The Most Important Writing Lesson of All

I finally managed to get a galley proof of my book. But the expected euphoria at holding an actual work of art produced by my own self did not appear.

I didn’t like the look of it, the feel of it or the size of it. At 110,000 words I’d expected a doorstop sized whacking big thing, but no. It looked like a thicker version of a half-sized comic. The champagne stayed in the fridge and the party hats remained in their boxes.

And that was just the start of it.

Holding the Book

Holding the Book

But as I’ve learned in life it’s the setbacks that teach you the most. And a very big lesson was just round the corner as I sat down to read my own book in print.

The experience was completely different to the 800+ times I’d read it in A4 size electronic format. It was even different from the version I downloaded from Kindle. It was a revelation.

Every author has probably read their first chapter hundreds of times. Trying to get it right. The one chapter that sets the scene, hooks the reader and foreshadows the tale to come. As I read my first chapter for the first time in print the book took on a different feel. I could almost see the words threading through the page ahead of me, like a narrow pathway leading me into the story. The plot unfolded more slowly, the characters seemed sharper and the hints on what was to come were more subtle.

It was a different book. It was an actual honest to goodness novel, not just electronic words dancing on a screen that one day would become a book. It was real.

I reached for a party hat…..

Then I noticed that some of the typeset wasn’t quite right. The chapter titles weren’t centre-justified. There were grammatical errors even after the two professional edits and the hundreds of searches through the text for missed capitals, commas in the wrong place and quotation marks not closed. The hundreds of hours spent finishing the book for a Kindle upload looked hopelessly inadequate. The book just wasn’t publishable, I’d jumped the gun like so many of my fellow writers. I’d wanted to finish the book so badly I ignored the advice to ‘edit the book to death’ before it went public.

So, on a plane last night I sat with a pen and a highlighter going over the text once more. I edited it backwards so that I wouldn’t get wound into the story and end up being more interested in the hero’s arc that the punctuation.

It’s going to take some time to fix. No-one said it would be easy.

But, to date, it’s the most important writing lesson I’ve learned.

And it’s a lesson that we all probably have to learn at some point.

Leonardo Da Vinci and the Secret of the Mona Lisa Smile

More art from Jambo. And the unveiling of the secret of. ‘Hush’. Mona Lisa. You’ll like this, it’s an interactive post.

I’ve seen both paintings (yes there are  two Mona Lisa paintings, and it’s rumoured there is a third. All painted on blocks of wood)

And I experimented with the concept of ‘The Smile’. It’s been described as everything from ‘Enigmatic’ to ‘Wind’.

I probably discovered the secret by accident but I’m insecure enough to claim it was the end result of a studied methodology over many years. It actually was by accident and it took 3 hours.

This is a painting of my beloved. ‘La Rubio’.

Take a piece of paper and cover the left side of the face, then move the paper to cover the right side of the face. Try it a few times and see the effect.

The Mona Lisa Smile

The Mona Lisa Smile

OK. If you haven’t figured out what you’re looking at.

The face on the left hand side of the picture is happy, the face on the right hand side is sad. Put the two together and you get ‘The Mona Lisa Smile’.

Leonardo Da Vinci knew a thing or two about painting.

Predicting the Future? Too easy!

So I set my book in 2015 and rammed in loads of innovative, amazing, incredible stuff in my own modest way. As of today – here’s how the world has caught up.

A social network grows to be bigger than most countries – and a lot more powerful

A social network is first to have driverless cars and eyeglasses that access the information highway

The Pope runs away to Castle Gandolfini

The Catholic Church takes heavy incoming thank’s to freedom of information on the web

Youngsters live ‘in a virtual world’ 

The internet is used to bring the world to its knees (that was yesterday btw in case you haven’t noticed your computer running at half speed)

Virtual sex becomes more popular than the real thing

The super-rich and the men who run the world get outed

There’s an assassination attempt at the White House – hold on, wait, that’s next month. 

I get ahead of myself some times.

Still to come

AdultOption – young people adopting older couples

The Upira – abusers of women being outed on the web using collation technology

People working for food and board to do something they love

UltraPodding – people living in complete virtuality

Bots on the web controlling supply chains and running projects


Protocol bots keeping politicians honest (OK, that’s never going to happen)

Necropolis – a virtual place where people go where they die and live through their avatars and having NecroJobs – avatars of dead people continue working in IT related jobs


The Glass Wall – a user interface between the dead and the living

Intelligent firewalls – computer protection that thinks for itself


Synth DNA – its what’s uploaded to your avatar when you die

Skynsuits – body suits for travelling in cyber space or having cyber-sex, or both at the same time

iKidUnot – children tracked and monitored via the web using implants

Mobile phones that recognise their owners and only work for them

Phones that die when their user dies

The wiring of the web used as a super-computer

There’s hundreds more but its getting late, so…

Last but not least – Social Websites becoming Nations (as allowed by UN Protocol at the moment. ‘A nation is defined as an imagined community’)

iNation – why don’t you drop in for a chat?




Jack Kerouac – Happy Birthday on the 12th March.

If you expect a homage to Jack, then look elsewhere.

