My Anonymous Postman Reveals Adventures I Never Would Have Imagined…

“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”

H. G. Wells

My regular postman has always been friendly. He’s cheerful and affable, even when he is being buffeted or soaked by inclement British weather. He must have a mountain of mail and parcels to deliver, but he never seems hurried and is usually chatty.

In a world where we may see certain people on a daily basis and yet know little about them, we grow a certain familiarity, albeit a superficial one; so it’s refreshing when a deeper connection takes place.

Talking isn’t a big part of the job, especially as Royal Mail are (not surprisingly), more concerned with productivity than my ‘friendly neighbourhood postman’.

120 Year old post box. Image by Grooveland on Unsplash

I don’t know my postman’s real name – and he prefers to keep it that way after divulging some very personal information about himself the other day. He seemed to want to talk more than usual; we were having a conversation about a trip he had taken to Argentina to see his girlfriend at the time.

Before I continue, it’s only fair to warn you that this post contains some harrowing stories, read on at your own discretion.

He explained that he had gone out for a run and had accidentally crossed onto the rural land of a neighbour. He knew he was in trouble when armed guards apprehended him and hauled him up in front of the owner. Humble and apologetic, he explained that he was staying next door as a guest of his neighbour, and did not intend to trespass. The tension gradually eased and all was eventually forgiven as the suspicion evaporated.

He was still conscious that men were brandishing AK47s and joked to me that he wondered if he would have to suddenly revive ‘special skills’ that he hadn’t needed to use in a long while. However, the property owner offered him a job as a body guard, which he turned down.

By this point I had a strong inkling that my postman wasn’t your average guy…

He then slipped in that he wasn’t popular in Argentina. I frowned; this seemed an odd and decidedly provocative thing to say. When I queried why this might be so, he hesitated for a split second, and coolly informed me that he had previously been on a clandestine mission there, as part of a military team sent to apprehend a child sex trafficker.

My jaw must have dropped.

Maybe he trusted me, (I like to think I am a good listener), and he went on to reveal things I never would have guessed about him.

One thing I had always been curious about (but was too polite to ask), was why he was missing his top two middle teeth. He is quite muscular, although not overly tall, and in otherwise apparent good health. It is an unusual thing to see in a fit man, especially as the rest of his teeth seemed fine.

Well, now I know why.

Without asking him he told me that during his time in the army he was deployed to Iraq after the initial invasion, and spent time in enemy territory. He was captured and subsequently tortured. Although recruits are given resistance to interrogation training he admitted it wasn’t sufficient to prepare him for the real thing.

As he relayed the inevitable torture that followed, it seemed somewhat surreal. His teeth were forcibly removed.

His nails were pulled out and other excruciating things done to him which I didn’t dare ask about. He was rescued, he thinks, by Special Forces. It sounds like he is lucky to be alive. Some of his friends and colleagues weren’t so fortunate.

A conversation with a friend back at base shortly after being rescued resulted in his nickname that he adopted as his military handle: Jericho.

His speciality in the British army was as a sharpshooter. He said it required nerves of steel and an alert state over long periods of time. Sometimes they were given drugs to help them stay awake during critical missions.

Note to self: must remain on good terms with my postman!

“No soldier ever really survives a war.”

Audie Murphy

He told of another day when his convoy was hit by IEDs. Some vehicles were on fire, and he had to drag one of his friends, burning and screaming from a badly damaged vehicle, sadly unable to save his life.

What must that kind of horror do to a person?

In short, it causes trauma. Survivors guilt. These life and death situations are extreme experiences, and the army needs to do more to help soldiers adjust to civilian life.

I was appalled by what he was telling me, but he seemed to have reached a level of detachment about it. He admitted that he had suffered with PTSD after being discharged from the army.

Another difficult thing for him to deal with was the fact that the Iraqi army would shoot civilians that spoke to them or demonstrated any kind of co-operation. They would be lined up and executed in cold blood. His unit were told not to interfere, something a normal person would naturally find abhorrent and shocking. He hinted that he felt torn following orders at certain times, especially when he considered them to be wrong. I got the distinct impression that his conscience was the cause of insubordination at times.

Actively letting atrocities happen is surely as morally reprehensible as participating in them. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

Howard Zinn

He must have seen and done things no person could ever forget, let alone attempt to process in order to lead a normal life.

