Author Archives: Mr Stephen

About Mr Stephen

Writer, Comedian, Musician, Designer, Photographer and more. How do they fit me in to just one package?

The Missing Piece

We are all made up of our experiences. The pieces of us fit together like a jigsaw. Over time these pieces become the tapestry of your life. Occasionally they change, one piece is removed and replaced by something that you hope will fit the pattern more closely. It modifies the image of your life, altering the person that you are, giving you a new part of yourself to draw from.

We are never a complete picture. Our jigsaw is always changing and will only truly be complete at the end of our lives. As we take our final breath the last piece of our puzzle is revealed and only then can you expect to see the full picture of a person. But, as you build your jigsaw of life it is important that you don’t miss any holes along the way. We hear all the time of people who have something missing in their life, a piece of their jigsaw they have left in the box. Some even claim to have been given the wrong pieces of the puzzle and, by a cruel twist of fate, need to replace their image with whatever they can find. None the less, we all fill in the puzzle somehow. And let us not forget the human condition within all of this. At stages of our lives we realise that someone else might hold the next piece of our jigsaw. We hunt for those people and see if our images match. We might find that they do, or that two seemingly matching patterns can not line up when interwoven. Occasionally this will be an easy thing to rectify and breaking apart becomes an easy thing. At other times we find that the other pattern has already become intwined in to our own jigsaw to such an extent that parts of you are taken with the other jigsaw when it departs. But, we keep going. We find other things that fill in the gap.

What happens, however, if you have had a line of your jigsaw missing for as long as you can remember. The very edge of your life never squared off and anything you try and replace it with always leaving a jagged edge. You always feel as if there is something missing, as if life its self can never be compete. I have been like this for many years. The things that I have tried to replace my missing edge with have long since fallen by the wayside or become a part of the larger image of me. I had been resigned to never finding the missing edge in my life but it always nags at you and however happy you are it is always tinged with a sense of loss.

A little while ago I found the missing edge. As with all missing things it was where I would least expect it, like the place you put something for safe keeping that suddenly leaves your mind when you try to recall it. I couldn’t have found it any quicker because I wasn’t in the right place to find it. I had actually seen the missing pieces before and just not realised what they were or why they would become so important. Suddenly, there they were and I did everything I could think of to attach them to my puzzle.

I didn’t even realise what was missing before, or how it must have effected my life. It’s hard to be close to people when there is a part of you that just isn’t there. Suddenly I felt complete, for the first time in my life all of the edges were in place. I can’t describe with adequate verbiage the feelings that nurtured in me. Gone were the moments of loneliness and the empty regrets, insecurities and fears that I had carried for years were dissipated by the merest thought of what I had found. Sadly, I was not able to inhabit this revelry for very long. The pieces I had found did not belong to me. I hoped that they would, that there would be some chance to keep them at my side and I would have done anything to make this happen. Instead, before I could attach my new found edge, it was pulled away from me and the demons came back in to my life.

Now I am lost. It seems as if I have been in this situation forever but, of course, I have not. The pieces that seemed so right for me for the briefest of moments now seem detached, floating away from my life and nothing I can say or do can ever bring them back. Tennyson said “It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all.” How apt that particular epithet but how hollow the sentiment when you once had a taste of all you could achieve, only for it to be denied to you. So, I keep going on. I don’t know what else to do but I so desperately want to find that again and I question whether I ever shall. If not, perhaps my jigsaw will always be incomplete.

How cruel a twist of fate.

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Coping With Decompression

Evening is the time when I come alive, or was for many years. Lately I have found myself suppressing natural tenancies so I am able to work properly during the day and it is really killing me. Not physically of course, that would be stupid, but intellectually the stimulus that I craved for many years that is brought about by the right time of day is missing and, with it, much of my creative drive.

I don’t know who originally told me this but I was once told that writing happens early in the morning. I think that is probably true. I have often seen writers up at all hours breaking away to social networks in order to comment on the progress of their work at two, three or even four AM. For me the writing process often starts at three in the morning because I have been awake long enough to make some kind of sense of the day and find my inner voice, the narrator’s voice. It’s not even the voice of the writer (which I currently seem to be using). The writer’s voice is the closest approximation I can muster to the voice of God. The narratorial equivalent is not the voice of God but rather the voice of the story which in turn is under the influence of the writer, the deus ex fabula if you will.

