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Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban

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This blog runs on anger. I wake up angry every day. Angry about the smoking ban. It's an anger that never goes away. Over my first mug of tea, I'm newly shocked every morning at the sheer vileness of the ban, and I'm already beginning to mutter to myself.

"The bastards. The filthy bastards."

Anger is something rather new in my life. I've met angry people before, and wondered what was eating them. Now that I've become an angry man myself, I have a much better idea.

I don't like anger, but I think it's better than despair. And I think that people do despair in the face of this ban, as it crushes them, crushes their lives, crushes their society, crushes their world. And people can be consumed by despair, and spiral downward into depression. And I imagine that a lot of people have done so over the past few years.

Not me, though. Occasionally I feel a bit down. But mostly what I feel is a slow, simmering anger. The anger is a kind of fire. Despair and depression would correspond with the fire going out, the cigarette being finally stubbed out, and me giving up smoking. Or just Giving Up. It's no accident that people talk about 'giving up smoking'. Take away the 'smoking' and anyone who's talking about 'giving up smoking' is really talking about 'giving up'. Surrendering. Coming out of their slit trench with their arms raised, and throwing their weapons to the ground. An ex-smoker, forced to give up smoking, is like a defeated soldier who has surrendered to superior forces. And perhaps if anyone wants to explore the psychology of such ex-smokers, that would be a good start point.

But if one danger with any fire is that it will go out, the opposite danger is that it will get bigger and bigger, and hotter and hotter, and consume everything in a firestorm that stretches from horizon to horizon. Some days I've been so consumed with anger that I've just sat shaking with rage all day. And when I'm angry my heart pounds and my head buzzes and I can feel the blood pumping through my veins, to the point where I can easily imagine that I'll burst a blood vessel or have a heart attack or something. And when, weeks later, they found my cold body slumped head on keyboard, dead cigarette between my fingers, they'd call it a 'smoking-related death', of course. Except it wouldn't be. It would be an anger-related death. These days I sometimes wonder whether many people who have strokes and heart attacks are people who died enraged. An old man is trying to open a tin, and he can't do it, and he fills up with frustrated rage, and - pop - it's too much for his old, wheezy blood system like a rush of hot water is too much for ancient radiators in a elderly central heating system. If he'd been a serene old man, he might have lived to be 100. But he wasn't. If I was to study strokes and heart attacks, I think that's where I'd start.

In between going out and burning out of control, fire is useful. The little flame on my cigarette lighter is an example of a useful flame. The smouldering tip of my cigarette is another useful fire. The succession of explosions in the cylinders of my car as I drive along in it is another kind of useful fire. The ignition of gunpowder in a pistol cartridge is another. The list of useful fires is endless. Modern civilisation has harnessed all sorts of useful fires. And the antis want to put them all out. Antismokers and anti-global-warming zealots seem to share a single hatred: a hatred of fire.

But controlled anger, like controlled fire, may also be something useful, something creative. What I've been feeling most of the time is useless anger. It's anger which isn't being set to work to do something productive

Anger tends towards violence. I've probably smashed more things over the past couple of years than I have in my entire life. It's useless violence. But it's only been a pallid reflection of all the violence that I've imagined. Violence that has found its expression on these pages, as when I imagined Sir Liam Donaldson being led out into the garden of his house, and hanged from his own apple tree. And this is how we culturally cope with anger - through imagination. Our movies and books are full up with sex and violence, but it's all entirely imaginary. It's impermissible to actually hang Sir Liam Donaldson from his apple tree, but it's not impermissible to imagine doing so. Or not yet. After all, I'm not really quite sure that I actually want to hang him. I might prefer to burn him.

Anger and violence are probably best expressed fictionally, where nobody actually gets hurt. I've asked this question before elsewhere, but which was the most productive George Orwell: the imaginative one who wrote Animal Farm and 1984, or the real one who fired off rifles in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War? Which one is remembered? Which one exerted greatest influence? It's a question that Orwell probably asked himself, but didn't know the answer to. But we know. 60 or 70 years later, we know that it was Orwell the imaginative writer who continues to exert a powerful influence, to the point that we even describe our dystopian world as 'Orwellian'.

