The One I Feed

There is a saying that goes a little something like this:

An Indian (Native American) Chief is relating a story to his Braves after watching a fight between two of them earlier.  The Braves wanted to know why they fight each other.

“In all of us there are two wolves.  One white one, One grey.  The white wolf is full of peace, harmony, happiness.  The grey is fear, anger, envy, jealousy.  They are in a battle to the death and the winner gets to claim your soul.”

One warrior, impatient with the old man’s stories says “Who will win?”

“The One I feed.” replies the Chief.

What I love about this story is the understanding that there is good and bad (not necessarily evil) in all of us.  We become good or bad depending on our actions, our thoughts, our behaviour.  It also teaches us that we can change.  If we step back and realise our actions have consequences then we might not make such rash decisions.

Stories have been helping us understand ourselves for thousands of years.  Like the hero figure of old, they can be used to inspire others to do better.  But that can only happen if they feed the white wolf.

When you want to lash out because you’ve been hurt remember, this is the grey wolf talking.  He’s hungry and wants to feed off your negativity.  Feed the white wolf instead.

The Night Manager: Episode 5

Looking back on last night’s episode I got the feeling that the success of the team is not just about a race against time, but also avoiding being trapped between a rock and a hard place.

We begin with a trip to the Haven,  a camp of soldiers set close to a refugee camp.  In order to avoid too many questions, Roper hands out some aid boxes on the way.  On arrival, Roper is greeted like royalty by his men.

Personally I found this difficult to watch, not least because they are essentially mercenaries.  While ‘mercenary’ is a dirty word, PMCs or Private Military Companies are numerous.  They have been taking over the less onerous tasks from the military for some years (the industry is now worth billions of dollars).  Certainly the group surrounding Roper did not have a professional feel about them.  Perhaps it is because of their diverse nature, I’m not sure.

Pine’s task was to supervise a firepower demonstration for a potential client.  While it went well, I’m not sure it gave the impression it was looking for.  By that I mean, some of the performances felt a little off.  For example, Hugh Laurie’s line about napalm was a little too close to the famous Apocalypse Now quote, for comfort.

In the meantime, Rex Maberley, Angela Burr’s boss, gets the push from his boss.  The ‘good’ side are losing friends fast, even the Americans are pulling out, too.  To top it all, a senior member of MI6 warns Angela Burr off, personally.  These deals which Roper is overseeing, are valuable to the country.

With time and friends vanishing at a rapid rate of knots, Angela Burr soon finds herself on her own.  Pine, with the arrival of Corcoran, is feeling the pressure too.  A night time excursion to deliver a message is spotted by Corky, leaving Pine no choice but to take him out.  Roper, desperate to find out who has been selling his secrets casts suspicion over everyone.  With Corky’s death, a convenient scapegoat is found.

Lastly we come to the convoy fiasco.  Angela Burr’s team, via Pine, hears about a convoy of weapons disguised as humanitarian aid heading to the border.  On interception, it is found to contain grain and agricultural equipment.

While it was a good episode, there were some scenes that did not feel right for me.  I was looking for either a gleeful, happy evil from Roper or a darker, colder one.  Instead it felt flat, neither cold nor anything else for that matter.

The performances from the rest of the cast was very convincing.  Elizabeth Debicki’s confession scene felt real.  Her lines were excellently thought out and well delivered.  Just one more episode to go for this intriguing story.

When the Story Doesn’t Come

You sit there and nothing happens.  Time halts as your fingers waver over the keyboard or the pen over the paper but the muse, or whatever you call it, has taken the day off.  Never mind, you say, It’ll come later. But it doesn’t want to come later, either.

Maybe a little bit of guilt sets in.  It’s been three days since you got something down.  Perhaps I should be worried?  What if my creativity has run out?  That’s it, its over, no longer a writer.  Lets not be hasty, you can’t expect to write all the time, right?  But what about professional writers, they write every single day, how do they get through this?

I know, I’ll look on the internet/find a book on the subject.  Someone is bound to have written about it.  This is all a distraction, of course.

Does it really matter what the real reason is?  If it is an external source, then yes, it does matter.  Remove the source or deal with it and you should be able to start writing again.  After all, we are all humans and are subject to numerous things wanting our precious resources; physical, emotional or otherwise.

