Swearing as a bad thing: it’s about time we got the fuck over it

Beautiful bastard

It’s true: if some people are right — we’ll come to how I think they’re largely misguided, silly, deluded or just plain wrong in a few paragraphs’ time — I may be about to single-handedly destroy any credibility and professionalism I may have built up as a freelance copywriter over the past few years; so writing this blog post now at a time of record economic hardship for people my age is a fine idea I think you’ll agree (notice the double use of May there — I’m not that confident about what I do and to be honest, I worry about anyone who is). How? By openly saying how I think swearing, cursing and cussing can be a good thing sometimes, of course. I am such a maverick, what can I say. And yes, for the sake of less hassle this is, I suppose, a kind of disclaimer: as if you hadn’t guessed by now, the following post you are about to read contains lots and lots of swear words, hopefully in what you’ll consider is the right context (unless I’m trying to make a point of using them in the wrong context, but don’t worry, I’ll warn you just so that if your mother-in-law is reading this and she’s a pain, she’ll not be led into doom intentionally, although you may wish I had in some cases, no doubt). This post contains even the really bad swear words which some people have multiple aneurysms over, it’s true! So don’t waste your time writing to me to complain about all the swearing and bad language, and how you thought I was better than that, etc, because you’ll wake up one day and realise you’ve been a silly boy or girl (or you won’t. Won’t realise you’ve been a fool, I mean. I wouldn’t wish anyone not to wake up — that’s just cruel. It’s not in my nature).

When I’m not getting existential, or worrying about how far gone this planet is, or what might happen if Mitt Romney gets into power — believe it or not but it’s a very real possibility right now — I’m a simple man: I like it when it rains very, very hard and I am not in it – especially when I am not in it. I like finding long-forgotten money in pockets – I don’t know why but the scrunched-up nature of five-pound-notes makes them all the more compelling. I like books, theatre and films which don’t hold back, for the right reasons — I prefer to stay away from shit ones, although some might argue that point after I bought both a Jaws box-set without the original Jaws in, and The Descent 2 because it was part of a box-set, in the same year. And sometimes, purely for the fun of it, and because it’s allowed, and because we live in a country that is actually quite good in numerous ways that we keep conveniently forgetting while the rest of the planet tears itself to pieces, I like swearing. I’m not ashamed to admit it, and I don’t think you should be either.

People have warned me about writing things like this. Intelligent people. People who may have a point. People with degrees (silence…joke!). They’ve actually told me that I’m not supposed to say I like swearing or advocate its usage, as this could be a bad decision that will come to haunt me in years or even months time (I’ll let you know). These people, who will remain nameless — mainly because I am hopeless with remembering names, which is lucky for them — have explained to me on several occasions that writing about things like this is a bad/risky idea, for several reasons which I have examined and come to the conclusion are actually quite valid. Such as what I’ve basically been saying, which is more or less that:

1: Swearing makes you look un-professional.

2: Swearing gives the wrong impression and the same thing can be said with better, more intelligently thought-out words.

I say bullshit, that’s not always the case. So now I’m breaking all the rules and I feel like Ross Kemp from Ross Kemp On Gangs in those really risky moments when he says “I think I’m being rumbled…it’s time to go…”. My opinion is this: in the right circumstances, swearing can be really fucking great, and I see absolutely no reason to stop doing it any time soon. Unless I get no work as a copywriter ever again, in which case I might tone it down a bit.

And anyway, me being me, why would I? I’m on a strict no-chocolate-no-cake diet for the next 5 months, you know, and thanks to plain bad luck I also have a condition which means I’m banned from drinking alcohol (I’m not an alcoholic — my body just can’t process it so it poisons me, honest). Sometimes, swearing and telling myself that cake and chocolate doesn’t really exist are the only things that get me through the day.

Who started the argument that swearing in films, theatre and literature is morally wrong? I don’t know, but they were probably religious. But let’s not get bogged down in the religion debate — we’d be here all day. Instead, let’s clamber out of that potential quagmire and into the relative safety of how swearing can be positive (safe while I’m writing this blog post, at least).

Not only is swearing immensely pleasurable to do – in the right circumstances, and within the appropriate context – but it is also an extremely important and historic art-form which has been practiced by many ancient civilizations and perfected by northerners and criminals and Ray Winstone. Go back through the ages and you’ll find all kinds of people from all kinds of classes have enjoyed the rebel-taboo of swearing, purely for swearing’s sake. My teachers at school said swearing wasn’t big or smart or clever but what the fuck did they know? They were wrong, of course, and probably lying just to conform to school rules, because when used properly, swearing is an absolutely essential addition to whatever you are doing. I believe it’s a fact when I say that without swearing, the world would be a dimmer and far less exciting place. It might also mean a world filled with even more horrendous non-stop violence, which is basically unthinkable if you live in a world where Mitt Romney is already imaginary president. I mean…can you actually imagine what someone might be driven to do if they couldn’t vent themselves with a few awful words? You probably wouldn’t even make it to the bus-stop. New parents with toddlers who carelessly left their Lego on the stairs the night before likely wouldn’t even make it to the kitchen without killing one another…

But there are exceptions. It’s not cool, for example, to sit on a bus with your friend and swear loudly in the company of mothers, children and people who you do not know and may not want to hear those kinds of things while going through a divorce, or pondering what the hell they’re going to do with themselves until their new iphone 5 arrives in the post. It’s also not cool to swear for the sake of it in a way which makes no sense whatsoever, or to do it just to impress others with how vulgar you can be when your talents lie elsewhere – choose your words carefully, unless you’re in a vulgar-words competition for fifty-thousand-pounds and you really need the money after blowing it all on hard drugs, in which case go fucking mental. In some cases, I’ll admit it: swearing is the worst thing in the world and serves no purpose other than to anger and frustrate those around you. As you won’t be surprised to hear, I never swear to my copywriting clients or to anyone I don’t know reasonably well. If they swear at me in an email then I might swear back in jest, though, just to prove that I can be on their level and also a professional. On rare occasions, this green-light of approval is just what I need and a welcome break from having to phrase things in ways which require a lot of mental energy. Sometimes it’s just a hell of a lot easier to say Fuck.

Then there are times when only swearing will do and that’s a fact.

I can remember the period of time when, as a child, I learned that my father swore just like everyone else did. Up until that time – I was around eight or nine, I think – the Shit word, whenever so much as mouthed, created a vortex of angry faces and severe punishment for the perpertrator. Anyone conjuring this sickening demon was immediately told-off and made to promise that it would never again be mentioned in the house or anywhere. Then, one day, I was at one end of the room and my dad and granddad were at the other and I suppose they thought I wasn’t listening. “…The fucking thing doesn’t work!” my dad was saying to granddad, as they attempted – feebly and without any logic, I think it’s fair to say – to fix the bastard curtain-rail, despite the case that even a child could see they had not a bloody clue what the hell they were doing. Fucking was a new one and I liked it very much – it sounded great: much more powerful than Shit, and about a billion-times more potent than the much less impressive Crap. After Fucking, Crap just sounded pointless and shit. I was so enamored that I made a point of using it the following day at school not once but twice in the company of adults. It was so potent that it made one of my teachers — nobody liked her as she taught my worst enemy, numbers, and she was said to have the worst Poo breath imaginable — smile in a way that made me think she had just miraculously broken her back.

Fortunately, I do remember some things.

So there we were, rescued by Fucking. A breath of fresh-air which us insult-hungry kids all sorely needed.

Not that I knew what the mysterious Fucking meant…

I had not the slightest clue what Fucking was about until a boy from the year above told me. It sounded horrific and bizarre…two people body-parting each other — that was the term he used and as you can see it has stood the test of time very well — in the mysterious adult  intercourse way, again and again until a weird kind of intimate pleasure was achieved (so they said — it sounded ridiculous, too ridiculous for adults, even). As a nine-year-old with much better things to do, the Fucking made me feel quite sick.

