The History of the Twentieth Century

This door stopper took me a while but was a real pleasure to read. I have not read a Martin Gilbert one before and was impressed with the way he writes. Very easy to read. More to the point, the content was really useful. Although I have covered much of the content before, it gave great context to stuff I have heard or read about in isolation before. It was a bit like fitting the puzzle blocks into the correctly shaped holes in some cases. 

What struck me most was how full of conflict the twentieth century was (the two world wars aside) and how similar the issues we face now are to a hundred years ago. We really do learn nothing do we. As interesting as it was depressing.  

Black Lives Matter

To avoid letting all of that unfocused anger simmer into a lifetime of disquiet and more division, the movement needs a leader.

It’s been a few weeks now since the Black Lives Matter movement hit the headlines with a surge of media coverage. As we all know, it was triggered by one particularly heinous incident in the US but there have been countless other instances along the same lines throughout history. Why then all the furore now? Perhaps the shocking footage being circulated across social media, perhaps the need to lash out following weeks of being confined to homes. Whatever the reason, it all seems to be fading again. What has it achieved? Call me a pessimist, but perhaps not much. It is even possible things have been made worse.


While mostly peaceful, some of the protests have been marred by violence (far eclipsed by the far right counter demonstrations). More to the point, it has also highlighted, from my perspective, a vague sort of righteousness from many corners that in many ways feels a little disingenuous; as if one must speak out on this as more of a procedural duty rather than from any meaningful understanding. While many campaign, I wonder whether some really get it. ( I should say that most – the BAME campaigners, many of whom will have experienced some form of racism – will almost certainly ‘get it’ in one way or another.) Arguably however, the campaigning that does take place is not necessarily useful.

I understand from some points of view the need for democratic decision in a civilised society when it comes to removing a statue. The debates regarding the statue in Oxford are probably more in keeping with this rather than the unceremonious toppling we saw in Bristol. Having said that, if the democratic process is demonstrably failing to acknowledge the issues, I can’t be too critical of those involved. When you see young girls burning the union jack on the cenotaph however, it is clear to me that the emotions (justifiably strong) of some are misguided.


My fear is that this movement, as well meaning as it is, is merely deepening the divide. There will be a significant proportion of people in the UK I am sure who will see these protests in a negative light and this will galvanise inherent racism all across the country. (Particularly as they fell in the midst of a pandemic which many will have been diligently isolating from – don’t forget, those out protesting and not observing the lockdown may not become unwell themselves but will potentially spread coronavirus and be responsible for deaths of others that could have been avoided. Raheem Stirling said that there was only one virus. I’m afraid he is wrong.)


However, more worryingly, I can’t help but wonder if other more moderate individuals will begin to feel a little intimidated by the ease with which BAME individuals label anything that happens to them as ‘racist’. For example, I mentioned to someone the other day that a friend of mine was playing a character with a Caribbean accent and they replied asking if that’s ok to do? It got me thinking. Why shouldn’t it be? From my point of view, being able to impersonate and Australian accent or an American one but not a traditionally BAME accent deepens the divide rather than heals it. Many celebrities have come out recently apologising for using ‘black face’. This is a little more contentious perhaps but nevertheless open to interpretation in the same way. I would argue that, as long as done without malice or under a genuine misguided sense of superiority, it is not offensive. Of course, things are not often so simple and there is a spectrum but we must all use a bit of common sense from time to time rather than cry fowl at every opportunity.


In many instances, this oversensitivity is counter productive and could be seen as ‘political correctness gone mad’ by many. BAME individuals will inevitably be treated differently under this scenario, with many people tip-toeing around issues or even avoiding altogether in order to avoid making some unintended faux pas.


Of course, I do have sympathy to the reactions of many considering the unimaginable injustice that has occurred historically and unfortunately that still does today. My point is that, while racism must be tackled, tackling it in the wrong way makes it somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy. All the while, the more damaging and malignant stuff carries on underneath. In order to wipe out this sort of discrimination, it needs two things: time and focus.