To me Jack was like a character out of a Norman Mailer book. You know the kind – a tough guy with a tender heart but flawed. Norman Mailer was a fake. All that tough guy-philospher shit. It’s bollox. His characters were fake and Jack Kerouac was fake. he’s as fake as they come.

Kerouac was a middle class guy who could write like nobody’s business, I’ll give him that. But ‘On The Road’? Bollox.

Let’s unthread his timeline. I’ll not go over the early deceit that he was descended from nobility but,,

He spent 8 days or so in the US Merchant Marine – see his novel The Sea Is My Brother. Yea, right.

He was embroiled in a murder where he helped dispose of evidence – see his novel And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks.

The book was a collaboration with William Burroughs and that connection catapulted him later to fame as the man we revere as ‘Saint Jack’ and it cemented him in as a founder of ‘The Beats’. (If you want to really read about the beats, read The Soft Machine by Burroughs)

A guy riding the rails but when he runs out of money he phones his aunt to send him a postal order? For fuck’s sake. What is he?

And so to On The Road. A novel revered by the hippie generation, This blog is written by one, but I never revered Jack. I didn’t know why at the time. He was up there with the greats. Burroughs, Ginsberg et al. But.

He worked as a brakeman on the railways, on the trains travelling coast to coast. He befriended guys who rode the rails, they were known as train jumpers. Herbert Huncke and  Abe Green were mentioned but I suspect there were many others who told their tale to the handsome brakeman who was a writer. Get the picture.

But back to Norman Mailer. A tough guy who could write. He wrote the word ‘whore’ and had anal sex in his novels. Oooh matron! Yes, it’s more Carry On than ‘The Great American Novel’ that Norman spent his life trying to write. His characters were a pastiche of tough guys. His writing, like Hemingway’s, has the air of vicarious adventure. Lives lived through the stories of others. Writing done in remote, third hand. He may have been in a few fist fights but he’d never been in real a real situation where it’s fight or die.

And over there to the side, stands Jack. The Great Kerouac. Faking it, writing the adventures of others, living a life  of faux poverty, riding the rails in the jump seat.

But he could write. He wrote exactly what the youth of America was waiting for. A casting off. A discard of the old and a template for the new. A disregard for the straight and narrow and a doorway to the new ideas. Sex, threesomes, drugs, homosexuality, rough living, two-fingers to the old regime. All repressed by the society he grew up in (and him a good Catholic boy) and shocking for Jack. He confronted his taboos and lived a different life.

He was fake but he could write. He wrote what no-one else would dare to write in America. He got published. He made a difference.

The fake that he was.

I Need A Hero

And he’s got be strong

And he’s got to be fast

And he’s got to be straight from the fight

So sings Bonnie Tyler at

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, this post is about writing and the hero’s arc and the need for a hero, with a twist. It’s on something I learned about writing. That the most interesting heroes you can write about aren’t chiselled jawed hunks in homo-erotic spandex. No.

The most interesting heroes are ordinary men and women with flaws who can do heroic deeds. And jumping over tall buildings isn’t one of them.

I’ve met many heroes but I always remember the day that I realised I’d met one. He was my first hero so to speak.

I worked in an office and in a wee corner office there were two men jammed in sharing a desk. They were both small men, hunched and combed-over. Shiny trousers and jackets with patches at the elbows. Grey men. They were the butt of many office jokes.

But through work I got to know one of them well. He did a job that required exceptional concentration and great attention to detail but needless to say, it didn’t pay well.

One Friday I offered to buy him a drink after work, I was getting married the next day and frankly he was the only one in the office that I’d buy a drink.

Anyway, he limped alongside me to the pub then he took a half pint of heavy beer then stood to say goodbye. He had 5 miles to walk home and with his bad leg it took a him a while, he said. I looked at him, perhaps seeing him for the first time. He had curvature of the spine and his sight wasn’t so good. A National Health hearing aid was stuck behind his right ear.

I offered to drive him home, by way of compensation for keeping him late. He accepted and I got my car and headed to his house. He explained that his wife was profoundly deaf and her eyesight was worse than his. She fretted if he was late. He was the only person she knew in the whole world.  As we drove we talked about the latest rumours that the company was downsizing. I was worried because I was about to be married, he was concerned because  he had no savings and he needed to support his wife.

We got to his house. A terraced house idential to the thousands of others in the housing scheme he lived in. The garden was neat and tidy, the door was freshly painted and at the window stood a slight woman staring out with a look of worry on her face.

He wished me a happy marriage got out the car and limped slowly up to his house.

I wish I could say I empathised with him, but i didn’t. I was a callow youth with my own worries and a future to get after.  But years later I thought about him and I realised that he was above all else, a hero.

Men who swing into battle are not heroes. They have courage, grit and determination. But heroes? No.

People who can endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, people who can stoop to rebuild their life’s work with worn out tools. People who can keep their counsel and care for others while being ridiculed for things over which they have no control. People who live with their flaws, their disabilities and drawbacks but still continue to have a life rich in meaning beyond the grasp of uncaring people. These are the heroes. There is probably one close to you right now, have a look around.

And so, to return to writing. Writing can be about men who wear their underpants outside of their tights but it’s unlikely to be interesting. Real interest lies in people who are flawed. But come the time, they are there for  others. And they endure.

Above all else, they endure.