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Moments that define Dr Zbigniew Pelczynski OBE


Fig 1. Chapter Three: A Life Remembered

For all the technology – I am writing on an iPad – the book I am reading (‘A Life Remembered’ is only available in print) is on a rather rusty, heavy-duty iron book stand. Out of shot I have a lamp on an upturned waste-paper bin – an eBook would be the light, the stand and the content. It allows me to take notes, picking out moments and ideas from mini PostIts.

In some respects I feel like a Talk Show Host preparing for an interview, though many of these stories and their significance to Zbigniew Pelczynski I have heard before – I’ll be in his company this weekend so can ask questions, record the interview highlights and post the results here.

What defines him as an academic, inspirational educator and Polish patriot? How might others have behaved given the extraordinary life choices he had to make as the Second World War came to a close?

What is it about Oxford University that held him in its spell and kept him from the opportunities and temptations of other universities in the UK and abroad?

How can the oath he made to God that defines his life come from someone with no faith in religion?

Is it not ironic that despite being alive and well and mentally alert and agile in his 86th year that publication of his life story isn’t the end at all, but another mile stone as he drives on to yet more commitments and projects later this year and next including a two-day conference on Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli, the book launch at the Polish Embassy then Meetings at his School fo Leaders in Warsaw.

With Zbszyek it isn’t even a case of ‘what next?’ rather it is a case of what he plans to do still beyond that.

My Notes So far :

Learning in extremis

Three Reformers Jacques Maritain
– an exegesis of the works of Luther, Calvin and Rousseau.

Zbig studied while part of the Polish Resistance in Warsaw, developing early ideas and an interest in:

  • man
  • society
  • state

McAvoy (2012:19)

KEY MOMENTS: Events that make the person

Saying good-bye to his mother Irena in August 1944 age 18 and lying about what he was up to as he went off to join his company B1 of the Basta Regiment. He saw his mother again in December 1956. (p 24)


Jerzy Kloczowski, known as Piotrus


The German campaign of mass murder in Warsaw in response to the foolhardy uprising killing, between 5th and 7th August 1944 more than 50,000 men, women and children. Perhaps 200,000 killed over the next two months.


The life defining oath Zbigniew made when rubble pinned the 19-year-old in a cellar after an attack by a Stuka.

He made a pack with God: if he got out alive, then somehow, someday, he would do something for Poland in return. McAvoy (2012:27)


Appearance of political prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp who fought over every scrap of food. McAvoy (2012:36)

HORROR – POLISH FARMHAND – what people will do to survive and for love.

Condemned for a ‘race crime’ with a German girl and put in a forced labour camp on starvation rations he joined the Offen Kommando whose job it was to collect and burn the bodies of dead inmates. McAvoy (2012:39) There they had witnessed systematic cannibalism.

(Though I suspect hours of cooking rather than 15 minutes would have been required).


Two lessons: the story itself and from the way it was told. Cured of social snobbery for life. McAvoy (2012:39)

A very different war defined a quite different man – my grandfather, working class and a machine-gunner in the First War, humble, conscientious and hardworking, dedicated his life to his wife and child.

What is of greater significance?

Our genetic make-up or the events in our life? People respond very differently to events and circumstances, yet the decisions they take define them. We cannot all be the same.

What am I coming to understand about education and the motivation to learn?

What bearing does this have on the struggles and wars that continue around the world and the politics that are both the cause and cure of the mess in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond to Korea and elsewhere?


McAvoy, D (2012) Zbigwniew Pelczynski: A life remembered. Grosvenor House Publishing.


We can’t help but think in metaphors; it’s what makes us human

It could be the subject of of PhD Thesis.

Metaphor is the essence of learning, of knowledge transfer, of transmitting ideas, of ideas themselves, of innovation and creativity.

Reading Sfard and various other authors/academics and philosophers … and a neuroscientist I draw my own conclusions in relation to learning in general and e-learning in particular.

The first image is from Gareth Morgan. The explanation of how metaphor is used, and potentially abused (or simply confused) is clear. ‘Man is a lion. He is a lion because he is brave.’

We permit poetic licence

We then move on to the idea of what I am calling (for want of a metaphor)

Stage 1 Learning, that necessary first step where the person learning needs to acquire ‘stuff,’ where knowledge is imparted or experienced.

This might be a lecture, a talk, a video, a book. Acquisition for me is not the metaphor, it is the description of what is occurring. I cannot see ‘acquisition.’ I can see someone at a supermarket check-out ‘acquiring’ goods, I can even visualise the ‘sausage machine’ concept/cartoon of information/knowledge being ground out of books and deposited in a person’s head.

Moving on to Stage 2 Learning (though it could be any stage 2 through to infinity) we have a tool of learning, ‘participation.’

Here, once again, I understand an adjective describing actual participation, as demonstrated in the John Seely Brown lecture, of students working together at a table (round of course), with those on the ‘periphery’ taking part tangentially while those in the middle are the primary ‘actors.’ THIS is learning in the Congo Rain Forest to get honey from the top of a tree, this is learning above the Arctic Circle to cut blow-holes to harpoon seals … this is how ‘man’ has always learned.  a) where’s the new thinking? b) is ‘participation’ a metaphor, or simple an adjective?

For me participation is the end of term play, the Christmas Panto, working on a student newspaper, blog or TV magazine show.

To use metaphor suggests improving communication of ideas and doing so in a persuasive and memorable way.

There are clichéd metaphors

They lose currency through over use. Educators appear to be stuck in a rut on this one, regurgitating old ideas.


Brown, J.S., Collins.A., Duguid, P., (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 1989), pp. 32-42 American Educational Research Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176008 . Accessed: 05/03/2011 13:10

Cox, R. (2006) Vicarious Learning and Case-based Teaching of Clinical Reasoning Skills (2004–2006) [online], http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ esrcinfocentre/ viewawardpage.aspx?awardnumber=RES-139-25-0127 [(last accessed 10 March 2011).

Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one’, Educational Researcher, vol.27, no.2, pp.4–13; also available online at http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176193 (last accessed 10 December 2010).

Reflections on 12 months of e-learning – roller-coaster or white-water rafting?

How goes it?

Like a roller-coaster, merrily going along, like the C4 ident:through the loops of a roller-coaster though the shapes I see are ‘H’ and ‘800’ and ‘807’ and ‘808’ as I pass by.

Then I switch track and venue and find myself on the Mouse-Trap. Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Here there is a rise and dip where you are convinced you will hit a girder. I just did, metaphorically speaking. (Diary entry, August 1980)

Illness changes things

Nothing more than a rubbish cold made uncomfortable by asthma.

It is a set back of sorts. I can sleep and read. But the spark has gone (for now).

To use a different analogy, if I often think of my mind as a Catherine-wheel, this one has come off and landed in a muddy-puddle.

We’re in the week of metaphors for learning

I can draw on any notes I’ve taken on this here and in my eportfolio. This is more than an aide-memoire, it favours the choices I made before at the expense of anything new. So I widen my search. The OU Library offers hundreds of thousands of references in relation to ‘Education’ and ‘Metaphor’ going back to 1643.

Gathering my thoughts will take time

There are 26 pages (nearly 12,000 words) to read (course intro, resources). Far, far more if I even start to consider ANY of the additional references or reading.

Give me three months. We have, or I have left, three days

My approach is simple. Tackle it on the surface, drill into an author or topic that is of interest and expect to pick up on and pick through this again later this module, later this year … or next existence. (I believe in multiple existences and flux. We are transitory and changing)

As well as tapping into the OU Blog and e-portfolio the blog I’ve kept since 1999 might have something to say on metaphor. If I care to I might even rummage through A’Level English Literature folders from the 1970s, just to trigger something. Engaged and enabled by Vygotsky and others in relation to memory and learning I value this ability to tap into past thoughts/studying with ease.

(Ought others to be sold the idea of a life-long blog?)

Otherwise I have gone from learn to swim in the training pool, to swimming lengths in the main pool … to observer/coach who will participate, but has a towel over his shoulders and is looking around.

The next pool? Where is that?

I’m not the same person who set out on this journey 12 months ago.

On the other hand, having a Kindle makes me feel more like a teenager swotting for an Oxbridge examination; I like having several books on the go. I’ll be through ‘Educational Psychology (Vygotsky) by the end of the day and am already picking through and adding to copious notes.

Piaget next?

Then a little kite-boarding as I head away from the swimming pool that has been an MA with the OU?!

The War of Art. Resistance vs. the Profesional

The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

by Steven Pressfield

The key word through-out ‘The War of Art’ is ‘Resistance’ – i.e. that which prevents us from doing.

Steven Pressfield’s advice is sit down and do it like a pro.

That’s the book in two lines.

Professionals and amateurs

‘The word amateur from the Latin root meaning ‘to love’. The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does if for money.

Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his real vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time’. Pressfield (2002)

This is familiar territory.

I heard it first from Richard Nelson E Bolles in ‘What Color’s Your Parachute?’ (New editions most years 1970-2011)

His advice is:

‘You become a professional by behaving like one.’ Pressfield (2002)

Pressfield is derogatory about amateurs who toy with their art and blame the way they toy around for their failure.

‘We’re all Pros already’ he encourages us to believe.

‘Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyses him’.
Pressfield (2002)

A Professional is patient

Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an over ambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity.

We will hit the wall. We will crash.

‘A professional accepts no excuses’
Pressfield (2002)

He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

‘A professional does not take failure (or success) personally’ Pressfield (2002)

Resistance uses fear of rejection to paralyse us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation.

‘Starting is not my problem.’ Pressfield (2002)

Starting something else is my problem. Being distracted is my problem.

I need to be behave like a professional BECAUSE I am not paid … and then I will be.


Pressfield, S (2002) The War of Art.

Writing Marathon

Writing Marathon – One thousand words on the hour for eight hours a day for a week (Day Three, Entry Four)

It is easy to succumb to distractions, easier still to succumb to a pattern of distractions once a few have become established

That is why an hourly challenge to post one thousand words works well for me. Not well enough. I get behind, I take breaks and in no time I find I have slipped half an hour. Half an hour I can catch up. I can write two thousand words an hour, what takes longer is sucking the stuff into a PC and doing a spell check.

This is where distractions are occurring, especially if I find myself ten minutes ahead of schedule, I think I have time to do something else, to read and respond to e-mails, to browse the wet-net for sex and be sucked into something else that can take me half an hour.

Hey. I’m getting the wordage.

Pushed beyond eight thousand words yesterday. A headache had me race into town for Solpadeine, I hadn’t intended to spend anything today. This I needed. Unless I need beer or a coffee. Not at 11.00 a.m. though. I killed a Jubilee Daisy this morning. It upsets me. The thing is a gift from TBT’s nursery. I had a flower from it last week and have another three buds coming through. It was wilting, just a little.

Perhaps i have over watered it, or the sun is too bright. I decide to support it with a wooden kebab skewer from the kitchen drawer. I must have rupture part of the main stem when I pushed it into the soil, the thing has collapsed on me. I do this to people. They go cool on me, I say something inappropriate and the relationship dies. I’ve taken to printing off the five day weather forecast each morning. It both amused and irritates me to see that the forecast for is altered constantly. It tends on the pessimistic side, never getting our hopes up about a sunny day. I am burning again, not warm, cooled by a sea-breeze by enough to warrant sun cream or a T -shirt. I’m bronzing nicely. I’ll look like the jet -setting owner of a yacht in the Med even if I’m not.

Time to reflect on the writing so far.

As I’ve said this hourly challenge works for me, though I ought to go for two and three hour spells too, it might lead to entire chapters getting written in a sitting rather that the current bouts of bits. The three jerk reaction to ‘Escorts’ needs to be brought to a conclusion. My problem is that I don’t see how it sits in JTW. Or rather I do, but in o doing I am moving further and further from the original concept.

