I recently met a professional scriptwriter, who told me that the secret was never to work for more than three hours per day on any writing project. I took it as sound advice, and I think he’s sort of right. He’s also very successful at what he does. (No, you will not hear the clanging of a dropped name here, dear readers!)

Of course, now I find myself clock watching about two hours in, thinking, ‘Well, I’m nearly done’. I think the secret is actually to stop when you want to stop, and whether that’s two hours or six and a half hours, you know when you’ve run out of steam.

Whilst this ‘rule’ can happily apply to any of our creative endeavours, imagine if we tried it in the day job! ‘I have applied myself with diligence to this data input for three hours now. My work here is done, I am off down the pub.’

Less a case of ‘Later, Losers!’ than one of ‘Hello, HR!’.

Much has been written lately of Sweden’s experiment with the six hour working day. The bad news for the workers is that it turns out to be too costly to continue the scheme, at least in the care sector.

The irony is that most of us spend a goodly portion of our eight hours making tea, chatting, or having a sneaky peak at Facebook, just to break up the monotony. Our wee brains need a break. In fact, I’m writing this long overdue post because I need a break from doing Powerpoint Slides for my upcoming show ( I mentioned it last time, remember?).What I need to do is plan in my breaks and return to my slides refreshed.

(I once saw my old boss book an entire family skiing holiday during work hours. Took him ages. Of course, if I’d be concentrating on my own tasks, I might not have witnessed the spectacle. But shirking bosses are for another post.)

What I suppose I’m leading up to is the question of how many hours is enough hours, or too many? Or not enough? When it comes to work, I mean.

I am a great believer in 40 hours meaning 40 hours. Not 45, 50 or 60. If your contract says 40 hours, then the expectation must be that your job can be done in that number of hours. Beware any prospective employer who tells you that ‘We’re not a 9-5 organisation’ or ‘You find people here at all times of the night’. That means that anything less than buying into that will be seen as shirking.

Personally, I like the idea of ‘flow’, where you lose yourself in the task so much that you don’t notice the passage of time. Somehow, I fear that ‘flow’ and data entry or cardboard box making might not be entirely compatible. I used to be a vicious opponent of the wearing of headphones whilst working but, now, I say, bring them on. Why not concentrate on Radio 4 Extra and its many classic comedies if they make the 40 hours seem shorter? And, if you’re writing, painting or tinkering with your car, you won’t need the headphones. You’ll know when the flowing has stopped.

Now, where are those slides??







Why We Need Art

I hope you enjoyed my last podcast with Barbara de Biasi giving us insight into the power of music. Among other things, there’s solid evidence that it can help delay dementia symptoms. Power indeed.

It’s no secret that I love my old movies. I often play one in the background as I potter about the house. One of the last legends of that long lost era, Olivia de Havilland, celebrated her 100th birthday last week. A few years ago, she narrated a documentary called ‘I Remember Better When I Paint’. As the title suggests, painting has been found to have hugely beneficial effects on patients with Alzheimer’s, helping them to reconnect with the world, and communicate more fully. It’s a very moving film, and documents, in part, the journey of the painter Hilda Gorenstein, known as Hilgos, whose own Alzheimer’s symptoms were improved immeasurably by a re-connection with the art she so loved.

As the head of one of the organisations that takes care of the patients says: ‘Creative arts bypass the limitations and go straight to the strengths.’

That’s a very powerful sentence, and has applications for all of us. We all can, and should, take strength from our creativity. The benefits are too great to ignore.

There are a couple of clips from ‘I Remember Better When I Paint’ on YouTube and you can find out more about the Hilgos Foundation, which is dedicated to using the creative arts to benefit Alzheimer’s sufferers, here.

Do we NEED art? Do we NEED creativity? By heck, we do, make no mistake.

Happy Creating


PS: Olivia is well and living in Paris

Subvert and Find Your Voice – Making Creativity Happen (part 2)

Hello again Creative Friends

Last time we got very brainy with our old Greek friend, Heraclitus. A week has passed now, so let’s come back to earth a little and talk about you.

