The Zombie Casabianca (a parody)

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I have been recently accused of having an unholy fascination with zombie metaphors on this blog.

This is, unquestionably, wholly untrue, and to prove it I offer you this piece of cultural doggerel. It’s really old and everything so it must be cultural. And not a metaphor in any way.

The Zombie at Number Eighty-Four’s Garden Party (with apologies to Felicia Dorothea Hemans)

The boy stood on the burning deck

Whence all but he had fled;

The barbecue a tangled wreck

Upon the flower bed.

Yet mindlessly and swayed he stood,

A crime against the norm;

A creature of mutated blood,

A proud, though putrid form.

The flames roll’d on…he would not go

Without his father’s brains

(That father, hiding fraught below

The decking’s gory stains.)

He call’d aloud…”Arrrrgghhullabhhhab

Schhhhhbllllllllggggghhhhuuunnn!”

He knew not that his father had

His Smith & Wesson gun.

“Grrrrabbbllllghhh!” again he cried

(his jaw was almost gone)

And but the booming shots replied,

As the snipers got locked on.

Upon his frame the bullets then

Pass’d through his ribs and eye

The cry goes up among the men

“He still won’t bloody die!”

And shouted he once more aloud,

“Gurrrrhnnnnihhhhghannnnk!”

(While from the kitchen raises proud

The army’s anti-tank.)

The gazebo‘s full of sandbags piled,

The troops with guns held high

All pointed at the zombie child,

(the bazooka’s standing by)

There came a burst of thunder sound…

The boy-oh! where was he?

Well, half of him’s splashed on the ground

At number eighty-three.

With head, and hands and entrails rare

Completely blown apart;

But the foulest thing which languished there

Was that still-twitching heart.

And you can read the proper version of this lovely poem here.

PS: For those of you reading who hate poetry, be assured, I only write (or bastardize) poetry when profoundly depressed, and parodies even more so. Normal service will be resumed etc.etc.

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Do your protagonists have (a) sex?

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Now I know that seems like a silly question. Everybody has sex, right? Characters in books no exception. And I’m going to lay off the childish wordplay that pleased me so much when I thought about this subject. Honest. (but one letter like “a” can make all the difference in context, can’t it? You have no idea how much I enjoyed the “strategic use of comma” meme that’s been popping up all over my social media these past few days. And for your edification, here it is. I can’t credit the creator as I have no idea who they are. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t me, and whoever it was is Awesome.)

Punctuation. It saves lives.

Punctuation. It saves lives.

It’s a relatively tiny number of sentient creatures in this world who can truly be said to have no gender. And this is all generally the fault of Science and more specifically Biology, because on a chromosomal level gender persists, and anyone who’s ever watched a crime show or archaeological dig knows that you can pretty confidently tell the gender of even skeletons by looking at their pelvis.

Except it’s not as simple at that, and we all know it. Because Science equally allows us now to turn men into women, and even the chromosomes occasionally decide to get together and produce a person who is geniunely neither one sex, nor the other.

Which is fine. So enough of junior school science lessons, because I’m not a scientist and will probably get lots of things wrong if I continue. Back to writing, because if in writing I get things wrong I can claim it’s Just My Opinion and therefore safely ignored. (ignoring my opinion is sanctioned by the Department of Health. I have a piece of paper and everything.)

I was reading something a friend had written the other day and which she wanted my comments on. It was her usual high-standard rollicking fantasy stuff with zombies and reckless slaughter and I enjoyed it immensely. When I sat down to compose my feedback on the piece, I realised that until about page four I had no idea whether the narrator was male or female. They had a gender-neutral fantasy-land name, and through narrating in the first person had no reason to describe themselves. It became apparent during the first chapter that they were in love with a male character, then married to him: but that too could not be said to give a definite answer to the question of the narrator’s gender.

And none of this, of course, actually mattered. This was not a story in which gender was important. (It’s not like there’s a weird 1950s style culture amongst zombie-slayers where actual slaying is considered “women’s work” and any men taking it up have to go through a form of suffrage. Or maybe there is. I can almost see the Bakelite machetes hanging up in Fonzie’s mum’s kitchen. Perhaps you should write a book about it)

So I started thinking: what real effect does gender have on a character one is writing? If gender (and its associated issues) is not the driving force behind the plot, does it actually matter?

Here are some protagonists, for your consideration:

  • a woman who has been driven to the brink of suicide by the death of her parents
  • a man who makes a living by selling the souls of elephants
  • a woman who has three heads, one of which is trying to kill her

Which one of these people’s books does this paragraph come from?

