The human condition… An infrequent blog when I'm not writing articles or stories.

November 25th 2010.
Author Peter James is straight in at Number One in the Sunday Times Bestseller list with his excellent new paperback Dead Like You. There are qualities he shares with other successful authors:
Perseverance – Peter James didn't go to Number One with the first story he wrote. Most authors write a few or even more than that (more than 20 in the wonderful RJ Ellory's case) that are not published. Some of these can be seen as good practice, as after all it takes time to learn an art: how many of us would pay to see a guitarist take his first lesson? And as Mark Billingham once said to me: a published author is just an unpublished author who didn't give up!
Skill – Many published authors, but not all (please see books by celebrities), can tell a great story and have the imagination to think of one in the first place.
Luck – There is undoubtedly an element of this. Although I agree with those who say, including RJ Ellory, the harder we work the luckier we get.
Patience – Oh yes, the publishing world is not quick at all. Thankfully, the development of e-books is speeding this up, as well as getting a new breed of publishers to liven things up, I think in the same way punk did with the music business back in 1976, and the development of digital music more recently. The research required in many novels requires some good patience too.
Determination – It's all very well being able to think a great story, but to write 70,000 plus words, often (in the beginning) when there is a day job to do as well, takes determination and drive. A thought always precedes an action. Many thoughts stay just as thoughts though.
Belief – I wonder how many great stories are left tucked away in a drawer or on someone's computer, read by only the author, and their cat? When someone such as JK Rowling received a dozen or so rejections from publishers to her story about a wizard school or RJ Ellory developed a collection of more than 400 agents and publisher rejections, there's only one thing that can keep them going and that's belief. In many there is a just a knowing that this is what we should be doing: writing stories. We feel inspired, in spirit, doing so. We have been given wings to fly and we have to find the sky.
Kindness and empathy – I'm a strong believer in the knowing that we need to give away what we have been given in order to keep it. I've had some great help from some very successful and very busy published authors, and it's become apparent to me that there is a connection between those that do very well and how much they give back to the world (and especially the world of writing). Kate Mosse is a great example, so to is Karin Slaughter, Marcia Willett, Mark Billingham, Colin Butts, RJ Ellory, Zoë Sharp, George Pelecanos, Meg Gardiner, Tom Harper, Martina Mercer, Melissa Miller, Jeff Lindsay, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Jecks, Peter Guttridge, Christopher Fowler, Martin Edwards, David Hewson – and Peter James is one of the absolute greatest at this, who as you will know from this blog's beginning, is straight in at Number One in the Sunday Times Bestseller list with his excellent new paperback Dead Like You…


December 6th 2010.
This is at the end of my novel With Cold Hearts, a story in which there are several bloody murders.
Discontinue celebrating death or violence in any form – Dr Wayne W Dyer.
Distance yourself from as many images of death as possible, including watching movies or TV shows that depict killing as a form of entertainment, along with news reports that emphasise the extinguishing of life. Teach your kids, and any children you can, to sanctify life. Encourage them not to take pleasure in the demise of so-called enemies, terrorists, or insurgents – all of these kinds of death, be they on a battlefield or an urban street, are evidence of our collective will to kill. And don’t demonstrate hatred and outrage; rather, teach yourself and others that every victory accomplished with weapons is a funeral that should be mourned.
Here are some sensitive lines from Saint Thomas Aquinas, a holy man who attempted to teach us what Lao-tzu offered in this verse of the Tao Te Ching:

How is it they live for eons in such harmony –
the billions of stars –

When most men can barely go a minute
without declaring war in their mind against someone they know.

There are wars where no-one marches with a flag,
though that does not keep casualties
from mounting.

Our hearts irrigate this earth.
We are fields before
each other.

How can we live in harmony?
First we need to
know

We are all madly in love
with the same
God.

