The Top Five Writing Decisions I’ve Made So Far

Photo by Angie Garrett

Photo by Angie Garrett

Like many of you, I’ve been a keen reader since childhood. Reading was an escape when my loving, boisterous family overwhelmed me, when the world was quiet and friends slept, and the television pixels seemed to zap energy rather than give it. I started with Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Judy Blume and was hooked from there. I harboured a dream to write, but it took many years before I began to pen my own stories, and the birth of my children to crystallise my goal of being a writer. Our eldest is now five years old. In those years of learning to be a mum, though writing speeches, briefings and proposals were part of my day job, I took the first real steps to making fiction writing my career.

Daydreams are fun, but in reality a writing career does not emerge overnight. Lady Luck does not suddenly propel you to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List or award you the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction overnight. It’s all about work. The hours at a desk, the battles with doubt, pouring over craft books, the notes scribbled at school pick up because you’ve found a detail that is just perfect for your story, nurturing relationships, attending conferences, and trusting strangers with your work. So much of this is pleasurable. And so much of this is hard. It’s a marathon, not the 100m. These repeated acts, month after month, year after year, they are what makes a writer.

I’m still on that path. There are certain things that have taught me a huge amount and made me braver. They are:

1. Setting writing goals and meeting them

After years of daydreaming it was key for me to prioritise writing. I made sure my loved ones knew how important it was to me, partly so they could hold me to account, but also to claim writing as part of my identity. I set both short and long-term writing goals, one of which is to write every day. I try to not let more than a day pass without putting pen to paper, even if it is just writing in my journal. This mindset was the biggest shift I made, and I find if I don’t write regularly my contentment nosedives.

2. Reading craft books and blogs

Photo by Celes

Photo by Celes

In the early days, when I was still building my confidence, it helped to read craft books such as Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. I also like Renni Browne’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I find it helpful to read blogs by fellow writers both for motivation and tips. Blogs by Emma Darwin, Kristen Lamb, Chuck Wendig, K. M. Weiland and Ksenia Anske are amongst my favourites.

3. Starting a blog of my own

I have about 1000 blog readers currently and have been blogging for nearly two years. I post once a week and my website draws about thirty views a day and spikes with #MondayBlogs and #WWWBlogs traffic. I could be better at self-promotion and SEO, but even as it is, blogging has taught me valuable lessons about courage, meeting deadlines, staying the course and what resonates with readers. And I have made wonderful friends since the start of this journey.

4. Social media and online communities

Platform-building is important, yes, but it’s the relationships that are the most enriching here. I use Twitter and my Facebook author page most of all, and have G+, Instagram, Pinterest and Goodreads accounts, which I use to varying degrees.

There are wonderful communities that can be found through hashtags such as #MondayBlogs, #WWWBlogs, #ArchiveDay and writing challenges such as #FridayPhrases, #FlashFriday and NaNoWriMo, as well as Facebook groups. My favourites there are Ally Atherton’s Writer’s Soapbox, Anna Meade’s Dark Fairy Queen and Her Brilliant Minions and Jennifer Blanchard’s The Emerging Author Incubator.

You might be sitting in a turret all day writing your novel, or at the kitchen table when everyone else is in bed, but these groups help keep the loneliness at bay and can lead to lasting friendships and great collaborations. Just beware that the flip side of social media is that it takes time and can be addictive. You’ll know to scale back if your writing output suffers.

5. Finding a critique group

Photo by Pauline Mak

Photo by Pauline Mak

My husband is my first reader. He has a keen eye for the rhythm of a sentence and character motivation, and he’s not afraid to tell me when something is not working. Even so, there are drawbacks with getting feedback from loved ones. Will they tell you the truth? Do they know enough about the genre and the craft to know what works and what does not? Feedback from family and friends paints a picture, but there comes a point when external review is critical to getting your work polished enough for publication.