It is becoming what someone at Grange Writers thought it was – an analogy for ‘life’s challenges’ O perhaps it is, perhaps it is my ‘journey to find work’ or ‘my life as a journey that requires working at’ or something. I shouldn’t let it bother me, not this week at least.

Steven Pressfield says sit down and write ’til you can write no more.

That’s what I’m doing and this is what it is producing. I have abandoned the 600 page print off of my Diaryland Diary. For now I don’t need to look for themes in there, I have a list of them here on the Psion and up on the blackboard in the kitchen. I pick one, sit down to develop that theme and find I’m drawn into something different.

Look at ‘flu.

It was an ‘essay’ on the difference between a cold and influenza that got me onto the escort, prostitute, massage parlour thing. Part of being a professional writer will require me to lay tracks before I sit down to write. It is one thing to say I will ‘get on with it’ but another to guide clumps of words towards a finish. My fear, is that I could fall in love with the process of writing not caring if I am spraying piss on a crowd.

For now I will keep things orientated towards ‘JTW’- I won’t dip into other ‘concepts’ or start writing up kids stories. I’ll continue to amble and race along in this vein ’til the end of the week, print off, let it sit – then make up my mind a month hence.


I fancy buying a medieval coastal tower in Malta. It would be the logical step from Appleby Castle in Cumbria. I’m bored with the place. Correction. I’m fed up with the weather. My dad sent me a ‘Weather Tree’ for the kids. This is a drawing of a tree on an A1 sheet of paper. It has a branch for each month and a leaf for each day of that month attached to twigs on that branch. Each day you colour in a leaf. Yellow for sun, Charcoal grey for cloud. Blue for rain and so on. We ‘animate’ the leaf if it has been windy. Six months into the year I can see four sunny days. Much of March April and May is blacked out with a fury of rain and wind. It need the sun. I crave the sun. I wanted to sit in it, garden in it, eat lunch under it, sail in it … be warmed by it. To do so I need to move the family abroad. I had thought about South Africa (my brother lives in Cape Town), but I couldn’t adjust to the violence. It’s too far from England, too distant from Europe.

The same applies for the States or Eastern Africa.

France was an option, somewhere down by Perpignan. Then I got a postcard from my sister who took her family to Malta for a couple of weeks. That’s what I’d like, a castle built by the knights Templar at around the same time as Appleby, Similar, pedigree too, a Norman Castle. What I do once I get there I don’t know, I like to look a little, then leap. School for the kids? Not so difficult, there’s an English School on the island, or we can home educate. We have a couple of tutors who come in already to teach art and maths and the music teachers come into a similar category.

We’ll not be lonely, I’ll lay down tickets for family and friends. Fly people out at my expense most weekend.

1,074 words

Of course, I’m getting it all wrong. A 500 good words, taking all day about it, would be better than unplishable ‘wordage.’

E-words, e-terms and e-lexemes

Cover of "The Secret Life of Words: How E...

Cover via Amazon

 Inspired by The Secret life of words. How English became English. Henry Hitchings (2008)

24 August 2010 (First posted in my Diayland blog which I stared in September 1999)

‘Communications is essential to our lives, but how often do we stop to think about where the words we use have come from?’ Hitchings (2008)

Whilst ‘where words came from’ is the premise for ‘The Secret Life of Words’ it is much more: it is a history of the people who spoke English. It is a refreshing take on a chronology of events. We learn history through words for warrior, through the Anglo-Saxon, French and Latin word for the same thing … and through the words the English language has so easily accommodated from across the globe.

E-words. E-terms. E-lexemes.

* Word – Anglo-Saxon
* Term – French
* Lexeme – Latin

It is a fascinating journey, one made pertinent to someone studying on the cascading wave-edge of the digital ocean that is ‘e-learning’ with the frequent coining of new terms.

For a description of the way the English language functions (or mis-functions) I love this:

  • English is ‘Deficient in regularity.’
  • From James Harris (c1720) in Hitchings (2008:1)
  • It is exactly the kind of thing a teacher might write in red pen at the bottom of a school-boy’s essay.
  • This is another way of putting it. English, ‘this hybrid tongue’, as Hitchings calls it. Hitchings (2008:2)
  • A tongue that re-invents itself, twists and transmogrifies at every turn.

A couple of decades ago I recall there being suggestions that the English language would splinter into so many dialects, creoles and forms that a speaker of one would not understand the user of another. The opposite appears to be the case, that ‘core English’ has been stabilised by its myriad of versions. Users can choose to understand each other or not, to tolerate even celebrate their differences or to use difference to create a barrier: think of the class divide, the posh voice versus the plebeian, one regional accent set against another, or an accent from one former British Dominion compared to another.

‘Words bind us together, and can drive us apart.’ Hitchings (2008:3)

How is the Internet changing the English Language?

What impact has Instant Messaging, blogging and asynchronous communication had? Can we be confident that others take from our words the meanings we intend? As we are so inclined to use sarcasm, irony, flippancy and wit when we speak, how does this transcribe when turned into words? How can you know a person’s meaning or intentions without seeing their face or interpreting their body language? Must we be bland to compensate for this?

I love mistakes, such as this one from Hitchings:

Crayfish … ‘its fishy quality is the result of a creative mishearing.’ Hitchings (2008:4)

Age ten or eleven I started to keep a book of my ‘creative mishearings’ which included words such as ‘ragabond,’ instead of ‘vagabond.’ I love the idea of the ‘creative mishearing,’ isn’t this the same as ‘butterfly’, shouldn’t it be ‘flutterby’? And recalling a BBC Radio 4 Broadcast on Creativity with Grayson Perry, ‘creativity is mistakes.’

Mistakes and misunderstandings put barbs on the wire strings of words we hook from point to point, between arguments and chapters.

We are fortunate that the English language is so flawed; it affords scratches and debate, conflict and the taking of sides.