However this strange concatenation of literary expression is formed I still have an inability to contact this particular subset of my psyche. I have written a lot over the last couple of months. I have started and finished a novel in that time and contributed to a couple of magazines under various different pseudonyms (my fear of using my own name being bolstered by my flair for the dramatic which is not healthy I suppose). I have forced this voice out in to the world like a premature birth (fixed to the caffeine drip of the incubator) in order to bring in money, all the while taking ten hours a day up with a very stressful full time occupation for which I am being sadly underpaid. As well as that, other creative endeavours come to me, remove my time, wear me out until I am so tired that I am unable to participate in anything; any remnants of talent is ripped from my arms. This makes me incredibly sad. I have had times where I can not breath because of the weight of work and the world that I have to carry. I am sure everyone is the same but where as many will go to the pub or relax with friends I find myself unable to take solace in these simple pleasures because the one thing with which I have always defined myself is no longer there. As if a part of my soul had been ripped away from me I can only exist as a husk of myself until the instincts of an emotional vampire kick in and I try to feed. But I can only eat the simplest of meals. The McDonalds restaurant of television serves up endless soaps and reality shows leaving me with only scraps for sustenance. Inevitably it is not enough and I fret, I moan, I am unable to sleep. It’s then that panic sets in because if I don’t get a full six hours then… maybe I could survive on five hours but… I will be okay with only two hours if I… Just take a nap for an hour I can at least get through the day.

This is the wasteland where my mind sits day after day until at one point I am up at three in the morning and something clicks in to place and it sit and I type. For the briefest of moments the spark reignites and my soul is pulled together. I am a whole person. I can feel again. I will revel in that joy for as long as I am able but I know it is not forever and all too soon the story ends, I finish writing and I can see the dark clouds on the horizon.

I wish I had more three AMs.


Why the World Owes You A Living!

I really don’t like the BBC sometimes. I find myself thinking that on occasion and then hating myself for it because it has, in the past, been an employer, educator and bastion of all I hold dear about our society. It is such an important institution to us that we have a special tax that the people who use it pay… are meant to pay in order to use the service. I am also not naive enough to think that the entire BBC is there for my benefit. I understand the need to have Casualty and Eastenders as long as they keep bringing me programs like Doctor Who and The Fades. On occasion, however, I find myself appalled at some of the journalism. I think this mostly stems from the 24 hour news culture that aunty now has to adhere to. I found this with the recent coverage of the public-sector workers strike this week. Days before the strike actually happened we had reports from airports and train stations about possible disruptions in transport. I do feel that certain correspondents have taken it upon themselves to form an opinion on a subject before it has happened just so they can do a piece to camera and take up a few minutes air time. My problem with this is that I don’t believe that opinion and speculation are news and, until the event has actually occurred or is in fact occurring, we won’t see any actual, proper news at all. After all, news is meant to be the reporting of facts isn’t it? It’s not fair to just blame the BBC for this because every news institution around the world seems to do the same thing to some extent. Worse seem to be the 24 hour stations because they have a lot of air time to fill with not much content.  I will leave that thought there since this is not what I really wanted to talk about today but really what I wanted to lead in to the article with.

One of the things that has cropped up a lot in the strike coverage is a phrase that I have never been to comfortable with. It’s appears to be a thought that is bandied around by one of two groups of people

  1. Racists and the dispossessed. Generally, people who have heard the phrase before and are aggrieved that they are not getting something they perceive others are getting.
  2. Politicians and heads of large businesses who have reached the top of their game but have most likely got there because of connections with the right people.

The phrase is a simple one and, on the surface of it, perfectly acceptable.

“The world doesn’t owe you a living!”

This is a phrase that worries me greatly. I think it was meant to portray and mind-set that’s saying:

“We’ve got what we have because we have worked for it and you should too.”

It appears, to my mind at least, a platitude to explain why we’re cutting things. I’ve seen it used in the context of ‘British Jobs for British Workers’ banners. Most recently, I saw it on Question Time (back to the BBC but no sniping because I really do love the institution). The problem is, the world does owe you a living, more importantly, the world owes you the living that you have worked for.

The point of it’s most recent use on QT was in context with the strikes and saying that yes, there would be cuts but your not owed the money we are now not going to pay you. The problem is,in this case they are. It’s not the people high up in the public sector that will suffer over this range of cuts, it is those who are much lower down the food chain. Like dinner ladies (did you see what I did there?). What we need to be doing as a country is cutting the gap in spending power between the rich and the poor. I know re-distribution of wealth seems like a very communist (or perhaps socialist) attitude to take but it really is the best way to turn our economy around. I can do nothing but blame the politicians for the recent money troubles of the country. It’s all very well saying that there is a global crisis in banking at the moment, and we aren’t an isolated case by any stretch of the imagination, but we were in a similar financial state to France and Germany and we should have expected to be on equil footings with them in this recent ‘crisis’. Once again though, it appears that the politicians are not paying attention to basic economics. If you have people in your country who are earning a decent wage, the amount of money they can spend increases and the amount of tax that the government is given increases as well. Instead of trying to do this, looking after the little people, we have forced money towards the banking sector because there still seems to be some belief that they know how to solve the problem. But the banks are greedy. How much money did we need to throw at them until they started giving small businesses loans again? And it’s the small businesses that really are the backbone of the economy (and will do more to pull us out of recession in the long run). If we had put more money in to small business growth there is every possibility that we wouldn’t need the banking sector and could ignore their threats about them leaving for pastures new every time some sort of reform is mentioned.

