More out of order than a Pulp Fiction movie

I was thrilled at the beginning of this month to release my third book. Ignoring, for a moment, my supernatural thriller novel, it was book two in my travel memoir series and was aptly titled, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

Book two continues and completes the story started in “Mistakes were Made” which was inspired by our unfortunately timed attempt to move from the USA to a beachside idyll of retirement in sunny Spain. It was badly timed because we began preparations for the journey in March 2020 and, if you cast your mind back for a moment, 2020 was forever immortalized by something else of some small consequence that was to happen later that year.


With “It’s not as bad as it looks” bringing the tale up to current day, I was left thinking about what to write next.

I have two other work in progress (WIP) projects I am currently working on, and to be honest I should really be focussing on them instead of writing this blog and thinking of yet another side project, but I enjoyed writing the funny travel memoirs and people seem to enjoy them. Then I had a thought…

It brought to mind a series of travel adventures I took part in during a miss-spent youth, when I was both single and the fortunate owner of large and rapid motorcycles. This was in the mid-1980’s, a period during which I was in my late teens and early twenties. Unlike all of my friends, instead of flying to Ibiza to drink copious amounts of cold fizzy lager and chase girls, each year I took a few weeks off work and picked a suitably remote and challenging destination to ride my bike to.

Without exception, the trips were all lonely and arduous. Both too hot and too cold, too wet and too arid; every one an arse cheek pummeling slog of endurance, and looking back I have to say, I wonder what on earth I was thinking. But I am certain that those trips hold pay dirt, a veritable cornucopia of humorous anecdotes and interesting trivia about a world long gone. If only, thirty years later, I can coax the increasingly feeble bag of grey tapioca that is now my brain into remembering a single one of them.

There were the usual easy trips to Europe, France and Italy mainly, but I also rode through the entirety of Scandinavia to reach Nord Cap, far inside the Arctic Circle, and one fateful year a scary ride through the communist Eastern Bloc to reach Istanbul and eventually Asia.

I do recall there were dead horses and armed checkpoints, reindeers eaten and tortoises run over, all amid a smattering of crashes, injuries and lasting friendships. I was terribly young and most of the time entirely ignorant of the danger I was barely skirting in my exposure and isolation.

That’s me below, stood beside my woefully uncomfortable GPZ1000RX, wearing a giant condom, and enjoying myself not one bit at the crossing into the Arctic Circle.

Ibiza? What were they thinking, those sun-kissed fools!

Andy C Wareing crossing into the Arctic Circle

Unfortunately, it means that book three, if it does get written, will be way out of chronological sequence with the other two. It doesn’t seem to have done Star Wars or Pulp Fiction any harm, but I do wonder how to market that and how it would be received.

Let me know your thoughts if you can, and follow the blog, and give me a follow if you are interested in hearing more about this and other projects.

Oh, and don’t forget to read book one and book two in the laugh out loud travel memoir series. Available to buy on your local Amazon store and always free on Kindle Unlimited.

And, last thought I promise, writers need hugs too and the biggest, squeeziest hug you can give to a writer is an honest review.

Thanks for the kind read.

Give a hug - leave a review

The challenges and opportunities of writing in multiple genres.

In traditional publishing it has long been the mantra that an author needed to pick, and subsequently stick to, a single genre.

“You need to specialize, because a publisher can’t afford to try and reach a whole new audience with every single book. As an author, neither can you.


– Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Certainly, writing in multiple genres creates significantly more work and less opportunity to leverage existing, publications. But the quote above relates more to traditional publishing. The Indie publishing world allows for a little more leeway even if it brings with it additional challenges.

A newsletter is a good example, People subscribe, usually, because a book resonates, it speaks to them, and through it they make a connection to the author. They want more of the same. If somebody subscribed because they enjoyed ‘Mistakes were Made,’ my humorous little travel memoir, then they are unlikely to be interested in hearing about my next Science Fiction or Paranormal book.

Proof in point, this year I have been remiss with keeping my newsletter up to date for that precise reason.

It also makes advertising and marketing more of a challenge, for similar reasons. There is little point offering a discount on my little travel series to a reader who wants more gore and horror (although there has been a fair amount of terror in some of the Airbnb’s we have stayed in on our travels).