For a long time after that I knew swearing to be fun, hideous, vulgar and without any sense — but still really fun. It was the bad thing adults did…the thing people did when they had nothing good to say. But still lots of fun! So when I arrived at secondary school and found that everyone was doing it, some quite artfully, really giving it their all and being inventive, it really messed with the logic that both my parents and society had instilled in me. Suddenly here I was: surrounded by swearers, and lots of new words which were brutal. Fucking was still definitely up there as one of the firm favourites of the time, but there was a new word around and it was CUNT.

People said CUNT not cunt, I found. If they did say cunt then their face would kind of stretch and pull the word out of its filthy shell, until it was in capital letters and everyone around was either grim-faced (they didn’t know it) or smiling (they knew it and had said it and loved it).

After CUNT, the world just wasn’t the same again. Fucking, Shit and CUNT was the mandatory vocabulary for all from that point on. Aside from being bullied like crazy and still being cataclysmically awful at maths, life was really good.

Let’s do an experiment. Go outside, where there are adults, and shout “Cunt!” Go on, if you can and if your boss isn’t looking, I dare you. Chances are, unless a parade of school-children were walking by or you were stupid/spontaneous enough to not check for police — or those ones who look like police but are actually Community Support Officers, or something — nobody really noticed. Whatever the case, they’ll have probably assumed the worst, anyway: they either thought something terrible happened to you or they thought you were Dom Joly doing a new series (in some cities which are more switched-on about mental illness, they may even ask you if you are OK. Unless you’re in London, in which case that’s not likely to happen).

Why didn’t anyone give a shit? Because most adults know that if someone shouts “Cunt!” in the street very loudly with total lack of inhibition, they are either happy, drunk, very broken mentally or on drugs. It’s 2012, right? The fact is, the world is still far away from achieving peace, people are more concerned about things they should and should not be concerned with, and swearing really isn’t that offensive any more, providing it’s done well. In fact, it’s part of modern human nature to swear. Far as I can see, it’s the people who don’t swear every now and again who look a bit weird. Or maybe not weird, but way too together to not have teleported here from some other much less stressful future time or dimension. If they did, lucky them but I’d still prefer to remain in this one — unless in theirs you can eat chocolate and cake and drink alcohol and nothing happens to you…although that might not be ideal for everyone, mainly alcoholics.

As for the argument that swearing is something people do when they have nothing better to do, well, I think that’s a load of bollocks. 1) busy people with no time seem to swear more than anyone else, 2) plenty of smart people swear and enjoy doing so and 3) — and this is a BIG 3 — no succession of words can deliver the same powerful blow that a carefully placed Fuck or Cunt can. Seriously, just ask Ray Winstone. You may not like the words, you may not want to hear them, you may feel like someone’s just dropped a snake in your naked lap, but try arguing that point next time you stand on a nail. I think we both know that you’re not going to win.

Aside from all this, swearing, whether you like doing or hearing it or not, is an intrinsic part of everyday life for most of the thinking population — it’s just many of them might only swear while on their own attempting to configure an irritating Powerpoint presentation or cook a boiled-egg for the first time and keep the yoke all runny (how I’m jealous of those who go for a non-runny yoke…). Australian outback tribes may not swear as we know it, seemingly setting a good example, but I’m willing to bet that over the past few thousand years they’ve invented their own unique ways of getting the same point across. Books, theatre and movies are a reflection of life, and so it makes sense that they should be accurate — that’s what I’m trying to say. And don’t try telling me that you can replace swear words with lesser equivalents, because unless you’re Nabokov — and even he liked a swear or three — that’s a load of bollocks, too. Come on now, even Nigella swears!

Equally bollocks is the notion that spelling swear words in print-form with asterisks for the missing characters is somehow better and more appropriate than printing the entire word without. To me, calling a character in a novel a f**king c**t couldn’t be more offensive. Not only is this ruining the flow and power of the words, but it’s making me question why the hell the asterisks are even there, seeing as it’s obvious what I’m reading and would only cause a child to ask even more unsettling questions if he or she did come across it (which would be your fault for leaving the book open, if that was where they got it from). I then laugh or get frustrated at wondering why the asterisks were even used and this ruins everything. By that time, I’m pissed-off with the author and fed-up with the publisher for being such a bloody pussy.

Don’t like swearing? Then read books and go to theatre shows and watch films which aren’t accurate portrayals of real-life situations. Miss out on a whole world of rich, diverse language, simply because you felt a little awkward. Just don’t complain when you realise something huge is missing and you’ve just wasted 5 hours of your life.

After reading all that, I suppose it’s possible you might think I’m always swearing. That I can’t go ten minutes without shouting my mouth off. Except like many advocates of a damn good swear session, that’s not the truth. I like a good swear as much as the next man, but I’m much more selective than I used to be at 14, you know, and I also go easy on it on Facebook and other social media sites, as I’m well aware that in many situations it is simply unecessary. I also don’t drink alcohol ever, as I said, which limits my Friday-night-swearing moments dangerously enough that if I’m the company of northerners, they are in complete disgust.

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Some Men Think Female Writers Have It Easier: Here’s Why I Disagree

EL James…the woman who single-handedly reminded housewives everywhere what naughty naughty sex is all about. Notice the work I have done on her cleavage. And no, she’s not supposed to be a Simpsons character, but I can see where you’re coming from

You look at the facts — no, let’s get this straight from the beginning…what you believe are the facts — and it’s easy to form a solid, unshakeable opinion when it comes to writing and the sexes. It’s an enormously biased one which focuses solely on one side of the argument, and very quickly you’re convinced: women writers have it easy, or easier, while male writers — excluding the big names — struggle to get their voices heard. The more you think it, the more frustrated you become. Soon, everything you see in life supports this claim, and anyone questioning you is clearly wrong. Female writers? They don’t know how lucky they have it.

I know this because for some time, up until relatively recently, I had been convinced that female writers had it somewhat easier when it comes to gaining attention and the like. My reasoning? Like many, it was the following simplistic world view:

1) Women make up the majority of novel/short story readers on this planet: fact.

2) Many literary agents are female (the exact number is highly debateable, as is their precise level of sway within an industry which is difficult to pin-down and almost impossible to predict).

3) All over the internet, female writing groups are appearing. I doubt anyone would argue with me that the number of female-specific groups largely outweighs male-centric groups. Suddenly, being a female writer is rife with opportunity.

4) Women are (arguably) generally better at offering emotional support — although statistics show that in reality, men are as likely to be empathic as women — and doing this in a productive way which benefits everyone in a group, both on and offline. This alone (apparently) makes being a female writer preferable — commercially speaking — to being a male writer. In short: if you’re trying to sell your debut novel to the world, it’s quite likely that the support of your fellow sex will come in very handy. Even if you are an experienced writer, writing is constantly in a state of flux, so at any time you need all the help you can get.

These are the main reasons. There are many more besides but the point remains the same: on the surface, it would appear that women are at a serious advantage and that men haven’t got a hope in hell. I don’t blame men for thinking this — I know the frustration of breaking through as much as any male writer — although I would urge them to consider all perspectives before they start speaking of this situation as if it is fact.

Thing is, I just don’t believe it now. Another thing is this: I’m getting sick of hearing men complain about it. Here’s why (in relation to the aforementioned points) I think we all need to stop and consider this argument. Maybe then we can work together and not apart.

1) So what if the majority of readers are women? It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. A good book is a good book, and to say that women only read female fiction is an outrage and a lie (if you need further convincing, look at the new-style crime-fiction which many women have taken to both reading and writing). I haven’t conducted a survey, but I am willing to say in writing here that there are millions of women who like to read every kind of genre — thrillers, comedies, history and non-fiction as well as chick-lit. If this fact is true, then, in my opinion, it makes a mockery of the argument that men are at a disadvantage. Publishing may be unequal in many respects, often favouring men — in particular with the books that get reviewed by the biggest publications out there — but that doesn’t mean that every aspect is.

