Philip Whiteley's Blog

November 2, 2018

Last lap

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 12:40 pm

The following is the text of my latest Update on the crowdfunded third novel The Rooms We Never Enter:

Mid-autumn, and we’ve topped the 60% mark, with 58 people pledging to help see The Rooms We Never Enter in print. I thought it would be timely to pen an update. First of all, it was inspiring to meet other Unbound authors at the event at Nottingham Waterstones last month (and to receive a couple of extra generous pledges in the days afterwards). The calibre of authors exceeds even my high expectations. I’m in with an eminent crowd, and the socializing was terrific.

In August, I reported an initial meeting with a Leeds-based literary events organisation about a Pledge Party, to support the book. This was complicated slightly because you’re not supposed to fulfil a pledge before publication, so I could not have a pledge as an entry fee. In any event, with promises that have been made to me, I’m fairly confident that I will reach target over the next few weeks anyway, so plans are now turning to a launch party, in the spring of next year.

Thank you to my 58 amazing supporters. More news soon!

To pledge to the project, go to:


October 3, 2018

Autumn tour blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:01 pm

OK, it’s not quite a tour, two dates, maybe three; not enough for a t-shirt. But my involvement with the Margate Bookie last weekend, and appearance at a panel at Saturday’s Unbound mini-festival at Nottingham Waterstones, is a good start to the autumn. And I’m hoping to confirm a date in mid-November in Leeds, once the venue is confirmed.

Last weekend I took part in the Margate Bookie, including the amazing shrines walk I blogged about in August. The walk around the literary shrines – dedicated to work of four selected authors, including myself – took place on Saturday morning. I appeared in themed costume – WW1 officer’s cap and Leeds United shirt, fitting the war memorial and football fan themes of Marching on Together. The curator, Elspeth Penfold, has penned this blog with images.

This coming Saturday, 6 October, I’ll be at Waterstones Nottingham, taking part in a one-day litfest with fellow Unbound authors. I’ll be on a comedy panel – that is, a panel of authors talking about the craft of comedy, not necessarily a panel that will be caught up in some farcical misunderstanding. Though you never know …

Details on this link.

September 11, 2018

Three books

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 7:42 pm

Which books influenced your latest work? You could frame the question a different way: which books didn’t? Every book we read enriches our vocabulary and deepens our learning. Only a few of the greats have had a momentous personal impact, transforming my world view: The Plague, 100 Years of Solitude, Don Quijote, Jennings Goes to School.

The way in which the books we’ve read shape our understanding of our solitary, finite existence is the theme of my memoir which perhaps, one day, may be completed. From the Introduction, I write:

Reading is a physical activity, not just a mental one. We like the touch and smell of a paper book, and if we use an e-reader and we love the book we will probably purchase the hardback version too, just to have, and to hold. We are more than the sum of the books we have read, but we are not the same as we would have been had we not read them; not even nearly the same; scarcely fully human.

In a truly inspired idea, my fellow Unbound author Mark Bowsher invited authors to name three books that most influenced their latest opus. For The Rooms We Never Enter, this required some thought; the idea for the story originated from real life, not the world of literature, as most of my ideas do. Inevitably, of course, the examples of earlier works steered the sub-conscious towards some of the themes, situations and characters. Of the three that came to mind as most relevant, it struck me that two would be regarded as ‘popular’ fiction, and the other as more literary. I always find this distinction arbitrary, and at times irritating. One of the gifts of some popular novelists who have written accessible, entertaining books is the ability to bring a character so vividly to life you feel you’ve actually met them – two examples I often cite are Reggie Perrin and Bridget Jones. It’s an ability that some literary authors lack.

So my three were: Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby, Bridget Jones’ Diary, by Helen Fielding, and The Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig. Mark’s done a fantastic job to unearth the vivid covers of the originals. To read more, click on this link!

And to pledge to The Rooms We Never Enter, click on this link!


August 20, 2018

A shrine to the concept of faith. And books

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:50 am

If there is a single theme that has haunted me, and my work, it is that of the dominant narrative; the story that takes hold in a community, or nation; the influence it has, and the reasons why a viewpoint became dominant.

The influence of a narrative is often the subject of discussion and debate; the reasons for its popularity, less so. In our secular world, it is common to believe that accepted views are informed solely by the facts of the matter, and the available evidence. Yet again and again in my adult life, I have come across individuals who pride themselves on being rational, sceptical and evidence-based, who assert judgement as though it were fact and either get the evidence base wrong or, more commonly, selectively cite from parts of it to support an ideological conviction.

