Man O’War Character Sketch #2: Nita Rhodes

Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like musings of the author.

The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez;oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. This week it’s Nita Rhodes.

Nita Rhodes

Nita Rhodes is the Head of R&D Programmes for the fictional engineering firm EI Systems (Emotional Intelligence Systems). She and the brains trust of engineers and scientist under her direction at EIS have developed a truly remarkable new technology: the ability for robotic systems to learn, develop and apply human emotions. She is, understandably, highly enthusiastic about this tech, and when we meet her, she is eagerly seeking approval from central government to provide her with a regulatory framework against which to test in a large demonstrator programme.

Hmm. Regulatory frameworks… demonstrator programmes… All that corporate speak doesn’t sound like it makes for a riveting plot, does it? Maybe, maybe not. But having such rigid frameworks in which to operate (which reminds me of the old cartoon where a boss says to his subordinate, “Give me some innovative thinking, and make sure you follow these rules!”) can be frustrating, and perhaps can make people as though thwy’re forced into “alternative” methods of operation.

Nita was one of the characters I had very little problem in fleshing out, because I meet Nita Rhodes almost every day in my line of work. I’ve dealt with a raft of brilliant companies, of all sizes, all seeking to grab some funding to develop their technology and get it to market. She’s an amalgamation of several people I’ve met over the years, brimming with enthusiasm, ideas and with what looks like a fantastic prototypical product-in-waiting.

Alas, getting something to market in what we refer to as the High Value Manufacturing sectors (not phones and tablets and stuff, but things like aeroplanes, helicopters, large robotic platforms, satellites, etc) is not easy, and the road is particularly difficult for emerging technologies, which moves quickly and is sometimes not well understood by people such as the Sir Ingham Fitzwilliams of this world, the Government regulator whom Nita meets in her first scene. Luckily for me I’ve never sat in Sir Ingham’s chair, but I’ve sat in enough rooms and conference halls with Sir Inghams and Nitas to know how it goes. And sometimes, business can be a bastard.

Behind the push of every great idea is not simply money, or innovation, or ingenuity, but will. In a vast sea of competitiveness throbbing with genuinely brilliant ideas, which ones rise to the surface? The best ones? Maybe. You’d like to think so, at least. But – and this isn’t limited to the technology and engineering sectors – it’s often the ideas with sufficient will, influence and persuasion behind them that make it. That sounds like quite a right-wing appraisal, but given that Nita is a hard-nosed businesswoman, I think it’s also an appropriate one in this instance. It’s common to portray engineers and technical scientists as Oppenheimers and Frankensteins, particularly in comic books – people who seek to develop new technologies for the sake of the technology itself without thought of the consequences. The art of the possible. But when technological progress is married to a cause, that’s when business cases become persuasive, powerful and seductive.

Nita’s cause is the emancipation of girls, women (and some boys and men, too) from sexual abuse and rape, both at the domestic front and abroad. In her mind, the marriage of powerful new technologies and important human issues makes the case for development ineluctable. As her story progresses, she is faced with an ancient question: when you know the cause for which you fight is right, at what point do the means stop justifying the ends? Nita’s story is corporate and skulduggerous – her world is shot through with spinny slogans such as Champion English Industry! –  but also driven by her hopeful vision for humanity. Part of the power of Nita’s will to succeed is the fact that she’s female, and a woman working in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry: science and engineering. While I wouldn’t expect that to be the case in the mid-22nd century, when MOW is set, it remains an issue today (though, I sense, a moribund one), it’s still her sense of sexual injustice in other walks of life that drive her to implement this technology for societal benefit. And, in my sad opinion, some of the problems she is trying to address with technology – sexual abuse, rape as a weapon of war, and the dysfunctional and primitive men who perpetuate them – will certainly not have been eradicated by the mid-22nd century. Indeed, another conversation for another day may be how technology doesn’t in fact eradicate (re)primitivisation, but enables whatever is already there to flourish.

The ramifications of Nita’s actions are felt from London all the way to Port Harcourt, a city at the southern tip of Nigeria, the gateway to the Niger Delta, and one of the people affected is the gangster Agarkka D’Souza, whom we’ll meet next week.