Another important thing to consider, like it or not — and I can only assume that some male writers reading this will not like it — is this: traditionally speaking, women are more in-tune with their feelings, and this is something which I believe is essential for writing of any kind. Could the reason some male writers feel downtrodden be the simple fact that they simply lack the emotional insight that makes writing of this nature possible? I know I’m going to piss a few people off by saying that, but here’s the thing: don’t take it personally. This isn’t an attack on male writers, it’s merely an investigation into what’s really going on here, or what might be in some situations. My point, then, is this: if you’re not able to write about the emotions and inner-world of your characters — more than that: their relationship with the world and the intense kind of thoughts which we all have yet don’t always make public — then your books probably won’t appeal to a large percentage of women out there who make up your potential audience. But there’s no need to panic. There are numerous genres which do not capitalise on this standpoint, and plenty of male writers have success each and every year with books that are a million miles away from the label of chick-lit. Many of these books are written with men in mind, and there are numerous examples of male writers — such as Wilbur Smith — who cater for this audience (or could be seen to).

Even if all this were not true, there are still a lot of male readers out there with big reading habits. Look at the enormous success of Fight Club and you will see that the book had a lot in common with much of women’s grittier fiction. Dark as it was, the writing was about what really mattered to men and this is what people want to see. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female as far as I am concerned: readers will always want to read books which they connect with. This is our ultimate challenge, and gender stereotyping doesn’t have to get in the way of it.

2) If you’re worrying about sending your manuscript to a female literary agent and it being rejected because you are male, stop it, wipe that out of your mind right now. You have much bigger things to worry about and they are not going away any time soon. It won’t be rejected because you are male — probably, unless your work is deemed repulsive or disrespectful to women and that agent found it especially offensive —  it’ll be rejected because it just wasn’t good enough. Fact. If a female writer produces a better novel than you do, one which is believed to have a better chance of commercial success, then it will almost certainly be accepted. Of course, there are holes in this argument: the agent might be looking for another female writer, or she might simply be of a disposition which makes her more likely to choose a book which is traditionally more female (although I don’t like that term: I think it’s condescending. Male and female attributes can be interchangeable after all, and there is absolutely no reason to suggest that a man cannot write the kind of story which women want to read). Complicating matters further is the fact that just as there are sexist males out there, there are sexist females who just won’t get on with male fiction and will always be against it. Even if you’re a man who writes under a female name — as many romance novelists have been known to — you may be at a disadvantage. But that? It’s just called LIFE, so it’s a waste of time moaning about it.

My own Fight Club poster (watercolour on paper)

Another thing to take note of is that before most manuscripts make it to a literary agent, they go to an assistant for initial evaluation. This means that there is often as much chance of a man reading your novel as a woman (debatable, as many women perform a dual-role as admin/assistant and slush-pile reader, but possible nonetheless). Note: this isn’t just me making assumptions. I can verify much of this with real experience, as many of my editors are females, and in the past I’ve had contact with a number of female literary agents — all who have accepted work from male authors and will continue too as long as they can see good business sense in it.

3) The debate about online female writing groups/reading groups is the perfect breeding ground for male anger and female resentment; in this debate, all the elements of psychology, common sense, reasoning and rationality often go out the window and are replaced with bitterness, anger, frustration and sheer disgust for the incredible success of others. And when you think about it…why shouldn’t the men out there be a little bit miffed? I can, in some ways, see the complainers’ point and see this from both sides. Although, in this case, I would argue that what many men are angry about isn’t the fact that these groups exist. It’s that they feel isolated. That they are not included. They simply wish — as I do sometimes, I have to be honest — that more male writing groups existed. Well, wake the fuck up, dudes, it’s not womens’ fault that evolution turned out this way. Besides, if you’re that concerned, get off your arse and start your own writing group like many of these talented female authors have. Don’t say “they’ll just call us sexist,” either, because to be honest who cares? Women received the same backlash and it did not stop them from forging their own path. I’m talking about history, too. Women haven’t exactly had it easy, have they now? Anything they have achieved in fiction writing should be commended, not belittled.

4) Now onto Women are (arguably) generally better at offering emotional support…

First, let’s look at the case of female comedians: ever noticed how there are very few, popular, professional female comedians out there? It’s got to be hard operating in a world which is so completely male-dominated; where everyone says “you’re shit,” even when you’re actually very good. And the worst thing is that as funny as some of these women are, even after battling for years to reach a similarly high level as some men, they still suffer from a lack of respect — both from peers and the general public. Where men can fiddle their tax and all but get away with it, when a woman steps out of line then the playground politics come out; if she fights against it she’s a know-it-all-bitch, and if she says nothing she’s guilty — regardless of the evidence. Because that’s what it’s all about: composing stories which suit our way of thinking — agreable stories which we can, subconsciously or not, manipulate until we’re satisfied we’re being discriminated against and the world is out to get us. Our biases outweigh everything, after all, and as humans searching for answers where there is often only a complicated pattern of events, there really isn’t a whole lot we can do about that! After a life-time of conditioning and being told that male comedians are better, very few of us are able to see through the bullshit and view everyone on even ground.

So, circumstance can be a pain.

And that’s all this is, I think. It’s not womens fault that they help one another, look after one another and rally to support their friends when the time comes and help is needed. It also isn’t their fault that, when meeting a new female friend, they are often able to put aside their own agendas — like the desire to sell their own book, or their own pure arrogance — and act in a supportive manner. The fact that many men are not capable of this should have nothing to do with it. For me, that us men are so far behind in creating our own reading-group sub-culture is a separate thing and should be treated as such. If us men want things to change then the first thing we all need to do is to stop being jealous and asserting blame. Women have been through a hell of a lot of shit in the past few hundred years, less you forget: they carry our children and often bear enormous parental responsibilities when times get tough (not that men also don’t, but come on guys, we’re not the ones actually having the babies, are we?). These are separate issues too, so come on, let’s focus on the right things. Surely that’s got to be possible? I’m hoping we’re about to find out.

Du-Du-Du…Daddy Long Legs Attacks!

 

King of creeps!

I am not a Daddy Long Legs behavioural expert — and thinking about it, which I am now desperately trying not to as it gives me the creeps massively, I’m not sure how anyone could be, seeing as even they don’t seem to know where the hell they’re going — but I know one thing for sure: if one flies into my bedroom late at night just before I go to sleep, there’s NO WAY I’m closing my eyes until that Daddy Long Legs is either dead or incapacitated and ejected safely out the window (well, safely for me). You’d be mad not to! These creatures are experts at seeking out body-heat, as I will soon demonstrate. Sadly, incapacitating a Daddy Long Legs, what with all its awesome flailing stupidness, is extremely difficult, not to mention mentally taxing for someone who a) absolutely hates the sight of the Daddy Long Legs and b) is too tired to be gentle with a creature that just can’t stay still, so whenever I try to do this it nearly always results in instant death. Usually against one of my heavier paperback books (see? Hardback books do have some uses after all).

I use the word flies loosely. The Daddy Long Legs — even the best of them, if indeed there are degress of rubbishness — doesn’t really fly…actually I don’t think there’s a word for their kind of feeble, unpredictable maneuvering, and if there was then it’d probably be a daft one that makes about as much sense as their mad-scrambling-up-the-wall-technique — something unpronounceable like drftyuio0-0987hn!!!!!!!!!!!!, I suppose — so that’s probably a good thing. If you’re illiterate, best not think of Daddy Long Legs as a word. It’ll only confuse you even more.

I’ve had some bad nights with Daddy Long Legs’s, it’s true, but the night before last was particularly awful. My bedroom, which is already strewn with the corpses of the dead, was a frenzied warzone and at times it felt like it was going on forever! Or worse…like it had been going on forever, and all I was doing, stumbling around my bedroom in my boxers, book in hand, was reliving a terrible fight I could never win and had never won.

