Small town philosophy

1236837_914517181911287_1936006581401853506_nWe might expect perspectives to be very different relative to where people live, but the truth can be much more subtle. I’ll admit that living in the countryside can mean that things like solitude can be taken for granted but, as a fellow member of Crieff Philosophy Society pointed out, someone in a bustling city could feel more alone than a country bumpkin out on an empty hillside. It’s all relative.

So what is different about small-town philosophy? To be honest I think the lack of higher learning institutions and the more sparse population can add more potential diversity. In a city it’s (relatively) easy to find like-minded individuals, whereas in an area with a smaller population you often have to be happy with similar-minded individuals. Though this might sound like a negative thing it can actually be a more rewarding experience than just meeting with people who agree with everything you have to say (more or less).

In a city I would probably be socialising with a very similar demographic to myself. That’s not to say a wider, more diverse, circle of friends couldn’t be had in a city, I’m just noting that it would be easier to find like-minded people in a city given the population density. In the countryside you’re kind of forced into a broader circle and it can be extremely rewarding.

The philosophy society has been meeting for around two years and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the conversations, the differences of opinions, and the alternative attitudes I’ve encountered in our wee group.

Our numbers look set to swell a little in the next few weeks/months, at least if social media is anything to go by. I recently set up a Twitter page for the group to run alongside our newly arranged monthly get-togethers which will be informal nights out, focussed around a chosen topic, on the first Thursday of each month. All these initiatives seem to be exposing the society to a larger portion of the local community and I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback.

Our next get-together is on 6th November and the chosen topic is identity. So expect more posts on gender, nationality, nature vs nurture etc. through the course of October.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of a philosophy group, either in a town or city, what have your experiences been like? Is it equally as easy to find diversity in the city? What kind of events work best for your group? I welcome any comments or suggestions you have in the comments section below and, as always, thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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Posted by on 5 October, 2014 in Philosophy


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Scotland: A Nation of Philosophers

125371-satellite-image-of-scotland-without-any-clouds-taken-on-may-26-2012-from-neodaasuniversity-of-dundeWith eyes peeled open to the realities of what politics really involve, over three million people took to the voting booth last week to decide on the future of their country. In the run up to this vote being cast we in Scotland were bombarded with such a swathe of information from both sides, and in a host of mediums, that for the last few weeks those who were taking their vote seriously (and I think that was a very, very large majority of the Scottish electorate) became fully active philosophers.

For me the term ‘philosopher’ refers to a certain type of individual; open-minded, yet sure of their own stance, critical of information sources, yet humble enough to recognise the limits of their own investigative powers, and most importantly a person who actively engages with the world around them and sees how things connect and how varied human interpretation of the way the world works/should work can be. I spent nearly ten years studying the subject and working in the field and this is what I gleaned from it.

Keeping this in mind we can (and should) of course celebrate the sheer magnitude of democratic action we saw when over 80% of a nation voted on something. However, the more interesting thing is what this referendum has done to all of us, it has changed us, made us more accepting of difference whilst making us more aware of our own traits. On top of this we have come to see the fallibility of once trusted institutions like the BBC and various different news outlets but at the same time we’ve come to recognise that our view of the world is not the only view of the world.

We have always been a fairly cynical lot but our new-found critical edge is very distant from the flat, tired, almost unthinking cynicism we used to have about things like political promises and the behaviour of our media outlets. We’re waking up as a nation, whether a yes or a no voter people in this country are no longer willing, or even able, to simply accept what they’re told or what is done to them. We have become active, engaged and interested in defining and understanding the nature of our nation and in deciding what might be best for all of us.

The critical eye is open and tired cynicism is on the way out, we don’t simply find problems and exclaim mistrust any more, we are becoming a nation who wants to work at solutions and one that demands that those who seem to expect our trust must first demonstrate that they deserve it. I have not been interested in politics since I was at high school but right now in Scotland the nature of politics is about to get very interesting indeed because a nation of philosophers has opened their eyes and they want to see things change.

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Posted by on 27 September, 2014 in Philosophy


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Long term romance or teen crush?

Romeo-meets-Juliet-in-the-1996-filmWhat to choose? What to choose? In basically all three of the books I’m working on at the moment I have a main character who (at least during the book’s opening) is a teenager. But what am I to do about romantic entanglements? You can’t miss this element out when writing a teen character without them looking a little robotic (I did try) so I need to include a romantic partner/love interest for my character to feel real. That part isn’t really a problem as simply exploring the differences between the two characters seems to help me to open out my main character’s personality with the use of a foil.

However, I hit a bit of an issue when dealing with the fact that occasionally their love interest is a secondary (or at least important tertiary character) who will feature through a large portion of the book and a sometimes sizeable portion of narrative time will pass through the course of the book. So here’s my question should I break characters up, even if they seem right for each other, just because my characters are young and statistically there’s little chance a relationship in your teens will last even into your twenties?

