Dazed and Confused

2022 – the strangest year in Boro’s history? 2023 – the most glorious for fifty years?

Nick Hornby got it right all those years ago in Fever Pitch, just when football was beginning it’s transition from a working class pursuit, looked down on and vilified by cultural commentators, mired in a seemingly endless cycle of violence and male aggression,  to a middle class one, with a Pavarotti soundtrack. The new ballet for edgy cultural thrill seekers looking for authenticity. Being a real football supporter has got little to do with choice, or pleasure or glory. That, ironically enough, is exactly what it means for the new fan. The fan that actively chooses their team, generally speaking because they have a chance of winning the Champions League, have billionaire foreign owners, and can be used as another high fashion luxury accessory for their glossy lifestyle.

Real football supporters do not choose. They are chosen, as a result of family or geography. Anyone who chooses their team is a consumer, not a fan. It’s a community, a roots thing. You go to your first game as a young kid, and generally speaking, that’s it, you’re hooked. And, apart from a few possible mini breaks for University or Child rearing, when there are more pressing things to attend to, that’s you for life. And there’s nothing you can do about it – it’s a life sentence that brings heartbreak, disappointment and endlessly dashed hopes. And they are just the good times.

So, for the average supporter, of small to middling teams, when some success comes around, you have to cherish it, to savour it, because you fear, deep inside, that before too long it will have evaporated, and all you’ll be left with are memories and faint hopes yet again. This is what it is to be a supporter of Middlesbrough FC, a team from “just a small town in Europe”. There have been memorable periods in our history, since I went to my first game in 1968, both of success and abject, catastrophic failure: promotions, relegations, on the verge of liquidation, Cup finals, domestic and European, even cup wins. Well, alright, one cup win. But the yardstick that all supporters of my age use to measure Boro’s current prospects, is the celebrated Jack Charlton team and the season of 1973 – 74. No team has ever come close to that perfection, that total dominance. Some have come dabbled with our emotions: the Rioch fairytale rise from the ashes, the days of Juninho, Ravanelli, and Emerson were a crazy joy ride; the European adventures under McClaren; Karanka’s supremely functional team and their promotion (our last) to the Premier League. None has generated the same, certain confidence that we would win every match, of that season. Until now.

In some ways, those of us who were lucky enough to see the emergence of the Charlton team, have suffered in the same way that the same generation suffered by watching England win the 1966 World Cup. You think that it’s always going to be that way, that England and Boro winning things, is just a part of the natural order of things. It set us all up for a painful journey of readjustment, as we slowly realised that the success we witnessed was just a blip in a longer, well-established pattern of mediocrity.

It is with some trepidation that I have to report, that now, fifty years later,  the current team and manager might just be worthy successors to Charlton’s men. Trepidation because, over the years, I’ve been close to making the same pronouncement a couple of times, only for any early promising signs to disappear to be replaced by the usual disappointments, leaving me feeling rather silly that I had been so optimistic. What makes the current situation so unusual is that it was only a year ago that I was on the verge of making the same prediction. It was around about  now, probably peaking with the FA cup win over Spurs in March last year,  that I found myself thinking that Chris Wilder’s team was rapidly turning into one of my all time favourite Boro teams.

Some history is required, children. Bear with me, particularly if you clicked on the blog hoping for some bog standard Tory bashing. Chris Wilder had been appointed to replace Neil Warnock, an old war horse with limited tactical acumen, whose effectiveness as a manager had started to exhibit the Law of Diminishing Returns. He deserves great credit for saving us from relegation, and for resurrecting the Boro careers of Dyksteel, and Bola, for accidentally finding an excellent defensive partnership involving McNair and Fry, and not least, for rescuing Duncan Whatmore from injury blighted, no contract, no man’s land. For a while it worked. Until it didn’t and he was replaced by Wilder. Let’s not forget that securing his services was a real, coup for a club the size and status of Boro. He had been manager of the year two years earlier, and had a reputation for tactical innovation. That, plus our changes in the scouting and player recruitment department, made it seem as if at last, we were finally embracing the 21st century.