So, the world does owe YOU a living because doing so it will benefit our government as well. You’ll have to pay tax after all and you’ll probably spend the money you get from that living, which is also taxed through VAT. The one proviso to all of this is that once you have that living, you’ll have to work hard at whatever it is you’re doing to get it. That’s not a bad trade off really. We all do the same thing.

I really do think that if we went in to these sort of debates with the attitude of “you are owed a living” we could very possibly come out of them with some very interesting insights. Instead of debating whether one group is getting paid more than another we could debate whether each group’s pay is suitable for the type of work they do. I wonder why we don’t hear as more about that? I suppose that it might be because we would suddenly start to hold a mirror up to the other side and ask if what they are getting paid is suitable. Lets face it, the last thing a politician would want is someone to hold a mirror up to them… or a news of the world.


Do you want to learn a secret

I am a very lucky boy.

Quite apart from the fact that I have some wonderful friends and know some truly creative people I am doubly blessed at the moment because of a gentleman named Joe Gilder. Those of you who know me will know that I have been learning all about audio/music production recently (a subject which I blame Joe Kelly and Alecx Cutter for once again igniting my interest in) and setting up a small home studio in my bedroom. Of all of the advice and instruction that I have sought on the subject, Joe Gilder’s has been the most informative and full of truly useful information that I can use on a day-to-day basis.  I don’t know if you have ever looked for instructional videos for anything online but there are so many people selling things, most of which appear to only be interested in raking in your money, when you find one it’s important to stick with them. So, over time, I read his marvellous blog at http://www.homestudiocorner.com and signed up to the VIP forum (which is full of really helpful people ready to create their own music) and waited patiently for him to open up his product “The Production Club” again. I should say, this wasn’t the first thing of his that I had bought and I learned a lot from joining “Mix With Us” earlier in the year.

The Production Club 2.0 opened its doors a few days ago but, because of my recently financial situation, I found that I would be unable to join. But, here’s why I am such a lucky boy right now, Joe posted a competition on his site to win a scholarship to The Production Club 2.0 and I won it. It is completely amazing, I never win anything so I wasn’t expecting to. I am still a little overwhelmed to be honest and I wanted to say a big thank you to Joe. I can’t wait to get started.

“The production club is an all-inclusive, in-depth online training course, where you will walk with me through the entire recording process. I will record an entire song from start to finish. From song idea to finished, mastered recording, ready to be sold (or shared with your mom).”

Which brings me to my other point in writing this post. I know there are a lot of musicians out there who want to produce their own music. I know it’s an awkward thing to try and learn something so complex and not knowing whose advice you should be taking. I know that there are things you don’t even know you need to know. You would do well to read http://www.homestudiocorner.com and, if you’re at that stage where you can actually spend a little time and money on learning the craft you could do far worse than signing up for the production club which will take you through EVERY stage of recording a song:

  • 1. Pre-Production (2 weeks)
  • 2. Recording (5-6 weeks)
  • 3. Editing (3-4 weeks)
  • 4. Mixing (5 weeks)
  • 5. Mastering (2 weeks)

You also get a copy of Joe’s album Out of Indiana, which is awesome.

Go here and find out more about it!


Doctor Who New Series Review: A Review

We are constantly lied to by journalists.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s their fault that this happens. They have to sum up very difficult stories in a few hundred words, many times only including the salient points. It’s probably become much more complex since the internet and it’s an often demanding job which society is now slightly more weary of since the Murdock scandal.

What I don’t like. What, frankly, really annoys me is when journalism foists a viewpoint on people. The most avid exponents of this are the Daily Mail where not a day goes by without them apparently forcing their agenda on their unsuspecting readership. Local papers are really bad for this. My parents are convinced that if you go out in Gloucester at night, you’ll get stabbed. That’s what the papers are always saying tough,

“Youth Stabbed in Gloucester Center.”

Is the center of Gloucester actually different from any other city? No, but it’s all the paper has room to report. You don’t get articles telling you that 2 gangs of youths met up in the city, decided to watch a film, had a really good time and got home by midnight.

It’s the same with daytime television. Debate shows that have too little time to discuss a subject properly just set up two opposing viewpoints and let callers battle it out. The host must take an opposing position occasionally but they can have their own opinions as well. The problem is that these shows are often the decision makers of a nation, as are the tabloids that preceded them, and a new level of authority is given to them that they probably don’t deserve. Lets not forget that the journalists on our televisions are the same journalists who were writing the tabloids before their TV break.

The poster boy of tabloid television has to be The Wright Stuff. Debate every morning in the studio and on the telephones. I’ve seen how the show affects people. I’ve had conversations with people whose entire viewpoint has stemmed from their patronage of that particular show and, largely, they don’t understand the wider implications of the decisions they have come to. Can we ever understand all of the implications… that’s probably a discussion for a different time but we can all grasp a greater range of concepts than are allowed to come out in these television debates.

