My “NaNoWriMovember”

November was an interesting month, to say the least. It did seem to fly by very quickly; I’m not sure how much of that was down to what I spent the month doing. And what was that, I hear you ask? Well, I mostly spent it writing a novel and growing a moustache. Let me explain…

Back in April, I’d spent the month doing the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. That time, I only managed just over 29, 000 words (to be honest, I only really got going on day 23). Still, I learnt a fair bit from the experience – both about the novel-writing process and about myself.

I was in two minds about doing Nanowrimo after that; squeezing out two novels in a year seemed like a big stretch. But even though I had no pre-planned story idea and never really made the decision to do it until three days before kick-off, I jumped in on the first of the month and just wrote a load of stuff. There were a couple of days in that first week when I flagged a bit, but I basically just went with the “just write” advice and just wrote.

I started with a couple of characters just talking to each other – mostly over big dinners or very short chess games (very short because one of them was rubbish at chess and they’d both had a fair bit to drink). Various elements of people I’ve met began to click together to form new characters. After ‘freestyling’ for about a week and a half with three different sets of characters, their paths began to cross and a story began to develop – a story which became a bit more exciting (and totally daft) after I took a friend’s suggestion and wrote a certain reality TV character into the book! (Before I get sued, I should point out that the character in the book is only modelled on him. It’s not him!).

Anyway, to cut a long story short (and other cliches I’ve banned myself from using), I won NaNoWriMo. My word count clocked 51,725 on Day 30 – although according to NaNoWriMo’s word count verifier, it was only 50,056. Either way, that was enough to get me past the 50,000-word target.

Around the time I was twiddling my thumbs over whether or not to join in the exercise in total madness that is Nanowrimo, someone at work suggested that the men in the office join him in participating in ‘Movember’ – where men get sponsored to grow moustaches during the month of November, to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Charity.  Though not a big fan of either beards or moustaches, I thought I’d give it a go. After all, it’s a lot easier to do than writing a novel (if you think about it, it just involves NOT doing something – shaving – and so doesn’t really require much effort). And so I ended up with one seriously itchy caterpillar under my nose… and the campaign to kick cancer’s butt became £60 richer. Thanks to all of you who gave, and didn’t tell me I looked ridiculous.

There's one serious Mo', bro...

November was also special for reasons other than novel-writing and moustache-growing. Among the month’s other highlights, my dad turned 75 and we celebrated with an enormous meal in Rodzio Rico – a Brazilian restaurant in the O2. Two friends got married in a lovely wedding service in the City Temple. On a much sadder note, another friend died after a lengthy bout with cancer (the second friend of mine to die from that vile illness in as many years).

After all that, December’s looking rather unexciting. Still there’s Christmas to look forward to (do adults really look forward to Christmas?) and a few more mundane things to take care of – last year’s tax return being top of the list. Having not done any messing about with music in November, I plan to spend a bit more time working on stuff on the DJ front (expect a mixtape or two up on here before the end of the year).

And that was my “NaNoWriMovember”. It was fun, but I’m kind of glad it’s over.

Greenbelt 2010: Why I’m Excited…

And we’re off…

The 09:48 1st Great Western to Cheltenham Spa has just pulled out of Paddington. In about two and a half hours’ time, I should be searching for a nice accessible spot on Cheltenham Racecourse on which to pitch a tent. I’m still pondering whether to go and socialise or just lie in it and sleep once it’s up.

The tent will be home for the next few days while I’m at the Greenbelt festival. I hadn’t realised it before, but this is actually my 20th Greenbelt! All of a sudden, my DJ set tomorrow evening has a whole new meaning.

It’s been an interesting 20 years – in which I’ve gone from being the unsure rookie punter whose borrowed tent fell in on him on his first night in it, to a virtual resident of the press room. These days, I even get to inflict my choice of music on the other punters! Nice…

There’s a lot I love about Greenbelt. Back at the start of the 90s (and the start of me dabbling in this writing thingy), the writing workshops held at Greenbelt’s London HQ were key to my early development as a writer (thanks a lot to guys like Dave Roberts and Martin Wroe, who used to share their insights and expertise with us). The more I went, the more I realised there was more to Greenbelt than music. I’ve discovered an array of writers and thinkers (Caesar Molebatsi, Robert Beckford, Jim Wallis, Phillip Yancey and the late Mike Yaconelli, to name a few), and made lots of friends through my annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham (and to Castle Ashby and Deene Park before that). And of course, I’ve heard more great bands and singers than I care to remember.

