Uniformity, Anonymity and a Two-Tone Head

My last two weekends have both been marked by enthralling events. Aside from two multi-exciting Formula One races (finally!), I have also thoroughly enjoyed the last two days of the Masters Golf and the most recent meeting of my local Weavers’ Guild.

I am not what you might call a golf fan exactly, but I always make time to watch the Masters. Ever since Bubba Watson’s first win in 2012. That was one of the most thrilling sporting events I’ve ever seen. With a play-off around midnight, I seem to recall, between Bubba and his opponent, both of whom managed to land their balls in the trees on the second hole they attempted, having scored equally up to that point after four days of playing.

They was no way Bubba could win from the position he landed in. He couldn’t even see the green. But somehow he did, with some spectacular hitting. One of the things I loved about Bubba was the way he upset the commentators with his ‘unconventional’ swing. He played the game with gusto and enthusiasm, along with a complete disregard for ‘the form-book’.

I’ve watched the Masters every year since – though it has never been quite as nail-biting – seeing him win again in 2014. Along with some very classy players whom I’ve enjoyed watching immensely, I was very taken with several of this year’s entrants, and thoroughly delighted by the ultimate winner – Patrick Reed – who was not someone I ever remembered seeing before.

There’s a good reason for that. Reed has never won anything of major significance before. He’s not even come close, though he was, I understand, a major contributor to the USA team win in the Ryder Cup. Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I love a story of someone coming through the ranks unexpectedly to take a great win – that sudden surge of discovery of who they really are!

So my eye was drawn, this morning, to an article on a website sport page about this new winner, stating – apparently in astonishment – that Reed chooses his own golf clubs. Excuse me?

In my naivety, I had assumed all golf players would have the sense to do this. To pick out the drivers, the putters and the wedges that suit them best. Surely, this would be essential to them playing their optimal game.

But no. It would seem that the majority of professional golfers choose to go with the clubs made by a sole company – in exchange for an awful lot of money. This is, of course, the essence of sponsorship these days and is the norm in the sporting world.

This is also, I learned, why golfers wear hats, and not just any old hat, but a hat built to conformity and donated by their sponsor. A hat that will display their logo, and leave a strange white upper half to the face of the wearer. How do you know if someone you meet in the street is a pro-golfer? Look above their eyebrows!

So for Reed to decide to ditch a lucrative deal and to fill a ‘mixed bag’ of clubs that each worked well for him – in fact, not simply ‘well’ but ones he considered the perfect choice for his style of play – was utterly unconventional. It was described by others as ‘a big risk’. And look what happened!

Then this weekend, I went to the monthly meeting of the Weavers’ Guild, where we were privileged by receive a talk from Professor Paul Rodgers, who is a professor of design at a university in Northern England. He came to tell us about a venture he undertook just under two years ago, working with Alzheimer Scotland on a weaving project.

Paul, you see, has a particular interest in ‘how disruptive design interventions can enact positive change in health’. He and his team took their idea to a collection of Dementia Centres around Scotland, and explored the structure and design of tartans with the people accessing their resources, all people living with dementia.

They encouraged the participants to design their own tartans with the aid of acetate strips – until someone sneezed!  After that, they opted to use coloured ribbons instead. The designs were then entered on the computer where they could  be tweaked to the original designer’s satisfaction. The final designs were judged by a panel of interested experts, and a short list was drawn up to be voted on all over Scotland. The winning tartan was then woven up, first by hand, then by a commercial concern.

The professor then shared some of the positive outcomes for the people taking part in the enterprise. Not surprisingly, many of them felt valued, excited, encouraged, happy, satisfied, surprised …

What a turn up for the books! Who would have thought that enabling people to discover and express their creativity would bring about a sense of well-being, and enable accomplishment?

I want to make it clear that my sarcasm is not directed towards the professor but towards those supposedly superior beings who insist on measuring everything in financial terms. One of the fortunate outcomes of this project was a chance meeting with a ‘health economist’ who will be able to translate the positivity of the enterprise into economic terms for those less able to comprehend the benefits. Because actually the project could lead to substantial financial savings if someone with the imagination to see it employs the strategies.

