that, a long way off. Years and years.

Or is it?

It's been about a year since I finished the first draft and had the editorial comments back. My first instinct was to get on with fiddling around with it, what I actually did was start a new project, Due Diligence, which is nearing completion. More by luck than judgement, this seems to be the recommended way. Letting the first draft settle and mature allows a more considered approach to the rewrite, it seems.

So, thanks to Alan for kicking me into gear. I will finish the DD first draft then back to TD with a vengeance. I can feel the enthusiasm building. It's going to be awesome.

Which brings me to chickens.

If it hadn't been for the infectious enthusiasm of my daughters, I might have continued to play safe, take the easy way, do nothing. As it is with chickens, so it goes with writing.
The chickens are on their way, so are the books.

8 March 2011

The Future of Publishing

There are big changes afoot in the world of publishing.  Now that writers can upload their work as en e-book and make it available for anyone in the world to read (and even to buy!), the roles of publishers, literary agents, bookshops and libraries have been brought into question.  Some believe they will disappear entirely.

My ambition as a writer has not changed, it is to be published by Gollancz and I hope they are listening. 

When I was a child, I would go into Tyldesley library on Saturday morning to pick my books for the coming week.  Those bright yellow jackets were like beacons and contained the very best Science Fiction long before the genre was credible enough to have its own section on the shelves.  Much of what I read in those far off days is still held in awe and esteem.  Alldis, Asimov, Blish, Pohl, Lieber, Williamson, Farmer, Delaney, Silverberg, Heinlein, the names trip off my tongue even now.  Theodore Sturgeon, now he was a favourite of mine and I never once questioned the authenticity of his name.  To my innocent mind, there was (or is) a Mrs. Sturgeon justifiably proud of her lad.

The point I am about to make is that if anyone can upload any old crap to Kindle then they will.  I know I am very tempted to put Technical Difficulties up there and see if anyone buys it, even for 99p.  The problem that stops me is one of craft.  Writing a first draft is only the beginning, it isn't an end.  There's lots more to do before it can be released into the public domain.

First, it needs tidying up.  Cliches need to be fished out, useless words need to be deleted and those annoying repetitions that are just so annoying and keep being repeated, well they need to go as well.  Otherwise a reader will throw the book up on the air in frustration before they get to page 2.

Second, it needs reading by someone who has little or no vested interest in the author's state of mind.  This generally rules out family and friends, unless they are both ruthless and cruel.

Third, it has to be edited.  This is something a publisher would do once a book has been accepted.  Now, I fear this essential step might get missed as a self-published author will have to pay for this professional service.

Fourth, it has to be copy edited.  Not only do errors and mispellings have to be removed but grammar and punctuation must be corrected.  Again, an essential service if the poor reader is expected to persevere to the end of the book.

Fifth, some cover art is needed.  Even if it is an e-book and there is no dead tree edition (this shows how well up on the jargon I have become) something has to attract the reader and give them a clue about the content.

Sixth, the book has to be marketed.  Someone has to sell it, someone has to get it onto shelves or into the limelight.  Again, a publisher used to do this.

So, in the good old days of Gollancz SF with yellow covers, all an author had to do was to write something interesting.  Gollancz would do the rest.

Now, it looks like we're going to be on our own.

My friend Christian says you can watch his free video if you click here:


3 March 2011

Developing Character

I find it interesting that my writing has this wonderful way of reflecting my own state and that as I change and develop, so can my characters.  As I become more alive and more human so do they.

In the first draft of Technical Difficulties, my hero wanders though his awesome, amazing experiences completely unaffected by them and wishing he was somewhere else.  The extent to which this was autobiographical only dawned on me slowly.  It was hard to come to terms with the realisation that this was how I was living my own life.

I believe that the way that I change and develop is an important part of my writing.  As my own awareness improves, so does the quality of the characters I am describing. If I can be in touch with my own feelings, I can describe those felt by others more realistically.

Not only has this process helped my writing, it has also brought me more joy in my life.  The distractions and old patterns that keep me away from greater fulfilment and enjoyment are gradually falling away.

Three main people have supported me in these profound changes and helped me to access more joy.

One of these is a man called Christian Pankhurst. I met him a few years ago and have had the good fortune of one to one sessions with him, attended his live events and enjoyed his on-line courses. I count him as a friend and a man I trust completely.

Christian's approach is called Heart Intelligence and is truly inspiring.
I wholeheartedly commend you to check him out.


Watch his video.

