A Lesson from Crete

I was halfway through my lunch when the beetle arrived.

At least I think it was a beetle. The length of my palm and the width of two fingers, black and shiny and so very loud as it hovered behind me on tiny wings. 


(Some context: I was recently on holiday in Crete. We landed into the chaos of Chania airport late at night, and had a stomach-churning drive across winding, mountainous roads to Rethymno. The locals drove recklessly, overtaking on single lanes, speeding into the night as our car clung to the hard shoulder.

Within a few sun-kissed days I realised everyone was warm and welcoming. Their hosting prowess extended to food: at our first restaurant we were stuffed after the starters. As it turns out, you get free desserts in most places. And raki. Amazing.)

Back to the winged monstrosity…

We’d stopped at a taverna overlooking Lake Kournas for lunch. It was a hot day – as it had been every day of our holiday – the sheen of sweat coating my skin like a personal wetsuit. The occasional hot gusts of breeze provided little relief.


The view of Lake Kournas from the taverna, Crete

We’d ordered the usual starters, and grilled lamb and moussaka as mains.

Then the beetle arrived.

I shrieked, hunched my shoulders, leaning as far away as I could without actually leaving my chair. A lone middle-aged Greek man at a table nearby chuckled into his beer as the waitress scurried over. 

When she saw the gigantic insect that was definitely about to land on me, she laughed.

“Just a beetle,” she said reassuringly.

“Just?!” I spluttered.

“A special beetle,” she added. “See its tiny wings? How can such a big beetle fly with such small wings?”

It veered closer and I flinched. The waitress gently wafted a menu at the beetle, and it finally droned off. I slowly straightened, alert for the next attack.

“Do you know the answer?” she prompted. When I shook my head, she beamed. “It can fly because it doesn’t know it’s big.”

I forced a smile to hide my confusion, and caught the Greek man nodding at me wisely.

As I picked through the rest of my lamb, I turned her sentence over and over in my head, struggling to make sense of it.

But now that I’ve been thinking about the expectation barrier, I understand.

The beetle flies because it thinks it can fly. It doesn’t stop to worry about its grotesque body size or simple matters like physics. It doesn’t worry about failing. It just flies.

And me?

Lately I’ve been so worried about failing, that I haven’t even tried to write. But who cares if I have tiny wings, and may never attain the heights of Philip Pullman? I need to put that out of my mind, and just write.

What Should I Post On My Blog?

Cassie’s recent vlog about showing more of her true self has got me thinking.

I’ve long debated what to post on this blog.

When I shut down quillsandzebras, I wondered whether to transfer my book reviews over. I didn’t because some of my reviews are negative; an author (politely) bashing other authors’ work wasn’t the image I wanted to portray.

I’ve wondered whether to post about food and recipes (I’m a huge foodie). But I haven’t, because I figured it was irrelevant and it might dilute my brand.

The point is that I’m constantly worrying about what’s right to post on an author’s website.

There’s so much conflicting advice. Some say every single post should tie back to writing or reading (without tooting your own horn). Others say you should write about everything BUT writing, to give people a sense of who you are. Other others say it depends on your genre.

I opted for the simplest approach: write the content I read.

I read a lot of writing advice, which is why I often ramble about writing here. But Cassie’s post made me suddenly think: is that what YOU want to read from me?

I struggle to name the blogs whose writing advice I’ve read. I Google search and skip through sites, sifting for content. I build no personal connection with the author of that advice.

The blogs I can name off the top of my head — Cassie, Meryl Stenhouse, John Wiswell — are the ones to which I feel a personal connection. I like the people behind them. Wouldn’t I rather people feel that for me?

The issue is that I’m by nature a private person, and that, as much as I like reading about other people’s lives, it feels self-indulgent to witter on about my own.

Perhaps I’m merely having a pre-lunch existential crisis.

What do you reckon?

The Future Of Society

I’ve been binge-reading the Divergent trilogy.

This YA science fiction series has been on my to-do list for a while, and finally, last week, I found time to devour the first two books (no book 3 spoilers, please!).

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how social structure is depicted in science fiction.

Today’s social inequalities aside, the consensus seems to be that — in the future — society will be divided. But how remains up for debate.

Will stratification be:

  • Socioeconomic
    Upper class, middle class and lower class — where money and standing makes the difference. In Above Ground, the richest humans live deeper underground, the poor live closer to danger.

  • Geographic
    Think Hunger Games: your lot is determined by which District you’re born into. Those born in The Capitol never have to take part in the games; those born in Districts 10-12 are bound to be poor.

  • Emotional
    In Divergent, sixteen-year-olds must decide what social group to join based on their strongest personality trait (bravery, selflessness, truthfulness, etc). Exhibiting more than one trait is a no-no.

  • Racial
    Whether this is black vs white, or human vs inhuman. (I’m sure there are examples of this, but I’m drawing a blank! Help?)

  • Gender
    Matriarchal or patriarchal societies as in The Handmaid’s Tale, or more extreme cases like Halfway Human, in which gender is assigned by the government, and the ungendered are slaves.

Needless to say, fiction is drawn towards social stratification. A divided society quickly introduces large-scale conflict into a novel — and conflict is a fundamental element for any story.

But reading science fiction does make me wonder: what will society be like in the future? And how would stratification work in a digital world?

Let me know your predictions (or sci-fi recommendations).

A Riddle For March: Pink, White, or Blue?

HatsA Blue always answers a question truthfully; a White always lies; a Pink, answering two or more questions, tells the truth and lies alternately; his first answer, however, may be either truthful or otherwise.

A visitor to the islands approached a group of three natives, whose names were Mr. Pink, Mr. White, and Mr. Blue. One was known to be a Pink, one a White, one a Blue.

Taking Mr. Pink aside, the visitor put some questions to him.

“Mr. Pink,” he said, “are you the Pink, the White, or the Blue?”

“I am the Pink, sir.”

“And Mr. White?”

“He is the White.”

“So Mr. Blue is the Blue?”


Is Mr. Blue the Blue? If not, what is he?

Resolutions For 2013

New Year’s Day.

I’m feeling pretty rough.

It’s hardly the best day to have to travel back to London on a crowded train, but I don’t have much choice – I’m back at work tomorrow.

So. I better start the new year properly.

A few days ago I reviewed my accomplishments for 2012… and now it’s time to think about the future.

What do I want to accomplish in 2013?

It’s easier to start with what I DON’T want to accomplish.

I’m NOT going to set any reading goals, because reading distracts from my writing. (Besides, that time I read 120 books in a year? I had no social life.)

I’m NOT going to set any blogging targets, even though I would like to update this blog more regularly. Every year I resolve to update more often, and every year I fail. Clearly this tactic isn’t working.

So what AM I going to do?

Resolutions For 2013

  1. Write one book to completion.
    If I tell myself to finish a particular book, I won’t. My brain is silly like that. So I’m keeping the goal general enough to make sure I at least write something.

  2. Participate in a short story anthology.
    Last year I appeared in Best of Fridayflash: Volume 2. The year before in Tales for Canterbury. And the year before THAT I was in 12 Days 2010. I’d like to keep up this tradition, so if you’re organising an anthology get in touch!

  3. Find balance.
    Last year I fell off the tweeting/blogging wagon, my writing output was fairly consistent but too slow. Rather than set impossible individual targets, I want to organise myself to make time for writing, online stuff, my day job and a social life.

Yes, that’s it.

Ultimately all I want to achieve in 2013 is to fairly accomodate everything, without feeling like I’ve let something slip. I’m a Libran, after all. We like balance.

What about you? What are your resolutions?