Don’t Expect Us To Mourn

A famous person has died (to quote Spitting Image). The Establishment is in mourning (to mis-quote Spitting Image). And we’re all expected to mourn too; expected to bow our heads in honour of our beloved leaders. So much for living in a democracy. We’re told the monarchy has no power; that we shouldn’t consider its existence to imply we are subservient and inferior – it’s nothing more than a bit of fun. But a member of the royal family dies, and the BBC decides to cancel all of its scheduled programmes, and devote its entire output, on both channels, to sycophantic programmes about the said royal. The media is doing its duty in putting the monarchy above all else, and we are being coerced into doing the same. Anyone switching on TV or radio to catch their favourite programmes will, since the death of you-know-who, have been disappointed.

On an average day, the lives of around two-thousand people end in the UK. The Duke lived a highly privileged life at our expense. He lived as long as he did because, unlike most of those others who died yesterday, he had access to the very best health care money can buy (at our expense). I’m sure he had his good points (as well as the bad ones). But I’m willing to bet that among the two-thousand there are people who lived better, more selfless, less privileged lives, and who are far more deserving of our grief. So forgive me if I complain about being made to miss ‘Gardeners’ World’, ‘Have I Got News For You’, and the music on Radio Three (I know; I’m giving away a lot about myself here!) simply because someone who was born (not elected) into a position of power has died.

I see the royal family as a parasitic organism, feeding on the body politic; the idea that they have no power over us a lie; their continuing roles a celebration of privilege, elitism, and the with-holding of opportunity, equality, and consideration from the ordinary people. Isn’t it high time we purged our society of these vampires?

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The Antidote to International Womens’ Day

On a day when we are asked to consider the disadvantages of being female in the world today, would it be unreasonable of me to point out, for the sake of balance, that in the pandemic currently ravaging the world population, men are far more likely to suffer serious symptoms, and indeed death, than women?

You know, I almost wonder why we have IWD at all, when hardly a day goes by without the media banging on about how badly done by women are (perhaps I should stop reading the Guardian). I know that women do still suffer unfair treatment, ranging from minor disadvantage all the way up to extreme cruelty and death. Do the feminist elites that run our media have any conception that it works both ways? I could regale you of examples (many on a huge scale) of the unfair treatment dished out to men (ranging from minor disadvantage all the way up to extreme cruelty and death). But for today at least, perhaps I should restrict myself to my own field – writing.

From bloggers to publishers, from awards, to resources for authors, I see mostly women’s faces. It’s acknowledged that there are far more women writing than men, but where are the incentives to correct this imbalance – the mentorships, the gender-specific awards, and so on? In fact, all of those resources are available to women, even though they already have the upper hand. I’ve followed a number of female writers, through their blogs, from obscurity to being successfully published (and been happy for them). But no men.

Dare I suggest the reason there are so many more women writing than men is that, contrary to the picture painted by the media of women being over-burdened with work/child-care/housekeeping responsibilities, in many cases they’ve got more time on their hands? I still remember one blogger’s statement that the one thing she did have, as a ‘stay at home Mom’, was plenty of time. Perhaps most men are too busy working overtime to make ends meet to find the time to write? The women controlling the industry seem happy to write (pardon the pun) it off as simply down to a difference in character, and to ignore it as irrelevant. How do we think it would play out if it was the other way around?

But back to Covid. We know it’s having a disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities too. The media is making quite a fuss about that (though perhaps not as much as they should be). But the imbalance between the genders gets different treatment. It’s barely mentioned, and when it is, it’s reported as a simple statement of fact; among the reasons given, the bald statement that men are less robust than women (their immune systems aren’t as good, apparently; something to do with that missing chromosome). Oh, and they smoke more, apparently, which means they’re more likely to have an underlying respiratory illness. No mention of the fact that men are far more likely to spend their whole lives working in dangerous environments, where they get to breath in harmful substances all day. Think of all those miners dying of emphysema. The next time you hear a builder coughing their guts up, and catch sight of them through a cloud of concrete/brick/plaster dust, take note of their gender.

So there you go. Rant over. Happy International Womens’ Day ;¬]

Text © Graham Wright 2021
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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Covid – The Writers’ Dilemma

The not-so-brave new world of pandemic pandemonium we’ve been living through for the last nine months poses a specific problem for those of us writing cotemporaneous novels. What do we do with the new, very restricted ways of living people have been obliged to adopt?

