Can cliches defeat terrorism?

I did not blog or tweet yesterday in response to the Manchester bomb. I soon found everyone else saying everything I might have said. I felt all I had to offer was a string of cliches.

I was interested to hear the Prime Minister saying something similar to what I was thinking. I am now saying it in my own words, so apologies if I misinterpret her at all.

She said that whenever there is an incident like this, politicians all say the same things:

  1. Condemn and deplore the wickedness
  2. Sympathise with the victims and their families
  3. State that we will not be cowed or divided.

Then she said something important: that these things get repeated so often precisely because they are TRUE. They do not become less true just because they have been said before.

All I can do is to agree, for once, with the Prime Minister, one hundred percent. A thing becomes a cliche because it has often been found to be true or helpful. I remember reading a comment to this effect by Graham Greene. He said it was difficult for writers to find new ways of saying things that had often been said. Ordinary people, not writers, don’t worry. They come out with cliches all the time. He said that was especially true when we are responding to something which touches our emotions. We express joy or sadness, anger or love, in cliches.  And why not? I agree with Graham. If a thing is true, let it be said as often as it is needed.

Finally, let me remind you of an article I wrote in response to the last terrorist incident in Britain, the one outside Parliament. I think everything I said there is true again this time.

The terrorists can’t win.


Will I hit my target with the sequel to Highwaypersons?

I have suggested that the second book in the Highwaypersons series, The King’s Justice, would be available by June this year. That was a target I had set for myself. I have to warn you that it is looking increasingly unlikely that I will be able to keep to that timetable.

What has gone wrong? Why can I not hit the target?

  • Have I been diverted to other projects?
  • Had domestic problems?
  • Just been lazy?

None of the above. Well, not to any great extent. The fact is that I recently reviewed the almost-complete draft and was not satisfied. At first, I could not decide what was the matter: what parts should I cut out? Eventually I realised that, although I was quite pleased with most sections,  the fault lay in the overall structure of the book. The story did not flow.

What have I done about it?

I have been thinking it over, and now I have a revised outline. Most of the previous elements are there, but they are not going to be in the same order. If Eric Morecambe comes to mind, well, why not? He had a point, hadn’t he? Some sections will need to be rewritten, although I hope I can keep the best features of each.

I have also decided to add a few new elements to the story. They will make the book longer and more complex, but, I hope, they will give it a better structure.




So how far back does this put things?

I am aware that I have certain other commitments that will take up a lot of time in June and July, so I have to be realistic and say the book will now most probably not be published until September. I think most readers would rather I took as long as I needed until it was as good as I could make it, rather than making the achievement of some self-imposed target the most important priority.



Should Blasphemy be a Crime in the 21st Century?

As a writer, I admire people who are good with words, spoken or written. One great entertainer with words is Stephen Fry, who has fallen foul of the authorities in Ireland, because of things he said two years ago in an interview. He had expressed his opinion of God. An opinion which could be construed as blasphemy, which I now know is still a crime in Ireland.

I have heard Stephen express anti-christian views, many times. Of course, he says things in a colourful way, which makes them memorable and thought-provoking. Well, provoking, anyway. I disagree with him, but I am aware that many others do not. I am sure they would be amazed to learn they were breaking the law by saying what they thought.

I know that in Pakistan there are blasphemy laws, by which you can be prosecuted for saying things derogatory of Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. The laws are used to stifle discussion or dissent. They are also used to further personal disputes. I have recently heard that Indonesia has something similar, by which the governor of Jakarta is currently being prosecuted.

Soap Box

In other places, Moslems are sometimes so incensed by anything perceived as an insult to their religion that Christians and other non-Moslems have to be very careful to avoid violent reactions to their words, even if spoken in response to things said against their religions. Many people are concerned at these official and unofficial restrictions on freedom of speech and of religion.

I had thought that there was no equivalent in Europe or the English-speaking World. I mean, that opinions on religion or any other subject could be freely expressed, whether in serious debate or through satire or other forms of comedy. As a writer of historical fiction, I have addressed religious intolerance and the resulting conflicts in their context. I had thought that they belonged in history.

What did Stephen say? That if there was a god, he must be cruel, capricious and irrational, or words to that effect, and that such a god would not be worthy of our worship or allegiance. He is far from alone in such an opinion. Something like it has been expressed many times over the years, by many commentators.

As a Christian, do I find that offensive? I find it hurtful, but I expect many people find it hurtful to be condemned as sinners by some preachers. Such differences are a fact of life. My strongest reaction is not hurt, but sadness. I find it sad that a sensitive and intelligent man such as Stephen sees the negative aspects of religion and of the World, rather than the positive ones. I find it sad that he has not realised that Christians down the ages have struggled within themselves with the problems of pain and injustice, and have found answers that led them to continue and even grow in the faith. Read The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis. (Another man who loved words).


What does the Bible say? It does not ignore the issues Stephen raises. The epistles are full of reference to suffering. The Book of Job delves deeply into the matter. And above all, the very centre of the Gospel is the story of the crucifixion, where Jesus dies a horrible death as a result of injustice.

So what about the Blasphemy Law? Christians do not need any laws to defend God’s Truth. The answer to critics is…to answer them. To set out our views. As long as there is freedom both ways, we have nothing to fear. Let’s leave oppression and intolerance to history!