Writerly Recklessness #10: The Secret Life of Maladaptive Daydreaming

DF-11070-Edit - Ben Stiller in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I love this film. For obvious reasons.

LJ and I sometimes have conversations that go like this:

LJ: Tomorrow morning I’m going into town to look for shoes – if you want to come?



Me: Yeah

LJ: I’m going to leave about ten. And then I thought it might be nice to have coffee and cake. There’s a new café that’s opened on the high street. They do coffee with a free cookie. Supposed to be really nice. But only if I find shoes – or I’ll have nothing to go with my work outfits…  listening



Me: Mmmm…

LJ: Are you listening to me?

Me: What’s that?

LJ: Is ten tomorrow ok?

Me: What’s ten tomorrow?

LJ: Going to town.

Me: Oh! Are you going to town tomorrow? What for?

LJ: To buy shoes!

Me: Just asking..!

LJ: *lunges for my throat*

Me: *spluttering* What…?

Apparently, people deliver entire monologues without me hearing a word they’re saying. I have also been known to ask someone if they want a cup of tea, pop out to the kitchen and then return a minute later to ask the question again because I didn’t really listen to the answer the first time round. And I never remember the names of people I’ve just met.

This isn’t because I have a hearing problem – my ears work perfectly well. But I do have a ‘listening’ problem. Sometimes I don’t hear what people are saying to me because I’m actually in the middle of doing something else (writing, reading, watching a film). In those instances I only have one attention mode: Completely Absorbed. That means all other functions are non-operational until the occupying task is complete.

But sometimes I don’t hear what people are saying to me because I’m actually dreaming something else. This is the mode I enter when I’m doing something that doesn’t require a concerted effort of the brain to complete: cooking, gardening, painting, household chores, walking around town, group meetings or being present at social events consisting of more than four people. There are certain practical tasks I’m capable of physically completing without having to be 100% present mentally. I’m pretty sure this is true of all people. We all daydream.

But some of us daydream a little more than others.

When I started learning to drive, my dad’s anxious advice to me was: ‘Remember – you’re driving. Just focus on driving and nothing else’. None of my other siblings were given this rather obvious instruction. Just me. Because, basically, whilst everyone else was concerned about their teenagers consuming vast amounts of alcohol before they got behind the wheel of a vehicle, my parents were more worried about me drifting into some fantasy land at the traffic lights. ‘Don’t Daydream and Drive’ was a genuine campaign in my house.

So, naturally, I was curious when LJ sent me this link ‘The Daydream that Never Stops’: http://bbc.in/2y49Mtf about maladaptive daydreaming. As well as being a fascinating article, it’s also a brilliant piece of multimedia storytelling.

Anyway. Daydreaming. When does it become maladaptive? daydreaming 3

Professor of Clinical Psychology, Eli Somer, who coined the phrase ‘maladaptive daydreaming’ defined it as ‘extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.’ Those who suffer with the syndrome are not just your average daydreamers; their daydreaming inhibits their ability to function in everyday life – not because they can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality – but because they prefer their fantasy world to the real one. For many, this causes them great distress. The fantasy world itself (which tends to be incredibly complex and detailed) isn’t necessarily distressing, but the inability to ‘switch it off’ is. And it is this which causes those with MD to feel stressed and isolated.

At the moment, MD isn’t officially recognised as a mental disorder – though there is research being done on it: what causes it; how far is it pathological; can it be cured; does it need to be cured or simply managed; is it actually a symptom of another disorder; what are the key differences between ‘normal’ daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming? Much of the developing understanding of MD actually comes from peer support groups on the internet – such as The Wild Minds Network.

This website offers a list of symptoms common to maladaptive daydreamers. You might have MD if:

  • You daydream more often than you think is normal.
  • You’ve built up a character(s) that’s an idealized version of yourself
  • You feel more empowered in your daydreams.
  • You’re starting to enjoy daydreaming better than the real world.
  • Daydreaming is starting to interfere with your day-to-day activities.
  • You might enact some movement, like pacing or moving your hands, (though not everyone does this).
  • Some people make facial expressions, talk, and/or act out their daydreams.

I’d like to clarify now that I learnt to drive just fine. Okay – I learnt to drive just fine eventually. My struggles in learning to drive were largely to do with my lack of hand-eye coordination; inability to judge speed, distance and time; and total confusion over how a car actually worked. Daydreaming had nothing to do with it, because I do have the ability to close the door on the daydreams for a while in order to engage with and enjoy real life. I am not a maladaptive daydreamer.

I’m a writer. Daydreaming 1

Or – more accurately, a story-teller. Most stories I only tell to myself, some of them make it on to a page, and even fewer of those become completed works that I’m happy to share with others. But none of these cause me distress or prevent me from living a relatively normal life – or at least one that I’m mostly happy with. I do identify with quite a few ‘symptoms’ on the list – I admit I have caught myself making faces or mouthing dialogue from a fantasy scene whilst washing the dishes… and only sometimes is this related to a plot I’m intending to write.

But I also know how to be present in the moment of the real life I am living: when I’m at a family meal, or tramping through the countryside, or at a music concert, or giving LJ advice on shoes, or having a heart-to-heart over coffee and a free cookie. Yes, background daydreaming still occurs in some of those moments – but it stays in the background with a ‘re-visit later’ post-it note on it. At some point I know I’ll be cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes, or sipping a drink in a corner at a party (ha-ha – only joking – I don’t get invited to parties) and free to daydream.

Most importantly I know that, at some point, all my daydreaming will come together to take on a form and purpose – to go through a process of alchemy and transform from the plotting of the mind in to words on a page. Because, at some point, I will absolutely settle myself in a quiet place, rip off the ‘re-visit later’ post-its and write.

