How to Make a Good First Impression: The Scientific Way

Do you smile a lot? Do you wear a suit? Is your hair combed? Do you wear loud ties? We are judging you! Unfair, but true. The good news is that we can use the science of first impressions to subvert.

This study from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks at everything from the neatness of your attire to where you place your hands and examines how important each is in the overall judgement people make of your personality. The study also looks at how accurate the first impressions were for the subjects’ personality traits, but what I’m interested in is how to manipulate other people’s judgement of me. Obviously.

The study looked at ten personality traits:

  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Emotional stability
  • Openness
  • Likability
  • Self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Religiosity
  • Political orientation (liberal)

I’m going to ignore the last three because, frankly, I’m not interested in coming across as a lonely, religious liberal. So that leaves seven personality traits.

The study measured the effect on first impressions of the following ten physical attributes:

  • Healthy vs. sickly appearance
  • Stylish vs. unstylish appearance
  • Distinctive vs. ordinary appearance
  • Neat vs. messy appearance
  • Smiling
  • Looking away from camera
  • Arms folded
  • Arms behind back
  • Energetic vs. tired stance
  • Tense vs. relaxed stance

So let’s get straight to the point. How can I make the absolute best first impression?

Smile and have an energetic stance. These correlate strongly with all seven traits. If you do nothing else, just smile: we can all do that, even if we’re tired.

Almost as effective as these two is having a relaxed stance. This correlates strongly with all of the seven traits, except for conscientiousness. So be energetic, but not frantic.

If you can’t manage these three, then a combination of dressing neatly and stylishly, holding your hands behind your back and looking generally healthy should make a favourable impression. Don’t bother folding your arms: it has a negligible impact on other people’s impression of you.

I’m actually quite heartened by the findings of this study. The key to a good first impression is not artificial social markers, like a fancy watch and £600 shoes. The best way of making a good first impression are things we can all afford: a smile and an energetic and relaxed manner.

Finally, a warning for those who dress ‘distinctively’: yes other people will think you are open, but they will also think you are lonely, liberal and irreligious!


This blog post is entirely based on the following paper, which I recommend you read:
Personality Judgments Based on Physical Appearance
Laura P. Naumann, Simine Vazire, Peter J. Rentfrow and Samuel D. Gosling
(Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2009; 35; 1661 originally published online September 17, 2009) http://www.simine.com/docs/Naumann_et_al_PSPB_2009.pdf

The Mundane and the Sublime What library data says about the human condition

Today, I stumbled upon a list of the most common books stored in public libraries.

It strikes me, looking at the list, that these are our most precious books (in the Western tradition). These are the ones that have been chosen to be protected for eternity by our libraries.

As the list-makers say, these are “the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the ‘purchase vote’ of libraries around the globe.”

The data is from 2005, but I don’t think it will have changed much. Here’s the top ten:

  1. The Holy Bible
  2. US Census
  3. Mother Goose
  4. Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  5. Odyssey by Homer
  6. Iliad by Homer
  7. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  8. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  9. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Now, for comparison, here’s the top ten most loaned books from US libraries in 2009.

  1. Run for Your Life by James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
  2. Cross Country by James Patterson
  3. Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich
  4. The 8th Confession by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
  5. Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich
  6. Swimsuit by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
  7. The Shack by William P. Young
  8. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  9. First Family by David Baldacci
  10. The Associate by John Grisham

Now you might feel a certain depression looking down this list.

But I like it: the two lists represent the beautiful dichotomy of our humanity.

They represent the two worlds we have to manage every day, the two worlds of the mundane and the sublime.

Only monks can spend all their time contemplating sublimity, the rest of us have spreadsheets and nappies and traffic jams to worry about.

But it’s nice to know that, when we need them, our libraries guarantee the wonders of literature.

Like Mother Goose.


Lies, damned lies and real unemployment statistics

Unemployment is falling, the Office for National Statistics tells us. They say a lot of other things as well, but that’s all we hear from the government and in the press: unemployment is falling.

Unemployment, the ONS tells us, has fallen to 2.43 million, after the largest quarterly fall since August 2000. Or, as The Guardian put it last month: “UK unemployment falling at fastest pace in a decade”. Great news, you might think.

But the ONS also reports other figures. One of those is economic inactivity in the workforce, i.e. among 16 to 64 year-olds. That figure is up 0.1% to 23.3% of the workforce. That’s right: almost a quarter of the working population, don’t work. 9.37 million people.

Of these, 2.29 million are students inactive in the labour market. So they can be knocked off the total, assuming that they are at least doing something productive.

That leaves us with 7.08 million people not working, out of a workforce of about 40 million.

[Of these, incidentally, only 1.49 million are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. You can look at this figure in one of two ways: 

  • The Daily Mail way – “5.5 million can’t even be bothered to look for a job!”
  • The Independent way – “5.5 million are being failed by the welfare state.”]

But there are also 1.21 million people who are underemployed. In other words, 1.21 million people forced to work part-time because they can’t find full-time work. This is the highest figure since records began in 1992.

So, in total, there are 8.29 million people of working age in Britain who are either out of work or unable to find full-time work. That is 20.6% of the working population, a fifth.

In August 2010, this figure was 8.12 million people or 20.2% of the workforce*.

Now you can judge for yourself whether unemployment is falling or not. Don’t just listen to the headlines, look at the figures.


April 2011: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=12
August 2010: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/lmsuk0810.pdf

*This is made up of 9.35m economically inactive; 2.3m students and 1.07m underemployed. In August, the ONS changed the way the number of economic inactive people were calculated, by raising the working age threshold for women from 59 to 64. Figures before August 2010, therefore, are not comparable with current figures.

Not so bad after all: British sport on the world stage

I was listening to a comedy show on the radio last night and they were taking the piss out of British sporting success. Very funny, I’m sure. But it all sounded a little hackneyed. What about our golfers? What about our rugby players? What about Formula 1?

‘We British don’t like winning; it’s so common…’ they joked.

Tommy-rot, I thought, and so looked up a few things on Wikipedia.

Here’s a list of recent (last 10 years) major British sporting success:

  • Rugby Union: 2003 World Cup
  • Cricket: 2010 World Twenty20
  • Golf: US Open 2010 (McDowell), 2011 (McIlroy)
  • Formula 1: Champions 2008 (Hamilton), 2009 (Button)
  • Heavyweight Boxing: 2002 WBC, IBF (Lewis), 2011 WBA (Haye)
  • Olympics Medal Table: 4th place 2008

The only major sports that are perhaps letting us down are Tennis (no Grand Slams since 1936) and Football (only one major championship, in 1966). But even those have not exactly lacked success.

We’ve had a player in the ATP Men’s Tour Top 20 for fourteen of the last fifteen years, with Tim Henman and now Andy Murray.

