This tag is associated with 8 posts

A Book or eBook?

E-reader and Paperback Book. Photo: IslesPunkFan

I used to believe in the humble book. There was a time I was certain that nothing could come between us and our fistfuls of musky scented yellow pages; that undeniable sense of character imparted by time and the tender hands of countless companions. Somehow I was sure that no matter how technologically advanced we became, nothing could possibly replace an authentic and unassuming hard cover.

There’s something deeply romantic about the book; a physical collection of words and sentiments, whose compilation is tangible evidence that as a people, we have existed. Through the book we happily accept the love and laughter, tears and tragedies of others; a testament to the human condition. Then when we’re done, we pass it on so that those words that shook us might wake the senses of a new reader. In that moment when we hand it over, we send our own story wordlessly with it; an unspoken yet undeniable shared history that can be sensed in the margins of every page. The happy knowledge that the leaves you now turn have been caressed by some number of others, binding you with your humanity, like the linking fingers of a best friend.

I was wrong, of course. I have always been, above all else, embarrassingly naive. How green to imagine that, while the rest of the world became increasingly clinical, uninterested in their brother and the intimacy of breathing someone else’s air, the defenceless book could survive. No one wants to own something that’s been handled by an unfamiliar other any more. We want to live apart. Possess our own things. Selfishly believe the world is ours; that we are the only one. Populations are booming, but even as we’re forced to dwell on top of one another, moving ever higher into an unconquered sky, we are slamming tight our shutters.

Needless to say, there will always be stories. We’re too governed by ego to let the story die; we see ourselves in every narrative and our sense of self importance is affirmed. But books and stories, those words that were once synonymous, are about to be broken apart. Driven by our need for efficiency, we can now download our own version of the texts we wish to read. These days we need not even leave the house. What a blow of cruel irony when the interwebs adopted the phrase connectivity.

Like so many things, it’s come to pass that every book you own can be uniquely yours; you read it once but do not pass it on. The pages are ever crisp and white; untarnished as a surgeon’s scalpel. But the romance is gone. In our hunger for perfection and instant gratification we have sliced off and slaughtered the glorious romance.

It’s been estimated that within this decade, electronic books will have completely replaced commercially available paper publications. There are of course, many advantages to the electronic book. Affordability is one; for the time being, they are certainly cheaper. Owning an electronic reader also means you can have countless titles at your finger tips. Many people are also citing the environmental card, claiming that the e book is better for the environment. I’m not sure I buy this one. While I’ve done exactly no research on the subject, I can’t believe the process involved with constructing these little gadgets is particularly sparing on the fossil fuels.

What do you think about our move toward electronic books?

Have you taken the leap to e-reader?

How do you feel about the humble hard cover being made redundant?

Spike Milligan: The Miserable Maniac

‘It’s a gift and a curse at the same time…You get the pain much worse than anybody else, but you see a sunrise much more beautiful than anybody else.’

Spike Milligan

Can it really be ten years since the passing of one of my heroes, writer, poet, musician, actor, campaigner and comedy anarchist Spike Milligan? His status as the father of alternative comedy and unquestionable influence on British culture has often been documented both in his life and since his passing, and this is not intended as a tribute or biography. The chronicle of his life and works have been recorded elsewhere, better and more thoroughly, and often by those who knew and worked with him.

Prevalent in his life, and what most interests me, underlying every endeavour – The Goons, Puckoon, his war memoirs, the various Q series, his humorous and serious verse – was a long battle with mental illness. The term manic depressive – bipolar disorder, to give it its contemporary label – might almost have been coined for him, struggling as he did against extremes of madcap creative genius and complete mental and physical inertia, accompanied by the darkest, sometimes suicidal and even muSpike Milligan.  Photo:BBCrderous, contemplations.

The often cited trigger for his depression was an incident during his war service in Italy, in which he came under heavy shellfire resulting in a lengthy hospitalisation and a number of complete breakdowns. Shellshock, as it was known then, or post-traumatic stress as you would now call it. He was removed from front line service, although he remained in the army and in Italy until after the war, which was the period in which his entertainment career began.

