How to write and live… And Happy New Year!

On the 29th December a blogger I follow called Cristian Mihai wrote a blog called You either write or live. In it Cristian quotes:

“The more you write, the less you feel alive,” says Jonathan Fisher.

Cristian then goes on to agree… Except I don’t.

If you write or you live then there would be a lot of people hidden away in attics, leading reclusive lives. Now I’m not saying I’m a social butterfly, because I’m not. But nor do find that I am not ‘living’ because I’m writing. I suppose it has become more of a job, but I refuse to stop experiencing. Sure if I go out to have a go at something… like last year I helped a local conservation centre build a compost loo ….I will remember and even write down some ideas in a small book I carry with me all the times, but I don’t stand on the sidelines and just watch. Where would the fun be in that?

I am aware that I live a quiet life; looking after a smallholding, running a soft toy manufacturing business and writing, but I love to do new things. I’ve also crewed a schooner across the English Channel, and have hunted for dinosaur footprints near Scarborough UK. I don’t stop at anything nor to I hang back out-of-the-way just watching. I experience it, and enjoy it. If anything the more I write the more I remember and feel alive as I relive all those experiences, whether its using the smell of the sea or the sound of a laugh in a story. They are all things that have meant something to me. Maybe one day I will not be transported into a memory and then writing may not hold it’s appeal, but at the moment I write to feel.

So my New Years resolution is to do ten new things – things that I have never done before (one of which I’m hoping will be a lobster dinner as I’ve never eaten one) and to include them all in a story or perhaps even in a book. That way not only will I feel them again but so will other people.

Happy New Year!


A conundrum

“The more books we read, the clearer it becomes that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of consequence.” Cyril Connolly

This was posted in the Thresholds Facebook page… and it got me thinking.

Is the only true function of a writer to create a masterpiece? And does this ‘truth’ become harder to deny the more books we read?

How many books have I read…? Well, if you count the pulp fiction that I can devour, quite a few. But how many literary masterpieces? Not so many. I have listened to a few, which I believe to be the same as reading them, but I have noticed that the further into the master’s course the more likely I am to put aside a book that I would have once persevered with. I do read a lot of ‘free’ kindle books and I must admit if the errors are so bad that I can see them, then I click that button – ‘remove from device’. Does this mean I believe I can do better? No not really, I just think that in most cases they could have done with a damn good editor.

One story I read had a character die, only to be temporarily resurrected in the next chapter and to die again in the following chapter. Now the story was good – and no I am not going to let on who wrote it or even the plot – all the writer needed was a good editor. Some one to say:

How about doing the middle chapter as a flashback or killing the character later in the story?

But the kindle has opened the publishing world to self publication, although you still need someone who can edit. I’m lucky. Due to the dyslexia nothing goes out without being read and altered, either by support staff at the university or a member of the family (who luckily are willing to look at things during the holiday).

Just because some books are badly edited or have weak plot lines, or non-consistant characters does not make me think I can write a masterpiece. I suppose the dream is to win a big prize or award for something I have written, but the reality is that I will just be glad to be published and maybe in the future make a little money. Little being the operative word. I have no disillusions that my writing is masterpiece material, I am too chatty and can go off at tangents…

No the more books I read the more I want to write, but not that elusive masterpiece, I just want to tell a story. Whether that story is heart retching and romantic, or horror filled I don’t care, just as long as it is a story. Because I only started writing two years ago (actually the anniversary is two years on the 1st January 2013) I just see that writing has allowed me to expand my audience. before I had to tell my creation, weaving characters around plot lines as I stood, now I get to plan them out and create more complicated twists. I was asked the other day what do I want to do with the rest of my life – and my answer is this!!!

I don’t care if I am writing a blog or poem or short story or (perhaps in the future) a novel, just as long as I am writing. If a masterpiece comes along then great, but it isn’t the truth I seek… It would be more like the cherry on top of the iced cake.

One thing I do know is that every story I write is of consequence, because I have written it. The simple fact that if you put down the words, struggled with research, characters, grammar, and plot then it must ‘mean’ something. And if it doesn’t ‘mean’ anything – why are you writing it?

Boxing day and big brown bears

It is strange when you realise just how young you were when you started to expand your vocabulary. Twas Boxing day yesterday and my sister and her tiny son (less than a year old) were round for Christmas leftovers. Well after eating she was playing with Bill and suddenly he takes off for the kitchen, kids can move extremely fast, and she says to her partner:

“There he goes lolloping off to the kitchen.”