So what has all this to do with writing? For me, lots of ideas spring to mind. But as I’ve written much more than I intended already, perhaps I’ll elaborate next week. In the meantime, I invite you to contemplate the words of Iain Carter, a golf correspondent for the BBC when he warns against the world of ‘uniformity, anonymity and a two-tone head’.

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About A Book

It is almost exactly a year since I published my first book. In fact, trawling back through my diary, I discover that the paperback copies first appeared on Amazon on 31st March, and the Kindle version became available on 4th April.

Which also means that my computer must be a year old, too, since I had to purchase a new one in order to get the script to load, I seem to remember.

What a lot I had to learn to get that all to happen. It took me a full year to edit the original, learn how to format it, decide on printing options, create a cover, gain permissions …. I could go on, but I have before and this blog isn’t meant to be about old stories.

When I finished writing the first book – now just over two years ago – I remember after all the exhilaration had died down somewhat, feeling rather bereft. I missed my characters. I was used to paying them a daily visit, discovering what they were up to, and wondering where they would take me next.

It took about a week, I think, before I just had to pick up my pen and start the next book. And, as before, I wanted to be inspired by a crime at the centre of the novel that was important to me. The first book is based on a series of real events, that have never received the publicity they deserve, and it wasn’t hard to get my characters caught up in the search for the truth on what turned out to be an international scale.

I liked this way of creating a story, and decided at that point that I would aim to write a series of books utilising the same ploy. My two DI’s would find themselves involved in international conspiracies that thoroughly mattered, and would find out along the way why the issues were so important.

So, I began to write the new story with more than a vague idea of what real events I would be using at the hub of the telling, but only a very hazy idea of how I would get to the heart of the matter, and what the actual crime would be. I was pretty sure they would tell me what I needed to know as we journeyed together. It would then be up to me to do the research.

There were several things I hadn’t banked on. Initially I had expected – now that I knew how to do it – to knock off an entire novel in the following six months or so. Then, once it had taken me a further twelve months to bring the first book to published fruition – again, now that I knew how to do it – I revised the target to six months after publishing the first.

I am disturbed to find that it is only now, approximately two years since I began writing the new one, that I am drawing to a close. The final chapters are looming.

What happened?  What took so long? Well, as I think I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve had to empty my life of things that don’t belong, and that takes time and thought and energy. All of which cannot simultaneously be used for writing.

Then, unexpected things happen – (how dare they?) – and this has led to the upsetting discovery that when you’ve been prevented from writing consistently for a while, you lose your way, and it takes concentrated effort to recap, rethink and reconnect.

My hope is that now, with a much cleaner schedule focused around writing as my main activity, this will not be a problem in the future. My surprise is that the book has become, in one sense, redundant!

The real events around which I chose to base the story have in many astonishing and unexpected ways been resolved. It is a delight to be able to say that wrongs have been righted, causes addressed and laws changed in the real world which make my book somewhat out of date.

I could see this as distressing but I don’t. The fact that the things I’m writing about are – in some ways – no longer true, is a real source of joy for me, and the realisation that this has happened in no way destroys the flow of the story and the complexity of the plot (as my test readers will tell you).

As I reflect on the magnificent way the world can change when the best energy is directed in the best way, musing over my afternoon cup of tea, I can revel in the best bit of all – thank God it’s fiction!

Personally Speaking

I was delighted to see, and very moved by, the Google Doodle that greeted me this morning – paying tribute to a beautiful human being. In case you missed it, the sequence was a reading of Maya Angelou’s very famous poem I Rise, spoken by a number of different people including the lady herself, in honour of what would have been her ninetieth birthday.

Maya was someone who knew how to be truly human. Embracing every aspect of herself, she continually made powerful and meaningful choices about how she interacted with others and with the world around her, always  ensuring that abundant love was her prime directive and encouraging those she met to aspire to the same ideal.

It is often so very easy for us to forget how to be personal. Or to neglect the need to be. How frequently are those fatal words used: ‘It’s not personal – it’s business‘? As if somehow one is excused from behaving in an ethical, caring way because profit-making is involved. As if having money or worldly power exonerates one from any responsibility for the impact of decisions and actions on others.

This week, I have had a broken bathroom tap. (Stick with me – there is a link.) Beginning with an exceedingly inconsequential drip, over the past few days, the faucet has made its presence increasing intrusive by developing the drip into a dribble, then a steady stream, concluding with a veritable fountain – my own personal well-spring!

