Tag Archives: Inspiration

I have a notebook, therefore I am a writer (I think, therefore I am…)

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I have a notebook, therefore I am a writer (I think, therefore I am…)

I’m finding inspiration for the writing parts of this blog difficult, the irony being that this blog is because I was finding aspects of the writing parts of actual writing difficult.

The reasons that it is difficult, or at least more difficult than writing reviews, is because anyone can have a view on something and articulate it, whether to a high or fairly low standard. Yet, when it comes to writing, I have to narrow in on concepts, themes, issues, ideas that are worth considering, worth exploring and interesting enough to sustain a post, or even a whole novel.

To make this easier, and since it was the de rigeur suggestion of choice about becoming a writing, I bought a notebook one day. It was with the same fit of pique that is often reserved for buying clothes – I suddenly awake, decide it must be done, and know that the iron must be struck when it is hot as I damn sure won’t want to buy clothes tomorrow. I marched off to WHSmith in Croydon (other stationary retailers are also available), and bought a fairly reasonable B5 size notebook, and some type of ergonomic pen that is apparently supposed to look like a swan, for just over ten pound. My purchase was so cutting edge, it couldn’t even be bothered to have the word ‘new’ spelt correctly on the front, adopting the much edgier ‘nu’ as if to prove its street credentials.

Whilst listening to the New York Review of Books podcast recently, Judd Apatow mentioned that he had become a person who mistook buying and owning books for actually reading, a common problem he had noted amongst the general populace. I fear, having bought the notebook, that I have become someone who thinks that because I have a notebook, I am a writer. By having this notebook, inspiration will flood to me and the colours of the world will all seem that much brighter and more beautiful. I would sit down, muse about the world between the pages of my notebook, joining the dots on a masterpiece that would blow the intelligent and the literary away in equal measure.

Alas, it hasn’t been so. The main problem being that I don’t actually use it.

I mean, I did, don’t get me wrong.  However, the notebook does fall somewhat into the same category as my subscription to New Scientist – a seemingly valuable decision at the time in terms of garnering ideas, yet generally left to gather dust on a shelf somewhere. This was a subscription I signed up for around the same time as my trip to WHSmith, another way to gain inspiration.

In fact, the only time I really used the notebook was when looking through New Scientist. It has left me with a range of broad questions to ponder on my search for creative enlightenment:

  • What if a murder was committed on Santa Cruz de Isolte (a place the size of 1 and a half football pitches, yet houses 1200 people)?
  • What if there were no diseases in the world?
  • What if the internet crashed?
  • What if all the food ran out?
  • What is synthetic biology allowed us to create extinct species?

My only real contribution in there that wasn’t ripped liberally from a copy of New Scientist was an idea that professed to consider what would happen if biological life continued to be extended and resources became all the more precious. I perceived it as a potential generational war, even beginning to research into the idea of Eugenics as a binding conceptual link.

Even in the current situation, she was able to afford herself a weak smile. They’d been trying for a child for a couple of years, her and her husband, and this was the hopeful end of a tumultuous time in their relationship. Becoming pregnant had not been easy for the couple. Each failed attempt caused more stress, dragging their relationship closer and closer to the precipice. What was supposed to be a way of cementing their relationship was actually threatening to destroy it, as month after month saw no positive signs of pregnancy. Over a year into their futile attempts, a glimmer of a breakthrough saw her finally become pregnant. However, the world can often be a cruel place, and following intense stomach cramps and internal bleeding around the fourth month, she miscarried.

For weaker couples, built on flimsier foundations, this could have been the tipping point, tearing the relationship apart. Indeed, this is what she feared, yet strangely enough, it brought them closer. Following a few months to get over the emotional turmoil, they decided to try once more and thankfully, joyfully, they conceived shortly afterwards. Finally, they would be able to bring a new life into the world and shower it with the love that had grown within them over the past nine months of waiting.

———-

One last lingering look at the chair and one last deep breath saw the old man begin to make his move. Relying heavily on the wooden cane, he attempted to lever his legs towards the edge of the bed with some difficulty. His legs were weak and flaccid, the upper body containing the bulk of the remaining strength. Using the cane and his free hand, he was able to position himself at the edge of the bed, uncomfortably perched and less than stable. His feet reached for the floor, tentatively groping until they met the harsh coldness of the linoleum flooring. Even with the relative weakness of his legs, the old man shuddered, his whole body jerking involuntarily as both legs finally made contact.