And it all started  so well. Wilder introduced a high, all action pressing game. For his first few games in charge, the players managed it for about 65 minutes before they ran out of steam, but eventually, fitness improved and so did results. The form of Isaiah Jones and Matt Crooks on the right hand side of midfield, and the all action displays of Marcus Tavernier, meant that we were exciting to watch and never seemed to know when we were beaten. The January transfer window promised much in the way of strikers. Admittedly, we had a dodgy keeper, but that’s been the case for most of my time as a Boro fan. ( Take a bow Jim Platt,  Stephen Pears, Mark Schwarzer and Darren Randolph) I was excited about the acquisition of the young Balogun from Arsenal, and interested in that of Connolly from Brighton, who had shown some form the previous year. I, like many Boro fans, thought we were certainties for the playoffs.

And then, it all went pear shaped. Balogun and especially Connolly had made us worse. Our only threat came from the right. If Jones was not at his best, we couldn’t find another way to score. Rumours of Wilder angling for a move to Burnley surfaced and would not go away. It still seemed though that, having sent Connolly and Balogun back, and with the promise of a summer transfer window to plug the obvious gaps, a real go at promotion was assured for this season. It started with high hopes, but before too long, it was clear that there were major problems behind the scenes.

To be fair, Wilder’s situation was not helped by the fact that right at the last moment before the season started, Marcus Tavernier was sold out of the blue. Tavernier was the beating heart of the side, a young. player full of energy, skill and commitment. Without him, we were half the side we had been the previous year. But that was his only defence. He was his own worst enemy. Wilder’s extremely unattractive quality of throwing certain players to the wolves publicly after a bad result came to the fore. Dyksteel, one of my favourite Boro players, was humiliated by Wilder, post match, several times. Dael Fry, another quality defender, also received the public dressing down treatment, and he suffered the ultimate humiliation for any pro – the half time substitution. That’s just not the way to keep the dressing room on your side.

Early in the season, when I was still thinking things would come right, I went see the game at Loftus Road, against QPR. It was a profoundly depressing experience. Without Tav in the middle of the park we were horribly lightweight in midfield, with no aggression or penetration. McGree, Mowatt, Howson, and Crooks were painfully slow and couldn’t tackle their way out of a damp paper bag. (To be fair to Crooks, who is ridiculously underrated by a section of supporters, he was struggling needing a hernia operation. The others had no such excuse) Defensively, we were shambolic. The breaking up of a really good defence the previous year to include new signing  Lenihan seemed another bizarre achievement for Wilder. Although we came back in the second half, it confirmed for me that, far from being promotion challengers, we were well and truly in the relegation mix.

It was hard to fathom. What on earth had happened to the great side of just five or six months earlier? Could it be true that the Messiah, Wilder, was really just a very naughty boy? Just another charlatan? Confusion reigned. It was the biggest turnaround in performance and expectations that I can remember in all my time as a fan. A few months ago, I was convinced that Wilder was the answer, and that at last we had made a managerial appointment that indicated Steve Gibson, bless his saintly cotton socks, knew what he was doing. Many Boro fans shared that view it seemed.Now, he is an object of scorn, for the failings that became ever clearer. I’m not one for vilifying managers, generally. Obviously, I make an exception for Tony Pulis, whose approach to football was positively horrendous. In the dying days of his reign, I would have rather visited the dentist without anaesthetic, than be forced to watch Boro play. Less painful. I will, though, make an exception for Wilder. And I have finally worked out who it was he reminded me of so much. He must be the Love Child of Mr Sugden, from Kes. A dead ringer.