I began ringing my plumber a couple of weeks ago. He was due to replace my bath taps with a splendid new tap/shower-head attachment, which I had proudly saved up for before Christmas. Unfortunately, saving up for this had inevitably meant that I had to save again to pay for its fitting. Having achieved this goal, I gleefully rang the plumber’s number to let him know I was ready!

That was the point at which the drip began to grow. It was also the point at which I began to consider the possibility that my plumber might be on holiday, since he was usually pretty good at ringing me back.

I decided to be patient. After all, I had waited this long, another few days (weeks) wasn’t going to be a disaster… Roll on this week when said disaster loomed and I hadn’t heard back from my two previous calls. Hesitantly, I rang again, connected with his voicemail – again, and left a message – again.

About an hour later, a cheery voice spoke down the phoneline: ‘I’m in Majorca!’ My supposition had been correct. I was going to have to find an emergency plumber because the flow from the spout was now trying to kick the boiler onto full alert, as it was coming from the hot water tap.

How utterly unbelievable that the man told me not to worry – he would ring his mate back in England and get him to come round and fix it! Talk about ‘above and beyond’. I’m very sure I would not allow any client of mine to intrude on my holiday, let alone take time out to sort their problem. And I really hadn’t expected him to, either.

But that is exactly what happened. Today, I sit in a quiet house, free from the sound of pouring water and the anxiety of how bad the leak might get and what further troubles it could cause. And only because my plumber considered the personal to be important.

I’ve received little negative criticism for my writing since I began, but one piece I remember with sadness. A fellow writer, thinking to be helpful, described all the characters in my first novel as ‘nice, friendly and kind to animals’ – or words to that effect. He clearly thought this was not a positive aspect of the work. He didn’t actually say so it but I’m guessing he considered the players to be ‘unrealistic’.

Whereas, I want to explore all the ways I can in which people could be both inspired and inspiring, especially since the point of the novel is not about the personalities per se but the unravelling of the plot. One of the best positive reviews I received, specifically mentioned how enjoyable it was to be able to read a story based around characters with stable home lives and good friends.

Placing the personal as a high priority, choosing to write about the wonderful, the inspiring and the best of humanity, is not, I think, a weakness but has the potential to provide a valuable service and vision of the future. I aspire to follow in the footsteps of the new Star Trek writers, who openly stated that learning to broker peace was a strategy the human race could do with just now.

So I want to finish this slightly longer than usual blog with a personal thank you of my own. Thank you to all of you who take the time to read what I write, and – even more – to let me know that you like it. I don’t get many hits on this site; I’m not very good yet at advertising, tagging and all that malarkey. So it is particularly special when people hit a ‘like’ button, e-mail a comment or sign up to ‘follow’.

I’d just like to let you know, this means a lot to me at this end, and I enjoy looking out for the names that come back to read again. Some of you are very much beginning to feel like old friends. Happy Easter.

When You Can’t See The Wood …

I have now rewritten the start of chapter 31 of my second novel, three times. I just can’t seem to get it right. This is a strange occurrence for me. I don’t usually have to pick away at bits of work, jiggling and juggling to move words around. It’s simply not how I do it. Something must be wrong.

When my writing experience is not the smooth, enjoyable process that I’m used to, I know I need to look elsewhere for a clue about what’s happening. As it turns out, I don’t need to look very far this time, as my head is also exploding with concentrated, fine-print reading.

As part of the amazing opportunity I referred to recently, regarding my house and how I’m not going to have to sell it, I have – inevitably, I suppose – found myself in the midst of other people’s needs to clarify, define and absolutely ‘nail down’ every last detail of the deal. I think it’s what they call ‘looking after their interests’.

Unfortunately, their interests and mine are phenomenally different. It would appear that the other parties involved in the enterprise find making everything exact, not to mention exacting, a very interesting exercise. I, on the other hand, do not.

I am doing my best to read all the small print, large print and medium print. I am thoroughly making sure I understand every aspect of the agreement I’m entering into. I am studying the terminology, deciphering the jargon and learning aspects of law relevant to the case. But I’m doing all this more in the spirit of an intellectual exercise than because I really consider it to be worthwhile.

