Danger! – a cautionary tale for writers, by Kevin Murphy


When I set out to become primarily a writer it was because I wanted to write about the major issues that concern me.

In exploring issue based writing as my ‘genre’, one of the first things I received was a warning: ‘Don’t!’

The writer was implying that if you choose to write about issues that concern you, you block yourself off from open-minded plot and character development. I seemed to have fallen at the very first hurdle. However, I soon found that I could not agree. My main aim was not to be a rich and famous author, but a writer respected for both my views and my writing skills.

At the start I felt I had at least five ‘books in me’, so why shouldn’t I write them? They all related to issues in life which I feel many readers would also relate to. I set up a website on a blogging platform and set off to write about a major concern of the media of Weapons of Mass Destruction – WMD. The concern was the Iraq war, the alleged premise for which was that Iraq had used illegal gas against its own people and had a stockpile.

Whatever, I felt that among the many WMDs the worst was overlooked in the media and ravaging people the world over. I wanted to explore the accepted ‘greatest’ WMDs relative to one I feel is the most harmful and destructive. However, was I in danger of not heeding a reasonable warning? I decided to tackle the extremely serious issues in a light hearted way, in a humourous novel that would appeal to a general readership and get my message before an otherwise unreached audience. Was this a dangerous enterprise?

An early response to this was a valuable piece of advice: I was asked whether I wanted to be a writer or a blogger, I couldn’t be both. This was true, though some may be both, I could not be. It is books I have in me and they require sustained focus on them and not distractions on daily issues.

As an ‘aspiring writer’, I wrote the book ‘straight from the hip’. I had the experience and I thought I had the ability to write the book. Early on I realised that one may have a good story, but a good book requires the story to be well told. A different thing. The straight from the hip metaphor is of the sharp-shooting gun-slinger who draws his gun from the hip and can hit the target. This takes practice and in writing terms the famous epithet, nay warning, is ‘edit, edit, edit’.

Editing requires not only sorting the structure and removing mistakes, especially the notorious typing errors – typos, but also advising on things like relevance, confusion, balance, tension, dramatic relief and many other elements of good writing. I did even pay someone whose literary ability I respected to edit my first manuscript. Perhaps the danger there was to choose a friend to do it. I discovered with great disdain, that even what I regard as the simplest element, many typos were overlooked. It is difficult to get your money back from a friend: the choice is either to lose money or a friend.

I did publish the book and very soon became a little ashamed. I did not regret it, as I had learnt so much. What I learnt most was that I still had so much more to learn.

I therefore set out to write a good book. This time the core issue was safeguarding young people. I decided on a popular genre and one which would enable the telling of several entertaining stories in one. These would be realistic examples of how a heavy bureaucratic system of DBS which fails to protect, has been set up at the expense of face-to-face work with young people which succeeds. It took two years to write a crime mystery. It has had several readers and was very well received by them.

More to the point, I have continued to read to, and more importantly to listen to, members of two writers’ groups. As I continue to aspire to great writing, I must continue to evaluate what is received well and why.

I finished that crime novel over three years ago and learning from the experience of the first book, I decided to not publish yet. I chose to consolidate and write a third book – third time lucky, perhaps. I did not envisage it taking so long.

This third book is in yet another genre – historical. It is both factual and creative. The facts demand much research and accuracy. The creative element is to put the facts together well: to write a good book.

Having completed the text, I decided to evaluate what has been a seven year process. How have I got on with writing three books all about issues which concern me?

I re-read the crime novel and found it has stood the test of time – three years since I last looked at it. It read well and I enjoyed it.

I arrived at the decision to publish or be damned – to obscurity.

My website title remains unchanged at ‘The Meaning of Life and the Sex that started it’. Have the issues of my books reflected this?

2012’s ‘Apple?’ looks at weapons, the most destructive in my opinion being rape (sex) as a weapon of war. War is always going on somewhere and it is all about life and death. The emphasis is on death, yet rape brings about many new lives. My decision to write about the ‘inventors’ of the Atom Bomb, Dynamite and its use as weaponry, and the Penis, regretting the abuse of their wonderful inventions, is original, clever and witty. I have not evaluated ‘Apple?’ well enough. I will do so.

2015’s ‘Barred?’ addresses a continuing career issue of safeguarding young people. It is a straight police procedural mystery – a whodunwot? – set in a youth project at a time of massive financial cuts. Cuts remain current in the media. Stories of drug abuse, homelessness, sexual health, sexual exploitation and failed safeguarding bureaucracy are all included in the story. Measured against many books and scripts digested over 5 years, I am proud of how ‘Barred?’ has stood the ‘three years in a drawer’.

