Running blind.


I should be writing this week’s blog post but to be honest, I’m whacked: all in. Had a bit of a mishap after work yesterday and it’s catching up with me. It all went wrong again. Story of my life. I failed to prepare and we all know how that ends. I might turn in early. Tomorrow’s another day and all that. I just need to sleep this one off. Chalk it up to experience. Live and learn.

Had a great idea for getting a bit of exercise. You remember that commute I’ve been banging on about? Course you do. Well, I had this idea I could use it to my advantage. I thought it’d be a bit clever on the trip home after work to get dropped off a couple of miles earlier than normal. And then jog the rest of the way home. With the chronic traffic jams at that time of evening there was a chance I might even get back before the bus would have dropped me off. That would’ve been brilliant. See. It’s a good idea, eh?

So I took my shorts and trainers and a T-shirt to school in the morning in a plastic bag and after work got changed, left my school stuff in my locker and went out to the bus. I was really up for it, even though the others took the piss. There were lots of jokes about my legs. Chicken drumsticks after the cat’s finished with them. That sort of thing. I didn’t mind. I was in good spirits. And I’m English. Laughing at ourselves is a national pastime. I need to get back into running and this is a way I could kill two birds with one stone – run and commute. My run would be part of my commute. Clever, no?

I knew roughly where I wanted the driver to drop me off, although I couldn’t pronounce it very well. On the way in in the morning I double checked the area. My geographical knowledge of the city outside a mile radius of where I live is something that would fit on the back of a postage stamp. Still, all I had to do was follow the main road and if all else failed I could take my bearings from the sun.

It was late afternoon before I remembered the clocks had gone back, or was it forwards? And it was going to be dark at home time. So much for the sun: my compass. No matter. A minor detail. About four o’clock it started raining. By five it was coming down in stair rods. I was in the bus by then. In shorts and T-shirt feeling like a berk. But being British and male I couldn’t really bottle it, could I? I’d never hear the last of it from the co-workers.

In the dark and pissing rain I managed to make the driver understand I wanted him to stop the bus and let me out. In shorts and T-shirt. He looked at me like I’d a screw come loose. He didn’t want to do it. Maybe he thought he’d get in trouble if I got ill or died of pneumonia or something. But I made him. We were nearly shouting at each other in the end. It was a bit embarrassing if I’m honest.

Apparently, he couldn’t just stop where I wanted him to on the main highway and so he had to leave it by a slip road and drop me at the roundabout and then rejoin. Maybe that’s why he was cross with me.

So he let me out by the side of the road. As I stood there doing a couple of stretches, watching the nice, dry, warm minibus get swallowed up in the traffic a lorry went past a bit close, through a puddle and drenched me with filthy, gritty water. Some of it went in my mouth, which wasn’t very nice.

I started running in the dark and the rain. It was a bit cold too without the sun up, and windy. I was in shorts and a T-shirt and quickly wet through.

It was about twenty minutes later that I realised I was lost. I should have been recognising my surroundings, but I saw nothing familiar. The main road had felt dangerous. I was exposed. I’d tried to find my way on the side roads. But they’d meandered a bit and maybe I should have gone left one time when I went right.

I didn’t have my phone on me or money because I was just wearing shorts and a T-shirt and I wasn’t supposed to be long. I hadn’t even thought to bring a bottle of water. After those twenty minutes I was further away from home than when the bus dropped me off. I know this because I checked on Google maps today.

I got home eventually, of course. It took me just under four hours. But I made it. My legs are hurting a lot today even though obviously I didn’t run for four hours. That would have been like doing a marathon or something. I think I probably walked for over three of them. Maybe that’s why it took so long. God I’m knackered. Should have seen me walking today: John Wayne trying out a couple of new hip replacements. Got some stick for it. Said I pulled a muscle. That’s all.

I think I’m safe sharing this here. No one from work knows anything about me. They don’t know I blog and write. I prefer it that way.

Leave it to Wodehouse.

One of the troubles with being a voracious reader is finding stuff to read, whether you’re a tight git or not. I love roast dinners. But if I had to eat them every day of the week for months, I can see the pleasure would wane. It’s the same with reading. I like reading a lot (in both senses of the expression) but the same diet of crime, mystery, thrillers needs spicing up a bit from time to time. But with what? Choice can be a little limiting if, like me, one baulks at paying several pounds for a computer file ebook and one has no access to charity shops.

So it was my great good fortune on the commute this week after a couple of average reads  to discover a PDF document of a PG Wodehouse book of Jeeves and Wooster stories on my Kindle. The first of which is called Leave it to Jeeves and had me laughing out loud at 6.30 in the morning, much to the obvious annoyance of my fellow travellers who were trying to sleep.