An American travelled 19,000 miles back and forth across the US with a buddy correcting spellings, grammar and punctuation on billboards, notices and road signs. His engaging story split the reviewers into diametrically opposed camps of ‘love him’ or ‘hate him.’ (Courtesy of the Today Programme, the day before yesterday c20th August 2010)

‘Our language creates communities and solidarities, as well as division and disagreements.’ Hitchings (2008:4)

My test for the longevity and acceptability of a new word coined to cover a term in e-learning will be twofold:

Can, what is invariably a noun, be turned with ease into a verb or adjective?

Might we have an Anglo-Saxon, French and Latin word for the same thing. We like to have many words for the same thing … variations on a theme.

And a final thought

Do technical words lend themselves to such reverse engineering? Or, like a number, are they immutable?

If they are made of stone I will find myself a mason’s chisel.


Jonathan Franzen on writing

On Jonathan Franzen

From edited extracts from ‘Why Bother?’ a collection of essays by Jonathan Franzen.

This essay is, ‘How to be alone’ that appeared in the UK’s Saturday Guardian newspaper.

Jonathan Franzen’s model when he got out of college in 1981 for the kind of novel he wanted to write was Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’.

This was 1992. So what is it now. I presume a bit of TV and radio would have given way to the Net’

‘The ambitious young fiction writer can’t help noting that, in a recent USA Today survey of 24 hours in the life of American culture, there were 21 references to television, eight to film, seven to popular music, four to radio, and one to fiction.’

I like how Jonathan Franzen relates the fall of the Soviet Union to the shift on car purchasing in the USA.

‘In 1993 -the swollen minivans and broad-beamed trucks that had replaced the automobile as the suburban vehicle of choice – these Rangers and Land Cruisers and Voyagers that were the true spoils of a war waged to keep American petrol cheaper than dirt.’

This brings a rye smile from me:

‘I was becoming so depressed that I could do little after dinner but flop in front of the TV. I could always find something delicious: M*A*S*H, Cheers, Homicide. Naturally, the more TV I watched, the worse I felt.’

I zap between E.R., Friends, Coupling and Simon Sharma.

‘If you are a novelist and you don’t feel like reading, how can you expect anybody else to read your books?’

This prompted me to go out and buy Zadie Smith’s, ‘White Teeth’, Tony Parson’s ‘Man and Boy’ and something else …  Michel Houellebeque’s ‘Platform’.

‘In the 19th century, when Dickens and Darwin and Disraeli all read one another’s work, the novel was the pre-eminent medium of social instruction. A new book by Thackery or William Dean Howells was anticipated with the kind of fever that a later December film release inspires today. The big, obvious reason for the decline of the social novel is that modern technologies do a much better job of social instruction. Television, radio and photographs are vivid, instantaneous media.’

What is a ‘social novel’ ?

I never studied English beyond school. I.e. Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Pope.

‘The essence of fiction is solitary work: the work of writing, the work of reading.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992

This is why writers need a shed. Or a yacht. Or a hermitage. I need to be alone, travelling, away from the phone and the internet.

I’d like a hermit’s cage; I’d like to be sent innocent girl’s in search of God so that I could put the Devil inside her. (If she were consenting and over the age of 18 of course, or is 16 in England.)

‘However sick with foreboding you feel inside, it’s best to radiate confidence and to hope that it’s infectious.’ Jonathan Franzen 1992.

There are echoes of Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ all about ‘resistance’ … though Jonathan Franzen wrote this a decade ago.

Ripples, synchronicity. Blah Blah. Writer who writer about writing as they write.

‘Even harder to admit is depression. It’s not just that depression has become fashionable to the point of banality. The invitation to leave your depression behind, whether through medication or therapy or effort or will, seems like an invitation to turn your back on all your dark insights into the corruption and infantilism and self-delusion of the brave new McWorld … Instead of saying I am depressed you want to say I am right !’

And a bit more

‘Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.’

Don’t think about it, just do it.

Don’t even hesitate to look into your soul. Don’t do an Elvis. Narcissism and writing equals stalemate

‘There’s evidence that young writers today feel imprisoned by heir ethnic or gender identities – discouraged from speaking across boundaries by a culture in which television has conditioned us t accept only the literal testimony of the Self. And the problem is aggravated when fiction writers take refuge in university creative-writing programmes. Any given issue of the typical small literary magazine reliably contains variations on three general short stories: “My Interesting Childhood,” My Interesting Life in a College Town,” and “My Interesting Year Abroad”. As a reader I mourn the retreat into the Self and the decline of the broad-canvas novel.’

Just do it. Site down and write.

Lock yourself in a shed. Drink, wank, let go. Then write. Get on a yacht. Disappear to sea. Fly a rocket to the moon. Isolate yourself. No radio, no TV, no papers. No reference books. No contact with the outside world. No ‘writers groups’ at all. Sexperts are permitted.

‘I used to distrust creative-writing departments for what seemed to me their artificial safety, just as I distrusted book clubs for treating literature like a cruciferous vegetable that could be choked down only with a spoonful of socialising.’

Ha ! I knew this writer’s group thing was a waste of paste and space.

‘Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever-increasing evanescence: in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness.’

The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

by Steven Pressfield

I’m unsure where this recommendation came from. My apologies.

It may have come from someone in Diaryland. A recommendation to read this book. The reviews in Amazon were encouraging too.

The silver hardback cover with its flecks of mirrored glass leave you suspicious – all front and no substance. Its justified though, rather like ‘The Little Book of Calm’ – I’m glad Steven Pressfield didn’t write a Tome, in fact, had he the nerve he may have trimmed out thirty pages of the hundred and sixty-five.

I took notes. There are a number of points over which I’d like to dwell, points I’d like to share.