He told me that working on a farm after he was discharged helped him to adjust to civilian life. He regularly woke up screaming. He would feel angry, on edge and ready for combat at the drop of a hat. He found that meditation helped him to feel calmer and recover mentally.

Ernest Hemingway became a literary icon through the creative expression of his wartime experiences. Writing can enable healing and catharsis.

Jericho (as I refer to him now), also got involved in boxing for a while, but gave it up to protect his wrists and hands so he could continue to play the guitar injury free. He likes to do open-mic sessions and also writes songs.

Before too long he was back in the mission saddle (aka conflict hotspot), this time working for various PMCs (private military contractors).

He would tell me about parachuting into a scenario in the dead of night, which funnily enough he said didn’t scare him as much as climbing up a ladder!

Over a number of years he was deployed on missions in 78 countries, including the Middle East, Russia, various African nations, South America and so forth.

Some of the smaller, less established PMCs had questionable clients, and he told of being on jobs where he would come up against other mercenaries in the role of body guards that he knew from his time at another PMC. He also worked for an international contractor where different nationalities worked together. He has some American friends.

I felt honoured that he was telling me such personal things about his life – but, if I’m honest – also a little disturbed.

He also spoke of a helicopter landing in the park near his house one night as an old employer had sent men to ask him about breaking into a certain facility he had experience of. It seemed a tad creepy. I asked how he could remember such detail, but he insisted he could recall the mission and was able to help them.

There are clearly major drawbacks to his previous line of work, but I asked if being in the military had helped him to develop self-discipline, and he agreed it most definitely had. He would rise at 5 am to work-out before the day started, and felt himself to be a highly independent and resilient person.

Image by Sana Ullah on Unsplash

Jericho’s was the sort of background that is often used in action movies, although it did not sound glamorous, as such activities can sometimes be portrayed on screen. But still, it is far removed from the mundane act of delivering mail!

Being a postman is a million miles away from the adrenaline fuelled excitement and danger of his former career, and I think that’s just how he likes it at this stage of his life. He also talked about his family and other everyday minutiae.

I liked him anyway, before I knew more about him, but I have a new found respect for Jericho. He has had to adjust through the kind of intense lifestyle and experiences that most of us could not comprehend. It may have been his choice to go down that path, but none of us ever really know where a path we choose to walk will ultimately lead. He is an interesting person, and gave me permission to write about him without using his real name, thus ensuring anonymity.

I’m thinking of loosely basing a character on him!

It reminded me that everyone has a story in them, that appearances and career choices are not accurate barometers of someone’s character or past. You never know what someone has been through, or about their early upbringing.

It was a lesson that compassion and kindness is a balm to ease suffering and make someone’s day a bit brighter.

Listening to Jericho elicited thoughts about my paternal grandfather, Jonathan Patrick Haley, who everyone called Jack. I vaguely remember as a child the rare occasions when my grandfather would talk about his time in the RAAF, (Royal Australian Airforce) flying spitfires in Burma during World War Two.

My grandad is sitting on top of the fuselage, second from right. Tall, skinny, handsome with dark hair! Sadly many of the men pictured did not return home. It’s good to see my grandad in his prime, even if it is from an old, grainy black and white photo. I only remember him with a bald patch and white receding hair.

There was only so much he would share about his time as a reconnaissance pilot. My grandmother told me that his doctor thought he was too weak and malnourished to make it beyond six months after he returned home to life in Australia, but thankfully she nursed him back to health.

When my dad was young the Haley family emigrated to the UK. He was a tall, active, no-nonsense man, with a soft spot for his grandchildren. I was very close to him in my early childhood when we lived near them. My dad has his medals, including a Burma Star.

I looked up to my grandfather; he was a source of inspiration, confidence and comfort to me in my early childhood.

Jericho’s personal history is invisible beneath his red polo shirt uniform; only a cheerful, gappy smile hints at his previous life. People have hidden depths, and it can be revelatory exploring them, not least to gain a greater understanding of others and ourselves.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you take the time to get to know someone. Active listening is compassion in action. Heaven knows the world needs as much compassion as it can get right now.

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

Epictetus

A Pragmatic and Powerful Parable to Guide Your Life…

“These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them.” ~ Rumi

I had several subjects lined up for this blog post, but changed my mind at the last minute. I had an accident on Friday and have badly injured my tailbone. Ouch!

