The strange anomaly that is the ‘clique’

According to one dictionary definition I’ve found – and from what I’ve seen they all say more or less the same thing – a clique is determined as the following:

clique [kliːk klɪk]


a small, exclusive group of friends or associates

[from French, perhaps from Old French: latch, from cliquer to click; suggestive of the necessity to exclude nonmembers]

cliquish adj

cliquishly adv

cliquishness n

Sometime, I don’t know when, the term ‘clique’ became something very negative. Something to frown upon. I understand why, of course, but from where I’m standing, when you get right to the root of it, it’s anything but.

One thing I think we all need to admit is that every single one of us is part of a clique. Unless you’re willing to seal yourself in a room and exist without any form of communication whatsoever, it’s impossible not to be.

Why do I think this point needs making? Because all too often I hear people talking about how something is “clique-ey” (the wrong terminology according to the above examples; I have to admit, though, that until today I had absolutely no idea that you could do something cliquishly!) in a negative way. Like it’s something they could never be a part of.

Wake up: the reason you feel like that, if you feel like that, I’m guessing, is probably because you’re not in the clique you’re observing. If you were then you’d feel all warm and fuzzy and Acknowledged. Loved. Isn’t that why we hang around in groups? Isn’t that why all of us carefully select — inadvertently, subconsciously, however it may be —  some people and not others? Humans are pack animals, it’s the way we’ll be until some immense evolutionary change takes place, for the good or the better, so next time you find yourself hating a certain clique, look at it from another perspective: that of someone who is on the inside peering out.


When I decided I wanted to become a ‘real’ freelance writer, I had absolutely nothing to lose. My bank account was zero — it would have been less than zero, but my bank manager refused to give me an overdraft of even £10… — I had no other work commitments, and my days were spent writing a novel and only writing a novel (well, sometimes I watched TV, but mainly I just threw myself into the book as a way of keeping myself busy). Anyone who says you don’t need money is lying and has money. Without it, life can be very grim indeed…

At the same time, I feel utterly ridiculous about complaining. The area where I live is about as middle-class as it gets. Sure, the remains of working-class Britain are all around me — in the park with the 1980s play-area which stands like a grim reminder and is rarely used, for instance — but nobody in my street is going to starve.If they are it’s their own stupid fault — Waitrose is 15 minutes away for anyone who can be arsed.

So, I had nothing to lose. And it was then that I came up with a tactic for getting freelance work. Or, what some might call A CRAZY SCHEME. Rather than answering numerous Gumtree ads — a technique which had proved relatively pointless, because, as any fledgling writer knows, it’s almost impossible to get paid for writing when you’re completely inexperienced in the professional field — I decided to go straight for the business jugular: the companies out there that might want a writer like me.

So that’s exactly what I did. I wrote a basic form letter, adjusted it as I landed on various web-sites — I began with furniture-making companies, as I noticed many of them had utterly rubbish content which could be greatly improved — and sent a lot of emails.

By a lot I mean thousands. I can’t remember how many exactly, but it had to have been at least 3,000. In the end I lost count.

What happened next?

I received emails, and not all of them were friendly.

In fact…around 70% of them were along the lines of “please don’t ever contact us ever again.”

Emphasis on the ever.

I won’t lie, I was disheartened. It came as a blow. Had I expected a thousand people to write back demanding I start writing content right away? No. But equally I hadn’t anticipated such a barrage of negativity. It wasn’t like I was selling Viagra or printer cartridges made out of organic Amazonian tree-matter. Or Japanese-lady-boys.

Thinking about it now, the Amazonian tree-matter thing isn’t such a bad idea after all…

Then, one day, a week or so after those manic days of emailing, something amazing happened.

If I’d have had access to a large boat I’d have gone to the front — along the way grabbing any woman who was available, and wasn’t scared of water, of course — and done a Titanic “I’m the King of the world!”

I had to read the email twice. It was just too…positive. This email was very different to the others. It wasn’t a Yes, exactly, but it also wasn’t a direct No. Instead, it was something in-between. In the long-run, it transpired that it would be the start of a great working relationship between me and a fine furniture-making company — one who I have now written numerous articles and web-site copy for.

The lesson? Persistence pays. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. They are completely and utterly wrong.

Unless they’ve been trying to shift Viagra…

Never underestimate people: 1) you have to love them readers

All too often I read an interview with an independent novelist and see something along the lines of: I did it all myself. The writing, the editing, even the formatting!

The exclamation point is justified. After writing a book entirely on your own, and spending what may be years — in any case, countless hours — huddled over your laptop or pad of paper, you can put whatever the hell you want at the end of a sentence like that. I believe you’ve earned it.

