Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Paul Chown: An interesting writing exercise

Paul Chown: An interesting writing exercise: Found in Natalie Goldberg's Wild Mind :                 'Do a timed writing for ten minutes. Begin with “I remember” and keep g...

Friday, 21 August 2015


                This has been a pig of a week. I had a row with my missus on Sunday morning. It’s Thursday and she’s still not speaking to me.
                Work, ironically, became a little easier, at least for me. As if to compensate for the tension I’ve been feeling at home. I say easier for me, but my workmates are beginning to squabble with each other.
                One of my workmates is leaving. Emigrating. And good luck to him, but it’s adding to the general lack of morale.
                I’ve seen the general public snapping at each other, as well. At the tube station the other night, a Chinese woman wheeling her suitcase along cut across the path of a buggy, with a toddler in it, being pushed by this young white bloke. The man- presumably the toddler’s father- actually used the buggy, with the toddler still inside it, to ram the Chinese woman’s suitcase.
                This summer has been a washout, really, and now it’s beginning to get warmer- if not unbearably hotter- nobody wants to take advantage of it.
                I’m not writing, apart from Morning Pages and Writing Practice. I feel a failure. I feel like I’ve let God down, or that He’s deserted me. I feel like I’m going to be stuck in my day job forever, with the probability of it getting steadily worse. I will never get paid anything for a story. I will never send anything out again, in large part due to the fact that I haven’t got any ideas.

                I hope you’re having a better week.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Talking Book

                I bought myself the talking book version of Susan Hill’s original novel of The Woman In Black. I downloaded it from Amazon- the first time I have ever bought a download. It was a strange thought, that I had bought a sound. There it was, a cartoon square on my laptop which, if I clicked the mouse over it, would cause an actor to start reading out a particular text. With a bit of jiggery pokery, I managed to copy this onto my MP3 player. With a bit more jiggery pokery, I was able to get my MP3 player to play it, in chapter order. And I told that, with further jiggery pokery, I can burn this sound onto a CD, and then play it from a regular CD player.
                In her book Thunder And Lightning, Natalie Goldberg describes a car journey she took whilst listening to a talking book. She said that the book was so good that, when it reached its tragic ending, she had to pull over and get out of the car, because she was weeping over the protagonist. For this reason, she thinks that unabridged talking books are dangerous.
                I can see what she means. The narrator (it sounds like Greg Wise) propels you through Susan Hill’s ghost story. He picks up every inflection. You ‘read’ the book, all of it, without having to bother yourself with looking at the words.
                I feel a little disappointed with myself for having someone else read the story to me. The reason I bought the talking book was this: I had seen the stage version of The Woman In Black (which was brilliant), and the TV version via Youtube (also excellent), and I saw the Daniel Radcliffe film at the cinema before my wife bought me the DVD (not bad at all, although the other versions were better). But I hadn’t read the original novel, and I felt I ought to.
                Something, though, stopped me getting through it. I don’t know what. I find, with books, if I don’t finish them quickly I give up, even if I’m enjoying them. And it wasn’t a fault of Susan Hill’s, whose prose was faultless. It’s just that I’m nearly 50 now, and not all that well read, and there is so much stuff out there. Anna Karenina, Oliver Twist, Ulysses. Plays, poetry, non fiction. And there’s so little time.
                I listened to the book over the course of one week, which is better than only reading half a book and then giving it up in a fortnight. Yet there’s that nagging guilt that I haven’t read the printed words myself. I think about all those volumes in the public library- I could have borrowed the text free of charge, and reading that wouldn’t have used any electricity, either.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Goodbye Microhorror

