man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885My thanks to Susan Miller for mailing me to say she’d found a few typos on my website. Am I aware, she asks, Google marks poor spelling down in the rating stakes? Can’t spell? Poor grammar, even? Google won’t rate your site. You’ll be lucky to make page ten, and you won’t get any hits, you loser, so let me (Susan) clean things up for you,  get you noticed, transform you from a baggy bellied nobody into a white toothed, hard abbed, square jawed winner!

I haven’t clicked as far as details of the fee and won’t be doing so. Sorry, Susan.

It’s not true anyway. Google couldn’t care less about spelling or grammar. And I couldn’t care less if they did anyway. I’ve no idea what my rankings are. I’m not well up on the science of it, nor how to game the system, but I do know spelling and grammar isn’t a factor, mainly because computers aren’t great at spelling or grammar either, no matter how fancy the algorithms claim to be. You’ve only to use Microsoft’s grammar assistant or Google’s Grammarly for bit to work that one out.

But thanks, Susan, for reminding me those rankings can indeed be gamed, that there’s a fair old competition going on to get that killer piece on Google’s front page. Of course the business ethic is very much embedded in the world of the world wide web: sink or swim, eat or be eaten, get smart or get lost, but it’s an ethos modelled on a fairly utilitarian viewpoint, one that neglects to take into consideration there’s a fair percentage of the population who find it repulsive.

So, I’m sure my rankings aren’t as high as they might be – for whatever reason. If yours are the same you might be tempted to take it personally – like a credit rating thing, but my advice is don’t worry about it. If the system can be gamed and you’re good at it, it means you’re just a better player, and not necessarily a better a writer.

By extension we also have to ask the question, am I reading this because “the machine” wants me to? Is there a weight of money and insincere influence behind it?  or is it that, against all the odds, and all the other pages floating about in the blogsphere, I was simply meant to come across this one today?

Old ways

Hartsop old wayThursday evening, came home from work early. Long weekend in the offing, glad to have nailed it after a pig of a week. Walked in, looking forward to savouring every moment, only to find my Broadband router showing a stack of red lights instead of the usual blue. Everyone is glum. No internet. Looks like a call to BT, except I need to go on-line to get the number.

Ah,… right.

So I burn a few precious minutes of 3G data on my phone. Number in hand I call the help-line. I’m connected to India in a matter of seconds. I’m half an hour on the line, and across five thousand miles they’re testing my line, testing the router. What a marvellous thing it is we have invented, this global computer. Or is it?

What devices do I hook up to, sir? Couple of laptops, several tablet devices, iPods, phones, a couple of  Playstations,… I realise the list is endless, and this surprises me. My entire life has moved on-line.

Test results inconclusive! They need to send an engineer to poke about with a screwdriver, to tug at the wires, to test the physicality  of my connection. How about next Tuesday? What? That’s nearly a week! How am I supposed to manage a week without internet? I don’t say this to the guy in India of course – he’s doing his best. My heart quaking, I just say okay.

There’s a pall of silence when I end the call. Tuesday? We’ll have to manage until Tuesday! We are a family of four, and I am not alone in my total dependence on the world wide web for passing the time, for entertainment, for education, for news, for pseudo-nourishment, for information,…

When did this happen? At what point did so much of my life begin pointing in at this window? When did so much of my life become aimed at shaping an imaginary world online, of adding to to the info-glut of words and pictures and video, writing a blog, writing fiction, playing MYST? Dammit, I’d been looking forward to chilling out for a couple of days doing nothing but playing MYST!

So,… nothing for it then. No Internet. For days and days and days.

What now?

Well, what did I used to do? Sits down to think? Write! There was always the writing, sure and most of that ending up double spaced on A4, either in the post or in my bottom drawer when I’d given up on it. I used to draw too, and paint,… I used to read – and I mean PAPER books.