First, I began using beta readers and critique partners. Then six months ago I wrote a post about using critique groups to accelerate your learning as a writer. I discussed how critique groups are a valuable tool, but can also damage your confidence if you are not quite ready to expose your work to scrutiny, or the group is not the right fit for you. At the time, I was thinking about finding my own critique group and the article reflected my thought process, though I was still wary about entrusting my work – and my ego – to a group of strangers. I didn’t want my confidence to be crushed. In fact, for a time I considered carrying on in my little bubble.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s part of the philosophy about improving ourselves. Do the work. It’s far better to be aware of your flaws and to hone your craft, than forfeit your chance to be better. When the opportunity came to apply for Write Draft Critique: The Virtual Writer Workshop, founded by M.J. Kelley, I took a deep breath and decided to go for it.

It’s the single best decision I’ve made this past year.

The workshop took place over a seven-week period. It happens online, in a way that allows those with job pressures and families to fit the work around their schedules. It is a remarkable set-up, with the founder, group moderators, new and established writers all submitting their work for review and writing critiques. This sets up an egalitarian review system despite the difference in experience levels.

Some people submit work which has already been prepared; others write as they go along. Critiques are given both on the manuscripts and in long form. The magic of the Write Draft Critique set-up is, I think, in the people who run it, and the clear guidelines they have established. It is an intense experience. I was fearful, and steeled myself each time I read a critique of my work, but the trust and rapport built up within the group incredibly quickly.

I now have a better understanding of what to watch out for in my work and what I do well. I learnt that I can operate at a higher speed without compromising quality, but I need more training to keep up that level for any length of time. I have a better sense, thanks to my critique group, about where I need to ‘kill my darlings’ in my novel, and where my vision needs more work.

I learnt as much from submitting work as from critiquing others, and discovered a liking for genres I have not yet read much of. I looked forward to reading the new instalments of my peer’s stories each week, and I can’t wait to read those finished stories. I met writers who know the rules of grammar better than me (I’m so used to having that all down, having learnt German and Latin, and taught English as a foreign language). I found heaps of things to admire and aspire to in other writers and made, I hope, sound friendships.

You can read more about Write Draft Critique on Wolf Dietrich’s blog and on the workshop website. As for me, I’m sad that the experience is over, but I hope to take part in Write Draft Critique regularly in the future. And I am excited about a short story I submitted to the workshop that I will be sending to readers as a thank you for signing up to my email list, which you can do here.

So there you have it, the five decisions that have had the most impact on my writing so far. I’d love to hear in the comments about whether there is anything not on this list that has helped you progress with your writing. What are your favourite craft books? Which blogs do you recommend? Have you had any experience with critique groups?

Advertisements

Dancers

Walls washed in white
Leather seats in echoing halls
Piano concertos ring out
through closed doors
Muted tones of pre-pubescent girls
clad in whispers of pink
and ghostly tights
Pointing, springing, arching,
fingers dancing
Bending the future
to their will.

On Self-Criticism, Compassion and Progress

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Photo by Alice Popkorn

Hands up if you wrote a list of your priorities at the start of the year and if you have failed to maintain them. A new year holds such promise. Why do we set ourselves up to fail each year and end up feeling miserable? We try to give our lives meaning but what if it has none? Or what if it’s not about the grand gestures, but an accumulation of the small ones?

A few weeks ago friends came to visit us and we stayed up until the early hours. The conversation was happily disjointed. Thoughts were flung around the room and some we examined and others were left discarded with the empty chocolate boxes on the floor. We talked about how it was usual in our generation and circles for girls, as a by product of feminism, to have a dream. In many ways this is a good thing. Still, we questioned whether we were more or less happy than our mothers. Were our mothers more nuanced in their approach to happiness, less single-minded perhaps?

Serenity. For me, it is the most beautiful word in the English language. To me it says contentment and peace; not striving, just being. Have we forgotten how to find contentment in the present? It is important to set goals and live our dreams but let’s not write off the everyday moments that make us happy, the ones that keep us connected to ourselves and to others.

For me it is:

  • The moment of quiet when I first sink in the bath
  • The look that passes between two people when they are on the same page
  • Singing when no one is listening
  • Being present with a story, so much so that I forget myself

This year my resolution is to remember that happiness is the whole picture. It is not the small things we are critical of. It is our intentions. It is our effort. It is growth and resilience, not just a tally of failures and successes. It is all the colours of the rainbow. Happiness is not perfectionism. It is compassion for ourselves and for others. Don’t let self-critical thoughts crush your potential. Let me know the small moments that buoy you in the comments. Whether your start to the year is smooth or bumpy, you’ll get there, as will I.

