Rumble-strutting

Rumble-strutting

Rumble-strutting

If you have ever had guinea pigs, you’ll surely have encountered rumble-strutting. It’s a behaviour cavies have for when they are annoyed, put out, cross, pissed off or just plain angry. Rumble-strutting consists of a rumbling burbling noise, quite loud, followed by the animal stalking off, stiff-legged and furious.

I’ve been doing it rather a lot myself lately.

There are so many things I’m angry, pissed off, furious and annoyed about that I can’t do anything about and a good old rumble-strut is the only thing that stops me exploding into a million sharp fragments like a sheet of ice being dropped from a great height.

You’d have to have been living in a cave not to have noticed the UK referendum and the continuing fall-out from what I consider to have been an ill-advised vote to leave the EU. I have seen many instances already of how this vote (and we haven’t left yet) has already impacted on life here. I work in the travel industry; the complications would have turned my hair grey if it wasn’t so already. It’s my opinion that the vote is a disaster, yet I (and many, many thousands who voted Remain) have been dubbed Remoaners, told to shut up, put up, stop being a sore loser….

RUMBLE-STRUT

More recently, the US elections. I’m almost beyond words on that one. I’m not going to call names or anything…but

RUMBLE-STRUT

NHS cuts. School budgets cut.

RUMBLE-STRUT

Endless, awful wars, millions of people displaced, disparaged, dismayed, dispossessed.

RUMBLE-STRUT

Dreadful right-wing rags purporting to be newspapers, so filled with vitriol they’re not even fit to wipe your bum with in case the acid burns your tender nether regions.

RUMBLE-STRUT

Pain. My pain, physical and mental, and no end in sight. No plan that works to ease it.

RUMBLE-STRUT

The lost, the invisible people, those no one listens to.

RUMBLE-STRUT

Rich, privileged politicians pontificating about how we must all tighten our belts while they guzzle vintage champagne and gobble caviar.

RUMBLE-STRUT

There’s a lot I’m angry about and I’m angrier yet because I’m pretty much helpless against almost all of it. I’ve signed petitions, I’ve donated to causes, I’ve raised my voice where I can, and I’m tired because it feels like that ruddy big rock that poor sod in Greek myth kept pushing up hill only to have it come crashing down over him for all eternity.

RUMBLE-STRUT

But in the end, there is only one thing I can do (apart from RUMBLE-STRUTTING.)

and that’s this:

dsci0046

“Never without my permission!”~ on consent, copyright and general good manners.

Never without my permission!”~ on consent, copyright and general good manners.

If you have ever seen the film The Fifth Element, you’ll remember the scene when Leelou, the beautiful alien “Supreme Being” is kissed when semi-conscious by Corban Dallas (Bruce Willis) and she responds by uttering a few words in her own language before kicking his ass all over the place. Those words, when translated by the character played by Ian Holme, mean, Never without my permission.

Consent is a big one, you know. Whether it’s for kissing, copulating or other things, it’s important. Most women (and some men) know what it’s like to have your consent ignored and even your right to consent/non consent disputed. But it goes beyond the physical. Intellectual property can be stolen, or misused, and that’s what I’m writing about today. I wanted to put into some context quite why it can be a huge deal for creatives to find their work used without their express consent.

A number of times most years I get an email or a message, asking if such and such a piece from this blog might be used for something. Sometimes it’s for a magazine, sometimes for a website. My answer is generally a positive one, asking only that my full name and my blog details be included, and that the piece is not altered in any way. I don’t ask for a fee; what I tend to hope is that the person asking will have the good will to perhaps buy a book or something of that sort. I don’t ask that they do, but I would have thought that common decency would suggest that there is a gentle quid pro quo involved. After all, they have been allowed to use my work for no money changing hands.

However, having recently discovered that a piece of poetry has been used and set to music, I was concerned. I had not been asked before it was done. I’ve had a poem set to music before; the Celtic Podcast Show asked me if they could do so, and I agreed. The Winter Queen was beautifully performed and the correct credits given, so all was well. But they asked BEFORE they did so, not after. It’s far better to seek permission than ask for forgiveness.

