The Others in our Heads

At a writing event the other day, someone read something out during which the main character licks their third left molar ‘and does all the other things we do when we’re uncomfortable’. As the rest of the paragraph washed over me, I automatically licked my own (having calculated at lightning speed which molar the author meant; third from left, third from right?) and observed several others around me discreetly trying the same. Yes, we all agreed in silence while not meeting each others’ eyes; this is what we do when we’re uncomfortable. We lick our third left molar.

Details make for good writing, which is all about truth, whichever brand of truth particularly on offer.

I looked up a book today after a personal recommendation (a book recommendation is a sort of gift; it should never be fobbed off lightly) and read some online reviews. The book had been shortlisted for a massive international prize. ‘Boring boring boring’ said one dissatisfied customer under a 1-star review (zero isn’t an option, as another reviewer noted) entitled ‘Stupefyingly boring’; she went on to announce that she ‘will never again buy novels about men living inside their own heads’. At this point, and after some other reviews (some adoring, some more mixed) mentioning themes of displacement and genre-defiance, I was positively salivating and I couldn’t order it fast enough. Continue reading

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On taking off clothes in front of friends

(Or: why I almost never agree to send my manuscript to my friends.)

It’s a bit like offering to take your clothes off and wait, naked, while they smile – politely – having spurred you on with nods and enthusiasm as though nothing else could be more usual for an innocent afternoon.

There are hundreds of books whose first pages I’ve read, or whose first paragraphs I’ve skimmed, before promptly dismissing them for some arguably flippant reason. Maybe I didn’t like the style, or the person in which it’s written. Maybe it was written in the present tense. Continue reading

Why I Volunteer at a Homeless Drop-in Centre (and what’s the point of anything?)

There may be many things about my life which are far from perfect, but on the whole, my life is very good. Really very good. I have shelter, warmth, food, health and opportunities. Nothing makes you appreciate that more than plunging yourself into a world (or the world) filled with those who do not.

In writing this, I am reminded of an episode of Friends in which Phoebe is adamant that there is such a thing as an unselfish act and tries to prove it, while Joey believes it’s impossible. After several failed attempts (including letting a bee sting her so that it will look ‘cool’ in front of its bee friends), Phoebe gives up; as Joey says, there is always that ‘good feeling’ you get from doing something altruistic – that warm buzz which lingers even when you think you are doing something purely because it will help others. Continue reading