My earliest memory of receiving praise for a piece of writing I had done comes from my first year at secondary school. Obviously it was part of an English lesson but I remember it because of that. English was always my favoured subject. I always looked forward to it. Our teacher used to say to us,

‘Class, you have until the end of the lesson to write a story, off you go.’

On this particular occasion I had been having a relatively dry patch, creatively speaking, and so I was thrilled when the teacher came back to me and said,

‘Mark, this is really good stuff. I really enjoyed it. This is the kind of stuff you used to write! Write more of it.’

I do remember thinking, what do you mean ‘used to?’ Still, it was a bold move on my part. Most other people would write variations on Robinson Crusoe or other well-known classics. I wrote something about a Mermaid-man ( a Merman?) and I can remember describing his movement through an undersea tunnel, his great battle axe scraping the worn stone sides.

Another memory, a much more recent one this time, comes from a piece of fiction I wrote a couple of years ago. It was about a paramedic and his patient. I think I wrote that as some sort of cathartic release from feelings I had cultivated at work. Basically, it is very easy to make a snap judgement of someone based upon the most minuscule piece of personal information; it’s even easier to be wrong about that person. So I wrote that piece and I handed it out to a few friends. In retrospect, this was a mistake. They were all nice with their comments but not one offered any real criticism. To me, this highlights the problem with handing your cherished work to a friend, especially one who does not want to tread on that friendship.  What could they say? I mean I believe them when they say they enjoyed it, and I don’t believe they would have said so if they hadn’t. Yet, I don’t think they would have offered any criticism in a negative light for fear of damaging relations. I understand that now and I shan’t be passing my work to friends again in a hurry. As much as I am grateful for their taking the time to read my nonsense, they were just too nice damn it!

My harshest critic is my wife. She’ll tell me straight if something is god awful and to be binned at once in a fiery bin. Once I gave her a sci-fi story I had just finished. I was immensely proud of it and was about to submit it to a publishing house that afternoon when I had the brilliant idea of asking her to take a look. I’m not sure what I was expecting really. I mean I loved it. I thought the plot was tight, the characters were believable and it even had an underlying theme. Yet, I still felt trepidation as I handed her my precious few pages of creative genius. She sat down and read the first page. I tried to feign disinterest but it was impossible. In the end I just sat cross legged on the floor and watched her reading. I scrutinized every expression of her face, followed her eyes as they moved across the page, imagining I knew which sentence she was currently on. Oh… she’s near the bottom of the page, I thought. She must be nearing that part where Mal the Slayer announces his big secret. She’s turning the page… and… What is she doing? She’s turning back to the first page! I’ve made a mistake?? I’ve obviously handed her the story with the pages all out of sequence. Her expression is now puzzled, confused even. She shakes her head and plods on through the second page. My insides have turned to mush. My heart has dropped out of my arse and my eyes have begun to burn in a most unmanly fashion. She doesn’t even finish the second page. She puts it all down, looks at me.

‘This makes no sense what so ever,’ she said.

I was utterly gobsmacked. I can remember staring at her in disbelief, becoming slowly aware of my own teeth grinding.

‘Your grammar isn’t very good either.’

I felt my fists clench involuntarily and thought that now would be an excellent time to leave the room. I can remember sitting down at my desk and re-reading every word over and over again. She must be wrong, I told myself. She just doesn’t ‘get’ sci-fi.  I must have sat there for perhaps three hours mumbling and gnashing my teeth in the direction of the study door every time I heard her in the next room. It was then that I came up with my master plan. I am a little ashamed to admit this but stay with me. The end justifies the means.

I was convinced I had to test the theory that she didn’t understand sci-fi and that therefore she wasn’t qualified to make judgements upon my own work. So I copied someone else’s work. Ah! I cringe when I even write such a thing, but I did it. I found a short excerpt off of a blog written by an author I admire (Aaron Dembski-Bowden). I copied it, printed it, and handed it to her and then… I pretended it was my own. I’m cringing so much as I write this. I had to prove that she was wrong though. I had to prove she just didn’t understand sci-fi. I mean, if she found his work rubbish then mine must be fine right? Right?

Once again, she sat on the sofa and patiently read the piece I had given her. I could discern no emotion or reaction this time on her face and inwardly I was preparing my victory speech. Ha! I would exclaim. This has been written by a very successful author and you thought it was rubbish. You know nothing! Nothing!

She’d finished reading now and sat back drinking her tea.

‘Well?’ I asked.

She looked at me in mock surprise, clearly enjoying my discomfort. I think she could see the strain etched inch deep in my forehead though and relented.

