Philip Whiteley's Blog

September 28, 2015

Devon sent

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 4:14 pm

I’ve just spent a weekend at the Appledore Book Festival, so thought I’d pen a quick blog to give my impressions. First of all – and the autumn sunshine helped – this corner of north Devon is astonishingly beautiful: take a trip to the Torridge and Taw estuaries if ever you are able.

The Festival lasts a week, has multiple events at venues in a tiny area of this old Devon town. Obviously, I couldn’t attend all; I decided to prioritize the less famous, more bookish events, including the Sunday morning talk Giving up the Day Job, with three authors relatively new to print: Emylia Hall, Shelley Harris and Vanessa LaFaye. They spoke of how their real-life experiences informed their prose, something I very much approve of; also, at the surprise at the success of their early novels. All had been selected as Richard & Judy selected reads, and were honest enough to discuss the pros and cons of an accolade that can distort the UK market. I selected The Sea Between Us, Jubilee and Summertime respectively by the three authors as paperbacks to buy and get signed.

There were some nice observations by Veronica Henry, chairing the discussion, about how print is coming back into fashion and the enduring appeal of a great story. I asked about the creation of character and I liked Vanessa relating how individuals in her book can develop a mind of their own, and surprise her.

Appledore’s organizers have got a lot of things right; the multi-venue, multi-day arrangement, the mix of celebrity and less-well-known authors, a poet in residence and a mix of genres. I shall put in a bid to appear myself, one year.

For more on the Festival, which takes place in September in each year, go to the home page:

Close of Play publisher’s page:

September 10, 2015

There is magic in all life

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:47 am

“There is magic in all life; in the every-day … A spider’s web is symmetrical; fragile, yet deadly. A wasp’s nest may be a perfect sphere, with parallel internal walls, as though crafted by an expert joiner. Look at your hand. Turn it over. Caress your fingertips with the end of your thumb. Is that not a miracle? Look someone in the eye for a whole minute. These tiny portals, small and sunken. Inwards, they convert light into colour and perspective, to let us see beauty or drama. Outwards, they convey our deepest emotion, the very voice of the soul, to someone else. Is that not a miracle? Why invent other creatures when we do not understand ourselves? Not take the time to appreciate this clumsy angel; divine beast, a human being? We are intensely conscious in almost everything, yet did not choose to exist! We are already supernatural. Composers can communicate across the generations; we can listen to the heaven’s width in the timing, in the space, between the notes in a cadence by Scarlatti or Mozart. I get called old-fashioned because I recoil from pop music and from Hollywood blockbusters with their ghouls and super-heroes, and I seek peace and quiet from time to time. Give myself the opportunity to appreciate this unmeasurable force that makes life life. In our modern world one has to plead for permission to slow down, away from the relentless din of popular entertainment, or the noisy hate campaigns between rival politicians. With all progress there is loss, and often the progress is meagre and the loss, immense.”

August 19, 2015

Eyes on the prize(s)

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:13 pm

In my editorial consultancy work, I sometimes advise clients that: ‘A successful book is a marketing project with a printed product attached.’ Usually, the context is business publishing, but of course the same applies to fiction, as I’ve learned in my first four months as a published novelist, after the launch of Close of Play.

It’s easy for authors to bemoan the time spent on self-promotion, when we’d rather be penning the new opus, but it’s more realistic to just get on with it. No one can buy a product they haven’t heard of. So here’s another self-promoting blog. Well, I’m a writer, I can do it.

We’ve just reached a little milestone: the 20th Amazon review within four months of publishing. All have been of four or five stars – and no, I don’t know all the people, maybe three or four of them!

Sometimes I refer to ‘we’ with regards to Close of Play because publishing it has been a collaborative effort. The most notable contribution is obviously that of Matthew Smith, my publisher at Urbane, but the support from many family and friends, fellow authors at Urbane Publications, other writers in my local group in Ampthill Bedfordshire, combine to make it feel like a team effort.