Having given birth to four children, I can honestly say the pain of that fall came close! I can’t sit for long periods of time at the moment and have spent the last few days mostly lying on my side feeling sorry for myself, interspersed with copious icing sessions with frozen peas and popping pain killers.

I spent most of April recovering from Covid-19, and the next two months dealing with an inner ear infection and vertigo. It certainly gives you some strange and disconcerting sensations. Various renovations to the house and garden are ongoing, and before I knew it I was pushing myself to the limit again. I should have listened to my body…

There’s nothing like physical pain to facilitate the transition from a human doing to a human being. 

The really intense pain is less pervasive now, but I will be on a go slow for weeks. I can only write for short bursts using a special cushion to help alleviate the coccydynia.  When we don’t heed messages from the universe they become more and more obvious until they can no longer be ignored! Now I have been forced to scale back and rest more.

The kids were moping as it looks like a four hour drive to Cornwall for our holiday might not be the best idea next weekend. I may have to grin and bear it, as it will be my last family holiday with my younger son for a while; he is planning to live and work in Berlin for a year, commencing mid August. In fact, I think he timed his departure with A-Level results day!

I was at a low ebb when I read this Persian parable. With many ongoing challenges in 2020, on a personal level as well as nationally and globally, it feels like a timely message to share.

The Persian Parable

Once upon a time there was a king who told the wise men of the court: “I’m making a beautiful ring. I have acquired one of the best possible diamonds. I want to keep hidden inside the ring some message that can help me in moments of total despair, and help my heirs, and the heirs of my heirs, forever. It has to be a small message, so that it can fit under the diamond on the ring.”

All who listened were wise, great scholars; they could have written great treaties, but providing the king with a message of no more than two or three words that could help him in moments of total despair…

They thought, searched through their books, but couldn’t find anything.

The king had an elderly servant who had also been a servant of his father. The king’s mother died young and this servant took care of him, so he treated him as if he belonged to the family.

Learned Advice by Ludwig Deutsch

The king felt an immense respect for the old man, so he also consulted him. And the servant said: “I am not a wise man, nor a scholar, nor an academic, but I know the message. During my long life in the palace, I met all kinds of people, and once I met a mystic. He was your father’s guest and I was at his service.

“When he left, as a gesture of gratitude, he gave me this message.” The old man wrote it on a tiny piece of paper, folded it and gave it to the king. “But do not read it,” he said. “Keep it hidden in the ring. Open it only when everything else has failed, when you can’t find a way out of a situation.”

That moment didn’t take long to arrive. The country was invaded and the king lost the kingdom. He was fleeing on his horse to save his life and his enemies were chasing him. He was alone and his pursuers were numerous. He arrived at a place where the road ended where there was no exit: in front there was a precipice and a deep valley; to fall would be the end for him. And he couldn’t go back because the enemy was blocking his way. He could hear the horses approaching. He couldn’t move forwards and there was no other way out…

Suddenly, he remembered the ring. He opened it, took out the paper and there he found a tremendously valuable little message. It simply said: “This too shall pass”.

As he read “This too shall pass”, he felt a great silence descend. The enemies that were pursuing him must have got lost in the forest, or they must have gone the wrong way. All the king knew was that little by little he stopped hearing the sound of the horses’ hooves.

The king felt profoundly grateful to the servant and the unknown mystic. Those words had proved miraculous. He folded the paper, put it back in the ring, gathered his armies and reconquered the kingdom.

And the day he entered the capital again, in victory, there was a great celebration with music and dancing… and he was very proud of himself.

A Procession by Ludwig Deutsch

The old man was by his side in the coach, and he said: “This moment is also appropriate: look at the message again.”

“What do you mean?” the king asked. “Now I’m victorious, the people celebrate my return. I’m not desperate, I’m not in a no-way-out situation.”

“Listen,” said the old man, “this message isn’t only for desperate situations; it’s also for pleasant situations. It’s not only for when you are defeated; it’s also for when you feel victorious. It’s not only for when you are the last; it’s also for when you are the first.”

The king opened the ring and read the message: “This too shall pass”.

And again, he felt the same peace, the same silence, in the midst of the crowd that celebrated and danced. However, the pride, the ego, had disappeared. The king could finally understand the full meaning of the message. He had become enlightened.

Then the old man said to him: “Remember that everything passes. No thing or emotion is permanent. Like day and night, there are moments of joy and moments of sadness. Accept them as part of the duality of nature, because they are the very nature of things.”