Still, somehow, I find that is the path that I have chosen to tread. To date I have published one amusing travel memoir and one supernatural thriller. There is also a fully completed manuscript out there, circulating around literary agents, written in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre.

And, today, (drum rolls please), I am excited to announce, that Book Two in the travel memoir series, ‘It’s not as bad as it looks’ has just been released on Amazon stores worldwide.

Click on the image below to buy a copy or read it for free on Kindle Select.

It's not as bad as it looks

The latest book follows on from our journey documented in Mistakes were Made. It begins in Somerset and then…well, you will just have to read it to find out…

With that WIP completed, my attention shifts back to finishing the sequel to ‘The Haunting of Edgar Allan Poe.’ It is currently about 50% finished and should be published by the end of the year.

I simply enjoy writing in different genres. I have ideas for several new books circulating in this crusty hairless, old noggin, and relish the opportunity and challenge of writing in whatever genres they end up dropping into.

I recognize that by doing so I have probably made the path to any commercial success steeper and more slippery than it perhaps needed to be. I guess, if I wanted to take an easier path I could have written something commercially more viable, something about sex craved bitey vampires from Mars clothed only in boob tubes and mini-skirts (oh, there’s an idea—one sec while I make a note).

I think, in the end, two things resonate for me. Write what I want to write and do it as well as I possibly can.

Abraham Lincoln said it better than me.

I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.

Follow the blog, give me a like and a share. Check out the rest of the books and don’t forget to feed the author’s ego and line that threadbare pocket and leave an honest review!


A blog wot I wrote…

Language is a strange thing when you pause to truly consider it. And writing is another. I found this on social media the other day. I thought that it really captured the magic that the written word can evoke.

Read this to yourself. Read it silently.

Don’t move your lips. Don’t make a sound.

Listen to yourself. Listen without hearing anything.

What a wonderfully weird thing, huh?

NOW MAKE THIS PART LOUD!

SCREAM IT IN YOUR MIND!

DROWN EVERYTHING OUT.

Now, hear a whisper. A tiny whisper.

Now, read this next line with your best crotchety-old-man voice:

“Hello there, sonny. Does your town have a post office?”

Awesome! Who was that? Whose voice was that?

It sure wasn’t yours!

How do you do that?

How?!

Must be magic…

And for the grammar police and pedants out there, I am aware that the title of the blog is not exactly grammatical. My reason is a small homage to Ernie Wise, who was part of a UK comedy duo back in the 1970’s called Morecambe and Wise. Ernie Wise fancied himself as a playwright, and every week the duo (with amazingly famous guest stars) would perform his naff new play. His classic line of introduction was always “and now, a play wot I wrote…”

But language and with it, over time, the rules of grammar, always evolve. Shakespeare is famously credited with the creation of over 1,700 words, many of which have fallen into common usage, obscene, worthless and puppy-dog amongst them.

And ahead of a changing language, our alphabet has also continually evolved. I found this graphic really interesting:

Graphic showing the evolution of our alphabet from early hieroglyphs

Many writing systems stem from Egyptian hieroglyphs dating back to 1850 B.C. and the chart allows you to trace our modern alphabet all the way back to their origins.

Different cultures took elements of Egyptian writing and adapted them to sounds in their own language. For example, the Phoenicians took an existing hieroglyph, a wavy line that stood for n, (the initial character in nt and nwy meaning ‘water’) and used it instead to stand for the initial sound of their own word for water mayim; it would later become our letter m. How cool is that?

The letter A resembles the head of animal with horns. It is fitting because, in ancient Semitic, the letter originally translated to ‘ox.’

Take a look at the letter E. About 3,800 years ago, the letter ‘E’ was pronounced as an ‘H’ in the Semitic language. It looked like a stick figure of a human with two arms and one leg. In 700 BC, the Geeks flipped it, and they changed the pronunciation into an ‘ee’ sound.

Many of the letters origins are surprisingly familiar. Particularly when you consider how their forms have evolved, often due to being reversed (since the Phoenicians wrote from right to left) and often, over the course of a millennia, turned on their sides. If you don’t immediately recognize an early letter, try rotating it in your mind.

