The title of a book is pretty important. So, too is the cover. With those things done and obvious, the next bit is usually the subtitle; that little bit of short text, also on the cover, that tells us what the book is really about.

So what about “How to get what you want without being a ****” ?

What is the ****?

What do you think the word is and do you want to hear how it came about?

Initially the subtitle line was based on kindness – something like how to get what you want and still be kind. Kindness is after all something we like; a positive thing to aim for.

The thing is none of us, when talking about the book to people, tended to use this approach. We talked instead about getting what you wanted and NOT being something else. That thing was a negative wish not a positive one; something to avoid. The words we used were interesting also – they all came from that middle part of the body, male and female. The nicest one we had was “arse” (or “ass” – even the spelling here was different for different people). This was about not being an arse (when we were being polite – which wasn’t often). Usually it was much worse and sometimes we used names of people we somewhat negatively admired – you know the kind of people…

Instead of heading for kindness we found it too easy, to focus on the bad. It could be the bad boss you don’t like, it could be the boyfriend who resorts to violence, it could be the bully or it could be the colleague who takes a swipe when he doesn’t get what he wants. So, this became our ready focus. This is about not being the person you don’t want to be. Sometimes that is hard because we look for role models and good role models can be difficult to find. There is also a strange attraction in these villains; they survive and they can even get their own TV shows and their own political candidacies.

From these various words we struggled for a bit with the idea of what would go on the cover – which word and which letters of it should we asterisk out? Then I realised, this was a different word for each of us. My “Arse”, Your “Shit”, his this, her that… It went on. I realised that by simply having four asterisks we could cover most people’s definition of what they least wanted to be. This was about our felt villainy in its widest sense. It’s YOUR word. It might be any word (except maybe a kind one). When I first showed the cover design to my daughter she told me off. “Daddy..” she said, “you can’t use a swear word on the cover of your book!” “Who said it is a swear word?” I asked.

The thing is it’s not even as simple as that. I realised this one evening, many years ago, when I was stopped for speeding. It’s one thing to have a great job that makes your Mum proud but if you have shit days because you get bullied by your bosses there is a danger that you pass on that dominance and anger to others. I’d had a bad day at work and as a result I’d been driving like an idiot. As I sat there waiting for the policeman to come and talk to me, looking at the blue lights in my rear-view mirror, I realised that is exactly what I was doing. The **** wasn’t just out there, someone I didn’t want to be, the **** had become part of me. It was important because it was starting to mess up my work and my life. Just because someone was awful to me didn’t mean I had to take it out on the car, the road, the world around me. In that moment I felt another realisation hit home; I had to get to grips with the **** in me. This was about a journey back from that terrible thing I was myself become. Villainy was all about me but I had a choice whether I passed on the villainy or not.

This external but also internal focus is why the **** is such a key theme. The book so easily have been titled “Confessions of an Alpha Male” or such, because its also about a journey back from and away from this tyranny of dominance, co-ercion and violence in our own lives. It’s not just the people we don’t want to be. It is also speaking to the bit of us that might already be this – to a greater or lesser extent. To get what we want we sometimes make compromises and can end up becoming a bit of a **** ourselves. Soft is also about those blue lights of warning and the journey back to a more human route.

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