Please may I offend you?

warning: this post contains words you may find offensive

I’m a lover of BBC radio 4, and top of my list of people to get stuck in a lift with would have to be Eddie Mair, the presenter of ‘PM’. If you are reading this in North America, his show is a great window into the British psyche. It goes out at 17:00 GMT, worth a listen if you can find it online.

This evening (9-Nov-17) he ran a piece about offensive language, specifically the use of swear words on radio. The item took the form of a conversation with the excellent stand-up comedian, Janey Godley (who, sadly did not manage to get Eddie to say “fuck”), and the fab writer Harry Ritchie. It grabbed me because I’m in the process of putting together a radio show about creative writing and have had to get to grips with the rules and regs relating to what I can say on air in the UK.

Eddie and his guests took the line that one needs to be sensitive about causing offence and choose language accordingly. Harry Ritchie also made the point that our reluctance to use offensive words is a feature of our increasingly tolerant society (meaning I guess that as we become more tolerant of different cultures and world-views, we are more sensitive and careful not to ride over the feelings of others). Quite right too. I couldn’t disagree with any of that. But it did start me thinking.

What I wanted to post up here for debate was something about the generic topic of causing offence – how we currently (in the UK) think about it, and why (I say) we’ve got it wrong. I’d like to know what you think….

Here’s my view

Straight out of the box I’d have to say that I do not think it is right to deliberately and provocatively offend people (although I have been guilty of doing just that at times). I think that we’re all in this together, and that we should be nice to one another. I think we have ‘the right’ to offend, but I do not think it is ‘right’ so to do.

But…

I do have a problem with the way the conversation around causing offence seems to be going (I’m talking UK here). My position is articulated beautifully by the most excellent Stephen Fry who said “you’re offended…so fucking what?” (See 1:10 here)

Being ‘offended’ is just whining.

Why are we so very worried about causing offence? Could it be that it is our inability to deal properly with being offended that is at the root of much of our angst? If you offend me should I not be able to take it on the chin?

To put it in another context – I spent a little of my life as a biomedical scientist. One thing that remains with me from those dark-days is the knowledge that no matter how clever you are at trying to control ‘nasties’, ultimately the battle is won or lost by your immune system.

Isn’t it the same with offence?

Would it not be healthier to be ‘immune’ to offence that try to eradicate it from our language or our discourse?

So, here’s the thing

I’m not advocating a world where we all go out of our way to be overtly offensive to one another. Life is hard and can be made much (much) better by a kind word or a gentle remark. This should be our default position.

What I guess I am saying is that if we focus on trying not to cause offence, we end up in a right old pickle. If we take the view that we must not cause offence, the unintended consequence is that we turn ‘the offended’ into a victim. “I have a right not to be offended. You offended me, I am wronged.”

Thinking of oneself as a victim is disempowering. Allowing oneself to be offended is a bad thing.

My view is that we should look at the issue from the other side of the fence. Instead of concentrating on not causing offence, why not develop a culture where being offended ‘feels’ OK; a culture where we are all robust enough to ask ourselves why we are offended by a remark or opinion, and if (as is typical) it is because it rubs up against a belief we hold, take a moment to examine our own world-view.

I am offended by loads of stuff (Bishops sitting in the House of Lords, State funding of faith schools, the ruination of Star Wars) but none of this does me any harm. Being offended isn’t nice. I don’t like it. But it does not make me feel like a victim. I do admit to shouting at the telly now and then, but in my brighter moments being offended about an issue shines a light on my own beliefs and gives me a chance to address my own prejudices.

So tomorrow, I’m going to start to ‘help’ others develop an immunity to offence. I shall go out for a walk, and instead of saying ‘good morning’ to strangers, I shall fix them in the eye and say “the Queen’s a man”, or “your perfume is very powerful, have you considered washing as an alternative?” I shall smile at parents with babies and say “your child is ugly.” In these and other small ways I shall seek to make the world a better, more robust place.

Actually, no, I won’t do any of that. I just think we’re looking at the issue from the wrong end that’s all. I think that instead of attempting to eradicate offence, we should learn to suck it up, to develop an immunity to it. But then I just write crappy sci-fi, so what the fuck do I know.
Love to hear your thoughts – @AdamEBradbury for twittering or via comments here.

Until next time…all good things to you…and remember you have the right to write!

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Is atheism a religion?

Is atheism a religion?