This ancient parable, thought to originate with the Sufi poets, is probably the most important fable one could ever read and employ in life. Somehow it helps to dissolve worries and woes, and keeps you grounded; offering the succour of equanimity and acceptance in all situations.

When I look back on my life so far, and how awful some segments of it were, I remember feeling that those tough periods would never end when I was in them, but now, with hindsight I realise I grew stronger as a result of the struggle and pain, and they didn’t last forever.

This too shall pass reminds us of the ephemeral quality of emotions and the human condition, the transient nature of life.

The parable brought to mind the vibrant and totally captivating paintings of the Orientalist artists for me.

The Najd Collection would have been a wonderful exhibition to see:

I can’t help thinking there is so much in the world that needs to pass already, but events unfold at their own pace and this erudite parable confers wisdom and peace for all who are in the thick of it.

If we can make the most of each moment, whatever that brings, we may find we can take stock one day and fully appreciate a life well lived, shaped by profound experiences.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” ~ Rumi

The Significance and Value of Stories to Human Survival

“Every man’s life is a fairy tale written by God’s fingers.” ~ Hans Christian Andersen

Calliope bestowed me with a mother lode on Sunday morning. My circuits were almost on overload; frantically trying to record the flood of questions and stream of consciousness that I could not have stemmed even if I wanted to. A rare occurrence!

My hand scribbled as if on auto-pilot, struggling to keep up with the incoming thoughts, jumbled as they were, one leading to another in a febrile firing of unstoppable synapses.

Maybe it was the artistry of the prose of the book I was reading, or the fact that both my daughters were away at the time, and the ensuing solitude and relief from the tumult of the last few weeks that allowed my muse to be heard. Maybe it was a combination of all of it. I’m not complaining!

Now comes the hard part, placing them into a cohesive structure that makes sense, but also captivates, much like a story…

My muse wanted to talk about stories. I know I have shared posts on this subject before, but if you’ll indulge me I’ll try and come at it from a fresh angle, so that any repetition can be forgiven.

A Reading from Homer by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

It’s such a profound subject I don’t think I could ever tire of it, but you my dear reader are entitled to feel differently!

What is a story?

There are many definitions for a collection of words that we deem to be a story. A body of words, strung together with a certain arrangement and architecture, style and voice; sometimes poetical in nature, perhaps enchanting, beguiling, suspenseful, mysterious, erotic, brutal or shocking. We are held rapt under their spell, either in awe or disgust, joy or sorrow, and every emotion in between – a voluntary prisoner to their unfolding.

These ordered black marks on the page evoke pictures in our minds, each word itself perhaps unremarkable, yet together, they are a collection of something magical: a work of art. Stories are the rich imaginal tapestry upon which consciousness records itself.

Why do stories matter?

Stories are greater than the sum of their literary parts – for their effect is transformational. The transformation can be emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual.

I dream of writing a book that will suck someone in and spit them out at the end forever altered. That, for me, is a worthwhile endeavour and contribution.

Stories are nebulous in nature because they come from nothing but an electrical spark. That spark, which is a memory or a thought, enables further sparks, which in combination coalesce into a form of expression through the lens and hand of a creator – a human being.

The Novel Reader by Vincent van Gogh c. 1888

The same could be said of music and art, of all creative, artistic endeavour.

Maybe stories and art hold such fascination and appeal because as human beings we are bound by flesh and blood, contained by our physical borders, but our imagination knows no such limits. There are no frontiers closed off to our imagination.  Einstein grasped this concept when he asserted that imagination is more important than intelligence. Travel in the imagination is instantaneous and immersive.

Once notated onto paper or screen, outside the cranial cavity of the author, stories and characters can take on a life of their own.

The likes of Sir Lancelot, Guinevere, King Arthur, Merlin, Hamlet, Robin Hood, Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, Ebenezer Scrooge, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O’Hara, Alice in Wonderland, The Great Gatsby, James Bond and Harry Potter to name just a few, have become stalwarts of our culture.

Strand magazine Vol iv.1892. Page page 646. illustration The Adventure of the Silver Blaze by Sidney Paget.

A story is an escape rooted in reality that can come into existence and stay with us (in one form or another), through millennia and centuries. Stories, both real (historical) and fictional can leave an enduring legacy.

