Personal Writing Whims

Every writer has their quirks, their peccadillos.  Here are some of mine…

Never use ‘said’ or ‘suddenly’ outside of dialogue: The first is simply because I find it boring, lacking in substance, flat and uninteresting; ditching it forces me to be more creative in describing conversations.  While I’m not nearly as averse to adverbs as Stephen King, ‘suddenly’ is an exception, as to me it feels like the easy option, too obvious a choice; again, it’s about challenging myself to find another way.  The only place I’ll use them is in dialogue, spoken by characters, as we tend not to be so picky when we talk – there the obvious option is the one we usually go for.

Rarely use similes: This is because I worry they could end up becoming a crutch, relied upon too often, and because of potential anachronisms.  Imagine a character thundering along; an obvious simile there is ‘like a juggernaut’, but if you’re writing a medieval-based fantasy, it strongly risks jarring people out of it; they’re far more likely to imagine a lorry than a powerful warrior, and that’s an anachronism.  A little pedantic, perhaps, but details really matter to me.  When I do use a simile, it invariably references something already established in the world, and familiar to the reader, and usually it’s spoken by a character.

Paragraph etiquette: I’m particularly picky when it comes to my paragraphs.  I try to limit them to six lines, eight at most, with only very rare exceptions when I see no other option, when it can’t be tidily broken down.  I also avoid lines finishing on full stops; commas and semi-colons are fine, but for some reason full stops feel awkward to me.  I also avoid words being broken over two lines, split with a dash, as again it feels awkward.  Lastly, I have a special distaste for stretched-out lines, with large gaps between words, something you’ll see even in professsionally published books sometimes.  All this means I probably sweat over paragraphs more than most.  Worth the effort?  You decide.

Word repetition: A common writing rule, I know, but I’m especially strict about it, ensuring I always have two or more, preferably more, ways to refer to someone during a conversation, for example.  The anthropomorphic characters I prefer certainly help in this regard.

Semi-colons: I love them; adore them; almost worship them; and almost certainly overuse them.  I genuinely find them to be one of the most useful punctuation marks around, helping provide rhythm and interest to prose, and dialogue especially, expressing those pauses longer than a comma, but not as long as a full stop.  When it comes to fragmented and stream-of-consciousness speech, they’re the only choice.

Italics: When I want a word to be stressed, italics are my go-to option.  Capitals make it seem like shouting, to me, while italics are emphasis.  That distinction then allows me to combine them for those moments a character REALLY loses their composure.  Again, as with semi-colons, I worry I overuse them, but I’m determined to provide as much texture as possible.

Running exposition: I hate this.  I mean hate this.  Positively loathe it.  Explaining everything as you’re going along ruins pacing and rhythm, and also risks treating the reader as an idiot, like they need their hand held at all times.  The worst kind is that during conversations; one character speaks, then there’s a lengthy paragraph detailing them, then another character speaks, then there’s two lengthy paragraphs detailing them and the events they’ve referred to, and before you know it a few lines of dialogue have taken three pages to play out.  It’s hugely inefficient, frustrating and off-putting, so I avoid it strenuously.  Exposition in my work is exclusively delivered through appropriate characters, in measured amounts, at suitable times.

Point of view: Here’s an area where I’m a lot more flexible than many writers.  I rarely ever present things through a character’s eyes, and even more rarely while streaming their thoughts about events.  I prefer a looser approach, that I tend to envision in terms of a camera.  A scene would start with one character, following what they do; then, when they meet a group of others, it would pull out, attempting to ensure everyone gets equal attention; at close of encounter, it may refocus on the original person, or zero in on another, taking things in a different direction.  The hope is this provides a fluid, natural, adaptable kind of storytelling.  Again, you decide if it works.

What are yours?  Do mine make sense, or are they pointless?  Productive, or counter-productive?  I’m fascinated to know.  This is my passion, after all. 🙂


Strange Encounter

I had a most peculiar encounter last night (11/09/2017) and have decided to note it down here as clearly as I can remember it.  Maybe someone reading can help shed some light.

I left my friend’s house a little after 10pm to walk home.  It’s a short journey along an L-shaped section of the sole road through the village, my house at the end of the long arm, as it were.  Not long after I’d rounded the bend of the L, and descended the short slope beyond it, a car slowed down as it approached me from behind.

It stopped just past me, opposite a house, making me believe it would turn in, but proceeded to do nothing, just sit silent and dark as I walked beyond it, no doors opening, no cabin lights turning on, no windows sliding down.  I got about 15 yards further on when it moved again, rolling up alongside me.

This time I directed my headlight toward it – I usually avoid that, for fear of dazzling the driver – and saw an elderly gentleman, silver-haired and tidy, gesturing for my attention.  Why he didn’t lower the passenger window and call is the first of many oddities.