And then there are more modern introductions. The ancient Greeks gave us ‘U’, ‘V’, ‘W’ and ‘Y’. It originally resembled ‘Y’ and the Greeks called it ‘upsilon’ and pronounced it ‘waw’. The Romans used V and U interchangeably and then the letter ‘W’ entered use during the Middle Ages, with the scribes of Charlemagne writing two ‘u’s’ side by side, separated by a space. At that time the sound made was similar to ‘v.’ The letter finally appeared in print as a unique letter ‘W’ in around 1700.

It all slowly fed into the Indo-European language family which includes English. The Indo-European language family includes more than 400 other languages. English shares strong common roots with German but also with Spanish and French as well as Bengali, Polish and Persian.

This beautiful chart by Minna Sundberg, a Finnish-Swedish comic artist, shows some of English’s closest cousins, like French and German, but also its more distant relationships with languages originally spoken far from the British Isles such as Farsi and Greek.

You can read more posts like this by following the blog. While you are there check out the books, give me a like a share and a follow.

Cheers! Santé! Salud! Sei Gesund! Будем здоровы. 乾杯

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

I tend to start these posts with a quote from a famous song or words from a bestselling book. For a change, how about some words from a book I hope will soon become a bestseller?

“Not quite,” she said gently, “look closer. As each image gets repeated it loses strength, it passes closer to the realm of the supernatural. As it does so, some essence of its being becomes captured by the spirits that reside within that realm and are so lessened. The entities within the realm beyond the glass of the mirror absorb and feed on the lifeblood within the images and they become fainter and darker. There are no more than perhaps a hundred or so reflections, although it may not appear so to you.”

I peered intently into the depths of the glass and saw that she was correct. The images did diminish as they disappeared into the distance. Each smaller and fainter, more shrouded in shadows than the last.

“Do you also see how thin the divide is stretched between this world and the next?”

For a moment I was puzzled as to what she wanted me to see, but as I stared at our images, I began to realize there was something wrong. As I scoured the farthest images, so small that my eyes ached, I discerned a darkness behind a distant, tiny reflection of myself. I leaned in closer to see better. My reflection also leaned in and revealed a dark and shadowy shape that stood at my shoulder, dark and indistinct, but moving, its face close to my own, almost touching.

“What is it. What do I see?” I whispered, still staring at the dark shape that stood behind me.

What Joseph is looking into in the story, are two scrying mirrors, set facing each other to create a seeming ‘infinity’ of reflections.

You can read the whole story by clicking on the book cover below.

Scrying can be interchanged with terms like ‘seeing’ or ‘peeping’. The word itself comes from the English word ‘descry’ which means ‘to make out dimly’ or ‘to reveal’. It is the practice of looking into a suitable medium, usually reflective, to detect the presence of a paranormal entity or vision/message. The medium can be things like the crystal balls, stones or glass. One of the more infamous mediums is the scrying mirror. Scrying, regardless of medium can be traced back through the ages, as far back as 3000 B.C. in China.

Since the day when Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection, humankind has been enthralled by the facets of the worlds, and the possible insights into paranormal realms they reflect.

Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, for instance, made a magic mirror that showed the past, present and future.

Perseus used the mirror of his shield to defeat Medusa. Anybody who looked directly at the face of Medusa was turned to stone, Perseus defeated her by fighting her by looking only at her reflection.

In Europe, it has long been a tradition to cover the mirrors in the home of someone recently deceased. The belief is that the soul of the dead person could easily become entrapped within the hidden realm of the mirror, unable to depart and find peace in the afterlife.

And then there was John Dee. Born in 1527 he became Queen Mary’s astrologer, but he was also an astronomer, mathematician, and philosopher. The application of these sciences all held one common theme, Dee sought to use them to find a way to speak directly to God. Dee had a scrying mirror built from obsidian and for seven years he claimed to have used the device to communicate with angels who taught him the original language use by humankind before the fall.

John Dee’s Scrying Mirror

Dee created a massively convoluted mathematical system in which to achieve his communications and in later years it greatly influenced members of the magical society of the Golden Dawn and the esteemed Aleister Crowley. You can read more about The Golden Dawn and Crowley below.

