Some advice for Writers/Editors/Agents/Car Mechanics/Plumbers on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/Other Social Media (delete as appropriate)

You need to read this post if you’re on social media because, chances are, you’re getting it wrong. I’ve been on social media myself, and have watched the mistakes lots of people make, so I’m going to tell you how it is, so that you can avoid them. You must listen to me. Now.

My top ten must do rules for social media:

1. Sign up to the site, ie Facebook or Twitter etc

2. Add friends and/or follow people. 

3. Type stuff into the boxes. You can type any words you like.

4. Link to articles and stuff. If you want to.

5. You can post pictures, if you like. 

6. Engage with people, by retweeting or replying or commenting or liking. Or just read what they say. Whatevs. 

7. Follow/unfollow/friend/unfriend people at will. Whenever you like. 

8. Post what you want when you want. Be aware that people might unfollow or unfriend you if you’re boring, repetitive, spammy or post pictures of your dinner a little too often.

9. Make sure that you do not give a crap about 8..

10. If you like it, then carry on posting and sign up to other sites. Or don’t. Whatevs. 

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Have you tried turning it off and on again?

I was embarrassed the other day when I had a technical problem at work. My PC wouldn’t work. It had gone to sleep and wouldn’t wake up. Being a reasonably technical person, who used to work in IT, I had a root around myself. I even crawled under the desk to check all the data connections and power leads, no easy feat with my leg in a cast.

I had to give up, defeated, and call the IT helpline.

A short time later, a helpful man turned up at my door. I explained the problem, and the things I had done to try to resolve it. He rooted around under the desk for a moment or two. Then he stood up, and turned to me. ‘Have you tried turning it off and on again?’

These words, so achingly familiar. When I’d worked in software, back in the 1990’s, I had used them nearly every day. Generally, we had preferred the more tech sounding term ‘reboot’ but, nonetheless, I knew of this technique and its uncanny ability to fix most things. We had even once told a client that we were bringing up their server ‘slowly’.

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried this. And, guess what? It fixed the problem.

Oh, dear. I had just dragged someone up to my office to turn my computer off then on again. Me, a person who had worked in IT. The Shame.

Okay, look away now. Here’s a funny video instead.

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The Dream Tiger and the Shed

Last night, the most extraordinary thing happened to me. It was so odd that I was driven this morning to try to capture the moment for others. I tweeted the story, but I am collating it here to keep it all in one place, and in a readable order. Apologies in advance for the odd typo along the way. I was so desperate to get this written down before I forgot it and I perhaps rushed some tweets.

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Richard Dawkins and a trip to Bongo Bongo Land

Yesterday will go down in my memory as the day where everyone took a trip to Bongo Bongo Land, where being bigoted was okay.

We’re getting a puppy. My husband wants to call her Bongo, because of the way the word sounds when he calls it out. So when I heard the word on the radio, I silenced the car and turned up the volume. Imagine my surprise when I heard the story about MEP Godfrey Bloom, who had complained about overseas aid, citing Bongo Bongo land as its recipient. I truly believed, as a society, we were over this kind of nonsense. At least Bloom has been forced to apologise by his party leaders. Even *they* can see that what he said was unacceptable and offensive.  However, the apology lacks any credibility since Bloom spent far too many hours arguing that there was nothing wrong with his offensive remarks variously because Bongo Bongo Land wasn’t a real place, and then because its meaning was the land of the antelope. It was one of those news stories where I found myself yelling at the internet, c’mon, yet real! 

But, in a way, the worst was yet to come. After all, Godfrey Bloom is a member of UKIP, hardly a group of PC individuals. He has form. It’s his job to espouse right wing views and all he’s done is go a little bit further than usual.

Richard Dawkins, however, is an eminent thinker and scientist. He is someone I used to respect, and whose books and thinking I have enjoyed. He is also a bigot. And because he is a person who right minded people take seriously, this is far worse.

For those who’ve been living in Bongo Bongo Land for the last 24 hours, yesterday Dawkins tweeted:

All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.

This was retweeted 999 times, and favourited 416 times. Ouch.

