Recommended Reading: Raw Materials – Matt Gemmell

My favourite writer on the internet is Matt Gemmell, by far. How does a former software engineer who now writes full-time write so well? Significant talent and untold amounts of effort and hard work most likely play a large part.

61e6rBgR4sL._SL1000_Gemmell has recently published an eBook titled Raw Materials, comprising selected essays from his personal blog, updated with authors notes and includes an additional piece written specifically for this collection. After picking up (well…downloading) the book on the day of release, a rainy Saturday seemed perfect to proceed from cover to digital cover.

Many of these intensely personal essays recount memories of a childhood perhaps not unlike many others. Where the real power lies in this collection is not from the content alone, rather, the feelings which inevitably surface as you read. Some may make you squirm a little; perhaps say “ah…yes!”; some may change your entire mood – and to me, that is great writing.

Although the specific events, family situation and upbringing described in these stories could not have been further from my own, similar feelings, emotions and fears were (are) all there, somewhere, though manifest differently in adulthood.

Gemmell sure knows they are still there, as he writes in Paths:

And if you glance over your shoulder, well… you won’t see anything. But your own memories are there nonetheless.

Believe me, many times during Raw Materials, you will find yourself glancing over your shoulder. Not intentionally, but inadvertently, sometimes surprisingly so. With these glances come fear (Staying Afraid); sensory engagement through smells of “dryness and age” (Stories); and innocent optimism where your wish might just come true – just this once (Wishes). Then there is the physical or emotional pain we all feel and recall all too readily (Relative).

It’s. All. There. And this man knows exactly how to write about it. In an utterly compelling way. Every time.

It matters not that our childhoods were markedly different, a decade or so apart, on opposite sides of the world. We are not so different Matt and I, nor are we different to countless others who grow up with memories so indelibly burned into our consciousness (or subconsciousness as the case may be).

Those memories are always there, whether we allow ourselves to engage them or not.

I highly recommend this short but powerful collection of essays. They are written with such clarity and precision, you cannot help but join Gemmell on his “travels” back to those moments where these very memories were made. It is also inevitable your thoughts will turn to the end product of such memories. You. Today.

Years whip by when your back is turned, leaving you standing on familiar streets that are nevertheless unsettlingly different. We all have troubling experiences hidden inside, and they shape us more than we realise. The news brings us fresh fears every day. The future is uncertain, and it’s coming whether you like it or not.

Authors notes – Whispers

Raw Materials is available now from Amazon, though I’d suggest first visiting mattgemmell.com, adding it to your bookmarks or RSS feed, then clicking through to Amazon for your copy of the collection (AUD$3.72).

Matt Gemmell’s debut novel Changer will be published later this year, and if there were already a queue, I would be in it.

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Book Review – Act Accordingly by Colin Wright

Act Accordingly by Colin Wright
Asymmetrical Press (2013)
Available on Amazon

You have exactly one life in which to do everything you’ll ever do. Act accordingly.

As described on Amazon:

Act Accordingly is a philosophical framework written to help people become the best possible version of themselves. Rather than proposing a one-size-fits-all code of beliefs or behaviors, the ideas presented in this intentionally concise book encourage readers to question their long-held biases, their definition of confidence, their level of self-sustainability, and the degree to which they allow themselves to evolve their beliefs over time.

Upon reading this latest work from Colin Wright, a realisation comes a few pages in that the aim here is to raise more questions than provide answers (a positive in the context of this book). Providing a framework of reference for evaluating your personal beliefs and views on your place in society is the biggest strength of this concise, but thought-provoking work (at 80 pages, you will get through this in an hour).

In a market flooded with self-help and motivational “how to” guides, this provides the “why” in a way that allows you to determine for yourself how it all fits together and relates to your own situation. The biggest criticism I have of many books on these types of subjects is they apply one rigid framework to many a varied situation. There is generally little to be gained from trying to hang a rectangular artwork inside a square frame.

Personally, I have always held the view that most people set out to portray themselves, or act in a way that demonstrates, the best version of themselves. Too often this is somewhat dismissed by societal expectations, and as a result, we consider a persons best version of themselves as insufficient or even plain wrong, simply because the version is different to our own. I myself am guilty at times of having a lower threshold of acceptance for certain behaviours (behaviours which are not wrong, and may only be marginally different from my own), simply because they may not sit exactly where I would like them in my frame of reference.

One of the real strengths of Act Accordingly is not only in providing questions to guide your thinking in reviewing your own belief system, but also (and possibly of greater value) providing questions that will allow you to reconsider how you view and respond to others belief systems. For example, on others opinions:

After all, they’re basing their beliefs on the best information available to them, their personal history, and experiences. The same as you.

And again, in acknowledging these differences, and seeking to exert positive influence:

Exemplify the ‘right’ you want to see, and allow others to follow. Expecting others to live according to your own standards can be just as wrong as the ‘wrong’ things they do.

Other sections of the book look at confidence and applying yourself to the things that will make a difference to you, and how you are not a label, nor a logo, though people will try to identify you in this way.

The key thought here is that you can develop your own philosophy to live by, not ascribe to someone else’s. Where do the tenets of this philosophy come from? The answer is one that only you will know, even if you are not yet fully aware of it, and in the words of the author, consider the following:

Am I living this? Or just telling myself I am?
If the answer to the first question is ‘no’, develop a philosophy you can say ‘yes’ to. Then act accordingly.

In summary, Act Accordingly will stimulate you to assess your own standards, values and beliefs, and consider how they determine your path in life. This is not a cookbook – there no recipes to blindly follow, which is precisely why I would recommend this as definitely one to read.

Act Accordingly by Colin Wright
Asymmetrical Press (2013)
Available on Amazon