Tuesday, April 30, 2013



In the Land of Blood and Honey Poster.jpgFor some little time now, I have been engaged in re-writing a screenplay—not the movie in the poster--and the task has taken all my energy (and my blood into the bargain). In short, it was exhausting, but also absolutely exhilarating. As far as I am concerned, there are few things more mentally stimulating than a creative writing challenge.

Book authors normally don’t write screenplays—though there are exceptions. The reasons for this are that although both require a creative mind, the writing disciplines are significantly different.

Where a book is concerned, a writer is much less constrained. Length is much less of an issue, technical constraints are minimal, and—above all—you can get inside your character’s minds and allow access to their thought processes so you have vastly more freedom.

Screenwriting requires another approach entirely. On the one hand, you have the great advantage that the various media are visual, but you are limited in length to roughly a page a screen minute, production and cost constraints have to be factored in, and, overall, you have remarkably little time in which to develop your characters and tell your story. Screenwriting is the Twitter of the creative writing business.

Movies are much more of an illusion than we generally realize. Much less happens, even in a complex movie, than one thinks.

Is my work on the screenplay finished? Not a bit of it. True, I have now got a very acceptable draft, but there are still some issues that have to be resolved—and I know I can make it better.

That said, I’ll do a better job if I step away from it for a week or so, and then approach it with fresh eyes. Perspective is a wonderful thing, and time brings perspective.

Book-writing or screenwriting? Which do I prefer?

I think I’ll keep that a secret for the time being.

P.S. By the way, I recommend IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY—if you have a strong stomach. It’s really quite an achievement by Angelina Jolie who not only wrote it, but produced and directed it as well. It brings home the horrors of what happened in Bosnia like nothing else I have ever scene. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful, deeply upsetting movie which deserved to do much better than it did. And it is about as different from a classic Hollywood movie as can be imagined.

Personally, my tastes are pretty catholic—I love virtually any good movie—but I wish more serious, issue-based, thought-provoking movies were made.



Monday, April 29, 2013




I wrote some time ago that no one does anything alone—even if they think they do. There is almost always a support system of some type or other—even if unsung and little known.

Despite the fact that writing is essentially a solitary activity—or my kind of writing is—I still don’t do what I do entirely alone. I have the support of my fans and a few close friends. My family is somewhat divided. Some of my siblings are supportive. My children, in the main, are not. Families are complicated things.

I would like to think I would continue even if I had no support—and I probably would—but, fortunately, I have never had to make such a decision. On the contrary, I have been much blessed. I find it hard to express how much that means to me.

When you reach my age, time has a particular significance. One’s remaining days are clearly limited and time, itself, seems to pass at a faster pace. On the other hand, as if to compensate, life seems to be more intense, more fulfilling. I can’t speak for my peers in that regard, but that is certainly how I feel.

Time has a particular significance for book writers, largely because books, generally speaking, take so long to write. On the one hand your brain is full of ideas and yet you know—if you are realistic—that you won’t have the time to accomplish all you wish; or even come close. Such thoughts evoke a bitter-sweet feeling—plus wry amusement because fundamental to being a good creative writer is never to run of ideas. To have written every book one’s imagination can conceive strikes me as descending into hell.

My personal compromise is to accept the fact that I will die gloriously unfulfilled—after an adventure filled life—but to leave behind an acceptable body of work. Posterity is not high on my list of concerns.

Arising from discussion about time, I was warned to look out for  a package. I expected a calendar or similar. The package contained an excellent Swiss Legend watch featuring capabilities I shall doubtless spend the rest of my life mastering.

I was, and remain, bowled over. It is an exceptionally thoughtful gift of great symbolic significance apart from its practical value. I feel an exceptionally fortunate man.

Time to increase my operational tempo.






Sunday, April 28, 2013



We writers, because we are communicators, have made it part of the stuff legend that writers are treated abominably in Hollywood.

I’m not sure the establishment of that truth has improved our situation but, at least, it makes us feel better. Besides, pretty much everybody is treated abominably in Hollywood at some time or other.

I read part of it all the way through.

Sam Goldwyn

Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.

Marilyn Monroe

The ladder of success in Hollywood is usually a press agent, actor, director, producer, leading man; and you are a star if you sleep with each of them in that order. Crude, but true.

Hedy Lamarr

You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer's heart.

Fred Allen

File:AlexanderPoster.jpgIn my opinion, some of the most neglected people in the movie business are casting directors. If casting is wrong—no matter how good the screenplay and directing—the movie just won’t work.

A good example of that was the disastrous selection of COLIN FARRELL in Oliver Stone’s movie ALEXANDER.

In contrast, consider the min-series ROME where everyone just looked and felt right—even when the casting was unconventional.

Casting is not just a matter of picking stereotypes. It requires an extra dimension—a very special kind of judgment which seems vastly less common in U.S. TV than in American movies.

Fundamentally, it is impossible for a writer to see his vision realized if the casting is wrong. I am a huge admirer of casting directors who have the sensitivity and experience to get it right time after time after time. One example is Lyn Stalmaster whose track record is just plain awesome.

Good casting directors are just that.




Saturday, April 27, 2013



File:UlzanasRaid.jpgI enjoy a good movie from any time and place, but I seem to particularly enjoy a raft of U.S. movies made in the Seventies. Doubtless, there were many bad movies made then too—but I seem to remember only the good ones; and there were many of them.

Was there any particular reason for this? I don’t know the answer to that. I suspect it might have had much to do with the decline of the studio system, the presence of some amazing talent who now had creative control—and a particular style of direction that emphasized story ahead of gimmickry. And digital special effects were not yet in vogue.

It may also have had to do with a whole bunch of movie-makers who learned their trade in the late thirties and Forties—who were at their prime in the Seventies. But that is just theorizing.

I pay close attention to such movies because there is a great deal to learn from them—and the best of them have superb screenplays. ULZANA’S RAID is a case in point. It has an impressively tight screenplay by Alan Sharp, was directed by Robert Aldrich, and stars Burt Lancaster.

It’s the very model of a fine Western—and good movie-making.

I figured I owed myself a treat.



Friday, April 26, 2013



Perhaps I exaggerate slightly—although I was eating blueberries (I regard them as a magic food) but it is quite true to say that I suddenly realized that all my best vacations/foreign trips had been on foot. There was no particular context to this insight. It just hit me with the subtlety of a brick.

Hell of a way to wake up.

It wasn’t a deliberate strategy—cars are useful—but the fact is that you are more in tune with your environment, and with people, when you are primarily foot mobile. It’s hard to notice things when you are on a freeway travelling at 75 miles an hour in a sealed metal box. It’s also hard to get to know the rest of the human race when in that condition.