So I pick up a PAPER book I’ve had since it came out in 2012 – Macfarlane’s “The Old Ways”. I’d begun the book enthusiastically, but left off a few chapters in, not because I found the book dull, but because my head is always being lured back inside the online world. And the lure is strong. But in the space of a few minutes I reconnected with the book as Macfarlane took me a walk along the Broomway, off the coast of Essex. Then he took me up to the Western Isles, to Harris, then a sail into the Atlantic in an ancient open sailboat, to a tiny speck of the British Isles that doesn’t always make it onto the maps – North Rona. This is a voyage with a salty crew who know their way around the old sea roads. I spend a night on an uninhabited island in the Minch, belly warmed by good company and fiery malt, and I meet characters who still speak the stories of place, of physical places, places I touched once, a quarter century ago when I passed this way myself and which lit up my life in ways unexpected.

A few summers and a lifetime of memory.

And I remembered my old novel, the pre internet “Singing Loch”, which was about how I felt the land die whenever the old stories were lost, ripped up, forgotten, concreted over, and how the world descended then into a kind of grey. I remember how I’d once burned with the lust of the old ways, and believed with all my heart it was important we kept a spiritual tryst with the land. Then I remembered the books of Patrick Harpur, and again the tales from the mysterious north, the lore of the Norse and the Celt, of the spirits of place and of the mysterious Shee, whom only the Irish, full blood or part descended have the eye to see. And all of this is important because, although the stories are in our minds, we meet them in the land, because the land is where we are supposed to be, and when we honour it on bended knee, the spirit of it comes to guide our way.

And then I’m looking at my father’s old maps – crumbly and curly now – Ordnance Surveys of the West Pennine Moors, six inches to the mile, mapped in the 1840’s. There are marks on the map, old ways we once walked together, and the broad arrow benchmarks we came upon upon chiselled in stone by the sapper men upon the peaty moor – days of mist when the whole world was a figment of imagination, and summer days when the larks were aloft and time stood still.

And then, as I slept the shee were whispering in my ear what I knew already, that the Broadband Router is fried, and that’s all a week’s wait for the BT guy will tell me. Inscrutable race, the Shee – wise, curious, sometimes mischievous, sometimes helpful even in their misdirection. So then I’m off to Tesco at dawn break for a new router. £50 and I’m plugging it in. Blue light is on, and we’re back online,…

But I’m not sure this is a good thing any more. Maps, books,… memories of walks, of the old ways, set aside, forgotten again. For a moment last night, the spirit of the old days, the old ways crept back in at the door, and Shee had begun to look over my shoulder, guide my hand, my heart, my mind,…

But there are no spirits of place in here, no old ways to be explored. It is a place where the Shee do not venture for old things are like as not simply deleted. There is no archaeology on the Internet, no myth, no folklore. It is a dead place! What do they mean opening this portal again and pushing me back in? I write this piece after playing MYST till my eyes bleed. I tag, I click, I post,…

What is the internet for?

And is it friend of foe?


Lost in Myst

MYST online 1

Imagine you wake on a mountain peak, a small hut for shelter, and no way down. Other distant peaks pierce a level plane of mist like lone islands in a milky sea. There’s a curious pillar outside your hut – half totem, half chimenea, patterned with strange glyphs. Touching it reveals an inner chamber in which there lies a book. In the book there is a picture of a desert landscape, mostly flat but with a volcanic caldera in the middle. Touch the picture, you fade out, rematerialise in the desert. The desert is vast. You wander, eventually coming upon a lone guy lounging outside his trailer,…

So begins your adventure.

Back in the day when computers were young there was a game called MYST. It was unusual among computer games; there were no guns, no racing cars, and no zombies; it did not depict war, nor indeed any sort of violence. Instead, this was a two dimensional point and click adventure – dull you might think by comparison, except it shone. It was imaginative, immersive – fiendish puzzles at every turn, and though it was basically an animated slide show, it developed a cult following that has continued through various incarnations to the present day.

I didn’t play it in the beginning, I found it too hard, discovered Tomb Raider and Lara Croft instead. I felt MYST would have been more engaging as a 3D walk-through, like the Tomb Raider series, but the machines of the time weren’t up to the scale and the ambition of it. Now is a different story. Now the machines have caught up, and are capaple of handling the sheer polygonal density of it, of rendering it beautiful.

So, you’re in this desert and there’s a guy telling you he knows why you’re there, which is more than you do. He tells you to check out the Cleft.