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Mr. Crowley – did you talk to the dead?

In the iconic words of the legend who is Ozzy Osbourne:

“Mr. Crowley, what went on in your head?

Oh Mr. Crowley, did you talk to the dead?

Your lifestyle to me seemed so tragic

With the thrill of it all

You fooled all the people with magic

Yeah, you waited on Satan’s call”

Songwriters: John Osbourne / Randy Rhoads / Robert Daisley

If you don’t know, Mr. Crowley refers to Aliester Crowley, and Crowley would have spelled ‘magic’ here as ‘magick’.

He was a late 19th century occultist who founded the religion of Thelema based on a modern form of paganism. Crowley was often accused of being a satanist, although he refuted this and countered that he could not worship “satan’ as he didn’t believe in the Christian biblical version of the fallen angel. Not much of a denial really, when you stop and think about it…

Crowley was also a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a sect founded in London in 1888. The Golden Dawn was a secret magical order devoted to the study and practice of the occult..

Aleister Crowley in his Golden Dawn regalia in 1910

William Woodman, William Westcott and Samuel Mathers were the three freemasons who founded the society with a focus on spirituality and self improvement. Crowley joined in 1898 and soon rose to prominence, although he was largely disliked due to his bisexuality and libertine lifestyle. Most of our modern concepts of magic, wicca and the paranormal still stem from the philosophies of the Golden Dawn and the teachings of Crowley himself.

The Rose Cross of the Golden Dawn

It is also the same secret society that Doctor John Carter belongs to in my novel, “The Haunting of Edgar Allan Poe.” It is from the Golden Dawn that two errant members, not willing to be constrained by the ethics and limits on power that the society imposes, decide to leave and found their own order—The Dux de Obscurum or The Commanders of Darkness. A sect much more willing to embrace the inherent darkness of the underworld.

As Doctor Carter states as he explains to Joseph Snodgrass, Edgar’s would be savior, when they first meet in Baltimore:

“of course, knowledge of power is one thing, to become adept at its summoning and control is another thing entirely. My order is a peaceful one, we seek knowledge, its members are dedicated to the advancement of humanity by the perfection of the individual on every plane of existence. Like your venerable profession doctor, we seek to do no harm.”

An extended silence fell across the room, broken only by an ember from the log that spat and cracked, musket shot loud in the silent chamber. Carter looked up, his eyes wide and glassy.

“The spells however are from an ancient world, a realm where harm, torture, and immolation was more commonplace. To re-enact their full efficacy and master true dominion, sacrifice is required.”

Unlike the Golden Dawn, The Dux de Obscurum will stop at nothing to master true dominion. The scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff asserted that Crowley was also an extreme representation of “the dark side of the occult”. In my sequel to “The Haunting of Edgar Allan Poe“, The Order of the Golden Dawn once more pitches battle against the Dux de Obscurum. I am currently writing the book, and who knows, given much of the action takes place in London, perhaps Mister Aleister Crowley himself might make an appearance!

Once more in the words of the great Ozzy:

“Uncovering things that were sacred

Manifest on this Earth

Ah, conceived in the eye of a secret

And they scattered the afterbirth”

You can read book one by clicking on the link below. It’s available in ebook, paperback and hardback and always free on Kindle Select.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Check out the re-branded website for similar posts and random musings. I will post some more on other supernatural elements that are used in my books – Furies, Scrying and Goetic circles amongst them, so sign up and give me a like, a share and a follow 😉

Did the printed page make us who we are?

I saw a post on someone’s Facebook page that quoted Carl Sagan on the nature of books and knowledge and it made me think.

This is the quote:



The irreplaceable Carl Sagan

For 99 percent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made. Except for firsthand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the children’s game “Telephone,” over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.

Books changed all that. Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history. They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses.

— Carl Sagan The path to freedom


Thoughts? You certainly wont find me arguing with the esteemed Mr. Sagan btw. But is that all there is to that story? That once man/woman kind discovered the secret of transitioning learning from our individual thoughts, rhymes and songs and instead recording them onto some medium: cave wall, pottery, papyrus, paper, whatever, did that simple act make knowledge accessible?

