Tag Archives: politics

Use Your Words. Please.

It feels almost frivolous to write blog posts about my rarefied life in a world where people are being bombed out of existence and passenger jets are being shot out of the sky and genocides are quietly, systematically going on in various corners of the world and a virulent disease of horrific proportions is cutting a swathe through the people of West Africa. In fact, it doesn’t just feel frivolous: it sort of is.

But, as I so often have to ask myself, what else can I do?

Words, whether written or spoken, are among the most powerful weapons at our disposal. We can use them to rabble-rouse or to comfort; to propagandise or to tell the truth. We can use them calmly, or we can use them in the heat of anger. Sometimes, the same words can mean entirely different things, if said in two different tones of voice. Sometimes, too, writing words down can strip them of nuance and lead to misunderstanding. Two different people can have two entirely different, even contradictory, interpretations of the same written or spoken text, which means that words, our greatest treasure, can also be our biggest liability. Information is as vital a tool in our world as medicine or infrastructure or politics – nations and peoples can rise and fall depending on what words are in their holy books or on the lips of their leaders, and on how the people who hear or read these words understand what they are being told.

So, then, as a person who lives and breathes for words, perhaps I am not as helpless as I feel.

Of course, my sphere is very small, but I can choose what words to fill it with. The words I use go on to have a life without and beyond me, which means I must choose them carefully. My words are my only means of explaining myself to the world, and they will be my only legacy. I can hope that they will be understood as I intended them to be, but I know I have no control over that – once a word has left your pen, or your mouth, or your keyboard, and reached the eyes or ears of another, it is no longer yours. You are responsible for it, but it no longer belongs to you.

Photo Credit: Saint Huck via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Saint Huck via Compfight cc

I wish that world leaders could think about words this way. I wish those calling for war could consider that, in their need to ‘win’, they are throwing their own people on a pyre, and I wish they could be made to care that they are destroying lives and blighting the future. What good is it to stand triumphant over a smoking, blasted landscape? I wish those responsible for leading the world’s faithful could be more considered in the words they use, and the labels they choose to apply to others, and the interpretations they make of holy texts and scriptures. I wish people – those people with the loudest voices, and the largest platforms, and the greatest amount of words at their disposal – would use them more carefully, respecting their power, and being mindful of the consequences. Skewing the thinking of a people is not simply a game, or a way to win influence – it is dangerous, and something which can easily flare out of control, and it is wrong. It is also the easiest thing in the world to do, if one has the words and there are ears willing to hear.

I wish people would value doing right over being right. I wish they’d sacrifice the pleasure of shouting the loudest or the longest, or having the final word in an argument, or feeling like the one whose words are law, for the good of those who cannot speak.

This is why I am passionate about education and literacy. I believe people should be given the tools to distinguish between what they are being told, and the truth. I believe nobody should be forced to become reliant upon one source for the information they need to live their lives in peace. I believe people should be given the tools to make up their own minds, to come to balanced conclusions, to enter into rational discussion, and to understand that even though different peoples may speak different languages, the words are all the same.

All anyone wants is to live in peace, in relative prosperity, and to feel that they are safe. All anyone wants is to send their children out to play in the morning without fearing that they will never come home. All anyone wants is to have the dignity of a livelihood that is unthreatened by shells or tanks or rocket fire, or illness or militias or crushing rule. We have created a world where those who do not believe the same words that we do are ‘wrong’, whether those words relate to a god, or a political system, or an economic structure, or a history that may not have happened exactly as we have always been told. We have taken the greatest tool we have for bringing us together and turned it into the most efficient way of keeping us apart; if we’d had a blueprint for making everything wrong, we couldn’t have done a better job of it.

Words are powerful. My words, and yours. It is never too late to start using them.


Just another word for nothing left to lose? Well. I’m not so sure about that.

It was, of course, the Fourth of July yesterday; I’m not American, so for me it was just another day. I know, though, that the Fourth of July is a holiday held dear all over the world, and one which is remembered, if perhaps not observed, in many countries. It got me thinking about the idea of freedom – what it means, the implications it has, why it’s important, and whether it’s possible to achieve a world order in which everyone is free, all at the same time – and so today I thought I’d take a short ramble through my thoughts on the issue. Will you join me for the walk?