I’ve recently been having a debate on my Facebook page with a relative (and friend) about the state funding of faith schools in the UK. In a nutshell I’m against it and she’s for it….I’m not going to run the debate again here, if you’re interested seek me out on Facebook. In this to-and-fro one comment that jumped out at me was along the lines that atheism is in essence no different from religion in that it is a belief system. I thought this was a really interesting comment and wanted to explore it a bit. I have some thoughts and something to say about it in the context of creative writing so I thought I’d share them with you….here goes.

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Atheism is a little like religion

OK so how is atheism ‘like’ religion (sorry to those of you of faith to lump you all together for now). Well, adherents to both can be morally self-rigtheous, painfully evangelical and even dangerously fanatical. But they can each be kind, considerate, compassionate and morally strong. So plenty of ways that we can put them together then.

But there is a difference

…and its a big one and the clue is in the word ‘faith’.

People ‘of faith’ are just that. They embrace a world view in which evidence is not necessary,  in fact its absence is considered a virtue. One accepts God or Gods as a matter of faith through revelation or testimony of revelation. No evidence is needed. (I don’t make a judgement about this here, just state it as fact).

The atheist on the other hand says ‘because there is no evidence of soul or god or heaven or of hell, I cannot believe.’ Their (my) world view is that evidence (or the lack of it) is important. (Again I do not say here this is ‘correct’ and the faith based view ‘incorrect’, I only state the difference).

But that’s not the whole story

…its easy to allow the previous two points to fuel a never ending debate as to whose ‘thing’ is biggest and best. This is all good fun but never gets us anywhere. Neither advocate will concede, debates along these lines can only entertain or enrage us.

I’m a true-believer in something a little more pragmatic, and that is we all have much more in common than sometimes we are able to spot. The religious-soul and the atheist are walking the same road, we have each been faced with the same choice. But I don’t think that choice is whether or not to accept God or Gods. It is the choice of how we see the world. I see ‘objective’ truth (that is truth based on evidence) as more significant than faith-based ‘subjective’ truth. I know that my decision is… I was going to say arbitrary, but that’s not quite right….more that it was my decision to make. I also know that I cannot assume that I am correct when my fellow creature can make more sense of the world by giving greater emphasis to a subjective truth. The choice we all make (or should be allowed to make) is whether or not to give more credence to objective or to subjective truths. Again….I do not say here which is ‘correct’, I only make the point and say that I have made my choice.

So what’s this got to do with writing?

Yeah…good question. Have you just had your time wasted by some idiot when you should have been working on that plot line….hope not (though its possible as I am an idiot).

If you get into creative writing in any serious way, then at some point you need to get  other people to read and comment on your material. Writing isn’t complete without a reader being in the loop somewhere. The feedback that you get is either ‘objective’ (“you’ve spelt that ward wrong”) or ‘subjective’ (“I don’t like this characterisation because….”). As a writer, you have to develop the ability to spot the difference between these two ‘truths’. If I’ve misspelt a word (objective truth) there is no debate, I need to correct it; if someone doesn’t like an aspect of my storytelling (subjective truth) I can decide to do something about it or leave it be. Pretty soon you learn not to get into heated debates with people about either kind of truth. If it’s objective you check the evidence (e.g. a dictionary), if its subjective you think about what they’re saying and decide if you want to go along with it or not.

My point (finally the point, wipes sweat from brow), is that as you develop this skill (to spot the difference) as a writer, you apply it in the ‘unwritten’ world (what normals call the real world). I choose atheism, you choose faith – which of us is correct? Atheism makes more sense to me, religion to you. These two world-views are not the same, atheism in not (I say) a kind of religion because it differs from all religions in its need for objective evidence …. but in the fundamental and important respect that an individual will choose one over the other, they are just the same. We have each made a subjective choice. It is my belief that if we were all encouraged to indulge in creative writing, the world would be a better place because we would understand the subjective nature of our world views.

But then….I just write crappy sci-fi stories….so what would I know right.

Until next time….remember…you have the right to write!

A

 

The boys who would be men

I’m going to get really annoyed if this ends in Armageddon

Men can be dicks can’t they.

Over the past few weeks my over-abundant faith in our fellow (hu)man has been sorely tested by the rhetoric bouncing between two grown men who should bloody-well know better!

I tell you this, if they escalate things to the point of nuclear Armageddon I’m going to be really annoyed (really annoyed).