It all started as I turned over page 345 of Thinking Fast and Slow — the Rocky of psychology and economics books by Nobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahneman — at 2:24am. It was not a good time to be interrupted, seeing as my grasp of economics is awful, and I’ll tell yee one thing: when that doomed Daddy Long Legs came bumbling through the window with its arms and legs going agggghhhhhhhhhhhhh! everywhere, I couldn’t help but blame him or her or it — yes, it — for making me lose my place, again. This is not a good thing to happen when you are fighting a book which has much more brains than you do, and virtually every sentence is a test in mental endurance that feels somewhere between a near-mental breakdown and a dream where Stephen Fry in peak annoying-mode refuses to stop telling you intelligent facts while constantly poking you and saying “so do you think I’m clever, then?”. A test which feels a lot like those horrific GCSE Maths questions that haunted my teenage days and nights. You know the ones: Helga buys 6 oranges and gives 1 to Jeremy, but Jeremy drops hers [the clumsy fucker, he’s always dropping stuff!] and decides to make it up to Helga by giving her a banana…that kind of trivial facetious thing.

But I should be clear on something: in truth, this Daddy Long Legs was not the first to come through the window that night. Yes, it’s true, sometimes I am known to turn a blind eye to Daddy Long Legs’s (millions wouldn’t!), especially when my generous streak is high. For the 3 hours or so previous, various ones of various sizes had been infiltrating my bedroom and I’d managed to somehow ignore them by telling myself It’s only an insect, don’t let it get to you, Chris, you’re better than that! But this one I could not ignore, for the second it arrived it panicked its way through the air direcly towards my bedside light, making its vague buzzing sound. This was the last straw, and, having already been exceedingly generous by sparing the lives of 3 or 4 of my enemies, this time I had to take action. Take action now or forever suffer the consequences (it helps if I imagine that Daddy Long Legs’s understand the torment they cause me. This makes me feel much better when I go to take a book from my shelf and find, yet again, one flattened upon it).

Roger Federer’s head: it’s so big I couldn’t fit in this picture, and is a real hot-spot for daddy long legs’s

All this rage against the Daddy Long Legs is for a deeper reason, as you probably guessed. You don’t just develop such hatred of Daddy Long Legs’s, I don’t think. It has to be earned, and man, in the past had I earned it! They’d waged a campaign over many summers. This wasn’t just a one-summer-thing.

The inciting incident had occurred a few days earlier when I woke up with a funny feeling. If that sounds vague, it’s because I’m still trying to work out how to say what’s coming next without being crude.

No, I’ve thought about it, and there’s no way around it: I’ll just have to be crude. What had happened was this: where my biological sack of manhood meets my body, I had discovered the reddest of reddest volcanic bites! A serious insect attack mark which was easily worthy of being screened to millions of die-hard crude fans on Embarrassing Bodies. This was bad enough on its own — and it was, it really did hurt — but then came the vision of the moment it had attacked…the Daddy Long Legs in action. Enough. Enough of it! After that I couldn’t just lie in bed reading my psychology and economics book: I had to make sure no survivors were left before the lights went out.

Quickly, while the Daddy Long Legs in question was deciding between scampering up my wardrobe or landing on my carpet or heading for the ceiling or whatever else it had on its mind, I grabbed almost the first book I could find from next to my bed, where there is always a small to medium size pile. I say almost, because the first was The Beach by Alex Garland and that book is not and never will be designated for Daddy Long Legs massacre. Instead, I grabbed the second, which was The House of Sleep — a book I am yet to read which I think will probably be good. Then I carefully shifted off my bed and–

And the bloody thing had vanished. Its last location had been at the bottom of the bookcase near the end of my bed…but not so now. No creepy weirdness to be found!

I looked under the bed. I could not see it.

I looked on my mattress — it was not there.

I considered what I would do if I had been born a Daddy Long Legs. Then my face did something weird and I promptly stopped for it made me feel all giddy.

Then I didn’t know what to do.

It went on for a while.

When I knew more what to do, but still wasn’t quite there yet, I stood still for as long as 30 seconds, pretending to be the second coming of the bookcase (well, as much as a man without shelves can).

Nowhere did the Daddy Long Legs go agggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!

I even listened to the point where I could hear my own inners doing their thing, and still heard no buzzing.

Standing there with my book raised as a weapon, I felt silly and weird and annoyed and agitated. An insect which didn’t even know it was alive had got the better of me. I felt plain silly.

It was then that I saw it: no, the shadow of it…out of my left eye, down on the floor. It was heading for the light, the nonsensical thoughtless bastard! I lumbered over, stomping like the gigantic beast it must have perceived me to be, and–

It was gone again. I sat down on the bed and wondered if by the time I was 70 things would be any different. Would I have learned to out-smart an insect by then? Probably not. It was depressing. I wanted to be a child again, living a time that was only fun.

But I gathered myself. I wasn’t done yet.

Two can play at that game, freaky weirdo, I thought. You might think I’ve given up, but you’d be wrong! I haven’t done anything of the sort. Instead, I shall just lie in bed reading my economics and psychology book and wait for my time…

My time took absolutely bloody ages to come. Ages and ages. The more I scanned the room while simultaneously trying to read complex stuff, the more my room seemed a Daddy Long Legs Ghost-town.

Then, just when I was sure that this was it, I’d never get my chance, it happened: the intruder came back on the scene with a vengeance! Up I got, all at once, matter over mind, book in hand, pants gradually working themselves higher up my body, much like a grizzled old insomniac of a man.

But when I got to the wall opposite, the damn thing had vanished again. Imagine my surprise. I couldn’t stay up all night, so that was it. Back in bed I got, crying inside. Well, almost crying inside…if it had got me down there last time, what might it do next?

Update: I woke up and couldn’t find a red bump anywhere! I’m going to bed again soon though…so wish me luck!

New update: I survived, but only because I had the covers pulled almost fully over me. Even though I almost suffocated, it was worth it to not be bitten.

Newer update: I did get bitten. On the bum! How did that happen? It must have come through the mattress somehow! Now I’m really scared…

Novel writing: when deciding what novel to write feels TOTALLY impossible

Sometimes, when I just can’t decide on what to write, I paint

For anyone out there who is right at the beginning of their career as a novelist — so early in their career, in fact, that at this point in time, calling it something so defined and formal as a career seems distinctly optimistic and in no small way stupid — deciding which kind of novel to write is quite possibly the biggest dilemma of them all. In my experience, those unfamiliar with this spectacle of hard-working bum-numbing slavery — those who, through no fault of their own, can only speculate on what writing a novel must be like — think that the physical act of writing is the hardest part, and that the decision to write the novel in question is formed somewhat easily from some grand idea which has been long in the making; an idea which just seems right somehow…in the same way that we all pick up a good book and find outselves entirely immersed, as if this novel could only have been written in this very specific way by this one author. (Ahhh, the romance of it all.) Yet the late nights, the early mornings, the totally all-encompassing nature of it all and the way it takes over every single aspect of your life, including sleep, are, for me, nothing in comparison to the gut-wrenchingly difficult process of choosing one novel idea over another. It’s a cruel and necessary game that plays out for all of us writers, and the simple fact is that it doesn’t ever get any easier, because the rules are always changing and we’re always looking to create something better. The problem, I suppose, is that while you are writing one novel — that book which to begin with seemed so right, so your own making — your mind is also, by turns, working in another direction towards a different novel idea that very badly wants to make itself known. And this is where the danger comes in. For what it is worth, here are my tips for sticking and deciding upon one idea and all other related matters.

1) Can’t decide which idea you want to write about? In the past, when I have been in this situation and forced it — become so fed-up with the procrastination of it all that I have found myself frantically writing a novel, any novel, just so it could be done and I could move on — the result has been at times OK, at times awful. A forced novel — that is to say, a novel which is born of desperation to put words on paper and fulfill the outline of an idea which is more mechanics than emotion — is a bad novel which will likely go nowhere. Whatever you want to write, a burning ambition to complete the project is the only common thread that links us all. Write that novel because you simply must do it. Write it because whenever you should be doing something else, the idea plays on your mind and just won’t leave you the hell alone.

2) A novel is not a loose outline of events without an ending, or a concept floating loosely between copycatting someone else’s work and two forged ideas. Never forge ideas together — what do I mean? I mean don’t take two or more novel ideas you have had and chuck them together as one, pretending that this might somehow work. Just because there is a beginning, middle and an end, does not mean that those ends go well in company of one another. Keep on point and you’ll be right.