In football, national success has been hard to come by, but Liverpool and Manchester United have both won the Champions League in the last ten years.

Not so bad after all.

David Charles: Vanity Project

I was sucked into doing this after accidentally searching for my own name, without quotation marks, on Google. I was astonished to see that I am on the first page.

I can think of no good reason for this, other than the fact that I’ve run a blog for a number of years and that it is hosted with Google themselves. I’ve done a few things here and there, but nothing to really imprint my (absurdly common) name on the collective consciousness of the world.

search: david charles

Fascinated, I looked on the other big search engines to see if this was indeed a case of Google favouritism. Here are the results:

Google (84% share of the search market):

10th result. Bottom of the 1st page.

Yahoo (6%):

91st result. Top of the 10th page. That’s more like the mediocrity I was expecting!

Baidu (Chinese language search engine. 4%):

Nowhere to be found in the first 25 pages, or 250 results. Why not? Have I been censored?

Bing (4%):

42nd result. 5th page. Solid mediocrity.

Ask (<1%):

9th result. 1st page. Suspiciously similar to the Google results. No complaints.

Aol (<1%):

10th result. 1st page. Have you been copying at the back there?

O Vanity, you spoil me!

Where it really gets interesting (for me) is when you start throwing in random words. Because I’ve written quite a lot over the years, on quite a number of diverse subjects, random words send me catapulting up the league table.

david charles travel

  • #1 and #2 on Google. 
  • #6 on Yahoo!

david charles supermarket

  • #1 – #3 on Google. 
  • #3 and #4 on Yahoo!

david charles cycling

  • #1 – #4 on Google. 
  • #3, #5 and #7 on Yahoo!

david charles palestine

  • #1 – #6 on Google. 
  • #1 on Yahoo!

david charles hitch hiking

  • 7 of the top 8 on Google. Only Larry David at #6 keeps me from a Beatles-esque domination of the charts.
  • #1, #2 and #9 on Yahoo!

Now those are not really that random. I have written quite extensively about those topics. You would expect me to score pretty highly on them. But what about these?

david charles lights

  • #3 – #5 on Google.

david charles massive

  • #2 on Google.

david charles teenager

  • #5 on Google.

Yahoo!, however, dismisses my name from it’s pages. It does seem to be better at picking up relevance, dare I say it.

And yes, that last one there was a random word from: http://watchout4snakes.com/creativitytools/RandomWord/RandomWordPlus.aspx

The Secret to a Proper Holiday

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to go on more than 60 holidays, both in the UK and abroad. In the course of all that to-ing and fro-ing I’ve been to 33 different countries. I’ve also taken 77 aeroplane flights.

Flights and Holidays
Fancy flights and holidays graph. Click to enlarge.

But finally – after going through 77 passport controls, 77 customs halls, 77 departure lounges, 77 immigration queues, 77 more customs halls, 77 baggage carousels and 77 arrival halls – I’ve realised one thing: flights aren’t holidays.

You could be forgiving for thinking that they are. There’s something almost second class about going on holiday in the UK – so that only leaves Abroad. And everyone flies to Abroad (except the odd booze-cruise, obviously).

But why does everyone fly to Abroad?

There are some obvious and not-so-obvious answers to that question.

1. It’s quicker to fly.

Obviously. But there are two aspects to the speed:
a. Not everyone has the time to take the leisurely travel option, even if they wanted to. We only get two weeks’ holiday a year and we want to spend as much of that on a beach as possible.
b. Travel is horrible, so the less time spent in transit the better, even if it’s as traumatic as flying.

2. It’s cheaper to fly.

It really is, incredibly. Even if you cycle the whole way and swim the Channel with your bike strapped to your 48″ chest – you’ll still spend way more on food during your Ironman expedition to Magaluf than you would have done on a Ryanair return.

One way to Bordeaux by bike cost me near enough £240 in calorific fuel. The Ryanair flight back was £60.

3. Because everyone flies to Abroad.

Huh? Everyone flies because everyone flies? Yeah. That’s right. I’m saying that we don’t even think about it. Imagination disengages at the point of picking up the Thompson brochure. We think about the destination, not about how to get there.

But…

But, but, but my friends!

1. Flying is only quicker if you are travelling long distances.

And travel is only miserable if you’re cooped up in Ryanair-sized cattle-pens and subjected to intrusive and very dull immigration procedures.

2. Flying is only cheaper if you are travelling long distances.

And, even then, only if you forget that my ten days’ cycling was so much more than transit – it was a wild-eyed sun-blaze of fun.

3. Flights aren’t holidays!

If there’s one thing I learnt while I was slogging over the hills of Normandy on my way to Bordeaux – or while I was standing around on the side of a road in Glasgow trying to get a lift to Ben Nevis – or while I was trudging through the snow, sixteen hours into an eighteen hour walk home for Christmas – it’s that flights aren’t holidays!

In fact, the less flighty the holiday, the better. Less flight means less stress, less queuing, less being treated like cattle – and, therefore, more fun, more unique – and more holiday!

And this should be a cause of optimism for everyone.

If we don’t have to fly to Abroad, then the world of holiday is blown wide open to us. It means that holiday isn’t a two-week stress-ball carbon-guilt flight – it could be a trip down to your local shops. Why can’t that be a holiday?

A holiday for everyday

This morning, for example, I went on a holiday right near my house.

I didn’t mean to go on holiday. I was just on a walk, a fairly standard constitutional walk around the local fields that I do all the time – and then, suddenly, I decided to go on holiday. I climbed through some hawthorn shrubs, over a wall and onto a disused railway. It was hot and sunny, so I took off my shirt and walked down the tracks, basking in the sun.

I was somewhere I’d never been before and tanning. How is that not a holiday?

Rejoice! Forget flying; holiday today!

But there’s more!

(The environmental bit tacked onto the end to make me look ethical.)

CO2 footprint
My flying CO2 footprint over the years. Click to enlarge.

If we needed any more encouragement to ditch recycled air, carry-on luggage limitations and ear-popping madness, then it’s surely got to be the thought of our carbon footprint. In the last 28 years, I’ve ejaculated 28 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, thanks to my use of aeroplane transportation. And I don’t mind admitting that it was mindless. I flew because I didn’t think twice. If I wanted to go to France, I bought a plane ticket.

That changed in 2009. I wanted to go to France, so I bought a plane ticket. But the flight was cancelled due to heavy snowfall and I couldn’t go. I still wanted to go, but suddenly flying didn’t seem worth it. I wanted more from my travel. So I cycled.

Population density: Escape the statistic

I’ve come to Cholsey, in South Oxfordshire. Very nice. Normally I live in New Cross, which is in the London borough of Lewisham. Different, but also very nice.

The population density of Lewisham is 7,441 people per square kilometre. It is the 12th most dense place to live in England. “People going down to the ground, buildings going up to the sky,” as Bob Dylan once put it. Indeed.

