Writing the threads of my reality

Christmas Threads

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a... writer?

This falls into the category entitled 'Dubious'. I get ideas all the time. They tumble through my head in drips or in torrents, and I catch as many as I can and pour them into my book of things that need writing at some point. But, dear reader, not all ideas are created equal - and yes, I am talking to myself right now because no one else is looking at this.

I have an idea for a story, and that story is a Christmas story. They've been done to death and then some, and yet I have some hope that this story is a worthy one. But what I fear more is the commercialisation of Christmas, and the fear of my worthy story being brutalised in the pursuit of money - whether by dismissive review or desperate interferance.

All this, and I haven't even written a word of it! I can't help thinking about it, though. The tales we weave are a part of us whether we want them to be or not, and seeing one bastardised in the name of greed is painful.

A thought for another day, I suppose. I'll have to flesh it out a little and see where the thread takes me.

Being instead of doing

Much as I don't like to cast myself as the tormented artist, it seems that that is sometimes my fate. To suffer for one's art implies that you deny yourself in some way - avoiding people, spending money you don't have, breaking relationships - but the reverse is just as likely to be true, and that is the situation I find myself in.

Writers are driven to write for various reasons. I've found that lately I write because the world is tormenting me; the threads of my own life become unravelled, despite my best efforts to stop them, and so sinking into the narrative of the Novel is escapism at its finest. It's also leading me to question myself, and my ambition of becoming a published author.

I believe, as I always have, that I was born to taleweave. Clichéd it may be; the world is littered with the remains of those who believed something similar, and they never made it. But I can't define my success or failure by whether I make it as an author, because I asked myself the hardest question: if there were no hope, no chance of ever being published or of living from my writing, would I still write?

The answer is yes. I would write even if I lost both arms. I would write even if every day my work was taken and burned in front of me. It's so simple, so obvious. It's the difference between being and doing.

I have a job, and it is a thing that I do because I am paid to do it. But writing is not what I do; it is what I am, in the bedrock of my soul, because the need and desire to tell stories is as much a part of me as my own name; so much so that I can't imagine a world where I am not a storyteller.

So what then? I will write even if no one will ever read it, and I judge my success or failure on whether I can look over my work and be happy that the result of my taleweaving is the best that I can do. Even this blog is a part of that.

The song of pain continues

I've read Part 2.

I did try to post only about things to do with writing on this blog, but some narratives are too big, too violent, too insidious to ignore. The story of the Dublin report has threads stretching out over the country and into the heart of every good Irish person who has ever walked inside a church. I can't ignore it, and I can't bring myself to stay silent about it. There has been too much silence.

Why did they do it?! WHY?! What damaged them so much that they thought it was acceptable to rape and to hurt?! Enough excuses, enough sanitisation - I want every last priest, every last believer in Ireland to know that this, this is the horror that was inflicted on the young, and the bishops let it happen! They were incompetant, and uncaring! They are unrepentant even now!

That the government were, and are, so utterly indifferent to the whole mess speaks volumes about their moral worth, and of the value they place on the Irish people. The evidence is there for all to see. These crimes were committed, and shown to have been obfuscated by the Catholic Church in order to save face, but there will be nothing done - not even a statement of condemnation - while the government remains spineless and self-absorbed. Andrew Madden talks here about his experiences while trying to obtain justice. The response of Bertie Ahern (then the leader of the country), that the State could not investigate the Church, chills me to the bone. And the sad truth is that they only care to speak about it at all because the Irish people are screaming at them.

It sends a clear message that the Catholic Church here is accountable to no one. That if a priest does something to me, or to the people I love, the law will not hold him to the same standard as a non-priest. I don't know if I want to live in this country any longer, knowing that.

I know I cannot be part of a religion whose leaders are so morally bankrupt that they allowed this to happen, and then refuse to take responsibility for the pain their decisions inflicted on hundreds of people. I will not have it on my conscience.

And so I sing across the Net, my voice lost in the chorus as the sons and daughters of Ireland call out the true lament; that our beloved country is broken, that there will never be justice to ease the pain.

The shameful lament of the Dublin Diocese

The Dublin Diocesan report has been published. I've read through Part 1 so far. Here's Part 2.

This is the land of saints and scholars. Ours is an ancient culture, a proud history going back generations. Ireland is known for its friendliness, and beauty; the people are known for their warmth, and generosity.

Sometimes it seems that all the things that make my country a wonderful and admirable place have survived in spite of the activities of the Church.

I have known priests who were heroes. Leaders, Samaritans, interested in only the good of those around them; they were the ideal, the ultimate sacrificers of their own lives in service to the people. What of their faith now? What of all the good that they have done, tainted by this evil?

I have known people who were devout Catholics, and truly believed in the divine instruction of their saviour to love one another, as he had loved them. What of their belief now? What of their trust in the Church, ruined by the actions of the few?

