Am I a psychopath?

IMG_1005  According to this test from Channel 4, I most definitely am. Of course the idea that you can give someone a questionnaire and from that identify their personality traits has been around for a long time, but I’m sceptical.
Maybe that’s because I’ve just read ‘The Psycopath Test’ by Jon Ronson. It is a well written and interesting book that starts with an intriguing mystery and turns into the author’s journey through society’s differing approaches to mental illness. And it is a real roller coaster, from LSD soaked encounter therapies in the 60s, to the checklist driven approach of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness) and the ever increasing drive to classify children’s behaviour in terms of mental illness. I recommend it to anyone, particularly if you work with kids.

The issue that worries me is that if you take normal behaviour and diagnose it as an illness then the label sticks for life. Some kids have a lot of energy and if they’re stuck in a boring classroom with a boring teacher doing something that doesn’t interest them, then that energy is going to come out, probably in a way that gets them into trouble. If you’re a naughty kid then you get the chance to shrug that label off, if you are diagnosed as bipolar you’ve got it for life.

I realise that one of those classrooms can be mine sometimes.

I’m not talking here about genuine cases, I have taught quite a few kids who were, for example, clearly autistic or dyslexic and they needed care and support. What worries me is that education is being pushed down an ever narrowing route, and that leaves less scope for kids to be themselves. If you narrow the definition of normal behaviour (and if you read the Ofsted criteria for ‘good’ behaviour you might as well write ‘traditional middle class’), then you just identify more and more people as abnormal.

Jon Ronson comes to the conclusion that you shouldn’t classify people by their extremes and I think I agree. There is no such thing as normal, unless you are talking statistics. And normal doesn’t necessarily mean better, slavery was normal in the 17th century, doesn’t mean it was a good idea.

I faked the test by the way. I’m not really a psychopath. My uncle was. He had a certificate and everything. He got it because he faked being mad and impulsive so he could get discharged from the Navy, but then that’s exactly the sort of thing a Psychopath would do isn’t it?


What’s so great about Dystopia?

   In my previous post I referred to the world of The Hunger Games as Dystopian, meaning a place that is terrifying, evil and generally not nice. It’s not the only franchise that uses such a setting, see the Maze Runner and the Divergent series to name but two. But why are we so fascinated by such a dark vision of society?

The standard answer is that while Utopia (a good and safe world) might be a nice place to bring up the kids it is actually pretty dull. We want excitement from stories and that requires danger. Our heroes and heroines need to overcome peril and defeat their enemies, preferably against the odds and in the nick of time. Fair enough.

But maybe there is more sinister reason.

Perhaps there is something in human nature that wants chaos, because chaos brings opportunity. Maybe we value ‘winning’ more than happiness, maybe what we all really want is a little bit of mayhem. I realise this is a cynical point of view but look around the world at the moment. War in Syria, terror in Europe, you’ve got to admit I’ve got a point.

Personally the thing I fear most is boredom.

Although being torn apart by a bunch of flesh eating mutants comes a close second.

Either way the message for a writer is this. Give your characters a hard time. Keep them on their toes. Put them in danger. Make your story exciting.

  Well I never really planned to review stuff but sometimes you just feel the need!

  I watched both the Mockingjay films this weekend, first one at home on Amazon Prime and the second the next day at the cinema. They didn’t disappoint. I have found all of the films scarily believable, not to mention seat-grabbingly tense. For me the series succeeds for two main reasons: firstly the characters are complex and flawed, even the heroine, Katniss, isn’t just ‘good’; secondly the distopian world of the Hunger Games is close enough to our own that it feels recogniseably real and therefore so much more terrifying.  
I would also like to mention ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ by Lorde (Mockingjay part 1), I love a great song over the end credits.



The basic premise of the book just came to me, it’s hard to know exactly where from. If I had to point to something then my visit to Dublin in the summer of 2013 definitely got me thinking about my Celtic roots and the traditional belief in the land of the fairie or fair folk ( the Tuatha Dé Danann in Gaelic). Ireland has a very different history to England. It was never part of the Roman Empire, never overrun by the Saxons and as a result the Celtic culture remains strong. I started thinking about what England would have been like in the Middle Ages without all the cultural changes brought about by successive invasions, Roman, Saxon, Viking, Norman. And I suppose that as a teacher it was natural that the main characters would be teenagers. But the first scene of a boy, sitting in a ancient hall, surrounded by faded glory, listening to a speech of welcome just appeared in my mind. And then of course I had to answer the questions that came with it. Who was he? Why was he there? What would happen to him?

How long should a novel be?


Good question. I had no idea. Fortunately Google came to my rescue, and after a fairly random wander through a selection of websites and blogs I came to the conclusion that somewhere in the region of 70 to 100 thousand words seemed about right, with fantasy books at the higher end of this ( all the world setting etc.) and teen novels at the lower end. Now I like a good structure so it made sense for me to have thirty chapters, divided into three sections of ten each, with 2500 words per chapter. This gave me 75 thousand words in total. Which seemed like a plan.

How do you start a novel?


My novel started by decorating a bedroom. I was painting the wall a nice shade of blue and listening to a radio programme where writers were discussing their job. At one point the interviewer asked how much they wrote in a day. One author responded that Joseph Conrad wrote 100 words a day, and that if he himself managed two ‘conrads’ per day he was doing well. “100 words a day?” I thought. “I could do that”

Tha was just over two years ago. Although I haven’t managed to write 100 words every day, I have just about done it on average. Which is why I’m nearly at the end.



Why am I writing this?


Good question. After faffing about with wordpress for the last couple of hours I feel I should be writing a blog about setting up a blog, but I shall stick to the plan.

The thing is I am writing a book. I’ve been writing it for some time. Its even getting to the point that I might actually finish it. So this blog is me working my way through the process of finishing a book and then getting it published. You may be a writer yourself, you may be thinking of writing a book, you might even be interested in my book. I don’t mind, I welcome you to my journey.