Philip Whiteley's Blog

March 23, 2016

It’s not just cricket

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 4:11 pm

The theological discussions in Close of Play rarely get picked up on by readers and reviewers, but these were some of the first to be written. I wanted to have characters who reflected on life; who tried to match their beliefs to their actions, and who wrestled with what they believed, admitting to doubts about the church to which they had committed themselves. It’s true that doubt is more dramatically intriguing than certainty, but the deeper point that fascinates me is that you can’t really escape faith; to a very large extent we are what we believe. I’ve often observed secular people devoted to scientific evidence pronounce with absolute certainty on a complex matter on which they cannot possibly have gathered all relevant evidence. As humans we make mental short-cuts, we seek clarity, we have preferred narratives. In short, we are wired to believe.

So I’m delighted to be able to announce that the book has been reviewed in Church Times (print edition, 24th March, p 34); naturally, the Christian theme is central. The reviewer Rachel Harden highlights an observation early in the book, in which Brian “describes the frustrations of fellow parishioners at the indecisive nature of the sermons, but concludes that he finds such cautious phrasing reassuring: ‘Life is complex, and I rather imagine God is, too’.”

There is a certain charm to the Church of England, in my view, so often criticized for fudging controversial issues, and muddling through. Maybe certainty is a sin; perhaps ‘muddling through’ is the noblest path in a world where people’s views and ambitions clash so sharply. Discuss. Anyway, returning to the review, I’m delighted to report that Rachel approves the story-telling as well as the observations on faith:

“Silly mid-offs apart, the strength of the book is in the portrayal of characters and complex relationships at the heart of any community, as well as the goodness that can be witnessed and experienced by living out the Christian faith rather than criticising the new vicar’s sermons. It does not shirk from people’s pasts, either, acknowledging that any relationship later in life brings inevitable baggage, sexual and otherwise. Close of Play is well written, but most of all well observed. There is a clever denouement: the end chapter provides the reader with up-to-date information on the lives of the characters 20 years on.”

March 18, 2016

Genre/non-genre, that’s the decision

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:57 am

Before you choose, decide, sang Peter Gabriel once. At the age of 15 I was not really sure whether this was nonsense, tautology or aphorism, but of course it’s the last of these. He’s a clever chap, that Peter Gabriel. We’re making decisions all the time, big and small; they merit careful reflection and – this is my favourite, favourite theme in fiction – we don’t always realise how big a decision is at the point of making it. A couple of hundred years ago Søren Kierkegaard made similar points to Gabriel but in far more words, most of them Danish.

In my guest blog at the brilliant Lover of Books blog, published as part of the Urbane week, I discuss the big decision every writer has to make as regards obeying the conventions of drama and what has been proven to engage the reader, versus experimentation and trying something new. There’s pressure on authors not to stray too far from an established formula, but, as I write in the blog:

Do we really want every romantic comedy to have a fairly transparent secret that He has concealed from Her (or the other way around), to be revealed 40 pages from the end causing a break-up resolved when He (or She) is urged by the Best Friend to ‘Go Get Her/Him’, as prelude to the Big Kiss at the end in the airport lounge? Is it not more intriguing to have one situation resolved, while another thread comes loose? The reader wants to be taken by surprise sometimes, by plot or by a person; to have a character who is compellingly vivid and also unpredictable, like Boris in The Goldfinch, or Aoife in Instructions for a Heatwave.

I’m sending out the new opus, Marching on Together, to a reader panel this spring, and I’ll be curious to read the reactions. It’s further from the romcom genre than Close of Play. Think maybe Last Orders meets Fever Pitch with a little bit of Atonement. But it will be different from all those books, because I’m not Graham Swift or Nick Hornby or Ian McEwan. I certainly don’t support Arsenal, for starters. I’m different. Not as accomplished, but no one would write anything if they took great effort to convince themselves they couldn’t.

Will it be any good? I think so. Ultimately you, the reader, will choose. But before you choose, decide.

  • Close of Play, was published by Urbane Publications in April 2015. It was shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize in summer 2015. Three free copies are being given away by Sonya Alford at the Lover of Books blog; just click on the link above. Marching on Together, also by Urbane Publications, is due March 2017.

March 8, 2016

Call for readers of draft opus

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:40 am

ANNOUNCEMENT: the next novel, working title Marching on Together, is now due for launch in early 2017. Originally it had been scheduled for autumn this year, but the publisher and I agree that the deadline is just too tight. Given that a first draft is nearly complete, this gives me the wonderful opportunity to spend the summer working on it. I’m very pleased with the writing, especially the dialogue, but does the story as a whole captivate? I think so, but at times the phrase buzzing in my head is a paraphrase of Eric Morecambe: Do I have all the right scenes, but not necessarily in the right order? I have a couple of volunteer readers for the draft. If anyone wishes to join my focus group, please get in touch. You will have a mention in Acknowledgements and a free ticket to the launch event, for which I’ve reached agreement-in-principle with a sporting legend.

