Monday, 16 December 2013

Love Reading?

I LOVE reading – and as a writer, it is one of the essential tools in developing my own work - which is lucky! I frequently analyse other writers' work to find out how they manage jeopardy, pace, setting, backstory and so on (more on how to do this in a later post).
Image: Microsoft

I’m always shocked, however, at the sheer number of books other people – especially other authors - seem to get through! I’ve come across a number of writers who seem able to demolish  8, 10, 12 books in a month and I find this astonishing (and frankly, enviable). I’d love to disappear inside that number of different worlds, take that number of virtual journeys every month! 

I’m embarrassed to say that in 2013, I read 2-3 books a month... But I chose those books carefully. I find it hard to read a novel that isn’t ‘aspirational’ – by this I mean I want to give myself up to a book where the writing quality makes me think; ‘Wow, this is special/clever/different - I wish I could write like this.’ If a book doesn’t hit that spot, I can’t read it. It’s like drinking tea made with powdered milk; it isn’t the real deal and I feel like it isn’t going to do me any good. I tend to believe a bit of every book rubs off on the reader and I don’t want to be left covered in mud! 

I tend to read books in the genre I write in – psychological thrillers – they are generally the type of stories I’m most intrigued by, with the occasional police procedural thrown in. Nothing too ‘cosy’ and I don’t venture into horror, supernatural, erotica or crime that is macho-gritty or overly offensive. I like books that have something fresh in the writing style with imagery and atmosphere (Tideline is a great example of this, see below).

So, how do writers find the time to read?

Image: Fotolia
I spend my whole day focused on writing; whether this is planning, editing, revising or marketing and whilst I try to fit reading in as part of this process, I rarely read more than 100 pages a day. 

Some days, I'm so engrossed in my own story that the day's gone before I've picked up that novel. How do other authors find time to read so much? 

Is it that they:
  • Make more hours in the day (get to sleep very late, or get up extra early)?
  • Read faster?
  • Have sharper brains?
  • Skim read?
  • Spend longer than usual in the toilet..?
  • Produce less writing in their day?
  • See reading as more of a priority?
  • Spend less time in the evenings watching TV (this could be my downfall - I love relaxing at the end of the day with an episode of Borgen, Peaky Blinders, Dirk Gently or New Tricks)? But it’s all crime in the end and grist to the mill...
  • Take a novel everywhere with them – on the Tube, to the doctor’s surgery, lay it across the supermarket trolley?

(Let me know how YOU manage to pack reading into your busy schedule...)
To finish off the subject of Reading - here are my Top 10 Delicious and Divine books from 2013 (in no particular order):

Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes
Broken – Daniel Clay
The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult
Tideline – Penny Hancock
Just What Kind of Mother Are You? – Paula Daly
Rush of Blood – Mark Billingham
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker
Until Your Mine – Samantha Hayes
Under Your Skin – Sabine Durrant
The Suspect – Michael Robotham

I'm delighted that books such as these are in the world! I’d love to hear your views about reading and find out your own favourite novels in 2013. If you enjoyed this post, please SHARE it using the buttons below. Thank you!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Using the Translate Button - Hilarious Results!

Lost in Translation

Just HAD to share this! A German friend of mine was sent this by his friend who lives in Beijing. It's an excerpt from a Beijing Hotel Brochure, translated directly, word for word from Mandarin to English! Here's what happens when you press that translate button ...
Getting There:

Our representative will make you wait at the airport. The bus to the hotel runs along the lake shore. Soon you will feel pleasure in passing water. You will know that you are getting near the hotel, because you will go round the bend. The manager will await you in the entrance hall. He always tries to have intercourse with all new guests.

Beijing (Image: Telegraph)
 The Hotel:-

This is a family hotel, so children are very welcome. We of course are always pleased to accept adultery. Highly skilled nurses are available in the evenings to put down your children. Guests are invited to conjugate in the bar and expose themselves to others. But please note that ladies are not allowed to have babies in the bar. We organize social games, so no guest is ever left alone to play with them self.

 The Restaurant:-

Our menus have been carefully chosen to be ordinary and unexciting. At dinner, our quartet will circulate from table to table, and fiddle with you.

 Your Room:-

Every room has excellent facilities for your private parts. In winter, every room is on heat. Each room has a balcony offering views of outstanding obscenity!.. You will not be disturbed by traffic noise, since the road between the hotel and the lake is used only by pederasts.


