The boy

The pages of Jean’s book made a satisfying deep rasp as she turned the next page. The thick, still air, the calm before a July storm, cloaked her in quiet and warmth. The bench could have easily been her couch.

A short, clean “Hi” cut through the stillness. A gangly boy, almost as tall as her, peered over at her book, before slumping uninvited at the other end of the bench

“What’s that?”

She turned the book over to show him the title: “It’s one of my favourites.”

This left little impression on the young man but he pulled himself further onto the bench, his legs sticking out in front, and quizzed her on her reading. He told her about his favourite books (they were unashamedly juvenile, as they should be for a boy his age). His eyes never left hers.

Jean placed her book back in her bag to better concentrate on this animated youngster.

He brushed a flopping fringe from his eyes and her mind was thrown back to a school desk and a brown-haired boy who’s hair flicks left her face hot and her jaw fixed shut.

Jamie had been in her class since primary school. A quick boy with an unshakable smile and boundless energy. In her mind she would run through jungles with him, climb mountains. He was adventure, wildness, joy. The quick wild boy and his untameable hair.

Jamie took her to her first school dance. He walked her home almost every afternoon after that. Their first date was a hike and a picnic. Proper Scottish rain turned their picnic into soggy mush and the smell of ozone clung to them as he rushed them into a cafe on the way home. Drying out over hot chocolates, he kissed her. Marshmallows still stuck to their noses. He laughed, blue eyes sparkling as he flicked his hair away in a practised, unconscious movement.

There were more kisses in the weeks to follow. Then they lost each other. Jamie’s mum got a new job and he was gone. Kisses were spent after that, wasted on others who could never give Jean the world.

She didn’t know what she’d lost until she found it again. At a friend’s wedding, out of the corner of her eye, Jean spotted a familiar hair flick and she never wasted a kiss again. They saw the world, less jungles and mountains but more adventure than she dreamed.

The young boy in front of her waved to get her attention:

“You were away on another planet!”

Jean laughed:

“Actually I was all over this one.”

The boy blew at the hair drooping over his eyes:

“Granny, Mum thinks I should get a hair cut, she says it’s ‘wild’.”

Jean smiled:

“There’s nothing wrong with ‘wild’.”


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Posted by on 16 June, 2018 in writing


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Sugar tax

I flick the edge of the container, to save myself the mess. An old habit.

My opiate, my addiction, benign and made benevolent by a lifetime of positive experience. The poke off sweets. The ice cream float. A caramac and a Beano as my granny takes me home.

Another few grammes after so many. What harm could it do?

It is my stroke, my diabetic ulcers, my heart attack, my cancer.

How little I think of it and how much. Every man has a vice and mine lives in youth, it is comfort, it is joy, it is reward.

A swirling wonder, bursts of energy, after a long day. A routine. One solitary wee bottle of bru on the bus home.

They’re taxing it now. They say I shouldn’t.

Today I bought two.


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Cutting what you love

book-375456_1280I’ve been absent from here for a while. Basically my time has been eaten up by the fact that this ‘slow author’ got a lot faster at the end of last year. I joined in with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November and completed my 50,000 (their word count threshold for a NaNoWriMo ‘win’). I wrote a kids book, it’s out on kindle and in paperback now, and you can find out more at the official website for the series. The first book only added up to 40,000 words, so completing the 50,000 even left me with a head start on the next book.

As soon as ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ was written I moved on to ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’. It’s now in the middle of second draft stage and once again I’m feeling like a ‘slow author’. The raw wordage wasn’t as hard as I had expected, ever since I stopped micro-editing as I wrote (a great way to end up with a pile of half-written books).

I used to meticulously go over old material, editing as I went and adding more material at the end. As the text got larger this process would take longer until I struggled to get past chapter five or six. Do NOT do this, you will learn to hate your book, get so bored of your characters that you change them and then have to rewrite the achingly small portion of text you already have.