Writing can be a lonely job – just you and the screen, some days – so to join together and feel part of a bigger enterprise has been uplifting. I’ve read a few of the other Urbane titles and found them utterly compelling reads. One of us will become a best-seller, before long…

One of the most rewarding features of much of the feedback and reviews so far has been when people said that they laughed out loud/snorted through their tea. I thought some of the comic touches would work well but you can never be sure until it reaches an audience. Close of Play is deliberately a light and easy read, while hopefully a thoughtful one, but it is the result of many years of learning, crafting, editing and rewriting.

Some of my favourite comments from the many reviews include:

“I was surprised to enjoy the gentle rhythm and pace as I usually read fast paced, violent Swedish murders or psychological thrillers. I really enjoyed the light touches of humour underlying and running through it all. Can’t recommend it highly enough for an award.”

“There is a warmth and humour in the writing so often missing from life as Brian finds himself trying to work out Elizabeth’s intentions as well as his own. Brian made me smile and frequently laugh aloud.”

The marketing project is starting to produce results. It’s a process of building discoverability and profile, that we’re all busy doing at Urbane. So, if you’ve loved a book, take out five minutes to write a review. To review Close of Play, click here for the Amazon link. Click on this link for GoodReads.

In other developments…

  • There’s still time to vote for Close of Play in the People’s Book Prize, Summer Showcase 2015. Link is here:
  • I had a successful book-signing session at Waterstones Bedford on Saturday 1st August.
  • Close of Play has also been entered in to the Romantic Comedy of the Year award at the Romantic Novelists Association awards for 2015.
  • Serious discussions have begun with regards to producing a screenplay for adaptation of Close of Play for British TV. I hope for a positive update in September.

May 29, 2015

Book tour and blogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:20 am

A quick blog to record my thanks to the brilliant Catherine Hetherington and Linda Hobden, entrepreneurs who are custodians of, respectively, the New Bookshop in Cockermouth, Cumbria; and the Boots Shoes & Fashion blog, who have created terrific opportunities for me to discuss the ideas and characters of Close of Play this week.

Last Friday, I was featured in the ‘Boots’ blog. I have to say, it was a strange experience to be asked about fashion! That’s never happened as a business writer. But perhaps I will have to pay a bit more attention to footwear given the increasing number of public engagements…. A clip from the interview is below:

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s beliefs – whether you go to church; which political party you vote for and why, etc. I wanted to explore these ideas by putting together two Christian individuals having doubts and troubles in middle years. He’s the better sort of Tory, she’s the better sort of left-winger. So they have differences.

On Tuesday 26 May I gave a talk at the New Bookshop in Cockermouth. Thanks are also due to my wonderful sister-in-law Marilyn Lawrence, who helped arrange the talk. Around 30 people turned up, and we had a good discussion about cricket, nicknames, character, and the reasons why Elizabeth prefers to call Brian ‘Colin’ when she knows it’s ‘wrong’. I was particularly pleased to hear warm commendation from those who had finished the book, and who aren’t friends/don’t owe me favours! In general, the feedback to Close of Play has been rather more positive than I dared hope. Excerpts from some more reviews follow. Sincerely, I don’t know these people:

“As for the ending, well, you’re going to have to read it to find out. Seriously, do.”

“This book is written in the most beautiful language. I took longer to read it than normal because I would read a sentence or a paragraph and have to go back and re-read it; such was the enjoyment.”

“This is a book for a sunny day and a glass of wine. Read it and rekindle your faith in humankind.”

  • Several people have asked me about the next book. It’s due to be set in Belgium in August 2014, following a pub crawl of Leeds United fans …. But [hard sell follows] I don’t have a contract yet, so it will help enormously if we can boost sales of Close of Play. If you loved it, do consider buying a copy as a gift, or writing a review at Amazon:
    Or at GoodReads:
    From Monday, you’ll be able to register an online vote for Close of Play in this summer’s People’s Book Prize! Details will be on this blog, plus my Facebook, Linked-in and Twitter accounts.