But according to his confessional appearance on In The Psychiatrist’s Chair with Dr. Anthony Clare – originally recorded in 1982, but transmitted as part of Radio 4’s recent programming* in honour of the late Milligan – his anxieties and many of his psychosis can be traced back to his upbringing in India when he was a awkward, introverted child, sometimes beaten by his mother, without his army-absent father, alone until a brother came along eight years later. As a result he grew up overly-sensitive and with little tolerance. His extroverted persona and lunatic behaviour were compensation for an underlying shyness.

With his depression at its worst, Milligan opted for an induced narcosis for three weeks, when he simply could no longer cope with his issues. This hit during what most would consider the pinnacle of his career – The classic, surreal radio comedy, The Goons. He wrote the scripts on automatic, like a production line, and would come to resent this period of his life. The fact that, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the stress and mounting psychosis, he turned out an impressive body of ground-breaking material, is an astounding achievement, and what most impresses and inspires me.

I have my own experience of mental illness, both personally and affecting those close to me. When asked if he would swap the illness for a more balanced life, Milligan, as is common with those who suffer with bipolar disorder, declined. Like a sine wave, the unbearable troughs are countered by soaring peaks, in which he and others are capable of their greatest works. Medication, although it takes the edge off the lows, can dull other things too. Being a long standing admirer, I know something of Milligan’s life story, but learning details of the depths he reached, and how he coped with his illness, for me, earned him a new level of respect.

As he aged, he learned to cope better with his problems, although he was never free of them. His controversial epitaph, inscribed in Gaelic on his tombstone, ‘I told you I was ill,’ sums up the man. He maintained his sense of humour throughout, even when facing the end.

I’m always conscious of avoiding direct comparison between my efforts and those of the subjects of some of my articles. I am not a creative genius, nor have I ever plumbed the depths of despair like Spike Milligan, but I can appreciate in my own way what he went through and what it meant to have still been able to write through it all.

* The Spike Show: Milligan Remembered, a compilation of new and old programming, presented by Milligan’s secretary Norma Farnes.

The ‘No Offence, But…’ Pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.Annabella Weir, playing the "no offense" lady on The Fast Show

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack in the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and tortuously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). What I have found works particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

Wasted On Myself: Poor Grammar in Song Lyrics

If there’s one thing that I hate (and there isn’t: there are lots of things that I hate) it is poor grammar. However, if there’s one thing I hate more than poor grammar (and there’s isn’t: I hate a lot of things more than poor grammar), it’s poor grammar in song lyrics. When terrible grammar is used in everyday speech, there’s an opportunity for a pedant like myself to dive in, head first, and correct the deluded soul, but when it’s committed to a recording the error is rendered in 44,100Hz and played ad infinitum for everyone to hear.

The particular bugbear of which I speak was committed by popular dub step chartbusters, Nero. The song (and yes, it’s a song, dubstep-haters) is Promises. Let’s remind ourselves of the offending sentence: “Promises, and they still feel all so wasted on myself”. It’s the chorus refrain, repeated over and over, needling away at my brain and causing my to violently express my disdain at passersby (it’s not my fault they’re not listening to my iPod – fools!).Nero Promises - a picture of a band accused of bad grammar

Now let’s break this “sentence” down: let’s ignore the initial punctuational error. The missing colon. I used one, not two sentences ago, because I have a rudimentary knowledge of how to use one. I can even use a semicolon; you can see that there, but since this is meant to be heard and not written down I’m going to let it slide. There’s an “and” in there too, thus negating the need for one, so we’ll move on. I can even forgive the grammatical mix-up that it “feel all”, so it’s when we get to the last word of the refrain that alarm bells start ringing. MYSELF! For the uninitiated, myself is a reflexive pronoun and should be not be used in this context.

If you want a breakdown of how to correctly use reflexive pronouns, head on over here and educate yourself. Look, I just used one correctly. Clever me.

Unfortunately, using correct grammar and highlighting its incorrect use in others is often looked upon as pedantry and generally rude. It’s a neon sign hovering over the head of the intellectual and, dare I say it, elitist. Since it’s usually the barely educated who are the vanguard of poor spelling, terrible grammar and fly-by-night punctuation, it’s natural that the grammar-Nazis are going to find themselves victims of the same uneducated finger-pointers soaked in blame culture, no-win-no-fee claims and episodes of Jeremy Kyle.