‘It was good. Really good actually. You should write like that all the time.’

I stared at her for a few moments before standing and walking back upstairs in total silence. I presume she must have thought I was just relieved. I closed the door to my study and sat down in my chair. Then I shouted at the top of my voice, ‘Bollocks!’

I learnt an important lesson that day. Criticism, be it good or bad is extremely important to an aspiring writer. I understand that now and I take any criticism on the chin, appreciating it for what it is. I don’t worry if I get something wrong now but instead learn from it, and I’m reminded of a good quote as I write this. It’s very apt I think and a good place to finish for today.

I’ve not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.’ – Thomas A. Edison.


The Dreaded Synopsis

I need help.

My mind is failing me greatly as I attempt to pen a synopsis for a short story I am writing.

In my mind, the synopsis is soooooo important in avoiding the slush pile. I don’t know this for certain, as I am as yet unpublished although I’m working on the theory that a synopsis is equivalent to a personal statement in a CV.

The personal statement is always read first in an effort to find the applications that stand out. After all, if a company receives 100 applications for a single position then it can be safely assumed that they all meet the basic requirements for the job. Hopefully. Just trawling through them is not going to help in selecting the best candidate though is it? It would be soooooo boring trawling through 100 applications that all read the same.

Step forward the personal statement. This is the only piece of your application that allows you to show that you are a human being, and not just another drab looking application among many. If anything is going to help your application stand out then it’s the personal statement.

I think of the synopsis in the same way. I want so much to get it right and to stand out, but I’m drawing a major blank. The words just won’t flow. I sat at my keyboard for four hours yesterday and managed a mere 300 words, 200 of which I deleted. I went to bed with a splitting headache and feeling thoroughly defeated.

Today I am back at work and will be for most of the week. Hopefully this will give me the time I need to sort my head out and get back in the game.

Sit me down and ask me to write a personal statement and I’ll be fine. I have never, ever been refused an interview for a job in which I needed to submit a personal statement. Why then am I finding writing a teeny weeny synopsis so difficult?

Perhaps it’s because, unlike all the jobs I have applied for in the past, I didn’t really mind if I got the job or not. Now, all I can think about is getting this right.

I would genuinely appreciate any thoughts you may have on writing a synopsis. Do you have a particular method? Do you struggle too?

I am sure I’ll get it out sooner or later, but for the moment, consider this a cry for help.


The English language at its best….

Below is a letter of complaint written by an absolute genius. This has been floating around the internet for a long time, but its still a bloody good laugh. If only we could all write like this.

I obviously take no credit for this superb piece of writing, but offer my humble admiration to whoever did. Enjoy.

Dear Cretins,

I have been an NTL customer since 9th July 2001, when I signed up for your 3-in-one deal for cable TV, cable modem, and telephone.

During this three month period I have encountered inadequacy of service which I had not previously considered possible, as well as ignorance and stupidity of monolithic proportions.

Please allow me to provide specific details, so that you can either pursue your professional prerogative, and seek to rectify these difficulties – or more likely (I suspect) so that you can have some entertaining reading material as you while away the working day smoking B&H and drinking vendor-coffee on the bog in your office.

My initial installation was cancelled without warning or notice, resulting in my spending an entire Saturday sitting on my fat arse waiting for your technician to arrive. When he did not arrive at all, I spent a further 57 minutes listening to your infuriating hold music, and the even more annoying Scottish robot woman telling me to look at your helpful website….how?

I alleviated the boredom to some small degree by playing with my testicles for a few minutes – an activity at which you are no doubt both familiar and highly adept.

The rescheduled installation then took place some two weeks later, although the technician did forget to bring a number of vital tools – such as a drill-bit, and his cerebrum.

Two weeks later, my cable modem had still not arrived. After several further telephone calls (actually 15 telephone calls over 4 weeks) my modem arrived … a total of six weeks after I had requested it, and begun to pay for it.

I estimate that the downtime of your internet servers is roughly 35%…these are usually the hours between about 6pm and midnight, Monday to Friday, and most of the useful periods over the weekend.

I am still waiting for my telephone connection. I have made 9 telephone calls on my mobile to your no-help line this week, and have been unhelpfully transferred to a variety of disinterested individuals, who are it seems also highly skilled bollock jugglers.

I have been informed that a telephone line is available (and someone will call me back), that no telephone line is available (and someone will call me back), that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been cut off), that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been redirected to an answer machine informing me that your office is closed), that I will be transferred to someone who knows whether or not a telephone line is available (and then been redirected to the irritating Scottish robot woman…. and several other variations on this theme.

