Literary Style

  1. What is literary style?

Literary style is what you see before you when you open the first page of a book, particularly a literary work. Literary style (or ‘writing style’ or ‘literary voice’ or the ‘writer’s voice’) is the way a writer uses words in sentences.

2. Why do writers employ a literary style?

Style is the fundamental way any writer expresses themselves. In order to express oneself, one has to choose ones words. in choosing certain words over other words one is employing a style. One’s style makes one unique. Style is a literary fingerprint, a verbal DNA. Stlye describes a writer’s individual use of sentences, what words they choose and how they choose to use them. A writer’s style is how their particular choice of words flows in their sentences. It’s pretty easy to see the differing styles in different writers. Choose your favourite writer and look and see whether or not their sentences are on average short or long, whether they use a lot of allusions or metaphors or external historical or scientific data or not, whether they use a lot of local colour, whether their work is filled with precise emotional or external factual data or not, whether their language is complex or not, whether they use a lot of irony or wit or not. Writers make these many word choices in order to tell their individual stories to best effect, to most powerfully depict their characters, to drive their plots on, to inform, challenge, educate, entertain, mystify and impress their readers. Writers strive towards developing their own unique style for several reasons. The most obvious reason might be their desire not to sound like other writers, but the main one is to properly express their own unique voice, what exactly is happening and how exactly it is happening in the lives and minds and hearts of the people in the worlds they are describing and in the stories they are telling. All the other aspects of writing: character, plot, sense of place, time, pacing – all these form the threads that make up the unique fabric of a writer’s style.

3. How important is literary style?

From what we have been talking about it’s clear that style is not some superficial aspect to writing. Style is substance when it comes to writing. It is the most immediate, most accessible part of any book, article, poem, play, or script. It’s what greets you when you start to read. It is that aspect of the writer’s art that takes you through a book of 100 thousand words or an article of 500 words. Thus it’s critically important to develop your style. You cannot write without style. You develop your plot through using literary devices delivered through your style. You describe your characters through style. You hold the reader’s attention by showing that here is a writer like no other, and your individual voice is a voice  that the reader wants to listen to as they tell a story in a way that holds their attention through good or bad, through triumph or disaster, through suffering or joy. All of the above is achieved by the use of style.

4. How do I develop my style?

You develop your literary voice by practising and listening to your own inner voice. You also develop your voice, and by this I am speaking of your writing style, by being clear on what you have to say, by developing the story you want to tell, by carefully researching your subject, by making careful notes, by working out plot, characterization, pacing, by making a plan that works and sticking to it. It takes time and it takes patience.

5. Okay, but is there a method for developing style?

Other than a willingness to work at it, and seek to continually to improve your work, working towards perfecting the various aspects of story, plot, finding the right word in the right place and building from there, reading and learning, there is no known methodology for creating one’s own unique style. It can be said that one’s style finds you, rather than the reverse. The only way this can happen is by writing, and, as has been said before, writing is largely rewriting.

12 Rules For Writers

Writing is difficult, but its also something so basic to who we are as intelligent beings, that despite its difficulty, its something literally anyone and everyone can grasp. Art happens when the writer expresses something unique that emerges from the self and says something more than the contents and the tropes and methods learned from the craft. A craft on the other hand is a series of techniques to efficiently and easily perform a task, in this case the ancient art of writing. This being said, it is imperative that any aspiring writer learn the craft of writing. Just as potential martial artist must learn their craft in a dojo, or a potential musician study their instrument of choice and learn from mistresses and masters of the art, so too a potential writer needs to learn about how to write in order to write well. This tiny primer will help one take the first steps.

  1. What is Creative Writing?

Creative Writing has its origins in our ancient practise of storytelling and poetry recitation. Creative Writing communicates what it means to live in the world in all varieties and forms. Creative writing helps us understand the world and it helps us describe our own and others experiences of living in the world. Its useful and life enhancing and good for us all.

2. Writing is for everyone.

Writing and storytelling is an art and a craft that has been practised for millennia. It can be practised by anyone who wants to be a writer. Writing is both an art and a craft. In other words, if you are interested in getting to know the world of writing a little better and try it out, there are certain skills one can learn and develop that will help one to express oneself more clearly and easily. Developing these skills takes time and practise, like any craft.  From the craft of writing we can then work at developing our artistic gifts.

3. Find your space. 

Have some place where you can write in peace and quiet. It’s difficult to work in a place with lots of distractions. Once you find your space, work out a schedule you can live with, and stick to it.

4. Schedule time.

Writing takes time and effort. Writing is often re-writing. Because it takes time and patience to grow your art, it’s important to schedule quality time outside our busy lives to make time for ourselves to be creative.

5. Get a Notebook.

Bring your notebook everywhere. What we write is a record of our lives, our thoughts, our hopes and our dreams, and starting with a notebook we can build these stories. A notebook is the indispensable tool for every writer.  Write down thoughts, impressions, dreams, useful facts, memories, ideas for stories, poems, screenplays, theatre pieces. Remember that your notebook is your own and keep it private.

6. Go to open-mics, gigs, and writing groups.

Meet and associate with other writers and artists. Don’t isolate. You learn quickly from the example of others, also there are many courses and regular readings out there to test your work and see how it is received by an audience. Take your time and go to a few, and when you feel ready go up and read a poem or a short piece of fiction in front of a group.

7. Read.

Every great writer is a great reader. Use your local library. Read often and for long periods. Familiarize yourself with as many writers, thinkers, muses, as you can. This experience will deepen your knowledge not only of the world (which is important for your writing) but will show you how other writers approached various subjects, and help you avoid pitfalls.