I weep for this open wound on my country. I weep for the pain of the victims; may they find some measure of solace from the horror they have known. This strikes us all, whether we care or not, and the pain and shame will never go away until the wound is healed.

For the Church: Reach out to us. Your messiah wanted to take away the hurt of all mankind; show us you still believe that! Show us that you are still worthy of our trust!

For the people: Never forget. Never, never allow the Church or the government stay ignorant of the hurt that they cause. Demand that the Church live up to its ideals.

And the winter falls upon us

It's getting very cold here.

There was some very severe flooding in my area over the last week. My friends have no clean water; the authorities, uncaring and caring at the same time, have switched off the pumps to prevent contamination. Homes and businesses have been destroyed as the water swept through them. People are angry and afraid, looking for someone to blame while politicians and civil services wriggle away from their gaze.

Last week, when the flood was at its worst, there were rivers flowing through the streets at night. Then the morning came, and the rain stopped for a while. The sun came out for a few hours, and all was sparkling, rippling reflections of light and shadow; a town made suddenly strange and wonderful through disaster.

My heart is with those who have lost so much in the floods, but I cannot forget that I saw the worst of it, and it was beautiful.

How do you connect to people?

I tend to write a lot of drivel on this blog. Part of it is therapy, of a sort, in that it lets me talk about things that bother me. But really, the rest is a large chunk of drivel with a healthy dose of procrastination.

I should be writing the Novel now instead of this.

Anyway - blogs are usually used to connect with people. This got me thinking today - I follow a lot of blogs, and I enjoy reading all of them, but my participation is largely absent. I don't get involved with other bloggers.

I had to seriously think about why this is, and I can only think it must be shyness. Yes, it's an enormous cliche, but nonetheless true - I'm still struggling with self-esteem as a writer, and it's caused me to be hesitant about reaching out to other writers, agents, publishers, whatever.

Who reads this blog, anyway? I'm not even sure I'm writing it for anyone but me. How do you find out if anyone is reading or subscribed anyway?


I just had to look that up. I think I need to have Google Analytics or something.


Apparently not! But it still says I have no subscribers, so I guess I don't need to worry about who's reading my drivel just yet.

Themes and subtexts

I was reading Nathan Bransford's post about themes in writing, and it got me thinking as to whether my own writing has themes or overall meaning or whatnot.

Like many young individuals, I was traumatised by the method of teaching English as if it were an autopsy. I've disliked much of Shakespeare for years because I was forced to pick apart his words and phrases, and forced to look for meaning and theme and metaphor instead of appreciating the work itself. It's like trying to cut a Monet painting to pieces in order to understand why it is beautiful.

I've always set out to write stories. Theme and hidden meaning are irrelevant if there is no story, no hook to draw in the reader and hold their attention. This is part of the reason I dislike modern art as well; so much of it seems to concentrate on being... highbrow, inscrutable, pretentious even, and it forgets that art needs to connect with people on some emotional level.

So it goes. Maybe my writing does have hidden meaning, but I dread to think about what it is.

Blogging from an iPod

I've had an iPod Touch for a while, and I've debated getting an iPhone. So far, the hope of seeing a decent Android phone is holding me back.

This is still pretty odd, though. I can essentially blog wherever I have a wireless connection now, and I can type just as fast on the little screen as I would on a normal keyboard. If I had an iPhone, I'd be able to blog anywhere I had a mobile connection.

The question therefore remains: do I have anything to say that needs to go online immediately?It's a bit like Twitter, in a way - or like the entire Internet. You've said it, you can't unsay it - and in the immediate nature of the web, something said (or tweeted) in the heat of the moment will not go away.

People sometimes say that you shouldn't put anything online unless you'd be comfortable shouting it from a street corner. I like to think of it more as having your own personal TV studio, where everything is recorded and you sure as hell don't have access to the tapes.

- Posted using BlogPress. From an iPod too.

The FTC and the new blogger regulations

I follow a great deal of news from America, being as I am highly interested in the American culture and psyche. Being a blogger, the new American FTC rules for blogger endorsements was particularly interesting.

The relevant article from the FTC is here.

Obviously the American blogosphere has began to kick up a fuss about it, which you can find through any simple Google search. From my reading of it, much of the new guidelines are sensible and intended to better protect the public from misleading advertising - but considering the nature of the Internet, I have to wonder whether some legislators didn't really think the whole thing through.

The Internet is a medium of communication, and bloggers in particular are for the most part simply communicating with each other and with their readers. They are not paid endorsers. They talk about their lives and the products in their lives, and it's entirely natural that they will be enthusiastic about the products they really like. Companies obviously know this, and send out their products to certain bloggers in the hope that they will like them and talk about them - but there is no guarantee that they will. Janet Reid sums it up very well in this post: bloggers do not guarantee airtime, as it were, for freebies that companies send them. So it seems that the guidelines in this case become less sensible and more like regulations on the natural communication between people.