Because it becomes increasingly apparent that the more accurately the various persons concerned try to define their meanings, the less comprehensible the resulting documents become. It often takes me three read-throughs of a single paragraph, perhaps accompanied by a dictionary, not to mention several relevant references, to decipher what on earth the authors were trying to convey to me.

Often, when I get there, I find myself thinking, why didn’t they simply say that in the first place?

I find myself reflecting – in similar vein – on the atrocious first race of the new Formula One season last Sunday. Anyone who saw it will probably already know what I’m going to say. If you didn’t, it’s sufficient to tell you that if you were under the impression that motor racing was about cars overtaking each other in a bid to cross the line first, you’d be mistaken.

No, these days, apparently, it is about parading the most technologically-advanced vehicles in the world in front of a dwindling fan-base, in a effort to impress sponsors.

Technologically-advanced? I don’t think so. How can a car be technologically advanced, yet incapable of functioning properly behind another vehicle? The powers that be within the racing world seem to have become so absorbed with the idea that they must produce the fastest car on the race-track, that they seem to have forgotten it doesn’t matter how fast a car goes if it can’t overtake the one in front of it.

Over the last few seasons, more and more accoutrements have been added to the cars, more and more adaptations have been tweaked into shape, and more and more additions have been stapled onto the basic shape of the cars, so that a when I caught a close-up of the front wing of one of them during Sunday’s broadcast, I could scarcely believe what I was seeing.

What had, at one time, been a beautiful, simple and flowing piece of aerodynamic machinery has now been turned into something resembling the louvred doors of my kitchen cupboard! And I don’t like them, either!

But enough ranting. The point I’m trying to make is that everything has it’s own natural fluidity, the way it’s meant to be, and it behoves (love that word) us to stand back and let it be itself. All things, I believe, have a kind of feng shui  – a state of being which allows them to breathe and to feel ‘just right’.

And this applies to writing, as much as it does to racing cars or, even, legal agreements. You see, the more one tries to force something into place against its natural freedom, the more it’s simply not going to work.

The Secret Of My Success – Part The Third

I know I’ve talked about it before, and I’m sure I’ll talk about it again, but one of the biggest hurdles to success is the idea that perfection can be achieved. It is a measure of how successful I now feel that I no longer strive for, nor do I expect, perfection. Perfection is, it turns out, dry, dead and deadly.

This third piece on the subject of success has been inspired by the illusion of perfection. Because that’s exactly what perfection is – a mere illusion. I’m very conscious that I have only begun to be successful, on all fronts, since I have seen through this illusion and understood it for what it really is.

The steps to reaching this conclusion, and to understanding and making it real, have been many and significant. Some I have shared in other blogs (see, for example, The Perfect Blog or The Importance Of Being Rubbish), since this is a topic which is often in my thoughts. The remnants, I guess, of some very uncomfortable childhood experiences, most of which are probably not worth sharing …

I think, perhaps, one of the most significant steps was when I came across the concept of ‘good enough’. Coined originally within the world of psychotherapy, this little phrase has the ability to change one’s perception of the world, and one’s struggles within it, completely. Suddenly, what used to be beyond my ability, became achievable.

Small tasks which previously had appeared to be such huge challenges that I would often not even attempt them, miraculously turned into do-able ones, simply because the criteria which I now utilised to measure my degree of success, had radically altered.

And it was utilising this concept that enabled me to complete my first novel, and is now enabling me to write my second. Not to mention a weekly blog. Because using this description of what I’m setting out to do, allows me room to breathe, to go at a steady, appropriate pace, to make mistakes which can be honoured and – if necessary – rectified. Nothing is set in stone anymore, so I don’t need to worry as I go.

Before, when perfection was the goal, making the smallest error brought everything to a halt, with all the accompanying self-derision and expectations of criticism from others. Consequently, everything I was uncertain about, was a mere nanometer from disaster, and nothing draws failure to itself as successfully as the fear of failure.

Aiming instead for ‘good enough’ changed my outlook on accomplishing all sorts of things because something in the phrase made it seem possible. The consequence with this approach was, inevitably, that my results became ‘good enough’, and always with room for ‘excellence’ or ‘distinction’.

Instead of addressing each new enterprise with trepidation and a definite lack of confidence, I found I could look forward to interesting and unexpected outcomes, work with enthusiasm and learn to love life.

