If a person you like ever decides to send you a draft of their novel, along with a polite request for your “honest thoughts”, know one thing.
No matter what you say or do, you are going to disappoint them.
Even if you gush uncontrollably about how great the story is, there will be one scene that’s particularly close to their heart — that took copious mental sweat to get exactly right — that you will unknowingly skim over like a pebble on a river.
Or you might venture an innocent comment about not understanding why this or that character…
Creative writing classes are full of people who think they must write like a hand-painted china tea set, if they want to be thought of as properly ‘creative’.
I know this because I’ve attended my fair share of creative writing classes over the years, and I’ve also written my fair share of billowing descriptions that didn’t suit me or my work.
As a writer, using plain, unvarnished language can be a risk, because some readers see that as cheating (hang on a minute… you’ve written normal words I’d use myself!) …
When I was fifteen, I did some work experience at a law firm.
The solicitor I shadowed kept a little notebook by his phone — there were no snazzy laptops or mobiles back in the days of yore — which he’d scribble in every time he finished a call.
I asked him what the notebook was for, and he told me that every minute he spent at work had to be allocated and charged to a client.
This included calls in which he didn’t speak to the client in question, but spoke to someone else about them, and calls that…
My Dad sent a text this morning, to let me know that my uncle, and his older brother, is in his “last few moments, maybe another 24–48 hours.”
Uncle Laurence led a colourful and complicated life. There are ten years separating him and Dad, and they’ve been estranged for over twenty, which might be why I got an impersonal text instead of a call.
(Three people I know have died over the past year. I learned about the other two via Facebook Messenger.)
When I was little, Uncle Laurence was a fearsome figure, partly because he was the opposite of…
The Eighties’ sci-fi movie classic Flight of the Navigator contains a snippet of conversation that I’ve always found rather refreshing.
In the film, a 12-year-old boy called David Freeman is abducted by an alien spaceship called Max. Life-altering chaos and various feats of bravery ensue, but my refreshing snippet occurs in a more reflective scene, when David wonders why Max decided to abduct him.
“Why me?” he asks.
“Why not you?” replies Max, with a casual vocal shrug.
That’s it. The story moves on, and we know that David isn’t special or magical, or somehow ‘different from the rest’. …
Selfishness is a perfectly acceptable human trait that nobody wants to own up to.
In the unlikely event that they do, their words will be served with a tasty side dish of guilt, as I discovered when I interviewed child-free women for my book, ‘I’d Rather Get a Cat and Save the Planet’.
“I’ll admit that I’m selfish, because I like my life the way it is,” these women would tell me, one by one, in the sort of embarrassed, hushed voices they might have used to share details of a grubby fling they’d once had with Nigel Farage.
Back when I was an insecure, acne-ridden teenager, I listened to my seventy-year-old Nan telling a friend about her upcoming holiday. She was fretting about how she’d look on the beach in her one-piece, after what she described as “a winter of pies.”
The conversation surprised me, because up to that point I had assumed that adults didn’t worry about the same things that teenagers did.
Once I was grown up, I’d thought, I would be perfectly confident, and everything in my life would be nicely sorted out — surely — or why bother growing up at all?
I had no idea I was an INFJ until I was forced to take a personality test for work.
The company believed that the best way of ensuring workplace harmony would be to force everybody on its payroll to take a personality test, then share the results.
If we could just treat our colleagues according to their specific ‘types’, we’d never argue or mis-understand one another again… or so the MD’s logic went.
(Think of those ‘hot drink’ charts in office kitchens. Instead of “Adam: tea with milk, one sugar”, you’d have “Adam: prickly, extremely quick to take offence, probably…
You’d think not.
Especially when famous quotes like Eleanor Roosevelt’s “do one thing every day that scares you”, and Neale Donald Walsch’s “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” regularly do the rounds on social media.
(In case you’re curious about who Neale Donald Walsch is, he’s a self-described modern day spiritual messenger who writes about how best to speak with God.)
Your comfort zone is a tempting place to stay in most of the time, because… well, it’s comfortable.
Like an overprotective mother, it cossets you against life’s harshest fears and pressures, bearing a never-ending supply of…