The fear I have here is that this may be open to abuse. Consider this - a company sends a free product to a blogger. That blogger discloses the source of the free product, but makes a number of fraudulent claims about it with the intention of having the company slapped with a fine. Another author, Courtney Milan, summarises this problem here. When every violation could possibly carry a fine, what is that company to do? Stop sending out free products, and potentially lose sales as a result?

Intention should mean something in this case. If a blogger makes a malicious fraudulent claim, and that blogger has no connection to the company other than the fact that the company sends them free products with no expectation of airtime, then the FTC should consider that the company is not at fault. Likewise, if a blogger talks about a product in a positive way that they received for free, the FTC should not automatically consider it an endorsement that needs to be regulated.

I hope that the FTC make it clear that they do not intend to chase bloggers for simply communicating, nor allow companies to be held responsible for the actions of others.

Not to be emo, but...

I'm beginning to realise why so many office workers are suffering from stress. It's because of bosses that demotivate, patronise, devalue and otherwise destroy their employees' sense of well-being.

I have two bosses. One is a leader beyond compare; understanding, open, and driven to get the best out of people by viewing them as real individuals with their own quirks and preferences. The other... is not so nice.

They are patronising, unforgiving, unwilling to compromise. They have taken me apart with a single sentence; they view people as robots that should do only what they are told. I am torn down for making a mistake as if I did it maliciously, as if I intentionally didn't listen, as if, as if. And then I am ripped to pieces again for wanting to avoid them at every turn.

I sat in my office today and cried for twenty minutes because of them. I can't help feeling like a total failure, but still I wonder - can I do anything right? Should I keep trying? Or should I take what's left of my self-esteem and hand in my notice, knowing that there are loved ones relying on my money for food, shelter, bills?

There's no easy answer. I like my job, and the people I work with. I need the money. I don't know if I can give up all that because of one person making my day miserable. And then there's the Novel - it's a promise to myself, that someday I will walk away from this misery and spend my life doing what I really want to do.

A drill in your head

I was very surprised today to learn that some people still believe that migraines are just like normal headaches. That they think that they're just very bad headaches, and you'll be grand if you take some painkillers and stop being such a wimp. "It's only a headache", after all, and lots of people get headaches and don't complain.

This makes me quite annoyed.

Let's get one thing clear: migraines are not headaches. That's like saying that someone with the 'flu just has a high temperature; it equates a symptom with the entire sickness. So someone suffering from a migraine attack will have a headache - but that's not the sum total of it, not by a long shot.

If you only get bad headaches that can be cured by over-the-counter medication like paracetamol, you do not get migraines. A bad headache and a migraine are not the same thing.

The cause of migraines hasn't been nailed down yet by scientists, although they have some strong theories. Check out the wikipedia page for a basic description. From the point of view of the sufferers, though, only one thing really stands out - although there are lots of similarities, there is an incredible variety in the range and degree of symptoms. Some people get nausea. Some see spots, or lights, or lines, or go temporarily blind. Some have motor problems, like shaking or tremors. Some have none of these, but instead get severe photophobia. The only symptom that always shows up is the headache.

Migraines are not random as well, although they may seem to be. They are caused by environmental factors, like foods, smells, weather, hormones, even sounds. Again, while there are similarities between sufferers, there's still a huge variety of triggers and none are universally consistent. Excessive light, stress, heat, lack of sleep - anything can be a trigger, and I know some people never learn what theirs are and essentially their attacks appear to be random.

Treatment is just as varied, unfortunately. Without a solid idea of what causes them, and with the variety in symptoms and triggers, treating them seems to be very hit and miss. A drug that works for one person may not work for another, and could make yet another even more sick. Meditation, certain diets, acupressure, and more all have mixed effects. Straightforward painkillers that you can buy anywhere tend not to work, or only have a very weak effect.

Diagnosing and treating a person with migraines is not easy, and plenty of sufferers have talked about dealing with doctors and nurses who don't believe that they are really, truly sick and in need of help. They're fobbed off with painkillers that won't work, or told that it's all in their head or something. It's truly shocking stuff, and it shows that the attitudes regarding migraines are not easily shifted. Hopefully, with the aid of the Internet, that will change for the better.

My own experience of migraines has been... painful, at times. I was diagnosed with the so-called 'common' migraines - those where you don't see spots or lines, also known as 'migraine without aura' - when I was about twelve. I can have several in the space of a month or so, and then none at all for another six months. I've long since learned that people frequently don't understand what's happening to me when I get an attack, and my worst fear is that something will happen to me during one where I'm not coherent enough to explain.

My symptoms begin from one hour to several hours before the headache sets in. I develop the awareness that I am in the initial stage, first of all. I experience increasing nausea, and pain in the right side of my head. I lose focus and clarity, and talking becomes difficult. As the attack progresses, I develop photophobia and feel alternatively hot and cold. I get dizzy. My muscles spasm and twitch; I become very weak, and moving normally takes great effort.

