Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Fiefdom", "Dangerous Games" and " Tomb Raider: The Ten Thousand Immortals" are all available.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Krysztof Charamsa: The Gay Monseigneur and the Catholic Conversation on Family Values

It’s been ten months since I regularly wrote this blog and so much has happened in that time, I hardly know where to begin to catch up.

I’m fascinated by politics, and I was going to begin there, particularly since I didn’t cover the election or the rise of Jeremy Corbyn: both fascinating subjects. The death of Denis Healey also piqued my interest since I began to be interested in politics at around the time his eyebrows were a regular feature in the news.

I will return to all of those subjects over the days and weeks that follow, because it’s a good bet that politics are going to remain very interesting and increasingly adversarial over the next couple of years, not least with Brexit on the horizon.

This is what the Independent reported
But it’s Sunday today, and I have a new hero. I’m not going to pretend, even this early in the piece that I’m not a little ambivalent about what he chose to do or how he chose to do it; nevertheless, I have a new hero this week, and I thought today might be the day to talk about him, because it’s Sunday.

I had not heard of Krysztof Charamsa until this week, and there was no reason why I should have. I am not a Roman Catholic. I generally do not partake of organised religion. Creed and doctrine are difficult for me, although morality and spirituality are not, and personal responsibility is an ideal that is very close to my heart.

Until very recently, Krysztof Charamsa was a very high-ranking member of the Roman Catholic church. He was a Monseigneur with responsibilities for Roman Catholic doctrine. He consulted within the church on the fundamental rules laid down for followers of the faith throughout the World.  And that’s a big deal… That’s a very big deal.

This week the Pope leads a three week long Synod; cardinals and bishops will gather from around the World to talk about family issues, and the Synod will include a discussion on sexuality.

On the eve of the synod, Monseigneur Charamsa came out as gay. He was immediately relieved of his title and of his duties with regard to Roman Catholic doctrine by the church that he has served for his entire career, and, possibly, since his profession is also his vocation, for his entire life.

Mr Charamsa is Polish and he was, until he was sacked, a high-ranking Roman Catholic priest. He was not defrocked entirely, but his fate and his position in the church remains undecided and therefore uncertain. There are still places in the World and communities in which it is complicated to be gay and dangerous to share that status. Mr Charamsa stood up in front of the World’s press and declared that he was gay, that he was happy to be gay, and that it was his belief that, in his case, it was God’s will that he be gay.

Mr Charamsa is learned in Roman Catholic doctrine, in the laws handed down by God to his people, and he believes that it is God’s will that he is gay! I’m not sure I can iterate that statement strongly enough.

Mr Charamsa, as Monseigneur Charamsa was trusted by the Roman Catholic Church to consult on doctrine. He is the same man today that he was yesterday, last week or last year. His education and his knowledge are the same today as they were before he came out as gay. He was educated by the Roman Catholic Church and he has studied its doctrine; that has been his life. This is what he knows. When his status was unknown, or, at least, unacknowledged, his education and knowledge were trusted. Now, they are not.

Monseigneur Charamsa knew what he was doing, of course, when he stood before the World’s press and made his announcement. He understands the politics of the Vatican. He also knew that Pope Francis met with a gay former student and his partner during his visit to the United States of America last week. Pope Francis has also been reported as saying:

If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?

Mr Charamsa chose his moment, and he might have expected a less hostile outcome. He might have expected a more sympathetic hearing from the Pope who has been called the most liberal head of the Roman Catholic Church in history. Of course, he might simply have been spoiling for a fight.

My own feeling is that if the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to have a discussion about sexuality, even privately among its own higher echelons, who better to lead it than a gay Monseigneur learned in doctrine? And if the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to embrace its congregation and reassure it that the establishment was doing everything possible to be more inclusive, wouldn’t involving Monseigneur Charasma in that conversation have been an extraordinary first step?

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who will be at the Synod says,

Same sex relationships and same sex partnerships seeing themselves as a parallel or as an equivalent to a marriage and a family based on a man and a woman is not an equivalence that the church is ever going to recognise.