To some this might seem foolishness on my part, to be bothered by this. Perhaps it is. However, I sincerely doubt that anyone would nab a poem by Mary Oliver and do something with it, because the likelihood is they would find themselves in the hottest of waters and be lucky to get away with just a cease and desist notice. Because I am not a big name in the world of poetry does not mean I can be treated like I don’t matter, simply because I would not have the means (financial or emotional) to pursue breaches of copyright. Some would argue that I shouldn’t care because it’s exposure. Yes, sure, if they have included my name, perhaps there is some benefit possible. But it’s actually quite limited. Imagine a hundred people heard a poem performed. How many will actually register the name of the poet, go home, look up that poet and start to follow their work? And what if the poem had been changed to suit the musical needs or the philosophical stance of the performers? It’s a very thin line indeed.

Creative artists have a hard enough time of it anyway; theft on the internet is rife. That’s one reason why I have the No Pinning badge on the side bar. When Pinterest first popped up, I soon found several photos of mine from here had been nabbed, posted on Pinterest (admittedly, there’s a route back to here) and they’d put their own spin on the pictures. I don’t do searches for my name and my work because I’d die of exhaustion sending out cease and desist notices, I suspect. From time to time I know some school somewhere has been setting homework asking for “A poem on X,Y,Z” because that pops up on the search terms section of the blog dashboard. That’s one reason I’ve put up far less of my own original poetry and fiction here, because it’s unprotected.

Too many writers are getting so heavily discouraged by lack of sales, lack of reviews, general lack of interest, being pirated, that they have given up. To get a book out there one needs at some level to consider return of investment, even if, like me, they don’t consider themselves to be business men or women. I’ve had to stall my next collection of poetry because I realised it needed to be reformatted, and the back matter needs rewriting. It needs rewriting because I had included a short quote (well within fair usage policy guidelines) from Mary Oliver; I then realised to use such a quote on the back matter or in the blurb is dishonest. It misleads, implying that she has somehow endorsed the book. In fact, that short quote was a flashpoint that inspired one of the poems in the book, but even so, I cannot use it or her name like that. But because I have little energy to spare, this project is completely stalled. It’s frustrating because the business with the poem set to music suggests that someone (or many) loves my poetry but didn’t have the understanding needed to actually ask me before they did what they did. It’s not as if I am hard to find. There’s a contact me page at the top of the blog header; I have a Facebook author page. It means I have even less incentive to publish poetry or short fiction here, even less incentive to go through the work involved in getting a book together, because it would seem somepeople are happy to read, to “borrow” but are reluctant to support a poet in one of the ways that will keep them writing (buying a book, reviewing, telling others are just a few)

I wrote a poem today, too. But I won’t be sharing it any time soon.

Writer Burn-Out and Other Things.

Writer Burn-Out and Other Things.

Writer Burn-out, and other things

Burnt-out.

Conjures images of forests devastated by wildfire, of cars reduced to shells of blackened metal and puddles of melted rubber and plastic, of electronics smouldering and going “pouf” before expiring in a spiral of evil-smelling smoke.

In the case of a writer, it’s often nothing visible. They just go very quiet. Or they become very noisy, bouncing around social media being terribly cheerful. But there’s a brittle nature to the good cheer, hiding an edge they’re often aiming to conceal at all costs. The edge is a sharp one, a foot sticking out of a shallow grave, ready to trip you up and reveal a horrible secret: you can’t write any more.

People suggest tips to get you writing again. Writing prompts, courses, a break away from writing, a holiday, time spent reading instead.

I’ll let you into two secrets. The first you may have guessed: I can’t write any more. The second: I don’t think I want to, either. It’s the second that’s the killer.

I stopped writing once before, stopped it dead in the water, in 1995. Following the stress of (among other things) trying to do rewrites of a novel for one of the Big Six (as it was then), I became almost fatally ill. Something inside my brain said, “Blow this for a game of soldiers!” and popped. When I recovered enough, I finished the rewriting as requested, waited, and after a committee discussed it, it was dismissed and that was that. Contrary to what I have believed in the years since, I don’t think I made a conscious decision to stop writing. I just…stopped. It became a memory, part of my past, something I didn’t do any more. I think now I shut down the vaster part of my psyche, because I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t face the inevitable failure and loss of hope.