At the apex of the attack, the pain is... not like pain at all. It can't be described. You can say that it hurts, that it feels like a knife, but that's a pale shadow of the reality of it. It's focused into your head, it spreads in waves over your body and makes every breath agonising and blots out all thought, all memory, and you would give anything, ANYTHING, to make it stop just for a second... I can't speak. Forming words, and making those words come out of my mouth takes more effort than I can muster. I shake, randomly and uncontrollably, and I barely have the strength to stand up. It goes on for hours, and somehow I fall asleep.

I wake up the next day - and it's always the next day, if the attack is severe - and I'm exhausted, sore. My head still aches a little, my stomach still isn't right. I'll try to eat something but my appetite is gone, and I won't really feel well again until tomorrow.

I found my magic bullet a few years ago, after spending a long time overdosing on paracetamol to try to stop the pain. In Ireland, you can buy Nurofen Plus over the counter - it's a mix of ibuprophen and, more importantly, codeine. All I know or care about is that it cuts off a migraine no matter what stage of it I'm in; it can shut down the pain and the more severe neurological symptoms in less than an hour. I turn into a virtual zombie, because it makes me numb to everything - but I can still walk and talk and just about function normally. It's a small price to pay.

If you've never had a migraine, you can't comprehend what it's like. This is what they call 'a bad headache', what they claim is all in your head. This misinformation has to stop.

I Dreamed a Dream

I read a very interesting blog post today over on www.nielsenhayden.com. You should go read it.

It's ok, I'll wait.

... ... ...

Read it? Good. Here's the part that really struck me:

It’s a central narrative of Britain’s Got Talent: the shy, podgy little contestant comes out on stage and says they want to sing professionally; that they believe it’s what they were made to do. The audience titters cynically: Yeah, right. The judges don’t quite roll their eyes. “Go on, then,” they say. “Let’s hear it.” The contestant takes a deep breath and —

ZOMG, it’s Paul Potts singing “Nessun Dorma”. It’s thirteen-year-old Andrew Johnston singing “Pie Jesu”. Most recently, it’s Susan Boyle, singing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables. When they open their mouths, what comes out is the real thing: rich, powerful, self-assured music.

Teresa says, rightly enough, that an editor or agent has to wade through hours and hours of utter crap to get to that ZOMG moment. But I can just hear the writers reading that post and almost jumping up and down saying, "ME! Please let it be me!"

It takes real courage to stand before someone so... disdainful, and still want to show them that you've got what it takes. They expect you to be forgettable, to be a non-entity. They expect less than nothing of your talent. But we still want to be there, no matter how much it might damage us; we want to be the one talent that shines in the darkness and sets their world on fire. That feeling, when you stand there and watch the skepticism and disbelief fade away to joy and you know that you made it happen - that feeling is golden.

I'll bet good money that Susan Boyle will never forget that first moment on the stage, when the music started and her voice soared over the audience who never believed she could do it.

What does boredom feel like?

I know full well why I'm not cranking out the Novel as fast as I'd like. I should have the damn thing done by now. November marks a year since I started it, and I'm only on the second draft. It needs at least another two drafts before I'll try to pitch it.

I'm hoping that I can get through them faster than it's taken me to actually write the blasted thing.

I can take solace in the fact that I am a better writer now than I was a year ago. I'm a far, far better writer than I was thirteen years ago, when I began this madness, and I know it shows. I should have it done by now, and if I wasn't so easily distracted, it would be!

I don't know what it is to be bored, when I write. I've had writers' block, where I'm not sure what happens next, but it generally only lasts while I make myself a cup of tea or go sit in the bathroom, musing. But I have so many ideas! Stories and threads flow into my head, and trying to stick to one, just one, is so damn hard. I jump from one to the next to the next, and end up with a tangled ball of incoherency instead of a properly woven plot!

So NaNoWriMo is on the way, and it's a good thing too. It's a deadline, a focus, an irresistible force that pulls my imagination together and unleashes it at the story that needs to be written RIGHT NOW. I love it so much.

One of my best story ideas came from a deadline of less than 24 hours. I was simply told, "We need this. By tomorrow. Can you do it?" And I could - the shape of it just exploded in my head and I wrote it all down in half an hour. It needed more work to clean it up, of course, but right then and there I had character, plot and world, and they all fell into place as if I had been working on them a month or more.

It feels great to be my own Muse, but I need direction. I need restrictions to channel my ideas and forge them into something worth selling. I need practice to take the result and really make it shine - I've had thirteen years of it so far, and I'm just coming to the stage where I feel I'm good enough. It seems that a lot of writers miss this - your idea, your inspiration, is the start of the journey. What comes afterwards is the hard, desperate, lonely work that turns you into a published author.

I really must get over being distracted too.

When you're awake at 2am

Damn insomnia.