3) Stop worrying about how people will react to the idea of your novel, and don’t be alarmed if you don’t see that idea already in print somewhere on Amazon. While it’s always good to know that there is a similar work of fiction out there — something of familiarity is welcome in such a lonely pursuit as this one — the fact that there isn’t can be a special, magical thing. It could mean you have stumbled across a concept which is unlike most and therefore impressive! Always remember that at some point in history, an idea was revolutionary and new and that author — think Nabokov’s masterpiece Lolita — was condemned for creating what is now considered a masterpiece. Bravery does pay, so forget what others are saying and doing, because that’s a waste of time. If you believe in your concept and believe you can make it reality, then you can. There is no doubt about that. Words are oganic, and it can be done.

Nabokov

4) What are your strengths? I love reading thrillers. The Bourne Identity by the now deceased Robert Ludlum is a classic in my opinion. Yet, much as I adore reading this book and others like it — I just finished Drive by James Sallis which was different but similarly fascinating in form — I know that my strengths do not lie in the thriller-writing field. What a pain, would be so much easier if they did. The reason why: I find it difficult to be serious for that long, and my job as a freelance writer already commands enough of my time to be spent seriously. The up-shot of this is that after work I am glad to write in a way which feels completely unshackled. So, if you enjoy writing humourism, write comedy, or something with a comedic thread. If you enjoy writing romance and you are a man, do not be put off. If I were you, I’d just write whatever you enjoy doing and say bollocks to everyone else. You’re going to be spending one hell of a lot of time doing this, remember, so you want that raw enthusiasm to be present always. More importantly, if you ever expect a reader to pay for your work and spend many hours voraciously consuming it, you have a moral and intellectual obligation to them to produce work which is a direct representation of your most natural abilities.

5) Be careful about inserting religion, your own moral values and ideas into your novel: for me, this is a critical point. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, what you believe or don’t believe, or what you think is great about the world. Just remember that your characters should — I think — begin life as people in their own right. This is not a crusade. They should develop their own voice, their own moral out-look in life and be capable of being in direct disagreement with everything you stand for. If you only ever write characters which feel like you and act like you do, how do you expect them to outgrow your own limitations and expand into something big, scary and influential to the reader? If writing about characters who are so different from you feels wrong or immoral, then perhaps this is the wrong genre to be writing in?

If you do have a cause to further, though — you want to write about something to further awareness, rather than to ram your ideas down the reader’s throat — go ahead. Write about what matters to you. I know I did with my debut novel, and it was the best decision I have ever made.

6) This could go on all day, but I will end here on this important point: sometimes, just sometimes, you will be in a strange mental place where 3 or 4 or 5 ideas all seem like the right novels to write at this very moment. This is, quite possibly, the cruelest game for the intellectual spirit to play, and it may just mean that yes…you are cursed: you must write all these novels one after another. Bummer. Bigggggg bummer. But, oh well, things could be worse. At least you have ideas. Right?

14 novel writing lessons you simply cannot ignore

It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting down to write your very first novel, or your tenth. Here are a few things I always tell myself — purely my opinion, so I’ll let you decide if they are relevant or not. Who knows, maybe they will come in handy for you:

1) If you think there are no real rules for writing novels and forming structure, you’re wrong: there are hundreds of right ways and wrong ways to do things, but you don’t need to know them all — all you need to know is what works for you. Read a lot, read as much as you can, because if you’re not reading what’s been created before you, you’re not going to increase your knowledge to the level at which you can explode that knowledge, expand on it and produce something genuinely worthwhile that the world really needs.

2) Words are organic. They are just words. Stop getting attached to words, it’s ridiculous. Losing 100 pages of your debut novel may be the best thing that can ever happen to you. You’ll fight to get it back, and if you make it past that then you can do anything. N-E-THING.

3) Write novels, spend months slaving, then never, ever look at them again. It’s not a waste. Not every single book you write, at least in the very beginning, will be worthwhile. Just because you wrote something doesn’t mean that you should publish it. Publish a novel that you know in your heart isn’t good enough, and you’re only making the already tough journey harder than it needs to be. Above all, trust yourself.

4) Don’t just read what you love to write. Reading different genres allows you to understand the methods and madness intrinsic to every type of writing. Romance books will teach you how to tackle emotion, while thrillers will teach you speed, pacing and tight sentences. Read literary fiction and you’ll soon learn what you can and cannot get away with, experimentally speaking. Read non-fiction: it is essential, and once you’ve absorbed enough of it you’ll be able to merge the boundaries between what’s real and what’s not in a way that would have been impossible before. Your words won’t just jump off the page, they’ll grab your reader round the throat and make their heart bloody race.

5) Stop reading over your first draft over and over again. It is nothing less than a waste and, worse, mental torture that will dog you of inspiration and threaten to destroy the entire process. Once you have written your novel, leave it and don’t touch it, don’t even look at it for at least 2 months. Maybe more. Zadie Smith — author of the wildly successful White Teeth and absolutely stunning On Beauty — once said that you should leave your novel years before you look at it again. I tend to agree, although I may get run over tomorrow, so I prefer to leave it a minimum of 2 months.

6) Be prepared for people to despise your work. Be prepared for reason-less hate and constant criticism about everything you’re trying to convey. Polarizing opinion can be great. Fuck it, it doesn’t matter anyway. Every single new idea that was ever produced began life as something which someone, somewhere, despised. New ideas are always hated: they are the uncomfortable notions of progress and should be championed. Without them, you’re just following others. Think about it: what’s more disgusting, refusing to move your bag so someone else can sit next to you on the train, or writing a novel which makes people really think and consider?

7) People will tell you You can’t write a novel in a few weeks, it takes years. That’s nonsense born out of total ignorance, pure and simple. Providing you have a concept, or the seed of an idea, you can write a book as fast as you can put words down. Even if you don’t: remember, there are no rules.

8) It’s OK to keep changing your mind and going from one idea to the other and back again. This IS healthy. It may not feel like it, and your creative writing teacher may find it unnatural, but your mind is turning the idea over and over, round and round, and that is natural. Waiting and considering many ideas allows the most important ones to rise to the top. Don’t fight this process, and if you’re too set on an idea then maybe it’s too easy. If you’re not challenged when writing, what will your readership think?

9) Swearing is OK, as long as the words hold purpose. Swear words have been part of literature since whenever that start was. A good writer will use them correctly, lending each one the attribute the power it deserves. A good writer will also use them incorrectly and somehow make it work.

10) Tense, rules about grammar, and everything you read in some generic internet article can be ignored — if you know why you are ignoring them.

11) If you want to write a book, you must begin sometime. If you enjoy writing, do it. If you don’t, then go and do something else instead.

12) Tackle big, scary, frightening ideas. Don’t ever not write something because you think that someone might be offended.

13) You must allow others to read your work.

14) Keep calm. The words will come, just get the ideas in your head straight first: what are you trying to say?

 

The Number 3 Mystery Book: Read the first two chapters and make sure you don’t think it’s total crap. Yes, I’m not JUST a bearded face!

It’s been 9 months or so since I self-published my first novel, and what a journey so far. I won’t lie, it was slow in the beginning, but as the book has picked up support and love and I printed paperbacks, a small but cult following has begun to emerge — along with amazing reviews and mad-crazy-following support on Twitter. Just today Disability Cornwall sent me their new issue, which features the book on an entire page (click the link to subscribe and read online if you like). God I must sound like such a bighead, but still, it’s exciting to know that my novel, inspired greatly by Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time wasn’t a total waste of my writing time. Scroll down to read the sample chapters or read this next bit. AND please excuse the stupid formatting for the chapter titles below…this is NOT how it looks in the book, it’s just WordPress being childish.