You see, me and stories go back a long, long way. Pre-literate me wrote stories, in my head, and used my father’s typewriter to try and get them onto paper. Didn’t work, obviously, but full marks for trying, eh? My whole childhood and teens, I worked on stories. I didn’t do anything much between going to university and becoming a mum, but that was as much circumstances as anything else. My first round of trying to get published, I was in my late twenties. My second round, late thirties. There wasn’t and won’t be a third round. I still believe that self-publishing is the only route for someone like me; on a practical note, now I am in my fifth decade, publishers aren’t generally interested anyway. Youth is what interests most of them. I’m not sure if it’s because a young author has decades of writing ahead or whether they believe they can mould a younger person.

But my God, I am TIRED. Tired of trying to do things that I’m not cut out to do, of trying to understand things that are beyond me, and of the entire landscape. Books are mere commodities, nothing more. Or so you’d believe. I don’t. I believe that a book is a holy, sacred thing, a wonder of the civilised world, a joy and a gift. I’ve loved that the e-book means I can carry a whole library round in my handbag, but the down-side is that there are now millions and millions of books out there and no way to easily find ones I might value. It means that good books and great books whose authors (whether self published or not) are not able to do the right kind of hustling, schmoozing, and generally selling of one’s assets now required to get a book in front of potential readers, fail, sink and disappear without trace. Heaven only knows how many beautiful, life-changing gems have gone unseen, their authors losing heart and finally faith. My own did well at first but have started to sink and disappear and the only thing that has even a tiny chance of raising them is to put out more books. I’ve got more books on my hard drive, written in the productive frenzy ten years ago that followed the unexpected return of my mojo. Yet the process of polishing, of editing, of producing a cover, blurb, publicity and so on, daunts me more than it did, because it feels futile. I can’t kid myself that this one might be THE ONE; I’ve done so for each and every book I’ve published, and each time the results have been poorer than the last. The market is saturated and making an impression sufficient to not only generate but also to sustain sales is now impossible for me. I know I have wonderful people who buy and read and love everything I’ve ever put out. It should be enough. But it isn’t.

At this point, some are going to be thinking, just take a break, stop for a few months, do something else instead. These are things I have tried. Writing is not only part of me; it’s who I am. It’s so interwoven with my essential being that I will break if it is taken from me, even by my own hand. The picture here is of what happened when I stored a long thin vase inside a bigger one; when I came to need the smaller one, the glass had shifted ever so slightly, (glass is a strange thing) and it no longer slid out. In removing it, the bigger vase shattered in my hands.

Big vase little vase

Big vase little vase

Why I am self-published

Why I am self-published

(content note for VERY strong language)

Recently the whole self-published versus traditionally published wrestling match has reignited, following a post by Ros Barber in the Guardian online. I’m not going to address the article because that would be juvenile, petty and a waste of time. More than that, it would only be my opinion and that is of little real worth. I am no one of note, or of influence. I’m an author who self-published, which makes me mud on the shoes of many.

In the 90’s I spent a couple of years going through the rigmarole of jumping through the hoops set by publishers and agents. Combined with an absurdly low income at the time that meant affording printer paper and postage was a big deal, the whole time was intensely stressful. I got asked for full manuscripts many times, and some went through several readers and editors at major publishing houses. The fore-runner to Square Peg got to committee stage at one of the Big Six. They asked me to rewrite certain parts; I was about to sit down to start that when the worst headache on the planet descended on me and put a stop to it. I was rushed to hospital with a brain haemorrhage. After I recovered enough from that to carry on writing, I did what they’d asked with the book, sent it in and waited. A few weeks later, the Dear John letter arrived. Blah blah blah. It boiled down to this: we like it but you’re an unknown and we can’t quite take the risk if we don’t love it enough to have its babies. So, knowing the whole process had almost killed me, I quit. I quit writing altogether.

In 2003 I began writing again after a gap of eight years, because a novel was forcing its way out of me; rather than burst open like one of Ripley’s shipmates, I gave in and wrote the damned thing (it was The Bet, for what that’s worth) and was faced with being back on the submissions treadmill all over again. The explosion of creative expression I experienced (I can’t quite say enjoyed because it was so compulsive) lasted for three years and in that time I had a lot of feedback from publishers and agents telling me I was almost there, send us the next one, over and over again. I even had an agent (turned out to be less use than a chocolate fireguard). But nothing ever went the whole distance, not even the novel that kept an editor at Random up all night to finish. It always ended in the same way: you’re good, very good, but you haven’t yet written a book we think will be a break-out success, keep on sending us stuff and we’ll keep reading.