Just before Wodehouse I read a Stella Rimington novel, The Geneva Trap. It was a free download on Amazon. I like spy novels. I thought it a competent effort. I enjoyed the read and looked forward to picking it up. But not once did I feel any real emotion. It didn’t frighten me. It didn’t make me laugh. I never felt my heart miss a beat. I didn’t gasp. The language and plot were straightforward and easy to follow. I never once encountered a word I didn’t understand. It was uncomplicated – a sort of spy book by numbers writing. I’m not trying to diss the writing. I’m just expressing my opinion.

Straight after Stella I started on another free downlaod with good reviews. A crime thriller. It shaped up well enough but I realised a couple of chapters in that I was no longer in the mood for the genre. I needed a change of reading cuisine. Enter Wodehouse.

What a wordsmith that fellow was. And it got me thinking about what a gift it is, as a writer, to be able to inspire emotion in your reader with nothing more than a clever arrangement of words and punctuation on a blank page. (Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. The reader must bring something to the event too.) Or is it a gift, I quickly argued with myself. Isn’t it the result of someone who has worked hard at his craft and reached a high level of expertise in it? Probably like the old educational nature/nurture argument goes, there’s a good dollop of both in there.

I’ve tried reading Dracula a couple of times but never got too far with it. I’ll try again. When I haven’t been reading on the commute this week I’ve been listening to Dracula as an audiobook. It was another free one. It’s really good. The reading just brings the text to life, something which I haven’t yet managed as a reader. It’s got me thinking about audiobooks again and that I’d like to get some of my books done as audiobooks. I’d really like to have a go at reading them myself. I believe I could make a decent fist of it and it could be fun.

El Gringo

There’s a book on with 2,149 1* comments. (At the time of writing.) On it has only 437 1* comments. Only! Ha! Can we just take a minute to imagine how the author feels about those stats. I’ve had a few 1*comments and they used to hurt me, like hammer blows to bare feet. But if I had that much scorn poured on one of my writing projects would I wonder about giving up writing? Before we get too carried away in a tidal wave of sympathy for the ‘poor’ author, please, read on to give the stats their proper context.

The title in question is also #1 bestseller on both sides of the pond. On it has over 26,000 comments (5,000+ on AmazonUK). That is a lot of feedback. It also signifies a hell of a lot of downloads, if normal ratios of comments to downloads of my books is anything to go by. I check the charts fairly often when I’m procrastinating and I’ve never seen another book with so many comments. I wonder if anyone else has. I’d be interested to know. This author’s publishers must wake up and pinch themselves every morning with those sorts of figures. Can you guess what the book is? (Clue one: The title of this blog-post is an anagram of the title of the book. Clue two: the photo (a bit cryptic). If you can’t work it out or can’t be bothered to try, the answer is at the bottom of the page.)

In one of my less serious bouts of contemplation I thought about trying to write a book with the sole purpose of garnering as many 1* comments as possible; I wanted to write a book that has a consistent Amazon average rating of 1*. I thought it would be such fun to put something out there masquerading as something serious and inspiring a frenzy of negativity and vitriol. Every 1* comment would make me laugh at my little joke. I thought about the ‘ingredients’ I would need to include to give the book the best chance of disappointing readers. How about this for a speculative list?

  • Price it high.
  • Don’t have it proofread. (In fact go out of my way to make clumsy mistakes that would have even the most benign readers reaching for their keyboards.)
  • List it under the wrong genre. (Contemporary romantic fiction? See next.)
  • Include a great deal of swearing. (See previous.)
  • Make the plot deliberately confusing.
  • End the book halfway through the story (maybe include a hundred blank pages) and invite readers to purchase part two separately. (Price it even higher.)
  • Include lots of bad and unnecessary sex. (Maybe with animals or the dead, for starters.)
  • Shockingly bad formatting.
  • Make the dialogue really clunky and long winded.

(Before any smart arse out there comes back with, ‘But you’ve already written a book that meets these criteria. It’s called insert book title of mine here, I like to think that because I’ve beaten you to it you won’t be so funny.)

Why would I want to do something like this? Well, apart from being my idea of fun, I would also be testing a theory. I believe that prospective downloaders of ebooks are drawn to books that have low ratings. I’m not saying that we buy them, but if I see a book with an overall rating of three stars and it’s had dozens of reviews, I’m usually going to check out some of those comments. I want to know why this book is regarded as so substandardly shite. Done cleverly this could turn into a hook to get readers to part with a bit of cash. (It would need to be done very cleverly, obviously, to get people to pay for something that everyone condemns.) The old adage, there’s no such thing as bad publicity springs to mind.

My latest writing project is going fairly well. I’m 30,000 words in. From its inception I found the story difficult to pigeonhole genre-wise. (What should I list it under when the time comes to self-publish?) And if I was mildly confused then I’m positively bewildered now. It’s part utopian, part dystopian, part love story, part western, part political, part contemporary fiction. And I’m only on chapter five. What it isn’t and doesn’t look like being is part crime, part mystery, part thriller, which is my usual line of writing country. Still, I’m enjoying myself. I might try to fit an alien invasion in there somewhere for a full house. In for a penny and all that. Hey, maybe I’m writing that really substandardly shite book I was thinking of. The subconscious works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.

