A Game Of Hangman And The Start Of A Journey

One of my best teachers in school was the rather eccentric man who taught classical civilisation and ancient history. Why at GCSE it was named classical civilisation and at A-level it was called ancient history I have no idea.

This story happens inside one of those classical civilisation lessons.

Noph and I sat together, on the right-hand aisle, maybe three rows back from the front of the classroom. In most lessons we’d be seated girl-boy or by alphabetical order, but in classical civilisation we could sit where we liked.

I’d say that the classes where I sat beside Noph (sociology, maths, physics, chemistry) were the same subjects as I would discuss outside of the classroom and therefore the subjects in which I was most likely to develop a natural interest. Coincidence?

Back to classical civilisation, where our teacher would perform the lesson. Perform is a good word to use. It encapsulates the material – which was often amusing Roman plays or stories of the original Olympics – and the dynamic, enthusiastic teaching style.

There was plenty of big gestures and occasionally singing.

This particular lesson we had been reading from the Odyssey. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Odyssey is an old story originally told by an Ancient Greek man called Homer. It tells the story of a chap called Odysseus. In the film Troy, he’s briefly portrayed by Sean Bean (and doesn’t die).

The Odyssey starts after the Trojan war, and is the tale of Odysseus’ epic journey home (where his devoted wife is waiting). It’s a long journey because of the various magical women Odysseus offends or seduces.

One of the essay based exam questions was to be about the characteristics of Odysseus. Something like ‘Was Odysseus brave?’, although my memory might be simplifying the matter.

In preparation, we’d been discussing Odysseus’s characteristics.

Typical classroom scene. Noph is beside me. The teacher’s stood at the front. He picks up a whiteboard marker and draws out a row of horizontal lines ready for a quick game of hangman. Of course the whiteboard marker doesn’t work, so he finds another one in the desk drawer and tries again.

Ten blank spaces.

Someone calls out a letter, I forget which, and the base of the hangman is drawn. Another letter is shouted and this time it’s added into the word.

Then, Noph calls out, “Altruistic.”

The teacher looks at her a little put out whilst everyone else turns to stare, as if she’s shouted out something in Latin.

With a little less flare than when he started, the teacher writes out the letters on the whiteboard and asks Noph to explain what it means. She does. Flawlessly as always.

Altruistic – having unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

Now, I’m unlikely to describe Odysseus as altruistic. I used to be able to give you a detailed for and against argument to explain this, but alas I am out of practice.

Noph however, she’s got an unconditional unselfish concern for my welfare that keeps me grounded. For her patience and care, I am deeply grateful.

For A Girl Who Wanted To Speak Out

This morning, my cousin asked for my help. And I wasn’t sure how I could respond.

She wants to raise awareness that animals need treating with kindness. Particularly, she’s upset that an image promoting animal cruelty is allowed within Facebook’s Community Standards.

It got me thinking of the word that’s been on my mind a lot in the last year: kind.

Living in our mixed up world of kindness, ignorance and suffering

Someone’s said something cruel to you, trying to make you feel small. Maybe it was at school. Or during a break-up with someone you once loved. Either way it hurt.

Thinking of it, brings up bitter emotions. It’s personal. It’s left a scar.

Who do you trust to always be there for you? Never to say anything out of spite. Someone in you life who you look to as unbelievably good-natured. Someone who you’ve never heard raise their voice, who’s always polite, who always sees the best in you, no matter what.

There love is unassuming and unconditional.

And easy to take for granted.

And then, undoubtedly on a daily basis, you experience a background of emotion triggering events that pass in your periphery: news bulletins, stranger’s faces, charity plea letters and images that you come across whilst browsing the Internet.

Such as the image that upset my cousin on Facebook this morning.

We are constantly prodded with images and experiences from across the spectrum of human action: kindness, insensitivity and cruelty.

We pay the most attention to danger when the risk can be translated to ourselves, and then, when it doesn’t, when we feel helpless, we detach any emotion and act as if we have not seen.

There’s so much suffering in the world that we feel numbed by it. We don’t know how to speak, or act.

The Dalai Lama would say that this suffering is caused by ignorance.