But now, it’s happened again. From despair to high expectations in a couple of months. Carrick has moulded an exceptional team, rescuing Wilder’s write offs and adding real quality to the squad. What’s more, he’s done it quietly and calmly, not playing the big I Am, and he’s done it by getting us to play sublime football, from back to front in the blink of an eye. I’ve wracked my brain and can’t get past the idea that the current team is playing the best football I’ve seen Boro consistently produce, probably since the John Neal side of the late Seventies, early Eighties. At its best the Robson Juninho team was exhilarating, but there were also some shambolic performances along the way.

A few observations on what has happened under Carrick:

  1. The Remarkable Transformation of Mr Chuba  Akpom

Akpom has gone from ordinary, journeyman striker, picked up  cheapish from Greece, and then shipped out on loan when it was clearly not working out for him, to a reincarnation of Mark Viduka. Where on earth did that come from? Admittedly, he has some Arsenal Youth pedigree behind him, but that was a long while ago now.

Lovely instant control with back to goal, strong and very diffiult to shake off the ball, great passing and vision for a pass, great movement and deadly in the box. There was no sign of any of those qualities in his first spell at the club. More proof that Carrick is actually a necromancer, with little wax dolls of all the players that he casts spells on at Midnight in his office. It’s the only explanation.

  1. The emergence of Mr Hayden Hackney, fully formed, as a top class central midfielder, straight from the Academy. See point above about wax models.

In all my time supporting the mighty Reds, I have never seen a better player emerge from the Academy or the Reserves, apart from David Armstrong. From his first game (and well done Leo Percovitch for throwing him in) it was obvious he was really good. When he receives the ball in the middle of midfield from the defence, he’s on the half turn and he runs forward, glides, carrying the ball effortlessly. His range of passing is outstanding and he is always looking to pass forward, in between defenders. Added to that he works his socks off and loves a tackle.

The only thing he is missing at the moment is goals, but let’s not be greedy. The real mystery here is how Wilder, paid a huge amount of money for his footballing expertise and judgement, couldn’t see this. According to him, no one from the Academy was ready for the the first team. Not ready, my arse. Hackney is a future England player – or he would have been if he hadn’t already plumped for Scotland. That’s England’s loss and their gain.

3. Riley McGree fulfilling his potential.

    At the beginning of the season I was unimpressed. He struck me as this year’s Adam Forshaw: neat, tidy, but with little threat. Definitely not a central midfielder and much more effective when he played higher up the pitch. Now, he’s unrecognisable. Nominally on the left, he drifts all over the pitch and finds space in between the lines, and is a visionary passer. He also scores goals. Fabulous

      4. Marcus Forss is another player whose performances have made Wilder look more than a little silly. According to the great Sheffield Oracle, Forss was a “developmental player”, a “project”. What nonsense. He’s got a searing turn of pace, closes opposition defenders down relentlessly, provides assists from the right and is a great finisher. He’s been an unsung player this season, but one who is instrumental in the way we play.


        Lenihan has justified his purchase in the summer, and has become a key element in our steadily improving defence. A future Captain, when Johnny Howson hangs up his boots.

        So, what does the future hold? We will go up, perhaps even in second place, automatically. I firmly believe that if Carrick had started the season in charge it would ourselves and Burnley who would be miles out in front of the pack, just like Charlton’s champions were all those years ago. Carrick’s reputation, and his obvious eye for a player will mean that our recruitment for the Premier League will be more effective than it’s ever been. I hope he can revitalise some of the casualties, players who still have a great deal to offer, imho. I’m thinking of Bola, Dyksteel, and Jones, in particular, who looks a pale shadow of the player that broke through last year.

        Carrick will be much coveted by any Premier League club that sacks their manager next season, but I get the impression that he, unlike Wilder, really likes being here and will want to see out the project to its conclusion. We will also be lucky to hold on to the players I’ve highlighted. It’s likely that Akpom, McGree, Hackney, Forss will be the subject of big money bids. We need to resist them if we are going to build something here.