BUT

I HATE HATE HATE Amazon’s Look Inside feature. Just thinking about it makes me feel a little bit sick. Look inside what, exactly? A bag in the summer filled with smelly old skid-marked pants? OOOooooOOOOh, YES PLEASE AMAZON! Really…for such an enormous company, Amazon really haven’t got the first bloody clue about how to show potential readers a sample of what they might expect. You spend a year-and-a-half slaving over your debut novel, then you upload it and find that the first impression of it looks completely crap…the text running into the next paragraph at every opportunity, the whole thing thrown together to form nothing less than a monstrosity…

Which is why I have invented, as of fifteen-minutes ago, Chris’s LOOK AT THIS, YOU CAN ACTUALLY READ IT. Revolutionary, right? It’s basically a sample of The Number 3 Mystery Book as it actually appears (although the paperback version is formatted so the chapter headings begin on new pages) because I realised tonight that although I do have some novel samples elsewhere on this blog, I had never made a sample accessible on the front page. Well done Chris, you’re a little bit thick.

At least I didn’t include a picture of the book. I mean, it isn’t as if you could really miss it…

NEW Paperbacks are back in stock and Amazon UK and US are where you need to go for the digital copy. If you’re one of those really nose people then you can even find a 5 star review here. Want to see how the book cover art evolved into the end result? Then you can go here. Just please don’t Look Inside…

Chapter 1: Full-On Mega Disbelief

I was waiting in the dark for the door to open and it was very late. Imagine a really hungry, really frustrated short-necked Giraffe that has finally spotted a gang of leaves low enough for him to eat and this is precisely how excited I was. So much had just happened and all I kept thinking was I don’t believe it I don’t believe it I don’t believe it but wait…I DO believe it! and it needed to be told to someone quickly before the amazingness of the moment wore off, which would be a tragedy for humankind and the world as we know it. That someone was Mr Grundy. Since the place where my fantastic discovery had happened was owned by him, it was only right that he was that very lucky person.

“Mr Grundy!” I said, soon as I sensed motion and a bitter old man’s face appearing in the door-way. “You’ve got to hear my amazing stor-”

He put his hand up and a sort of Grundy-grunt came out of his mouth: wild boar with his snout out in the forest, I thought. Farmers had their very own code of unique snouty grunts.

“But Mr Grundy,” I said again, but whispering it this time to make me sound like listening was the only option for the old man to take. “Seriously, you don’t understa-”

He put his other hand up and clapped them together hard, his head all a-shaking. I honestly think that if he could have levitated on his big old bum in the air, he’d have put both his feet up to silence me too.

Mr Grundy then began a typical Grundy speech and no matter how hard I tried to interrupt him to talk about my discovery, I failed. The main thing he was saying was that he was not amused by me knocking on his door late at night. He is a farmer and Mrs Grundy is a farmer’s wife, so being not amused is often the case for both him and her, seeing as it’s always raining and he spends so much time outside working very hard for not very much money while everyone else sits at computers and earns loads of money without barely even needing to do more than just hit three buttons and lean back with eyes half closed and a coffee on the desk. Mr Grundy says that it is “a sick joke on all the hard-working farmers of the world that life is like this.” Also, they are both ages and ages old, which only make them even worse. You could say Mr Grundy is an expert-professional at being not amused. He is even better at being grumpy.

The second thing he said to me after opening the door in his tractor-pattern slippers was “Look Barney, it’s bloody late, it’s past midnight, what the hell do you think you are playing at?” To display his not-amusement so I could absolutely not miss it he put a lot of effort into making a big wrinkly face, or what Wonky my best friend once called “looks like an actual scrotum.”

I had been rehearsing this next bit since leaving the pond a few minutes before, so I said: “I’m sorry but I had to come right now Mr Grundy, I simply had no choice. I am also not amused, but that’s the way things go at the cutting-edge. It’s really not my fault, I am but a slave to the cutting edge and that’s just the way it has to be.”

He was still just staring straight at me. “The cutting edge again,” he said, “I’m up again at 5am tomorrow. Get to the point fast, boy.”

I continued: “well the point is this, Mr Grundy. I am still half terrified out of my wits from what I saw lurking in your pond earlier today, after I got home from school.”

“Lurking? Earlier today?” As Mr Grundy’s eyes focussed his eyebrows became like a big black bird diving straight at me. “You weren’t there at the pond just now were you? Because you’d better bloody well not have been,” he said, crossing his leathery hairy arms. “If I’ve told you once then I’ve told you a hundred flippin’ times boy…”

I was prepared for him saying this, I couldn’t very well not be the amount he’d warned me never to go to the pond at night, and so I said, “of course not Mr Grundy, what do you think I am? This was earlier today like I told you before.”

“I think I had better not answer that first part,” he replied, shaking his head.

I continued with my routine like I had cunningly worked it out. “Oh, I know the perils of the anti-heron fence, Mr Grundy,” I said. “And I know how forbidden going to the pond late at night is. I can assure you I did not do it and will never do it, not as long as I have hairs on my head, and I reckon that should be for at least twenty more years yet.”

Under his moustache I thought I could see Mr Grundy making a half smile. He followed this up with a deadly serious sigh what made his crops probably fear for their lives when they saw Mr Grundy and his scary tractor coming. “Good, good. And very glad to hear it. Just remember that the pond is no place to be at night Barney, not for anyone, especially not a thirteen year-old boy.”

“No way Mr Grundy, definitely not. I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. And I’m like an especially clever Elephant in the memorising respect.”

Inside my head where it was safe I did a big jump in the air and congratulated myself for lying really well and appearing totally believable.

Mr Grundy pointed his finger at me and I thought that dressing gown is ten generations of farmers old and you really should get a new one. “I bet if your dad knew you were out now he’d serve you a damn good hiding. I know I would if you were my son. Mark my words on that one, Barney.”

“Probably he would, but he’s not here as per usual,” I said. “Anyway Mr Grundy, few people,” I said with pride, “are as lucky as you are, and that makes you extremely privileged, you know.”

“Well, I should be thankful then,” said Mr Grundy. “Silly me…”

Exactly. This is the real thing what I’m talking about. This is the big-time. I’m sure you understand what I’m saying Mr Grundy. We have things to discuss. Like what exactly I saw in your pond much earlier today.”

“I think I get the picture, Barney.”

I could see on the clock in the hall that the time now was just before one am. It was very late, yes, but lateness was a small price to pay for knowing such classified information. I could see Mr Grundy was beginning to realise this too, and it was about flippin’ time. “Now look here,” he said, “much as I love being woken up in the dead of night to hear all about the cutting-edge, please just go home Barney.” And his moustache did a funny farmer’s wiggle. “Come and tell me about all this once I’ve had some sodding sleep, and let’s not be making this kind of thing a habit, right? Some of us have got fields to harvest and weather to curse.”

I said, “sorry and yes. Yes I most certainly will do that. You have my absolute word. And I may be only thirteen years old Mr Grundy but-”

“You’re a boy of your word.”

“Precisely.”

He sighed. “Yes lad, I thought you might be.”

I was about to leave, but before he could close the door and I could step away, Mrs Grundy and her big old massive ankles shuffled up behind Mr Grundy asking about what The Devil is going on here and such like. I don’t like it when people mention the Antichrist and look directly at me as though I might have seen him in the last few days and might be able to answer on his behalf. I already get teased at school with enough names for having such a strange-looking-massive-face and so I have a habit of “taking these things to heart.” Mum tells me this is perfectly understandable considering how things are for me but that I shouldn’t let it worry me because I am normal like everyone else even if I am affected by an unfortunate disease like the Elephant Man had (it isn’t actually Elephantiasis though, it’s called Cherubism. Cherubism makes you look strange, hurts your eyes and it really isn’t what you want when you’re a boy or anyone, because it messes up your teeth quite bad).

Mr Grundy whispered “he’s just going, love,” to Mrs Grundy. He looked at me with one stare-ey eye. “Aren’t you now, Barney.”

But she always did ignore him.

“Well hello Barney, it’s just gone one in the morning,” said Mrs Grundy, all dressing-gowned up, eyes much more open now. She shot Mr Grundy a look of womanly doom that I’m sure has killed many a weaker man in similar circumstances and then she crossed her arms across her big wobbly mountain-range of a chest. “Dear-dear, when our lad was your age…how old are you now Barney?”

“Thirteen Mrs Grundy,” I told her. “But getting older all the time.”