On the Greenbelt blog (see my blogroll), there’s a series of “Why I’m Excited” posts, in which people associated with the festival have been talking about what (or who) they’re looking forward to the most. Here’s my “Why I’m Excited” list:

Jars of Clay are playing! So too are Brownmusic, Gil Scott-Heron, Ty, Beverley Knight, Foy Vance, Courtney Pine and Greenjade. Just a few of the acts I don’t want to miss.

They’re screening Africa United on Sunday afternoon (check back here for a review soon after).

A couple of ‘must go’ workshops and panel discussions – including one on storytelling and one on the relationship between music and activism.

The comedy line-up’s brilliant: I have to see Jude Simpson, Milton Jones and Andy Kind (he’s recently been featured on Channel 4’s 4thought.tv – top bloke).

And did I mention that I was Djing? 7Pm on Saturday in the Blue Nun wine bar. Drop by just before Shed Seven on Mainstage…

“All for one, and one for all”

As I write this, we’re just seven hours away to doors open time at the IndigO2, for one of the most eagerly anticipated gospel gigs to take place in the UK – at least as far as I can remember.

Faith Child, Guvna B and Victizzle are just three of the wave of urban acts that have injected some much needed new energy into British gospel music (more specifically, the ‘urban’ rap/grime/garage end of it) in recent years. Tonight, they’re the joint headliners at the prestigious venue, performing under the collective moniker The Three Musketeers (T3M).

The closest I’ve come to making a new year’s resolution in recent years was my decision last year to “do one crazy thing every month”. I think it’s that part of me that admires these three men the most. For three young artists known for ‘Gospel grime’ (a niche within a niche, if there ever was one) to say to themselves, “Let’s put on a gig at the O2” – that’s crazy talk right there.

Crazy it might sound, but it’s certainly not an unreasonable ambition – or even a new one. Nine years ago, I spent a weekend in Holland and met a few Dutch gospel artists. I asked them what their aspirations were, and one of them said, “I would really love to see Dutch Gospel artists put on a concert in Ahoy.” (That’s the 10,000-seater arena in Rotterdam; the venue where Destiny’s Child’s Live DVD was shot, if you’ve seen it) Simply put, the aim of any artist – Gospel or otherwise – is to sing in front of as many pairs of ears as possible. If those ears are linked to hands that are willing to pay you for your trouble, even better.

A lot has been said and written about British Gospel music – and not all of it has been good. It’s the poor relation; the kid whose best has never been good enough for an audience that willingly gobbles up anything that comes from Stateside and bears the ‘Gospel’ label – regardless of whether it’s actually any good. In such an atmosphere, any artist who ignores the naysayers and steps up in such a big way deserves all the support they can get.

The guys’ choice of name speaks volumes too. In my years covering gospel music both in and out of the UK, I’ve always found the British gospel rappers to be the most shining example of a body of brothers (and sisters) working together in unity. I read The Three Musketeers in school, and was always struck by the Musketeers’ motto: “All for one, and one for all.” In my view, these rappers have been living the Musketeers’ motto all throughout their careers.

I bought my ticket a couple of weeks ago (Victizzle sold it to me in person, in the middle of Oxford Street. That’s how dedicated these guys are!). Tonight, I’m going to be at the ringside, blowing my vuvuzela and having a good time. Why don’t you come and join me?

My Mad Novel-writing Experiment

April has been a mental month. But it’s over now – and with it, so is my first attempt at writing a novel.

It kind of helps to know your strengths. However, knowing them too well can sometimes be a pain in the butt. And so it’s been with me where writing is concerned. Doing the non-fiction side of things: no problem. Writing reviews, biogs, reports and other journo-type stuff, I do that in my sleep. Don’t even need editing sometimes.

Writing fiction, however… hmm, now we have a problem. How do you go about devising plots? Giving names to characters? Putting words in other people’s mouths? Making stuff up generally? (and the first smartarse to say “isn’t that what journalists do anyway?” gets a slap) Have I really got it in me? Basically, I would love to write a novel or two (dozen), but just don’t know if I have that many ideas in my head!

