If the EU vote had been a second hand bike…

After the EU vote went the way of the Leave Campaign, many people have said, ‘The country has made a choice and we must stick with it.’ Others suggest, ‘You can’t keep having another vote until you get the result you want.’ The British people are, essentially, stoics, especially the English with our stiff upper lip and our Carry on and Keep Calm. A majority vote is after all a fair, democratic majority vote.

But then I thought, what if the EU referendum had been a second hand bicycle. Imagine.

For sale: second hand bicycle. Two wheels, two pedals, handlebars. All the usual trimmings. Goes really fast. Beautiful vermillion colour. Contoured comfortable saddle. One previous owner, Bradley Wiggins. £100. Can deliver. Must be bought unseen.

So, you buy the bicycle. It sounds ideal, doesn’t it, and you pay your £100 without a second thought and wait eagerly for the bike to land on your doorstep.

When it arrives, it isn’t vermillion red, it’s grey. And scratched. There is only one pedal so your ride will be uncomfortable. The saddle is going to give you a pain in the backside. There is only one wheel although you were promised two. It will wobble and be unsafe. You thought you’d get the bike you were promised. What do you do?

Do you climb astride the bike and say  ‘Well, I ordered a bike and it is, certainly, a bike. There were a few misleading details… the wheel, the saddle, the pedal, but that’s only a few details. And I did order the bike. Bradley Wiggins has never been near it but, hey, I’m not Sir Brad, so I don’t deserve as much in the way of being able to stay upright and the bike hopefully isn’t an accident waiting to happen. Maybe other road users won’t think I’ve been stitched up and settled for a bike which didn’t fulfil it’s promise. I’ll just Keep Calm and Carry On.’

Or would you take the bike back, complain, demand a refund and suggest that the advert lied?

I know Brexit is not a bike. I know Article 50 will be triggered on Wednesday 29th March, and we will make the best of it, as we always do, and maybe there may even be the odd opportunity, or the chance that we may not take a fall at every corner and land flat on our faces.

But how many people who voted Leave now feel they were lied to? The NHS logo on the campaign bus, for example. Millions were promised, an extra £350m a week to be exact, but the next day Nigel Farage claimed it was a ‘mistake.’

Then Tory MEP Daniel Hannan suggested that taking back control of immigration did not necessarily mean cutting it, although taking back control of immigration was the central and pivotal issue throughout the campaign. And despite promises to the contrary, impoverished counties will be much worse off: Cornwall would have made £2.5billion from EU money.

I did not buy the bike. I never believed the £350m promise. I think the majority of immigrants embellish our country, through their payment of taxes, their hard work and diversity. But I am prepared, always, to work alongside a democratic system which is fair, honest and balanced. A vote is a vote, as long as it’s honest and democratic.

But perhaps the bike was always flawed. Perhaps the details were misleading: outright lies, in fact. Perhaps the purchaser now feels duped and misled, even cheated? Perhaps we should complain, send it back and ask for a refund. Perhaps we have been sold a dud? After all, there are Trading Standards which govern such transactions and protect the buyer’s rights.

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A novel, hours of editing and me.

My third novel is almost finished and editing it is my next focus. What could be better? It’s time to see if I would choose to read my own novel and, if so,  how I can make it more readable.

I am learning all the time. My first novel is out there with a really experienced agent, although I know it might lie in between two genres.

My next two novels are almost finished and edited. I know, thanks to smart advice by an intelligent agent, that these two fall bang in the middle of the genre I have chosen. They belong where they are.

I have researched the genre extensively, reading books I have liked and hated. The ones I liked had plausible and interesting characters who had some impact on me as a reader as they embarked on their journey. These characters have some depth. I know now who the writers are who have readers who will love my work.

I know which writers I have found laborious to read. Too many protagonists are bland middle class passive women. I understand that readers may want an accessible heroine, but my protagonists, while being hugely flawed and with a lot to learn and  experience, have determination, guts and resilience, and are not afraid to make up their own mind.

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I’ve read novels by a woman whose audience I’ve been told will enjoy my novels, according to an experienced agent and, I have to say, that writer has been pivotal in my learning journey. I will never create characters like hers. They simper, fret and seldom make a decision -and that is both male and female central characters. By the end of these novels, I know the characters no better than I did on the first page and, what’s worse, I don’t like them. I have nothing in common with them because they are weak, flaccid and incapable of change.

Worse, the pace is slow and the writing indulgent. I have learned to give up on a book. Like some relationships, sometimes there is nothing to be gained from ploughing on uphill.

 

My female protagonists are always strong characters. The same can be said for the men. In one novel, a male ‘co-star’ was a really nice guy, which would balance the female character’s personality and action well. Women who read my novel said they would like to meet him, would benefit from knowing such a man, so I let him stay where he is.

But in the last novel, I wanted to create  male characters who are unpredictable and perhaps a little unusual. I also wanted to reflect the world we live in: hence a character who is not mono-dimensional, but has tendencies to behave in ways the reader might not expect. I also wanted my reader to smile.

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Reading others’ novels and reading widely is vital, not just to see what I like and don’t like. In a way, my own opinion of others’ novels  is not hugely important. Someone must like them – they’ve been published and are popular. I have to read analytically and go beyond the choice of characters and action.

It’s important to look at how writers signpost events. It is vital that I map the reader’s journey, as a reader myself. It is interesting to see how writers use conversation, how they show that time is passing or places change.

It is interesting to note how they weave plot and develop the action. I analyse roaming protagonists, flashbacks, tropes which work and others which scream  cliché from a mile away. It is fascinating to consider the use of language and to ask myself what appears to make for satisfying reading and why.