The Cleft is gash in the earth, accessible by creaky rope ladder and dotted with caves. They look like they’ve been home to ancient natives at some point, but there’s evidence of recent habitation too. There are more glyphs here, and strange machines, some old world, some of an unfamiliar technology. Bewildered, you go back to the trailer guy, he gives you some clues, talks about an imager. You go back down the hole, eventually work out how to fire this imager up, thinking it might explain something. It does. A hologram appears; it’s a girl, telling you a strange tale. You have to find seven glyphs. Do this and the hole at the end the of cleft can be opened. It takes a while, but you find the glyphs. The trailer guy helps some more. You open the hole in the root of a tree and down you go in the world of MYST.

It’s bewildering, ingenious, beautiful, immersive, and, like dreams sometimes are, also a little unsettling, but unlike the world of Tomb Raider, there are no death traps. Pull a lever and there’s no monster behind the door, no trapdoor over a spike filled pit, only a puzzle, another door to somewhere else, and another layer of mystery to add to the layers you already have.

MYST online is a massive download, 1.2Gbytes, but to play also requires a permanent hookup to the internet. I’ve a feeling much of the coming winter will be spent down this rabbit hole.

MYST is so different from any other game. Go wrong, fall off a ledge and into the lava for example, we simply wake back to our mountain hut, unhurt and more thoughtful. No one is torn limb from limb. No one is cut in two or has their head blown off. Get stuck and you can return to the hut any time. And the hut changes, things appear as you make progress through the levels, books appear on the shelf to help you, a more lush vegetation begins to grow. It’s puzzling, enigmatic, seductive.

And the purpose? Well, I’m several hours in and I really don’t know without reading the cheats and walkthroughs, which I don’t want to do at this stage. I’m determined to let the game inform me of its own purpose as I go along. It’s a quest of sorts, to find the glyphs, like the girl said, scattered thorughout the various levels of the world, but the world is vast and it comes at you all at once. This is not a linear adventure – doors open on vast levels, each with doors that open onto others, and somehow link back to one another through books and memory. It is a story, but one you don’t read. You have to live it. There is an intellectual challenge here unlike anything I’ve encountered in a computer game before.

And you are not alone. This is all online, a so called Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game which means there are others in here, though thinly spread throughout the vast dreaminess of the place. You can work with them, or you can go it alone. It’s up to you.

All of this sounds like I’m trying to sell it to you, and I suppose I am – but only because, like any enthusiastic traveller, I want you to see the things I’ve seen. And, remarkably, the journey costs nothing. unlike a regular game, say for a Playstation which costs anything up to £40 these days. But the developers of MYST are giving it away, just asking for donations on the startup screen to help keep the servers running. My machine’s a regular quad-core laptop and manages it smoothly. If your computer was built in the last two or three years, it’ll probably do the same. All you need is your email for an account, a couple of hours for the download, and you’re in.

Lost in MYST

Mazda under coverA wet day yesterday, plans for an Autumn outing scuppered by weather, so the car stayed under cover. I spent the day also in refuge, whiling away the time looking at blogs, and thinking about blogs, and making the mistake of trying to understand my own blog in relation to the blogs of others. It doesn’t work.

But anyway, I followed the trails of tags that I tend to tag my own work by. “Writing” and “Self Publishing” led me to aspiring writers touting their wares, like me, though I note most other writers and self publishers are still doing it for the money, or at least trying to, still desperately following the tired old model of chasing the money, and “recognition” of their own self worth, so I find little resonance there.

Other tags lead to blogs offering ten-step programs on how to turn your life around, be it mentally, spiritually or materially. And I note, slipped into the small print, there is usually a way of charging money – for a book or a prop – so little resonance there either.

The “spiritual” tag brings forth an evangelical fire and brimstone, while “blogging” itself hooks up all the so called life-style blogs, a well known phenomenon and oft encountered; they’re low on words, while rich in photography, a photography that depicts a romantically affluent “aspirational” life, of beautiful people wearing fashionable clothes, living in fashionable houses, doing fashionable things with a wide circle of beautiful friends who never say embarrassing things. They are the latter day equivalent of the life-style magazine, basically selling décor, and designer shoes to the unwary, equating worth with stuff. They do have a certain fragile, fictional beauty to them, but we do well to remember life is always messy out of shot, and even beautiful, designer clothed people go to the toilet like everyone else.