And it is the job of a writer to observe and to empathize—while remaining discretely aloof.

The following have been some of my best walking experiences (multiple trips in most cases):


I am not innately anti-mechanical. Show me a helicopter—and I’m your man.

I’ve seen great deal of the U.S. bit, oddly enough, have never been on a walking trip here—unless you count New York. Perhaps one should count New York—I have walked endless miles there.

Mind you, I’m proud to say I arrived—for the very first time in New York—by helicopter.




Thursday, April 25, 2013



File:Catch-22 poster.jpgOne of the commonest statements made about movies adapted from books is: “The book was better.”

It’s a reaction that irritates me greatly. I have always thought that you have to judge each medium on its own terms—and not compare them. They are different experiences.

A good example of this is CATCH-22. The book is a work of genius—though contains passages I found quite boring. In contrast, the movie is consistently entertaining but doesn’t—and shouldn’t—contain all the complexity of the book.

Which is the better? It’s not a helpful question.

Having cut and re-written extensively, I’m currently reaching the stage where I’m asking: What can I do in the movie that couldn’t be done in the book—and will it help the movie?

I’m not sure I’ll find the answers, but I’m confident I’m asking the right questions.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013



File:Easter rising 1916.jpgIt makes no sense at all to work ridiculously late—because writing when tired is never a good idea, and you end up exhausted the following day. Nonetheless, I plead guilty to such foolishness. In fact, I have worked to beyond 3.00 am twice (so far) this week—and late practically every evening.

Why so? Well, at a certain point—if you are lucky—you really get the hang of a project, understand it in all its complexity, and know what to do; and when such a magic time arrives, it is hard to let go. Your creative juices are flowing and you know that period of insight will pass. But, if you don’t get enough sleep, there are consequences.

Damn stupid? Damn right!

Still, it is vastly satisfying to be making such progress. I just hope I can keep it up until my screenplay revision is finished—or this phase is. I say “phase” because screenplays have a habit of being re-written near endlessly—and not always for good reasons.

File:Mauser C96 M1916 Red 4.JPGSpeaking of weapons—which we weren’t—I’d like to add a footnote to yesterday’s remarks about the Broomhandle Mauser.

In 1916, a small group of the Irish rebelled against the British in an attempt to end the British occupation of Ireland. As part of that rebellion, the Irish seized various buildings around Dublin. One, in Dublin itself, commanded the principal route from the port of Kingstown to the city center (see extreme right of above graphic). The Irish garrison nunbered only 17, but many were armed with Broomhandle Mausers.

They were opposed by the Sherwood Forresters, and other troops—over 1,000. In the subsequent combat, the Irish lost two dead. Sherwood Forrester casualties, either dead or wounded, came to a staggering 240.

I’ve never shot one, but I have had the privilege of examining one in a private collection some decades ago. It’s a fascinating weapons which just feels right in your hand. It’s dominating feature, apart from its long barrel, is the fact the the magazine is in front of the pistol grip. To load it, you push down on the stripper clip, the clip falls away, and the rounds enter the magazine. It’s a rapid process.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013



File:Mauser C96 M1916 Red 9 7.JPGYears ago, when I was seriously interested in photography and thought of going professional (it remains an interest) I yearned for the latest and greatest gadget—and devoured photography magazines in search of them.

After a while I learned that I was better off mastering the equipment I had to the point where it became intuitive—and only adding new technology when I really, really needed it. In sum, it is better to really know the tools of your trade than to have the latest and greatest—or such is my view based upon my own experience. And you save a fortune on magazines.

I hold much the same view where software is concerned—though, generally speaking I upgrade after a suitable interval.

I have been using FINAL DRAFT 6 for this screenplay rewrite and it is working just fine. True, FINAL DRAFT 8 is available—and it does have some potentially useful features like the ability to highlight from within the program—but FD 6 is currently all I need. It’s an excellent program, by the way, and is pretty much the industry standard.

Will it make you a better screenwriter? Sadly, no—but it will ensure that your presentation looks professional.

Is there any software which will improve your writing?

Actually, I read that we have now reached the stage where some computer programs can generate quite acceptable prose—though I have never seen one in action. Frankly, I find that a depressing development.

However, I am much in favor of spelling, punctuation and grammar checkers—and use them where possible.

I have included a photo of a “BROOM HANDLE MAUSER” in this blog because it features in the screenplay I’m working on, and because it is a fascinating weapon. Over a million were made. With the wooden shoulder-stock detached, it was a fast-firing semi-automatic pistol. With the wooden stuck (which also served as a holster) attached, it was an extremely accurate carbine. The official designation was the MAUSER C96

The stripper clip held ten rounds and the original weapons was chambered for the powerful 7.63×25mm Mauser cartridge--which was the highest velocity commercially manufactured pistol cartridge until the advent of the .357 Magnum cartridge in 1935.




Monday, April 22, 2013



Cutting a book or a screenplay is relatively easy—especially with a computer. You just highlight what you want to cut and hit DELETE. Alternatively, you use STRIKETHOUGH or just highlight the cuts (so that you can change your mind). I generally use DELETE because I don’t cut without a great deal of thought—and then I think you must move on.

It is rare that cutting does not have consequences—which tend to require re-writing (frequently extensive unless you are lucky). This is hard work because you have to think through the logic of the story, keep it in your mind, and compensate for any differences. I used to hate this kind of work but now I love it—partly because it is so demanding.

It can feel terrible to cut your own words—words that were hard won and represented the best you could do at the time—but one of my great discoveries has been that, these days,  my re-writing tends to be better.

That is not always the case. It’s all to easy to overwrite—but the best solution to that is to keep up momentum so that you don’t obsess over a single paragraph or page. You move on even if only to meet your daily word count. In my case, I have set that at 2,000 words a day when doing original writing. I don’t have a fixed standard when it comes to editing and re-writing. What I can say is that it tends to take longer than one would think, and to be very intense. But it is also enjoyable because of the challenge.

I’m just in the process of making the transition from cutting to re-writing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013




File:Exécution de Marie Antoinette le 16 octobre 1793.jpgHaving been on the receiving end all too often where books are concerned, I truly hate the automatic tendency of editors to cut.

Many seem to feel editing is cutting—and it isn’t. Editing is helping the writer to be as good as he can be—and that is a very complex process which has, arguably, more to do with empathy than anything else.

Where a screenplay is involved, the ground rules are different. Here length is critical with a page of screenplay per minute of screen-time being the industry standard. Maximum normal length is 120 minutes so your screenplay has to come in at close to that. It can overshoot a little, but not by much.

Why so? Well, apart from anything else, the kind of people you want to attract to what is a collaborative process tend not to read overly long screenplays. They are regarded as the mark of an amateur.