I just learned something. My WordPress stats tell me that someone from Lesotho viewed my blog today. Lewhereo? I’d never heard of it. Now I know it’s a landlocked country in Africa that gained independence from the UK in 1966. (If whoever you are reads this, please get in touch. I’m totally intrigued to know who you are and what you are doing there.)

(Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Did you get the picture clue for an extra point?)

The curse of being a writer.

Last week WordPress told me we’ve been in a relationship for two years now. That’s longer than some of my marriages have lasted. But then WordPress doesn’t insist on me declaring my undying love to it on a daily basis; WordPress doesn’t get jealous when I spend hours with other Internet sites; WordPress doesn’t complain if I don’t talk to it for a few days; WordPress doesn’t get mad if I spell its name wrongly; WordPress is always ready to do what I want; WordPress doesn’t wake me up in the night to ask if it shut down would I take up with another blogging site and WordPress didn’t call me a pervert when I gave it some sexy add ons.

What a curse it is to be a writer. Being a writer ruins everything. Really. There’s this romantic idea, I think, that being a writer must be so…what’s the word? I don’t know so I’m going to say cool. That’s bollocks. Being a writer is a burden. A cross to bear. Sometimes I feel like I’m being punished by a higher authority. Writing is an obsession and like all obsessive habits it’s nigh on impossible to stop. Five years in and I’m only just beginning to realise that.

Being a writer is something of a cruel mistress because it doesn’t matter whatever else you’re doing, whatever wonderful treat life has in store for you, if you’ve got a writing project on the go you would rather be sitting at the computer getting on with it. Sometimes even eating a meal irritates me so that I want to punch something because I feel like I’m wasting my valuable time. (I went through a phase of eating my dinner sitting in front of the laptop until I spilt gruel in the keypad, and then the b,n & m keys didn’t work properly.)

As a writer it’s so hard to be entirely satisfied with what you produce. If you can be easily satisfied with your writing you’re not a ‘real’ writer, you’re just playing at it (or maybe you’re just crap or deluded). Real writers are obsessed with finding the next level of their ability, even if they have to change themselves to do so. The need to improve, to write better stuff is all consuming. And so bloody irritating when you can’t find a way to punch through the paper ceiling. And there’s nothing that brings that home to me more clearly than reading great writing.

To be a writer you must be a reader, but being a writer can ruin you as a reader. Gone are the days of reading only for pleasure because everything you read you’re comparing the quality of your own writing to it. It’s not easy to relax. You read for inspiration as much as entertainment and when you read something great it is like a double-edged sword. You love the writing for its sublime invention, for its originality of phrase, for its clever plotting, the best words in the best order. But you hate the writing (and the writer) because the quality of it seems beyond you as a writer, and what’s worse you feel that it always will be. It’s so frustrating. Being a writer undermines my enjoyment of reading for these reasons.

In the last week I’ve read ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.’ by John Le Carre, which I absolutely loved. But which also made me want to start punching things and Le Carre. It’s really, really good. I hated it.

I’m also listening to an audio book on the commute: ‘Heart of Darkness’, which everyone must surely know. It’s read by Kenneth Brannagh. How I hate that book and his reading of it. Because they are both so bloody fantastic.

Just to cheer myself up after that, when I look back on this diary entry in years to come I might wish to remember a couple of school incidents from this week. In one lesson I was asking the kids what they had for breakfast and one girl answered ‘crap’, which I thought was remarkably honest and knowledgeable for a five year old. (It never occurred to me where she picked up that kind of language.) She didn’t seem too bothered by it though. I abandoned the lesson on possessive pronouns so that we might have a class discussion regarding how important it is to eat the right foods for health, especially with the most important meal of the day. It was only at the end of the lesson that I discovered the girl meant ‘crepe’, which is a type of pancake. It’s something in the vowel pronunciation.

In grade two we had something of an incident that despite my pleading had to go into the the school accident book. There had to be a first, I suppose. We were making headgear for decorating and wearing. We used coloured card, coloured pens, cotton wool and glue and stuff. When it came to securing the finished article around the children’s heads the instructions said use glue sticks. Well that was a waste of time. They kept falling open and then off under the attentions of their fiddling before the glue was dry. So, out of frustration and desperation I decided to staple the ends of the card together to hold them in place. The best way to do this was with the card wrapped around the individual’s head. At least I thought it was until I managed to put a staple right through one little sod’s ear. Looking back on it now, it serves him right for not keeping still. I didn’t realise the skin at the top of the ear held so much blood.

Update on my writing. Acer #3 is still in post-production. B&C #2 has now had a couple of read throughs and some alterations that make me fairly happy with it. I’m ready for my daughter (my greatest critic) to read it.

The new project is where all my energy is going now. I have a title and twenty thousand words. I think this could be my magnum opus. I really think this could be the one that takes me to the next level. I also think I’m going to have to change my habit of making stuff up as I go along and set about some planning. It’s a bit complex for my limited brain capacity.