Your bed has been made in accordance with local tradition. If you have any other ideas please ring for the chambermaid. Please take advantage of her. She will be very pleased to squash your shirts, blouses and underwear. If asked, she will also squeeze your trousers.

 Above All:-

When you leave us at the end of your holiday, you will have no hope. You will struggle to forget it.


I'm sure Beijing itself is an amazing place to visit - If you enjoyed this post, please share using the buttons below!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Madness in our Thinking

Most of us regard ourselves as sensible human beings who think rationally and act accordingly. Psychology takes a different view on matters! It shows us how our thinking often gets tangled up, frequently in ways that become habitual and therefore feel ‘normal’.

Image: Fotolia
Here are three common types of 'Distorted Thinking':

Overgeneralization: You arrive at a conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something happens once in a certain way, you expect it to happen over and over again. 'Always' and 'never' are cues that this style of thinking is in force. This distortion can lead to a errors, as you make future decisions based on a single incident or event.

Our cat, Tigsey, displays this kind of thinking and actually it comes from a place of common sense; the notion that if something can happen once, it can happen again. We have to give him tablets regularly for an on-going illness and as any cat-owner knows, getting a cat to swallow a tablet is no mean feat. Tigsey now associates my husband and I taking a simultaneous interest in him with the ‘tablet scenario’, so he hides under the table. Very sensible. Although, of course, there are times when he misses out on affection, because he’s got it wrong. We don’t have the tablet to hand – we only want to cuddle him!

The same principle follows in infant education – if a child touches a hot kettle, he’s unlikely to do it again – whether the kettle has just been boiled or not. In this case, it is extremely useful. It’s only when we fail to recognise and act on the exceptions that the thinking fails us.

Global Labelling: You generalise one or two qualities (in yourself or others) into a global assessment; either negative or positive. ‘All rich people are happy.’ ‘All dogs will bite you.’ Global labelling ignores all contrary evidence, creating a view of the world that fits into set categories and stereotypes. Labelling yourself can have a negative impact on your self-esteem; while labelling others can lead to snap-judgements, assumptions and prejudice.

I’m certainly guilty of this one. For example; 'shaved heads' – I used to have an immediate prejudice that an individual with a shaved head was not going to be a pleasant person. I saw the error of my ways when I considered all those individuals enduring chemotherapy. While their heads may not be shaved, they can look remarkably similar. Now, I’m aware of my tendency to make a snap-judgement in this regard and look for other characteristics in an individual beyond their lack of hair, in order to come to conclusions about them. Being aware of it means I’m in a better position to address it. I had a similar problem with motorbikes – until I saw the Hairy Bikers getting excited in the kitchen over a plateful of vegetables. They are a couple of the sweetest, cutest people on TV!

The Hairy Bikers
Heaven's Reward Fallacy: You expect all your hard-work, sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score. You feel bitter when the reward doesn't come as expected. The problem is that while you are always doing the 'right thing,' if your heart really isn't in it, you are physically and emotionally depleting yourself.

I’m not particularly guilty of this one, but I do fall into a version of it - which is to exhibit a form of ‘magical thinking’. It works like this – at times I catch myself thinking that ‘if X happens, then Y will follow,’ even though the two situations are completely unrelated. For example, ‘If the toast I’ve dropped lands butter up, I’ll get the job.’

Rafael Nadal - image: The Guardian
It’s a bit like Rafael Nadal, the tennis player, who doesn’t step on the court lines during a match. In extremis, magical thinking can develop into a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) where certain ritual actions must be carried out the same number of times, in the correct order for an individual to feel safe.

I don’t do it very often, I hasten to add, but it’s there in my psyche – just like superstitions like Friday, 13th and black cats are embedded into our collective consciousness.

The essential factor with Distorted Thinking is to become aware of doing it. Which types do you find yourself slipping into? There's 'Catastrophizing', 'Mind-reading' and 'Polarised Thinking' and many more. Once you have identified what you do, you can challenge your habitual thinking - and change it.

            References: Thoughts & Feelings by McKay, Davis, & Fanning. New Harbinger, 1981 
            and The Self-Esteem Journal by Alison Waines. 

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Monday, 25 November 2013

All that Glitters…learn from The Beckhams!

I was at a train station yesterday and overheard a teenager being ribbed by his mates about why he wasn’t going out with the girl he fancied. ‘She’ll come running - once I’ve won the lottery …’ he replied.

