Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Log off

We are an apologetic nation at the moment aren't we. Nick Clegg, the BBC and its security correspondent, and ofcourse, my personal favorite, Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell. Today the Telegraph published the full police log of Mitchell's altercation with Her Majesty's finest, and it is there in black and white - "plebs" - amid a fair smattering of "f***ing" and the advice "Best you learn your f***ing place...you don’t run this f***ing government..." along with the killer "You’re f***ing plebs." If the log is an accurate report of events, the I-was-having-a-bad-day apology is worthless, his line that I-did-not-use-the-words-attributed-to-me-honest-f***ing-injun-I-didn't is unsustainable.

Of all the words a police officer could haul down from the sky, the word "plebs" is both loaded and political. I am willing to bet the officers concerned have been called any number of things by ne'er-do wells in the past. Surely if they were going to make something up, it would be more anglo-saxon than pleb? Or maybe not. Andrew Mitchell maintains he did not say it. Logic then dictates: either the police have it wrong or he does. Is he deliberately lying? Is he misremembering courtesy of losing his rag and adrenalin has wiped the gory details with a wet cloth? Or is he telling the truth? Perhaps he didn't misspeak - perhaps the police misheard. I am trying to imagine what he might actually have said to the police. Perhaps: "You're f***ing Debs" - whoever Debs might be, or "You're f***ing sheds - unlike me who is a pillar of the establishment. (Did I mention I'm the Chief Whip by the way?)" or maybe even "I'll have your f***ing heads." Now that last one, that one is a possibility.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to Write a Bestselling Children's Book - probably.

When my two boys read a book these days, I quite often read the first one if it is part of a series. It got me thinking about how to write a children's book, so I broke apart a few. As anyone with any sense who has tried to write anything longer than a shopping list knows - there is no formula for writing a great book. No way to replicate on the page sheer bleeding genius, inspiration, creativity and craft. Having said that .... I offer this back-of-an-envelope deconstruction as an aide to anyone out there thinking of writing children's books. It comes with a skull and crossbones warning. Yes I have written a book - infact I have written three now (one is in print, one is in a drawer and the third I'll tell you about some other time). But I have never, repeat never written a children's book therefore I do not know what I am talking about. Still, that doesn't usually stop me so for anyone with an interest in writing for children, here is a deconstruction of six great books/series. These are merely observations. This is not a recipe. Do not knock on my door and shout loudly at me if you follow it and your cake fails to rise.
I looked at the following books/series.(Apologies in advance to the brilliant authors involved - no disrespect is intended.)

  • Harry Potter by JK Rowling (because I don't think you are allowed to write about children's books without writing about Harry Potter)
  • Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
  • Alex Ryder by Anthony Horowitz
  • Laura Marlin by Lauren St John 
  • His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • The Bible, more specifically the New Testament(bear with me on this.)

They have these features in common:
1. a central character who is an orphan, apparent orphan, or missing at least one parent
2 a natural mother, or if orphaned, they have a maternal-type figure in their lives (eg Mrs Weasley in the Potter books).
3. a mentor (eg Chiron in Percy Jackson)
4 an alternative parenting figure who sometimes doubles up as a mentor (Laura's uncle, Joseph, Lee Scoresby)
5. best friends (eg the Apostles in the Bible)
6. special powers eg magic, spying, detective, miracles, cleverness
7. a training period (courtesy of the secret service, in school/half-blood camp, the Wilderness,)
8. a Saviour role (saving the world, saving other children, saving mankind)
9. a battle between good and evil (vs. Kronos and monsters, Scorpia, bad guys, Satan)
10. hero is percieved not to play by the rules - for which trait they are punished - (expelled from school, ostracised, crucified)
11. the hero is percieved to be in the wrong
12. the hero acquires equipment/weapons (wand, sword, techhy equipment, a golden compass)
13. half-and half mix somewhere (half-spy/half-boy, son of God and Man, good father - evil mother, child/daemon)
14. at least one parent has unusual powers (eg magic, father(figures)are gods/wizards/spies/detectives)
15. mystery surrounds at least one parent(there is also revelation) (eg how did parents die, exactly who is the father/mother figure)
16. very powerful villain (Mrs Coulter, the Devil, Voldemort, head of Scorpia)
17. adventures feature a world within a world (which ordinary people have no firsthand knowledge of)(eg a world of shadows, an alternative universe, Heaven/Hell, wizarding, gods/demi-gods)
18. in truth/in discovery there is goodness
19. the hero is on a quest (for a philospopher's stone, salvation for humankind, to find the children taken by gobblers)
20. the hero is prepared to sacrifice their own life
Interesting how the New Testament fits the template, or perhaps the New Testament is the template and it has seeped into our culture to shape the minds of our children? Now there's a thought. Anyway there you go. Be sure and let me know if it helps you write a book.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Two policewomen are murdered: are we more shocked, more horrified, than we would be if two policemen are murdered? It is always shocking when a police officer loses his (or her) life while defending us from criminals, sociopaths and no-marks. You feel humbled and grateful that someone has the courage and the convictions to stand firm against the violent and the drunk, against those who believe normal rules do not apply to them, those who refuse to sign the social contract. You are appalled when they pay the ultimate price for being one of the good guys in Gotham.

