Tuesday, 11 December 2012

On memory

One of the short stories I am working on looks at a chap who thinks the best way to get on in life is to constantly learn and fill himself with information…to the detriment of his sanity. Every time I sit down to write, it forces me to think about how to get the emotion of a feeling across when describing a situation, as I want him to come across human and not a robot. What does it mean not to forget? Is it information that makes us better people? For me, that is one of the biggest challenges I face as a person trying to improve their writing. I have an idea and I want to connect it to a theme that I am interested in but there is a valley so deep and wide between them that must be crossed in order to create a story.
            When I originally went through all my notes, the folders full of scraps of paper I had kept since I was a kid, a lot of the jottings, whether they were just a couple of sentences or a more developed outline, I remembered where and when I wrote them. It may have been because I could recall the occasion as something interesting or different had happened, for instance, even though it was probably fifteen years prior, when I picked up one particular torn out notebook page I instantly recalled writing it, I was in the top floor of a Burger King in Bromley, Kent. It was a cold day and I really wanted to be outside writing in the small park behind the theatre but my hands were trembling from the cold too much so I decided to sit down for something to eat and warm up. I was looking out of the window onto the busy high street below and being 15 or so I may have been focusing a bit too much on girls walking past and on this occasion there were a group of four or five girls walking down the road and I really ‘fancied’ one of the girls in particular, so being at a high vantage point with the people below unaware of anything above their eye level I felt safe enough to stare. Along they walked giggling at whatever they were giggling at, when as they were just about to pass my window, the one particular girl I liked turned her head up and looked directly at me, no glancing around, just a direct lock of eyes. The rest of the girls in the group paid no attention and carried on bustling down the road unaware of me whilst this girl stared constantly at me. I was of course petrified she had caught me but was unable to move an inch even as my face went beetroot red. Then she turned back to her friends and carried on walking with them and that was that. It must have lasted 90 seconds at the absolute most but I remember it clearly and even today my body can recreate the shudder of the embarrassment at being caught out. Now this probably happens to everyone every day, I stare out of the window all the time (Disclaimer. I am 33 now and do not eyeball 15 year old girls, I am just talking generally!), from a car, or a train, or whatever and people weirdly and suddenly turn around and you have a second of awkwardness and then redirect your gaze. Happens all the time. Other jolts of memory can come from senses bringing you back to places you may have been, the taste of food on a particular holiday, the smell of perfume, perhaps snow reminds you of being young, and on and on. So why do I remember this occasion half a lifetime ago? Is it because writing is as much of a sense as smell or sound? Was it because I was in a state of awareness as I had brought a pen and pad to write? Was it because I was on my own and bored? Was it because I was 15 and the hormones were raging? Was it because the whopper was so damn tasty? Aside from that moment I can remember a lot of the other seemingly mundane occasions when a lot of my ideas were written and I have no idea why. Whatever the reasons, what I am interested in here is how after all those years I can reflect on that moment and recreate it in a story but as someone who wants to write well, I don’t want to just physically and geographically copy what happened but I want to express the characters, I want to convince people that 15 year old is real, that the emotions felt are believable and I want to be happy that I have recreated a moment in a person’s life in its entirety. I want to combine reality with imagination. It’s difficult!
            Now there are plenty of times when a more significant event triggers a memory and if that memory is painful then it usually doesn’t take much to get flooded with emotion. The reason why I chose to write my blog on this subject this week is that over the weekend I was sorting through my wardrobe in preparation for a short weekend holiday and hidden away in between two dark coats were a pair of beige trousers. Before you jump to the conclusion that I remembered immediately where I was when I committed the crime of buying beige trousers, it wasn’t that, I wore those trousers the night a girlfriend who I loved very much, for want of a better phrase, dumped me. At the time I obviously put the trousers away out of sight and even though this was some time ago now I hadn’t found them since. For a few minutes the memory worked in its typical way, I visualized the night, I had smells and sounds appear out of nowhere in my mind, and there were large lumps of haziness between more specific focused memories. (Then I grabbed them and stuffed them in the bin.)
