Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ignorance is NOT Bliss...

(This article appears on the working writers' website 'Writing Mafia',

When you join the ranks of employed wordsmiths across the globe, it goes without saying that your expertise regarding language and writing is unquestioned by those paying your (albeit paltry) salary. My inbox is regularly frequented by queries concerning apostrophe usage, pleas for proof-reading and Shakespearian dilemmas – ‘to hyphenate or not to hyphenate’ is a question that is very much in vogue at the present time.

I shall make no attempt to hide the fact that being consulted as the ‘expert’ when it comes to writing, language and grammar serves to massage my ego; a welcome by-product that any writer relishes. However, even the most ‘authoritative’ of sources can be found to fall short when scrutinised more closely. Any craftsman (or crafts ‘person’ if we’re being politically correct), will admit that they’re always learning their trade and writers should be no different.

In the early days of my writing career, I feigned ignorance on more than one occasion, happily glazing over a particular turn of phrase or unknown word in order to save face and remain the ‘expert’ that I hoped my employers were taking me for. But in reality, whilst saving career face, what was I actually gaining in the long run? Answer? Not a lot.

A particular instance this week pointed out just how far I’ve changed my thinking in terms of accepting the limitations of my so-called ‘expertise’. A manager used the phrase ‘luddites’ to refer to some colleagues he was exasperated with when trying to push through a new agenda at work. Now, whereas the copywriter of old would have glazed over this and happily got the gist of the overall message, the first thing I did in this instance was to check my dictionary.

For those of you not au fait with emails concerning petty office politics (you lucky things), ‘luddite’ refers to:

“A group of British workers who between 1811 and 1816 rioted and destroyed labour-saving textile machinery in the belief that such machinery would diminish employment.”

This unfamiliar word now clarified, I immediately understood my manager’s difficulty in passing a digital marketing proposal, adding a new word to my vocabulary in the process.

So you see, whilst we may enjoy playing on our ‘literary expert’ status amongst peers, ignorance isn’t always bliss. The English language is growing daily, and as writers, we need to ensure that our vocabularies are added to just as quickly. Pretending that we know a word may save face in the short-term, but when the alternative is learning and actually expanding the very expertise we’re trying to portray, the option is simple – ignorance is for the ignorant.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Book Review - 'American Psycho' by Bret Easton Ellis

When ascribing meaning to any art form, be it visual, musical or literary, context is of paramount importance. The scandalous novel of ninety years ago, today lines bookshop shelves as a nostalgic literary classic; the risqué painting of yesteryear is now mass-produced and hung on a million walls worldwide.

Eighteen years since its publication, Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' remains a significant novel of western society, undiluted despite its two-decade history. Any novel examining the soulless nature of capitalism and materialism has only to be read in the context of the current recession we're wading through, to resonate with modern readers.

The story of 'American Psycho' is now firmly ingrained in popular culture, thanks largely to the Christian Bale film of 2000. Whether you've read the book, watched the film or discussed it with your friends, the name Patrick Bateman is as famous as the author who created him.

Young, successful, extremely rich and devilishly handsome, Patrick Bateman leads a life where no luxury is spared. He dines at the most desirable of restaurants, fulfils his sexual desires with a string of attractive and successful women, lives in an exclusive apartment and has every material object that his heart desires. Bateman is also a murdering psychopath.

The graphic, sadistic and sexual nature of Bateman's murderous rampages are one of the most distinguishing features of Easton Ellis' debut novel. These evocative descriptions of depraved bloodlust scandalised a world upon the novel's release, and although society has undoubtedly become yet more de-sensitised since 1991, the uninhibited torture scenes and violent passages remain disturbing to this day.

But it's easy for such a contentious issue to detract from the novel's, arguable main, theme. In Bateman's world, all human interactions have been stripped down to materialistic components. His relationships with women are based purely on pursuing unattainable physical attention. All relationships with peers, since they surely cannot be deemed as friendships, revolve purely around materialistic one-upmanship – who has the better clothes, who has reservations at the most exclusive or restaurants, who has the most expensive business cards – the limits of obsessive neurosis are unlimited.

On a psychological level, the most obvious feeling we're supposed to have is one of shock and horror at Bateman's depraved homicidal acts. The beauty of 'American Psycho' however, is its ability to lay the most base of horror and evil before us, whilst using this as a mere backdrop to the 'real' terror of the materialistic life that Bateman leads. A world devoid of any genuine human interaction, emotion or feeling whatsoever – something that our desensitised society ironically finds infinitely more terrorising than the thoughtless murders and tortures of human beings – real food for thought.

A revolutionary novel, 'American Psycho' is a vivd commentary on the materialistic times we live in and one that remains as relevant and accessible today as it did two decades ago. The graphic nature of this novel makes it difficult reading for anyone who's not as desensitised as the soulless characters that populate this novel. If you can stomach scenes of an extremely violent nature however, and are looking for an important novel that makes a poignant comment on the social mores of modern society, 'American Psycho' is an important work of literature that's not to be underrated.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Gordon Brown - Sitting Duck

Without a shadow of a doubt, it's been a tumultuous week for Britain. Many famous names have been forced out of the spotlight by an unrelenting public exercising their democratic right to voice their opinions and demand their say.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I am in fact, referring to the 'stars' of Britain's Got Talent' or 'The Apprentice', however I'm actually discussing another of Britain's most farcical and intriguing of entertainment outlets – Her Majesty's Government.

I've desisted from writing about the MPs expenses scandal until now, since this political 'hot potato' has been commented upon by the world and his metaphorical dog. The blogosphere has been saturated with comments, opinions and backlash regarding this issue, making yet another article futile in terms of potential interest, yet the topic has reached fever point in recent days, making it impossible to ignore.

I shall publicly state for the record that I suffer no political inclinations towards the Labour party and am certainly no fan of Gordon Brown, but I really am starting to pity the man. The Prime Minister's current grip on the political reigns of power is about as stable as a man holding the reigns of a bucking bronco covered in baby oil, margarine, butter and any other substance as slippery as our Darling Chancellor and his cronies in Westminster.

You see, the man spent years waiting in the wings for his opportunity to run the country, hiding patiently in the shadows of the country's Blairite years, which in retrospect, look comparatively rosy (surely we've forgotten the Iraq war by now...) Biding his political time however, Brown has inherited a legacy that's turning out to prove as infected as as a Mexican pig. In fact, you could say that the only benefit the man has had in his stint at Downing Street, has been meeting the Obamas.

No sooner than Tony Blair stepped aside, the political excrement started to well and truly hit the fan. Brown's inherited an economy that's in worse shape than American waistlines. His MPs are running around like political bandits, claiming public money for everything from toilet seats and mock Tudor beams to tins of baked beans. His leadership is constantly undermined. Basically, the poor bloke is a sitting duck (upon the 'duck island' that Peter Viggers claimed £1,645 for perchance?) that come the next election, has more chance of winning the X Factor than reclaiming Number 10.

So pity Mr Brown. He's not at fault for the economy, nor is he at fault for swine flu or Susan Boyle losing Britain's Got Talent. He may not go down in living memory as one of the nation's most successful Prime Ministers but please, spare a thought for the beleaguered politician. He may be going down, but he's maintaining the British stiff upper lip as he sinks into obscurity. The only real question surrounding the country's current political climate is 'will the next chap do any better'?

Over to you Mr Cameron...