Take the question of human rights. Many folk point to accords and international agreements that support them, tacitly assuming that the concept was invented by lawyers. Yet the history of the development of human rights is longer, more fascinating and more spiritual. The abolition of slavery came about as a result of a committed campaign by evangelical Christians, motivated by what they understood as the Holy Spirit. This historical evidence is overlooked in the dominant narratives of today’s secular society.

I like to call myself these days an agnostic Christian, or a lapsed atheist. I have difficulty with organised religion, but my observation is that humans are spiritual beings. Values matter. Without values, without a concept of the spiritual and the sacred, we would still have slavery. Also important are rituals, shrines, worship and prayer; they are more than just evolutionary devices (almost all texts on evolution contain a substantial amount of hypothesis and belief – very few of the findings or assumptions are testable in a rigorous scientific manner).

Belief, I have come to realize, is inescapable. So is mythology and the worship of saints. Atheist socialists, for example, worship a whole pantheon of martyrs and saints. Just this weekend I saw someone wearing a Salvador Allende t-shirt; just the iconic face with horn-rimmed spectacles and prominent chin. No words were needed.

In Margate next month, as part of the literary festival, some local artists are to create a series of shrines in honour of the work of four selected authors. The work uses the concept of ‘Ofrendas’, Spanish for ‘Offerings’ and is the idea of local artist Elspeth Penfold and the group Thread and Word. It draws inspiration from Dee Heddon’s Walking Libraries concept, and the book Home Altars of New Mexico by Dana Salvo. The installation consists of mini-shrines to the work of different authors; Elspeth will lead a tour of the shrines, positioned around Margate, and has worked with filmmaker Anna Bowman to create a film of such a tour, to be screened at the Foyle Room in the Turner Gallery Margate between 10.30am and 11.15 on Saturday 29 September. The full tour then starts at 11.30.

I am honoured to be one of the authors selected, along with others who will be speaking at the festival: Elise Valmorbida, Jess Kidd and Owen Lowery. Most appropriately, the work of mine to be featured, Marching on Together, contains some dialogue discussing the concept of secular saints. One of the characters, Terry, observes:

“It’s a natural human tendency to describe folk as saints or villains, even if the reality is somewhere in between. It’s like, we can’t cope with too many facts. It’s just not as satisfying to say “Well, he were good in some ways, but difficult in others, blah blah. Makes you sound indecisive or disloyal.”

For more on the Ofrendas project, go to this link. To the artist Elspeth Penfold, I express my gratitude at being selected. How did I come to be chosen? I’m going to thank the Holy Spirit.

May 8, 2018

The quest for humble pride

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:15 am

There’s a curious balance to make as a writer; indeed in life, generally. Few people like a show-off, someone who is always promoting himself (it is normally the alpha male). On the other hand, it is an error to shrink too far, to fail to assert oneself when you have something valid to say.

Like most writers I oscillate between the two: between thinking I am brilliant and thinking I’m a fraud; between worrying that I promote myself too much, and beating myself up for not raising my profile more.

This week, I have the proud announcement that at the weekend at a literary festival, I shared a stage with a legendary writer, a truly great author, comparable to Dickens or Tolstoy. According to the feedback I have received, my nerves were not visible, I made few verbal fluffs and I generally acquitted myself well.

On the long journey home, the first item on my ‘to do’ list would naturally be to tell the world about this achievement. Yet still, I felt reticence, mingled with fear. How would I tell people? Would they think that I am comparing my work to that of Louis de Bernieres? Would people think ‘Wow, Philip, tell us more!’? Or would they think: ‘Oh there goes Philip, banging on about his books again, this time with a bit of name-dropping.’?

I’ve come to the conclusion that, probably, I will receive both reactions, and that that’s OK. There’s a sort of happy medium between narcissism and self abnegation, and it’s something I call humble pride, which involves being relaxed about not everyone loving what you do. It’s having the confidence to say: ‘This is my view. This is what I’ve created. I wish to share it. I think you’ll like it. If you don’t, that’s fine, though please don’t be too rude or personal if you don’t.’

Recently I was interviewed for Cali Bird’s wonderful Gentle Creative blog, and one of the questions was about dealing with rejection. This is one area where I would claim to be the best qualified author to comment. At this stage of my career, 30 years a self-taught writer, I’m probably the world leader in rejections received. What I’ve learned is a couple of things: firstly, it’s remarkable how few acceptances you need to have a satisfactory career; secondly, if people don’t like your work, hell it’s a democracy, they’re entitled to say so! I don’t like Harry Potter books or the music of The Human League. I don’t suppose JK Rowling or Phil Oakey would lose a moment’s sleep at this discovery.

It’s good to be rejected. It’s even better to get a bad review. It shows you’re trying, and that someone’s noticed you. On Saturday evening, I had around 25 people listening to my readings, laughing at the right parts, sometimes murmuring with approval. It felt deeply rewarding. I hope it leads to my third novel The Rooms We Never Enter getting published, through the crowdfunding appeal.