        Of course, we won’t really find out about whether Carrick is the real deal until he’s lost five on the bounce and someone throws their season ticket at him in the dug out. Responding to pressure is the key test (the test that Karanka spectacularly failed in our last promotion season), particularly in the Premier League where the quality of opposition is frighteningly high. Should that happen, we can confidently expect some of the board warriors to emerge, telling us that they called it at the time and that appointing Carrick was a mistake. He will of course have a losing run at some time. It’s easier to get out of it with the support of the crowd, but my hunch is that he is made of the right stuff and will find the answers to turn it round.

        We are set for a really enjoyable few years, I reckon. And part of that pleasure is to acknowledge that, at last we have worthy inheritors of the mantle of 73/74. Something is stirring down in TS3. Something beautiful and special. Perhaps Hornby wasn’t completely correct about the pain and angst of being a football supporter. Maybe, just maybe, this is a unique time when your team provide pure, sublime joy. The beautiful game is even more beautiful when your own, beloved team are playing it. Long may it continue.

        Final point: It’s hard to shake off years of underachievement, and the ingrained, heady mixture of fear and pessimism that has been ingested over the many years of standing on the Holgate. It was like a toxic radiation cloud, post Nuclear Armageddon, with dangerous levels of Pipe smoke, Bovril fumes, and Bitter Cynicism.

        Typical Bloody Boro is never very far from the surface, when opportunity knocks. On Saturday we are away to West Bromwich Albion. After this particular post, this is the only image that will do.

        Up The Boro.

        How to Survive The Writers’ Workshop

        The first thing to realise is that creative writing is something of a drug. And like all addicts,  budding writers, who keep their activities a murky secret, need a support network that treads a fine line between encouragement, understanding and brutal character assassination. For many of us, this is the Writers Workshop, an institution that strikes fear into the heart of anyone who has tried to write something other than a work email or a letter appealing against a parking fine. Many writers fall at this first hurdle, when, having been brave enough to submit their early, faltering efforts to the scrutiny of their peers, they are left shell shocked at the realisation that not everyone agrees with them that they have a rare talent that should be not only nurtured, but celebrated. Shouted from the rooftops, in fact.

        The first time this happens, and you sit there, your smile becoming ever more forced and rictus like, as each sentence of the judgement of your friends and colleagues strips away another layer of self respect and self esteem, is a life changing moment. Your stare becomes glassy eyed, your eyes vacant and slowly and steadily you retreat back into some terrible protective shell, nodding wisely at every acid comment, every slash of the knife. Not listening behind a certain point of maximum pain, but just waiting for the whole ghastly experience to be over.

        Why on earth would anyone out themselves through this more than once? And indeed, many people reach the same conclusion. They put it down to experience and vow never again to entertain such obviously deluded ideas about their own abilities. And they never come back. Some of them end up as the pub bore, always ready to burden their chums with their opinions about cultural products, self appointed experts on all the different forms of narrative experience. They refer frequently to their writing, usually as a prequel to their favourite subject, the evil of literary agents and the publishing industry, who, know nothing about the craft of writing but are only interested in selling, shifting units that are essentially the same as baked beans in the supermarket. They bore on about the hundreds of times JK Rowling got rejection slips. All this to subtly imply that genius such as theirs is routinely ignored by the lesser drones of an industry that represents the general decay of western cultural production. Others never mention it to anyone. They spend their life reading voraciously and watching box sets, silently brooding, while thinking, “It could have been me.”

        Most of them manage to go on with their lives, some of them making a useful contribution to society. Some of them even become OFSTED inspectors, convinced that their frequent use of fronted adverbials and semicolons in their writing should have protected them from criticism. They will spend the next thirty years of their professional lives taking revenge on schoolteachers with a similarly sloppy approach to the craft of writing.

        How to avoid such a fate? I’ve had quite a lot of experience of the dreaded writing workshop, in different groups and in different settings. Here are some basic rules that have emerged from my experiences. I’ve divided them into two sections: For Writers and For Critics.