You'll learn:

-- How Heart Intelligence can transform your Health, Wealth and Happiness.
-- How we defend against receiving the good stuff in life.
-- How to remove the resistance that holds you back in life.
-- How to receive more of what you want.
-- How to get more of who you are out into the world.

As I said, he's a friend who has helped me to experience more of what is good in my life.


The other two, in case you are wondering, are my wife, Anne Marie, and Richard Farmer http://www.soulmoves.co.uk/about.php

Thanks to these three people in particular, life is good, writing is exciting and full of pleasure and every day brings new opportunities for joy.

I'll tell you about the chickens very soon.

20 February 2011

Losing the Plot

I have, at last, written a synopsis!

Try this:

Toby runs a smallholding where he rears rare breed pigs and cattle. His wife is nervous and highly strung but entirely lovable in her own special way. They make ends meet by selling produce and animal feeds.

Half of Toby's land is waterlogged and unproductive, he can't keep cattle in those fields except in very dry weather. He hires a local contractor to improve the fields by importing clean earth dug from agricultural land where a major gas pipeline is being installed.

Early one morning, Toby and his wife are awakened to the sound of their front door being smashed in. He runs quickly downstairs to be confronted by six armed policemen, who arrest him and his wife, allowing them only a few moments to put on some clothes before being taken to a police station.

At the police station, they are confronted by an officer from the Environment Agency who has organised the police raid and obtained a restraint order under the Proceeds of Crime Act. All their cash, bank accounts and assets are seized and frozen, leaving them unable to run their business or operate their farm. To Toby's horror, this was all because an Environment Agency officer, appearing privately before a judge, alleged that Toby and his wife had made a profit of over a million pounds from the operation of an illegal tip.

Released on bail, Toby and his wife endure difficult times, living from hand to mouth, relying on the support of friends just to get by. Their relationship suffers, his wife attempts suicide, and, during the two years it takes for the case to get to court, they are divorced.

The court case is long and complex. After a week of legal hearings, Toby and the contractor, who is a co-defendant, are offered a deal by the Environment Agency. If they plead guilty, they are told they will be let off with a fine and their assets released. Toby refuses but the contractor accepts the deal, fearing total ruin.

Toby has to endure a further two weeks of arduous trial during which the original statements given by the Environment Agency are proved to be false. He produces expert evidence that the fields are vastly improved, that there is no risk to the environment and that what he did was responsible and caring.

The Environment Agency make great play of the fact that the contractor pleaded guilty to illegal tipping. This, they insist to the jury, proves their case.

In a tense climax, the jury bring a verdict of not guilty and Toby is allowed to go free, his assets are released, to pick up the pieces of his livelihood as best he can.

Well, what do you think? Does this plot sound feasible? Is your sympathy with Toby? Are you angry at the injustice? Would you be interested in reading more, even though I have given away the outcome?

Relax, this isn't the plot for my new novel, far from it.

Toby's story is true, it's non-fiction. His case is one that I was involved in last summer.

The things that go on in real life are stranger than anything I can make up.

15 February 2011

Giving the Game Away

I hate it when I know what happens next. That's why I like to watch live sport. Apart from some famous exceptions, nobody knows what's going to happen, nobody can spoil the drama.

If I have to watch a recorded match, I make ridiculous efforts to insulate myself from any information that might leak into my mind and give me an inkling of the result.

I never, never, read the blurb on the back of a book. These are crazy, irresponsible things that rob dramatic tension, reveal plot twists and generally ruin the whole experience.

Film trailers are even worse. I once had the great good fortune to see the film ET before I had any information about it at all. No trailer, no posters, nothing. The first third of the film does not show the alien, he is shadowy, slightly sinister and completely elusive. This works brilliantly, but only if you haven't seen a picture of ET riding in the basket of a flying bicycle. The man who did the poster not only ruined the first half of the film by showing the alien, he also revealed the ending. My point is that ET, and most other films, are a different experience if you have seen the trailer. I will go further and say that they are always less enjoyable if you have seen the trailer. There is no way in which a trailer, or spoiler, can improve a film.

So, I invite you to imagine the difficulty I have in submitting a synopsis with my work! It's almost a religious thing for me. I have taken the time and thought to write a thriller with plot twists and surprises and really clever bits that you could never anticipate and am now expected to give it all away in two pages of casual prose.

Yet agents and publishers insist on it.

It's hard at times, being a writer.

8 February 2011

Writing can be Painful

After three weeks of mind-numbing pain, I feel well enough to write a salutary medical note.

My symptoms have been excruciating pain around the temple, ear, jaw and throat. 