8. Keep a healthy work life-balance.

If you take to writing, it can be a fascinating, fulfilling, and a demanding occupation. Remember to keep a good balance between your social and private life.  Stay healthy, sleep lots, eat well, and avoid unhealthy lifestyles.

9.  Write a certain amount you have already decided upon each day, and then stop.

It’s best to stop each day at a high point. Make a note of where you stopped, date it and continue from that point the next day, or when you decide to.

10. Take regular breaks from your writing.

It’s healthy and good for your work to take a break. Then, after the break, go back to the manuscript with fresh eyes, and, most importantly, a refreshed brain and body.

11. Take Writing Courses.

It’s a good idea to do writing courses; many are excellent and helpful.  The important thing to always remember is to develop your own style. The only way to develop your own style is to write, and keep writing, and not give up.

12. Have fun.

Writing is probably one of the most fulfilling, delightful, mysterious, fascinating, and educational of occupations.  Never stop enjoying it.

On Being Who We Really Are

Pictured in 2017 in Karpacz Poland

I hate sharing personal information. I feel deeply uncomfortable doing so. But it is important. So here goes. I happen to be a writer. This is not by choice. I tried everything not to be a writer. In my early youth I tried a career in religion, which gives one access to lots and lots of books, which is very cool. It also gives one a room of one’s own, also cool (ask Virginia Woolf), an  opportunity to meditate (which I like a lot), a very comfortable middle class existence (I’m from the middle classes), as well as a comprehensive training and educational background (I took full advantage of all available libraries). I was not good at attending college, but I did okay with exams. I was expected to be an academic. But I wanted to write, which is not the same thing. I found it difficult to fit into any one academic discipline. I would also like to lightly mention in passing that my brand of religiosity included my joining a monastery, running retreats and giving sermons and being generally incredibly busy with people, which was very difficult for me. I was an odd monk, I must confess. I didn’t like the costume (originally what is now a monks robe was originally the normal clothing of peasants – the hood being a sack for your stuff). I thought it rather elitist and divisive. Also on a general level both back then and now, one would never think it, but I wasn’t comfortable around people. I also found I could be too blunt for people. I offended folks by my excessive straightforwardness, which was taken the wrong way quite a lot. The other thing was I could not stop writing. Poems, articles, stories, essays – I couldn’t stop.  Then after a few years I stopped believing in God, which was a devastating and deeply depressing experience. Christianity, at a certain point made no sense. It had its origins in older religions, which in turn had its origins in older myths. It was all clearly made up. I found my true calling was to atheism and publishing poor quality youthful short stories and poems. I quit being a monk. I tried academia but disliked both it and academics. I married, and then, to support my new marriage, I tried being a respectable civil servant with a good job and a house and a pension and serious prospects in the field of computer programming. Though I had hardly seen a computer before becoming a civil servant, I found I had a talent for programming them. I loved taking them apart and reassembling them. I had fun with technology. I used trawl thru computer junk, build a PC, and give them as gifts to friends and people who needed them or didn’t have a personal computer of their own. I also took full advantage of the company library  and I learned a few programming languages and made a bit of money. The thing was I still longed to write. Actually at the time I was writing, particularly Sci-Fi, but it wasn’t enough. It was hunger inside me to do more and be more, and though I was naturally good with languages, though I could put ideas, even coded ideas, together easily and quickly, I simply could not take the soul crushing drudgery of working in a corporate setting. The dishonesty, the politics, the lack of challenge, and most of all having to deal with people on a day to day basis, which is by no means my strong suit, I began to drink heavily, and it was a miracle I wasn’t fired for being repeatedly drunk on the job. I remember coding multi-million pound systems while being drunk. I remember compiling reports for accountants, or even writing reports, again while being ‘compromised’, a euphemism one hears in US cop dramas for being under the influence. I was becoming addicted. I found a few brandies relaxed me sufficiently to focus on the task at hand without being unduly anxious while in the company of others, which I disliked. I was earing a lot of money, more than my boss at the time. A therapist I had at the time challenged me. She said if I continued drinking and coding, alcohol would destroy my mind. Those were her words. I realized my misery, my depression and hopelessness I was dulling with drink. I was also becoming very unhappy in my marriage. So I quit. I sold my house and made some money, bought another house, became a landlord, and, with no prospects I started writing novels. My wife at the time started publishing my own work and those of other writers. For the most part my books did modestly well. I had found who I was. I was a member of the tribe of writers. I think this is a crucial thing. Every person needs to find who they truly are, especially as an artist. And we are all artists, everyone. Its not a New Age  blanket terms like, for instance, us all being ‘beautiful and unique snowflakes’ or ‘find the genius inside you’. No. We are all creative beings, potentially. Again my trouble being around people reared its head. I was swamped with people. Readings, writings, publications, trips to other countries doing launches and so on, began to take their toll on me. My marriage began to really crater. My wife at the time had her own troubles, deep troubles, and I found no matter what I did I could neither help her or myself. I suffered a major depressive episode and after three years and several disastrous misdiagnoses and horrible medications on the part of therapists and psychologists, I left my wife. Then she took her life just under a year after I left. The horror. As I said in her obituary, this is the single greatest loss of talent and potential the Irish publishing scene has suffered in a generation. It came as a devastating shock to me and to those who loved her, a sorrow of immeasurable proportions. I did not understand her condition. In the aftermath it has been explained to me. Now I understand. I have moved on. But I have not forgotten. Now I continue to write, because I am a writer. This is my story. Tell someone yours today, or even write it down. I find it horribly difficult, but its liberating.