Spoiling For A Scrap

In arguably the most famous episode of the 1970s sitcom Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, the two titular lads, Terry and Bob, are trying to make it home to watch the highlights of the FA Cup Final on Match of the Day. However, they must run the gauntlet of Newcastle city centre, where the result of the match is on everyone’s lips. Cue, er, hilarity as Terry and Bob run around with their hands over their ears shouting, “La la la la, can’t hear you!” for half an hour.

On my writing forum of choice, SFF Chrons, not so long, somebody got themselves into an awful state in the past month or so because somebody had posted a plot point about Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a thread clearly labelled “Contains Spoilers” (Quick point: I’ve not seen TLJ yet, and reading the spoiler hasn’t spoiled it for me, but that’s because to me reading a list of Star Wars plot points frequently feels like trying to read the Upanishads in the original Sanskrit). Similarly, my brother used to close his eyes and stick his fingers in his ears when the “Next time, on 24…” trailer would come on at the end of each episode (this was back in the days when the Beeb had the rights).

To be honest I’m more sympathetic towards Terry and Bob than my brother or the frothing Star Wars uberfan. At least in sport it really is all about the result; that final statistic imprint in the record books is the absolute. Second is nowhere, and all that. But there’s no second place in literature. In literature there are resolutions, there are changes, there are stubborn rebuttals and there are movements, but there’s not often an ending that can be as clinically reported as a 1-0 result. At least, I feel there shouldn’t be (again, with the exception of mysteries where there surely can or must be a result to avoid hornswoggling the reader).

The sacrilegious status afforded the spoiler, or spoiled plot point, in contemporary culture. As a writer, I’d be pretty miffed if knowing the “result” prevented them from enjoying the story. In literature, the outcome is not the whole story, otherwise what’s the point of reading the preceding 400 pages at all? On some level even spoilerphobes are aware of this, as they operate on the logic that the knowing the destination spoils the journey. But I’m not so sure.

I’ve just finished Stephen King’s magnificent IT which, taking place over two converging timelines, reveals many crucial plot points which another author may wish to have kept secret; one prime example is the revelation that the Losers’ Club badly beat the bully-boy Bowers Gang in the apocalyptic rock fight. And even though that’s a clear “result” it’s flagged in the text as a memory way before the reader happens upon it, and even though we know the result, it in no way takes away the horrid drama of that episode (and hence I’ve not flagged it as a spoiler here). Similarly, I just watched the film Blood Diamond for the first time the other day. From the outset, it’s pretty clear that Leo DiCaprio’s questionably-accented, world-weary Rhodesian mercenary is going to undergo a Hollywood transformation by the end of the film and Do The Right Thing (or Do De Roit Theng, as Leo might say). Sure enough, the ending, telegraphed by a thousand similar character arcs from Hollywood blockbusters gone by, came to pass. Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film; in fact I thought it was a cracking little thriller.

So a slight plea: if one does happen upon a spoiler, don’t let it spoil things for you. You never know, you might find that the first 400 pages of that novel are still worth reading!

Man O’War Character Sketches #1: Dhiraj Om

Over the coming weeks in the run up to the launch of Man O’War, I’ll be posting a few lines on each of the main characters in the book, about who they are, what they do and their role in the book. They’re a varied and diverse bunch, in more ways than one, and I have a soft spot for them all. I’ll also be posting a little bit about the creation and inception of each character, and why they are the way they are. I won’t be posting anything spoilerific; these will be more like author musings, which hopefully will provide more background to the characters and their world.

The six POV characters are, in order of appearance: the jellyfisherman Dhiraj Om; the corporate Head of R&D Nita Rhodes; brutal gangster Agarkka D’Souza; black market engineer Salazar Gomez;oil heir and civil servant Adem Johnson; and hard-nosed policewoman Tilda Boulton. We’ll start with Dhiraj Om.

Dhiraj Om

Dhiraj Om is my essential “everyman” character, the one with whom I’d expect the majority of the reading audience to relate. His apparently simple decisions at the start of the book act as a catalyst for everything else that happens, while his relatively basic wants and needs (to provide for his family, to stay safe) are the anchor for his fish-out-of-water story.

