Theresa clears things up: A fairy story for our times

January 17, 2017



Once upon a time (as all good stories start) there was a little girl called Theresa. She was brought up to be very well behaved and always did her homework, brushed her teeth and ate all her greens, even Brussels sprouts which she particularly didn’t like


Theresa was always top of her class and so eventually became a politician. Her nice-manners and retentive memory served her as well as her elegance of dress and footwear. So it was, she rose to the very top of her profession entrusted with making great decisions of state. Then there came a grave crisis to which there was no answer. At first, Theresa won time by reassuring words, such as we cannot reveal the answer because our enemies will turn it against us.

But as days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, the crisis deepened. Critics spoke out against her. Theresa had to come up with another plan. Eventually she and her advisors decided what to do.

“I will explain everything,” she said. “There are twelve principles, just like there were twelve Apostles, and the twelve days of Christmas and the twelve angry men. Just listen as I explain them.”

And then she went through them one by one. They were wonderful, and promised everything anyone could wish for.

“Oh, that explains everything” cried the grateful people “That’s alright then, you have saved us from the crisis.”And that was how Theresa became even more popular, and everyone lived happily ever after.


What I learned from Michael Connelly

January 16, 2017



I stared at the book in front of me. “Michael Connelly,” I thought. “You may think you have concealed your secret from your readers. It is time to reveal it for all the world to see.”

No, it’s not as easy as it looks, to write the first words of a best-selling novel. With that end in mind, I choose to study The Gods of Guilt. But I could have chosen any from a wide range of Connelly’s mega-successful Courtroom and Detective dramas.

Connelly’s formula

Connelly writes brilliantly to a successful formula. Broadly, his yarns set up a battle by the (mostly) ‘good’ against the (mostly) ‘bad’ folk. In the Gods of Guilt, his main character and mostly good guy is Mickey Haller, ACA The Lincoln Lawyer.

The formula for the courtroom drama is, of course a subset of the greatest human morality drama, the battle of right over wrong (Star wars, Paradise Lost, The Seven Samurai, King Lear, back to granddaddy Homer’s ripping yarns) The story was turned into a film, and has been reviewed extensively. The New York Times offers an excellent one, saving me from a lot of effort.


I want to comment on a few points which I have added to my folder on ideas for improving my writing. The formula is easier to identify than the imitate, as my puny effort above shows. That doesn’t stop would-be students and teachers of creative writers try.

The study notes of mine already drew on several step-by-step cookbooks offered on the Internet some of which I offer below following the advice of police procedural author Caroline Mitchell police procedural author Caroline Mitchell.


Tips for Writing Page Turners


The Gods of Guilt reminded me of the tips for writing page turners. Forget the damage caused to you by the invisible teacher watching over your shoulder.

Make the first sentence memorable, the first paragraph attention-grabbing, the first page getting somewhere in promising what’s to come.

Here’s how Connelly starts The Gods of Guilt.

“I approached the witness with a warm and welcoming smile. This of course belied my true intent …”

Then he continues setting up plot tensions.  The simple main line has Haller relating the roller-coaster plot from the first-page. Progress is met with setbacks. Assorted sub-plots occur but in a way that suggests all will come together for the better.

The key drama is played out in the Courtroom. He also has a running background theme. In this book it is his struggle with his estranged daughter. This is a hook to offer comforting continuity. Look out for them in TV dramas.

An antidote to the superhero

He remains the hero who hasn’t sold out. An antidote to the superhero. His victories have been interspersed with  setbacks depriving him of material wherewithal. This has resulted in the brilliant memorable idea of operating his legal business from the back of an automobile, the famous black Lincoln)

On conspiracy theories

One last thought. Connelly and maybe much of fiction reinforcing conspiracy theories. Behind the injustices of the world there are evil forces at work. For detective thrillers these are corrupt cops, judges, politicians, business tycoons, lawyers. The system is out to get you. One a few people, the special ones, have the courage and capabilities to lead the revolution against the system.

You won’t believe this special offer and where Donald Trump comes into it

January 12, 2017


The pun in the title of my book, Tennis Tensions, has done me no favours. It has attracted attention mainly from people interested in the important but unintended issue of the tension in tennis racquets not in tennis players

Now the mighty Amazon organization has helped me clear up the confusions. Click here for more information.