I don't hold that a man's life is worth more than a woman's, or vice versa. And yet, when a policewoman dies - there is a particular horror to it. Why is that? Are we still surprised that women are serving police-officers out on our mean streets - moreover on duty together - not with a pleasant, beefy bloke to help out if things get too rough? Does part of us still think of women as frail and fragrant creatures to be protected, rather than acting as our protectors? Do the two officers who died yesterday show how far women have come and are they the price we pay as a society for the word "equality" we bandy about so readily.

In knowing something of the women, we know something of the grief of their family and friends and their fellow serving officers. Greater Manchester constable Fiona Bone was 32 and planning her wedding. Doubtless she had flicked through far too many glossy bridal magazines and talked weddings with anyone who'd listen. Fellow officers apparently loved being partnered with her because she was calm, collected and professional, because she could defuse situations with her "calm, gentle way." Twenty-three year old constable Nicola Hughes was yesterday described by Sir Peter Fahy, her chief constable, as "a chatterbox" who was always smiling, a good listener and someone who couldn't do enough for people. Perhaps we feel their loss because we can understand who they were, because we have been who they were - on the threshold of everything wonderful, young, excited, and in Fiona's case - in love. Gentle, caring, smiling, beautiful - with these words Fiona and Nicola are made 3D women out from behind the flat and grainy photographs in our newspapers and on our TV screens.

Too often there are missing daughters and dead wives, battered bodies of women turn up in shallow graves and locked suitcases and back alleys - everyday victims of violent, predatory men. Tragically, PC Bone and PC Hughes are victims too, unarmed victims of a cold-blooded killer. The world is out of kilter when a police officer becomes a victim, more so when young women have their lives so brutally wrenched away. But I don't want to remember them as victims.I chose to remember them as professionals dying in the line of duty. I chose to remember them as women.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Seriously. Is that the time?

Cor blimey.Where does life go? This is an official announcement I am coming back to blogging (if blogging will have me). Tomorrow my kids run in the mini and junior Great North Run, so I thought I would post my diary entry for this time last year ... Saturday 17th September 2011 Watching them run inspires me. Not just my kids - all of them: those grinning, tiny, pink-winged fairies running alongside a huffing, puffing Daddy; cowgirls in glittering stetsons; three-legged teenage racers their arms wrapped around one another, a paper explanation pinned to one girl’s teeshirt “I’m doing this for my aunty”. Can that aunty see her do this? Is she proud? And if she can’t, I’ll be proud on her behalf. Proud too of those kids in wheelchairs pushed up steep banks by gritty mums and dads – faces ablaze with sweat and loyalty: a teenage boy with muscular dystrophy surrounded by his family urging him on, willing him on, as he leaned into his walking frame, frail legs twisted under him, moving on and on to the finish line. The generosity, the energy, the purity of the young. Their willingness to own up to their love; their readiness to struggle, to climb the hills and make it to the end for us. This week my children – all those children – they did enough.