No resonance there either then. So what am I doing? Am I mad? Should I be chasing the money, the recognition, the mythical lifestyle too?

I think of basic linguistics, the analysis of which reveals when we speak to others the ordinary human being is doing one of three things: we are asking a question, we are answering a question, or we are making a statement. But the blogsphere, like the rest of the online world is not the real world, obviously. It is a medium through which pictures of life are presented in varying degrees of authenticity; it is a partial fiction, which makes it open to a more recent and peculiarly materialistic form of communication: selling a myth, or in other words: advertising, so people will buy stuff they would not buy ordinarily.

It wasn’t always this way. Online I mean.

I still have a website – http://www.rivendalereview.co.uk. I keep it for sentimental reasons, but it’s looking old fashioned and amateurish now, and has not been updated since 2011. It began life in 1999, so I’ve been writing online now for 16 years, which pre-dates the birth of many of today’s social media users, for whom this cheap myth-manufacturing medium is now such a given, they do not even know with each click they are being analysed and served advertisements. And perhaps it is my memories of life before the internet that so colours my own approach to it. Adverts were once anathema to the pioneers of the medium. We wanted it to be kept clean of the tawdry salesman. The internet was for the tech-savvy, for the engineers, the artists, the liberal anarchists who were going to change the world with openness and honesty and fellowship. I set up the Rivendale Review to be ad free. Now, like commercial TV, we just accept it. We accept the lie, and we all shop on-line, our wildest dreams just an idle click from never coming true.

I remember writing in the 80’s, sending stories off to publishers and magazines – and even the ones that didn’t pay wouldn’t touch my stuff. It was a poor state of affairs for an aspiring hack, but if you wanted anyone other than your wife or your mum to read your work, you had no choice but to do battle with it. So the internet was a miracle, that I could put words on-line, self publish them from my living room, and they would stay there, for ever, and anyone could see them, all over the world. I lost interest in the battle after that and began to really enjoy my writing. Self publishing for me has always meant something quite different to other online writers.

I suppose I’m still too caught up on that early vibe of liberation to care much for how the medium has developed, how it can now be controlled, analysed and exploited by the corporate net-savvy to turn the mega-bucks from our pockets, to read our thoughts and serve us ads even about the things we’re not yet thinking. But it keeps the internet running, I suppose, so people like me can free-load our non-commercial writings on the glossy, user friendly services of Google or WordPress, or wherever, so I’d be wise not to get too uptight about it.

My blogging is a little old fashioned – still about posing that question, then trying to answer it, or it’s about giving information, say if I’m talking about experiences, travels, places, books I’ve read. I do this for myself, condensing an experience into a more pleasingly crafted shape for future reminiscence. My blog is mostly fact with just a light sheen of anonymising fiction.

Our reasons for blogging are many and personal. I still don’t know why I blog, or why I even think what I have to say is going to be interesting to others. It’s certainly no more important than the thoughts or opinions of anyone else, and I’m hardly in a position to pedal an aspirational lifestyle. I prefer to keep mine private, as anything else just seems undignified, but I can at least assure you, both out and in shot, my life is a chaotic, designerless, unfashionable muddle. I suppose the thing is that we all think, we all have thoughts and opinions, but not everyone writes. So it falls to the writers to say what we think, whoever we are, whatever it is, and through whatever medium is open to us, and we must do it whether we believe anyone is interested, or even listening or not.

And we do it because it’s what we’ve always done.

It rained today as well.

The world is turning to water.

wet leaf

La Pregunta Lawrence Alma-Tadema

La Pregunta – Lawrence Alma-Tadema – 1877

Number and time; the primacy of integers as psychological archetypes; the I Ching, and dreams. These are my current preoccupations, resurrected from notes a decade old by now, but I’ve not had much “time” to ponder them afresh. My workaday life has been upside down, and I am besieged by an army of conspirators tugging at my elbow, presenting me with more tedious problems to be solved, one after the other.

