Be real

Don’t follow to be followed. Don’t be an adult pretending to be a kid. Don’t be a man pretending to be a girl. Don’t write what you think will get you noticed. Don’t set out with ulterior motives. Don’t hang out in the hope that others will engage you. Only a fool would fall for the freshly minted account seeking an audience — waving and prodding — before you’ve said anything at all. If you’re for real, your authentic voice will speak volumes. So be real. Be true to yourself. Don’t be fake; fakeness only reveals you.

The art of empathy

An observer might legitimately ask how I went from holding old foes in gross contempt to empathising with them, seeing the world from their perspective. For that, I largely credit my writing. In the first novel I ever wrote, I had two sets of characters: the good and the bad. In that first draft, there was no nuance in the world and no attempt to understand the other.

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Words

So often I think to myself that I should cease writing and delete everything I have published. But other times — like today — I wonder why on earth I decided to obliterate so much all those years ago. Diaries I once wrote, I tore to shreds. Creative writing I tossed into the bin. So many projects I bulk deleted.

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Dev in paradise

A decade ago, I was a fan of buffoonish crime drama, Death in Paradise, set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. Initially, there was something quite quaint about a stiff-upper-lip British detective being dispatched to a paradise island to investigate a murder. The detective in question was played by actor Ben Miller, and so his character was easily embraced with affection. But, in truth, it was a show that should have died a death long ago.

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Doubtful

I don’t know what I’ve done. I commissioned an editor to review the manuscript I spent my holidays and weekends editing throughout 2021. I’ve spent a fortune on it… but now it’s hit me and thrown me against the wall… what was I thinking? Why did I even write that novel? What was I setting out to achieve? What right did I have to tell that story? What did I do it for? Now I’m thinking to myself: I can never publish this. Now I’m saying: I wouldn’t dare. But after spending so much, do I have a choice now? I feel so blue. Reading it through, I just think to myself: “this utter crap”. Really, I just wonder what I’ve done. Publish and be damned.

Brilliance

Whenever I read truly talented authors, I regret setting pen to paper at all. I have spent twenty-five years honing my art, but still I remain a complete amateur. This realisation hits hard whenever I read their fluent prose, its rhythm dancing inside my soul. Reading their magnificent writing, I truly cringe at my own. What I’d give for the brilliance of the writer.

Why write?

In childhood I was not a writer. I was a daydreamer, certainly, forever composing stories in my head, but I never contemplated writing them down. When asked to write a creative piece in school, I invariably wrote of that quaint subsistence lifestyle I once yearned for. I was frequently castigated by my teachers for penning essays too brief to satisfy their exacting standards. I was too lazy in those days to pen long paragraphs about anything of any worth.

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Going off track

When writing, don’t be afraid to delete a whole chapter and start again when it seems you’ve lost your way. Friday evening’s writing just went in the bin. Saturday night’s writing seems to have got me back on track. Write with a pen and a pair of scissors.

Strange hobby

Writing is a strange hobby, because you end up with repeated bouts of extreme depression while writing… and then you get an even heavier dose when it’s done, which usually ends with you deleting every word in a fit of melancholic self-censorship. If only I had taken up watercolours instead. I could’ve been a happy man.

Blogology

So Folio seems to be one of the last surviving Muslamic layman’s blogs of the interwebs, somehow surviving the advent of social media. That does not mean it has any readers (7 readers a week on average, so not quite Dead Parrot sketch, but close), but yes, it remains active, as I witter away, mostly to myself. I think 2008 was the height of the Muslamic blogosphere. Some brave souls lasted another five years, before hosting their send-off tour in 2013. One or two lasted until 2016.

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Unread

So why do I write? I don’t really know. For pleasure? Yes, I suppose so. Because I have something to say? Well maybe. Good enough reasons for an amateur, perhaps, whose books will only ever be seen by me. Artists, painters, photographers… all of these seem content to hang their art on their own walls alone, to be seen only by them. Can the writer do the same? I wonder.

Why would the writer do that? Well, the world can be a cruel and heartless place. Some people have thick skins, or simply do not care, or thrive on controversy. But the rest of us? No, we have no desire to be famous, to be taunted by trolls and activists, to be sent hate mail and stinging critiques, to be shot down before we have even found the courage to stand up straight.

The more I think about it, the less enthusiastic I become. Perhaps the boring day job has its quaint appeal. Perhaps it is safer than striding out before the world to invite the derision of the braying crowds. Perhaps it is better to be the obscure character, nobody ever really knew, than to be shot down in flames for daring to tell a story or put pen to paper.

Perhaps this is why the writer might strive to be unread.

Writer’s doubt

You finish the book, and then a mountain of doubts smash you against the wall…

Why did you decide to tell that story…

Why did you write those characters…

Who were you to invest in those lives…

How dare you write those characters…

Are you even a good writer?

Who will even read that book?

Who will discover it?

Who will publish it?