And then I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): an absolutely mental competition held every November, in which the aim is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. A friend, Steve Lawson, entered it last year, keeping us all informed of his progress via multiple Tweets and Facebook status updates. I checked out the NaNoWriMo website and discovered a book whose very title spoke volumes to me: No Plot? No Problem! (a “low-stress, high velocity” guide to writing a novel in 30 days, written by Chris Baty – the guy who came up with the idea of NaNoWriMo). I promptly put in an order on Amazon; the book arrived three months later (That’s a story in itself. At least I got 3 quid off my next Amazon purchase because of the delay).

The month itself happens in November. I couldn’t be arsed to wait that long, so I went for the first 30-day month in the new year (that’s not to say I won’t do it again in November; in fact, this was a trial run for when the real NaNoWriMo happens). This was going to be my experiment; my ‘one crazy thing’ for the month (one of my new year ‘suggestions’ for 2009 was ‘do one crazy thing each month’). It was me daring myself. If I pulled it off, then at least I knew that the voice in my head saying ‘novel writing’s not for you’ was fibbing. And if not? Well, at least I’d have solid proof that I couldn’t, rather than just the thought that I couldn’t…

Chris Baty’s madcap approach to novel-writing helped in some major ways – the biggest of all being that it completely de-mystified the whole thing. You need that sometimes; you’ll never really master something if you’re totally in awe of it. It also stressed that the object is to write something regardless of how many mistakes you make, or how crap you think it is. Get it down and then after it’s written it can be re-written; advice which was reinforced by another novel-writing buddy, Mags Storey, whom I emailed for advice, saying I was attempting to write a novel in “the daftest way possible” (to which her response was: “What’s the daftest way possible? There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel!” Ta, Mags!).

So how did the month pan out? Kinda like this:

Day 1: Manage to write 27 words. Threw two street kids in a river and let them splash about. Came up with a derogatory name for petrol addicts.
Day 2: Crossed the 1,000-word mark and made a priest swear. More than once.

End of week 1: Word count hovering around the 2,000-word mark. But at least I now have some sort of plot in mind (it came to me as I was walking to the local Chinese buffet to have lunch with some mates from church).

End of week 2: Story’s still floundering. Haven’t really embraced the ‘just let go and write’ concept, methinks. Have overall plot, but not that many sub-plots and little episodes. And still not really sure how to push the characters out there. And I still only really have four characters. Could use a few more. Word count: 4,000-ish (according to the book, I should be in the 20,000 region by now).

Middle of week 3: A couple of crucial things happen that really kick-start the writing process. First I receive an email from Dieon (another writer friend), asking how one deals with writer’s block and such like when attempting to write a book. I have a good, long think and reply with some tips I believe will help her – then kick myself for not having taken my own advice much earlier!

Next, I have a “Sod it; if they say ‘just write’, then just flippin’ write” moment. I start just writing: chunks of dialogue (will assign them to characters later), describing parts of the unspecified town the action’s meant to be taking place in; describing random people who populate the place; giving the few characters I do have long internal monologues in which they just rant (a good way of exploring your own dark side, if you’re that way inclined). I try out the “jet pack” method of writing Chris Baty mentions in the book. Word count doubles in a day.

Day 19: I adopt the desperate (and rather naughty) tactic of sneaking in some novel-writing on the job. I open up a Word doc on my computer, into which I type a couple of paragraphs whenever I have a free moment (tea breaks, lunch, etc.). By the end of the working day, I have added 1,000 words to the novel. Even more shockingly, some of them actually move the plot along.

I also deploy a few more “time-buying” tactics; starting work an hour early, and taking the Tube home instead of the bus. Working from home tomorrow, so I will “jet pack” again…

Day 20: Never really got to do the “jet pack” thing properly, but still added a thousand-plus words to the word count – including a few bits written on the train to Cambridge, on my way to interview someone for the Latin Link CD. What with this, work and Latin Link’s CD to produce this week, I might as well be back at uni during one of those times when I’d have four essay deadlines at once.

Day 21: At work again today. I try a different tactic this time: coming in an hour early, but this time using the extra hour to work on the novel before starting work officially at nine. Again I add a few more words during breaks and other free moments. Add another 2,000 words to the word count – including a big EastEnders-style ‘duf-duf’ moment.

I take the lappy with me when I go PRS-ing in a pub in New Cross Gate later in the evening. It’s an all-metal Battle of the Bands show – and it. Is. LOUD. Strangely, the headbangy music doesn’t inspire me to write a brutal murder scene into the novel. Neither do I feel the urge to include a satanic sacrifice. I’ve already made a priest swear and knock a gangster’s gold tooth down his throat; that’s about as sacrilegious as I’m prepared to get, thanks very much.