Generally speaking, racist leanings are learned behaviours from parents or peers. Once learnt, they are very difficult to wipe. The call for education and inclusion in curriculums of things like slavery therefore is one of the positives of the Black Lives Matter movement. As the older generations fade, time will hopefully bring more enlightened younger ones. Hence time but also focus. Arguably the focus element is most important here. To avoid letting all of that unfocused anger simmer into a lifetime of disquiet and more division, the movement needs a leader.

It needs someone who is measured and accessible to people of all races. Someone who can guide the anger of those who have been wronged and help them to heal the divides and encourage others to heal their own prejudices. Someone who is able to build influence enough to discourage people from self destructive behaviours such as the protests during the pandemic (not all self destructive I should say because it has of course got everyone talking about it) but instead encouraging people to channel their emotions into more sensible and tactically more beneficial endeavours; ones that are not going to alienate the huge swathes of society that are probably the ones they need to win over the most.

While there are higher proportions of BAME people living in poverty, this is a result of historic disadvantage and current division and cannot be changed overnight. Poverty, from an economic point of view must be tackled as one issue, not divided up into white and BAME poverty or else the divides will continue through the generations. From a social point of view however, BAME poverty can be changed only by a focus on changing attitudes.


To find someone who can guide us all through such a change is challenging. Whether someone suitable will step up to the plate is hard to say. If no one steps up – or indeed if the wrong person does – and perpetuates the divisions further, then I fear this brief surge in popularity will have little impact in the long run.

W

Previously on Covid-19

As we approach June, I thought it might be a useful exercise to recap on the last few months. After all, there’s quite a lot that has happened and it’s been a bit of a blur thus far! Who knows what the next few months will hold but these are the key events from a Coronavirus point of view since it all began.


31 Dec 2019 – The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reports a cluster of pneumonia cases in the Wuhan province of China.

8 Jan 2020 – Chinese scientists announce that they have found a new strain of coronavirus.

12 Jan – The genetic sequence of the new coronavirus known to be causing these new cases is released publicly by China. The virus is known as SARS-CoV-2.

13 Jan – the first official case outside of China is identified in Thailand.

30 Jan – There are now 98 confirmed cases in 18 other countries and the WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International concern.

31st Jan – The first 2 cases are confirmed in the UK.

11 Feb – The disease caused by the virus is named as Covid-19 by the WHO.

5 March – The first confirmed UK death related to Covid-19 is reported.

11 March – Due to being “deeply concerned by both the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of infection” the WHO announce a pandemic. The 2011 film ‘Contagion’ begins trending on various streaming platforms.

12 March – The UK moves from the “contain” approach to what is referred to as the “delay” phase. This means that people with symptoms are no longer tested unless requiring admission to hospital.

16 March – The WHO advises “test, test, test”.

20 March – Schools, nurseries, restaurants and pubs all ordered to close.

21 March – The government shielding scheme started. This has caused some confusion, both then and now. Letters were initially sent by NHS England to those with features suggesting they were ultra vulnerable should they contract Covid-19; even more so than the vulnerable groups normally granted free flu jabs annually. These included those with organ transplants, undergoing active chemotherapy or with any immunosuppressive condition. Some letters were sent to people who did not need to be on the list while others who did need to be on the list were not initially identified as the data used to draw up the lists was from a national database. Subsequently, lists have been revised at a more local level. The letters advised shielded patients not to leave their houses at all if possible and offered information about local support agencies.

23 March – The government announces lockdown measures with advice that people stay at home, only leaving for one form of exercise a day, for work if absolutely necessary, to shop for essential items and to fulfil any medical and care needs.