So whilst, we’re on the subject of blame, who is the culprit behind the misappropriation of the reflexive pronouns? I don’t know, but I can name at least one celebrity figure whose lackadaisical attitude to the reflexive pronoun borders on maniacal: Jade Goody. During her tenure in Big Brother (or Celebrity Big Brother, I forget which, since the person she was talking to was equally forgettable) she engaged in a loud argument in which every sentence she spat included at least one misuse of the reflexive pronoun. It hurt my ears, as well as my eyes to watch. And I’m glad she’s dead. There, I said it.

Grammatical errors in song lyrics are rife. Let’s look at two more examples:

“She’s got a ticket to ride and she don’t care.”
“I can’t get no satisfaction”

See? Even the classics get it wrong, but since it’s The Beatles and The Rolling Stones we’re quite happy to let it slide. As we zoom into the futuristic decade of the teenies (that’s this decade for you squares) and txt spk, TOWIE and 4chan are the preferred languages, I can’t help but jump up in my comfortable chair when one of nations popstars flaunt their ignorance of the English language.

The argument for “artistic license” is a valid one, but I can’t help but think it is merely an excuse for laziness and when poor grammar gets in the way of understanding a song there needs to be some kind of retribution.

Here is another example from the current chart landscape. The artist is Calvin Harris and the song is Feel So Close. The error lies in the opening lines: “I feel so close to you right now, it’s a forcefield.” WHAT?! Never have two more contradictory sentences been placed in such prominence in a song (I’m sure someone will think of one). I wonder what was going through Harris’ whiskey-addled brain as he wrote that line: “Och, I need a song that makes absolutely no sense… wait a minute…”. Now, this song can be fixed with one tiny adjustment to they first line (“I feel so close to you right now, but there’s a forcefield”) but it’s too late: the song has been recorded, released, remixed and re-iTuned so many times that it’s out there in the public arena for all to hear, and yet, no-one has pulled up Harris for his nonsense.

Now, I don’t have a solution for the spate of poor grammar in pop music, but I reckon if we put our heads together we can come up with something. Perhaps a catchy slogan.

Grammar: it all feels so wasted on you.

“You hate that job, why are you doing it? You want to give it up, or you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life.”

You can believe what you want about this: I was sitting in the pub with friends and this guy approached me and said ‘Show me your hand.’ I didn’t even know who he was. He just came across and read my palm. He looked at me and said ‘Why are you doing that job?’ A few months later I actually quit…It made complete sense.

A tragic bereavement, an encounter with a fortune teller and turning forty are three events Rachel Cochrane credits with giving her the courage to quit her successful but un-fulfilling pharmaceutical career and take her writing career into her own hands. That was ten years ago. Now she runs Listen Up North a spoken word celebration of writers based in the North East of England. “I want the content to be intelligently written but not elitist. I want it to be accessible to everyone, even people who don’t usually listen to poetry or short stories” she says.

Rachel as photographed by Ross Parker

It was very frightening to give up my job because, although I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t know what the future would hold for me. I don’t regret it for one minute.

Following seven years of what Cochrane describes as “writing and getting nowhere” she decided to give herself a platform after discovering what digital media could do for her and the problems with creativity online and in the North East. Firstly, there was nowhere for mature people to access creative online content that was made for them. Secondly, nowhere for local authors to broadcast their talents. Listen Up North kills two birds with one stone and after three years it features the work of over sixty writers and nearly thirty actors. Cochrane has funded the project entirely on her own, only recently being awarded a grant for recording equipment.

“At the moment there’s only one paid for item, a supernatural thriller in six episodes. I’ve just put that onto iTunes and Amazon MP3. It’s 69p an episode and they’re each 15-20 minutes so there’s quite a lot of content for your money,” explains Cochrane. Defending the cost of the content is hardly necessary, as the rest of what Listen Up North has to offer is completely free.

Cochrane created the site out of desire to manifest her work as dramas and to put it out there for an audience. Initially, she thought only about her own writing but found she couldn’t generate quality content quickly enough to satisfy the voracious maw of the internet. She considered at that point that featuring other writers would be a good practical decision. “I really thought that there was a lot of work out there which was of good quality and that people would be interested to hear it,” she adds. The relationship between Cochrane and her writers is a mutually beneficial one. New writers (or established ones) have somewhere to exhibit their talents and she gets content for her website.