But one thing I don’t think you should do is keep your work entirely to yourself before you publish. For some reason — or maybe several reasons — many independent writers feel that they can produce a decent piece of work without having it vetted before it goes out into the world. I won’t lie, there may have been a time when I thought similarly, but after my experience with The Number 3 Mystery Book, where more than a couple of people played a vital role in reading and reviewing, I wouldn’t dream of releasing a novel any other way.

As I’ve mentioned in the Thanks section of the book, people like Duncan Kerr, Will Fairweather and Yasmin Selena — herself a talented writer — did an amazing job of pointing things out which I could never have spotted. For example, even though he’s not a writer, Dunc pointed out the contrast between light and dark in the book, and that the piece as a whole might benefit some from being made a bit smoother, while Will spurred me on during one month where I was beginning to think the whole thing was a waste of my time. At the end of the writing process, Yasmin was amazing. She read the novel in just a couple of days and gave me detailed feedback on everything from spelling and grammar — it wasn’t perfect… — to style and flow. And that isn’t it by a long shot. There were many other people besides that who played a part. (And I could go on all day about the many fine people who have already read / are presently reading the book and enjoying it.)

I wasn’t going to write this post — I’m conscious that I don’t want to ram my novel down peoples’ throats — but now I have I hope it might help some people. Just know one thing: you can only get better by showing others your work. Never be ashamed of what you have produced, and chances are that someone out there will love it too.

More coming soon on the marketing campaign surrounding my book. People have been asking me how that’s going, so I’m going to give it to them. For now, goodbye!

The conclusive post on alien existence and the unknown

This photo was taken by a kayacker on Lake Windermere — using a camera phone — in late 2010 / early 2011 (I think). It’s authentic, according to the experts. The only problem is that the phone’s file size was so small that they couldn’t tell if it’d been Photoshopped or not.

The other evening I found myself in a situation which is all too common: me on the one side, defending my opinion on aliens and unknown creatures, and my friends on one side, attacking me with their full-force, largely ignorant-of-any-research-or-knowledge attitude. Their argument, though riddled with holes and generally resorting to the weakest form of reasoning, was, much to my irritation, a good one. One that has stalled seasoned experts in their tracks and left them sweating: “you don’t know anything for sure, so shut up!”

These kind of arguments are unsurprisingly common when you’ve just published a novel on Amazon which is very much about Cryptozoological animals and the unknown (as well as being a comedy with great feedback so far from a wide range of ages, if you didn’t know!). Due to my enthusiasm for all things unknown-and-alien-related, I have to endure at least one argument every week, sometimes more. It’s a hard life when you’re fighting what feels like an entire planet of disbelievers…

My problem is I never learn. I always resort to the same points. I’ve said them so many times, in fact, that now all I have to do is open my mouth and it all comes tumbling out.

(And yes, I know I’ve probably single-handedly stopped my very-infant career as a novelist in its tracks, but that’s a risk I am willing to take. It’s an easily calculated risk when your book sales will likely never allow you to buy more than one decent meal every month, right?)

So, the main points I always resort to. Oh, and before we go any further I should say that this isn’t really the conclusive post on alien existence and the unknown. I just wrote that to get your attention, and you have to admit it worked, don’t you?

My goodness I feel smug right now after writing that sentence. You should try it sometime.

So, the points I always bring up:

1) The universe is really quite big. End of point one.

2) We are just a collection of what we call ‘brains’ in bodies. These brains, incredible and fantastic as they are, see things in a certain way. What we see is not necessarily all of what is there, though (and I say this without any scientific evidence to back it up). It may, in fact, only be a fraction of what is there, or a large amount of what is there. The problem is, we can’t see what we can’t see. We’d need someone else to conclusively tell us, and even if they did we probably wouldn’t trust that someone (or something). But then again, it wouldn’t be our fault. It’d probably be a large slimy creature.

3) Our technology is powerful, wonderful, astonishing, but it’s a long way off from being good enough to examine large bodies of water with any real conviction: this point always causes a huge-argument-flair-up. I quite like it actually. But think about it: Loch Ness, for example, is freakishly enormous. It is 23 miles long, 1 mile wide at its most, 600 feet deep or thereabouts, and has a surface area of21.8 square miles. In other words, it’s a bit of a whopper. Now, forget your opinion on the actual Nessie sightings over the years, and let’s look at this logically. If you wanted to scan that amount of water for a creature the length of a couple of cars, say, where would you begin? You could start at one end and go slowly, hoping you uncover something in the murky green waters that resembles a creature, but would that be a wise idea? Unlikely. It’d take you a hell of a long time — it has taken a number of researchers a hell of a long time already, as you probably already know — and you’d almost certainly turn up nothing. Does this mean that the Loch is not home to some kind of large creature? Of course not. Just remember: your house is full of spiders which you will never see, but that doesn’t mean they’re not actually there.