Now the interesting thing for someone who wants to write about emotions is that we often attach significance to moments that probably weren’t there, we go over certain phrases or looks or movements and wonder if that meant something that we missed at the time, we become personal investigators, sleuths combing through the past, but the fun part is that we don’t need a single piece of evidence! We can make it up as we go along, but of course it has to be based on reality, I can alter the past, I can alter the memory, but what I can’t do is alter what humans feel. I need to make it believable and honest but sourced from a creation of my own.
            Another memory I have is of a friend of mine, Ruairi, buying me a present just before my GCSE exams (around 16 years of age, the last compulsory exams we take before leaving school). He bought me a copy of a Tony Buzan book on how to improve your memory, he bought it I think because his sister had a copy and he thought it was great, something like that (memory can be unreliable ;) I read it and really took it in, I used his principles and techniques and it worked, I think it really helped me study for my exams. So there is always the scientific approach, how we can improve our memory and concentration, but in story telling we want to draw on more than just facts and figures, statistics and so on. We need to combine all factors to allow the readers to immerse themselves without being jolted out of the world we have created because something jars with their sense of realism. On top of that I don’t want my stories to be forced in a certain plot direction because I need to add in my own memories so as to write convincingly, I want to create what I feel is right for that story and have the confidence in my writing to take that character somewhere unexpected.
How do we do that then? How do we then recreate from our personal memories, or lessons from memories, for someone else to read that although fiction to them, can easily be their reality, and do justice to that memory, not just describe the situation but really take ourselves back and find that emotion that can deliver a powerful message, can make you feel you are there again, perhaps in a new situation? Actors work hard to be able to draw on memories to not just remember an emotion, say sadness, but to actually feel that emotion again, put them back into that state so it looks, sounds and feels real. For me, as I said above, it is the most challenging of skills but also the most rewarding, I never could have imagined how excited I would get at just the thought of writing, the thought of trying to put my emotions down on the page. Just thinking of a memory, no matter how old, is different for me now, I examine them so much more, it’s almost an assault, I’m not happy until I have battered that memory from all angles to ensure I have gotten all I can from it.
It can be painful, you sometimes don’t realise how things have affected you, how you have stifled a memory because it means more than you allowed yourself to accept at the time. I didn’t want to think of think of the night I mentioned above but the innocuous sight of a pair of trousers made me! I have to learn not to hide from those moments but grasp them and use them.
I have had many such moments over the years. Sorry to say something that sounds quite depressing but I don’t like myself as much as I used to because I realise how badly I have behaved on occasion, or how I have not been the man I thought I was. By forgetting the bad things about us we elevate ourselves to judge and executioner of others, but it doesn’t take much self-reflection to realise that we are not what we think we are. We all have our faults but it is not everyone’s job to remember them and examine them. Maybe that will make me a better writer, I don’t know. Maybe by being honest with myself about times when I didn’t treat people well, or ignored people, or hurt people and admitting my responsibilities, even if they are not so called big deals, I have never killed anyone for instance, that’s an obvious thing to say, but not everything has to be on that scale of impact, we are all hurt by the simple things and in my writing that is what I want to focus on, the pressures we all feel about the everyday. Maybe by opening myself up to my failings (as well as my glorious amazing brilliant side of course ;) I can write honestly, and I really want my writing to be honest, whether it is based on a situation, an experience or a memory of my own, or not.
So I feel that I may not have appreciated my memory enough, I happen to have a pretty good memory and on occasion it drives me mad because I hate not being able to forget things, or the way my brain forces information on to me that I don’t necessarily want, so I have actually wished sometimes to not have such a vivid memory. Now I am taking writing more seriously I do not wish that anymore, as much of a pain in the backside as it can sometimes be, I need it.
So to finish off for the week, a moment of general housekeeping can take you back to painful moments, reading an old notebook can take you back to being a sulky teenager, just talking with friends can remind you of crazy madcap moments long forgotten. That’s how it works, we experience simple things around us every day, but if we are interested in doing something with those moments do we have the inner strength to focus, concentrate, examine, investigate and then tell the world about them? What about that Newton fellow and something about an apple? That seems pretty good story telling.