May 11, 2015

Why won’t the left offer an alternative?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:50 am

In the 1980s, the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said: ‘There is no alternative’ to the neo-liberal, right-wing policy agenda that she was pursuing. On the surface, this is a shockingly arrogant statement to make for a party leader in a democracy. Unfortunately, however, she had a point.

She and her intellectual guides Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Keith Joseph had fashioned an ideology of managerial supremacy and deregulated markets. To me, it seemed to be unequal to the industrial crisis we had at the time, said nothing about skills or innovation, but at least they had an intellectual framework, albeit a rather dehumanizing one.

Labour offered nothing. Perhaps, I thought, there would be some ideas on the radical left. For a brief period of time in the late 1980s, I joined Tony Benn’s Socialist Movement. I vividly recall a speech he gave in which he denounced both corporations and bureaucratic nationalized industries. Great, I thought, he’s going to set out some cooperative-based business and economic model that’s a practical and inspirational alternative to neo-liberalism. But he didn’t. Again, nothing. I was never a huge admirer of Benn after that day. He had considerable intellectual capability, and probably did care about ordinary folk up to a certain point, but he settled into the safe role of professional protester, rather than create ideas for generating employment and good living standards for working people.

Between 1997 and 2005, Tony Blair’s Labour Party won three elections from the centre ground, without really articulating an ideology. Blairism ended up being a curious hotch-potch of neo-liberalism and Old Labour, before the combination of Big State and Big Banks collapsed in a heap in the autumn of 2008.

After the debacle of the General Election of 2015 – off the scale of pessimistic projections for Labour, in which the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander lost their Commons seats – the internal debates in the party will presumably now focus on whether they should be more left or more centre; more towards Miliband père or back towards Tony Blair. To me, this is missing the point. It’s not whether the policies and the ideology that they rest upon are more or less left, but whether they are coherent.

On this score, Ed Miliband in his dismal campaign of 2015 was shockingly lacking, as bereft of ideas and explanations as Neil Kinnock in 1992, left to bleating about the NHS, but without a plan for funding it. He opposed austerity, but failed to explain the causes of austerity. He blamed the banks and the global financial crisis for the economic crisis of 2008-09, but failed to acknowledge that Labour had very much encouraged debt-fuelled growth; had failed to respond to warnings about too much debt in the economy (Vince Cable in the Commons, eg in November 2003). Miliband failed to acknowledge that Gordon Brown, by stretching the definition of the economic cycle to give himself permission to increase borrowing and break his own fiscal rules, contributed to the crash that followed. If you want to oppose debt-fuelled, unsustainable neoliberal ‘growth’ created by short-termist banks, you can’t use this as a basis for your spending plans. That’s the point made by the incisive businesswoman Catherine Shuttleworth in the Leeds audience at the BBC Question Time, to which Ed Miliband had no answer – none at all.

A little humility on the left might lead to better understanding, and development of an alternative. After 30 years or so, I’m still waiting.

  • I’m aware that this may sound rather passive – expecting others to create a lead that I meekly follow, please bear in mind that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional career creating a humanized, alternative business model to the neo-liberal one that has failed. I’ve been trying to answer the question that Tony Benn raised, but then ducked, all those years ago. It’s set out in my co-authored book New Normal Radical Shift. See here for a link. I mean, if little old me can critique the neo-liberal business and economic model and produce an alternative that is based on research, and proven by more enlightened businesses, why can’t the so-called left-wing, so-called intellectuals do the same? Seriously.

