Crashing back down to Earth.

Today started out very well indeed. I had posted on my blog just before going to bed, and checked my stats first thing in the morning. I thought WordPress was broken, because I had over a hundred views. It turns out that I had been Freshly Pressed by the happiness engineers.

For those of you I have just lost, the happiness engineers are the shadowy, sinister organisation that controls the blogging world. Think of them as a slightly more cheerful version of the thought police from George Orwell’s 1984. If your blog is not quite positive enough, they might just pay you a little visit.Freshly Pressed is a page where they put up the very best blog posts in each category. The categories today included neuroscience, books, fatherhood and civil liberties. Mine was the very best in the shoplifting category. The other three shoplifting posts were just not up to scratch. Continue reading

Forgive those who trespass against us.

It’s finally happened. My home is a haven of criminality. I live surrounded by thieves, anarchists and drug abusers, but up until now, I have managed to remain a beacon of honesty and integrity, a light in the darkness, a paragon of virtue. And then I got caught shoplifting on Friday. This came as as much of a surprise to me as it does to you. Not because I didn’t expect to get caught, but because I didn’t know I was doing it at the time.

I was caught by the man (who in this case was a short, round little woman) taking a pie out of the Pick ‘n Pay without paying for it. As I always say, go large or go home!

Me last Friday.

Let me lay out my defence. Firstly, I was not feeling very alert. This was not my fault. My son, a lord of chaos masquerading as a sweet, sensitive boy, had decided to investigate the alarm clock in our bathroom. Naturally, he had set it for 2:30 am. As one does. South Africa is not the sort of place where one gets woken by strange noises in the middle of the night and takes it lightly. I lurched out of bed armed with a set of dangerous catch-phrases (“I’ll kick your arse so hard your dog will bleed!”) before realising that it was just a clock. Then I had to find it. Drunk with sleep and blind without my glasses, I lurched around for five minutes before finding it on top of the toilet cistern. Obviously. The rest of the family, shagged out after a heavy day of bringing civilisation to its knees, slept on oblivious, but that was it for my night. Continue reading

Ah. Sex.

My wife has a blog of her own (http://tracyloveshistory.wordpress.com/). Instead of dealing with the broad sweeps of history, like the world wars, or colonialism, she tends to focus on little details that bring history alive, like what underwear the Victorians wore, or what a filthy old pervert Samuel Pepys was.

Lock up your daughters. Seriously.

Continue reading

Crime wave

I wrote a post the other day about how my daughter had stolen my wallet, and hidden it (https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/every-story-needs-an-antagonist/).  Don’t worry, my daughter isn’t a crack addict. At least not that I know of. She’s three. I did sit her down to find out why she had done such a naughty thing, and she came up with a perfectly rational explanation. It was because she wanted to. Continue reading

This is the third part of what was supposed to be a quick post on the creepy crawlies of the lowveld in South Africa. I need to create an ecosystem for a book I am writing, and in the absence of any genuine creative talent, I’m plagiarising one that I already know. In my first two posts, I covered the “cute and cuddly” (https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/226/) and the “terrifying but harmless” (https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/this-is-the-sec-9/) categories. Now we can move on to the really fun stuff; the tiny little creatures that can hurt or even kill you. Continue reading

It’s the small things that count (part 3)

David Attenborough doesn’t have what it takes.

I’ve really been battling to get started on a post I wanted to do about wildlife the other day. Every time I sit down and start writing, I get bogged down in drifts of facts and figures that anyone can look up on Wikipedia. By the time I get to the interesting parts, I’m two pages in, and the only person still reading would be the one you don’t want to end up next to at dinner parties. You know the one; after waiting just long enough to build up a truly awkward silence, he will turn, look you not-quite-straight in the eye, fix you with a panicked grin and ask “Do you know how many teeth an otter has got?” I’ve forgotten how to say anything about something that really interests me. I blame television. Continue reading

Oprah lied!

If you had asked me before I was ten, I would have told you that I was an underprivileged child. Not because I was cold, or hungry, or unloved. I was none of those things. Ever. It was because of the A-Team.

I grew up in the golden years of TV shows designed to drive boys wild with excitement. There was MacGyver, there was Knight Rider, there was Airwolf. And there was the A-Team. Play the theme tune from any of those to an entire generation, now pushing forty and trying to work out whether the Jonas brothers are a band, a TV show, or a family owned furniture removal company, and they will stop what they are doing, just for a moment, while a slow, goofy grin toys with the corners of their mouths. They will zone out for a second while they try to dredge the names from the depths of their minds: Hannibal, Murdoch, Michael Knight, Stringfellow Hawk. And then they will carry on with their lives, saddened a little that their own kids will be doing this themselves in 30 years. For the rubbish on the Disney Channel.

Not me though. MY parents thought it would be good for us not to have a TV in the house. It was certainly character building. I went to an all-boys school, and had to learn to negotiate a complicated daily greeting ceremony which involved gangs of small boys in huge grey shorts shouting “Jeeeez! Did you guys check what BA did to Murdoch last night?” I learned very early on that the appropriate response was not “No, but I listened to a fantastic BBC radio play!” To this day, one of my most useful social skills is the knowledge that, if you have absolutely no understanding of what everyone else is talking about, smile and nod. It makes them very happy- not only do you agree with them, you’re not trying to muscle in on their valuable spot in the limelight either. Continue reading

The longest journey begins with a spread sheet about ducks

My plan for the book has started to take shape. I’ve got a spread sheet going now. It has ducks in it. It has other livestock in it too, but sheep are just too silly to talk about when discussing writing techniques. Chickens are too self-important, horses too serious. Don’t even mention turkeys. Ducks it is.

White Duck Portrait

Ducks: the basis of all good fiction.

There are thorns in the spread sheet too, but that goes without saying.

A book of a few hundred pages needs some sort of structure and planning, but I cannot, under any circumstances, bring myself to do one of those horrible spider diagrams. I think they are called mind maps. I hate them with every fibre of my being. Continue reading

Writer’s block, or gardening as an extreme sport.

I have reached the point I always reach when trying to write. I have my plot, I have my characters, the family are all asleep and I’m feeling good. There’s a problem, though. I haven’t even finished the first chapter, and all I want to do is go outside and do some gardening.

I’m sure that when you hear the word “gardening”, the picture that immediately springs to mind is of a cheerful little old lady in a large sunhat, lovingly tending her rosebushes with a dinky little pair of clippers while she waits for her tea to cool down. That’s not how we do it. For me, proper gardening should break your heart and leave you crippled, at least for a day or two.

You see, I learnt my love of gardening from my father and, while in all other areas of his life he may be one of the sanest, most rational, sensible people I know, when it comes to his garden he is not all there. Continue reading

The problem with dialogue.

The whole point of this blog is that I am using it as an aid to writing a book. It’s going swimmingly. I have a plot laid out, and am slowly but surely creating a whole new world for it to take place in. I am getting to know what my main characters will be like, and how they will drive the plot forward. But that leads me straight into my first (and biggest) stumbling block. They are, at some point, going to have to talk to each other. Continue reading