Day 23: Decide I’ve sacrificed way too many items in my social calendar in the name of novel-writing. Today, my good friend Candy is having a little drink-up to celebrate leaving her job. No way am I missing that. So I go along to the Jugged Hare pub in the Victoria/Vauxhall area and have a good time.

I’m also supposed to be PRS-ing in the Ministry of Sound tonight, so I leave Candy’s do just before 10 and head to the Elephant & Castle. I arrive at MoS and discover that Miikz (another good friend) is running security. The DJs kick off at 10.30pm, and I haven’t got a clue what any of them are playing. But I do have an Access All Areas wristband, so I spend the duration of my visit sitting in the VIP lounge (or as I found myself calling it, the “Bloody hell, girl; did your Mum see you leaving home dressed like that? OMG, I’ve just turned into my Mum!” lounge), where I write another crucial scene, do major development on a new character I’ve recently added to the story, and beef up some of the other characters’ back-stories. I even tap out a couple of paragraphs on my Blackberry before packing it in as I have no means of transferring notes from my BB to my lappy (a download is in order methinks). When I eventually add the new material to the book, word count exceeds 17k. Good, but still needs a boost – and I still have Latin Link’s CD (and a radio show) to complete this weekend…

Still not happy about the fact that I find writing about writing the novel easier than writing the novel (if that makes any sense).

Day 25: I cross the 20,000 word mark. I have now written more than double my uni dissertation in less than half the time that took me. What does that say about me as a writer? Or, for that matter, about my degree? I may be reading way too much into this…

I’m still nowhere near on target, but I still believe this is possible. I just need to ‘jet pack’ every day this week to pull it off! But even if I do pack it in now, I think I’ve still proved to myself that novel-writing isn’t an impossibility for me (Pack it in? Where did that come from?). Bring on the self-imposed literary torture…

Day 26: Yesterday was long. What with Latin Link’s CD to finish, I ended up going to bed rather late. As a result, my body seems to have gone on strike (and my brain too). Manage to crib 1,000-plus words together in the office, between work work (did the same ‘come in early’ tactic I used last week). Brain absolutely refuses to do anything novel-related when I get home; in fact, I get an extremely severe case of the I-do-not-want-to-do-this-any-mores. I go to bed at 8pm. Wake up around 2-ish, and suddenly cannot stop writing. All sorts of stuff comes to me. If this keeps up today, it will be fantastic. I guess the moral here is that rest is as important a part of the process as work is.

I went for an early morning swim in the pool round the corner from home. One of the things I like about going swimming is that a lot of times when I’ve been writing something, it’s when I’m in the pool that it all falls into place in my head (back in the days before I took up swimming – when I had a gym membership – the steam room was where this would happen. Which is why I dubbed the steam room “the incubator”). That is when I’m writing non-fiction stuff: articles, blog posts, etc. It has never happened the whole time I’ve been writing this novel – until today. Suddenly, ideas start to flow. Random bits of dialogue I’d written to fill space have speakers and situations to go with them. People have back stories. I can see the order in which events are meant to happen. Major breakthrough for me.

Day 27: Apparently struggling again. Not feeling 100% physically. But struggle along and add a few things to a couple of bits I’d already written. Crossed the halfway mark. Finding time to write over the next couple of days is going to be really tough; what with presentations and other work commitments I had kind of forgotten about looming…

Day 28: Will have to do some major workload reshuffling if I am to get more writing in today. Got up relatively early (6am) and wrote for about 90 minutes.

Day 30: Final day of the experiment. Nowhere near the 50k target word count – but that really wasn’t the primary point of this exercise for me. Anyway, let’s see how much we can add on today, eh? I have reshuffled my workload so that I can devote the whole day to this (will do all the Meth House writing I was supposed to do today on Monday. There – that’s my Bank Holiday up the spout. I hate writing…)

The writing binge starts at 6am – even though I woke up at five. Spend more time tweeting than writing that first two hours (bad boy, bad, bad boy). After breakfast, I de-camp to Starbucks at 10am and settle down to write some more. Wi-fi in Starbucks not working. I take this as a sign that there is a God, and that he wants me to write this thing without any distractions. I’ve left the cheap headphones at home and brought out the noise-cancelling cans instead (special day, innit?). I stick some Paul Ewing on the iPod and get stuck in. About three hours (and two big-ass coffees) later, I have the book’s closing chapter and “Yoda moment” written (I have decided that all my novels will have what I call a “Yoda moment” – mostly because I find I enjoy writing “philosophical, worldly-wise old man dispenses wisdom to young Grasshopper” dialogues).