Well, I’m not going to sink to their level, instead I’d like to share some stuff that happened earlier this week that was fab…it put a smile on my face and let a tiny chink of light into an otherwise overcast sky.

Creative writing to the rescue

I’m about to start hosting a radio show (have a drift around this website if you’re interested in contributing, you’ll find details on the page ‘get your material on air’). I’m really looking forward to the project as I’ll be co-hosting with the ever-so-excellent Krystina Kellingley;

http://www.krystinakellingleyauthor.com.

This is a new venture for me and I’m proper-excited (as we say around here), and I’d like to share two excellent things that happened this week. One was that I was approached by the super-fabulous folks at 121 words.

https://www.121words.com

These guys have a thing about flash fiction and do a great (and important) job in encouraging writers and writing. Go see them and get involved if it looks like your cup of tea. We’re currently looking at a way of getting some of the material they feature onto the show.  I’m soooooo excited…..

What’s great for me is the feeling I get when I connect with people like these folks. It reminds me (and I needed it this week) that there’s maybe some hope for our species after all. So long as there are people with the enthusiasm and energy to bring positive ‘stuff’ into the world, the lights will remain ‘on’.

The other thing that gave me a lift was that we managed to trap no less than 6 creative writers in the back room of a house and get them to record some of their material for the show. Here are a couple ‘in action’… the born story-teller Sandra Robinson and the amazing talent that is Christian Mercer.

It was great to hear their words in their own voices, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to putting each show together (a different writer will be featured each week).

I really like writers. Maybe I’ve just been lucky in the ones I’ve met, but I’ve never come across cynics or complaining alcoholics (although gin did appear at one point during the afternoon – but in a happy way). The bunch we recorded were terrific and (in my experience) typical of the breed; they had fascinating stories to tell and were keen to hear and discuss each other’s material.

This is not the first time that I’ve watched a group of writers interact and been struck that these creatures are not solitary loners who walk in the moonlit footprints of their muse. These are balanaced and emotionally intelligent human beings, rounded and thoughtful, who understand what it is to be a human, how it can be tough, and above all, how we are part of one another’s stories.

Humans are deeply flawed (though I do on the whole love them to bits), but we struggle with our inherent desire for tribalism.

Politicians know and exploit this of course. They use rhetoric to drive wedges between us and hoodwink us into thinking there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ and that something should be done about the ‘them’. They did it to us over Brexit (I’m proud to be a ‘remainer’), and ‘the boys who would be men’ are doing it now over the pacific.

Powerful insecure dysfunctional humans deploy rhetoric and we fall into line; it’s easier to see the world in their self-serving polarised way I guess.

Writers know better.

Writers know that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, writers know that these distinctions are invented by the person with the pen. And here’s the thing…we are all writers.

Story telling is an inherent part of being human….we all know better than the boys who would be men. We all know there’s good and bad in us all and it has nothing to do with ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Looking at the people gathered around the mic the other day, and reading the flash-fiction on the 121 website, I couldn’t help thinking that if we all took the opportunity to unleash the writer within, if we all took the perceived risk of sharing our stories with one another, we might all feel a little closer to our sisters and brothers and there would be no room for politicians (or religious fanatics) to drive a wedge between any of us.

…but then again, maybe some men (and women) will always just be dicks…

Until next time, all good things to you.

Adam

Thanks for reading and remember….you have the right to write.

Is your writing frivolous?

I am basically an angry person.

To be clear when I say ‘angry’ I mean the buttoned-up version that’s woven into the tweed fabric of an Englishman of my age. I’d never actually show my anger, I couldn’t punch a face, complain in a restaurant or even wag an accusatory finger…no, I’m angry in the way that means I smile as my blood pressure rises and my chance of a heart attack increases year on year.

Anything can set me off. The national shame that is Brexit, the international injustice of Yemen, cats looking at me in a funny way….pretty much anything can be a trigger.

This week it was a twitter conversation (is that what you call a string of tweets) with the author Mary Carter last week (@mjcarterauthor).

She was saying that she resented having her writing branded as a frivolous hobby…. that she had been told to get a ‘proper job’ and stop messing about with her writing.

…it made me angry….

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Writing is never frivolous

Never…never ever….writing is never frivolous.

I feel Mary’s pain. ‘People’ look at me in a different way since I gave up the gravy-train in order to concentrate on my writing.

The faces say “shouldn’t you be doing something a bit more worthwhile with your time…something a little more valuable than messing about making up stories”.

But that’s not the whole picture. Their eyes say something different.

