Monday, 15 December 2014

Launch day - Destiny and Dynasty



My first novel has been published today. And this is the hub of the subdued launch party. Any party I throw is possibly doomed to failure so I am sparing the world further hassle (after all the world has enough to deal with).


What is the book about?

So there are possible angels and possible miracles. There are dreams and there is a really nasty piece of work or two. There are tests and trials and there is a fire and more than one person dies.

It’s a really hard story to describe. Whenever anyone has asked me what it’s about I’ve always struggled to answer. In the end I tend to say: ‘It’s a love story’ – but it is more than that - it’s a strange and wild love story.

For example, I’ve deliberately littered the story with anthropomorphisms and broken a lot of the traditional writing rules (for example, I’ve ‘told and not shown’). I’ve used a kind of ‘butterfly-mind’ thinking which is designed to create a particular atmosphere and also parallel the imaginative mind of the protagonist and the eerie motives of the villain. Mike Sumner is the hero and the villains are a whole family named ‘Ravenscroft’. They are the dynasty. The destiny is under question.

It was always going to be a case of whether or not to create a very gritty story so as to be realistic. In the end I largely turned away from that idea because everyone else was doing it. The story isn’t without realism, but there are elements of magic realism and an attempt to create a particular unique style in the storytelling.

So there are supernatural elements to the story but the supernatural elements take a back seat to the main story.


Why release it as an ebook first?

I’ve decided to release it as an ebook first but will probably create a paperback version sometime next year. The whole landscape and environment to publication has changed and I am a great believer in ereaders so I’ve embraced the changes (for now). Anyone with a laptop. PC or tablet can read it simply by downloading the Kindle reading app:  Kindle app.


What are you trying to say through the story?

Apart from the obvious subtexts of nepotism, sexism and corruption, my faith has influenced the story. And so the protagonist is unashamedly a Christian. This is because Christian heroes are thin on the ground in literature these days. This may alienate some readers and I’m sorry about that, but someone has to do it.

The megachurch in the story is entirely fictional but I hope it is realistic.
I don’t want to give too much away in case you are kind enough to read it.
Above all it is a story to be enjoyed and it is not a story with a moral message – it is a story which is designed to be an escape.


Hold on, these aren’t my questions…

Huh?


Wait a minute…

Don’t question the questioner.


This is outrageous, I have rights! Give an account of yourself man!

Think happy thoughts citizen!




Destiny and Dynasty ebook at Amazon

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Digital legacy


It's a preoccupation with melancholy writers to want to be recognised for work in this lifetime. But failing that, the second best thing (although fairly useless when you think about it) is to want to be posthumously recognised, like Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson or Edgar Allan Poe.

Of course, it's a complete waste of time to be famous after you're dead and the sad fact is that most of us will not be recognised either in this lifetime or afterwards (obviously I speak for myself). This is why it's so important for writers to enjoy the writing - or there just isn't any point. Neil Gaiman says 'make good art whatever happens' - and presumably this also means whether anyone notices you or not.

This is why a digital legacy is so interesting. What happens to anything you have created after you die? Obviously there is the Google Inactive Account manager for those who want to let others access their material after they have crossed the glowing human rainbow bridge (not sure why the rainbow bridge is glowing - just trying to keep things light).

There are digital legacy firms who will protect your writings, passwords and digital art. But I don't think anyone has written about the Amazon pre-order system - which has the potential of being a peculiar form of life after death.

Because I've come to realise that should I kick the tin bucket (still trying to keep things light) before December 15th, my first novel will still be published. That's because it has all been uploaded to the Kindle Direct Publishing site and everything is ready to roll whether I do anything or not. It will happen automatically from here on.

In theory it is possible to add a book 90 days in advance. So if you had a particularly scandalous (or libelous) autobiography (or wanted revenge) you could upload a manuscript if you knew you were about to pop your glow-in the dark clogs (light?) in advance.

I have no plans to give up the happy ghost just yet and all being well, we will all survive the winter and not have to worry about bridges, buckets, ghosts or clogs. After all it is for such losses that many people (understandably) grow to hate Christmas. All I'm saying is that with the changes in the publishing industry and the rise of the ebook there is now a new way of leaving a digital legacy.

Think happy thoughts.






Friday, 14 November 2014

Comets are usually said to be bad omens



I'll be honest with you, you're a busy person. I just want to reach 100 posts on this blog and this is just filler.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Completed




I’ve finished NaNoWriMo with 20 days to spare. I wrote 50,005 words averaging at around 5,000 words a day (according to the addictive stats on the site). NaNoWriMo is so huge now and whenever I look to see how many people are on the forums there are always over 100,000 writers. Maybe there are too many of us.

I was lucky in that I’ve had some spare time to write (because I am working part-time hours at the moment). My wife is also doing the challenge and she has somehow reached over 15,000 words. But it is much harder for her because she has been working full-time hours with overtime commitments. And she is writing by hand.

When I completed the challenge I updated my word count on the main NaNoWriMo site expecting some huge congratulations or some amazing graphic to flash up. Instead it just said ‘You made it’ in an obscure part of the webpage. It was a little like completing a really hard computer game and looking forward to a fantastic end-sequence only to get the words ‘You win. Game over’.

But there it is. I now have a rough draft for a new novel. If I go back to it I will need to do a lot of work on editing, but at least I have some more spare material now.

Now I shall be focusing my spare time on the final edit of my novel Destiny and Dynasty. This is about the same length as the NaNoWriMo novel (but it took a tad longer to write). It will still be published (first as an ebook) on the 15th December on Amazon. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

NaNoWriMo - Day 7





I am one week into the NaNoWriMo challenge. After the success of the first day (in which I eventually wrote 13,000 words (an all time record for me)) my writing has been sporadic. On Wednesday I only managed 333 words. But all in all I have written just over 28,000 words.