2 April – Suspected Covid-19 hospital admissions peak in the UK at more than 3,400 in a single day.

3 April – Worldwide cases of Covid-19 pass 1 million.

5 April – It is announced that Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

6 April – The Primeminister is moved to ICU.

10 April – The UK daily hospital death rate reaches its peak at 980 for cases involving Covid-19.

12 April – Mr Johnson is discharged from hospital.

20 April – The government furlough scheme officially comes into effect.

23 April – Testing begins on the vaccine developed at Oxford University which uses an inactivated adenovirus with an additional “spike” protein found on SARS-CoV-2 in the hope that the body will develop an immune response to this protein, thereby potentially providing some immunity to SARS-CoV-2 itself. (Due to the more recent drop off in cases, there have been some reports that the trial may struggle to get results because a sufficient number of participants will need to be exposed to the virus for it to be reasonably certain that the vaccine works.)

29 April – Official figures show UK deaths pass 26,000 as care homes deaths related to Covid-19 are included for the first time.

5 May – Doctors in France report that, having retested a swab taken on 27th December 2019 on a patient at a hospital near Paris (who had no recent travel history), Covid-19 had been identified. This has raised questions over how long the virus has really been in circulation.

13 May – It is announced that lockdown measures are to be eased somewhat. Members of the public are still to observe previous measures but are now able to take unlimited exercise, restart open air sports and meet one person from another household in the open as long as social distancing measures are observed.

14 May – Data are published that show A&E attendances for April were 0.9 million, down 57% on April 2019. While clearly a very large number of A&E attendances are unnecessary, this raised concerns over how many serious medical conditions may have gone untreated or undiagnosed as a result of people’s reluctance to attend.

20 May – The official figures show that there have been 250,908 confirmed positive Covid-19 cases in the UK to date and 36,042 deaths. Bear in mind the drawbacks of such statistics without a robust and extensive testing system in place.

22 May – Testing is finally rolled out again for those with symptoms and, theoretically, anyone above the age of 5 and with symptoms (which now include loss of taste or smell) can access either home testing kits or testing at one of the regional sites via the NHS website. (Not via your GP).
These tests are swabs and detect the presence of viral RNA on the mucosa and in the saliva and can tell whether there is current infection or not.
In order to detect whether one has had the virus at some point in the past and therefore probably has a level of immunity (although this is not yet proven), an antibody test is needed. There has been much talk of these, first mentioned by the government in March as being imminent. However, as yet, no antibody tests are available. Two tests (developed by Abbott and Roche) were validated by Public Health England on the 14th May and will apparently be used from next week to test NHS and care workers. These tests are available privately from various centres but people should be cautious about the results. For a start, it could take up to 28 days after the infection before the test can properly confirm if a person has had the virus. Secondly, as mentioned above, there is currently no telling how much immunity one gets from having had Covid-19 so, until this is better understood, the benefit of antibody testing is largely for community statistical purposes.

So there you have it. The story so far. The next few weeks will no doubt contribute to our ever expanding knowledge about the virus. It might be useful to mention at this point an app developed by Kings in London called ‘COVID Symptom Study’ that I would encourage everyone to download and fill in if you haven’t already.

The more we know, the better we can understand how best to open things up and prevent a slide back into a second peak. Data, for all their faults, are key. Testing is integral to this.

Thoughts of the Week

It’s been however many weeks now in lockdown and, although easing a little, much of the entertainment (or at least unpleasant distraction) is watching our government muddle their way through things in farcical fashion.


Covid aside for a second, there was furore about the $26,000 (actually pounds but my keyboard doesn’t let me do a pounds symbol) or so salary limit on foreign workers, with critics accusing the government of not valuing the work of those on lower salaries. My gut reaction was to agree with the dissent until I heard another side to the argument – that workers below this salary cap can be more easily and more cheaply trained; not that the people and the jobs being done were at all not valued. I don’t like our government, don’t get me wrong, but it was a moment I had to check myself and remind myself that there is bias on both sides of the spectrum and there are always two sides to the story. This is something that we must all be wary of. Even when there is no attempt to deliberately mislead (and there are plenty of examples of that), the sheer strength of opinion almost took me to one side of an argument that, when one looks closer and puts aside bias, is not quite as simple as it seems.


