Hello there!

Here are some thoughts on varied topics, i hope some of them will be of interest and will prompt a response.

I’m going to be putting stuff out via Kindle Direct, which you can find by searching /  for – ‘Max Bantleman’.

Thanks for reading.

Featured post

Flash Fiction – ‘I Remember’.

Flash fiction piece for:

August’s Zeroflash Entries

I Remember

I remember the 80s.

In my own way, I remember them.

It was in the 80s that I am supposed to have committed the heinous crime that brought me here. I have no memory of that crime, but the pain inflicted on me has made the crime belong to me.

Shackled here, unmoving, perpetually tortured, I begin to believe the things I am accused of.

All I have are memories.

Outside of the pain all I have are memories.

I use my memories as a shield. I hide behind them, locking away the shrinking remains of my sanity behind a tattered curtain of memories.

Not all the memories are real, some of them aren’t mine. But they have all become mine: I own them as much as I can own anything.

I am resigned to living out my life here. How long I live is not up to me. I don’t really care. Death would have once been a relief, now it is just a dream.

Dreams are not like memories.

I don’t dream anymore, or maybe I do, I just don’t remember them.

If I did, would they be memories or dreams?

Are you a memory?

Are you real?

Can you hear me or am I just trapped in my head, wishing you were here?

Sometimes I imagine myself being that person, a person that could do those things and it just doesn’t fit. I’d know wouldn’t I? If I did?

It doesn’t matter now. Perhaps the truth is like my memories: as real as it is needed to be.

Maybe I am being punished because they don’t know the difference anymore. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m just a false memory to them, something they need to believe to keep themselves sane?

I don’t think I’m sane anymore…are you?


One of the themes for the Banbury Café Writers’ Group assignments is ‘connections’.

I am finding it hard to get going on it, hard to get the traction to get moving: I have an idea I like but am not sure where to go with it.

I’ve written out a few pages of brainstorming stuff but still don’t feel (ironically enough) connected to it.

This is the time I should let things go.

So… having just said that… I will… I have a couple of other ideas forming, so I’ll give them a workout, see where they lead.

This is not usually how I work. I usually work from the end to the front: I know what the ending will be, who the characters are, and what the rough journey is, but I have the ending fixed.

This ‘just write stuff down and see where it goes’ is pretty new to me. I suspect it will not end well, but have dumped that negativity and am sticking with it.

One connection that has become very apparent while I’m tinkering with ideas is the one between creativity and judgement.

Odd that.

Came out of nowhere.

Creating something is hard. It’s all kinds of hard! I’ll focus on writing as it’s what I primarily know in the creative process, but the following ramblings could apply to almost any creative endeavour.

I never think about the end response when I start writing. I never think ‘I really want people to like this,’ or ‘this will really be popular!’ I do when it’s ‘work’ writing, that is different: work is about getting it bought, getting people to pay for it, so the more people that like it the more it will be successful, and that’s what ‘work’ is about.

But then I thought, ‘wait, what!?’ That’s not right at all! I never create stuff with a view to just putting it away where no one can see it. I always write with a view to getting it out there. So I should be thinking about the end consumer, whether work-related or not.

And I know I’m only fooling myself when I say I don’t. Course I do.

I know not every creative person and their endeavour is like that, but I am and mine are: I want to share.

Sharing means being judged.

Is that just a cynical voice whispering in my ear or a fact I’d rather forget shouting a reminder to me?

I started wondering about the connection: creativity and judgement. Is it something that holds some people back and prevents them from even trying to express their creative idea? Or is it something that only occurs after the creative fact? Do we have that in our subconscious while we are creating? Do some have it more at the forefront of their mind while creating?

It’s a tough question to ask at a writers’ group, but ask it I shall.

Writer’s Block

Writers’ Group Themes 3

Continuing the look at two themes that we will be discussing at the next writers’ group meeting: ‘inspiration’ and ‘writer’s block’.

Writer’s block.

‘The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing’.

Writer’s block is a tricky one. Much like ‘inspiration’.

It took me a while casting about to get a feel for what is meant by ‘writer’s block’.