Well, it happens sometimes. Can't be helped, really. I just can't sleep, and it usually takes an hour or two of blog-reading to get me down for the night. It always happens when I have work in the morning, which is all kinds of annoying.

At least I'm spending the time productively tonight! My touch typing is getting better. It seems to be that I can really only do it properly when I don't think about it, like many things in life. And I've been browsing through some more literary blogs - most notably Janet Reid's blog.

For the uninformed or just plain lazy - Ms. Reid is a literary agent, one of those fine individuals whose job it is to take a manuscript from an author, perform some arcane and highly secretive rituals (involving an octopus in some way, it's not entirely clear) and deliver unto them a publishing contract in return. I've been directed to several other informative blogs through hers, which is delightful.

She stands out, though. Possibly it's because she really communicates with writers - what agent would risk their sanity by trying to answer EVERY query they get? And she gets hundreds every day, many of which are so far off the mark they might as well be on another planet! But she's committed to it, even so far as to have a second blog, QueryShark, where she takes query letters and posts them along with critiques. Amazing.

I've read page after page of her blog, learning as much as I can. The one lesson I keep taking away from it is: I have to keep working. I'm looking at the Novel, and I know I can make it better, but by all the gods I will make it shine like a second sun before I even think of querying an agent as awesome as Janet Reid. And I will have a marketing plan, goddamnit.

I mean, she's flat out telling us how to be better writers and how to get her attention with our manuscripts. How rude would it be to ignore all that?

Something for all those who want to be published

I think I've found the greatest blog in the world.

I usually find great blogs by stumbling from one website to the next in a haphazard way. This one, however, I found after trying once more to find information on submitting to agents and publishers. It's the blog of Lynn Price, the editorial director of Behler Publications, and I must say I learned more in the last two days of reading that I did in the last two months of searching.

It is wonderful - absolutely wonderful - to finally gain insight into the process and business of publishing. Lynn has a great perspective because she is a writer as well, and she understands the (frequently neurotic) creative process.

What really made me jump for joy was the posts where she talks about characters, plots, etc - the nuts and bolts of good writing, and what she, as an editor, looks for in a submission. Behler wouldn't be interested in the Novel - they don't publish that type of work - but good writing doesn't change from one genre to the next, and I trust that what she says is good, solid advice. And I was overjoyed when I examined my own writing, based on that advice, and found that I'm doing it well.

I know I have the skill to be published. Not at the moment, of course - I wouldn't show a second draft of anything to my own mother, let alone an agent - but I'm confident that with a lot of hard work, I can get the Novel into shape and find it a publishing house. And even though it's not possible, I wish it could be Behler.


I've updated my photo stream. I was at a beautiful place over the weekend, and I couldn't help taking pictures of anything and everything. It's a place in Tipperary called Kilshane House, and they have a conservatory from the 1830's that is the epitome of elegance and serenity.

No people, though. I can't take good pictures of people. They simply won't stay still long enough.

Here are two of my favourites.

This one is called Leafy Sunlight.

This one is called Ferns.

I don't have much imagination when it comes to titles. I save all my muse power for stories.

Creationism: Was the world built in a day?

Christianity is a very prevalent religion in the western world, to a greater or lesser extent. In Ireland, as we are predominantly Roman Catholic, it is more of a background thing; it's there, but not really obtrusive.

Creationism is... a section, I suppose, of Christianity, born out of the need to hold the Bible to be the true and absolute Word of God. It holds that every story, every detail in the Bible is literal, including the passages dealing with the creation of the world and the origin of life on earth - hence the name. This puts it at odds with the scientific understanding, that states that the earth is old and life evolved.

Ah, the theory of evolution. I doubt any theory has attracted as much attention from an organised religion, and as much misunderstanding. At heart it is an explanation, based on evidence gathered over years of study, of how life came to be the way it is now. Scientists consider it to be a very good explanation - Darwin proposed the basis of it in 1859 in On the Origin of Species, and new genetic evidence discovered in more recent years confirmed it, when it could have easily disproved it completely.

That, of course, is the true test of a theory - whether it makes firm predictions about future evidence, and whether those predictions are shown to be right. And a theory, in science, is in fact the complete opposite of a 'theory' as used in general speech - it is something so well supported that in earlier times it would have been called a Law, like Newton's Laws of Motion.

Why would creationists deny it? Evolution directly contradicts the story of Genesis, that states that all the species on earth were created by God. By their reasoning, it cannot be true.

I find this interesting because science does not hold theories to be 'true' in the way that religions would regard their holy texts to be true. Nothing is proven beyond all doubt in science; everything is tentative, meaning that if evidence were discovered that showed that evolution could not have happened, evolution would be discarded. So it is well supported, by multiple lines of evidence, but also very fragile - if a human skeleton was found in the same rock as a dinosaur, evolution would immediately fail. The almost amusing situation here is that creationists hold that evolution is not true - but in a way, science doesn't either!