And something even more incredible surfaced as a result. I discovered there is something way, way better than perfection! Something quite magical and inspiring that could never be discovered or expressed by trying to be perfect. This elusive quality may be the outcome of no longer adhering to what is really an externally-imposed standard.

Just in case you didn’t realise: perfection is an illusion because someone has invented it! I guess parents and teachers are the biggest culprits. They manufacture goals for children to achieve which, as often as not, have no relevance to the particular child they are presented to. They are artificial standards, dreamed up by an ‘expert’, who in all probability doesn’t even know the child.

Even when we are inventing our own perfect dreams or goals, we are, most of the time, adopting standards dreamed up by someone else, someone outside of ourselves. Perfection has a rigidity to it that smacks of something being imposed on us. When we move from this to a model of being ‘good enough’, we are allowing our inner knowing the chance to show itself, and the results are gentle, kind and sufficient.

I have met people for whom this concept is anathema. How can ‘good enough’ be good enough? they argue. How can we ever achieve what is the best, the unattainable, the unimagined? I would reply that it is in reliquishing the external concept of perfection, that we can begin to discover what we can really do from our heart and soul. Because everyone is perfect when they begin to be who they truly are.

Whatever you feel about the idea, I’m very sure that the successes I have experienced in my life – the ones that have stuck with me, given me the greatest pleasure and ultimately have made me proud – are those I achieved by not trying to be perfect.

Is This What Success Looks Like? Part 2

It’s been a strange last few weeks for me. Things have been changing at a vast rate of knots, and I’ve found I have had to look at what was once familiar with new eyes – on an almost daily basis. So I thought I might try to share some of my experiences with you – though I reserve the right to be private about specifics.

Regular followers of my blog will have noticed gaps in my weekly routine of entries during the last month. This has been in part due to the excess of events in my life, and in another part, to the necessity to take time out to process them. And it is about this processing that I find I want to write, this week.

In thinking about success, I have encountered a few unexpected things. I have lived for a long time now with the expectation of a dramatic change in how my life pans out. In short, it looked very likely that I would lose my home.

This is nothing new for me. I have lived in many different houses, in many different places, and often with the knowledge that I would be moving on after a relatively short time. I guess I’m not alone in this. But I’ve never been homeless, and I carry a constant gratitude to whichever deity is looking out for me, for this fact. It has engendered within me a further expectation that I never will be homeless. Something always turns up.

What is different this time is that I have lived in my current house for a long time, and officially, I actually own this one. So coming to terms with the fact that I might lose it, has been quite hard. Though, it turns out, not impossible.

During the last couple of years, I have let myself dream. I have conjured up, and played around with, any number of new scenarios – just to see what they looked like. And I discovered some of them were very exciting. So I had gradually come to a place where I was quietly reconciled to an empty future with multiple possibilities. More than a little reminiscent of writing a book, I think.

Then suddenly, something happened – out of the blue – which appeared to offer me the opportunity to stay in my current house, after all. It was at this point that strange things began to happen. After the initial elation, the eruption of hope and the dalliance with fantasies of what this might mean, unaccountably, I began to mourn the loss of the undefined future I had grown accustomed to.

Despite the comforting pleasantness of the picture unfolding in front of me, I was strangely sad. Sad that the unformed would remain so, that the unexplored might never be visited, and the envisioned would only ever be a vision, not a reality. Even though the future I now had very nearly sitting in my lap was definitely not something I would wish to throw away, it still made me sad to relinquish what might have been – along with the familiar uncertainty that had been my companion for a long time.

It made me wonder whether this is one of the reasons that some people never achieve success – because saying ‘yes’ to whatever form success takes for them, even if much desired, necessarily involves also saying ‘no’.

It might be saying ‘no’ to success in a different format, but which, perhaps, is not realistic or achievable. It might be a ‘letting go’ of previously held beliefs and expectations about life. It might even be a relinquishing of something that you want to relinquish – it’s still a kind of grieving, and it involves a change of heart.

To move truly into a place of success, I discover, means leaving something behind. And even if that is something I want to leave behind, my mind, my psyche and my soul will need time to adjust before I will be able to step into being successful and stay there.

I have met people before who prefer to be miserable rather than change. I am determined not to be one of them. I have a regular practice of finding at least five things every day for which I am grateful, and over the years, this has enabled me to love what I now have around me. My beautiful fireplace, the elegant tulips grown on my allotment, the photos of the dogs who have been my family – all are examples of this.