“I don’t think people will ever understand why it is that I have to do this. It’s gone beyond what I can safely call a choice. A long time ago other people’s opinions would have mattered to me, but since I met Arthur on the Bridge of Sighs, I’ve started to realise that what really matters to me isn’t who I am on the outside, not the thousands of different perceptions that define me – but the reality that I don’t have a choice. It makes me so angry, this assumption that I have chosen, when in fact the choice was made for me.”

The answer is, of course, it could be all of them. And another qualifier at this point is: surely the skill should be for the writer to make sure that the reader knows instinctively whether the voice that speaks to them is a man or a woman?

Gender makes it easier for some readers to identify with a character. “They’re a man, like me – they think in a way I recognise.” “They’re a woman, like me – of course I understand what they’re thinking at that point. Any woman would.”

So what would happen if I wrote an entire novel, with one male and one female protagonist, and at the last edit before publication, swapped their genders around?

Would it matter? How much would it matter? Would it even (heaven forfend) be interesting? Gender is endemic in our language (“chairman” “affiliated” “manpower”) – is it also endemic in our character creation?

I may just do it anyway, but first I have a novel chapter to finish (my current main character is a chirpy transvestite, so I won’t even go into how one that fits into this particular concept) and about 1700 words of a purely-for-fun thingy (you know the one I mean) to edit. Gender can wait, ladies and gentlemen and Unassociated Gender Identifiers. Gender can wait.

(And if anyone ever writes the story about the guy who sells elephant souls OR the 1950s zombie-killing housewives, I really would love to read it.)

Addendum: I actually finished a drabble this morning where the gender of the main narrator is unknown, and was surprised at how hard it was to maintain.

It’s not you, it’s me. Oh no, wait. It IS you.

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Somebody once said of me that if I could find a way of apologising to the population of Earth for the whole complex and messed-up device that manages the building blocks of creation, I would.

(They may not have used those actual words. They may have said: “ETG, you’d say sorry if God farted.” But I’m a slave to long words and besides, I don’t care for fart jokes.)

Now I firmly admit to being British, and we’re a nation of apologisers. We have a collective guilt complex so huge you could use it to humble a continent. If someone stands on our toes, we say “Gosh, was that your foot? Terribly sorry. I hope the blood hasn’t stained any of those massive, outsized hobnails.”

I’m also, of course, an introvert, and part of my being is dedicated to not being noticed. Being self-effacing is one of my finest defense mechanisms. It stops my remarkably minute ego being trampled on regularly with the aforementioned hobnails as possessed by most of the rest of humanity.

But self-effacing doesn’t sell, and neither, by this token, will anything I try to market, whether it be a short story, a novel or a picture.

I’m not helped by the fact that my works (which is much too grand a term for them – see, there’s that self-effacing thing springing into action again) are a little what you might call “fringe”. Or, if you’re Normal, call them Weird. Especially the art. Thanks to Harry Potter and the Hollywood blockbuster, fantasy fiction actually has a decent chance these days.

Rush: It's a mission, thankyouverymuch

Fortunately, most authors tend NOT to get nutted by Colonels over their “fringe interests”.

I also know a fair few people who make a fair few bucks selling artwork and stories that don’t represent their own core talents and/or interests at all. You know the thing. A painter who specialises in beautifully traditional chocolate-box perfect scenes takes up dada-esque splashy canvasses because large corporations want to buy them in bulk for their meeting rooms. A writer whose mind naturally dreams up perfect gory horrors takes up writing short womens’ interest stories for “Take A Break” magazine (actually, I’ve read that magazine. Horror writers may have found their niche after all, if only in mangling perfectly good vocabulary and syntax)

And they do it for the money, which causes other creatives to accuse them of “selling out”. I find myself wondering: would I be better off doing this? Does this in any way compromise one’s integrity as a creative? If, as I have previously asserted, anything at all that you do creatively has worth to your artistic soul, what of those who find material worth in it as well?

Because I feel I have to apologise profusely for anything that I do, I can’t help feeling that were I to write a deliberately potential best-seller (probably, given the latest developments in the field, a story based on a fanfic that features, I don’t know, a love triangle between a merman, a pixie and a vampire whose skin turns blue if it rains) I would then feel tremendous guilt over my inability to get my “other work” published. This isn’t to say I would feel my best-seller had no creative validity (though probably, looking at the central conceit, it might not have much of a plot unless you’re fond of tenuous MacGuffins).