It is mostly rubbish, I admit that. But it is in the form of a story and there is a kind of plot to it.

I often complain that everything conspires to keep me away from writing. For various reasons (relating to sanity) I have to resist the idea of any genuine conspiracy. But at the moment it is as if the Universe is playing with me.

For example, I've been at work all week but not had the chance to write there at all, even on breaks (I write on my mobile when I'm out and about). When I finally got a likely looking break I decided to go to a secluded bench on the uni campus. 

I love the fact that it is a quiet area and I can watch squirrels while I have lunch there. This was the first time I had tried to do NaNoWriMo stuff at work and it was also the first time that the uni grounds-staff suddenly decided to drive a vehicle onto the grass in front of me, get out and sweep together the fallen leaves. 

It was impossible to write - the grounds staff were all around me and it was clear that I was in their way. So I gave up and tried to find another secluded bench, except all of the other benches had activity around them too. 

And I can't count the number of times this week I've been on the train, decided to start writing only to have a ticket inspector (who is no-where to be seen when a train is rowdy) suddenly ask for my ticket and interrupt the writing.

It is in these ways that I feel the Universe tests me. What seems to be a strange coincidence still seems to take place more often than not. These little ironies which life throws vary in their intensity and I've seen others deal with them (and I've even seen others get overwhelmed by them).

But I have managed to write a little despite the Universe's strange agenda.


So I reach the end of day 7 with a story which is mostly rubbish but is still a first draft. I am still in the challenge and as long as I can tolerate a fickle, biased Universe I still stand a good chance of reaching the end successfully.

But part of me can't help feeling that the Universe is planning some further tests...

Saturday, 1 November 2014

NaNoWriMo - Day 1




Day 1 of NaNoWriMo has gone scarily well. I have written more today than I have ever written in my life. To be on target I'm supposed to write 1667 words a day. Today I wrote just over 10,000 words.

I'm thinking of it like a swimming marathon in which I push myself off from the side. When you are swimming it is that first push which can be the most useful thing and give you some distance.

10,000 words! Why don't I feel elated? I feel kind of drained and a little fearful. It is going too well - it can't be this easy going all the way to 50,000 words, can it? Or am I making it harder than it needs to be? It all depends on how much the rest of life gets in the way of the writing.

The way I experience life is through my writing, through the organisation of often chaotic events into some kind of narrative. This is what people do - they put lives into story terms - even when those lives are chaotic.

I have genuinely never written so much before in a day. I once wrote so much with a pen and paper that I got blisters on my fingers, but 10,000 words is crazy.

I don't want fellow writers to feel too envious though, today's success brings with it a weird fear that something is about to go horribly wrong. It is too easy - it is flowing too well and I am too pessimistic. Perhaps I sabotage my own success, but I can almost hear life about to throw in some complication. It has been my experience and I have come to trust that experience.

The good news is that whatever life throws at me in the coming month, at least I have a bit of luxury when it comes to NaNoWriMo.

I think the tortoise and the hare analogy is about right here. I race ahead, take it easier and then I forget persistence - the very thing which has helped up until here. I have always considered myself the tortoise anyway - I have up until now been a slow writer with fiction but I'm using a couple of techniques to get around that with NaNoWriMo. And so far they are working. The tortoise is born the tortoise the hare is born the hare.

415 words






Friday, 24 October 2014

NaNoWriMo - No method to the madness



I always told myself that I would write about whatever was happening in my life. There are many things that are happening, but at the moment this is the main thing that is happening...

I've resisted the temptation to post a Halloween story this year on my blog. I have a spare ghost story called 'The Shade of Hades', but it is too long to expect anyone to read it on a blog. Anyway, it's becoming a tradition that I do it and that isn't always a good thing. So, I'm sorry to anyone who expected a ghost story.

What I am doing is participating in NaNoWriMo. For those who don't know, this is a kind of marathon for writers. All through November (NaNoWriMo = National November Writing Month) writers all across the world will be trying to write 50,000 words. Sometimes into a novel.

It is an act of total folly. There is no rhyme or reason or method to this madness. It is just a matter of writing for the joy of writing (and possibly not even that). So, because it is folly, irony dictates that I should take the subject of survival as a theme.

I'm a slow writer when it comes to fiction. I can crack out a piece of journalism to deadline, but when it comes to fiction I usually take my time. My novel ('Destiny and Dynasty' (still coming out on Dec 15th)) took me years to write. Even poetry (which I have now turned away from in favour of prose) would take weeks to write.

So writing 50,000 words (which I think is about 1666 words a day) in a month is a genuine challenge.

The only useful part of the whole writing marathon is that I have a draft at the end of it. If I manage to complete it.

I'm planning to blog about it a little next month if I get the time (bearing in mind that writing time will be at a premium).

Hopefully I shall have improved as a writer by the end of it. But I still maintain that there is no method to the madness.

'A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.'








Saturday, 11 October 2014

Why I'm not rich



I've created a new book cover (above) for my upcoming book Destiny and Dynasty (now available for pre-order on Amazon here)

Here is the old version: 




The change came about when I was playing around with creating a draft cover for this year's nanowrimo writing challenge. Nanowrimo, for those who don't know, is the annual challenge in which writers attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

I'm a slow writer when it comes to fiction so it will be one of the hardest things I've attempted. I'm not sure I will succeed, but at least some good has come of it already.

I've become strangely obsessed with fonts during the cover design phase and was very tempted to use the following font because I seemed to come across it (or something like it) wherever I looked:




Plus, there are a few very popular books with the same tall handwriting fonts as their titles at the moment.

During the note-taking work that I do at university I sat in an accountancy lecture yesterday. The lecture was about creating the best profit margins by altering the price of a product. The idea being that there is an optimal price which you can set something at which will result in the most sales and the largest profit margin. It's a bit of an art for companies (like Apple) who want to make a lot of money.

