Tuesday, 28 June 2016


Well, it's happened. The votes have been counted, and apparently Britain wants out of the EU. Well, 52% of Britain does anyway. Or maybe not, if this article is anything to go by.

As someone who voted Remain (after doing some research and concluding that, while there were advantages to leaving they were outweighed by quite a lot of disadvantages) reading this made my jaw hit the floor so hard I still have the chin-bruises.

Let me just get this right... there are people out there who voted for something they didn't want, purely because they believed enough other people would vote for the thing they did want? Others saw their vote not as, y'know, an actual vote that could change the future of this country, but a way to tell the politicians of this country "You can't tell me what to do - look, I'm deliberately voting for something I don't actually want to happen in reality, just to annoy you! Yeah, chew on that, losers!"

Do they not realise how voting works then? Are we going to have to start introducing IQ tests for people before deciding whether or not they're actually capable of rational thought? I'd like to say this applies equally to those who voted Remain and now 'wish' they voted Leave -  because it does - but let's face it, they're unlikely to be feeling the same levels of guilt about it, since they actually got the result they now realise they wanted all along.

"We weren't given enough information," is the number one excuse offered in their defence of voting for something they've subsequently decided was a bad idea. Well no you weren't, if by 'given' you mean 'lovingly spoon-fed into your open mouth while you lay supine on your couch like an overgrown baby bird.' If your only source of 'information' is whatever daily newspaper you favour, then you are basically being told what to think by whatever fat-cat magnate owns that newspaper, and  believe me, his reasons for wanting you to think that way have nothing to do with your welfare or future. I'm sorry, but this is the age of the internet, the smartphone and all manner of  WiFi-connected devices; "there wasn't enough information" just doesn't cut it as an excuse anymore. If you want an unbiased opinion you gather more than one from more than one source, and if you don't know something you go look it up. That's the way the modern world works. (I bet if you wanted to know the name of the actor who played the guy standing next to Littlefinger in that scene from Game of Thrones in order to win the entire box-set you'd know how to Google that shizzle, wouldn't you?)

Before you come at me, this is not a hate rant at everyone who voted Leave. I accept there are plenty of people who did so for their own reasons that have a direct effect on their lives; I've spoken with long-distance lorry drivers, fishermen, people living in areas dominated by warring eastern European gang communities and others who've had to live with consequences of being part of the EU that I have no experience of myself, and I accept my point of view is not going to cut it balanced against their personal experiences. You guys had the right to feel the way you did and to use your vote the way you did.

No, the people I'm annoyed with are the ones who switched off their brains when it came to making possibly the most important decision about this country's future in decades, and are now bleating about how they'd have voted differently if all the vital information they now realise they needed to know could have been magically piped into their brain - preferably while they were sipping a cold one and watching Take Me Out on telly. And, because it didn't happen that way, it's so unfair and and totally not their fault that they voted for something they don't want anymore and actually, now they think about it, never really did. Well, wake up and smell the coffee, because you made the mistake, guys - not the newspapers, the tv or the internet, but you. You can't undo it, so the least you can do is have the decency to own it. Media is just food, and your brain is supposed to decide what type and how much of it you're going to eat. Y'know, like when you have to choose between, say, a sandwich and a packet of lard.

The other people I'm annoyed at can be found in the Comments section of the article referenced in this post. A lot of them (although not all) appear to be pro-Brexiteers who chose that path because they are in fact raging bigots with outdated Little England fantasies about restoring Britain to the days of Colonialism, but I'm sure that's just an entirely unrelated coincidence...

Anyway, these particular individuals seem to have contracted an unfortunate neurological disorder. Whenever they encounter someone with a point of view that doesn't match theirs, they are completely unable to discuss things rationally, but can only spew out toxic personal insults, questioning the other person's sanity, intellect and even right to exist as a human. These are most likely the same individuals who are now wandering randomly up to anyone of an ethnic minority they see in the street and snarling at them, with gleeful venom, to "pack their bags" and "go back home." (This includes, by the way, black, Asian, Indian and Pakistani people who were born in Britain and even whose parents were.) They're probably also responsible for making up the laminated cards with "go home" written on them and then posting them through the letterboxes of the Polish communities.

Sadly the most dominant symptom of this neurological disorder is the delusion that the entire purpose of the Leave vote was to restore their entitlement to be xenophobic assholes as some sort of constitutional right - heck, even make it cool to be a frothing-mouthed bigot. Since they are immune to reasoned argument, and derision seems to provoke them into fits of uncontrollable rage where even expressing intelligible thoughts becomes impossible, expecting them to change their behaviour and eventually adapt to living with other humans who Aren't The Same as Them is probably unrealistic and demanding more of their fragile cognitive abilities than they can cope with. And God forbid we should treat them with the same contempt they reserve for 'immigrants.' Hate on a group of people just because of who they are, what they believe and how they live? Jeez, that would be really unfair...