It was his pride, rather than any lingering concerns about his body, that forced him to take a moment. The last thing he wanted was the next person to come into the room and see him lying, face down, in a puddle of his own blood and spit. The admittance to his need for a cane several years ago had already felt like a moment of weakness, though he had come to rely on it without question. There was no way he would risk giving anyone the pleasure of seeing him at his lowest.

Not one to take unnecessary risks, he waited a few moments, pressing progressively harder and harder on the floor with the tips, balls and finally, the sole of his feet.

This was about as far as I got, a paragraph or two more, a paragraph or two after. It helped me to realise that writing inspiration isn’t just going to occur by the purchase of some arbitrary pieces of stationary, or that a ‘lightbulb moment’ won’t just happen because I’ve happened to read a few guides to creative writing.

The notebook does not maketh the writer.

My World in Books: Medical Non-fiction

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The World of Medical Non-fiction

A plea to start – if you read this and enjoy it, please click on an ad on the site. The coppers I’ll get will make the difference in keeping this thing running. Thanks in advance!

At the start of the year,if you had told me that the genre of book I would most enjoy in 2015 would be ‘medical non-fiction’, I would have asked you to get your head checked out. Thankfully, with neurologists such as Henry Marsh and endocrine surgeons such as Atul Gawande, any mental mishap or hormonal imbalance that caused you to utter such a preposterous statement can be easily rectified.

The genre of medical non-fiction does feel like it is a burgeoning niche in the world of books – or maybe, upon reading several, I am just more primed to notice them. I’ve read four over the past year, and each has been fantastic in opening my eyes to the reality of life behind the surgery doors.

‘Do No Harm’, by the aforementioned Henry Marsh, was the first in my medical odyssey, charting the triumphs and pitfalls of being a brain surgeon. Marsh did a brilliant job of tempering the increased ability to tackle major medical issues with the reality of the random nature of chance, luck and the human body. He’d move from uplifting stories about successful surgeries, to the aftermath of operations that had not gone as smoothly. No matter how many years of experience Dr. Marsh had, things could, and still would, go wrong. Even more fascinating were his stories of working in Ukraine, where the surgeries were completed under extreme constraints of equipment, yet there were still people trying to do their best by their fellow man. Heartening, as well as harrowing.

My interest in ‘Do No Harm’ led me to ‘Being Mortal’, the newest book by Atul Gawande. As this year progressed, I read ‘Complications’ and ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ also. Every opportunity to check out Gawande’s books, I’ve swallowed up voraciously. Without wanting to play favourite, ‘Being Mortal’ is still probably the most thought-provoking of the three, yet they all offer something to the discerning reader who wants to peak behind the curtain.

Gawande does a wonderful job of not only being informative, but genuinely engaging in the way he tells the narratives of his books. Whether it is the changes needed in care for the elderly in ‘Being Mortal’, or the desire to try and utilize a checklist to strengthen teamwork and eliminate mistakes in the operating theatre in ‘The Checklist Manifesto’, his descriptions of the space he occupies in the world of medicine are as riveting as any page turning crime thriller.

As would be expected of a surgeon, Gawande is clearly very intelligent, and his research around the topics of each novel encapsulates the wider world effortlessly. For example, ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ includes the story of the Miracle on the Hudson, a crash landing where no-one was hurt due to the use of a simple pilots checklist. In using it to prove his point about the effectiveness of this administrative task, he also develops the narrative hook that all good novels require. In showing us the bigger picture, he makes his work seem all the more vital.

To finish, it would be remiss not to consider some of the questions thrown up by ‘Being Mortal’. It is Gawande’s most personal book, with the backdrop of a father who is beginning to suffer the travails of old age. As we begin to elongate life for all, what needs to happen to the care offered to the elderly? How can we make the end of life as fulfilling as the previous years? How can we manage an ageing population in an area where money and investment is sparse?

If anything, Gawande is asking the questions that should be at the forefront of our future plans for progression as a community and society across the world. You can’t ask for much more in a book.

False Starts and Sparks of Ideas

 

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False Starts and Sparks of Ideas

As well as looking at the books I do (and don’t) read, one of the primary foci of the blog is to look at my stalling career as a writer. I plan to look at a mixture of different aspects: previous writing plans, ideas and concepts I’ve toyed with and progress on my current work (or lack of it).