Now, I can start planning the next talk and signing, at Waterstones Leeds, on the evening of Thursday 14th June. Details on this link.

I just have to close this blog with a few notes of thanks:

  • To my fellow performers, actress Lucy Freeman, musicians Nick Browning and my big brother Andy. Great performance, plus we had the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin joining in on a Kaiser Chiefs number #bestculturalmashupever
  • To the wonderful and brilliant Andreas Loizou and Gemma Pettman of the Margate Bookie, for their faith in me and their unfailing support.
  • To Eric and Dee for doing the video – I will post links in due course.
  • To Louis, of course, for his grace and generosity.

March 16, 2018

Nostalgia and hope on the North Foreland

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:08 am

I have a deep affection for the north Kent coast. As an expat Yorkshire lad who went to secondary school in Kent, I missed the moors and the North Yorkshire fishing villages. The compensation was the long Kent coastline. My favourite part ran from the haunting Roman twin towers of Reculver to the narrow sandy beach at Joss Bay on the North Foreland. The oystercatchers and the plovers near Minnis Bay, with their piping calls and darting flight; the swimming at high tide and the rock pools at low, meant that I could find my precious slivers of wilderness, on the fringes of the crowded south east of England, with its farmland, motorways and housing estates.

So I return to Margate’s Book Festival for the third year in a row, with nostalgia in my private memories, as well as excitement at the prospect of meeting new readers. On Saturday 5th May, I host Louis de Bernières’ talk at 2pm. Louis was kind enough to give a generous quote for my second novel Marching on Together. I hope that I will not be so awe-struck as to be speechless in the presence of a living literary legend (so many of my other favourite authors are no longer with us), and I want to emphasize, on the day and before, that there is more to his work than Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, majestic a novel as it is.

Then, in the evening, I host my own little gig of readings and songs, from my novels and short stories. I’ve always liked to feature ‘people like the folk I know’ in my books, rather than fantasy or historical figures. Those who had an OK start in life, but still struggle all the same; people who fear mediocrity more than death, who take moral choices seriously, who pause to wonder at what is and what might be. I like someone to discover the magical in the everyday; like Yvonne in Marching on Together who examines the complex beauty of a single dandelion flower and then quietly puts her weed-killer away.

And I am drawn to people who form a band, like Johnny, Terry and Craig in the book, and in its short story prequel Gringos Can’t Dance. They do covers as well as their own material, and they have good taste. So the soundtrack to my modest canon features songs by REM, the Kaiser Chiefs and the Beatles. On the night, they’ll be performed by real musicians, not me, I hasten to add. I’ll also have professional actress Lucy Freeman to help me with readings. This is all at the 6pm slot. It’s a fundraiser for my crowdfunded third novel The Rooms We Never Enter, and it promises to be a huge amount of fun.

December 20, 2017

Old year, new announcements

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:31 am

It’s the Christmas season already, and there is much to report. Earlier this month, I revisited my old home town of Marske-by-the-sea, North Yorkshire, to begin research for a major work, which will be part memoir, part reflection on ideas I’ve had and books that have influenced my thinking. The working title is Touching the Books I’ve Read. I loved the visit; it’s probably the place I’ve felt most at home, and I wished I had returned earlier, and more often. The beach walk from Marske to Saltburn is magical (though I nearly got trapped by the tide – comedy moment….)

I’ve had a sales update from Urbane, and sales of Marching on Together and Close of Play have been ticking over nicely in recent weeks, which is reassuring to hear: there hasn’t been any publicity recently, so there must be a fair bit of word-of-mouth recommendation.

In the New Year, I’m due to announce that I’ll be hosting a major literary event in the spring: can’t give any more details yet!

And the biggest news is signing a contract with the publisher Unbound for my new romantic comedy The Rooms We Never Enter, on a crowdfunding basis. Within just a couple of days, I had six backers, which is a heartening start.  For more information, go to this link: 

Happy Christmas, everyone!

September 21, 2017

Engagement is a business issue

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 3:15 pm

Ryanair’s crisis of multiple flight cancellations is a failure of employee engagement, but cultural biases prevent the media or many business commentators from presenting it in this way. This was the topical message at a talk I gave this morning at the second Engage for Success Milton Keynes seminar.

‘The airline’s brand has been damaged, the share price has been hit, the business model could even be threatened, because senior managers were not treating the engagement of employees as a matter of business risk.’ Ryanair has been losing pilots to competitors, and the offer of a one-off cash bonus received a cool reception. Such an approach is typical of a mechanistic approach to management, geared excessively by a bottom-line calculation of cost, with people referred to as resources.