        For Writers

        1. All First Drafts Are Shit

        In the words of one of my esteemed tutors, All First Drafts Are Shit.(Or maybe they said, “All your drafts are shit” No, I really must work on this Imposter Syndrome thing) It’s a simple enough statement, but one that’s worth remembering. If your submission to the group is relatively unworked ( and weekly deadlines mean that it almost certainly is) you’re going to get a lot of critical feedback. Because all first drafts are shit. Listening to the feedback is one way of beginning to make them a little less shit.

        2. The Reader is Always Right.

        Until they’re actually wrong. (see 3 below) If one of your readers is telling you they didn’t like some aspects of your piece, please, before you open your mouth, remember that they are telling the truth and only they can know. It’s not an episode of Traitors where they are trying to double bluff you. They didn’t like it. And nothing you can say – no explanation of what you were trying to achieve – can make any difference to that. You have a choice of possible ways to respond. One way makes you look like a twat – and remember, it’s important, if you want to try to have a long run in the same group of writing buddies, to try to preserve some sense of dignity and humanity. That way is to argue. When you do this, you are basically saying that the reader is a moron because they did not get what you were trying to do. Hmm, how can I put this politely? Might it not be possible, nay, likely that they didn’t get it because you didn’t write it well enough? Worth considering, n’est-ce pas?  The second way is much more straightforward. Just listen. Make some notes. And then go away and think about it.

        3. Except when it comes to Literary Criticism

        The plot thickens when their feedback strays into literary criticism, as it often does. As soon as they step onto that particular thin sheet of ice, well then you’re into the area of discussion, debate, argument. Because in trying to analyse why the writing doesn’t work, they will often get it wrong. And then you can really go for them….

        4. Shut the Fuck Up.

        Some writing workshops have formalised this so that is a key part of how feedback works. The person receiving the feedback is not allowed to respond, whether it’s asking or answering questions, or offering explanations. It is formally understood by all, that it’s the people offering the feedback who hold the floor. Given the fact that, in most cases, this process involves real human beings, this is harder to achieve than it sounds. In my experience, having silence as an unbreakable rule is the only way to make it work. I still feel myself going red and feeling uncomfortably hot under the collar when I recall some of my intemperate responses to feedback I didn’t agree with. Once again, if you value your reputation and want your membership of the group to continue profitably, just zip it, at least until you get home when you can offload to your long suffering partner about the heavy cross you have to bear in being an unrecognised genius surrounded by fools.

        5. RASB

        This acronym was, pleasingly, going to be Rasberry, but by the time I got to the letter E, I came over all tired and had to have a lie down.

        Recognise the agony of releasing your work in progress into the world. The minute you do that, it’s not exclusively yours anymore. It’s remade afresh every time someone starts reading it. Because those pesky readers will insist on bringing their own stuff to the party, sometimes, or so it seems, wilfully misinterpreting what you’ve written. There is nothing more sobering than realising the yawning chasm between what you think you’ve written, and what the reader has read. If this sounds familiar to you, go back to rule 2 and have a little think. Giving your WIP to someone is a Revelatory Act of Supreme Bravery. It’s been your dirty little secret for so long and while it’s a secret, you can continue to live with the fantasy that it is good and you are a genius. Sending it into the world is the first and the decisive step in destroying that.

        6. It’s OK to disagree

        Notwithstanding rule 2, sometimes the feedback you get is wrong, or unhelpful, or does not have to be acted upon. How do you know which feedback is valid or important, and which is just the reader’s expression of personal taste? If you only have one or two readers providing feedback, then this is a difficult judgement and, in the end, all you’ve got to go on is your instinct. Does the feedback strike a chord with you? Does it chime with previous comments that have been made about your work? If it doesn’t, it may not be essential to enact it. After all, the next person who reads it may directly contradict the previous reader. You could spend all of your time chopping and changing, on the back of every successive reader’s comments, and end up exactly where you started.