Image: footage.shutterstock.com

Image: footage.shutterstock.com

Freedom can be used with a lot of prepositions – freedom from, freedom to, freedom of – so, clearly, it is a concept with many facets. It means different things to different people, and freedoms expected in one culture may not be expected, or even desired, in another. Freedom is not a ‘one size fits all’ – one culture should not impose its own notions of freedom on another, I think – and, in that sense, it’s difficult to speak of a freedom that can encompass the world. In my opinion, nobody should live in fear, under oppression, or with the expectation that their liberty may be removed at any time, without warning; however, in order for this to happen, I think the world would have to change so much that it’s hard to see a way for it to become a reality. Freedom can be a threatening force to some – we all know of political regimes in which the powers that be keep an airtight hold on their citizens’ daily lives for fear that granting them an inch of liberty might spell their own downfall – and some people are interested only in a freedom that applies to them, and them alone.

Why are human beings so complicated? And so cruel, sometimes? I don’t think I’ll ever figure that one out.

For some terrible reason, humanity seems to have developed in such a way that it can only function if some of the world’s population is oppressed. Our economic systems are designed to keep certain people down; western consumer culture has trapped generations of people – often, people who live ‘far away’ and who are, therefore, easy to forget – in a spiral of poverty and overwork; certain religions and cultures deny people the freedom to gain an education, to drive a car, to live where they wish… the list is endless. It takes a greater brain than mine to come up with a way to solve these problems, I fear. It causes me a great deal of guilt when I compare the life I am privileged to lead with the life of a person who is exactly like me, but living in a different country or under a different set of beliefs, and whose life is vastly different to mine as a result of mere geography.

Can a world be forged in which we are all, to echo the great phrase, created equal? Obviously, I know every person is intrinsically equal to every other human person, simply by dint of being alive, but anyone taking a look around our planet can see that the idea of equality between peoples is, in a lot of places, nothing more than a beautiful dream. I fear too much change would be required to make it a feasible reality everywhere. Sadly, there are people who would fight tooth and nail to protect their own freedom, and that of their families and loved ones, while not caring what happens to others. But if we are not all free, to whatever extent we wish it, is there any point in any of us being free? And how free are we, really, in a world where we’re bombarded with messages about how we’re not good enough, and how we must buy and acquire and hoard more and more, and how happiness is only achievable when a particular total appears at the end of our bank statements? There are many forms of oppression, though some are far more insidious than others.

In order for freedom to be extended to all, I think a lot of people would have to give up some of the things they’ve always taken for granted, and governments all over the world would have to prove themselves trustworthy and incorrupt, and we would all have to agree on what the word ‘freedom’ actually means. Because of this, I’m not sure we’ll ever see universal equality, though it’s certainly something we should never stop striving towards. I am very grateful for the freedoms in my life, and for the fact that so many of those who’ve gone before me have paved the way for me to have the life I’ve got. What more selfless act can there be but to take action which will guarantee a better life for people you will never meet, or know? What better example to follow?

I hope all of those who celebrate the Fourth of July had a wonderful day yesterday, and I hope that people all over the world took a moment to reflect on their own freedoms, and to be grateful for them. I know I did.

Happy Friday, and I hope a wonderful weekend, full of happy things, awaits you.

What in the World?

This morning, we awoke to news of a further explosion in the United States. A fertiliser plant explosion has destroyed homes, businesses and lives in the town of West, near Waco, in Texas, and has caused an unspecified amount of deaths and injuries. Of course, when we hear ‘Waco’, we think of the horror that took place there twenty years ago, almost to the day; it almost seems unbelievable that an explosion would happen in the same area now. I’m praying that it turns out to have been caused by an explicable, understandable and ‘ordinary’ thing – I’m praying that it turns out to be accidental. Between the horror at the Boston Marathon, American politicians being targeted with ricin-laced mail, the war in Syria, the situation in North Korea, and so many other things… What in the world is going on?

It’s hard to keep your head on straight when the news is bursting out all over with stories of inexplicable cruelty and (seemingly) mindless savagery. When you realise that there are so many people in the world who are denied even the most basic chance to live their life as they would choose, perhaps because their country is embroiled in war, or ensnared by poverty, or both, it makes the choice to be a writer, for instance, seem at once completely frivolous and vitally important. Frivolous because I am in the fortunate position of living every day without the threat of destruction, and vitally important because if we are not creating, then what’s the point of even being here, on earth, in this time and place?