Does getting paid for it make a difference? Is there, in truth, any such thing as selling out?

Oh, you must mean REAL writing.

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So, yes. Pretty exciting. I get to use the hashtag #amwriting on Twitter for the first time and actually mean it.

I write all day, as it happens. It’s part of my job. I also spend a lot of time editing stuff other people have written. (And for “edit” in this context, please feel free to substitute “re-write” and possibly add a hint of “from scratch”. Actually, what the hell. Let’s say “raze to the ground” and have done with it because that phrase just doesn’t get enough use as a positive.)

But that’s just work, that’s not real writing. Right?

I’m going to get into an argument with myself here and say that it is, and just to back up what even I feel is a somewhat specious argument, I’m going to go back to where I think every writer should start, and that’s to reading.

Now another of the labels on my critically overburdened jacket is “English literature graduate”.

(Don’t ask me what this one looks like. I never see it and nor does anyone else. It’s probably a really good piece of cream cardstock pretending very hard to be cheap sugar paper in case it gets thought ostentatious.)

As a result of this, I’ve spent many glorious years reading about every form of literature known to man, just so long as it isn’t called:

  • A classic
  • A critical success
  • A Booker prize winner
  • A seminal work

Three years of studying worthy tomes will do that to a person. It’s a sort of reverse snobbery on my part, really: and partly a defense mechanism. Having been trained up as a slavering lit crit-hound, I’ve reacted by trying to read anything and everything that only ever claims to be a damn good story and doesn’t inspire hours of screaming “but what does it mean, given the sociopolitical context?!!” and trying to pad out 1100 words to 2000 by strategic use of the word “however”.

You name it, I’ll read it. Being a speedreader helps with this. (It certainly helped with James Joyce’s Ulysses, let me tell you. Now that book – there’s a classic, nay, a seminal work.) And it’s all real reading, to get back to my original point. It doesn’t matter what it is, a historical potboiler, a sci-fi romp, a classical drama or a chick-lit so pink it would cause Barbie to vomit. It’s all valid. It’s all real. It’s all learning, when you’re a writer yourself, even if the day’s lesson is “how NOT to do it.” (with a side class in “what not to spend your money on ever again.”)

Yes. Even Twilight.

And so’s every bit of writing you will ever do – every bit of writing I will ever do. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be your breakthrough novel, chapter X (in which the hero discovers he’s actually in a James Joyce story and considers suicide). Or it could be a witty text message. Or a dull but informative text message. Or a sixty-page guidance document on recycling polypropolene. Or a haiku on carpet tile. The only way anyone ever really got good at anything is by doing it, and by watching other people who do it well do what they do best.

Anything. It’s your next big thing, whatever it is. Treat it as such, and enjoy writing it, and don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t “real” writing. It honestly doesn’t get realler, especially when you’re unpublished.

(And, as a postscript: up to 700 words in my lunch hour, on a computer at my local library. Hah!)

Have a secret. They’re good for you.

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I love words, not surprisingly for someone who’s given to waffling on as much as I am, and a little while ago I wrote a very brief no-account drabble that played on the fact that language, like any other living thing, has the capability to be percieved as “good” or “evil”.

Now words are neither good nor evil, as they are not subject to our human perception of right and wrong. The tiger is not evil because he kills deer. He’s just being a tiger. Being by definition purely what you are isn’t evil. (And if you doubt this, check in with Siegfried and Roy. Plus, I don’t want to hear from the vegetarians on this one. Meat is only “murder” if you belong to a race that can conceptualise murder and your meat comes from a race that can conceptualise murder. I’m getting off topic, and besides, I’m scared I may get lynched by vegetarians. Argue with me about it later. Right now I want to talk about words.)

Words, like tigers, can become bad, through popular perception. Have a think about words like “liar” “selfish” or, indeed, “deception”. You wouldn’t want to stand on a podium and tell people that you’re a liar. Or that you’re selfish. Or that you’re decieving them.

However, I want to get this of my chest, to you, right now: I am a liar. Of course I am. I make up things that aren’t true and that don’t exist every day, and then I try to make you believe that they’re real, if only for a little while. And these I call fiction and story and people seem to occasionally like them. Terry Pratchett (we are not worthy) brings this to our attention in his book Equal Rites. The river race called the Zoons are proud of their liars. Lying is a skill, a talent, a great asset.