“Huh?” he says.

And from the kitchen I grab Bill and walk in and in unison we say:

“The big brown bear went lolloping over the mountain!”

“Huh?” he says.

“You don’t know it?” I exclaim.


“Well,” my sister says, “it’s in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the big brown bear lollops over the mountain.”

He still looks blank and then I realise that we have known the word ‘lolloping’ for years… in my case it must be 30! As a child I learnt that brown bears could move by lolloping… and that got me thinking. As a dyslexic I’m not well read so where have I picked up all the vocabulary I use? The answer is everywhere. I’m a sponge and have absorbed it from all sorts of places; from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to conversations and audio books.

To lollop – to move with a bobbing motion.

It’s Christmas!

Well almost. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I am sitting in front of the Christmas tree and trying to ignore the Christmas special on the telly. Enough ‘Christmas’s’? I think so.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not a bar-humbug type of person but I do hate the commercialism of it all. My gifts this year are mostly made… Although as I look at my dad’s jumper, which only has a back and a quarter of the front, I’m not sure I’m going to get it finished in time. Luckily he is an understanding type of person and won’t mind getting it a week or two late.

So I just thought I’d say Merry Christmas! May your days be full of family and food. And of course writing…! I’m working on the final drafts for coursework as the deadline is the end of January.

Actually I’m finding it harder than I thought. The computer equipment and everything came through on the last day of term. So I can produce the work much faster than I was before ,but I’m having terrible trouble getting motivated. There is just so much! I keep thinking that I ought to break it down into small chunks but even that’s not working. Still I’m going to continue to plug at it. At some point I will be go past the half way point.

Have a great Christmas. 🙂


How do you write a two-way radio dialogue?

So I am working on a story and I need my character – a mountain rescuer – to talk to his boss on the two-way in his back pocket. I’ve already got dialogue in the story so the use of “-” doesn’t make it different enough. So do I bold it or CAPITALISE it or italic it. Which looks like a crackling voice over the radio?

Capitalising is out – it just looks like EVERYONE IS SHOUTING.

To bold or not to bold, that is the question. But I think it’s more of an emphasis on a point or maybe a title.

Which leaves italics and I think this will work…

This is an extract which shows my solution:

“We took them. The damn parents had decided to leave them, like in the sodding movie, Home Alone.”

“Jesus,” Cal said.


“Right, this makes things complicated,” Frank said. “When did the kids go missing?”

“This morning,” Gerry said quietly and shuffled in his seat.

They all jumped as Cal’s radio hissed and crackled into the room. “Sorry.” He walked out trying to get a better signal.

Finally, Cal?


We’ve made it down to the nine daughters and there are signs that someone’s fallen in.


That’s our thought. Better let the parents know it is touch and go.

“They aren’t the parents.”


“Turns out they’re two kids who snatched them because they’d been left. They’ve given false names…”

Yeah I wondered about Smith and Jones. Okay, well find out anything you can. We’re going down but if they fell from here…

“I know there isn’t much that can be done.”

Hey… We only find them…

Cal sighed, “Okay. Over and out.” He didn’t know why people came here. They were probably hiding. Trying to give the kids a new start or a taste of family life. Good intentions, the route to bad consequences. Still, he understood their theory. If the family had left them then who would notice if they were at home alone or having a holiday in Ireland. Turning to go back into the pub he just wished they hadn’t picked Ballybunion. As he walked in Frank was moving out.

“You leaving them?” Cal asked.

“Yeah,” Frank said, “where are they going to go? They’re both wracked with guilt. Any sign of the girls?”

“It doesn’t look good. The captain says there are signs they were around the nine daughters.”

Frank winced. He lived here and the nine daughter’s hole gave him the creeps. Every windy day the whole place would cry. It sounded like a woman trapped. “Do they think they went down?”

“Possibly.” Cal shivered. “I’m going to get my coat and then I’ll go out and join the others. Missing kids in this weather is not good. At least we’ve found some sign but I don’t know….”

Christmas and mince pies

12th December 2012

Well that was the last lecture of this year and I must admit I was lulled into a false sense of security… There were mince pies and cheesy biscuits and all sorts of goodies including jilebies (an indian sweet that I’m particularly addicted to). So there we all were quietly eating and drinking pomegranate juice – we were all driving – and talking poets, short stories and our ‘best bits’ of the first term, when the lecturer sprang an exercise on us.