Choosing to discover ‘kind’

The word, ‘kind’ pops into my head on regular occasion.

In January, rather than make a new year’s resolution, I decided to explore this simple four letter word. It pops into my head, maybe once or twice a week, and for a moment or two I ponder what it means.

It’s driven some of my reading choices. I’ve read about Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, I’ve read The Little Prince and then, when I’ve read books on sales, motivation and organisational structure it’s been through this weak lens of ‘how does this relate to kindness’.

Dale Carnegie, in How To Win Friends And Influence People, discusses the teachings of B.F. Skinner:

“The great contemporary psychologist has shown by experiments with animals and with humans that when criticism is minimised and praise emphasised, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.”

Daniel Pink says something similar in Drive.

The best way to inspire kindness is to be kind.

As such, to create a kinder world, one where people show compassion to each other and their surroundings, we need to make sure we’re also talking about what’s good. Show gratitude for the good in the world. Give it the attention it deserves.

Sharing the kind-heartedness of my cousin

Since the catalyst of this blog post was an unkind act to a dog by it’s ignorant owner, I want to share with you a more positive look at animals and the potential for our relationship with them.

This is a TED Talk which I believe captures much of what my cousin believes in.

My cousin is still at school, but I have no doubt her kindness is going to cause ripples in the world and make it a better place.

The Highly Conventional, Unconventional Path To Becoming A Writer

Why write a blog? Why write at all?

Battling grammar, learning how to use a semi-colon and spell ‘necessary’ with one collar and two sleeves, is a time-consuming business.

What’s more, it’s never-ending. However much you write, there will always more you can do. It’s a skill that can never truly be obtained, and for some reason, rather than finding that threatening, to me, it’s reassuring.

When you write, you share a bit of yourself. Publishing your thoughts and feelings to the world is a vulnerable position to put yourself in. But yet people do it with an unrelenting obsession.

Why write at all?

I have no sensible answer for this question. Instead I can only describe how the germ of writing grew within me.

In the beginning was time

It was September and I was thirteen. Of course I’d written before that, short stories and such like as children do, but in the September when I was thirteen I was finally gifted an extensive amount of free time with nobody to tell me what to do.

I wrote in blue fountain pen on white A4 printer paper using a handmade line-guide and stripy paper-clips.

That year I devoured three fountain pens, and filled a drawer with my words. I didn’t know what I was doing. I picked up notebooks and occasionally wrote in them too, but this was harder because I was scared of getting notebook writing wrong. Printer paper was plentiful and disposable.

Sometimes I kept a diary, but I’ve never been great at keeping a diary. Why it is that a diary filled with embarrassing white spaces is more tragic than a diary filled with embarrassing truths?

Sometimes I wrote about someone else’s life, often I wrote about my own, but with the added excitement of an alien abduction or the end of the world.

And then came the words

In school we wrote a story called Escape from Kraznir. A fantasy adventure inspired by Lord of the Rings. We were provided with an outline of where each chapter should be set, but the writing was all our own. Being a school project, it had to be finished and submitted.

Writing ‘the end’ was a major achievement.

Later, I learnt Microsoft Word had a word count. Over the Christmas I turned 16, I wrote 20,000 words. Maybe my parents thought I was revising for exams?

I flitted between writing on the computer and writing by hand. I gave up the fountain pens as they couldn’t cope with my aggressive hand and switched to a resilient black ballpoint pen.

I started wondering how much I’d have to write to really have a novel. I imagined hundreds of thousands of words. From the internet, I concluded 80,000. Easy. I stopped starting a new piece of writing every time I sat down and instead focused on what I was sure would be my novel.

The contradiction of education

School was as separate in my mind as the futuristic lands I wrote about. I aced my GCSEs and slid into sixth-form with ease. Maths and physics were where I excelled, they were filled with mysteries and offered problems that could be solved. I wanted to understand the solutions and knew that maths wasn’t something to fear, but was something beautiful. I loved my father’s tales of solving real life problems with calculations.

Maths can make a measurable difference.

With English I never knew what success looked like. Some nonsense about Miss Havisham’s depression.