EVER is a very long time, but I can’t help thinking that this man was sent out by the Vatican to firefight. Surely, he is their current mouthpiece.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I wasn’t going to pretend I wasn’t a little ambivalent about my new hero, about what he chose to do and how he chose to do it. After quoting Cardinal Nichols, I might just have changed my mind.

Krysztof Charamsa had every right to stand in front of the World’s press and come out as gay, and he had every right to question Roman Catholic doctrine, more right than most, since he has actually made an in-depth study of it. My single concern is that Mr Charamsa chose to make his statement with his partner at his side, because he is in a relationship.

I have always thought that it is anathema for Roman Catholic Priests to be celibate, to be unmarried, and to live without families. It’s anathema to me, because the job of the priest is to minister to his congregation, and it seems to me that to do so he must understand the people he is ministering to and the vast range of circumstances they must find themselves in - circumstances the he is denied the chance ever to experience if he is never allowed to love romantically or paternally.

It would appear that, unlike his fellow priests, (and heaven help me, I know there are exceptions, both relatively innocent and appallingly exploitive), Mr Charamsa is not celibate. He has broken the rules. My support for him wavers only very slightly in this one regard. I believe that his impact on the press and on the Synod would have been greater if he had worked within the system, that he has diluted his own argument, and, while I absolutely do not deny him the right to love, I rather wish he’d played by the rules.

Mr Charamsa said the following,

It's time the Church opened its eyes and realised that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.

And he’s right, of course. But given his own status, might he not also have said,

It’s time the Church opened its eyes and realised that offering priests total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.

I guess that’s simply an argument for another day.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

If you're looking for a Feminist Rant... This one's a Doozy!

In case you've forgotten what I look like.
photo by James Barnett with thanks

OK, so the new blog hasn’t happened yet, and I’m still here.

It will happen, but, as usual life has taken over.

Firstly, let’s talk about my long absence.

My father died in December. I didn’t want to take that out into the wider world. I still don’t. I know that lots of people find great solace in sharing their big life events, but, for me, the personal on this scale is very personal. There were really only a handful of people that I wanted to be with or talk to when it came to grieving for my father. I am still spending time with and talking to them. It gives me the solace that I still need.

Because I didn’t want to talk about this, I hope you can understand that it became difficult to talk about all the trivial and sometimes not so trivial nonsense that this blog has become full of. Now, I find that almost a year has passed and I’ve got a good deal of catching up to do.

So, here goes!

If you’re looking for a Feminist Rant… This one’s a Doozy!

I have been thinking a very great deal about feminism of late. I always think a good deal about gender politics, about being a woman, and about having women in my life, not least the dorts. 

It can be a complicated business being a woman, being a woman in a man’s world, and being a woman in a male-centric industry.

Many of the women I know and am close to are also feminists. We talk a lot about our positions in the World. We talk long and loudly.

I begin to wonder whether we are talking too much or about the wrong things. There isn’t the language. It has been annexed by men.

The husband and I were having a conversation the other evening, and it struck me that, while he is the husband, and while he does his best to be sympathetic, there is absolutely no way for him to understand what it is to be a woman. 

We were discussing women in the armed forces. We were discussing the comparative strength of women soldiers in the field, having to carry packs. A strong male soldier might weigh 100kg and a small female solder might weigh 50kg, and they would both carry the same 50kg pack. The biggest woman and smallest man might weigh the same, say 75kg, but the fat and muscle ratios would suggest that at the same weight the man would have the strength advantage.

That’s all well and good, and might be an argument for limiting women’s roles in active service. So, we took the debate back a stage, and talked about what it would be like if that pack and its contents were designed to accommodate the smallest, weakest person who elected to serve on the front line. How would uniforms, weapons, rations, and kit in general be designed to be lightweight, small-sized or collapsible? How could kit be eliminated altogether? What materials could be designed to be lighter or more flexible? What different sorts of weapons could be developed rather than the projectile weapons we’re used to?