This can certainly be done to great dramatic effect (Shakespeare did all right with it anyway) but the thing is at least two of my books are part of a series so I’m a little apprehensive about killing off characters that I could use later. Something I love about Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books is that you revisit the same world with many of the same characters each time. He rarely kills off a character off and seems reluctant to even allow a character to disappear entirely from the overall narrative of his world. This clearly saves him a lot of time at the start of a book that would otherwise be spent getting to know the characters.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I’ll have to explain my characters a little in later books (at the very least I can’t guarantee my books will be read in sequence) and I’m honestly not trying to take the easy way out, it’s just that I’m in this series for the long haul so I’m loathe to dispatch a well-formed character who could otherwise prove useful in a later story-line.

The love interest angle is something I’m finding really easy to use as a means of moving the story on, developing emotional involvement and (possibly most importantly) highlighting the personalities of some of my main characters, but I’m feeling a snag coming up that I’ll need to deal with before I progress much further with these characters. If they’re to break up why do they break up? when does it happen? and why would they feel OK continuing to be around each other?

I know that in writing break-ups there’s the potential for some lovely moody moments, will-they-won’t-they plot elements etc. but to be honest I find the prospect a little boring compared to the narrative I’ve got planned. I think all the trappings of a break up would just get in the way. What do you think? Would a reader be able to handle a teenaged couple that stays together or would it seem a little too unrealistic/over-romanticised? Any opinion welcome, as always thanks for reading, Cheers, John


Keeping momentum

keep momentumIn the past few weeks I’ve somehow managed to start finding time to write again (mostly thanks to the fact that my wife and I have decided to take turns at getting some writing in down at the local library). One thing that I really struggled with was the fact that after a few months away from it I didn’t really know my characters any more. To be honest I spent a lot of time editing and then re-editing my first three chapters basically just so that I could get to know them again.

Some of the edits changed them quite a bit and I’ll now never be able to say how their original incarnations might have turned out if I hadn’t lost momentum. That said I like my characters as they appear now and I’m also aware that they’ll probably go through more alterations as the book progresses. The important development that I’ve made over the past week or so is that I now have a complete step-by-step chapter plan.

This existed in my head before but I started to realise that my characters were divulging to much about themselves in the first few chapters. Rather than getting to know them piece by piece I was trying too hard to fit in my character descriptions at the very beginning. I decided to take it more slowly and allow situations within the plot to work as a means of displaying the true personalities of my characters.

helen grant

Helen’s latest book ‘Silent Saturday‘, Secret societies, breaking and entering and mysterious disappearances.

I guess that’s the root of my tip for this post, don’t lose momentum and be sure to give yourself a pretty detailed guide so you don’t lose your way. Thanks to a wee twitter conversation with author Helen Grant I can safely say that this approach has backing from a successfully published author. Another thing to be said for detailed plans is that with them in place it becomes easier to figure out what you’re going to be writing when you sit down at the keyboard (your task is infinitely more simple; just flesh out your plan, piece by piece). So far I’m finding it to be a fantastic preventative against writer’s block.

All the best, thanks for reading and please feel free to let me know about any techniques you’ve discovered to help keep momentum going and prevent getting side-tracked. Cheers, John


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Philosophy of Play


Play is commonly regarded as the stuff of childhood, with adults who play seen as belonging to unusual fringe groups and sub-cultures. However if we’re really honest with ourselves the situation is actually quite different. Play keeps life interesting, whether you get sucked into any sport show going,  or if you are more drawn into the world of fashion, or even if you simply enjoy the odd game of Tetris you’re enjoying forms of play.

Watching or participating in team sports is one of many socially acceptable ways to appreciate play. The same could be said of the enjoyment of playing with identity and expression which are common to fashion. There is no doubt in my mind that a great majority of the more diverting activities which we participate in on a daily basis can and should be understood as forms of play.

I’ve been blogging about ‘toys, life and people’ over at johnthetoyshopguy for over a year now and I recently decided to write a book about the philosophy of toys/play. There’s such a rich mixture of sub-topics within this basic idea; does what we played with as children fix certain aspects of our personality/world-view? Why does society contrast ‘toy’ with ‘real’? Do we ever stop playing? And if we don’t does it help to be conscious of the fact that many activities which we take seriously can also be recognised as forms of play? What role do toys play in shaping cultural notions like gender?