While I was taking down the notes I thought about my upcoming book and wondered if I had set the price too low. But then I considered that there was one thing which the accountancy lecturer didn't mention when it comes to profit margins. Ethics. 

If I set the ebook price artificially high it isn't fair for people who may not have much spare money (especially as Christmas is coming up). And the only point of emulating the large publishing houses by setting an ebook price similar to the print book price is to make money.

So I've set the price of the ebook to £3, which hopefully is a fair price. I've already set the other work as low as possible (Amazon won't allow authors to publish their books for free except during promotions) and put on a lot of free promotions so that they are accessible. I think you can see why I'm not rich.

What I think indie authors don't have is the advertising. There is only so much social marketing that one person can do. Take a look at the computer game 'Destiny' which was released about a month ago. I'm not sure what the advertising budget for the game was, but it was one of the most hyped games in history. You can't really do stuff like that without the backing of a large publisher or some strange publicity stunt.

I haven't sold out yet, in any sense of the phrase. And, that fact makes you a very discerning reader.



Saturday, 4 October 2014

'I have written you an opera...'


It's pretty inevitable that (barring any major life event) I'm going to be writing about my first novel over the next few months.

At times I feel like the phantom - from the Phantom of the Opera, gatecrashing a masquerade and announcing: 'I have written you an opera'. The imaginary hushed silence is, hopefully, simply a dark fear that I hold in my worst moments (of which I have a few).

I've just put together the Amazon page so that anyone who wants to can pre-order the ebook. And it will be an ebook first. There is such a huge debate about artificially enhanced ebook prices and the way in which Amazon deal with authors that I decided to set the ebook price fairly low. The whole publishing industry seems to be in flux and I worry that it is the reader who will always lose out. So at least, as an indie author, I have the right to set the ebook price.

Why should you read this book?

My answer is that it will be an escape and I would like you to enjoy it. It won't make you a better (or worse) person. It won't give you coping strategies or make you more confident at public speaking. It won't enhance you in any way apart from being an escape from the tyranny of always feeling that you need to enhance yourself.

It was written to be enjoyed and any message which the book carries is subconscious on my part. I've not set out to promote any particular agenda (or to preach). I set out to write a story. Perhaps there are hidden messages, perhaps in books there always are.

What is it about?

I've made no secret to the fact that this story is set against the backdrop of a megachurch. There is a reason that I've selected a Christian as my hero. It is because there are so few Christian heroes in story. And there is also a reason that I've selected a Christian as my villain.

It is because I can get away with it.

Although, to be fair, many modern authors get away with creating Christian villains whether they are believers or not.

So, I mean, I have an excuse. And in this case the Christian villains are almost caricatures. That is deliberate.

But I'm pre-empting criticism...

It's a story - and it is supposed to be enjoyed. Not everyone will like it, but I hope some people will at least read it. If people don't read it, it is just one of those things. As Neil Gaiman says, whatever happens, 'make good art'.

Whether it is good art or not I will leave for you to decide. But I'm deliberately calling it art because it does have depth.

So - 'I have written you an opera' and here's the link...


Destiny and Dynasty - Amazon page


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Destiny and Dynasty Trailer



Okay, here is the book trailer which I've created for Destiny and Dynasty.

It is coming out on 15th December (at first as an ebook and then as a paperback).

Hope you like the trailer.

It will all make sense in the end...

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Nick White has written a book!




Have you ever won an argument long after it even mattered?

I've won an argument that took place almost 30 years ago. In fact the argument has likely been forgotten by everyone but me.

Let me explain. Back in high school I decided with a couple of friends that I would write a book. We planned to write a book in the style of the fighting fantasy and role playing material which we liked. In English lessons we had just read 'The Hobbit' and we were inspired to write a similar book with a kind of 'choose your own' format (turn to page 50 if you remember these books).

We spoke to our English teacher and I got so far as to paint a storyboard picture of a castle carved into a mountaintop. But we were kids and our patience, inspiration and interest waned - especially after our English teacher gave us a lukewarm reception.

In my maths class a popular and trendy boy announced to the maths teacher:

"Sir, have you heard the latest? Nick White is going to write a book!"

There was laughter. I withered in my seat and distracted myself with the logarithm book which would never be a practical benefit in my future.

But I did end up writing a book and winning this argument even if those first plans came to nothing - my first book 'Compliance is Futile' was published a few years ago.

And now I have written my first ever fictional novel. The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this blog has a launch date on the right hand side. All being well the novel 'Destiny and Dynasty' will be available on 15th December this year.

The picture on this blog entry is a draft version of the cover.

So I won an argument years after it mattered and years after anyone but me cared.

But I kind of like that.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Sympathy for the Chaff




There are a number of responsibilities that a writer has. One of these is to understand that whatever you do to make a bad guy unlikable, somebody, somewhere is going to prefer the bad guy to the good guy. And it is the author's responsibility to make allowances for this.

I'm in the process of finishing off my first novel and I would be naive to believe that if people read it, some readers are not going to prefer the antagonists to the protagonists. This is just human nature and an aspect of reading and listening to stories. Who hasn't watched a film and rooted for the bad guy a few times (especially if the story is clumsy, full of cliches and lacking in skill)?

I've been thinking about this recently because I've just got back from a threshing festival. Many people are familiar with the saying: 'sort the wheat from the chaff'. It's a popular saying which originates from Bible times. John the Baptist described Christ in this way... 

"His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

I approach all this biblical stuff with the eyes of a writer and perhaps that is a mistake. But the 'wheat'/'chaff' symbolism is mirrored in many stories. Modern literature often attempts to give the protagonists flaws so that the distinction is less obvious. Of course there are anti-heroes too. But skilled writers can create characters who are likable despite having negative characteristics. And in the end, many fictional characters can be reduced to being either wheat or chaff.