All of which brings me to the point of this post, the way The Wright Stuff treated Doctor Who this morning. Yes, all of this pseudo-intellectual build-up was really just an excuse for me to rant about the way they treated a show that I am very fond of. Apart form calling it Doctor Snooze throughout the programme (that is just personal opinion, not bad journalism) the thing that actually annoyed me was the review that it was given by the shows TV critic.

Firstly, he said that he was not a fan of science fiction. That’s fine, each to his own, but to then to say that he couldn’t follow the story and so, therefore, it was a bad programme really smacks of a false syllogism to me. Matthew Wright’s opinions of the show (which we already know he doesn’t like) seemed to be more of an attack on the BBC than a considered opinion on the matter. And that’s the problem in my mind. The critic (whose name I can’t remember) said he thought the show was funny. OK, he couldn’t follow the plot but he also conceded that there were a lot of people out there who would be able to and are already fans of the show. I wonder if he is aware of the overarching story that we have seen in the previous series. I wonder if he has considered that this first episode may very well be the first in a group of episodes and that not all elements of the plot needed to be explained?

Personally, I find it very refreshing that we actually have some intelligent sci-fi stories in Doctor Who and we’re not just dealing with the ‘monster of the week’ each time. I also wonder how much the employment of channel 5 has influenced what was said on the show. Would he have said the same things if he was working for the BBC? Finally, I still think that there’s a little bit of snobery when it comes to Doctor Who. The series has changed from the Rustle T Davies days and many would say that it has changed for the better. But, the move away from the mainstream back to it’s sci-fi roots seems to have polarised opinions somewhat. Some of the sillyness of the show has gone and been replaced by some really well thought out, funny, intelligent lines which really speak to the audience.

Finally, the comment that annoyed me more than anything else…

“It’s not high drama”

I may be paraphrasing here, but that was the jist (and said in the same piece that mentioned how good the latest series of Big Brother is). Doctor Who was never meant to be high drama. Is that really a fair criticism of a show that probably brings more money in to the corporation than any of it’s other drama exports? Certainly, there is no drama on any other channel which would compete with it. Midsummer Murders, for example. How ridiculous a programme is that?

The fact of the matter is that if you want good science fiction in this country there are only two programms that you can watch. Doctor Who is not only one of them, it is the flagship that Torchwood sits under as well. Yes, the audiences are different and that has allowed Torchwood to delve deeper in to plot and exposition. But that’s fine because as shows they both have there place in the audiences affections. If you want high drama, the BBC has that as well. Critically acclaimed dramas are on there each year. If you think Doctor Who is bad drama just because it’s sci-fi then look around at some of the stuff Channel 5 puts on. I’d take Doctor Who over Neighbours any day. If you think Doctor Who is just bad Sci-fi, don’t keep putting the boot in, go out there and make something better. You’re in television after all, lets see you get more viewers.

Now, I feel I am allowed to say this because I am a blogger. I don’t hold my writing up as master journalism at all and I don’t pretend it is anything other than what it is, my opinion. On a show that informs people’s opinions, however, why are we being treated to nothing but personal opinions and not a more balanced view of the subject matter. After all, these same tabloid television journalists would be the first ones to bemoan their own shows coming under attack from a BBC seemingly awash with bias. Why do they not hold there own journalistic integrity up to those same strict guidelines?


A Macro-Micro Blog

This entry in to my occasional blog is an experiment in macro-micro bogging, a term that I have just made up. Basically, there are things that I wanted to talk about that are too small for a usual blog post but just that bit too large to post on Facebook. So, instead, I am going to write a blog post (the macro) encompassing much smaller (micro) subjects.

What’s the point in Social Media?

A friend of mine posted a blog regarding how he is agnostic about social media and the irony that those views are most likely to be seen by people who have found the blog through social media. I personally found it through Facebook where he posted the link (Take a look here). This just reminds me of something that I was told a long time ago. It doesn’t matter what you produce if no one can find it. That’s the real power of social media for businesses, musicians, writers and the like. But why is it important to post the same stuff across facebook, twitter, Google+ and whatever other network comes along? It’s all to do with the way people want to follow you. Some people don’t like Twitter or Facebook or might just use one of them. There has been an increasing move away from Facebook recently and many people on the Google+ platform have said they will give up twitter when plus is accessible to all their friends. If you make your content only viewable through a blog or only on Facebook you will alienate those people who don’t use one or other platform.

Take me for example. I’m on Facebook, twitter, MySpace… God, I had a Bebo account at one point but I spend most of my social media time on twitter because it’s just like chatting to friends (in a way that Facebook isn’t) and I get push messages to my phone. For me, twitter has replaced SMS for quick messages to friends and it doesn’t use up any monthly allowance. So if I want to find out about a comedian, band or product I am more likely to follow them on twitter than like their facebook page. It suits me better and that is the point I want to make:

If you have a business, produce something creative or just want people to read what you write online you have to make yourself accessible in the way your followers want and not try and force them down a path they might not want to take. If you do, you are alienating the very people you want as fans and customers.