I am in awe of some authors’ beautiful writing and their ability to create thrilling characters and plots. Some novels leave me cold and some make me wonder how the book came to be published at all. The important thing is that I continue to think and I continue to learn.

I then need to edit my own writing and apply what I have learned. I have already decided to rewrite a chapter completely. I know where some of the editing will take me, but not all decisions are made at the outset. Some changes will emerge slowly and will change again after several edits.

I like to have days where I just think. Thoughts come during exercise, conversation, sleep.  I can alter ideas, adapt action, conjure a new device. Editing doesn’t always happen at the computer. I can wake at five in the morning and think ‘I know what I need to change.’

I work best when I have left the novel for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and a rested mind. If it works then, it is pleasing and it can stay. If not, it is ripped out and edited.

I cannot underestimate the value of having good readers: not just friends, people who like the genre and people who have taken the same MA as I have, but people whose experience, age, background, gender is different to mine. I consider what they all have to say very seriously.

Then of course there is the weather, which is a really major influence. My central rule. Edit inside when the weather is cold or wet outside. If it’s sunny, go to the beach and think. The beach and the sunshine give me my best ideas for the novel I’m editing and more inspiration for later novels to come.

Who said a writer’s life isn’t perfect?

 

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When Arsenal met the little green men

I know I shouldn’t, but I have a soft spot for the clichéd phrase ‘You couldn’t write it!’ or ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ If you prefer, as sports commentators say, ‘You couldn’t write a script like it!’ As a writer, it gives me a warm feeling that, sometimes, life can imitate ludicrous coincidence found in less credible novels and invoke Deus ex machina. We know this is a plot device used by writers who have a seemingly unsolvable problem which is suddenly resolved by the unlikely or unexpected intervention of some new event or character.

It often appears in football, as if an unseen hand has scooped up the player- or the ball- and made something happen you wouldn’t have believed possible, against all odds. Of course, I’m not referring to the Maradona or Henry Hand of God. I mean that, sometimes, the drama is so breathtaking and so unreal that it’s hard to believe. Remember the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final? I’ll never forget it. Perfect example.

Add into the mix the underdog as hero or protagonist. More to the point, the little man, unlikely to be a hero. He shouldn’t even be there. He has no chance: his ultimate demise is inevitable, but he will battle bravely until the last breath. Multiply it by eleven, plus manager, and you have Lincoln City. Create an impossibly powerful and angry antagonist, a wounded Goliath needing to prove strength in combat, and you have Arsenal.

Of course,the reader is a neutral, otherwise there will be natural bias.

Yesterday, Premier League fifth place Arsenal played  lowly Lincoln City: The Gunners Versus The Imps. And that is how it was, the mighty men against the little fellers.

Until half time, with Arsenal putting on pressure but Lincoln looking like they might just be able to snatch a goal when their opposition became a little sloppy in play, the dream was alive.

However, what was really tickling me in terms of the graphic novel was the players’ contrasting physicality. Take Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez. He’s a vital player, scores goals galore for club and for his Chilean national team. A big, strong forward, barrel chested, he looks like he works out in the gym for six hours a day.

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Now let’s move to Lincoln’s forward, Matt Rhead. He’s not athletic. He could be working out in the pub six hours a day.

Rhead once more looked to make himself a handful for the Arsenal defence and was an aerial and physical threat

But what a hero, what a role model. He and his team mates took on the might of Arsenal, the maimed animal, having been thrashed twice by Bayern Munich to chalk up an aggregate of 2-10 which meant their exit from the Champions League. Little Lincoln didn’t look jaded in green. They were calm, focused, took the knocks and put in the tackles. It was a stunning first half where everything might have been possible, only down by one goal at half time.

Of course, the inevitable happened in the second half. Lincoln are a non-league side. There was no way they were going to hold out against physically honed professionals for 90 minutes and when the goals rained in, they lost 5-0.

But the incredible story line was that they were there at all in the first place. That 9000 Lincoln fans, ferried by 53 coaches and a chartered train, should take their place in the Emirates Stadium and watch their small team combat against the mighty Arsenal is no small achievement. They believed that Wembley could be possible and, for the first 45 minutes, it was. There were moments where it could have been a different outcome.  In the 30th minute, Nathan Arnold had a shot saved by Petr Cech. We held a collective breath. If only…
Lincoln very nearly took the lead as Petr Cech thwarted Nathan Arnold shot after he showed excellent footwork

Lincoln’s goalkeeper Paul Farman was voted Man of the Match for his bravery and impressive efforts against an Arsenal onslaught in the second half. Plus, he wore pink. What a hero.

Former Barcelona man Sanchez strokes Arsenal further ahead and he was a constant presence on the ball in the second half

For me as a storyteller, this is Roy of the Rovers stuff. The underdog with no chance braves it out against the invincible mighty men who, of course, cannot be allowed to show mercy. Consider Arsenal’s financial backing, the wages and the transfer fee of each player; consider the  fans’ recent railing against the manager, and then think of the strong and loyal unit which comprised the Lincoln boys. What an incredible tale of  desire and commitment, tussles and tension. In such situations, I always think of Camus’ words:

Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football. (Albert Camus)

And so it was with Lincoln. No, they were never going to win, if the outcome of the game is solely how success is judged. But what a trajectory, what dreams, what cliff- hanging tension, what a story line. And like any tale where the underdogs lose, they are also the victors in terms of their heroic achievement. They came, they played and they might have conquered but there was little chance of it. Their team spirit, their eagerness, their zeal, their shared goal could be said to outshine the inconsistent results of their glorious opponents. The fact that they were there at all and they made a good drama of it makes the story one in which they can exit the field of combat with their heads held high. And of course we will now want to read their next instalment.

The Lincoln players can hold their heads up high after reaching the last eight of the FA Cup before ultimately being beaten

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