I guess a New Year blog from someone like me is supposed to be about setting goals and suchlike, and I’ve certainly gone down that road in the past, but I want to say something else this year. Not that I’m saying goals are anything but a good thing – in moderation; you could have a goal to build a great garden and be so focused on the goal you never smell a single rose. That can’t be good. What’s in my mind this time is how what we give to the world can contribute to someone else’s goal, even if we never meet them and don’t know of the contribution we’ve made. So this isn’t about goals, it’s about me setting some hopes for you.
The background to this is me realising a goal that I’ve had in some form or another since I was a small boy. I remember in my first class when I was about five the teacher would give us a sheet of paper and scissors and the afternoon to create something. On each occasion I would cut the paper into squares, sew them together into a book and start to write and draw a story. Books were magical things in my childhood, things that took me to better places, and authors were almost mythical in the distance they seemed from ordinary humans. I wanted to be one.
I wrote stories and poetry into my early twenties, and then shut down for a good number of years, only beginning again when my life began to emerge in the form it has now.
This year I achieved my dream. I got a contract to write three books from Hodder and Stoughton – a company whose books I’d read as a child. I became an author. Now it’s weird to say that, because by then I’d already written three books, all of which have sold well within their niche, so most people would already consider me to be one, yet somehow being contracted to write, being paid for words I hadn’t written yet, felt very different. And I like the feeling. I have a membership card for the Society of Authors in my wallet that makes me ridiculously pleased when I look at it. The boy in me is having a really good time.
Now this should be a story of a goal realised through a goal setting procedure. But it wasn’t. I’d written a book about relationships about 14 years ago and had it rejected by over a dozen agents and publishers, so it was resting in a drawer and I was too busy to be pursuing a publishing deal. One of the things we were busy with was the launch of a company called Thinking Slimmer with a friend called Sandra Roycroft-Davies and her husband Chris. The plan was to make available to the public a weight-loss download of my creation that would do away with dieting and create in the listener a better relationship with food. As part of the promotional work I was interviewed by a journalist from the Evening Standard. It was supposed to be about how listening to me for ten minutes a night was a more cost effective and healthier option than a gastric bypass operation. Instead the journalist, having got wind of a conversation Sandra was having, twisted it into something else. I was used to attack an organisation I’d been proud to be a member of, the Metropolitan police. You can read about it here if you haven’t already.
Here we get to my first hope for you. This year, I hope you take action. If anything happens you don’t like, or something isn’t happening that you would like, take whatever action is available to you to change it. TO YOU. Personally, take action. Don’t leave it to someone else, sit and hope things will change or be a victim of the situation. A sense of choosing your response helps you in any situation, however small the degree of control it may actually give. As a way of life it will change your life.
My first action was to complain to the editor, which received the kind of brush off you’d expect. My second was to write a blog about it. A true case of David and Goliath: my few thousand readers against their circulation of 750,000, but it made me feel better. At least with the internet we small people have some means of having a voice. I had no plan C.
Now we come to my second hope. I hope you spread kindness whenever and wherever you can. The newspaper article had suggested I’d compared myself to Derren Brown, a complete and very annoying lie. Unbeknown to me two friends emailed him with a link to my blog and Derren did me the huge kindness of tweeting it to his 750,000 followers. All of a sudden my voice was as loud as the Evening Standard, and our site crashed within seconds from the thousands of hits. Neither my friends or Derren needed to do that, it was just kindness. And it changed my life.
Because my third hope for you is that you have a stroke of luck. One of his followers is a woman of discerning taste with an exquisite eye for literary talent. She read that blog, and some of my others, and emailed me casually asking if I’d be interested in writing books for a wider audience. Her name is Charlotte Hardman and she works as a commissioning editor for Hodder. Would I like to write for a wider audience? Let me think…
I met Charlotte and her boss Mark Booth, and we came to an agreement (obviously he shares her discernment). Three books over two years, one on… relationships(!), one on weightloss and one on…well, it’s about raising resilient children but it’s for everyone.
So my point is this. If you take action it may or may not get you what you want, but it’s better than waiting for life to throw something at you. You’ve got to be in it to win it, as they say. But that’s often not going to be enough, there’s a host of talented people who deserve the cards to fall kindly for them this year, but they won’t. Some of them are reading this. This could change; we could all be each other’s dealer. If we all resolve to become even kinder, to go out of our way a little as often as we can to do a service for someone else, if we all connect through acts of kindness, acts that don’t lead obviously back to direct reciprocation, then we’re all likely to strike lucky just that little bit more often. And in the nature of the Butterfly Effect, just a little more kindness, creating just a little more luck, could change the world massively. You could make the difference to someone’s life that transforms it, even if you never know.
So, take action, spread kindness, and harvest your luck. Happy New Year.