If one A4 piece of paper was one square kilometre, this is Lewisham – crowded. Click for bigger image.

I walk about a kilometre to get to New Cross Gate train station. The thought that I could have up to 14,882 eyes on me during that journey is positively terrifying. No wonder we walk with our heads bowed down.

By comparison, South Oxfordshire has a population density of 190 people per square kilometre. It is the 249th most densely populated area in England, out of 326.

The same idea for South Oxfordshire. You can see the blobs are smilies now!

In the towns and villages of South Oxfordshire, it doesn’t feel sparsely populated, but the surrounding countryside is accessible and near empty. A country walk might have you crossing paths with one or two other people and a few cows. But that’s it.

Lewisham, on the other hand, is surrounded by Southwark (9,635 people/sq.km), Tower Hamlets (11,154), Greenwich (4,708) and Bromley (2,015). Not too many opportunities for escape. Even the Thames in London is busy with pleasure cruises, police launches and boat-folk.

It is perhaps fitting that the least densely populated place in England is called Eden, in Cumbria. Here, you can expect to share your square kilometre with just 23 other people.

Look at all that lovely white paper – smilies never had it so good!

“I wandered lonely as a cloud,” Cumbria’s most famous poet William Wordsworth once wrote, “when all at once I saw a crowd…” The crowd Bill saw, though, was not New Cross Gate during rush-hour, but “a host of dancing daffodils.”

If Sartre was right and “Hell is other people”, then Eden is paradise indeed. Escape the statistics and get more of this:

PA010856d

The Remarkable Productivity of Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon was the Belgian writer who created the detective Maigret. He was ridiculously successful: 550 million of his books have been printed. That’s just stupid numbers. It’s more than JK Rowling and Harry Potter. 150 million more. That’s one extra book for the entire population of Russia*.

What is interesting is that, while JK Rowling has written a decent 10 books in 11 years, Georges Simenon wrote 197 novels in his 59 year career. That’s an average of over 3 per year for over half a century.

Even more interestingly, he published another 15 in the 15 years after his death. That’s still a better strike rate than JK Rowling. Not bad for a dead man.

What’s plain ridiculous is that 148 of these books came in the 29 years from the age of 49 to 77. That’s an average of over 5 books a year.

Here’s a fancy little graph (or ‘worm’ as they’d call it in cricket), showing you Simenon’s strike rate from the publication of his first novel aged 28, to his last aged 86. Click on the thumbnail below for a bigger version (unless you have microscope eyes).

Admittedly, Simenon’s Maigret novels were quite short, but they make up less than half his output – and it is still a remarkable achievement. To be honest, I’m not sure I can match it – but it does inspire me to try.

Apparently, Simenon used to write a chapter a day for eleven days and then spend three days editing. A novel in a fortnight – forget NaNoWriMo, Simenon was hard-core!


*In fact, you could give the entire population of the USA, Brazil and the UK a copy of one of Simenon’s books. If you wanted to.

The Truth About the Feeding of the Five Thousand

The story of how Jesus managed to feed five thousand hungry folks back on the shores of a lake near Bethsaida in AD It-Never-Really-Happened is one of the most famous tales in the New Testament.

Everyone’s hungry after traipsing around behind Jesus all day, but there’s no food to be had. So a little boy offers up his five bread rolls and his two little fishes, Jesus does a few prayers and – ta-daa! – everyone’s satisfied.

The rather nauseating message being: with God’s love, there’s never any shortage. In fact, there were left overs – twelve baskets of them.

The Feeding of the One Billion

The situation we’re in today isn’t altogether different, it’s just on a grander scale (and with no Jesus, but that’s a good thing – trust me).

What we’ve actually got in AD2011 is, not five thousand, but one billion hungry folks working their asses off all day and still only pulling in less than the price of a Cherry Yoghurt Flapjack at Metro Central mini-market on the Kingsway (£1.10, other vendors are available).

The reason ‘no Jesus’ is a good thing is that today we don’t need a miracle to solve this conundrum. The miracle has already happened – there is already a vast surfeit of food and wealth in the world. It’s just not very evenly distributed. In fact, it’s not really distributed at all, more like hoarded, in rather miserly fashion, under the beds of the astonishingly wealthy of this world.

I’m one of the billion richest people on the planet and, combined, we have a pot of about $30 trillion to play with. And what’s needed to pull those one billion poorest out of extreme poverty? About $70 billion less than a quarter of a percent of our $30 trillion fortune.

Jesus and the Feeding of the Five Thousand (Modern Revision)

I’ll leave you to think about that and return to Jesus. This is the story of the feeding of the five thousand (“modernised” for the youth of today):

Apostles: Shit, dude – there’s loads of people following you, man. It’s getting late, you’d better send them away so’s they can get some tucker from town.
Jesus: Chill, guys. We don’t need to send them away. You feed them.
Apostles: Us? You kidding? We haven’t even got enough for ourselves, dude!
More Apostles: Yeah – how are we gonna get enough to feed, like, five thousand of the buggers? That’d be well expensive!
Jesus: Well, what have you got?
Apostles: Er…
Little Shepherd Boy: ‘Ere, guvna, I’ve got a few loaves o’bread and a coupla fishes – you can ‘ave ’em if you wants.
Apostles: Shush, shush, Little Shepherd Boy, don’t be silly. That’s not going to feed five thousand people / benefits cheats!
Little Shepherd Boy: Well, I woz just off’rin’…
Jesus: Dearest Little Shepherd Boy, me home-boy, pass me the loaves… Please O Lord, O Gracious Heavenly Father, sort me out here, will you? – TA-DAH!
Five Thousand People: Yummy! Hooray for Jesus!
Apostles: Well, blow me.

If you were faced with five thousand actual hungry people, would you be like the Apostles and be cynical about how you could help? Or like More Apostles and feel helpless, that nothing you could do would make a difference?

Course you would. Maybe. I would. I’d totally freak out.

The Ancient Parable, Interpreted for Modern Times

Unfortunately, we’re not often faced with five thousand actual hungry people on our doorstep. But this story, I read as a parable: it has a message. Jesus was trying to teach us something.

The truth is that the five loaves of bread and the two fishes represent the pitiful fraction of the rich world’s wealth that is required to bring the one billion extreme poor above the dollar-a-day mark. It represents a one-off payment of $70 from every person in the rich world.

That’s fuck all.

In fact, we all know it’s fuck all, which is why we’ve all already promised to do it. The developed nations of the world entered into a UN commitment in 1970 to provide Official Development Assistance at the level of 0.7% of their gross national income to alleviate extreme poverty.

That’s all it takes. Or all it would take, if we actually did it.

