(Story)telling the Truth: Experience, Perception and Narrative Structure video lecture  

I recently gave a talk about storytelling focusing on the following themes. We should write/tell true stories using a style and structure that reflects the way we perceive the world as human beings. But the human mind isn’t merely a camera recording what is happening in the world out there, we have thoughts and feelings too that relate to what we experience in the world. The great life writers often begin with a striking visual or dramatic detail that they witnessed personally which then impels them to reflect upon the wider implications of this detail. Key to the success of this ‘formula’ is the slickness of the transition between the visceral, lived experience of the traveller-narrator and the macro, sometimes abstract idea or thought that follows. Finally, useful narrative structures from the Lester Dent formula to the Hero’s Journey are examined.

Writers discussed: Salman Rushdie, Colin Thubron, Lester Dent, Kari Gísláson, Joseph Campbell, Mary Karr, Steven Pinker, Aristotle, Anton Chekhov, Robert Olen Butler.

Misreported World webinar July 15th

Hosted by the Conflict and Culture Research Group at the University of Portsmouth in association with New Internationalist magazine

In this timely, wide-ranging and provocative webinar, media and cultural studies academics from the University of Portsmouth and a journalist from New Internationalist magazine survey contemporary Western media propaganda about Israel/Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Russia, China, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines and marginalised communities in the UK. These scholars will consider the intersections between long-standing cultural stereotypes and the misrepresentations engendered by current geopolitical tensions and crises.

Presentations (10 minutes each)

Dr Tom Sykes, ‘It’s a Duterte Job But the West Has Got to Do It’

Sudip Sen, ‘”Not Racism Again” in UK Broadcast Media’

Hazel Healy, ‘Where Seaspiracy Went Wrong and After Ebola’

Dr Stephen Harper, ‘China and the “Western Media”: What’s New?’

Dr Yael Friedman, ‘Terminology Matters: Tentative Thoughts About Israel/Palestine in UK Media’

Dr Paul Flenley, ‘A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: Western Perceptions of Russia’

Dr Matthew Alford, ‘What the Western Media Won’t Tell You About Syria, Libya, Saudi and Yemen’

Chaired by Walid Benkhaled

Book your free ticket here.

New article on Western support of Duterte regime

Thousands of people have been killed in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, but the UK has massively increased arms exports to his authoritarian regime and is prioritising trade and investment with the country — partly as a post-Brexit bulwark against China.

Read more on at Declassified UK here

Image used under a Wikimedia Commons Public Domain licence.

DescriptionEnglish: President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in his opening remarks during the 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-India Summit at the Philippine International Convention Center on November 14, 2017, expresses his gratitude to India for the many commemorative activities to highlight historical economic and cultural ties that bind ASEAN and India
Date14 November 2017
AuthorPresidential Communications Operations Office

A Brute for all Seasons (Private Eye Philippines archive)

(Originally published as ‘Letter from Manila from Our Own Correspondent’ in Private Eye on 24th June 2016)

These are gloomy times in normally frenzied Manila – and not just because of the premature onslaught of the rainy season. The start of the rainy season may be a factor, but so might public trepidation about incoming president Rodrigo ‘Rody’ Duterte, who will be sworn in at the end of June. Last week policemen working with vigilantes murdered a number of alleged drug dealers on the streets of Manila and other major cities. This looks like the extension of a highly controversial approach to crime fighting that Duterte honed as seven-time mayor of Davao City in
the southern Philippines, when scooter-riding youths would frequently assassinate suspected criminals who’d evaded prosecution due to piddling technicalities such as lack of evidence against them or their being too young to be tried. Human Rights Watch estimates that over 1000 such extra-judicial slayings took place on Duterte’s watch.

During his presidential campaign, Duterte ambitiously promised to solve all crime in the Philippines within three to six months of taking office. There are fears that he’ll try to achieve this by bringing back Marcos-era martial law. But the scale of “Duterte Harry’s” (he enjoys that monicker) victory shows that he doesn’t just speak for the ruthless right. He wears different masks to appeal to different facets of Filipino polity: he is at once the quotable bloke’s bloke, the anti-establishment iconoclast and the radical leftist.