May 7, 2015

Clumsy angel

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 2:59 pm

On 21st April, Robert Daws and Amy Robbins, renowned stage and TV actors, read from Chapter 11 of my first novel Close of Play. The chapter is called ‘Clumsy angel’ (see my blog from a week ago). Here I include the video of the talk, courtesy of the brilliant Howard Martin of Ampthill TV. An excerpt follows:

‘What’s the worst thing that could happen? I reflected. Unfortunately, I then began to think of several worst things, each perfectly plausible, such as: a clumsy faux pas, an accidental insult to Elizabeth’s world view, a general air of pomposity and conservatism, resulting in her disinclination to meet again, leading to my renewed loneliness and bachelor status, increasing alcohol dependency, physical and mental decline and premature death with only a handful of the lads from the cricket club attending the funeral, and even those largely due to the promise of free drinks paid out of my estate; Godfrey mustering some positive attributes from long-ago anecdotes as he attempts to muster an emotional eulogy; people shuffling uncomfortably in the cold and nearly-empty church, a neat row of Batting Awards lined atop the coffin, representing the only tangible achievements of a once promising but ultimately futile existence.’

At the time of writing, there are nine reviews on Amazon, all positive, some enthusiastically so. Some excerpts read:

‘Watching him [Brian] trying to sort through his emotions can be very poignant, at other times it is hilarious.’

‘A touching love story and beautifully written. I actually felt as if I knew these characters within the first ten pages. The first person narration of Brian reminded me of Stevens from The Remains of the Day at times, and before long I was itching for him to get together with Elizabeth, another interesting and wonderfully drawn character. At turns it’s also darkly comic and it’s laugh out loud funny in places too. Highly recommended, especially for a romantic comedy holiday read.’

‘Some great humor and moments of refreshing charm in this romantic comedy, which is well titled. I especially enjoyed Brian’s views on miracles and magic, and I felt a little sorry for Elizabeth during all of his hesitation.’

‘This is Jane Austen from a man’s point of view, and it’s wonderful.’

For the publisher’s page, go to this link.

April 24, 2015

If Sartre had played cricket…

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:04 am

My first book launch as a novelist took place on Tuesday, in Ampthill cricket pavilion, Bedfordshire. Star guests were the top actors, husband-and-wife team Robert Daws and Amy Robbins (pictured), who read Chapter 11 of Close of Play, entitled Clumsy Angel. Host for the evening was my old friend Emmanuelle Chambon.

Manou (as we know her) opened by declaring her long-running challenge as a French woman of understanding cricket, also an obsession of her partner Anil. Cricket, Christianity and love, the three dominant themes in Close of Play, have a shared irrationality, she suggested.

But, I countered, in the Q&A session, isn’t it odd that the French don’t like cricket? Albert Camus wrote about the randomness of Fate, and Robert Daws & Amy Robbins 21 April 2015 IIrebellion against Death. Jean-Paul Sartre’s maxim about the human condition was ‘We are condemned to choose.’ In cricket, as a batsman, you cannot decide which delivery is bowled to you (Fate). You have less than one second to decide how to respond. You cannot not make a choice. If you get it badly wrong, your role in the game is terminated (Death). What would the authors of The Iron in the Soul trilogy and La Peste have made of that?

Suppose, I reflected afterwards, they had been raised on Jennings books – which also received a mention at the event – absorbing the tragicomic scene where Jennings scored a 50 (51 actually; he had totted up the runs in his head) but it didn’t count because his friend Darbyshire, who was supposed to have been keeping score, was AWOL? A life unrecorded! Did it still take place?

I could not pursue the matter further because a) I haven’t studied Sartre or Camus formally, just read their astonishing novels; and b) I’d had a couple of beers by this time. The conundrum persists.

Listening to Bob and Amy read my work was spine-tingling. My words, just existing in my head for so many years, gained a public audience and a new life. Inevitably, an actor brings his or her own interpretation. By just emphasizing a word within a sentence in an unexpected way, Bob and Amy brought a hidden yearning, or anxiety to the surface; a section that may have been deadpan was heartfelt, or vice versa. It must be how a songwriter feels when a gifted singer brings their own voice and understanding.