The brain is a wonderful, precious thing - and the human brain in particular has evolved into a thing of eye-popping complexity. Unfortunately, while you can justify not giving a chainsaw to a child, you can't restrict which humans get to have a brain purely because a proportion of them are never going to learn to use it sensibly.

And that's where us writers come in. We have to use our brains every time we write, so the responsibility is even bigger on us to use it wisely and for the good. If this referendum (and the 'Bregretters') has proved anything, it's that many, many people in this world soak up written information as passively as a sponge soaks up water, without questioning it or even looking for deeper meanings, while others only absorb the bits that sound like they agree with what they already think. All of which means we need to think harder about what we put out there.

We can make a difference. We can create stories, poems, movies, songs and art that challenges racism, sexism, genderism and all the other nasty isms out there. We can include what we currently call 'minorities' in our work in a way that's so natural and 'normal' the very term 'minorities' becomes redundant. And most of all, we can send out the message that hating people just because they're 'not like us' is not okay - in a way that the spongebobs can soak up without realising they're doing it and the bigots can't twist to suit their own agendas.

So write from the heart and let's fill those voids. And help those who complain there's 'not enough information.'

Saturday, 11 June 2016


If you are a young writer today - twentysomething, teenager or even younger - you've picked a great time, let me say.

So much information, literally at your fingertips, not just about writing but everything ever in the whole world! So many forums and societies of like-minded folk to belong to, many of them free or at least pretty darn cheap! So many blogs written by real, actually famous authors, sharing their wisdom and experience and giving you the opportunity to 'talk' back to them! And if you want to show the world something you've written, these days you don't have to go cap-in-hand to one of the Big Six, begging them to please please take a look at your stuff, or pay some vanity publishing company squillions to make you a cardboard boxful of your masterpiece to store in your garage for eternity. You can publish it yourself via Amazon, or post it online at sites like Wattpad and Smashwords or a tonne of others.

All of which means that most young writers today are a darn sight more savvy about getting their work out there than I ever was as a young 'un. Back then, the internet was probably something you caught fish from other countries in, a tablet was what you got from the doctor when you had a nasty infection and a blog was the noise someone made when they threw up (yep, it was that long ago.)  Proper famous authors were an elusive species, enigmas that kept themselves to themselves and only emerged from their magical hobbit-houses blinking in the sunlight for occasional interviews with magazines, radio and television - and even then, they weren't speaking to you, they were speaking to the interviewer. Writing advice and encouragement? Pfffft. Pretty thin on the ground back in those Stone Age times.

Put away your tiny violins please, I'm not wearing my flat cap and waving my cane at you. This isn't going to be a grandma rant about How All You Young 'Uns Have It So Easy These Days - far from it, actually. Because while there is a lot more information and support being passed around for young writers today - and hurray for that - I feel there are some things that aren't said very often, and should be. They're the kind of things most of us oldie writers have learned through experience - the long and often painful way. Some of us are starting to talk about them, a lot - Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog, for example, is a champion of the knowledge that should be screamed from the rooftops but rarely is.

And that's the motive behind this post. If I had a time machine and could go back to my teenage writer-self to give her a list of Things You Need to Know Already about Being a Writer, this is what I would put on that list. It's the stuff I wish it hadn't taken me twenty-odd years to figure out.

1 - Finish what you start.

So easy to say it sounds like a no-brainer the second it flies out of your mouth - but so much harder to do in reality. Especially when each day brings new ideas fluttering through your head like butterflies,  oh so pretty and enticing... so you put aside the thing you're working on to chase the new, shiny-pretty thing. Until that one gets old and another shiny-pretty flutters by...

Before you know it you've got a drawer or hard drive full of half-finished pieces, languishing in eternal limbo. Oh, you have good intentions to come back to them again - someday. But someday never comes. (It doesn't, trust me - I've got half-finished novels that I started a full fifteen years ago, still sitting there crying "Pick me! Oh please pick me!" every time they see me poking my face inside their little folder-home. They're still waiting, and are likely to be doing so for a long time yet.)

I'm not saying I never finished anything I wrote when I was a young writer. Short stories? I finished quite a few of them (even got a few published.) Lyrics? I finished loads of them (even managed to write a full set for two stage musicals.) But short stories and lyrics are 100-yard sprints compared to the marathon that is a full-length novel. That takes some serious endurance, and when the finishing line is still too far ahead to see with the naked eye it's easy to believe it's not there at all, and just give up.

