Influenzpiration and Music Therapy

and other stories about how to get THERE from HERE

So, wow, where did February go? It’s flown by, or in my case FLU by. After completing the work on my writing course and sending it off to the potential publishing partner for approval, I heaved a sigh of relief, which quickly and unexpectedly turned into a heaving cough. After a week or so of the worst influenza I’ve had since the Beatles had all their own teeth, I was done in.

I suppose I had it coming. As a person who likes to keep in touch with his body, monitor my various body states and keep in tune with my senses and surroundings, I should have known I’d slump after working so hard and long hours and NOT (I freely admit) taking very good care of myself. I paid the full price with no discount for former good behaviour in the form of flu.

My senses were all but dull thudding appendages, touch was painful, my hearing a muffled roar, my sense of smell gone, my sight blurry and my mind, a previously orderly stack of what I’ve done and what needs to BE done… was like a library full of sacred texts besieged by mischievous squirrels.

Every time I closed my eyes I found myself having conversations with fictitious persons, having tea with them on occasion, and my following vague moments of lucidity were wasted thinking “what the HELL was all that all about…?” So I swerved in and out of proper consciousness, but in my coherent and pain free times I tried to read and watch films. God bless the Infinite Internet for your twinkly endless trove of information, ideas and inspiration.

Oh and god bless Apple’s little iPad and your flu friendly interface, an easy to browse device for those not in their right mind, and durable enough to slide out of my insensible, palsied, and sweaty hand onto the bedroom floor without breaking (unlike my mind which was brittle as sugar glass) the facts I learned and the ideas I had all too readily shattered into a hailstorm of unreadable shards, leaving painful needles in my brain rather than useful thoughts…

Then I slept for days on end. Feverish dreams of writing and teaching, hot sleepless nights of twisting in the covers, trying to find the one cool spot to bring me otherwise elusive solace and peace.

Then one day to my surprise I woke, dry, refreshed and actually conscious. I walked to the bathroom, washed and shaved with a fresh blade in gorgeously hot soapy water. I dried myself on a warm laundered towel and changed into cool dry and fresh clothes and sat drinking coffee and looking out over the river to the library, the March weather turning both cool and warm air currents colliding over the town into a pleasing, mysterious fog.

A week had passed, along with it my 52nd birthday. In my feverish state on that day, I remember being unable to write (and alone because my grown up children live at home but had plans of their own which didn’t include their ailing father) and it came back to me. I spent my birthday making an album of vintage synthesiser re-workings of Claude Debussy’s “Children’s Corner”. Ahem. Wow.

Yes I know, what curious glitch of my poor overheated cranium made me think that would be a good way to work off the fever? Folly! But listening back to the recordings I was astonished to find them quite good. I sequenced them using MIDI files of piano performances, to avoid my own fumble fingered playing ruining the thing, and rendered the performances on vintage synthesisers (or computerised simulations) and arranged and mixed them, and the results were very satisfying. If you are curious what the flu doing the rounds at the moment does to a creative man’s brain, go here to and download for free and listen for yourself. I even designed a cover to look like an old vinyl LP. A pretty productive day considering I was in truth half dead.

Download a free copy of my influenza inspired flight of nostalgia here
Claude Debussy’s Freakout Corner by Phil South

Ok it was a bad idea as I suffered for it painfully later on for not resting fully. I’m sure it added another couple of days to the fever. But it’s interesting to me where the mind goes when in retreat.

But where did the idea come from? I recall I watched a video at one point which had the (definitely non-PC these days) Golliwogg’s Cakewalk as the soundtrack and it set me off. What was that tune? Then I found out it was Debussy and that it was part of the Children’s Corner Suite historically commonly played for children. Of course then, I was played it as a child in school in the early 1960s. A scratchy old record. Along with Saint Saens and Peter and the Wolf and John Philip Souza’s Liberty Bell. So many memories…

So it was my birthday, and that always sets off all kinds of childhood memories, even when I don’t have a temperature of 101. Then I remembered Wendy Carlos and her “Switched on Bach”, and the vinyl records of those I had just last week found and played. And the weird old Nonsuch Guide to Electronic Music that had been such an ill advised piece of flu inspired entertainment earlier in the week. Surreal blips and blops in my ears while I slept.

But then it came to me, inspiration! I would make an album of music in the style of Wendy Carlos, but based on what music? The Debussy of course…

Well, that’s how I got there. I know it doesn’t make sense, but then inspiration NEVER does, only maybe internal sense. And in mitigation neurologically speaking I was impaired, the brakes were off in any of the usual ways I stop myself free associating. And as someone who just finished writing and recording a course in how to access your consciousness to improve your creativity, this should have come as no surprise to me. But hey cut me a break, I was ill.

Hope you enjoy the Debussy as much I enjoyed making it while off my trolley.


