Saturday, 26 January 2013


Yet another story about racism in football! I can hear your groans, dear readers. This is a subject that has been flogged beyond saturation in recent months. From the “monkey-dance” craze sweeping the Eastern European football stands to Loius Suarez, John Terry and Jerome Boateng who finally decided enough was enough. Surely, there are more important things going on in the world. But it’s the weekend; you might run out of things to discuss down the pub later this evening, so please indulge my rambling for just a few short paragraphs.

Earlier this week, West London Magistrate’s court found a man guilty of racially abusing two football players. William Blything, an Everton fan, was alleged to have committed this offence during a premier league match between QPR and Everton at Loftus road on 21st October.

Now, there are a couple of things I can say in argument for this man. First of all, he was convicted based solely on the testimony of another fan who managed to pick out his racist comments from the cacophony of hoots and inebriate chants that you would expect from a football stand on a typical match-day. His two victims, one of whom was from his own team, were unaware of this alleged abuse and were not in any way involved in the trial. But his strongest defence, one that he himself repeated over and over again, was that his daughter has a black boyfriend and he has black grandchildren, thus he can not possibly be a racist. Now, this last point is what has compelled me to write this post, because it is an excuse I have heard before.

This is an issue that goes beyond the football stands.

Britain has one of the highest numbers of mixed parentage in Europe and there is bound to be a good number of people out there who can trump up a black relative or friend somewhere when they’ve overstepped the mark. William Blything should realise that he was not convicted of being a racist but of “Racially Aggravated Harassment”. Racism in itself is a charge that is almost impossible to prove in a court of law as it is merely an ideology; a belief; the principles by which you live and raise your family. You can say what you don’t believe and believe what you don’t say, but you have to take responsibility for whatever damage it does to your audience.

So is William Blything a racist? I don’t know, and neither do the courts. But, thankfully, that was never the question. They asked whether he uttered a racially aggravated comment and, thanks to the testimony of a few witnesses, the answer was yes. He will serve his time and it probably won’t change his relationship with his black grandchildren when he goes back home, because they are his family and they know what he is and what he isn’t.

But if I was one of his grandchildren, I would ask Blything another question that is not really that important to a court of law, but one that I believe is a core principle by which we can build a tolerant society. I would say: “Grandpa, your comments in the heat of the moment mean nothing to me since I know who you really are, but let’s imagine there were a group of innocent children like me in that stand, too young to have formed any political opinions of their own. Now, after your exuberant chants, how many of those kids would you say you persuaded not to grow up to be racists?”

I am a football supporter, but as a religious person, there are moments when I view football fanaticism as a 20-billion-pound-a-year worth of madness. There are folks from poor African villages unable to feed their own families, living under the proverbial dollar-a-day, who will happily pay three times that amount to watch a live premiership match; I have seen friends descend to near-suicidal depression because their team lost a football game; the perplexing dilemma between real responsibilities towards loved ones and that unfathomable devotion to a group of men kicking a ball has led to the demise of many a family. There are more football fans around the world than there are Christians (the largest religious group on the planet).

At the time Blything was cussing at Loftus Road he was going out on TV to hundreds of millions of viewers of all ages and creed. Perhaps this is not what he wanted when he started watching football as a young boy. Maybe his lure to the football stand was escapism; a place where a hardworking man can go and let loose without fear of offending anyone; an occult gathering of like minded people where you don’t have to worry about weighing your words before you deliver them.

But football has moved on. And, whilst some traditional conservative supporters may not appreciate this, their team certainly needs this change. That’s why they are fighting to get to the top where they can then play teams in Europe and around the world. To do this, they are going to have to get over their fear of alien cultures and learn a thing or two about how other people live. Who knows, it might even be fun. If this is not what you want, then I believe there is still an exclusive group of white radicals somewhere who occasionally meet up in some obscure forest wearing white pillowcases over their heads to do whatever makes them happy. You might want to try them.

Like I said, I am a supporter myself and I have been to enough premiership games. I have sat in the expensive stands where fans are relatively reserved and amongst the cheap rowdy lot in the far flung corners. And I have to say that for an extrovert personality, these rowdy stands can be great fun. Profanities aside, there is nothing quite like holding hands with a stranger belting out your favourite club anthems when you are winning. Over the past few days, in the safety of my shower, I’ve tried doing renditions of some of these football favourites but without the profanities. It’s easy, English is a beautiful language with a rich vocabulary; give me one obscenity and I’ll find you ten elegant words that can rhyme in its place just as well. And the songs sound just as good if not better.