Then I realised the problems I had with even this viewpoint.

Everything… But EVERYTHING is predicated on power, and therein lies the problem. 

Women don’t stand a chance.

Men will always be able to talk more loudly than we can, and when that doesn’t work, they will always be able to threaten us with violence, or act violently against us.

They have the power. They will always have the power.

Women can talk until they are blue in the face, and we have and we do, but all we can hope for is condescension, patronage, some kind of noblesse oblige… Because, when they don't want to listen any more, because we are right and they know it, but they don't like it, men can shout us down and they can beat us down. Society has been doing it for a long time, and it doesn’t look as if it’s going to stop doing it any time soon.

The husband and I tried to take our debate about women in the armed forces back another step, and we asked the question, ‘What would war be like if the World was run from a more feminine viewpoint?’

Would there be war at all? I don’t know, but I suspect there would be a great deal more talking, a great deal more negotiation, a great deal more loving and caring and conflict resolution.

Who are the peacekeepers in our homes? In our communities? In our workplaces?

This is extreme, and I realise that it is, and I am generalising wildly, and I realise that, but sometimes it helps to take an almighty jump to make a point, and sometimes it takes an almighty leap of faith to make a real difference, to change what needs to be changed.

Women, feminists have wanted to change the status quo for a very long time, but it is men who really need to see the benefits of the change we are looking for, and it is men who need to want it for themselves and for society. 

However badly women want change, they are still operating within a system built on masculine norms and a hierarchy of power and strength based around the premise of ‘the survival of the fittest’. 

If men could let go of their death-grip on control and power and violence, and allow women to play to their strengths, to join in the fun, to take a role, there would be scope for real change, and we would all be so much better off. 

We (and while I’m only speaking for myself, I hope that other women will agree with me)… We don’t want to be you. We don’t want to be the same as you. Women don’t want to be equal to men in any way that men should find threatening. We simply want equivalency. We want the scales to draw level. We want to bring our own skills to the table, make our own choices and contribute to the decisions made in our communities at every level. We don’t want to take power, we want to bring balance; we want to bring our own power; it might not be the same as yours, but that’s the point; it has its own value and its own place, and it complements your power, making for a more complete, more elegant whole.

We are your daughters. We are your wives. We are your mothers. We know you. We know who you are and why you are the way you are, and we know what you do and your motivations for the ways you act.

Having physical power, controlling with violence, allows men to forget that, allows men to marginalise and manipulate women, and it does them no credit. 

Having all the power allows men to disregard any need for understanding. If women didn’t understand men and work within the system, can you begin to imagine just how dangerous society would become for them? Do you see how dangerous society has become for those women brave enough to question the roles that society has imposed on them? Every time a feminist stands up for herself and for women in the press or on the web, she is vilified, judged, harassed, threatened and called out as a bitch, a feminazi and worse by a baying host of misogynists. And what do good men do? For the most part they do nothing. I believe this to be true, because I believe that the majority of men are genuinely good, and I believe that they have the power, since they are in the majority, to rein in those on the fringes of the fraternity who perpetrate these offences against women. They could pile in to take these misogynists firmly to one side and persuade them that they are wrong. They have the power, but they choose not to use it.

Women (and, again, I speak only for myself)… Women don’t want to best men. We don’t want to do battle with you. God knows we don’t want to put you in the position you’ve had us in for so damned long; we wouldn’t wish that on our worst enemy. And, despite what you might think, we do not see you as the enemy. We want to stand beside you and support you, but we want your support in return.

What are you afraid of collectively? And what are you afraid of individually?

The bottom line is, that if you embrace the change and you don’t like the outcomes, you know you have all the power… In the end, if you embrace the change and it backfires, and we really do become the power-grabbing harpies that you suspect we might be (and isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black) you will still have the loudest voices, and you will still have the biggest muscles, and, when push comes to shove… Well… that’s the point, isn’t it, you will still be able to push and you will still be able to shove. You will still be able to shout us down and you will still be able to beat us down.