My 2014 Blogging Year in Review

Photo by Chris Chabot

Photo by Chris Chabot

It’s 18 months since I first started blogging. I started this blog as an antidote to a fiction-hating friend. I was unable to convince him of the merits of fiction, and a few weeks later I wrote my first words here. It was my penance for being such a weak defender of something that has been a crutch for me my whole life. It was my homage to words, both fictional and non-fictional, which help me understand the world.

Then something strange happened. This blog began to grow, and slowly, it was not about my friend, it was about me claiming some space for my thoughts, sharing my work and meeting wonderful writers, poets and artists, many of whom have become friends. So for that, Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, Friday Phrases, Monday Blogs and Flash Friday, I thank you.

WordPress sent me a report yesterday of my blog activity this past year. One day I would love to go to Australia. When the kids are a bit older the 24 hour flight will be a breeze: a reading/movie marathon. WordPress tells me that the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. Apparently this blog was viewed about 9,900 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about four sold-out performances for that many people to see it. That is huge, even if half of those viewings were me and my mum!

The busiest day of the 2014 for this blog was May 5 with 793 views, the day my article ‘The Forgotten Joys of Longhand Writing’ was Freshly Pressed. On average though, I tend to get about 20 views a day and that increases marginally if I post more than once a week. The next most read pieces were my short story ‘The Voyeur’ (which I have now taken down as it seems Akash isn’t finished with me yet and his story has begun to grow into a novel), ‘In Praise of Slowness’, ‘Fear of Change and The Promise of New Beginnings’ and ‘What I Wish I’d Known at the Start of my Writing Journey.’

The WordPress stats report tells me that my top referring sites this year were Freshly Pressed, Twitter, Facebook, Make A Living Writing (where I did a guest post a while back) and the WordPress Reader. So no surprises there. What did surprise me was that readers came from 124 countries. The US was the frontrunner, with the UK and India not far behind. I’m a Londoner of Indian heritage living in Geneva, so that was pretty cool. I currently have just under 1000 blog followers. Jo Blaikie, Graham Milne, Amira K. Makansi and Sarrah J. Woods were my top commenters. Thank you all. If you haven’t checked out their blogs yet, then make a note. You’re in for a treat.

As for me, my favourite posts this year were ‘Losing and Finding Stories’, ‘Loving You’ and ‘The Pact’. ‘Losing and Finding Stories’ was written on a day that the poignancy of life seemed to stare me in the face. Everywhere I looked there were stories that were sad, and beautiful and funny and it struck me that there can never be enough writers. Now that is not something you hear everyday. ‘Loving You’ was a first for me. I don’t often share poetry. It is a form I am not confident about. It takes a particular type of writer to distil the essence of a thought into a line of poetry and the poems I write are usually confined to the pages of my journal. Writers such as B.G. Bowers, Jane Lightbourne, Rachel Thompson, Rachael Charmley and the #FridayPhrases community approach poetry with such ease and skill that they have made me more willing to give it a go. ‘The Pact’ was a project that was unplanned, an idea that bloomed overnight and showed me how generous writers are with their time, how clever, courageous and funny even within strict word and time limits.

The best and the hardest part of blogging is the moment of indecision just before I press publish. I wonder if I’ll come across an idiot, if readers will be irritated and bored, or if my words will resonate. Sometimes silence greets the posts but then later, a friend will mention a line I wrote. That’s a gift. Committing to this blog makes me grow. I’ve also had moments of real synchronicity and peace this year, when I have found clarity and hardly noticed my fingers moving over the keyboard and for that I am grateful.

Next year, I hope to diversify the blog. I’d like to incorporate more of my own photos, post more poems and short excerpts alongside the articles, maybe experiment with audio and video files. This will remain my canvas to empty my thoughts onto. Sometimes I’ll bring yearning, at other times it’ll be questions, fear, love or anger. At the end of 2014, I know that whichever piece of me I bring here, I’m safe. Thank you for that.

Happy New Year my loves.