How old is the written word anyway? An ancient Mesopotamian poem gives the first known story of the invention of writing:

Because the messenger’s mouth was heavy and he couldn’t repeat (the message), the Lord of Kulaba patted some clay and put words on it, like a tablet. Until then, there had been no putting words on clay.

— Sumerian epic poem Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta. c. 1800 BCE.

Bloody hell – so the history of writing dates back to at least 1800 BCE! Of course glyphs and pictographs have been around much longer, we have examples of those that have been dated back to 6600 BCE.

But Sagan’s quote specifically states books, so perhaps the invention of the printing press was at the heart of Sagan’s “great invention”?

So, Gutenberg?

That was Johannes Gutenberg in 1436 of course. He invented a new printing press that used precisely molded printing blocks to create high-quality and consistently identical printed pages. If that wasn’t enough, at the same time he created an oil-based ink that was much more durable than the previously used water-based inks. A true revolution was about to be launched on the world.

Early wooden printing press, depicted in 1568

So in that era we now had the capabilities to create mass, identical copies. Erasmus for example became a best seller. He sold at least 750,000 copies of his works during his lifetime (1469–1536). I might be tempted to kill for those numbers!

And yet, one more element was needed to allow the true, timely and precise sharing of information. It was to come only a few years later, in 1470, when Cologne’s only second printer ever, a man called Arnold Ther Hoernen, printed a book titled “Sermo in festo praesentationis beatissimae Mariae virginis.”

Translated the book title says “The Sermon on the Feast of the Presentation of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary,” but that’s irrelevant. What is important, the one subtle difference that would truly change the world forever? Hoernen unilaterally, amazingly, for the first time ever, after 3270 years of the written word having been in existence, thought “you know what bitches? Today, I’m gonna number these fuckers!” I am paraphrasing slightly.

Amazingly, that first numbered page is still in existence, you can see it in the image below half way down the page and in the right hand margin.

Earliest known book to have page numbers.

Literacy and the emergence of scholarship

Doesn’t seem like something that would rock the world right? But here is the thing, page numbers were revolutionary. They made it easy to quote, cite, and to cross reference — they made accessing, studying, and comparing texts much, much easier.

The printing press meant that the same information would fall on the same pages. That was an undeniable game changer. But the seemingly humble, simple page number allowed tables of contents, and indices to be created. Suddenly one reader could quickly and easily direct another reader to the same precise piece of information they needed to share. Scientific collaboration was made tangible.

Authorship, particularly as it related to scientific papers became more meaningful and profitable. It was suddenly important who had said or written what. This allowed the exact citing of references to become common and a required practice.

This era of mass communication permanently altered the structure of society. Ideas transcended borders, captured the imagination of the masses in the Reformation, and threatened the power of political and religious authorities.

Literacy increased exponentially, threatened the monopoly of the literate elite and with the increasing cultural self-awareness of the European languages, led to the slow but steady fall of Latin as the long held lingua franca.

I do hope you enjoyed this blog post. You can find other musings on seemingly random subjects and updates on my book projects on my website. Follow the blog and sign up for the regularly irregular newsletter.

Give me a like a follow and a share while you are here!

Better still, buy a book – they have page numbers and everything 🙂

Back to the Paranormal

I am currently querying literary editors for representation of my latest Sci-Fi book tentatively titled “River is Rising.” You can read a blog post that discusses the main themes of this book by clicking on the image below.

Māori warrior with facial Tā moko

It was a real challenge to write, although the research for all of the hard Sci-Fi elements was fun (between just you and I, I am starting to think that I really should be a researcher rather than a writer). The intent is that this book will be the first in a trilogy. The problem is that while I wait to hear back from agents, my passion for the themes of the book have gone off the boil. Not to say they couldn’t be instantly rekindled, they just need a positive push from the publishing world to get me back on track.

So, what to write in the meantime. Well, I really enjoyed writing the paranormal story surrounding the last days of Edgar Allan Poe. That story was self-published and the rights are entirely within my control. It also turns out that I left the ending open for a sequel, where the unlikely assemblage from book one (spoiler alert – most of them) get to fight another day. With at least 50% of the characters already written I just needed an idea.