NOWHERE TO GO BUT DOWN – Martin Egans ‘Sea Journey’



Martin A Egan

Lapwing Press 2013

One of the happier memories of my friend Martin Egan was listening to him both talk about  and read aloud many drafts of the poems that eventually became Sea Journey, a book that for as long as it has been in print, remains a huge favourite of mine. One of the many reasons I am penning this is the hope that it will remain in print for a long, long time and that many more will buy this excellent book. Reading it again, one can only imagine the quality of other possible tomes the poet would have produced if his health had remained as strong as his many gifts.

It is, to my mind, somewhat facile to interpret Egan’s poems in ‘Sea Journey’ as part of the ‘therapy oeuvre’, in other words a type of ventilation of ones own personal psychological and therapeutic experiences in poetic form, a kind of art therapy, or an exorcism of personal demons. Such types of poems, of course, have their place, as there really can be no limits or no rules for the material any artist uses for their art. In reading this complex, very humorous and tragic work, it is clear that Egan goes further, much further, than using art asea_journey_covers a type of therapy. Firstly there is no attempt on the artist’s part to employ any psychological categories in his descriptions depictions and storytelling. In fact, if anything Sea Journey travels into territories uncharted by either the recovery or addiction or abuse experience, three themes that, among others, also happen to populate the pages of the volume as a kind of marker on the road to his central theme. In the poem Middle Aged Rant, he complains he has been ‘more Psychoanalysed than any other single Middle-aged Man’ and that despite these explorations of his own addictions, obsessions, and family of origin issues, he doesn’t feel better, more resolved, or indeed nicer to children or small animals.

To linger for a moment on the therapeutic question, seeing as it is visible in Sea Journey, it might also be well argued that it is really not the job of therapy to provide answers to the questions of the meaning of life. It might equally be argued that the job of any therapeutic endeavour to bring us rather to the doorway of moral choice. To this question we need to look at the whole thrust of Egan’s endeavour in the book Sea Journey, for Egan constructs a complex moral backdrop to his artistic journey. His work is, among other things, a coruscating repudiation of the inauthentic life, meaning a life serving the needs of the ego, or the view that the achievement of fame or fortune or power or celebrity as a mark of a well lived life, or indeed any mode of existence the leaves us with an unexamined life.

“…I can smell them coming

These days from quite a ways off with their

Ego’s wobbling along behind them like a

Queen Bee’s ass in a hive…”

(Middle Aged Rant)

Egan’s many forays into various disciplines, be it song-writing, painting, poetry, singing, all of which he had considerable and much celebrated expertise, seems to have left the poet with something of a distaste for the ego driven success obsessed, so called stars ‘…famous people that think they are the shit’ (ibid). This is a world he journeys away from. The question remains as to where he is going, and the answer is this: we are going inwards and we are going downwards. Into a ‘terrible experience of loss and separation’ (Sea Journey)

The sea, the first word in the title of this volume, is long understood as a symbol of the unknown, the unexplored and the unconscious, and this is precisely where Egan takes us, into the world of pure consciousness, of memory and experience, all delivered to us largely in clear unadorned language. An artist with his technical skills could easily have delivered poems written in what we might term ‘high prosody’ using well-honed forms that have adorned the pages of countless excellent books of poetry. But his is a different agenda. Egan keeps it simple. Its all very rock and roll. Three chords and the truth. With him we get on the craft and, like Kurtz and Dante, we go down, down, deep into the undergrowth of the mind, the very heart of darkness and we look therein to find a world where there be

Martin Egan

monsters, monsters that exist inside Egan, so he confesses. Monsters he sees in himself and he can find no redemption from it. ‘For myself, I never felt anything. But a gaping hole in my middle, Never saw God, or found Nirvana’ (Light Show) And this is how and why Sea Journey works. The idea is simple. The truth tells its own story. But the truth is hard to find, for we are always trying to deceive ourselves. Aside from the beauty and the clarity of the language there is a coruscatingly, at times unbearably honest depiction of his life and his relationships and his family experiences. This is the sea-journey, the second part of the title. We are going somewhere and as we go on its darker and scarier. But we don’t get lost. We don’t get lost only because we are in the hands of such a crafts person like Martin A. Egan. Our little bark does not become shipwrecked in a morass of solipsistic self-analysis, self-pity, self-loathing, and other dangerous obstacles to insight. Despite experiencing these emotions, these sirens, he ignores these comfort zones. This is where its at:

‘We became the haven for designated nutters

Compulsive wife-beaters, Drunks and thieves,

Covert rapists, addicts, self-pitying, crying after violence and sex

It was true that we knew, damn nearly next to nothing

Well, certainly I didn’t, I was always the best-read social cripple

In the marquees…’ (Light Show)

Humour is the ship we travel upon in this terrible land as we visit the worlds of drunks, addicts, rapists, wife beaters, adult survivors of child sexual abuse, and that one devastating poem about the suicide of Egan’s sister, someone he writes he hadn’t seen in decades, save for a brief somewhat dysfunctional meeting:

‘Three months later the ‘phone rang,

My brother told me,

She had killed herself.’ (Cowardice)

There is nowhere one can go with such devastating information. With every great tragedy there comes the accusations, the self accusations, and the search for someone or something to blame. A great void of sorrow and regret and sometimes irrational guilt, survivor guilt, opens up in one, and lasts for years until slowly the freeze begins to melt and life begins once more. But there is none of that in the work. Egan’s work remains dynamic. The effects of this tragedy are described, but the object of description remains clear and crisp as a fresh photograph. The beauty of the prosody is arresting:

All I can and ever will remember

Are the red and white roses

My older brother and I placed

On her coffin in the grave.