I tried to remain measured when it came to Cummings. I really did. ‘If it was just a trip up to the house in Durham to isolate there’ I said, ‘then well I suppose I can understand that’. Of course, everyone now knows it wasn’t just that and to defend it is indefensible in itself. If you disagree you are hopelessly deluded or there’s something in it for you.
It is this sort of blatant disregard for accountability and flagrant shamelessness that we have come to know and love in politics in recent times, to the extent that even those who have practised it in the past have called Cummings and the PM out for it.


Our leaders are a bit like that naughty child at school. The one who constantly pushes his luck and plays up, each time emboldened when the consequences are far less severe than anticipated, the bluff of punishment having been well and truly called.


Not many succeed at this better than Donald Trump but, to me at least, it is obvious in our government too. Frankly I wouldn’t even trust Boris or anyone of his cronies to take a picture of me lest they run of with the camera. What surprises me is that some people are surprised. There are those who are now saying that this blatant refusal to be held to account in a position of power is a slippery slope. Of course this is true but what many don’t realise is that we’re half way down that slope already.


Enough of that. In other news, I’ve been reminiscing on my childhood Wednesday evening tv viewings (the slot just after the Neighbours/Simpsons power combo of my teenage years). Star Trek is not my favourite of the “Star” franchises. Despite the tangled and ill thought out mess of the recent Star Wars films, I favour the original trilogy above all else. Having said that, I did enjoy Patrick Stewart in the Next Generation, if not just for the outstanding potential for quotes. (“engage”, “make it so” etc). The new Picard series was something I was a bit sceptical of as reviews had, for some reason, been a bit cold. I have no idea why because quite honestly it’s brilliant. Clever, action packed, stylish, nostalgic and quite poignant so far, I am absolutely loving it. I genuinely don’t want it to end (although I will definitely finish the series, unlike my refusal to watch the last season of Lost, thereby somehow making it last forever in my head). Anyway, watch Picard, it’s awesome.


One final note, this week on cyclists. This lanky and lycra-clad species are a perpetual menace to me at the best of times. Let me be straight, I am never aggressive and am always safe when I drive but deep within me, I boil over with rage whenever I see one on the road. They are particularly irritating when strong in numbers, sitting lazily in packs across an entire lane and quite literally stealing 10 minutes of my life away from me. The rage is intensified all the more as they sail straight through a red light, presumably safe in the knowledge that they’ll just phase through any oncoming traffic without so much as a hair out of place (although is it just me, or are a lot of them not just tall and lanky but also quite prone to balding as well?). Either way, I don’t know if it’s the lockdown, the weather or both but there’s bloody loads of them out at the moment. They need to stop it. In the interests of balance, I will mention the one cyclist who waved me past him as the traffic light went green the other day. I was so shocked that he’d even obeyed the law enough to stop at the red light, let alone reveal some semblance of a conscience, so perhaps I didn’t thank him as much as I should have done. Regardless, he is in the minority. Get rid of them.


Ps. As a doctor, quite apart from the environmental benefits, I would say cycling is an excellent form of aerobic exercise, especially if you want to take the load off your knees and it should be unfalteringly encouraged.
W

Thoughts of the Week

What a bizarre few weeks under lockdown this has been. While much of my life has been fairly similar in terms of structure (ie normal working days etc) the content of those days has been very different. I am one of the lucky ones in this respect. Fortunately, what my life has lacked in terms of pubs and cafes and shops, it has made up for in other ways.
The excellently amateur online pub quiz has been a particular highlight on a Thursday and Saturday night. It is genuinely something I look forward to and is something the whole family gets involved in. I have also been playing on the PlayStation a lot (Divinity: Original Sin 2 for those who are interested – an extremely nerdy but very involved dungeons and dragons type game which is not my normal choice but which I am finding awesome fun). Coupled with that – and I really have been getting my geek on – I have started playing a real life dungeons and dragons story with a group of friends via Zoom. I’ve never tried it before and I have to say, it’s cracking fun. Great change to catch up with friends from around the country (and the world) apart from anything else.