And the amateur philosopher has not always the luxury of an ivory tower in which to retreat, and must more often times glean his meagre insights from the muck of battle, with his belly pressed to the earth. And most of the time there is no progress, just the occasional opening on a window of strangeness that is both bewildering, yet also reassuring that the underpinnings of the universe are more than we can know, that the muck of battle, while not an illusion, is only a small part of all there is. And time passes, sometimes whole decades before these ideas circle back at us for one more pass.

I’ve been a long time forgetting my dreams now, but just this week I’ve been trying to get back into them, trying to honour the unconscious by at least listening to what it has to say. We all dream, every night. It’s just that the dreaming takes place in a place beyond memory so the remembering of dreams is never a sure thing. More often we forget them, or some of us might even spend entire lives believing we have never dreamed at all. When we do.

If we want to remember our journeys in dreamland, regularly, we need only remind ourselves, before we sleep, that we want to remember. And then the dreams will linger long enough in the first conscious waking moments for us to catch up with them. They offer fleeting glimpses at first, as we snatch at their coat tails, but with persistence rich panoramas open that we can drink down into memory. Then our days are coloured by the subtle feeling tones left over from the dreamlands we journey. Dreams can be sweet, or they can be unsettling. They can reveal insights, or they can leave us speechless with their impenetrable lunacy. But unlike that daytime army of besiegers, the dreamland and it denizens never drain us. Their purpose is to nourish, to heal, to inform. And occasionally in so doing, they reveal intriguing glitches in what we understand as the fabric of space and time.

So, last night I dreamed I was going to be late for work. I had to get my breakfast, get dressed, get out to work. I had to be there by 7:20. I wasn’t going to make it. All was in disarray, my clothes and my gear scattered everywhere. I didn’t know what to wear. I couldn’t find anything – phone, keys, nothing. And what I managed to find, I’d lost again by the time I came to look for something else. And already it was too late. I was too late to get to work for 7:20. Then my wife appeared in the dream, telling me I still had time, because she knows what I’m like and had “altered the clocks” while I slept. It was okay then. I was going to make it by 7:20 after all because my wife was watchful and had introduced a glitch in time. Yes,… a classic anxiety dream. Need a holiday and all that,…

But then I woke up, and my wife was telling me it was 7:20, that my alarm clock hadn’t gone off and was I going to work or not? If I was I’d better hurry becasue I was already late! Her intervention saved the day. Again.

This was the first dream I’ve remembered in any detail for a long time, and it has pitched me at once outside of time, left me floundering a little, yet also serene in the reminder such things are possible. You could say dreaming of being late, of the time “7:20” appearing in my dream, forcibly, several times, and then waking at “7:20”, to find myself running late in reality,… that all of this was a coincidence. Indeed we have no choice but to label it as such, because any other explanation leads to the absurd conclusion that the dream was informed by images, numbers and circumstances from something that had yet to happen in waking reality.

And how can we dream of a thing apparently inspired by events before they happen?

Well, it does happen and I’m okay with it. It’s happened before. It happens to everyone, as anyone who remembers their dreams will tell you, and there’s no need to fear it. I don’t mind that the dreaming runs ahead sometimes. I don’t know what it means, other than a part of us, an unconscious part, is not bound by the normal constraints of space and time. I can’t find a convincing explanation for it in the literature – only snippets of speculation from others who have experienced the same shifting nature of the dream-time. These are not super-normal powers. We are all subject to their whimsical mystery. But they’re unreliable, not summonable at will, as far as I know, so mostly useless in practical terms. Just,… curious.

I arrived at work on time, and have spent much of the time with my head elsewhere. When in the thick of it, it’s often not a bad approach to gain another perspective.

Dreams can sometimes do that to you.

I CHingThe notion of a life’s path is central to ideas of human development, be they secular or religious. But it’s not obvious what that path is, especially when we can only say we’re on it when we’re not deliberately trying to steer our course. And our Ego likes to steer, likes to gain knowledge, skill, and to compete against other egos in order to secure wealth, power and sex. These are the aphrodisiacs of the material world, a world that divides us, as it did in primitive times, into mere predators and prey. There can be no other way, we’re told – no surviving life without combat. It’s evolution. Simple.

