If the voices betray me


They put an implant in my head so they can listen to my mind. One bad thought is all it takes. Think a ‘crime,’ defy them, pick the wrong daydream, and it’s back to that cell, throw away the key.

Reckon I deserve it? You wait. If this works, everyone gets them. They’ll come in your sleep, give you the jab and you wake with it in your brain.

At least they told us. You might never know. Serve you right for sitting by.

Don’t get mad though… they might be listening. That’s all it takes – one bad thought.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC

Lessons from fiction — don’t get stuck

Writing, Craft, Story, Reflections, Storytelling

Heroes in fiction are stuck in a set of beliefs or attitudes, ways of seeing the world or themselves. The events of the story force them into a moment of realisation which makes them come unstuck. Then they can change.

And only then, once they have changed, can they face the climax of the story. They have tried and tried and tried again and failed every time.

But now that they are unstuck and have changed inside, changed their tack and approach, now they can break through and win the day.

Unlock the code hidden in plain sight in all stories

Reflections, Storytelling

To see the truth of yourself and your own life you could look in a mirror. But that might not tell you much. Better to look in a story. It’s all there.

Because there’s a hidden code in fiction, a secret intended to help you change your life.

In stories, the heroes are stand-ins for ourselves. We place ourselves in their shoes, in their adventure, their dilemma. We feel their pain and joy.

But they are more than that. Their situations provide lessons for us in how we should face life. And this is the secret to the true power of fiction.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and face all kinds of foes and challenges. They have many faults to overcome. They need to find their courage, grow from being a child to an adult, take responsibility, learn to forgive or to love or to forget.

But there is one overriding fault all heroes possess. One overarching change they all must make.

At the start of a story, a hero lacks self-awareness. Their change, their revelation and epiphany comes with a moment of self-insight. They realise for the first time that they are the root of their own problems, that their own emotions or thinking or attitudes have betrayed them, that their actions have been wrong.

Now they can change. Now they can defeat evil and win the battle or the heart of their beloved.

Self awareness. Self knowledge. Realisation. Awakening.

That’s what fiction is all about. Because that’s what life is all about.

Dark Memoirs


In the Afterlife, the Selves write up reports on what they learned from their experiences. These are bound into books which are stored in an immense library spread across the cosmos.

The weight of the books distorts the gravitational pull of the galaxies, causing wobbles and discrepancies that have long confused scientists on Earth.

Few physicists suspect that the mysterious ’dark matter’ they seek, the missing material of the universe, is nothing more than the mass of mind-numbingly detailed memoirs building up over time.

What I’ve learnt from books about Buddhism – condensed


Buddhism – the good news:

Death is not the end. You can never die. 

The bad news:

You never existed in the first place.

Dog Days


The dog days of summer are supposed to be in July and August, when the weather is so hot everyone gets lazy and spends their days lolling in the shade. But for an Airedale, with all that fur, even September can be a ‘dog day’.

I just like it when they’re calm and quiet.


The Little Things


In Heaven, Selves are punished for having wasted their time on Earth – if they were foolishly virtuous and docile when they were sent out to be wild and passionate and fierce.

The punishment fits the crime.

These Selves watch over the lives of their descendants — every shirt ironed, every meeting attended, every newspaper read, every Facebook update and trip to the shops. Every shower, every evening in front of the TV. Every toilet break. Every clipping of the toenails. All the moments when life could erupt into carnival, but caution prevails.

The Selves take notes, write reports and stew in regret.

And so they spend eternity marking the terrifying littleness of life.

Mind Control: these are not the superpowers you’re looking for


The kinds of stories we enjoy and the heroes we admire can tell us much about ourselves.

So it’s interesting that in modern culture heroes with magical skills and superhuman powers dominate our storytelling. Is this not odd in a rational, scientific age?

Whether it’s movies, TV series, novels or comic books, everywhere you look there are tales of wizards, superheroes and mutants with emerging powers. It’s not just mainstream movies and genre fiction, either. It’s there in the highbrow storytelling as well — from Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ to Margaret Atwood’s latest ‘Angel Catbird’.

From the Jedi in Star Wars to wizards in Harry Potter, from vampires and zombies to Iron Man and Jessica Jones, to be a hero nowadays, you’ve got to have a special ability or two.

We identify with these superhuman heroes. We long to be like them. But why?

Let’s ask an expert. In his 1997 book ‘Instant Analysis’, David J. Lieberman sums up the issue, its causes and potential remedies in three succinct pages.

“If you are consumed with the notion of having superhuman powers, something else is probably at work. The explanation is as follows. You don’t feel able to compete on an equal footing with others. You imagine having special abilities that would give you an edge. This response mechanism is generated by feelings of inadequacy. You wish for special powers that would compensate for your real or perceived inadequacies and make you feel more in control of your life and your circumstances.”

“You imagine having special abilities that would give you an edge. This response mechanism is generated by feelings of inadequacy.”

Talk about telling it like it is! But the man is an adjunct professor of communications, so it is his job to be forthright.

His solution is also refreshingly prosaic. Kick the fantasies into touch. Focus on what you can do. And do more of that.

But that, of course, requires self control. We need to be able to focus our energies, understand and moderate our emotions and, more than anything, to be aware of the flow of our thoughts.

For who among us is truly master of their fate — of their own thoughts and emotions? Look at the great and the good, brought low relentlessly by petty foibles, weaknesses, vice and anger, jealousy and fear. They may have more money and power, fame and fine clothes than the rest of us, but they still run around with the monkey mind controlling their days. This goes for the stiff authoritarian conservative with her ‘traditional values’ as much as the progressive libertarian or liberal, or simply the libertine or waster.

No one should set themselves up as an example here, the one who stands above the rest. Any who does should be subjected to instant and overwhelming suspicion. They think they are immune? Delusion. They don’t even know they are sick. Anyone who has paused to examine their own minds, their thoughts and emotions, to watch them run their course, will know how tricksy they can be. Stop your thoughts. Do it now.

Stop reading and don’t come back until your mind has shattered its own precious silence. Go.
Back? If you were away a long time, it’s because you got lost in your thoughts, not because you silenced them. You can’t do it, not for long. Neither can I. We could learn to be better at it but instead we dream of telepathy, clairvoyance and ESP.

There’s a scene in the first Star Wars movie (‘A New Hope’) in which Obi Wan Kenobi performs the Jedi mind trick, telling a bunch of goons that “these are not the ‘droids you’re looking for”. With a wave of his fingers, he twists their minds and fools them, and they let him, his friends, and the ‘droids, go through.

It looks cool. It is cool. But it’s fantasy.

We can’t control the minds of others except through simple influence — with words and deeds, example and persuasion. The one thing we can do is learn to have more control over our own thoughts and emotions. If we could get better at that it would be the ultimate superpower — and the only one we’re ever likely to possess.


This article has also been posted to Medium.

Photo: ‘But You Can Call Me Bob’ by Thomas Hawk via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Outlivers has a new cover


My young adult dystopian novel Outlivers has a new cover. Much improved, I reckon.


Little Things

microfiction, Instant Karma

His life was filled with little things — small tasks that demanded his attention but never seemed to get done, until they piled high obscuring the view and the big picture became lost from sight.

File those papers, fix the tap, mow the lawn and walk the dog. Make dinner, have coffee, read a book, call that friend, check Twitter and Facebook, check email, look at the bank accounts, sort the insurance, think about that trip when you get time and buy new shoes, don’t forget the updates and cancel that subscription.

His life revolved around little things.