There are so many things wrong with this statement. Before I even touch on the inherent bigotry, let’s take a little look at the logic. What Dawkins did here was take a Western prize, with all the cultural bias that this entails, and use it to compare a group of people who have in common *only* religion, to an academic institution. Not just *any* academic institution, either. Trinity College Cambridge. A seat of excellent. A place created to produce Nobel Prize winners. Creating Nobel Laureates is Trinity College’s *job*. The statement implies (and it does imply) a significance of the Islamic faith to this fact. It willfully ignores the other factors at play. Social development and levels of poverty, health care and education in many Islamic regions of the world etc etc. Tom Chivers sums it up so well here that I won’t repeat it all. Except, just, no, Dawkins. No!

Dawkins defended himself from attacks about racism and bigotry by the argument that what he had tweeted was a ‘fact’ and that he couldn’t possibly be racist in criticising Muslims, because Islam wasn’t a ‘race’, A familiar argument? If you’ve come across the EDL then, yes, it most certainly is.

Again, Dawkins is letting himself down with this puny argument. It’s unworthy of him. Very few commentators accused him of racism, anyway, and at least one of them was someone with the screen name ‘a troll’. The word used by Owen Jones, and many others, was bigotry. And you don’t have to be racist to be a bigot.

Some definitions:

On bigotry: Stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own

On discrimination: Treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit: racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

You don’t have to attack a race in order to be bigoted. In fact, reading the definition, Dawkins could be used as a useful example to illuminate the definition further for those who may be confused.

You don’t have to attack a race to discriminate, either. In fact, the first dictionary definition I came across on the internet uses religious intolerance as one of its examples.

Dawkins, and his supposedly logical atheist supporters, have clung to this statement as their argument. They have clung to the idea that his original statement was merely an intriguing ‘fact’. Except that this doesn’t wash, either. Dawkins is a writer, and a good one at that. He understands subtext and knows how to use it.

In short: there are no excuses.

What’s more, this statement came on Eid, an Islamic festival at the end of a period of fasting. I don’t believe for a second that this was an accident. Dawkins concerns himself with religion. He wouldn’t have missed something like this. ‘Eid Mubarak‘ was trending on twitter when he made his comment. Perhaps this is what provoked him to action.

Another argument I’ve seen is that Dawkins would be the same towards any faith. This isn’t about Islam specifically, or Muslims. No, it’s merely religion per se he’s intolerant of. Well, you can try that one. But compare his Eid tweets with what he sent out last Christmas:

Merry Christmas from this culturally Christian atheist, in the midst of a blizzard in South Georgia.

This isn’t the first time Dawkins has shown his bigotry and intolerance towards Muslims on his twitter account, either. He was criticised earlier this year for this tweet:

Haven’t read Koran so couldn’t quote chapter & verse like I can for Bible. But often say Islam greatest force for evil today

His response to this criticism later in the year made me squeal into the screen of my laptop:

To repeat yet again, I don’t need to read Mein Kampf to know that I am passionately against Nazism. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Of course, I immediately @replied to Dawkins stating Godwin’s Law, because I am of the internets. A sure sign you have lost once you involve Hitler and his cronies imho. (Okay, probably not *that* humble, still…)

But, really, a quote from the King James Bible to defend this position? Seriously? From The Good Book?

The verse Dawkins chose is from Matthew Chapter 7. I refer him to the first verse of this particular chapter:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

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What are the best first lines and why?

I love the way Stephen King writes about writing. His memoir On Writing is probably my favourite book on the subject, and the one I always recommend to aspiring writers or students who ask what they should read. I love the insight he gives to his writer’s process, and how that so eloquently explodes the myth that commercial writers don’t focus on the words. This article, which I came across via @KimberlyABettes on twitter, is particularly wonderful. It’s about the importance of first lines.

Call me Ishmael.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

If you’re anything like as bothered about books and stories as I am, then you can probably name every one of the books that begins with the five sentences I’ve listed. You might even know several of these first lines by heart. You have probably heard the lines before, even if you haven’t read these books. Which says it all. These short, intense pieces of writing, which invite us in so eloquently, speak for themselves.

I’ve been thinking hard, since reading the King article, about what my favourite fictional openers are. I’ve been trawling through my most loved novels and trying to work it out. I think I’ve narrowed it down to two. These are:

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.