Many of us will have begun our current Work-in-Progress when no-one had even heard of Covid. Do we re-write what we’ve done so far, plunging our characters into the tedium of mask-wearing and not going out (well we’ve had to put up with it – why shouldn’t they)? Or do we carry on, as if nothing had changed? Neither option is without its problems.

Setting your novel in a world free from C-19 might actually prove to be the more difficult path; more of a work-out for the imagination. I don’t know about you, but those times seem so long ago I can hardly remember what they were like. Imagine being able to go out whenever you want, without having to cover your face. Imagine having physical contact with other human beings – touching an arm, shaking a hand; spontaneously sharing a hug. It’s hard to recall what it was like not to be constantly worrying about maintaining a distance between yourself and other people. I can’t help thinking of the line in the Smiths song ‘Hand in Glove’ – ‘everything depends upon how near you stand to me‘.

But even if you are able to faithfully re-create the way we lived then, will your novel read as if it’s set in the past, in a parallel universe, or the near future, rather than the present? And if you decide to go for gritty realism and immerse your characters into Covid-world; what then? How many plots will be made untenable by the current (and let’s hope they are only current) restrictions? How do you make your story worth reading when its players are so limited in what they can do, and the extent to which they can interact with the world? You could see it as an opportunity – to create a new kind of story within the limits we’re experiencing. Is that a positive thing though, or simply allowing this damned pandemic to take over your writing in much the same way it’s taken over every other aspect of our lives?

I started my latest novel before C-19 struck. I won’t say how long before. Writing a novel takes time even when you’ve got all day and every day to do it. When you have a busy life and are writing in the meagre time that’s left over, it takes longer still. Each of my previous two novels took me around fours years to write, and I’d say I’m on course for a similar experience with this one. I’ve just passed fifty-thousand words, which puts me more than half way through. It’s set in the present – the present effectively being when I release it.

There’s always the chance events in the real world might impact a novel you’re writing (though I don’t think any of us would have expected something that would have had such an impact). On my current trajectory, there is a also a chance that by the time my latest book is finished, the pandemic will be over, and so I won’t need to worry about having ignored it. On the other hand, I think this pandemic will have changed all of our lives for a long time to come, so any novel that doesn’t include at least some sort of pandemic-legacy elements won’t be fully in the real world.

What would you do? Would you ignore Covid, or re-write your story accommodate it?

Text & graphic ©graham wright 2021

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Why you should consider joining the National Secular Society

On Saturday, for the first time, I attended the AGM of the National Secular society. It isn’t easy for me to get down to London, where they ‘re normally held, but this year, because of the pandemic, it was held on-line. I’ve been a member of the NSS for some years now, and I’m very proud of that. Why? Well, the aim of the NSS is to challenge the right of religious groups to interfere in both the state, and the lives of individuals – countering religious privilege.

The NSS doesn’t campaign for atheism. In fact it supports the right to hold religious beliefs, as well as the right not to – freedom of belief, as well as freedom from belief. It has worked alongside religious organisations on campaigns where there is common ground, such as the campaign to get the Scottish government to amend its hate speech bill, which has been so badly thought through and worded that it will severely restrict freedom of speech.

Why should we want to restrict the influence and privilege of religious groups? Well, we supposedly live in a democracy, and yet we are one of only two states (the other being Iran) that reserves places in the legislature for religious representatives without the need to be elected (I’m talking of course about the twenty-six bishops who sit, by right, in the house of Lords). The NSS is working hard to persuade government to abolish the bishops’ bench. The bishops have repeatedly worked against the interests of the general population; for instance, they have been instrumental in blocking attempts to legalise assisted dying (something eighty percent of the population think we should have a right to).

One of the two vice-presidents of the NSS is a human rights lawyer, and in his election address he talked about how he has represented victims of child abuse in cases involving all of the main religions in the UK. A recent report by the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse said that the catholic church repeatedly put its reputation before the interests of child abuse survivors. The Vatican is continuing to refuse to co-operate with the inquiry. Religious representatives continue to be given access to children without appropriate safeguards – the state wrongly assumes they can be trusted in situations the non-religious would not be allowed to go into.

