Reflections on Getting to Fifty

Soon, it will be nearly three months since I started this probably self-indulgent exercise of writing daily opinion pieces. This is the fiftieth and nearly half a novel. It is time to take stock and reflect.

It started with a frustration with the progress of my next novel. I am half way through, have written about 50,000 words and suddenly the plot fell apart. It is a story based around espionage, murder, intrigue, and State machinations around negotiations over an oil pipe line between Tajikistan and China. I was pleased with progress but then one night on a television documentary I saw pictures of cordial handshakes between Tajik and Chinese officials and my very own pipeline.  My story had gone. I knew that it could be recovered but it was a set back and I needed to rework my thoughts.

I was also frustrated with book sales and therefore how few people read the result of my efforts. There are now four published books and to be honest, sales aren’t great. There is long way to go until world tours and celebrity signings and to feed and house myself, I would have to sell in numbers putting me in the bestselling categories. But I would settle for less than that. You could always help my cause and when you have finished reading this, go to Amazon, and buy copies of each book for you and all your friends. Maybe while you are there you could add a few 5* reviews?

Thanks to the Chinese government I had to rework my plot and there was a hiatus. I dipped into Stephen King’s book On Writing and one passage keep nagging at me. Writers, write. That is what writers do.

I had to write, and I wanted to re-impose a writing discipline and what better way than to commit to a regular, daily blog. I thought it would be easy. Every day I write a letter of about the same length to Sasha and that always comes effortlessly. Maybe it takes me an hour or so and only more when I try to watch a football match at the same time.

This experience is nothing like that. Getting to a piece that is coherent, consistent, and readable is taking far more of my day than I ever imagined.

I knew I would never write a daily diary. I know everyone has a book in them but if that is your own life story, forget it. Unless you have been the leader of a country or bankrupt company, a spy who has been caught, or the only active septuagenarian sex worker in your town, then the chances are your life story is only of interest to your close family and even then, that is not a guarantee. I am none of those and a diary was not the way I wanted to go.

I assumed I would listen to the morning news, flick through the internet and just like magic a subject for the day would spring to mind.

Today’s headlines are all about UK crime rates and how knife crime numbers are rising rapidly. I have an opinion on how to solve this problem: improve social care, an active role for the government in the family (but only where that impacts crime), remove the gang culture, decriminalise drugs, improve prison conditions, improve education, pay teachers and nurses more, reduce inequalities in regional spend, stop political parties squabbling and make them act in unison and, and, and.

Or, I could condemn President Trump with a wave of a hand citing his numerous late-night Tweets, his words on African immigrants, his alleged groping, or his famous Mexican wall. It would have been easy fodder, but it would also have been unthinking fodder.  To have any value I would also need to understand, for example, why 35% of Americans would still vote for him, his part in the dramatic growth in the American economy and, work out if he has he saved the world from North Korea or taken us closer to war.

These are all too big and too complex for a daily blog and the truth is that I don’t have the energy to do the research and write yet another university dissertation to give even half value to the topic. Nor do I want to join the Islington chattering classes complaining about Presidents, Prime Ministers, managing Brexit or child poverty unless I have something new to say, and can say it in a thousand words.

Instead I have worked my way into areas where I feel confident to give an alternative and possibly quirky view.

I enjoyed writing the series on the Seven Deadly Sins, but even these have each taken far longer than I envisaged. Even with topics I thought I knew, it has been an effort.

The last of the series on Pride is ready in draft but is not here today because there is still far more research needed. I faced the blank page with the idea that so long as Pride doesn’t become conceit, then as a sin it is a bit of a damp squib. I started my research, read a little and now know much more is needed. I now need to understand why Christians think of Pride as the ‘the greatest of sins’ and why St. Augustine said,  it was Pride that changed angels into devils.  Maddie has a first-class degree in theology. I must also speak to her.

It was the same when I wrote about Sloth. I ended up researching topics from Victorian attitudes to welfare, the Poor Laws, workhouses, through to modern social welfare policies. They all brought considerations and gave the piece an unlikely direction and definitely not one considered when I started.

I always wanted to illustrate a topic with my many business and life experiences, but that has meant making the pieces very personal, requiring tact. I know my own boundaries, but it is less easy when I write about the rest of my family.

Sasha and I have discussed this and so far, she is happy with everything I have written about our relationship, even though it is strange to make everything so public. It is one thing to profess love in private, but it is quite different to make a public announcement at least once a week. She pointed out that there hasn’t even yet been a marriage ceremony with public vows and I am reaffirming them to an audience of a 1,000 or more every day.

And Annie, my ex-wife and now great friend also gets frequent mentions. She is a subscriber to the blog and she tells me she enjoys the daily read. I take that at face value and don’t dig too deeply.

I hope I manage to walk that tight rope of honesty while staying on the right side of openness. It requires editorial discretion.

A thousand words every day is a burden but enjoyable.

I am still batting and here is to the next fifty and staying on through for my century, hopefully a double century.

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