Not for the Faint-Hearted: Using Critique Groups to Accelerate your Learning

Photo by Kean Kelly

Photo by Kean Kelly

In case you missed it, it’s Nanowrimo (I’m hearing trumpets, triangles and all sorts in my head right now). I’ve been writing my socks off and so far I’m on track. Tough spots are lurking for me around the corner though as I tend to get saggy middle of the month syndrome. Still, for now I am celebrating the fact that I am writing. My head and heart are fully immersed in my story world, my fingers are flying over the keyboard, I am untangling plot knots and getting excited. I even made my own rather rubbish first book cover (apparently, writers are statistically more likely to finish the month as a 50k winner if they upload a cover). What we all know though is that rewriting follows writing, especially fast writing. While I am embracing this seat of your pants ride, there will be plenty to fix come December. I mean, let’s face it, I am throwing words onto a page right now, and I’m lucky they are not throwing themselves right back.

Sitting at our desks, or in bed, or in that field of long grass, with your notebook or laptop, formulating thoughts, writing down those words…is what makes us writers. That is, first and foremost, how we learn what works and what doesn’t in story-telling. But how can we accelerate our learning? Craft-books, reading widely, online and in-person courses, writer blogs, book clubs, first readers, beta-readers (which I blogged about here), mentors, editors, fans all play a part. But what about critique groups? It is hard to judge our own work. Are critique groups – where writers submit their work to their peers for comments – a tool for increased self-awareness as a writer? Have you been brave enough to try one?

If you’ve been hiding your words away in a drawer or on your hard-drive and they are just for you and our loved ones, fair enough. If, however, you have plans for world domination, or say, domination of the publishing/reading world as a starter, it’s probably not the best idea to upload your lifetime’s work to the black hole of the internet without putting it through some robust scrutiny. If you do, you are likely to either end up sinking into the nether regions of the web without a trace, or your potential fans will not so much read your work with hallelujah choirs at their backs so much as devour it in a bloody frenzy, leaving a trail of one star reviews in their trail…(of course, you may be a ready-made writing superstar. There are always exceptions to the rule).

So, are you ready to go into battle Sir Knight and Lady Winalot?

Photo by Jon Jordan

Photo by Jon Jordan

The advantages of critique groups

  • The best critique groups will give you an honest appraisal of your writing. We are all a bit too close to our own work
  • Writing can be a whimsical adventure, but we sometimes need support to stop us stalling before the finish line. For those of you, who like me, enjoy Nano because of the sense of community, critique groups can give you both support and deadlines to keep you moving forward
  • They allow you to use the critique to polish your manuscript before you query
  • If you are open to listening – which is easier said than done when you are laying out your project, your baby, for criticism – critique groups are a great way to benefit from other people’s experiences, saving you time in the long run
  • Any hey, who’s to say your group even has to spoon feed you solutions? The best groups give rise to discussions about your writing, which help stir your imagination and unknot your own problems
  • It’s not just about you. But really it is. You will learn huge amounts by listening to the work of others and by hearing the criticisms they receive

The disadvantages of critique groups

  • They can lay your vulnerabilities bare and be hard for the ego. In fact, I would question whether they are useful if you come away each week with your ego intact
  • The biggest risk for me is damaging your confidence. Don’t risk attending a critique group if you are not ready to hear the criticism and it will affect your mojo. The last thing we want is to scare you away from getting the words down in the first place
  • You know those tried and trusted writing wisdoms?: ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs’, avoid prologues, extensive descriptions, exclamation marks, regional dialect, the list goes on. There is a danger that we all consume the same wisdom and risk losing our originality. Let’s not turn into one giant symbiotic organism. Dare to break the rule, once you know them
  • The critique group only sees part of your work in progress. They cannot see inside your head and embrace your vision nor would you want them to (shhhh, else the magic will escape). For this reason their criticism of your novel is not based on the whole picture. Trust your instinct above theirs
Photo by Daniel Parks