Across the world, blasphemy laws restrict criticism of religion. In many countries, saying anything against the established religion can result in a death sentence. The term ‘blasphemy’ has no place in a free and fair society – we have to be free to criticise and even ridicule religion, without fear of imprisonment or death. We’ve got the NSS to thank for the abolition of the blasphemy laws here in the UK. But as we’ve seen in France particularly, some religious groups will stop at nothing to silence critics. The NSS is working hard to ensure governments maintain our right to freedom of speech, and don’t give in to the unreasonable demands of religious groups.

Successive governments, as a result of lobbying by the churches, have allowed the creation of more and more religious schools, to the point where increasing numbers of parents now have no other option for their children but a religious school. Even the most moderate of church schools teach religion as if it were fact, and subject their charges to enforced worship. Surely our kids deserve to be shown both sides of the argument, to be taught to think for themselves, rather than be indoctrinated into a particular ideology? That would allow them to develop their own world view, rather than have someone else’s imposed on them.

That’s before you even get to the many religious schools that have been found to be censoring text books, teaching creationism (the idea that the world is only six thousand years old, and that evolution is a lie!), illegally segregating boys and girls, and allocating virtually all of the time to RE, so that there’s little time left for other subjects. All of this paid for from our taxes (because religious schools are paid for by us, rather than by the religious groups themselves!)

The NSS, of course, are campaigning hard to bring the injustices of the education system to light, and to roll back the expansion of religious schools in the UK.

I could go on and on, but I’ll save you that. Across the world, wherever religious organisations have privilege and power, they use it to suppress the human rights of their citizens. That’s why we need organisations such as the National Secular Society – to ensure we are all free to believe in and practice religion if we wish to, but to stop religion from taking away the rights of those who don’t believe.

The good people of the NSS are a capable and committed bunch, fighting for a just cause, but they are few in number, and face very powerful enemies. They need all the support they can get, so why not join them?

Posted in Ethics, Religion, Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Book Review – ‘You Beneath Your Skin’ by Damyanti Biswas

I first came across Damyanti Biswas through her blog Damyanti Writes, which is full of useful information for aspiring authors, mostly in the form of interviews with industry insiders and published authors. I’ve been following this blog for a few years now, and it’s obvious Damyanti has a dedication both to the craft of writing, and to creating an online community to support other writers.

Looking back, despite the anguish and frustrations she alludes to in her blog, suffered as she tried to gain traction in her writing career, it was perhaps inevitable that Damyanti would one day make it. It looks like You Beneath Your Skin is the novel with which she has finally found the success she’s been striving for (and I think she deserves). It’s published by Simon & Schuster India, but is available worldwide, and I understand the sales figures are very healthy.

I should probably warn you that this book is not a comfortable read. The streets of New Delhi are a dark, unsettling backdrop to a story that covers very disturbing issues. As a crime thriller, it falls outside of my usual reading matter (although as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have much time to read novels these days; so I’m not sure I have any ‘usual’ reading matter!) But it’s good to try something different. It’s a book that gave me sleepless nights; both because of the subject matter, and because by the time I put it down at night it was generally a lot later than I realised or had intended. It’s quite addictive, albeit rather scary. I found the setting interesting. Damyanti creates a vivid impression of New Delhi, a place I haven’t visited (and after reading this, I’m not sure I ever want to!) She’s also created an interesting set of very individual, rather complex characters. It’s a fairly fast-moving story, but there’s a great deal of depth – it’s a very thoughtful exploration of how the characters are affected by what they experience, and despite the darkness, there is hope in there too.

The kind of books I normally read don’t tend to have a plot twist at the end. This one does (well, with any detective story you have to keep your readers in suspense, don’t you?). But it’s by no means obvious – it kept me guessing until close to the end, when the truth was revealed. I have to admit to having had a little difficulty working out who was who some of the time. Various names and ways of addressing the characters were employed, including (I think) Hindi words for mother, brother, son, etc. Different naming protocols, in a different culture – just something you have to learn. And you know what most Brits are like when it comes to languages! But I like to be challenged when I’m reading, and in this case it was all part of the process of having a different culture brought to life for me.

I know Damyanti has been involved with charities that help people who have suffered from the issues dealt with in the novel; particularly survivors of acid attacks. One more reason to buy the book is that she is donating her proceeds from it to these charities.