What did you do it for?

Why don’t you just give up?

Why don’t you just desist.

Yes, desist.

Amatore

It is okay to be an amateur. It is acceptable to engage in amateur dramatics. Likewise, it is okay to be an amateur writer.

It is okay to devote your time to something you love, even if it is only a hobby. If you love writing, then devote yourself to that.

It is okay to do something for the love of it only, and to be content with that. No need to pursue wealth, fame or great acclaim.

I address this rejoinder to myself.

Elegy

Revisiting an old manuscript, momentarily I dream of being a writer once more, his words in print. For a day or two, I imagine the draft to have potential, to be considered by an agent or publisher, if only I could just add the spit and polish it demands. Ah, but no, it returns a pipe dream. How could I compete with the brilliant authors whose works are celebrated far and wide? Cowed, I skulk away, back to the salaried role, a cog in the machine, bored and ignored.

H

Personally I don’t care who H is. The big mystery I want answered is how a celebrated screenwriter can screw up the final episode of every single drama they create for television. In the past, I have patiently watched every twist and turn, silently wishing the weeks away, desperate to discover whodunnit. Then comes the grand finale. Utter codswollop! Someone, please, get the great writer an editor.

“Don’t give up the day job.”

This was, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have ever received.

It was 1995. I was working a short contract for a software development company in Cambridge, when I learned that the colleague sitting beside me was a published author.

Just prior to moving down to Cambridge, I had completed the script for a screenplay that I thought was pretty good. After a few weeks building up a relationship with him, I decided to seek an honest review from the companion at my side.

His review was stinging. He thought my script was utter drivel. He was right. It was dreadful, infantile, an abomination. “Don’t give up the day job,” he laughed, and that was that. I deposited my script in my box of misadventures.

This tale was supposed to be the beginning of an inspiring exaltation to two children inclined to giving up before they have even started, but they just rolled their eyes at me and walked away. Oh well.

I was going to tell them that this scathing review was the starting point in my lifelong mission to become a better writer. I was going to tell them of the novel that followed, hammered out mostly at night once my contract in Cambridge ceased. That too was astoundingly bad.

I submitted it to publishers and earned my first round of rejection letters. I then went to university, where a number of fellow students reviewed it, reminding me that I really was no author at all. The following summer I tried again, editing yet another adaption.

What I was trying to tell my children was that you have to persevere in anything worth doing until you are actually good at it. Most people, the odd genius excepted, start off really, really bad, and gradually over time get better and better.

Certainly, over twenty-five years, I have become a better writer. I continue to write for pleasure, in my ever-decreasing spare time. I think of myself as an amateur writer, akin to the stars of the amateur dramatics scene.

I confess that I still yearn to be a published author, but as my burgeoning pile of unfinished manuscripts testify, that will probably have to wait until I am old and grey, or better still after I am dead and buried. I have self-published, briefly, a couple of times, but yet more stinging reviews have always forced me to withdraw. I am still a writing apprentice, still honing his art.

I have a ninety-percent complete novel sitting on my computer right now, but I have not touched it in eighteen months. It does not matter. It may ultimately end up in the bin. Still, it does not matter.

Anything worth doing takes dedication and a high degree of determination. For my part, I am glad of those rejection letters at eighteen and for the stinging reviews over the years that followed. I was not ready then, and perhaps I am not ready now.

But one day, I hope, I will write something that I can be really proud of. Something that will allow me to say that the decades trying were all worth it. And I hope my children too, when they have grown out of rolling their eyes at their parents, will come to that realisation too.

Whatever your dream… invest in it and patiently persevere.

Copious footnotes

The world is bigger than one man; this or that social media sensation.

What difference does it make if I mention the name of whoever it is I am listening to this week, or whose videos I came across thanks to YouTube‘s very unreliable algorithm this afternoon?

A few months ago, I’d be found watching therapeutic bricklaying videos by Stu Cromptom. These days it’s Kris Harbour and some Chinese bloke who welds amazing contraptions while wearing flipflops.

A few months ago I’d be listening to Blanco White, then Passenger and Al Lewis. These days Pachelbel, Beethoven, Chopin.

A few months ago I’d be found following everything Devi Sridhar wrote. These days Jonny Smith rambling on about cars.

And on religion… let me check my subscriptions… hmm, looks like I’m not following anyone these days, except for a channel that occasionally post updates from imprisoned Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, whom I’m fond of.

My blog has a loyal readership of five. It occasionally receives an influx of visitors if a famous person I once knew says something controversial, and their opponents feel the need to share some old post I once wrote in rage as if it makes some kind of difference. Of course, it doesn’t.

Dear visitor, I am a nobody. Always have been and always will be. This is my place to ramble on as I see fit about whatever momentarily exercises me, as a form of peculiar entertainment for the odd passerby (and I mean odd).

