Petrol, pasties, and now we have to pay for our garden waste to be taken away by the council - but only in special bins or bags, which can only be purchased from the council.

It's easy to find reasons to join The Glums, and there's even a certain pleasure in indulging in a moping, hissy fit about how crap everything is. I like a good moan as much as the next man or woman, but when I heard that a fellow writer referred to me as 'such a lovely upbeat chappie' ' I knew it was time to get my shit together.

There is not only much to be grateful for, and not just the usual food (pasty tax notwithstanding), friendship, temperate weather, clean water, not living under a dictatorship and freedom of speech.

There are payments coming in soon - and yes, I agree, that does sound like a hint. I have short stories in three competitions, novel excerpts in two competitions and other material being considered for an anthology.

And from May I'm either abandoning myself or expanding my horizons, depending upon how you look at it. I've been invited to join one of my favourite blogs as a contributor - Strictly Writing - so now is definitely a good time to start filling the glass.

I'll also be interviewing writer and chum, Susie Nott-Bower, whose debut novel, The Making of Her, is published by Linen Press in the next few weeks. She'll be revealing what it takes, once you've signed on the dotted line.

And..erm...I may have a cunning plan waiting in the wings. But more about that in May.

Say what?

Indeed. Or rather, that's my point entirely. In a sense, anyway.

Frustrated yet? I know I am - and I'm the one writing this. There are few things as skin-crawlingly irritating as a writer who doesn't communicate well. And it's only really communication when the person on the receiving end actually understands the message. The same rule applies for fiction, non-fiction and all points in-between.

Let me go out on a limb here and say that I'd rather read bad writing - where I at least know what's being said or described - than writing that's abstruse. Know what I mean? Of course you do.

I'm not against literary fiction or experimental writing or esoteric writing. Both Flatland and Cosmic Doctrine remain two favourite books for mental somersaults and interesting dreams. Carlos Castaneda has a similarly positive effect.

Back in the day, I sent my magical fantasy novel to one editor who claimed to be both aware and appreciative of the themes woven through the book. But when the ms came back with the dreaded red pen declaring 'I don't understand this' and 'what are you trying to say here', it became clear that there was a problem. It didn't matter if other people had read the book and understood it sufficiently to enjoy it (hopefully). If the editor hadn't received my writing loud and clear - and especially if I wanted to work with them - then that was my problem.

Writers need readers and, quite rightly, readers can be an unforgiving bunch. Check out the lowest scoring Amazon reviews for some of the bestsellers and you'll be surprised what gets their goat. Even £1 or $1 on an unknown writer is still an investment on the part of the reader, to say nothing of their time. It's a fool who doesn't take every opportunity to avoid disappointing them.

Turn that frown upside down!

It used to be that people defined themselves as being either glass-half-full or glass-half-empty. That, of course, was back in the days when we could afford our own glass.

The debate about the relative merits of being optimistic (motivated and aspirational) versus pessimistic (rarely disappointed) will continue long after I'm gone. And we could even take a peek at negative positivism, were we so inclined. But you can do that on your own time.

Writers are not inured from life. Rather, we are both participant and observer. This has certain advantages - not least that, when the going gets tough, we have something to write about.

Just a couple of star prizes this month - yes, I'm awarding them early:

1. The magazine that took a breathtaking 16 months to reject a story of mine. When I tactfully queried (for I'm nothing if not a my own way...) whether any future submissions would take the same length of time, they helpfully replied that: There was some slush stories that didn't make the transition over into the new, better, awesome, system, and we only recently discovered them hiding out. To be fair to them, we've all lost the odd comb or key down the back of a sofa - in their case, it was my slush.

2. The literary agent who, upon my three-month query of my synopsis submission, advised that it had not been received first time round from their website. And in any case, they always charge a reading fee of £75, but I'd get a report with that. Although, clearly, no relish.

Neither of which, it has to be said, actually mean anything. In the first instance, the magazine story has already been published (let's face it, 16 months would have been a long time to not submit it anywhere else), and in the second case the novel is under review elsewhere.

If there is a moral to this post, it's this:
Most of the time, what goes on around us is entirely impersonal and whatever significance we attach to it comes largely from inside. What you lose is never more important than what remains.