It can be difficult reading a book by someone you know (albeit only through their online presence). There’s always the fear that the book might not be up to much. But in this case, having seen some shorter examples of Damyanti’s writing, I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed. And I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed; I’m very happy to recommend You Beneath Your Skin.

text & photo © Graham Wright 2020

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Work in Progress…

Writing a novel takes time – lots of time.

For me, one of the most difficult things about the lockdown has been hearing about how much time everyone has on their hands. The media (social and otherwise) has been full of people describing how they’ve used all that time to learn Sanskrit, gain a fast-track degree in psychology, or build a one-in-five scale model of Canterbury Cathedral out of matchsticks. Or in some cases, all three. So why is it that even during the lockdown I still don’t have enough time to write?

I’m making progress with my latest WIP, but only by grabbing what little time I can from a busy schedule. At the end of last year I moved from South Wales to Shropshire, and between designing and building a new (quite large) garden, working on the house (which, being Victorian, will happily swallow as much time (and money) as I can throw at it), and my part-time studies (Post Graduate Diploma in Garden Design – nearly done now), I’ve been kept rather busy. Add in the diminished energy levels that I presume to be a combination of age, and my on-going battle with sinusitis, and it feels like I’m swimming against the tide. I’m not a strong swimmer. You may have noticed a lack of posts on this blog recently.

I’ve written about 35,000 words of novel number three (so about a third of the way through) and I’m at a critical stage. Now, more than ever, it’s important to work on the draft regularly. Even if I don’t have long to spend each time, I find it’s better to write little and often; that way I can keep the thing in my head, and even if I’m not getting many words down on the page, I’m still developing the story and the characters in my mind. If I go more than a few days between writing sessions then it all starts to slip away, so that when I next get a chance to write, I waste a lot of time re-familiarising myself with what’s already written, and trying to recall what I’d intended. I wonder, is this just me; or do all you other writers out there find the same..?


text & image ©Graham Wright 2020

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10 Great Ways to Beat the Coronavirus…

  1.  Ridicule. Cut the coronavirus down to size with some well-placed mocking. By abbreviating the name from Covid-19 to just C19, you can turn it from a deadly virus into a rubbish cassette tape.
                                     C30, C60, C19 Go!
  2.  Boo for Boris. We clap the care workers to show our appreciation, so why not raise our spirits with a regular session in which we boo the government whose ineptitude has made the UK the Covid capital of Europe [1.], and who have scapegoated the general population, invoked marshall law, and put us all under virtual house arrest? At eight o’clock on Thursday we clap for the NHS; what say at eight o’clock on Friday we Boo! for Boris!

  3.  Positive Thinking. The UK is never going to win the football European Championships, but when it comes to the league table for covid deaths, we’re in the No. 1 slot. Take that Europe! Champions! Champions! You’re not singing anymore…
  4. Sneer at covid’s potency. Cancer will take the lives of 160,000 Britons this year, and every year. Coronavirus will probably only manage 50,000 at the most, this one year. Is that the best you can do Covid? Pathetic! If I succumb to the virus and don’t make it through, I want everyone to say ‘He died of the small c‘.
  5.  Sneeze your way back to health. If you’re unlucky enough to get the virus, remember that every time you sneeze you’re ejecting millions of the little buggers out through your nose. So sneeze as much as you can, and every time you sneeze, taunt the exiting virus with the words ‘Take to the tissue and die in my dustbin, coronavirus scum!
    (Although, maybe just make sure you’ don’t sneeze on anyone else!)
  6. See things from the virus’s point of view. Coronavirus doesn’t mean to hurt you. It loves humans. It just wants to snuggle up and get warm and cosy with us. It isn’t vindictive or cruel – it’s killing us with kindness.
  7. Use anthropomorphism. Take the sting out of the virus with some timely anthropomorphism – morph the the sinister looking viral sphere into a friendly, smiling cartoon character.
  8. Turn a problem into an opportunity. For once in your life you can wear a surgical mask and gloves without fear of being arrested for impersonating a doctor.
  9. Use the virus for your own purposes. Like ridiculing the irritating politicians that got us into this mess.

    Michael Govid

  10. Use the Covid hysteria to cover your mistakes and omissions. Everyone will be so distracted by fear of the virus, they won’t even notice that your ’10 Great Ways to Beat the Coronavirus’ article only has 9 ways!