Unfair? Quite possibly—but competition is intense and the winnowing process is not subtle.

The screenplay I am working on started off at 200 pages. I have no choice but to cut.


Saturday, April 20, 2013




The whole question of character development is vastly important. If people act out of character, that tends to strain credibility.

On the other hand, they cannot be allowed to become boringly predictable—and, where the main protagonists are concerned, they must evolve.

Balancing all that is no easy task—but it is something a screenwriter must do in very limited screenplay and screen time. Let me emphasize the word “limited.’ In a book, a character can agonize for pages. In a movie, you are dependent on the visual and very limited dialog.

There are also casting limits. You may well not know who is likely to be cast when writing the screenplay, but if the stars have been decided, your flexibility is decidedly limited. The audience has expectations of stars and rarely like to see them acting against type.

Mind you, some actors are so talented they defy the conventions, but most stay within one (albeit flexible) screen image—even if they are capable of more. Where Meryl Streep is concerned, all bets are off. This is one phenomenally versatile actress.

Writers have all kinds of techniques for dealing with their characters. A classic one is to write up their background in great detail and get to know them that way. It works for many.

Where I am concerned, my mind tends—after a short period of time—to think of my characters as real people. In that context, I tend to think about my characters a great deal and often wonder what they would do in a given situation—and frequently an ordinary one at that.

Do this day after day, month after month, and your characters—as far as your mind is concerned—become as familiar as close friends.

Start worrying when you can’t tell the difference.






Friday, April 19, 2013



There is a marvelous piece in  BrainPickings on the importance of finding a fulfilling occupation.

The article made me think about what life must be like if what you do doesn’t fulfill you. It seems a pretty terrible way to spend one’s life.

I have never been entirely sure whether I picked writing or it picked me—I suspect the latter. What I can say is that I made a conscious decision to leave a job that was secure and well paid for an occupation I knew would be financially hazardous in the extreme—and I have never regretted that decision (despite the very real financial insecurities, and more than a little disapproval).

Enough of me. Let me list a few quotes from the BrainPickings article. Best to read the full thing if you can.

The desire for fulfilling work – a job that provides a deep sense of purpose, and reflects our values, passions and personality – is a modern invention. … For centuries, most inhabitants of the Western world were too busy struggling to meet their subsistence needs to worry about whether they had an exciting career that used their talents and nurtured their wellbeing. But today, the spread of material prosperity has freed our minds to expect much more from the adventure of life.

"Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies," wrote Albert Camus. Finding work with a soul has become one of the great aspirations of our age. … We have to realize that a vocation is not something we find, it's something we grow – and grow into.

It is common to think of a vocation as a career that you somehow feel you were "meant to do." I prefer a different definition, one closer to the historical origins of the concept: a vocation is a career that not only gives you fulfillment – meaning, flow, freedom – but that also has a definitive goal or a clear purpose to strive for attached to it, which drives your life and motivates you to get up in the morning.

Never have so many people felt so unfulfilled in their career roles, and been so unsure what to do about it. Most surveys in the West reveal that at least half the workforce are unhappy in their jobs. One cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. In the United States, job satisfaction is at its lowest level – 45 per cent – since record-keeping began over two decades ago.

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.

Well, there is much more, but the above should give you a flavor. But let close with a quote I particularly like.

What man actually needs is not some tension-less state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.

From Viktor Frankl's famous treatise on the meaning of life:

Regarding that last quote, I agree completely. As for the illustration, it is, of course, of Albert Camus—one of my literary heroes.



Thursday, April 18, 2013



The screenplay I’m working on was adapted from a fairly long book. That meant some fairly drastic cutting was required. But cutting—particularly on that scale—has consequences.

The consequences tend to include the introduction of characters. In a book, introducing a character is relatively easy because you are not constrained by space and can include people’s thoughts.

Where a screenplay is concerned, the problem is much more difficult—and yet characters cannot just pop out of nowhere (though they often do—especially in bad movies). There has to be, or should be, some rationale, some context.

The best conversion of a book into a movie—that I can recall offhand—concerned turning Leo Tolstoy’s WAR & PEACE into a movie. That meant turning about 1,200 pages of book (depending upon the edition) into about 140 pages of screenplay—and a pretty good movie. Actually I saw the movie before I read the book, and fell in love with Audrey Hepburn then and there. I was eleven or twelve at the time.

Currently, I’m encountering linkage issues in the screenplay, and one character has been eliminated completely. What to do?

Right at this moment, I have absolutely no ideas—but the great thing about writing is that the impossible is normally solvable after a good night’s sleep or a long walk.

Or I can run screaming into the darkness…

Wednesday, April 17, 2013




What this graphic shows is the fact that during the period of the recovery (debatable in itself) in question—2009-2011—the worth of Americans increased by $5 trillion.

That would seem reasonable—even encouraging—unless you examine the data. It shows that the bottom 93 percent of the population (which means most of us) actually lost $0.6 trillion.

Meanwhile, the top 7 percent of the population gained $5.56 trillion.

The economic structure of the U.S. is stacked against the mass of the population in a myriad of ways—most of which started in the early Seventies. Most of us are getting poorer. Many are getting much poorer. 47 million plus are now on food stamps. Poverty is rife.

The Big Banks are thriving. Corporate profits are at record levels. Labor’s share of GDP—the National Cake—is steadily being forced down.

Quite why there is no popular outcry about all this is  matter of some wonder. It is not a sustainable situation.

And now I’ll get back to my screenplay.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013



As you may know by now—if you read the blog fairly regularly—one of my deep interests, apart from writing thrillers, is economics. Thriller writing and economics strikes many people as an odd mix—but, in fact, Economics was my major at university and, if anything, my interest in it has increased over the years.

Relax! It’s a relatively harmless addiction though I will admit it soaks up a fair amount of my time. But I don’t play golf, so what the hell!

I had thought I was alone in my eccentricity but recently I have learned that the economics columnist of the Seattle Times, John Talton, is a well regarded writer of detective stories.

I first ran across John Talton on the radio talking more sense on the economy than most. That piqued my interest, but it took a number of snatches of interviews before I caught his name—and decided to investigate. What I can say is that he is a thoroughly entertaining interviewee with a appealing sense of humor who has no less than ten books to his credit.

Yes, I did say ten published books—while keeping up his day job. The man puts me to shame.

No, I haven’t read any of his books yet—largely because  I didn’t even know his name—but if he writes as well as he talks and blogs, I do not expect to be disappointed.

He blogs at http://www.roguecolumnist.typepad.com

Now to get back to my screenplay. You have heard the expression: “The fog of war”—of course you have. Well, these is also a stage in assessing a manuscript which one might describe as: “The fog of words.” Then the fog begins to clear and suddenly you know where you are going.