Each of the quotes I’ve grabbed from the book will sit beneath a page title, sometimes there is only a paragraph or two, never much more than two pages per title. The key word through-out to get your head around is ‘Resistance’ – i.e. that which prevents us from doing. The key instruction is to sit down and do it like a pro. Here we go:

What I Do

I sit down and plunge in. When I start making typos, I know I’m getting tired…All that matters is I’ve put in my time and hit it with all I’ve got. All that counts is that, for this day, for this session, I have over come Resistance.

From this I take the point that the hardest thing is to get on with it, to do it, as Steven Pressfield says further down the page, the hardest thing to do is sitting down to write’.

This can be all that is required.

This is what Roald Dahl did going down to his shed in the garden every morning to work, this is what Frederick Forsyth does going down to his office. This is what I’d like to do. On time, every day, without fail. As if the school bell has gone or the exam has begun,. I got a sense of this (and a kick from it) doing the Twenty Four Hour Writing Marathon at the beginning of May. That was like having to sit down and ‘do it’ on the hour, every hour for twenty-four hours. It might have been twenty-four days, indeed, it might have produced more words for each of us in a twenty-four hour period than we were likely to produce continuing as we had done, over twenty-four days.

Some seeds were planted then that I am yet to harvest.

Resistance will bury you

Tell me about it. Heh, let’s play Devil’s Advocate, he’s playing the fortune tellers game here, listing characteristics with which I cannot fail to identify. Or is he? He might not embrace human kind but he has a good crack at encapsulating ‘the frustrated creative’. Here’s one. Right through acting, writing (poetry, lyrics, stories, a journal, stories, TV plays and series and screenplays), composing songs, painting and drawing, singing and performing. I have buried myself deep beneath a heap of problems and neurosis. Reading ‘The War of Art’ is like looking in a mirror. It don’t mean to be vane by making the comparison, but as I creep through my fortieth year I leave in my a wake a mess of easily identifiable obstacles, flotsam and jet some I must learn to doge, not manufacture or cling to.

Resistance is infallible

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Why does this sound less encouraging than it should? My problem is this, Steven Pressfield appears to see the soul as a weapon, spear-like, but when I call to my ‘Muse’ I turn out to be a throwing star, I have no single point, I want to perform (to act and sing), I want to paint (draw portraits) as well as to write (and cook, and garden). Which need not be a problem. Come to think of it I am happiest when I indulge a bit of each daily, with a reasonable run or swimming training thrown in.

Resistance is most powerful at the finish line

Here Pressfield gives us the story of Odysseus in a few paragraphs. He then warns us that:

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything its got.

Reading this brings back a most painful recollection. Age sixteen I decided I would join the BBC in London; I even got to visit the place through the daughter of a friend of my mothers. I was told to study hard, which I did, passing through Oxford University five years later with a C.V. listing achievements that said my life was dedicated to T.V. I had my panic after the first interview, I was thrown by my poor general knowledge and quit before I could be told I hadn’t made it. I quit by turning up at my ‘Final Board’ to tell the panel I had taken a job elsewhere. This was arrogance, it was fear. Fear that I had failed to achieve all that I had set out to achieve. Dick Head. I did something similar five years ago. By circumstances I found myself a week away from directing actors in a reconstruction of a bank raid, but I shy away from doing what I had claimed until then that I did (and wanted to do), which was to direct drama. I never acted professionally, though a university like Oxford gave me ample opportunity to audience and secure parts. A recurring dream (that can become like a nightmare) is to find myself on a stage not knowing my lines, not knowing what the play is, not even having a copy of he play to read from. Is it this what I fear as the curtain goes up, just as I am about to take centre stage? It feels like that. It might explain why so many nearly finished and completed pieces (yes, I can finish) sit on shelves on discs. Remind me what happened to: ‘Escape from Alien Zoo’, ‘Rewind’, ‘Sardines’, ‘The Watersprites’, ‘Fortune Photobooth’, ‘The Little Duke’, ‘Bodyguard 943’, ‘Adam & Evie’, ‘The French Test’, ‘Adam’s Camera’ and ‘Excuse My Frenchman’, to name a few screenplays … and what about short stories, ‘The Trap’ and ‘The Cuckoo-Clock’ and all those kids stories, such as ‘Hapless Harry’, ‘CC & Suzi’ …

How else do I respond?

I panic and get a job. At least I don’t get ‘Broadcast’ anymore, I would apply to anything I felt remotely suited too. I’ve even stopped looking at the Media Job pages of the Guardian.

Resistance recruits allies

The best and the only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.

This is what I will say at tonight’s meeting of ‘The Grange Writers’, which in part is why I got up at 3.15 a.m. this morning to finish reading ‘The War of Art’ and to make these notes. The group is meeting to decide how we go forward. I was getting pissed off at amateurishness, failure to complete tasks or to contribute comment, lack of nerve or commitment and the weakness of some of contributions that would embarrass a teenager. I’m glad that I am leaving my mark by saying nothing other than submitting my work. It is surprising how lucid and journal like some of the writers have become (they may be secretly posting diaries in Diaryland by now too).

I think Dale Carnegie in his ‘Golden Book’ from the 1950s has some advice too on how to handle the work of others, as does Naomi Eppel in ‘The Observation Deck’.

Resistance and sex

Sometimes Resistance takes the form of sex, or an obsessive preoccupation with sex. Why sex? Because sex provides immediate and powerful gratification.

I admit it. I go through phases of being obsessed with ‘pleasuring myself’ – when you’re in your twenties and thirties chasing fanny (or pussy as you will say in North America) is attractive and doable. A good marriage is an outcome of this, at first it quenches the pain, feeds it, then children, life, and all the rest of it comes along blah blah … I am guilty of seeking this ‘quick fix’ – like alcohol, like chocolate, like meat and until I ditched the stuff, Ritalin. I think what Steven Pressfield is saying is that the overriding obsession should be one’s art. I can understand why being celibate is in itself a way to guarantee that energy is given a different direction. Turning this on its head though I also reflect the sex, or lust or desire is often for me the greatest drive, the greatest rush that pushes my writing forward. I admit that the idea of ‘inter sex’ or ‘cyber sex’ fuelled me for a while. The first entry I posted in Diaryland, an episode from the twenties, called ‘Lucinda Gets Naked’ is an expression of it too – I feel the fire now, of that sylph like nineteen year old naked in my bedroom as I stood behind an easel in a dressing gown to draw her. I am naked too, beneath a robe, to make her feel more comfortable. Laugh. My hard-on ached for months, at the time it fed my arm the held he charcoal that produced the drawings I recently had framed. I’ve not resolved this one have I? Maybe sex will continue to get in the way, whether or not I consummate any of the many affairs I toy with and fantasize about.