She leaned forward and spoke quietly just to me, which seemed to annoy the bitter old farmer even more. “…You don’t say…well, I used to put mine over my knee and spank his bottom for lesser crimes than this. What’s going on here at one a clock in the morning? You know damn well it’s much too late to be knocking on our door Barney Delaney. Whatever would your dad say if he knew you were here?”

I didn’t want to think about dad again so soon, so instead I thought of something else: I had always wondered why Mrs Grundy’s arms had so much flappy skin on the under-sides. Here was the answer at last: she had done way too much bottom spanking and it had made the flesh go all stretchy and elastic. Obvious really.

I said “I do know damn well Mrs Grundy, but I was acting out of fascination and extreme desperation and those two things when you put them together are greater than the most powerful under-sea dynamite, Mrs Grundy. What can I say, that’s what it’s like on the cutting-edge sometimes. You just have to deal with these things when they happen.”

They looked at one another and back at me and Mrs Grundy said, “If you say so, dear.”

“And I do,” I said, thinking again about the potential of my discovery. “And if anyone would know then I would.”

There was a small pause where new creases appeared on their faces and they had a kind of conversation which I was too young to join in with.

“Well sod this, I’m going to bed,” Mr Grundy said. “This is all very good and well but bugger off with you Barney. Go home before you get in any more trouble. And never go near the pond at night. Are we clear as muck on that?”

Language,” said Mrs Grundy, and she poked him hard with her elbow.

Mr Grundy gave her a right old dirty look and I thought marriage, forget it!

“He doesn’t mean it Barney-”

“Don’t I? I think you’ll find I bloomin’-”

Mrs Grundy put her hand on his cheek and pulled the skin and it was like old bubble-gum. “He’s just a bitter old farmer from a long line of bitter farmers, is all. But of course he’s right, you’re never to go to the pond at night. You can’t see what you’re doing around there and besides that, it’s not safe.”

“Consider me gone,” I said, “Consider I was never here at all.”

“I should be so lucky.”

For that, Mr Grundy got a look of razor-sharp-woman’s-daggers, and I wondered how much more an old bitter man could take.

“Do excuse his swearing,” Mrs Grundy said, slowly shutting the door. “And mind you don’t pick any of it up, won’t you?”

I said he was excused and I had barely even heard it, and as the door finally closed I said, just to myself, that I would banish the swearing from my mind like I did whenever Wonky opened her big mouth and had her way with her wicked opinions.

So I buggered off with me like I was told: what you need to know about Mr Grundy is that once he got his thumb caught in some farming machinery and it got ripped off quicker than quick and so when he says don’t do something he really does mean business and you should not mess with him. You should do as he says, always, no exceptions.

Unless it is very important, like it was with my discovery. In which case it’s for the good of Science that you ignore the rules and make your own up.

Chapter 2: That Thing

I Could Never Forget

“I am Barney and I am a thirteen year-old Cryptozoologist. Later you shall meet ‘Wonky’ whose real name is actually Jenny. She is my best friend and also the second most major character in this book. This what you hold in your hands here is a tale of epic discovery and excitement where things can and do go wrong and life is never the same again as me and my friend Wonky know it. And I’ll tell you for why, but you will need to buy this book to find out more, so there!”

When all these many words become a book then this is what I shall write in the ‘blurb’ on the back cover to ‘draw people in’ and make it a ‘page turner.’ They will be powerless to resist! I should also warn you now that you need to be a bit tough to read my book, because like in all good books, it’s a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ and it isn’t always a time for smiling. As my dad would say when he’s in one of his massive great stinkers: “I’m being deadly serious. No mucking about!”

But now I realise that it is only Chapter 2 and I have already made a really big mistake of novel writing. One which would have Mr Novel (or whoever invented novels) banging on his coffin and screaming If I turn in my grave anymore I’m going to be sick!

In my excitement, you see, I totally forgot to tell you what my discovery was and why I was in such a rush to see Mr and Mrs Grundy so late at night. Woops. I am correcting this now otherwise it will not be a good book, it will be a very confusing book.

What happened before I knocked on the Grundy’s front door…

I won’t ever forget it. Like I said before, it was night-time, and I was at the big pond at the end of my road doing two things what Mr Grundy had told me many times not to do. I was 1) at the pond at night-time which was completely criminally forbidden and I was 2) standing dangerously close to the electric anti-heron fence what I had never seen kill any heron but I knew was highly ferocious (Mrs Grundy said that one time, a very unfortunate pigeon had landed backside-first on it, and probably his pigeony friends wouldn’t ever let him forget for as long as he flew, because pigeons had quite a good memory actually). That was when the incredible event which would change my life forever happened: a flash of silver rose up out of the water in the middle of the pond…and disappeared again quick as a flash, leaving only a few bubbles, making a proper Plop! as it went (like what you’d get if you had massive sky-scraper arms and held an elephant over the water and it did one almighty poo). I couldn’t even speak I was so stunned. In all the times I had secretly and illegally been to the Grundy’s pond at night I had never seen anything like this. It was the kind of thing to make even the wildest of dreams jealous and say: “I wish I’d have thought of that!”

Instantly and without needing to think about it anymore than you do walking along in a straight line or picking a bogey and flicking it at the back of someone’s head in class I knew that here was a creature that I had not seen and nobody in the world had ever laid their eyes upon either. What’s more, I knew that I had not imagined it and it was concrete fact and really had happened because a) it takes nearly ten minutes to walk around the pond and the entire thing was affected by ripples and b) If Mr Grundy or somebody in the world had seen this incredible creature then Mr Grundy’s pond would not be the peaceful place it always is, oh no. Why not? Well, because there would be reporters from National Geographic and people with cameras and crowds of screaming people, lots of them. My dad would call something like that a Media Circus. And I’ll tell you something for free: Media Circus’s do not happen in places like where we live, in this sleepy village outside of the university city of Cambridge where all the posh professors do their boring academic studying and live to be one-thousand years old. There once was a minor Media Circus a few years back when people first noticed there was something odd about the way my face looks compared to other people, but since then it has been very quiet on the Media Circus’s front and nowadays people mostly leave me alone to get on with my fascinating Cryptozoology business. This is lucky for me because large unidentified animals are often scared off by more than a couple of human beings (which is a fact: read any Cryptozoology book if you don’t believe me).

And this event? This was it for me. What I had been waiting for my whole thirteen years of life: an unidentified animal which I could identify. One which I could name! My whole life I’d been thinking I’d have to trek out to the Amazon rainforests or the Congo to find my mysterious creature, and here it was, at the end of my road in the pond I’d walked past every day!

I knew at that moment, as I stood there in the dark all rigid, that my dreams would now be full of Plop! and silvery-pinkish flash and probably not much else for a long time to come.

If you’re not sweating and feeling a bit sick with anticipation reading my account then you really should go and see a Doctor.

Once I had got my nerves back I punched myself hard enough in the face to wake myself up, just in case this was all a dream (everyone knows that pinching alone won’t do it). It was no dream. I was still standing in the darkness and I had not woken up and I was mega rigid.

Before I continue with what happened next, after the ripples had finally vanished, I should really tell you about precisely how terrified I was when the monster silvery fish-thing appeared. It’s very important to capture that, I think. I call it a fish-thing because it looked like a fish but was much too big to be any kind of normal live-in-a-pond kind of fish. It was the size of something much bigger, at least as big as Mr Grundy’s one-man boat, and the kind of thing you see on TV and say: “well that can’t be real, I bet that’s all computer graphics.”

I do not want to ‘go silly’ with describing my fear of the fish-thing, as my mum might say, so I am going to assume that most everyone who reads this book understand what big-fear is like and just how awful it can be when it strikes you down quick and hard without warning. After all, you’re a reader, so there’s a good chance you’re not thick. But for everyone who doesn’t know what big-fear is like, or who is a bit thick – because statistics say there has to be some, and you can always trust in them statistics – I have devised a way for you to understand it perfectly. The following demonstrates big-fear.