Trust me when I tell you, if you do ever decide that you want to meet us half-way and embrace the change that we’ve been talking about for so long, I don’t think it will ever come to that.

Thursday, 15 January 2015


Yes, it’s been a while... It’s been quite a long while.

I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, but life has rather taken over in the past couple of months. I’m generally a very open person. I talk freely on this blog about my thoughts and feelings on a wide range of subjects, and sometimes that includes life’s big events. There are subjects that I don’t talk about, though, at least not while I’m in the middle of things. 

Enough of all that, and back to the blog.

There is change afoot.

I began this blog when I had some success with my novel Naming Names. You all know that the whole thing began three years ago on February 4th 2012, with my first post in which I wrote about the book being shortlisted for the inaugural Mslexia novel writing competition.

Today I am writing my final blog here.

It has taken three years, but I have finally signed my first contract for an independent novel. I have sold Savant to Solaris Books, and you will all be able to read it when it hits the bookshelves early in 2016.

It’s all rather exciting. I’m looking forward to taking another pass at the book with the editor, and I’m thrilled that Jonathan Oliver has such faith in it. It’s a novel that’s full of ideas and themes that are close to my heart.

Tata! See you on the other side.
As for the blog? Well, I began as an amateur, and it’s time for a change. By chance, or fate, or happenstance, I was having problems with Google, and after I had struggled with it, and everyone that could help me out had struggled with it, I took my computer to my local shop. The lovely tech there couldn’t get to the bottom of my problems either, despite spending a huge amount of time and effort on them. He was lovely, and he’s a web designer. So, the good news is, I’ve employed him to build me a proper website, complete with a spangly new blog.

There will be all sorts of exciting stuff and things on the new site, and, with a bit of luck all you lovely readers will be able to find all the things you want at the click of a mouse without having to trawl through scads of crap... That’s the plan, anyway.

It’s out with the old and in with the new.

This blog will be disappearing in about a fortnight, so fill your boots while it’s here, and then I’ll be back with something new. The new website will probably look quite different from this homespun blog, but I’m guessing that the content of my regular posts won’t change very much. This old leopard isn’t terribly likely to change her spots.

And don’t worry, even if the site disappears from the ether, I keep, on file, every post I write, so nothing’s lost for ever. Who knows, I might even take requests and re-post some of the most popular blogs from the past three years when the new website’s up and running.

I’ll be back before you know it, but until then, I hope 2015 is treating you all very well!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

So this is what the High Street of the future might look like

I got a glimpse the other day, and it’s not so very bad.

When I was a kid, my local high street never seemed to change. There was a range of shops that seemed to have been there forever. It included national chain stores, independents and one or two bigger local shops, often privately owned. Our local department store was a family run affair called Chiesmans. The company owned a total of nine stores, bought by House of Fraser in 1976. 

When I was growing up, every high street had a Woolworths and a Marks and Spencer, but every high street was also unique, because each had its array of local independent traders. When I was raising my kids, things were very different. By then, it was unusual to find family owned shops on the high street, and every high street in every town looked alike.

Next opened in 1982, The Body Shop opened its doors in the UK in 1976, Top Shop opened in 1973, the first Gap store opened in the UK in 1987, River Island opened its doors in 1993, Oasis opened in 1991. New Look has been around since 1969, but was floated on the stock exchange in 1998, and the first Primark store opened in the UK in 1973. Now they’re everywhere! Where on the high street is a girl to go if she wants something different? I took the girl-thing as an example, but this applies pretty well across the board, down every high street and in every shopping complex.

Karen Millen opened her first store in Maidstone in 1983, when it was still possible to be an independent retailer among corporate giants. I know because I shopped in that first store when Karen was designing and making everything. I still have one of her early shirts. I’m personally very happy that she was successful, but she sold to Mosaic in 2004, and the rest is history.

I talked about choice in my snark about kitchens not very long ago.