I think I can claim a world first: a book launch where the principal literary influences discussed were Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre and Anthony Buckeridge, starring the lead actor of Outside Edge, held in a cricket pavilion.

April 2, 2015

Men don’t ‘do’ romantic drama. Or do we?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:00 am

Recently, I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. As expected, there are rather more women than men. I thought that the ratio might be 85-15 or 90-10. In fact, it’s more like 99-1, and a few of the male card-carrying members use female pseudonyms. There is a similar story in the readership profile. The extent to which the cover and other aspects of marketing of my first novel Close of Play, a romantic comedy, have been tilted towards the expected female audience has been a fascinating learning experience, as my publisher applies the finishing touches.

If you read the mini-biographies on the Romantic Novelists Association’s site, many relate how they grew up as bookworms, typically devoted to fantasy tales and romantic melodrama. My CV is very different. I didn’t read Jane Austen or Jean Plaidy as a boy. I played sport, read about sport, made Airfix kits and watched war movies. The books I enjoyed usually had a male lead figure and a fair amount of sport or danger. So it was a long and very indirect route by which I came to pen a romantic novel in my early 50s. My childhood influences can hardly have had any impact at all.

Or so it would seem. But if one uses an expanded definition of romantic drama, my early years were filled with the most heart-rending, achingly emotional tales, often rendered by alpha males. Their names included Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and John Lennon. There were a lot of tears and much insecurity; probably more direct soul-baring than any female scribe would dare, until Alanis Morrissette came along. Above all, these and other singers expressed an intense longing; this desire really to know a woman as well as love her.

So what is it about songs that gives blokes permission to get in touch with our inner feelings (or any other feelings, for that matter)? And why do we struggle when it’s on the printed page or at the pictures?

I’m afraid I can’t provide definitive answers, only a few observations. There is something about the ‘will they/won’t they’ drama that struggles to hold the male attention as the main or sole story arc; especially in a movie featuring Kate Hudson or Reese Witherspoon because, of course, we know they will in the end, after a break-up 20 minutes from full time as she discovers the secret that he had kept hidden (I still enjoy them, mind – guilty pleasure).

Humour helps. I might not have struggled with Far From the Madding Crowd at O-Level if Gabriel Oak hadn’t been so dour and earnest. Or a bit of political intrigue or philosophical depth. Or at least a car chase. Somehow, the question: ‘Is he The One for me?’ is not enough to hold our interest for 90 minutes or 288 pages. But for three and a half minutes, with a soaring chorus, and a macho guitar solo to come, we can give our passion a full-throated roar. We do have a romantic heartbeat, but it’s detected in different ways.

Close of Play has many ‘romcom’ features. I make no apology. It has a slightly different slant in that it’s from the man’s point of view. The two main male characters have been a bit sniffy towards love n romance n girly stuff in their early adult years. They prefer playing cricket and drinking beer. But each of them aches for the woman they really, really want, and fear that it might all be too late. I hope the female readers will be touched by their longing and forgive them their mistakes. And maybe, just maybe, the occasional bloke will read it, disguised inside GQ magazine, as he listens to Blood on the Tracks via his headphones.

PJ Whiteley, March 2015.


January 19, 2015

Ten habits for good writing (I think)

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 7:30 pm

Motivated by this Guardian article, where different writers offer their ’10 rules for writing’, here are mine:
1. Read, and read great books. Love them.
2. Write the world that you know about – write the book you would want to read.
3. Be bold. Adopt the phrase ‘My book, my rules.’
4. Show, don’t tell – except for the rare occasions on which telling the reader will surprise and delight them. Learning good judgement on this takes about 35 years unless you’re Charlotte Brontë.
5. Learn poetry by heart.
6. Learn another language. It helps you appreciate your own and how to use it.
7. Edit in your mind, especially when walking. Having a dog helps.
8. Be aware of your soul, and your consciousness, and complexity. Life is full of paradox and so is a great book. Understand your beliefs and nurture them. You cannot escape belief.
9. Be curious and unprejudiced. If you don’t like religion, learn about a religion. If you don’t like secularism, learn about humanism. Show respect.
10. Imagine you have some of the world’s best actors sat round your dining table for a read-through (Kevin Spacey, Sheridan Smith, Tamsin Greig, Samantha Bond….). They’re going to read the dialogue that you have written. How confident do you feel, handing out the scripts?