The coldness of her face,

I tentatively touched,

Staring at her perfect teeth —

And Egan carries on, as a true Beckettian (which he was) he knew the essential paradox of living – the tragedy of it, or rather the tragicomedy of it. Like Beckett, Egan knows one just can’t go on, and yet one goes on. He weeps at such honest beauty and, breathing deep and free (Candle), he seeks some type of redemption in saying it like it is, which is the job of the artist. In this he can feel a small margin of freedom. There is, according to Egan, no escape from living, nothing but the pure gift of the now, a now that has to be accepted, and despite all the pain it might offer, be embraced. Years spent outside contemporary society, failed marriages, failed relationships, lost loves, friends who came and went, loves that stayed, life on an island painting, song writing and time, so much time spent in the company that, like the writers, existed along the fringes of society. But he remembers it all. He remembers it and he celebrates it all here. ‘The tone of life, powering Soaring through my bones’ (Closure).

Like Patrick Mc Cabe, Mary Morrissy, and others, Martin Egan occupies and interesting and controversial place in Irish Literature and consciousness, whereby he recalls and embodies in his work some of the darker and more painful aspects of our cultural and societal past, the legacy of sexual abuse, addiction, family dysfunction. His work has the feel of seedy bars and dark rooms and squats where people, lost and at the very edge of things, huddle together and talk – but also that arrestingly beautiful and yet simultaneously desolate rural landscape where there is only the free air and a sense of no escape from a life that is going nowhere. This is the case, but Egan’s work captures more than anything the sheer tragedy that can visit individuals and families, and how that tragedy can with courage and humour and be both coped with and not consume one.

Beautiful prosody, searingly honest, very funny, and a gripping read, this is a must have for every lover of superb Irish poetry.

I finish with a few words from Dennis Greig, publisher from Lapwing poetry, speaking about Martin’s work. As I was writing this with no access to my library in the midst of metre deep snow in the south of Poland, he very kindly made the text available to me.

“For me, Martin’s poems depict some aspects of ‘our’ immediate post WW2
generation, the rebellion against statutory dictatorships as in Ireland and the UK etc., which in themselves curtailed liberty and social organisation. Unfortunately,
the hidden powers of educational institutions, religions and global capital
still have effect on all our lives and liberties. Martin was, like myself,
something of an outsider in the thick of things.”

(reprinted with Mr Greig’s kind permission)

You can get Sea Journey HERE

The writer indulges in writing activity


What happens when you are wrongly diagnosed as bipolar or whatever: and what it means, if anything…

Nietzsche – whose work hugely contributed to philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, aphorism, and fiction while displaying a fondness for metaphor and irony and drawing variously on philosophy, art, history, religion, and science (wiki) : but is generally considered nuts.

Bad Therapy

Have you ever been the patient of a really bad psychotherapist? Lets be honest, there are more than a few of them out there. I actually seriously  toyed with the idea of becoming one at one stage of my life. Except I was somewhat drawn by the writing life, and that was that.

Two things separate the good therapist from the bad one, assuming they have been properly trained and have had sufficient therapy themselves to be relatively free of transference and projection and all the other things we do that affects our relationships. Firstly the capacity to objectively listen with out prejudice and secondly the capacity to apply knowledge coupled with experience to an individual patient. Most if not all of the many bad therapists I have had over the years failed on either or both of those fronts. One stand-out moment which typifies my negative therapeutic experiences happened during a session some years ago and it led me to discontinue the therapy. The therapist turned to me in a moment of obvious frustration, and asked me was I by any chance writing a book about him?

I beg your pardon, I said?

And he repeated the question.

Why, I asked?

Well, the therapist said, rather solemnly, these sessions we were engaging in were more like two therapists discussing the practise of psychotherapy, than a patient going to and talking with a therapist.

I was pretty appalled and very angry.

I said no, I wasn’t writing a book about this. I am in trouble, big trouble. That’s why I am here. I don’t need to do that kind of research to write.

I then went on to say by the way that was a bizarre question. One of the most I have ever been asked in therapy.

I mentioned I had completed a draft novel I wasn’t really happy with. I went on to say that the novel had a therapist as the central character. I offered him a look at a draft of it to satisfy himself I wasn’t using his rather dull unimaginative personality as a blueprint (and no, I wasn’t being unkind, he was a dreadful bore)

The therapist said that wasn’t necessary.

But I pressed the issue. I said that as the issue had been raised, it was hard to see how this could not become a central issue during the therapeutic encounter.

I wasn’t there for copy. I was there because I was in trouble. My marriage was in difficulty at the time. I was very anxious and depressed about family of origin issues. I felt trapped. Hopeless. this was the third therapist I had been to with no help. As I didn’t get the help from either that quack therapist I needed, or from other equally awful therapists, I got more depressed. And things went downhill. Feeling helpless and unsupported has something of a domino effect. Things cratered to such an extent that I had a major depressive episode. After that I went to a psychiatrist and was misdiagnosed as bipolar. I completely accepted the diagnosis. I told friends and colleagues. I did radio interviews about it. This went on for a few years. Then, by sheer luck I met a good therapist who told me I was no more bipolar as I was a professional safe-cracker or an astronaut. Not that her word was enough, by the way. I met a few others who said the same thing. I took the hint and stopped seeing Psychiatrists. It was such a good move.