I really liked writing within the atmosphere of “The Haunting of Edgar Allan Poe.” If you haven’t read it yet (shame on you, you must!), the tale carried an American gothic theme. Gas lit streets, steam ships, wet cobbles and large rooms full of ancient mirrors where beasts and secrets could lie concealed within.

You can read a sample and buy a copy here:

So, where to set book two. There was only one place – 19th century London. Where better? Massive overcrowding, crippling poverty for the masses, open sewers, narrow twisting unlit streets and Brasses a plenty to act as my unwitting victims for a new denizen of the dark to pick off in awful ways.

Brass in this context is Cockney Rhyming slang. The slang was claimed to have been invented to obscure the meaning of words to allow criminals to speak freely without being easily understood by the Ducks (see below). Only the first word of the rhyme is typically spoken, so the listener needs to already know the complete phrase to ascertain the meaning.

So? Brass? Well, its meaning has one of two derivatives. Brass Door (whore) or Brass Nail (Tail). A prostitute to you and I. And this in an era in London when the number of Victorian women working the trade was staggeringly high. Poverty and lack of opportunity for the working classes led to as many as 80,000 women and girls working the streets in 19th century London. A great backdrop for a re-inventing of the Ripper story perhaps? One where the killer slips through the shadows with ease, not because he has Royal connections, but rather because he (it) is bestowed with supernatural prowess.

19th century London

I am finding that the slang of the era lends an additional element of authenticity to the time and place, which was already a dark and dangerous time and place to live, even without a murderous creature living in your midst

Here are a few more examples of popular rhyming slang words. Note of caution, this was the language of the street and so can be a touch on the colorful side.

Boat Race (Face)

Brown Bread (Dead)

Ducks and Geese (Police)

Dustbin Lid (Kid)

Gypsy’s Kiss (Piss)

Some require some minor linguistic mental gymnastics

Titfer = Tit for Tat (Hat)

Porky = Pork Pie (Lie)

Whistle = Whistle and Flute (suit)

Richard = Richard the Third (I will let you figure that one out)

And some have come into popularity through more modern vernacular, which I love, although its use for the book is more than doubtful. How about:

Rockford Files (Piles)!

So, the book is about a third written. One element I have added is much more depth around the paranormal antagonists from the first book. In book one the motives and main actors of The Dux de Obscurum were only hinted at. In book two, they play a much more central role and I am busy fleshing out two of the central characters. There will be a few blind alleys and several surprises woven through the tale as well. The plan at the moment is to finish book two by Summer and drive straight on to the final book three in the series to publish them all together by the end of the year.

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Wiccan’s wearing tin foil hats

Writing is a hard and lonely business and personal motivation can be a real challenge. I often go for weeks without a single idea and then, when I finally begin to focus on a project and lever open the lid of my dusty trusty Mac to tap at the keys in an effort to make magic happen, five new competing ideas leap, distracting antelope like, into my mind. Instead of writing, I procrastinate and, instead, check Twitter to see what Boris Johnson and our other world leaders have decided to lie about today and what new conspiracy theory has leapt to to the forefront of the hive mind. While busy not writing, it got me thinking, how do conspiracy theories begin and how do they propagate through a society?

Beginnings

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, although when I was a kid they were confined to such fanciful but brilliantly chilling tales about folks randomly spontaneously combusting or staggering into deadly quicksand. And, of course, the hardcore staples of the Bermuda triangle and the fake moon landings.

As it almost always turns out with these types of theories, I spent way too much time as a ten year-old worrying about quicksand.

My 10 year old brain the horror!

But why do people believe and even propagate such bunkum? COVID-19 was a stellar case of such a phenomenon. Most people, around the world, believed that the virus began as a mutation in a wet market in Wuhan China, but in the United States as much as 28% of the population believe it was manufactured and distributed with malign intent or simply did not exist.