Readers are not stupid (maybe some are but I don't want to go into that). On the whole readers know when an author wants them to like a certain character and sometimes (and for eclectic reasons), they will not do what an author wants them to do.

There are many people who believe that Christ is the greatest storyteller who ever lived. I believe this too. This is not just sycophancy (although it can be). Christ's parables have immense depth and contain symbolism, irony and a whole host of techniques which are way beyond the capabilities of storytellers such as myself. Christ also sorts his characters into the strange archetypes of wheat and chaff. There are parallels in his parables - there are worthy and unworthy servants, wise and foolish virgins, there are shrewd managers and persistent widows and unmerciful judges and unforgiving servants and powerful kings and good Samaritans and branches that remain in the vine and branches that are cut off from the vine and good and bad fish. There is wheat and there is chaff.

For the reader who is behaving while listening to a story, it is an easy choice to make - associate with the good Samaritan, the worthy servant, the wise virgin, the branch that remains resolutely part of the vine. For others there is another choice - associate with the cut off branch or associate with the chaff.

A good storyteller instinctively knows that his or her listeners or readers will do this.

So take the distinction between the wheat and the chaff. In reality the wheat is separated from the chaff as it is collected. The grains of wheat are packed into sacks and they go on to be powdered by a millstone and made into bread or shredded-wheat or whatever (see? I've probably even got that wrong - I haven't learned a thing I tell you!). The chaff falls to the ground, is blown away by the wind or else destroyed. The stalks of the wheat are made into straw and usually used as feed for animals (hold on... what about the stalks?!!).

What I'm trying to say (clumsily) is this: It doesn't matter which character you associate with when it comes to stories or parables. It doesn't matter if you associate with the wheat or if you associate with the chaff. Associating with one or the other does not in itself sort the wheat from the chaff.

And that is because of one fact: A good storyteller should know that this happens all the time.

Think happy thoughts.












Saturday, 9 August 2014

Loud flower


Some flowers are louder than others.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Is Britain Christian? ITV Tonight review 24th July 2014

Changes



The heat has driven me into becoming a precious whinger again. 

Last night's ITV Tonight programme on the state of modern-day Christianity in Britain was interesting but could have been made ten years ago.

The programme discussed David Cameron's much debated claim that what remains of Britain is still a Christian country and his call for people of faith to share that faith (just so long as you don't work in the NHS... or a whole range of other occupations).

And maybe reporters will just look at the next census figures and rehash a similar report in ten years time. The established churches perpetually waning and some of the charismatic and evangelical churches perpetually growing. Food banks and secular alternatives to faith made a brief mention, but that is all that they were.

The conclusions were the same as were expressed in 2004 and this is partly because the British media now have very few journalists who have either the skill, expertise or inclination to understand the state of Christianity in the UK today.

Despite a tradition of journalists covering both the ebb and the flow of faith in this country it seems that mainstream editors do not, on the whole, think that faith is newsworthy. It is a constant complaint that the only news that Christianity gets is negative. We can't all be precious whingers.

So, with the last specialist faith reporter in the established media losing her job a matter of months ago is it any wonder that the resulting reports are largely rehashed and superficial? Or is it simply a mirroring of a tide which is still going out?

The conclusion of the Tonight programme was this: Christianity is on the wane. And this is an ebb which is predicted to continue. One expert even forecasted that this trend would continue into the future. It was almost a prophesy. And they can be misleading.

Actually, the program wasn't entirely unfair. At least there were none of the outrageous generalisations which have characterized too much output relating to Christianity. But again, these generalisations and inaccuracies are partly due to a dearth of specialist faith reporters. Again I whinge.

The conclusion of 'Tonight' was the same as ten years ago. Remember, this is a report on the state of faith in the nation now and according to this report Christianity is largely on the wane.

But it is so much more complicated than this.

Perhaps anyone with any sense would have spent the evening watching the tide from a beach.

Think happy thoughts.







Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Parable of the Over-Competitive Fisherman


lake



In the following parable I use a number of techniques, many of which are particular to parables. Firstly, I deliberately reject the ‘show don’t tell’ command. Historically parables have contained elements of telling. I also deliberately keep the writing style simplistic because this is how parables work – parables contain depth yet seem deceptively simple at first glance.

So, obviously the fish, the fisherfolk, the king, his army and the over-competitive fisherman are counterparts to other things. This is an internal puzzle which is not hard to solve for those familiar with the genre. The woodland and the boy are harder to parallel. The king going away on a long journey is also a traditional theme. The ‘intrusive’ narrative voice is deliberate and is here used to divert the reader towards a ‘parable teller’. This is a character in himself. The narrator is not necessarily the author.

It is not a difficult parable to unravel and one feature of most parables is that they are not usually explained by the teller. They are left for the listener or reader to figure out. But here I have deliberately broken the second rule of the parable – which is to present a spiritual message. My first draft did conform to the norms of parables and contain the spiritual message but I changed the ending for it to work better in terms of story. The original ending stopped before the last few paragraphs and it is obvious that this changes the story significantly. Above all I wanted to adhere to the first rule of parable which is that it is supposed to be a story and an escape...


The parable of the over-competitive fisherman

A king once owned a vast lake in which all kinds of fish lived.

The king went away on a long journey with his army, telling his servants to fish the lake for him. He was a very kind king even though he was immensely powerful.

But as soon as he left, the servants began to argue with each other. They started to call themselves ‘the king’s fisherfolk’ (men, women and children) and they formed two groups, one on the West side, then one on the East. But even these groups split so that there were eventually fisherfolk on three sides of the lake. One side of the lake protested against another side and the third side just shrugged and said that they were the true fisherfolk anyway. The only other side of the lake was covered in woodland and no-one could fish from it.

