Writing Process Blog Tour

My friend and colleague Mazin Saleem tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Tour, a sort of literary Ponzi Scheme where writers answer a few simple questions about their creative process.

Mazin’s post from last week is on his fine Tumblr, and you can click back from that page to see earlier stops on the tour. Its growing into a fascinating collection: Read Katriona Lewis who tagged Mazin, or Ross Hopkins, nominated by Mazin alongside yours truly.

What am I working on?

Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

That might not be literally true. I do have a couple of saved Word documents taunting me in in ‘Writing’ folder: murder mysteries, the pair. Both were good ideas when I began to write them. But both are now rapidly curdling, I fear.

This fact yields an unexpected insight that fits perfectly into a ‘writing process’ post—I work most effectively when there is a deadline looming. I suspect that is true of a lot of writers but I worry that it is symptomatic of a lack of discipline or maybe my immaturity as a writer. I also worry that the only way I would ever get an entire novel written is if someone commissioned me (unlikely, for a first time novel) or I did NaNoWriMo.

I really wish I was one of those writers (like Ross) who have characters bouncing around inside them, demanding to be written. Such authors seem to be able to just blurt out a novel. I find them infuriating! They are also a challenge to my own literary pretentions—If I do not always have a character or a plot or an idea tormenting my waking hours, am I really a writer?

Continue reading

Halal pizza and the demonisation of Muslims

The latest multicultural controversy feels entirely manufactured, but I’ll bite anyway.  Apparently, Pizza Express is serving Halal chicken to its customers, but not announcing this fact on its menus.  The Sun is outraged, and the story was on the front page yesterday.

Unfortunately the entire article is behind a paywall, but I read it on paper and its a sneering, conspiratorial piece that seems to imply that this choice by Pizza Express is evidence of some creeping Islamic takeover of Britain. Continue reading

Putin is sanitising the voice of ordinary Russians

Vladimir Putin has this week signed into a law some measures to ban swearing in films, books and music.  Films with obscene content will not be granted a distribution certificate and exisiting books and music with foul language will have to be sold in special wrapping.

I spoke to Alison Flood of the Guardian about the new law, and what it says about the state of Russian politics:

Writers’ group English PEN has already condemned the move. Robert Sharp, its head of campaigns, says: “Swear words exist in every language and are part of everyday speech. Russian artists will no longer be able reflect genuine, everyday speech. Instead, they will have to sacrifice authenticity in order to please a committee of censors. This new law sends the signal that law-makers want to sanitise and silence the voice of ordinary Russians.”

In recent years, Sharp adds, we have witnessed Russia’s slow slide into authoritarianism, with impunity for the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the prosecution of Pussy Riot, and the ban on discussing homosexuality. “These things have all squeezed the space for free speech in Russia. The government claims it is ‘protecting and developing culture’, but the effect will be to ensure that culture becomes staid, uniform and boring.”

Discussing #BooksForPrisoners on Good Cause TV

Today I was interviewed by Pete Woods for Good Cause TV.  We discussed English PEN’s campaign to reverse the Ministry of Justice’s ridiculous restrictions on sending books into prisons.  We discussed the ‘Catch-22′ aspects to the policy, and the idea that literature should be a human right.

You can watch the video below, or on Spreecast. Continue reading

Free encryption for Outlook and Apple Mail

What with the Heartbleed exploit, and approaching anniversary of the Edward Snowden revelations, I have been doing a lot of thinking about encryption of my e-mails and digital files.  A couple of weeks ago, at the FairSay e-Campaigning forum, I had a good chat with the folk from Open Rights Group who encouraged me to set up OwnCloud (which I’ve already done) and install open-source encryption for my e-mail.

I operate computers using both Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, and use the standard mail applications for each.  Its not too hard to find open source encryption for these programmes, but I thought I would oil the cogs of the Internet by linking to them here.

gpg4win is the free and open-source encryption tool for Microsfot Outlook.  Installation is a relatively simple procedure and the end result is that you get an extra menu item, ‘Add Ins’, which has a big ‘encrypt this message’ button on it.  GPGTools is an analogus appliocation for Apple Mail on a Mac. Installation is just as easy—a single click to run the installer—and little ‘encrypt’ and ‘sign’ icons appear alongside the signature icons in a mail compose window. Continue reading

We’re not a Christian nation and those who say we are are mistaken and dangerous

A lot of hoo-hah this Easter about David Cameron’s comments that the UK is a Christian country. A group of scientists and writers wrote an angry letter to the Telegraph calling this divisive.

Personally I think Cameron was trolling us—saying something deliberately controversial in order to provoke the liberal left. The European elections are looming, and I would be willing to bet that precisely the sort of people who are drifting from the Conservative Party to UKIP are the sort of people for whom the whole ‘we are a Christian nation’ schtick would resonate. Its a faux culture war in order to shore up the base. Continue reading

rice-820x420

OwnCloud, an open source alternative to DropBox

My previous two posts were about the angst of privileged middle classes. I wrote first about the middle class habit of moving into the catchment area for good schools. Then I excused our tendency to maintain a less-than ethical existence. Untrained eyes could be forgiven for mistaking my motives in writing these posts. Am I not simply trying to assuage my own guilt at doing precisely those things?

Not so. I feel far less guilty about my complicity in all those middle-class clichés than perhaps I should. Rather, both posts were digressions of this one, in which I shall briefly discuss the ethics of Internet apps.

Continue reading

Let them eat cake

In my quick post yesterday I touched on the trade-offs between self-interest and ethical living, and the middle-class pull to buy the best environment for one’s family. The modern Western lifestyle throws up anxieties like this all the time, because it turns out that pretty much everything we do is (on some level) unethical or hypocritical.  Travelling to the shop in a car certainly harms the enivronment.  Buying food when you get there will create landfill.  Organic food is not Fair Trade, and vice-versa. Continue reading

invincible

Invincible

Over the weekend I went to see Invincble at the Orange Tree in Richmond, a new play by Torben Betts.  Its the kind of theatre I prefer: intimiate scenes in-the-round, teasing apart something relevant about contemporary life.

This one centres on an upper middle-class couple, Oliver and Emily, with a tragedy in their past and an warped sense of social responsibility.  They have chosen to live among ‘ordinary’ people in the North of England.  Rather than live in a middle-class ghetto and contribute to the extortionate London housing bubble, they profess a desire to improve this community.  Emily plans to become a school governor and says she is setting up an Amnesty group and an artists’ collective. Continue reading