I figured out what it’s not: it’s not a writer not being able to write through physical circumstance, like lack of time. It’s more about a wall that comes down between the writery part of a writer’s brain and their will to write.

Eloquent eh?

Writing to brief seems to be what I’ve been doing most of my writing life. The brief has either been an original idea of mine that has been planned out and then executed, or a rough outline from someone else that I have had free-reign to fine tune and flesh out.

With that in mind, I’ve not experienced the classic case of writer’s block.

Sometimes though I have found it impossible to be creative, to think creatively and to write accordingly. That’s a kind of writer’s block I guess.

The thing is I can pin-down what has caused this every time it has happened, so again, I’m not sure this is the classic writer’s block that I’ve read so much about.

But that’s the point. It’s different for each writer. The cause varies but the result is the same. And when the cause is not easily identified, a ‘fix’ is hard to put in place.

A block on creativity, on wanting to be creative, on the desire to put words on paper – writer’s block is devastating when it hits.

Getting motivated after it seems to be the toughest thing for those that go through it.

The general consensus seems to be that the only way through it is to ride it out, to write anything, just get words out, in whatever form, on whatever theme: just write anything.

The process, the routine of writing, will see you through.

Good advice. It’s not as easy as it sounds to follow though. By definition, writing is the problem, losing the desire to do it is the block.

I wondered if the common theme behind all I’d read was a momentary lack of confidence in the validity of the writing, that turns in to a paralysing doubt as to the worth of anything that the writer could write?

Sometimes, when specific ideas are thin on the ground in something I’m writing, I simply switch to a different project. This really helps me but I’m aware not everyone works like this, on multiple things at once. I guess that’s my ‘just write something’ solution by another name.

There’s a lot to consider with writer’s block. Over-analysing it seems to just exaggerate the problem though.


It’s going to be a great topic of discussion for the group!


Writers’ Group Themes 2

Continuing the look at two themes that we will be discussing at the next writers’ group meeting: ‘inspiration’ and ‘writers’ block’.


What inspires us to write or what inspires the themes of our writing?

They are not too far removed from each other.

For individual pieces, we can be inspired by very specific things, like challenges laid out for us in titles and themes from writers’ groups, magazines, competitions, assignments. Not really inspiration as much as a ‘brief’.

We draw inspiration from our lives for content, from our direct experience or the experiences of those we know. Most of us read and have a keen interest in finding out stuff from both history and the world around us: lots of inspiration pops in from there.

Everything we experience goes in to the melting pot of our subconscious, so when we think of something, or are presented with something like a title (‘Green’ for instance), images just pop in there!

Inspiration for content seems to be an easy one. It comes from our experience and our learning. From our aspirations. From who we are and who we want to be. We use that to speculate, to expand on ideas and explore themes.

To be inspired is to be stimulated to action. To be made to feel that creating something is logical, and extension of what we feel, of the idea that has prompted us – we must do it!

I guess the great inspiration for writing is our need to explore stories. To see if we can share ideas and speculations through writing. Ultimately we hope to inspire others to thought and action with our work.

On a day-to-day scale, inspiration can come from anywhere: from anything we take in with our five senses or are prompted to cough up out of our subconscious from dormant thoughts. Suddenly an idea is there, a feeling that it’s worth exploring, that writing it will be productive.

The question, ‘where do you get your inspiration from?’ seems to be answered – from anywhere and everywhere.

For some people it may come from more specific places, like the books they read, the things they see on TV / screen, or the conversations they have with people around them.

For most of us that write, I’d guess the answer to ‘where does it come from,’ is as elusive as the answer to the question, ‘why do we write?’

The assignments that are set at the writers’ group always come out of discussion. That discussion acts as an inspiration: it starts the process of thinking about the subject.

I’m no closer to an answer as to where inspiration ‘comes from’ as for me it is everywhere, and often in specific assignments.

Not much help!

Where does it come from?

Writers’ Group Themes

I’m part of Banbury Writers’ Café, a writers’ group that meets every two weeks.

We talk about what we’re writing, what is going on in terms of writing and stuff that crops up from writing.