Sometimes, when you call a good friend, you just say ‘Hi, it’s me!’. You don’t even need to say your name, because you are recognised by your voice, your unique voice. (Or by Caller ID, but let’s just pretend we’re back in the 1980s for today’s purpose. Ah the ’80s.)

When you speak you have a recognisable and unique voice. When you create you also have a unique voice. For most of us, that creative voice doesn’t come immediately, you have to work at it. For some of us, the light bulb moment takes longer than for others. For some of us, it can feel like all we produce is derivative or sub-standard. But we know we are our own harshest critics, so let’s examine that bit objectively.

Who decides what is sub-standard? Life isn’t school, where you can be given a ‘D’ because your teacher says your work isn’t good enough. Lord knows, nobody has greater admiration for teachers than I have, but they have a job to do, which is all too often focused on getting the kids exam-ready. That’s the System for you. Take away those strictures, now that you have passed your exams, and you can also subvert the System. Do you think that Marcel Duchamp would have passed his A-level art with a signed urinal? I mean, where’s the skill in that? And yes, that picture above, it’s art, not just random sanitary ware.

As for derivative, well, everybody copies. Only by taking inspiration from others, can we find our own voice. The trick is to keep at it and ask the Killer Question.

What’s the Killer Question?

‘What if?’

Yes, it’s that simple.


  • Get a copy of your favourite painting or poem. ( This exercise also works well with jokes. Seriously. I am always serious about jokes.)
  • Now get your pencil(s) out and  copy it, but not completely. Change a colour, an object, a phrase, a word, all the time aiming for it to still make sense to you.
  • Keep asking yourself The Killer Question – ‘What If?’
  • What if I replaced green with blue? What if I used fewer words? Or more words?
  • Keep another blank sheet of paper to hand to note down your own, independent ideas as they come, so you can work on them later.

Derivative? No way! Just inspired.

Never stop asking ‘What If?’.

Out of the old, springs the new. It’s all about curiosity.

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.- Dorothy Parker

And out of that curiosity springs your own take on the world. Your Unique Creative Voice.

If your curiosity is aroused about Marcel Duchamp, you can read more about him here.

And watch out for my newest podcast, which will be available here very soon.

Until next time, Happy Creating.




Those Crafty Pixies

So, I’ve just opened my wallet and bought some random items I liked, among them coloured paper, ribbon, a wee frame and my favourite item of all, Cosmic Shimmer Pixie Powder. No, I have no idea what it does, either, but it sounds brilliant! I am hoping it can actually conjure up pixies. Oh, I’ve just noticed something about seeking medical advice on the back of the bottle. Oops.

This report comes to you from a first-time visitor to the Ally Pally Crafting Fair.

The splendid Alexandra Palace was built in 1873 as a place of entertainment for the masses – that would be you and me, friends. Handily, this member of that happy band lives but a fifteen minute walk to the palace door and, so this Sunday found me there, eager to get to grips with crafting.

I had no idea what to expect, and was there more in the capacity of Squatting Toad’s chief researcher, than as an active participant, but I am keen to try out something crafty, and to learn whether I really am as devoid of skill or talent as was assumed at school. I was really quite bad at art and sewing and the like, but I suspect that I hammed it up a bit. Better to be really terrible and joke about it, than merely a bit less than mediocre. Just a theory, from more than thirty years’ distance, anyway.

In the Great Hall of Ally Pally, I felt as out of my depth as I have done at the Vintage Car Show that used to be an annual pilgrimage (don’t ask). Since I couldn’t identify many of the items on sale, I didn’t really come away with a sense of what I’d like to do. I mean, I could just draw on some paper with glue and scatter some glitter on it, especially with pick and mix glitter going for £1 a bag.

How I wished my chum, Emma of emmalucymakes, had been with me. I’m hoping she can advise soon on what to do with my random haul and I may even post up the results at some stage. Watch out for the pixies.

Yes, I was out of my comfort zone and no, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but the whole thing made me smile (especially the battle at the ‘everything for one pound’ stall), and, yes, I am going to get creative and crafty. If the result is pretty rubbish, I guess I’ll just laugh about like I did when I was thirteen.

I hope you’re all having a creative weekend. More on this crafting lark in a future podcast.