The web holds the future for Cochrane. She’s promoting her new film, Celia, on YouTube. Made with virtually no budget and one actress, Celia is another example of good writing being allowed to speak for itself. Starring actress Penny Lamport as the eponymous character, the film was written and directed by Cochrane, with friend and co-producer Shirley Anne Wood editing it for the screen. The music was composed by Rosie Cochrane, Rachel’s daughter.

The beauty of Listen Up North’s audio content, including Celia, is that the writing speaks out to you, and feels more interactive than written content on a web page.

However, while the website is a gallery of diverse content (book extracts, drama, interviews, newsletters, poetry, short stores and newsletters) and writers (62 unique contributors), Cochrane’s own art has suffered. She has discovered that the internet’s savage appetite is for time as well as content and she hasn’t focused on her own writing in months. Her commitment to running a website and exploiting social media to promote it have made her venture a modest success but have been a harsh lesson in the benefits of time management for the creative spirit.

In order to ensure the high quality of the site’s audio content, Cochrane insists on doing all of her own recording.  While this means that it must all be done in the local area, she doesn’t feel that this is a limitation, in fact it’s central to the main achievement of the website so far. “I’ve really built an archive of North East writers and writing about the North East.”

An ambassador for the North East, the internet, undiscovered talent, fortune tellers, ex-pharmacists and entrepreneurs, Rachael Cochrane’s dedication to her own creative drive is paying off.

You’ll never write a thing by staring at a blank sheet of paper

‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.’

Benjamin Franklin

The process of creative writing is very much like that of moving your bowels. There’s a degree to which you can sit there and force it, but if it doesn’t want to come it won’t. Plus, you have to appreciate that mostly what you will produce will be crap.

My very first blog, just over a month ago, was a statement of intent. I set out to keep up with my writing, mostly as an exercise to keep me in practice for when I eventually get around to writing something more involved – like a novel – so the subjects of my blogs were a secondary concern. I can proudly say that, after five weeks, I’ve exceeded my expectations. I’ve blogged seventeen times about all manner of subjects, and not short, insignificant entries, but material with clout. But I fear I’ve burned myself out a little, and hit a patch of what is known as writer’s block.

It happens to the best of writers, but I’m not including myself amongst them plus I pay little attention to their advice on how to get yourself in the right frame of mind to write. As amateur and part time writers, we face slightly different challenges to someone sat staring at the blank sheet of paper in their typewriter all day, with no pressures other than a publisher’s deadline to worry about. We may face roadblocks in the shape of lack of confidence in our efforts, a void of inspiration, or simply just finding the time to sit down and bash keys.

For inspiration for a subject for this article, I looked back to that very first blog. My intention was that my articles should never amount to a diary, not should they be journalistic reporting. They should lie in between, and that would be my first point: although it’s important any facts used are correct, your opinion is as valid as anybody else’s. So, in one sense, nothing you write is wrong. Don’t worry about people disagreeing or else not being interested in what you have to say. That’s what opinions are for and this is the internet, so someone somewhere will be interested.

As far as confidence goes, you have to remember you’re not writing for The Times, and as long as you can string a sentence together in something approximating English you’re good enough for blog writing. At The Camel’s Hump, we affect an air of professionalism, but don’t let that put prospective writers off. We also have an editor, and she’s there to advise and suggest, not criticise. A good editor can help you improve your writing no end. The best advice I can give if you don’t have an editor is to find a friend willing to read your work and give honest feedback before publishing.

On the subject of inspiration, I would suggest it is everywhere if you learn to look for it the right way. You have to stick your aerials out to catch the signals. There’s material all around, even in the daily Facebook grumbles we all make – why are children on buses so annoying, and why do old people have to smell? But I don’t think you can chase inspiration down, like a bailiff looking for debtors – finding where it lives, coming round and kicking its door down. Once you have the scent of an idea, if it’s a good idea, decide what you think about the subject, research what others think about it, and start when you have more of an inkling what you’re going to write about. You’ll never write a thing by staring at a blank sheet of paper, and the sheet will stay blank if your mind is blank.