[1.] Where do I start? The government failed to act on the warnings they were given that the virus was coming, and failed to act on the advice to stockpile PPE to make ready. They failed to track and isolate infected people coming into the country, or to identify who they had been in contact with. They have consistently said that the only symptoms were a cough and a temperature (whereas in fact there are many other symptoms)  causing many cases to go un-noticed (and the virus to be spread extensively).
On the same day Boris received a report saying that hand-shaking spreads the virus, he went to a covid ward, shook as many hands as he could, and then went on TV to tell everyone he’d done it. And he contracted the virus and nearly died – had he done so, he would have been a worthy nomination for the Darwin prize.
Having set up the huge ‘Nightingale hospitals’, instead of using them to isolate the infected, they decided to ‘keep them for later, in case it gets really bad’. Covid patients were sent to general hospitals around the country, where they went on to spread the virus to NHS workers and on into the general population. Nice one Boris!


text & images © Graham Wright 2020

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Pandemic of Lunacy – Why we could be getting it wrong on Covid-19

The average UK citizen has approximately a 1 in 3,300 chance of dying of Covid-19 this year (assuming there are 20,000 deaths). For cancer, it’s around 1 in 400. Which disease would you prefer the government to concentrate its efforts on?

In his novel 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian society was permanently at war with, it was implied, an enemy invented for the specific purpose of giving the population something to fear. In our dystopian society the dreaded enemy has been Russia, North Korea, terrorism, and now, could it be  Covid-19?

We’re all isolated now, but I feel particularly alone. Am I the only person who thinks governments have panicked; that the measures they have introduced are nothing short of insane? Why are they taking away so many people’s livelihoods, destroying so many businesses, and leaving so many lonely people ever more isolated? To save lives, of course, but how many? Estimates suggested overall deaths from ‘the virus’  in the UK could be in the range of 10,000 to 20,000 (though now it’s looking like at least 20,000). We can act to minimise this figure, but no matter what we do, thousands will die. We might, with the current approach, save 5,000 to 10,000 lives. Surely that’s worth doing?

Well, let’s put that into perspective, shall we? According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 165,000 deaths each year from cancer. Around 38% of those are avoidable. That’s 62,700 avoidable deaths. Think what we could do if government were to allocate just a tenth of the absurd sums they’ve set aside to support British business during the lockdown for Covid-19, to cancer. Early diagnosis is critical. Think how much more testing could be done. Think how much progress could be made on research into treatments and cures. And all without any disruption to the economy, individuals or businesses; beyond taxes being a little higher.

And then there’s heart disease (40,000 deaths), and Alzheimer’s & dementia (26,500). There are over 7,000 alcohol related deaths, and 6,000 suicides – surely we could do something about those? [1.] It isn’t unreasonable to think that government could save 50,000-100,000 lives if they addressed these causes with conviction. CBA, apparently. They’ve even refused to legislate to stop food and drink producers loading their products with the sugar, salt, and fat that are making us all so unhealthy, perhaps because they don’t want to upset an industry that is so influential. And yet, one sight of Covid, and at a stroke they’ve put much of the food industry out of business.

Don’t get me wrong; every one of the estimated 20,000 deaths from Covid-19 is a tragedy. But so is every one of the average 600,000 or so deaths in the UK from other causes. A friend of mine once attempted to peel a satsuma while exiting from a multi-storey car park. The satsuma slipped out of his hand. Thanks to his lightning reactions he was able to save the satsuma. But he lost control of the car and totalled it against a concrete wall.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t act to minimise the effects of Covid-19. There are plenty of measures we can implement, short of pressing the self-destruct button, which is what is happening now. We would, of course, be better prepared if successive governments had invested properly in the NHS, rather than running it down and opening it up to be preyed upon by the private sector.

We’re spending the kind of money economists didn’t know it was possible to raise, and which will leave the country in hock for a generation. We’re destroying our economy. Many people have already found themselves unexpectedly out of work, with millions more wondering whether they’ll have a job to go back to once all this is over. Businesses are going to the wall at a rate never before seen. Oh, and the entire population has been put under virtual house arrest for an indefinite period. And when it’s all finally over, how long till the next strain of virulent respiratory disease mutates, meaning it all starts up again?

In poorer countries, the ensuing global recession will have even more devastating consequences, including increased famine, poverty, disease (in addition to Covid-19), disruption to already poor education provision, and knocking back advances in equality for women.