Experimental air-craft built by Canada between 1958 and 1959

4) “If I don’t see it with my own eyes, I won’t believe it.” I always love this one. It has to be possibly the stupidest thing anyone has ever said, apart from “I do love getting out of bed early in the morning”, “I love a bit of cabbage” or “Who is Led Zeppelin?” (I once met a man in Germany who had never heard of Led Zeppelin. And yes, I am being serious.)

Now, I haven’t seen Africa, or the first episode of Coronation Street, but I know that Africa exists, and that that first episode was indeed shot. I also haven’t seen the dog that walks around our village which my friend Dave says has a “human-looking backside”, but I know with reasonable certainty that this dog does indeed have a human arse (Dave doesn’t lie about things like that; and yes, why he was looking at a dog’s bum so much is highly questionable and I do try and stay away from him as much as possible, less I get infected).

…Or do I know these things? Well, in all likelihood, no, not if we’re going by the stupid rule that opened point 3 — I just have always assumed Africa must exist because there are flights there, and…well, it’s Africa! This is, of course, what makes it so difficult to work out whether we believe something abstract like a creature dwelling in a lake.

The fourth part of this point is imagine manipulation. Once anything is recorded — either digitally or in any other way — it becomes information, not proof. What this means is that anyone can video or photograph anything and then it’s perfectly understandable that someone else will stand up and say “That can’t be true, it’s been manipulated”.

Really, you can never know if anything is actually for sure, can you? Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and decide whether you believe something.

4) Politics: you can disagree with me if you like, but I think that it all comes down to politics. Everything. The whole human-world is dominated by all kinds of people who want very different things. The knock-on effect of this is that one decision can make one person rich or another quite poor. Take looking for the Yeti as a good example. Yeti’s have allegedly been seen in the highest places in the world, such as the Himalaya (the original name, as opposed to the westernized one which adds an s). Unfortunately, though, looking for Yeti’s in the highest places in the world is tough for two very good reasons, and nothing like a leisurely tramp in the countryside: 1) the mountains border a number of countries –Nepal and Tibet to name but two out of six — and all the countries have different rules and regulations, and basically hate each other. Even now many of them don’t allow expeditions into places where sightings have occurred, and, if they do, they tend to have such strict policies enforced that finding anything of any use is close to impossible. 2) the terrain where sightings have occurred is extremely inhospitable — to the point where climbing it at such a high level would be suicide. This means that very often tracks can’t be seen, or if tracks are made — by any animal — they vanish before any evidence can be obtained.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that 98% of what’s claimed to be evidence of extra-terrestrial life / evidence of unknown animals is a lie. I just don’t think we can or should rule out that unknown 2%, do you?

Blue Valentine (the movie): what’s your opinion?

You don’t have to go very far to see how different people’s opinions on domestic abuse are. They range just as wildly as anything. After I’d watched Blue Valentine — the Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams (from Dawson’s Creek) film which caused such a stir when it came out in 2010 — I found myself on IMDB wanting to see what other people made of the film. Considering what I’d just taken in, parts of which horrified me no small amount, I was mildly surprised by what I found: a few people wondering what all the fuss was / is about, as if domestic abuse is something which always comes delivered in a fist and nothing else.

I don’t want to spoil the film for those people who haven’t seen it yet, but I think I can get away with saying this: Blue Valentine has a certain impact which, irrelevant of your opinion, is unmistakable. While there is no blood and very little actual violence, what does resonate powerfully is the contrast between the two time-lines which run parallel to one another throughout the entire film. As you follow the couple’s relationship in its earliest days, pre-marriage, and at the same time see the effect of certain events years later, you can’t help but experience a wave of emotions. Or at least I couldn’t. Because of this, Blue Valentine is both beautiful and nightmarish and in places wonderfully tender. In short, you really do feel as though the relatively small number of moments we the viewers get to witness provide a formula which will stay with you. After I’d turned the film off, I found that the seed began to grow, the formula expanding, allowing me to see everything in-between that the movie had alluded to.

Also impressive is Gosling and Williams’s on-screen relationship. Even in its dullest moments they are scintillatingly believable together, and the performances all-round match-up just as well.

Inhabiting a genre which is unlikely to be crowded for a long time to come — in fact, thinking in terms of genre, I struggle to think of more than 5 other films which fit neatly in — Blue Valentine could have easily been forgettable and all-too-easily brutal. Instead, and thanks to probably one of the best dramatic performances in recent years — you’ll know the scene when you see it — I can see people talking about this film in 10 or 20 years to come, and, when they do, the style the film was shot in — as if an invisible documentary maker was following the couple round at all times — will remain weirdly memorable.