  • The Little Shepherd Boy in the parable represents the five states who’ve kept their promise: Sweden (1.12% in 2010)Norway (1.06%), Luxembourg (1.01%)Denmark (0.88%) and the Netherlands (0.82%).
  • But the big boys, the Apostles, still give fuck all. Fuck all, as in: the UK (0.52% in 2010) and the USA (0.20%*).

If all the Apostles, not just the Little Shepherd Boy, had handed over five loaves and two fishes each, then feeding five thousand people wouldn’t have looked so impossible. It wouldn’t have been a feast, but it would have been way, way better than nothing. Everyone could have had a nice salmon sandwich – without the need for silly miracles.

And that’s the point.

  1. 0.7% of GDI is not much to ask. It’s a few loaves and a couple of fishes compared to what we have.
  2. If we all do it, we can make a difference. At the moment, we’re not doing enough, waiting around for miracles that never come.
  3. This aid is not gonna make the recipients rich, but they would be out of extreme poverty and on the road to self-sustaining development.

And we would be on the path to a fairer, safer, more humane planet.

Just as Jesus would have wanted. 

*vom*


* i.e. about the same as famously bankrupt Greece.

Interestingly, supporters of the US foreign development strategy might point to the alternative measure of development aid, the “Commitment to Development Index”. This brings a wide range of factors into account (not just aid, but trade and investment, for example) when judging the contribution individual states make towards development in other countries.

In this index, the US comes in a respectable (kind of) 11th place, still below bankrupt Ireland, but at least above the UK, Germany and France. Except that one of the factors taken into account is “Security”, for which the US scores an inexplicable 9.9, the highest score of anyone. Take this out of the equation and they fall back down the charts, into 18th place, back in with famously bankrupt Greece.

How to Write a Play

Disclosure: I’m no expert. I’ve never written a play. But, boy, have I just analysed the ass out of one.

This analysis covers the 1954 play by Reginald Rose, Twelve Angry Men.

The story is about a jury who are deliberating over the case of a young black man charged with the murder of his father. The verdict must be unanimous – and it almost is at the start of the play: eleven to one vote guilty. But that single dissenting voice gradually uncovers flaws in the prosecution evidence and, in turn, each of the other jurors overcomes their own prejudices to return a unanimous vote of “not guilty”.

Observations on How to Write a Play

Having just spent about ten hours typing out this play, I feel I’m qualified to make a few observations about the way Reginald has written Twelve Angry Men – and how this might offer pointers to other would-be playwrights.

Keep the action focussed

There is only one (and a half) locations in the play: the jury-room and the wash-room just off to the side. This keeps the action very tight and focussed. It makes the play claustrophobic, an atmosphere that is accentuated by the humidity of the weather – broken by a thunderstorm.

Define the characters

Twelve Angry Men has quite a lot of characters for a play, really: twelve jurors, a guard and a judge. There’s not much Reginald could have done about that: a jury has twelve people. But he does two things to deal with this potentially difficult large cast:

  1. He doesn’t add any extraneous characters. The guard is largely silent (39 words), simply providing the jurors with props. The judge is a voice off-stage and is used to set the scene at the beginning of the play, saving Reginald the trouble of a lot of clunky exposition.
  2. He divides the jurors into “primary“, “secondary” and “tertiary” characters. Four of the jurors take up 61% of the words in the play. The next four take up 25%. The final four jurors have just 13% of the words of the play. Just for a bit of crazy fun – here’s a chart showing the speech patterns of the twelve jurors, as the play progresses. Click on the picture to see a full-size version.

Keep the tension high

Reginald does this superbly by having the jurors take regular votes. At the beginning only one man votes “not guilty” – this is the single vote that sets the play off. There are five general votes in total, spaced throughout the play, and the audience is on tenterhooks every time, as the votes are called out.

You can see exactly how Reginald has paced the play by looking at the way the jurors voted in my little list below. “Vote” means there was a general ballot of some sort, where every juror voted. “Change to” means that only one or more of the jurors announced their change, without calling a general vote.

  • Page 06: Vote 11-1 (“Guilty” – “Not Guilty”)
  • Page 18: Vote 10-2
  • Page 24: Change to 9-3
  • Page 26: Vote 8-4
  • Page 31: Interval
  • Page 33: Vote 6-6
  • Page 41: Change to 5-7
  • Page 42: Vote 3-9
  • Page 45: Change to 4-8
  • Page 47: Change to 1-11
  • Page 49: Change to 0-12

Note here that, although the interval comes over halfway through the play – 63% of the way through, to be precise – at that point, the vote is 8-4 in favour of finding the young man guilty. The scene that the interval curtain falls on is a turning point, highly dramatic. Immediately after the interval, the vote swings to 6-6 – even stevens.

Note also that Reginald adds a little twist towards the end, making one of the jurors change their mind from “not guilty” to “guilty”. At this point, the audience might fear there is the chance of a hung jury.

I hope you’ve learnt something interesting from this. I might do it again.

Anatomy of a Novel: The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Graham Greene is one of my favourite novelists. His talent is in his concision. He is able to say in 200 pages what it would take many other writers 400. The Quiet American manages to be a thriller, a detective story, a romance and a historical fiction in just 167 pages, about 60,000 words.

How does he do it? I decided to find out.

For those of you who haven’t read The Quiet American, I’d seriously recommend doing so immediately. But the gist of the story is this:

Setting

Vietnam in the 1950s, during the French war.

Main Characters
  • The viewpoint character is Thomas Fowler, a cynical British journalist who has been covering the French war in Vietnam for some time.
  • Alden Pyle, the quiet American of the title, has been murdered.
  • Vigot, a French detective, is trying to find out who did it. He suspects that Fowler may know something about the murder, but Fowler denies everything.
Plot

Fowler and Pyle have been competing over the last few months for the affections of a Vietnamese girl, Phuong, Fowler’s lover of two years.

Fowler is unable to offer Phuong anything concrete: he is already married and his wife refuses him a divorce.

Pyle, on the other hand, is young and has good prospects. In the course of his courtship of Phuong, Pyle saves Fowler’s life.

But when bombs start going off in Saigon, Fowler discovers that Pyle has something to do with it. He tells a communist contact that Pyle has “got to be stopped”. Pyle is murdered.

Phuong returns to Fowler, whose wife has now granted him a divorce. Vigot can’t prove a thing.

Scene Structure and Pacing

I divided the book up into its parts, then into its chapters, then into its sections within those chapters, then down into its scenes within those sections in order to build up an anatomy of the novel.

The Quiet American is split into four parts. The first two parts take up two-thirds of the novel.

  • Part 1: 55.5 pages in 5 chapters and 16 scenes. 1300 words per scene.
  • Part 2: 64 pages in 3 chapters and 14 scenes. 1700 words per scene.
  • Part 3: 26.5 pages in 2 chapters and 9 scenes. 1100 words per scene.
  • Part 4: 21 pages in 3 chapters and 7 scenes. 1100 words per scene.

