Research, or something like it (Part I)

Every few years, here in UK academic circles, there is a curious circus known as the REF, the “Research Excellence Framework”, a bizarrely arcane ritual of humiliation where academics struggle to demonstrate that their research is not merely good (one might have thought that being “good” was a sufficiently high demand, although apparently this is not so) but is instead excellent. And because this is a rigorous exercise, scholars are asked to prove their excellence in research by submitting to learned boards of their peers a range of “outputs” that are scrutinised using the best scientific and divinatory methods, so that these works may be awarded stars. Not real stars, of course; not even the kinds of stars that are handed out to primary school children, shiny sticker-stars, but just notional stars, the Platonic forms of stars that are more true and real than any actual star or representation of a star could ever be. Read more

Two Tribes of Storytellers

Next week, I’m away in Birmingham at the lovely Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center for their Borders and Crossings/Seuils et Traverses conference on travel writing. I’m not exactly a travel writer myself, although much of my writing—both in fiction and in philosophy—has a preoccupation with crossings, passages, movement and travel; and so I’m hugely looking forward to a week in such wonderful surroundings talking about how, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, stories are travels and travels are stories. I’m hoping that the week will be, in spirit at least, half-conference, half-retreat. It is something—after a busy few months—that I could well do with. Read more

The Descent of the Descent of the Lyre

I’m delighted to say that my novel, The Descent of the Lyre, is due to be published this summer by Roman Books. It will be available both in the UK and the US. I’ve just published a trailer for the book over on YouTube, and you can see it in action here.

So, now that the book is so close to being published, I thought I’d write a little bit here about the descent of The Descent of the Lyre (you see, the title of this post was not a typo after all). Read more

Lightness, and Editing for Pleasure

I probably shouldn’t be writing this, as I have a deadline on the philosophy book manuscript, which needs to be sent off by the end of the month; but there’s time for a quick post on the subject of writing and pleasure.

The philosophy book I’m working on has been through more drafts than I can possibly count; and it is good to see it close to completion. In terms of editing, I am now in the final edit, which I consider to be a kind of ‘editing for pleasure’. Editing, I think, is always a process of editing for something or other: editing for consistency, for factual accuracy, for coherence or argument, for sentence construction and so on. This is one reason that for me at least, things need multiple edits, because each time you are looking for something different. Read more

Cheese, Chinese and Chauvinism

Recently I’ve been watching some philosophy programmes from Beijing Open University. It’s a slow process—transcribing as I go—but good as a way of practising my Chinese. I have realised that when it comes to language learning, you need to make use of materials that are themselves interesting. So when I bought Harry Potter (or Hali Bote 哈利波特) in Chinese because I thought it might be a good, easy read, I forgot that I’d never had the slightest desire to read more than three pages of the English version, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised when trying to read the book in Chinese did not improve the experience for me. You’d think that reading five pages of philosophy in Chinese would be more arduous than reading five pages of Harry Potter; but in Chinese, as in English, I find that the reverse is true. Read more

Philosophy, children’s literature and the question of branding

A couple of months ago, my children’s book, [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link], was published. It has been one of the most demanding and delightful projects I’ve ever been involved in. Who would have thought that eight hundred words would require quite so much redrafting?

I fell into children’s literature somewhat by mistake, after becoming friends with the illustrator Thomas Docherty. Tom is a wonderful artist, and a lovely man; but when we decided to have a go at working together, I can remember feeling a little apprehensive. Part of the reason was that I was not sure I could write for this age group. Another part of the reason was that I was a writer who spent his time working on philosophy and novels for adults, and I couldn’t really see how writing children’s books fitted in. Read more

Propaganda, Home and Away

This weekend is the Diamond Jubilee weekend here in the UK. What this means is that our head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, has now sat on her throne (we still have thrones in this quaint little nation of ours) for sixty years. And so extra holidays have been proclaimed, people are hanging out flags, and the Queen herself is planning to begin her celebrations of this extended weekend by going to the Epsom Derby—one presumes to take a flutter on the horses.

There are various other kinds of celebrations extending all the way to Tuesday: street parties, beacons being lit across the country, flotillas, concerts… And there is no denying that many people seem very, very happy about the whole affair. Just down the road from us, somebody has gone to the trouble of painting a union jack to cover the entirety of the wall in front of their house. That’s how happy some people are.

Divination and Doubt

For the last seven years or so, I have been up to my ears in one of the strangest books in the world, the Yijing 易經, or Book of Changes. The Yijing  (or, as it is often more popularly known, the I Ching) is, by any measure, one of the oddest books in existence: a bronze-age manual for governing, a divinatory text, one of the foundations of Chinese culture, a book that made Leibniz’s pulse race, and one of the texts most beloved of flaky New-Agers in the West. And because, perhaps, I like to think of myself as more or less sane, I have tended to be a little shy of talking about the Yijing. It is, after all, a book that attracts all kinds of quixotic crackpots and loons, a motley and curious company to find oneself amongst. Read more

The Thing Is…

When I was casting around for a name for this new blog—naming things is always a tricky business—I eventually settled on ‘The Myriad Things’. I tried out a few other names as well, but ‘The Myriad Things’ was the one that stuck. I toyed with ‘Myriad Things,’ without the definite article; but I thought that it sounded a little too much like an online store. I also thought about ‘All the Myriad Things’, which had nice rhythm to it; but to my ear it sounded a little too much like the title of one of those delicate, nuanced novels in which nothing very much happens. So in the end I settled for ‘The Myriad Things.’ And the more I think about it, the more I think that the name fits. Read more

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