So I've been turning over the idea of writing some sort of novel in which my anger finds fictional expression in ways that it cannot licitly do so in actuality. I've begun to construct an imaginary dystopia, much like our own, in which a cast of characters enacts all the things that I've imagined doing, and in which the consequences and morality of it all is explored. It looks like a good way of exploring anger. A plot for the book has begun to form, as well as the cast of characters, and a number of scenes of spectacular violence. And as I write it, I'm thinking of publishing it chapter by chapter on this blog. After all, I figure that no publisher would touch it. It would 'send the wrong message'. Very much so.

It wouldn't replace the blog. It would just get slotted into the blog with all the other posts. And readers could suggest plot developments. Or demand revisions. Would it be set in the present day or the past or the future? Would it be placed in Britain or America or Europe or nowhere? Would it be a romance or a thriller or a comedy? I don't know.

But I've not written fiction before. Or very little. I don't know how to work with a cast of characters. When I first learned to write, not long after I'd learned to read, I started writing a long set of stories about a bunch of animals. I'd first read about them in some children's book, and was so enthralled with them that I was terribly disappointed to get to the end of the book. So I carried on writing further books myself, using the original cast of characters. I wrote about 10 of them. All scrawled in school exercise books. And illustrated. And horrifically violent. The main characters were two cats. One was called Twinkle, and the other one was Captain Jake. It was a bit like Animal Farm with its Snowdrop and Napoleon. And it was dreadful stuff. The fun was had writing it, not reading it.

I have three main characters. Vin and Marta and Steve. The names came to me one day. In the opening scene they are sitting together on by a river, talking and drinking cans of beer and smoking cigarettes in the sun. I can see the scene extraordinarily clearly, as if it was a memory of mine, even though it isn't. But I know almost nothing about them. Who are they? I only know something about what they're going to do. As I examine the scene, I look for clues. From Marta's miniskirt, I can guess that it's set in the present, and that she'd quite young. But it could be anywhere in the world.

How on earth do people write novels? Is this a way to start writing a novel?

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"It would be an anger-related death"

No - surely it would be a "smoking-ban related death"??!

As to the book, I've never written one, but a friend of mine who has written a few once told me that the only way to get started was to "just do it." (Many thanks to Nike!)

I look forward to reading the first instalment ......

Yes, I've been toying with 'Just do it'. But I don't just do it. This blog mostly runs on a just-do-it basis. I never know what I'm going to write. It's never planned. But then the blog doesn't need to hold together in some kind of narrative. Most blogs don't. In fact none do. But a novel has to have a structure, I think.

From Junican.

I understand that novelists generally have the ending in mind before they begin to write. The ending is all important. I believe that to be true. What would be your ending?

That's an interesting thought. The plot I have at the moment is clearer at the beginning than the end. The end is a bit shrouded in mystery. I don't know what happens at the end. Yet.

I'm sure you will have noticed that ex-smokers are often "turned" to become some of the most fanatical and dedicated enemy agents.

That's a good plot element. Thank you. I haven't thought about the enemy much yet. Of course I'll have to have an image of the antismoking enemy. And there'll probably have to be some sort of Mr Big. And his headquarters. And his henchmen. These will all be deeply flawed characters. They'll all be pinchfaced killjoys.

how to


"It's impermissible to actually hang Sir Liam Donaldson from his apple tree, but it's not impermissible to imagine doing so."

As long as you also imagine the tree branch breaking under the intolerable forces thrust upon it.

Write the book. I'm looking forward to your description of Marta's mini skirt. ;-)

Anger & Writing

Oddly enough, I started writing a piece on anger myself the other night. I abandoned it, because I was uncomfortable for some reason with being so open about how angry the entire Bully State can make me.

