He was a barren crag of a man
open to feelings and stripped bare by them
but unable to move out of the way.
6 April 1991
[L]et me try to define what it is that the readers of Sunday papers mean when they say fretfully that ‘you never seem to get a good murder nowadays’. – George Orwell, Decline of the English Murder
[I]n truth, the guessing that we are asked to do is almost fruitless, because the solution to the mystery typically involves a fantastic amount of background material that we’re not privy to until the end of the book, when the detective shares it with us. Christie’s novels crawl with impostors. Letty is not really Letty; she’s Lotty, the sister of Letty. And Hattie isn’t Hattie. She’s a piece of trash from Trieste, who, with her husband, Sir George, killed Hattie (who was also married to him) and assumed her identity. The investigator digs up this material but doesn’t tell anyone till the end.
Christie is certainly a kind of genius, but one cannot help feeling she would have been better off employed in Bletchley Park as a code-breaker, or working for a manufacturer of board games. Her plots, while highly ingenious, are also wildly improbable, if for no other reason than that the characters who drive them are not characters at all, but marionettes, jerking lifelessly on the ends of their all too visible strings. Her worst fault, however, is that we never feel the slightest twitch of sympathy for, or empathy with, the victim, lying there in the library in a neat puddle of blood. Who could possibly care?
Miss Christie Regrets is the second volume of the Hampstead Mysteries. Readers are invited to sample the series in the correct order for maximum enjoyment.
One could get into a very arcane discussion about what is or is not a ‘series’. In my view it should be one long narrative spread across several books. Very few detective ‘series’ would qualify under this description, though Wallender might be an obvious one which does, mixing professional and personal issues. I can see the argument for writing stand-alone books featuring the same characters because then it doesn’t matter in which order people read them but again, I wanted to be different.
I wanted to create a cast with whom the reader can empathise, and care about what happens to them as they go through life. In order to do this, you have to set them against a personal background. The more of the books you read, the more deeply you will understand, and hopefully like, the characters.
I enjoy eating out. Especially alone. I amuse myself by watching the other customers or, if they’re a dreary lot, by peering out the window at passers-by. People interest me, their doings and their undoings. I don’t get them in the same way I don’t get meerkats but still like following their antics.
Autobiography is fiction, and fiction is autobiography. Factual truth is irrelevant to autobiography. – Robert Elbaz
Many meaningful memories meander through my mind, but as I jot them down, I fear they will subconsciously mutate, malfunction, morph into fiction rather than fact. Especially when I retrace the times that made me miserable, I frantically fight off fate's fundamental message to me, in fear that I may feel its familiar unfathomable fiery force again. If only there was a way to write these memories down, and maintain a fictitious distance from them, my memoir wouldn't make me miserable, it would make me motivated to tell others my story.
For everyone except myself.
I don't really write for readers. I think that's the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer. I mean, I've said in the past I write for myself. That's probably some kind of insane egotism but I actually think that's the only way to proceed—to write what you think you have to write. I write desperately trying to keep myself amused or engaged in what I'm doing and in the world.
I definitely write for myself, and THEN try to figure out how to market it to readers. I’m a strong believer in the notion that if you do not write for yourself, your work will not be your best. Any creative endeavour has to come from an honest place in order for people to be able to relate to it. That’s my opinion anyway.
While all the events in this book are true, on some occasions I have been creative with the way they play out due to my inability to recall specific details. I have instead filled these gaps in memory with what I assume would be the most logical and fitting details in relation to the era and circumstances. […] In some cases I have compressed or merged events; in others I have made two or three people into one.
Most first novels are disguised autobiographies. This autobiography is a disguised novel. On the periphery, names and attributes of real people have been changed and shuffled so as to render identification impossible. Nearer the centre, important characters have been run through the scrambler or else left out completely. So really the whole affair is a figment got up to sound like truth. All you can be sure of is one thing: careful as I have been to spare other people’s feelings, I have been even more careful not to spare my own. Up, that is, of course, to a point. […] I am also well aware that all attempts to put oneself in a bad light are doomed to be frustrated. The ego arranges the bad light to its own satisfaction. But on that point it is only necessary to remember Santayana’s devastating comment on Rousseau’s Confessions [regarded by some as the starting point of modern autobiography], which he said demonstrated, in equal measure, candour and ignorance of self.
While your personal life story may be an unbelievable one, how you craft it, how you tell it, and how you share the development of the main character—meaning you—is of utmost importance.The reason why many memoirs don’t get picked up by major publishers is because they fall short of this important distinction: no one wants to read your diary; they want to read your story.