I’m beginning to reach that stage. Exciting!

Monday, April 15, 2013




Most people call the CIA “THE” CIA. Those who work for that famously warm-hearted institution, or who otherwise are associated with it, refer to it merely as “CIA.” Along with the secret handshake, it is a sign that you are an insider—one of the guys or gals.

Every specialized area has its routines and rituals (and some are extremely weird). The military excel at such arcane behavior, but the computer industry may come a close second. “Boot up” a computer? Ridiculous—but there it is.

One of the subtlest secret signals concerns binding a screenplay. Here you are submitting a work of genius—your genius, needless to say—and it is ignored!

Why so? Well, that will teach you to not to know that even though you are binding three-hole paper, the cognoscenti know you only use two brads—one at the top and 0ne at the bottom.

Alex Epstein’s book (see graphic) will guide you through all this. The following is an example of his excellent work:

Screenplays should be on 3-hole 20 lb. plain white paper, bound with two 1 1/4" brass brads (ideally Acco #5 Brass Fasteners), with brass washers in back, and card stock covers. You should be able to get brads (aka "brass fasteners") at larger office supply stores such as Office Depot, or from Amazon. You can also get brass washers from them.

Why two brads and not three? Because you only need two to bind a script, one each in the top and bottom holes, and when you're making thousands of script copies a week, as the studios and agencies do, the cost and time of putting in an unnecessary middle brad adds up.

Don't use 3" brads (too long) or those skimpy #7 brads (they don't hold the script together). A few people use aluminum screw brads ("Chicago screws"), but it's not normal, and they tend to be slightly too long for 120 pages. Please never use those funny folding metal strips with sliders to bind the script. Personally, I like to take the bottom brad out when reading so I can flop the pages over. That's impossible with metal strips. Don't spiral-bind your script either. If we like your script we're going to run it through a copy machine so multiple people can read it. Ever tried to re-bind a spiral-bound script by hand?

Flatten the points of the brads back against the back of the script so they won't catch on people's clothes. Bashing the brads with a hammer will accomplish this nicely if you have brass washers; otherwise, fold each brad point backwards on itself, and then flatten them with a hammer.

Covers should be card stock, i.e. 80 lb paper. Any copy shop should have card stock. They can probably punch the top and bottom holes in them for you, too. Don't use clear plastic covers. For extra credit, use pre-creased 9 1/2 x 11" covers that fold over and cover the points of the brads. My printer (L.A. Print & Copy, (310) 445 3200), made fold-over covers for me out of my chosen card stock. Maybe they'd make some for you?


Sunday, April 14, 2013



Captain Blood.jpegMarvelous to be back working with words again. Mind you, there are surprisingly few words in a screenplay.

You may have a page a minute – say 100-120 for a feature film – but the layout of each page is such that you just cannot fit in that many words. DIALOG, for instance, is written in a slim column to distinguish it from ACTION which is set much wider. I guess that is a gentle hint. Long conversations are rare things in movies. Film is a visual medium.

Yes, we all know that intellectually, but if one is a book-writer, it feels—at first—if you have put your head on backwards. Fortunately, I have a highly visual mind for which I give many thanks. Also, I have been a movie addict from the age of about four. If my mother wanted to go shopping (or whatever) she would dump me in a news theater where I would watch the same program again and again—without the benefit of popcorn or anything similar. This was just after WW II and rationing was still in progress.

I can still remember the first two feature movies I saw. One was THE THIN MAN and the other was THE CHRONICLES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD with Errol Flynn. I was completely fascinated by the latter and couldn’t imagine anything more exciting. Of course, I hadn’t discovered reading at that stage. Or women, now I think of it.

ACTION does not necessarily mean violence (although it is scarcely rare). Instead, it covers the visual aspect—what the camera has to convey. That covers a multitude—everything from mood to movement—yet you have very limited space at your disposal.

You have to train yourself to write tightly—and that the director will have the talent and vision to follow through.

Writing a screenplay can be rough on the ego. Typically, a book author hogs most of the glory (if there is any). Where a movie is concerned, though the screenplay is the foundation of the whole enterprise, the writer becomes disposable once the screenplay is delivered—and it may even be re-written multiple times. The glory goes to the stars and the director.

By the way, the Captain Blood movie featured a hanging—an image which has stayed with me ever since. Little did I know that a real hanging was subsequently to play such a significant role in my life.

Saturday, April 13, 2013



Final Draft #1 SellingI have now been in my new home for two weeks and I’m settling in surprisingly well. I don’t have everything organized quite the way I want it, but at least I now know what I want to do, and what I’m likely to need.

Next action will be to tackle a screenplay that needs revising and shortening. Here my first move will be to break the thing down into scenes and summarize each one. The classic way of doing this is on index cards, but I have no problem in cutting and pasting in Word so that is what I will use initially. Later on, for the writing itself, I’ll use FINAL DRAFT which is pretty much the industry standard. That said, there other screenwriting programs or one can use SCRIVENER which has a screenwriting mode.

SCRIVENER comes highly recommended and costs only $40, and is on my list to try out – but I hate parting from tools I know well, much as a soldier prefers a familiar  weapon.

I have seen editors, red pencil in hand, whip through manuscripts at a rate of knots – pouncing on each suspect word, phrase and sentence with sadistic intensity (all editors have a sadistic side). Personally, I tend to work in a series of iterations and my first read-through is more to answer the fundamental question: Does it work? I’ll then go though the screenplay as many times as is necessary, marking it up as I go.

I’m quite excited about getting to work on this project. Moving has been all very well, but I feel the urge to get back to work. Also, I’d like to pay my dues. It was thanks to a movie connection that led to finding my present location.

Friday, April 12, 2013




It is nothing new to say we have an extraordinarily expensive system which not only fails to cover something like 40 million Americans, but also has severe quality problems. At its best, it is the best—which is wonderful (if you can afford it). For most people it does not show up too well compared to other developed nations. When it comes to longevity, we do not fare well—and we tend to be sicker that the populations of other nations as we age. In short, not only do Americans have shorter lives, but the quality of those lives is not what it might be.

Why is this? Healthcare deficiencies are not the only cause—lifestyle choices, the poor quality of our food, and environmental pollution are factors—but healthcare is still a serious cause for concern.

We know all this—it is certainly publicized well enough—and yet we seem incapable of doing anything about it. As with so many other issues, the richest nation in the world—famous for its “can do” attitude—seems caught in the greed of vested interests.

Recently I ran across some graphics which ram home just how out of line we are. In cost terms alone, it is a horror story.