Doubtless you are no longer reading this letter, as you have at least a thousand other dissatisfied customers to ignore, and also another one of those crucially important testicle-moments to attend to.

Frankly I don’t care, it’s far more satisfying as a customer to voice my frustrations in print than to shout them at your unending hold music.

Forgive me, therefore, if I continue.

I thought BT were shit, that they had attained the holy piss-pot of god-awful customer relations, that no-one, anywhere, ever, could be more disinterested, less helpful or more obstructive to delivering service to their customers. That’s why I chose NTL, and because, well, there isn’t anyone else is there?

How surprised I therefore was, when I discovered to my considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment what a useless shower of bastards you truly are.

You are sputum-filled pieces of distended rectum – incompetents of the highest order. British Telecom – wankers though they are – shine like brilliant beacons of success, in the filthy pus-filled mire of your seemingly limitless inadequacy.

Suffice to say that I have now given up on my futile and foolhardy quest to receive any kind of service from you. I suggest that you do likewise, and cease any potential future attempts to extort payment from me for the services which you have so pointedly and catastrophically failed to deliver – any such activity will be greeted initially with hilarity and disbelief – although these feelings will quickly be replaced by derision, and even perhaps a small measure of bemused rage.

I enclose two small deposits, selected with great care from my cat’s litter tray, as an expression of my utter and complete contempt for both you, and your pointless company.

I sincerely hope that they have not become dessicated during transit – they were satisfyingly moist at the time of posting, and I would feel considerable disappointment if you did not experience both their rich aroma and delicate texture.

Consider them the very embodiment of my feelings towards NTL, and its worthless employees.

Have a nice day – may it be the last in your miserable short life, you irritatingly incompetent and infuriatingly unhelpful bunch of twats.

Yours psychotically,

Strange but true…

I am near-psychic. It’s true.

If you call 999, ask for an ambulance, and I turn up, I can pretty much guess which house is yours. I don’t need to look at a number to get my bearings either, which really freaks out the new recruits.

There are some things that need to be true first before I can call upon this ‘gift’, but ultimately it almost never fails.

Time for an example.

I am called to a residential home for a ‘grey lady down’, which basically means an old dear has taken a nose dive somewhere in the building. I don’t need to know the layout of the building. As we drive up, I’ll take a quick look at which bit I think is the least accessible part of the building, and that’s where she’ll be. If it’s a three story building with no lift, she will definitely be on the top floor. If it’s one of those sprawling amalgamations of seven buildings knocked into one, she’ll be at the back somewhere, probably wrapped around a toilet.

This is 100% certifiable truth. I cannot explain it. It just is.

It also follows that, the higher up in the building you are, the more likely it is that you’re going to be really unwell. Again, I cannot figure this one out either.

I’ve just been to one actually, which prompted me to write about it. Number 67 it said on my job box. I looked at the building as I approached and knew from memory that it didn’t have too many rooms. There was a high possibility that my patient was very sick too.

Sure enough, number 67 was on the third floor, at the back of the building. Walking from the front door, which is the only way in by the way, you simply could not have chosen any other room that would have been further away.


People never ever consider the emergency services when they chose where they are going to live.

Some people are DIY enthusiasts and landscape artists extraordinaire – they create a beautiful garden with shingle pathways, thousands of steps on multiple levels, and an phalanx of Rose bushes and other deadly pointy plant things for the poor paramedic to negotiate.

On one memorable occasion I visited a house that had a garden just like this. I swear the house itself was built on top of a hill. The old boy who lived there had clearly been involved in some D-Day action. Possibly on the side of ze Germans as his house was nigh unapproachable. I can’t imagine I would have been too surprised if I’d heard a machine gun open up on us.

So we arrive in the house, pouring with sweat and cursing a multitude of thorny sores and find this old boys wife on the floor. She’s clearly broken her hip given the amusing angle her left leg is in. She has also, along with her husband, clearly enjoyed life as she’s bigger than both my colleague and me put together.

I can still remember it clearly. I was none too pleased having to hump all that equipment up into the house, knowing full well it was all going to have to come back down again, but the moment I had been waiting for had arrived.

You have to appreciate that this couple have lived in that house for virtually half of their lives and not even considered what would be required if x happened or if y collapsed and broke her hip.

I explained to her what she had done and that we needed to get her to hospital. She just nodded at first, and I just sat there and waited……

And then light dawns. Her face creases into a frown as realisation hits home.

How the hell are we going to lift her out of that position and then negotiate that beautifully, well thought out garden?

She looks at me and I nod. Welcome to my train of thought Mrs Goodlife.