Sometimes though, it is through lack of practice.  What helps for professionals is that they write all the time, but even they have struggles too.  Terry Pratchett wrote in his autobiography (which I suggest you buy, by the way) how a typical day went.  Each day he set himself a target number of words (400, if I recall) to write and this particular day it took him the whole day (I’m not kidding either) to get there.

I know you’re not going to like this but, keep at it.  Never give up, never give in.  Drive yourself.  Sit down, any opportunity you have, and try.  You might not get anything, but trying and failing is better than not trying at all.  You cannot hope to win a competition if you do not enter.  That is only the stuff of stories.

Like everything, writing needs to be worked at.  In this day of near instant gratification, taking years to get to the end goal feels like a nightmare.

I love the definition of wordsmith ‘A person who works with words, especially a skillful writer’.  Just like a blacksmith works with metal, a wordsmith works with words.  Apprentice blacksmiths may come up with something resembling a sword just like a novice writer can arrive at something which looks like a novel.  Lets face it though, the misshapen lump is best off sticking back into the furnace to be worked on.

Day after day, the blacksmith turns up at the forge hoping today will be a good day.  Each day brings a new experience and over time that experience makes them a better smith.  That is what you need to do with writing.  Imagine a world without metal because the smith gave up.  Pretty stark, isn’t it?  Now imagine a world without stories.






The Pink Salamander has landed!

What I threatened a few months ago has finally come to pass (probably before Christmas but I’m not too sure!), The Pink Salamander is here, yay!  You can read it here The Pink Salamander or you can navigate via the menu on the right.

So what was the inspiration behind it?  Well its a strange one really, I recall the title popping into my head not long after I had woken up one morning.  A Pink Salamander was so unusual that, at first, I dismissed it.  I then decided otherwise and went with it.

I took me a while to write it but far longer to edit.  I’m glad I did as the first draft was mainly dialogue.  Dialogue works well in your head but does not make for great reading.

I hope you like it.



The Night Manager: Episode 4

Now that Pine is deep inside Roper’s crew he can be trusted to own one of Roper’s companies and it is here where we start.  His meddling has not gone unnoticed by Corcoran who has taken more than a dislike to Pine.  Threats ensue especially after a nighttime liaison.  While at the time there was nothing untoward going on between Pine and Roper’s girlfriend, they soon develop a more intimate friendship.

Angela’s back-up source has been getting cold feet and needed persuading to help once more.  His fears are realised later on when he is found dead.  The information he gave was pivotal in more ways than one.

For a start Angela’s team, with the help of a mole, (I use the term loosely here) is able to discover who is set to gain from Roper’s deals.  Shockingly the people are senior members of MI6.  To make matters worse, a member of the government is embroiled in it too.  Wheels must turn which results in the aforementioned death.

While this is going on Roper and Co. make their way to Istanbul.  It is here that Pine must carry out his first transaction of his new company.  As expected, all goes smoothly.

Then we come to a scene which I felt was unnecessary. We know that these deals involve weapons, through dialogue as well as carefully photographed documents, so why show Roper and Co. visiting the ship the weapons arrived on?  Perhaps it is to add an air of excitement or danger to the proceedings.  Without actually seeing the weapons the story could come across as being lukewarm.  I can only guess.

Pine’s antics with Roper’s girlfriend were not as secret as you might think.  Angela’s team have discovered the affair and they order him out.  Panicking, Pine informs Roper of a police presence and they escape just in time.

This episode, despite the earlier reservation, was very good.  The plot twists and turns, never quite going where you think it is.  It helps that brilliant acting brings the story to the fore.  While I have taken the time to highlight the main cast, the supporting members are excellent too.  Even the dinner guest who lost a lobster salad to Corcoran’s antics was well played.


photo courtesy of

When Breath Becomes Air: A Book Review

Reviewing this book feels a little sacreligious as the subject is a difficult one, but I shall give it a try.  For those of you who do not want to read a review that threatens to be morbid, you might want to skip this one, I’ll understand.

What caught my eye as I walked through my local bookshop was the title.  It took me a second or so to realise it is about death.  Not just any death but the death of the author, Paul Kalanithi.  He did not die at his own hands but by that rather too common cause, cancer.