There comes a moment where your entire being says: Oh just fuck right off, and when you’ve got there, fuck off even further and keep on fucking off until you’re a speck on the horizon, and then fuck off some more.

That’s what mine started saying. Letting someone else, some other entity or organisation, hold you so firmly in the palm of their sweaty little mitt, that you cannot move, do anything, because they hold you so tightly in their thrall, is beyond BAD for the soul. It’s toxic, corrosive and suffocating. Publishers have authors exactly where they want them: bent over, subjugated and submissive. There’s always the awareness that if you, the author, don’t do what they ask, there’s hundreds if not thousands of other authors panting and eager to take your place. You, the author, are not a real living human being: you are a content provider, nothing more.

So I stepped away. I took back my dreams and my hopes and my soul, and I walked away. At that stage, self-publishing was in its infancy and I had no idea really that it existed. I equated it with vanity publishing. Some still do, and indeed, there are numerous so-called small presses that are really vanity presses. I came to self-publishing at the behest of someone else who offered themselves as a helper who would do it for me. That’s one of the reasons why now I find it difficult to trust anyone, because that aspect didn’t end well. It could have ended much worse, but I dusted myself off and got on with it myself, learning as I went. I made mistakes for sure, but I’d begun.

Since then, I have put out quite a number of books: four novels, a novella, two collections of short stories, a collection of essays on depression, a poetry collection and a little paperback of guided meditations. I have had many thousands of readers, some of whom read everything and buy it in both e-version and in paperback. Had I kept on plugging away at submitting to publishers that would not have happened. I would either be dead (probably by my own hand) or locked away wearing a fetching jacket fastened at the back. Publishing is a business; it’s primarily about the money; it doesn’t care that the Dear John letters can destroy someone, for a day or for all eternity. It’s a business transaction to them, nothing more. If a book isn’t going to have a good chance of making money, they don’t take it on, no matter their personal liking for a story. That way leads to losing your job. An author whose first book doesn’t earn out the advance rarely gets a second book through. Once, they might have had three or four books published, to build an audience, but now, you have six months MAXIMUM to make that first book a success.

I self-published because it was the way forward for me, because the road to legacy publishing was policed by entities that make Procrustes look like the perfect gracious host, and because I do not regard myself as a content provider or my books as products. Every book or poem I write is a glimpse of a world inside my head; it exists somewhere beyond this existence and being able to share it with others is a privilege denied to me and you by traditional paths to publishing.

The short life and unlamented downfall of *Clean Reader* leads to musings on the reader-author relationship

The short life and unlamented downfall of Clean Reader leads to musings on the reader-author relationship

Blink and you might have missed the kerfuffle. The so-called Clean Reader app offered the chance to read without sullying your precious mind with rude words and profanity by covering them with an alternative deemed acceptable by the app’s creators. However, the backlash from authors including Joanna Harris meant that very rapidly the company was obliged to remove all books from its catalogue. The app seems to still exist (so perhaps my blog headline might be misleading) but I shall watch with interest the developments. I have a feeling we are not done with Clean Reader yet. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/27/clean-reader-books-app-censorship-victory-authors-celebrate

There were some excellent explorations about what the existence of such an app means, the best of which was here:

http://www.remittancegirl.org/2015/03/26/clean-readers-profound-illiteracy-the-consumption-of-the-text/

A conversation on Twitter set me to thinking about the relationship between reader and author. The one set out by Joanne Harris is one of dignified mutual respect. Yet another Harris, Charlaine, in fact, author of the True Blood series of books, received death threats over her decision to stop writing the series, and often received very abusive messages when fans disliked the turn a book took. This is the “the emerging transactional relationship many readers are seeking to have with the texts they purchase.” that Remittance Girl writes about so eloquently.

At its best, the dignity of the reader-author relationship that Joanne Harris mentions, is one of fully mature and enlightened adults. It’s one where the author has nothing to fear from readers, and readers can approach a new book by a favourite author and not throw a hissy fit if it is not exactly what they wanted it to be. The other relationship experienced by Charlaine Harris is a blight on the world of the printed word. It makes an author a slave to their readers, afraid and even unable to develop as an author, or explore other genres or techniques.