I opened the door, and politely enquired if I could help.  He told me he was lost, had been for a while, and wanted my help getting his bearings.  I told him where he was – Bagstone – and mentioned other villages along the road to the north – Cromhall, Charfield, Wotton-Under-Edge, only the last of which gained any reaction, a comment about it “being too far” – and the south – our immediate neighbour Rangeworthy, and Iron Acton further on.  His response to those was to ask a vague question about their direction, and then request I get in to his car and show him.

That’s when confusion really set in for me – who would ask someone, a total stranger, to do that?  What, exactly, did he mean?  I did sit, to try and make conversation easier, noticing how smart and modern his car was, but kept the door open.  I asked where he was going, more than once, and got no answer, beyond needing to get to the main road.  Twice during this exchange he moved the car forward slightly, startling me enough to exclaim both times.

By this point I was thoroughly confused and a little worried.  His behaviour didn’t add up.  His manner was pleasant and clear, he spoke well, but little I said registered, and the information he gave me was incredibly limited and vague.  He didn’t seem confused or distressed.  The best analogy I can give is a phone support operator with a thin script, who either ignore you, or pauses awkwardly, then just picks right back up with the same lines.  He appeared unable to compute anything beyond a few simple details – lost, home, main road – which made it impossible to help him.

In the end, I got out of the car, apologising, and he started to drive off without closing his door; thankfully he pulled away very steadily, or I wouldn’t have been able to.  I then stood, and watched, confounded and, I’ll admit, distressed, as he rolled out of sight, into the darkness past my house, wondering about his strange behaviour and if I could have helped more, if there was something else I could have done.

I can recall the last three letters of his registration – POP – but have no idea as to the make or model of his car, beyond it being a hatchback, and of quality.  It was notably quiet.  A Golf, possibly?  I can’t remember his face at all, except it being clean-shaven and maybe a little on the professorial side.

Try as I might, I cannot make sense of this experience.  I remain somewhat disturbed by it even now.  Any help in explaining it greatly appreciated.

My Parents Took Me to a Naked Place

The Meandering Naturist

I’m in France right now, as is my 20-something daughter, but she is not traveling with us at the moment. In fact, she took a beach trip today with several friends and acquaintances – all of whom I know – to just an ordinary beach on the Cote d’Azur. Not long into their stay, off came her bikini top. Hardly necessary on any beach in France, so why not?

Our daughter is what I would call naturist friendly. Would she drive 300 miles to get to a naturist beach (as I would) just to add it to her bucket list? Probably not. But given the choice to swim naked or adorn herself in wet nylon – well, that’s a no-brainer! Nylon and lycra be gone! As one of her naturist-friendly peers so aptly stated, “What’s the big deal? We all know what’s down there!”


The big deal, at least…

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Book Release: The Tower and the Fox

Writing and Other Afflictions

I’ve been working on this book for some seven years, which is a record for me unless I dig up one of my trunk novels and try to publish that (spoiler: my trunk novels would need to be rewritten and no, that is not happening). What happened was that I started writing this story, and then it got too big and became two books, and then there wasn’t a lot happening in the first book so I got dissatisfied with it and shelved it, and then one friend said, “You can write better now than you did when you wrote that,” and so I started from scratch and rewrote the whole thing (keeping a few passages I really liked), which is also by the way what I’m doing now with the second book. Along the way I had an idea for a sequel, which became the third book when the first one…

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Top Tories publicly SQUABBLE over responsibility for police cuts: calls for Theresa May to RESIGN

Pride's Purge

David Cameron’s top adviser Steve Hilton has called for Theresa May to resign just days before the election over her responsibility for cuts to front-line emergency services:

Hilton however was immediately attacked by Tory MP Nadine Dorries who put the blame fairly and squarely on Cameron and Osborne for the disastrous cuts:

Of course, Theresa May was Home Secretary under Cameron and Osborne when she made drastic cuts to frontline emergency services:

For the last seven years we have seen drastic cuts by the government to all of our emergency services:

The police:

Police forces all face major budget cuts

Watchdog says police cuts have left forces in ‘perilous state’


96% of hospitals have nurse shortages

Fire fighters:

Firefighter shortage blamed for shocking number of fire engines out of service


Shortage of paramedics in London

Ambulance services face paramedic shortage this winter

Accident & Emergency:

Almost half of…

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The Greatest Danger

In the wake of the third terror attack in our country so far this year, and the second since the beginning of the election process, I find myself numb, pained, in a kind of quiet shock, just wishing it would all end.  The thing is, on June 8th, we have a golden opportunity to make a start towards safer times, if we can only grasp it.