I now look forward to this new chapter with anticipation. I can’t wait to see what life throws in my direction next.

Is This What Success Looks Like? – Part One

When I first began to write fiction, about four and a half years ago, I had no idea how much my new ‘hobby’ was to overtake my life. A change in my personal circumstances freed up a space in my lifestyle, and I decided to take a class in creative writing. It was something that had intrigued me for a while, and now I had the opportunity.

I entered that first class with no expectations. I didn’t know whether I’d be any good at writing – though I had masses of experience at academic writing of all sorts. Essays, reports, theses, teaching texts, exams – both setting and taking. Needless to say, none of these prepared me for what I was asked to do at that first class.

But I’m a fast learner. In fact, I think learning is one of my best skills. I seem to have an ability to learn how to learn something new, very quickly. I can see where the difficulties lie, how the precepts of unfamiliar territory work and what new thought processes I’ll need to acquire.

I also have great faith in the plasticity of the brain. If I don’t yet have the neural pathways I’ll need to complete the task, I’ll set about creating them. In conjunction with patience, determination and perseverance, I can usually be assured a degree of success in any new venture. Whether I actually turn out to have talent within it, is something else.

So I arrived with confidence that I’d be able to manage something, but with almost total ignorance as to how I was to go about it.

I found the initial comments about my work, confusing. Fellow writers mentioned that I was ‘very intellectual’. My tutor talked about how my work would be improved by dialogue. That was the first week. I returned with a proper story the second.

Next, I discovered ‘viewpoint’, and how to stay inside one person’s head. I took on board the need for description combined with action. I learned about ‘show not tell’. In short, by the end of the first term, I was not only really enjoying what I was doing, I had discovered I was actually quite good at it. Surprise!

My second shock was the way a brief classroom exercise had developed into the beginning of a story – a murder-mystery. We began to learn about the  differences between writing short stories and novels. By the second term, I realised this murder-mystery was begging to be a full-length book. It unravelled quite happily at a steady pace, developing first into a crime thriller, then a full-blown international conspiracy.

With the realisation that I – somehow – knew how to do this, I began to investigate how to get published. And to write a blog about my thought processes surrounding this! That was two years ago.

And it was round about that time that I seriously started to question just how ‘successful’ I wanted to be.

That may sound a strange thing to say. Most writers I come across have only one dream, and it revolves around getting a book deal from a big publisher, and living a life of what is commonly known as ‘fame and fortune’. It didn’t take me long to decide that was not exactly the way I wanted to go.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely nothing against my book(s) selling, and selling well. What I have no desire for is the lifestyle I might be required to lead if I tried to align myself with a publisher, and if I were then to achieve a high level of the above-mentioned ‘f&f’.

You see, I have a very lovely life. I get to do almost entirely what I want to do every day. I don’t have to meet anyone else’s deadlines, I am not required to work to anyone else’s standards, rate of production or required number of hours, and I can take as much space to rest, ponder and play as I need or desire.

I get to walk in the countryside, with my dog, on a daily basis. I find time to knit, spin and otherwise play with yarns and fibre, as well as doodle with my crayons, grow vegetables and flowers on my allotment and watch the birds in my garden. I am able to cook each day with fresh, organic food, to sit in front of a log fire each evening and to stand and natter over the fence with neighbours and visitors whenever I want.

Consequently, when I began to consider what publishing success might mean, I found it was not what I really wanted, and for a while, it almost stopped me from writing.

Fortunately for me, the ‘f&f’ kind of success, within the book world, is not easily come by, so I didn’t have to waste too much time worrying about choices I probably wouldn’t have to make. It didn’t take me long anyway to realise I knew which choices were the important ones for me, and to feel very secure within them.

This was one of the reasons I opted for Indie-publishing instead of wasting my efforts on trying to break into the world of Publishers, Agents and Book Deals. This, the life I have now with the opportunities it offers, feels very like success to me.

I didn’t realise at the top of the page how much I would have to say on this subject. (You’d think I’d be wise to this by now.) Hence, my original title has been amended, so that this is just part one of a two-, maybe three-part series, exploring my thoughts. I hope it triggers some reflections for you, too.