Still big fear…

Big fear not even close to being shown how scary it is…

Here I am. Now, imagine that all the masses of white space between the last paragraph and the start of this paragraph symbolises big-fear, and that the space between each of these words here is normal everyday fear that just makes you jump a bit (a small spider creeping out from under the bin, for example). Now I think you get a much better idea of the terror of what happened inside me at that precise moment when I saw the fish-thing. Now we can move on.

And before you ask, Yes, I was certain that Mr Grundy knew nothing of the mysterious fish-thing, which meant that Mrs Grundy couldn’t know either, of course, because she never came out to the pond, and she did not like fish. Mr Grundy is a farmer and very straightforward and he does not and never has had a habit of lying or keeping things of this massiveness a secret.

So, I was still standing there with what felt like concrete in my veins. I know that the best way to begin a good book is not imagining a thirteen year-old boy standing in one place staring out at a pond in the night with concrete in his veins, but I can’t change the facts, can I? This was how it was.

I tried to move. It did not work well, mainly because my eyes were being selfish and wanted only to stare out without being made to look at other things. Once the big-fear had worn off a bit I decided to stand still three feet to the right of where I had been and do my thinking calmly like that, with my arms crossed tight, as I find is best for the utmost concentration to happen smoothly. There was another reason for standing still too, and if you’re a Cryptozoologist then you’ll have already worked this out ages ago and be feeling really smug. It was to become part of the pond, like a tree or a bush or something like that. If the fish-thing decided it wanted to make another appearance then it would have no idea there was one of them odd pink creatures watching.

So I waited a bit more.

Disappointingly, but as often happens to you when you are at the cutting edge of rebel science, the fish-thing did not make another appearance in the minutes after that. The pond was calm again like there had never been the Plop! and I checked over every bit of it but there were only small bubbles from small fish and the occasional Riiiiibet! from a frog that must have known much more than me. I waited for a full ten minutes to give the fish-thing time to make its enormous mind up and then I left to tell Mr Grundy about this most spectacular happening, reminding myself that I was absolutely forbidden at the pond after dark. Wait a moment, actually, that what I just said was a bit of a white lie: I didn’t leave immediately, because that would have been really unprofessional Cryptozoological madness. What really happened was I started to walk away and then I remembered myself: I hid behind a bush and then I came back to exactly where I had been, very slowly, creeping on the dry grass on all fours like an animal would do if it wanted to surprise its pray and rip its throat out. The fish-thing was still not there, but it could have been, why not? The fish-thing might be a sneak and of course it would want to remain a secret because it had this long and to not be a secret any more when you had been such a huge success of one would not be good at all for the self-esteem. It could be very depressing for any creature of any size, with or without fins, couldn’t it?

Once I had got almost to Mr and Mrs Grundy’s house, which is located bang smack next to the pond behind a hedge, I crept back all the way again for a second time, but I was still all alone in the dark. And that was when I said enough is enough and properly went to Mr and Mrs Grundy’s.

AND once again I am going to make it easy for you! Paperbacks here and Amazon UK here, Amazon US here. Fancy reading a review? You’ll find it here.

To see my guest blog on Penelope Fletcher’s blog, you only need click here…or head on over to Disability Cornwall to see their feature on the book (you’ll need to subscribe first).

Seeing things that may not be really there: The Coma, Alex Garland

Morning comes and you walk downstairs — you’re neither content nor down; this is a very average day, yet something, somewhere is missing. You ignore that fact. It’s bright outside and the feeling of being watched as you slept — you had almost forgotten this — has now faded. Just a silly thing: you were lying on your side in bed, dozing, and could just about sense this giant frog over your left shoulder. The frog had two big eyes and was white — an unusual colour for a frog, but you worked out that this was actually just a clever trick. The frog was just trying to be covert and blend in with the ceiling above it. Really though, it wasn’t a giant sinister frog at all; just the lights in your room, your brain re-arranging the shadows and shapes to create something for no real reason, really. Funny that a dream, or whatever it was, had you scared for a second, wondering what you were going to do: how does one kill a giant white frog?

Or maybe a reason, but there is always maybe a reason.

The first thing you do when you open the door to the living room is say Hi to your dog.

“How did you sleep?” you say.

Your dog is a Greyhound, black and white. She lies there horizontally, squeezed into her bed, one trumpet ear standing erect.

“How did you sleep?” you say again, and then smile and start to walk into the kitchen. You need to stop expecting an answer.

Sudden: “How do you think I slept?”

You turn around to find your Greyhound staring at you with beady eyes. Black and too-round like swans; friendly but a bit strange all at the same time. That feeling of weirdness lingers for a moment, before you decide that you’re the owner here: a dog shouldn’t talk to its owner like that.

You say: “Well, I assume you slept well, I could hear your tail banging on the carpet from upstairs.”

Your dog doesn’t have much in the way of facial expressions. You’re just guessing, but you’re still reasonably sure of a slight tenseness in her face.

“You assume.”

“Yes.” You fold your arms. “Is that not a fair assumption? Usually your tail bangs when you’re happy. Your eyes move too. Then you wake up a few seconds later and stretch and look at me and I always think you look bewildered. It happens most days and you never seem to learn.”

Your Greyhound kind of shrugs her shoulders, except dogs don’t have shoulders. But still, a shrug.

“You seem to think you know an awful lot about what goes on inside my head.”

She’s not looking at you now. You deserved that.

“Yes,” you say. “I suppose I do. Sorry.”

And as you turn away again, you hear her say: “look, any chance of some different food this morning? I’ve been eating that dried crap for 5 years, I’m really getting sick of it…”

Are you awake, or are you dreaming? (Clue: if you’re certain you’re awake then you will identify with the rest of this blog post very much…)

Carl has been beaten up. He has seen this event from outside of his body and he recalls what happened in the moments before it happened, and in the moment after…and then he gets signs. or, perhaps,  he’s been getting signs for a while — it’s all part of the confusion. Signs that actually, his perception may or may not be the way things really are. Soon, Carl learns that he should question everything. But there’s a problem: every answer brings another question…to say this is an endless circle is innacurate, though, as, at least ith an endless circle, you would know what to expect…

I found The Coma fascinating. I’d read a few reviews of the book when it came out in 2004, and had been trying to track down a copy ever since. I finally received the book in the post the other day and read it quickly; I could have tried harder to find it in the last few years I suppose, but every time I tried to order it it wasn’t available — all out of stock.

Whichever way you look at it, The Coma is a very disturbing book. The tone of the novel — a short novel, but still a novel — is embedded, almost to a colossal degree, with a sense of doom and too-many-things-unknown, and this, combined with Garland’s naturally unsettling ability to convey despair and dread makes for a read that is very difficult to review by way of comparing to other novels — even of a similar ilke. I thought that the best way was to begin this post with a sample of something you might experience if you were dreaming, but when you awoke you felt like you had been there, and really couldn’t separate out the truth from the fiction. These are things we can all understand the complexity of, and complexity drives this novel. The oddity being that the writing is fascinatingly simple and taught; not hard to read yet loaded and loaded and loaded…

But to say that The Coma is depressing — an assumption you may or may not have made, based on the above paragraph and the words dread and unsettling — is to ignore the greater meaning and gravity of the story. This is another bizarre aspect that Garland handles with what appears to be ease: one second you’ll be laughing, the next you’ll be questioning the metaphysical meaning behind the singing of a bird, or feel compelled to re-enter some long-lost vision you had, once; one that now seems real but you know maybe wasn’t after all. Who knows? We cannot go back.

Accompanied by black and white wood-cuts by Garland’s father, The Coma is not a long book, and its explorations are largely confined to the one-dimensional ruminations of one man searching for purpose, meaning and depth. Yet I would urge anyone put off by the ambiguous nature of the book — as with reviews which ask why there are so many questions left hanging — to consider buying, or at least borrowing this title. There’s no doubt that this is a million miles away from The Beach, but does that have to be a bad thing? I do believe a writer should have the power to explore and navigate without limitations, and that is precisely what The Coma does so well.

If you’re interested, my debut novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book, is available at Amazon UK here and Amazon US here. A review of the book can be found here. Thanks!