Daydreams 2

Who knows – perhaps writing is what keeps my daydreaming from becoming maladaptive? It’s important to note that most maladaptive daydreamers don’t actually want to lose their daydreaming or their fantasy world – they just want to manage how much of their time and attention is consumed by it so they can enjoy real life just as much.

A world without daydreaming? Sounds as horrifying as a world without music. Is that yet another dystopian plot idea that’s just hatched? Just kidding… but not really

This is also a very informative article on maladaptive daydreaming: http://theatln.tc/2zJrpxq


Writerly Recklessness #9: ‘If music be the food of… INSPIRATION, then playLIST on…!

mocha-dad-shakespeare-blog-cartoon1Worst. Shakespeare. Pun. Ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music.

In fact, I currently feel like some sort of music addict:

  • Working? Spotify.
  • Driving? Album – currently Rationale’s eponymous debut, on its 8th? 9th? Okay – probably 12th round.
  • Cooking/Washing up? Radio.
  • Ironing? Music channel.
  • Lying in bed after lights out? MP3.
  • In the bath? Spotify again.
  • Food shop? Whatever’s playing on the supermarket sound system.
  • Out and about in public? Humming/Singing loudly (and unrecognisably) the tune that last got stuck in my head.

It’s a good thing music is a legal drug, or I’d be selling my left kidney or pimping out the cat (who’s been insufferably fat and fluffy today) for poggles, just to hit the next score off some indie-alternative-rock-track dealer. A world where music is banned? *shudder* Just had an idea for another dystopian story though… hands off – it’s mine!

Music is like a drug though – it has an actual physical effect on your brain for a start. That’s not me exaggerating – that’s SCIENCE. Tons of research has been done on how music can affect your mood, concentration, productivity, intelligence and memory. Recent studies show that music can increase brain connectivity, and ‘musical intonation therapy’ is a treatment that has been successful in restoring speech functions in patients who have suffered some sort of trauma to the brain.


Music can also increase certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine (makes you happy*) and oxytocin (makes you sociable*) – which, particularly in a communal setting, can lead to a type of heightened emotional, almost spiritual experience. If you’ve ever been to a live music concert or festival, you know what I mean. And there is a reason for an entire genre of music being called ‘Trance’…

It’s a fascinating topic, which plenty of experts have explored, tested, theorised and written lengthy theses on. Being naturally self-absorbed though, I’ve mostly been thinking about the influence of music on me as a writer.

I think Shakespeare recognised something significant about music when he wrote the opening lines of Twelfth Night:

‘If music be the food of love, play on….

… That strain again, it had a dying fall.

Oh, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour.’

It’s fairly obvious, from his monologue, that Orsino is in love with feeling in love – and that music is ‘feeding’ this elevated emotion. Shakespeare highlights the power music has to evoke in us a particular mood or feeling. Centuries later, the philosopher Susanne Langer echoed this idea when she wrote that music has the ability to create in us ‘emotions and moods we have not felt, passions we did not know before.’ 3139f44f7ba6db20dc8ee7f9b01f02dd

Personally, this is what music does for me, as a writer: it brings a particular tone, mood or emotion to what I am writing. Or it brings the story itself. I’m especially drawn to music that has an epic, narrative quality to it, and, sometimes, a particular piece will create a new unexpected aspect to a current plot or create its own independent story.

Susanne Langer also stated, in her book Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, that:

‘The imagination that responds to music is personal and associative and logical, tinged with affect, tinged with bodily rhythm, tinged with dream, but concerned with a wealth of formulations for its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling.’

531ec22ef33b52a635127b926a1f735d.jpgEssentially – music (and art in general) is a way of expressing human experience and feeling that cannot be expressed by ‘discursive symbols’ (science and language). And it’s odd, because, as a writer, I’m using the non-discursive symbol of music to facilitate my efforts to express that ‘wordless knowledge’ Langer mentions  – in the form of the ‘discursive symbol’ of the written word. Isn’t this what all fiction writers are trying to achieve? An expression of the ‘knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling’ – in words, black and white, on a page? We want our work to inspire in the same way music does – to make the reader feel something they perhaps haven’t felt before.

This is where I paused to google the effect that reading fiction has on the brain. Findings? imagination_by_akiraalion-dawk529

  • Reading fiction improves connectivity in the brain.
  • Reading fiction enhances both Embodied Cognition (putting yourself in the protagonists shoes to the extent that motor and perceptual systems in the body are stimulated*) and Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that other people’s minds exist as distinct and different from our own – allowing the development of empathy and compassion*).




We’re alike, right? We do the same thing! That’s a logical conclusion… isn’t it?

Either way, I have a serious writerly addiction to music. I don’t necessarily absolutely need music to write – I would survive without it – but I want it when I write: I want to put on my headphones, plug myself in to a playlist, and immerse myself entirely in the soundtrack of my WIP (yes, I have a playlist** for each novel I write – did I mention I’m addicted to music?).

As music does seem to be the food of inspiration, I will continue to playlist on… and on… and on – probably until that music-less dystopian future arrives. Or I at least write that particular novel. What would a playlist for that sound like? Would the irony be too much..? e22b7e37b4ce39c016d88762a95c4f4e--music-life-my-music


*scientific definitions

**if you’re interested, this is the playlist for The Divinity Laws #1: http://bit.ly/TDL1PLYLIST




Writerly Recklessness #8: Rejection, Rejection Everywhere!


Not a pleasant word.

Just look at the synonyms: denial, refusal, exclusion, repudiation, dismissal, rebuff.

And then in more colloquial terms: turndown, cold shoulder, brush off, kick in the teeth, slap in the face, thumbs down, nothing doing.

Ah, yes. Kick in the teeth. That pretty much sums it up.

And then look at the official definition (Oxford Dictionary)

  1. The dismissing or refusing of a proposal, idea, etc.

Not so bad. Not so personal.