It goes without saying that this principle applies to drugs, shopping, masturbation, TV, gossip, alcohol, and the consumption of all products containing fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.


Resistance and Victomhood

Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it, stop.

I had come of Ritalin and stuck two fingers up at A.D.D. by the time I came to ‘The War of Art’. This little tome helps me accept the blame. I’ve been blaming everything and everyone for too long. I’ve made my father out as some kind of ogre which is cruelly unfair. As if he is to blame for my current circumstances (or those of my older sister). Most recently because he surely has A.D.H. D, and my sister and I do too (or not). So what! Mark Spitz had asthma but won seven golds at the Mexico Olympics. (He was fishman and my hero from the 1972 Olympics; I was ten). I’m saying I blame myself for making a thing into a problem, it is too easy to latch onto something like alcoholism or A.D.D. and say they are to blame, they are not, I am. In any case, I am not alcoholic and have doubts about the A.D.D. thing too.

Resistance and criticism

If you find yourself criticising other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance.

This gives me an excuse to say nothing, however angry it may make me, at future meetings of ‘Grange Writers’ – or does it? IT is how I correct/mark/judge something. I decimated a piece recently because there was a mess of poor English getting in the way of the story. I am struggling to think of any redeeming points even now. What I do think though, and this has come from Pressfield, is how when it comes to swimming, I can offer enthusiasm to someone (a child) who is floundering, even if they are sadly behind in their swimming and are clinging to arm bands. What this writer needed was encouragement, instead I mocked his arm bands, his cockeyed-doggy-paddle that barely kept him afloat, and would have gladly seen him drown.

Ooops. My wicked streak again.

There comes a point though when you have to say to a guy in his fifties wearing arm bands that he should not be in the ‘big pool’ yet as it is neither good for him or the rest of us.

Resistance and isolation

It is a commonplace amongst artists and children at play that they’re not aware of time or solitude while they’re chasing their vision.

Some months ago I picked up a piece by Terry Gilliam complaining that writers today were afraid of isolation, of being alone. That our being flooded by the same news, same films, same books was producing a predictability and sameness in all that we wrote.

Being alone matters.

This is timely. Will I be more alone at home next week, at the desk, the family away for a week while I write, or in an attic room at my Mother’s house being fed and allowed out for exercise? I’m worried how much might distract me if I stay here (home), yet worried how distracting it might be to be alone with a keyboard in a spare bedroom.

‘It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life’.

Telamon of Arcadia, mercenary of the fifth century B.C.

I fancy a Spartan life, the discipline, the attack, the commitment.

Professionals and amateurs

The word amateur from the Latin root meaning ‘to love’. The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does if for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his real vocation. The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. he commits full-time.

This is familiar territory.

I heard it first from Nelson E Bolles in ‘What Color’s Your Parachute?’

You become a professional by behaving like one. Pressfield is derogatory about amateurs who toy with their art and blame the way they toy around for their failure. I’m afraid many of the recently departed members of the Grange Writers group were exactly this – amateur. They were dragging me down; there are still others, three out of the remaining seven, who have to wake up to the reality of their amateurishness. Sorry, must add this statement of fact as a jibe, they are all single women in their forties (even him). Not that being ‘single and a woman in your forties’ implies that you are amateur. But there is bagged there to shake off if you are joining a group of people who wish to be professional.

We’re all Pros already

Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyses him.

Yes and no. And yes.

I have an excellent track record of sitting down and doing it … I get stuff written. My problem is sending it out. This goes back to a set of songs I composed in my teens and reordered … one mail out, one rejection, stick it on the shelf. Really! The only time anything I have written has been seen by more than one producer (this is back in my TV days) was when I had an agent.

A Professional is patient

Resistance outwits the amateur with the oldest trick in the book: It uses his own enthusiasm against him. Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an over ambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion. It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity. We will hit the wall. We will crash.

Whether or not I have A.D.H. D.

I am learning, now that I have had the chance, to be more patient. A novel does not get written in a week, or a few weeks … especially not when your circumstances require most of your day elsewhere. I got hung up over getting these ‘three chapters’; out when I knew I’d have to write far more than this to feel comfortable about ever completing the entire novel. I’m now at that stage. The goal of this week writing I am about to take is to come out of it convinced I can make it to the end of the novel and with three chapters that when sent out will do their job.

A professional accepts no excuses

He knows if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.

Fiction writing has to take priority over Diaryland, my journal, ‘Morning Pages’ and other excuses that have me sitting here tappy tappy typing away in the belief that this is work, when work is a different folder a glance away. IF I can’t work on that with the distraction of this … then I’ll need to take a tent up a mountain and use a pen and notepad until I finish.

(Am I making an excuse again?)

A professional does not take failure (or success) personally

Resistance uses fear of rejection to paralyse us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation.


Invoking the Muse

Ref: ‘The Invocation of the Muse’ from Homer’s Odyssey, the T.E. Lawrence translation.

It doesn’t do anything for me. Or was I reading something else?

The Magic of Making a start

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

W.H. Murray. the Scottish Himalayan Expedition.

I have never found starting a problem. I have made the beginning a t art. I can have an idea and give it a title, write some of it, then have another idea and give it a title. I have a hardback notebook of short stories. There are three or four completed stories, a dozen or more titles with a line or two giving me the gist of the story … and then a book of titles. One per page. Not one of those titles means anything to me, nor do many of the stories. So. Starting can be easy, however hard it might be for some. For me finishing ,,, i.e. sending the fucker out, is, without a deadline and a pay check an extraordinarily hard thing for me to do.

‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has a genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now’.


See above. Starting is not my problem. Starting something else is my problem. Being distracted is my problem.

The hierarchical orientation

A pecking order can hold only so many chickens.

As a new boy at Mowden Hall Preparatory School I had the number 105. Five years later I made it to No. 2. (I should have gone to NO. !, but I won’t dwell on this for now). Public School was similar, in fact, ‘watch your nip’ was the expression that one boy used to put another down if he were in any way ‘senior’ to you … the most junior boys of the year above (who may have been younger than me), were most prone to this.

At the Royal Grammar School were I eventually flourished hierarchy was based on academic merit alone. Oddly, I floundered at Oxford because the strictures of hierarchy were taken away. OR I never had the chance to feel them. I was a ‘free lance’ a free operator.

So I drifted.

Out here in the real world, especially in our circumstances, I feel that I am too beholden to a hierarchy based on income (or total lack of it). I couldn’t attend a reunion of my year group alumni because I know those who will attend are so massively successful. Really. I’m glad that Pressfield invites us to float free of all of this, something I find easy to do as an ‘outsider’ as an ‘observer’.

The artist and the hierarchy

The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.

The definition of a hack

The hack … is scared of being authentic in front of his audience, scared of writing what he really feels or believes, what he thinks is interesting.

Whenever I have tried to be a hack I have failed. I can write for a mould, or money, when I am asked to do so … anonymously.

Some extensive thoughts on Writing and being a writer by Norman Mailer

‘The Spooky Art’ Mailer (2003)

A strange chain of reading took me to Norman Mailer some months ago. I was reading an anthology of book reviews by Martin Amis, 1972 to 2000 I think. Amongst the writers reviewed were Norman Mailer; the review was probably ‘Harlot’s Ghost’, which I have now read.

I then read an inadequate biography on Norman Mailer through which Mailer appeared and I liked him. About this time one of the English Broadsheet newspapers, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ serialised ‘The Spooky Art’ so I bought it. (July 2003)

I’m offering up some quotes here

Here are some early comments on the first 100 pages.

Once I’ve got to through the hundred pages I’ll do this again. It’s already served its purpose – I’m preparing to write again, to get a novel finished. Do add your thoughts on what Norman Mailer has to say. I’ve added page references in the expectation that you’ll buy the book too and we can share notes.


‘Writing a novel is like learning the piano.’

I like this thought because if said with conviction; it might deflect conversations that imply that any of us could, with ease, add the writing of a novel to our hectic lives. Few people are selfish enough, confident enough, patient enough or desperate enough to attempt to write a novel; just as few adults who failed to learn the piano as a child and likely to stick with it as an adult. Strangely we have a piano, bought two weeks ago. I may pick up where I left off, I’m beginning to get some crude right hand sight reading back already. (This is an example of what Steven Pressfield describes as ‘resistance’ – I will do anything but engage, like sitting an exam, in a piece of long-forming narrative writing and when I do I block around the 70,000 word Mark, try to edit and do my head in).


‘A good skier rarely worries about a route. He just goes, confident that he’ll react to changes in the trail as they come upon him. It’s the same thing in writing; You have to have confidence in your technique. That is the beauty of mustering the right tone at the right time – it enables you to feel like a good skier, nice and relaxed for the next unexpected turn.’

I like this because it knocks flat the premise of a year’s effort and some expense writing, illustrating, designing and photographing the ‘routes’ or as my family call them ‘pistes’ (using the French term) of one of the world’s greatest ski resorts, Val d’Isere and Tignes in the French Alps. I have thick files that map and annotate the 77 or more ski runs. Yes! I enjoyed the excuse of spending months on skis up a mountain, it happened to coincide with my pursuit of someone who had taken a year out (quit a city job) to work the ‘Season.’ We’ve been married a few months short of ten years and hope to spend our Tenth Wedding Anniversary, as we spent our Honeymoon, 2000m up a snow-covered mountain. I digress. The writing analogy works for me and ties in with this ‘writing from the hip’ concept that Ghanima has picked up on; just as skiing would be no fun if you stopped every few yards to figure out what to do next, so writing cannot be fluid, consistent or fun if it is done mechanically. The difficulty is having the confidence, or as Mailer would put it, a large enough ego, to pull it off (as well as basic writing skills, something worth saying and a compulsion to write). Talent is nothing more than a product of these.

My plan should be to have no plan. To hop on my skis and run with it. (reading this 8 years on I have a premise in mind).

Mailer continues in a similar vain here:


‘Describe what you fell as it impinges on the sum of your passions and your intellectual attainments. Bring to the act of writing all of your craft, care, devotion, lack of humbug, and honesty of sentiment. Then write without looking over your shoulder for the literary police. Write as if your life depended on saying what you felt as clearly as you could, while never losing sight of the phenomenon to be described.’

My mistake is to take big breaks between writing; I get lost. I lose myself, I lose track of what I am doing, I have new ideas. As I have said on these pages many times I need the discipline and exacting conditions of two three hour written exams a day – I perform under that kind of pressure.



‘Unless your literary figures keep growing through the event of the book, your novel can go nowhere that will surprise you.’

I put this in as a note to myself. I have a character in ‘JTW’ who bobs along, unchanged, muddle headed and too like me to be convincing or compelling. The other novel, something I started on a decade ago and forget about, let’s call it ‘Form Photo’ may be more sustainable because the protagonist is a debased shit, a contemporary ‘Flashman,’ a sex obsessed Humbert for whom incest, rape, casual sex and necrophilia become part of his crazed purpose in life. On vera. As Mailer puts on the back cover of ‘The Spooky Art’ and all the best books on writing state emphatically, ‘writers write.’ I just have to sit down and do it, consistently, every day ideally.