In regards to finding the time, it’s all very well to say “Tuesday at 8pm I’ll sit at my desk and write for sixty minutes” because an hour after you’ve started you’ll probably still be staring at your screen and checking your social networks every five minutes. You may be inspired to write at any time of the day, and you have to be prepared to jot down your ideas and thoughts. I write most of my first drafts on the Word application on my smartphone, then neaten them up on my laptop later. For those of you not yet a part of the touchscreen revolution, notebooks and biros have been the writers friend for many years. Keep them with you and use them, even have them next to your bed as you sleep.

Since The Camel’s Hump began, we’ve been continuing to look for contributing writers. So far, enthusiasm has far outweighed product. That isn’t a criticism, as all contributors give up their time and talents for free, but I hope this post can inspire some of those who haven’t got around to it yet, and perhaps raise interest in being one of our writers from others. So in conclusion I’ll say this: If it was easy, anyone could do it. I’m not saying it is easy, but no one should be afraid of trying.

Inside Dick’s Head

“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”

Philip K. Dick, VALIS

Chances are, even if you are not familiar with the work of science fiction author Philip K. Dick, you will at least be aware of some of the film adaptations – some good, some bad – of his work. If you have seen Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, Paycheck, Next, The Adjustment Bureau or, if you were unlucky enough, Screamers, you may have garnered some small impression of what goes on inside Dick’s head. Behind the familiar sci-fi trappings of androids, spaceships and aliens, lays the workings of a complex and disturbed mind.

Actor Michael Sheen, with the help of Professor Roger Luckhurst, makes the case succinctly in this week’s episode of Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 that it was also the mind of a genius. There are more complete biographies of his life and work, including the superb I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick by French author Emmanuel Carrere – a book written as a piece of fiction, in Dick’s style and with its subject also as its main protagonist – but this thirty minute program provides a good incisive introductory glimpse.

Science fiction, as a genre, often draws sneers from literature snobs. It’s not proper literature, as far as they’re concerned, it’s just for children and the socially dysfunctional. The isolation of science fiction novels in book shops is for the same reason tinned sweetcorn is separate from fresh in supermarket aisles– it’s for ease of finding not because they’re fundamentally different. At its best sci-fi is high art, and comparable to any work of classic or modern fiction writing. Any genre has its share of both Dickenses and Dan Browns. In mainstream fiction, Charles Bukowski has to share his shelf with Candace Bushnell, and W. Somerset Maugham probably begrudges living near to Stephenie Meyer, like a noisy neighbour who has her friends round and lets her dog bark all night. Phil Dick belongs to the high end of the science fiction spectrum.

Let me illustrate. My first experience of his work would have been in my mid-teens. There was a monthly magazine published during the nineties that released a series of sci-fi classics in a collectable, handsome hardback form. The first two in the series were War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, and Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. The third was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick – the short novel that was filmed under the title Blade Runner. That is the company he keeps.

The robots and ray guns are just window dressing – the vehicle for a series of studies of the human condition, philosophy, psychosis, paranoia, politics and, later in his career, theology. In fact, Dick also wrote a number of unregarded non-science fiction novels, only one of which – Confessions of a Crap Artist (I just love his titles) – was ever published during his lifetime. He only wrote science fiction as he needed the money and knew he could get his work published. His intentions were much higher.

Understandably, the program focuses largely on Dick’s personal tragedies and problems, which were numerous, but succeeds in putting them in the context of his work. Drugs were one of the main factors present in his life, certainly during what many consider the pinnacle of his career: the 1960s. He is described as taking amphetamines by the handful, like sweets from a jar. The visions and psychosis he suffered influenced much of his work, but in particular The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich – which reads like a bad acid trip – and A Scanner Darkly – a book written about his experience of the drug culture in the years after he had cleaned up his act.

They also cover his later period, which was characterised by a sudden religious conversion, and – although always a prolific writer – a new creative zeal. The visions he received, either directly or indirectly caused by his drug addiction, he decided to interpret in religious terms, and wrote feverishly about them, but without filters, so he produced more that should have been discarded than was worthy of publishing.

One element the program mentions that always strikes me about his work is his paranoia. Many of his characters are being pursued or persecuted, and, in real life, he believed himself the subject of prolonged FBI surveillance. This went to the extent of blaming them when his house was burgled, although at another stage he believed he may have burglarised himself then wiped it from his memory.