There was no expectation that what I wrote would be read. No connection in my mind between the English we studied at school and the writing I kept hidden in the back of my cupboard. All I’d done was take childhood games and as everyone else grew up I continued playing them on my own, through the written word.

Like switching from reading out loud to reading  in your head.

And from reading to a parent, to reading with a torch beneath your duvet.

The power of supportive readers

The Midget was the first person to read my stories. This is unsurprising as she had been my original Watson. She found it amusing,  and said it was all rather rebellious. At 40,000 words the parents were given a copy to read. This was partly to justify the volume of printing they were paying for, it was also because I was slowly transitioning from solitary writing to wanting someone else to share it with.

Which was when I first decided that I ought to learn to write proper.

And is why, over the weeks of my A-level exams, I was also writing assignments for an Open University course on writing fiction.

To put all this in perspective. I told the Mother that the Open University course deadlines were two weeks after they actually were. This is the biggest lie I’ve ever told. I imagine I’m going to get a phone call from the Mother after publishing this.

Why I publish my writing on a blog

I started by reading blogs on writing fiction. Authors, and wannabe authors, have a lot to say on the art of writing. There’s a lot of people out there who are working really hard to learn to write. They, like you and me, crave feedback and appreciation for their efforts.

They’ve got some amazing advice.  Writers blog about the struggles of writing. Literary agents blog about the struggles they witness writers having.  There’s fan-fiction writers, poets, and grammar know-it-alls who will tell you how to use a semi-colon. Traditional published authors and self-published authors. Many people adore writing.

I was amazed by all of them.

And suddenly I was no longer writing alone.

The gap between my writing and writing that’s smooth enough to read fluently still existed, but I knew how to improve.

I timidly began asking for help and started this blog to join them.

How I got paid to blog

It shouldn’t have been surprising that after three years studying physics, and with two drafted novels, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I imagine the education system, at least in England, is really great if you’re the sort of person who works in a linear fashion. But that’s not me.

I graduated and a bit of a wobble ensued. I wasn’t a writer because I wasn’t a good writer. I wasn’t a physicist because I failed to care enough.

The careers advisor despaired and suggested counselling – I’m not joking.

Eventually, after much pacing, driving to Naples and back and a lot of writing, I got a job in marketing. They wanted someone who would be great at website analytics and not daunted by a little HTML. I wanted to keep writing. It seemed like a great compromise.

What’s more, it meant I could also live near the man I love.

When real life practice really counts

A Canadian woman sat beside me in the office. I was immediately in awe. She had a thorough education in creative writing. She could proofread, with fancy marks, in different styles and to the requirements of different continents. She was also tasked with editing what wrote and making it publishable on a corporate blog.

What’s more, she had written a novel, self-published it and was making money from it.

Time passed. I started debates about Oxford commas, and judged magazines who wanted me to buy advertising from them on whether their sales representatives could punctuate.

I became the one who did the editing.

Knowing about content marketing became an obsession. I read books on writing. I received, devoured and critiqued email newsletters and became an advertising critic. I even listened to podcasts.

I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote.

And battled this awful literary constipation where I write a hell of a lot and struggle to hit publish.

The Writer

I write every day. I’ve seen my work in print, I’ve seen it online. I’ve seen it with my own name, and I’ve seen it without.

I am a writer. A fact which would have astounded me when I graduated.

Which is something to remember when you’re dreaming your own dreams.

Feels like fireworks; sounds like a battlefield.

I’m outside of my comfort zone.

I’m not a worrier, I don’t tend to doubt my convictions once I’ve had them, and I’m normally reasonably articulate about my choices.

Right now, not so.

Right now everything is terrifying. I get an adrenaline rush from all the thoughts buzzing in my head during the time it takes to clean my teeth. The tension in my back and shoulders commands I stop half-way up the stairs to stretch and try to feel normal.

My brain, body and environment all feel out of sync.

Now I’ve made the choices I have, I need to leap up and prove something. But first I need to stop and relax. If I carry on with my brain as active as it currently is I’m going to go crazy.

