Who are your favorite commentators, economists and other writers?
Economics might seem a dry and boring subject to many, but this is surely because of the fake intellectualism created around the subject. Contrary to outward appearances, economics is not a natural science, even though many of its theories are based on the false assumption that it is, when much of it is nothing but ideology. I like economists who know their field and present the principles and practices in an intelligent but accessible manner. My biggest influences include Max Keiser, of the Keiser Report; Joe Stiglitz, author of The Price of Inequality; economics historian Prof Michael Hudson and Ben Dyson, the founder of Positive Money, both of which talk powerfully about the nature and history of money and debt; Ronald Wright, who writes on societal collapse in A Short History of Progress; and anthropologist David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years. I could go on, but it would be quite a long list. On the other hand, an economist I really cannot stand is Milton Friedman, whose work is, in my humble opinion, a load of rambling, unintellectual tosh, and whose concept of self interest is very deeply flawed. The fact he received a Nobel prize for economics in 1976 merely confirms how hopelessly political the field of economics had become in the run-up to the Neoliberal Revolution of the 1980s.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Love and living. My children. The sun, the rain and the sea – I live by the coast on the Isle of Thanet, in south-east England. The possibilities of the moment. Food and friends. Writing, both serious and satirical – I like a laugh. And my anger at the abuse of power by the psychopathic political and economic elites in the modern state.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Being with and doing stuff for my three children. Walking the dog along the cliffs and on the sandy beaches between Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Drinking – red wine and English ale. Talking with friends and interesting people that I come across. Laughing. Making trips to London. Listening to music. And educating myself about societies and their political and economic systems. I also hate injustice, so I also get animated about topics, such as Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I generally buy ebook versions of books I use for research. Occasionally I'll come across something that interests me and I'll get it. But it's usually my research that takes me there.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. It was a feature I wrote as a cub reporter for the Redbridge Guardian in north east London in 1988. It was about a woman struggling with lupus, a condition which affects the skin, joints an internal organs. I enjoyed connecting with her positivity and humanity in the face of considerable hardship, and I remember the article was well received – including by the subject herself. It was a piece that set me on my way in the world of journalism. Unlike some of my former journalist compatriots, I don't like writing fiction.
What is your writing process?
Hmmm. Process is probably overstating it somewhat. But I get an idea and I research it, whether it's for a serious piece or for a satirical article. I then sit in front of my laptop and try to bash it out, trying not to edit myself. Of course, I can't help myself, so I do edit as I write. And then, when I've finally finished, I'll re-read it, amend it and re-angle the piece several times – I think I produced six versions of the first chapter of my book, Psychopath Economics. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and I'll tinker with sentences to try and get the rhythm right. Humorous articles tend to be easier to write, but I tend to have a dangerous sense of humour, so my time is often spent changing words to reduce the risk of landing myself in trouble.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I'm not well read when it comes to fiction or literature, but I do remember Shakespeare's Othello having a big impact on me when I studied it at school. I remember feeling a great well of sadness in my solar plexus at Iago's creeping betrayal of Othello and Desdemona. I also clearly remember reading Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird – it appealed to my still-young sense of justice and dislike of prejudice. I think I was a bit dyslexic as a kid and struggled to read on my own – until I started studying for my political economy degree.
How do you approach cover design?
I like striking images which are both dark and intriguing – a bit like my taste in music – that raise questions that draw the viewing in. I was a production journalist for many years, so I've put many a magazine cover together using this principle, and on this basis I commissioned a friend of mine – Chrissy Norvell – to paint the bull for the Psychopath Economics cover. It's the bull – as in the bull market, that Ronald Reagan 'set free' in the 1980s. Originally, I had been looking for the pound and dollar symbols to be seen in the bull's eyes, as I thought that would convey the appropriate level of menace, but I also believe in trusting the artist and I quickly came to really like Chrissy's interpretation. I addition to the image, I also like clear text. My test of the overall effect is whether the cover stands out from a distance.
What do you read for pleasure?
Hmmmm, that's a difficult one. I find reading for research – which I do almost all the time – a pleasure. I'm for ever reading reports, studies, newspapers and news websites. I'm still not much of a reader of novels or literature – I tend to consume music like others consume books. But, taking the question at face value, probably the nearest I get to pleasure is reading satire. I like Private Eye, the UK's long-established satirical magazine, and I really enjoy the writing of Charlie Brooker, who makes it his business to debunk news and television shows here in the UK. But I also find historical tomes very satisfying, such as Antony Beavor's Stalingrad, as well as Shostakovich, A Life Remembered, by Elizabeth Wilson. In fact, the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet cultural life under Lenin and Stalin is a particular interest of mine, mirroring my love of Shostakovich and his fellow Russian composer, Prokofiev. As a Westerner, I have always been intrigued by the control of culture by what was a group of state psychopaths and how it effected the minutiae of everyday life. Robert Conquest's description of Stalin's rise to power in The Great Terror also stands out for me.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My MacBook Pro. I've tried iPads and the like. When I'm on the train or out and about, I've often used my iPhone as my e-reader. But my laptop is definitely my reader of choice.