These two first lines work in similar ways, I think. They pull you by your hair, right into the centre of the drama. They hook without trying be mysterious, which is such a trick. And they give you a big chunk of story that you’re not even aware of taking in. Tyler has a bit of a split personality. He flies from one extreme to another. He’s the kind of mad head who might push a gun into your mouth to try to teach you something.  The narrator of The Secret History is in trouble, as are his friends. It’s all to do with Bunny’s death. Why are they implicated? Brilliant. And now I want to read both books again, even though I have a pile of new ones I haven’t had time to really get stuck into yet. *sigh*

All this thinking drew me to look back at my own first lines and reassess them. I was reasonably happy with this exercise. I think they mostly do their job, although one did strike me as a tad boring without the second sentence to put it into context. You can make your own mind up, though. Here they are.

Some people’d say I was destined for all this killing when Uncle Frank came into my life but it goes back further than that.

You walk through the door and into a wall of sound.

On the night she arrived in Fort William, Susie dreamed of weddings.

Emma was sitting on her bed.

I don’t remember writing these first lines, for the most part, and so I can’t work out how much they contributed to the process of writing my novels. Perhaps first lines aren’t as important to my process as they are to King’s. I’d love to hear from other writers and from readers. What are your favourite first lines? Why do you love them? And what are your own first lines and how did writing them contribute to your development of the novels that followed?

I thought I’d add, as a bit of a bonus track, the first line from my current work in progress. I’ll post again when I’ve finished, and let you know what happened to it.

“Long ago, which is always a far away land, there lived a boy with a sliver of ice in his heart.”


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What have I learnt from the first year of my MA?

What have I learnt from the first year of my MA?.

Really interesting blog – especially for me as a Uni Course Leader.

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Social media

Last night, I was having much fun on twitter (where I live as @nikival71) creating new euphemisms with writer friends. A twitter pal who I know in the real world suggested that the only thing you could really work out from cover blurbs on books was who was sleeping together. He was being a bit of a digga demon, as is his wont, but it led to us talking about who was ‘blurbing’ who, and ‘girl on girl blurb action’. I thought this was great fun, so I shared it with The Good Husband.

He was a bit fneh, and went on to tell me (not for the first time) his theories about twitter and facebook. According to The Good Husband, twitter is very middle class, and facebook is more all reaching. He didn’t say where he thought blogs fitted into the social order.

I’m not sure about this, but trending topics like ‘Scrivener‘ and NaNoWriMo make me oft state ‘there are too many writers on twitter!’ My feed would certainly appear to confirm this. Then again, my twitter feed, and my facebook profile, give me the impression that everyone in the world is rather left wing and liberal. It’s all a bit self-selecting.

I do think twitter has a certain appeal for writers of all classes, though. The 140 character thing is a challenge. The Good Husband: Why would you want just 140 characters when you can have as many as like on Facebook? My answer, well, it’s a bit like Haiku. The restriction can help you focus in the right way so that you can say exactly what you mean. It perhaps keeps that logical, structured conscious brain busy and lets the subconscious do its work, for change.

I’ll leave the last words on this to Ernest Hemingway

‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

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The places nowhere can mean

To say that I didn’t get on with my first school teacher is rather an understatement. I threw orange juice over her, albeit not entirely deliberately, and she drove me close to a nervous breakdown. I was a difficult child in many ways, I know that. I was easily distracted, daydreamy and headstrong. I was five. I was also imaginative, bright and sensitive.

And my teacher was a professional. It was her job to be patient. I was five.

She told my parents that I would never come to anything. She said that I’d go nowhere with my life. She doubted I’d even learn to read. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for long enough, she said. I had no capacity for learning. It’s an interesting call to make about any five year old. My parents complained. The headteacher asked them where they were expecting me to go.

I thought about this for the first time in years the other day, as I sat in Cambridge University Library. I wondered if that was what she meant when she said ‘nowhere’. Perhaps she didn’t express herself as precisely as she could have. Perhaps we didn’t understand what she was trying to say.

Maybe ‘nowhere’ was London, or York. Maybe it was Chicago or Paris or New York. Maybe it was the Amazon Rain Forest. Perhaps nowhere was the Society of Authors event where I picked up my first literary prize. Or the Arts Club in Chelsea where I picked up the next.

Nowhere could have meant Nottingham University, where I teach most days. It was perhaps Swan Lane, or Canary Wharf, where I worked for a big Investment bank. Maybe it was the first classroom I stood in as a Maths Teacher, in 1993. Or it could have been one of the many bars and clubs and houses where I’ve partied over the years. She might have meant the house I bought to live in with my family, finally settling down after many years away, not far from the school where she taught for her entire career.

I still don’t know where nowhere is. I think I’ll keep on looking in as many places as I can.

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