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.

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.


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?