There is a level of antagonism here on the part of creationists that seems misplaced. Evolution as it stands is only an explanation, after all - it is useful, predictive, and unifying, but that's all it is. (Scientists, of course, will laugh at me for that - 'all it is', is something quite powerful, but let's leave that aside for a moment!) Creationists may state firmly that evolution cannot be true, but that ignores how useful it is as an explanation. In order to supplant it, creationists must develop a new explanation that is just as useful, predictive, and unifying - not an easy thing to do, but the one to do it will probably become famous overnight. In science, disproving a theory is very exciting.

I may write more on creationism. I find it fascinating as a concept.

One Small Step for Man

On this day, in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

I'm celebrating the occasion by watching a film called The Dish. It remains one of my favourite movies of all time. It was pitched as a comedy, though, and it never received the real recognition it deserved for the story it told.

It's one of the greatest stories in the world, landing man on the moon. It's about striving, and reaching out to capture the dream of something fantastical. It's something that should be impossible, but through our blood and sweat, we make it possible. It is the naked spirit of humanity, burning at our brightest and best.

I never saw the moon landing, but when I watch The Dish, it shows me a shadow of what it was like. And it is wonderful; it is an inspiration. It is - it was - a dream made real. And people can lament that we've done little since, but they can never take the dream away from those who still look up to the stars and believe that humanity can become better than we are.

The Apollo 11 mission went to the moon because it was hard, because it could have been impossible. They showed us something beautiful and brilliant; our first venture out into the universe. And everyone who saw it became a part of it, and dreamed it with them.

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. For all mankind.


Writers write for different reasons.

We are inspired, initially, of course. The first idea, the seed of a story must begin somewhere. But in the course of things, we do not write because of it. It is the first point of the journey.

We write out of desperation. A deadline looms, and it drives us to meet it. A story burns in our minds, and drives us to write it. The world begins to hurt too much, and it drives us to hide from it.

I feel it today more than ever. An incident occurs, and it just... taints me, and I am driven away to hide behind my keyboard.

And there are still too many distractions! I need silence and loneliness. Or, I should say, I want silence and loneliness, but I'm hoping that a large dose of music to block out everything around me will make a good substitute.

I'm still struggling with elements of the Novel, but even the worst of the time I spend writing is good for the soul. It's another small step towards my holding a copy of the finished book, whole and pure, that I can hand to another person and say, "I wrote this. It's one of my stories."

Oh, to live the writer's dream, and make stories my living as well as my passion.

On the Subject of Cars

I recently got my own car. This was somewhat of a revelation, to be honest - I came to motoring a little later than most, and I never expected that I would love it so much. There's simply something powerful about traveling around in a machine that moves so much faster than you can, and whose motions are being directed by you alone.

It's something that people across the world understand. There's something about cars that just... attracts us, men and women alike - although it seems that women are not quite so prone to being petrolheads - and it's certainly caught me. I've even started to learn about engines and cars, so that I can eventually fix the very battered Toyota I acquired last week.

And old and battered as it is, it is mine; my large, heavy, machine that happens to go much faster than I do. There are many like it, but this one is mine. I intend to drive it faster than I should, and go around corners on two wheels if I can manage it, and maybe replace the radio that can't get any decent local station.

The only down side, as far as I can see, is that when you start talking about engines and power to weight ratios and the like, no one wants to listen except other car enthusiasts. It's like being the only nerd in the room who's into comic books. I know embarrassingly few car owners, and none of them like to talk about cars; they view them as things for getting about quickly, and seem to miss the simple joy of getting behind the wheel. If it wasn't for the Internet, I'd be forced to actually go outside, and possibly meet new people who also like cars more than usual.

I'm sure you're thinking, "but what about the expense? Cars don't grow on trees, you know." Of course, my dears, cars are not cheap and certainly not a suitable arable crop. I haven't listed that here because if you really like cars, expense suddenly becomes distant. You buy whatever you can afford, and your priorities are different. Someone who buys a car may be looking for space, efficiency, and security, if they view them as a convenience; I was concerned with the feel of the car above everything else. All I thought about was how much pleasure could be gained from the act of actually driving, and therefore got a car that has a very dodgy radio.

I will write a story about cars some day. The only challenge will be to make it interesting to the non-vehicle-obsessed public.

A Place to Write

I can't believe that I've locked myself in the bathroom just to find a place to sit and type.

It is something that authors really don't consider, I think; finding that sweet spot where all the optimal conditions come together to produce the place where you can write in blissful peace. For some, it's on the couch while ignoring the TV; others can't even listen to music, because any sound is a distraction.

Personally, I like the toilet.

Ideally, I would have a study where I can go and be alone while I work. Anything else can be tolerated, but in order for me to really become touched by the Muses, I must be on my own. Such a situation is not possible, of course, if you live in an apartment where the only really private space is the bathroom; and so here I sit, or however the saying goes. It's quite delightful, really.