Writing Comedy is Hard…

…So why haven’t I done it yet?

I know how difficult it is t get a 15 minute set together but for some reason I can’t bring myself to do it until I am under pressure to. I’ve done a few stand-up gigs over the past few months and my next two are coming up. It’s the next Comedy Showcase at Cafe Rene this week and they have heard my material before so I want to write something new for them. What have I got so far? A small story about going to the loo in the pub when you’re drunk and some songs that are 15 years old now. But I will write more, it’s what I do.

What I wonder is why I find it so hard to be funny unless deadlines are looming. I suppose it could be argued that the pressure you are under acts as a false sense of being on stage (that sweet spot when you are talking and what’s coming out of your mouth is just gag after gag). Perhaps that is it. Maybe it’s because as the hour approaches I spend more time writing without distractions although I tend to write short stories with the telly on and they are still selling all right. So, here I am with 5 days to go and I know that by Tuesday I shall have my 15 minutes. I also have the feeling that I shall scrap the whole 15 minutes on Wednesday night when I come up with something I think is better.

Friends With On Benefits

OK, not actually on benefits but there are a few people who I know who are doing some fantastic things and could do with getting the word out.

Packtypes Life

I almost want to call this game “Which dog are you?” and I’m sure that Facebook would enjoy an app like that. My strongest type is Mastiff, for example which means I’m big with an easy to care for coat that sheds terribly. To be honest, I think they go it right.

I jest of course. The game uses questions that you answer in order to determine what your personality type is. It looks really interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with it. They’ve got a very limited demo to give you an idea on their Facebook page. It gives you an example of what Packtype you are and what Packtype you look for in a partner. Personally, I’m looking for a fox.

Click here to see them on Facebook and try out a very limited demo

The Pride

There aren’t gay superheroes? These are men who spend there time in spandex and tights and there aren’t gay superheroes? Actually, there are but you would be forgiven for thinking that there aren’t. Marvel didn’t have an openly gay character until 1992 and even then he was Canadian so you’ve probably never heard of him. Over the last few decades a few characters have been outed as being gay but it has largely seemed like something crowbarred in to appeal to a specific demographic. Enter The Pride.Writer, Joe Glass, speaks about the project.

When I was growing up, and coming to terms with my sexuality, one of the things I always felt sad about was the fact there were no visible, openly gay superheroes I could relate to. Sure, there were one or two, but they lived in the background or were poorly reresented. Ever since then, I wanted to change that. And that’s what The Pride is all about.

It’s a really great project and they’re looking for a bit of funding to get a larger foothold in the industry and start distributing properly. Head over to there IndieGoGo page. You’ll get something for it. Every dollar helps.

Snappers

As I am writing this I am watching Kitchen Nightmares which has just had the best line EVER. “I can’t wait to try your snapper”. Just saying! 😉

Finally

Well, that’s about it for my experiment in macro-micro blogging. Did it go well? I think so. Might have to try it again sometime. One final thing before I go. Doctor Who is back shortly. Can’t wait.

Stay safe everyone and have fun 🙂


Putting Pen To Paper

Those of you who know me will know that I have been writing for some time. Actually it feels like I’ve always been writing one way or another.

My earliest memories of writing were in school. Now that I have written that last sentance I realise how silly it seems. Of course my first memories of writing were in school, that’s where I learned to write. I’m sure that everyone reading this will have similar experiances. My literary career didn’t start out well, however.

The first thing I remember was before I could write, before I could even read. We had been set the task of writing about windmills. Now, something is telling me that the class had been split in to two different year groups but that may be my brain trying to excuse me from any blame. The elder kids just got on with the job in hand. All I could do was sit there as the other children started to mill around. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea how the shapes were made or what the squiggles on the paper were. But salvation was in front of me and this salvation took the form of a card with a picture of a windmill on it.

Usually these cards were hung up but throughout this particular lession my classroom colegues had been taking them down, passing them between one another arguing over who was to have them next. I finally took my chance and managed to snag the windmill card, safe in the knowledge that this must be a card about windmills. After all, I was in the first year of my school life; everything with a picture on was about the thing that was in the picture. Not long after copying the contents from the back of the card down in to my text book I presenteed it to the teacher. I thought I had done well, after all my work was neat and I had all of the words about windmills from the back of the card in it.

This goes some way to explain my dismay when I was shouted at by the teacher. I had no idea what I had done wrong. There wasn’t a mess anywhere. I hadn’t bitten anybody (life was simpler back then and so was I). To my shame I was told, in front of the whole class, that the cards did not contain the content I had believed them to. The cards were actually spelling aids, the pictures on the front mearly an indication as to the letter the card was about. All I had managed to do was to copy down a list of words that started with the letter W.