Still with me? Even after being distracted by Terry Pratchett? (and who wouldn’t be). Okay. So let’s have a look at the word “secret”.

My Rush brings all the girls to the yard.

What’s my secret? Which one, pray?

Secret is a fascinatingly ambiguous word. Say it this way:

  • You’ve been keeping secrets from me!

And now this way:

  • I’ve been planning something, but it’s a secret. You’ll have to wait.

One’s a terrible accusation, the other’s a pleasant promise. Being able to keep a secret for someone is a good thing, but keeping secrets from people is bad. It’s delicious, really, the paradox. Which brings me onto the other part of my ramble today.

Secrecy is a dying art. If you have Facebook, you’ll see what I mean. I can now know every inch of my friends’ lives, because they share everything. (Maybe this is just my friends. Maybe yours are all souls of discretion) It’s considered important in a loving relationship to share yourself with your significant other, to avoid the terrible accusation as above. (reference: “You’re my husband/wife/partner/sex slave, we should share everything”). And even if you’re not sharing, everyone else is: we’re become so proud of communication that we’ve forgotten where and how to stop. The internet actually often gives me social anxiety because there’s just so many people talking all the time and I can’t keep up. We share so much it’s starting to become a social requirement to be on broadcast constantly.

Try it. Keep a secret. I don’t mean lie. Just don’t tell. Do something that’s just for you and keep it to yourself for once. Make it something unimportant. Buy yourself a cake and eat it in a cupboard where no-one can see you. Have a day off work and go to the movies by yourself – and don’t mention it. Write a story or a poem or an essay just for yourself and don’t publish it anywhere. Don’t even show it anyone.

And remember to smile when you’re doing it. You’re doing something purely for yourself and it’s selfish and secret but those words aren’t bad, and you aren’t bad. Enjoy it.

Now leave me alone, I’m busy being counterproductive.

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I had a nasty attack of debilitating personal efficiency today. It’s that bit of me that will probably end up getting me into trouble at some point: the bit that thinks “Yes, I could explain this to you, but it would take three times as long as just doing it myself. So I’ll just do it myself.”

Rush: Now please leave me alone so I can do something remarkably clever.

And after a few days, he had a nervous breakdown. It was an awfully long way to the nearest Starbucks.

I partially blame my own introverted INFJness, and partially my current immersion in writing. Writing is an introvert’s dream hobby, really. You get to lock yourself away in your salon of choice, hunch over a piece of paper or a keyboard and live inside your head. You even have a legitimate reason for taking the phone off the hook and ignoring conversational gambits sent by loved ones. You are creating. Somewhere inside your feverish brain, lives and worlds and incidents are being born. What could be important enough to interrupt that? Certainly not questions about putting out the bins or the best way to cook fish fingers, oh no.

(Going back to my first thought: it feels horribly like arrogance, which is a paradox to me, as I am possibly the least self-assured person I know. Really. I could give lectures on low self-esteem, except no-one would come and I’d be crap.)

But tied to that is my ghastly perfectionism, which won’t allow for failure of any kind, and which certainly won’t damn well let go of something that I can do, damnit, I will do it, if it gives me this migraine I’ll do it…

With writing, you can do this. It may not be the best thing for your story, but you can do it. You can write for yourself, to yourself, a love letter to your own creativity. You can. Maybe you shouldn’t. But you can. Writing is the safe total immersion area, because it isn’t real life. You can give it your all.

In much of the rest of life, you honestly can’t. That way madness lies. It’s utterly counterproductive, because nobody can do everything all at once and have it work out well. (No, I’m still looking at you, Superman. Even you know this.) It’s what makes me hate that often-touted maxim that “if you want it enough, you can achieve anything”. I could dedicate my entire body and soul to a desire to become an astronaut, but it would still remain an utter impossibility.

Enough of the ranting. Back to the writing. Two positive lessons I want to learn from this, because lessons are good – if I ever stop learning, I stop living:

  • Let people help me with stuff in my life, and do it graciously, because I probably need the help.
  • Try and find a beta reader for my hobby, and take the criticism.

Gosh, you’re up late. The story must be going well.

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Amongst all the other personality labels I have currently stuck to my incredibly tasteful jacket, “insomniac” is amongst the biggest and brightest. It’s the one written on a pink neon sticky, probably slapped right over the small brown cardboard luggage tag that says “idiot”.

(In case you were wondering, the one saying “writer” is a big piece of ripped-up A4 with holes punched in it. It’s on the back, held on with a pin.)