It wasn’t my usual depression in which I felt worthless, and it definitely didn’t make me want to commit suicide.This sadness was manic.Like I was going through this torturous thing, can’t you see, can’t you see, and why isn’t anyone trying to help me find a solution? Why isn’t anyone trying to help me get back to him?Imagine giving a homeless person a house, a night to sleep in a warm bed, and shower, and then saying, “Sorry, man, just kidding, you’re stuck in the cold for life.” The world had betrayed me. It teased me into submission and then pulled the ground from under my feet. [bold mine]
Why did you run away? Why didn’t you just tell Mrs Wallace in the playground?
Because I didn’t want the other kids to see!
But now you’re stuck in here. That was stupid. What are you going to do?
I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do!
You’re an idiot. You’re stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
I wailed and wailed, holding my yellow-and-white striped Miki House Club dress away from my legs—my saturated knickers still hooked around my ankles. I was so afraid of stepping out of the cubicle in case another kid came in. I had to get cleaned up. But how? I couldn’t possibly go outside without a pair of knickers on. Everyone would see my chishy as my dress was short.
Call for help.
I don’t want to.
There’s no other way.
But they’ll see me, and they’ll laugh at me.
Do you want to be locked in here all night?
Then stop being such a wuss and call for help!
“Help!” I cried at the top of my lungs. Only once. But no-one came for what seemed like hours.
I lift my Mickey Mouse skirt and pull down on the flicky-thread of my undies. But it squishes between my legs when I sit on the torlet seat.It smells like a baby accident and a hospital in here and my heart goes all bumpy in my chest. I can smell that stinky liquid stuff that my mummy uses to make clothes white, and it always makes her rub her head after, and I have to bring her some Tic Tacs.I can’t tell any bodies I did this. I can’t! They will all laugh at me and I don’t like it when bodies laugh at me. When bodies laugh my belly goes all feeling not nice and tears come out of my eyes. Mrs Haydon will come a-looking for me any minute, wondering why I’m not back to get my school bag off my hook. The home-time bell just runged. I’m going to be in so much trouble.
Not every woman in this world lives without regret, knows exactly what they want, and has the courage to put every essence of their being into achieving their dreams. Not every woman is inspirational to others. Not every woman can leave their comfort zone to better their future. But, so what? Does that mean a less strong-minded woman doesn't have an interesting story to tell? Definitely not.
It's an entirely different story, unrelated to my childhood and teenhood and love life and music, and would be the length of an entirely new book. I intend to write about it. I have two other memoir project ideas at the moment:
- The building of my career as a writer and entrepreneur beginning 2005.
- The (rather humorous and quite devastating) story of running the café-bar in Ithaca.
I did start to go into more detail about these things as I was writing Dear Reflection, but I soon realized that, not only would it completely destroy the thematic thread and focus of the book, but the texts focussing on these areas would have ended up longer than the current book. These stories didn't belong in Dear Reflection. They are not related to my psychological struggle. They are related to the side of my personality that is highly confident, ambitious, and has an overactive drive to succeed. And because that side of me is completely different to the side I write about in Dear Reflection, it needs its own book.
Think of it this way: Why do horoscopes separate career and love predictions? Because there is no way to predict the future of one path in tandem with the other. They are separate elements of one's life, and though they can co-exist, and influence each other, the narrative and outcome of each element is always going to differ, and therefore trigger different human responses.
My findings on this topic have received considerable attention in the literature and in the popular media.
Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable
The potential to make yourself a better man... that is what it is to be Human... to make yourself more than you are. – Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek Nemesis)
A common trope in science fiction is wondering what the next stage of human evolution might look like. The obvious example that jumps to my mind is The Tomorrow People (I’m thinking of the original British TV series from the 1970s) where we watch the adventures of a group of Homo superiors. (In early episodes they used the term Homo novis.) Then my mind drifted back to 1963 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a comic called Uncanny X-Men in which the five heroes (Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl) are mutants, “metahumans” being the preferred term these days. As Professor Xavier, the founder and leader of the X-Men, explains in the voiceover at the start of the 2000 film adaptation:Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow and normally taking thousands and thousands of years, but every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.And then going back even further there’s Theodore Sturgeon’s 1954 novel More Than Human which describes the birth of Homo gestalt, a hive mind; a similar scenario is also presented in the recent TV series Sense8.