My next memory is of reading. I can remember that I never had the Spot books when I was young, even though I always wanted them. I do remember reading the Hungry Catapillar but we learned to read with the books I can only discribe as ‘Jonny Red Hat’ books. With the cynicism of age that sounds rather like a euphamisttic name for a condom. I wonder if that is something I can get started at the pub?

“I met this great girl at the bar guys so I’m going to head off.”
“Hay, don’t forget to take a couple of Jonny Red Hats with you.”

Perhaps in years to come, barbers will be asking their patrons if they would like a Jonny Red Hat for the weekend. But, to get back on topic, my reading was hindered by my love of books.

I know that sounds strange but I was brought up with Wind in the Willows and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. By the time I was learning to read I was really in to the Famous Five stories and so I wasn’t impressed with the exploits of a youth whose single defining character trait was a penchant for rouge head gear. I found it a real struggle to learn how to read. In my mind, I was the worst in the class although I’m not sure that was actually right. But, I managed it and was soon reading the books I wanted to read.

Skipping forward a few years and a teacher asked my mum in to talk because she thought I had something wrong with me. I had started drawing little black squares all through my writing and mother was told that I should be taken to a psychologist because I was depressed. My mum knew right away, in that way that mums do, that the reason for the black boxes was me trying to correct the sentances I’d got wrong in as neat a way as possible.

And then my writing career was finally brought to an end at the hands of an unsuspecting comment.

I was a big fan of Doctor Who. I wasn’t the only one of course, a lot of the boys were and there was always a fight for the old Target novelisations when they cropped up at fairs and jumble sales. This was back in the days when Doctor Who was still on the telly. It wouldn’t be consigned to the scrap heap until my last year of Juniour school if I remember rightly.

The problem of course was that I was writing what I was interested in and that was always science fiction, no matter what task was set. I think it was my parents who relayed the message to me after a parents evening. I would be better at English if I didn’t write about space all the time. That was it. I suddenly didn’t want to write anymore and stopped trying.

I do wonder how many kids are stopped from taking a path they would otherwise enjoy by an offhand comment that would be perfectly acceptable if it were one adult talking to another. Children see the world in a more black and white way than we do. That particular comment made me think that I was no good at writing. So, I reasoned at the time, what was the point?

I started again in Secondary school. Of course, there was creative writing that was done as part of school but my yearning to write didn’t come back to me until I wrote music (after starting to play the guitar). At the time I was also getting in to comedy and wanted to be the person making the jokes so air started to write them as well. I wrote my first book when I was at school. It was rubbish but the ideas were there. I wish I had done some more actually. Learned a little more of the craft. The story took place at school where a giant whirlpool opened in the sky and sucked three friends in to a paralel dimention. Honestly, it was the Harry Potter of it’s time, without the literary ability. I had done what was always told “Write about what you know” which was basically school and science fiction. Something at that point made me realise that I could do it and years later, after writing comedy for comedians, performing myself and contributing to my first magazine, I felt confident when asked to ghostwrite for the first time.

I didn’t enjoy ghostwriting. The books did very well but since I didn’t get a choice of who I was ghostwriting for I found myself spending a lot of time with people that I didn’t particularly like. I got through it though and started writing more short stories. This time I didn’t worry about other people’s opinions. I wrote for myself. I wrote to excercise my own demons, partly for entertainment but mostly for the love of doing it. My work sold. I’ve never made a living from putting pen to paper but it has allowed me to explore my feelings on different areas of my life. It’s also giving me a little extra income once in a while, which is always welcome.

And so, today I start on my latest project. After spending some time away from the keyboard I am starting on a new novel. Once again, it is for no one other than me. I don’t know if anyone else will even see this. Somehow it doesn’t matter. For me, the point of writing is to tell a story that you’ve got inside you and once it’s told I can move on to the next one. I know that it will be set in London, in a 19th century world that has access to a more advanceed technology. I have to explore that world now.

It’s a start anyway, I had better get going on it actually. Now, am I sitting comfortably?


Just Not The Man I Used To Be

For the last few weeks Monday morning has been a time of great trepidation. I’ve been weighing myself.

I’ve had an odd history when it comes to trying to loose weight. I started my meteoric rise to obesity when I was still in juniour school and so, by the age of 9 I had already gone on my first diet. So young was I when the weight started to pile on that I can no longer remember what being thin was like. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can remeber running around and having energy but I just thought I had lost that by growing out of it. My parents certainly didn’t mind it when I slowed down. You have to remember that my dad was 55 at this time and he just couldn’t run around after me, even though he probably wanted to.

It’s very easy to blame my parents for gaining weight. Did they over-feed me, did they not make me excercise? For years these thoughts ran through my mind and somewhere in the back of my head I had always wondered what my life would be like had I not gained weight at an early age. I have since learned that it’s not their fault but more on that later.

I have always been one to buck trends. You say that the obese are lazy and eat too much. Well, I never did. Many times over the years I’ve eaten with friends who have asked if I was all right because I was seemingly eating very little. As a child, and right in to my 20s I was always active. I wasn’t obsessed with excercise like the youth of today (trist me, they are, I’ve met them) but we were always going out for walks on the hills or around the local countryside when I was young and at college I was dancing at least once a week. I didn’t take on a completely sedentory lifestyle until I started making websites tor a living but I was twenty stone by the time I left college.