We set ourselves assignments every few months from a theme chosen at the meeting, suggested and discussed: we’ve had ‘Green’, ‘Connections’, ‘Journey’ and a few others.

Our pieces vary in length from 200 words up to about 1,700, we’ve even dabbled with flash-fiction.

So that’s us and what we do.

Two themes for discussion at the next meeting are ‘inspiration’ and ‘writers’ block’.

They both got me thinking… which is kind of the point, so no surprise, but the thoughts that sprang up were very odd.

I don’t really know what either of those two things mean.

Inspiration – I’ve always got a lot of things on the go, different projects in different forms / genres, they all need work and attention. Writing stories, screen-plays, games, lyrics and a few poems: it all needs doing.

Writers’ block – Isn’t that really just about finding time to write?

I’m pretty sure that neither of the above observations / thoughts are actually very useful to other writers in any form of discussion.

So I’m going to need to do some research.

To the internet!

It would be very useful to hear your thoughts on either topic.

I’ll post something more coherent once I’ve done the work.

This was really and advert for the writing group… I bet you guessed that…


We ask ourselves a lot of questions when we write.

Some questions, like ‘why am I writing this at all’, remain unanswered as we are consumed with the idea, with the story, with the characters.

It just seems like a good idea so we run with it.

No better reason to write is ever needed.

Then the writing prompts questions regarding the content: where is the plot going, what is the story, who are the characters, what is the ending going to be?

There are hundreds of questions that come up and need answering.

Some of them get answered in the first draft, but most don’t get answered properly until the rewrites.

And by ‘properly’ I mean to out satisfaction, in the mind of the writer.

It’s by asking questions that we fashion the piece once the idea has popped in to our head.

When we’re writing the questions come thick and fast and the answers come just as quickly. We have a chance to check the answers, make sure they are what we want, change what’s needed, ask new questions; it’s all happening when we’re writing.

When we’re not writing the questions are very different.

Usually the doubt creeps in. The questions are mostly about the validity of our ideas, whether the ideas and writing are worth anything. And that’s without the tough questions of when / where will we get time / space to write: how are we going to achieve the physical writing?

Sometimes questions creep in that seem silly. Who am I writing for? That’s a classic.

Well, we’re all writing for ourselves aren’t we!? We *need* to write, it’s what we do, it’s what drives us. It’s how we keep ourselves sane, get our ideas out rather them letting them drive us crazy.

The answer ‘if it’s good, people will like it’, can come to our rescue.

But can we make it ‘good’?

Are we clever enough, talented enough, have we read the right books, got the right information, do we know enough about the craft? It can go on a bit when the negative questions creep in.

But all that’s for when we’re not writing, for when we’re not gripped by the idea, by the need to just get it out.

There are some that ask the big questions before they start writing, that plan and think about themes and ideas to suit a market, an audience. I’m guessing that these people are in the minority of writers. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but I’d guess they are. Maybe we should all plan more, think about markets, audiences, brands, commercialism… maybe we should all be much more aware of the other side of writing. Maybe there should have been a question mark there?


Constructive Criticism

Improv comedy is about keeping it going.

Building on themes, changing things up with an opening to work on.

You take whatever is going on, whatever is handed to you, add to it and hand it back with a way for someone else to build on it.

Even when there is a change that stops the theme, it is a change of tracks not a cliff: things keep moving they don’t come crashing down.

That’s why improv is hard for some people and easy for others.

Some people have a natural inclination to open dialogue, to keeping things in a state where they can keep moving forward. And some people don’t.

We’re all much better these days at asking open questions rather than closed ones. The fact that we all know what that means is an indicator as to how far we’ve come in changing behaviour.

So why does this fail spectacularly with some criticism?

Sometimes the person offering the criticism believes they have a duty to demonstrate how smart they are and they feel the best way to do this is simply by listing the things that are ‘wrong’, showing that they know they are wrong. And sometimes that’s what’s required, like with copy-editing.

But when criticism is based on ideas, beliefs in themes, knowledge of more esoteric stuff like story arcing or character development, then the criticism needs to be more nuanced, more open. It needs to open things up not shut things down.