I rang the doctor, as a last resort, after a week of agony.  Unless it was a medical emergency, the unhelpful receptionist recited, the next appointment was in two day's time.  I decided I wasn't an emergency, imagining this to involve immiment death at the very least.  My wife was not so sure, rang on my behalf and secured a hard-won slot the following day with the nurse.  A sort of victory, the first step on the road to relief, I thought.

The nurse's computer said I had Trigeminal Neuralgia.  It was very sure of this.  A doctor then sent me for a blood test to the local hospital to make sure I didn't have a serious sort of arthiritis.  The pain went on.

Next day, the doctor saw me, told me the blood test were OK and that I definately had trigeminal neuralgia.  He gave me carbamazapine, and I was grateful.

After a week on the pills, the pain was just as bad and I felt very ill.  I felt completely unconnected to my body.  It was as if I was Elvis and my body was the building.

The doctor was happy to change my pills to something a bit stronger and alot more orangey.   I wasn't happy about this but I desperately needed the pain to go away.  I asked to be referred to a specialist.

I saw the consultant neuroligist yesterday, in the greatest discomfort I had felt so far.  He certainly knew trigeminal neualgia when he saw it, so he could be absolutely certain that's not what I had.  I protested that the nurse's computer had been really sure, but he was convinced the problem was in my neck, that the pain was referred pain from my top vertebrae.

I saw an osteopath this morning and have been pain free since!

He said it's my posture, that I stick my jaw out when I sit and work at the computer.  I need to change the way I work and read and sit.  I need to be conscious of my head and neck.

So, let this be a warning to all of you out there.  Watch how you sit, be aware, feel your body.  Take care of yourself, you're the only one you've got.

31 January 2011


Write about what you know.

This is good advice but can be taken too far. How many of us have actually been abruptly transported to an alien world and forced to fend for ourselves?

I cannot emphasise enough the value of proper research.  It can help create a piece that has freshness and vitality instead of my regurgitation of someone else's experience.

With this in mind my two sons and I decided to embark on an exciting camping trip together. The idea was to research the realities of living in a forest remote from any form of civilisation.

We were inspired by my SF novel 'Technical Difficulties' where the main protagonist finds himself far from any human contact with only a pile of camping gear for company. As I am in the process of rewriting, it seemed an excellent opportunity for me to get the feel of the real thing and reflect that authenticity in my script.

I imported a big box of military rations from America, MRE's, Meals Ready to Eat. These come in cardboard sleeves containing nutritional information and a khaki metallised pouch with the meal inside. These can be heated in a fire, boiled in water or put on the hot areas of an engine block. We took enough to feed a platoon of marines for several months, just to be on the safe side.

Our accomodation was the subject of some debate.  Three of us in the same tent seemed the best idea, but it was also suggested that a tent each might be better.  We considered the matter at some length, reasoning that my character was alone and having a tent each would more closely mirror this.  There was also the question of availability, none of us actually had one.  In the end, I decided that I would buy a quick erect three man tent and we would all use that.

Having been on many camping trips before, the common factor being my inability to pitch the tent properly, I decided to try out the new tent well in advance.  It practically flew out of the circular bag when I unzipped it and assumed a satisfying tent shape in an instant.  Half a dozen tent pegs needed bashing into the ground and it was ready for occupation.  Brilliant!  Perfect!

Unfortunately, the tent resisted all my efforts to put it back in its bag.  Even the combined efforts of several burly assistants failed to return it to its original state.

Our attention turned to the best piece of wilderness to carry out our research.  The Black Mountains on the Welsh border appeared to have the right quantity of bleakness.  Scotland seemed a good bet as it consists almost entirely of wild moorland.  In the end, we pored over maps and decided that somewhere just South of Birmingham would be best as this was equidistant for all three of us.

It was also unanimously decided that we would book the first of our two nights in a hotel in order to avoid having to find a site and pitch the tent in the dark.  We would meet up on Friday evening and plan our research over a nice meal and a few beers.

Just in case, we also booked the second night in the hotel.  This was to allow for mishaps and bad weather (August in Stratford on Avon can be unpredictable).  As things turned out this was a good thing.  There were showers!  Lucky we didn't take the tent.

At the moment, I am researching trigeminal neuralgia but I wouldn't wish it on the worst of my characters.

16 January 2011

Loose Women and Life Enhancement

Ah, the prospect of those contextual ads still mesmerises me.

Whisper it softly (out of their earshot).  Today's blog is entitled "loose tea and life enhancement." Not as snappy, perhaps, but this way you get a blog about something interesting with the added possibility of a racy ad or two. Also, it occurs to me, I might get a wider audience from people searching for non-writing related entertainment.