February 17, 2016

Evidence, spin and the slow death of investigative journalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:26 am

I begin this blog with a current affairs quiz. Just three questions:

  1. What do you think has caused the serious defects of new-born babies in Brazil?
  2. What about that car company Volkswagen, do you think it has deliberately cheated customers and the regulators with its clever software to pass emissions tests with cars that are dirtier than they seem?
  3. And what about Boeing, Airbus and most of the airlines of the world, repeatedly breaking health and safety law, and covering up serious toxic injury of crew and many passengers?

If you live in the west and read western mainstream media, your answers to the above are likely to be variants of:

  1. Well, that Zika virus, obviously.
  2. Yes, VW has! What absolute rogues, and
  3. What? Don’t be ridiculous. Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Yet the airline case is the odd one out for quite the opposite reason to that assumed in the popular narrative – it’s the only case of the three where a causal link has been proven.

In my three decades’ work as a journalist I have never ceased to be amazed by the ability of regulators and other powerful figures to embed a narrative that has only a tenuous or circumstantial evidence base, and to suppress more important, solidly based intelligence on a matter of public concern. It’s called spin, and we all know it goes on. But what is more surprising, and really rather depressing, is the willingness of a supposedly sophisticated, educated population, priding itself on being sceptical, rational and evidence based, to go along. The profession of investigative journalism has more or less died.

The link with the Zika virus and severe abnormalities in newly born babies in Brazil caught my attention for a couple of reasons: firstly, a causal link was assumed based only on correlative evidence. In my journalistic work trying to expose wrongdoing by corporate vested interests I am always told that ‘correlation does not equal cause and effect’ – which of course is true. So what is the reason for ignoring this important scientific principle in the case of the Zika virus? Secondly, such severe abnormalities more typically have a synthetic cause, the obvious example being the Thalidomide scandal of the 1960s.

Instead of investigating the matter, mainstream media lazily repeat the Zika link and issue paeans of praise for Big Pharma in the hope that they will mount their silver charger and come to the rescue with a vaccine, as in this shoddy ‘news’ article that appeared on Reuters. Now, of course I don’t know whether those horribly injured babies have been harmed by some chemical or other, in a scandal that is being hushed up, but I do know that my profession ought to be looking in to the matter, like an earlier generation did with Thalidomide.

In the case against Volkswagen, the evidence appears far more damning, but it is easy to overlook the fact that no public inquiry nor court case has proven the case of deliberately cheating emissions tests. US regulators are convinced and, protected by the Constitutional right to free speech, say so with confidence in public statements. But the case hasn’t been heard yet.

In the example of airlines negligently poisoning their staff, the case has been heard over and over again. It has been proven over and over again: in independent academic studies, in individual diagnoses by expert toxicologists, and in several court cases that have ruled in favour of the claimant against his or her employer (read my dossier on the scandal, summarized in this blog, with a link to the full report). The Mail this week reported a German study confirming the link. Credit to this much-maligned paper for doing so, but it gave the impression that this report was the first of its kind. In fact, there have been several in the past decade (the supposedly ‘progressive’ anti-corporate Guardian has been fully briefed on this scandal, by the way, and refuses to cover it).

Despite all the evidence, few western regulators or news editors stand up to the airline industry and say, as some have with Volkswagen, that this is wrong and that the aviation industry ought to begin complying with health and safety law. One coroner did so last year, and got slapped down by the vested interests. His final report, however, is still to be published.

This blog is not just about three controversies, but about wider questions of truth, honesty, evidence and how popular narratives become established. The modern clamour for being ‘evidence-based’ is hopelessly inadequate. There is a need not just for evidence, but for honesty and integrity. Evidence has limitations. It can be spun, partially hidden or exaggerated; indeed, it is almost always subject to these strong human biases. There are wildly varying thresholds of the strength of evidence required depending on whether a powerful vested interest is being attacked or defended (guess which is the higher). Our supine news editors and corrupted scientific professions meekly comply with these distorted terms of reference.

We live in an age that is rejecting formal religion, and the more obvious superstitions. It calls itself secular and scientific age. It is an ‘evidence-based’ age, but one in which evidence often plays just a fleeting role in establishing the dominant narratives.

 

 

December 3, 2015

Michael Reddy

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:35 pm

I have known Michael Reddy, entrepreneur in employee and management services, for around five-six years. I can’t recall exactly how we came to be in contact with one another, but his house was nearby, so we were often able to meet up for a coffee and a chat. On Monday his daughter emailed me to say that he passed away last week on holiday. He was older than he seemed – as he was still working and innovating – but it comes as a great shock and I am very saddened.