Stories beget and shape whole religions and belief systems, (Adam and Eve squarely put the blame for everything on women), with numerous epic tales that have been told over the ages; stories which are so deeply rooted and embedded in our collective unconscious that their effects will always be felt on some level.

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Tales and poems told by bards, philosophers, sages, scribes, scholars and age-old greats like Hesiod, Homer, Ovid and Herodotus.

The ancient Greeks left their mark on western culture with their vivid descriptions of how the world was created, of Titans and mythological gods and goddesses, usually behaving badly and abusing their power in the course of their wondrous deeds. Despite their very great strength and ability their flaws and foibles are all too human…

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel:

If anything the stakes are higher now that humans possess nuclear warheads, biological weapons and the means to destroy entire ecosystems (and potentially all life on earth including our own), as a result of our aggregated economic activities, buying habits and behaviour.

Whether great tomes or tales of brevity, such immortal stories act as bridges to other worlds; ones that we usually cross willingly, if sometimes with a tinge of trepidation, nonetheless determined to reach the other shore.

The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg

Stories capture our yearning for adventure, our quest for discovery, and our innate curiosity. But most of all they fulfil perhaps the greatest of human needs: love and connection. That sense of connection gives meaning to our own experiences.

As the Oxford University professor, Jack (aka renowned author, C.S. Lewis) in Richard Attenborough’s moving film Shadowlands, when asking his writing students, “Why do we read?” is given his favourite eloquent answer: “so that we know we are not alone.”

This clip comes at the end of the film. I can feel myself welling up just from these brief minutes.

Stories are to humans as life is to death: there cannot be one without the other. When we read, (either fact or fiction) we deliberately enter a temporary hallucination, a vacuum in space and time where we can live vicariously through the reveries of the writer.

A story, then, could be classified as a chimera of the soul; a fundamental system on which to create an experiential palette, an understanding of life. Stories are the nearest thing we have to a map of the soul’s journey.

Maybe that is the purpose of a soul incarnated into physical form – to make it all up as it goes along. Charting a physical path to know itself as a divine being, free to make choices and live by the consequences of those choices. Free to create varying experiences and help other souls do the same.  As such, we all participate to a lesser or larger degree in each other’s stories.

A skilfully crafted story can reawaken dormant ideas, hopes, dreams, and memories,  show us what is possible no matter how absurd or fantastical it may seem.

The wisdom of the Native American culture is perfectly illustrated in this timeless folktale.

A Cherokee elder is sitting around a bonfire with his grandchild, teaching him the lessons of life:

“There is a battle going on inside me,” he says to the child. “It is a constant fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf is filled with anger, envy, jealousy, fear, regret, shame, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other wolf is filled with humility, gratitude, acceptance, patience, joy, peace, love, hope, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.”

He leans in close to his grandchild and whispers: “The same fight is going on inside you, my sweet boy – and inside every other person too.”

The child grows silent, thinking about the profound nature of this lesson, and then asks, “So Grandfather…which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee smiles a knowing look and replies, “The one you feed.”

A story can open up new perspectives, capture a mood, a zeitgeist, or an intimate interaction, exposing a kernel of truth and transforming it into something truly iconic; something that inhabits the consciousness of generations that follow and lasts long after the author has passed.

Since time immemorial humans have been telling tales. They have evolved with us, from the simple to the complex, cautionary and heroic, enabling shared values and co-operation between peoples on a massive scale.

No matter the content, a really good story will challenge and change the reader in some way. That transition can be subtle or life-changing, and can even help shape opinion, as did Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Archetypes

There’s a reason we tell fairy tales to children – it’s a simple and effective way of getting to grips with our species’ archetypal energies. Kids can learn lessons by way of other people’s wisdom. The Grimm brothers certainly didn’t sugar coat their stories.

Girl reading a book by James Charles

But these archetypes don’t just live in fairy tales and folklore, they are more nuanced in adult fiction, but we can still recognise them:

  • The Fool/Jester – Henry VIII’s court jester was the only person that could say anything to the monarch without having his head decapitated. Jack and the Beanstalk is a tale about an honest fool overcoming the odds. In fiction there are some great examples in Shakespeare and their modern equivalents.

    Norse trickster god Loki, from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript.

  • The Fairy – These magical creatures take many forms. Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell is an enduring favourite, but not all fairies are well intentioned and some are downright meddlesome. There have been times in my life when I wanted so badly to have a benevolent fairy godmother!