How often do you catch yourself thinking ‘if only I had more money, I’d be happy…’ or ‘Once I’ve won the lottery, then I’ll be able to…’? How often do we believe that having ‘more’ or better ‘things’ will mean more happiness?

Image: ConnectionGraphics
I’m horrified, at the run up to Christmas, over how many TV adverts extol over-abundance, verging on gluttony during the festive season. Scenes show the Christmas dining table piled high with sumptuous foods, there are stacks of presents under the tree and bottles of all manner of alcohol are lined up. In fact, most of the advertisers are obsessed with excess – coercing people to go completely over the top at this time of year – and of course, spend loads of money in their store.

The Great Expectation at this time of year, more than any other, is to do everything ‘big’ - be generous, celebrate and splash out, but what about families who can’t afford it? It puts huge pressure on people who don’t have any extra resources to be indulgent. They are too busy keeping warm and feeding their children the basics.

In a recent survey, the top three responses to ‘what does money mean to you?’ were - freedom, security and fun. Yet, we can gain these qualities without having any more money to hand. Instead, we need to be creative and think about how we can achieve these qualities in other ways. Here are a few ideas of how we can find abundance this festive season without it costing the earth:

8 Ways to Find Abundance

 1. Reflect on what has brought you genuine happiness in the last month. Find ways to do more of whatever it was. Perhaps it is watching your son play football for his school, setting aside time for quality family activity or a precious night in for once, having a long bath or catching up with Downton... Take time to acknowledge that these are the 'good' things in life.

2.  Look for the simple things. Find joy in what is already freely available around you. Walking. Nature. Fresh air. Be creative and try ‘home-made’ instead of shop-bought. I always make a wreath each year made from tinsel and holly from the garden. Yes – and a metal coat-hanger a la Blue Peter!

My wreath, refreshed every year from the garden
3.  Re-cycle: revamp your wardrobe by taking clothes you’re bored with to the charity shop and buying replacements there. You can find amazing designer bargains if you pick shops in up-market areas - David and Victoria Beckham have just taken their cast-offs to the British Red Cross shop in Kensington & Chelsea. 
Image: Victoria Beckham - her unwanted shoes...

4.  Remember that a craving for ‘new’ often means ‘different’. Try Swap-parties: get friends together and bring clothes or accessories that you can exchange for ‘new’ items in your wardrobe.

5.  Consider downshifting or downsizing. If you had a smaller car, perhaps you could have that holiday you’ve always hoped for. Instead of spending £3 a day on take-away lunches, make your own and you’ll save £60 a month to spend on something else (that’s £720 a year).

6.  Many of us are experiencing a spiritual vacuum in our lives and are searching for meaningful ways to find a sense of certainty and security. Instead of searching outside yourself for gratification, consider looking inwards to find peace of mind using meditation, reflection while walking or yoga.

7.  Work out what you need to do to kick-start your dreams for real. Do you want a romantic relationship? To change jobs? To write a novel? Is it really money that is holding you back from reaching for your goals or is it something else? For example, it could be fear of failure, too much responsibility, going against the wishes of someone else, feeling your plan is too selfish… Talk to someone you trust about your true reasons for stalling and how to might move forward.

8.  True happiness often comes when we are contributing to something involving others, rather than merely focusing on our own selfish gain. Consider how you might brighten someone else’s day, with a simple gesture that shows you care. It will give you a warm glow inside that money can’t buy!

Ok - I'll get off my soap-box now!

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Monday, 18 November 2013

Why do we lie?

Have you lied yet, today? Why did you do it?

Image: PsyBlog
According to research, we lie 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting someone new, usually to exaggerate our competence or to appear likeable. Apparently, this is an instinctive response that occurs across cultures, because we are all making judgements about two issues: 
  • Are they Friend or foe? Is this person going to hurt me or help me?
  • Are they Capable of hurting or helping? Can this person help me if they’re friendly or hurt me if they’re not?
Whilst we’re checking out the person we’ve met with these criteria in mind, we’re also giving out the same information to them.

Categories of Lies

The kind of lies we find most detestable are those with malicious intent of some kind: lies designed to swindle or con us, lies that will cause us hardship or pain further down the road. Yet many lies are motivated by the exact opposite, they are designed to keep everyone happy.