Already we can see that, as the novel progresses, the pacing of the scenes increases.

After the climactic scene in Part 2, in which Pyle saves Fowler’s life, there are no more sections longer than 8.5 pages. In Parts 3 and 4, the longest section is just 6 pages. You can see this clearly in the graph below (click on it for a bigger size):

The Quiet American: chapter section length in pages.

Flashbacks and Narration

One of the fascinating aspects of the novel is Greene’s use of narration and flashback. The novel is mostly told in flashback, with Fowler recounting the events leading up to Pyle’s death.

In fact, there are only 8 scenes in the whole novel which are told in the present (17%). The rest is flashback (83%). The whole of the longest part of the book (Part 2) is told in flashback. This is the most dramatic part of the book.

And yet it is the present narration that adds the suspense to the book: did Fowler have a hand in Pyle’s death? Will Vigot find out? Why did Fowler do it?

The fact that Greene is able to keep these questions in the reader’s mind without detracting from the sense of immediacy during the flashbacks shows great skill.

The placing of these scenes may give us a clue.

  • 5 of the first 6 scenes take place in the present. In these, Greene establishes Pyle’s death, the relationship between Fowler and Phuong and the investigation into Pyle’s murder by the French detective Vigot.
  • Then there are 24 consecutive flashback scenes, taking us through the rest of Part 1 and the whole of Part 2.
  • There is not another “present” scene until scene 30 of 46, at the very beginning of Part 3 (1 out of 9 scenes in that part).
  • Finally, the first and last scenes of Part 4 are also present (2 out of 7 scenes in that part).

In this way, Greene is able to give the story a good push at the beginning and then only has to give us a little nudge in the middle, to remind us of the ongoing investigation, before wrapping things up at the end.

Getting Closer

To look more closely at the section structure, word counts, present narration and flashbacks and for a brief synopsis of each section, see the image below (click on it for a larger size – and no apologies for the crazy colours!):

The Quiet American: detailed analysis.

Through close examination of the way that great novelists have solved the problems of plot and narration, we can improve our own writing and understand how great novels work. I hope this article helps you as much as it has me!

Bad Romance: Changes in Pop Lyrics, 1960 – 2010

After inadvertently being exposed to some of this modern “popular” music, I was struck by the lyricists’ choice of words. The subject matter seemed to be quite, er, explicit. There seemed to be an emphasis on going out to parties, getting girls drunk and then having sex with them. Or, if the singer was a female, it seemed to be about going out to parties, getting drunk and then having sex with guys.

I don’t mean to judge this kind of lyric – I’m sure the music back in 1960 was just as boring in its own way – but what interested me was the change in content. I don’t remember listening to Cliff Richard singing about foreplay. So I asked myself how have lyrics changed in the last fifty years?

For this experiment, I took the lyrics of all the #1 hits of 1960 and the lyrics of all the #1 hits of 2010 and compared them.

Changes in the Music Business

Firstly, here’s a note on the change in the music singles business. There has been a trend in recent years for songs to be promoted heavily, hit the #1 spot and then moved on quickly. This explains the difference in sample size between 1960 and 2010.

  • 1960: 16 #1s over 50 weeks at an average of 3.13 weeks at #1. Longest: 8 weeks at #1.
  • 2010: 35 #1s over 53 weeks at an average of 1.49 weeks at #1. Longest: 3 weeks at #1.

With a sample size for 2010 more than double that of 1960, for a fair comparison between the two I refer to word frequencies as a percentage of the total words for that sample. Here we got then.

I, Me, My, Mine

Our lyricists appear to be more selfish these days.

  • In 1960, #1 songs had a balance between “You” and “I”, with “You” just about more popular, appearing as 4.34% of words. 
  • In 2010, 5.76% of words are “I” and only 4.05% “You”.

Does this pronoun switch signal a change in focus for lyrics, putting “I” at the centre, rather than singing songs for “You”. Has the romance of song-writing died?

Love Lost

  • In 1960, the fourth most common word in lyrics was “love”. “Love” was more popular in songs than “the”. [This is what I meant by 1960s songs being boring in their own way!] “Love”, “loved”, “loves”, “lovely” and “lovers” made up 3% of all words in #1 songs from 1960. 
  • But by 2010, “love” had fallen to be only the twenty-sixth most common word, appearing as just 0.72% of the total words.

No kissing!

The collapse of romance in pop songs between 1960 and 2010 is also shown by an even more precipitous fall in the use of the word “kiss”.

  • In 1960, “kisses” and “kiss” made up 0.53% of words. 
  • In 2010, this was down to 0.06%.

Yo, bitch!

I could go on.

  • In 1960, the female protagonist of songs was called “baby”, “dove”, “girl”, “honey”, “dear” – or even “maid”
  • In 2010, the female protagonist is “baby” (or “babe”), “girl” (or “gurl”), “honey”, “lady” or “bitch”

Not altogether romantic.

Shake or sex?

  • In 1960, the most sexual excitement to be found in pop songs were “shaking”, “kissing”, “teasing” – or “marriage”
  • In 2010, we have a bit of “kissing”, but also “fantasies”, “sex”, “foreplay” and straight-out “fucking”.

Lonely or just alone?

There is also an interesting nuanced change to do with loneliness.

  • In 1960, the protagonists were occasionally “lonely”
  • In 2010, however, they are never “lonely”, but only “alone”

It seems to me that this implies a temporary condition that could be corrected by a visit to the local “disco” for some “bitches”, rather than the 1960s long-term loneliness of “devotion” that led to “heartache” for the hero.

Disappearing up its own…

And it’s these discos that represent the most fascinating change between pop songs of the 1960s and the pop songs of today. It’s a change that has come about in lyrical “plots”.

In 1960, there were scarcely any mentions of singing or songs (0.0006%) – or anything else to do with music, but in 2010 an astonishing 1.47% of words are to do with clubs or discos, dancefloors or DJs, clubbing or raving and raves, singing or songs. That’s twice as frequent as references to love in these songs.

  • Does this mean we are a more sexualised culture, interested only in the lust that can be found on a pounding dancefloor? 
  • Or does it just mean that our lyricists can’t think of anything better to sing about? – perhaps because it’s all been sung before, by the singers of the sixties. 
  • Or is it something to do with the rise of the music video? Singing about romance, devotion and marriage just isn’t that exciting. You can’t really make a compelling music video with that, can you? It’s much easier to hire some hip-hop honeys, pack them into a sweat-stained nightclub and wheel out the disco lights. 

Sex sells.

Personality, Physique, Sex and Fingers

Want to know your prenatal androgen exposure level?

I mean: want to know how much of a testosterone-fuelled beast you are?