My point is that with this prodigious wealth and following football boasts, come responsibility. It is not enough to say that if what’s going on in the stands is merely a reflection of what’s going on in society, then that’s okay. An organisation with followers exceeding a third of the world’s population must aim to change society for the better. Churches don’t open their doors to robbers and drug dealers just to have a fair representation in their congregation, they do it with the sole purpose of changing them and making them better people. We have to try another way to support our team in the best way we can without harming others. It might take off and prove even more popular; the guy who departed to join the pillowcase-wearers in the forest may be convinced to rejoin this new wave of cheerleading that he can comfortably share with his children and grandchildren. Heck, he might even bring back some of his friends from the forest.

Football can do this; get even just one person to hang up his pillowcase and join the real world. It is one thing football can give back to that poor fellow who starved himself for a couple of days to be able to afford a game. Maybe then, he could go to sleep with the satisfaction that his sacrifice was for the greater good.

Have  wonderful weekend.

For more about me and my projects visit

Saturday, 16 April 2011


I've recently been sending out early draft copies of my second novel, Dudlham Sings, to peers for feedback and there are some interesting points emerging that I thought may be worth sharing. The reviews, as expected, have been excellent because these are mostly people I know, and the few strangers must think I am a nice enough guy to wade through a hundred thousand words of a barely coherent story and provide me with useful tips for free.

This book is set in an estate in London called Dudlham Farm (the name is fictional but this place is real). It also has a detective in it. So, as well as giving it to some folks from Dudlham, I thought I would need to find a nice cop to run some ideas by. I can hear the collective gasps, but believe me, her majesty’s law enforcement operatives can be extremely helpful if you haven’t any outstanding issues with them. I got much more information than I asked for. And, like any human, my first instinct was to use it. I thus found myself on the brink of re-writing half the Dudlham Sings manuscript to accommodate my fresh knowledge. Then I came back to my senses. This information is invaluable and I will no doubt find use for it in life and maybe in future projects. But the original idea of Dudlham Sings was to tell the story of a place called Dudlham Farm, overloading it with police procedurals would only distract from the point. The Who-dunit mystery within the plot is just a vehicle I use to drive a tale of classic urban decay in a contemporary developed world. So I kept on track and only made minimal adjustments with respect to the police routines.

I didn’t need the expert opinion on Dudlham Farm as much because I grew up in a place like this, and the issues are always the same. But I solicited their opinion anyway and this is where things got interesting:

“Oh, I absolutely loved it, Michael…”

Course you did, now get to the point.

“… But, in the scene at the beginning of chapter eight it is raining. I don’t remember it raining in Dudlham Farm on Thursday the 2nd of….”

It is a work of fiction, ladies and gentlemen!

A good friend of mine once said that he would move a whole city if it didn’t suit his plot (Okay, his name was Mark Twain, and the friendship is imaginary). My point is there is a difference between fiction writers and people writing under the fiction tag.

Thriller writers are chiefly entertainers, like wine; not a life essential, but try organising a party without one. We try to educate and inform whenever we can but we don’t set out to demonstrate our expertise at anything else other than writing and entertainment. This is not to say we are not experts at anything. I just think it is wrong to document a technical manual on your area of expertise and label it fiction. I, for instance, am an expert in Fluid Vortices - the sinews and muscles of fluid flow. Yeah… yeah… I know; a genius could make that sound entertaining, but I’m not one.

In trying to comprehend a literary critic’s mind I started studying reviews on books I know have done reasonably well, and some that have bombed. I checked out The Lincoln Lawyer (Lincoln the car, not the president). It's basically about a lawyer who drives around in a Lincoln. I know it is a good book because it has been made into a film and it has hundreds of five-star reviews. But there is always that single “one-star” standing firm and proud in its lonely corner. These are the ones that interest me; what did this guy see that five-hundred others missed? So I click on it and it turns out that this person’s only gripe is that there is a scene in the book where a prosecutor is clearly leading the witness and the defence lawyer fails to raise an objection. I decide there and then that I do not want to understand the critics anymore - we shall live side by side but we will never get along, we shall always need each other but we will never be friends. A man whose background is in journalism combines two alien subjects, the Motor Vehicle and the American Justice System, manages to get most of it right, and you discredit all his efforts for this small moment of oversight? Come on, man… dock him a point, or two if you’ve been a recent victim of sloppy legal defence. But don’t take away everything.