                Microhorror is no more. The site which published horror flash fiction (666 words or fewer) is winding down. Nathan Rosen, its editor, says he has run out of enthusiasm.
                I feel gutted. For the past 4 or 5 years, it’s been exciting to see my names up in lights, attached to a newly published horror story. It was a challenge to fit everything into such a brutal word limit, but always fun. I often wrote stories on the hoof- started and finished on the train to work, posted by lunchtime. Sometimes Nathan Rosen would publish something I didn’t think stood a chance, and sometimes he would reject what I thought was an absolute certainty, which stopped me from getting a big head.
                I was getting to recognize other regular writers, such as Jane Fell. Microhorror published every sort of horror story, from the semi-poetic to the gleefully trashy (although it was never outright offensive). It was the friendliest of websites. Nathan Rosen edited it with good humour, so that even when he rejected your story, you didn’t feel despondent. And getting nice comments about your story was always guaranteed to lift your mood.
                Ironically, I was about to start writing something new for Microhorror, to keep the engine ticking over. I often find that when I’m actively writing a story, I get ideas for future stories, and that it’s better to write something, anything, than to stare at the blank page, which I had been doing.

                Maybe it’s time for me to move on, as well. In the last couple of days, I haven’t wanted to write fiction. I haven’t wanted to make anything up. I’ve found a new joy in Writing Practice, and I’m steadily filling up a notebook. I’ve been trying to recall what happened the day before, and I’ve found that my pen whizzes across the page. But I don’t know what I want to do in the future.

Friday, 31 July 2015


                I’ve been looking through newspapers again. The Daily Mirror, The Metro. Tabloids. Trying to turn up those little stories of ‘ordinary’ people (that is, without power and influence) attempting to do things, often bringing about their own downfalls. The man who set out to rob a bookmaker’s, but ended up in a chip shop because he couldn’t read.
            It’s often depressing stuff. I used to cut those stories out at work, and keep them there in an old Quality Street tin. One day, my boss found the tin, and thought that he had a serial killer on his workforce.
            There’s material in there, though. A fair few stories, lately, have been about Muslim teenagers leaving the UK to join Isis. Which is utterly abhorrent to me. The only thing which it did make me think was that, apart from the usual teenage reasons- wanting to impress your friends, wanting to look hard, wanting to get your end away via an arranged marriage- some of them are, like most of us, trying to do good.
            They feel angry about the west’s assaults on the middle east. They feel it has come about because Christians want to persecute Muslims (they call these invasions crusades). They perhaps feel that they want to become better Muslims, even though their own imams might be trying to tell them that this is not the way. And they want to do something more meaningful with their lives than stacking shelves and flipping burgers. As someone on Spiked Online put it, they feel they can find meaning in life from beheading somebody.
            Last week, I went on an anti-terrorism course. A conference room at the town hall. A man, a woman, a flipchart and a laptop connected to a projector. Around the table, a lot of council workers in their jeans and tee shirts, or beefy blokes with their shirt sleeves rolled up. There seems to be a new job with an elongated title every time you go to one of these meetings: Head of Community Outreach, etc.
            The council has been told by the police that we can spot terrorists, because we work with the general public; and, having spotted a potential terrorist, we are able to go over and talk him/her out of it. As one teacher put it, they expect us to do what the Intelligence services can’t.
            They showed us a film. A fictionalized account of a man who was recruited by Islamic extremists, based on true case histories. A schizophrenic from a broken home, who could not get a job, he spent all his days smoking pot, got in trouble with the police and ended up in prison.
            Whilst inside, the extremists talked him into joining them. Promised to look after him, and told him that Allah would take his mental illness away. And it struck me that there must be kids like him on every street corner. With chaotic family lives, no real education, no aspirations or hopes, demonized by society at large, and left to wander around and fend for themselves.
            We seem to be churning people out like that. Dragging them in front of the audience of the Jeremy Kyle Show, to be laughed or jeered at. And nobody ever asks the questions: how did they turn out so wretched? Easy pickings for every gang or terrorist outfit on a recruitment drive