This counter-intuitive reality is the result of too many months sauntering along a line perpendicular to where I wanted to go, doing things that weren’t right for me. When the Noph, who has known me since I was three, told me she’d never seen me so livid before, I knew something was wrong. I’m not normally an angry person. I don’t normally feel so helpless.

I’d made a mess of the basics.

And it’s been having a negative effect on those around me. I’m so wound up in my own dilemmas that I’m making a disastrous friend. Self-obsessed doesn’t even begin to describe it. My thoughts are like fireworks. I’m struggling to explain the sparks to my family. I see something wondrous, and they’re hearing a battlefield.

When we’re outside our comfort zone we behave erratically. Hands sweat, voices wobble and we panic at the slightest threat.

Just past the line of comfort is where we become more than we are. It’s where we grow.

And recently, I haven’t been there enough.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Running is hard work. It’s often lonely, it’s cursed by twisted ankles, strained muscles and in weather like today, soggy feet. And yet, when your body becomes bewitched in that elusive rhythm, it feels worth it.

Haruki Murakami, Japanese author and obsessive runner, believes his writing is dependent on his running, and explains the relationship in this wonderful little book. I read it whilst banned from running due to a concussion, which made it a frustrating read – I wanted to put on my trainers by the end of the first chapter.

He talks about how writers don’t need to live Hemingway-style tragic lives to write, and how training for a marathon builds the necessary stamina for writing a long work of fiction.

It’s the fourth book I’ve read by Murakami. His books always leave me with the haunting feeling that I need to reread them, and then probably reread them again after that. This book, being straight non-fiction with a title that clearly mentioned running, was easier going than the others. There was no odd magic (Kafka on the Shore), I wasn’t completely depressed by it (Norwegian Wood) and I haven’t spent the hours since reading it in a maddened frustration, wondering if the ending was happy or sad (South of the Border, West of the Sun).

It’s clearly a memoir about running. Except I’m not actually sure it’s about running at all.

Running it seems, is rarely about running. It’s sometimes a test of strength and determination, it’s sometimes a vain attempt to lose weight or belong, and other times it’s done because of the fear of what will result without exercise. It’s a lonely, selfish sport.

What I took from Murakami’s book though, wasn’t at all about running. Running, according to Murakami, is about knowing the person that you are.

This quote was chosen with the Father in mind:

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any lengths to live longer. But I don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest, within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life–and for me, for writing as well. I believe many runners would agree.”

And I felt it like a wink. Permission that sometimes it’s ok to be a bit anti-social, sometimes it’s alright to take a bit of time and be a bit selfish.

Writing Resources: The Books That Taught Me To Write

[Last updated: 09/11/2015]

Copywriter, storyteller, blogger. Many of the same principles apply, regardless of which angle you’re writing from.

Learning to write is tricky. Good writing is subjective. What one person loves, another detests. I set off on this journey hoping to develop good writing, but I’ve found this original goal is not specific enough.

In copywriting – writing to inspire action – there’s a clear goal to each piece of writing. When it comes to stories, the goal might be to evoke empathy, or demonstrate the value of a certain perspective, or persuade the reader to reconsider their own worldview.

Measuring how effective a piece of writing is, especially away from hardcore marketing, is difficult. Asking for feedback when you’re an insecure dreamer is daunting. When we pluck up the courage to do so, it’s often to be disappointed by the vagueness of the guidance we receive.

‘It’s very you’ means what exactly?

Nothing has improved my writing more than genuine feedback, and nothing has been as distracting for its development. I keep on aggressively pushing for quality. Seeking out and engaging feedback is crucial, but between conversations with those brave and through enough to be trusted to edit your words, reading a few books on regular writing hiccups helps too.

The two that I shan’t let you borrow

1 – Story Engineering by Larry Brooks

Love it; hate it.

Novel writing is overwhelming. When you’re hunting answers as to how to write, you come across a lot of details on the art of firing up your imagination, crafting in-depth characters and developing an over arching plot which changes the protagonist. What is often missed out is how you actually pull it all together.

Larry Brooks suggests ‘six competencies’, the fundamental building blocks of writing a story: theme, conflict, character, scenes, voice. What I learnt from reading his book is applicable to writing this blog and content marketing too. It’s about writing with purpose.