Blue collar male reactionaries love his spectacularly un-PC wisecracks, which have led to another nickname: “the Donald Trump of the East”. Last April he said he “should have been first” when a female Australian missionary was raped and murdered in Davao in 1989. He often boasts of his womanizing, although admitted to having to use Viagra in recent years: “What am I supposed to do, let this hang forever? When I take Viagra, it stands up.” His less-than-diplomatic solution to the Philippines’ dispute with China over control of the Spratly Islands is to “ride a jet ski [over there] while bringing the Philippine flag”.

Also like Trump, the more outrageous the comment Duterte makes, the more his approval rating grows. If there is one taboo left in Filipino society it is criticising the Roman Catholic Church, yet early on in his election campaign Duterte said about Pope Francis, “You son of a bitch go home. Don’t visit here anymore.” Perversely, the public loved him even more after that.

Duterte has pleased the left with pledges to end casualized labour, toughen up environmental legislation, take on foreign-owned mining companies and appoint members of the Communist Party of the Philippines – which has been heading a guerrilla war against the state for decades – to his cabinet. Some commentators are wondering whether, after over 100 years of economic and geopolitical subservience to the United States, a Filipino president will for the first time actively oppose American interests in the archipelago.

At the same time, it’s tricky to know what Duterte really stands for given his tendency to josh, equivocate and flip-flop. After sloping into a midnight press conference wearing a pink sports jacket (it’s tough to imagine him ever donning the typical politican’s Armani suit and tie), Duterte will make a series of policy statements only to later retract them or say he meant them in jest. Journalists from the metropolitan north of the Philippines complain that they can’t grasp Duterte’s knockabout, often ironic – and very southern – sense of humour. “We have no way of telling what is true and what is not,” a CNN Philippines reporter told me.

If no one knows, then, what a Duterte presidency will look like in six months’ or a year’s time, it’s doubtful the president himself has any better idea than anyone else.

Photography by Tom Sykes

New interview about tech and work in Coronavirus era


“Large numbers of women in the UK lack the practical skills that allow them to earn a living in the modern, digital economy. Headquartered at the University of Portsmouth, the PONToon (Partnership Opportunities using New Technologies fostering sOcial and ecOnomic inclusioN) project works closely with charities, NGOs, businesses, government agencies and educational institutions to boost the knowledge, employability, self-esteem and confidence of disadvantaged women in Britain and France. S&C Founding Editor Tom Sykes talks to PONToon’s coordinator, Chinasa Ezugha, about the challenges – and opportunities – facing the project in the COVID-19 era.”

Click here to read the full article.

The Realm of the Punisher Out Now!

To mark the publication of my new book on the contemporary Philippines, The Realm of the Publisher, Star & Crescent has published an excerpt from it about the country’s oldest bloodsport. With illustrations by Louis Netter. Read it here.

Buy the book here and come to the launch at the Eldon Building, University of Portsmouth on Tuesday 27th November from 7pm.



The Siege of Somerstown Part III

The Siege of Somerstown: Being a Portion of the Records of a General of the Fifth Hants Involuntary Air Rifles Concerning an Infantry Sortie on Behalf of the Crown and Portsmouth City Council’s Department of Colonial Warfare

After leading an infantry charge against the recalcitrant subjects of the Empire’s outer reach – or Somerstown to use the native designation – General Sir Eugene Nicks finds himself detained by the infamous headman known only as Kev. To survive he must depend on his wits, his courage and his enormous regulation moustache. Read it here.

Bradt Guide Review in Travel Africa Magazine


My deepest thanks to Travel Africa Magazine for this generous review of The Bradt Guide to Ivory Coast:

‘With this guidebook, the author puts the largely unexplored Côte d’Ivoire back on the map, following a period of instability. As well as being a celebration of the country, the book also offers a lot of practical information and background that any potential traveller will find invaluable. Personal stories and anecdotes are intertwined throughout, which add some fascinating texture and observations.’