Along with the indignity of being misdiagnosed as bipolar, I have been put on some of the most awful mind numbing medications. The medication had withdrawal symptomatology far worse than the condition they were supposed to treat. After a couple of attempts I got off the meds. Things have massively improved. Years have passed. No ill effects.

How does this kind of thing happen? How does a depressed writer get diagnosed with a pretty serious condition which he does not have? Well, it’s easy in one way to see how it might happen. I mean when I am working on something I feel fantastic. The ideas come fast and I have a lot of energy. Afterwards I am tired and lethargic. As any writer or indeed anyone creative will tell you, one goes to rather extreme emotionally and spiritually exhausting places to write books. One isn’t in it for the money. Believe me there are easier way to make money. One writes because its what one was born to do. To not do it, to settle for less, is very dangerous thing to do. So this is the creative cycle, not the manic depressive cycle. There is a substantial difference, and a good therapist sees this.


‘The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.’ (wikipedia) – or if you are a writer, you just might get lucky some day…

The Discreet Charm of being Labelled

But it doesn’t work out like that. Labels stick. Like the bad writer stuck in a rut that pays, once you write your best seller or get your government grant or run enough magazines or give courses, you are labelled. And once that happens, everyone expects more of the same. You get comfortable. You feed the crowds. Similarly once you got the label, it stays. After initial diagnosis, there is little re-visitation of ones symptoms. One is labelled and medicated and that’s that. Aftercare was a twilight zone experience for me. Our health system makes you go see a trainee psychiatrist who is under the care of a Chief Psychiatrist. One sees a different one for every appointment, for the most part. They don’t  know you, usually never met you before, and usually never will again. They are polite, friendly, witty, personable, professionally distant, and usually very busy. They have a few minutes to read your file, and on this basis, they interview you. This little psychodrama happens once every month or two. The pubescent psychiatrist is usually a doctor on psych rotation, someone who gives you twenty minutes and then ends the session with a prescription. Not ideal, to say the least. I had to aggressively lobby for therapy, and for the most part I got it only by the skin of my teeth. This rather hands-off approach of out patient psychiatry is something that needs urgent attention in my view.

Then there is a deeper issue at work here. It leads me to the notion of how in our cognitive processes, belief tends more often than not to precede evidence. Evidence should always precede belief. Otherwise one is guilty of cognitive bias. I displayed symptoms of bipolarity. But I was not bipolar. I had creative cycles. I was depressed due to life circumstances. I needed help. I needed the good therapy I had been looking for, not a cheap and easy diagnosis. I needed a good therapist. Not years of medication.

Dr. David Rosenhan
18 Jan 1973, Stanford, California, USA — Dr. David Rosenhan, a professor of law and psychology at Stanford University, was among eight researchers who feigned insanity to get into mental hospitals. Rosenhan, who directed the project, said that the hospital staff never recognized any of the researchers as sane despite their normal behavior once they were admitted, but that the patients in the 12 hospitals caught on. The ‘pseudopatients” were labelled as schizophrenics “in remission” when they got out, which, according to Rosenhan, indicates that the mentally ill label “has a life and influence of its own” and can never be shaken. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis

Then there are examples and studies. I found a really interesting one in my reading. In the early 1970’s, much to the huge outrage of the psychiatric community a psychiatrist called David Rosenhan conducted a case study which led to some rather fascinating results. He persuaded seven friends, none of whom had any case history of any kind of mental illness, to enter various mental hospitals to see if they could persuade members of the mental health care community that they were mentally ill. This was between 1969 and 1972. What did these sane folks do to convince the doctors they were sick? Well they all claimed to hear the words “thud, and “empty” and “hollow” and they all got admitted. Every one of them. And they were all diagnosed as having some form of mental illness, mostly schizophrenia. They were given a total of 2100 pills (they had been taught to ‘cheek’ their meds before going in), only two of which were ever actually swallowed. Other than lying about their names and lying about hearing the words, they were told to be completely honest. After Rosenthan had gotten his diagnosis, staff began to read into his actions. For instance, his study required him to make notes. This was described as ‘writing behaviour’. One of the other impostor patients was and artist and drew these fantastic line drawings of the hospital they were in, they too were described as indulging in ‘drawing/painting behaviour’. Finally Rosenthan couldn’t get out of the hospital. The only way he could actually get out of the hospital was to tell the doctors that they were completely correct in their views, that he Rosenthan was insane, and that he was getting better bit by bit.

This is not dissimilar to the experience of Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who suffered a very real and very debilitating breakdown and was admitted to a mental hospital, a hospital which he simply could not get out of. His method was to tell the doctors that he was feeling better incrementally. He would every day tell staff that things were getting better for him; that he was feeling just a little bit better than yesterday, till they let him go. Check out his second book Lila for a description of this process.

The point of all this is the question of belief. These professionals couldn’t distinguish between sick and well folks. My therapists couldn’t do that either. If you are seen as a patient and not as a person, your views of reality-no matter how valid – are somehow seen as secondary. This is because the belief that the doctor imposes on the patient presupposes disbelief of the patient’s valid world-view. I can even report that this is how exactly I experienced my treatment. I accepted the doctors word for what was ‘wrong’ with me. I accepted it and trusted them, despite the fact that the more I read about my condition, and the more I discussed my condition, the more doubts I had about whether or not I actually had Bipolar Disorder.

No, Really – I Engage in Writing Activity

But back to Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum told the doctors repeatedly that he was actually a professor of psychology. They asked him did he often feel he was a professor of psychology. I told my doctors I was a writer, that I had written novels and plays, poetry and articles. They didn’t believe me. They had to ask asked my wife (now deceased sadly) and my doctor, who assured them that yes I was indeed a writer. It’s what Rosenbaun refers to as the ‘stickiness of psycho diagnostic labels’ – prejudicial thinking, the imposition of an unscientific mindset on presenting symptomatology.