Appropriately enough for a fish out of water, he’s most comfortable at sea. When I started writing MOW, I had images for three key scenes in my head: the opening, the critical middle scene, and the ending. The opening image was the discovery made at sea. Therefore, the discoverer was only ever going to be someone who worked at sea, and someone who worked alone. Therefore Dhiraj Om was to be a fisherman, and with a little 22nd-century extrapolation (the impact of catastrophic overfishing, pollution, and extinction of some species), he became a jellyfisherman, scouring the freezing waters of the North Sea for bounties of moon jellies. (It seems I’m developing a pattern of giving my protagonists otherworldly, portmanteau job titles: in Hole In The Sky Grub Teng is a “psychitect”.) So we meet Raj first on his autonomous fishing skiff The Lion’s Mane, going about his business, when the chance happening upon a rare, valuable and illegal bounty in his nets – the pleasure robot, or kokeshi, called Naomi – thrusts an ordinary man into an extraordinary situation, for which he seems ill prepared and equipped, both physically and emotionally.

Dhiraj is the only character – the only human character ­– for whom there wasn’t some real-world anchor upon which I could base him. In short, I don’t know any jellyfishermen. In that respect writing an everyman (or everywoman, but because Dhiraj is a man, I’ll stick with everyman) character is relatively simple. One doesn’t need a specific point of reference in based in reality, as the everyman could be any of us, and is the person whose thought patterns will most closely resemble our own, which when the going gets stressful, most of the time can be boiled down to, “how the hell did things get to this?” I’ll be honest, I think that each time my one year old throws yoghurt on the floor, so throwing some violent and vengeful gangsters and a few deaths into the mix must really only be an amplification of this yoghurt-on-the-floor emotions. I’m guessing, anyway (isn’t that what writers do? he said cheekily).

As Dhiraj and Naomi spend time together, trying to get through the situation in which they find themselves, they help each other in very unexpected ways. One of the major themes of the book is the way in which technology is commandeered and used (and I’ll write a bit more about this when I tackle the characters of Nita and Adem) in a secondary fashion. In my line of work there’s a lot of talk about which new technologies will enter the market and when, and how they will help the economy and society at large. I usually contend, with my writer’s hat on, that it’s not possible to truly know how the technology will impact society (and the economy) until it’s been dropped into society. In a sort of distortion of the Observation Principal, once you start using a piece of technology, you change it – and it changes you. It’s a given to say that a robot will help humans to lift bigger things, or get to places more efficiently, or communicate more easily, or work longer hours. But when they reveal new things about ourselves is when things get really interesting, and potentially dangerous.

Dhiraj and Naomi undergo literal and figurative changes in the course of the book, that reveal to Dhiraj things about himself he would never have understood or thought about. And in return, he begins to feel certain things for this artificial being. It’s easy to say that we can become connected to robots, in the same way that we become attached to objects of little outward importance – a trinket of some sentimental value. But when robots are used in new ways, and that in turn reveals new things about the user, then they transcend being mere items, or things, and could be thought of as something else. Perhaps one might think of them as not engineering but art, moving us in the way a painting, a book, or a piece of music might. Or, if you’re like Nita Rhodes, you might think of them as something else entirely. But we’ll come to her character next week.

Hope and Dreams for 2018

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything here. If the twelve months of the year can be thought of as the twelve rounds of a boxing match, then in the latter half of 2017 hit me with a handful of suckerpunches and knocked me right onto my keister. Redundancy, illness and the delayed publication of Man O’War all conspired to make the latter half of last year a bit of a trial.

2018 is a new fight. I’m off the ropes, greased up and ready to go again. I started a new job at the UK Space Agency (which, yes, is very cool) just before Christmas, everyone at home is happier and healthier, and Man O’War is on track for its rescheduled publication date of 1st March 2018. More on that later.

After not writing a single word for about two months, I’m optimistic of finishing Hole in the Sky this Springtime, and will start the long and lonely ritual of hunting for agents. As well as this, I have high hopes of completing and pushing for print my Mythologica Urbana quartet of novellas, and a short story collection entitled C3I.

YAWB: Ambition in Science Fiction

The other day I put something up about having the confidence and balls to stick with your own personal writing ambitions in the face of wide ranging critiques offering highly different suggestions for improvement.