Like a lot of books these days, it punches you in the gut first before allowing you to rest.  By that I mean, it deliberately alters the chronological order to highlight a specific point in time.  In this case it is the initial diagnosis of lung cancer.

What makes this book poignant is Paul’s life and career.  At first he wished to be a writer.  He wanted to understand the morality of life, especially when it comes to suffering.  However he found language was not enough and so through a series of events, changed his mind to follow a path in surgery, specifically neurosurgery.

Working on the brain is like messing with a person’s personality.  One incision in the wrong place (we’re talking millimetres here) could change a person’s life forever.  It is downright scary and humbling what neurosurgeons do.

Throughout his career, Paul performed many operations, some more successful than others.  He comforted many families, made people’s lives liveable, even if only for a short while.  Easing a patient’s suffering was what drove him yet he still struggled with the beast he faced every day, death.

And then it happened.  Strictly speaking, it didn’t happen out of the blue. Severe back pain had wracked his body for many weeks and it was only when he lost a lot of weight did he take notice.

With the diagnosis the tables were flipped, he was now the patient.  When the cancer was in remission, Paul decided to go back to work.  I should point out that a neurosurgeon close to qualifying as chief resident works an incredible amount so it was not a decision to be taken lightly.

To begin with, Paul made ‘baby-steps’.  Slowly but surely he increased his workload until it was almost back to normal.  Then it came back.

With barely two weeks before his baby girl was to be born, his body rebelled.  Both stage one (a drug) and stage two (chemotherapy) had failed.  From this point Paul’s health deteriorated.

The exception to his life of pain was his daughter.  What joy little Cady gave to her father I cannot begin to fathom.  However I do have the last paragraph which brought me close to tears.

Reading this book was hard at times but also revealing.  What is it that we strive for in our lives?  We want our life to have meaning.  We want to do something useful with our time. We want to prove to ourselves we don’t just exist, we take part.


Photo courtesy of

I Love My Cake

I’ll warn you now, this is not a blog about my love for the sweet dessert.  It is all about a writing class.

Last night I attended what purported to be a creative writing workshop.  I had visions of writing exercises, discussions and a general feeling of togetherness with other writers. That didn’t happen.

During the break we had a choice of chocolate cake (why did I not touch this?) and sourdough ginger cake.  Before I go further I’d like to say this, get between me and cake and you’re likely to be trampled underfoot.  If I turn down cake I’m either ill or dead (well, not quite like that but you get the idea).  Now I was promised the rest of the cake at the end of the evening which would have been a great result, yet I left before collecting it.

Why did I leave free cake?  Because it was the one highlight in an otherwise bad evening.

As writers, I feel we bring our own unique individuality to the art of writing.  Life is a highly personal experience and because of this we have a rich literary history.  Humanity has been very fortunate that storytellers have existed for so long.  I’m not going to give you an exhaustive list as such things are subjective.  We each have our own favourites which we love and cherish.

Last night’s speaker (will remain nameless) had ideas that were different from the norm. Not content to follow their publisher’s advice they went their own way.  I’m sure we’ve heard of various authors trying different publishers in order to get their story into print.  As the author you have to believe in the story.  You need a large amount of stubbornness to get it off the ground.

But what if it stinks?  What if it is a load of rubbish?  Then the stubbornness becomes an issue. Instead of listening, you are ignoring good advice.  Before you know it, you’ve given up your day job in pursuit of something unobtainable.

After reading an extract from his book I had to wait for an explanation for it to make sense.  In the first sentence alone, several assumptions must be made.  Without them the story becomes confusing.  Even with them its was still hard to follow.

After an hour of standing on his soapbox lambasting the publishing world along with reading his material, we had a reprieve. I know I took the opportunity with both hands and I could see many felt the same.

The call to return filled me with dread.  Was the second half going to be as bad as the first?  Were we finally going to get a chance take part in exercises, stretching our literary muscles?  Short answer, no.

Long answer, the speaker felt we did not had enough time to do any exercises.  The second half then was basically a repeat of the first.  More lambasting, more talk of his book, more confusion.

There came a point where I decided as soon as it was over, I was going to leave.  Sure there was delicious cake luring me but it wasn’t strong enough to hold me back.  Willingly staying longer in his presence was not on the cards.