It doesn’t meet Mr Spock’s famous logic test – the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. The lives of millions in the UK (the many) are being devastated in order to save perhaps 5,000 to 10,000 lives (the few). And all the while government inaction over cancer, heart disease, etc, is squandering many tens of thousands of lives.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re all going to die one day. That’s the cycle of life. I don’t have the meaning of life for you, but if I had to give it my best guess I’d say it’s live well, and be ready to look death in the face when it’s your time.

Our biggest enemy is not Covid-19 (unless, of course, we’re being lied to about the potential death toll). It’s fear, and the virulent pandemic of lunacy that’s infected governments across the world.





Text & image © Graham Wright 2020

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Scrivener Trial

I’ve recently been working on my latest novel again, having put it aside while there were too many other things going on for me to find the time. And I’ve been trying out some writing software. Called Scrivener, it is, according to its makers, ‘the go-to app for writers of all kinds’, designed to provide everything you need  to start writing and keep writing. You can download it for a free one-month trial (where rather than a calendar month, only the days you actually use the software count towards the trial). So how have I been getting on?

My first task was to work my way through the tutorial, which took some time. And then I was ready to create a new project, and start typing. I write the old-fashioned way, with pencil and notebook. It works well for me. I get to do the creative bit unencumbered by soulless ‘tech’. And then later, the process of typing up what I’ve written acts as an additional level of editing and proof-reading. I had nearly two full notebooks ready to be typed up. I created a new document for each chapter. They suggest you give the chapters titles, rather than  numbers, to save having to re-number if you either change the order or insert more chapters as you progress. This is a screenshot (snip) of Scrivener:

The main panel looks very much like MS Word – presumably this is what it’s based on – but without the full range of controls and options you get with Word. A column on the left, which they call the binder, is effectively the file structure; a list of the chapters, plus notes, research – anything else you want to put in there, you can just create a folder and/or a document for it. Folders can contain text, images, videos, sound – whatever you need. On the right, another column is for comments, notes, references, plus a synopsis of each chapter. This column is called the inspector. There are different views – you can look at two chapters or documents side by side (or split horizontally) which could be very useful when you’re referring to reference material or notes. You can have attachments pinned to a cork board background.

I had quite a few problems trying to get the program to give me what I wanted. Finding options was difficult, as it differs from Word quite a bit (and, as I’ve said, there aren’t as many options). It took me a while to find where to change the paragraph indents, for example. And I still haven’t found how to change the measurements for indents from inches to millimetres (maybe you can’t).

Some of the functions are rather strange and annoying. The spellchecker insists on starting from the beginning of the document, and won’t let you highlight a particular word. The comments look just like comments in MS Word, except that rather than aligning with their position in the text, they appear as a continuous list. The relevant comment is highlighted when you click into the text at the point it refers to (or, conversely, if you click on a comment, you jump to the point in the text it refers to). This doesn’t really work for me.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve really just been typing (I’ve put in one notebook worth of text) rather than making full use of the program. I have put most of my reference material and notes in too, but I just haven’t been doing enough with the various functions to learn how the software works. Plus, it’s now over a month since I went through the tutorial, and I’ve forgotten most of it. I can go back to the tutorial whenever I need to. But who wants to be playing that game when you’re deep in the creative process of writing?

Another problem is that I write on a tablet, with a keyboard attached. It’s small, and therefore portable, so I can carry it around with me (and occasionally go and write in a coffee shop while sipping at a long black – bliss!) But the screen is, of course, small, which is a disadvantage even with a standard word processor. But in Scrivener, with a panel to the left and right, and the option of splitting the screen to look at two documents at once..? Well, those functions just aren’t practical on a small screen. You can hide both left and right panels to give yourself full screen width. But that kind of negates the added functionality they give.

With the trial period coming to an end, I set about exporting the text I’d written in Scrivener, so I didn’t lose it. If I decide not to buy the program I’ll need to get it into MS Word. Scrivener has a ‘compile’ function, which allows you to export your book into a variety of formats, including PDF, RTF and MS Word. You can specify page breaks, font type and size, etc. Sounds great, but it’s complicated, and would need a fair amount of experimentation before you get the result you want. It reminds me of my days as a computer programmer. Adding an extra step (compilation) between writing your manuscript and putting it into a finished format seems to me like a retrograde step, compared to a word processing program, where you format as you go along, and can see the finished result and make corrections to it.

