Writing mugshots – how a reprehensible website could make you a better writer

I’m always looking out for unorthodox writing exercises, and one I struck upon recently has become a bit of an obsession, though something of a guilty one.

Arrests.org is a site that publishes every mugshot released by police in the US. It’s a very strange place, splitting mugshots into categories like ‘hotties’, ‘winos’ and ‘tatted up’. The whole thing stinks of the attitudes that underlaid falacies like phrenology: the returning idea of a ‘criminal class’, now divided into easy-to-navigate categories.

Here, comments sections have the atmosphere of a public pillory.

The website makes revenue from advertising, but also links to several services that charge to remove your mugshot from public documents, which is apparently not extortion.

This is a shady site, no matter its pretensions to being some kind of instrument of transparent government.

That being said, this is humanity. These are humans, and for a writer, this is an invaluable source of material for character creation. 

So this is how a reprehensible website could help you become a better writer.

Continue reading “Writing mugshots – how a reprehensible website could make you a better writer”

Goodbye Sri Lanka, hello WordPress


In exactly 12 days, I will leave Sri Lanka after 6 months of teaching here. This is accompanied by the strange feelings usually associated with suddenly shifting your entire surroundings overnight. We humans weren’t designed to wake up one morning 5,000 miles away from where we woke up the morning before. It’s always a surreal experience, and is pretty hard to believe, on a fundamental level, until it actually happens. We participate in it as far as checking in online, getting to the airport, and from then on it’s a largely passive experience. Sit back, try to sleep, watch a film. Modern travel is something done to you, rather than something you do.

I hear it’s raining back home, that it’s getting colder. My body won’t know what’s going on. Anyway, I think that starting this blog is a way of alleviating these feelings of uprooting, a way of establishing a thread of continuity. Let’s see how that works out.

Of course, it’s not just timezone, climate and food that contributes to this total shift, but also the way people you’ve become used to seeing every day suddenly become people it might be years before you see again, if at all. I’ve made a load of great friends here, but I’m particularly indebted to the Herath (hard ‘t’ sound; ‘Herat’) family that has put me up for the last 10 weeks of my time here. They’re a normal family, which is to say they’re a largely crazy and dysfunctional mess of competing personalities.

Shashi Aiya and Shashi Nangi splitting a jak fruit.
Shashi Aiya and Shashi Nangi splitting a jak fruit.

As a way of saying thanks, I thought that with my first post I’d showcase some of their daughter’s work. Shanika is studying architecture at the University of Moratuwa, and has a rare talent. While she’s excelling at the architecture course’s photorealistic approach to drawing, some of these paintings from her school days really impressed me. Continue reading “Goodbye Sri Lanka, hello WordPress”