Great Vine

What makes a story? A beginning, middle, and end? Introduction, conflict, and resolution? Well, yes. Of course. But stories don’t always look like that. Sometimes the details are implied or even, the audience or reader just sort of forgives you the detail. What was the big disaster that led to the desperate landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? It was never specified.

What about the Tardis in Dr Who? Is it a phone box? Nope, it’s a police box. It was meant to have a stealth shape shifting ability, but after running out of budget, the police box shape remained. A handy cloak when in 60’s Britain where the show was first aired. Not so much now, or in dimension X or the Cretaceous Period or Feudal Japan… You get the idea. But we forgive them. We even make up reasons to excuse these transgressions.

Take the Klingons. Star Trek’s writers eventually came up with a reason for the changing physical look of the Federation’s interstellar rivals in the a-bit-rubbish Star Trek Enterprise. Fans, though, had been making reasons up all by themselves for years. They had been able to suspend their disbelief and forgive the obvious writing holes because… because what? Was it the tech? Or the journeys? Was it the mysterious planets?

Well, in part, yes. Mainly, though, it was the people. It was the characters. We don’t invest in another half-arsed super hero film because we believe in the reality of the fantasy. We invest because we see the humanity of the characters, because we see ourselves. As a writer, if you get that wrong, you could have the greatest budget of all time and yet nobody will buy into it. A text-book example is episodes One Two and Three of the Star Wars saga. Those prequels gave us underwritten characters who seemed as moronic as the ‘comedy’ battle droids with which they somehow seemed challenged by.

I’m not going to send you to some long drawn out character based drama, or even a short story or novel. This week, I’m gonna go from the serious to the silly. So, let’s watch a couple of Vine reels together.

Each ‘short’ is six seconds long, a feature or constraint of the micro blogging site. Some of my favourites have been put into a YouTube video below.

Each one is comedic, but also, each one somehow conveys a story in six seconds. How do they do that? Have a think, maybe let me know. Or don’t. However you want to approach these micro stories; enjoy.

Also: definitely NSFW


Post-Modern Life.

Post Modern. It’s a phrase most of us know in our spines. It’s like a furniture advert jingle or the basic layout of the McDonald’s menu. Sometimes I think I know exactly what it means and sometimes I have no idea why it even exists.

What does it mean to the novel? What is a post-modern novel? Stig Abell of the prestigious Times Literary Supplement stated on the TLS podcast that ‘post-modern books always seem like they were fun to write but don’t tend to be fun to read’. It’s an interesting and well articulated point.

I’m still a little unsure of what the form is, but I’m beginning to come around to the feeling that the switch from linear narrative to something more nebulous could be more fundamental to our view on the world.

When you have a library in your pocket and your reality is driving then FaceBook, then email, then Instagram, then takeaway then horrible tragedy in a far off land while listening to music that seems somehow familiar, somehow like childhood and ten other things you’ve heard before, what is our everyday but fractured?

Sometimes it’s best not try too hard. Sometimes it’s best just to cook something nice and go for a walk. I’ll see you next week.


The Imagination Of Art

Writing is long process. Most of it is hidden inside of you until, at the very last moment, you sit down and whatever it is that you’ve been thinking about rushes out of your fingers.

Then you edit.

You craft and you proofread and you leave it for weeks or months so that your eyes can adjust to what you’ve just produced. The best you can hope for is not a better sense of perspective, but a totally different view altogether. In other words, somebody other than yourself. I’m very lucky to say that I have an editor, and she works very hard for me.

We disagree, though. This week I threw my toys out of my pram because I thought I’d get a cheap shot at the right. I was wrong.

This week’s book, by the way, is a children’s book.

Apologies for the quality of the footage, there was a change of plan and my phone decided to brick for the time I’d allocated for the filming. As always, this is a learning process.

Find the vlog below:

Flatpack Hangover

We all have a clear picture in our imaginations of what it is to be the suffering writer. We envisage a manic depressive grinding out words in between planet-class drinking sessions. If you were at university with me I probably shouldn’t remind you of that.