On a broader note, I came across this quote from Roberto Balaño’s bleak, sprawling 2004 epic, 2666, which encapsulated the mood I was feeling better than I had.

“He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.”

There is the sense of something monstrous and indefinable lurking just beneath the pages of 2666. It’s in the miserable sexual couplings (and triplings) of the literary professors, the dead soul of the cypheresque Archimboldi, the mutilated corpses of nine hundred women and the castrated corpse of the Romanian General. There’s a monster out there, but it’s amorphous and diffuse. It’s staggering ambition that bleeds upwards from the pages.

There is a danger when writing, or attempting to write, that we get so caught up in the correct execution of the prose, the syntax, the technical details for which there are so many rules, that we forget about what Balaño calls “real combat” – the attempt in literature to rise up, burst through walls and ceilings, and drag human fear, comprehension and hope into new areas of understanding. In what’s either perfect irony or highly reflexive self-awareness (perhaps sprouting from the fact that Balaño knew he was dying as he strove to complete the book), 2666 is that perfect encapsulation of frustrating imperfection, an attempt at real combat, a ruck in the mud ending in blood and snot and tears and exhaustion.

It seems to me that literature should not simply be about storytelling; the story may be the Thing, and a very fine thing to perceive too, but it sits lightly upon the seething mass of the Lacanian Real, the stuff that defies definition in the world and thus represents our own horrid fantasies. The imperfect, sometimes tortuous, works by the great masters (and I’d include 2666 as a modern example of a work within that bracket) are pieces that try to break free of convention and open up a new relationship with the reader. The quote mentions choosing Bartleby The Scrivener over Moby Dick. I’m very fond of Bartleby, as both a character and a piece. It’s highly evocative, dealing with the importance (and lack) of hope in a workbound modern (as it was then, in the mid-19th century) American society, and so is both worthy of study and topically relevant today. It’s also written perfectly. But Moby Dick is the manifestation of those thrashing, orgiastically violent thoughts made flesh upon the horrifying blank canvas of the White Whale. Is it written perfectly? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly not completely. In parts Melville constructs cathedrals of words on par with Middlemarch, and in others he erects rickety prefab sheds (again, a little like 2666). But the ambition is huge, and at its heart has a symbol so vast and unknowable that the book itself becomes the White Whale, the Thing that defies definition and yet draws us, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes gnashing and gnawing, but always inexorably, towards it.

I make no bones about striving for ambition. It’s the most important ingredient in writing, more than syntax, more than POV, more than not using passive writing. Without it, stories are merely lengthy wallpaper. Often I’ve read online posts from other writers stating that having a theme is irrelevant, useless, or – worse – difficult. A book has to have a chance to resonate, not just with its readers but with its author if it wants a chance to breathe and last.

Science fiction (and its sister genre, fantasy) seems to suffer a hangover from its pulpy, schlocky days inasmuch as it still sometimes struggles to convey itself as true literary art. It’s not for want of trying. Bradbury, arguably the first to drag SF into a higher plane of ambition, rightfully observed that science fiction must be the most literary of all genres, for:

“Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science, the whole history of mankind is science fiction.”

A little glib, perhaps, but one takes his point. Science fiction ought to be the most willing to break shackles and anoint itself with the task of advancing humanity’s understanding of itself, and this is because science fiction essentially deals with one central theme, which is simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic.

Where we head if we continue on our current course, and where we head if we change.

I’m no fool (actually, I am). I work on execution as much as the next person. The gauze covering the wound has to look and feel satisfactory. And the best themes are like wounds, because they resonate with our own latent traumas and desires. Science fiction and fantasy (and, of course, their other sister genre, horror) typically deal with monsters – in all their forms – the most. And storytellers shouldn’t shy away from the traumatic irruptions that monsters represent. Indeed, some of the greatest ambition comes in the design of the Other things we encounter only in the speculative worlds of SFF and horror. But ambition mustn’t be limited to merely depicting the hideousness of the monster’s topology. That just makes Carl Denhams of us all. Ambition is letting the monster off the leash, wrestling with it in the mud as its creator, reflection and nemesis, until eventually, at last, it’s impossible to tell the two apart.