Wiccan

SALISBURY, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 21: Summer Solstice participants wait for the midsummer sun to rise over the megalithic monument of Stonehenge on June 21, 2007 on Salisbury Plain, England. Crowds gathered at the 5,000 year old stone circle to celebrate the Summer Solstice; the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

I was doing some research for a new book which is centered around the Wiccan religion. Wicca is the name given by its practitioners to the New Age religion of Witchcraft. The word ‘Wicca’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for witch and has been used since the religions founder, Gerald Gardner, coined it in the 1930’s. Turns out spirituality is one of the three groups of motives that can be seen as crucial in drawing individuals to conspiracy beliefs.

Motivations

Turns out, people cannot help themselves but to seek meaning in randomness and try to obtain definitive knowledge of any given situation. People also have a tendency to find patterns in random events, named Illusory Pattern Perception (IPP). Both of these were found to drive conspiracy beliefs. This can be viewed as an Epistemic behavior.

Existential Motives, are reflected in the desire for control and security (Douglas et al., 2017). Lacking individual control, people turn to external authorities, such as government, David Icke or religion…

David Icke 2020

Which leads me back to spirituality and the Wicca. Spirituality, like religion, has been consistently seen as a way to seek meaning in life, feel secure and connected with others. A solid reason why spirituality might have an important role in conspiratorial thinking comes from the combination of ethnology and sociology: as Ward and Voas (2011) noted, a new philosophy named “Conspirituality” has emerged, based on the core convictions of New Age spiritual beliefs and conspiracy theories, namely the idea that nothing happens accidentally, and that everything is connected.

As Gardner himself put it “Witchcraft was, and is, not a cult for everybody. Unless you have an attraction to the occult, a sense of wonder, a feeling that you can slip for a few minutes out of the world into the world of faery, it is of no use to you.” (Gardner 1954, p.29).

Bit like reading a good book then! Join the blog and give me a follow below or click here to check out (and buy) a book on the website!

The bullet hole paradox

I saw a post the other day, on LinkedIn of all places, that piqued my interest. It was titled “the bullet hole paradox.” A more accurate term is survivorship bias.

Survivorship bias

During World War II, fighter and bomber planes would come back from battle, riddled with bullet holes from a combination of the guns of enemy fighters and the Flack bombardments. FlaK is the german short term for Flugabwehrkanone – essentially an 88mm projectile which exploded at altitude, sending out jagged metal fragments that tore through nearby aircraft. It also left that characteristic black cloud hanging in the sky that we all remember from WWII movies.

B-17 Flying Fortress Attacked by Me-109s

The Allies analyzed the returning aircraft. They found the areas that were most commonly hit by enemy fire were the fuselage, the outer wings, and the tail. They sought to add armor to these most commonly damaged parts of the planes to reduce the number that was shot down.

Spitfire

Lucky for them, as armor is expensive and heavy, Abraham Wald, a Hungarian-Jewish statistician pointed out that there was another way to look at the data. Perhaps, he cleverly deduced, the reason that some areas of the returning planes were not covered in bullet holes was because the planes that were shot in those areas did not in fact return.

Wald’s singular insight led to the armor being added where there had been no holes, the cockpit, and the engines. This ‘leap of logic’ I shall call it, helped turn the tide of the war.

The problem is seldom information scarcity, but rather in the interpretation of the data itself, and that interpretation is often biased by our upbringing, our education, our “intuition” and our life experiences.


It turns out that survivorship bias is present in many parts of our lives.

Cats

Yep – bare with me…

There has long been a belief that cats that fall from fewer than six stories have greater injuries than cats who fall from more than six stories. The reason I was told, was that cats reach terminal velocity after righting themselves at about five stories, and then presumably, thrilled with this acrobatic feat, relax, land on their feet and stroll away, while their more vertically challenged cousins lacked both time and flexibility and hit the pavement in a more uncontrolled and permanent fashion.

One, possibly more likely version of this story would be survivorship bias. This version of events simply states that cats that die in any fall are less likely to be brought to a veterinarian than injured cats, and thus many of the cats killed in falls from higher buildings are simply not reported.

The arts

This concept of survivorship bias is interesting right? Well, I thought so. But what does it have to do with writing? Well, the theory goes that it is prevalent in the arts as well.

