The Best Writing Tips I Wish I Had Known From The Very Beginning!

I was going to comment on this post and then I realised that a) I had too much to say about it and b) my comments would get lost in the envy-inducing welter of comments below. So I’m reblogging it here. I particularly like 1 and 4 and if I had to pick a favourite it’d be point 1. I have spent the last ten years telling myself to hurry up, hurry up or else I’ll be dead before I’m famous (or achieve anything worthwhile). Writing is not one mountain to climb but a whole range; first there’s carving out a routine, then there’s finding your own voice, then writing something worthwhile, then editing it and then, when the damned thing is just about perfect or as near as you can make it, trying to publish the bloody thing. But at the end of those ten years I realise that it is indeed necessary to slow down in order to produce good art

Tired of Brexit? Just Breathe – and Take Back Control!

It’s a long time since I’ve blogged about yoga.  Back in the day, I was posting about some yoga technique or philosophy on a weekly basis, but since I’ve stopped teaching the writing has taken over and now, when I’m asked to say what this blog is about, it’s hard to answer.  The tagline is ‘life and thoughts of a self-underemployed writer,’ and I guess that’s as good a description as any, though I’m not sure I’m ‘underemployed’ any more as I work basically office hours, 9-5-ish, Monday to Friday.  I’ve also got over the tendency to consider what I do as ‘not validated’ unless it is published: when you first start to write it’s very hard to justify the time spent doing it, and if years go by and you publish nothing that feeling can become almost unbearable.

The ultimate validation is to find your authentic voice.  I’m not saying publication doesn’t matter but I think it’s more likely to come once you discover your true voice rather than striving to be a copy of something else.  Still, it’s a loooooooooooong process: like Miles Davis said, it takes a long time to sound like yourself:

None of which, I now realise, has much to do with the title; as I see that I’ve written several paragraphs very much not about breathing.  I have problems with breathing, as do a lot of people: I have asthma and rhinitis (like hay fever only not seasonal) and although I don’t often get a full-blown asthma attack I can feel short of breath sometimes.  The rhinitis is more of a pain really, consisting of a blocked and runny nose and frequent sneezing.  But hey ho – it could be worse.  I could have leprosy or syphilis.  I could be in a wheelchair having to prove to ATOS every couple of months that my amputated legs are still amputated and haven’t grown back.

So: what can I say about yoga breathing?  I have written essays on it; entire books have been devoted to the subject – but for me the most exciting thing about working with the breath is that it gives you control.  You want to take back control?  Learn to breathe and you can control your heart-rate and blood pressure.  You can slow down your thoughts and calm your emotions.  Stuck in a traffic jam?  Cut up by some arse in a BMW?  Been nice to someone who was rude in return?  All these things tend to raise the blood pressure and agitate the mind, and doing something so simple as merely focussing on the breath can really help.  Try some of these ideas:

Just breathe – it really is better than Brexit.

Kirk out

Death of the Novel: Reports Greatly Exaggerated?

There has been a furore of late about comments by Will Self on the death of the novel: or, to be precise, on the death of literary fiction.  As anyone can see, certain types of novel are flourishing: fantasy (Philip Pullman, J K Rowling), Sci-Fi (can I mention ‘Replicas’ and the Hugo Prize once more here? crime (‘Girl on Something Somewhere’) and soft porn (you know which) are clearly selling well.  But there’s an argument that TV box sets have replaced narrative; and whilst it’s true that we are living in a golden age of TV drama (I’m glued to ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ right now) some of those same box sets are based on novels and sales of said novels go up when the series are aired.  Examples include Vera, Game of Thrones, Poldark and of course Sherlock, which caused me to take out and re-read some of Conan Doyle’s stories and relate them to the TV ‘updates’.  That’s not to mention all the literary classics which get box-setted * every few years, such as The Forsyte Saga and anything by Dickens or Austen.  * OMG what a terrible compound verb!