The Hole In The Sky

I’m about fifty-five thousand words into (The) Hole In The Sky (I’m still undecided about the The), which means I’m probably going to finish it (yay!) and will hope to publish it some time after Man O’War, the publication of which has recently been delayed. 

Hole In The Sky – let’s call it HITS, shall we? – concerns a psychitect named Grub Teng, who has been injured in an accident at work, and is subsequently laid off by his corporate employers after his usefulness has run its course. Grub, wanting revenge against his old employer, joins a cyber-hacker-terror group, but things do not go well.

I know that sounds incredibly vague for fifty-five thousand words, but as I’m not finished, and I’m still only in first draft territory, I think I’d better hold off from any further details.

However, it seems to me that there are a few thematic similarities with Man O’War, particularly the ethical arguments concerning increased autonomy in technologies, especially when they concern ‘sentient’ systems. The theme of corporate corruption is also prevalent in both books, as is the idea of corrupt institutions employing good people, forcing them to make difficult choices about the sorts of people they want to be. Other than that, I’ve noticed that on both cases my central character has a very niche, odd sort of job – in Man O’War, Dhiraj is a jellyfisherman; in HITS, the main character Grub is a psychitect, who has the gift of being able to design the blueprints for new lifeforms in his dreams. In both cases, it’s the nature of their very distinctive jobs that get them into trouble. I’m not going to be so pretentious as to begin analysing my own work, but I thought it an interesting observation. I’ve no idea why this should be an ongoing theme in my work.

Man O’War Delayed until 2018

The title says it all, really. owing to some extenuating circumstances to do with my publishers, I’m slightly sorry (and in other ways, slightly relieved) to say that the publication of Man O’War is going to be postponed to early 2018.


The reasons for doing so are sound, but shan’t be divulged, which makes it sound more conspiratorial than it is, so let’s just say that the book will be better served by a launch in the early Spring.

At first I was mildly irritated (a mildly irritated author. Oo-er.) by the delay, mainly because, well, because. It’s my debut, and I’m chomping at the bit for it to be released and Out There. However, the rational part of me reminds me that I’ve waited all my life for this moment, and a few extra months won’t make too much difference. It’s possible that the book could have been rushed out to meet the original proposed launch date, but what would the point be? It’d only be shooting myself in the foot, and the extra time gives me a few precious more months to try and drum up some interest and word-of-mouth. Plus, it give me more time to focus on completing my next novel, Hole In The Sky. Hopefully it will mean a smaller gap between publications as well, which is definitely a good thing.

We’re all human, even writers (especially writers). It’s only normal to want to se our work out there, as soon as possible. I see it (and have also been guilty of it) in the self-publishing sector often: books rushed out with little thought to crucial (but frequently perceived as boring) parts of the process such as cover design, editing, proofreading and marketing. I’m determined to do it properly, and so will greet the delay with, yes, a certain slight amount of disappointment, but mostly I’m phlegmatic about it.

More info as it comes. For now, attached are two draft covers for the book. I’d love to hear any comments!

Man O'War Cover 2
Man O'War Cover 1

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five

I’d not read this Hugo winner before, but enjoyed it immensely. It’s anti-war in the most absurd sense, and does its work by juxtaposing the almost surreal horror of the events leading up to the fire bombing of Dresden in WW2 with the banal comings and goings of death.

For a book that makes a point of describing the horrors of war in stark, almost passive, journalistic prose shot through with wit, it’s oddly life-affirming. Billy Pilgrim’s “time travelling” is never fully confirmed as a real phenomenon; he is constantly dismissed as a crank by the majority of the people with whom he interacts. Furthermore, as rational readers, we’re certainly inclined to interpret his movement through time as the tragic and fragmented rememberings of a mind fractured by the things he saw (and smelled, and heard, and felt) during the war. But from this fragmentation Billy reaches a peace – or perhaps serenity would be a better word – with the world that pure rationality does not allow. If war is the theatre of the absurd in its realest sense, then a serene madness is the sanest approach, even when death finds us and those around us now, and at every moment in the past, the future, for now, having always been, and always being in the future. So it goes. 