What is particularly striking is just how out of line U.S. costs are. The differences are so extreme—even compared to high cost European countries like Switzerland—that it is hard not to suppress the feeling that something is very wrong; that greed, both corporate and personal, has got completely out of hand.

By the way, these graphs come from a commendable site called Priceonomics.com There are many more graphs on the Priceeconomics site and they make chilling reading.







Coincidentally, an excellent article by Jeffrey Pfeffer appeared in the Business Week of May 10 2013. He places the blame on the administrative costs imposed by insurance companies. I doubt that he is entirely right--there are other culprits ranging from over-priced drugs to for-profit hospitals—but he is certainly partially right.

The following is an extract from his article.

More than 20 years ago, two Harvard professors published an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine showing that health-care administration cost somewhere between 19 percent and 24 percent of total spending on health care and that this administrative burden helped explain why health care costs so much in the U.S. compared, for instance, with Canada or the United Kingdom. An update of that analysis more than a decade later, after the diffusion of managed care and the widespread adoption of computerization, found that administration constituted some 30 percent of U.S. health-care costs and that the share of the health-care labor force comprising administrative (as opposed to care delivery) workers had grown 50 percent to constitute more than one of every four health-sector employees.

Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of 13 books, including his latest, Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don't (HarperCollins, 2010).

Thursday, April 11, 2013





It is extremely satisfying to create a home—no matter how modest. Though my personal circumstances were decidedly spartan while at my expensive boarding schools—which enforced the notion that hardship and discipline build character—I was exposed to considerable luxury both while growing up, and afterwards when I was in business armed with a generous expense account. Nonetheless, I have gradually grown to want less and less in material terms. Also, I have stayed in too many expensive hotels, and eaten in far too many overpriced restaurants, to regard them as luxury.

This hasn’t stemmed from any conscious philosophy—or religious conversion—but more from the realization that the main focus of my life is writing, and that anything which distracts from that is almost certainly unnecessary. Having time to myself to write—now that really is luxury.

It is also salutary to have to go through the belongings of someone who has died—as I have done twice in the last few years. Somehow, as you mourn the person who has passed on, material possessions seem trivial.

This isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate nice things. It is much more a feeling that I don’t need them. I admire works of art and fine craftsmanship, but if someone else wants to own them—providing I have reasonable access to some of them, so I can keep my artistic sensibilities exercised—that’s fine by me.

I make an exception where my work is concerned. There I like to be as well equipped as I need, and can afford. I also like to be reasonably comfortable.

That phrase reminds me of the story of a British Army officer who even when sleeping in the field, in a trench, insisted on sleeping in silk pajamas. If necessary, he would wear his uniform over them, but he always insisted on changing into them before closing his eyes. When asked about this eccentricity, he commented: “Any fool can be uncomfortable.” He was killed in the endless battle of Monte Cassino—and was buried in his silk pajamas. True story? Supposedly yes—but if it is not, it should be.

My friend Tim has just tend me a particularly cheering quote.

"Saints are sinners who kept on going."

--Robert Louis Stevenson,
Scottish novelist, poet and essayist

How encouraging!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


US Army insignia

US Army insignia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Back in the Nineties, I had the honor of spending considerable time with various U.S. Army units as part of research for various books. It was, without question, one of the best times of my life. The weapons and technologies were fascinating, but what made it were the people—the soldiers.

They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things to keep us safe. I found that a sobering thought. These people were prepared to die for us if necessary—and die they do—for us.  If you pause to think about it, such a sacrifice is breathtaking.

When I was in the Mojave Desert, watching a brigade of 3ID (Mechanized) maneuver their tanks, and my guide, BG Dale Nelson commented to me: “You have got to love soldiers,” I could not but agree.

Somehow, the Army—though far from a perfect institution (it is human after all, though generals will deny the fact) seems to be able to attract some particularly fine human beings and then to develop them to their fullest potential. In that context, I have always liked the old Army slogan: “Be all you can be.” It conveys the essential truth of the matter. It trains people to do the remarkable under any and all conditions with stoic good humor in a way the civilian world largely does not.

Specialist Ricardo Cerros Jr. made a point of living up to that slogan. His photograph is above, and well demonstrates the American soldier at his best—together with the humor and camaraderie which are two of the most attractive aspects of Army life.

Ricardo, a man with a phenomenal work ethic, was someone who pushed himself to the limit—and beyond. While at school, he served for four years in the Navy’s Junior ROTC, he excelled academically at UC Irvine and he gained a black belt in taekwondo. His friend, Mike Clark described him as “Just a ball of energy.”

After graduation in 2009, he joined the Army and eventually made his way to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—one of the most storied units in the U.S. Army and extremely hard to get into. Beyond that, the operational tempo of the Rangers is quite extraordinary. Their talents are at a premium. Currently, they are much used on raids in Afghanistan—going after high value targets and generally keeping the enemy confused and on the defensive. Though relatively few in number, they excel at this extremely dangerous task, as at many others. They also jump out of perfectly good aircraft.

Ricardo was killed on October 8 2012 during a firefight in Afghanistan’s Logar province south of Kabul. He was 24. It was his first deployment.

“Spc. Ricardo Cerros was incredibly talented and a well respected member of this battalion,” said Lt. Col. David Hodne, Commander of 2nd Bn., 75th Ranger Regiment.  “He was a warrior who lost his life while fighting courageously alongside his fellow Rangers.  We will honor his service to our country and never forget his sacrifice.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the Cerros family.”

When I look at Ricardo’s photograph, I found it hard not to be moved by his humor and vitality, and be much saddened by his death. But, he was doing what he loved to do while wearing the uniform of an extraordinary regiment. It was a noble death, a righteous passing. He died with honor for his country and will long be remembered.

He and his family deserve both our thoughts and our thanks.

Cerros is survived by his father Ricardo Cerros Sr. and stepmother Deborah A. Cerros of Salinas, Calif. and his mother Maqueirte D. Cuevas of Gary, Ind.  He is also survived by his brother Nicholas Cerros, sister Theresa Cerros, and stepbrother Marko Cerros all of Salinas, Calif.

I wish I had met the man. I was asked to write this tribute by a friend, a fellow Ranger—and it is an honor to do so. Now he too is deploying shortly (after numerous previous deployments).

Keep safe, friend. Keep safe, guys.

You are America’s finest. I salute you all.




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Tuesday, April 9, 2013



The illustration is the logo of the Flat Earth Society—but, of course, you knew that.

File:FESlogo.gifNo, I haven’t suddenly lost it—as best I can determine. I’m merely writing about my obsession with flat surfaces; and how this eccentricity tends to give me a very particular outlook on life.

