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Will IT destroy us?
Category: Writing

A glance at history will show how so many discoveries started out as a boon and mutated into a bane.


Antibiotics were one of our finest medical breakthroughs. Used correctly, they still would be, but overprescription has led nature to develop infections resistant to any drug. Our saviour is suddenly potentially lethal.


Is IT the next antibiotics? Exponential growth of a connected and highly complex world offers myriad vulnerabilities to the unscrupulous. The ransomware attacks brought the UK National Health Service and giant corporations to their knees until solutions could be found. The next war has already started, devoid of bombs and bullets. Instead, some anonymous hacker, armed with a keyboard and mouse, can black out a country’s electricity supply at the touch of a button.


The hugely negative impact on society has hit the spotlight with the Facebook scandal. The tech giants have at last been outed as amoral profit seekers, pushing their technologies even when they knew of the dangers. Unfettered and unregulated, they have merely shrugged their shoulders at any suggestion that with power comes responsibility for the millions whose personal data has been violated.


A new individual morality – or is that immorality? – has surfaced. Many see nothing wrong in cyber bullying or hurling vile abuse across the ether that they would not countenance face to face. Taxed with the damage or even death that they have caused, such trolls remain unmoved. Somehow in their eyes, the remoteness of the attacks absolves them of any blame.


Today’s generation are born tech-savvy, but there is a growing realisation that screen addiction is damaging their learning abilities, their social skills and denying them a normal childhood. The head of one of UK’s best schools is in the van of a movement to ban screens in school, stating: ‘Digital devices have no place in childhood’.


For me, the greatest threat is as yet lurking in the wings. It is artificial intelligence, AI. These systems that self-learn and correct their own mistakes are poised to revolutionise life’s every facet. AI is at the heart of an upsurge in driverless vehicles that are supposedly programmed to recognise every hazard and increase their vocabulary by experience. Already they have caused two deaths because of their inability to recognise a danger and the driver’s to retake control in time.


Already too, scenarios are presaged where almost every task is undertaken by AI machines and virtually nobody works. Imagine the devastating impact on a world where you cannot earn a living. Who will provide the money for your needs and what will happen to our social structures and interactions?


The significant danger of AI is that the machines eventually take over and refuse any outside instructions. Robert Harris’ spine-chilling novel ‘The Fear Index’ graphically illustrates that very eventuality. Unless governments act immediately to regulate and contain AI, 1984 will become a reality.


I fear for mankind.





Plot or Free Flow?
Category: Writing
Tags: writing plotting short stories novels

Something I’ve been giving some thought to recently is whether you should plot out your writing – whether it be short stories or novels – or whether you should just start and see where you end up.

When I first started writing, I had plenty of ideas. I would start and then get stuck and eventually abort. I still have files and files of half (or quarter) written stories. To help myself with this I set myself the challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I can’t say that I wrote 365 finished pieces, but I certainly got much better at being able to reach an end. I’ve heard some people say that even if you don’t know how the story is going to go, you should at least have an ending in mind; something you’re working towards.

For flash fiction it’s probably not even possible to plot out your story. But how about for longer pieces? Barbara Dynes in Masterclasses in Creative Writing says “[t]he amount of obstacles and complications you add to your initial idea depends on the length and tone of your story.” (p.11) This is her suggestion for a 2,000 word story: Problem, Obstacle 1, Obstacle 2, Obstacle 3, Crisis, Climax (pg.11). I’ve tried plotting out stories like this, but don’t find they flow particularly well when I write them. This may just be because 2,000 words is not a good length for me, or maybe it’s because plotting doesn’t work for me.

I’ve recently finished the first draft of my first novel. I didn’t plot anything. I knew the beginning and I had a rough idea of the ending and I wrote a couple of pages per day until it was finished. It will take a lot of editing, but is that any different to a plotter’s first draft? The 90-day novel, written by Alan Watt, is based around there being a story structure for the novel, which “can be applied to any story, from the most ‘traditionally structured’ to the most esoteric piece of writing” (pg. 285).

I know every writer needs to find his or her own way, but my question is: have you changed the way you write in the time that you’ve been writing? How? And why?

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?
Category: Writing
Tags: short stories readers writers

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?

The first question is easy to answer – in my case anyway – so I’ll start there.

  • Satisfaction comes more swiftly by writing a few hundred or a few thousand words than it does by completing a full-length novel.
  • Competitions give a chance to validate your work. Merely getting placed on a longlist can boost the spirit. No less the ego. As a writer lacking self-confidence, that gives me further motivation.
  • Writing 2000 words and winning one competition might earn you as much as writing a novel. It’s only a suspicion. I don’t know. Often we writers say we don’t write for money but it is kind of nice.

There are downsides. If the chances of success are there, the odds are high. And is it as satisfying to finish thirty or so short stories as it is to complete a full-length novel?

Although I write short fiction almost exclusively, 98% of my reading is novels, not short stories. I find the experience of full emotional engagement and immersion in the story, over several days or weeks, more satisfying. On the other hand, the high standard of writing required in a short story is hard to keep consistent in the longer form. Perhaps why I hesitate to go there myself.

So, who reads short stories?

  • Writers are more likely to read them than your average reader. Personally, before entering a competition I check out former winners if they’re published on the site. A quick scroll determines the style of writing – literary or perhaps a mixture. Often I flash through to the end in an effort to gauge how conclusive they are. If you call that reading.
  • Short story anthologies, apart from the most prestigious perhaps, are mostly read by friends and family members of the authors. Free downloads are added to the statistics but there is no proof on how many stories are actually read.
  • The general public is more likely to buy a collection of stories if written by a celebrity (Tom Hanks comes to mind) or by a best-selling author – personally, I love Joanne Harris’s “Jigs & Reels”

The latter are the kind of books that build the sales figures and, as a recent Guardian article suggests, “create the myth” that the short story is having a renaissance. 

But it’s not all doom and gloom.  

In France a company called Short Édition is trying to engage the public, both adult and younger readers, by offering free short stories in paper format in over 100 dispensers throughout France, mostly in railway stations. You can choose between a 1, 3 or 5 minute-long story.

This brilliant idea has caught on elsewhere. Francis Ford Coppola, a short story fan himself, has installed a dispenser in his Café Zoetrope in San Francisco. Other places in the States have followed suit, hoping that the novelty of reading fiction from a piece of paper will inspire children, and keep them – at least for a few minutes – from their digital screens.

Like any character in a good story, I’ve had a eureka moment. Writing this has inspired me to read more short stories and I’ve just ordered another collection


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