Photo by Daniel Parks

Making the most of a critique group

  • Avoid disheartening misfires by choosing the right group to start with. Find writers with diverse backgrounds, careers and interests but with knowledge of the genre you are writing for
  • Don’t slack. If you have committed to bring work to the group regularly, shelve the excuses and deliver
  • Be generous in critiquing the work of others, but avoid providing solutions unless explicitly asked. You are not a co-author. You are there to light the way.
  • Avoid false praise and give constructive criticism without being personal
  • Make your own mind up on which points you will take on board for your edits. You don’t have to accept all the criticism (but don’t defend yourself at the group as your sessions will never end). If you find you are going home with no changes at all, you will probably find you are not being entirely honest with yourself. Write down the comments you receive so you can digest them in your own time.
  • Agree in advance how much time each member of the group will have to avoid Mr I Am Everything dominating the evening, you getting frustrated and/or feelings being hurt when you have to cut him down. Death by committee is no fun.
  • If you don’t click with a group or the advice is not delivered constructively, don’t hang around. Find a new one or set up your own (Nanowrimo forums are great for building friendships. What are you waiting for?)
  • The last thing you need is for your critique group to be a time suck. If it is not working, leave the group as politely as possible or use Skype as a way to connect without the commute

Setting up a group

Finding a local critique group was fairly easy back on my old haunting ground in London. But what if you are unable to find an existing critique group where you are and you fancy setting up your own? Here is what you need to think about:

  • Setting membership rules: who is the group open to?; who decides who is allowed to join?; how will you handle a member who is disruptive, dominant or overly critical?; how big is the group allowed to be (given you have limited time)?
  • Practicalities of a critique group: how often and where will you meet?; will the stories be read in advance or on the night in question (as a rule of thumb you are more likely to get better feedback if you read the stories in advance)?; how will the manuscripts be delivered and how long can they be?; appoint a time-keeper.
  • Critique guidelines: Line-editing is probably not a good use of a critique group’s time; clarifications of critiques allowed, but defending your story from a critique in an active session can lead to an emotional clash that takes up valuable time
  • Create a crib sheet of what is useful feedback. The writer in question may ask the group to focus on certain areas when circulating the story. For example, if s/he is after a big picture analysis, you might be asked if the characters behaved consistently and believably, if the story works for the target readership, whether the pacing kept you interested. If s/he is after a detailed analysis, you might be asked if the title is arresting or if you stumbled over any phrasing or imagery.

So what do you think? Would you try a critique group? There is a reason why admissions panels to many acclaimed writing programmes subject candidates’ writing to strong criticism before deciding whether to accept them onto the course. They are testing reactions to their challenges, whether you can defend your ideas and are open to learning. The question is, have you got the stomach for it?

Routines: A Door to Increased Creativity

I’ve spent the past month yearning for time to write, to dive feet first into a pool of creativity and find truths in made up worlds. Today, with the kids back at school, London visits behind me and chores done, I climbed the stairs tentatively to the attic we have set up as my writer’s studio. It’s a calm, beautiful space, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house. I sat at the great expanse of my dad’s old mahogany desk and realised that the urgency I had felt to write had disappeared, only to be replaced by fear.

This cycle is so familiar it’s painful. Do you find that falling out of a writing routine is destructive for you? For me, it causes a disconnect from the psyche of my characters. The breath of reality can fill up our creative wells, but it can also interrupt our focus. It can be the prelude to a slow creep of crushing self-doubt. Writing is an introspective process; no amount of external validation can replace the need for self-belief. We are reliant on ourselves to find our rhythm again. I’m starting to realise that it pays not to interrupt that beat.

Perhaps that’s why Stephen King writes every day including his birthday. Or why Haruki Murakami mesmerises himself with a strict routine of early rising, writing and physical exercise when he is working on a novel. Or why Maya Angelou wrote daily in the writing hideaway she created for herself in a hotel room. Masters of the written word find the routine that works for them and deviate from it with great reluctance. They know the value of the dream-like, meditative state which aids creativity.

You may hear the word ‘routine’ and think of chores, repetition and drudgery. Creativity shouldn’t be a straitjacket. It’s freedom, a rush of pure oxygen, a fleeting bubble of awareness. Routines bypass fear, doubt and indecision. They put you on automatic pilot. A routine makes creativity part of your lifestyle, not just a hobby to tinker with. A creative routine is an affirmation that you are more than just a consumer. It makes it more likely that you will act on your creative impulses, rather than let them pass you by.

I choose to make writing a part of my routine because I don’t feel grounded without it. Words anchor me to thoughts which would otherwise pass through me unheeded. Words are a weapon against a disposable society. They allow us to examine our choices and make sense of the unfathomable. Words on paper are unhurried. They are both a luxury and a necessity. They connect even the loneliest people to each other. They build understanding. Without expression, we are merely empty vessels.