I was taken in with the mince pies and I must admit that I thought we were having a general discussion and relax… Silly me!

The lecturer, Mena Elfyn, had given each of us a copy of her latest book – amazing and wonderful poetry! And we had to flick to a page and use the first line to create a piece of writing. Now she didn’t tell us what format to do so I just let my creative juices flow.

Bones I can understand (this is from a poem but I’ve lost it in the rather large book)

Bones I can understand. They don’t lie and give only what they show you. No, the tricky bit comes when you start the story. How did it get there? Who was it? What was it? All these questions spin in your head but it is the theory that can truly muddle you. The present is the key to the past. A simple phrase but one that is pounded into every archaeologist. Without the present how can we interpret the past? Except that the chaos theory says that nothing can ever be repeated. So how can I understand the bones?

If a butterfly flaps it’s wings in China then a hurricane hits the States… but why? What are the variables? Suddenly the simple question of how the bone got into the ground is not so simple. If it were carved or show signs that the flesh has been cut from it – then who did it? Why did they do it?

Use the present, the archaeologists whisper and I make a note – butchery or ritual.

How can you tell? Screams the chaos theory and I am at an impasse.

What do I report? Perhaps I ought to just hand in an empty sheet of paper stating that the bone just is. Except I have to tell a story. That’s what archaeologists do – we tell stories.

Bones tell the truth. Many murderers can confirm that. Without their victim they would never have been caught, would never have seen the inside of a jail. As the forensic team tell the story of the victim through the bones, others link the perpetrator to them. Evidence. Except what if you have nothing but the bone? You can measure it and weigh it and draw it. But it doesn’t tell you what happened. The marks suggest something and where it was found can suppose a situation but there are no definites. There can’t be. Chaos says that there are no definites. Will tomorrow be like today, just because by tomorrow today will be in the past. No it can’t be. I won’t do the same things and people won’t react in the same way. It might snow instead of rain. Yet  still have the bones and they still need to be understood.








5th December 2012

“Essays?” I asked, “really? Like factual… well… essays?”

Shockingly the answer was – yes.

Now I’m confused. I have an archaeology degree and essays where the pattern of life… How can you use the present to analyse the past? And so on. But I never anticipated anything would be like it in creative writing.

Except that if the archaeology essay is a factual gravity of a situation, then a creative writing essay is the opposite, a piece of writing that explores yourself and the world around you. Based on fact – yes definitely but it is designed to put you own opinion across. What is more interesting, at least for me, is that you can say more than you mean…

Okay I’ve written one that tell the story of my Dad having and accident, the neighbour dying and an old farmhouse crumbling, but I’m also saying that life is what you make it – evolve with the punches that are thrown don’t just lock the door and leave.

Who writes essays…

  • I’m pretty certain that Will Self’s work could be described as an essay although he maybe in the grey area between narrative and essay. What he does do though is write a blog and blogs are modern-day essays.
  • Thomas Lynch with Y2KAT
  • George Orwell who had a series of essay published.

So essays can be modern but they have been around for ages. Based in Journalism they are the ultimate indulgence for a writer. I mean you can ramble along a page looking at one subject or two and loosely weaving in other stories in order to get your point across. I find it wonderful. You can use language that it difficult to read or language that is easy. This lose framework allows me to explore language without wondering if my story has a beginning, middle and end, an essay doesn’t have to.

I’ve popped and extract of the piece I wrote for class so by all means have a read.

The old man who leads me up the stairs is bent over with age, back curved and feet unsteady. We just locked it, he says with a shrug. He isn’t worried, the room holds no pain for him. They just don’t need it any more, yet before me is a silent tableau; a shrine to childhood. I go to step past him and he stops me.

The floor isn’t safe.

He leaves and I remain at the doorway looking into what must have been a happy home. Now all the laughter has gone; the red has faded and the orange looks more like rust. In our home we evolved, we became adult and moved on, taking our rooms and changing our possessions, here they just left. Cobwebs coat everything but even in the dim lighting I see the toys; a rocking horse, a tin robot, a teddy and in the centre a toy balloon surrounded by a still life. I feel as if I’m trapped in a lost and found room, that someone has lost their childhood but instead of being found it was forgotten. A playroom once filled with footsteps and laughter now echoes with silence.