Starting today, [12 January, 2017] a clarification is offered for purchasers of the e-book version. There seems to have been interest from business and sports professionals and teachers.

To encourage would-be customers, the message comes with special offers over the next week, after which the price returns to at least the price of a cookie and latte at your favourite computer cafe.

To explain in my own words:

Tennis Tensions is a case study of forty critical matches played in the course of the US Open in September 2015. It examines the tensions revealed, in order to understand the factors influencing a drop off in performance.

This is the tournament in which Serena William is competing to achieve what became known as The Serena Slam, winning all four Gram Slams in a Calendar year. The pressures to succeed are even more intense than usual.

In the Men’s tournaments, other stories develop. The top seed and favourite for the Singles title is Novak Djokovic. He becomes the prime target for a crop of emerging young talents seeking to beat the top gun. The great Bryan Brothers are suffering a dip in form, and are in danger of failing to win any of the doubles trophies in the four Grand Slam events of the year.

How do players cope with the tensions of the moment and deal with performance anxiety?

And Donald . . .?

Ah, yes. Donald Trump. In a light-hearted passage, I speculate on the motives of a political hopeful who had unexpectedly turned up at the tournament. What happened next? You’ll have to read the book.

There you have it. If you are interested in tensions influencing the outcome of sporting contests, act now to save yourself the cost of a coffee. Oh, and tell your friends.

Me and the Black Pudding man

January 10, 2017


This morning I learned a lesson in customer service from Mike who delivers Black Pudding, a local delicacy, to shops in the North West of England

Our paths crossed when I came across his rather large van blocking my much smaller Tudormobile which was thus prevented from leaving a shared but tight parking area. As I approached, I could see indicator lights flashing the ‘I will not be long‘ message.

What might have happened

I might have uttered a cutting remark such as: ‘Prithee kind sir, canst ye not back thy wain,so as to permit me to go on my way?‘  But as the words (or something more churlish) were forming on my lips, a cheerful tradesman approached me, with a smile upon his face.

What happened next?

A thousand pardons, kind sir,’ quoth he. ‘I am Mike, of the Bury Black Pudding Company. I shall soon have ye upon thy way. But first, prithee, take this gift of my wares, as a token of my sorrow for the inconvenience thou hath suffered.

And at that, he thrust a small package into my hands.  ‘ T’will go very well with the egg and fried potatoes planned for our evening fare‘ I jested merrily.

On my return home, I found that I had indeed received the promised and tasty-looking morsel of black pudding. Its contribution to our repast will be reported in the goodness of time.


This post was written in admiration for the manner in which Mike dealt with a situation which too often turns into blocked driver’s rage, a well-known clinical condition. I have not received any payment for its writing, unless you count the tasty-looking item of Black Pudding mentioned in my account above.

A new form of chess with an ancient tradition

January 9, 2017


The villagers of Ströbeck in central Germany have become the custodians of an ancient tradition of playing chess according to their own rules. An annual chess festival is held, with parades and human chess performances by children from the village school


Local legend has it that chess arrived in Ströbeck a thousand years ago, when an imprisoned nobleman taught his guards the moves. Chess at the time was spreading to the west from its eastern origins. The game took hold in the region, and became a local obsession. Over time, various imaginative changes took place. These gave the good people of Ströbeck a further advantage over neighbouring villages.

The village has recently received a heritage listing, and hopes to obtain a further honour through a UNESCO international heritage listing.

The chess players of Ströbeck have a habit of frustrating their opponents. Throughout the ages, strangers visiting the village in the foot of the Harz mountains in central Germany have been confronted with a community that has not only been steeped in the “royal game” from an unusually early age, but has also developed its own idiosyncratic rules, including special moves, additional pieces and cryptic commands.

[The Guardian, January 7th 2017]

The addition of a game played on a board with more squares was one innovation. The introduction of pieces with new moves was another.

A tradition arose that anyone seeking to marry someone born in the village has first to play a game of chess (rules to be agreed in advance) against the mayor, who had the power to prevent the marriage, depending on how the game went. Recently, this tradition has moderated to a symbolic fine to be donated to a good cause.