That has reminded me of a Harvard study I read about once in which levels of happiness were measured and quantified. The outcome I remember was quite poignant – those who were the happiest weren’t the richest or the most successful necessarily but were the ones who had maintained close friendship groups for long periods through their lives. Something that is particularly relevant at the moment I think. With so many people separated and levels of mental health issues rising, we should all be seeking to solidify friendships above all else.


In the same vein, a recent YouGov poll found that 8 out of 10 people would prefer the government to prioritise health and wellbeing over economic growth and GDP during the coronavirus. 6 in 10 wanted this to continue beyond. In some ways, slightly meaningless because one might argue economic growth is intertwined with wellbeing. Just as above though, this may not always be the case. I do wonder sometimes whether we are hurtling forwards inexorably in the interests of progress and expansion at the expense of so many things, not least the world around us. To halt this chain reaction is far from simple of course but there may be no better time than now to reassess things.


With the muddle the government have got themselves in this week over the new lockdown rules, I am not holding my breath. While I have actually been defending their overall plan (something that I never thought I would be doing) the evasive way it has been presented and the obvious and unsavoury motivation behind it (that of political damage control and self congratulation) has been pretty farcical. Looks like the lockdown is not as stringent as it was but it is not lifted. And we are to “stay alert”. To come up with that sort of nonsense slogan really is a symptom that comes from a lack of cohesion and leadership. Spin on care home deaths, overall cases and misuse of the R number (see my latest medical article) are just a few of their misdemeanours. There is no doubt that the government’s overall mismanagement of this crisis (and I repeat, I actually think their current measures are appropriate and require people to just use a bit of common sense and stop being so precious) has been nothing short of rubbish. That this is in any way surprising to people is the biggest surprise of all from my perspective!
Keir Starmer looks to me to be the future (and had done for a long time). Such a furore and a to do for so long before someone sensible like him comes along is the biggest tragedy. It’s just a shame we will have to wait a long time for him to get hold of the reigns.


Talking of length (apologies for the tenuous segue), my hair has not been cut for a couple of months now. Most obvious are the sides of my head which are expanding outwards at a fair rate. I look like Nicholas Cage. Beanie hats now make me look legitimately like a surfer dude (at least in my own head). My beard is another matter altogether. It is wild even despite my own feeble attempts at trimming it. I am one of those vain types that normally gets my hair cut every 3 weeks or so, so I have taken this as a sign and an opportunity to grow my hair out. I have tried it twice before in my life. Both times were pretty bad and I didn’t get past the mid length stage. (In fact my first attempt coincided with my “digestives and nutella” phase at uni and so, with the extra weight I was carrying at the time, I don’t think I have ever looked more physically repulsive. I am determined for things to be different this time – with the barbers closed, I really have no choice. So far I have resisted offers from several people who fancy themselves as stylists and so will have to just let things take their natural course. I think this is the right decision.

Musings in Quarantine

With such nice weather, I hope you’re all staying inside! Quarantine is a funny old thing and through something like this we get to see both the best and worst of humanity. (It’s just unfortunate that, in a situation such as this, we are only as good as the worst of us). It’s gearing up to be a rocky few weeks with the day job so it’s nice to catch up with this sort of stuff in the downtime. 

So, while the covidiots rush out to their barbecues, the sensible people stay indoors and the Americans head out to buy loads of guns, I thought I’d update on the book. 

A couple of rejections thus far but most agents I have carefully selected have not yet got back. It’s worth saying that, having researched exactly what getting an agent represents to a fairly extensive degree, I have been selective in who I have gone for. It’s a given that I am looking for agents who have interests in books such as mine, but I am also going for those with non-fiction interests as well, not least because I have ambition to write in both arenas. Of course, when someone is recommended to you, that’s even better.

But here’s the thing. I don’t know if anyone else does the same (and even if they don’t admit it, I suspect they do) but I have been placing a significant emphasis on selecting those with whom I think I would work best based on how they look in their photographs. Where I can find interviews with them, even better. Call me superficial but I feel like I am a fairly good judge of character and so can usually gain a good idea of whether I would click with someone based on their appearance alone. 