Being an insomniac is just something you get used to. Like being a long-distance commuter. For the first few months, commuting for two hours a day to work may seem like a torturous, alien concept. Then it gradually becomes A Thing You Do. It becomes Normal. It’s generally only when it casually comes up in conversation that you look at other people’s faces and realise that they think you’re nuts to do That Thing and that they definitely don’t think you’re Normal.

So I tell people I usually only sleep five hours a night (and that’s a good night) – I tell them I wake up every weekday at around 5 a.m. and don’t go back to sleep – I tell them that if it gets to 1 a.m. and I’m not asleep, I get up to read a book or watch TV. And they do that thing with their faces. You may be doing it now. (have a look in a mirror)

And I’m not looking for sympathy, here. Because actually, sometimes insomnia can be a good Thing You Do, and here’s why.

(Also, please don’t offer me remedies. Hot milk? Valerian? No caffeine after midday? Acupuncture? No TV or internet after 6p.m.? Prescription drugs? Illegal drugs? Alcohol? Hypnotherapy? Physical exercise? No wheat/dairy/meat? Heard ’em all)

The link between insomnia and creativity is very real. So’s the link between creativity, guilt, procrastination and boredom, but I’ll maybe go into that another time. The point being, I have my best ideas when I’m not sleeping, I have the best focus when I’m awake and the rest of the world sleeps, and I have plenty of evidence to support the fact that I do my best writing when my need for sleep is channelled into my need to create.

In Stephen King’s novel Misery (which I’ve just re-read as part of World Book Night – I shall be passing that copy along presently, and I hope it makes its way to you, wherever you are) the protagonist author Paul Sheldon’s view of “the zone” is that glorious moment when the “hole in the paper” opens up and swallows the writer, where he is living the story and unaware of his physical self or surroundings. The real and the imagined merge. What’s written becomes reality, if only for that short time, and that remembered veneer of reality carries across to the reader later.

At 3a.m, as any long-term insomniac will tell you, the boundaries between what’s real and what’s not are pretty damn thin anyway. Pick up the pen, open the laptop – the boundaries are now only how fast you can get the words down and how long you can stay awake. I have done the least editing on 3 a.m. stories out of all of my work. They come out faster, more fully formed, more assured. They have a life of their own. The difference between these early-morning beasts and their late-afternoon companions is like the difference between a peacock and a chicken.

After years of being an insomniac – I think the last time I wasn’t tired was probably in 1987 – I can only speak for the good of it with practice. But there’s treasure everywhere, if you have a mind to look.

No, classical music isn’t cool or funky. It’s better than that.

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Now in my line of work I fight an endlessly losing battle against people who are trying to make the un-hip hip and the terminally boring palatable.

“We must,” comes the endless cry, “drive people to engage with us, with our information.”

Me: “Why?”

Information is the currency of the twenty-first century. We love it, we create it, we manage (and mis-manage) it, we gorge on it or glory in our lack of it. If I want to know who a minor recurring character in The West Wing was (see my previous post regarding Wikipedia) I can find out in seconds what it might have taken days to discover only twenty years ago. Not only can I find out, I can know the character’s middle name, home state and preference in toilet paper.

(Incidentally, I’ve never been able to get that concept out of my head after coming across it in a marketing questionnaire. “What is your preference in toilet paper?”. Well, since you ask, my preference is that there should be some.)

And this sort of stuff is cool and funky and very with it. Knowing tiny snippets of pointless information can make you a hit at parties, or more importantly , make you look trendy in front of teenagers (which, once you get over thirty, is a huge and incalculable point of pride.) However, what’s not cool and funky or indeed with it is the vast amount of information that many organisations think we should have. For every bit of wiki-fun that we want to read, there’s three hundred official documents that we don’t. And no amount of being driven to engage with it is going to make this sort of information fun. Yes, I am even talking to you, Google, you the princes of the friendly conversational style when discussing changes in security policies. Generally speaking, unless an NPC in World of Warcraft (other MMORGs are available, please check your stockist for details) starts spouting it, you’re still not going to get through to your user base. And even that’s debatable because who listens to NPCs, anyway?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve honestly not got the wrong title on this post. I started thinking about this whole issue because of classical music, and the increasing desperation of various agencies to try and make classical music accessible. Rather than “Why” I’m now almost plaintively going to say “Don’t.”