But then, this:

  1. The action of spurning a person’s affections.

Ouch. Much worse. About as personal as it gets.

I would say that writerly rejection falls somewhere between those two camps – the dismissing of an idea, yes – but the dismissing of MY idea – and the suggestion that someone else’s idea is better than mine and therefore, they are better at having ideas than I am. I am not a good ideas person. I am not a good person. Even worse, I am a bad writer. And WHY IS EVERYONE REJECTING ME?

*Ahem*…. Just me?

Either way, the dictionary defines it as an act – but it doesn’t take much to turn it into a rather over-whelming and very, VERY personal feeling.

ValentineReject_005-500wNo wonder why we fear it so much. We fear it in our jobs, our relationships, our social status, and even on the internet (ever been ‘unfriended’ or ‘unfollowed’?). No wonder we try to avoid it – if we can.

And here is the problem with those who work – or, more precisely, are trying to have some small glimmer of success – in the creative industries: rejection is inevitable. It’s going to happen. For the luckiest ones, it will happen for a short while and then suddenly there will be that wonderful antonym of our soul’s worse fear: acceptance! A foot in the door, an opportunity to prove your talent. That’s all any of us really want, isn’t it?

For the majority, however, it will be one soul-crushing rebuff, refusal, and repudiation after another. In theory, it’s the idea, proposal or work that is being rejected, not the person. Employers, for example, haven’t even met you before they decide whether to give you an interview or not. Their decision is mostly influenced by the appeal of the other candidates – perhaps someone happened to have experience in an area that you didn’t. Or (apologies for the cynicism) perhaps the other person was just that bit cheaper. It’s not you they are rejecting – just your C.V.

It’s not personal.

Or is it?

Because after a while, it starts to feel like it is.

‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?’ you cry.

And if you’re me, you literally cry – ugly, snotty-face-cry – into a pillow or sharing-size packet of crisps.

Maintaining a positive, objective perspective on rejection is hard. It’s hard for anyone, any time, in any circumstance. Rejected-5-Reasons-Why-Your-Small-Business-Wont-Get-Financed

But it feels even worse if you’re a writer, musician, actor, dancer etc. I can’t imagine the level of rejection experienced by anyone who has to actually physically leave the house in order to be rejected. You must have to develop a very thick skin and highly elevated self-esteem to get over the rejections of numerous auditions. At least as a writer you get rejected in the safety of your own home and via an electronic device or letter (do people still do letters now?). No matter how hard you try to keep hold of that rational, objective perspective, it does feel that your affections are being spurned rather than simply the premise of your book. Especially if you are particularly fond of your work and have poured all of your affections into its creation…

There is a plus side though.

Really there is.

I’m not being sarcastic.

Here are the positives:

1.  If you’re going to get rejected at all, you can’t be rejected in a nicer way than by a literary agent.

They’re lovely.

rejection-690x175I open most email responses from literary agents with one eye shut and skim quickly for the line beginning ‘Unfortunately…’. But once I’ve abruptly closed the email, digested the news, had five chocolate biscuits and then re-opened the response, I generally find a rather sweet, kind message – sincerely apologetic and encouraging.

For example:

‘Thank you for giving the [NAME OF AGENCY] a chance to consider your work. And for your patience in waiting for a reply. Unfortunately [TITLE OF WORK] is not right for us. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.  We wish you the very best of luck in the future.’


Thank you for sending us your work, which we have read with interest.  Although we did enjoy looking at your material, in the end we felt it wasn’t quite right for [NAME OF AGENCY]. We have to feel absolutely passionate about a new project before taking it on and we didn’t feel strongly enough in this case.  Please do not be discouraged by our response and we hope you find an agent with the right amount of enthusiasm for your work. We’d also like to thank you for thinking of [NAME OF AGENCY].

Or this:

‘Thank you for sending us your work and for your patience in waiting to hear from us, we really appreciate this. We have read this submission with great interest, but we are really sorry to say that we are not able to offer you representation for this work. We very much enjoyed your writing style and the characters that you created, but unfortunately we didn’t fall in love with the story in the way that we would need to. As we are receiving a very large number of submissions at the moment, we have to be extremely selective with the work that we choose to represent. We apologise for the disappointing response and as this is such a subjective industry we would strongly recommend that you send your work to as many other agencies as possible. We wish you every success with your writing.’

Yes, I still feel crap for about an hour afterwards (this is progress – used to be days – got it down to about an hour of self-pitying – aiming for ten minutes eventually), but I also feel someone has shown me some compassion and empathy. They know what it is to be rejected and have tried to soften the blow a little. I actually well-up a little looking back on them – with a genuine feeling of gratitude and fondness that someone didn’t just stamp on my heart, laugh in my face and tell me ‘never to darken their inbox with such a load of trite ever again’. Not that a professional would say such a thing these days, I’m sure…?



Anyway – the general tone of these emails restores my faith in humanity a little. And my faith in myself.  And my book. Which is important, because you’ve got to have faith in your book to get back up on the computer, click the ‘compose new message’ button and try again. And again. And again. And again…

So, thank you, literary agents everywhere, for your rejections. They are the nicest I could ever hope to receive. Honestly.

4aa5831adf2a5f5e38ad57adeb605e5d--paperback-writer-writer-quotes2.  Every rejection is evidence that you tried.

I’m pretty sure there’s only one feeling that is worse than rejection – and that’s regret. And I have a whole catalogue of rejection that I will NEVER regret.

3.  Every rejection is one rejection closer to an acceptance.

Sending out submissions is a bit like setting your book up on lots of dates. It will certainly never fnd THE ONE sitting at home feeling sorry for itself. One day, someone, somewhere, will love your book as much as you do. Probably.

Who knows..? Only those who DON’T GIVE UP.


