Saturday, January 25, 2014


Trying to keep your mind under some sort of control is fundamental to life—and decidedly helpful when it comes to writing.

Personally, I find that trying to harness my mind is a difficult, but rewarding, task where I have to be content with small victories at best.

What can I say! The thing seems to have ambitions of independence! And that damned subconscious is out of control—and sneaky with it.

So why should such limited progress be rewarding? Damned if I know, but there is something particularly satisfying about exerting some small degree of control over something so wild and yet so powerful.

Here, I’m talking about minds generally. I think.

Wild and powerful? No, I’m not thinking of women in this context (clearly untrue). But any man who thinks he can control a woman is deluded—and the world will be a better place when we fully accept that fact (now this I believe).

Difficult because I have a particularly active mind—something I have been told all too often (and not always as a compliment)?

But is that true? My ego likes the idea. You know the reality is that I have no idea how other minds work—and not much of an idea how my own mind works. I wish I did, in some ways (though there is a great deal to be said for a good mystery). I sometimes think that if I had to live my life all over again, I’d study cognition.

Perhaps, but I’d still be a writer!

One tends to make certain assumptions about someone else’s mind based on external signs like how they communicate and function (because how else can you form a view?) but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that someone, who appears profoundly stupid externally, has an extraordinary inner life.

I didn’t always hold that opinion—I categorized and judged just like most of us do—but I have gradually come around to the view that the mind should never be underestimated. I find that a happy thought—though it tends to retreat to the recesses when I encounter many of the vicissitudes of everyday life.

Stupid SOB etc. Not something I’m proud of, and not something I really believe. What I truly believe—and I cannot emphasize this too much—is  that the potential of most of us is untapped.

I find one of the best ways of both energizing and harnessing my mind is to walk. It might be better still to jog, or work out in a gym—and I have tried both for considerable periods of time—but walking has been a feature of most of my life; and is just about the best way of noticing one’s surroundings.

In essence, apart from its benefits as an exercise—and the fact that it takes you somewhere (not many Americans know this) —walking is about soaking up atmosphere and observing detail; and detail is a writer’s friend.

Detail adds color, gradation, verisimilitude, and subtlety (what a mouthful). That said, I spend a great deal of time leaving it out when I actually write. As with salt, you don’t want too much of a good thing. Still, even if it doesn’t go into the book, it helps me if I know it. Detail inspires. It inspires confidence to know what is really going on. And the mundane can be a stepping stone to the unexpected—and thriller writers like myself are rather fond of the unexpected.

Just as well since half the time we don’t know what will pop up as we write. There is a spontaneity to the process that is invigorating.

It’s hard to deny that cars are useful things—though I think they play far too large  role in the American Way of Life—but I’m not overly keen on them except in the context of one’s love life. There they seem to be just plain necessary in many situations—especially in the U.S..

I don’t mean to be cynical when I say this, but love and lust are so much a matter of logistics. However, one of the downsides of being in a vehicle is that you are insulated from your surroundings, and from other people. You see less of more. You never meet the poor. Driving is not conducive to empathy. Walking is. Walking hand in hand with your lover or your children will melt your heart. 

Love life apart—and yes, I am referring to one’s sex life as well (they overlap, but they are not necessarily the same) walking has featured in many of the most enjoyable, exhilarating, exciting—and just plain dangerous—parts of my life. In fact, it was walking which yielded the breakthrough which led me to becoming a published author.

There is nothing like finding a freshly hanged body in a lonely wood to stimulate the creative juices. He was hanging from a thin blue rope. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the first body I had found—and both had broken necks. I found the first one when I was about five, and walking back from the local village after buying cigarettes for my mother.

Alone? Yes indeed. They were less politically correct times, and I was the eldest so elected.

It was a routine chore—roughly 20 minutes either way. The shopkeeper knew me as “the little boy who wore a pith helmet and bought Craven A by the carton.”

I was very proud of the pith helmet. It had been a gift from one of mother’s boyfriends. As for the cigarettes, most adults seemed to smoke—and drink—in those days. Later my mother switched to the French cigarette, Gauloises.

A motor-cyclist failed to make a turn, crashed into a wall in front of me, and broke his neck. He was a body by the time I reached him which was only seconds later. The term “corpse” may be more specific. How could I tell? It had to do with the angle and twist of his neck (and later it was confirmed by a report in the local paper). Despite his smashing into a wall, I don’t recall any blood on the first one. The second was gross. Hangings can be like that.

I have always wondered will I find another. I think of it most times that I walk.

Odd, you may think!

Well, after you have found a hanged body suspended from a rope, with an elongated neck, and blood and mucous forming a river from mouth to torso, let me know if you will forget in a hurry.





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