I did something I've never done a couple of weeks ago. I smashed something. I got up in the night to use the bathroom. Whenever I go into the bathroom, I turn on the radio. An ad from this organization called Earthshare.org came on. It plays constantly, and it's supported by the Ad Council, meaning U.S. taxpayers get to pick up the tab for this rubbish being bleated out at them on every radio break.

So, anyway, I just said "Shut the f**K up!" and slapped the radio of its stand. It was a stupid thing to do. I broke the on-off swith, so now I have to plug and unplug the thing whenever I'm in the bathroom.

Other times, I'll hear about some new anti-smoking law or smoking ban and I'll just kind of stand there simmering, not knowing what to do with myself until I just feel tired and defeated and have to lie down.

The most troubling thing to me is that I might want to give up smoking. I'd always planned to at around the age I am now anyway. But I have such mixed feeling about it for the reasons you mention. I can't reconcile whether I'm doing it because I want to, or because anti has forced me to. At the end of the movie "The Untouchables", Eliott Ness (played by Kevin Costner) is told that by a reporter that prohibition is going to repealed, and asks Ness what he'll do. Ness replies "Well, I suppose I'll have a drink." That's kind of the way I feel. I don't care about smoking so much as I hate anti-smoking.

Regarding your novel; I haven't written a novel, but I did write a screenplay once. I worked on it for a year. I drafted it in pencil in two composition books, then rewrote it while typing and editing it down to 120 pages. I think it was one of the happiest periods in my life. I got so that I enjoyed the prospect of sitting down and working on it at night.

My feeling is that getting out of your own way is key to working on a long writing project. I think people bring too much baggage to the process. Writing is a bit like an exercise routine in that starting it is actually harder than doing it, so long as your working on writing something that feels good to write. Also, for me, writing is something very different from just thinking about writing in the abstract. It's a process that you actively participate in, so it progresses in a very different way than just thinking about it. It's like playing chess versus thinking about playing chess. When you actually write, you run into both obstacles and revelations that aren't there when thinking about a story in the abstract. This makes actual writing either more fun or more frustrating than just thinking about it. So, my advice is this, write chapter one, just for the Hell of it. Don't be controlling about it-- it doesn't have to be good. Don't tell anyone about it, just see where it leads you.

I don't think you have to know the ending first. It's likely that the ending will reveal itself to you. If you know the ending, then I'd write that before you write the rest. Anyway, if you write a few pages, you'll probably know if you want to continue from there. Just my two bits. -Winston

I abandoned it, because I was uncomfortable for some reason with being so open about how angry the entire Bully State can make me.

I have the same problem. I think that the 'for some reason' is that I'm uncomfortable with admitting how angry I get, as if such an admission was evidence of failure. Which it is, in some ways. One feels one should be able to deal with everything coolly and rationally. And sometimes I can. But very often I can't, and the red mist comes down.

My feeling is that getting out of your own way is key to working on a long writing project. I think people bring too much baggage to the process. Writing is a bit like an exercise routine in that starting it is actually harder than doing it, so long as your working on writing something that feels good to write.

I was listening to an American writer - John Irving - talking about writing yesterday on the radio. He said that you shouldn't write about something while you were in the thick of it. You should wait until you'd gained some sort of perspective. He'd waited 20 years before writing about the Vietnam war.

I couldn't see the point of that, myself. Sure, I don't have a long perspective on what's going on. I can't. But I don't think that should preclude writing about it.

And I don't see this as a long project. Perhaps it is. If it is, then I'm I may run into trouble. I'm not very good at making myself write about stuff if I've lost interest, or got stuck or something. Everything I write is written as the impulse catches me, and I ride the wave of enthusiasm and everything comes together. It's one reason why I never promise to write anything. It's because I can't promise to catch any waves.

Sounds a very good way to start, and I can't think why anyone wouldn't want to publish, you're an ace writer, second only to Boris in my book!

You could reflect our clearly shared anger through your characters Frank, they could live out your imagination and create the militant force that serves justice to all of those individuals and groups who create our persecution.

Don't worry about the ending, just see where the process of imagination takes you and then twist it.

PS. Publish it at lulu.com.