Writerly Recklessness #7: Edit me this, edit me that…

Things I learned learnt from my editor:

  1. It’s impossible to edit your own work thoroughly. Even if you are used to editing other people’s work, writers have a MASSIVE blind spot when it comes to their own work.
  2. The English Language has an awful lot of words that must be hyphenated.
  3. American: learned, burned, leaned. British: learnt, burnt, leant. Sorted. Directors-Chair-616x313
  4. I have an inner Obsessive Compulsive Director who insists matter-of-factly on carefully and wryly telling characters exactly how they should constantly act and dryly speak – or shrug. Mostly shrug.
  5. There is no synonym for the verb ‘shrug’ in the English language. WHY?! I think this needs rectifying. Any ideas? I’m going to suggest ‘shraise’. ‘He shraised his shoulders’.    Gramatica-para-tontos
  6. Inside of me, lives a little Yoda, who sometimes likes, with my phrasing, to screw around.
  7. Who knows what other repressed personalities are waiting for their time in the writerly limelight?
  8. Interesting debates can arise from editorial notes: What defines a hiss? How similar is dialogue to tennis? Why is there a hair colour defined as ‘mousy-brown’ when mice come in a range of colours? Are Americanisms permitted in a British text just because the author ‘really, really likes them’?
  9. I secretly enjoy treading the thin line between respecting the rules of grammar and maniacally shouting ‘sod the rules!’ as I throw them out of the window.
  10. I really, really, really have an irrational aversion to exclamation marks!!! editor
  11. Editors are tough. But fair. Generally in equal measure.
  12. Writers are stubborn. And reckless. Recklessly stubborn. But only about 80% of the time – on a good day…
  13. I am an awesome writer. I have no justification for this statement. I just got immense satisfaction from writing it.
  14. A good editor is invaluable to a writer, and should be rewarded with supplies of post-it notes, rainbows of coloured pens and bags of gratitude.

But until I get round to putting those in the post… mine’s getting a silly cartoon instead:




Writerly Recklessness #7: Battling the Beast

Rey-with-Lightsaber-627Every day, I do battle with the same monster.

Some days, if I’m feeling strong in the forces of discipline and determination, I defeat it pretty easily.

On others days, I’ve lost before I’ve even got out of bed: the beast already has me in a headlock and I completely fail to wrestle my way out of it. On those nights, as I go to bed way past my bedtime, I vow to be victorious in the morning. I basically make the same vow every night.

This persistent, ugly, sniggering creature has one name but many faces. It’s called DISTRACTION and it’s a sneaky, shapeshifting menace that doesn’t play fair.

It comes in many forms. Here are a few: mass-distraction-rrv33n

  • The Internet: like, EVERYTHING out there in cyberspace.
  • Mobile phone: Way too much texting/Whatsapping about: being hungry, what the cat just did, what’s new on Netflix, random song lyrics, pictures of the cat sleeping, the lack of chocolate in the house, a new song on the radio, questions about whether there’s anything edible in the house at all, and what has the cat brought in this time?  days4
  • Food: does this need an explanation?
  • Housework: As I sit down to write, little niggling thoughts poke at my brain – such as: ‘Just give the place a quick hoover’; ‘You only have to tidy that one overflowing drawer in the kitchen’; ‘Ten minutes to file paperwork’. All of these are lies. There is no way my perfectionism is going to let me not spring-clean the entire place from top to bottom.
  • Cats: both real and on Youtube. Cat doing a somersault, cats playing patty-cake, cats in boxes, real cat freaking himself out over nothing…   561-author-writing-a-book
  • Memes/ecards/cartoons: Mostly about felines. Sometimes about writing.
  • Things other people send or give you: emails, articles, books, leaflets, ‘read this’ links, ‘watch this’ videos, ‘listen to this’ podcasts, text messages checking you’re still alive…
  • Social life: Just kidding. I don’t have one of those.
  • Binges: A side-effect of my writerly single-mindedness (honestly, it’s really not a major personality flaw!). A tendency to binge on things that trigger my interest/curiosity/enthusiasm/nerdism. This might be films, television series, music, authors, art, artistes, history, psychology, social studies etc. The result of this trigger is spending an excessive amount of time (anything from a day to a month) ‘binging’ on that particular topic.
  • Books: That seductive mountain of unread books that beg for just a little attention – ‘Just one chapter,” they whisper. “Come and read us… it’s all right – you can say it’s part of your ‘creative process’. We won’t tell anyone…”
  • Research: Amazing how doing a quick search for ‘parts of a skateboard’ can find one reading, several hours later, a Wikipedia page on the parietal lobe.
  • ALL the stories: Trying to write a novel is like being a parent to a hundred children and having to neglect ninety-nine to get just one through to adulthood. Generally, my offspring are pretty well-behaved, but you always get a few who just won’t sit down and shut up.


That’s just a small sample of the dastardly forms that the DISTRACTION beast takes. I can be very good at recognising a DISRACTION ploy and clamping down on it hard and fast. However, just recently, the Look!-Over-There! master-mind caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment and completely derailed me from writing TDL#3. It was a two-pronged attack, which followed up a binge with a new story idea.

Low, DISTRACTION monster. Really low – even for you.

Being caught utterly off guard, I woke with a Short Story Idea in my head. Not one that was just content germinating quietly in the background, but one that jumped to the front of the queue and waved a hand vigorously in my face. So low was my resistance that I had a pathetic ten second struggle:


ME: I’m busy.

SSI: Go on. You know I’m a good one.

ME: Maybe later.

SSI: I’m short. It won’t take long.

ME: I shouldn’t.

SSI: Instant gratification.

ME: *opens new word document*

So. I wrote it. I never write short stories. But now I have a smugly, self-satisfied one and I don’t know what to do with it.