But, it seems to me that we’ve been in a transitional period.
A photo of my local High Street taken in the mid '80s by Roger Cornfoot
(his copyright) reused under Creative Commons License

The high street became very dull for a couple of decades. Everything became corporate and anonymous. The independents were pushed to the edges of our towns, away from the high street, where they were difficult to find, and where their earning potential and the opportunity for expansion was limited. It comes as no surprise that many of them went to the wall.

Then, along came the internet.

Of course, the big corporations took hold of the internet, too. Amazon, people! But we all shop on the web, we winkle out what we’re looking for, anywhere in the World. We find people making the things we want and we buy them. Some of those people are craftsmen and artisans, and some of those people are keeping their overheads low. They couldn’t afford to set up shop anywhere, let alone on their local high street. And, if they could afford to set up shop on their local high street, their wares are too specialist to attract enough custom, locally, to keep them afloat for long.

The internet is a good thing for them and the people who want to buy from them. It’s a good thing, too, for people who want to buy standard, generic items cheaply. If you want to buy from a warehouse, and cut out expensive display space, like, you know, shops, that’s great. The buyer gets a discounted price.

Our high streets are going to change; they’re already changing. We’re going to shop less and for different things on the high street, and I saw evidence of that the other day. I saw three empty shops being refitted.

Two of those shops were being fitted out as eating places, and one was being fitted out as a hairdresser’s.

There have been times over the past five years when I’ve been quietly horrified by the change in use of some of the shops on my high street. There seem to be more and more mobile phone outlets and cheap jewelry places and fewer places to actually shop. The tide now appears to be turning. Several very good delis have opened recently, selling some pretty interesting food stuffs. Our local population is changing to include a very welcome influx of Europeans, bringing with them some of their preferred eating habits. They’ve been here long enough, now, to set up shop. I like it. 

There are also a couple of new shops for pre-owned and vintage stuff. One of them is particularly good. Anyone who’s really interested in buying wants to look at and handle these things. It’s hard to buy vintage and antique furniture and ephemera on-line, and browsing is all part of the fun.

There are also a couple of very good Asian nail bars on my local high street. You can’t get your nails done remotely, and you can’t get your hair cut on-line.

The last couple of years have seen the return to the high street of grocery stores, too, thank goodness. I don’t drive, so relied on the husband for most of the shopping. Now, I can pop to any of three small, local supermarkets, assuming that any of the delis have closed for the day.

If we’re getting what we want on-line and we’re saving money in the process, then we have time and disposable income for other things. I don’t think the high street has to die. I hope we’ll continue to spend our money there. I hope that we’ll be more creative and more adventurous on our high street of the future. We'll shop there, I'm sure, for perishable things and esoteric things, but for more services, too, for more of our leisure. Who knows, perhaps among the delis and the vintage stores, the nail bars, hairdressers and restaurants, we’ll find bespoke dressmakers and tailors, craftsmen of all kinds, artists, small theatre companies, and lots of other things to engage us. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Is the World really getting smaller?

I had one of those thoughts that I have that seems to fly in the face of accepted wisdom, so I thought I’d air it here and wait for comments.

The World is getting smaller all the time Or is it?

My grandparents didn’t travel. At least my Scottish grandparents travelled to England. They moved from Dundee, where generations of their families had lived, to Grimsby, a distance of 350 miles. It was far enough for them to break virtually all contact with their families and go it alone. They were strangers in a strange land. 

My English grandfather was ambitious for himself and then for his only child, and so he moved up and down the country, from Norfolk to Hampshire, to Cumbria and finally to Kent where he moved to Chartwell to take up the post of Sir Winston Churchill’s gardner in 1947. He remained there until his death in 1994.

During the first fifteen years of their marriage, my parents lived in five different towns and cities before settling down when my dad was forty.

I’m not sure that either of my parents owned a passport until they were in their fifties or sixties. My mother now travels the World, although my father is no longer able to accompany her.