There were intense arguments between the fisherfolk about the best way to catch fish. The fisherfolk on the Western side tended to have the better equipment and conditions. The sun seemed to shine on them although the fishing conditions were challenging in some ways. Mostly they had problems because they tripped over their equipment. Some of them had rods and equipment which was so expensive and sophisticated that it was easier for them to catch the fish. The equipment sometimes got in the way or distracted them.

The Western fisherfolk argued among themselves about the best way to catch fish and please their master. Many of them had fist fights or wouldn’t speak to each other. Others didn’t see the point in fishing and went off to do something they were more interested in. Perhaps they were the wisest.

There were all kinds of disputes. The fisherfolk on the West always looked down on the fisherfolk on the other sides of the lake. They were only united in this. They would often accuse each other of cheating or of scaring the fish away. One of the fisherfolk on the East was just a boy who only had a line which he baited with a worm and dangled into the water from the branch of a tree. He couldn’t even afford a rod.

There was also one particular fisherman on the Western side who was rich and had better equipment than many of the others. There were a lot of fisherfolk in the team which he led. But he would condescend towards the poorer fisherfolk and remain aloof and over-competitive. He would even toss grenades from his survival belt into the lake. Whenever he did this he would kill a lot of the fish and set his team to scoop them up in huge nets. He caught countless fish this way. But others noticed that he scared away most of the life within the lake.

Not content with lobbing grenades, this fisherman would also go out onto the lake in a trawler and dredge to the bottom with huge nets. All of the other fisherfolk were so scared of him because he said that he was pleasing the king more than them as he had caught so many more fish than they had.

The boy was very sad when he saw and heard all this. He went out every day to fish the lake but could never catch any fish, the fisherfolk on his side had so little equipment and, truth be told, some of the fisherfolk had made the fish very wary. A lot of the time the boy would just talk to the other fisherfolk and the rich fisherman would watch him in the distance and think he was lazy.

The rich fisherman announced from a loudspeaker: “When the king gets back from his journey he will let me relax with him in the best room of his palace because I’ve caught the most fish. I win.”

He even sometimes said that the king had sent him secret messages which told him he was his best fisherman and that he was very pleased with him. “The king is with me, me, me...” he sang. Many of the others became discouraged because of all this and gave up fishing.

For many years this was simply the way things were. But one day, as suddenly as a thief might break into a house, the king came back from his journey. He appeared, with his army at his lakeside and called all his servants together from every side. The woodland watched on silently, breathing in the wild wind. He asked each of his servants in turn one simple question:

“Did you catch any fish in my lake?”

Many of the fisherfolk had somehow caught fish and the king sent them off to relax in his palace. When he came to the boy he asked him the same question.

The boy replied: “No, I’m sorry, not one.”

The king was surprised at this, but when he saw that the boy only had a line with a hook and that the fishing conditions were so challenging he understood what had happened.

So the king told the boy that he could stop fishing and go and play in the best part of his palace.
The rich fisherman also went before the king. He had freezers stocked full of fish. He had caught so many and stocked them with salt in vast refrigerated warehouses which he had built. He had also secretly eaten and sold on a number of the fish himself. I suppose that is what happens when you are over-competitive.

“How many fish did you catch?” asked the king.
“153,000” replied the fisherman, his chest swelling in pride.
“Pretty impressive,” said the king, “you have worked very hard haven’t you? Are you tired?”
“That wasn’t on the agenda,” replied the fisherman. “But I would like to point out once again that I have caught the most fish. You like fish don’t you?”
“Love them,” replied the king. But he was very depressed by the over-competitive fisherman as he had never wanted fish to be captured quite in the way that they were. The strange, kind king didn’t want to send the fisherman out of his kingdom into the burning heat of exile where he wouldn’t survive.
“I thought I could have a sabbatical?” said the fisherman, “Where do you want me to rest in the palace?”
“You really are very efficient and shrewd,” said the king, “so you can go and carry on working for my fisherfolk there. They will need someone to cook for them.”


And it all would have ended there if the over-competitive fisherman hadn’t been quite so shrewd (as the king had so accurately perceived).

The rich fisherman could see that he was facing a menial role as a lowly servant in the palace. Although he was relieved not to be sent into the burning heat of exile he did keenly realize that he had very little to lose at this point.

“I’ve just spent my adult career working for you despite the fact that you have been entirely absent and despite your inane request for fish,” blurted the fisherman.
The king seemed momentarily taken aback.
“I am not going to carry on being your lacky in your palace, serving fools who have been unable to fish effectively. So I utterly refuse to play your game.”

The king nodded, smiled to himself. As if unsurprised. As if nothing could surprise him. As if he knew the future. 

And then he said, “I’m afraid you have no choice. You put the 'tit' into 'competitive'. Even now my army is coming to take you to your place. No value judgement intended, you understand.”

It was too much for the fisherman. Reaching towards his survival belt he unclipped a spare grenade and rolled it towards the king. The grenade landed at the king’s feet. He paused to look down and then smiled.

“But that’s not a fish,” he said (momentarily confused).
“You’re damned right,” replied the fisherman, turning and running away as fast as a ridiculous thought.

The inevitable explosion blasted the kind king into a thousand and one bloody pieces.
A few of the pieces landed in the lake where hungry, confused fish devoured them and then returned to the freedom of the water.

It was, some may say, ironic that the fish should win out in the end. Others may say it was meaningless, without rhyme or reason.


But I’m simply trying to tell you what happened. The over-competitive fisherman won, along with the fish and the trees of the hungry, watching woods which swayed and clapped their hands in a mad Westerly wind.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The VCL



A preacher, arriving in a small town to speak at a local church wanted to post a letter to his family back home. He stopped a small boy and asked him where the post office was. The boy gave him directions.
Then the preacher said: “If you come to church this evening, I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.”
“I don’t think I’ll be there,” replied the boy, “You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

I’ve been a Christian for over 20 years and have been seeking directions to the fabled land of the Victorious Christian Life (the VCL) for all that time. Call me a jaded old-timer if you want, I don't mind. I have been called worse.