Not true, says the Book of Changes.

The Book of Changes, also known as the I Ching or the Yi Jing, is a strange, beguiling text, evidence of which first appeared in China’s Shang Dynasty, around 1600 BC, though it certainly predates this period. It came to the west in the late 19th century via the translation by James Legge, and largely ignored except as a cultural curiosity, but was taken up by the Jungian psychoanalytical movement on publication of the influential Wilhelm edition in 1929. There have been many editions since the Wilhelm Edition, but none so influential, striking as it did at the heart of European intellectual thought.

It then became a companion to 60’s counterculture, and is still widely used today. While its core structure has remained untouched since antiquity, the language of its interpretation changes to suit whatever culture it finds itself taken up by. I have several versions of it, and wrote my own interpretation, The Hexagrams of the Book of Changes, available here, as a way of furthering my grasp of its curious concepts.

What we normally think of as our life’s path, says the Yi Jing, the path we can see and plot and manage, isn’t really our path at all, but simply our life situation. Our true path is more of an internal journey towards awakening. Our life situation is only relevant to the extent that we are able to adjust our relationship with it in order to prevent it from subverting the more vital inner path. The material world is a world asleep. Hold solely to material values, and you will remain asleep also. To awaken is to realise, viscerally, the deeper nature of reality and our place in it. To this end the Yi Jing is an indispensable guide.

What makes the book unique is its interactive nature. You talk to it. You can ask it things, and it answers. The answers are complex, perceptive, and personal. There’s a lot of debate about exactly who or what it is we talk to when we talk to the Yi Jing. Some deify the book, picturing in their minds the spirit of a wise old sage, like Lao Tzu perhaps, and that’s fine if it’s how you want to see it. But everyone’s relationship with the book is going to be different.

My own feeling is that when we consult the book, we open the way to a deeper part of our selves. We ask our question and are then directed to certain apparently random passages and subtexts, the combination of which forms a narrative for reflection and interpretation. The answers then emerge in our own minds, riding in on a wave of sudden insight. In some sense the book can be seen as an oracle, but this is to seriously underestimate its potential, and for me its real strength lies in its use as a psychological tool, a thing that shakes the unconscious mind in order to release personal insights.

I don’t know how it works, and I no longer think about it. The ego cannot crack it, but neither can the Ego accept the Yi Jing without explanation, so there opens a divide. On the one side we have explanations from devotees of the book that range from the vaguely plausible to the frankly crackpot, and on the other a sour scientistic rejection of the book as merely the work of an emerging, pre-rational culture. Others say we simply read into it whatever we want to hear, and that’s also fine, though this does not explain the fact that if one is open enough, one always rises from the Yi Jing knowing or feeling something one did not know or feel before. Another of its useful characteristics is that it will never shy away from telling us what we don’t want to hear. It’s not an easy book to know, certainly not without devoting time to developing a relationship with it, and many may find it simply impenetrable, banal, or even repulsive.

When I read back to my earliest conversations with the Yi Jing, I come across as a very different person, my questions very much concerned with my place in the world: job, relationships, house, kids, cars, holidays, financial ups and downs, struggles for publication,… and the answers read like repeated attempts to make me see I had the whole world upside down, that actually, none of it mattered, that the confusion and the frustration we so often feel in life is based on faulty thinking, our anxieties arising purely from a resistance to events over which we have no control.

While we have no choice, as beings in flesh, but to operate at the material level of reality, the Yi Jing tells us we should always do so in cognizance of the inherent limitations of material being, and in the knowledge that a greater understanding of the meaning of “being” comes from exploring the shifting patterns of our inner selves. As a guide to such things, I have found the Yi Jing is without parallel and is one of the most insightful guides to life ever conceived.

Not bad for a book coming to us from our Neolithic past.

writer pasternakFiction is divided into genres and the traditional advice for the writer is to choose a genre, get to know it well, then to write something to suit it. The upside of this, for the publisher at least, is that it makes a work more easily definable in marketing terms, but for the writer it can eventually lead to stories that are all essentially the same. Georges Polti tells us there are only 36 dramatic situations, the inference being that all works are to a degree derivative. So if you narrow the field even further and, for example, take a genre like Teen Vampire stories, or Romance, there comes a point very quickly when things begin to look alike.