But I can't stay. People will want to use the facilities, as it were, and I will be ousted from this little, precious space. My heart breaks, and I must go and find somewhere else to be alone.

The Oddity of People

I read a lot of news on feminism, and as a side effect of this, I read about gay people.

That doesn't sound right to me. The word 'gay' used as an adjective to describe people who prefer same sex relationships always sounded wrong to my ears, as if its undertones were 'flippant', 'silly', irrelevant' and so on. 'Homosexual' sounds too formal, too clinical. 'Queer' sounds like an insult, as it's often used as such where I come from.

I struggle with words. 'Gay' will have to do for the time being.

I also read about transgender people, because I am interested in human gender and sexuality. It fascinates and astounds me that people can be born 'in between' genders, identifying one way in their head but biologically opposite, or born without gender at all. How marvellous and diverse it is! My own cisgender nature (as I believe it's called) seems so pedestrian in comparison.

But many people don't appreciate this, and it mystifies me on many levels. I wonder at the walls they have built inside their heads, that the very idea of (for example) a woman who is not biologically female repulses them. I struggle to understand how they could feel this way about another human being who never chose for their nature and body to be so opposed.

I posed a question to a friend of mine; a man who I believe to be quite forward-thinking and accepting. On seeing an attractive woman, and feeling attraction towards her, how would you then feel on learning that she is transsexual?

He said he would be repulsed. I then posed a further question: Are you repelled because of her, as a person, or are you repelled by your own previous attraction to her?

Now that was more difficult to discern, and if I recall right, he had no answer. But it made me think a little on why he felt that way, and I may have a reason for it.

He, being a cisgender male, is attracted to females; his attraction is a purely physical thing. He sees an attractive woman and unconsciously 'fills in' what he does not know about her with a convenient fantasy, i.e. that her personality/taste/desires/etc mean that she is available for sex. Learning that she is transgendered shatters this. As the sum of her biological parts is all that matters (all else being imagined), the living, female soul inside her skin is ignored and, for him, she is immediately defined by her incorrect genitalia. His attraction saw only a thing to be either possessed or not possessed; the discovery is akin to picking up an apple, and imagining that it will taste good, only to find out that it is rotten and worm ridden inside. A thing that was imagined to be desirable, suddenly revealed as a thing which one has been taught is vile and disgusting.

I would not condemn anyone for feeling this way. My thoughts on it are that they are a product of their upbringing, cultural influences, and predisposition, just as I am. But it is something that needs to be challenged every day, so that people will learn to look past the meat and see the soul within. Feeling this sense of revulsion about another person because of what they are is wrong, and it throws barriers between people where there should be none. What if my comrade meets someone who could be the love of his life, his soulmate - and he cannot love her because she is transgendered?

I hate the thought of something like this getting in the way of happiness. I suppose I just want people to stop condemning and vilifying each other because of things that are out of their control, and that really don't matter much except to those who are exceptionally irrational and opinionated.

It's a distant dream, I know, but it's something noble and pure that I can believe in.


It's a funny thing, criticism. Sometimes it's needed, but most of the time it's just another way to let the author know that their work has fallen short in the eyes of one single person. It's a true shame that so many authors take it so seriously.

Criticism is the reasoned evaluation of a text; it is meant to inform, and to correct, and to show the author where they have succeeded and failed in the context of their work. But I find it so hard to read criticism and take it seriously, wherever it is being applied. My reasoning is thus: how can a person offer an evaluation of something they have never done themselves?

Amazon.com offers the opportunity for people who have read books to review them, and post about what they thought of it, what they liked or disliked. They let people criticise the author's work. Some of it I feel is useful, but again... my one thought is "How can they say this? How are they so sure this thing is good or bad? They have never poured their blood and sweat and soul into a story, never struggled with character and plot and theme."

This is not to say that people cannot have an opinion on books and writing. Far from it, of course - I'd hope that people would be willing to tell me about how they feel when they read something I have written. But to me, the opinion of another author is worth a thousand of those who have never written a word in their life. They know what it is to suffer for the art. I trust that when they point out something is wrong, it is something that I must examine very closely indeed. When an average reader points out something wrong, it may simply be that they have not picked up on what I am trying to say.

The flip side to this is that I value praise from an author above all else. When a published author read something I had written and declared that it was good and worthwhile, I felt exalted, vindicated, ecstatic. When a reader told me that what I had written was good, I only felt pleased.

Criticism isn't going away anytime soon. But I think authors should never take it too seriously, or too flippantly. It's better to accept it for what it is: the opinion of one person who has read your work, and for better or worse, they have told the world.


There's another thing I have to wonder about. Why is some music so shockingly bad, and some truly brilliant? It is a knotty problem indeed.

I've been listening to a few different bands lately. One in particular is Snow Patrol, which you have probably heard of. I was initially drawn to them after hearing a song called "Take Back the City", and decided to investigate further. But I found that most of their other songs that I could find were average at best; they didn't have the same powerful quality that "Take Back the City" had. There was something missing.