The program paints Philip K. Dick as both visionary and victim, and as a man who skirted the line between genius and madness. Undoubtedly he had mental issues, the program concludes, but they were focused into his work in such a way that he created a unique take on reality – what is real and what is imagined – and his work stands out, not only as great sci-fi, but as some of the finest works of imaginative fiction ever written.

Postscript: In his presentation, Michael Sheen names Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said as his favourite novel, but here is my own, personal, recommended reading list:

Man In The High Castle


A Scanner Darkly

A Very Arduous Form of Masturbation

January 1st:  I have decided to keep a journal of my thoughts and deeds over the coming year.  A daily chart of my progress through the echelons of command, so that perhaps one day other aspiring officers may seek enlightenment through these pages.  It is my fond hope that, one day, this journal will take its place alongside Napoleon’s War Diaries and The Memoirs of Julius Caesar.”

Next entry… “July 17th: Auntie Maggie’s Birthday.”’

From the diary of Arnold Judas Rimmer BSC SSC.

I find something sinister and suspicious about veracious and voracious journal-keepers. We’ve all been there, I’m sure, as the calendar year wanes, in the aisles of WH Smith, weighing up the red faux-leather volume in our hands, leafing through its blank, neatly lined pages, wondering if we’ll have the willpower to count off the days, one by one, and fill them with our thoughts, deeds and confessions. Yes, we tell ourselves.

Who are we fooling? The same person we are writing for: ourselves.

That’s where I think the idea of diary writing falls down. Who, exactly, are we trying to impress. Diaries written entirely for the self are no more than a very arduous form of masturbation, and diarists, in my experience, are consequently very tedious wankers. They’re introverted, pseudo-intellectuals, with more self-reflection than a hall of mirrors, sharing their innermost with a few ounces of tree pulp because no one in the real world would understand them.

Unless we’re writing with the aim of eventual publication in the form of a memoir – which I find self defeating, as we can never be truly honest when we know someone will read our scribblings – what exactly is the point? We might as well keep those thoughts in our heads, and, if you’ve gone to the extent of buying a diary, imagining you’re going to keep at it for the whole year, your head is probably big enough to keep them all in anyway.

But the twenty-first century has provided the perfect platform for the would-be diarist who usually stumbles at the first hurdle when committing to regular writing: The Blog.

The Blog fills a gap – one of those gaps you didn’t know existed until someone filled it, like a piece of physics-defying parallel parking – somewhere between the lonely pursuit of a diary and the published opinions of columnists. You can guarantee, no matter how obscure or vague your subject, interests, opinions or even your grasp of spelling and grammar, there will be someone, somewhere in the world who will be willing to read your offerings.

Maybe this all seems very obvious to you, the veteran blogger, but what you’re reading right now is my first ever blog. Yes, even I, who has never got beyond the first week in a diary, have now been dragged kicking and screaming (why are people always dragged kicking and screaming? Why can they not be coerced with a kind word and a biscuit?) towards the idea of putting my thoughts into pleasing, well punctuated sentences, and pasting them into the text field of a public blog on a regular basis. This is January the first: the first blank page in a faux-leather bound life, metaphorically speaking. My new year’s resolution: to be honest – to a point – irreverent, intelligent, interesting (hopefully), informative, and, most importantly, to fill those metaphorical pages.

So, why did I decided to take to my typewriter – well, start up a word processing program, but the idea of a writer with a solid, old fashioned black typewriter is so much more romantic –  and share my thoughts with you? Well, a number of reasons. Firstly, because a friend asked me to. Why she thought me qualified, I couldn’t tell you. Ask her. Secondly, because there is something in all of us that believes they are a writer – it’s said that everybody has a book in them, and, some would observe, it should stay there. Thirdly, because the opinions, political leanings, social standing and general outlook on life of my fellow bloggers, are compatible with my own. Fourthly, and finally, because there is always the possibility of positive feedback – something any creative type craves. I desire validation, as, I suspect, do most writers. That is why I have never succeeded in maintaining a diary, because I need that person reading over my shoulder.

Will I keep it up? Who knows? Wish me luck, and keep looking over my shoulder, and maybe I’ll write out of the sheer embarrassment of having you there, breathing down my neck.


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