    Dancing Fairies from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Sir Arthur Rackham

  • The Witch/Crone/Wicked Stepmother – These characters can be beautiful on the surface, but ugly on the inside, being capricious and cruel in the extreme. Snow White’s evil mother gets her punishment, as they usually eventually do.
  • Prince Charming – usually involved in some type of daring rescue, he can kiss life back into heroines, but now and then his looks are more chiselled than his courage.
  • The King – The egotistical King Lear and rapacious King Midas with his golden touch are perhaps the most tragic of monarchs.

    The Judement of Midas by Abraham Janssens

  • Princess/Damsel in Distress – We’ve all felt the intense pangs of love that beset Romeo and Juliet, or the feeling of being trapped, just like Rapunzel.
  • Pauper/Peasant – Mark Twain’s wonderful historical novel, The Prince and the Pauper explores the theme of mercy, clearly inspired by one of Shakespeare’s finest speeches: the quality of mercy is not strained.
  • Orphan – Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre are characters who wear their troubles on their sleeves. Their emotional wounds and difficult lives make them relatable. They show us that a bad start in life doesn’t have to seal a person’s fate, but can provide the crucible for positive change.
  • Greek Mythology – This subject alone is forming the basis of a new talk I will be giving to The Women’s Institute. I found Stephen Fry’s book, Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold absolutely entrancing.

    Aphrodite’s rock/birthplace in Paphos, Cyprus

Archetypes rather than stereotypes allow us to put flesh on memorable character’s bones. Characters are therefore the same but different, as their attributes cling to a central support – the archetype.

A fascinating introduction to Jungian Archetypes:

The same goes for the structure of the story – how the plot unfolds. Films and novels tend to use the three act structure, but whichever format or formula a writer uses, the best ones allow for freedom of creative flow and don’t stifle the story.

Just as humans all have a skeleton that consists of the same bones in the same order, on the exterior we all look and sound different, and behave according to our own values, beliefs and experiences. This is also the case with a story, as the author layers its unique ‘features’ on top.

The elements of a story – the characters, the plot, the landscape/setting and era are woven together in a way that speaks to us collectively and as individuals. They bring the unconscious into consciousness – buried pain, lost loves, past trauma, moral dilemmas and personal victories shift into the here and now, to be indirectly relived and integrated.

The hero’s journey is the protagonist’s journey as experienced by a reader. The soul has to be breached to be opened, and wounds do the breaching. The deeper the wound the richer the story will be, and the greater the journey and more satisfying the transformation.

“You’re never going to kill storytelling, because it’s built in the human plan. We come with it.” ~ Margaret Atwood

There are many theories about what makes a good story – being a highly subjective art form.

First edition of Peter Rabbit from 1902

The antithesis of a good story is boredom and ambivalence. Connection to characters and emotion balanced with action is surely its beating heart. It’s a tough task to both surprise a reader and give them what they want at the same time!

Human neurobiology has evolved around the eternal clock face of time with stories, but it is the soul that craves them.

Some acrostic thoughts on the properties of stories:

Seductive sparks firing,

Tales of inner journeys and outer travels

Of other

Realms and realities,

Illusory, ingrained, immortal

Essence and expression of human condition

Sharing seminal ideas

We can each feel something similar or different about a story according to our own subjective perceptions, background and imagination. Some stories devour me and become part of my DNA.

It is perhaps the greatest of compliments to be called a storyteller, a teller of tales, a spinner of yarns. Sharing one’s sparks is a challenging and courageous undertaking. I’m grateful for all the writers (in the present and past), who have changed my life.

Fiction writers don’t know what will happen in their own lives, but on paper at least, they can be masters of other people’s fates!

I am looking forward to hearing my first published novel, The Virtuoso being narrated for audio book format early next year.

I have just finished reading a biography that has gripped me from the start, a story of life and death that is so compelling I can’t stop thinking about it. Placing myself in that person’s shoes has filled me with awe and inspiration. Needless to say I will be sharing a post on it in the near future.

The stories we tell ourselves and others have the power to shape our destiny on a personal level and also as a species. The world needs storytellers (of all genres) who can contribute to humanity’s conscious evolution now more than ever…

I feel I should end this post with a beginning – and what a beginning it is. Probably the best (and longest) opening line in fiction that was ever written, and for me embodies more than just the title of the book it starts. To me it conveys the wisdom, folly and contradictions of human nature – it is nothing less than visionary!

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
~ Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)