On initial hearing, they sounded alright. It's alternative rock, apparently - how you can have mainstream rock, I have no idea. But they didn't stand out. They were like background music, something to have on while you do something else, competent but certainly not catching. But "Take Back the City" had something indefinable that leapt into my mind and sent my pulse racing, and kept me humming it all day.

I have no idea how to pin this down accurately, although I expect if I could I'd make several fortunes. It's something ephemeral and amazing, and it's different for every person. Somehow a musician will strike upon just the right combination of notes, just the right instrument and riffs, and will create something that speaks to our souls. I expect that that, like writing, it is the music that the musician feels strongly himself that shouts the loudest; after all, the mass produced stuff is so instantly forgettable that it's almost not worth the effort of making.

I wonder if the people who buy it simply have never heard the more powerful tunes?

Art and Emotional Involvement

I've always thought that the act of creation requires a certain amount of emotional investment. You begin a story, and immediately you must feel something; your characters are not robots, and in lieu of actual existence you must feel their emotions for them. So for a writer, the despair of the tragic heroine or the harsh cynicism of a villain are just as real as your own mundane feelings.

I think people can tell when a writer or artist has no real emotional investment in a piece, especially in art. For writing, your work becomes dull and lifeless; how can you write about that which you don't truly feel yourself? And art becomes meaningless or irrelevant. Picasso's Guernica is a powerful piece of art because you can't look at it without feeling something. It is relevant all over the world, and does not need to be explained - although knowing the background to it is additive to its value. Yes, it's surreal, and very odd to look at - but I can only imagine that Picasso witnessed the tragedy of the bombing of the village of Guernica, and felt something that he had to express to the world. He invested something of himself in his creation.

I was looking about a while ago, and I heard about David Hirst and his artworks. His latest "controversial" piece is called For the Love of God, and it's a skull, cast in platinum and studded with diamonds. His own words on this:
'I just want to celebrate life by saying to hell with death. What better way of saying that than by taking the ultimate symbol of death and covering it in the ultimate symbol of luxury, desire and decadence? The only part of the original skull that will remain will be the teeth. You need that grotesque element for it to work as a piece of art. God is in the details and all that.'
I look at David Hirst's artworks and I feel nothing for any of them. There is no emotional commitment from him, and likewise there is nothing I can offer in return. Why should I? He's just making a statement, and he's doing it in a way that needs to be explained. For the Love of God, for all that it took £50 million sterling to make, is worthless in comparison to Guernica.

The motivation for Writing

I guess everyone has found themselves in work at some point, staring at their computer screen or across the counter at the next customer, and thought, "Damn... I'd rather be writing..."

That, today, is my motivation. My boss has inadvertantly demotivated me completely in the space of a single phone call from actually wanting to do my job, which I normally enjoy a lot because it's creative. But right now, at this very minute... I'd rather be writing. And so here I am, blogging while I should be doing the thing I'm being paid for.

I justify it that I need a few minutes to do something else, something non-work related. Hopefully I'll get out of this funk and get back to it soon enough. I'd still rather be writing, but at least I'm not hating everything that isn't writing.

Let's go to Brenda to get a pick-me-up:

It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one's mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.

Wise words indeed.

Why does anyone start to blog?

I've read a very interesting book today. It's called, “If you want to write,” and it was written by a woman who was born ninety years ago and half a world away from me. Her name was Brenda Ueland, and she died when I was four years old. I wish I could have met her.

The book is about writing, of course, but it has more than that in it. She talks about imagination, creativity, and the path to producing really great works of art. I picked it up on a whim in the de Young Museum in San Francisco last year, and this morning I finished it (having forgotten about it for months).

She has inspired me in so many ways. Everything I read in this one small book was true, and it spoke more powerfully to me than any lecture on creative writing could. I just looked at a piece that I'd written – part of the first chapter of the Novel (more on that later) – and immediately I thought, “Oh my! Brenda is right! I know how to make this better!”

Even what I'm writing at this very minute feels better, truer, more honest. I can't believe that this one book could change how I feel about writing, and how that change is for the better. I've looked for other books, and read them, and thought, “Yes, that's right, I should try that,” but nothing ever comes of it. They treated writing as a work, a chore – something to be analysed and edited and considered from every angle, with plots planned out and characterisations written and backgrounds examined. To Brenda, writing was an Art – it was expression and joy and discovery all in one, and she taught her students how to bring out their own expressions of that Art. I think she's teaching me the same thing now.

I'm starting this blog in honour of her. One of the things she talks about in her book is keeping a diary, but I'm sure she would have lauded the invention of the weblog. I'm going to talk about... anything, really. Mostly writing, because that is my passion. I hope it's yours too, and you can get to San Francisco to buy a copy of Brenda's book.