This blog entry is mainly intended to help the Christians out there. But feel free to read on whoever you are.

Firstly, I do not live the VCL. And I'm unable to offer anyone directions on how to get there. I know this is a bad start, but what I am able to do is to give you some directions showing where this fabled land is not to be found (based on 20 years of bitter experience).

The 'fabled' land of the VCL is well known to exist by Christians. For a start Christ lived it. St Paul lived it. There are countless biographies of Christians who live it. I've met Christians who say they live it. The VCL involves miracles and a success in everything that you do. If something goes wrong then a supernatural event makes it go right again. Things don’t fall apart and everyone there gets healed and prayers answered.

This blog entry is not for Christians who have already discovered that secret elixir – the hidden fountain of VCL living.

In fact, I have come to the conclusion that Christians who do live the VCL are unable or unwilling to share directions. Actually, to be fair, they do share directions, but the directions always turn out to be wrong, as if blurred by some subtle irony, or some mystical force. As if it is a spiritual law that the way to the VCL can never be shared. They will say 'just reach out and receive' or 'you can't do anything to find it - you simply have to accept it as a child will accept a present'. The fact that the present is invisible and they never actually tell you how they have arrived is, surely, part of the subtle spell which blurs any kind of meaningful communication.

So it is just as well that all I am doing is sharing with you the places in which the VCL is not found - to spare my remaining readers a lot of trouble.

Anyone who is anyone knows that the VCL is self-evidently to be found via a ‘heal-all’. This is obvious. There is one single act, one single change in direction, one single change which will result in the VCL. Some of these single acts can change things for the better but they do not result in the fabled VCL.

So here we go patient readers!...

Heal-all number 1: The VCL is not found by becoming a Christian.

Becoming a Christian is a huge change. Some of us old timers still remember how intense the experience was. There are huge, often unpleasant, changes which are made. Friends are lost. Lifestyles change. It is the one significant act that a human being can make to side with good. A kind of vote for Christ, made through prayer. It is immense and it is usually hard, like relocating to a new country. But it isn’t a heal-all. Everyone knows that. It can make things better (sometimes it makes things worse), but it doesn’t automatically lead to the VCL.

Heal-all number 2: Go to church.

For us jaded old-timers there are often periods of non-churchgoing for one reason or the other. When you are in church you are told: “Coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a cup of McDonalds coffee with a free buy six get one free sticker.” Sad to say, in my experience, going to church does not result in the VCL. It is no heal-all. Some people there claim to have found the land (but once again, their directions get blurred in the spell which prevents the way ever being shared). Damn you, foul spell!

Heal-all number 3: Pray for an hour every morning.

I’d be losing my cool if I said I did this for any great length of time. But I have tested this theory (albeit briefly). I don’t regret the relatively small amount of time I’ve spent in prayer but I have discovered that having quiet time every morning does not result in the VCL. I hate to say it, but for the devoted, praying can get out of hand. I know that everything will conspire to keep people from prayer and I believe in prayer, but there comes a time when praying ‘without-ceasing’ is a kind of addiction. And when you fail, you will feel vile. Please be balanced in this. I’m not the devil, tempting you not to pray, I’m someone who has learned that quantity does not equal quality.

Heal-all number 4: Get rid of that dubious stuff!

This is the most attractive heal-all road to the VCL. It's a beauty. It's simple. All you have to do is scourge your house or flat from everything that some Christians say is dodgy. For Christians this goes beyond the obvious of getting rid of hard drugs and firearms (and that secret two foot high idol we all have in the cupboard (?)). To perform this heal-all we need to get rid of those 'bad' DVDs and Blu-ray discs. We need to delete any ‘doubtful’ music from our iPods. Then you can delete all the ebooks which are clearly too racy or too horrific. Don’t burn those books, though, take them to a charity shop. Purge the house, purge the garden, purge the TV and radio!... Except it doesn’t work. Sad to say I’ve had at least two 'Christian purges' on my happy, happy VCL-less journey and they simply don’t work.

Heal-all number 5: Tithe.

I don’t tithe. I may or may not have done so in the past. If I said I did it may or may not make me want to look good. I don’t tithe and I very much doubt that it leads to the VCL – it may make things better because giving enriches us in many ways. You can test God in this and you discover for youself whether it leads to the VCL or not. My guess is that it makes some things better but I bet you it doesn’t result in the VCL.

Heal-all number 6: Support Israel. Publically.

This is a fun and happy aspect of certain circles within the Christian community. Those of us in the know understand that all those who bless Israel will be blessed (and vice-versa (oh happy religion!)). Another simple road to the VCL! Simply be supportive of Israel and never say anything critical of the Jews. Bonus! A blessing on both their houses? (Well, that could work). How can this fail!? It can fail and it does. This is an esoteric heal-all so be careful with this one. Also, people get obsessed about Israel one way or the other.

Heal-all number 7: Fill in your own option to the VCL here.

I know - there must be a lovely easy, instant way to enter the land of the Victorious Christian Life!
It may involve saying a particular prayer with just the right words. It may involve performing a great deed. It may involve doing one particular thing. People, you all know what that thing is supposed to be – so insert it here! (just not in the comments please - this was once a respectable blog). Maybe it is the true way to the VCL. I don’t know, I’ve never lived the VCL. How would I know? I'm mad as a box of frogs having a bad trip.


And maybe even these non-directions will get blurred by some spell over the land. Some cruel irony which prevents all meaningful communication from occurring. But as we all know, failing to live the VCL is user-error. Has to be. Because if we are not to blame, it just doesn’t look good for some people does it?