Victor had met so many happy and accomplished people who were bereft of any insight into themselves or others that he had often thought that this blindness might even be desirable. At other times, he became convinced that a high degree of, and perhaps even absolute, self-consciousness was a necessary and unstoppable development in the human species, another evolutionary threshold. That there was actually no return from this path, even though, in the case of both peoples and individuals, the human clock had been broken, smashed, and evolution thrown completely out of control, moving at a thousand different speeds and thus impossible to measure. Only one thing was sure: the tracks which led back to the caves had now been completely covered over and forever lost.
Why me though? Victor repeatedly asked himself. What is it that compels me to take myself to pieces, word by word, thought by thought, emotion by emotion, belief by belief? I’m not especially intelligent; my education was poor; I have never been intellectually challenged by anyone I knew personally; there have been no shattering events, no great revelations in my life; nothing really ever happened to me, actually. Except this.
I have consumed so much literature about bad men, or men who have dark penchants and 'evil' in them, that I tried very hard to write about a man who, by pure chance, is actually good. I have not, obviously, written Dostoevsky's 'Idiot' (but then we must all start somewhere), but it's true that any interest I ever had about dubious people has waned to the point of virtual extinction. I warn you, Jim, my characters will only get more Christ-like as I continue…
Conflict is the essence of drama and all literary fiction requires drama to please the reader and to succeed as a story. At the story core, conflict is the momentum of happening and change and is crucial on all levels for delivering information and building characterization. Conflict is the source of change that engages a reader, and in a story, conflict and action does what description and telling of feelings and situations do not. – William H. Coles, Conflict in Literary Fiction
Victor had no idea why this name had instantly popped up in his mind, without the slightest thought on his part. But it was incontrovertible, just right. What else could you call a parrot?
Victor simply didn’t dare tell her his evolving theories about the demise of the unconscious mind; about the possibility of absolute consciousness and of objectivity. If she refused to accept even the blindingly obvious fact of the radical division in man between those who possessed consciousness and those who did not, he couldn’t possibly take her through the other steps in his argument.
“It will make you laugh,” said Victor, deciding that he would simply skip his reasons and give her his wild conclusion. “My strong suspicion is that mankind is undergoing, in our age, before our very eyes, a new mutation; that we are seeing the emergence of a new species, or at least sub-species.”
“Have you been smoking illegal substances?” Helen joked.
“No, no. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s the only explanation, in my mind, and with due respect for your remarks about education and environment, for this extraordinary crevice that has opened up between those who are fully conscious, of themselves and of the ‘world’, for want of a better word, and those who continue to live within the confines of their single and undifferentiated perspectives, however broad they may be.”
“In his fully conscious state, our new man sees at any and all times, because of his savage lucidity and truthfulness with himself …”
“Savage lucidity,” interrupted Helen, “I like that.”
“Because of this lucidity and honesty, he is fully capable of making a distinction between those of his thoughts he knows to be the product of his past, his feelings, his tastes, his prejudices, his instincts, his personality, or what-have-you, and those of his thoughts which are free of any of these factors and emerge solely from pure—objective—reasoning, ‘untainted’, if you like, by his individual characteristics.
“Thus, for me, this man is capable of making of himself an absolute abstraction as he forms his judgements on ideas, people and events. He is aware, on the one hand, of that which everything in his life and his personality has led him, leads him to feel, and that which is fully free from such ‘baggage’, for want of a better word.”
[E]verything about myself seems to have become transparent, where once I was more or less opaque. I do also feel that I am now incomparably freer than I was, than I have ever been. Why is this? he asked himself. From what exactly have I now been freed, completely unchained, let loose? I’ve got it! Myself, of course! Idiot. How could I have not seen it before? The struggle of my life has been to detach and emancipate myself from my subjective being, to leave him to lead his life as he will, but only to the extent that I allow it!
I’m getting close to something, thought Victor. Something fundamental about myself and, thus, fundamental about human life, for what is true about me is necessarily also true about men in general, because I am no more and no less than absolutely every one of them.
In life everything seems to move toward inertia. Throw a rock into the air, it falls to the ground and lies motionless. Pour water into a glass, it flows and settles and becomes motionless. We are born, we are active, but we are always moving toward the solitude and inaction of motionless death. In fiction, writers succumb to this natural tendency to write stories that seek a state of inertia, a state where nothing happens
Beckett... has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What's more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice. – The Irish Times, 18 February 1956
The driving force of Homo Conscius is the conviction that we lie to ourselves (and thus the others) with such frequency, ease and complacency that as a species we are condemned to eternal misery and violence if we do not seriously change our ways. That truth and honesty are possible, whatever the enormous confusion that reigns in these matters in our time, and that change in the human intellect is indeed, as it must be, already well underway. That this change is vitally necessary and our only hope for our species to survive and prosper in peace and happiness.