The realisation has been dawning on me that the power of this transactional relationship (ie someone has paid for a PRODUCT) and therefore demands a product rather than a work of imagination and creativity that does not fit neatly or at all into the box it was believed to have been in (but usually wasn’t) is a pernicious and worrying one. It undermines the integrity and security of a creative artist (author etc) to produce what their (and I hate the term) Muse brings to them. It boils down to this: if I write something that is hated by those who have previously loved my work, the relationship is over because it is seen that I have not provided the “goods” they have paid for. Making literature into a transaction where the buyer believes they have purchased a commodity that conforms to their expressed wishes is a dangerous thing. It means for a start that to survive authors have to tailor their work to the parameters dictated. You could argue that this is precisely what genre fiction already does, but I would disagree. For certain there are a vast ocean of books that could (and perhaps have been) written using a template so that they conform to the genre. However, within these guidelines the authors are free to write whatever tale they want. It’s a discipline, like writing a sonnet. Sonnets have a set number of lines, a required metre and rhyme, and if those are not conformed to, the poem is not a sonnet; within those constraints a poet is able to write about whatever he or she chooses. There is endless freedom within a rigid system.

That isn’t what I mean, though. What I mean is this: an author stops daring to write what wild and crazy and wonderful ideas that come, because they feel sure the backlash from readers will be so devastating it will wipe them out; because they fear the annihilation that comes with plummeting sales, of being dropped by their publisher, of the snide and abusive comments of former fans dripping vitriol.

The truth about talent ~ my take on the troublesome topic.

The truth about talent ~ my take on the troublesome topic

There’s been a fair bit floating around lately about whether it is talent or hard work that makes a writer. I’ve read a few posts by people with bigger profiles than mine, and I’ve stayed silent because I think it’s something so heated that it’s too easy to get flamed for having a contradictory opinion.

When I was a child, I really wanted to be musical. I mean, really wanted. My primary school had a small bursary for a limited number of children to learn the cello. They asked first who would like to learn and then all those who said they would like to had a special afternoon test to see if they had any aptitude. A week or so later, it turned out I didn’t. I was extremely upset. My teacher was very kind and explained that no matter how hard I would have worked, I lacked something that was essential to the process. Much later, I understood that this was probably perfect pitch. I just don’t have it. I’m not tone deaf but I don’t have that innate ability to distinguish notes.

As a teenager, I decided to learn classical guitar. One of the music teachers at my secondary school ran a club, and for about four years, I went weekly, and practised daily. With hyper-mobile fingers I was always going to struggle, but I reached a level that was at best, competent. If I enjoyed it, that should have been enough. But for me, it wasn’t. I knew what good playing was, and no matter how hard I worked, I didn’t get there. I knew the difference between my playing and that of someone who had that talent. So when I was twenty one, I gave my guitar away to a university friend and have never played since. I still enjoy classical guitar music but the desire to play is long gone. I’d become aware of how rubbish I was, and how basically cringe-worthy that was.

After I married, we attended a church in Middlesbrough. The usual organist was excellent but among the congregation was a very nice lady who also considered herself musical; on occasions, as token attempt to play hymns more modern than ancient, Una was allowed to play the piano. At first I believed the piano to be at fault. Then I heard Una sing as well. She was completely tone deaf and completely unaware of it. When she played the piano, not only was she hitting as many wrong notes as Les Dawson, her tempo was dreadful and she was incapable of playing anything but forte. It was embarrassing in the extreme. She had no idea at all how bad she was. She’d taken piano lessons from childhood and had practised diligently every single day. But she was still terrible. It didn’t matter that much, and no one came out and told her, basically because she was enjoying her music and while it made us all cringe, she was oblivious. The kicker came later, for something else. She also knitted. One year for the Christmas bazaar, she knitted a vast number of soft toys, from teddies to dollies, and not a single one sold. As you might expect she was very, very upset indeed. But the reason they didn’t sell is they were so badly made that no one would buy one, not even out of solidarity or pity. No one had ever been able to tell her that what she did wasn’t good enough. It was the same with her music. No one could tell her how bad she was. People were reluctant to hurt her feelings by a bit of truth. It took the bazaar to bring home to her that what she had made was not worth paying money for.