Trying to figure out where to put this new fidgety fledging is a whole new dilemma I’ve not had before. giphy.gif

Well played DISTRACTION beast.

Well played.




Writerly Recklessness#6: Snigger, snicker, smicker…

Muttley-640x480I just love the word ‘snicker’. Reasons why:

  1. It’s a synonym of one of my other favourite words ‘snigger’ – ‘to laugh in a stifled or supressed way, often derisively or mockingly’
  2. It has a wonderfully onomatopoeic quality to it
  3. It’s also one of my favourite chocolate bars

It’s also, arguably, an Americanism. Which is what A.M. and I have been discussing recently. I say discussing – but our conversations basically go something like this:

A.M.: You use snicker, but I think the British word is ‘snigger’.

Me: But I like it.

A.M.: I think snicker is an Americanism.

Me: But I really like it.

A.M.: The Collins English Dictionary says it’s American.

Me: Okay. But I love it.

And I do – I really love it – I love how it sounds in a sentence – or on its own. Just recently, since my conversations with A.M., I sit at home on the sofa and say ‘snicker’ aloud – and freak LJ out a bit.

I use it twice in TDL#1:

‘The rest of the Boarders stepped forward and Rocket heard his own gang mimic them with low snickers.’ – noun

‘Flinn couldn’t help but snicker. “I’ll keep pushing you over until you stay on that board. Again.”’ – verb

I do use snigger. Once. I love that word too – just as much as snicker.

‘Some groans and sniggers spread round the Boarders at the ‘D’ and ‘E’ which had already been created.’ – noun

I want to use both. I have used both. Here are my arguments for why it is my writerly right to use ‘snicker’ as well as ‘snigger’:

Yes, ‘snicker’ is technically more common in American English than British English. But it does appear in the UK edition of all the major dictionaries: Collins, Cambridge and Oxford. Only the Collins online dictionary notes that there is an American ‘snicker’ and a British ‘snicker’ – with exactly the same meaning and use. My hard copy of the Collins Dictionary (2007) doesn’t note is as being American, though it does for other American words such as sidewalk, airplane, counter-clockwise and sneakers.

Americanism or not, ‘snicker’ is most likely an imitative word – it echoes (beautifully) a sound – and since when did sounds have a nationality? And if it belongs to any language, it’s probably Dutch; etymologically, it’s similar to the Dutch ‘snikken’ – to gasp, sob – which can be traced back to the late 17th century (Online Etymology Dictionary): that’s a really, really, really long time ago (too lazy/bad at maths to work out exactly how old…). That’s back when American English and British English weren’t as distinctly separate as they are today and before Webster published the first ‘truly American dictionary’ (www.merriam-webster.com) in the early 19th century.

americanenglish_flagI also, with entirely random discrimination, don’t think using ‘snicker’ is as bad as using other, truer, Americanisms. For example, I hate (again, with absolutely random prejudice) the way ‘gotten’ is sneaking into British English. If you’re British, it’s ‘got’.


That’s all I have to say on that.

I also don’t get the American grammar of ‘I will write you’. To my British ears this sounds like an incomplete sentence. ‘I will write you a long, passionate love-letter’; ‘I will write you into immortality in a sonnet beginning ‘Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day…’‘ – or that should really be ‘Shakespeare will smugly write you into the most famous sonnet of all time, although this piece of perfect poetry will in fact bring him more fame and glory than you – you obscure, unknown, enigmatic ‘youth’. ‘I will write you…’ – there definitely needs to be a ‘to’ in there… ‘writing’ a human sounds vaguely passive aggressive to me.

And of course, there are the nouns: when writing for an American audience or context, the kidnap victim should go in the trunk of the sedan, and no one should hear them banging on it from the inside whilst the kidnapper fills the car up with gas and checks under the hood. In British English, having checked under the bonnet and paid for their petrol, the kidnapper should drive off in their saloon with their victim still in the boot.

Regular and irregular verbs such as: leaned/leant/learned/learnt/burned/burnt/dreamed/dreamt are slightly more complicated and…well, again – I’m feeling lazy today.

The thing with English (British and American) is that it has, always (and hopefully always will) borrowed words from other languages. For example: we go to bed in ‘pyjamas’ from Urdu (in turn borrowed from Persian); enjoy a refreshing ‘breeze’ from Portuguese; binge on ‘chocolate’ from Nahuatl (language of the Aztecs); and live in little houses on the ‘prairie’ in French. That’s the beauty of English – it’s not precious about boosting its vocabulary by stealing words and anglicising them – or even just leaving them exactly as they are and using them ‘ad nauseam’ until we’ve forgotten tthey’re not ‘bona fide’ English. What a ‘faux pas’! article-2684637-1F7DD62F00000578-225_306x439

We would be missing out on expressing a world of wonderful things, emotions and concepts if we hadn’t embraced new words from other tongues into our language. Accumulating such a vocabulary is what has helped English thrive as a language – to the extent that there’s not just American and British English – but all sorts of English dialects around the world – all of which use, add to, and adapt the language in their own unique way.

British English itself has a variety of dialects with their own grammars and vocabulary. If you told a shocking story in Yorkshire, you might be met with ‘Ee by gum’, but in Newcastle, less than a hundred miles away, you’re more likely to be told ‘Haddaway’, and, down south, in Dorset you might be asked ‘Annan?’

Dictionary definitions, etymological origins and historical English lessons aside, ‘snicker’ is a beautiful word. I love it. I’m going to use it – because I’m a writer and lexically reckless sometimes.

On another note – whilst trying to find justification for keeping ‘snicker’ in my British English novel, I came across a new word: ‘smicker’ – an obsolete British adjective meaning ‘beautiful, pretty or handsome’, or a Scottish verb meaning ‘to look at someone amorously or seductively’.