You have to believe that finish line is there - even when you can't see it. And the only way to motivate yourself to keep heading for it is to....

2 - Treat writing like a job.

I loved to write, I really did. And because it was something I loved doing, I very quickly fell into the trap of believing it was something I should always enjoy doing, every time I deigned to plop my creative ass in front of a computer or notepad. Whenever I felt inspired I would let the words pour forth and create magic! And when I didn't... I'd play World of Warcraft instead. Or watch a film on telly. Or do pretty much anything other than writing. After all, what was the point in trying to write when I just didn't feel in the mood for it? I couldn't possibly produce anything decent that way, could I?

However much you love it, writing is work. Hard work, if you want to be any good at it. If you only want to write as a hobby, to fill your free time amusing yourself with no serious intent for others to ever read your work, by all means write only when you're feeling the good vibes. But if you want to be published at some point - well, you won't achieve that in the soft play area, kiddo. You gotta pay your dues, clock up the hours and work your way up the ladder, like you would in any other, real-world job. Writing whenever you feel inspired is easy - but writing even when it feels like the last thing you want to do is what separates the dreamers from the doers.

So you have to treat it like a real-world job, which means agreeing your contracted hours and allocated duties and showing up accordingly, on time and ready to graft. You don't have to show up every day, or for a full-on 9-to-5 day, but whether you go full or part-time it needs to be regular and a 100% commitment - even if it's only for your half-hour lunch break Monday to Friday. Sick leave, domestic disasters and holidays are of course allowed - but not ducking out because you're just not feeling it today.

I know, I know - you're a creative and it just doesn't work like that. And you're right, it doesn't. At first. But the longer you force yourself to stick to it, the better you become at sticking to it - to the point where you'll eventually start feeling antsy and vaguely guilty if you try to skip a session. And that's exactly what you're aiming for. If I'm making it sound like I'm trying to suck the fun out of a writing career... well, good. Because that's the reality - writing isn't always fun. Sometimes it's a slog and a chore. But still worth it - always worth it.

3 - Track your progress.

But yeah, I still just made it sound like a massive, fun-sucking chore, didn't I? So what's needed is a little motivation to keep you running on that hamster-wheel, and showing you just how worth it all that effort truly is. And nothing does that better than numbers, baby.

So set yourself targets and aim to meet them; daily, weekly, monthly, yearly. But make them realistic - nothing ridiculous that sounds great but you have no chance in Hell of achieving, because that's worse than having no target at all. Start with time first; resolve to sit down and write for, say one whole hour a day. Then do it and record how many words you wrote in that time. Do it a few more times until you can get a clear average number of words per hour you could consistently produce, and then look at your timetable of hours per week you've set aside for writing (as per Number #2 on this list) to work out how many words you're likely to produce in total. Then commit to achieving it, week in, week out (barring ill-health and domestic emergencies, obviously.)

Review your targets every once in a while, and if you're showing a pattern of beating them/not meeting them, adjust accordingly. You should be always aiming to challenge yourself without over-reaching to heights you can't achieve.

You can record your results in a spreadsheet if you want, viewable only by you. However, if you like the idea of joining a group of like-minded folks, indulging in a little friendly competition and mutual support, there are doggone flippin' fabulous sites like MyWriteClub, where you can set your own writing goals and indulge in online 'writing sprints,' in real-time with other writers. You can see your word count racking up as you write, along with other fellow 'sprinters,' and send and receive congratulatory messages in Chat. Writing can be a lonely old business, and nothing motivates like mutual support.

However you choose to do it, it's seeing those numbers in black and white that will spur you on and keep you writing. The average novel is 100,000 words, which might sound huge and impossible to reach if you've never written anything that large before. But once you start seeing that you're regularly banging out even 5,000 words a month (which is not much more than 1,000 a week - pretty doable with a regular writing schedule)... well, it doesn't look quite so daunting, does it?

4 - Save EVERYTHING you write. Yep, even the terrible stuff.

Here's the painful truth; in the early years of your writing journey, what you produce will not be good. You might not believe it now - you may be able to think of a few pieces you've written only recently that are actually pretty damn good and the best you've ever written, thank you very much - and I will say "Suuuure, forget I said anything then," and pat you on the head.

But then you will dig them up a few years later and read them again, and you'll realise I was right. Without me ever even reading them, I was right. Because even if you're already a bloody marvellous writer right now, you're still not as good as you will be in, say, a years' time, or five years' time - provided you keep practising, and learning, and striving to improve, of course. And part of that process of learning and improving is... writing an awful lot of crap first.