        7. Do The Maths

        If you give your precious WIP to twenty people and nineteen come back and say that the opening chapter was slow and boring, then it’s not rocket science to think that you need to edit the first chapter.

        Volume of feedback pointing out the same weaknesses is to be ignored at your peril. They haven’t all got together to plan your psychological destruction. Suck it up and make the changes.

        8. Know Thyself

        Try to use the experience to come to some overall understanding of your modus operandi as a writer. What is your usual model of working? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How does this compare to that of your fellow writers? The more of a handle you have on your preferred methods, the quicker you will be able to recognise the valuable things all of this feedback is telling you. And, the things that are, ahem, nonsense.

        9. It’s Good To Talk. ( see 4 above)

        Writing is essentially a lonely pursuit. Most writers, when they have finished something, are gripped by a powerful need for readers. Writers have laboured long and hard alone, thinking about the story, characters, themes, structure, voice etc. The list is endless. There’s always something to get wrong. And just like a football manager interviewed straight  after the final whistle, writers are invariably unreliable witnesses when it comes to their own work. That was never a penalty! (After opposing forward has been subject to grievous bodily harm in the six yard box) But there are two different kinds of talk, each one essential for the writer. The first is forensic, critical feedback, which can be brutal and difficult to take. In this, the writer must shut the fuck up and listen. The second is akin to therapy. Writers want to talk about their work in progress endlessly and obsessively. They are gripped by a burning need to explain. They are compelled to share with fellow writers, or other keen, reliable readers, what they were trying to do, how they were trying to do it, and why. In this sense, I am convinced that when Coleridge wrote the Ancient Mariner, he had a writer in mind. The opening verses tell of a strange, wild eyed sailor, who randomly forced himself and his story on any unfortunate soul he meets. (In this case, a Wedding Guest)

        It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three.

        ‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,

        Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

        He holds him with his glittering eye—

        The Wedding-Guest stood still,

        And listens like a three years’ child:

        The Mariner hath his will.

        The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:

        He cannot choose but hear;

        And thus spake on that ancient man,

        The bright-eyed Mariner.

        “He stoppeth one of three” and then he proceeds to bore the listener to death by telling him his story. Obviously a frustrated writer looking for a publisher/ agent.

        If you’re working with a group using the Shut The Fuck Up model of interrogation, you must find another outlet, where you, the writer, can talk discursively and in an unrestrained way. Unless you’ve got very understanding friends or a saint of a partner, this has to be with someone who is tolerant of your need to obsess about your work in progress. Often, the only way of managing this is in a quid pro quo arrangement with a fellow writer. One week they listen to you droning on about your WIP, the next week you return the favour. I would go as far as to say that having a regular session for 15 minutes where people tell you how great the WIP is an essential prerequisite for emotional and psychological well being. This what pubs were invented for. Just be aware that, on its own, it’s also a routine  guaranteed to ensure your writing doesn’t get appreciably better. And, incidently, ensuring that you quickly run out of friends But you’ll have a nice warm glow of well-being about you, so who cares?

        10. The Shit Sandwich.

        (Please note: I avoided the temptation to add an illustration)

        It’s basic human psychology that people will only listen to criticism about their work on the back of praise that’s been laid on with a trowel. So if you are trying to help out a fellow writer, remember that your points of criticism must not only be specific and proportionate, but they must be heavily outweighed by all the good things you’ve been able to say about the work. If you are the person delivering the feedback you’ve got to be prepared to do the work and find genuine things to praise and be enthusiastic about. Let’s be nice to each other. But actually, the metaphor doesn’t really stand up. Because, no matter how nice the bread is – sourdough,  brioche, perhaps a nice juicy, garlicky focaccia – at some point you’re going to have to eat some shit. And in reality, the filling of this particular sandwich, while it may not be palatable, is actually good for you. Maybe it should be the Cod Liver Oil sandwich.