I’m going to go and find someone Scottish to use that on now, or probably just find someone smicker… to smicker  – and hope I don’t get snickered and sniggered at in return…

Writerly Recklessness#5: Name Calling…

‘What’s your name?’a1736c7a3cc51299e3ec3cdfc8c7c52b--funny-cartoon-pics-funny-cartoons


Here is where you either:

  • Reply without any hesitation, reservation or cursing of your parents.


  • Mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable awkwardness that’s about to follow your answer.

If you’re the latter, you probably have insecurities about your name: perhaps because you have an unusual/rare/easily misheard/mispronounced appellation, or perhaps, on the contrary, you have a beautifully ‘ordinary’ one but, like Anne (of Green Gables), you’d prefer something ‘like Cordelia better’.

So, what’s your name?

It’s, ummm…

However you feel about answering that question people are going to judge you on your answer -because names are words and words have connotations – they’re loaded with meaning: some lexical, some cultural, some personal, and others because you taught a brat called Bromwell for three years and, now, hearing the name is like someone scraping their nails down the blackboard of your soul.

People will particularly judge you if they see your name before they see you; they’re going to make all sorts of assumptions about your age, ethnicity, social background, ability, interests, personality, intelligence, hair colour, shoe size, past behaviour as a child, and parents. Yes. They will especially be judging your parents – the people who named you. The people who made the critical decision; who put the semantic data on your birth certificate, who chose the name(s) that will forever denote WHO YOU ARE.

Although parents might have been thinking ‘Princess’ when they chose ‘Sarah’ for their darling baby girl, or ‘Exalted of the Lord’ when they picked out Jeremy for their little man, other people aren’t really thinking of those meanings when they shout, whisper, hiss or mutter a name.

At some point, this happened to the process of choosing a name:

*The rulers of neighbouring kingdoms show-off their new offspring and heirs*

A: Aw! What a fine-looking baby. What’s his name?

B: We’ve called our son Henry – it means Home Ruler.

C: *nodding smugly* Very appropriate. We’ve called our darling Frederick, which means Peaceful Ruler.

D: That’s not bad, but Herbert here is our Bright Army… *grins boastfully at C’s fading smile*

E:*without hiding a sneer* I see your rulers and armies, and I raise you one Richard: Brave Power.

*Awkward silence*

B: *turning to A* What’s your boy called?

A: Err… George.

C: George? What does that mean?

A: It means earth… err… umm… *mumbles* worker…

D: Earth. Worker. Earth-worker?

A: Yeah…

E: You named your child, the heir to your throne and future ruler of your kingdom, Farmer?

A: We thought it sounded nice…

And yet George has been the name of numerous kings (six of them in Britain – plus the current third in line to the throne) and now connotes rule, steadfastness and nobility.

hello-my-name-is-(pink)-send-postcard-online-2795_32And so, the meanings behind names have lost their significance somewhat. Names have rather just become nice-sounding tags – labels that stand for an abstract idea or a physical entity – or both. Your name becomes a tag for, well, YOU – an easy way to pick you out amongst all the other odd, unique beings out there with their list of strange quirks:

‘You know Sarah?’

‘Sarah? Oh yes!’ – blonde hair, eldest child, favourite colour is blue, good at long distance running, allergic to dandelions, has a thing for frogs…

‘What about Jeremy?’

‘Which Jeremy?’

Jeremy Smith’

‘Ah – Jeremy!’ – big teeth, wears glasses, writes poetry and dresses as a vampire at the weekends; has a weird phobia of garlic…

A name becomes a symbol of you – who you are: a symbol that parents create and the child defines.

So does it really matter, if you’ve done your defining, how you answer that question: what’s your name?

Probably not – if you are a real human being – and unless you’ve been conferred with a name like Devil’s Child, Two Short Planks or Table 99 – in which case… there are psychotherapists who can help you with that.

So, what about the names of fictional people?

I’m acutely aware, as a writer, that I will be judged, as much as a parent might, for the names I bestow on my characters. I haven’t decided yet if this is entirely fair, because I’m not sure if I really choose a name for a character, or if it’s actually something I ‘find’. A bit like the Queen in the tale of Rumpelstiltskin – I sometimes feel like I go through a process of guessing the right name before I land on the one that’s right – the one that fits.

But do character names really matter?

cf7489_793bc01075e34ed08ebbc91b04ae01caWhat’s in a name?’ Juliet Capulet, rather famously, asks. ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’

But would it though? I hate to question Shakespeare (please don’t burn me at the stake) – but I wonder if Romeo and Juliet would be quite the same if he was called Dave and she was called Maureen? Chardonnay and Wigby?  Skunkface and Flowerbottom? Buttons and Widow Twanky?

Yes. And No. I think.

The play would still be Shakepereanly awesome and I’d still be disappointed, for the hundredth time, that they die at the end (belated spoiler alert), but it wouldn’t be quite the same.

Why? Why should the names of the characters matter at all?

Well, let’s take R&J as an example…

Both characters are, in fact, aptly named:

  • Romeo means ‘pilgrim to Rome’ – and our hero actually assumes this role when he first meets Juliet: describing her as a ‘holy shrine’ and thus making himself a ‘good pilgrim’. From Act 1 Scene 5 onwards, R&J’s scenes are awash with religious imagery and language – she calls him the ‘god of my idolatry’ and he, in turn, worships her.
  • Juliet means ‘youthful’, which is appropriate because she ‘hath not seen the change of fourteen years’ and is still a ‘stranger’ to the adult world.
  • In the combination of their names (Youthful Pilgrim [to Rome], anyone?), we get one of the key themes of the play: the impulsive, obsessive, all-consuming passion of youth; the worship of love itself – which can only end in tragedy, as warned by Firar Lawrence:

romeo‘These violent delights have violent ends/ And in their triumph die, like fire (Romeo’s impulsive passion) and powder (Juliet’s inexperience),/ Which as they kiss consume. …/…Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift (too young and rushed) arrives as tardy as too slow.’