Fiction is the cover that protects us when we are not prepared to stand in a court of law and defend why we said roses are green, or that Jesus married Mary Magdalene (mum, if you are reading this, Dan Brown said that, not me). It feeds our imagination and engages our brains in a different way to say, TV documentaries. It can make us laugh or cry or curse but when the curtain falls we all go back into the real world. And you, Mr. Critic, would be surprised at how many of us are wise enough to know the difference.

For more about my projects visit

Sunday, 10 April 2011



With a title as outrageous as this I think I should first start with a disclaimer. I’m in my twenties. I’m an engineer who writes fiction in his spare time. And, as yet, I have not one published book to my name. So if you are looking for an expert opinion from a publishing veteran, this is your opportunity to walk away.

Now, I hear you asking, what qualifies me to make such preposterous claims? I was a writer before I was an engineer and I will always be writer. I went into engineering because once every month, when they can get time off their busy schedules, my mum hosts a get-together for like minded women where all they ever do is tell stories. I didn’t want my mother to have to explain to her friends that her eldest son wants to tell stories for a living. So I went on to do a real degree, and continued to pursue my love for writing through some part-time work for local magazines. In my bit time roles as a journalist, I’ve always found myself tailoring my projects, whenever I can, to allow me to rub shoulders with players in the publishing industry. More importantly, I have recently had the chance to be involved in a groundbreaking publishing programme called BWA which some British readers will be aware of. This programme has put together a group of 15 very talented writers, who for some reason have not achieved the holy grail of traditional publication, and promised to get them there before the end of this year.

As a journalist I can’t help looking at this project from the outside, and it fascinates me. You probe deep enough and you realise that all these writers, just like you, know the truth about why they haven’t been published. We’ve all dealt with agents’ criticisms, attended publishing clinics and conferences, read writing magazines and blogs, studied the Amazon and New York Times bestsellers lists… the answers are right there staring at us.

You are more likely to get published if you write a non-fiction book that tells people how to do something and I can not bemoan this. People need to know how to do stuff. Even if they’ve been doing the same thing since they were born, it is nice to have a text on the table that puts formality to their craft. So where does that leave fiction writers? Well, it is not all doom and gloom if you can include some vampires and wizards in your work of fiction. If you really can’t do this then at least try and cut out some of the profanities from the serial axe murderer in your thriller and give him a sweet name like Josh, so you can stick a YA badge on the cover. That might give you a fighting chance. This is what publishers want at this moment in time. And they have good reasons; they have secret charts in their drawers that tell them what the market is saying from the comfort of their leather swivel recliners.

Most of us know all this. We just can’t bear the thought of going back to the beginning after years of polishing our literary epics. But why not? After all, it is a lot easier starting a book with the promise of publication. And we don’t always need to make stuff up; everyone knows something about something out there that would interest a publisher. We can all knock up a self-help manual of some sort. For instance, my brother keeps pigeons (a bit unusual for a young black man but we’ll save that discussion for another day), so I know a bit about pigeons. I could write a beginners’ guide to keeping pigeons, racing pigeons, racing pigeons without harming them, or killing pigeons (you can’t go wrong with controversy). Some publisher out there would be interested in this kind of niche subject.

So why the hell I’m I still writing political thrillers? Well, for me, this is why: getting my book about pigeons published and seeing it on the high-street bookshelves would no doubt give me a sense of satisfaction, but this feeling would last no more than a couple of weeks. If the book does really well and they ask me to do a follow-up, I’d pop champagne and celebrate. Somewhere along the line, I might even become a genuine expert on pigeons. But deep down, I would always know that I’m slowly driving myself to depression. Because I really am not that passionate about pigeons.

Success is when you wake up every morning to do something you are passionate about. Whether this brings you money or status or publication is a bonus.

Well done to those of you who have stuck to your guns. You might well be the last soldiers left fighting your corner. And this, in itself, is a great achievement. Success will find you.

For more about me and my projects visit