Although I still indulge this type of behaviour occasionally, my driving job keeps me grounded. Recently, though, I had some time off and, well, you know where this is going…

Let me be clear, the beginning of this vlog maybe humorous but it impacted on my creativity and the way I related to others for days. People, don’t do it.

I’m going to start moving away from the ‘booktuber’, five things you might like about this book format. Or I won’t. Who can say at this point?

What I do intend, though, is to move towards showing what it’s like to try to fit a writing career around working a full time job. In line with this, the vlog will show a more rounded picture of what (shudder) #writerslife is like.

Finally, I apologise for the sound quality. The IKEA research was a good idea that I didn’t do justice. Either way, the basic skinny is that I’m writing a story with a section based in IKEA. I needed to find out how many people would be in the Bristol store at Sunday morning peak. I approached a member of staff and straight out he was able to tell me.

Better sound quality and camera work is on the way. I promise.

Vlog linked below.

Moving Parts

Sampled and copied and covered and coveted, Sinnerman was used by Nina Simone to finish her performances. Incidentally I almost wrote ‘gig’ instead of ‘performances’. When referring to Simone, I’m not sure ‘gig’ quite gives her the cultural docking space she needs.

Either way as I was heading along the A46 Radio 6 Music played the full ten minute version of this track. As I worked the levers and buttons and wheels of my car, maintaining the proper speed and control, I tried to get across to my son what it is that this track does to me. He may have noticed me gently weeping as I spoke.

It’s not that I find this song sad, it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s mainly to do with the absolute machine of a band that accompanies Simone. They are unbelievably tight, and it makes me yearn to be part of something that oiled, that ordered.

A day later, with a friend who has experience of working in the music business, I told her what it is that grabs me about the song. I told her how I longed to be part of a machine like that. I asked her what it’s like. She turned to me as I drove along the same old grey road I’d been pulsing along with my son the day before. Speaking clearly and honestly, she told me experiencing that level of togetherness isn’t something she’s had. That to listen to Simone and her band is to listen to a group of people at the top of their game and, more importantly, at the top of the game. Simply, they have no equal.

I’ve linked the song below.


In Theory

I am a white, middle-classish, cisgender male living in a western democracy. You could, quite successfully, I think, argue that there is no other more privileged position in regular global society.

I want to be clear that just approaching the subject of this vlog/blog feels like I’m appropriating it. Today’s book, however, did move me on in my understanding of something that can sometimes be hidden from view, something seen as abstract.

I became interested in feminism and identity politics only because I couldn’t figure out any good reason why significant sections of the population appeared to be excluded or segregated from having a regular hassle-free life.

Thus, on my journey to understand I’ve been handed various books. Like you, I take nourishment from the books I read.

A few weeks ago I was handed Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele. This book explores what queer theory is; something I’ve heard other people talk about and figured, wrongly, that it didn’t apply to me.

I’m still no expert, but I’ve learnt a little bit more about what it is to struggle with who you are and how society relates to that. Mainly, I’ve come to understand how queer theory is important to all of us, no matter how sure we are of our identities. I think that’s valuable; I think we can all get behind that.

Find yourself a copy.

Vlog linked below:


Walking Consolation

What do you do when you run out of ideas? I used to go to the pub, or try to talk it out with someone. These days, with a driving job, limited finances, and having not been in Bristol long enough to have developed an accessible support network I tend to go for a walk. In fact, to get these very words out, I went for a walk into town to find the pace of prose I was looking for.

Recently, myself and my ever-suffering editor entered the Bristol Short Story Competition. We failed to make the long-list. The news came in the form of a tweet from the BSSC twitter feed publishing the long-list via a link. I kept scrolling over the list looking for my name. How could I not be on there?

It’s likely that I would have gone for a walk had I had the chance. I couldn’t, I was waiting for a client outside of a prestigious London hotel, The Rosewood, and I had a four-hour drive back to Wells to look forward to. Upon dropping the client and their family home I discovered that my Mum had been admitted into hospital. It had not been a good day.

Eventually, as I got around to preparing this blog, almost two weeks later I was able to relive the pleasure of dipping in and out of The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain De Botton. I still find this book a significant comfort when things get difficult.