With Scrivener, you compile, check through the result then, if it isn’t quite how you want it, you have to look at the settings, recompile, and hope that it works. That really does seem too much like hard work to me; particularly as Scrivener doesn’t do typesetting, so that when you finally get the result you want you have to import it into another program to typeset, before you can send it to the printers. It’s a process that’s just asking for things to go wrong. And they did! The screenshot (snip) that follows illustrates this perfectly. I compiled to a Word (docx) format, to include the comments. You can see that while some of it formatted properly, for a large chunk, the main text has migrated into the comments field:

I deleted all of the comments, to see what happened – whether that would put it right. As you can see, the text in the section that wasn’t formatted correctly then disappeared off the edge of the page!

If this is the kind of problem you get from what was only a basic export of what amounts to perhaps a sixth of a novel, I dread to think what awaits when I try to compile the full manuscript. There’s also the issue of confidence – you need to know the software is going to give you what you need, and not produce random unexpected results.

When I copied the text into my Word document, things got stranger still. Trying to delete page breaks, or changing the font size, didn’t seem to work. Clicking the option to show hidden formatting marks didn’t solve it – there was nothing I could see that would be causing problems. After a lot of messing about I think I may have put it right, but I’m not confident of what will happen when I start to edit the text further.

I think you can tell from the above that I’m not going to buy Scrivener when the trial period ends. The main function of the software is to have everything relating to your book – the manuscript, notes, research, etc. – in the same place. It is handy to be able to click through a list of chapters by title, and it saves time switching between different Word docs. But it also seems quite claustrophobic, and needs a reasonably large screen to work. Darius Marley commented on a previous post to the effect that software writing aids are not necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. Thanks Darius, for that wise advice.

The time I spent testing Scrivener was not entirely wasted though. It made me think more about how I can use existing software – in my case MS Word and Excel – to better organise the writing process. MS Word may not be perfect, but at least it’s familiar and reliable (most of the time).


text © graham wright 2020

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Book Review – Letters From a Lost Uncle

Mervyn Peake has long been one of my favourite authors. So when, late last year, I discovered a book by him that I hadn’t read (or even known about), I was eager to get my hands on a copy. ‘Letters From a Lost Uncle’ was, according to my (then) local bookshop, unavailable. But when I tried again last month at my new local book shop (called Bookshrop – as in a bookshop in Shropshire – get it?) it was available. But I didn’t bother in the end. Only joking – of course I ordered a copy straight away!

Mervyn Peake is best known for the Ghormenghast trilogy – three novels (like most trilogies) based in a mythical realm, and following the central character of Titus Groan, seventy-seventh Earl of Ghormenghast. Peake wasn’t prolific. I remember a TV adaptation, many decades ago now, of his only other novel, MrPye. He did write poetry as well mind, and childrens’ books, and was a talented artist and illustrator.

Peake’s characters are somewhat surreal, but his powers of description and his creative imagination were, in my humble opinion, second to none. He’s able to draw you into worlds, and to have you believing in characters you know couldn’t possibly be real.  ‘Letters From a Lost Uncle’ is not so much a novel as a picture book. Each page consists of a drawing, or series of drawings, in pencil, with a typed (on a typewriter – remember those?) piece of paper cut out and stuck on over the top (cut and paste just isn’t the same nowadays!)

The style of writing is simplistic – narrated by someone who supposedly isn’t used to writing. It’s the story of an arctic explorer, told through his letters to a nephew he’s never met. I don’t know that it’s a childrens’ book as such, though it could well appeal to, and be easily understood by even quite young children. There aren’t any themes in it you would describe as adult, and it’s an easy read (and short, as there’s only a small amount of text on most of the pages). The real joy is in the artwork. The drawings are superb, and bring the story to life. The whole endeavour is a triumph of the imagination, the writing is funny and endearing, and despite the fantastical nature of the story and characters, really draws you in, building to a satisfying conclusion.

I read the book in three short sittings, with a smile on my face the whole time. I would say I was sad when I’d finished, but unlike most books, there really isn’t an end – I know I can spend plenty of time looking through it again and again because of those astonishing drawings. Who knows, maybe I’ll come across more by Mervyn Peake that I didn’t know existed? In the meantime, I’m thinking that perhaps I might re-read some of the books I do know about quite soon.

text © Graham Wright 2020

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