The unofficial eleventh is – don’t be too sure of yourself. Some of the above may not be quite right, or may not work for everyone, except obviously the first and the tenth.

November 20, 2014

A Management Shift starts here

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 7:00 pm

Notes for my talk at Vlatka Hlupic’s historic book launch, 20 November 2014 follow, due to appear as I give my short introductory talk. I’ll probably ad lib a little, but the drafted content is:

Welcome to San Francisco, to media and others joining on line, live here from London, Britain.

My name’s Philip Whiteley. I’m just the warm-up act before the star arrives. When it comes to talks, often the recommendation is: start with a joke. Then again, many people say to me: you’re a management writer, what do you know about comedy? And I reply – you’ve gotta be kidding? The world of management offers great material. Do you know, they refer to people as ‘resources’? When they talk about ‘blue sky’, they’re not talking about the sky. Or the colour blue.

When I quip that my day job consists of trying to convince economists and business schools that society consists of people, some folk think it’s satire. But it really is the problem. These absurd metaphors that the company is a structure and that people are ‘resources’. And it’s not an accident – it comes from bad ideological choices.

There have been many books making this point. By 1999 Jeffrey Pfeffer was able to describe a substantial and sophisticated body of evidence demonstrating how high-performance cultures generate superior returns. We’ve had progress since, but the kind of progress in 15 years that I had hoped for in five. I’ve gone grey working for this breakthrough. I wish that were a metaphor.

The explanation for this slowness is that evidence is not enough. If it was, the case would have been won years ago. That’s why our star guest this evening Vlatka Hlupic talks about a movement as well as a business case. It’s about narratives and hearts and minds, as well as empirical evidence and case studies.

The Management Shift is not the first textbook making this case, it won’t be the last. It is probably, however, the most comprehensive. I’m proud to have independently reached many of the same conclusions as Vlatka, but I’m not able to say to a busy executive: “Here’s a practical tool that will help you transform your business; you can begin tomorrow.”

Vlatka can do that – based on years of applied research.

We live in a time of technological change, but frustrating slowness in modernisation of business models. Many firms are investing heavily in Big Data, artificial intelligence etc, but how well are they managing their people? Given these intelligent, communicative sentient beings called human, business models treat them as resources. Then, given a machine efficient at data manipulation, there is effort to turn them into sentient beings. We treat people like robots and robots like people.

Highly engaged, well-led teams in organizations remain the exception – and Vlatka will produce some stats illustrating this. In a rational world, it would be the other way around: the dysfunctional or command and control employers would be a rogue few.

So while the talk is of 21st century technology and ‘progress’, our governance and reporting and management approaches are positively Mediaeval.

Remember, people are not only the most important asset. They create all the others!! (Where else do you think they come from?) That’s how it works. A company creates and deploys resources, it doesn’t consist of them.

So, sometimes, I think it’s funny to talk about nonsensical mechanistic metaphors of the old approach to business. But sometimes I get angry. Because it really is harmful for people working in business, and for their customers – “held in a queue and you will be answered shortly” – and ultimately for their owners. There is an enlightened alternative, as Vlatka will now demonstrate. It works in theory. It works in practice. That doesn’t guarantee it’ll become mainstream, but it absolutely deserves to and I hope you’ll give her the maximum support you can in spreading this vital message.

For more on the Management Shift, go to:

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