I get home from Starbucks, check up on email, do a little more writing and then go for a swim. Then write (almost) continuously from 8pm until midnight. Have vowed not to check the word count until midnight strikes. Feel myself flagging physically the closer midnight gets. I’ve been writing non-sequentially, so the novel’s beginning and end are already done. The middle, however, is all over the place. But that can be sorted out in the re-writing process, so no worries.

Final word count at midnight on Day 30: 29,231 words.

So, what have I learnt about novel-writing (and, more importantly, about myself) this mad month?

  • Well, I know now that I definitely can write a novel. That’s one voice in my head I won’t be hearing anymore…
  • I’m definitely a “morning person” when it comes to writing stuff like this. The earlier, the better.
  • Contrary to what girls say when they’re being sexist, us blokes can multitask – just as long as it’s doing more than one thing we actually want to do!
  • If you are going to write with a glass of wine in your hand (that nice, romantic picture people have the moment you say “I’m a writer”), then remember: the ‘drink in moderation’ thing still applies. Especially if you’re writing after a busy day at work, whatever your job is. People talk rubbish when they’re plastered – and guess what? They also WRITE rubbish when they’re plastered!
  • You probably know this already, but reading does wonders for your writing. I joined a book group at work, and we started reading David Nicholls‘ novel One Day. I’ve only read the first two chapters so far, but I have already picked up some brilliant ideas on how to get a story moving from it.
  • Also, we do like to keep our work in progress ‘under wraps’ and then make a big public announcement once it’s done. But occasionally throwing bits out while you’re working on it can be a good way of testing how it’s going, or even for picking up ideas. I posted a couple of quotes from the novel as Facebook status updates. They started some fun conversations, and even added a comic twist to one minor sub-plot (ta for that one, Sara-Jane!)
  • Daring yourself to try something new is a good (if absolutely mental) way of learning how to do it. The opening line of the book was “Here goes nothing!” because when I was learning to swim (something else I only learnt to do much later in life than usual) that’s what I would say whenever I decided to just jump into the pool and get on with it. “Just write” sounds like terrible advice – especially if you’re used to more methodic, factual writing. But it does work! Certainly in my case, the day I had my “Sod it; just write” moment in Week 3 was the point at which the book really started coming together. Sometimes just the act of writing opens up the mind. Ideas start flowing. So yes – one good way of fighting writer’s block is just to write! Dare yourself!

Well, the experiment’s over now. So what next? The book’s far from finished, but I am going to let it rest for a bit; a couple of months, at least. I already have another book-writing project that’s going to keep me occupied for the next couple of months (a ghost-writing gig – with a proper contract and for real money. Wahey!). I’ll come back to this once that is done, arrange it in some proper order, and see what I can do with it.

Yep – that was my April. How was yours?

‘Happy Thingymas’

Since I’m writing about a religious topic here, I think I ought to start with a confession.

I may be a God-botherer, but I’m also a pragmatist. If I’m miles away from home and it’s cold, wet and dark outside, I don’t care what’s written on the side of the first bus that comes along; I’m taking it. And that’s exactly what I did one Saturday night/Sunday morning last winter, after an awesome Dele Sosimi gig in east London: I (whisper it) rode home on one of those ‘atheist’ buses several Christian Facebook groups were urging me to boycott at the time.

The “there’s probably no God; now go and get plastered” (or whatever it said) bus ad campaign is now just a vague memory for most of us. But a follow-up to it has been launched to coincide with the festive season… and so it was that a few days ago, I found myself in Foyle’s bookshop in central London, for the launch of a book titled the Atheist’s Guide to Christmas.

Ariane Sherine (the journalist/comedy writer who devised the bus ad and edited the book) was host for the event, along with guests Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling, David Baddiel and Derren Brown – four of the book’s 42 co-authors – who read the essays they’d contributed to it. Apart from acquiring a new spiritual dilemma for myself (will I go to hell because I think Ariane Sherine is hot? I’m sure me fancying her is what my team calls “being unequally yoked”), I found the evening simultaneously thought provoking, amusing, and in places deeply tragic.