If nothing else, recent events have made plain to me that our current policy of intervention abroad – of violence in response to violence, to be blunt – isn’t working.  In fact, it’s actually making things worse.  It’s helping create the conditions and the attitudes that breed extremists.  It’s perpetuating and even magnifying the situation, and has to stop.

Let me give a simple analogy, a little crude perhaps, but hopefully one that’ll make things clear.  Imagine a classroom.  Imagine a few pupils making trouble, annoying the teacher and their fellow students, disrupting things, maybe even hurting people.  Then imagine the teacher’s response is to punish the entire class, not just those causing the problems.  What do you imagine the results of that would be?

I don’t have to imagine.  I experienced that at secondary school, when a vindictive PE teacher responded to two or three troublemakers by not letting anyone change until the end-of-school bell went.  Many perfectly innocent pupils missed their busses home, inconveniencing their families in the process.  A man already disliked became even more so by a greater number of pupils, with more disgruntled students more likely to act up, and the difficult ones worsening.

In short, his actions were entirely self-defeating, entirely counter-productive, exactly as our current approach to terrorism is.  In hurting innocents as well as the extremists, we’re fermenting ever more resentment, which they can channel right back at us.  Our response is to bomb more, to hurt more innocents, and thus brew more resentment, and the cycle just keeps worsening.

Also included in the category of innocents we hurt are the members of the religion the extremists are warping, abusing to their own ends.  Real Islam is not terrorism.  Real Islam is found in the Muslims who opened their homes, their mosques, their arms to those in need during the attacks, who provided shelter and food and comfort without asking a thing in return.  To bundle them in with the extremists is an injustice that only serves to deepen the problems, not ease them.

The irony is, we have our own extremists seeking to divide, in the likes of Katie Hopkins, UKIP’s Paul Nuttall, Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail, and Rupert Murdoch of the Sun, our own hate preachers sowing dissention and distrust, and if anything, they’re more dangerous than the terrorists.  They’re exploiting our fears to their own ends, with absolutely no regard for the fallout, no matter how big.

Daesh are a threat.  The right-wing hate-mongers so dominant in our media are as much as if not more of one.  The right-wing hardliners in our goverment, however, are the biggest threat of all.  It’s our goverment selling arms to Saudi Arabia, a repressive, genocidal regime almost certainly supplying and funding terrorism.  It’s our goverment maintaining Jihadis in our country to use in Africa and the Middle East, and ignoring the danger they pose right here.  It’s our government exploiting war for profit, destabilising entire countries in the process, our own increasingly among them.  It’s our government that’s gotten so soullessly corporate that only money matters, regardless of how much blood it’s steeped in.

All of that finds personification in our sociopathic Prime Minister, Theresa May, whose campaign has been entirely woven from fear, smear and lies, who won’t debate, who won’t face the public, who controls and hides and censors, who cosies up to the orange lunatic in the White House, who right now is gleefully exploiting our pain to further his ends.

Theresa May is by far and away the greatest danger facing us right now, a ruthlessly amoral authoritarian who has pared away at our police, our military, our intelligence apparatus and our NHS so much they’re struggling to cope, thus making it easier for the terrorists to attack, just as they have done.  She won’t listen, she won’t think, she won’t care, and she definitely won’t keep us safe.  Quite the reverse.

There is someone who will, though, someone with a proven record in negotiations, who helped bring about peace in Ireland, who will listen and think and care.  They’ll even listen to those they disagree with, as that’s how you build up enough understanding to find a true, lasting solution.  The media call them a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, but if you seek to find a solution, to understand, a measure of sympathy for where they’re coming from, for their motivations, is surely necessary?  It doesn’t mean you agree with their actions, that you won’t condemn them, but that you have some idea of why they’re acting the way they do, and are better placed to deal with them.  Surely that’s to be desired?

His name is Jeremy Corbyn, and with our current electoral system, he’s the only person other than Mrs May with a genuine chance to get into Number 10.  I firmly believe he will make a difference, and his restraint will serve us and others far better than Mrs May’s aggression.  Certainly, having nukes under the control of someone who wouldn’t use them, rather than someone who would, is infinitely preferable.

Personally, I don’t want us to have nukes full stop – I think they’re a waste, a weapon we can never, ever use.  If we do, everyone loses.  They level cities, decimate hundreds of square miles, kill millions and render land unlivable for millenia – how they’ve become, in the minds of some, our only line of defence, is bewildering.  And terrifying.

That among those are our current goverment, intent on being put back in on June 8th, is most terrifying of all.  If we truly value our safety and our future, and that of others, we have to get rid of them, and get Corbyn in.  In four days time, we have a chance to save ourselves.

Please don’t miss it.