So what did I get from the evening?  I hope that my love for writing never develops into the negative attitude I experienced last night. I also hope I am never too stubborn to take a hint.  In essence then, I hope I will become a better writer than he is, one that is able to listen to constructive criticism and take note.



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The Night Manager (Episode 3)

After watching last night’s episode I have come to the conclusion that it was predominantly about liaisons and testing loyalties.  Now that Pine is inside Roper’s group he needs to alter the balance of power so he can have more access.

Treading carefully, Pine must move from being the pariah of the group into one with power.  The best way to do that is the eliminate his rival, Major Corcoran.  In doing so Pine aligns himself with some intriguing characters.  With their unwitting help, as well as Angela and her team assisting, Pine is able to sideline the threat and come up smelling of roses.

While the main plot is evolving a sub-plot is taking shape, one which threatens to undo all Pine’s hard work.  Inter-agency rivalry (MI6, CIA et al) is beginning to make itself felt. Some members of the aforementioned intelligence services are jealous of Angela and her team and will do anything to take over the operation.  What is doubly surprising is that at least one of the agencies is passing intelligence to Roper directly.

Over the last three hours the story has unfolded gently enabling the viewer to get their teeth into each character.  Murder, suicide, adultery, cynicism, naivety and even a dash of self-loathing have had their part to play.  Relationships, both personal and professional, feel the strain and start to dissolve.  These characters, including Richard Roper, feel vulnerable and perfectly human.  It makes me wonder where the story will go next.

As always, the acting has been solid throughout.  Hugh Laurie is excellent as Roper.  The mix of bully, sneak, liar and arrogant philanthropist has been captured perfectly.

Ex_Machina: A Review

Do you know what it feels like to be duped?  That feeling you get when you know you’ve been outsmarted.  Its not very nice, is it?  Perhaps you thought you were clever, thriving on it.  Then someone comes along and shows you how foolish you can be.

So I guess my take on this film is this; its smart, very smart.  A thought provoking film that will lead you one way and yet be heading in an entirely different one.  That, my friends, is the hallmark of a great story.

The premise is this, a man wins a competition to spend a week with his boss.  Not just any boss, the boss, the owner of the company he works for.  The winning and the journey are irrelevant except to give a sense of remoteness to where he ends up.

On arrival Caleb, the winner, discovers the ulterior motive.  He is to help perform a Turing Test on an AI the boss has built.  For those who don’t know, a Turing Test is used to see if a candidate can pass as being human.  In this case the AI is a female called Ava.

Throughout the week Caleb and Ava learn about each other.  Not content to leave them to it Nathan (the boss) watches them through a CCTV system.  After all, he needs to observe the test in order to have a point of reference when comparing notes with Caleb.

As new pieces of information come to light, you begin to empathise with the characters.  Trapped in the wilderness they are, in essence, in a cage of their own making.  Who is the caged and who is the keeper?  That is the question.

So it is a given that things start to go wrong.  How and why, I will not reveal but it does add tension to the story.  Over the course of the film they help to reveal loyalties between the parties.  Which all aids to inform their behaviour.

I can’t help but imagine what must have been going through Caleb’s mind over the course of the week.  Who does he trust?  His unsavoury boss or the woman who’s caught his attention?

This film could not have worked without three great actors.  Domnall Gleeson expertly plays a tentative yet thoughtful, Caleb.  Alicia Verkander performs wonderfully as Ava.  Without her wiles working their magic this film would not be as good as it is.  Finally we come to Oscar Issac.  As Nathan, he plays a pretty damn good antagonist to Gleeson’s naive looking protagonist.

As each character is significantly different, they are easy to get into.  But the depth each actor brings to their role makes them feel alive.

Credit must also go to Alex Garland who wrote the story.  I think we forget that if it wasn’t for the story, there would be no film.  If this is what he comes up with, I can’t wait to be outsmarted again.

Yet another new story

Head on over to the Writing section of my website and locate the page ‘The Accident’ for a new story.  Alternatively, you can just click the title, above.

The original idea behind this story was to write a conversation between a person and Death.  While in essence that is what happened, it certainly didn’t turn out quite like I expected!

That’s the beauty of writing though, it will flow down whatever course it wants to flow and you can’t stop it mid stream.  Sure you can alter it later but sometimes it is those first meanderings that give rise to something beautiful.  All you have to do is to make it look a little neat and tidy.  Enjoy!