2018’s ‘Convicted for Courage’ explores the relevance of pacifism, a core tenet of all the major religions of the world, yet seemingly not highly valued in the media of capital based societies. I have a Conscientious Objector whose objection to war is not even based on a religious belief, but on a purely humanitarian one, meeting many fighters – almost all of them his putative enemies. He explores the issue of war, its effect on people, starting with his own home and family, and moving outwards to all the societies, mothers and daughters of the world. It is the story of the Prisoner of War system of WW2 as applied withing Britain and is based completed on testimony to me by those who were there.

I set out to write about sex and sexuality; sexual health and sexual violence; safeguarding; safety from war; mechanisation of war; pacifism; religion. I have done this.

I also set out to engage others with the issues. To do this I need to entertain. My motto is ‘if you have to do it, make it fun’. The most difficult thing I have had to do in my writing career is to avoid the dangers in tackling issues. I now take these to be preaching, being polemic, not seeing the wider picture; being self absorbed, enjoying your own fun and not writing for an audience.

After suffering from my haste and conceit in my first year, I feel I have learnt enough to publish and not be damned for my stupidity, bad grammar, mundanity, obfuscation, complexity and sheer drivel.

If I have to do it, I must make it fun. The writing for oneself is fun, I have greatly enjoyed it. The issues concern me, upset me and give me stress.

So in continuing to write, I should perhaps turn to celebrity culture, comedy, boozy escapades, rock music and travel – all great fun.

No they don’t engage me deeply, or for long. Why should they engage my audience? The best piece of advice I have received is write about what you know. Many issues have affected me deeply. I know about them.

What I need to write about is the meaning of my life – the real issue. The sex that starts it should only be great fun.

Kevin Murphy publishes as Kevan Pooler to avoid confusion with the hairdressing chain … and to ‘be’ a Googlewhacker – there is only one Kevan Pooler.

One thought on “Danger! – a cautionary tale for writers, by Kevin Murphy

  1. Hello, Kevin,

    I am not quite sure what to refer to your pieces as; is it an essay, a blog, a treatise? What do you regard it as?
    Leaving that aside, I do find it an interesting read, though in one or two places it does skate close to rambling; but, given its purpose, that’s not necessarily a fault.
    Take any ‘issue’ you care to mention, and I think it is a given that more than one person will be of a like mind, so I am not sure that there is an inherent danger in personal fictionalized or factual issue-based writing.
    I am fairly certain that Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds was not the premise by which Bush and his sidekick Blair justified their invasion of Iraq. Saddam had been using them long before the 9/11 tragedy. Bush wanted someone to hit with his big stick.
    I found your fifth paragraph a little difficult to follow. It is not clear what your message is that your unreached audience would not already be aware of vis a vis media coverage, or what you consider to be the worst WMD. Do you refer to Saddam’s chemical weapons?
    Although it evidently differs from one individual to another, I am inclined to agree with you about choosing between writing and blogging.
    Having said that, I have recently read that Jerry Jenkin’s is a strong advocate of using any and every means of internet exposure if an aspiring writer wants to get known. He maintains that the first thing an agent or publisher will do is Google your name. And if they don’t find you, they may well drop you. I have no idea how true that is. Although it does seem self-evident that exposure is essential.
    I like the title of your website. Very original, in every sense.
    Your explanation of what ‘shooting from the hip’ means may be a tad condescending. I doubt that there are many people on the Net who aren’t already aware of that.
    Having read your three novels, I have to say that I enjoyed them, and feel that they each warrant wider exposure. Quite how you might achieve that is another matter.
    The old maxim ‘Sex sells’ still stands, more so than ever. I gave up reading James Patterson’s novels, for example, because many of them feature the hunt for serial killer/s carrying out explicit sexual violence against women. He is not alone in his choice of genre. In my humble opinion, such novels are not that difficult to write. The popularity of such novels escapes me.
    I am not sure whether your motto ‘If you have to do it, make it fun’ refers to yourself, or to yourself, and your audience. Should we expect all of our writing efforts; regardless of their genre, to be fun? Why not. Perhaps all of our writing should have an element of fun, in its content, and its creation.
    It is good that you warn aspiring writers against; preaching, polemicism, self-absorption, missing the wider picture, enjoying your own fun, and, not having a particular audience in mind at the outset. But these are all great faults with which to embue fictional characters.
    ‘Write about what you know’. I have read that tenet many times, and I am still not sure that I entirely agree with it. It seems self-evident if you are writing an essay or a treatise. But does it readily apply to fiction? Having said that, good, readable, and understandable fiction must have a sound factual base.
    Haste and conceit are probable two of the most common pitfalls lurking in the path of aspiring writers. There are too many others to mention here. Most, if not all of us, stumble into most of them along the way.
    One of the great things about writing; whether factual or fictional, is that there is literally a limitless supply of subject matter. It is possible to write about anything. Everything is up for grabs. If it doesn’t exist: creat it.
    Did your parents tell you that the sex that started you was great fun?

    Thanks, Kevin,

    David.

    Like

Leave a Reply to David Graham Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s