‘The idea that the economic impact of relationships in the workplace is negligible is probably the most stupid popular idea I’ve ever come across … People are not “resources”. A company doesn’t consist of resources, it consists of people. Resources are what we use.’

At the seminar, attended by around 40 senior professionals in internal communications and personnel-related disciplines, discussion ranged widely, covering matters such as the importance, and the difficulty, of measuring the economic impact of training and other people-related investments. Katy Downes of Network Rail reported on how her business has made progress in linking key indicators of employee engagement to business indicators.

In her address, Stevie Leake of Kerry Foods, described the company’s comprehensive approach to engagement, from strategic communications to deliberately ‘fun’ elements such as competitions and ‘thank-you’ cards. Engagement has risen, in line with improved performance, she reported.

Also at the seminar, Engage for Success representative Silke Brittain, managing director ClearVoice, and Adrian Spurrell of the Red Thread, led a participative session in which delegates engaged in group discussions to devise ways to protect or even enhance staff engagement and performance during Brexit, with a task of envisaging announcements that could be made in January 2020.

September 19, 2017

It’s the culture, of course

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 4:32 pm

The gender pay gap is caused in large part by unconscious biases, and requires cultural change rather than technical fixes, Rita Trehan, adviser on diversity and workplace culture to leading companies, told a London briefing today.

While this is a fairly obvious conclusion, from a behavioural perspective, the lessons that follow are not easy to implement, because ‘culture’ is so multi-dimensional and complex.

UK companies with more than 250 staff will be required to report on pay differentials from next year, she pointed out. ‘But I’m not sure that numbers are the most important part, because you can cut numbers in different ways. The big question is: What’s the real issue that we have to address? It could be not enough women in certain career paths.’

Employers ought to realize that fairness and diversity affect the employer brand, as well as motivation and performance. The recent controversy at the BBC starkly illustrated this, she said. ‘For a company like the BBC, which does a lot from a diversity perspective, as a core attribute, the branding is an issue for them. It put them under the spotlight from a gender perspective and [more generally] a diversity perspective. The top ten minority individuals earn about the same as Chris Evans.’

While companies often pride themselves on paying for performance, detailed statistical analysis often reveals that pay reflects a less meritocratic pattern, such as tenure, which tends to favour men. Mercer HR’s Workforce Science Institute, for example, has revealed such tendencies over the past 20 years, and now helps many large employers with their diversity strategies.

The trend is moving away from seeing equality as a compliance matter dominated by legislation and quotas, and more towards a performance culture. Some groups of male CEOs are starting to promote the agenda, including the highly influential Michael Bloomberg, said Rita.

September 18, 2017

Exposing the ignorance of our politicians

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:49 am

My blog today is a review of Bob Garratt’s latest book Stop The Rot.

This book is a masterpiece. It ought to be – as they say – required reading for all senior leaders in business and politics. Bob forensically examines the short-termism, lack of accountability, corruption, greed, weak governance and incompetence that brought about the economic and social problems we are experiencing.

Reprising some themes from his earlier work, he points out that the directors are ultimately responsible for the success of the organization, balanced by duties of care and to avoid the temptations of corruption. These are customs frequently honoured in the breach, with many of the lapses a result of sheer ignorance. There is only one Board, in the UK system, only one class of director, they have defined duties, and unlimited personal liability. They also, he points out devastatingly, typically have no training. A depressingly common response to poor induction and lapses by Boards is to create yet more supervisory structures and regulations on top, resulting in a bureaucratic mess. And we wonder why we have banking and other corporate collapses, misallocations of capital and recurring economic crises.

Much of the focus is on Britain, but there are critiques of the executive-led corporate model of the US, strengths and weaknesses of continental Europe, and some interesting reforms in South Africa.

A fascinating contribution is his astonishing expose of how woolly the notion of ‘ownership’ of organizations is, in both the public and private sector. An anomaly of British law is that shareholders of listed companies are not directly owners of the firm. In the public sphere, he has never received a satisfactory answer to the question: ‘Who owns an NHS Trust?’

Quite correctly, he urges ownership matters to be clarified, and shareholder voting rights to be limited to genuine owners, not short-termist speculators using shares as ‘gambling chips’.

This is a quite brilliant book, but with disturbing implications. The colossal gulf between the sober, intelligent critique offered in these pages, combined with wise and practical policy proposals for better governance, responsible ownership and long-term economic management on the one hand; compared with the belligerent ignorance of our political leaders on the other, is alarming. As I say, it should be required reading; it will be a struggle to make it so but, well, you have to try.

  • Stop the Rot: Reframing Governance for Directors and Politicians, by Bob Garratt, is published by Greenleaf Publishing, available from Amazon and other stores.
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