My eating habbits haven’t changed much since I left school. I have been on a string of diets and excercise programs, each one promising to make me thin, each one failing horribly. You start a diet well. You put the work in but the fact is, to loose weight you have to eat so little and excertcise so much. As you get fatter this becomes more difficult. So you give up because it’s just too hard. Don’t take that to mean I was being lazy.

Christmas and Easter were the worst as you can probably imagine. If you’ve never been on a diet then you have no idea of the pain involved. There is the pain of being hungy, the pain of not reaching your target, the pain of seeing your friends enjoying themselves whilst all you can think about is your next meal. More important is the pain of your own weakness when you inevitably fail to keep up with the regiem you have set for yourself. Oh and the cravings, those bloody cravings that eat away at you day and night. You loose sleep, all for want of a bar of chocolate or packet of chrisps. I wanted to eat more when I was on diets than I wanted to eat between times. Food is like a drug. If you don’t eat what your body is telling you then you will start to experiance symptoms of withdrawl and that is exactly what I went through on these diets. The problem with obesity is that you can’t suddenly give up food.

So you start to begin every diet with the knowledge that you will eventually fail. You are expected to keep up with this diet for life. Forget about the government guidelines about taking in 2000 calories a day because I was eating less and I still put on weight. If that is the case then what am I expected to eat on these things? Certainly les than is recommened, which is already starving yourself.

As you can imagine, I have been pretty down on diets and diet books for some time, I don’t read them because experiance had taught me that they all contain the same matrial. When I first heard about Gary Taubes’ book “Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It” I was more than sceptical. After all, the book promised a way of looking at my condition that no one has done before. How many tmes have we heard that? But I bought the audiobook version anyway as there was nothing else on audible that month I wanted to listen to.

I listened to the book in a day. It wasn’t what I expected, it referenced proper, peer reviewed studies. For the first time, I was reading a book that looked at the physiological reasons for weight gain and only touched on the psychological conditions to decry the use of them.

Taubes tells us that we have been looking at dieting the wrong way since the 1950s and that we wrongly attribute obesity to over-eating or lazyness. It is, he claims, not the cause of the disease but rather a symptom. People are overweight because the insulin level in there bodies is too high. This increase in insulin forces the body to store all foods as fat and only use certain sugars to power the muscles. These sugars are used fairly quickly but instead of the body burning up the reserve of food, it sends signals to the brain telling it that it needs more food to survive. So the obese patiant feels hungry again, even though they have just eaten.

This behaviour also explains the lazyness caused by being over-weight. A body starved of food (or at least not processing food properly) is less caipable of doing anything. As the individual’s size increases the more energy they have to expend in order to move around. This makes them more sluggish and hungrier at the same time.

For me this was a bit of a revelation, something I always knew was out of my control but the only medical opinions I could find suggested that I was wrong and it was something that I should be in control of. But, one of the things the book insists on is that you don’t take it at face value. So, I didn’t. I looked in to the papers listed in the Book and sought out current research on the subject. What Garry Taubes was saying seemed to be backed up by all of the available evidence.

Basically what was being suggested was a low Carb diet. Much like the Atkins programs Taubes claims this is the best and safest way to loose weight. I was sceptical at first as I had tried Atkins before and it didn’t work for me. But the advice in the book was slightly different to that of the more popular counterpart.

I resolved to try the steps in the book, taken from a study at Duke university. This was about five weeks ago and since then I have been loosing weight.

This brings me back to my trepidation at weighing myself. The last weigh-in saw me hit 22 stone 10 lbs. When I started, I was 24 stone, so I’ve done well so far although I didn’t loose any weight last week because of the comic relief event. It has actually changed my life doing this. I have more energy now, I have been told by friends that I am looking better but the real change has come from my attitude towards food.

Remember me telling you about the cravings that I used to get for food? Well, they’re gone. I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made. It’s the main reason that diets have failed in the past for me. My energy levels have shot up as well and I am actually sleeping better. That’s a big claim for something so simple as changing the type of food I’ve been eating. I’m not even eating less, if anything I am eating more but I am eating what I am now told is the right thing. This time, however, I am seeing results so quickly that I think they’re right. I’m not even talking about the weight loss. I had extra energy and felt more awake from about the third day in.

So, imagine the scene. Monday morning. I’m in the bathroom ready to weigh myself… OK you don’t have to imagine it that closely. I step on the scales and all of this flashes before me. This is the moment of truth. So many diets have failed on similar Monday mornings when my weight has yet to move for a second or third week. I’m not asking for much, just a little movement down. Just a pound. And, there it is. 22 Stone 4 lbs. That’s six pounds over the last few weeks. On average, I have been loosing three pounds a week. That’s exactly what the researchers at Duke university said I should be loosing.