Yes, I did consider using the word ‘peculiar’ instead of ‘particular, but, fundamentally, I believe my concerns are rational (in the context of being a writer).

For instance, if I enter a room and there happens to be a Van Gogh on the wall—and I like the man’s work—I will give it scant attention until I have scoured the room for flat surfaces. Whereupon I will try and work out how to steal it. Mind you, I’m not preoccupied with just any kind of flat surface. Primarily, I tend to look for tables or desks which I can use to write on—and shelving for books, files, and papers. I do this even if I am adequately provided for at home. One never knows. Writing is scarcely a stable occupation.

It is an unusual obsession, I will grant you, but I submit it is entirely reasonable in the context of my profession. We writers need such things—and the world—shame on it—does not seem to appreciate that fact. Indeed, where such resources do exist, they are frequently wrong in some way. Tables are set at the kind of heights which will give you terminal back ache. Shelves are designed for china ornaments or not adjustable. If I was king I would make it a crime to own shelves which were not adjustable to varying book heights; and people who produced wobbly tables would be shot frequently and often.

I loathe, hate and detest wobbly tables, and am amazed how many of them there are. In fact, whenever I encounter a table or desk—say in Office Depot while buying paper—I normally check out the flat surfaces in the furniture department and tend to be thoroughly depressed at what I find. We live in a wobbly world. This fact may explain a great deal.

Do you know I wrote much of my first book, GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, with the aid of an oak coffin lid? It was agreeably solid, stable, and flat.

Death may have its downside, but it doesn’t appear to be wobbly.

Monday, April 8, 2013




I’m a believer that the answers to most of the problems that this country faces are out there, but we don’t solve them—or even try to solve them—in most cases because:

  • The assumption is that the American Way is always best—even if the facts flatly contradict such a viewpoint.
  • Despite possessing many remarkably talented people—the track record of American innovation is extraordinary—as a nation, we are just not intellectually curious; and we certainly are not internationally oriented. The U.S. Government may want to police the world on behalf of American business, but most Americans are internally focused.
  • As a culture, we are notoriously poor with languages. This makes it much harder to study what other countries are up to in any detail.
  • Ideology dominates our political system to the exclusion of consideration of factual evidence. Here, statements like: “Private enterprise is always better than government” simply fly in the face of the evidence. It may, indeed, be better under some circumstances. Under others, it may be a great deal worse (look no further than reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan). Also, much as there is contrast between well run corporations and badly run corporations, there is a vast difference between effective government and inefficient government.

Following this theme through, and limiting this exercise to a small number of fundamental areas, I have been trying to work out which country—or group of countries—does what best. The categories I have chosen are relatively small in number, but they cover the majority of the essentials.



This was set up with the help of American expertise and shows what could be done if we adopted a single payer system and designed it from scratch. In brief, it offers a very high level of service at half the cost of the current U.S. system.



The Finnish system is drastically different to the American—and yet year after year it delivers superior results. Yet, if anything, we are evolving in the opposite direction. The U.S. system is authoritarian and test oriented. The Finnish system is focused on encouraging the student to develop at his or her own pace, allows great flexibility and depends on outstanding teachers.



This a heavily qualified judgment because though U.S. universities, at their best, seem to be the best in the world, many universities and colleges seem to be little more than mediocre—and there are serious concerns about the private sector. Add in the student debt issue—now up to a trillion dollars—and the dropout rate—and there is serious cause for concern. Quite how is a good thing to launch each generation laden with debt?



This crown used to go to the U.S. automatically but we have lost considerable ground over the last few decades. Various reasons have been put forward: Short-term thinking by U.S. corporations. The poor quality of much of our educational system. The loss of much of our manufacturing base together with the innovation that goes with manufacturing.

An additional point is that, since WW II, much innovation in the U.S. has had its roots in government initiatives. However, since government investment has been cut back since the Reagan administrations, the effects have rippled through the entire economy.

Generally speaking—subject to notable exceptions like Google—large corporations are risk averse. Faced between delivering poor quarterly results and cutting back on research, research invariably suffers.


Here, I don’t know the answer, but I would like to because housing is so fundamental to our quality of life. What I can say is that it is not the U.S. Additionally, it is virtually certain that the most cost effective system includes significant government involvement.

Singapore, for instance, whose economic performance has been astonishing, made a point of ensuring all its population was properly housed from the beginning.



Compare the U.S. and Israeli defense budgets and weep. The Israelis get so much more for their money, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

The U.S. has evolved the most expensive way of making war in the world. This benefits the deeply corrupt Military Industrial Congressional Complex and provides well paid retirement jobs for generals and other senior officers, but it is highly questionable if it serves the national interest. Consider also that we have bases throughout the world (over 1,000) and troops in something like 150 countries. How exactly does such a bloated structure really serve the U.S.?



It is popular to denigrate Europe at present, but much of the EU (and associated countries) actually work extremely well. This region includes Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. You can argue about France—which remains highly successful in some areas. I would normally include the UK, which is a highly developed economy, but its current austerity policies are proving to be questionable. Still, let’s include it.

The point here is that the total population of the above countries is roughly that of the U.S. Accordingly, the argument that something which works in Europe wouldn’t work in the U.S. because America is so much larger in population terms is specious.



Europe uses half the energy we do on a per capita basis and is highly advanced in developing renewable resources. In addition, massive investment in rail and public transport in general has paid energy dividends.



Europe made its peace with labor after World War II—ironically with American help. In contrast, the U.S. approach to labor relations is essentially adversarial to the point of active hostility. Worker rights are minimal, benefits such as defined pensions are being dropped, and there is an ongoing and successful campaign against unions. Such management hostility constitutes a significant weakness when it comes to economic development, and there is currently growing evidence that worker dissatisfaction and disillusionment is impacting the economy.



This is a matter of different philosophies. The EU, regardless of political orientation, is committed to a Social Safety Net. Much of the U.S. is not.



Recent research shows that Americans get ill more as they age than other developed nations—and die sooner. Why is this? There is increasing evidence that environmental pollution of various kinds—including pollution of our food chain—may have a great deal to do with it.

In contrast, Europe has been environmentally concerned for decades and environmental regulations are enforced. The results speak for themselves.



Given Europe’s current troubles, this judgment will be considered contentious. However, I am talking about Northern Europe, not Europe as a whole.

It is my belief that an economic system must yield balanced results for the benefit of all the population. The U.S. system is not yielding anything like balanced results. Healthy growth which neglects the welfare of much of the population is not a satisfactory result. Similarly, booming corporate profits coupled with low wages and high unemployment are unacceptable. Further negatives are rising poverty and hunger (which government now refers to as food insufficiency).