I can’t say it was fun or easy getting her out of her house and down into the ambulance, but we managed. Admittedly it took five people to do it but that’s the way it had to be.

I can’t say she enjoyed the experience either, being carried ever so gracefully like a flying elephant down her lovely landscaped garden whilst half the street looked on, drawn like moths to the two ambulances and the fast response car parked outside her house.

The old boy was great. As we descended with our precious ‘cargo’, he ran on ahead, helpfully clipping Rose bushes with a pair of scissors. I can’t say it made a huge amount of difference, but it was amusing.

So there you have it. Inaccessible places are the haven of accidents and ill health. Take my word for it.

I’m psychic you know.


Death by PowerPoint

I am on CPD today.

CPD stands for Continuing Professional Development.

I hate it.

The only upside to attending CPD is that it’s a day off from the normal grind.

Every registered professional in the health service has to do it at least once per year. It’s where we go to ensure that if nothing else, we are up to date with the most fundamental changes to our practice. I guess this satisfies the Department of Health though.

It’s not the trainers fault that it’s so dull, though they don’t help themselves. I mean, who wants to sit in front of power point presentations for eight hours? Booooooring. I am of the belief that it is impossible to learn this way. I mean, I’m on my lunch break now and I have completely forgotten the entirety of this mornings ‘teaching’.

I upset the teacher too. He caught me nodding with my eyes closed. This is his first teaching gig and he’s eager to impress. He goes through each slide with such relish I can actually visualise him abusing himself over this crap behind closed doors.

So I upset him when I nodded off. I could really care less.

Only a few hours left now. I’ve sat here counting the lunch hour down and drinking anything that contains caffeine. The teachers will have their eye on me now and will gleefully single me out for awkward questions should I nod off again.

I may ask them to repeat the presentation if they do.

‘I’m sorry, I missed that bit. Could you repeat it please?’


‘Yes, all of it. I haven’t heard a word you’ve said.’

Should be a fun afternoon.


Shackles (Care in chains)

I am immensely pissed off.

For those of you who are unaware of the line of ‘work’ I am tied to, I work for the ambulance service as a paramedic. Now don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the role and am still touched with a vague sense of warmth mixed with a bit of smug that I am able to call myself a paramedic. Sadly, due to the NHS being led by a bunch of… ahem… tossers, I see people put at risk everyday. It’s all I can do not to rip off my epaulettes and scream my dissent.

Every facet of the NHS is target driven. None more so than the ambulance service. For obvious reasons we need to get to the address of a given incident within a ‘target’ time. For a life threatening emergency that target is eight minutes. This is great if you’re the patient. Its even better if you live in a town, because chances are, there will be an ambulance floating about looking for death when you need one.

But what if you live a bit further out?

The performance of the ambulance service is judged on how often they ‘hit’ their targets. That means that for every patient we get to within eight minutes – we’ve done a good job. To put it another way, a much more realistic way in fact is to say this:

We get to a patient in nine minutes and that patient lives to see another day. This is a fail.

We get to a patient in eight minutes and that patient dies. This is a success.

What the f*!k? Why does this happen?

Well, in our managements infallible judgement, listening to a 999 call come in and deciding on the best level of a response before it is sent is a complete waste of time. Apparently, its far better to have an ambulance light up like a christmas tree and accelerate to warp speed in the direction of that call – as soon as the switchboard has identified a 999 call coming from an address. Bare in mind that an ambulance, and certainly a fast response car will eat up the road between the address and their initial location very quickly – chances are they’ll be with you before the operator has even worked out what you’re calling for. Sounds great doesn’t it? Thats such a fast response and management pat each other on the back and there is much rejoicing in the control room. Then, the paramedic on scene calls up. He’s angry. He wants to know why he was diverted off of an asthma attack ten miles away to attend a patient with a hurty knee.

Oh yeah, that’s right… he never would have got to the asthma attack in eight minutes. Congratulations management. Oh, before you celebrate by playing golf or I don’t know, blowing each other – can you please tighten my shackles?

I am going to stop writing here. I could say much, much more. Yet I am playing a dangerous game moaning about this anyway.

Those who work in the NHS will know of the shackles we all wear as we try to perform our duties.

I just wish the patients could see them too.


I need a muse (To the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s….)

I have a few writing projects on the go at the moment.

I’m desperately trying to finish my Bridport entry for one. I also have several short stories I want to enter into other competitions and I have one other project of which I can’t say much about at this time. The wife reads this. I think she does anyway. Sorry for all the hush hush. All will be made clear in a few months.