Hour’s up.


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Monday, 3 December 2012

Writing in the pub (and no TV)

How do I write this without coming across as a lonely, isolated and introverted drunkard?  Perhaps best not to protest too much as they say...No, I’ll stop you there, I am not any of those, full time anyway, in fact I’m going to try and convince you of the merits of something I only started doing this year, something that may easily be seen as those things, but in practice can be the opposite.

It began in a long ago abandoned land, full of dark corners that no stranger should explore…my bedroom. I had decided to write as much as I could and finish my first short story but as a novice and unpracticed at prolonged spells of concentration (even with 6 years of Open University behind me the masterly scholar had not developed, some may say regressed) I was still in the habit of having the television or radio on in the background. I thought I needed something to relax to, something that would avoid the pressure of silence and for a while I managed it. I was so excited by the realization I had found focus to work that my attention wasn’t drawn to watch the television or listen to the radio; it was simply a background hum. That lasted perhaps a couple of weeks. I had the same routine, I would get home from work, have something to eat and then disappear into my bedroom, switch the television or radio on and settle down to write on the laptop.
Then of course, as most of you reading this will predict, the early adrenaline of committed action slowed and I found myself snapping out of ten or twenty minute phases of comatose staring-at-the-telly that I didn’t even realise I was doing…the focus would be broken.
That’s when I decided to get rid of the T.V. You see, the radio wasn’t as much of a problem. Long ago I knew that I could listen to anything without words and still carry on doing whatever I was doing, be that studying, writing or reading. If it was regular radio then I would find myself focusing on the words and there was nothing I could do to prevent it, so I became a bit of a jazz and classical fan. Not so much as I could reel off names to you here, but enough to by several albums and compilations and it really worked, I could and I still can, happily work while lyric-free music plays in the background, in fact it actually helps, I like having music on and jazz and classical can motivate me without being disrupting.  However, the tv was impossible, I don’t need to tell you how easy it is to be hypnotized and I knew that if I wanted to really make the most of the evening hours I couldn’t have that temptation near me. So for the first time I can remember I was without a television set.
It works! I would advise anyone that wouldn’t get lynched by the family for the mere suggestions of it, to get rid of their tv. The evenings now seemed like decent periods of time for myself, rather than just quick nap sessions between work. Now when I got home, I would eat and then go to write and not have the automatic switching on of the tv and my productivity increased dramatically.
Let’s skip forward a month or so and something else now plagues me. Everything at home is how I want it, there are no excuses not to write, there are no interruptions or temptations…in fact, there was no life at all! I had the feeling I was too isolated, there was no movement, no noise, no feeling of time passing. It was strange as it was what I had wanted but it had an unwelcome displacement effect; it was like I was watching myself write from the outside, I was watching the development of my own story. Sounds odd I realise but it was beginning to be a distraction, I felt the pressure of the situation combating my feelings of wanting to still be an active man, going out and seeing friends, going out to eat and things like that. I would stand up sometimes and warn my reflection not to become a hermit, I could see it was easily done, I was having a tough time in my personal life and it was easier to stay in and wish the weeks away than it was to go out and have to pretend I was okay. The danger with that is that I was convincing myself it was the best thing for me, I was more productive and focused than ever, but I was also withdrawing into myself and the balance between feeling good because I was really enjoying the writing and feeling depressed because I felt the best years of my life were slipping away from me was tough.
This is where I was getting to, took a while sorry. The pub. Hear me out before concluding I became a barfly to drink my woes away! It was the opposite I promise!
I still wanted to write but I didn’t want to lock myself away every night so I decided I would see what it was like to try and write in the pub. I am lucky, there is a very nice, quiet and welcoming pub near me that doesn’t have the flashing lights of fruit machines, or have football on big screens, etc. so this was a possibility. If you don’t have one like that near you, then this may not help you out much. I went in one night, laptop in hand and ordered…a coke.
How many of you regularly go into pubs or bars and don’t drink? You may be driving or you may take it in turns with your partner or sometimes just quickly meeting friends before going on somewhere else so on occasion you may just order a soft drink, but let me tell you this, walking into a pub knowing you are going to be there for a few hours, on your own, resisting the urge to order a pint was not easy! I had to start that way though, what I feared was it becoming a replacement for the television, an automatic movement, walk into the pub and order a drink. If I intended on coming here regularly to write I was not going to become an alcoholic. We all know people who drink too much and I’m not going to go into that here but it was something I was not going to let happen to me and if I started off drinking alone then I felt it would be a slippery slope.