It would be somewhat facile to suggest that there is an easy way through what I see as a complex and rather perennial difficulty. What is sanity? In a world deeply troubled, what is a sane mind? Obviously we are all grasping at an answer to this question. Suffice to say that though there is no absolute answer to this question, we live in a world of consensus based on an ever expanding pool of knowledge and research and clinical experience to draw from. The people who diagnosed me were most definitely trying to help a person who was in a lot of pain. Sadly, though they did help, they left me in something of a mess for quite a while until I figured out what they had gotten wrong, and thanks to the brilliant help of a few really gifted therapists, I did. I wonder if there are more creative people out there who have similar experiences. Those who are of a more creative bent, who pursue the extremities of human experience, are naturally inclined to suffer trauma, and at times to become unwell. Its unfortunate that the labelling of a creative person can also lead to the labelling of their work, indeed the tenor of their entire lives. This reflects badly on our culture and on our society. Though it is true that some creative folk most definitely do suffer throughout their lives from various flavours of psychiatric disorders, many others I am sure, like myself, were subject to misdiagnosis based on a consensus misunderstanding of creativity. I live in the hope that my and many others experience will form a teachable moment and shift our cultural understanding of the needs of the creative person.



(Or ‘Hitman’)


Denis Villeneuve


Taylor Sheridan

An idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force (Brolin, Del Toro) to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

*Please note: The storyline is discussed form here on in*


This movie is disturbing. Its incredibly visceral and describes the true nature of the war on drugs. It makes clear how there is absolutely no way the so called ‘War on Drugs’ can ever be won, namely it is too profitable . Theres that, and the fact that people take drugs, lots of drugs. Some become hopelessly addicted. Others do not. But people will never stop taking drugs. Josh Brolin’s rather unsavoury CIA character laments how one fifth of the US population at one time or another are consuming drugs, with no indication of ever stopping.

Its also a business. The drug business is a high yield low investment business with high mobility and an infinite demand. With such a unimaginable profit margins the providers of such illicit drugs as Heroin, Cocaine, Crystal Meth, and so on, can continue to operate no matter how many times the drug leaders get arrested or shot or disappeared. If you are a drug trader and you make a mistake, you are killed. Someone more skilled will replace you, until they are killed. And so on with a kind of Darwinian inevitability. Their already labyrinthine business operations are highly portable. And due to decades of experience and connections, they know how to shut down shop and start elsewhere very quickly indeed. They know how to hide in plain sight (and people will, for instance, hide their local dealer mainly because, well, they like drugs and they might be killed if they tell the police). So vast are drug operations they could be floated as a huge multinational Corporations on the Dow Jones or the NasDaq (An estimated 1% of total global trade is in illegal drugs).

The global reach of drug traders is legendary. The fight for global dominance in this trade is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Shut one down and others will start up again with the full knowledge that they or others like them can at any time find willing accomplices with sufficiently highly developed skill sets to continue to operate a business that has always and forever and unto the end of time a viable highly motivated market, an unlimited number of recruits that will ones bidding to be paid such monies, and the possibility of unlimited expansion so long as you are willing to stop all opposition. In the movie one of the purposes of the ‘raid’ the CIA conducts into Mexico is to actually ensure that the is only one new drug lord in the area. To have more than one drug king is to risk a horrific cycle of slaughter. Its interesting that the notion of eliminating the drug trade in the poverty stricken areas they flourish in doesn’t even enter the picture.

So, in Sciario, a revenge raid is conducted by US authorities into Mexico in order to neutralize a brutal drug lord and stop all opposition and install a new Columbian based drug lord. I use the word ‘stop’ in the last sentence rather euphemistically. This means levels of violence and horror that would fill our nightmares forever. The drug business, since it is illegal and unmonitored and free of taxes and government control despite the best efforts of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, continually learns from its mistakes, refines its technologies, bribes the highest and most influential members of whatever governments they operate in, do deals with literally anyone, and continually find ways to launder their cash in ever more imaginative ways. As their market never goes away, they, like the proverbial Gorgon, keeps growing new heads. The sociology and economics of drug addiction, its areas of production and the socio-economic poverty visible in such regions, are all the subject of fierce debate. The history of prohibition shows how profitable for criminals and how disastrous the idea of making illegal drugs that are commonly consumed. Considering that alcohol-like cigarettes, are far more dangerous than many of the banned drugs, it all seems more and more peculiar, as if making either of those drugs illegal would stop us consuming them. One thing is clear. People take drugs and always will. Keeping it illegal lines the pockets of the worst people imaginable. Addiction can be treated, but not with prohibition, and far more lives are destroyed by incarceration than the drugs they are being incarcerated for.