Stranger than fiction

So, it's St Patrick's Day and I wish you well for it. May every stranger knocking at your door bring you glad tidings and a little luck. Now that we've done the traditional thing, let me tell you about a stranger who knocked at my door today. All of this, I assure you, is absolutely true. And best of all, you get to write your own ending.

'DING DONG.' (That's the doorbell, just in case anyone's not paying attention.) I open the door and there's a man, standing there, aged in his sixties, I'd say. He has a large overcoat - tweed, I think - and the cutest terrier I've ever seen. "A Happy St Patrick's Day," the stranger said, in a soft Eire accent. He puts out his hand and shakes mine. "Will you have a drink with me?" I pass, and watch as he pulls out a small, scratched and dented silver hip flask. "I'll take one for you as well then," he says, adding, "don't mind me - my reputation is as an honest man. I was a Hunger Striker, don't you know?" Needless to say, this is a stunner of a revelation - and I've no idea what response he's looking for. I remember hearing about The Maze and Bobby Sands on the news, back in childhood. "Anyhow, you know my reputation is honest." He wants to shake hands again, which we do, then he wishes me more luck and goes on his way.

You're the writer - what happens next?

A little slice of life

So there we are, in a cafe. We've just had lunch and we're in search of cake to take home (sometimes, if you look up greedy sod on the web, you can see my picture within the first ten searches). There's a woman in front of us who's buying lunch or a coffee or something (when I'm in cake mode, I don't pay too much attention to what other people are doing - except the person dealing with the cake). Anyhow, the lady in front of us turns to Anne and whispers something. All I notice is the aggrieved look on her face.

So, we leave, and Anne tells me the story of the woman in the queue. What she said to Anne went along the lines of, "It's not fair - your two pieces of cake were both much bigger than my piece here," and sure enough, apparently, she was right. Quite what Anne was supposed to do about it, I don't know. Perhaps the woman was hoping she'd trade with her or act as a witness for a future legal claim.

The point is: no one knew why there was such a variance in cake distribution. It may have been a different person cutting the slices. Or it could have been that the staff noted we'd just bought lunch there. Or it may even have been that they just didn't like the woman's tone of voice when she ordered. Who knows? Whatever the reason, trying to run a guilt trip on Anne served no one.

Writers and writing can be a little like that. If your circle is wide enough and varied enough, you are bound to come across someone who is having a better time than you. While you're there struggling with motivation and the curse of the adverbs, she or he will be dealing with a last minute meeting with an agent, or a publishing deadline to edit for. In the race to be the next JK Rowling or just to keep the wolf from the door, it's tempting to slide into an attitude of: 'When is it my turn?'

Well, newsflash - there are no turns. You write your best work and then rework it; you try whatever publication route appeals to you - self-publication, indie publication, working your way through The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook / The Writers' Handbook - and you keep on going. And believe it or not, there will be someone else in the queue who is wondering why your piece of cake is so much bigger than theirs.

And if you're fortunate enough to know someone who's fortunate enough to be getting their just desserts, let them eat cake!

The Lucky Seven Meme comes to call

The Lucky Seven Meme

I've been tagged by my fellow scribe and all-round creatix Chloe to take part in Jaycee's Lucky Seven Meme. Here be the rules:

1. Go thou to page 77 of your current MS
2. Get thee hence to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines - sentences or paragraphs - and post them as they're written. No cheating
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let each and every one of them know
(Unwritten rule - share the literary love)

We spoke once or twice a week; she’d talk about New York while I sat on the stairs, rustling the map to pinpoint the attractions she wanted to take me to. Places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art began to take on mythical status, even though the only museums I had frequented since leaving school were: a) The Natural History, in my teens, in a futile attempt to meet girls; and b) The British Museum, to see the Egyptian exhibits.

To say we took things slow would be an understatement. It was three weeks before we got around to the finer details of my stay. And then it hit me that the Civil Service would only grant me two or three weeks of leave.

“Well,” Helen said in a nasally twang that made me laugh, “who is to say you’ll go back to the same job? Maybe you won’t even come back at all?”


And my own lucky seven writers? Well, there are many more than seven, so here are a few from the network:

I hope they will all participate to. And if there's no page 77 - or it's unfit for the faint-hearted, there's always page 7 as a fallback!