Well, do this then:

  1. Measure the length of your index finger (2nd finger) from the crease at the base to the tip. Not including nails. That’s cheating.
  2. Now measure the length of your ring finger (4th finger).
  3. Do it for both hands, just for interest.
  4. Now get a calculator (unless you are Rain Man).
  5. Divide the length of your index by the length of your ring (finger). You should end up with a number between about 0.90 and 1.10.
  6. Do it for both hands, just for interest. They should be similar, but your dominant hand is the more important number for this game.

The Results

NOTE: Ethnicity plays a big part here, so find someone else to compare with for real fun. The interpretations below are for white Caucasians. Other populations have relatively lower or higher ratios – doesn’t mean they are more or less mannish!

If you are a MAN:

  • 0.98 is the average.
  • 0.94 is macho.
  • 1.00 is more feminine.

If you are a WOMAN:

  • 1.00 is average.
  • 0.98 is more masculine.
  • 1.02 is girly.

This test for testosterone and oestrogen exposure has been demonstrated in humans since the 1930s. And, since 2006, in pheasants.

What does this mean?

IMPORTANT: Much of the evidence for the traits below is tentative or based on single trials. Don’t take anything too much to heart! These results show tendencies, not hard and fast rules. But it’s still interesting.

While the ratio interpretations above are for ethnic white Caucasians, the conclusions below hold true across ethnic boundaries.

Personality Traits

  • People with a low ratio tend to have low verbal intelligence, high numerical intelligence and low ‘agreeableness’.
  • Men with higher ratios tend to do better in exams.
  • Men with a low ratio are more likely to be aggressive. This doesn’t hold for women, though.
  • Male traders on the stock market are more likely to be profitable and stay in the business for longer if they have a low ratio. Biology and experience come out about equal as predictors of success. Which is incredible really. Men with lower ratios are better at ‘rapid visuomotor scanning,’ physical reflexes and are happier with exposure to risk.
  • Men with a low ratio are more likely to suffer from attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Men with a high ratio are more likely to be depressive.

Sexual Traits

  • Women with a higher ratio have a higher sexual success rate.
  • Women with a low ratio are more likely to report a ‘male sex-role’ in the bedroom.
  • Men with a low ratio tend to have a higher sperm count. Men with a high ratio are more likely to suffer germ cell failure, which sounds painful.
  • The ratio is not a good predictor of sexualilty, however – in either men or women.

Physical Traits

  • Women with lower ratios are more likely to play sports, and to play them at a high level.
  • Men with lower ratios are more physically competitive. Professional footballers have lower ratios than amateurs; footballers who played for the England national squad (i.e. ‘the best’) have lower ratios than those who haven’t.


FYI: I got all of these trials by following the footnotes in the Wikipedia article on Digit Ratio.

For what it’s worth, my ratio is 0.93. Man.

200 Years of Conflict: A Very British Century 1910-2010

To celebrate the end of the year, I have been researching the history of the British at war in the last century, the living memory of my country.

  • According to my findings, in the last 100 years the British have been at war in every year bar 17. 
  • That’s 83 years of conflict
  • And in each of those 17 years of ‘peace’ we have been the occupying power in one or more countries. 
  • During those 100 years, we have been involved in at least 34 conflicts, lasting a total of around 200 years.

Here’s a list of those conflicts, divided by decade, with casualty estimates in brackets:

1910-1920

1914-1918 World War I (39 million dead)
1916-1916 Easter Rising (Ireland, 400 dead)
1918-1922 Russian Civil War
1919-1919 Third Anglo-Afghan War (3,000 dead)
1919-1921 Anglo-Irish War (2,000 dead)
1919-1923 Turkish War of Independence

1920-1930

1924-1935 Peace? Ongoing British occupation of Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and India, among others.

1930-1940

1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine (5,000 dead)
1937-1945 The Pacific War
1938-1948 British-Zionist Conflict (Palestine, at least 1,000 dead)
1939-1945 World War II (73 million dead)

1940-1950

1941-1941 Anglo-Iraqi War (600 dead)
1941-1949 Greek Civil War (16,000 dead)
1948-1960 Malayan Emergency (10,000 dead)

1950-1960

1950-1953 Korean War (2.3 million dead)
1952-1960 Mau Mau Uprising (Kenya, 14,000 dead)
1955-1959 Cyprus Emergency (400 dead)
1956-1957 Suez Crisis (3,000 dead)
1958-1958 First Cod War (Iceland)

1960-1970

1961-1961 Peace? Kuwait and Tanganyika win their independence from British rule.
1962-1962 Brunei Revolt
1962-1966 Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation (800 dead)
1962-1975 Dhofar Rebellion (Oman)
1963-1967 Aden Emergency (Yemen)
1968-1998 Northern Ireland Troubles (3,500 dead)

1970-1980

1972-1973 Second Cod War (Iceland)
1975-1976 Third Cod War (Iceland)

1980-1990

1982-1982 Falklands War (Argentina, 1,000 dead)

1990-2000

1990-1991 First Gulf War (Iraq, at least 25,000 dead)
1995-1996 Bosnian War (100,000 dead)
1998-1998 Operation Desert Fox (Iraq, at least 600 dead)
1998-1999 Kosovo War (Yugoslavia, 10,000 dead)

2000-2010

2000-2002 Sierra Leone Civil War
2001-???? Global War on Terror
2001-???? Afghanistan War (50,000 dead and counting)
2003-2009 Iraq War and Iraqi Insurgency (at least 60,000 dead)

I am certain that I have excluded many conflicts that you may consider suitable for this list. I have been unable to source a list of British combat casualties for the last 100 years myself, but John Pilger, a journalist and documentary film-maker, reports that 16,000 British service men and women have died in action since 1948.

That is quite remarkable for a country that has not been under any military threat in the sixty-five years since the end of World War II.

I hope that this information has the effect on others that it had on me: shock and awe. How dare I hope to live in a civilised society, when that society is so intimate with war and slaughter?

Touring with Dinosaurs

This is a list of the top grossing worldwide ‘tours’ of 2010, according to Pollstar.