First Person versus Third Person

(More on this later). The first exercise of this Montparnasse thing has produced some useful thoughts on the qualities of writing in the first or third person.

Real Life versus Plot Life


‘One could make the case that our love of plot – until it becomes very cheap indeed – comes out of our need to find the chain of cause and effect that often is missing in our own existence.’

This I find repeated in the books on writing I admire the most, such as Steven Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’ and Ben Okri’s book, the title of which illudes me. Offering reasons and meaning is the simplest way to make a reader feel empathy for the predicament that the characters face.


‘I look for my book as I go long. Plot comes last. I want a conception of my characters that’s deep enough so that they will get me to places where I, as the author, have to live by my wits. That means my characters must keep developing. So long as they stay alive, the plot will take care of itself.’

I like this for the emphasis on character, the ride you give them and how they develop. Where I have a character that is convincing, the next step is to toss at them ever larger loads of shit and see how they deal with it.

Working on a book where the plot is already fully developed is like spending the rest of your life filling holes in rotten teeth when you have no skill as a dentist.

My efforts to follow any kind of treatment, for a screen play, TV series or book, have invariably failed. I have used software such as Dramatica Pro ad nauseam, I even bought some ‘New novel’ software on impulse the other day that is pure crap. It, with folders from ‘The Writer’s Bureau’ and ALL the DIY books I Have on writing should be binned. Instead of helping me find a path to the end of a story they toss up cul de sacs and diversions. They force you to create a road map and in doing so, implying that you must stick to this one road, hundred of alternative routes are indicated.

Instinct and Influence


‘If you find some theme that keeps you working, don’t question it. Let that theme be sufficient to fuel you work. If you start using the value judgments of others, you’re never going to get much done. If I find something is stimulating to me and arousing my energy, that’s fine; I’ll trust it. No matter what you find yourself writing abut, if it’s giving you enough energy to continue, then the work bears a profound relationship to you at that point and you don’t question it.’

This is what I prefer; like a leap off the ski route, into powder, risking a trail no one has taken since the last dump of snow. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, often the experience is personal, intimate and exhilarating.



‘It’s as difficult to become a professional writer as a professional athlete.’

I’m glad he says this, like learning to play the piano. It explains why so many successful writers never produce novels: they are journalists, non-fiction writers, broadcasters or write screen-plays, but the novel illudes them.


‘The sad truth is that a would-be novelist possibly has to start a few books that do give out, or even crash, before a sense of the difficulties is acquired.’

All the more reason to get the first few novels done while you’re a student or living alone in digs – not in mid-life, burdened by debt with a family to keep.


‘A large part of writing a novel is to keep your tone.’

Were I to write a novel in one sitting, day after day, for a number of months, then I could probably deliver a consistent style and tone. The way I currently work, in bits, plays on my worst trait, I am inconsistent and indiscriminate.

‘I love starting a book; I usually like finishing one. It’s the long middle stretches that call on your character – all that in-between! – those months or years when you have to report to work almost every day.’

This is where I fail. Steven Pressfield lists all the reasons why a book might not be written, he calls it ‘Resistance.’ I am guilty of doing anything BUT write. Anything. I invite distraction, create distraction, or enter a cave of drink, TV, DIY, entertaining the kids, taking them on trips, ironing – even ironing! I don’t need a shed at the bottom of the garden (I enjoy gardening too much), I need a shed up a mountain in summer: no phone, no TV, no newspapers, no people.

‘You don’t write novels by putting in two brilliant hours a week. You don’t write novels if you lose too many mornings and afternoons to a hangover.’

This is what stopped me drinking this time round. I realised that 2003 is not lost; I made a reasonable start, lost it for a few months, but could still make it up by the end of the year. We’ll see. I find denial of any kind tough.

‘Sometimes, when you’re in a bad period, you must in effect contract yourself for weeks running. “I’m going to write tomorrow,” you have to declare, and, indeed, show up at your desk, even though there’s nothing in you, and sit there for hours, whatever number of hours you told yourself you were going to put in. Then, if nothing happens, you still show up the next day and the next and the next, until that recalcitrant presence, the unconscious, comes to decide you can finally be trusted. Such acceptance is crucial. The unconscious expects that what it has prepared for you in your sleep should be expressed, ideally, the next day. We live, you see, in an arm’s-length relationship to our unconscious. It has to be convinced over and over again to believe in you. Sometimes when you’re writing a novel, you have to live as responsibly as a good monk. That does get easier as you grow older.’

Here we go. I need to be re-institutionalised. School worked for me, I was at boarding school for over nine years, it was possibly the best thing for me. I knew when to think, when to practise, when to eat, play and wipe my arse. I didn’t need money, to cook, to supervise children, or take responsibility for anything other than me.


‘Writing is wonderful when you talk about it. It’s fun to contemplate. But writing as a daily physical activity is not agreeable. You put on weight, you strain your gut, you get gout and chilblains. You’re alone, and every day you have to face a blank piece of paper.’

I liked this thought because it reminded me of a writing group to which I temporarily belonged; when we stopped loving each other we realised it was shit hard work, no one could take the negativity, and only a few could accept that it would be painful.

‘Professionalism probably comes down to being able to work on a bad day.’

I must.

‘When I’m writing I am rarely in a good mood. A part of me prefers to work at a flat level of emotion. Day after day, I see hardly anyone. I’ll put in eight to ten hours, or which only three or four will consist of words getting down on the page. It’s almost a question of one’s metabolism. You begin, after all, from a standing start and have to accelerate up to a level of cerebration where the best words are coming in good order. Just as a fighter has to feel that he posses the right to do physical damage to another man, so a writer has to be ready to take chances with his readers’ lives. If you’re trying for something at all interesting or difficult, then you cannot predict what the results of your work will be. If it’s close enough to the root, people can be physically injured reading you. Full of heart, he was also heartless – a splendid oxymoron. That can be the epitaph for many a good novelist.’

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