If you’d have asked me when I was younger what I wanted to be it, it would be the lead singer in a rock band. Forget the fact that I can’t sing and was losing my hair by the time I was fifteen, that would have been my dream. Nowadays, my dreams are a little more tethered within the realms of reality, and I will accept just being a best-selling novelist. I was always a little bit more realistic about some of my other interests – I’ve never mistakenly believed I would be the next Lionel Messi – but writing has become the interest of the past several years.

In my other blogging life, I write about wrestling. Naturally, there is something a little bit awkward about an almost-thirty year old male who still enjoys watching grown men roll around on a mat, but it is something I’ve learnt to feel less weird about – even to celebrate. If I enjoy it, it doesn’t make sense to hide away from it.

With twenty plus years interest in wrestling, my initial plan for writing a story unsurprisingly was set in the world of grappling. I envisaged a dual narrative: one story telling (in flashback) the rise to fame of my protagonist, the second story telling the recovery from serious injury suffered in the ring. The central relationship, that of the protagonist and his wife, had been destroyed by his single minded desire to be the best. The second story focused not only on his efforts to rebuild himself, but also to rebuild the loving relationship they had once shared.

Beautiful, Oscar-worthy stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. The problem was that I never actually tried to write it.

It was the pie in the sky pipe dream. ‘Oh, if I was a writer, I’d write’ yadda, yadda, yadda. My Mum had once (referencing someone else I’m sure) told me that everyone had at least one story to be told, and I was convinced that was mine. One day, one day I would sit down and write this masterpiece, but I’ve just got to watch ‘Starship Troopers’ first, before defeating the final boss on Final Fantasy X – you know, really important things.

A couple of years passed before I stumbled across National Novel Writers Month. The idea of just getting my ideas down on paper (or my laptop) felt that something I should try to take advantage of, and I always feel like I work better when I set myself a goal. November the 1st, I began to write my story.

By November the 9th, I’d given up.

I’d changed the story a little from my initial idea. Rather than wrestling, I decided that it would appeal to a wider audience if I made it boxing. Growing up, I’d watched a lot of the big boxing matches that were on ITV, before they were swallowed up by the marketing machine that is Sky Sports. Steve Collins, Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn were legitimate heroes to me, and the idea of a non-fiction book written about that time period had also interested me – though this was never going to be that book.

All it took was one day that I missed. As a teacher, my workload is huge, so finding time to write is always difficult. I found the time to write 10,000 words, but missing one day was enough for the adrenaline to dissipate and my momentum to completely stall. Try as I might, I never picked it back up again. It still sits in my Dropbox, just in case I ever feel that it might be worth another look. It is saved under the provisional title ‘On Top Of The World’.

He never saw the punch coming.

Years of training, sparring and fighting, and yet, this punch went completely undetected.

To the purist, the punch wasn’t particularly good. Thrown off balance, the best that could be said about the punch was that it was accurate. Looping, ponderous, weak.

All words that were used to describe the punch in the days that followed the fight, yet it still wasn’t blocked.

Many excuses were made as to what happened during those five or ten seconds. Media pundits dissected the fight, the round, the punch, like surgeons, enjoying and savouring every last piece of analysis they could wring out of the incident. The internet fight fans poured online, querying the vulture-like nature of the coverage. This caused more ructions, as some decried it as ‘too soon’, whilst others championed the freedom of speech of those who chose to pass comment. The odd troll stoked the fire, declaring the fight ‘shit’ and a hope that ‘he fucking dies’.

Excuses were sought, and made.

The most popular excuse was that the punch had followed ten rounds of heavyweight boxing. Ten rounds of complete attrition, each man knocking the other down to their constituent parts, each man fighting on will, pride and determination. The type of fighting that only occurs when the stakes were this large, the victor taking not only the winner’s purse, but the World Heavyweight Title. Years of sacrifice boiled down into thirty six minutes. Thirty six minutes to prove that it was all worth it. Thirty six minutes to validate a lifetime of hardship and struggle. Sleeping rough to save a couple of dollars, taking any odd job available to keep the wolves from the door. All of this made worthwhile by a chance to say you’re the greatest.

A sports book done well, fiction or non-fiction, is a thing of beauty. Whether it will ever be something I can aspire to is another story.