Of course, Shakespeare didn’t actually come up with the names Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare was, in many ways, the best fan-fiction writer ever – his version was considerably better and more popular than the original – just compare Shakespeare’s Wikipedia page to Arthur Brooke’s) – the story and characters already existed – but he did create Sir Toby Belch, Nym, Pistol and Malvolio. Perhaps he used the meanings of Romeo and Juliet as a foundation for their characters..?

Yeah… either way, The Bard was a genius – I should just throw down my pen now…

But Shakespeare is not alone in choosing such ‘appropriate’ names for his characters; lots of authors load their characters’ names with meaning. 80f60bd62c779e0b90f32fb6a388e630

For example:

  • The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) – Katniss Everdean. Katniss is a plant in the genus Sagittaria (archer in Latin, hence Saggitarius being the archer in the zodiac signs). And Katniss is, of course, an expert archer…
  • The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkein) – Gandalf comes from Old Norse and means ‘wand elf’ – which is a poetic way of describing a wizard.
  • Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier) – Rebecca De Winter. Rebecca means ‘A tie, snare, noose’ – which is appropriate, considering the influence the dead woman has on those still living. She has a certain power over the other characters, and the narrator and her husband constantly struggle to be free from her very dark shadow. Her surname is also De Winter… the namesake of another femme fatal, Milady, in Alexander Demas’ The Three Musketeers. Winter, of course, suggests someone cold, cruel and deathly.
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) – Hyde is the ‘hidden’ alter-ego of Dr. Jekyll. Personally, I think Stevenson chose the name so he could make this joke:

‘If he be Mr. Hyde,” he [Utterson] had thought, “I shall be Mr. Seek.’


  • Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) – Estella Havisham. Estella means ‘star’ and Pip often describes her as being ‘bright’ and dazzling. But she is also distant and out of Pip’s reach (both socially and emotionally), just like a star – untouchable – something to be looked at but not held.

Dickens is of course in a league of his own when it comes to making a subtle connection between a character’s name and their personality/profession: Rosa Bud (pretty, sweet, whimsical), Thomas Gradgrind (retired mill owner), Mr Jaggers (ruthless and calculating lawyer), Neville and Helena Landless (orphans), and (my personal favourite) the school teacher Mr M’Choakumchild.

Charactonyms only really have any value if the audience recognises them as such and understands the meaning behind the name. So, to Shakespeare’s rowdy Renaissance audience, the meanings behind the names Romeo and Juliet probably made no difference to their enjoyment of a piece of popular entertainment.



Does the name make the character or the character make the name? 499336

I have no idea.

I do agree with J.R.R. Tolkien though: I like to know my characters’ names before I start writing about them – otherwise I don’t feel I know them very well. I want to know the name they were given at birth, what their family calls them, what their enemies call them, what their nicknames are, what they call themselves, how their name might be used within the story – to control, persuade, encourage and motivate them.

Names are important in real life – they give us identity and autonomy. This BBC article is a clear example of why it is our right to not only have a name but to have it recognised too: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-40791798


So, I figure names must be important in fiction too…

I still have no idea whether the actual name matters – so I’m going to go and obsess over it some more – whilst I drink tea and watch Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling. Cormoran Strike. Now there is a pretty STRIKing name…!

I’ll go now…










Writerly Recklessness#4: Imagination is an immigrant.


This week I visited, for the first time, somewhere my imagination had already been.

When I was at university, a friend gave me Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn to read, and this week, I found myself in the same position as Mary Yellan:

‘The country was alien to her, which was a defeat in itself. As she peered through the misty window of the coach she looked out upon a different world from the one she had known only a day’s journey back. How remote now and hidden perhaps for ever were the shining waters of Helford, the green hills and the sloping valleys, the white cluster of cottages at the water’s edge. It was a gentle rain that fell at Helford, a rain that pattered in the many trees and lost itself in the lush grass, formed into brooks and rivulets that emptied into the broad river, sank into the grateful soil which gave back flowers in payment.

This was a lashing, pitiless rain that stung the windows of the coach, and it soaked into a hard and barren soil. No trees here, save one or two that stretched bare branches to the four winds, bent and twisted from centuries of storm, and so blackened were they by time and tempest that, even if spring did breathe on such a place, no buds would dare to come to leaf for fear that the late frost should kill them. It was a scrubby land, without hedgerow or meadow; a country of stones, black heather, and stunted broom.’

Daphne du Maurier Jamaica Inn

The thing is, the excursion into deepest, wildest Cornwall also reminded me of other worlds my minds’ eye has been but my body hasn’t, such as Tolkein’s Middle Earth: it’s easy to belive your being chased by Ringwraiths when you’re passing through a terrain of steep valleys, scrubby moorland, jagged peaks that punctuate the horizon, and tall chimneys and squat houses of iron-grey stone. In fact, when I gave LJ the address for our B&B her comment was ‘I think you made this address up – or you’re going on an adventure to Mordor without me.’ Middle earth

The whole experience of leaving home and travelling to just another part of England emphasised to me how important landscape is to the author and the reader. Emily Bronte is another example – could Wuthering Heights, and the stormy, passionate relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy have ever existed if it wasn’t for the Yorkshire moors? Or Pip and his Great Expectations without Dickens’ London? Wordsworth’s poetry without the Lake District? Hardy’s Wessex novels without Dorset?


Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains, Ireland

Literature is of course full of fantasty landscapes too, but even these often have their roots in real places: The Shire, home of hobbits, is said to be based on rural England, and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia takes inspiration from Ulster, Northern Ireland.

As Lewis wrote: ‘I yearn to see County Down in the snow, one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.’