What Larry tells us is that thrashing around hoping something is going to work out won’t work. What I know from actually writing is that without a bit of thrashing around my imagination remains sedate. Reality requires a balance between the plotter and the ‘pantser’.

Reading Story Engineering, I discovered that whilst there’s nothing wrong with thrashing, it’s slow. Think of trying to swim the length of a pool. Technique trumps power.

So why the hate? The way Larry writes. That condescending…

Have you ever watched the Ted Talk by another Larry, Larry Smith, on why you will fail to have a great career? Larry King makes me feel the same way as Larry Smith does. He makes me need to take a deep breath. I’ve put the book down in frustration many a time, and yet I can’t help thinking that if only I submitted to the patronising wisdom then maybe I’d actually write something worth reading.

Maybe, the frustration is merely my fear. Maybe I despise Larry King because he calls out my failings.

Story Engineering stays close to my keyboard. It’s the book I go back to when I’m struggling with a scene or what I’m writing feels like clay. It’s not a book you may borrow, but if you want to write a novel, and your willing to work hard, rather than simply spiel out words all dream-like, then it’s the first book I’d recommend.

2 – Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation by John Seeley

This book is my grammar guru. Its tiny, but its explanations are the clearest I’ve come across. Every time I feel a bit stupid, or someone points out a mistake that I’m not so sure is a mistake, I go to this book. It doesn’t confuse, like so much grammar advice, it provides clarity.

The other books on writing I’ve read

(These books are in no particular order.)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne and Dave King

Second hand, of unknown origin.

Works best read front cover to back cover. The tone of the helpful advice was neither condescending, nor lecturing, which I found refreshing.

Not a particularly memorable read.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

I’ve no idea where this book came from either – it’s also second-hand.

You could quite happily read a chapter a day and learn one lesson at a time. I read it in the bath. Full of good ideas and thoughts, but it’s not got enough of its own character to be a book I feel overly compelled to keep.

You Can Write Children’s Books by Tracey E. Dils

The Mother bought me this book. I guess this means she thinks I should try writing children’s fiction.

It’s a fluid read. You’d expect a level of simplicity perhaps from a children’s writer. I’d recommend it if you’re interested in writing children’s books. My criticism is that it could have gone into more depth in the sections devoted to middle grade and young adult fiction. Separate chapters with more in-depth information for these separate age ranges would be useful.

I keep it for every now and again when I go back to playing writing fairy-tales.

The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

I read this book twice. Both times I borrowed it from the library (Warwick).

Why is it so good? Because it’s like the friend sat on your bed sharing chocolate and drinking tea whilst telling you their honest opinion. Reading the book this is how I hear Betsy Lerner’s voice. You believe what she says. You trust her, you want her to like you – you feel she’s selective though about who she does like – and that’s somehow inspiring.

Betsy Lerner’s blog is a giggle.

You are a Writer by Jeff Goins

Read as an eBook.

My favourite piece of Jeff Goins’ writing is actually his Wrecked Manifesto, from which I keep this lovely quote (not actually of Jeff Goins) which is the answers the question ‘What should I do with my life?’.

Step one. Stop pretending we’re all on the same staircase. – Po Bronson

That said, I enjoyed You are a Writer. Jeff Goins’ writing I like, because of his honesty and humility, but occasionally it feels a little too preachy to be really lovable. Occasionally I read something he’s written and I’m wowed, other times I feel he’s holding back out of politeness. Or he’s trying too hard.

He’s the author on this list I’d be most interested in meeting in person. You can get a feel for his writing on his site, goinswriter.com. If you want to be a writer, he genuinely wants to encourage you to write.

Brilliant Business Writing: How to Inspire, Engage and Persuade Through Words by Neil Taylor

This was the book I borrowed from Newbury library when I first got a job in marketing. Confidence lacking, I was determined to do something about my English.

It’s an encouraging read. It gave me a foundation to stand on when I was discussing persuasive and formal writing in the office and it made me feel like I was getting my inadequacies under control.

I was surprised how good it was.

The Writing of Clear English: A Book for Students of Science and Technology by F. W. Westaway

Found in Oxfam.