So coke in hand I walked to a small table in the corner and opened the laptop. There were a few stares. It was natural and expected. The pub wasn’t packed but there were maybe two dozen people spread around and all of them were drinking and chatting as normal. There was no one else drinking coke in the corner working on a laptop, I was definitely the only one…
It took me mere minutes to relax and get over the fact I had now turned into that person that everyone avoids sitting near when walking into a coffee shop or café or pub (or nutter on a bus as the sketch goes), you know the type, something slightly unsettling about them that just gives off the, ‘sit next to me and I will interact with you.’ You never know what they will do, from just start a conversation to jump on you and start chewing your ears, so you just sit somewhere else and wait for other unsuspecting customers to go near and watch the fall out. Anyway, I was now that person, and I was okay with it because it felt great! I was totally comfortable on my own, I found it very easy to concentrate and the revelation was that the pub became my background noise, just like a tv or radio at home except it wasn’t stealing my attention. I happily typed away while all the clinking of glasses, small chatter and rustling of chairs of people coming and going went on around me.  I felt like I was both part of society and observer at the same time; I wouldn’t get distracted by people’s conversations, in fact I could dip in and out when I wanted, which was fun! There would be some absolute corkers of comment here and there…both pleasant and not so…sometimes funny, sometimes disturbingly stupid but it didn’t matter to me, it was an energy I felt able to draw on while not getting involved. So it had worked, I had found a new place to write.
Alcohol. I didn’t go every night and still don’t, sometimes I feel happy just sitting on my chair and writing at home, sometimes I’m in the library, sometimes I’m in the coffee shop, but when it comes to night time, the only option really is the pub if I want to go outside. Can’t write in the parks or open spaces, it’s too cold this time of year and I can’t write round friend’s houses, it’s chat and dvd time within seconds. So when I can’t settle at home I am confident and happy enough to go to the pub. Now, the first few times went fine and I would either order an orange juice or coke or perhaps a sparkling water and get on with it. Then one night, I was typing away when the urge for a glass of red wine came over me, just a glass I thought, a large glass…maybe two. It must have been one of the nicest glasses of red I’ve ever drank! I was sat there on my own, headphones in, glass in hand and reading through my efforts. The ridiculous nature of the scene then hit me and I got the giggles, what an absolute typical scenario someone thinks of when imagining a writer! I only needed to transfer the scene to a Parisian café or a New York bar and it would have been complete. What on Earth did I think I was doing! I’m a total novice giving off the pretense I’m writing the next Booker winner. That night when I went home, I was slightly intoxicated by both the wine and the sense of place I had given myself. I imagined doing that every night, I imagined not working and having the days to myself wandering around London and then retiring to the pub to write at night, it was a pleasant sensation that was shattered the following morning when popping aspirin and cradling my sore head on the packed rush hour train to work.
So there is a warning. How well do you know yourself? How disciplined are you? How focused on your dreams are you? It’s just like the trap I fell into when I was 18 working in the city. Just because you are working in the city does not mean you are working, ‘in the city’ if you get what I mean. Don’t kid yourself you are further ahead than you actually are and don’t fall into a lifestyle that suits your dreams but not your achievements. After a few nights working in the pub I realised that I couldn’t simply drink every night, even if it just was one glass. There is nothing wrong with that and I’m not preaching anyone on alcohol consumption here but for me it was becoming more about the illusion I was creating than it was the work I was creating. I liked the image of being this lone person writing in the corner with a glass of wine and keeping himself to himself and then when the occasional person asked what I was up to I would say I’m writing. That wasn’t what it was about though, so I refocused and went back to having cokes and juices, and every now and again if I did feel like a pint I would have one, but purely because I felt like it, not because it was a part of my routine. It’s worked out really well, I can get a lot of work done, it’s comfortable, close to my home and it’s nice to be around people rather than isolated all the time. To any writers out there that sometimes feel stuck for a place to work I would recommend it but with a firm proviso, make sure you work! Don’t become one of the regulars and spend an hour chatting to the locals or bar staff before sitting down to write, don’t drink too much if at all, don’t go to a place that isn’t suitable, if it’s got sports on tv or is full of 18 year olds slamming shots then you’ll be too distracted.
Lastly, don’t fool yourself into looking more like a ‘writer’ than actually being a writer. If you haven’t trained properly and you step into the ring you are going to get knocked out. That’s what I tell myself about pretty much everything.

