February 2017

The second of the darkest months. I usually start to get fed up around November, knowing that light will be leaving us for some time (god knows how they manage in the proper north) and I always feel as though a corner has turned once we hit new year. I forget that the next two months can be the hardest. But we’ve been lucky. Grey and miserable, maybe, and damp, but none of that white stuff. And now we’ve hit February, I know everything will slowly get better. Especially now I’ve spotted these little beauties:

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There’s something about them, isn’t there? The photograph was taken at an auction room in Gloucester on the last day of January. It was raining, a little cold, we were trying to kill time and feeling quite sorry for ourselves when, there they were. I got a great shot of a tree-full of white doves, too, but that’s out of focus so they are unlikely to make an appearance unless I start blogging while drunk. Maybe not a bad idea…

I’ve never really spent much time in Gloucester. There were four of us and we wanted to make it a memorable visit.

That’s where I came across this: one of those writing prompts that you so often see online suggesting that it might be something that will inspire you to write your first masterpiece.

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I just thought it said more about Gloucester night life than providing literary musings. It did strike me as odd though. Perhaps it should be shown in context:

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I mean, why would someone leave it there? It’s not even a pair. And it does seem somehow to have been ‘placed’. I thought about jumping down and moving it onto the paler boards where it would have looked a lot more striking but then I was already quite a way behind my friends. Then, as I stood staring at it, I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of Theresa May and my day was ruined. Unless she’d stood there, toppled and fallen into the canal, leaving just one sad shoe to remind us of her, I couldn’t think of a way to cheer myself up. So I ran after my friends, said nothing about my new, emerging fetish and followed them into a pub. Political misery was temporarily avoided.

We trudged on to Gloucester cathedral which blew us away. None of us hold any strong religious views but me and my best mate are drawn to churches wherever we are in the world. There’s something about them: the grandeur perhaps or the silence or the atmosphere. I can’t put my finger on it. Gloucester cathedral did not disappoint.

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There was building work going on outside and archeologists were taking advantage of the opportunity to sift, photograph and record lots of stuff beneath an area that they would have struggled to get permission to access. I have a secret desire (not so secret now) to get involved with archeology but I can imagine how time consuming it would be. No idea where I picked up the bug; maybe time-team but certainly not from Tony Robinson. I only liked it when the experts told you stuff. I found his prancing about mildly irritating. The price you pay for getting a decent programme on the TV I guess.

Inside was another surprise: the cloisters (famous for their earliest vaulted ceiling and the filming of two Harry Potter films) were jammed with art. All from one guy: Russell Haines. The subject of the pieces was faith. Each picture was a portrait of a different person from all the faiths of the world. The paintings were staggering. I didn’t take any photos but some can be seen on his website Russell Haines and I can’t recommend a visit more highly. We were ready to go back to our cottage and thought we’d take a quick look. We were there for ages. A staggering volume of work and about as moving as you can get. Especially in this time of intolerance and nationalistic fuckery that we’re currently witnessing.

Having been told that a visit to Gloucester isn’t worth the effort, I’m very glad that we made it. See you in March.

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January 2016

Yes, January 2016.

No, there isn’t one missing. The last Blog was November.

So, what happened to December?

November – November happened to December. Or rather, November happened so December didn’t. It had been a bad year on many levels but November topped it off. Or rather, Trump topped it off. In fact, I’m officially blaming him for my not achieving NaNoWriMo. Okay, I admit, it wasn’t going that well but November 9th just sucked all the joy out of me. It snowed in Sheffield on that morning which made it feel as though we’d woken to a nuclear winter. Everything I wrote, for days, descended into vitriol. I suppose I could have used it as part of my word count but that’s not really how it’s supposed to work, is it? It all resides in a folder in my Documents entitled Bile & Anger. And that folder was pretty full already.

I will hold my own NaNoWriMo at a later date. And, in all honesty, the Mo might well be plural.

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So, here’s a rather satisfying view of my old bin. I always think that, when times are challenging, it’s best to surround yourself with familiar and comfortable objects. I would have used a picture of a glass of gin and tonic in the sunshine but I couldn’t find one. I’m sure there is one somewhere. Maybe for  a different month. Anyway, onward and upwards.

We should have known something was amiss when we lost Bowie in January. I know how ridiculous that sounds but it had a real sense of unreality to it. By the end of June there could be no doubt that we were in a downward spiral. Britain’s vote to Exit the European Union. (I refuse to use the ridiculous portmanteau that our stupid media forced on us.) Now, I don’t intend arguing the point one way or another here, though I have to hold up by hand as one who voted to remain. But… and it’s a big but, months before, when we knew it was going to happen, I couldn’t figure out quite why the general population would be given a say in something so complex and so entwined in… well, in everything. I’m of average intelligence but there was no way on earth that I could ever understand the pros and cons of the situation. They must have a plan, I thought.