His formal achievements don’t tell half the story. He will be known principally as the founder of the globally successful ICAS service that provides employee assistance programmes – helping staff with issues that may be to do with health or stress, or personal well-being. He sold the business to Axa-PPP in 2007.

What made Michael remarkable is that he could have had a comfortable retirement, or a well-rewarded career by continuing with such services, but he wanted to make a broader contribution. In conversations with him, I learned that he had become increasingly concerned that employee assistance programmes helped people at an individual level, only to be returning them to a toxic environment. So at an age where most English chaps would be donning the slippers and watching the cricket, he set about launching initiatives to improve the workplace, and the calibre of management. His motivation was humanitarian.

Michael was a leader but also a facilitator; always keen to encourage new voices to take to the stage or have the byline. I am proud to have been invited to take part in some of the publications and events that he coordinated in recent years. I think his influence will be felt long after his lifetime. I certainly hope so, and will do my best to make that happen.

http://www.reddyco.com/

November 19, 2015

Critiquing the fatal precision

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 3:58 pm

With great pride, I can announce that I’ve been shortlisted along with co-author Dr Jules Goddard (London Business School, INSEAD) for a feature that has been named as one of the five Management Articles of the Year by the Chartered Management Institute. It will be published alongside the four other entries in a publication to be launched at the CMI annual awards in February, an event that will also feature the Management Book of the Year.

There were two articles we submitted; on one of which I took the lead, and I must acknowledge that it was the other that’s the shortlisted one! But the two are close cousins. They are both informed by the philosophy that our understanding of the management task, and analysis of how a business is performing, have to be far more multi-dimensional and comprehensive than bottom-line reporting.

The shortlisted article is called ‘Accounting that Counts’ and we discuss the bias towards data that’s easily measurable over a more rounded analysis. In extreme cases this results in important business considerations (talent, potential, external risks) to be downplayed or even overlooked; and a tendency to forget that financial data is historic. The financial results are only ever a by-product of human decisions, shedding little light on causes of business performance.

Another feature of the bias towards data and precision is the tendency to manage to a budget, or compare with historic performance; rather than being ambitious and managing for potential.

‘The firm may well be improving on its past performance, but not at the pace of its competitors; it may be delivering on its plans, but only because they lack ambition.’

In many cases the data, far from replacing narrative, creates a very misleading one. Hence, the article continues:

‘Years of bottom line “growth” at Lehman Brothers masked colossal risk-taking that could only be understood by analyzing behavioural patterns, and recognizing the Illusion of Control and Over-Confidence Bias of key players.’

With The Management Shift by Professor Vlatka Hlupic shortlisted for the book of the year award, the bigger picture is that there is now welcome recognition for a more humane and rounded approach to business management. I’m planning to meet with Vlatka and Jules soon to plan future initiatives.

 

November 3, 2015

Close of Play Christmas offer

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 2:33 pm

The feedback I’ve had on my first novel Close of Play has been tremendously encouraging, and the reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, on blogs such as this one by Linda Hobden, and elsewhere have convinced me that the tale of Brian (Colin) and Elizabeth struck a heartfelt chord with most readers. It’s been adopted for several Book Clubs, where the reaction has also been enthusiastic. I’m addressing one of them tomorrow in Surrey.

As a special Christmas offer, readers of this blog are entitled to a discount on copies of Close of Play. Just £5 per paperback copy, including postage and packing if you are in the UK, if you go to this link: http://urbanepublications.com/books/close-of-play/ and if you purchase between now and 31st December.

As you go to purchase, you will be prompted to enter a discount code. Just enter the following word as the code (all lower case):

close

to secure your £5 copy.

The discount applies even if you are only buying one copy. Please note, owing to the cost of postage, a £5.99 charge applies outside the UK. You may therefore find that your local Amazon or an e-book is more cost-effective.

My publisher Matthew Smith and I feel that a paperback copy of Close of Play would make an excellent gift, perhaps for the ‘difficult-to-buy-for’ relative, as the book appeals to men and women, includes some funny moments, and has been described as the perfect read for a holiday. While most of the action takes place in summer, the dramatic final scene is at a Christmas Party – so there’s even a seasonal touch.

STOP PRESS: Thanks to the positive reaction to Close of Play, I am delighted to announce that I have signed a contract for the next novel, Marching On Together, due for publication in August 2016. It’s also a sports-themed comedy, billed as ‘The most Yorkshire book ever to be set in Belgium’ as we follow six Leeds United fans to the pubs of Bruges and Kortrijk in the summer of 2014. The concept is ‘Last Orders, as done by Nick Hornby’ …

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: http://www.appledorebookfestival.co.uk/

Close of Play publisher’s page: http://urbanepublications.com/books/close-of-play/

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: http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1282
  • 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.
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