Hour’s up.


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Monday, 26 November 2012

Birthday musings and hello to Rufus Garlic

Wow. First an apology! It’s been over a month since my last blog! I’m sorry for such a long delay. There has been so much going on and I lost my way a bit…Where to start? Well, let’s start with the good stuff, can I please welcome Rufus Garlic to Thinking Plainly!

Rufus Garlic

Rufus is a new author publishing for the first time and his debut novel ‘The Disappearance Club or A Polish Detective in London’ will be released soon on Kindle. I am over the moon to be able to work with Rufus and I am looking forward to the coming months working through the release of his book. Rufus is on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and can be reached from the Contacts page on the Thinking Plainly website. He has only recently joined these sites so please bear with him while he gets to grips with getting to know you all. I will be making formal announcements about the release date of his book and other information shortly via Facebook but for the time being why don’t you read a synopsis:


The Disappearance Club or A Polish Detective in London

Janek Lipsz sets up a business to help people run away from intolerable and frustrating lives and to set up new ones elsewhere. Unfortunately he cannot escape his own past or the guilt he carries within. After thirty years a woman arrives at his Disappearance Club door and she forces this past and this guilt to the surface.
Fate cannot be avoided, not even in the suburbs of south-east London, but is forgiveness possible? The woman comes armed for revenge. Unexpectedly she warms towards Janek and he falls in love with her, but is this enough for her to let fall the knife she has sharpened for him?
The reader is taken through a harrowing journey as the good, humorous, kind-hearted Janek’s past is revealed. The prose, initially light, becomes darker. This mirrors the central theme: it is easy to be a moral man when times are good. But what about when one’s back is against the wall? What about in 1940s occupied Poland when survival depends upon individuals not being moral? And should a man still pay in 1977 for what he did more than thirty years before?
This is a story of guilt expiated, of forgiveness given and withheld, of crimes and   consequences. It is story of redemption and the struggle for truth. No one character knows where all the pieces lie or all the skeletons are buried, but as they discover more about one another, they discover more about what happened one dark night in 1943. They also realise that time weaves a continuous thread through their lives and mutual pasts, so that no single moment in the present can ever truly be said to be free of the shadows of war and the atrocities of war.
No one who knows Janek in peacetime London would recognise the wartime Janek.  Janek’s problem is that he knows both men intimately and that a woman has found him who thinks she knows both. She seems committed to her revenge but whose understanding of the past will bear closest scrutiny when they return to Poland?


On the author page of the Thinking Plainly website you can find a short biography of Rufus. Hope you find time to learn more about him.