One possible way to the VCL...

We can strain at gnats all our lives but I would say that I believe the VCL is to be found by making gradual shifts towards love and mercy. But as I say - even that doesn't work (especially if you are a grinch like me). In fact, it's just possible that I'm not doing even that very well (it would explain a lot). But my guess is that if the VCL exists then love is the way.

So, busy reader, be careful that the anti-VCL spell doesn’t make even this blog sound like gobbledegook. And in the meantime, while you’re searching – try to get up one more time than you are knocked down.


Think happy thoughts.

Friday, 27 June 2014

No writing rules? - 'Show, Don't Tell'



My first novel is written and almost ready. In it I use a number of new and old literary techniques.

There are many rules which inhibit the freedom of storytellers. 'Show, Don't Tell' is just one of them.

A little while ago I read a pamphlet from the huge established publisher Hachette. On the cover of the pamphlet were the words: 'NO RULES - Just write'. It sounded great...

The next pages of the pamphlet contained many established rules which went way beyond the simple rules of sentence structure, grammar and spelling. For example, under the title: 'Describing your characters' it reads: 'It was once the convention to spend a long time describing characters...nowadays we try to show character through action rather than tell the reader about it.'

That's putting it mildly! Nowadays, 'Show, Don't Tell' is almost a commandment! If you ever hope to be published then make sure you obey the rules and norms - after all, that's how all new writing styles started isn't it? No, it's generic and it keeps within the rules. We are not clones.

But 'Show, Don't Tell' is one of the rules which almost all modern writers seem to agree on. We have had it pounded into us like being pummeled with a cushion. If the establishment say that telling a reader that a particular character is 'mean' or 'good' or 'unduly pedantic' is in fact insulting to a reader's intelligence then who are we to question that?

There is (they say) one way to reveal character traits - and that is to show a character doing (for example) 'mean'  things. So, introduce a character who eats children and who squashes frogs for fun and the reader will work out that they are mean. Yes, that works, but it also infringes on the freedom of the storyteller (who faces enough pressures already). It isn't intrusive and it is not a measure of a writer's respect towards his or her readers to use an old technique.

The Show Don't Tell commandment is taken to the nth degree by the establishment. All passages are scanned for any slight chance that a storyteller is being too intrusive. The author must step back from the work. There is no leeway.

I'd like to argue that this is infringing on the basic freedom of writers. I don't want to say that 'showing' is wrong - it isn't. Showing is highly effective. What I want to argue is that 'telling' isn't wrong either and that doing both can free up a writer a little.

So, because I am still a Christian (show don't tell) I'm going to use the Bible to prove this...

There is one final authority when it comes to everything and anything according to most Christians. That is the Bible. So I would like to 'show' from the Bible just how many times the storytellers who wrote the books within used 'telling' as a technique.

So, for research, I spent two long hours this morning going through the Bible page by page (the closest I've come to a Bible for any length of time for a while :-)).

You could argue that the Bible is not fiction (or that it is) or that it is not to be interpreted in a literary way - but the Bible contains stories and we approach it as readers listening to stories. It's a meta-narrative. The authors of these stories chose to present them in a certain way, whether they are history, parable or allegory. It is considered to be very well written by many people.

So, here are some examples of telling in the Bible...

  • Genesis 6:9-10 (GNB) Noah - "Noah had no faults and was the only good man of his time."
  • Genesis 25:27 Jacob and Esau - "...and Esau became a skilled hunter, a man who lead the outdoor life, but Jacob was a quiet man who stayed at home. Isaac preferred Esau..."
  • Genesis 38:7 Er - "Er's conduct was evil..."
  • Judges 11:1 Jepththah - "Jepththah, a brave soldier from Gilead was the son of a prostitute."
  • Ruth 2:1 Boaz - "Naomi had a relative named Boaz, a rich and influential man..."
  • 1 Samuel 2:12 The sons of Eli - "The sons of Eli were scoundrels. They paid no attention to the LORD..."
  • 1 Samuel 18:1 Jonathan - "...Saul's son Jonathan was deeply attracted to David and came to love him as much as he loved himself."
  • 1 Samuel 25:2-3 Nabal and Abigail - "His wife Abigail was beautiful and intelligent, but he was a mean, bad tempered man."
  • Job 1:1 Job - "There was a man named Job...he was a good man, careful not to do anything evil."

That was just from a quick scan of the Old Testament. What about the new testament?

  • Matthew 1:19 Joseph - "Joseph was a man who always did what was right..."

And here are some of Christ's parables. I hear he was considered a storyteller of some talent...

  • Matthew 25:2 Christ's parable of the 10 virgins - "Five of them were foolish, and the other five were wise."
  • Luke 16:19 Christ's parable about The rich man and Lazarus - "There was once a rich man who dressed in the most expensive clothes and lived in great luxury every day."
  • Luke 18:2 Christ's parable of the persistent widow - "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man."

And here is Luke talking...

  • Luke 2:40 Christ - "The child grew and became strong: he was full of wisdom, and God's blessings were upon him."

And John...

  • John 1:14 God - "The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us."

And these were just some of the passages which I found from a brief study (I've left others out). It's true that the Bible authors also 'show' - but they don't only show. Many of them tell as well.

Today Christ would be rejected by the establishment as an amateur.
Does that make him a rebel?










Friday, 6 June 2014

Trying to break through




I remember reading a regular newspaper columnist and wishing that the columnist would break through into something new. I would read her column and I would think, 'Yes, it's a pretty good column, but you could break through into something deeper - you can do so much better than this.' 
But she never did.

Just before the Iraq war I remember thinking that Tony Blair could have prevented the war. He could have acted like Hugh Grant in 'Love Actually', he could have said to Bush, 'No, this isn't right, we shouldn't go to war'.
But he never did.

Sometimes I look at the Queen and I think - 'How can you just let so many of the bad things which happen in this country go on? You could be so much better than this - you could really make a difference, you could easily speak out and make things better.'
But she hasn't so far.

And I look around and I just think - you can't really change people. You can't really change people in powerful positions.

I'm often told, 'The only person you can change is yourself'.

But even that is so hard. I'm left wanting others to change first.

I'm not a leader. It means that my responsibility to change isn't as great as that of those in power. But if I can change, if I can make things better - if I can somehow break through into something new, at least I will have achieved something.

So it remains my conviction that I can't change others, that I can only change myself. That I can only attempt to accept others for who they are.

But I still want to break through into something new.

Hey!! Perhaps I could become really evil!!? :-D
It can't be that hard! :-D




Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Owl Flies at Night - free ebook


My short story experiment 'The Owl Flies at Night' is free tonight and tomorrow for anyone who has a Kindle or the free Kindle for PC app. I wanted to offer it free on Amazon but can't so I've put it at the lowest possible price. The Amazon system allows me to give five days free promotion every three months so please take a look as it is available now.

The Owl Flies at Night



Friday, 16 May 2014

Think happy thoughts


Probably the most useful advice I have heard when it comes to the whole sphere of cognitive discipline is from the musical 'Passion' by Sondheim.

There is a scene in which the sick Fosca is walking in a garden with her future lover, Giorgio. Fosca is obsessed with death and can think only about morbid things. She is terrified by her imagination. Giorgio listens to her describe her fears of death and then gives his solution. Here is the dialogue:

Giorgio: These thoughts are bad for you. You must concentrate 
on everything around you that suggests life. These 
trees, these flowers, the warm smell of the air - 

Fosca: You make it sound so simple Captain. As if a flower 
or a tree could somehow make one happy.


Despite Fosca's complaint, Giorgio does have a point. I don't think it is entirely superficial to agree with him in his prescription for depression.

So the only question is - how do you think happy thoughts when almost everywhere we are presented with sadness?

And my answer: I have absolutely no idea.

Think happy thoughts.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Chagrined at the BBC




People who get frustrated with the BBC news and end up ranting at their television screens will know how I feel today. TV news has the capacity to cause exasperation, anger, sympathy, solidarity - a whole spectrum of human emotions.

So, when the BBC announced that they were holding a public consultation about their news and current affairs output I thought this would be a great opportunity to rant directly at the BBC and (naive as I am), that someone would actually listen.

I was one of over 9000 respondents to the survey and one of probably very few who waded through the resulting reports. Yes, that's right dear reader, I read this stuff so that you don't have to waste your life on it!

Firstly, I can report, that I felt chagrined after reading the published reports. I felt chagrined partly because I like the word chagrined and you should always have favourite words. But partly it was because none of my carefully thought out and valid concerns (rants) were acknowledged.

For example, I complained that the BBC is far too linked with Government and that other countries effectively saw it as a kind of propaganda. Nothing in the report about that. Before you write me off as an eccentric, I have to say that I did have other, perhaps more valid, complaints.

For example I thought it may make a difference to state that much of the news output I saw was too negative. There is a happy history of people complaining that news output is obsessed with negativity. So I thought I would join the bandwagon (a bandwagon which may or may not have fallen off a cliff edge some time ago). And guess what? The BBC chose this one moment to look for the positive when writing up their report! They said there really is no consensus among viewers on the things they are doing wrong and that in general people felt very positive and trusting of the BBC news output. Way to go BBC - now you see the positive! Does the BBC's fabled objectivity have a blind spot?

To quote the recurring theme of the reports: "The BBC is seen as a very high-quality news provider 
The audience’s overall impression of BBC News is high."

Chagrined I tell you!

Anyway, as everyone keeps telling me, 'it's not about you'. There were special consultations to the following organisations:

  • Campaign Against Arms Trade
  • International Broadcasting Trust
  • Jews for Justice for Palestinians
  • Keep our NHS public
  • Newsnight Cymru/Newsnight Wales Campaign
  • RadioCentre
  • Stonewall
  • UK Changing Union
  • UK Metric Association
  • UTV Media
  • Voice of the Listener and Viewer
These organisations seemed to want to complain too. But the report didn't seem to contain much about their own 'rants'. Campaign Against the Arms Trade seemed similarly chagrined that much of the reporting on the arms trade was superficial and uncritical. Jews for Justice for Palestinians were chagrined that the coverage of the situation within Israel was inaccurate and misleading of all sides

Basically everyone was chagrined for one reason or another. But our diverse rants didn't seem to make the BBC want to change significantly.

To be fair (do I have to?), the reports also stated some areas of improvement based on the consultation. Attempting to find any consensus in their confused, fragmented viewers, the BBC eventually decided that people had complained that the BBC news tends to feel 'distant' from some viewers. This sense of alienation from the news output will be solved by employing a more diverse workforce. Which is fair enough and is a continuation of the BBC's existing policy.

And, in an attempt to be objective myself, it seemed that the other respondents really didn't feel as negative towards the BBC as I did. I have given up asking questions. So they will increase diversity, continue to expand to new digital arenas (while maintaining TV news as their core output). They may or may not play around with the license fee. Depends how they feel on the day I suppose.

I just feel that sometimes institutions don't listen at all. And it isn't just me. It's simply that there are agendas and economic considerations which prevent huge organisations (including the BBC) from making radical, conscientious changes. 

So, that's basically the general gist of the reports. No major change for us viewers. A million and one occasionally chagrined people expressing various emotions towards their TV screens (much of it valid, yet unheard). And the result?

To quote from another of the long, tedious, reports:
"Sustaining citizenship and civil society - 
The BBC generally delivers its commitments in this area well."

Think happy thoughts citizen!