I agree wholeheartedly with these beautiful words. Yet I wrote a crime mystery novel about a breakneck serial killer (who does not actually murder anyone by breaking their necks but he does rattle through his victims at an alarming rate and with cold-blooded assuredness). Which begs the question… Firstly, I think crime novels reach out to explain the human condition better than any other genre of story. To use one life to take another in a manner that has been planned – something that is such a final act – must be the most sinful thing a human can do. Torturing another person is a terrible act too, and many of the serial killers in the world – both real-life and fictional – perform both acts of torture and murder. In fact in fiction, a murder is much more "entertaining" with some degree of torture first. I think this is because it shows just how low in life, how angry, how messed up, the killer has become. For me, I'm much more interested in the whydunnit aspect than the whodunnit – which is why in With Cold Hearts I think you can work out who the murderer is with some thought but that it wouldn't really matter if they had been revealed on the first page. The message of why they did it is the most important aspect, and why they did it reveals something tremendous of the human condition. I don't want to write any more on this in case it spoils it for anyone yet to read the book. However, for me, one of the main reasons I was driven to write it (and remember the story chooses the author, not the other way round. It's the same with owners and their cats and dogs…) is that increasingly we as a society, are accepting violence as entertainment. Boundaries are continually pushed. You can see this just be looking at films from, say the 1950s, where murders may happen, yet the most you see is a quick flash of the toe of a corpse. Nowadays, you see the brain matter splattered. Often I start to read a book or watch a film or see a game and see such gratuitous bloodshed that I find myself thinking: what's the point? I close the book or switch off the film. We should leave something to the imagination anyway – what's scarier: the monster behind the door when it's opened or the imagination of what that monster will look like and what it could do. I once heard from a reformed London gangster that the most scary thing a gangster could say to an intended victim was not what they were going to do to them, but something vague such as "I'm going to sort this out, I don't know how just now, but I'll soon think of something…" So I wrote With Cold Hearts to clearly entertain (otherwise no one would read it!), but also to get us to wonder about this increasing acceptance most of us have of violence as entertainment. And for this reason I deliberately made sure there were plenty of gruesome murders, with often bizarre methods. The main character in the story thinks something that sums it up when he ponders: "It seems as if this killer is saying, 'you want murder I’ll give you f**king murder'." Then Dave Lennon, the family-loving detective in With Cold Hearts, says two sentences which are the other side of this. Firstly, he says when he comes across the first two murders: "We live in a beautiful world with cold hearts", which is such a key line that part of it had to be the title. Then he asks: "What sort of a world are we leaving our children?" You know, what we say and do – as well as write and watch – shapes the world around us.


January 17th 2011.

Received this today in an email:

If you plant honesty, you will reap trust.
If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.
If you plant humility, you will reap greatness.
If you plant perseverance, you will reap victory.
If you plant consideration, you will reap harmony.
If you plant hard work, you will reap success.
If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.
If you plant openness, you will reap intimacy.
If you plant patience, you will reap improvements.
If you plant faith, you will reap miracles.

It was perfect timing as these things often are (came from dhirasanta@aol.com). I just wanted to put it up here as I've been thinking about all these things. Especially humility. I think this word is often mixed up with humiliation, but they are world's apart. The connection is that often it is humiliation that allows us to find humility. It was so with me about a decade ago after my ego had started running away with me. I hope I have this quality of humility in life today, and especially with writing my stories where there has to be a certain amount of self-confidence and self-belief, but also constant humility. To be humble is a great quality. We can dream and have great ambition, but I believe we should always keep our ego in check. We can have our head in the clouds, but we must keep our feet planted firmly on the ground.
I watch my little boy, free in the world, and wish I could have his complete lack of ego. He smiles a million times a day! I can try to lose ego by tuning into what my spirit tells me. What my spirit tells me is always better for the world. I need to get more humble. I hope by writing this it will help me to maintain and increase humility as in itself it deflates the ego to admit that I can do better. Enjoy this gift of a day my friends. May God bless you all, or may good bless you all.