A little knowledge…

The desolation of Smaug. Images © Warner Bros. Pictures, Weta Digital.

The Desolation of Smaug. Images © Warner Bros. Pictures, Weta Digital.

We are always told that we should write what we know. To an extent, that is true, but those who are writing murder mysteries, for example, are hardly likely to start poisoning/bludgeoning/shooting their nearest and dearest in the name of research or feeding them to the local dragon, though, in the case of teenagers, this may occasionally seem a good option. The thing is, that most of us, if we are honest, have experienced…even at the mildest level… the emotions that can when taken to extreme and pathological levels, lead to such acts. Being human, we have every human emotion in our library of experience, even if some of them are vicariously gleaned through immersion in book or film, or more abstractly experienced through dream. Even if we have to draw upon them and take them far beyond our own experience, we have a starting point in a reality with which we are familiar. We can write from what we know ourselves, even if we know only the edges and the fleeting shadows of such emotions.

I read an article by a fellow writer on a subject that plays a part in their work. It was well written, well presented, clear and accurate in its facts. The research had clearly been done but had…and quite understandably from the writerly perspective… stopped when the need for facts to fit the work was fulfilled. Nothing at all wrong with that.

But as a reader, it left me snarling.

For me, the problem was in the way that article portrayed the writer as having sufficient expertise in the subject to feel able to share it. What was written was presented as knowledge… which it was, in as far as it went it was accurate. What was lacking was any understanding at all of what the writer was writing about; it was as far from the truth as you can get. Having worked with what was being written about for years, I know that what was portrayed was as two-dimensional as a child’s cardboard cut-out when compared to the reality.

Accuracy belongs to knowledge, truth comes from understanding… and understanding comes with experience.

For some reason… for it was as far away from the subject in hand as you could get… it reminded me of when I had landed myself a job as a transport manager in heavy haulage… without any qualifications, with no knowledge other than several years driving a white van and no experience of running a fleet of vehicles at all. My boss worked on the principle that whatever he wanted done, the lads would just have to find a way to do. He knew how wide the lorries were, what the reach of the hiab cranes were and, theoretically, how long it would take to get from A to B. The jobs he planned invariably went wrong, he tried to cram too many into each day, the drivers resented what they were asked to do, phoned in at the slightest hiccough and were inflexible in their approach. Every day, at least one of his jobs  had to be carried over to the next, leaving the drivers under increasing pressure and the customers understandably disgruntled.

I started staying behind after hours and coming in at weekends, on my own time, to learn about the job. I learned, by getting behind the wheel in the yard, about the difficulties of manoeuvering forty-odd tonnes and sixty-odd feet of articulated vehicle. The lads were happy to teach me. I learned too how to use the hiabs… how the ‘portable’ buildings they lift swing in the wind… how dangerous overhead cables can be… and how limited even the most precise operator is by the environment and weather in which they are working. I even learned how to position and plumb-in the mobile washroom blocks and delivered and installed  the portable toilets single-handed.

I already understood from my white van days that the distance even the best electronic map can give bears no relationship to the time a drive will take in, say, central London, where a mile can take an hour or more to travel. Or that twenty miles of country lane takes as long for an articulated lorry as sixty miles of motorway. And while I was about it, I got to know the men who drove the lorries… learned about their families, their hobbies, their lives… and how to take that particular lorry-driver humour and give it back with good measure.

The modicum of understanding I had gleaned by rolling up both proverbial and literal sleeves made all the difference. Even though I had barely scratched the surface of their expertise, the result was a real and mutual respect. I made sure the jobs were do-able and the lads worked miracles for me; they never, ever let me down on a job, even the most bizarre and we had plenty of those.

As a reader, I want at least the illusion of that same commitment from a writer. Knowledge is no more than theory and it is not until you put it into practice that you have any hope of approaching an understanding of the reality.

So what can you do when you have to write about something that is completely outside your ken? Facts are a good place to start… but research widely, both theoretical and subjective accounts if you can. Don’t just stick to one perspective. Try and relate to what it is that you are learning about at a personal level…or, if it is feasible, experience it for yourself.

If you are writing about an artist, for example… pick up a paintbrush, put your hands in oil paint, feel the texture of a canvas with fingertip and bristle… smell that magical combination of copal varnish and turpentine. You don’t have to be a Rembrandt, just apply paint… and whatever the result on canvas, you will have true subjective  understanding of the process.

There are things, though, for which every writer will have to use the ultimate tool…imagination and that too is a place where experience can be gained.  Readers are people too… and they are neither blind nor credulous. There is a subtle difference between drawing upon abstracted experience… such as you might if writing a murder mystery where you might learn about forensics, anatomy, and psychology as well as reading real-life accounts… and presenting cardboard facts as reality. Weave the imagined experienced around the facts until they take on as much life as a Smaug. But don’t, for goodness sake, present just the facts without working with them and bringing them to life for you.

‘Expert’ and ‘experience’ share the same etymology for a reason.

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Bleakon by Stuart France #writephoto


The fire no longer flames

under darkening sky.


The hills no longer

speak to the heavens.


The valley’s guttural gurgle

has sunk into silence.

