Something new

Has the time come to do something different with this domain? Much as I enjoy wittering away to myself in public, I do wonder why I continue to do this. The pre-eminent surviving Muslamic blog, once at the centre of the action, now reportedly receives an average of 80 views with each new post. My blog receives an average of 40 visitors per month, most of whom I assume to be the same two or three people.

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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.

To write in fear

The past few days I have been thinking a lot about two as-yet unpublished novels I have written. Though to me these stories are benign—albeit approaching contentious issues—I have begun to feel myself cowed by extremists. By fear of their extremism, to be precise.

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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.

Not my type

Do modern-day publishers no-longer obtain a physical proof of their typeset works before going to market? As an occasional typesetter myself, I find myself perpetually frustrated by the impossibly tiny print in which so many contemporary books seem to be set.

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Perspective

When I am writing fiction, the biggest obstacle to progress I encounter is deciding upon the narrator’s perspective. This inner debate has scuppered many a nascent work, as I switch midway through, only to abandon it, frustrated.

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Popularity stifles creativity

First, there’s the perpetual pinging from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the compulsive gaze which cannot help glancing back, just in case it is missing something.

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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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The pleasure of writing

These last weeks, I have returned to a novel I first started writing in 2007. I have enjoyed reacquainting myself with the characters. The last time I had touched this manuscript was late June 2011, and it looks like only for about fifteen minutes. Wow, a decade ago. Well, we have been busy in that time.

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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.

Scissors

I used to write with a pen. Now I write with scissors, no longer afraid to eliminate long passages or whole chapters I once invested days or months in. Gone is the sentiment which used to demand those words remain. No, we see what we wrote in earlier years for what it is.

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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.