Almost every professional author ever, when asked, says that the only way to write a book is to ‘just write’ and it really is that simple. Just remember that what you make when you first sit down to write is like a sculptor selecting their rough stone. Simply make sure that the story you want is in there somewhere. From that rough draft you can hone something great: renaming characters, rewriting clunky scenes, even changing whole scenarios. We all write nonsense, we’ll sprint and polish off a few thousand words in an hour or two, write bleary eyed (and blearier brained) at two in the morning, or even simply fit in patchy ten or twenty minute bursts where we can. Just write, sort out the mistakes later. The honing, the majority of the research, the careful selection of names for characters and places, all of this is draft number two stuff and even when you’re on the second draft don’t forget that you can still move into a third draft if you’re not happy.

The toughest rule I set myself was purposefully making my chapters longer than they needed to be. Trimming five-hundred words takes me almost as long as writing two thousand but its necessary. Each of my chapters should be around two-thousand words but I purposefully write the first draft at two and a half thousand per chapter. Doing this makes me certain that my second draft will make the best use of its word count. It’s a good habit to get into and it lets ‘writer John’ enjoy writing, safe in the knowledge that ‘editor John’ will sort it all out on the second pass.

It’s not easy and sometimes I have to cut whole paragraphs that, despite how great they may be, do nothing for the book as a whole. If I was offering up advice I’d follow the ‘just write’ part with ‘and trust that you can edit later’. Anyway, I’m off back to my editing, thanks for stopping by and feel free to share your own writing experiences below, Cheers, John


UPDATE 16/06/18): The book is ready. Both books one and two of the series are now available on Amazon. You can find these and more of my work on my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.


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Let’s not cut off our nose to spite our face

a3d07eb45c1e9938550314c8076c86b6I’m not the most vocal ‘Yes’ voter in Scotland, to be honest I’m one of those people who would have voted for devo max if had been an option (what Westminster offered in the final weeks was laughable, unbelievable, and didn’t sway me for a second). That said, I did come to see the merits of our country standing apart and answering to itself for it’s own failings and celebrating its own achievements. There was a positivity in this country that I had never seen in my three decades here.

Once the dust had settled I was sad to see the slightly pouty nature of some of the ‘yes’ camp in the weeks after (some are even now still pouting). Though I should point out that a bit of pouting is nowhere near as bad as the disgusting unionist display in Glasgow, described as a ‘celebration’ (though this was clearly a very noisy minority of ‘no’ voters). That said some of the ‘no’ camp have developed a general smugness which doesn’t seem in keeping with the ‘togetherness’ they claimed to represent. The bit that bugs me is that neither camp seems able to remember what their side represented.

On one side we have the ‘Yes’ supporters, a group which made a clear effort to mark themselves out as people who were ready to muck in and help build a whole new country together if the vote went their way (no small task). These people caught me, the positive attitude, their willingness to take off the blinkers and see that something, anything, needed to be done to change a system that has left most modest-sized towns in this country with a food bank.

On the other we have the unionists, (calling them the ‘no’s seems a little negative to me). If we take them at their word, these were people who didn’t want to see a collection of nations torn asunder. They saw the yes campaign as pure nationalism and worried that it would go too far, that English, Welsh, and Irish people might be made to feel unwelcome in a post-devolution Scotland. Personally I don’t think that would have happened but to be fair we can’t know.

So here’s the problem, we have unionists who are demonstrating something that’s a long cry away from the togetherness of ‘better together’ by laughing at their fellow citizens’ plans to make a change, to try and help build a fairer country.

On the other side we have yes voters who have lost their spark, the worst of them seem to relish in any problems our country has post-no with a slightly anarchistic ‘I told you so’ in the way they address them.

It’s not fair to this country and it’s not fair to the ideals of the campaigns that either of these kinds of people decided to follow. On one side we have a cry for togetherness and understanding, underneath which there was often a recognition that things are bad just now, but that we could work through that ‘together’. On the other is a group who once saw themselves as nation builders. Admittedly the new task ahead may be less grand sounding but it’s still important.