Their eyes say “I wish I had the nerve to do something I feel passionate about.”

So I guess the first penny to drop is that doing something you want to do is never frivolous. Be that write, paint, sing, have kids, whatever. If you can figure out what’s going to do it for you, and you can find a way to do it, it’s got to be worth a try right.

…but that’s not really my point…

I’ve been writing ‘seriously’ now for four years, and the writers I’ve met and got to know a little are without exception ….. exceptional. I have yet to come across the embittered cynic who resents the success of other writers when their own work is overlooked. My writers are thoughtful, emotionally intelligent people. They have opinions that they have thought about and are comfortable if those opinions are challenged. They are listeners and observers. They are compassionate. They respect the work of others and support one another. They do not exclude, they welcome. They cherish discussion and loath ignorance.

In my experience people are complicated; good and bad, all rolled-up together in the wrappers life has given them. I don’t think that all these wonderful people I’ve met through writing are any different. I don’t think they popped out like they are now, I think something had a hand in rounding them off so well. I think that thing was their writing.

Putting ink on paper makes you think. You can write literature or romance, YA fiction or sci-fi, whatever it is you use as your backdrop, writing forces you to think. It forces you to think about what makes people tick. The act of writing makes you a better person because, before you attempt to create a character you have to understand her. You have to understand people in order to write them convincingly.

Could anyone argue that what we need in our world is a little less understanding? Thought not.

To write about people is to understand them.

What could be less frivolous than that?

Until we meet again….all good things to you.

Adam

(you have the right to write)

 

Criticism – how do you like it?

I was talking with my broadcasting-buddy-to-be Krystina Kellingley the other day.  This autumn, date to be confirmed, we’re going to be co-hosting a creative writing show on Beyond Radio (see ‘get your material on air if you’re interested). We’re both super-excited and had a coffee-fuelled hour sketching out running orders and such like.

Inevitably talk turned to writing and the various tribulations we are each negotiating at the moment. Krystina is an experienced and published author and works within the industry as an editor and copy editor, but even someone who has reached those heady heights has demons to fight it seems. But this is not Krystina’s blog….its all about me  (me me me me me me me) so let me tell you what I struggle with – criticism.

I get it

I get it – by which I mean I both ‘get it’ (receive criticism) and ‘get it’ (know that it’s important).  I’ve learned a huge amount of ‘stuff’ since I started to take myself (too) seriously as a writer….technical stuff about writing, how to approach an agent (still waiting), the meaning of life etc…..but the most difficult lesson has (and still is) how to deal with criticism.

I’ve always had an ego the size of a planet. I think that’s something that’s really helped me jump in at the deep end all my life; I have this ‘youngest son’ confidence that tells me I can do anything.  I definitely wouldn’t have got into writing novels without it. Something I’ve learned more recently though is that my massive ego has only an eggshell for protection; the slightest criticism leaves me standing in a puddle of congealing yolk.

How dare they…! I’ve worked like a dog on my material, blessed them with the opportunity to read and comment on it, and rather than say “really great Adam, really really great. Perfect in every way in fact” – like they were supposed to, I get a load of tosh about how a plot-point makes no sense and how a character doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

What! I’ve been up every morning at 05:30 working on this stuff, what do you mean “doesn’t feel right”!

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Works for me

Well….the penny dropped for me when I realised that every opinion coming my way had the potential to make my material stronger.

I’ve had to pretend to be a much better person than I am when I’m given criticism. I’ve had to reach for the mop and clean up the spilled yolk and egg goop as best I can.

I guess what’s worked for me is the thought that above all else, the thing that’s most important to me, is that my story is told, and that I tell it as well as I am able. My ego is not what’s important, it’s all about the story. All the subjective opinions of the folk who kindly agree to take the time to read and comment on my material, need to be weighed, considered and unpicked with this in the front of my mind.

So that’s how I deal with it now – I take the comments on the chin. I don’t argue with those generous souls who have given me their time and attention, or try to justify or defend my material, I listen, I nod, I make a note and I say thanks (and mean it). Then I sift, think, consider, sleep on it, do it all again and go back and make what I write better.

I don’t know how you deal with (constructive) criticism of your material, I’d love to hear – but that’s my take.

What have I learned…?

It’s tough to take criticism, but its a skill you need to master if you want to write to your potential.

(so go and find yourself a mop)

Until we meet again….all good things to you.

Adam

(you have the right to write)

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