I suppose many wannabe pen monkeys feel this way from time to time. There are simply not enough hours and those that I do manage to take for myself are devoid of any writers inspiration.

I’ve read that to be truly successful, or at least to have any chance of sampling a single iota of success, you have to be a be able to write any time. Otherwise how would you ever stick to a schedule?

So I’m going to go and sit down at my desk now. I’m going to take a bottle of wine with me and then I’m going to punch that keyboard until the word count bleeds. I don’t care what comes out. Who knows? It could be the best stuff I’ve done to date.

Man, that says a lot about my talent doesn’t it?


Head in the Cloud

WordPress for the iPhone?

Sure I’ll give it a go. I like the ability to be able to write as the mood takes me. Also, I’m finding that writing on the iPhone is really really easy. The physical act of tapping into a keyboard is what I mean. I love how the phone switches to landscape mode as I turn it on it’s side, presenting me with a full qwerty keyboard. This is great!

I read a few reviews about this app before I downloaded it and they didn’t look to promising. I have to say that I don’t know what the problem is. Writing on this thing is so easy. Now I just wish inspiration would come as easy.

As per usual I’m sitting in a carpark in my ambulance. I’m a coiled spring, just waiting for someone to dial 999 so that I can launch onto action. I am so bored.

Or at least I was. I’ve only just worked out that I get free wifi via The Cloud as part of my iphone package. Now I can sit here and watch endless YouTube. Better than that even, I can sit and research my next app acquisition! This is precisely how I stumbled across the WordPress app actually.

I used to use WordPress on my blackberry but it was hard and difficult endeavour – tapping away on it’s tiny little buttons… Oh the hand cramp was so bad after a long typing session. Thank god for the iPhone and WordPress, working seamlessly with me to bring sheer blogging ease and bliss.

Yup, I think this is the start of a beautiful threesome.

M 😉

On Plot

I have been giving a lot of thought to this infuriating concept they call plot.

It seems to me that aspiring writers the world over are sitting in bars and cafes mulling over a million ideas, discarding most and running with others. They get excited when a new idea seems to be panning out well – they blast off maybe a thousand words with barely a moments respite. They construct an entire outline within a few minutes interwoven with various sub plots and interweaving arcs and laugh to themselves at the thought that this is the one – this one will be a novel.

Then reality rears its irritating face and spits in your creative broth.

Your idea has been done before.

Not only that but as you research a little more you discover that not only has it been done before, its been done better.

Or has it?

Maybe their plot was a little better but that does not mean that all is lost.

Let me explain.

The chances of coming up with a completely new idea that has never been done before are few and far between. Its not impossible of course. Not by a long way. After all, we are only hindered by our own lack of imagination.

My point is that instead of waiting for that blockbuster idea to crop up and rock the Earth with its originality, I suggest you just write.


Need an example do you? Okay, let’s take Twilight.

Now first and foremost I have to say that I am not a fan of Twilight. Vampires, Ms Meyer, do not bloody well sparkle.

Books and stories about vampires and werewolves have been done a thousand times over. What makes Twilight different is it’s point of view. The world is seen through the ideas of a teenage girl, bubbling over with teen angst, lust and general girly emotion. It fulfils a niche in the market by anyone’s reckoning.

That’s all that Ms Meyer has done differently. She has not come up with some earth shattering plot. No, instead she’s just told and old story from a different point of view.

Her characters are interesting and the underlying feelings of lust and want keep readers turning pages.

So why not give it a go?

Take a well known myth or fairytale and change the point of view. When you do this you’ll notice that your characters, particularly your protagonist, will have a very different goal than the one you previously associated the story with.

Just a thought. What do you think?

M 😉

Share the Love

I want to say thank you to a fellow blogger. As is the life of those who aspire to write, its only natural you’ll take the odd knock and feel as though your not getting anywhere.

Most will persevere, keep going, and rise above it, content in the knowledge that its all just part of the process.

Yet it helps to have others who are in the same boat as you, perhaps on a similar journey offer a helping hand and some friendly encouragement.

I want to extend a thank you to the author of a blog called The Good Twin. Although it was likely only a passing comment left on my page, it made my day. Incidentally it was also for a post that received the most views I have ever had.

So thank you, Josh.

As a result of this kindly chap stopping by my site, I have returned to blogging with a renewed vigour. Long may it last.

In way of payment I am going to make an effort to read more blogs in my area of interest and try and share the love a bit. I feel good and I’d like to spark that same feeling in others. Especially those who diligently tap away at a cold keyboard, a ghost to the world but for their fleeting bursts of creative output.

I feel for those people, and I’m going to find them.

Share the love people.