This doesn’t sound like a recipe for originality, yet it is only the most naive writer who attempts to break the genre boundary by seeking to achieve something outside of it. Why? Because they risk the publisher rejecting their efforts as being, if not without merit, then certainly without market. Yet paradoxically it is exactly this genre busting approach that yields the most “groundbreaking” stories. The catch 22 is that any writer who sets out to do such a thing is seriously narrowing the already narrow odds of having their work read at all.

It’s a paradox, yes, but for the independent author, writing online, especially one writing for nothing, it’s irrelevant. We can write what we want, write a teen vampire police procedural Miss Marple type murder mystery if we like. Such a chimerical creation would be unthinkable in conventional print, but might actually be very entertaining, both for reader and writer alike.

If we’re writing for nothing, there’s nothing lost in trying to at least offer something original. This needn’t be difficult because the originality we have to offer is already invested in our own unique experience of life.

For me, attempts at originality are rooted in having no idea where a story is going from the outset. No plan. Nothing. But if I meditate on nothingness for a while, a character will appear. I see them in a situation, a scene unfolds, a thought or two leaks out of them, I’m intrigued. I want to know more about them. This is not a plot, not an outline, it’s just a scene, an opening, a curtain raised on an unfamiliar play. But it is also a seed that contains within it the genetic coding for the unfolding of an entire universe.

Want to know who the character is? What they’re doing? How they got there? Ask them. Let another character in, become them, be that person for a while, see what else unfolds. Do not invent your stories, do not work from an outline and bulldoze your plot through from start to finish. Instead merely write down the story as your characters tell it to you.

Make stuff up as you go along? Are we not in danger then of writing ourselves into a plot quagmire from which there’s no way out? Surely only children do that and, for want of any better conclusion, simply end their stories in exasperation with the revelation that it was all a just dream? Maybe. But I find if we can really trust in our characters, in the unconscious, in the pre-existing fabric of being, this won’t happen and what we’ll have is something as unique, as quirky, and as unusual as the individual imagination. This is their story. Not yours.

But then again we’re all suggestible. Unknown to us, our “original” character, our apparently spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious may actually be derived subliminally from someone we saw on TV last night. So yes, this can be dangerous in that what we sincerely believe to be creations from our deepest unconscious are in fact heavily contaminated by exposure to other forms of entertainment, and once again we end up writing stuff that’s no different to anything else. Better then we draw more from life, that our characters be based on someone we saw briefly in a coffee-shop at the weekend than from a novel we have just read, or a movie we have just seen. Or we can seek to allow within us a looseness of thought that allows our characters to produce a hybrid offspring, half suggested by other fictions, half swept up from our observations of life.

None of this is to say that achieving originality equates to writing good fiction. Indeed it’s can be quite an insult to a writer if the best that can be said of our work is that it is “original” – translated as: bizarre, unintelligible, freaky, illiterate, and worst of all unmarketable – so we do need to pay attention to other aspects of the craft. But what the quest for originality does, I think, is succeed in fulfilling the aim of those mysterious personal and collective unconscious processes which seek to enter conscious awareness by whatever means fall to hand, to become a part of what we understand as a physical reality. If we’re giving our work away online, there’s no reason not to do it, and the rewards can be immeasurable in terms of personal satisfaction, even psychological development.

Of course the only rules in writing are those compiled by writers writing books for sale on how to write saleable writing. But the truth is there are no rules, only a list of personal methods that may or may not sit well with others. So, although I have been writing a long time, I hesitate to offer advice – and more so especially since I’ve not made  a bean out it. About the only thing I’m confident in passing on to you is that we must at the very least take pleasure in our story-telling, or it’s not worth doing. So don’t write merely because you believe a story will be popular. Write because you have no choice, and because the story you are writing is the one you’ve been given. You can always tell the difference. One of them will be a grind and you’ll probably never finish it , while the other will light you up from first to last, and your characters will teach you things about yourself and about life you did not know before.


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