Our country is in trouble, we need new industry, we need new jobs but most off all we need the energy and cohesiveness of our people to pull ourselves up after our bit of self-discovery, to be a nation again. Not a nation ‘who fought and died for..’ but instead one who lives for the future, who lives for each other and wants to see the people (any people) who call Scotland their home do well for themselves. We should not relish in our neighbours’ misery because their misery is our misery. For better or worse, for the time being, we are in this together, we all had so much energy in September, the winter will be over soon and I think it’s about time we all got back to work at improving our lot.

Thanks for reading, as always comments are more than welcome in the section below and you can catch up with me over on Twitter, All the best, John


If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

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Posted by on 16 January, 2015 in Philosophy


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Lofty ideals are beautifull yet deadly

Snow_Leopard_RelaxedWhy do people do genuinely, shockingly, terrible things? I’d say it’s down to values. At some point in our lives we tie ourselves to principles and beliefs that matter to us (this is far from being a bad thing, at its heart it’s what makes human beings so incredible). We might not sacrifice our lives for these ideals but the vast majority of us will still happily sacrifice some of our own personal freedom/liberty in favour of promoting this ideal or belief. This can be as simple as giving up time to a religion, to a career, to the arts, or it could be a larger sacrifice where one steps away from the ‘average’ life path of others in one’s community entirely, instead choosing to dedicate oneself to something that feels greater than ordinary human existence.

The problem comes when some people start to value this ‘thing’ over the lives and liberties of others. When this happens other people become a means to an end, we will infringe on their liberty because we feel we are promoting an ideal that is greater then ourselves and these others, we might even say things like ‘it’s for their own good’. This can become so extreme as to offer an individual in this position a way of rationalising their belief structure, making it easy to use their own beliefs and ideals to permit disgraceful and possibly even inhuman acts.

It is possibly our greatest strength as a species that we can aspire to be more than meat bags on a rock in space, we can aim for the stars and appreciate the wonder that is inherent in human identity. We can hitch our wagon to something transcendent that could survive far beyond our life-span. However, alongside this beautiful feature of the human condition comes the possibility that some of us may pay such close attention to these lofty ideals and concepts that we neglect to see our brothers and sisters passing us by on their own journey, hitched to their own wagons.

Sometimes we simply disrespect their choice in ideology and, if someone is strong in their beliefs, this disrespect should have no effect on them whatsoever. Sadly sometimes we go beyond this, we think that our ideology is worth more than the life and aspirations of our neighbour, when this happens human beings demonstrate their capacity to be worse than animals. In these moments we can allow ourselves to destroy (or even take) the lives of our neighbours. All in one moment someone can display their capacity to rise above their animal nature, holding tight to hefty ideals, yet at the same time they drop so low in the way they treat their neighbours as to become more abhorrent than the lowliest pond scum. At it’s core acts like this remind us that we are far more complex than anything else we have seen, we can access this degree of barbarism but so too can we aspire to be more than that.

At least that’s how I try to get my head around moments like this. People are beautiful and terrible, we sometimes forget that we are the most dangerous and dominant creature on the planet, we need to treat each other with respect but so too are we intelligent enough not to allow offence to be misinterpreted as a physical threat, and we don’t have to fall foul of our baser reactions. This is the heart of being a liberal, we can accept differences in people but we don’t have to accept mistreatment and brutality as parts of those differences. We can, and should, be better than that.

All the best to anyone reading this, feel free to add your own take on this in the comments below, Cheers, John


UPDATE 16/06/18): If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.

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Posted by on 10 January, 2015 in Philosophy


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Animals in fantasy

This intelegent-looking hellhoud is a sculpture found at 'Teves Design Studio'

This intelegent-looking hellhoud is a sculpture found at ‘Teves Design Studio

How do you write a convincing animal in a fantasy novel? Is it OK to take some licence and anthropomorphise the beast like crazy, giving it a human degree of cognition and emotion? And if you do what do you do with these creatures as the story progresses? Can an animal character develop an d progress?