They say don’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I’ve never heard anyone say that about agents so I’m going with it. I only hope they will adopt a similar approach when assessing my material. The whole process feels a bit like online dating and if history has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not very good at online dating. Time will tell. 

 

 

 

 

The birth of a new viral lexicon

All of this inevitably got me thinking about other words that, quite frankly, we should all be trying to create as a result of this crisis – or corisis

By now we are accustomed to hearing new words and phrases hitherto unheard of even a short while before. Of course the youth have almost an entire language to themselves. (This is quite a painful admission as I consider myself to be youthful still).

But in the age of Brexit, we as a species have begun to tinker with the English language in ever more ingenius ways. At present, there are 171,476 words in the Oxford Enlgish dictionary. There are many more unofficial ones in circulation, should you be streetwise enough to be using them. 

In 2019 there were 650 new words added to that number including whatevs, chillax, Jedi (which I think is cool and I’m surprsied it took this long) and sumfin (which is think is kind of mental).

Flashforward to now and we are in the midst of a global pandemic. It is bad and is only going to get worse so I wanted to focus on something positive. To that end, the fact that ‘covidiot‘ is now trending on twitter has brought a refreshing twist on humanity’s inherent stupidity. 

The word refers to those special individuals who rush out to panic buy toilet roll and pasta or those who think social distancing just isn’t for them. 

It’s not the only new word I’ve heard. Caremongering, the act of caring for those most vulnerable and encouraging others to do so, seems to be taking hold across the pond. It seems to have emerged from Canada which makes sense because – well, Canada. 

Presenteesim is the word for NHS workers who will lean towards going to work even if they are unwell which, in the current situation is not good. Under normal circumstances, I too have experienced this phenomenon, having crawled into work more than once feeling like the inside of John Mccririck’s underpants, only to be met by a smiling patient telling me they have had a cough for a few days. 

One of my favourites is the word for the cohort of babies born as a result of everyone being cooped up in isolation over the next few months. Coronials.

All of this inevitably got me thinking about other words that, quite frankly, we should all be trying to create as a result of this crisis – or corisis. Here are some of the best ones so far…

Quaranteens – The teenagers who are now home for the forseeable future since the schools closed, for which their parents are – I’m sure – ecstatic. 

Coronference call – As more and more of us begin to work from home, these are the ideal way to observe the social distancing measures while maintaining business efficiency. 

Whatsapp Thumb –  With friendship groups torn apart by the isolation, Whatsapp groups have gone wild. The chat within previously dormant groups has been going through the roof. Make sure you take precautions and limit your use lest you experience this painful condition. 

Covexit – The much sought after and mythical end to this epidemic. Who knows when we can reach it?

Recovid – My personal favourite here. With many people having already recovid from the disease, here’s hoping that many more will do the same. 

So there you have it. I’m sure there are plenty more of these so your suggestions are most welcome. Perhaps, by the time the next pandemic comes around (my money is on peronivirus) we may have a completely new set of vocabularly at the ready. 

WJ

 

2020 update

It’s a new year, a new decade and plenty is happening in the world. Having not updated the actual blog part of this site for a while, I felt it was about time I rectified that. 

The last time I mentioned anything about my novel, I was embarking upon the 8th draft. This weekend, I finished it. Big sigh of relief! It’s been a tough 6 or 7 months of writing and trying to fit it in between the other day job but I’m finally there and I’m feeling reasonably pleased with it. 

The main aim with this draft (and I wouldn’t have done another if I didn’t think it was necessary) was to streamline it a little more and give it some tension towards the end, which it was perhaps lacking. 

Without reading it, saying any more would be pointless so I’ll leave it there. Needless to say, I am now looking into finding some representation once more and I am hoping that the changes I have made will make the difference. 

