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.
March 8, 2016
February 17, 2016
I begin this blog with a current affairs quiz. Just three questions:
- What do you think has caused the serious defects of new-born babies in Brazil?
- 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?
- 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:
- Well, that Zika virus, obviously.
- Yes, VW has! What absolute rogues, and
- 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
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.
November 19, 2015
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
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):
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
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; 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.”
- From Close of Play, Chapter 11. Hear this read by TV and stage actor Robert Daws via this YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPlkephSMqM
- Buy the book on this link.
- Latest GoodReads review here: “What Brian did for Eric towards the end of the book shows what a lovely man he is…yes, I know he’s not real! This is a book for a sunny day and a glass of wine. Read it and rekindle your faith in humankind.”
August 19, 2015
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.
May 29, 2015
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: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Close-Play-PJ-Whiteley/dp/190927352X/ref=cm_aya_orig_subj –
Or at GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23493580-close-of-play
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
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.