I’ll probably start to shy away from the ‘five reasons’ format as I seem to be saying the same things over and over. Maybe I’ll attempt to say something a bit more worth while. Maybe.

Finally, it’s been highlighted to me that I should publish a transcript for the those with hearing needs. I can’t exactly do this as although I do actually produce a script, it’s mostly there as a guide to what I’m going to say. I’m getting better at it, but I tend to stray away from the exact wording I’ve set for myself. I guess by reading the script it may give you a slightly different angle. As a guide, each bullet point represents a cut, and as a treat, Ive included pictures of what a total mess that script is upon writing it.

To my deaf readers/watchers, I apologise. If you have any better suggestions, I’m open to them.

The full vlog is below, with the transcript below that.

#7 The Consolations Of Philosophy

  • So we entered.
  • Myself and my managing editor.
  • We entered The Bristol Short Story Prize.
  • And after weeks of nervous anticipation.
  • We didn’t even make the long-list.
  • So, you know what? I’m going for a walk.

-Cutaway of walking into Bristol-

  • Success, an acquisition list.
  • That flat up there.
  • Or that one.
  • Or at the very least a warehouse where I can store many, many cool machines, with a mezzanine above where I have my living space, guest bedrooms and a bathroom with a huge bath.
  • One of these (pointing at a car).
  • One of these (pointing at a  car).
  • One of these (pointing at a bike).
  • And one of these (pointing at a car).
  • Probably not one of these (pointing at a car).
  • Money sufficient to travel widely, to be able to take friends/relatives without charging them.
  • The ability to rent whole museums or restaurants with expert tour guides like David Attenborough for the Natural History Museum or Brian Cox for the Science Museum to help deliver the perfect date with;
  • Scarlett Johansson.
  • Emma Stone.
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal.
  • Jennifer Lawrence.
  • Or all of you beautiful Tinder or Happn people.
  • The Nobel Prize for literature.
  • The Man Booker Prize.
  • A Pulitzer.
  • Winning The Bristol Short Story Prize.

-Cutaway of walking towards the Avon Gorge-

  • This week’s vlog is this, The Consolations Of Philosophy by Alain de Botton.
  • Alain is a writer of pop-philosophy and tends to be looked down upon by academics and overlooked by anyone who maybe intimidated by the word ‘philosophy’.
  • Last week I talked about the power of pop to get across complicated ideas.
  • Well philosophy isn’t generally complicated, it’s just presented in a complicated manner.
  • This is Levinas’ ‘Totality And Infinity’.
  • A book where he essentially says ‘don’t judge people on your own standards’
  • So, here’s five reasons why should go get yourself a copy of The Consolations Of Philosophy.
  • Reason Number One.
  • It’s fun to read.
  • It’s laid out using numbered paragraphs, and pictures. There’s nothing wrong with this. Pictures aren’t only for children, and neither are short bites of information.
  • Remember, philosophy is sometimes seemingly willfully obtuse. This is the opposite.
  • Reason Number Two.
  • This book is humanist and what I mean by that is that it never seeks to patronise or confuse. It is always reassuring us, the readers that our problems, our insecurities and issues are common to all of us.
  • We are not weird or extra or uncommonly selfish, we are us.
  • Reason Number Three.
  • It is good for you.
  • I believe strongly that not only is philosophy the study of the world around us that it is the study of the world within us. If you know yourself that will definitely lead to a happier life. This is the original and best own human-brand self-help.
  • Reason Number Four.
  • It comes from a rich body of work.
  • Alain De Botton has his own company called The School Of Life. You can find hundreds of videos here on YouTube explaining many more interesting and nourishing subjects for free.
  • Or you can buy another one of his books.
  • Or you can go on a course. It’s up to you, it’s all out there.
  • Reason Number Five.
  • It’s well written, with an attention to detail, concrete nouns and verbs and real life, relatable situations.
  • So success, an acquisition list:
  • A roof over ones head.
  • Meaningful Friendship.
  • Time to myself away from superiors, patronisation, infighting and competition.
  • Time to think.
  • Good food.

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