That’s enough music, next time I promise there I’ll be back up to strength and we can talk more about writing and how to turn yourself into a creative genius.

See you next time.


How to Write Yourself Rich

It’s true to say that people want to become writers for a variety of reasons. For some its a need to communicate, they have something to say and they can’t stop themselves from communicating it to others. For others they want to earn a living working for themselves and doing something they love. For many they just want to make a lot of money and writing, they know from seeing the success of people like JK Rowling, is certainly one way of doing it.

Which one do you think I am? It’s possible you might assume I am the latter, and if I’m honest I have to admit I started out that way. I had an urge to be a writer but I was totally focussed on the outcome of being rich and famous. It wasn’t until later in life after having a little fame and fortune I realised that fame is not all it’s cracked up to be and fame for its own sake is ultimately useless, and actually kind of embarrassing. Witness all the people in the public eye who are famous for nothing but being famous.

I soon realised that authenticity and honest aims of being good at what I do are worth a lot more to me than money I didn’t really earn and fame I don’t deserve. Writing a good book that has something to say is its own reward. But yeah we all have to earn a living, so of the three types of writer its better to be the middle one, someone who earns a living through something they love.

Let’s face it you have to love writing if you want to earn your living doing it. You’ll be doing it all day and sometimes it won’t be as fun as you’d like. I worked as a writer for almost 30 years and there were days I hated it. But it’s like being a doctor, you earn a lot of money but you have to put up with a lot of other people’s pain and suffering.

So how do you earn money writing and feel good about yourself at the same time? I read a lot, as you know, and a lot of things I read to help me be a better writer are not your obvious writer coaching books. I read a lot of self help books, not because I’m broken and need help, but because I like to know how people think. Along the way I’ve found a lot of terrific books and authors who truly have something to say about the human condition. One of these is Napoleon Hill.

You might not know his name but he is one of the great granddaddies of self help and success literature. He wrote his famous book “Think and Grow Rich” in the 1930s, and it’s still as relevant today as it was then, especially its perspective on success in the face of an economic depression (what financial people like to call the “downturn” to minimise any thoughts about anyone being responsible for it). I loved the book so much when I first read it I bought a beautiful black leather bound volume with gold edged pages to enhance my reading experience and give the book the respect it is due in my life. Also it kinda looks like a bible and when I get it out people are sometimes a little bit freaked out by it, like I’m going to start preaching, and I love nothing more than subverting people’s expectations.

So I would highly recommend that you seek out your own copy of “Think and Grow Rich” for yourself and see how many ideas it has about personal growth, running a business, thinking about your own success as holistic whole, and give you tons of ideas for stories based on the case studies and other things he talks about in the book as examples of lives that went badly but ended well.



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Don’t Force Creativity or you’ll Break It

Now you may not know this but Ellis Paul Torrance (1915 – 2003) was a psychologist from Georgia. In creativity circles (do we have a circle? I must find out so I can get to meetings) he is known for his research in creativity and specifically the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (or TTCT), which have become a standard test for creativity in children, mostly. Some say they are the creativity equivalent of an IQ test. Some say they are baseless tosh. Either way I find his work fascinating, and he did come up with some very interesting theories about what defines creativity in human beings.

The tests stimulated “divergent thinking” and other problem-solving skills, which were then scored on four scales:

  1. Fluency. The total of “interpretable, meaningful, and relevant” ideas generated.
  2. Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  3. Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.
  4. Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.

Now that all sounds very dry, and there’s a good reason for that… it kind of is. But what I draw from these arguably arbitrary tests is the following:

Creative people are fluent, flexible, original and elaborate.

That sounds right to me. Creative people are “in flow” as I call it, a state of heightened awareness where they are able to flexibly make connections which are authentic to them, and then extrapolate or elaborate on them, in other words improvise.

Creative people have gotten used to being in a state of flow, where ideas come to them seemingly from nowhere. They have what you’d call a facility for ideas.

Like all things to do with the human body, and the brain is part of the body, it’s a supply on demand scenario. You need stamina, you get stamina, you don’t demand it by sitting around on your butt all day playing XBox, you don’t get it. Same is true of creative thought. If you demand ideas all the time you get ideas all the time, the gate is open and the ideas flow.

One thing that creative people do not do is strain. They make it seem effortless, and you know why? Because it is effortless. People who aspire to be creative try so hard to be creative, they make random connections which don’t work, they sweat and strive and try… and nothing comes. Because they are forcing it. Creativity is a natural process and you have to unclench.

You don’t get creative leaps by forcing the issue, you get creative leaps in the same way you get good at bench pressing weights or running or using parkour to leap from one building to another; you practise. You get used to how it feels and you know the feeling when you have it. What creative people do is get themselves into a mindset of creativity, because they’ve done it lots before and they know where to go.

If you want to be creative, you don’t need to force it out, you just need to learn how to let it go.


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