Most family holidays in my childhood were taken in the UK. The population was mostly stable, my school friends remained constant, and people didn’t move house often.

Travel was expensive. Europe opened up in the seventies for family holidays, but only the most well-heeled of my friends went to France or Spain with their parents. It wasn’t until I was in secondary school that I knew of anyone travelling as far afield as New York. It was expensive and glamorous, and the rest of us were envious and impressed.

That sort of travel is now commonplace. We think nothing of hopping on a plane to cross the Atlantic, and Europe is merely a train ride away. We have friends who regularly visit from Australia. As a percentage of the average income, international travel is now perfectly affordable. People regularly honeymoon and even marry in destinations in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific, taking their families with them.

When the husband started writing for American companies, phone bills were expensive, written material had to be sent by fax or mail and travel cost significantly more than it does now. E-mail was not a universal medium of communication and dial-up was slow and dropped out all too often. There was no such thing as conference calling, except in the movies, and Skype was an SF dream.

Of course times have changed. The mobile phone, e-mail, Skype, the computer age and cheap travel all appear to have made the World a much smaller place than it was, certainly in my childhood. Not only do I remember TV with three channels, I actually remember life without a television or a landline in the house. Now we have two landlines, various mobiles, tablets, laptops, desktops, a smart television (very new to us and introduced by the dort) and it’s all wi-fi-ed to the World via fibre-optic technology. 

The World is very much on our doorstep. Just so long as the technology is at the other end, we can be in touch with anyone anywhere, and we have access to a bonkers amount of stuff on the internet, of course.

Here’s the thing, though: Is the World really getting smaller? Does the evidence suggest that is our genuine perception? Is that our experience? Because, I don’t think it is.

I have a couple of theories about this.

Firstly, there’s the whole First World/ Third World divide. The chasm between the First World and Third World experiences becomes ever deeper and wider. My thinking is that while we spend our time in the First World that world seems pretty small, and perhaps it is getting smaller. It’s a damned big step to cross the divide and step into the Third World, and perhaps it’s getting increasingly difficult to do that, to find meaning there, to empathise with the people, to find any kind of connection. We condescend and we walk in and take over when it suits us or when devastation occurs, but do we ever begin to actually understand? I’m not sure we ever did, but I’m damned sure it’s getting harder to understand and not easier.

What made me begin to think about all of this, though was my recent experience with young people, the dort’s generation. Their World seems very small, and it seems to be getting smaller. I wonder whether that's all an illusion, though.

They travel, but they stay within their comfort zones. They know what they like and they like what they know, and they can get that stuff anywhere in the First World. They can drink coke and eat pizza and burgers all over the First World. They can shop in the same shops on any high street in the First World, drink the same beers, wines and cocktails, dance to the same music, watch the same movies, wear the same brand of jeans, speak the same language and hook up the same smart devices to the same old internet.
Not for nothing, when we get a couple of days to ourselves,
we travel locally in the UK to somewhere lovely.
This is the Landmark Trust's Warden Abbey, Bedfordshire

The thing is, they are in touch... They are SO in touch with each other all the time. They constantly talk on their phones, message one another and Skype. They do it when they are apart for only hours, let alone days or weeks. In theory, this level of communication should make the World seem small. We are all in touch as much as we want to be when we want to be.

My feeling is, though, watching these people, that actually, being so much in touch makes the World feel like a very big place. Being able to talk to someone they saw an hour ago makes them recognise the physical distance between them. Messaging, talking, e-mailing and skyping are constant reminders to these kids that they aren’t sitting in the same room, aren’t touching, aren’t sharing the same space, the same experiences, aren’t breathing the same atmosphere. 

When the husband and I were apart at university we wrote letters and got on with our lives. Young people don’t get that opportunity and suddenly distance, any distance seems insurmountable.

I don’t know, it’s just a thought, but I’ll leave you with this.

I know a young couple who’d been dating for several months when they decided to part because they didn’t think they could handle a long distance relationship. One of them was moving away for work. It was a good opportunity, a career move not to be missed. They parted on good terms. The move meant that they would be living seventy miles apart.

Perhaps for some of this generation the World isn’t getting smaller, perhaps for some of them it feels very big and very frightening.

Friday, 21 November 2014


Every time a writer puts a story out into the world something happens.

I say often that the point of the writer is the reader, and I stand by that. I also say that once a story is bought and paid for it no longer belongs to the writer. It is bought by the publisher, and then it is bought by the reader. Ultimately, it belongs to him, and he can think of it whatever he likes. I stand by this too.

Of course, in one sense, this is a cop out. Or, at the very least, it allows me to let stuff go.

I need to care about the work that I’m doing now.

I need to be invested in the characters that I’m writing today and tomorrow and for however long it takes to finish this story, the one in the document open in front of me. I need to care about the characters I’m engaged with today, who they are and what they’re doing as I write them.

It takes a long time to get a story from pitch to publication, always weeks, often months and sometimes even years. If I was as invested in a story when it was sold to a reader as I am when I’m writing it, I’d be in trouble... in so much trouble on so many levels.

I have some weird coping strategy that allows me to let go, to forget. Sometimes I go back to old stories and I’m surprised that I even wrote them, they are so completely gone from my mind. Characters that I loved and cherished, storylines that I invested time and mental energy in are lost to me until I read them just as any other reader would. They belong to me again in new and different ways, as if I’d paid for them. I too have the right to think what I please about that story. I’m the reader who put her hand in her pocket and pulled out the price of the story. I made the investment of time. I made the emotional commitment to the characters and I can judge the thing... and I do. 

I am lucky that I feel this disconnect, because every time a writer puts a story out into the world something happens. People begin to read it, and the first of those people are critics. Every time a writer puts a story out into the world, reviewers flock and swoop, and begin the process of assessing the qualities of that story, of judging it.

The bottom line is that all publicity is good publicity. Any review, even a consumer review on Amazon, however bad, will increase sales of a book by a decent percentage... and I do mean any review. That someone is willing to write a review signals interest in a story and in the writer of that story. Indifference is what we really dread. No one turning up is the kiss of death for anyone in the arts.

The next-to-bottom line, for which I ought to be able to come up with a much neater moniker, is that reviews are always going to be mixed. Some people will like a writer’s work, some will not. Some people will like a story and some will not. Some will love a story, others will like it, some will dislike it, and one or two crazed individuals will pour scorn on it. The more reviews a story gets the more likely it is to get an average score over all. That’s just the way it goes.

Since I’m working my way up from the bottom, let’s go to the next-to-next-to-bottom line and talk about reviewers. They are human people with varying tastes and preferences. Some are more consistent than others, some more experienced, some kinder, wiser, nicer, some more demanding, some more vitriolic, some lazier, and some simply have some sort of agenda. Some reviewers are professionals, some semi-pros, some review as a hobby and take it very seriously and are well-respected, some play at it, some give themselves an incredibly narrow purview, and some are out-and-out amateurs. That’s just the way it is.

I seldom talk about reviews: the good or the not-so-good, and I’ve had my share of both kinds. I enjoy the good reviews more than the less-good ones, and like all well-behaved authors I do what I’m supposed to do and re-tweet the good ones to try to spread the word. To spot the good ones, it’s inevitable that a writer is going to read less good reviews about the work. Once in a while, a reviewer doesn’t like something for perfectly legitimate reasons, sometimes he doesn’t get it, and sometimes he’s just plain wrong. That’s all fine, too.

Once in a while, a reviewer says something shocking.

Some of those shocks are humbling.

Today I saw a tweet pointing me in the direction of a review of a story that I wrote back in the summer.
Some awfully good short stories
Dangerous Games is available Dec 4th

Dangerous Games is an anthology of short stories edited by the brilliant, award-winning Jonathan Oliver. He invited me to write a story, and I was pleased to do it. I’m in very good and sometimes illustrious company in this collection, and I feel rather honoured to be a part of it. Being asked to contribute made me proud. The prospect of appearing among some pretty stellar talent in genre fiction excited and terrified me in more-or-less equal measures.

My story The Stranger Cards was reviewed today on The Bookbeard’s blog. Nice things were said about it. I was relieved and delighted. Then came the shock: the humbling shocking bit, and just for once, I can’t help repeating what was written.

A fantastic and atmospheric tale that reminded me of that horror writing great Stephen King, Stranger Cards manages a lot in with a little and does it brilliantly.

A reviewer compared my writing to the modern writing god of the horror genre. If I never publish another story and if I do and I never receive another good review, I can still die happy.

Today was a good day.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Keeping My Mouth Shut

I just wrote that and then had to correct it because of a rather delicious Freudian Slip. What I actually typed was Keeping My Mouth Shout.
Lips properly pursed
Photo by James K Barnett

Sometimes I want to shout, and the things I want to shout are the things I should keep my mouth shut about.

Discretion is the better part of valour.

You know it and I know it and our mothers knew it, and that’s why they drummed it into us. They might just have been wrong though. So often, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to read Shakespeare too. Perhaps we could all understand this expression differently.

I have been reading through some blog posts that never made it onto this website. I’ve been reading through some of the posts that I wrote, but decided were probably not for public consumption.

I know that many of my readers like a good snark, and I can’t help exercising my frustrations and opinions here from time to time, and, who knows, maybe my insights, too. I’m also not completely stupid. I know that some of what I think is a little ‘out there’. I know that while I can make good and valid arguments for some of my thoughts and observations, they won’t always be popular. I also know that I risk exposing myself and those close to me with some of the stuff I could write about. I could change the way some of my readers think about who we are and what we do.

I’m on the inside. I could lift the lid on some stuff.

I don’t do it.

At least, I do it and then I hold those blogs in a file marked ‘rejected’ never to see the light of day.

There is no way for me not to be honest in this world. I am essentially congruent in my relationships, and I count my interface with the world through the blog as a kind of relationship. Had I begun the blog twenty years ago I would simply have posted everything I wrote, because I completely lacked filters. Time has taught me that I need them, mostly for my own safety and sanity.

I’m old school... most of the time. I’ve written blogs about all sorts of things, things that I believe. I’ve written about situations and people, about work and life, about sex and politics and religion. I’ve written about all the things we’re told we shouldn’t talk about in polite company. I’ve written about those things, and because I’m old school, I’ve kept those blogs to myself.

I wonder whether Shakespeare wasn’t making a point, though.

The quote I mentioned above comes from Henry IV part i. Prince Hal assumes that Falstaff has been killed on the battlefield. He has not. Falstaff played dead, and when the battle is over, he is alive. Left alone, it is Falstaff who says the line, or something approximating it. But there’s another way to interpret this line. What if it’s a joke. Falstaff is a coward. He is useless to his King and country. He is not brave. Caution does not support courage if caution requires a man to play dead. It’s an excuse. The quote has come to suggest that it’s better to live to fight another day. That’s one interpretation, but it’s not the only one. 

The truly valiant take risks, stand true, throw caution to the wind.

It’s not what our mothers taught us, or their mothers, but for every maxim, aphorism, proverb, phrase or saying there is generally an equally valid opposite. Besides, I think Shakespeare was probably cleverer than that.

Falstaff was a buffoon, a loveable buffoon, perhaps, but a buffoon nevertheless. Sometimes what we need is a hero. Sometimes, fortune favours the brave.

Honestly, I don’t know how brave I am, or when or if I’ll choose to be brave. But you never know, anything’s possible. 

I was surprised by some of the blogs I wrote but didn’t post. Some of them are strong, some of the arguments stand scrutiny and, like it or not, the represent my opinions and my truth. Who knows, maybe some of them will one come dancing into the light. For what it's worth some of them are vulgar, irreverent, and, I think, rather funny. Who knew?

Sometimes the passing of a little time is all that’s required. We’ll see.