But in order to know what your own, personal interpretation of crap is, you have to give yourself the opportunity to perceive it as crap - and you can only do that if you can actually see it years later, in all its brown-hued glory. For all those future-moments when you doubt yourself as a writer and worry that you'll never make the grade, going all misty-eyed over the turds of your past is a wonderful thing. It gives you hope. There it is, the proof that you really have levelled up from the wooden-penned noob you once were.

Another reason is that it helps you discover who you really are as a writer. You may find that it takes you aaaaages to complete a novel for the first time. As in, years of false starts and aborted attempts that never get beyond Chapter Five (sticking my own hand up right now...) Or you may find every novel you do write gets universally rejected for the first few years. In both cases, this is often because you haven't figured out what 'your stories' are yet - the stories your writer-soul desperately wants to tell as opposed to the stories your wanting-to-be-a-published-writer-brain is saying you 'should' tell. Those clues to your writer-soul will be hidden in all your previous work, like a psychological treasure map; recurring themes, characters that share distinctly similar personality traits, and familiar questions that keep cropping up. It might (no, scratch that - it will) takes years of collecting, but only by trawling through your previous works and gathering up those pearls will you finally discover the parts that make you the writer you are.

5 - There will be times when you absolutely freakin' HATE writing. And that's totally okay.

I absolutely love Redemption, my current w-i-p. Love the story, utterly love the characters - even the bad guys - and love the progress I'm making with it.

Except of course on the days when I hate it so much I want to drop-kick it in the 'nads and punch its stupid drooling-chimp face. On those days, it feels like every word I type is the incoherent ranting of a drunk who's had a DIY lobotomy, and my whole plot is a stinky pile of recycled barf that's already been done a million times before a million times better and why am I even doing this anyway, because no-one's ever gonna want to read this festering heap of garbage...

I've felt the same way about short stories and lyrics I've written too (to this day, there are lyrics I wrote for one particular musical number years ago which I can still flip between loving and hating on a day-to-day basis, depending on my mood, the weather, heck I dunno...)

And you will have days like that too - days where you'll look at whatever you're writing and think "Why am I even bothering? This is truly awful, and titanium-coated proof that I'm never ever going to make the grade as a writer." You'll want to rebel. An urge to throw the work aside and stomp away in a massive huff will overcome you, and you might decide to give up on all of it - screw writing and screw being a writer, it's too damned hard for too little reward!

You'll come back though. Maybe in a day or two, maybe in a few months time. But you will come back, because the real writers always do.

And when you do, don't feel bad about that thing you did when you were angry - you didn't mean all those things you said, we know that. We love our spouses, kids and other family members to death but that doesn't mean they don't occasionally drive us screaming, spitting mad - and it's the same with writing. You're allowed to fall out with it sometimes and lock yourself in your room, refusing to come out until it sorts its stoopid attitude out. It doesn't mean you don't have the stuff in you to become a 'proper writer' (hell, if it did there would be no writers at all in the history of ever, since even the great and the good will have kicked their toys out of the pram at least once in their lives.)

Sometimes taking a step away from writing for a while will even be necessary. Life has a funny way of randomly throwing steaming piles of brown stuff at you, whether in the form of periods of extreme stress, traumatic events or debilitating illness (either physical or mental.) In those circumstances, your health and well being has to come first. If stepping away from writing is what you need to do to get through whatever you're going through, then of course you must do it. No-one will condemn you or 'question your commitment' (and if they do they're not worth listening to.) Writing's not going anywhere. Unlike some kinds of people, it's a faithful love, and will be waiting for you when you're ready to return to it again.

So there you have it - that's the list I would give to Teenage Me. All I have to do now is figure out a way to post it into The Past...

Thing is, would I even have listened anyway? I remember Teenage Me. She got advice on a variety of subjects from lots of older people, and while she was very polite and smiled and nodded in all the right places, I knew deep down she was thinking "This is great, but you don't know me." I wasn't arrogant enough to think I knew it all, I just felt their advice could only work for the smart and confident - for those who had their shit together. And I didn't believe I was any of those things as a teenager.

So if you're a young writer, I wouldn't blame you if you felt the same way about my list. I'll admit there's plenty on here I wouldn't exactly have been thrilled to hear back then either - it sounds like a lot of work and heartache at times. But I'd still hand them to my younger self anyway, because I've had enough years of learning the hard way that they do make sense, and if I could save myself that bother I would. And I'd quite like to save you that bother too, if I can.

Just sayin'.