The more I hear about destruction and death, and the more news I watch about dictatorships and terrorism and war and imposition of unfair laws on a populace struggling to survive and military posturing with no thought to the safety of the people… well. The more I feel that creating something – no matter what it is – is the most important calling a person could have. How else will we fight off destruction and dark-hearted sorrow? Not with more aggression, more terror, more fear – but with light, and laughter, and song, and new life. It’s at once the simplest and most difficult thing in the world.

Image: warchild.org

Image: warchild.org

I’m not really making a whole lot of sense this morning. My flu is still not entirely gone, and I am very tired. I’m almost three-quarters done with my redraft of ‘Eldritch’, which is great, and I learned yesterday that another of my short stories has been accepted for publication; I’m also (possibly) shortlisted for another competition. My database of stories written and submitted is looking nice and fat and healthy, and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve read of ‘Eldritch’ so far. Of course, it’ll need at least one more going-over before I’ll be happy to send it anywhere, but I can actually see it happening now – it seems real, achievable, and within my grasp. I am going to query a novel with agents and publishers. Even getting to this point is a dream come true.

But, sometimes, when you turn on the TV or search the web for news, and you realise just what some people are living with and dealing with on a daily basis, you would have to stop and wonder: ‘What is the point? What difference does it make, to anyone but me, that I’ve managed to achieve these tiny things?’ But I have to believe that creating something, writing a story that might bring some laughter and happiness into someone’s life, or giving a hug when one is needed, or sending support to a friend in need, or even just caring about what happens to other people, makes a difference. If I didn’t, I’m not sure what would keep me going.

Sorry for the depressing post today. I’ll try to be all about the kittens and the sparkliness tomorrow, okay?

Image: blogs.warwick.ac.uk

Image: blogs.warwick.ac.uk


Just another Frazzled Friday

First things first. I want to apologise to anyone who tried to read my blog on a phone yesterday. I’m reliably informed that the problem I had with the images I tried to insert made the blog impossible to load on anything besides a computer, so I really do want to say ‘sorry’ if I caused anyone any inconvenience. I’m a great big turnip-headed technotwit, and I don’t really understand how this blog works – perhaps it’s writing me, instead of the other way around…


Today, I will be baking again. I’m off to my parents-in-law for the weekend, and you know the golden rule – never go visiting without cake. I have my ingredients all laid out, and my butter is happily softening on the countertop. It makes me wish life was as easy as baking a cake – if you put just the right amount of everything in, and do what you’re supposed to, you know the result you’ll get will be just what you wanted. We all know this isn’t how it goes in life, though – but maybe that’s the way it should be. Mistakes are how we learn – at least, I hope that’s true!

I also need to do a lot of work on the WiP. I’ve been writing away for the last few days, thinking I’ve been making great progress, and I woke up this morning realising that a scene I wrote yesterday makes no sense whatsoever. Talking to my husband this morning, I realised I was listening to him with one half of my brain, and having a conversation with my characters with the other half. That’s difficult, especially when drinking hot tea. So, I want to go back and change that scene today before I go too much further. I know this goes against my ‘finish the thing and then edit it!’ rule, but – c’mon. We all know rules are made to be broken.

I’m thinking about my country today too, with a mix of feelings. Mainly, I’m very proud of my native land, and I love it as much as anyone loves their country, but it’s a source of extraordinary frustration for me, too, at times. We’re facing a referendum tomorrow which I don’t feel will receive the attention it merits from our citizens, and I don’t feel the right information has been given to allow everyone to make a properly informed decision. Because of this, I think the way I’m choosing to vote might be in the minority, and I think that would be a shame. Also, yesterday was the twenty-fifth anniversary of one of the atrocities which took place during the Troubles – the bombing of Enniskillen, in County Fermanagh, in Northern Ireland. I was a child at the time this horrendous event took place, and it made such a deep psychological imprint on me that I wept yesterday looking at news footage of the commemoration ceremony. It made me realise how much our country has been through, and how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. It made me very proud, and determined to do what I can to keep those dark days from ever, ever returning.