Not a book I’d necessarily recommend for someone who wants to improve their writing, it’s a little old-fashioned, but it does make an entertaining read.

I’ve rambled a little about F. W. Westaway’s writing guidance already on the blog so I shan’t repeat myself here.

Books about reading

Because writing without reading is like driving a car without a road.

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

A present from the Grump, whose support is always appreciated. You don’t need to want to write to find this book useful, but if you do want to write widely, it’s a pleasant read that’s suggests different ways of looking at fiction.

For me, a physics graduate who hadn’t read critically since school GCSEs, it was the bridge towards my current interrogative style. It’s an accessible book. A confidence booster. It’s filled with examples and extracts that make you stop to think.

It comes with a suggested reading list in the back for the non-literature student to use to broaden their own reading, and I have it to thank for making me fall in love with Chekhov.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

This book was one of the Mother’s holiday reads. She enjoyed it, and so I followed her lead.

It wasn’t a great book, there was no great learning i took from it, no great insight, but it was amusing. It was perfectly suited to laying out on the veranda of an Italian villa and made me feel rather smug about how much I read. It made me wonder about reading War and Peace. There was something in the tone of voice though that left me suspecting that Andy Miller and I wouldn’t make the best of friends.


So these are the books I’ve read on writing. Which book has had the biggest impact on how you write?

The Case For Working With Your Hands by Matthew Crawford

A book about the value of getting your hands dirty, written for an audience for whom calluses are alien.

Naively, as someone who finds office environments difficult, and who enjoys making things – sewing, painting, papier mâché etcetera – I thought this book would be a self-help guide which would talk me through all the ‘bad for us’ parts of the office.

Books and covers and all that. Turns out, it’s actually a philosophy book, which isn’t at all about offices – despite the title. I think therefore I am; I work therefore I have meaning. Or something like that.

The single chapter on ‘The Contradictions of the Cubicle’ doesn’t really talk about cubicles. It discusses the contrast between an employee’s idea of purpose and their manager and/or employer’s idea of purpose. Personally I don’t think having one boring office job which you didn’t want to be doing in the first place is a good enough reason for ruling all office work out for the entire human population, but hey.

Matthew Crawford’s strength is the stories: the screw-ups, the dreams, the disasters, the romance. Tales illustrating what it actually feels like to be a motorbike mechanic, what it feels like to bond with a machine (I’m visualising of Rossi kneeling by his bike pre-race) and why it’s such a difficult feeling to cultivate in modern society.

As a philosophy book it was enjoyable, but lacked daring. I wanted more provocation. It asks the same sort of questions I ask of myself, and this isn’t really enough. I want pushing more. It questioned the value of the exam orientated education system, but it didn’t really offer enough of an alternative. We can’t all be motorbike mechanics.

The style in which it’s written makes me feel that the average reader would buy it, but never finish it. Despite my university education, the vocabulary was testing and there were times when I wondered what the point was the author was getting at.

I give you this example :

“For the neo-Darwinian, the frolicking of the dolphin is assumed to have some survival value, either for the preservation of the individual, or the passing on of its genes. I suspect, if you were to ask the dolphin, he would say it is backwards: he lives in order to frolic, he doesn’t frolic in order to live.”

I suspect most dolphins, if asked, would frolic because frolicking is what dolphins do.

Have you ever wanted to have a more hands-on job?

As a reader, do you agree?

We look to novels and pictures to compensate us for the deficiencies of real life. The type of novel that is most satisfying to a person will therefore give us a clue to the wants which, in real life, that person is unable to express and gratify. (People often give away more information about themselves than they realize when they talk about their favourite novels and pictures.)

Do you agree?

Psychology for Everyman (and Woman) by A. E. Mander

The quote comes from the Thinker’s Library, No. 48, Psychology for Everyman (and Woman) written by A. E. Mander and first published 1935. The 14th edition (which I am currently reading), printed in 1948, is a tiny book with a hard red cover that conformed to the war economy standards. The book is as tall as the length of my palm.

As an avid reader, it intrigued me. Do you agree or disagree with the statement? If you too share my love of books, what is it your reading habits say about you?