1. Bon Jovi

  • Gross Takings: $201.1m (£130.7m) 
  • Average Ticket Price: $105.35
  • Number of Shows: 80
  • Gross Takings per Show: $2.5m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 48

2. AC/DC

  • Gross Takings: $177m (£115m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $97.21
  • Number of Shows: 40
  • Gross Takings per Show: $4.4m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 57

3. U2

  • Gross Takings: $160.9m (£104.6m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $100.17
  • Number of Shows: 32
  • Gross Takings per Show: $5m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 50

4. Lady Gaga

  • Gross Takings: $133.6m (£86.8m) 
  • Average Ticket Price: $88.22
  • Number of Shows: 138
  • Gross Takings per Show: 0.97m
  • Got Famous: 2000s
  • Age Now: 24

5. Metallica

  • Gross Takings: $110.1m (£71.5m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $98.72
  • Number of Shows: 60
  • Gross Takings per Show: $1.8m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 47

6. Michael Buble

  • Gross Takings: $104.2m (£67.7m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $83.81
  • Number of Shows: 111
  • Gross Takings per Show: $0.94m
  • Got Famous: 2000s
  • Age Now: 35

7. Walking with Dinosaurs

  • Gross Takings: $104.1m (£67.7m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $50.56
  • Number of Shows: 485
  • Gross Takings per Show: $0.21m
  • Got Famous: Late Triassic Period
  • Age Now: 230m years

8. Paul McCartney

  • Gross Takings: $93m (£60m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $138.35
  • Number of Shows: 31
  • Gross Takings per Show: $3m
  • Got Famous: 1960s
  • Age Now: 68

9. Eagles

  • Gross Takings: $92.3m (£59.9m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $121.85
  • Number of Shows: 54
  • Gross Takings per Show: $1.7m
  • Got Famous: 1970s
  • Age Now: 62

10. Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd)

  • Gross Takings: $89.5m (£58.1m) 
  • Average Ticket Price: $126.14
  • Number of Shows: 56
  • Gross Takings per Show: $1.6m
  • Got Famous: 1970s
  • Age Now: 67

Dinosaurs

With the exception of Lady Gaga and Michael Bublé, I would contend that none of the things touring actually exist any more. Or shouldn’t.

It is highly appropriate that the show ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ is at number 7. Arguably Dinosaurs fill most of the other spots as well.

Bands that were big in the 60s, 70s and 80s should not still be massive today. It goes against all the impulses of Rock – and against the very definition of Pop.

The old Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude of ‘live fast, die young’ has been forgotten (or at least part of it) – and from the looks of those box office takings it seems these guys (note: all men) prefer filling their pensionable pockets to dying.

Fair enough – I suppose it’s not their fault that healthcare has advanced to the point where even rockers living fast can still survive to a ripe old age.

And I suppose it’s not their fault that they are top of these charts: it’s just that their fans are the ones with the money, baby-boomers all grown up, cashing in their own pensions.

And why not?

Well you’ve got to ask why the money in music is still with acts that hit the big time thirty years ago? What does that mean for the industry? What does that mean for innovation and new music? Do we really have to wait until we’re retired before we can afford to go and see top-line shows? What price nostalgia?

I guess you can make a parallel with books. On the Road by Jack Kerouac is still wildly popular with young kids looking for their first taste of freedom, just as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s our job, writing today, to be better than that.

Otherwise, why bother at all?

Global Social Media Use Statistics: FIFA.com Goal of the Year Case Study

This has to be the most boring blog post title EVER. But, hey, I love stats. I studied the reported social media use from each of the ten nominations for goal of the year. These nominations came from nine countries: South Africa, Brazil, Japan, The Netherlands (two nominations, although only one got any serious sharing), Argentina, France, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Turkey. I assume that these share statistics will roughly represent the social media usage in each of the countries nominated because football fans are very loyal and most of the goals came in international matches or national league matches in the country of the player’s birth, rather than national league matches in a country foreign to the player.

So, after 24 hours of global sharing (to allow for timezone differences), what do we find?

  • No one uses Buzz. 
  • Only three countries use Twitter that much: The Netherlands, Japan and – above all – Brazil. Brazil had over 30% of shares done through Twitter. 
  • Every single other country represented used Facebook to share more than 90% of the time.

Here are the hard stats, for the countries that drew more than 500 shares (sorry South Africa!):

Brazil (915 shares)

Twitter: 32.57%
Facebook: 66.67%
Buzz: 0.77%

Japan (2995)

Twitter: 18.3%
Facebook: 81.34%
Buzz: 0.37%

The Netherlands (2792 – two nominations)

Twitter: 9.6%
Facebook: 89.94%
Buzz: 0.47%

Argentina (1005)

Twitter: 6.17%
Facebook: 93.23%
Buzz: 0.6%

France (1439)

Twitter: 5.98%
Facebook: 93.26%
Buzz: 0.76%

Northern Ireland (3247)

Twitter: 5.67%
Facebook: 94.09%
Buzz: 0.25%

Sweden (9066)

Twitter: 2.14%
Facebook: 97.67%
Buzz: 0.19%

Turkey (at least 12281 – Facebook stops reporting precise data at these amounts)

Twitter: 2.17%
Facebook: 97.71%
Buzz: 0.11%

So there you have it. Fascinating, eh? I’m sure this will be interesting to someone, won’t it? That Brazil uses Twitter a lot? Or, at least, that goal trended in Brazil or something. Could just be a fluke. That’s the problem with statistics I suppose. Oh well. Enjoy the goals anyway.

It’s just a question of careful editing

I was just editing my latest book (The Soles of My Shoes, out in time for Christmas, I hope), when I noticed something very peculiar. I use the word “just” an awful lot. And I mean an awful lot. Anyway, I spotted this and started editing them away, using instead “simply” or “only” or just deleting them altogether. I thought I’d done a pretty good job getting rid of them and was quite pleased that my eagle editing eye had noticed this oddity. Then I decided to run a word frequency count, just for a laugh – and the full horror of the problem was revealed.

After my purge I was still using 201 instances of the word “just”. In a book of 48,000 words, this comes out at about one “just” per paragraph or about two per page. I then compared it with my previous draft. In that I’d used 213 “justs”. My bloody purge had got rid of just 12.

So I went back and declared a just war. Now I’m down to only 108, about the same number as “around”, “people” and “yeah” (oh yes, this is a book of great eloquence).

This is a valuable lesson for all writers: do you know what words you’re addicted to? I use a word analysis extension for OpenOffice called Linguist to check my writing. YWriter, my favourite writing tool, also has word analysis built in. Use these weapons in your battle against mono-vocabulary and cliché. You might find you’re missing something, like I just was.


Update: “Just” is very common. Apparently there are 3,400 instances per million in British English conversation, second most frequent, after the adverb of place ‘there’ at 3,800. So, in fact, my usage was average. Maybe I should just go through and put them all back in then!

How to win the Nobel Prize for Literature

So here it is, the answer to the question every writer asks themselves: how the blue blazes do I manipulate the Nobel committee into giving me a prize?