I have many projects that have been backing up behind this one, so expect to see so more action on here for the foreseeable. I have some ambitions to publish something non-fiction next, but I’ve also got a couple of short stories lined up as well. For the time being, have a look at my latest dieting post in the medical tab. Worth a read if you’re feeling some of those extra calories!

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Giles Milton paints an heroic picture of the incredible operations and missions carried out during WWII. An interesting read just after the Codemaker’s War as it deals with a lot of the same organisations from a very different angle.

 

Words and Stuff

‘… as good as some words are, defenestrate (to throw someone through a window) being my favourite one ever, I am not sure I will ever get away with using it.’

I’ve been thinking about words this week. Why, you ask? Partly because I was reminiscing about the word I invented. ‘Frell’. It means fridge-smell. The otherwise poorly described and elusive smell that develops and pervades in your fridge if it is not cleared in a timely fashion. It can be deployed in adjective and verb form as well (eg, ‘this fridge is frelly’ or ‘my croissant has been frelled’). Personally, I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on yet and I regard its creation as one of my most valued achievements.

Aside from this, I have been considering the use of words in more depth following on from some much-valued feedback that I received on my novel. I will address the value of such feedback in a future blog, but a specific aspect involved the importance of using words effectively and, in particular, not using them when they are not needed. This may sound fairly obvious but do read on as I have not gone completely bonkers.

The more one reads about writers who are just getting started, everyone who critiques them seems to come up with a common observation – that they tend to ‘overwrite’. It is tempting for some to pull out the thesaurus and generate as many complicated and intellectual words as possible, perhaps in the hope that it will add some credibility to their writing. In reality it is more likely to send a reader off course and may have the opposite effect. It is worth noting that fancy words, particularly if not used in the correct context, have the potential to disturb the focus of anyone who is otherwise engrossed in a book. This is liable to bring a reader briefly into the real world again which is not where you want them. This can be at best troublesome for the flow of the book, and at worst catastrophic for the immersion of the reader in the story.

Unfortunately that makes it all the more painful to resist the multitude of cracking words and phrases out there which, if a little more well known, would be really useful. Take the French phrase ‘l’espirit de l’escalier’ for example. It essentially means the act of thinking of a witty comeback after the moment has passed. Quite apart from wishing I was much better at this myself, it is an excellent observational phrase that has real applications in the right situation. Likewise the word ‘Mamihlapinatapa,’ which is used in Chile to describe the look between two people that suggests an unspoken desire, is great and in the right situation could be either quite poignant or even a bit racy.

Needless to say, it would be a bit difficult to surreptitiously fit either of these into the average novel without shattering the unseen barrier between the worlds of the reader and the characters. We are therefore left with far simpler words – but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though I know from experience that these can be overused just as much as the fancier words. My use of the word ‘slightly’ is, as has been pointed out at times, criminal. A character is either jaded or not jaded – a reader is not interested in whether they are slightly jaded. I am currently hard at work trying to cut out unnecessary words from my novel and this is an important point. Anything that is surplus to requirement has the potential to disengage a reader and turn them off whatever story is underlying. The better novels – arguably – are the ones which flow and much of the time a reader will fill in any gaps subconsciously. To spell everything out is to stifle the imagination of anyone following along.

To some extent, this will vary with genre. I would say that the fast-paced crime thrillers will derive most from this minimalist approach. Only the most vital details will need to be written in the relative absence of any unnecessary and extraneous words so as to remove or at least largely avoid obfuscation. (That last sentence was on purpose).

Even the more literary and scene-setting pieces will need to avoid most of the above. So, as good as some words are – defenestrate (to throw someone through a window) being my favourite one ever – I am not sure I will ever get away with using it. Having said that, these words are still worth knowing about. For those of you that know of the ‘Googlewhack’ phenomenon (in which one types two random words into google and receives only one result back excluding word lists), you may be interested to know that several years ago, after reading ‘Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure’, I paired ‘defenestrated’ with ‘clodhoppers’ and scored me my one and only Googlewhack. If that is not using words effectively, then I don’t know what is.

W