So, because I’m a busy bee today, I won’t detain you much longer. I can’t even share any images, in case I break every computer in the world, or something. (I promise I’ll get this problem sorted before next week, and sorry again). I hope you all have wonderful Fridays, and not frazzled ones – I feel like mine is going to be a frazzle-fest, but I am open to being wrong about this – and that weekends of pure unadulterated joy await you all.

Thank you all, as ever, for taking the time to read. Now, go have some fun.



This is a momentous day for me. It’s one that I’ll remember for years to come. It’s kind of a life-changing event, actually.

So, what’s happened? Well, I’ve just taken part in the largest re-Tweet in world history – that Tweet being President Obama’s ‘Four More Years’, complete with this photo of him embracing his wife, Michelle. So far, over half a million people have re-Tweeted his message, and have shared this image, and I’m glad to be among them.

Embedded image permalink

It feels good to know he’s been re-elected. Even though I’m not American, the issue of who gets to live in the White House is an important one for me, and for anyone who is interested in the way the world is run. It is a relief to know that a good man, a man who has inclusion and equality at the heart of his campaign, will be at the reins for another four years, and I’m a happy citizen of the world today. Having said that, however, I really dislike the title ‘Leader of the Free World’, sometimes bestowed upon the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, because I think it makes the world seem too simple; my country has its own leaders which we’ve (inexplicably, it seems at times) elected, and we have our own issues and problems. Thinking that we’re just a sub-section of ‘the Free World’ takes away a bit of our independence and agency, and gives the impression that it doesn’t really matter, in the end, what the rest of us do – America stands behind us all, wearing a shirt that says ‘I Got This’. Well, if that’s the way it has to be, I’m glad Obama is the man wearing the shirt, but it’s not really an ideal situation.

The US election, and its outcome, has got me thinking about the idea of leadership, both in the real world and how it’s used in fiction. I wonder are we hard-wired to make any fictional character in a position of leadership into a ‘bad’ character? Most of the fictional figures I can immediately call to mind who occupy any sort of position of leadership or power are shown as tyrants, bullies, hopelessly corrupt, or otherwise incompetent. The Capitol in ‘The Hunger Games’, Mr. Rochester in ‘Jane Eyre’ (until he is ‘humbled’ by injury, and learns to allow some dependence into his life), The Magisterium in the ‘His Dark Materials’ novels are all flawed power structures; as well as these, the way the characters are depicted in ‘The Lord of the Flies’ shows abuse of leadership and power, as does ‘Animal Farm’, as does ‘Brave New World.’ Even in the Harry Potter novels, the ‘good’ leader, Dumbledore, can’t be allowed to remain in position, but must be replaced by an evil, power-hungry, corrupt figure – it’s true that this gives Harry the chance to show his own leadership skills, which I suppose is the point.

Leaders in fiction who are good, brave, noble, self-sacrificing and willing to fight for the good are largely people who have risen from humble beginnings through the power of their own virtue to a position they might never really have wanted in the first place. They don’t always necessarily fight for power, or the right to lead, but sometimes when you fight for what’s right, taking on the mantle of leadership comes with the job. It’s not always the case, but I think you could argue that it’s depicted that way a lot of the time. We read about bad regimes being toppled by brave rebels, corrupt administrations shattered through the efforts of a hero or a group of selfless demi-heroes, and so on. This isn’t always the case in reality – in our world, if a corrupt regime is toppled by rebels, sometimes the replacement regime is as bad, if not worse, as what went before. The idealism in fiction sometimes just doesn’t work in reality.

