John-Paul Flintoff

Getting stories out of you | JPF Weekly

Published 27 days ago • 3 min read

Thank you for your replies to last week's email about conversations that led someone (you? them?) to go off and do something extraordinary.

Sometimes those conversations are only memorable to the person who is inspired by them. The other person may forget about the whole thing, unless reminded.

In today’s email I’m going to write about the daily opportunity we all have to be part of such dialogues.

ARCHIVED EMAIL: links may no longer work, facts may have changed.

It’s on my mind a lot, for reasons that will become clear. But first:

Other news

This picture

I drew this for a reader of this newsletter (Hello, you!). To state the bleeding obv, the picture shows two people in some kind of relationship, outdoors:

I don’t know anything about the relationship, and I don’t want to know anything about the relationship. I hope it’s OK to mention that the picture does show two people.

I don’t get the feeling they’re strangers to each other, but even if they are, the picture forces them into some kind of relationship.

When I’m drawing a picture like this, I focus mostly on shape, tone, colour. I don’t put it into words, as such, but I probably think to myself, in some non-verbal way, “This bit needs to be darker” or, “How about blue?” (or whatever).

Of course, at some level, the human relationship is constantly in my mind. The drawing is based on a photo, and I tried to convey the same sense of a relationship that I saw there (whether or not I saw it correctly).

Again, I don’t think about this in words, as such.

I’m writing about it now, so I’m putting it into words, because I’m trying to communicate with YOU.

But I believe that the thoughts I’m putting into words now have been latent ever since, sitting quietly on my own, I drew the picture.

They were waiting to be articulated by your appearance in my mind. (Another relationship!)

Which brings us back to the idea I mentioned at the top, about dialogue.


Recently, I’ve been helping people to write books – books that have been commissioned by a publisher. The authors are too busy to write it all themselves, or don’t feel capable of doing it alone.

Typically, this involves a process in which I ask questions to tease out stories, ideas – words – that were latent in their heads.

It’s a process I’m very familiar with, having been a journalist for a couple of decades. In journalism we called it interviewing. Where books are concerned, it’s called ghosting.

Ghosts are often invisible to the wider world. But what happens when you draw attention to the relationship?

Shakespeare used ghosts to let the audience see in side the minds of his living characters. How else would we know that Macbeth feels guilty if he didn’t lose control at the sight of Banquo’s ghost? The guilt would be there, perhaps even discernible in Macbeth’s knotted brow, but it wouldn’t be articulated without the ghost.

In the newish film All Of Us Strangers, ghosts have the same function. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but much of the dialogue in the film is between the main character and people who died long ago.

In the cinema, watching this between spells of ghost-writing, I couldn’t fail to notice that the ghosts on the big screen had a function much like my own. They drew out what was latent, words and thoughts that the shy main character might otherwise never have told anybody.


Circling back to last week’s email, I find myself thinking more and more about the extraordinary possibilities of dialogue. Ten years ago, I evidently asked somebody a question that caused her to go back to her native country, Bulgaria, and set up a charitable foundation.

Like a ghost in All Of Us Strangers, I prompted a thought that was hitherto latent in this woman’s mind. And having articulated it she turned it into action.

She absolutely insists I’m too modest when I take no responsibility for what she did. So I’m going to Bulgaria soon, to help celebrate her achievement.

Till next time.


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John-Paul Flintoff

Hello!, thanks for popping in. I'm a writer, illustrator and performer.

📖 7 Books in 16 languages 📚 including: How To Change The World A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech.

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