Will Self may have a point, though I suspect pundits have been predicting the novel’s demise ever since it was born.  Like a sickly baby – like Stephen Hawking as soon as he was diagnosed – people have been expecting LitFic to pop its clogs for ever, yet valiantly it carries on, like a bee who doesn’t know that it can’t fly.  Or like Snoopy who doesn’t know that the world is too miserable for him to be dancing:

The most recent argument for the demise of the novel is the decrease in our attention spans.  It’s a fair point; we have so many distractions now that to sit for several hours with a novel is much more difficult than it used to be.  Then there’s online publishing and self-publishing, plus the recession – all leading to the decline in traditional outlets.

I have a dream (oo!  Did you hear about Martin Luther King’s granddaughter saying she had a dream that ‘enough is enough’ for guns?  Terrific:

Anyway – I have a dream.  It’s not the same order of dream but it’s a dream nevertheless, that somehow the future lies in the oral tradition.  I am convinced that we have to go back to our oral roots: spoken word is already massively popular, especially with young people, because it’s the antidote to an automated, virtual world.  It is direct and personal, it is up-front and face to face.  It’s healthy too, as Michael Rosen says in this article:

So now we need to do for prose what performance has done for poetry.  I don’t mean endless readings; of course a novel can’t be performed in the way that a poem can.  But if Dickens did it, so can we; and in my mind there is a stage where I will perform parts of novels along with poetry.

Anyway, here are some of Will Self’s musings:

and here are some counter-arguments:

Happy reading!

Kirk out

‘More-Persecuted-Than-Thou’ Attitude

Today I was taking part in a Facebook debate (reasonably well-mannered, considering it’s Facebook) on faith and atheism and whether people are harassed or persecuted in any way because of their beliefs.  I commented that in my experience in the UK it was easier to say you were atheist or agnostic than to ‘come out’ as a Christian.  As I said a while back:

you open yourself to ridicule or scorn and are often held to account for everything from the Inquisition to latent homophobia.

However one person on the Facebook thread believes that the persecution is all on the other side.  Atheists get it in the neck much worse than the faithful, apparently, and Christians who complain of criticism are being whiney (my word) and confusing argument with personal attacks.

I think there are some double standards here (my persecution is real but you’re just being whiney) and I have to say it doesn’t accord with my experience.  I can’t speak for the US but in Western Europe Christianity is on the back foot and has been for several decades.  In spite of the establishment of the Church of England and the protected status of faith schools (both of which I disagree with, by the way) in society at large atheism has become the default position.  You are assumed not to have a faith unless otherwise stated.

Generally when you mention your faith to people they start to edge away as though you’re about to lay hands on them and start praying.  Of course historically the church has a lot to answer for and I wouldn’t dream of defending it: even nowadays you can see some examples of pretty bad evangelism, usually carried out by some very thick-skinned people.  But there is a level of scorn aimed at the religious which I don’t see directed at atheists (not that I’d want it to be) and led by the high priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins.

To sum up, the zeitgeist is not friendly to faith.  I wouldn’t call it persecution, but I wouldn’t call it acceptance either.

Kirk out


Hope is the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson said, and yesterday we were all in a pretty feathered state as we waited for 8 pm to arrive.  To be longlisted for the Hugo award is a pretty big deal; and as things stood yesterday morning Replicas was at no: 14, making it unlikely that it would be within the top five by evening.  But still there was hope, and all day we celebrated this unlooked-for good news, even going so far as to get a takeaway pizza and a bottle of wine in the evening.  It was terribly exciting, even though the announcements were about as low-key as you could get, with the live feed being just a screen in a bar somewhere in San Jose beamed onto youtube.  Sadly ‘Replicas’ did not feature in the shortlist, but since other categories featured the likes of Philip Pullman, Iain M Banks and an episode of ‘Black Mirror’, it was an honour just to be considered.  We’re hoping now that the publishers will put something on the book jacket, which should improve sales.

Here are the shortlisted works:

So if you haven’t already got your copy, here’s where to get something longlisted for the Hugo!!!


Kirk out