I’ve just introduced a mythical-style creature into my children’s fantasy book that I’m writing for National Novel Writing Month (currently at 20,000 words and counting) and I’m finding it to be a very unusual experience.

I’m finally starting to understand why Enid Blyton utilised ‘Timmy’ in her ‘Famous Five’ books, and why the various owls and other creatures feature so much in Harry Potter: writing animals allows you to add emotion with minimal wording and no dialogue.

In short a dog can catch the emotion of a whole group of people with some perked ears or alternatively with a drooping tail.

It’s precisely the humanisation of pets and domesticated animals that makes them so useful in fiction, they’re like miniaturised versions of a human self: they express emotion, they form social attachments, and they can perform important roles within a group.

To an extent they’re characters that don’t need too much writing to make them feel real. This can make it difficult to demonstrate subtle things like allegiances and it can hinder your ability to predict their behaviour, but even these elements can be strengths.

I’m very pleased with my new wee character ‘Sparky’, she’s becoming a very easy character to deal with and of all of my characters, she’s in the top four that I feel i really know well already (and she’d only been in the story for three chapters so far).

Who else out there in writer land is writing an animal character? Are you finding them to be a blessing or a curse as your story progresses?

As I said, Sparky has only been with me for three chapters at the moment, and so far I’m loving having her around, but has anyone found a animal character getting in their way as they get closer to the end of their novel?

I look forward to hearing from you, thanks for reading, all the best, John


UPDATE 16/06/18): You can now find ‘Sparky’ in two children’s books available on Amazon. You’ll find these and more of my work on my Amazon author page. Simply click this link.


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Dealing with disability in fiction

Got this image from 'silver collection'

Got this image from ‘silver collection

One of my main characters (Justin) is disabled and I’m finding that this provides an interesting challenge for an able-bodied writer like myself. To write about a disabled person’s life, even in the third person can be tricky but one of the key issues I try to keep in mind is the difference in the capacity for movement that any individual might display from one day to the next.

Though the nature of my character’s disability is quite complex (and it would reveal a lot of the plot of my book if I discussed it here), I can at least touch on the basics. His movement is limited by degrees. I’ve purposely decided not to give him a fixed and unchanging degree of movement, this is for a number of reasons but primary among them is realism. From my experience, when I think of people with disabilities and incapacities that I’ve known, or that I currently know, I’ve seen a surprising fluctuation in both in their capacity for movement and level of discomfort from one day to the next. For example, someone with enduring back problems may have fairly fluid movement one day, only to stiffen up in pain the next.

I want my characters to feel real, I want Justin to be able to surprise himself in the heroics he can achieve, just as much as any hero I write. For this I need adrenaline to be able to help him when he needs it but I also want to point out the increased pain and discomfort which may plague him in the aftermath. If I just decided that he can only move so quickly, or that he can only endure so much then I’m putting limits on his character that I wouldn’t put on an able-bodied character. In fiction your heroes need to be able to surprise the reader in the deeds they can perform. If I were to limit any character in a fixed way it would detract from that, and worse still, it would exclude the character from the standard behaviours expected of a hero/ine.

All of my character’s difficulties are physical (in a general sense), in terms of his mental capacities they’re around average, though Justin is very wise. I imagine the formulation of their character would take a very different form for a character with a mental disability or one who suffers from mental illness. I’d be very interested to hear any other writers’ takes on this. Have you written a disabled character before? How did you deal with their limits? What form did their character development take? Are you disabled yourself, if so are there any aspects of your life/experience that you feel should be present in the characterisation of a fictional character with a disability? As always thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you either here or over on twitter, All the best, John


UPDATE 16/06/18): Chasing Humanity has become something of a labour of love over the past few years. However I have found time to publish a few other books. If you enjoyed this and would like to read more of my work please pop along to my author page on Amazon. Simply click this link.


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