Sunday, 30 October 2011

What Kind of Writer Should You Be?

The answer to this is, of course, whatever kind of writer you want to be.  When I started, I didn't really have much interest in news.  I looked at headlines, without thinking about them very much and then decided I wasn't interested.  Take today's BBC home page for example.  'Armed guards to protect UK ships'.  Ok, there are pirates off the coast of Mogadishu - I know that and I don't care.  Let people wealthy enough to own yachts get mugged.  Trade ships?  What do I care if the pirates put a dent in some company's profits?  'Syrian President warns off Western intervention'.  Seems fair enough.  Would England like it if Syria meddled in their home affairs?

Behind the soundbite headlines, there are of course, people.  Who knows even where to start with Somalia?  Perhaps at Wikipedia, which tells you that it has no central government, is characterized as 'a failed state and is one of the most poorest and violent countries in the world.'  Imagine what it's like to live there - it must be absolutely desperate.  So then you start thinking about the people behind the headlines and you realise that maybe you are interested, out of sympathy for those less well off than yourself.  It also serves to bring welcome perspective to your own life.  We all think about how our lives could be better, but it's rarer that we consider how they could be worse.

I only wanted to write about the things I was interested in.  Travel, food, music, cycling...I could go on but basically, the things that make me happy.  I'm not sure I have the courage or the skill to report on subjects that need bringing to the wider attention of the world.  However, I'm grateful that those journalists are out there and I've even been privileged to meet one or two of them.  I recently got an email from a photojournalist called Robin Hammond that left me feeling humbled and in truth, a little ashamed of my own writing efforts.  Robin took the picture you're looking at on this page, of a mentally ill Somali man chained to his bed.  If you've read this far, I urge you to take 6 minutes out of your day to watch his film here.  I can't think of many worse forms of existence than being mentally ill in an impoverished country.  Give what you can and help Robin reach his goal.

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