Describe your desk
My desk is usually a mess. If I'm focused on a project, like I am now, all the bits of paper, books and materials I've read or called upon are littered all around, along with my backup disks and the various cables associated with my webcam. Bizarrely, at the moment, I also have an unopened packet of beer mats just behind my laptop – not entirely sure what they're doing there (actually, I do: nothing). Only once I've got a project completed and out of my head do I usually have the wherewithal to tidy up and return my working space to something approaching organised. I'm not sure if this reflects or maintains the cluttered chaos of my mind. Probably a mixture of the two.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the rather anonymous suburb of Ilford, in the especially unremarkable district of Clayhall, on the Essex fringes of east London. Ilford grew quickly in the first half of the last century along the 'garden city' model, with thousands upon thousands of three- and four-bedroom terraced and semi-detached houses along rows of identical tree-lined streets. These were homes for the new, aspirant middle classes and the working-people-made good – like my parents – who had moved out of the East End. I was born in 1964, and much of the East End was still a bombsite, thanks to the Luftwaffe's attentions during the war, and this bombsite lay between Ilford and the wonders that London had to offer. Though I had some very good times in Ilford, I found the place quite limiting in many ways: not a great deal happens in Clayhall – even now. If my upbringing taught me anything, it was of the need to break free of mediocrity and conformity, both of which there was plenty. I used to love exploring London: the West End and its shops and royal parks and palaces; the pubs and clubs dotted around north and south of the river. But I loved the East End itself, particularly those areas abandoned after the way. I remember the Victorian architecture of the Poor Law estates, and the Dickensian cobbled streets of Wapping, on the northern bank of the river Thames, and of the Old Kent Road, in Bermondsey. Though these areas were, then at least, considered to be slums, London's many different cultures, poverty and riches in close proximity created an unforgettable political and social melting pot, the likes of which I've never experienced since. Thatcher's rise to power in 1979 and her clampdown on local democracy helped shape my left-leaning political perspective, and my contempt for Neoliberalism.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing while studying for my political economy degree back in 1983, but it was only when I graduated and became a journalist that I really began to settle into it. And, even then, I generally kept to the formulaic style and structure of news and features writing. However, I decided to make a complete lifestyle change three years ago, and my writing has become freer and is more broad in scope as a result. There were many things which made me want to reshape my life, but one of the most significant was when a friend alerted me to a study conducted at a hospice in which the 'residents', all in the last months of their lives, were asked to list their biggest regrets. Working too hard, not spending enough time with the people they loved and not being themselves were among the top regrets listed. It made me realise that we are so caught up in the daily routine of work, seeing to our family's needs and paying our direct debits that we forget who we are and can easily lose sight of what we want from our lives. I walked out of my job as managing editor of Ethical Performance, an international ethical business title, and decided to do my own thing. I've never fitted into corporate structures terribly easily, in large part because I find them controlling and life-limiting. So I thought that if I was ever going to be happy and banish the regrets, I would have to follow my instinct and find my own voice, as well as my sense of humour, in my writing. This has been a life lesson, and I feel I'm at the beginning of an entirely new journey – at the tender age of 50. I might be poorer financially, but I'm so much richer, happier and more content in so many other ways.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Essentially, my book looks to answer two questions. One is about the psychopathic logic of economic power which, when unchallenged, gives an elite an ever-increasing share of wealth at the direct expense of everyone else. The second is the predominance of beliefs, and why some beliefs continue to shape our consciousness and imagination, irrespective of the evidence before us. In researching the book, it became clear to me that psychopathic power and belief systems combine to drive civilisations to social and environmental destruction, and that we are rather closer to the end of our own cycle than most of us would care to admit. We have been here before, only this time our civilisation is global, and so the survivors of collapse will have nowhere to escape. Consequently, if we love our children and wish to leave the world in better shape than we found it, we have to challenge the psychopathic system and rebalance power. The book is not anti-capitalist – indeed, I think that capitalism needs protecting from the capitalists – nor is it anti-business. It is, however, against the inhumanity of psychopathic power, which lacks, as one of its defining characteristics, emotional intelligence. A direct result of this is its lack of concern for consequences, other than the maintenance and increase of its own control. It blames its victims for being victims, while hiding otherwise obvious facts about the social and environmental damage it is doing. Humans have a great capacity for self-delusion, and belief systems are promoted to both shape our conscious minds, but also to create and manipulate hopes, fears and dreams on a subconscious level. Ultimately, psychopathic power is self-destructive, and undermines the very foundations of its own existence. My book uses the thinking of many writers – economists, anthropologists, psychologists and other commentators – to support my theory of psychopathic power, with the aim of creating a call to action for political and economic change.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
The desire for freedom of expression, and the desire to make a difference. I didn't feel I would be able to pursue either through the traditional publishing model, which I think shoehorns innovation and creativity into formulas of the past.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Can't answer this yet – ask me again in six months time.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The sense that I've nailed an idea or concept, and that I've changed the reader in some way as a result. I also really enjoy the artistry of it; the delicate marshalling of words to create an effect.
What do your fans mean to you?
Nothing that I'm setting out to do with Psychopath Economics – and probably any book that follows – would be worth it without fans. They're not only a source of inspiration, but they're also a source of hope; that our collective consciousness can make a real difference.
What are you working on next?
I have some ideas, but I'm not deciding yet. I have to complete all four instalments of Psychopath Economics first, and I reckon that will occupy me until the autumn. I do, however, intend to turn my attention to something a little lighter after PE is off my agenda. I feel the need to write more humorous/satirical stuff to cleanse the palette after I've completed my current project, which is a major undertaking.
Are you interested in fame and fortune?
Well, a little bit of fortune wouldn't go amiss, but I'm not really driven by fame. I see notoriety as probably an unavoidable ingredient of the political call to action that's central to Psychopath Economics, and I suppose I have to become a known figure if I'm going to achieve anything and really help make a difference. But it's not something I would otherwise choose for myself.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.
Economics is the ultimate expression of human power. But today's economic system is increasingly controlled by a psychopathic elite that is unconcerned with its impact on people or planet. Unless we challenge the system, it will lead us to our destruction.