Don’t do it. Your product is unique. It has a USP. And that USP may be that it’s structured and stodgy and non-hip and useful and painfully accurate, like most of the information large companies pump out. That doesn’t make it bad. It has a place, the same as everything has a place, and pushing it out of its place into a place where it shouldn’t go is going to end badly for all concerned. (Ask the night staff in any hospital emergency room for examples of this in action.)

Classical music is my drug of choice when I’m writing or researching. It does things to my synapses that pop can’t reach. I like that it is different, that it is not attached to the cult of celebrity, that I don’t have to see Luigi Boccherini gyrating on MTV with his back-up entourage of nearly naked women painted up to look like cellos. And if that makes me any of the following:

  • Your nan
  • A boring old fart
  • An upperclass twit
  • The Queen
  • An upperclass twit who is also your nan
  • Brian Sewell

I’m prepared to live with it. Except the Brian Sewell option.

Hey, I write fiction. Validate me.

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So I’m a little angry with myself today. Mostly because I’m starting to get sick of being needy.

Psychologically speaking, I may be a fuckup, but I like to kid myself I’m an independant fuckup. I am a fuckup with pride. I may even be a fuckup with integrity.

So why is it that whenever I create anything, be it a piece of fiction, a sketch, a painting, I can’t seem to be happy with it unless someone else is?

Lord knows, I try. I want to go back to those heady days when I was young and the thing itself was what mattered, not the reception. I used to write in secret. Didn’t show anyone, like writing was something grubby that it was better I kept to myself.

(Just to give you an idea: this was when I was writing in longhand, using a Parker pen with washable blue ink, on lined paper. Double sided. We’re not quite in stone tablet territory here, but close enough, methinks)

And it was enough, god help me, it was enough. To write, and to read back to myself: to be pleased by what I saw and to enjoy the world or character I had created. It was enough.

And yet somehow I’ve become slavish: writing, drawing, posting online, waiting for someone to tell me “hey, not bad.” Look at me, the great ETG. I mean something. Some random teenager told me I can draw cats “not bad.” I’m king of the world.

My name’s EasyThereGenius, and I’m a validation junkie, and I’m pretty damn annoyed.

Mind that cowpat, that’s my psyche you’re treading in

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Why do introverts like the outdoors so much?

I started wondering about this because of a basic misunderstanding. Someone once asked me if it was hard being agoraphobic when we were taking a walk in the forest, gesturing at the millions of trees in a manner that may have been used on the battlements of Dunsinane when predicting a sudden attack of Shakespearean Triffids.

“I’m not scared of being outside,” was my response (although wanting to add that now I had the Burnham Wood thing in my head, I might very well start). “I just don’t like people.”

I wouldn’t call myself an agoraphobic, as it happens. I pretty much grew up in wide open spaces – I was one of those kids who never wore shoes and was fairly indistinguishable from the colour of whatever piece of scrub I’d been lurking in all day. But being aware that agoraphobia is different from person to person, I was rather forced to admit that yes, I had it, the bit of it where large concentrations of people in confined spaces sometimes gives me the wiggins.

Nature, on the other hand, makes me feel comfortable. Yes, even the bits with howling rivers and tree branches that might snap and snakes and spiders and thunderstorms and cliffs and huge breakers on the beach and rabbit holes you can break your ankle in. You’d get me on a windy cliff edge before you’d get me in front of a roomful of people hanging on my every word. (Sadly, that’s not wholly true – I don’t live near any cliffs and I sometimes have unfortunate blips in my job where I have to get on my hind legs and bray like a donkey. The other people in the room call this training. I call it torture.)

So why is that? I like animals, too, even the ones that look nice and turn on you suddenly (cats) the ones that see enemies everywhere and make noise accordingly (dogs) and the really heavy ones that see you as a convenient leaning post while you’re trying to do their nails (horses). Nature is deceptively simple. People who have a hankering to “return to nature” or “return to the land” are often thinking of this sort of simplicity – living hand to mouth, keeping it simple. Tough, backbreaking, but simple.

The thing is, though, I said ‘deceptively’, because nature is actually astoundingly complex. Ask a biologist or a chemist. It’s logical (sometimes) intricate (most of the time) and quite unbelievable (all of the time. You know when someone says “you can’t make these things up”? They’re quite often talking about something brilliantly weird nature has turned up, like those lizards that look so much like dead leaves you wonder how they don’t end up in salads at McDonalds).

Maybe we like the outdoors so much because it’s like us – deceptively simple on the surface, really damn complicated underneath.

Plus, trees don’t tend to give you backchat, unless you’re Macbeth. Always a good thing.