Writing is not a business of overnight successes. Whatever success means to you – finishing your writing project, a loyal readership, critical acclaim, financial independence, awards, fame, your name on book sleeves – to get there you’ll need to put in the work. Whether you’re at your desk, on a park bench or sprawling on your bed, writers write. I used to think talent was the key to success, but without perseverance we fail without even having started.

I’m still sitting at dad’s old desk. Its surface is marred by peeling paintwork. I find comfort in running my hands over the roughened wood. Autumn is on her way. A biting breeze has slipped through the balcony doors and has carried in a hum of cars from the road. The mountains are shrouded in cloud. It suits my mood. I’m going to delve into the stillness in me and work on a short story. When autumn comes, she’ll bring relief from the mosquitos, and fiery hues of burnt orange and mustard yellows. By then, I’ll be back in my writing routine, and this time I won’t be letting it slip.

‘Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about…say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known about it since the beginning of the universe.’ – Rumi

‘It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.’ – Seneca

‘I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.’ – Duke Ellington

On Passion and Integrity

My head has been a whirr this week, as my final day at City Hall came and went, amidst leaving cards and speeches and the sense that a significant phase of my life has come to an end. I was a school girl when I first became interested in politics. I’d gone along to a talk that Tony Benn, diarist, campaigner and Labour party politician, was giving on the sanctions against Iraq. I can remember flashes from that evening: a small, humid room, the shuffling of papers, the anticipation of the audience. Most of all I remember how moved I was by Benn’s eloquence and his ability to really connect with the audience. He had a clarity of expression that helped even the very young grasp complex issues.

On Friday, Tony Benn passed away at the age of 88. I am hugely saddened by his death and it was remarkable to me that the man who first inspired my interest in politics died on the day I stepped away from it. The death of a public figure gives rise to a wave of commentary about their person and deeds, and I have watched with interest how those across the political spectrum reacted to Benn’s death. Remembering someone’s life well in the immediate aftermath of their death is a difficult task. Sometimes nostalgia colours perceptions and characters are subsequently whitewashed; at other times poorly timed criticism verges on the distasteful. When we remember those who have passed away, we should strive to reveal them in vibrant technicolour, in all their complexity. Our behaviour and decisions as individuals are borne of circumstances that twist and turn, and no man is without his flaws.

How limited our control is over the memories of us which remain with our children, the imprint we leave on strangers and how history remembers us. For my part, when I remember Benn, I’ll think of the stories I’ve heard of party conferences where he could be found sitting cross-legged on the floor, his pipe in hand, surrounded by young people who hung onto his every word. I’ll think of the plaque that he put up to the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in a broom cupboard in parliament, where she’d once illegally hidden. I’ll remember that he fought for the right to give up his peerage and how when he quit as a member of parliament in 2001, after serving as an MP for fifty years, he said he was quitting to spend more time on politics. And I’ll remember how he proposed to his wife after knowing her for little more than a week, and decades later tracked down the bench on which he proposed to her so that it could sit at their graveside after they died.

But what I will remember most about Benn isn’t his ideas or even his deeds, but rather his values. I did not agree with him on key issues – his opposition to Europe, for example – but I believed that he would fight tooth and nail to defend his principles, even if they were unpopular, and that he was wholly invested in making society a better place. There has been criticisms of Benn since his passing that he wasn’t very successful as a practical politician. Indeed, Benn’s latterly role outside the central political arena – he last served as a cabinet minister in the 1970s – allowed him to act and speak more freely than others who are constrained by the practicalities of senior positions. I found it joyful that his idealism wasn’t clouded by age. Our world of compromises and secret boardroom deals needs men like Benn, men of conviction and passion, who aren’t governed by fear or self-interest, and who dare to challenge the establishment, even when they are part of it themselves.

Regardless of what history may make of Benn’s politics, I’d like to think he had many qualities we should uphold. It seems that today’s society promotes a cardboard cutout version of success, that we applaud self-interest. In a world of technological prowess we spend too little time talking and listening to one another. I think we can all learn from the humanity and thoughtfulness that Benn showed until the end. We can go a long way with passion, integrity and commitment.