Disregard Anon. You must have the ending in mind before you begin. If you do not, then you will never finish and you will have no theme. You will ramble.

It may take some time for you to have the inspiration. Let the thoughts circulate for a while. Are there equivalent things to smoking? Are we talking 'Animal Farm' or something? Is it the extension of the Nanny State?

Re the last, it is from Junican.

Is this the way to start writing a novel?

Yes. (And no.) Having, at this point, had 19 of them published, I can tell you they do begin with characters, but before you can move on, not only do you have to know everything about them (whether or not it goes into the book) but you need The Situation. Then you need at least The Beginning and The Middle (not what happens between them but just those two points) and have a feeling about The End (which may surprise you and turn out quite differently than you thought). I think you could write a terrific novel.

Teach yourself How To by rereading several novels you admire (and rereading them several times) and analyzing exactly how the writers did it. How did they transition from scene to scene? How did they manage to propel the plot? How did they economically imply? And so on. Tom Wolfe once said that James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice" was a class on novel-writing. Though i somehow think your style, let loose, might be more like Richard Condon's (see 'The Manchurian Candiadate'). In addition to reading over some dystopian fiction, how about "Reading Lolita in Teheran" or other nonfiction by people in actual contemporary dystopias (or anything Kafka).

Keep in mind, however, that a novel works (when it does) because it springs from a single mind. Take criticism only when it hits a spot in your head that was hiding there anyway. And yes, you can publish a novel yourself (and not on an amateur level) and also get distribution. See www.lightningsource.com

I look forward to reading it.

Re: Is this the way to start writing a novel?


they do begin with characters,

That's certainly how I feel about it. Right now I'm trying to get three characters into focus. That seems very important. They can't be cardboard cut-outs. They have to be real, credible people. And that's new for me. I've never tried to create characters. But I'm making progress.

Teach yourself How To by rereading several novels you admire (and rereading them several times) and analyzing exactly how the writers did it.

I'm not a great reader of fiction. But that said, I happen to have two works of fiction on my bedside table by Jack Higgins (thriller) and Ian Rankin (detective short stories). And a few years ago I was utterly captivated by Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series. I read the whole lot, one after another, like going through a packet of chocolate chip cookies.

What I admired about his writing was the English itself, which somehow perfectly evoked the early 19th century era he was writing about. It was at once perfectly readable, and yet oddly archaic. I couldn't quite understand how he'd pulled off that peculiar conjuring trick.

But he also had two strong characters in Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, who were in some sense opposites, and produced a creative tension. His plots were also very good. And some of the descriptive passages were superb.

How did they transition from scene to scene? How did they manage to propel the plot? How did they economically imply? And so on.

Yes, that needs thinking about. Particularly the 'economically imply' bit. There are technical details to writing, much like there is with carpentry.

Thanks for all the comments. They've all made me think quite hard. It's very encouraging.

I'm not going to make any promises. I've been kicking around this idea for months, picking it up and dropping it. Becoming enthusiastic, and then losing enthusiasm. Writing a few lines, and then coming to a dead stop.

As I wrote in one of the comments, I think my greatest weakness is that I only ever write when I'm enthused enough to do so, and my mind seems able to make lots of connections and construct themes and see endless possibilities going in all directions. That is, I'm not a very sustained writer. I'm not sure I have the endurance to pull off something like a novel. I may be biting off far more than I can chew.

But at the same time it's a very attractive idea. It's very rich with possibilities. It would undoubtedly tax me to my limits. And maybe I'd fail. I can well imagine writing 4 or 5 chapters and then losing enthusiasm, or belief, or something. But then, who knows?...

Have you ever tried mind-mapping? It's fallen out of fashion a bit now, because it turned out not to be the be-all and end-all to make everyone into geniuses, but it is a very useful way of getting a lot of random thoughts down onto one piece of paper and then picking out and putting into order the bits you want/need and seeing where things link up. Good to do when you ARE enthused about something and your mind is racing, but you're likely to cool off or get bored with it quite quickly. Seize the moment!

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