Continue reading here

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#writephoto: No beacon

Jane Dougherty Writes

The piece of short fiction I was writing Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt is a sequel to the story I wrote for my own microfiction challenge (yes, I do them too), so it doesn’t stand alone. This is a poem I wrote yesterday though, that might fit the bill instead.


The air is black between us,

though honeysuckle hangs unseen,

and all the birds, down-soft, song-sweet,

are fluttering with the pinking clouds.

Mist hangs like shrouds, or is it sails?

of that ship we were meant to take

across a corrugated tarmac sea,

nailed down and charted every inch,

to that ‘place for us’ we’ll never see.

I could smell its fullness, rich and sharp,

Of sun-bathed earth as green as life

and apples, running silver rivers-laced,

but you never said, I never knew

what engines, whirring cogs and gears

criss-crossed that paradise of yours.

The air is black, not dusky…

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Beacon by Sharmishtha Basu #writephoto

Reblogged from Sharmishtha:

Check out the amazing posts and the image here:


If you are looking for some fantastic writings, writer, join us!

“Can you see son!”
The chieftain said,
“The beacon is snuffed by winds,
ride your horse lad,
rush to the hilltop
and light the beacon again!”
“Cant it wait till tomorrow pa?”
asked the young boy timidly,
looking at the blinding flashes
hearing the thunders roaring
lime thousand monsters.

Continue reading here.


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Circles Beyond Time – On Edge


We’d cancelled sunrise. Not literally, you understand, but what with our company, for once, being lodged across a swathe of miles and the weather being singularly uncooperative, it seemed unfair to drag everyone from their beds at some ungodly hour just to get wet and see nothing. It was, therefore, a rested and well-breakfasted company that gathered for the short trip to our next ancient site.


Only two of us had visited the site before. We had found it quite by accident whilst on the track of the infamous wandering stone which, although it remains stubbornly lost, has a habit of revealing wonderful places as you follow its trail. We had come back in winter with author Graeme Cumming and his partner… and more recently to check the site before the workshop when we had been thoroughly drenched by unseasonal rain that had filled my boots until I squelched with every step. Even so, with each visit, the magic of the place had caught us unawares…. but we were hoping for better weather this time, in spite of the pall of grey cloud that hung low over the moors.


A short walk across the moor takes you to a fence and a gate. It is as soon as you walk through the gate that the land seems to change. Regardless of the weather, it is quieter here … as if the place has withdrawn from the world somehow and waits at a temporal tangent for those who come seeking its mysteries. A few yards to the right of the path and the land falls away steeply from the edge of the cliff. In between is a green lawn strewn with boulders and silver-barked birch. It feels as if you have slipped into the realms of the Fae and the guardians of the place watch as you pass…

For more pictures and to continue reading, please visit the original article.

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Ars Geometrica XII by Stuart France

“…In truth, it is certain and without doubt that whatever is above tends toward that which is below and whatever is below tends toward that which is above for the accomplishment of the One Perfected Thing.

 As all things are discovered by one, alone through contemplation so all things are born from this one, alone by permutation: its Father is the Sun, its Mother is the Moon, the Wind bears it in its Belly, the Earth nurtures it in its Heart; Power of all powers it contains the subtle and penetrates the solid and is the progenitor of all wonder in the world yet its efficacy is only perfected through embodiment.

Continue reading here.

alchemia front

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moon 008

It is stupid o’clock and I can’t sleep. The throat still feels like I’m swallowing red-hot golf balls and my ears as if they have been skewered. After ten days, it should have cleared. So much for the early night. In spite of the chill of autumn, I have already thrown off the covers in my sleep, so I decide to give it up as a bad job and get up. Maybe a hot drink and some painkillers will help…

I flick the kettle on and wander through to greet the dog. Regardless of the ludicrous time, she still wants to go out into the garden. I wander out there with her to cool off and look at the sky. The world is silent and sleeping and, with my back to the darkened house, all I can see is the dark expanse of the fields… no lights, no sign of life.

Except, there is a noise, coming from the side of the house. Stupidly, I send the dog back inside before going to investigate. I notice the gate is not as it should be… which ought to have alerted me, but for some reason my mind slid over that fact.

Peering into the darkness, I see strange shapes move into the shadows and another coming towards me. For a moment, I panic.

Then I recognise the unmistakeable silhouette of my younger son. He is carrying something…

Grinning proudly, he shows me his newborn baby, handing me a round pendant with a lace agate as a grandmothering gift. I wonder how his partner has managed to hide the baby bump and conclude I haven’t seen them anywhere near often enough lately, what with the various viruses…

I mention the noise and the retreating shadow I had seen. He tells me that would just be the shaman who was still playing about with time at the side of the house. My son says some pretty random things, but this one I understand… I clearly remember the incident he is referring to…the shaman who looked like he had come from aeons past and the two ‘windows’ he opened in the side of the house that led through something like a wormhole.

My attention came back from that pictured memory and I looked at the clock, disoriented. It was stupid o’clock, I’d thrown off the covers and I felt ill again…

But first thing in the morning, my yonger son will be getting a call… just in case there is anything he needs to tell me.

Maybe I should call the doctor on Monday too…

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