The Lack of Pen is Mightier Than The Pen

I’ve not posted for some time, partly because of the dastardly construct that is RL, and partly because my latest novel, The Hole In The Sky (let’s call it HITS for short, yes?), had been plaguing me with a sore plot point that didn’t quite make sense, and had caused progress to grind to a halt. During such times it has become my go-to response to start caterwauling that, “I’ll never write again!”

It’s happened before. Roughly halfway through drafting Man O’War I encountered a monumental, insoluble plot point. The strands were too complex, too and I stopped writing for about six weeks. When I finally managed to begin writing again, the resolution to this Meereenese Knot fell into my hands within an hour.

And the same thing happened during HITS. I hadn’t typed a word on it for five weeks before this last weekend, but perhaps the recent sunshine managed to dislodge something in my brain, for the solution fell into my lap a mere thirty minutes after opening the laptop. And it was so elegantly simple (by changing that to that), and took care of so many disparate plot and character strands, that I was especially pleased.

The thing is, the common advice is to “just plough on”, get some words down on paper / screen and deal with the problems later. I’m not so sure that this is actually very valuable advice any more. While the habit of writing is very important to maintain, when trying to achieve an end product, writing for the sake of writing can sometimes be counterproductive. I’ve no doubt that if I’d simply “ploughed on” with the plotlines I had before, then I’d have doubled my workload on subsequent drafts.

It’s not easy to step away from the work, and into the arms of Writerly Existential Crisis, but if you’re struggling, then taking an extended break could be invaluable.

Diversity of Thought

Recently I had a debate with another writer on the topic of cultural appropriation that was too mild to be labelled as ‘heated’, yet interesting enough to warrant further investigation. Coincidentally, around the same time earlier this month Lionel Shriver appear on Mark Steyn’s ill-fated The Mark Steyn Show, primarily to discuss her now infamous “Sombrero Talk” at the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival.

            I don’t usually wade into such politicised debates, preferring to stay within the relatively calm waters of writing and publishing technique, but these recent interactions about what is and what isn’t permitted as creative acts by writers and artists brought from me rather strong feelings on this point.

            My debut novel Man O’War is primarily set in two places in the 22nd century: London, and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. To me, it seems axiomatic that any story set in modern / future London features a diverse, multi-ethnic cast of characters. It’s my duty as a writer to populate and therefore represent the setting of my work as accurately (or, more importantly in genre writing, as plausibly) as possible. It simply wouldn’t be plausible for a sprawling story set across modern / future London to be ethnically homogenous. So, plausibility covered, I then comes to the point of the right I have to write characters of differing backgrounds, ethnicities and races.

            To me, even the thought of such self-censorship is a troubling concept. It’s not in my interest to think, “what would a Sikh do here?” or, “what would a Japanese woman do here?” True, our ethnicity shapes our worldview to some immeasurable degree, but less so when actually we’re all from the same city. So I mostly discard such thought processes. For me, writing is more about identifying commonalities (which I suppose is why it’s called the human condition). It’s the reason why identity politics is doomed to fail, as it’s a way of Othering the person next to you, rather than attempting to see the common ground you share (there are plenty of other good reasons why it’s just not feasible as a system of thought and even less as a system of action, but they are far too numerous to go into here. Another day, perhaps). Good writing has a way of making you feel a connection with a fictional character who, on the surface, has nothing in common with you. In conversation I always at this point wheel out the apocryphal Goethe quote: “it is the job of the poet to capture the specific, but reflect the universal.” If you, as a writer, can make a commuter on the train from Swindon to London feel something in common with a fisherman from Burma, then that’s a job well done.

            This is not to say we’re all the same. We’re all different, but as individuals rather than at group level. So, in Man O’War, there is a cast of people of different races, colours etc, but they all have their own thought processes, internal conflicts and motivations to deal with. On the surface I – or possibly you – can’t have much in common with them (such as the Sri Lankan gangster D’Souza; or the struggling jellyfisherman Dhiraj; or Nita, the Head of R&D in a cutting edge corporation; or Sir Ingham, the aging diplomat within the Department for Business), but if I’ve done my job properly (yes, I know, a big if), then there are more commonalities between these people – and their readers – than meets the eye. And that means enabling people to connect with a broad spectrum of other human beings. Which is as it should be.