When it comes to writing, I think that almost every writer has some talent. It’s a thing of degrees though. To use an example from another discipline, I know that I have some talent at drawing and art in general. It’s the kind of talent where it’s enough to bring me pleasure and self expression and on occasions, perhaps produce something others may admire or possibly even buy. With work and training it could be much more but I know in my heart of hearts, it’s a medium sized talent that could get me exhibitions in local galleries but the Tate is beyond its scope. I also know enough about art to be humble when talking to real artists; I know full well I am an amateur and not in their league.

Talent is an organic thing too, that grows when it is nurtured. Early nurturing of a talent may be crucial. To quote from Philippa Rees’s excellent book Involution, “Would Amadeus, born instead to a putzmadchen, have survived? Or offered man a note? Or too many in desperation?” Where and when we are born, and to whom is crucial too to our development, our discovery and exploration of our talents. My father, born in the 1930s in a not-well-off family (the area he grew up in is now recognised as being the most deprived area in England) , was lucky enough to go to a school that was ahead of its time. A state primary school, it ran what would now be termed a gifted and talented programme that meant he sat his 11+ at the age of nine and passed. His time at a prestigious grammar school gave him a head start in life, even though he started there during World War Two and all the subsequent privations of rationing. My mother also attended a very ancient grammar school, the first of her family to do so. The result of these two parents valuing learning and books meant that I was an early reader and an early writer. Do I have talent? Yes. Not only do I believe that I do, this has been confirmed countless times by people whose job it is to notice talent (agents, editors etc).

Talent alone is not enough. Hard work, determination, persistence, constant learning are all important ingredients in the cake. But without talent being present to a greater or lesser degree, that “cake” won’t rise. It’ll always be a like a pancake, flat and stodgy and in essence, a waste of all those priceless ingredients.

On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still.” TS Eliot, Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets)

 

Language is a slippery thing; it will not stay still. Words that meant something a decade ago now seem to mean something else. Remember when ‘cool’ meant chilled but not ice cold? Remember when ‘wicked’ meant evil? Recently, everyone’s favourite Sherlock, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, managed to tarnish his reputation by accidentally using the wrong words. The world exploded with outrage. I’m not even going to try and explain what he said because while I am a bit older than him, we belong to those now over a certain age, and it becomes harder to keep abreast of all the changes in what is and is not acceptable in areas such as race, gender and other sensitive issues. I was gently corrected for using the wrong terminology when referring to people who are deaf or heard of hearing. It’s become a minefield and I’ve become acutely aware that using the wrong term through ignorance could bring down the skies upon my head. There comes a point when it becomes almost impossible to keep up and remember all the correct terms when you’ve seen them change several times and seen what was once acceptable and even polite become something that will get you vilified.

Not only does language change, but we debase it. Let me take a word I use here quite often: DEPRESSION. Frequently now I hear the word used to refer to a state that is a fair old way from actual clinical depression. Too often, someone will say, “I’m depressed,” to meet the response, “What about?” Someone who has been affected by this hideous condition is unlikely not to know that there is no “about” when it comes to depression. But people are using it when they mean they’re fed up, down in the dumps and out of sorts. By using it for these normal, passing human states, the word has become degraded and, sadly, it affects how the illness is viewed. It diminishes it. I’ve heard terms like OCD and bi-polar used in the same way (I’ve even heard someone use bi-polar to describe changeable weather). It saddens me.

Another term I have heard that seems to hold totally different meanings to different people is WRITER’S BLOCK. For some, writer’s block is a mild thing, a pause or a hesitation that merely needs a bit of a push to get past it. Indeed, Philip Pullman (author of The Northern Lights trilogy, among others) dismisses it as a disease of amateurs, saying how there’s no such thing as Plumber’s Block, and it’s a case of if you write for a living, you get your words down. Yet, for others (myself included) writer’s block is a dreadful existential crisis that can’t be cured by a few days off, or a hot bath, or using writing prompts. The term is used for both; the closest comparison is perhaps to the way people use the term “’flu.” Real ‘flu kills. The Spanish ‘flu after the first world war killed far more than the war did. Yet people call a bad cold, the ‘flu, perhaps because it elicits more sympathy and time off work.

Real ‘flu wipes out thousands of healthy people. Real clinical depression kills. Real writer’s block destroys writers. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the way language has changed and perhaps coin new and better phrases that describe devastating things in ways that cannot be co-opted to lesser uses.