        11. Sleep On It.

        The hurt of criticism is real, but the sting fades eventually. Embrace the pain. After all, like real pain and the red, angry inflammation it produces, it’s a sign that the body is working to process it. Here, it’s also a sign that you care about it, which is an essential precursor to good writing. Do the same with your mind and your heart, and let the feelings stew for a while. When you’ve done that, it’s much easier to a) hear the detail of what has been said, b) decide whether you agree, and c) learn from it.

        For Critics

        There is, of course, another side to this coin. How can you be a useful critic, rather than a smart arse know all?

        1.The One Rule to Bind Them All

        The thing to remember above all else, is that your value to the writer comes from your status as A Reader, not as An Expert. The certain knowledge that some people will disagree with your own, idiosyncratic reading of the text should generate some humility on your part.

        2. Be Nice

        Find something you can genuinely enthuse about. Sometimes, that will require you to go the extra mile in terms of how much time you spend on it, but there will always be something.

        3. Read it with some care and attention

        Read the piece. Seriously. Don’t be that person who turns up to the feedback session who hasn’t done the reading. Even worse, don’t be that person who pretends they’ve done the reading, and can only give the most bland unhelpful feedback ever. Obviously, even budding writers have lives and shit happens, so sometimes you just don’t have the time. Everyone understands that and forgives. But only once. The writer has spent a lot of time producing this, so the least you can do is be respectful and read the damn thing. Even if you hate it.

        4.Remember whose writing it is

        Don’t give loads of advice about how to change it. It’s not your WIP, remember, it’s theirs, and you may have completely misread their intentions. Frame your feedback in terms of how it came across to you, and then let the writer decide what should follow from that.

        5. Give the writer the benefit of the doubt.

        Engage your brain when reading the submission and then when feeding back in the group. If, as is likely, the submission is a section of a longer piece, be wary of droning on about how there were too many character names, you didn’t know how they fitted together, or what their relationships were. Give the writer the benefit of the doubt. Almost certainly, the sections either side of the submission will answer your questions. The writer is often asking the reader to do some work, puzzling out the connections. You know, like someone who reads a lot of fiction. They are paying you a compliment and you should return the favour.

        When it comes to meaning, in my opinion 75% of the meaning of any 500 word passage comes from the 500 words that precede it and the 500 words that immediately follow it. Notwithstanding the point above, the submission should be able to stand on its own two feet, with its merits clear for all to see. Please note: all percentages in this blog are meaningless, or at best, vague substitutes for words like “very”, “some”, “most” etc.

        6. Give the writer the benefit of the doubt again

        This is with particular reference to character. It’s pretty difficult to make meaningful judgements about the authenticity of characters in the first few pages after they are introduced. All the reader knows about a character is what the writer has chosen to tell you (or show you). So if a character jars with you, don’t say “this character would not behave like that”, because you really can’t know that. What you really mean is “The stereotypical character I’m referencing in my head wouldn’t behave like that.” And that leads you into the revolutionary idea that the thought or action or speech you objected to, might well be a deliberate act on the part of the writer, designed to build up a picture of an unusual, complex, messy, unpredictable character. Because that’s what people are like.

        On the other hand, there comes a point deep into the book, where you know enough about the character to make that kind of judgement fairly and helpfully. It’s after about 120 pages, roughly. (not)

        7. Do As You Would Be Done To

        Most importantly, remember that the people whose work you are critiquing will soon be doing the same to you. Another, more cynical, reason for rule 1 in this section.

        Please note: every item in the list of advice above can be ignored. There are no rules. Only you will recognise which bit applies to you and it will be different for everyone. The only bit that that doesn’t apply to is this final nugget of wisdom:

        Enjoy it. Recognise the luxury of having found a group of people who, like you, are similarly obsessive about reading and writing and then talking about it. It’s a gift beyond price – even if you’re paying an arm and a leg for it. Whether you desperately dream of being published, or would just like to write something for yourself and your family, sharing your work will help.