Why is the music of the 70’s and 80’s so well regarded? Survivorship bias provides a possible answer. Only the best music from those eras continues to be played. They are the tracks that survived the ravages of time.

Who remembers ‘Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce’ or ‘The Birdie Song by The Tweets’ from the 1980’s? Sadly, I do.

All of today’s music, both brilliant and dreadful remains current and so we unconsciously apply our biases.

I think the same thing is true of some cornerstones of literature. I am reading a novel right now. The story is solid, not this person’s best I suspect, but it’s good. This author has written bestsellers and had some of the best movies ever adapted from his works. But the actual writing. Meh. It’s just OK.

OK – so 99% of you clicked away because you think this is all hard cheese from a self-published nobody (and you would be right in thinking that). But honestly, one page had four paragraphs and they all began with the word ‘then’. How can that be considered great writing?

Reading is hugely down to personal taste, but I remember finishing reading ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and throwing the paperback directly in the dustbin with a combined huge sigh of relief at finishing, and a wistful groan at the not inconsiderable moments of my life I would never get back. ‘The English Patient’ was a brilliant film adaptation of one of the most tedious books I ever had the displeasure to slog through, and you, my friend are talking to someone who has read ‘The Silmarillion’ three times and managed to finish, and even moderately enjoy, Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ AND ‘The Odyssey’.

There is a little of the Emperor’s new clothes applied to many facets of our lives, and apparently, previously unknown to me, a liberal dash of survivorship bias as well. I read a review on Amazon the other day and the kindly fellow stated that he ‘refused to read books by self-published authors because they are all amateurish and baldy written.’ — Baldy written you say? All of them? What an utter knob!

I carry my inner bias too, we all do, it’s partly what makes us who we are. All I ask is that every now and again we all attempt to rise above those limitations and give some of the Indie authors out there a chance and an honest review. Together we can create a new group of survivors.

I hope you enjoy reading the blog as much as I enjoy writing it!

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‘Oti Rawa Ati’ – Finished at last

Six months and 73,000 words later I have finally finished my latest WIP – “River is Rising.”

Well what a long slog that was. The book began simply enough. Set in the not too far distant future, antimicrobial resistant pestilence forces humankind’s hand to strive for the stars. Three vast galaxy cruisers are created and set off for the far-flung reaches of the galaxy.

The twist that gave me complications as a writer, but hopefully depth and interest to the reader, is that a chance discovery based on an abundance of Bismuth in New Zealand, leads to the discovery of a highly oligodynamic metal compound, one that kills bacteria on contact. The race that rises to sudden wealth, and to fill the political vacuum, are the Māori people. At once the book took on another angle, the richness of the Māori language coupled with their ancient myths and legends, all set amidst a world ready for decolonialism, provided the flawed character of River Te Toa with a broader path to travel.

River has to navigate a new world founded on the brittle friction between ancient Māori traditions and science, while she strives to understand why the fleet of galaxy cruisers are being destroyed by some unknown means.

It was complex to write, but at the same time, carefully weaving the threads of custom, language and song into the tapestry of the story was a joy. I love research, so to gain an insight, even at a very basic level, into that rich culture was fascinating. The symbolism of Tā moko and moko kauae became central themes. You can read about the meaning, and the resurgence, of this art form by clicking on the image below.

Moko Kauae

I have moved to querying to see if I can hook a literary agent (any out there who happen to be reading this – don’t be a stranger!). In the meantime I have started book two, in what I believe will end up as a trilogy, I already have the outlines for all three books. If traditional publishing doesn’t work out I will self-publish all three towards the end of the year.

Follow the blog to keep updated on the status of the new book and the writing of the next two.

You can read two prior blog posts relating to the themes and topics within the book here:

As my flawed and personally challenging female protagonist, River Te Toa might say “Ko te tumanako i pai ki a koe te korero, whai mai i ahau mo etahi atu whakahou.”

Or in English (thank goodness for Google translate) – I hope you enjoyed the update, follow the blog and join the newsletter for more updates.

Postscript: In my earnest and honest attempt to represent even a fraction of the proud and ancient heritage of the Māori nation, I hope that any omissions or errors have caused no offence.