I suppose this is why a victory like President Obama’s has such resonance, not just for Americans – it really does seem like the hero, who has struggled and who knows what it’s like to fight for what he believes in, has prevailed. The closeness of the election meant that the ‘story’ had tension, drama and suspense; all these things make the resolution even more satisfying. It’s like watching a story come to life, in some ways, and it’s wonderful to feel like there’s been a happy ending to the tale. Well, it’s more than that, of course. Stories need conflict to work – the idea of reading about how a good leader rules well, and how all his people/subjects/citizens love him and want him to remain at the helm forever, is a little ‘fairytale-esque’ for most tastes (not that there’s anything wrong with fairytales, of course!) Normally in writing we need to make leaders and power structures corrupt and evil, ready to be toppled by our bright hero, so that there’s danger, conflict, peril and a story arc, and therefore a bit of interest for the reader or audience. Today, however, it does feel like a noble leader has succeeded, despite the fact that he hasn’t exactly toppled a terrible regime, per se. Clearly, however, the majority felt that President Obama was a better choice than the alternative, and so – in fiction terms, if nothing else – a ‘terrible regime’ has been avoided, perhaps. At least, that’s how it looks from this vantage point. It feels like something wonderful has been started, and it feels like there’s a reason to be hopeful.

Well, unless you’re a Republican, in which case I sympathise. Better luck next time.

The Apolitical Political Blog

On this day, when America votes on its new president, I don’t feel there’s any other topic I can really write about than politics. I never wanted to make this blog a platform for any particular political opinion, so we won’t get into details. Just in case you were afraid I was going to go off on a rant – I won’t. Mainly because my ignorance of politics is dwarfed only by my ignorance of mathematics, and I don’t want to make a fool of myself.

What’s always fascinated me about the US and its electoral system is how incredibly, mind-meltingly complicated it all seems. At least, to this ignoramus Outlander, that’s how it appears. I can’t say I truly understand how some states become solid Democrat states, and some solid Republican, and how others (Florida, Ohio, Virginia this time round – as far as I remember) are ‘swing’ states, which can go either way and may be enough to win the election for one side or another. I’m sure the system is well worked out, and people are happy with it, and it all makes perfect sense if you understand it, but it seems odd to me that one state, and how it chooses to vote, would be enough to decide an entire election – especially in a country the size of the US.

Coming from a tiny island in the icy Atlantic where elections are largely a source of entertainment (though not on purpose), it also amuses me that a country like the US has states which traditionally vote one way or the other – states which a Republican candidate, for instance, can be largely expected to lose, no matter what they do, and the same for the Democrat candidate. This is so exactly like the Irish tradition of families all voting for the same party, down through the generations, because ‘it’s what we’ve always done’ (regardless of how poor a party they might be, or how much damage they’re doing to the country), that it makes me shake my head in wonder at how nobody has yet come up with a better way to do it.

I wonder about being a lone Republican in a solid Democrat-voting state, for example, and whether I’d even have the incentive to vote. If I knew my vote was going to make no difference, what would entice me to cast it? Sometimes, when voting in my own elections, I am left in the awful situation of not knowing who to vote for, because usually you have to favour the lesser of four or five evils – there’s not one party in Ireland who would match my political viewpoint, and even those that come close always fall short on several important points. It’s difficult to make a choice, sometimes, and it’s no wonder that voter apathy can be quite high in my country – it feels like no matter who you vote for, nothing ever changes.

But then, at least we’re given the chance to have a voice. There are countries, of course, where no choice is given to citizens over any aspect of their political system or their public representatives. I’d much rather live in any democratic country, despite the flaws in the system, than in a nation in which I would have no say over anything. Having said that, Ireland is going to the polls this weekend, too, and we’re being asked to vote on an amendment to our Constitution which would affect children at risk in our society. You’d think it would be an open-and-shut case, and that – for once – everyone would be on the same page; stronger safeguards for children at risk? Let’s vote in favour! But, of course, it’s never that easy. Things like the plotline of a TV soap opera are, apparently, going to affect the outcome of this vote, and there’s been a certain amount of uninformed opinions which have gained a huge following, and which might skew public opinion in a particular direction. Our government is united in their opinion as to which way they’d like the vote to go, and there’s nothing more likely to make the country vote the other way than the feeling of ‘getting one over on the Man’ by not doing what they’re expected to. I’m not even sure if the amendment being voted on would come into their decision-making, which means that an important amendment might not be given the weight it deserves by the voters, and this annoys me.

Anyway. I’m not going to go into my own views, because I’m trying not to annoy anyone – nothing is more divisive than politics, after all. The last thing I want to do is cause offence to anyone. I know what way I hope the US election will go, and I also know what way I hope our Constitutional Amendment vote will go. However, I fear that neither vote will go the way I hope!

Vote Early, Vote Often. Happy Election Day!