Nothing I write is of any consequence at all. I have no influence on the world beyond my tiny family, and even there influence is waning. Nobody of any stature or importance — your own good selves excluded — reads a word I write. Long may that continue.

I am not really sure why I write in public like this, other than that it sometimes helps that a passerby responds to my talking to myself to say either you’re not mad, or you absolutely are. This is a positive feedback mechanism, which helps supplement the judgement of my heart, which more often than not demands I self-censor whatever it is that I am wittering on about today.

I write because I am not a speaker. As I have often noted, my voice is the exact same tone as background noise. I cannot do social gatherings; I get lost in them. This blog is the nearest I get to intelligent conversation, even if it is conversation mainly with myself. That is fine.

Even at the height of blogistan, before Facebook and the Twitter sent it into an interminable demise, my blog was always a mere footnote, dismissed as the ramblings of a fool, which it was and still is. For a time I enjoyed a spot on DeenPort, in tiny text, sending visitors my way to declare me a heretic. Fortunately the turbaned ones are CEOs of major investment capital firms today, so I can rest easy in my bed.

The only reason I keep my blog going is to avoid squatters seizing my domain to post spam about crypto-mining to the last explorers of the open web. Daily I think I will park it and place a witty holding page where once there was a heap of words. I may yet, if ever I find the courage of my convictions, to return into my shell and become a hermit.

Copious footnotes are all I generate. On and on. I take pride in being opaque, in the hope that it will enrage a reader who thinks I am talking about someone they know, when really that is highly unlikely, since most of the people I know are private individuals as boring and insignificant as I, whose only claim to fame is warding off gossip around the water-cooler at work. Out here in the real world, everything really is boring and mundane.

To be nobody again

In the pre-internet age, there were very few ways the commoner could seek to influence the world beyond their immediate community. For those with talent or good looks, there was always the promise of stardom in music, sport or acting. For the lucky few there was a publishing contract. For the astute, perhaps a career in politics. But for most, influence extended no further than the local church, social club, union branch, factory floor, company board. People’s worlds were small back then. Continue reading “To be nobody again”

Clarion call

Deal with him, comes the command from the top, and soon the trolls and hackers will come marching, determined to silence the insignificant writer nobody reads who speaks his mind too freely. Yes, I have seen the inbound traffic, causing that sudden spike, the flatline zero to one daily visitors suddenly shooting skyward. To battle bound, they descend en masse, but have chosen the wrong opponent, only amplifying what would otherwise have gone unnoticed. Such is misguided activism, which defends the unjust and vanquishes the oppressed, all in the name of belonging. The complete opposite of the message they claim to be champions of.

Cease

He rebukes us for not disappearing, as we rightfully must. He cannot stand bloggers who write unceasingly, he writes unceasingly on a public forum, granting himself permission to do the opposite of what he says, for his own sentiments are profound and important and true. If only we would just disappear, when we say we will, instead of continually swinging from pole to pole, like manic depressives shunning benzodiazepines. If you are going to go, he yells, just go. Don’t return to pen another epistle when backs are turned, deciding not to become a hermit after all. Leave the about-turns to wise sages, whose gold embossed volumes decorate the homes of the truly enlightened, with their spiritual quest and authentic faith, that we modernites could never comprehend. Go, he demands, and leave us in peace, and purify your heart, and vanquish your attention-seeking ego, and disappear for good, and don’t come back, and remember your place, and be silent. Yes, cease, he urges unceasingly, returning to the forum he promised to abandon once more, to rebuke the returning writers who cannot keep their promises when they say they will put down their pens. Cease.

Is it good to write?

Is it good to write? I don’t know. Every year come these blues that petition me: disappear, withdraw and delete these posts for good. All the world has an opinion and each of us thinks ours matter, and are worthy to be expressed, and are important, and need to be uttered in public, for others to read and reflect on. But are they really? Is it rather nothing but delusion? In the popular preaching of religion, we are continually taught: silence is better for you: speak the truth, or stay silent. And: much speaking causes the heart to whither away and die. Yet I do the opposite, not in speech — for I remain as incoherent as ever in the spoken word — but in all that my typing fingers hammer out on these keyboards. All of this, which seems so urgent and necessary one moment, which becomes a source of immense regret in the next. If I ceased to write, would it matter? Would the world be any worse for wear? Of course not, for words depart as quickly as they were imagined, fluttering across the mind of the reader only for a moment, soon to be forgotten. In writing, do I truly only counsel myself? And if so, why does it have to be public? Why not just pour sentiments into a book never to be read by others? These are the thoughts that occupy me these days. “Is it really good to write?” I ask myself every night.

Skeptical Muslim

After twenty years moving in this community, and over a decade — on and off — amongst Muslims online, I have grown far too skeptical to take the latest manufactured controversy at face value. To our activists and leaders of opinion, amongst whom are the sincere and faithful, I am sorry; I am sorry that skepticism is my overriding reaction to the latest populist altercation online. Continue reading “Skeptical Muslim”