Some may regard this piece as negative because it is critical of the U.S. I see it rather differently because its orientation is towards identifying solutions. It would be nice to think we would try some of them. It is depressing to say so, but the likelihood is that we will not.

Experimentation would be a helpful approach. Could the Taiwanese healthcare system work in the U.S? Lets find out by trying it out in a single state.  Would massive investment in transport infrastructure pay off? Lets find out by trying it out in another state—or perhaps we should try regions (as in multiple states).

Above all, it would be a fine thing if we would be willing to place evidence ahead of ideology.

But that does not seem to be the American way.













Sunday, April 7, 2013



Well, I have been in my new home for a week, so am still very much settling in, and catching up with sleep.

Quite how long that process will take, I have no idea—nor am I particularly concerned. Though I have a great deal of work to do, sometimes rest is essential—and this is such a time. I absolutely crave it.

Rest is a relative term, as far as I am concerned, because I still write every day, but it means I temporarily forget about deadlines and things, try and exercise more—and take time off to wander around and browse my local bookstore (and there is one within easy walking distance). If there was sun, I might even sit out in it, but this is Seattle where such pleasures are unpredictable. In many ways that is part of the charm. I rather like Seattle weather. It’s a constant adventure.

The view from my desk through a high-set window is of trees, squirrels, and the sky. Since I have a great weakness for squirrels, love trees and the sky is ever changing,—and endlessly fascinating, I find that very satisfying.

Yesterday, I installed my Dymo LabelWriter—an essential tool for an absent-minded writer. Today, I hope to squeeze in my second screen. My work area—the focal point of practically everything I do these days—is gradually coming together.

This is fun. The bad news is that my internet is not accessible. I have no idea why.

I shall refrain from suicide with difficulty. Not sure it is a good thing to be so dependent on such an umbilical. Not sure I have much of a choice.





Saturday, April 6, 2013



Currently, economists are debating whether our economic problems are cyclical or structural.

By cyclical, they mean are we merely stuck at the wrong place in the business cycle—and matters will improve once a little time passes; because then things will return to normal.

By structural, primarily they mean that there is a mismatch between the qualifications of the unemployed and those desired by employers—an issue which can be resolved by making improvements in education and training.

I hold to the view that our problems are vastly more serious that such a debate implies; and are fundamental. Beyond that, I believe we have been going adrift for decades. One could make a good case that the rot started in the early Seventies.

Yes, I know this is a very serious accusation, but let me put forward some of the evidence. However, first let me define the purpose of an economy—at least as I see it.

An economy is a politically constructed economic system designed to deploy the talents and resources of all concerned to the best advantage of all concerned from the cradle to the grave—whatever be the unit (a county, a region, a state or a nation, or the world as a whole).

If an economic system is not constructed to work to the benefit of ALL, it is corrupt. It doesn’t belong to a predatory elite. It belongs to ‘We the People.’

Now, let me list some of the flaws in the U.S. economic system. In essence it is a stacked deck—and stacked against the average American at that.

  • The legislative structures which devise the economic system are, essentially, owned—politically directed—by an elite. This does not constitute democracy as determined by the Constitution. It is actually plutocracy—rule in the interests of the rich, directly or indirectly by the rich. It should also be said that money has a disproportionate influence on U.S. politics at all times and at all levels. For example, as research shows, it means that congressmen tend to listen to their paymasters ahead of the constituents who voted them in. That means that most Americans, whether they vote or not, are not adequately represented.
  • As a result of a vast amount of legislation passed over the years, the economic system is constructed to favor the rich and the corporations they own. It is tilted against small business and the individual in numerous ways. Look no further than the bank bailout during the Great Recession. The very institutions which caused the problem received the aid—courtesy of the average taxpayer. That is profoundly wrong.
  • Anti-trust legislation has not been enforced. As a consequence, most market sectors are now oligopolies—which means they are dominated by a handful of corporations which collude where necessary.
  • Thanks to numerous deductions and loopholes, corporations no longer pay the share of tax they used to. Many major corporations pay little or no tax at all.
  • Taxes on income earned through direct labor are significantly higher than those earned through capital gains.
  • Government, at various levels, subsidizes major corporations in numerous ways. Its assistance for Small Business is derisory in comparison. Given that Small Businesses are major job creators, that makes no sense.
  • Financial corporations, such as the Big Banks, now have a disproportionate effect on the economy and earn a disproportionate share of corporate profits. They are also disproportionately helped by the government on an ongoing basis. For instance, right now the Federal Reserve is supplying the Big Banks with money at almost no cost—whereas that same policy results in savers getting almost no return from their savings accounts. In fact, if inflation is calculated in—which it should be as it is very real—the typical American saver, who has money in a bank, is actively losing money.
  • The dominance of financial corporations—also known as financialization—has created a debt culture from the individual level to that of national governments. The entire system is structured to get one into debt.
  • Worker rights in the U.S. are minimal compared to other developed countries, and favor corporations. The latter have the power and are pro-active in using it to eliminate and all opposition.
  • Unions have been largely eliminated from the private sector. Whatever one thinks about unions, they have been responsible for most labor rights and the pay rates they have negotiated have had a significant influence on pay rates as a whole. Now that their influence has been reduced so substantially, it is noticeable that pay rates are being driven down.
  • The pay rates of most Americans are currently in decline. In contrast, major cost areas such as health, education, food and gas costs are increasing. Households are trying to maintain their standards of living through debt and cutting back on savings—but that is a slippery slope. The current savings rate is a miserable 2 percent. College debt is roughly $1 trillion—yet well paying jobs for graduates are decidedly scarce.
  • The percentage of GDP going to labor has never been lower.
  • Corporate profits have never been higher, as is the corporate share of GDP.
  • Major corporations have been under-investing in the U.S. for years. Instead they have been outsourcing and investing abroad. The U.S. Tax system encourages such actions.
  • Corporations have been eliminating job security for many years. Beyond that, the defined pension is vanishing rapidly. Alternatives are being hit by excessive charges.
  • The current U.S. economic system either cannot or will not deliver the number of jobs required by the population. In addition, pay is steadily being driven down and such jobs as are being created are largely poorly paid. Meanwhile, corporations are keeping vast sums of money overseas to avoid U.S. taxes.
  • The Middle Class is being hollowed out at a rapid rate. This, in turn, means that demand is dropping because people simply don’t have the money. Falling demand is the antithesis of economic growth.
  • There is increasing evidence of a growing disillusionment with the current economic system by Americans as a whole. This is showing up in polls on job satisfaction, on the way in which many employees carry out their duties, and, above all, in the speed at which Americans are withdrawing from the labor force. They loathe the way they are being treated, and, with good reason, trust neither the political system nor corporate power and influence. People are voting with their feet against the status quo—and it is hard to blame them.