So? Loose tea? Life enhancing?

You can still buy loose tea in most supermarkets. I didn't used to, not for many years. The easy option of one teabag per cup, quick and easy, held me in thrall until very recently. I have escaped and I really need to tell you how good this feels.

In some far off places, like China, the making of tea has long been considered a process involving careful ritual and deep contemplation. They may well have the right idea.

Here are my top five reasons for making tea thoughtfully.

1. Loose tea is much nicer than teabag tea. Teabag tea is ground up floor sweepings mixed with brown mud (I hope it's mud) designed to produce instantaneous results. Loose tea comes in lots of different varieties, it can be powerful, smooth, fragrant, gentle, subtle and lots of other adjectives, sometimes all of them at the same time.

2. Loose tea has to be brewed in a teapot. It takes time. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. While the tea is brewing there is an opportunity to reflect, to do other things. Allowing tea to brew can keep you away from the TV for a few extra seconds. This is valuable.

3. A teapot will provide several cups of extremely high quality from one spoonful of tea and one kettle of water. Using a tea cosy will keep the tea warm and drinkable for an hour or so. This saves tea, water, electricity, money, time, effort, and provides a market for Vicki, my son's wife, who sells the very best quality tea cosies on eBay. I expect a contextual ad to pop up and tell you exactly where, but, if not, I'll let you know.

4. Using a teapot means that you will have the opportunity to put the milk in the cup before the tea. This is important. You have to take my word for this, after all I am a chemist so I outrank you in matters like this. Using a teabag means the milk goes in afterwards, which is bad. It heats the milk up too quickly. When you add tea to milk it gets heated in a more gentle manner. This improves the taste. It really does.

5.  Making tea is a reflection of life. If you want it to be quick, tasteless and shoddy then fine. It's your life after all.

13 January 2011

Kitchen Worktops

Amazing contextual ads keep appearing on this blog. I am trying not to let them influence the things I say but it's not easy. In the 'Biscuits with Jam' blog I did a very short piece in a kitchen and immediately below it appeared an ad for kitchen worktops. I suppose people who read about biscuits and jam will need a worktop on which to place said items, but I remain very impressed and a little scared.

The temptation is growing to mention things like chainsaws, M16 automatic rifles, lingerie, wolfhounds and gold plated cadillacs just to see what will happen.

But no, this is a blog about writing, not about advertising, so I'll resist my most outlandish urges and leave it at that.

Check out the adverts below, though. They might be fun.

10 January 2011

Biscuits with Jam

Something occurred to me about writing as I was having a biscuit a couple of seconds ago. It involves the amount of information I need to give my reader. Someone once said that " Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action" (actually that someone was Kurt Vonnegut but I suppose you don't really need to know that in order for me to make my point).
Anyway, that's what I'm talking about here, what biscuits, what jam? Does it reveal character or advance the action if I tell you?
OK, there's precious little action in a blog. The most interesting thing you might ever read in a blog might be the best kind of jam for a particular biscuit, but I'm making a story writing point rather than a blog writing point. You can get away with any old crap in a blog, people expect very little. But a story involves more complex issues. The jam could get in the way, the fact that jam was used at all might be irrelevant or, even more interesting, the jam could be there as a ploy, a device, a red herring, a means of diverting attention.

An example:

Jenny's gaze falls on the two McVities Rich Tea biscuits lying side by side on the kitchen worktop. Next to them stands an open pot of Robinson's Plum Jam, spoon gently resting on its scarlet surface. The brown speckled white formica stretches all the way from the kitchen door to the back door, interrupted only by the dark gash of the cooker hob. The door flies open and his face contorts with hatred as he recognises her.

Or, is this better?

Jenny looks desperately around the kitchen for something that might help. Two plain looking biscuits and a pot of jam are the only items in view. The door flies open and his face contorts with hatred as he recognises her.

It's hard to decide, except in full context, I suppose.

Still it's the sort of fun thing that I have to contend with when I go into edit mode. Getting the character from A to B is one job, but there has to be something for them to see on the way. My tendency is to whizz them along too quickly for a sense of place to be properly established. So I feel the need to read the name on the jam pot from time to time.

For the record, the only biscuits that can be enhanced satisfactorily with jam are Rich Tea. The very best jam to use is plum which has a nice firm sticky consistency. Strawberry is good but tends to ooze out of the sides when the biscuits are put together. Avoid Blackcurrent, it is much too lumpy and the top biscuit tends to take on a bit of a lean which makes for an untidy looking product.