I’m in the very early stages of planning my book so I’d welcome any feedback/advice you might have. It would also be great to hear what you think of my book ‘Living the Good Life in a Modern World‘ now available at the kindle store (first chapter available as a free sample). Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

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Posted by on 27 September, 2013 in Philosophy


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5 things that doing philosophy will help you with OR How to Become a Jedi


Perhaps you’ve always thought ‘why’ so you’re now considering reading some philosophy. Alternatively maybe you’ve somehow landed in a philosophy class and you’re wondering ‘why???’. Either way, this list should help you get a grip on just exactly what you should expect to get out of studying philosophy. It should also show you why I think that studying philosophy is the closest thing to Jedi training you’re going to find on this planet. Here’s the list, philosophy provides:

1. An appreciation of just how bad many of the arguments you hear in your day are. This is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it leaves you feeling superior but on the other talking about it to non-philosophers might get you labelled as a know-it-all. Mostly it’s supposed to build up your ability to spot nonsense and double-talk, so it should bring the added advantage of helping you avoid being drawn in or conned. Another advantage of this is a heightened ability to notice (and correct) flaws in your own arguments. Realising this skill can help you become a master manipulator; “These are not the droids you’re looking for”.

2. Answers which lead to more questions. Yes philosophy will provide answers (contrary to popular belief) but with these answers come more questions. With this in mind, if the thirst for knowledge keeps you going then more questions will just add to the fun, but if you want an absolute answer to the fairly ambiguous questions common to philosophy you’re likely to be frustrated. The thing is though, philosophical questions will never have clear cut absolute answers, that’s what makes them philosophical. (OK I’ve got nothing Jedi related for this one)

3. An ability to make difficult situations into abstract problems. This can lead to an easier means of finding a solution but it can also leave you tied up in your own thoughts. Use your new abilities wisely. (OK back to Jedi training now).

4. You’ll never look at anything quite the same way again. You’ll find that after a certain level of study you’ll start to find hidden depth and meaning in practically everything. One of the main benefits of this is that you’ll rarely feel bored again. (In Star Wars this is familiarity with the force in philosophy it’s familiarity with what we call ‘the meta’)

5. You’ll start to gain the ability to see arguments from the other person’s side and with this you’ll find that it becomes easier to let things go. In effect philosophy could make anger a rare event and one you can distance yourself from at that. (this kind of thinking can keep you from the dark side)

OK perhaps the last 2 are a little Vulcan too, but they’re still pretty Jedi and there’s no denying that they’re an awesome set of skills to acquire. Hope you enjoyed the post, if you disagree/have anything to add, feel free to drop a comment below. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John

PS. If you fancy seeing me use my Jedi/philosopher skills on the peculiar world of children’s toys pop on over to my other blog: John the Toy Shop Guy and if you’d like to have a look at my first book ‘Living the good life in a modern world’ follow this link 🙂

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Posted by on 21 September, 2013 in Philosophy


This is a common technique for getting the creative juices flowing and this week I embark on writing new material (not simply editing old chapters as I have been doing), so I feel the need to amp up my game. basically you juxtipose seemingly unrelated subjects and try to write a story from them. Here’s my list (one from my bag, one from outside the bus and one that hit me at random). Random first: a blue whale, now my bag: a shopping list and outside the bus: a church.

Morris looked around him, stretching as far as the horizon in all directions lay desolate miles of frigid water. Funnily enough staying afloat wasn’t causing him too much bother but he knew he had to get out of the water soon or the cold would kill him.

The cold must have been getting to him because his memory just wouldn’t seem to provide any inkling of how he’d got here. He remembered taking a walk past the harbour of the fishing village where he lived. He had just taken his crumpled little grocery list out of his shirt pocket when a storm started to kick up and the next thing he knew he was bobbing around in the sea. Cold fingers of sea water were clawing through his mind and wiping his senses away. His teeth felt like they were going to burst and he could barely see straight. If he didn’t try swimming to shore soon he would lose any sense he had left.

He had always been a good swimmer so his movement through the water came naturally to him. To his bemused relief after just a few minutes of mindless movement he began to notice something solid on the horizon, ‘well that was easy’.

The land in the distance was both cruelly easy to see and alarmingly hard to get to. What took minutes to appear in his field of vision took Morris almost an hour to reach. When he finally got close enough to the shore to make out buildings he locked on to a hardy little granite church perched just behind a rocky patch of beach. Hauling his body through the icy water, Morris noticed that he’d lost all feeling in his fingers or toes, he needed to get out soon.

Morris dredged the last of his energy lumbering up onto the rocky shore. Thankful to be back on solid ground he hugged the gritty sand and lumpy stones beneath him and rejoiced as he heard someone running towards him. He tried to yell but his brain was numb and all that escaped his lips was a long drawn out moan.

“My God this one’s massive, I’ll have to call in a lot of help on this! They’re never going to believe me.”

Morris didn’t understand what this guy was talking about he leaned over to get a better view and saw a tiny man, like a pixie, take a miniscule mobile phone out of his pocket and make a call.

“Yeh Alec, it’s Robert, you’re never going to believe what’s washed up this time. I’m no expert but it sure looks like a blue whale.”

Panicking Morris craned himself round to confirm the reality that was already beginning to set in. As the last vestiges of his old memories ebbed away the whale led out a deep and penetrating groan.

Some Excercise

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Posted by on 10 September, 2013 in Uncategorized


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