Friday, 24 July 2015


                            This week, I’ve been having another of my ‘reading deprivation’ weeks (see Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). I put the term in inverted commas because I have to read as part of my job. In theory, you’re supposed to avoid all reading, all television, all recorded spoken sound (i.e.; radio news). You can listen to instrumental music, look at paintings or sculptures, and talk to other people. The idea is to give your brain a rest from stories, and being sucked in by them. For writers, anyway, because stories are absent for a week, you’re compelled to make up your own.
                I’ve been listening to music on the trains to and from work. Kraftwerk, which once upon a time, I wouldn’t have bothered with, but I found it great for losing myself in. For one thing, it’s loud enough to hear over the whine of the tracks and the boom of the tannoys. And Oasis. I never realized how joyous their songs are (but about twice as loud as anybody else’s). I’ve listened to odd bits of jazz, but I find it difficult to grips with. I do like a tune.
                It’s been weird, though, seeing exhausted passengers while you’re ipod’s playing. The dried sweat on their faces, the hair plastered to their scalps.
                At the start of the week, the reading deprivation made me feel angry. A lot of feelings were boiling up inside of me. I felt like a smoker at a funeral, counting the seconds at the service so that he can go out and light a cigarette, because he’s gasping. Definite withdrawal symptoms. I know that, when I do start reading for pleasure again, I will enjoy it.
                For a while, the anger and negativity made me attract the bad stuff. I’ve met more than one awkward bleeder this week. The old woman who kept moaning and moaning about not being lucky in life, then getting stuck in the lift on her way out (I defy you not to laugh). And then the two drunks who decided to start on me, and call me a prick.
                I told them to leave, and when they wouldn’t I called the police, even though, strictly speaking, my superior should have done it. I rang 999 in panic. As I was ringing, those two germs bravely stood at the counter jeering at me. As soon as I put the receiver down, they walked off, throwing a paper ball at me for added humiliation. Ten minutes later, the police at the local station rang to see whether the two drunks were still there, and whether I still wanted help. As I was speaking, the call was cut off.
                By the time I reached the end of the week, I was beginning to get used to reading-deprivation. It felt like a detox, and I had more energy, more enthusiasm. I can’t honestly say that I’ve found the golden idea I’ve been looking for, or that I’ve started a brand new project; but I have felt happier, saner, more stable. I’m steadily filling in my Writing Practice notebook, and I’m becoming happier, more contented. Maybe I had to get rid of all the bad stuff, like a fever.

Friday, 17 July 2015


                My writers’ group have broken up for the term. I didn’t feel all that inspired at the start of the term. When it came to my evening, the evening when I was supposed to bring something to read, for the rest of the group to critique, I didn’t really have anything. Nothing that I was excited about, anyway. I nearly asked to pass. In the end, I brought in a story which I had lying about. Everybody was polite, but it wasn’t my best, and I felt like I’d let everybody down.
                There were days when I simply couldn’t face going. Racing there from work on the underground, bolting down a sandwich in half an hour. And I didn’t know what to say about other people’s pieces. The teacher would look expectantly around. I felt slightly like Arthur Dent having in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy having to be polite about the Vogon captain’s poetry. Actually, that’s not fair. We’ve got good writers in our group; but I’m the sort of person who finds it easier to say what I don’t like than what I do.
                Around the same time, I felt like I had less and less time to write. And I didn’t know what to write anyway. I’ve been scratching around looking for ideas for horror stories. At times, I felt like my whole life was hanging on coming up with the next story. And it doesn’t, of course. There’s plenty of good stuff around, just go to the Classics section of your local library. I felt that, if I could only start writing a piece of fiction, not only would it sort itself out along the way, but so would the rest of my life. The fun was ebbing out of it.
                I was supposed to be using this year as a fallow year, to replenish my unconscious’s ‘soil’. I was going to write nothing but Morning Pages and Writing Practice pages, I wasn’t even going to think about a finished project. I’d heard that Nick Hornby does this, has years when he doesn’t write anything, but gears himself up for his next novel. But somehow along the way I kept forcing myself to think of stories, and then the trickle dried out.