If, for a moment, we surmise that the statement is true, what do we learn? You can view my recommended reading list to see the books I love the most, but this only includes the substantive books that I feel have changed me.

I often read books that don’t fit within the stereotype of chic lit, does this suggest I have an unsatisfied desire to feel superior? Of course ideally I wouldn’t believe that there’s anything superior in being the person reading Plato over the person reading the Hunger Games, yet… well it’s difficult to change a belief isn’t it. Especially one that says what your ego wants to hear.

If I take a look at the pile of books on the table in front of me, two are about travel – a want to escape perhaps – another is Gandhi’s autobiography. Do I take Gandhi as a leader who I wish to emulate, or are the intellectual books my way of mimicking the real intellectual readers of my social group? By reading widely, am I trying to associate myself with those writers I adore, the ones who instruct in every piece of writing advice ever written, read, read, read.

Are my reading choices dictated by a wish to be respected. Certainly, since going down the path of marketing – which like it or not is stigmatised – I’ve read books with ideas that take longer to mull over. Am I compensating for the awe I use to receive or is this my obsessive drive to learn and my fascination with the human mind?

The pile of books also includes a book on the evolution of organisations, a book genuinely called ‘Joy at Work’ and a novel by Barbara Kingsolver.

Or is it all bullshit? Am I simply clinging to patterns that don’t exist?

A. E. Mander’s short list of ‘primary wants’

For BODILY COMFORT

For a SENSE OF SECURITY

To ESCAPE

To PROPITATE* anyone who has power to injure: to INTEGRATE oneself

To be (a) NOTICED, (b) ADMIRED and (c) LIKED by others of one’s kind

(a) To HURT and INJURE, (b) To OVERCOME and DOMINATE (c) To feel SUPERIOR

To ATTRACT, PLEASE and MATE with one of the opposite sex

To LOOK AFTER and PROTECT someone (e.g. child or mate) who is relatively weak

For the COMPANY and FELLOW FEELING of others of ones kind

To be LIKE OTHERS of one’s own ‘pack’ or ‘set’, especially its leaders

To CATCH and CAPTURE

To FIND OUT, to KNOW, to UNDERSTAND

To RETURN TO FAMILIAR PEOPLE, PLACES and CONDITIONS

*Win or gain the favour of


What books are you reading, and what do they say about you?

Today I was brave

Today I took a spontaneous trip to London, to find a building in a part of the city that I’d never been to before. The building wasn’t boldly labelled and Google’s fancy maps only seemed to confuse me more. I had to ask directions.

The doorman took me to the lift, and then I was alone, travelling upwards.

The room I entered was filled with people I didn’t know talking to one another. Nobody knew me. I was merely a name on a list that was never referred to. I recognised a few people from the Internet – we all have people we stalk – but that just made them all the more intimidating. There was free beer.

This is not my sort of environment.

Yet, I’d decided it was what I wanted to do, that however terrified I might be, it was worth taking the risk.

But what did I fear? Looking a fool? Coming across as wholly naive?

The man whose talk I went to watch looked similarly nervous during his first slide, but he was talking about something he cared about, and when we really care it’s easier to push. Putting yourself out there, taking the risk is always a heart-thumping moment.

I went to London because I craved a look at a reality that’s a little different from my own. I wanted to put some concrete on a dream.

And because the best moments are heart-thumping moments. The fear is just growing pains.

Thoughts on Tolerance on a Tuesday evening

I’m not as tolerant as I would like to be. Standing in other people’s shoes, accepting that not everyone has my values and nobody has exactly my worldview isn’t easy. With-holding judgement isn’t an art I’ve mastered.

There is no ‘but’ to this, no ‘however’, no excuses.

There’s a pain that comes with realising I have all these flaws and that they’re often cast as the leading lady in the drama that is my life. Yet through the sharp sting of a thoughtless statement and the dull ache of tedious politics there is a whole ocean of potentials. Possibilities for me to build this tolerance, listen to people’s stories and learn to understand them.Learn to understand myself.

My worldview needs expanding; my judgements have to be challenged.

It isn’t comfortable.