I particularly like another tradition. If, despite the other home advantages enjoyed, a local is losing to an outsider, onlookers can shout in local dialect, ‘Vadder, mit Rat ‘ [Look out, he’s planning a sneak attack].

Such cultural innovations should be encouraged.


Tourist waiting for a bus to take her to the historic village of Ströbeck.


To Alex Hough for alerting me to the story

A Happy Jar for joy, and a Stress Box for kicks

January 4, 2017

Wales rugby ball

An exchange of tweets this week resulted in a comparison between the merits of the happy jar and the stress box. I’m in favour of a matching set of two

It all started for me with a tweet about a happy jar. You write down any happy thought on a piece of paper and put it in a happy jar. This ‘idea about an idea’ worked for me. I could see its applications in education and home-life.

I later traced the idea via @janesanderow and tweets were exchanged. Mine started:


In creativity sessions, the invitation to positive thinking is WGAI [What’s Good About It]. I have seen training walls and whiteboards plastered with WGAI Post its. Recently, there was a great example at the Creativity and Innovation Management meeting in Potsdam, where participants looked at the with future strategy for the journal, encouraged by their two new dynamic editors. See also my recent post about WGAI and a good idea

The Stress Box

But what about The Stress box? I don’t think I have posted anything, but the tweets about the happy jar just reminded me of an anti-stress trick used in sports management to counter unhelpful thoughts. At a stretch, it also connects with fast and slow thinking, controlling your monkey and such ideas.

I came across the idea first with the Welsh rugby player (and now International kicking coach) Neil Jenkins, who explained how he prepared for a kick, by imagining his bad thoughts and locking them away.

Today, Wales rugby has a new kicking hero in Dan Biggar. In matches, his mentor Neil Jenkins is often seen close by,as Dan goes through his kicking routine. It looks bizarre. It has become a national iconic image known as the Biggerama [You can look it up on Utube].

Both And, not Either Or

Which is why I argue the case for Both And, not for Either Or.

Subscribers to LWD, I rest my case.

Theresa’s Big Deal for Remainers, Believers, and Neighbours

January 2, 2017
 Oxford Road SICK festival

Theresa May makes a New Year pledge to negotiate the best deal for everyone. Which, outside the world of political rhetoric, means the best deal for no-one

Keep away for a few more hours, brave new world. I am warm and dry and selfish, and appreciate the comfort of refuge beneath the bedclothes. But 2017 intrudes.  There has been a bloody attack in Istanbul by who knows whom, fuelled by who knows what emotions.

Then a second news item. In creepily calm tones, our Prime Minister offers the people of the United Kingdom a new year message. Brought to you by the silver-tongued sidekicks who dreamed up the Brexit means Brexit message, we now can start the new year comforted with the thought that Theresa May, as she sits down with other great leaders to negotiate, will be there to obtain the best deal for everyone.

Just in case some of you missed it:

Everyone means everyone

Not just those correctly recognizing the will of the people by voting leave. But even for the bewildered or unpatriotic lesser forms of humanity who abstained or even (shudder) voted remain.

The best deal for all means the best deal for all.

Got it?

Sometimes words conjure up a vision. Theresa May’s curiously emotionless delivery nevertheless provided me with a vision. That of a protective mum promising fearful children everything will be alright. No need for fear. No need for hate. Those nasty people across the table will be unable to overcome her all-encompassing maternal powers.

Except . . .

Except for a nagging thought.

The best deal for all may mean something else. Faintly in the background can be heard protests from  one-time respected experts. Experts in the nature of ‘the good’, ‘the ethical’, even ‘the material well-being’. The philosophers, poets, even economists.

Then there are the bemused, among whom I find myself more often than I admit. Suppose there is a deal which is the best possible for everyone? I would like to know a bit about what it looks like. Would it disprove one of those theories that no such deal is possible? Like the hypothesis of rationality proposed by Professor Kenneth Arrow , an idea which got all those other so-called experts in a tizzy?

At risk of misunderstanding the wisdom of Professor Arrow, I would argue that

the best deal for all is no deal at all,

in a world where people grow up, eat, sleep, try to survive as best they can, with differing needs. Meeting these needs also requires some help from others in whom we have placed our trust.

Happy new year to one and all, including leaders and the followers they deserve.