Speaking of truly bad people, in  Sciario, Benedicio Del Toro plays probably the worst person imaginable. The worst person imaginable is the man (in this case, a man- named Alejandro played by Del Toro) who has had everything taken from him and has become poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge. He becomes as evil as those who has hurt him. He is entirely washed of all humanity, and while he remains intelligent and perceptive and knowledgeable and able to operate seemingly normally, there is literally nothing of which he is incapable. Del Toro’s character, Alejandro, is a drug cartel operator whose wife was decapitated and daughter was thrown into an acid bath by a rival cartel members gang, is taken on by the CIA to be the hit man for an operation into Mexico in order to send an unforgettable message of revenge to the Mexican Drug Cartel who had recently kidnapped and horribly murdered twenty people and blew up two police officers. They go into Mexico and as Josh Brolin’s character says, they ‘wildly overreact’. They also murder and torture with impunity, use police officers as live bait for corrupt cops, beat corrupt police officer to a pulp for information, execute other corrupt cops without trial, kill just about anyone who gets in their way with ruthless highly skilled efficiency, murder unarmed civilians including women and children, and break so many international laws one simply loses count. Naturally about half way through this lengthy and breathtakingly paced thriller, its impossible to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Like all good revenge stories, the futility of revenge and the endlessly upward mobility of degrees of horror is ably demonstrated in a movie that’s brilliantly and horrifyingly written and paced, that’s beautifully and rawly shot, and wonderfully and convincingly acted, and a message that’s by no means forced down the throat of the viewer. Some who watch this no doubt would see the cops as the good guys and the criminals as bad and that sometimes one has to do terrible things to do good. The film, being an excellent one, takes a sympathetic approach to both sides.

But Sciario is not just about drugs. Its about death. About how war breeds killers and killers breed death, and death breeds more death and the cycle of horror, the horror of war, goes on through the cycle of hatred and revenge and atrocity. Dead bodies hang everywhere, torture is everywhere. Emily Blunts character, with young swan like frail innocent idealism, is horribly violated and we see the death of innocence at the hands of the monstrous Alejandro, for whom in true Shakespearean fashion, we feel a level of sympathy for despite his crimes, and we realize somewhere along the line the madness began when this insane war on drugs was first declared.

*Sorry about the over-dramatised footage above. It was the only one I could find with Nixon’s famous Declaration of war on Drugs.*



Drugs Are Bad

I am a rather hairy chap. I have big head, a big nose and have worn a beard all my life now. I also have long hair and, yes, I should take greater care of my appearance. But then I don’t think too often about how I look. I also have something of a sleepy look in my eyes, something I have noticed on looking at photographs of myself. To the untrained eye I would look like a regular drug user, which I was – but all of them prescribed by a trained medical practitioner until I stopped using them and consequently felt immensely better – but more of that later.

So when I use the phrase ‘regular drug user’, I am of course referring to non pharmaceutical drugs, drugs supplied by criminals, which I never use and know nothing whatever about. I do know a bit about the other kinds of drugs, drugs we all use:- cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, aspirin, paracetamol, caffeine, chocolate, coca cola, and the hundreds of other mind altering substances we consume casually every day.

Coca Cola, used to clean blood off crime scenes, with a billion cans  day consumed, is really, really bad for you. (I succumb to a can or two when I get Chinese take out)

Check this out:

Coca Cola – open happiness….
sorry I couldn’t properly source above – apologies to the creator/s of very interesting meme poster*

Ok, forget about Coca Cola and paracetamol and such like. Try chocolate. I like Chocolate. Chocolate is sold to billions of children and adults all day every day worldwide. Chocolate contains small amounts of anandamide. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabanoid receptor in the brain. It gets you a tad high.That’s what gives one that happy sleepy gentle euphoric feeling that chocolate effects on the brain and body. So we get just a little stoned every time we have a Milk Tray or a Snickers. Chocolate also contains a substance called Phenylethylamine. This releases dopamine in the mesolimbic pleasure-centres. Phenylethylamine peaks during orgasm. So we are giving our kids a cannabis activating aphrodisiac for good behaviour, or as a treat.I know it sounds a little odd the way I have just written that, but not untrue. Shouldn’t chocolate bars carry a warning of sorts?

I remember a disturbing experience coming through customs in JFK airport around 2009 or so. I remember being stopped by two incredibly obnoxious NY cops and being questioned as to who I was and what my business was coming upon the virgin soil of the USA. I said I was a writer flying over to do readings and launch a book. Again they looked at me, looked at each other and, using their height and their voices (I am 5 foot 8 inches) made it unequivocally clear that they didn’t believe me. Trapped as I was in the devils bind of trying to prove a negative – i.e. that I was not whatever they thought I was, I became somewhat stroppy and told them to go Google me. They did, and thankfully there were a few photos of me online, as well as the very odd biography. So they let me through. I even remember they yelled at me to ‘keep moving buddy’ after I stopped to laugh nervously and breathe a sigh of relief after they did let me through. Perhaps they were annoyed that someone who looked like me would not be arrestable material. Prejudice is an odd thing.

Another moment of prejudice happened just yesterday. I have a rather sensitive constitution and have to be careful what I eat and drink. I abstain from beers and spirits and prefer usually to drink one type of wine. Having drunk one, I know- just one glass of wine from a brand away from my usual drink – a smooth cherry blend of Cabernet called Cotes du Rousillion de Villages, I woke up yesterday morning with a bad hangover, one that grew steadily worse. Aside from a blinding headache and the feeling of sawdust in my tummy, my muscles ached. I decided radical action was necessary. I went to the chemist and asked for some – yes – you guessed it – Solpadeine.

Exhibit A

And I was subjected to an interrogation by the post pubescent assistant behind the counter. She maintained a steady friendly gaze, as she was trained to do and didn’t raise her voice as she was trained to do. But she had a job to do –  and she had the steely determination of a DEA agent as she persevered in her line of questioning. She wanted to know what I wanted it for. The drugs. I said I was hung over  Very ill. Rarely take the stuff. I was of a sensitive constitution.

She suggested Paracetemol. Dioralite. Or Panadol Actifast?

Or plain old Aspirin?