The thing that stuck out most for me was how similar atheism is to the religions it is so opposed to. Guess what? Atheists argue over dogma and doctrine just like Catholics and Protestants, Sunnis and Ahmadis, or Orthodox and Reform Jews do. Boy, do they! During the Q&A session that followed the readings; in the lift; on the street walking to the Tube station… Even more interestingly, even in a roomful of people generally disposed to believing that faith is irrational, there were a fewwho were brave enough to admit that there were some mysteries cold, rational thinking could not sufficiently explain.

It’s been said that the ‘New Atheists’ (is that the same as ‘New Labour’ or “new Windows operating system”?) are every bit as intolerant in their atheism as religious fundies are in whatever religion they subscribe to. They certainly have an equal amount of smugness about it, that’s for sure. I mean, what’s the difference between David Baddiel’s blanket statement that people who profess a faith are “all wrong” and the ranty Imam who labels all non-Muslims “infidels”?

Derren Brown made a passionate argument for people to be kind to those around them – not just at Christmas, but all year round. The advantage atheists had over religious people, he said, is that religious people did good deeds because they expected a “reward from God” whereas atheists didn’t have any such carrots to motivate them, and so had purer motives for the acts of kindness they did. Sounded good at first – but then he had to go and spoil it by mentioning the “benefits of kindness”… and it was then that you realised that he was basically preaching Karma without the Buddhism. Derren, you say “benefits” and I say “rewards from God”. Tomayto, tomato…

Having said that, some of the contributions made me wonder whether religion (Christianity in my case) wasn’t partly to blame for people’s unbelief – and no, I’m not referring to that lame joke about Dawkins being the second biggest cause of atheism in Britain after Cliff Richard (and on the subject of lame jokes: Richard Dawkins, stick to science and leave comedy writing to the experts. That Jeeves & Wooster skit was terrible). I found myself feeling for Derren Brown when he said he’d been a Christian for many years, but had packed it in because he’d found himself unable to defend his faith intellectually as he had wanted to. The un-intellectual (sometimes anti-intellectual) streak I find in some Christian circles bothers me too, but I’ve stuck with it. I even found myself agreeing with something Richard Dawkins said: that Jesus taking the punishment for sins he hadn’t committed himself “just doesn’t add up.” It doesn’t – but then, forgiveness and love (and the things people do for them) have never “added up”.

On the other hand, I found AC Grayling’s claim that “once you’ve achieved a few major things in your life, you have less of a need for a God figure” seriously lacking. Four years ago, I met Dr Charles H Townes. For anyone who doesn’t know who he is, Charles Townes is a Nobel Prize-winning American scientist, credited with the discovery and development of the laser. In the 80s (at the height of that USA vs. Russia who-can-wee-the-highest contest we called the Cold War), he helped persuade then President Ronald Reagan not to flood the planet with strategic nuclear weapons, as he was being advised to. Those are pretty big achievements by anyone’s standards, yet Dr Townes had an active Christian faith – a faith he still holds on to now, well into his 90s. And let’s not forget Desmond Tutu, who’s still a bishop in spite of his Nobel Peace Prize and other accolades. Maybe “achievement” is just relative…

I received quite a few responses when I reviewed the launch for a Christian magazine. Many of them were positive (and that’s always good to have), but a lot of them simply parroted the usual cliché responses Christians come out with whenever stuff of this nature is discussed: “They would never say things like this about Mohammed”, “Why do they hate Christianity so much?” – you know, the usual…

Here’s the thing (at least, “the thing” as I see it). This martyr mentality isn’t doing Christianity any good, and statements like that only serve to prove that we’re a bit too self-absorbed and not really listening to what’s going on around us. The so-called ‘militant atheists’ aren’t singling Christianity out; they’re opposed to ALL religions. So yes, they do say ‘things like this’ about Mohammed. And about Vishnu. And G_d. And Shiva, The Force and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Enough with the whining already – and can we please have one Christmas without any complaints about shopping malls not having Christmas trees, or someone resurrecting that urban myth about some council somewhere trying to change the holiday’s name to ‘Winterval’? (It’s not true. I’ve checked). This whiny victim mentality does nobody any good; it just trivialises the very real persecution Christians face in places such as Sudan, Eritrea, Burma, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

Happy Christmas, whoever you believe in (or don’t)…