For the first time in 32 years I truly believe I have found an eating plan that is good for me, easy to stick to and actually shows some results. I will be interested to keep track of my progress and I’m sure this won’t be the last post I make on the subject. Until then, happy eating.


Definitely Deficient

After the protests over the deficits, the government has said that it has no plans to alter it’s tactics and is planning more cuts. We all seem to decry this. I have done so myself. I do sometimes wonder, however, if they haven’t got the right idea.

The basics of the plan is simple. We have, for some time, been spending more money than the country earns. We have been doing this by borrowing money. We need to pay this money back and the only way to do that is to re-appropriate the money we already have. So, the government has been cutting the money it spends on things in order to re-pay some of the money we owe.

It should be pounted out that we are not paying back the whole deficite in one go, like a mastercard bill. Most countries have a manageable deficite so the chances are we will be keeping that expendature at some level. What we shall be doing is removing a good portion of the debt to reduce the interest we have to pay. In the lonug run, this is something thay will give the country more money to play with, without having to put up tax… or at least, not at the rate it would have had to increase otherwise. Ultimately, that is a good thing. It’s actually something that I had been worried about for some time under Labour so for me, this is a good change.

I completely understand why people are worried about cutting too much. It is a natural reaction to have when we start to see some of our services suffer. The thing is, I can’t see another way out of the debt that Labour left us in.

The one good thing that has come out of this is the proof that we are willing to take to the streets for something that we believe in, even if our reasons are less than altruistic. Let’s make no bones about it, people are only protesting because they think they are loosing something.

I’m not sure we will be loosing as much as is claimed. The government doesn’t seem to think we shall be loosing anything and the protesters do. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between those two viewpoints. Actually most people agree that the cuts are needed and the only difference is the gornment want to make the cuts quickly and the public want some of thtle burden of cuts to be spread accross seberal years. To me, it doesn’t marter how these cuts happen, they are likely to happen anyway.

Please don’t take this as a comment that I am for the government in this topic. I am meerly saying that the cuts do seem to be giving us a benefit at the moment, all be it one that we won’t see for some time. Yes, some people are loosing their jobs because of this and that is a tragic thing at a time of resession. At the same time, it is not the job of government to employ the populous. Of course they will employ some people but employment should be coming from the private sector. We can’t pay for things that we can’t afford, surely?

Ultimately, if the government won’t back down then we shall have to wait and see what their policies do to the country. I hope that, in the long run, we shall all be better of. I’m sure we shal, unless big business gets too much of their own way, but thay is a subject for a new post.


The State of British Film

I am currently sitting and watching Harry Brown. I am enjoying it and will probably keep enjoying it until it’s over. This is a British film, some of the money for it having come from the, now sadly defunct, British Film Council.

Wanting to get in to film myself, I have looked at the different options that are available for funding. There are some funds out there but the more promising ones are taken up with the larger budget films or for encouraging young film makers. Perhaps that is how it should be. It definately seemed to work in ‘Film Council Britain’. What I feel there should be more of is funds for first time direcors. Take it away from the young. Not that I think the young should not get the chance but let them compete for it on a level playing field with people of all ages. After all, we might find that the best time for starting out in film is in your 30s or 40s.

I am heartened by films like Harry Brown and The King’s Speach because it proves that Britain still has something to say to the world and thay the world still wants to listen. It may be sceptical but I do sometimes wonder if we are universally hated by our cousins overseas, despite the quality of the output. The only problem with British film at the moment seems to be content.

The British seem to be able to make one of three types of film. Gritty gangster type films, Costume dramas or romantic comedy. Can you think of a recent British film that doesn’t fall in to one of those categories? They are around but you have to search to find them.

I suppose the most popular of these is Dog Soldiers. We do Horror terribly well too but we see so little of it since Hammer closed it’s doors in the 1980s. It seems quite clear to me that the production standards are there in this country to compete with any Hollywood movie. The one thing they have over there is the ability to fund it.

This brings me back to the first point really. Funding for films can not just come from the money made on the releases. Richard Curtis’ Working Title Productions might push some money back in to film production but they had to get that money in the first place. This is often done through private funding from people who are inaccessable to the likes of me, a just-starting-out nobody with no track record. Because of this, Working Title won’t see all of the money they would have made on production, the investor has to be paid first. This severely limits the amount of money they can push in to new productions. It’s the same for any other production company and this is the main problem. Unless there is some source for funding, new films can’t be made.

This brings me on to the final point I want to make. If there is no political will to fund popular culture then the film industry suffers. The closire of the film council is bound to have an effect on the working of the British film industry but we don’t know what that effect will be until we see it in action. Cameron is desperately trying to save money at the moment and that makes it difficult for him to spend money on popular culture, even if he wanted to. Perhaps when we have recouped some of the money that Labour borrowed we shall be able to spend on films again. Until then people like me will have to find there budgets elsewhere.