I copied the extracts (presumably the most representative quotes) of the Nobel prize for literature citations from the Wikipedia page. Then I copied it into the AntConc corpus program. These were the, revealing, results:

31 citations

Poetry/Poetic

22 citations

Art/Artistic
Human/Man

18 citations

Writing/s

16 citations

Life

13 citations

Work/s

11 citations

Drama/Dramatic
Literature/Literary
Novel/s

10 citations

Epic
Great
Narrative
Recognition

9 citations

Power

8 citations

World

7 citations

Deep
Lyrical
New
Rich

6 citations

Force
Imagination
Inspired
Spirit
Traditions

5 citations

Contemporary
Idealism
Style
Truth

4 citations

Brilliant
Clear
Condition
Freedom
Historical
Ideas
Lofty
Outstanding
Production
Realistic
Strength
Thought
Time
Tribute

Conclusions:

  • Write poetry – or, at the very least, literature in a poetic or lyrical style.
  • Drama and epic novels are next best.
  • Consider yourself an artist, produce pieces of art.
  • Write about the human condition and the world, ideally paying attention to historical truth.
  • Don’t stop: the Nobel prize rewards your life’s work, it will take time.
  • Force, power, strength and realism are rewarded.
  • But so are lofty spirit, deep thought, rich imagination and idealism.
  • Ideas are good, style is important – but neither are as important as narrative.
  • It is good to be contemporary, better to be traditional, but best of all to be new.
  • Your work should be great, inspired, brilliant, clear and outstanding – in that order.
  • If you follow these guidelines then you will claim recognition and tribute – and possibly freedom.

How long is a short story?

My latest short story, Perched, is only about 850 words long. Yet I have put it into the Short Story section of my site – is this correct? How long is a short story?

So, to settle the matter with some hard statistics, I decided to interrogate my favourite short story writers: Ernest Hemingway and, firstly, Naguib Mahfouz.

From The Time and the Place (1991), we have:

  • Zaabalawi: approximately 5600 words, based on 400 words per page
  • The Conjurer Made Off with the Dish: 3600 words
  • The Answer is No: 1600 words
  • The Time and the Place: 3600 words
  • Blessed Night: 3600 words
  • The Ditch: 2600 words
  • Half a Day: 1600 words
  • The Tavern of the Black Cat: 4000 words
  • The Lawsuit: 2200 words
  • The Empty Cafe: 3600 words
  • A Day for Saying Goodbye: 3600 words
  • By a Person Unknown: 6200 words
  • The Man and the Other Man: 2800 words
  • The Wasteland: 3600 words
  • The Norwegian Rat: 2600 words
  • His Majesty: 1200 words
  • Fear: 4400 words
  • At the Bus Stop: 3200 words
  • A Fugitive from Justice: 3400 words
  • A Long-Term Plan: 3200 words

That’s 20 stories at an average length of about 3300 words per story. The range is from 1200 to 6200 words, but you can see the vast majority land in the 3200-3600 range.

Now for Hemingway. From In Our Time:

  • Indian Camp: approximately 1225 words, based on 350 words per page
  • The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife: 1050 words
  • The End of Something: 1050 words
  • The Three-Day Blow: 3150 words
  • The Battler: 3150 words
  • A Very Short Story: 700 words
  • Soldier’s Home: 2450 words
  • The Revolutionist: 350 words
  • Mr and Mrs Elliot: 1225 words
  • Cat in the Rain: 1050 words
  • Out of Season: 2100 words
  • Cross-Country Snow: 1925 words
  • My Old Man: 4200 words
  • Big Two-Hearted River: I: 3125 words
  • Big Two-Hearted River: II: 3150 words
  • L’Envoi: 150 words

That’s 16 stories at an average length of about 1900 words. The range is from just 150 to 4200 words, with most hovering around 1000-1200 mark.

So I don’t know what we can take from that, except that short stories can be anything from a few hundred to several thousand words long. It also seems that different writers feel comfortable at different lengths for their stories. Mahfouz’s short stories tend to be three times as long as Hemingway’s, but you wouldn’t say that one is preferable to the other.

I am pleased to note that my story, at over 800 words long, is longer than three of the Hemingway collection. So I shall be keeping it in the short story section because it feels like a short story.

Living expenses: Egypt 2009

!!! Disclaimer: Some of these prices are subject to negotiation with your vendor. They are guidelines only. However, I do not claim to be that great at haggling so these are neither as cheap as you can get, nor as expensive as you can pay. I try to buy from markets aimed at the local inhabitants but still expect to pay a premium for my tourist status.

Travel

Taxi

Zamalek to Maadi, Cairo 25LE
Cairo Airport to Zamalek 75LE (should be marginally cheaper, therefore, to down-town)

Train

Cairo Metro ticket 1LE
Cairo-Aswan 109LE
Edfu-Cairo 98LE
Aswan-Edfu 17LE
Elbalyana-Cairo 85LE

Accommodation

Hostel in Downtown Cairo, 2 persons, no bath 120LE, with bath 140LE
Hotel in Zamelek Cairo, 1 person, with bath 190LE
Hotel Aswan, 2 persons 80LE
Hotel Edfu, 2 persons 150LE

Communications

Internet 5-10LE per hour
Mobile Phone SIM card 90LE

Food & Drink

Market Fruit and Vegetables

1kg tomatoes 0.50LE
1kg Guava 3.50LE
1kg Melon 5LE
0.5kg Peppers 1.50LE
1kg cucumbers 2LE
1kg bananas 3LE
1 egg 0.50LE
1kg oranges 1-2LE
1kg Apricots 5LE
1kg carob 24LE
1kg peanuts 13LE
1kg pumpkin seeds 26LE

Take Away Food

1 Taamiyya in pitta (Felafel) 1.50LE
1 pot Koshuri 2LE
Omelette 3LE
Fuul 1.50LE
1 Maison Thomas Sandwich 25LE
1 fiteer 11LE
1 large kebab 8-10LE

Restaurant Food

Penne al’Arrabiata and drink, Didos, Zamalek 20LE
Salad at Al-Azhar park 18LE

Drinks

1 large bottle of water 1.50LE
1l mango juice 12LE
1 cup of tea 1.50LE
1 cup of coffee 1.50LE
1 mango juice 1.50LE
1 orange juice 0.50LE
1.5ltr Asab (sugar cane) juice 3LE

From the Bakery

1 piece hot fresh bread 0.05LE
1 leavened bread roll long 0.25LE
1kg biscuits 10LE
1 chocolate croissant 1.50LE

Tourism

Ibn Tulun Mosque entry 5LE
Normal park entry 1-2LE
Al-Azhar park entry 5LE

Other

Cigarettes 8.50LE
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Travel expenses: Spain & Morocco 2005

In the Spring of 2005, I travelled to Spain and Morocco to study Spanish and tour el-Andalus and the land of the Moors. These were my travel costs:

Flights (to and from Spain):

£84.48

Spanish travel costs:

£1055.06
39 days @ £27.05 / day
Travel primarily by coach: Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Madrid, Gibraltar

Spanish language school (including accommodation):

£356.50
14 days @ £25.46 / day

Morocco travel costs:

£177.91
14 days @ £12.71 / day
Travel primarily on bus and train: Tangiers, Rabat, Marrakech, Casablanca, Essaouira, Fes, Chefchaouen