This article is not an attack on capitalism as such. Given the correct legal environment, the free market can be extraordinarily effective. However, what we have here is a major distortion of the free market in favor of the rich and major corporations. We need a reasonable set of rules and a level playing-field.

It is a criticism of corporate power in its present form. Big multinational corporations are, in effect, answerable to no one, have loyalties to no country, regard much of their personnel as inter-changeable and disposable, and have scant sense of social obligation. While paying lip service to shareholder control, primarily they are fiefdoms run for the benefit of the chief executives and their immediate management teams. There are exceptions, but they are just that.

Is it a solvable problem? Theoretically, it certainly is, albeit after a great deal of work. In practice, given the lock that the rich and their corporate interests have on the levers of power, it seems unlikely that the necessary changes will take place until a visionary leader is elected who understands the issues, and who has a Congress which will support him or her. Given the number of gerrymandered districts that are in place—particularly where Republicans are concerned—it is hard to be optimistic over the short term.

The consequences of continuing as we are, are going to be dire. We may have some statistical growth because of the energy boom, and other matters, but growth in GDP—Gross Domestic Product—is of little consolation to most Americans if most of the gains are going to a tiny minority, and the quality of the average American’s life is deteriorating.

In sum, the average American is being right royally screwed.

Given this situation, one might reasonably expect the media to highlight it, and politicians to make it an issue. The media, who are corporately owned do not. They cover fragments of the story, such as the unemployment figures, but fail to join the dots and explain the significance of the totality.

As for our politicians, they too are corporate creatures Accordingly, they, also, focus on fragments—but refuse to articulate the overall picture.

The measurable decline of this Great Nation is a secret hidden in plain sight.







Friday, April 5, 2013




hemingway_how to.jpgAnyone who opts for a creative way of life—being a writer, actor, musician, painter or poet, for instance—is also opting for a life of stress. There is creative stress, which is major just by itself—Can I master my craft to the necessary standard; and then exceed it?—and then there is the stress which comes from the chronic lack of financial stability which goes with the territory—which ripples into all kinds of other problems, particularly where relationships are concerned. It is hard to be a good provider if you are an actor who is out of work most of the time.

Other stresses include the fact that it is almost impossible to explain the creative way of life to someone who has a normal job. Their solution, in almost ever case, is: Give up your crazy way of life. Get a job like a regular person. Which of course assumes that you can.

So how does a creative person cope with stress? Well, if you are a typical American you will opt for either legal or illegal drugs. The percentage of people on legal meds for some reason or other is truly frightening. Essentially, this is a chemically drugged culture.

Drinking is the traditional stress reliever where writers are concerned. This is what Hemingway (see above) commented:

"I have drunk since I was fifteen and few things have given me more pleasure. When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky? When you are cold and wet what else can warm you? Before an attack who can say anything that gives you the momentary well-being that rum does?... The only time it isn't good for you is when you write or when you fight. You have to do that cold. But it always helps my shooting. Modern life, too, is often a mechanical oppression and liquor is the only mechanical relief." —Ernest Hemingway, Postscript to letter to critic, poet and translator Ivan Kashkin, 1935

Personally, I rather like Mark Twain on the subject of alcohol:

"I always take Scotch whiskey at night as a preventive of toothache. I have never had the toothache; and what is more, I never intend to have it." —Mark Twain

I’m with Mark Twain except that I prefer wine. But, alcohol apart, I find there is a great deal to be said for:

  • Writing-which is both demanding yet relaxing,
  • Relaxing with a really good book
  • Exercise – extraordinarily important
  • Vacations – the U.S. seems to be constitutionally set against vacations, and almost entirely ignorant of the benefits that result from a long vacation. Europe has a great deal to teach us here.
  • Not over-working
  • Eating intelligently
  • Sleeping

Recently, I have gone through a period of intense stress and became seriously sleep deprived. Now the move is over—albeit not the getting organized phase, I am beginning to catch up on sleep.

I have a way to go yet, but it feels wonderful.




Thursday, April 4, 2013



File:Kings speech ver3.jpg

I saw THE KING’S SPEECH last night, and was much moved.

Fundamentally, this is a movie about decency—a theme that I seem to be somewhat pre-occupied with these days.

On the one hand, there is much about the U.S. that is cruel, capricious and corrupt—yet again and again I am encountering great decency. Sadly, the decent do not seem to be running the country.

I have the feeling that there is a story in there trying to get out but, so far, it is eluding me. That is often the case. At least where I am concerned, the gestation period for a book can be years. That doesn’t really worry me since one of the great pleasures of writing is letting a story, or even just a concept, evolve. That doesn’t mean you merely sit on the sidelines and watch—so to speak—but I find, if I keep my mind well fed, that my subconscious does much of the work.

The movie reminded me that I used to stutter badly as a child—something I had forgotten completely even though it was a problem for years. The cause, so the movie would have you believe, is severe emotional distress—and I certainly experienced plenty of that both at home and at my first boarding school in Ireland (where, at five, I was too young, and where bullying was endemic). I can but speculate, but I think the solution was a period of stability which followed my mother remarrying, and my being sent to boarding school in England (where bullying was minimal).

I watched parts of THE KING’S SPEECH in a state of some distress. Some of the experiences described were far too close to home. Still, decency triumphed—which is the way one would like life to be.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013



Fundamentally, I’m a homebody who likes to potter around a familiar space. What is more, being a writer, I normally work from home. That combination means that I find moving particularly disruptive.

Traumatic? That has certainly been the case in the past on a few occasions—but I wouldn’t go that far on this occasion. Firstly, I wanted to move, secondly some wonderful people helped me, and thirdly I am very happy in my new location.

That said, although my desk is in place, and I have internet access, most of my files are still in boxes so I don’t have a work flow going. How long will it take to get organized? Another week to ten days is my best guess—with other work going on concurrently—but I don’t really know. What I can say is that I’ll feel a lot better when I know where things are. Currently, I’m still hunting through boxes—albeit those boxes are labeled, which helps greatly. What is more, I have used file boxes with removable lids instead of traditional moving boxes. Highly recommended because they are easy to handle, stack well, and one can whip off the lid to check the contents.

This move has been made vastly more pleasant by the fact I have been both helped by, and have subsequently met, some rather wonderful people. It makes me wonder why this great country is in the state it is in when there is such decency at grass roots level.

Speaking of wonderful people, my amazing sister, Lucy, has dug up another photo of my much loved step-father, Alfred Lyons. He really was a singularly fine-looking man—and I owe him more than I can say.

He also had a wicked sense of humor and would have thoroughly enjoyed my epic feat of locking myself out on April 1. I can practically hear him laugh.

I miss the man.