In theory, the more I travel, the broader and more varied a landscape I could paint as an author. I’d like that theory more if I had the money to test it. The thing is, with the above writers, they all had a relationship with those landscapes, and that probably trumps merely being a holidaying alien to postcard-worthy scenery. TDL might not be set in a particularly exotic world, but it’s a world I know – in all its beauty and ugliness; its taste and texture; its history and present struggles– things that mean it is more than just a setting, but a character in itself – a breathing landscape with its own unique identity.

Cornwall well may become another of those places for me – it certainly has its own personality and I’d love to explore it further: where else do you find place names that appear to have been plucked from an Enid Blyton story – Washaway, Laughter Bridge, London Apprentice? Or roads that will never require the Satnav to say ‘straight ahead’? Or a horizon that can only be reached by crossing ten hidden valleys?

Reading Makes ImmigrantsAs it is though, I’ve never really been able to afford to travel much, but books are cheap, so my imagination is an experienced wanderer. And the difference when your imagination travels is that it never really leaves where it visits. It becomes an immigrant of other worlds – including, of course, the worlds it creates entirely of itself – worlds I hope I can invite others to explore through the pages of my books.

So, whilst my body is back at home, in front of the laptop, my imagination is still romping across the Cornish wildlands… I’m going to have trouble calling it home for tea, I think…


Writerly Recklessness#3: I plan, therefore I am…

cunning fox quote

Crushing the planning today (aided in part by homemade plum tart). I’ve even done some sub-planning – yes, my plan has a plan.

The more I write, the more I learn about myself, such as:

  • I need to stop directing my characters and kill the dialogue-tag adverbs (‘spat sneeringly’ I absolutely plead guilty too).
  • I have an irrational phobia of exclamation marks – I physically shuddered when A.M. (quite reasonably) made me put some in TDL#1 – yes, it was just a few and in completely appropriate places, but still…
  • I become over-attached to certain verbs – shrugging and sneering; sneering and shrugging…
  • I would make the world’s worst spelling bee contestant (I know this because I was once ‘Dictionary Corner’ in a spelling bee for 12-year-olds, and it took me ages to look up the word defnitions because I didn’t know how to spell the word well enough to find it in the dictionary…)
  • I like ellipsis…
  • And, yes, I am obsessively fond of planning, ordering, setting-out, arranging, organising and systemizing.

The last sounds the absolute opposite of a writerly mind that’s supposed to be imaginative, adventurous and the very essence of spontaneity – but the truth is that only by compulsively planning everything in real life can I get any grip on the stuff that’s having a free-for-all in my head – otherwise, I end up writing ten stories at once and never finishing any of them. I could fill a large bookcase with all the stories I’ve started (and WILL finish one day). It-takes-real-planning-to-organize-this-kind-of-chaos.-Mel-Odom

In fact, without planning even ordinary things, I’d probably end up lying in some sort of writerly coma for most of my life (provided someone was able to bring me homemade plum tart to consume three times a day, of course).

Anyway, I should be done planning soon – provided the sub-plan doesn’t decide it needs its own mind-map or something…

Writerly Recklessness#2: I have part of a plan…


LJ came home last night to find the coffee table, and lounge in general, taken over by sugar paper and Sharpies. First thing she wanted to know was ‘Have you made sure the Sharpie pen hasn’t seeped through the paper into the wooden table top?’. My response: ‘Of course I have!’ – dangerous bluffing, but totally got away with it.

Then, of course, she wanted to know what I was actually doing. I thought it was fairly clear that I was planning my third novel in The Divinity Law series, but I explained this anyway. The fact is that TDL#3 has finally out-grown its space in my head (to be fair it has to wrestle with quite a lot of narratives, nerd trivia and general nonsense in there), so I’ve been forced to finally translate it all on to paper.

I did actually break my own golden rule – which is ‘NEVER start writing until you have done a PLAN.’ Not this sort of a plan:

But an actual, 100% complete, chapter-by-chapter, detailed plan: with finalised character names, days of the week, and seemingly insignificant details (that will create MASSIVE plot holes later if you’re flippant with them at the start) sorted out.

Instead, I planned about 12% and then went ahead and wrote the first four chapters anyway – which is NOT ALLOWED – although I’ve done the exact same thing for the other TDL novels. And every time I ignore my own rule, I hit the same problem: round about Chapter 5 I get stuck – even if my 12% takes me beyond Chapter 5, I hit a rut and can’t seem to push the narrative any further. And that’s because a narrative is actually a journey – exactly like a journey – that’s not even a metaphor or anything, because your story is taking your reader from a start to a finish (however complicated, abstract or circular your plot structure). Even if where they end up is ‘Where the hell am I?’ or ‘Back here again?’ they’re still somewhere different, with a different perspective/new information/insight/revelation/emotion etc.

Or at least I’d hope so anyway…

Improvising, going off road for a bit and taking a scenic (or not so much) detour is probably inevitable – but, after you’re done with that sort of reckless writerly-ness, you need to know how you’re going to get back on track to that final destination.

So today I continued with my sugar-paper-and-Sharpie planning frenzie. TDL#3 seems to be a bigger creature than its elder siblings; for the first time, I’ve had to convert my usual black and white notes into a colour-coded, timeline-map thing. LJ said that, being left-handed, she appreciated the fact I have obviously worked from right to left across the page. Actually, err, being generally backward, I’m working from top to bottom – but whatever – as long as it eventually transforms into a manuscript that makes some sort of sense… to someone.

My 12% plan has at least now progressed to about 20%, so tomorrow I will be back to it – and there will be no actual writing until it is done. LJ did express a concern that she might come home one day to find some sort of Sherlockesque crime wall, with bits of paper and string, tacked up on the lounge walls…



I’m not ruling it out.