So back to my apology

I hope you understand that working with Rufus has taken up a lot of time but it has been a fantastic experience so although I feel bad for missing blogging, it has been more than worth it.  I haven’t been writing at all recently but I’m not beating myself up too much, I have been thinking a lot about things. (Thinking takes up a lot of time doesn’t it!) When I set up Thinking Plainly as a vehicle to publish my short stories, I did it to push me, to stop giving myself excuses, I figured that once I told people about it properly I couldn’t go back on it. So my initial plans were to write a story every month, publish it and on to the next…well, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way! I have around ten stories or so in development and I am happy that my desire to write has only got stronger, but I am also really enjoying the opportunities that have opened up to me. Actually, they are not opportunities; it is more that my mindset sees all thoughts as possibilities. Now the step has been taken to put myself out there I have lost all sense of limit, I don’t feel the need to question whether or not something can be done, I just ask myself if I like the idea, and if I do, then on my list it goes. I’m saying this because all the advice people give about making sure to write everyday and similar I fully agree with, however, I want to say that if you don’t write everyday then instead make time to think clearly everyday. Everyone has pressures, work, family, health…it’s hard to get that hour down, or find that quiet space and so it has been with me, I have spent my time working with Rufus, working on my website, marketing, day job pressures, etc. but the thing that has taken up the most time, is rolling around new ideas in my head. I don’t feel that time is wasted, I am further behind with my next story than I would have liked, but I am far in advance of where I thought I would be with my plans for Thinking Plainly Limited.  So I guess I am saying always try to be productive, but don’t get depressed if that productivity can’t be measured by a word count, if whatever you have been doing moves you forward in life, no matter how tentatively, that has been time well spent.

Here are a few other things I’d like to share with you:

Media Page

I am really excited by plans for new exclusive content on the Media page of the Thinking Plainly website. I will keep you posted on the development of films, audio clips, photo galleries and how you can get involved.

Student Talk

I gave a talk to some 6th form students at a local college a few weeks ago. It was about how you can treat your hobbies as ‘professional hobbies’. It was hugely nerve wracking and I think I probably repeated all the boring stuff and missed out all the interesting stuff but never the less I really enjoyed it. It made me think about what the opportunities are now that weren’t there when I was at school, the same goes for every generation I’m sure, but in the light of developments within social media it was amazing to see how much potential students have to make progress with their talents. If you ever need encouragement just think what you can do now that was once almost science fiction, then make sure you don’t take it for granted! I felt refreshed walking out of the college, it reminded me of how lucky we are to be in a position to make things happen for ourselves…and if that isn’t enough, just remember how lucky you are not to be back in school ;)

Turning 33

I firmly set foot into my thirties this week. Unfortunately I managed to pick up a bug that meant I was sick in bed all day with a temperature so it wasn’t exactly a rock’n’roll occasion. It did however give me a chance to reflect on the year gone by and without getting too personal, it has been fairly rough and there have been times when I have struggled to remain positive, but again, keeping with what I have already said, just because you haven’t go to where you want to be, doesn’t mean you haven’t progressed and in writing terms I am more confident than ever. The more you think about what you want to do and the more you believe it can be realised, the more time seems to disappear!

So combine that all together and it’s been a good couple of months overall even though there isn’t anything physical to show for it! Hold that thought however, in the coming months there will be lots happening, Rufus’s novel, my short stories and a whole bunch of ways you can interact with us.

While I am on a general muse then I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one who has followed me and Thinking Plainly Limited on our various sites, it really has been amazing to meet so many different people from all over the world. The website still has a few tweaks to be made but I hope you like the new look, let me know what you think? I’ll be keeping up my regular posting to my social media sites with links to various creative news so I hope they are of interest to you, if you haven’t connected with me yet, please feel free to do so, all the links are on the right hand side of this blog, or on the Contacts page of the website. 

Update over and out, normal blogging will resume next week!


P.S: Please join me on all my social media pages:
And Author Profile Pages to keep informed of the latest releases: