No Pen

I’ve heard it said that you don’t miss something until it’s gone. I suppose the same thing is said about people too. I’ve found that the exact same principle applies to pen and paper.

I wanted to write something yesterday; just a quick note about the difference between the usage of ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have a pen. I suppose I could have typed it here, in a text file, or better I could have used Google Keep so that I could retrieve it on any of the devices I use. In the end I did neither. I just memorised it.

There’s something nice about making marks on paper, even if the paper gets lost afterwards. For me, it’s the act itself that appeals. In addition, its use as a device to enable memory cannot be underestimated. It’s like writing lines at school. The very act of writing ‘I shall not spit on people’ one hundred times reinforces the concept and embeds it in memory and, subsequently, behaviour. Turns out that them teachers knew a thing or two about teaching after all.

If you’re interested, ‘its’ is used when something possesses something else (as in the demon possessed its victim with a smirk of triumph) and ‘it’s’ is used when a contraction is in evidence (as in it’s going to be fine, puuuusshhhhh!). Here’s how I think about it: in ‘its’ the s is close to the it, which means that it possesses the s, whereas in ‘it’s’ (which is a contraction of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’) a contraction has pushed the s out away from the it as if it has given birth to the s. Yeah, I know, it’s a very convoluted mnemonic, but I like its style and admire its panache and so that’s that. Plus, bonus: it means that I don’t have to go out into the rain and buy a pen and paper, so it’s all good, right?

Mental and Physical Characteristics

Are physical details representations of a mental state?

So, let’s see. I’m above average height; just a shade under 6 feet tall. Is my mental state tall? Do I walk around with the attitude of a tall man? Have I the confidence that being tall can give a person? I think that the answer to all these questions is yes. I’ve never been mugged or attacked in the street. At least, not since I grew up. That’s to say: I know the reasons why I was attacked, and they’re nothing to do with who I am now. Thugs mug people that look muggable. I don’t. It might have something to do with my tall-ness, but it’s more likely to be about the way that my mental attitude tells me to hold myself.

How about looking at the question from the other side. When I get angry, does this mental state manifest itself in my physical details? In other words, when I’m angry, do I look like a stereotypical angry man? Following on from that: if I was angry more often, would my physiognomy change permanently? Again, the answers are probably yes. Anger effects changes in posture, features, hormones, blood pressure and a host of other things in the body. Broken blood vessels, ruddy features, swollen knuckles, frown-lines, a turned down mouth and a hard set to the jaw might all be results of becoming an angry man.

What if we look at an innocuous feature of the physical form now: the colour of the eyes. Or perhaps even the colour of the skin. Do people with fairer skin and blue eyes share a mental state? Is there a propensity for people with another state of mind to share a particular shade of skin and colour of eyes? We’re getting into dangerous territory here. Police officers routinely profile people on the basis of their skin colour (although perhaps they don’t officially admit it). Statistically, they are perhaps justified in this, but, as we all know, statistics lie. Every statistical population plots out into a bell-curve. The bulk of the people in a population lie within the middle part of the curve, but it’s not fair to treat the whole population as if they are in this segment. The outliers: the ones towards the edge of the curve, do not share the features of those in the middle and here’s the important point: you can’t tell where someone is on the bell-curve by looking at the colour of their skin. In other words: people are individuals and need to be treated as such.

I guess my conclusion is that I want everyone to be treated as an individual. I think it’s lazy to lump someone in with a wider population just because he or she shares some physical characteristic with them. Not all muscular people are boxer, weightlifters or bodyguards. Not all skinny people have an eating disorder. Not all short people have a complex about it. Not all people with blue eyes and a thousand-yard stare are serial killers. I don’t want to write characters in my stories based on what they look like. I want fighters with delicate fingers, evil monsters with a good sense of humour, thin greedy people, fat athletic people and every other combination that could and would surprise you on the page. I want to write about people with delightfully surprising combinations of physical and mental characteristics. I’m going to throw out the stereotypes and invite real people into my stories; people like you, me and everyone else we see as we walk through this world of wonderful folk. Keep an eye out now, my friend; you never know when you might pop up in one of my tales.

Inspired by my opposition to advice in this article:

Embodying – Outline of a Novel

Just had an idea for a novel. Here’s how I developed that idea (think of it as a case-study):

When you flip a coin it can either be heads or tails. In any argument, there are two sides: yours and theirs. When something bad happens then there are at least five ways you can react: denial, anger, bargaining, grief or acceptance. What if all of these sides were not just aspects of the self, but real people (or characters in a novel)?

The characters are different aspects of me. My denial will be called Eddie (Sheeran), anger will be Kurt (Cobain), bargaining will be Simbiatu (Little Simz), depression will be Dylan (Thomas – Under Milk Wood) and acceptance will be Jane ((Emma) Austen).

Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell


  • Eddie is really called Dean (Newstead). Some kind of a double life going on.
  • Just noticed that Kurt’s got big(ish) boobs. I dunno, maybe it’s the steroids and that’s why his moods are swinging.
  • Simbiatu is the first name of rapper Little Simz. I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowed to write real people into a story but I can anonymise aspects of their life and personality.
  • Dylan’s skin looks milky white. Under Milk Wood is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
  • Jane looks like she could be an Austen but perhaps it’d be better to call her Emma. I could get a lot of mileage out of an Emma.

Brief Synopsis:

A serial killer is loose in the (city, countryside, hamlet, isolated mansion, fortified supermarket) – a cancer in the heart of the (city, community). One by one, Eddie, Kurt, Simbiatu and Dylan are murdered until only Emma remains alive. Is she the killer or is there someone else? Yeah, we’re going to have to go for the fortified supermarket. But fortified against what? Well, duh, Zombies; obviously! But don’t worry, they’re just a backdrop. Just a reason why the situation is inescapable. The inevitability of what happens next is important.

To be honest, that’s all the planning I need. The novel just about builds itself from here on out.

Chapter Outlines:

  1. Setting the scene: all characters together in the middle of a crisis (yeah, the zombies are trying it on)
  2. Killer’s background (lots of little stories that show character and motivation). Maybe cut this up and put a piece before each of the following sections. Let’s see.
  3. Eddie’s background told in a graphic and image rich style. Why is he really Dean? How does this contribute to what follows? How does denial fit in? Is denial in his natural nature or his bolted-on behaviour?
  4. Eddie being hunted, stalked and killed. Nothing too explicit. Bloody but not gratuitous. The death of denial.
  5. Kurt’s background and life before the zombies. How he got there. Use stuff from Cobain’s life but nothing too obvious. Do supermarkets stock steroids? Withdrawal? Anger? How does he show anger? What’s the root of his anger?
  6. Kurt’s death could look like an accident or suicide but it really is murder. Let’s see how that plays out. What does fiercely burning anger being snuffed out look like?
  7. Simbiatu is a waif. She is a very sympathetic character. Her background is a case study of rising up in the face of poverty and deprivation. She will capture your heart so that …
  8. Simbiatu’s death will hit you very hard. It will be tragic. A waste of potential, love, life and heart. Her determination to live will have you roaring her on in her attempts to evade the killer. She’ll try to bargain for her life, but she’ll still die.
  9. Dylan is a bit of a downer. He is melancholy and this affected the group, and everyone else in his past, in a negative way. We delve into Dylan’s background and in the process we draw on Dylan Thomas and his work. Steal, steal, steal.
  10. Dylan’s death is, to be honest, a bit of a relief to everyone concerned. I mean, no-one (except for serial killers) wants anyone to die (they want their victims to die) but removing all that wailing and weeping from a scene can’t be anything but uplifting.
  11. Emma’s background. Hmm. Well, for a start, she’s just like the Emma in Jane Austen’s novel. Please don’t make me read it. Maybe I could skim it or read the SparkNotes or watch the movie? Seems that Jane is her first name and Emma is her middle name, but she like’s to be known as Emma so I guess we just have to accept that.
  12. Emma’s survival means that acceptance is the final state of the book, but acceptance of what? Does she accept her role as a serial killer (if that’s what she is)? Or does she accept her role as a survivor? Any which way around, Emma survives, but what is she left with? The supermarket is the body. The fortifications are the drugs/diet against the disease (zombies) but how are they effective when the enemy is already within (the serial killer).
  13. The last scene is the invasion of the zombies from outside. The death of denial, anger, bargaining and grief, even though they are ineffective companions, has taken too much from the defence of the supermarket. Emma and her acceptance is too laisser-faire to defend the supermarket alone. We witness one last assault where the zombies (picture them as Covid-19, flu, or a common cold) invade the supermarket (the body). Contained within are Emma (acceptance) the serial killer (cancer). They try to fight together because, after all, the serial killer is still human (part of the human race) even though he has gone rogue (cancerous) and he still wants to live after his own fashion. Emma accepts everything and so has given up. Or – wait – has she? Let’s have a look at what Emma’s actually accepting here.
    Here’s an invader. Here’s an enemy. The enemy is providing a way for the invaders to come inside (partly through killing parts of the defending force and partly by unlocking the doors (health, strength, immunity, order, determination) that kept the invaders (disease, disorder) out). Here is a weapon. Here is acceptance. Here is an invader. Here is acceptance of the weapon. Drug trials happen all the time. Some are effective weapons against disease. Accept the trial, accept the weapon, accept the victory. Accept the arrival of the cavalry. Helicopters can land on the roof of a hospital and whisk survivors to safety – it happens all the time. Not every serial killer story has to have an unhappy ending. Zombies don’t always win; they are not immune to napalm. And if the serial killer gets caught up in the flames then who’s gonna mourn? Now that’d be something worth accepting.

The End.

Ha, now all I have to do is write it up.

Further Research:

The serial killer has to have a name. It has to be so unpronounceable in English that they call him ‘C’ or ‘Big C’. I’ve been having a conversation with a language expert (hi, Melissa): at

Me: “Hey, Melissa, I have a really random sounding question. I need a first name for a new novel that begins with C and is largely unpronounceable to English speakers. Your surname made me think you light know of one. Perhaps it could have plenty of zeds or exes in it.
I’m Robert. Sorry if I weirded you out with that question. :)”

Melissa: “Hello Robert! Well i don’t know if this will work for you, but what came to my mind is “Chizvinzwira” which translates to “now hear for yourself ” in my language (Shona). I’m honored you asked by the way, i guess i like random questions.”

Me: “Wow, thank’s Melissa – that’s ideal. I have no idea where to begin in pronouncing that correctly. Perfect.
Now I need to ask permission to use the name I guess. I’ve just planned out a novel (you can see the plan here if you like: and I needed a name for my serial killer. He’s not going to be called Chizvinzwira in the book because he’s in England and, because no-one in the situation he finds himself in (trapped in a Supermarket with Zombie Hordes surrounding it) has the mental bandwidth to pronounce his name (or they’re all racist idiots – I haven’t decided yet (probably a combination of the two)) then they call him C. Actually, they call him Big C. I’ve not decided whether that’s because he’s big and muscular or big and fat – which do you think would be most likely? I think the former (muscular) because he’s got to have some strength in order to be able to kill all those people. Unless he’s cunning, I suppose. Probably cunning and fat would be most likely due to his motivation for killing them (food is running out in the supermarket). I don’t really know what people who speak Shona are like (which dialect, by the way?) but there are always going to be outliers.
Anyway, like I say – I need to ask your permission to use this name because it’s not for good purposes. C will be fat and cunning, will kill four people out of greed for food and life, and will not be redeemed at the end of the book (he will die in a napalm attack along with the zombies in the closing scene). What do you think?
Kindness – Robert.”

Have you found the best way to convey it?

Writing’s one of those things that can be done in all kinds of ways. Making up a shopping list is much that same as penning a best-selling novel. They might seem to be a world apart, but they both involve the same skill: putting one word after another.

When you write anything it’s always best to use your imagination. Always believe that there are things out there in the world that you haven’t discovered yet, but that have the potential to be important to you. Take, for example, the radio. Until just recently, the only thing a radio meant to me was something to listen to. Then, a friend told me that she was going to host her own radio show. I didn’t realise what a game changer this was at first. I thought that only talented and fortunate people got to speak on the radio so imagine my surprise when, after sending an email to the owner of the radio station, he told me to come on in and do my own show! So I did. And it was great. And I’m going to do it again this week!

Life is full of all sorts of opportunities like this. You only need to listen to the people around you to find them. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear the messages, but if you listen with the right kind of mind-set then you can set yourself up to have all sorts of new and interesting experiences. And that’s what I mean about using your imagination. When you go through life thinking that you don’t have anything to offer the world then that’s precisely what you’ll give. But if you imagine what it would be like to hunt out and use the clues that life puts your way then that kind of openness to change will move you towards more new places than you ever thought possible.

But what’s that got to do with writing, I hear you say. Well, here’s the thing – writing is a really good channel for your imagination to run freely along. Next time you put together a shopping list, try this: add something to your list that you haven’t had in a long time, or maybe even something you’ve never had. Perhaps it’s as simple as a fruit (or a bread or a brand) that you’ve not tried since you were a kid. The thing is, it’s not particularly what you put on the list that’s important, it’s the fact that you’ve added it to the list. It’s the fact of being open to change that sets you on the path to freedom.

In the same way, every single type of writing can do that same thing for you: diary entries, notes on post-its, blog entries, short stories, observations on life, jottings about your childhood, chapters in a novel or epic sagas written in lambic pentameter. At the start of every single piece of writing, including the grandest of novels, is something that we use every day of our life: a word. And after that is another word. Put a few of those together and pretty soon you’ve got a sentence. And here’s the coolest thing of all: it’s entirely up to you as to what kind of sentence you write for yourself.

When you use the same words you’ve used in the past then you’ll end up with the same kind of life that you’ve had up until now, which is fine if you enjoy your life, but if you don’t, then now’s a great time to change. The words you use to write your shopping list or your novel are the same ones that you will use to describe your future. So do yourself a favour my friend, and write yourself an absolutely fantastically coloured, extravagantly described, wonderfully populated and beatifically sweet one. Have fun!

How to Write for Magazines

Hey there – do you own a magazine or do you know someone who does? If so, I’d very much like to write for you. If not, and you want to do the same as me then read on. I’ll reveal to you the different types of articles that you can write for magazines. But if you read it, you’ve got to promise not to try to write for the same mags that I want to write for. Deal? Okay, you can read on now.

So, here, in no particular order, are the seven types of magazine articles in demand right now:

  1. Investigation. When something gets popular, like cooking or Christmas, this kind of article is ripe for writing. All you need to do is look into the subject and then write about the opposing point of view. You might want to interview one or two experts here (or just read about it on Wikipedia) to get some background, but the ideas in the piece should be your very own.
  2. Interview. This is where you get out there and talk to someone famous (or infamous) and get them to tell you all about their dark, little secrets. If you can dig out a piece of information that no-one knows then you’re more likely to persuade people to read your piece. So, yeah – you either have to be good with people or a dab-hand with the thumbscrews.
  3. Commentary. Pick something that you’re interested in or have an opinion on and write about it. It’s helpful to know a little about your chosen subject and the more expert you are the better it’ll be. If you want the article to be read by lots of people then pick something popular but if not – anything goes. So, for example, write about diet recipes rather than lace doilies.
  4. News. Like it says on the tin, this article is about something new that’s happened as recently as possible. I know, I know – history is always repeating itself, which means that the latest pandemic is just like the Black Death or the plot of I Am Legend (minus the zombie vampires) but the people are different, both the victims and readers. So focus on them.
  5. Expert. This is where you get to break things in the interests of science and entertainment (tip: get stuff from manufacturers). Actually, you don’t really have to break it, you just have to tell other people how well it works or how to avoid breaking it. Reviews of new products fall into this category but, actually, you can write about the features of anything you gosh-darned please.
  6. Instructions. There are guides on how to do pretty much anything available on the web (or even, so I hear, in libraries and bookshops) so you need to either write very good blow-by-blows or pick something that no-one else has written. For example: how to fall downstairs without impaling oneself on the Christmas tree or something niche like that. Also – witty is good.
  7. Experience. This is pretty much what I write all the time. I think of funny, interesting, beautiful and/or useful events, realisations or strange ideas from my life and I just write about them. I’m warm and chatty when I produce these articles and I dare you to get through one of them without snorting, whether in disgust, happiness or just plain old awe.

So, yeah – that’s it. Happy writing. Hope you a make a tha plenty of money (or at least have a lot a tha fun) in the process.

Making Lyrics into Stories

Here’s an interesting exercise I found (made up) today: take one of your favourite lyrics and make it into a story.

You’ll find you already have characters, venue and timeline in mind so follow that up by writing down a beginning, middle and end to the story in rough form.

You can fill in the details as you go on but start by imagining your characters in the venue. What do they look like, how are they dressed, what expressions are on their faces?

Then have them look around. What do they see, hear and smell?

Then have them look at each other. What do they feel about the character in front of them, what do they want to say to them, what does they want to do?

Now set them in motion. Make them do and say what’s in their hearts.

Now write about it. Don’t bother with polishing the words up yet – just get it all down.

Having fun?

I wrote this comment on George’s blog over at Zoolon Audio but I liked it so much I thought that I thought I’d steal it back and make it into a post. So I did.

How to be Understood

I sometimes come across poetry, songs and articles that are difficult to understand. They use obscure phrases and strange combinations of words. And the worse thing about it is that some of this stuff is written by me!

So I’ve decided to try to make myself more clear. Here’s what I’m going to do:

  1. Start with a clear statement of what the book/story/lyric/poem/article will be about. So, for example, a song I write could start with: ‘This here is a song about love sweet love. A net and a cage for my darling dove.”
  2. Then carry on with short words that say what they mean in a clear way. Long words, inventive phrases and sentences with double meaning should be avoided. So my song could carry on with: ‘With you in my life I will be complete. My heart is a trap; come closer my sweet.”
  3. Finally, I should end with a phrase that sums up everything that I’ve said so far in a way that leaves no confusion in the mind of the audience. So, the song therefore ends like this: “You’ll live in my arms; I’ll hold you so tight. Till death do us part. Shh, sweetie – don’t fight!”

And yeah – I’m only joking.

Kind of.

I mean, we should be clear. But we should carry on being inventive. However, we should do it in a clear way. And no, love isn’t a trap. Not never ever.

Realisation of the Day

It doesn’t really matter how awquward sounding or grammatically incorrect or misspelled your words are so long as you’re saying something good with them.

By good I mean that it comes from the heart and it expresses something that is life affirming.

An example of something that is immaculately edited so that all the letters line up properly is Strange Weather by Joe Hill. I finished reading it last week and I gotta say that that I’m not happy at letting that book into my head. In short, it’s a depressing read that foists the idea that life is twisted and uncomfortable onto an unsuspecting reader. It’s written right but it’s not life affirming.

And example of something that awquward sounding and yet life affirming is the debut album of Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More. I listened to it this morning and I was torn. The musicians are really into the job and are good at playing their stuff. The singer is sincere and he twangs the heart-strings with his fragile sounding honesty and heartfelt delivery. But here’s the thing: his lyrics are awquward and twisted into shapes that people don’t normally use. But here’s the other thing: that album won award after award and sold by the bucket-load all around the world.

So, yeah – don’t bother about how awquward and stilted you sound when you talk; don’t bother about your writing style being gauche and downright pitiful from the point-of-view of a language professor; and don’t bother if you say um and ah at every turn of your sentence – just make sure that you’re saying something that’ll help someone else or yourself feel better about themselves and you’re set.

Right – write!

Just Write

Your fingers are poised above the keyboard and a thousand thoughts are boiling up in your mind like ten-hundred eggs in a vat of very hot water. And you’re in utter despair because you just can’t think what to write about!

Jeesh, Hoteesh – stop thinking and just write already! Pick an egg, crack it open and get those fingers moving! It doesn’t matter which one because there’s something good to be had from each and every one.

If you stop thinking and write then this post is the kind of thing you’ll get. And look how much inspiration this is spreading on the world – just like butter on hot, toasted soldiers.

Not a very vegan egg.

The meaning of Meaninglessness

I could just have well called this post The Meaninglessness of Meaning. It would have held the same meaning for me if not for the lexical semanticists lurking within the cities and towns of our plantations.

You see what I did there at the end of that last paragraph? I inserted a cloud where you were expecting sunshine. At least, that’s what I was expecting you to expect. I write for you. Well, partly for you. I write words that I think will make sense to you (and me). But what if I don’t! What if I stop conforming to our expectations?

What if I switch to ambiguous words that only partly convey the expected heft and woof of what should be given. What of I apply wooly logic to my sentences so that you get the gist, but not a clear-cut and abjectless interpretation.

I reckon that it could go one of several ways. The two most popular in my mind are:

  1. I would sound like a gibbering idiot (at best) or a senile fool (at worst)
  2. You would accept the new paradigm and explore a whole new, variable semantic landscape with me.

I prefer option two, but what do you transduce?

Me? Well I think I’m doing this already. And I think I’m happy with it. Poot.