No I said. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted Solpadeine. I was quite ill and it was getting worse. I was badly hung over on one glass of wine. I was too ill to even sleep off the hangover. This drug would work. Now I was told I was only allowed take it for three days. For the tenth time I was told that Solpadeine contained codeine. That was addictive. Did I know codeine was addictive? I nodded sagely. I said I had a hangover I was only going to take two. Maybe four in any twenty four hour period. This didn’t satisfy my politically correct chemist’s assistant. She again pressed me to try anything except Solpadeine. I mentioned that I had gone into a chemist, not gone to some street corner looking for codeine, and by the beard of Odin, I had a mighty hangover. That was all. I must confess being furious as well as being hung over after I left that chemist, swearing never to return.


Wine on the left (made me ill) Wine on the right (no ill effects)

Caffeine, which is the worlds most commonly consumed psychoactive compound, is also in sweets, soft drinks, pills, and in Solpadeine, which by the way worked wonders on my horrible hangover. Along with a few of those wonderful soluble analgesics, I had a few cups of black coffee. Coffee contains Caffeine. Caffeine stops the uptake of a substance called Adenosine. Adenosine is that molecule which binds to Adenosine receptors in the neurons which slows down the brains signalling facility. Actually caffeine and Adenosine kinda look like each other. Caffeine binds to Adenosine and is known in the trade as an Adenosine antagonist. It keeps you from getting drowsy and is probably the reason why its always available in offices as it keeps people pepped up. The problem is that this is not a good idea for the body. If you keep caffeinating (as we all to a greater or lesser degree do) it causes another important organ in the body to kick in, the Adrenal Gland – which releases adrenaline, which puts the body in a fight or flight mode. One begins to live on ones nerves, food isn’t properly digested, one feels tired quickly after consuming coffee, which leads one to drink more of the stuff, which causes improper sleep, digestion issues, mood disorders, poor sleep, poor levels of concentration, and something of a breakdown in general health and well being over a longer term. And yet coffee does not come with a warning either, does it? Its a completely unregulated psychoactive drug consumed by billions.

And then there are, well, drugs. The drugs you take every day, drugs I take every day. Drugs we really need. I mean we all would have died probably without really important drugs that have at one time or another saved our lives. No question. But then the drug industry is a multi billion multinational worldwide concern. These are the other drugs I am talking about. Drugs with labels and lists and lists of side effects. We are being massively over-prescribed. Look at the labels. May cause drowsiness. May cause memory loss. May cause osteoporosis, heart attack, chronic fatigue. Its actually scary to read the fine print. I can go a little further on this whole issue around prescribed medication. You have a one in five chance of getting seriously ill from any new drug that comes online. It’s far, far better to wait five years before trying out a new drug. Why? Because it hasn’t really been tried out on humans. They test them out on animals. But then, non human animals just aren’t like human animals. At all.

“Few know that systematic reviews of hospital charts found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that cause serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million serious adverse drug reactions. About 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them. ” ( June 27, 2014 by Donald W. Light Edmund J Safra Centre for ethics see )

But illegal drugs don’t have these kinds of adverse reactions. 28,000 die per anum from drug related deaths in the USA for instance. In ireland last year (2014) 4,600 died from drug overdoses. And yet nobody ever mentions the 1.9 million hospitalizations and the 128,000 deaths from drugs prescribed to people by medical professionals. The CDC estimates 88,000 deaths from alcohol and a staggering 2.5 million years taken off peoples lives as a result of alcohol consumption. In ireland we lose about 88 people per month from alcohol. Again alcohol is pretty freely available.

And then there is Professor David Nutt. Sad rain-coated hairy nerds like me have heard of him, which may or may not be a good thing. But he is a truly interesting thoughtful chap who did a lot of work on the psycho-pharmacology of drugs, their effects on the brain, the dynamics of neurotransmitters, and the dangers of drug use. In 2007 he published a rather controversial study on the harms of drug use in The Lancet.[12] This led to his dismissal from his position in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Subsequently, Nutt and a number of his colleagues who had subsequently resigned from the ACMD founded the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. (see wiki Article on David Nutt)

So, anyway, about this article on the levels of dangers and ill effects of drug use published in the Lancet in 2007. The weighting of each drug’s dangers is an important consideration before I actually give the results. If a drug, call it drug A – has a weighing of 10, it is therefore half as dangerous as, say Drug B, which has a weighing of 20, and so on. The maximum weighing is 100 and the minimum is 0, which means no ill effects at all.

“Overall, MCDA modelling showed alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack (54) in second and third places. Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. The other drugs assessed followed in this order in terms of overall harm: Crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (eg valium) (15), ketamine (also 15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), butane (10), khat (9), ecstacy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7), buprenorphine (6), mushrooms (5).”

Taken from

And this cost Dr. Nutt his job. He got a phone call saying he was no longer on the Blair Government Advisory Board. And the rest is history. I would imagine that someone in the position Nutt held back in 2007, publishing a report saying alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack cocaine, would cause something of a ripple amidst industry professionals.

Lets just say that our views on drugs their uses and misuses are somewhat driven by a cocktail of propaganda, hard information, misperception, ill informed discussion, and most of all, television. We see drugs as that thing taken by our kids who have disappointed us, or died from overdoses, drugs peddled by the Pablo Escobars of this world, the types of people hunted down by trusty DEA agents. We don’t see them as pushed by massive corporations on to doctors and hospitals and psychiatrists, drugs taken by mom and pop just to get through another suburban day, prescribed by their GP, and slowly ruining their livers and their mental acuity. It just couldn’t be like that. The reality of things are rarely simple, straightforward, and rarely have the kinds of answers that give us comfort. But then, who wants to live that comfortably?