White Lies

‘White’ lies are fibs that are meant to be harmless. They come in many categories: courtesy lies, falsely agreeing, self-esteem lies and false excuses, for example. They are designed to make us seem more agreeable and capable than we are. Take a courtesy lie, for example. Say someone keeps us waiting – it could be a bank clerk or a friend. They apologise and in response, we say ‘It’s okay,’ with a smile, when really we’re thinking, ‘Actually, it’s really annoying that you’ve kept me standing here for ten minutes…’ But, we do it to appear easy-going and to avoid confrontation.

Falsely agreeing is similar. A friend asks 'What do you think?' when they emerge from the changing room in a new dress. 'It really suits you,' you say -  even though it looks hideous, in order to make them feel better. Someone asks, ‘How are you?’ and you reply, ‘Fine’ when actually you feel terrible. Technically they are all lies. But there is also a social convention at work here: social nicety – the person asking or responding wants to look like they care about you – even though it’s ‘fake’, you lie to fit in and somehow it breaks the ice.

We use lies as excuses to avoid looking heartless, such as claiming we have a dentist appointment or our child is ill, when asked to do something we don’t want to do. We lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. We also blame others to make ourselves look less incompetent; when we  don’t get to a meeting on time, we blame the traffic or the queue at the bus-stop. In the same way, we tell ‘denial’ lies – ‘Did you post my letter, today?’ ‘Yes, of course’ - which covers up for the fact that it’s still in our bag and we must remember to do it tomorrow.

But how many big lies have you told, recently? There are ‘escalating’ lies where once you’ve told one untruth, you have to tell another to keep the false story going. Extra-marital affairs are like this or lies about the big things in life such as money or debt. Complex webs are created when a person tries to cover up being fired from work, or when they ‘forgot’ to take the Pill because they want a baby.
Like most human behaviours – it’s the motive behind the lie that is most interesting.
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A J Waines is a crime fiction author of The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Is Someone you know a Psychopath?

Hannibal Lecter - Image: Daily Mail

When we hear the term ‘Psychopath’, most of us tend to think of a character such as Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs or Jack Torrance from the film The Shining.  A ‘maniac’ who is both callous and charming; someone with a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Although people tend to think of psychopaths as killers, most individuals with psychopathic tendencies are not killers, or even criminals. They are, however, often bullies.

According to the standard classification of all mental disorders, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Psychopathology comes under Antisocial Personality Disorder: "The essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others..." 

Characteristics of a Psychopath 

The key characteristics of a psychopath mean they are usually: cold-hearted, ruthless, manipulative, fearless, charming, cool under pressure and egocentric. Hang on a minute – I hear you say – don’t I see these exact same traits in the people around me at home, or at work?! 

The truth is, many of these traits are beneficial in order for us to carry out our jobs – surgeons, for example, need to be emotionally distant to a certain extent to operate on their patients, or they wouldn’t be able to pick up the knife. Likewise, a lawyer defending a murderer or a Chief Executive having to lay off staff to save the company, need to make use of these traits. The same might also be said for politicians, sales-people, journalists and police officers. The traits in themselves don’t make a serial killer, but the danger comes when the qualities are extreme, creating individuals who are dysfunctional.

A New take on Empathy

One key difference between ordinary individuals and psychopaths is that normal people spontaneously feel empathy; the crucial ability in society to put oneself in another person’s shoes in order to understand how they might feel. Normal people feel sorrow, pain or embarrassment on behalf of other people automatically, without having to think about it. The assumption until recently has been that psychopaths are unable to show empathy. Recent Neurology research in the Netherlands, however, has shown that when specifically ‘asked’ to empathise, a psychopath’s empathy reaction in the brain fires up in just the same way as ordinary people. In other words – psychopaths can feel the same emotions that others feel, but they seem to be able to switch this mechanism off.

Image: Microsoft
According to Christian Keysers from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and senior author of the study, "They don't lack empathy but they have a switch to turn it on and off. By default, it seems to be off."

The notion that psychopaths have no empathy at all is a bleak prospect, making it very hard for them to ever have normal moral development. This new research might mean a fresh approach for psychotherapists and psychiatrists in treating criminals with psychopathic tendencies. It’s hard to judge at this stage, however, whether having the same neurons firing up in the brain means that psychopaths feel the same as ordinary people. But, if psychopaths are capable of empathy - even if only in certain conditions - therapists have something to work with.

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