With writing we put down ideas and then refine them so they read more smoothly. We want to show that we not only have ideas but that we know how to express them in a way that keeps a reader turning the page, wanting to know more. Sometimes we use clunky grammar or awkward language. Sometimes we let repetition slip in. Sometimes we simply don’t refine it as much as we could for a million different reasons. Well, maybe not a million, but there can be a lot!

When people read our stuff we like feedback. It’s key to knowing where we are getting it right or maybe not so right.

Some people read it from a surface perspective: they look at the painting and ask themselves, ‘do I like the subject and the way it is presented? Do I get it?’

Some people read it from a more technical perspective: ‘is the composition good, are the colours appropriate, has the painting itself been well executed?’

Sometimes we mix metaphors.

So we expect feedback in different forms from different people with different skills and expectations.

When someone simply says, ‘I liked it!’ or ‘It’s not my cup of tea.’ We take that on face-value and move on, knowing that was the feedback we were expecting from that person.

When a person reads it and gives us deeper positive feedback, we listen and absorb, agreeing on some and disagreeing on other aspects.

But when the feedback simply consists of what’s wrong with no positives at all, when it’s simply a listing of faults, some technical and some opinion, with no open criticism, with no positives, we tend to just shut down.

Writers are at heart sensitive souls.

When someone criticises merely to build themselves up by showing how clever they are, they can do a lot of damage.

Constructive criticism is a thing. It’s real. Do it when you can. If you’re not sure what it is, look it up, find out and learn it.

If you’re asked to criticise or it’s your job then please remember that positive criticism is valuable. Purely negative criticism is a waste of everyone’s time and can be incredibly damaging.

The Game’s Afoot

The steam train rattled through the empty station blowing up old newspapers from un-emptied bins.

The Victorian hanging clock noisily ticked on, its iron minute-hand juddering.

Silence returned.

Grey clouds loomed. A cold gusting wind told of rain.

A fat black and white cat sat hunched under the bench-seat near the chocolate machine, watching intently.

The scurrying menace would be back. But this time the thieving vermin would not make a mockery of him.

No! This time he would win.

Thunder clapped and the rain poured down.

A twitching nose appeared from a hole in the platform.

The game was afoot!


There has been an explosion in the popularity of flash fiction.

It’s everywhere now.

Sites and publications offering outlets for fiction of 101, 121, 200, 300, 500 words are all over the internet. Social media is awash with them.

Is this a new trend in writing and publishing, a new definition of the ‘short story’?

There seem to be far fewer places / publications looking for what used to be a ‘classic short story’ length of 1,500 to 3,000 words.

Is this just my perception, my view due to my ‘echo chamber’ as the trendy kids say, or is it the way things are moving in writing?

Twitter got us all used to the short pitch in social media. There are many tweets of pics of words that cheat this, but the vast majority of tweets are still the classic short word format maybe with a pic or link.

We are used to texting far more than we used to be: another short word format.

Perhaps our attention spans are being shortened by the means we typically use to communicate?

‘But wait!’ I hear you cry, ‘reading in general is becoming more popular, the art of writing is alive and well, just look at Kindle and all the other e-book formats!’

Is that true? Is the e-book growth an addition to the published world or a substitution for ‘traditional publishing’? Are there more books or the same amount just spread out over the different formats?

Who knows and who cares!? As long as people are reading more right? That has to be good for all authors right?

One of the first things I picked up when I took an interest in publishing my writing was the sound advice, ‘know your target audience’.

So if the audience is moving away from a format I write in, then I have to take that in to consideration.

Self-publishing via e-book looks more attractive, that’s true. But so does writing more short stories of the ‘flash fiction’ variety. If I was purely concerned with the audience.

But I’m as concerned with what stories I want to tell, more so really. And for those stories, the flash fiction format isn’t what’s needed.

Brevity is good. I get that. But in the same way I fight against the urge to cut out commas as much as possible, as advised by anyone who goes near my work, I also resist the urge to simply write more flash fiction.

It’s all very distracting though.

Maybe just one more 101 word story before I concentrate on editing…

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