And I guess they did. But it didn’t work. For a start, the most unpopular prime minister since Maggie was leading the remain side and a bunch of Muppets were leading the Leave campaign. I can see why Dodgy Dave was so stupidly confident. He didn’t think for a minute that the population would believe the most elite of all elite members of our society. But he was wrong. He fucked it up. He tried to save his own skin, blindly confident in his own beliefs, and he fucked it up.

I still don’t know if staying in would have been economically better than leaving and I suspect that no-one does even now. But what I do know is that the vast majority of people I’ve met who voted to leave did so because they don’t like brown people. Sad but true. And the brown people don’t even come from Europe.

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This is one of the nicest meetings I’ve had this year. Apparently, this little feller is unwelcome in the land he lives. There are signs everywhere warning people not to feed him or his kind with threats of fines and whippings. I watched him for quite a while and he was just going about his business, trying to live his life. He isn’t there to hurt anyone. He has no hidden agenda. And he made quite a pleasing little squeaking sound as he jumped from rock to rock. As far as I’m concerned, he’s very welcome. But then I’m a liberal leftie, so I would, wouldn’t I?

And then there was Trump. I’ve heard it said that the very same mechanism that delivered the leave vote also delivered the Trump win. People voting against the system. And I get that: voting against the system. I’m all for anarchy. But these twats are the system. Trump (named after a fart) and Farage (named after the stinking, insignificant sludge found at the bottom of a wheelie bin or an alternate spelling for the Malaysian word for vagina, faraj). Voting for these isn’t voting against the system, it’s voting for it, they couldn’t be more elitist.

Someone on the radio summed up the protest vote quite nicely. I can’t remember who it was so can’t credit them. If it comes to me then I’ll edit this. It wasn’t me. But they said, ‘Who, in their right mind, protests the rising petrol prices by divorcing their wife?’

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Here’s a door that probably leads somewhere. I found it on a walk and I could have just bust my way in and dealt with whatever horror lay on the other side. I didn’t do that though. Call me unadventurous if you like but I prefer to stick with what I know unless the alternative is completely and utterly and overwhelmingly seductive. Or maybe if I’m drunk, or have taken the wrong drugs, or maybe if I completely lose my mind.

The deaths keep piling up. Someone tried to convince me that 2016 hasn’t been extraordinary as regards significant deaths (as opposed to insignificant deaths; those little fuckers are just irritating, aren’t they?) but I don’t buy it. The latest few: Carl Palmer; George Michael; Carrie Fisher; Liz Smith; Rick Parfitt… it adds up to a year that seems to have lost a great deal of our past, our childhood. And I know that many people find the mourning of celebrity death somewhat distasteful but I think my reference to our past stands as good reason to be sad. Palmer and Parfitt and Lemmy are very much a part of my childhood, as Bowie was part of my adolescence and Prince marked my steps into adult life. Each of these people have an individual memory attached to them that is precious to me and other people have similar experiences. No-one has the right to undermine that, regardless of how qualified in cynicism they are.

Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Caroline Ahern, Victoria Wood, Ali… they are people who have been around us for years. I get that there are people all over the world that are suffering and deserve our sympathy more but that’s missing the point: we’re not feeling sorry, per se, for the victims, we’re feeling sorry for ourselves (something my nan always told me I shouldn’t do but hey ho). So, in a sense, there is an insignificance to their deaths in as much as our lives are not changed by them. But it’s like losing a favourite book or old vinyl album. Sure, you can download another and listen to it fresh but, you know? There is something comforting in the knowledge that familiar things are still out there, still around us. And these guys are not around us anymore. They’re on tape or DVD or CD or hard-drive or flash-drive but they’re no longer physically out there. And that’s why we miss them. We miss our loved ones, though we still have pictures of them. And, unless your family is significantly different to most families I know, some of our so-called loved ones will be missed far less than our heroes.

November was a month that started with huge disappointment and ended with personal tragedy (which I’m not going into on here) and I was hoping that December would see an improvement. Well, that hasn’t been the case so, I guess we’re going to have to rely on that tired old cliche of January being a fresh start. That always works, doesn’t it?

Happy New Year Everyone.

Let’s stay positive.

November

 

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Do you know what? I’m so bogged down with editing my last novel and struggling with where to go with my new one that I just might give this a whirl. 50k words in thirty days is the target, which isn’t quite a novel but I suppose it’s close. If I do take the plunge then it will be seventy thousand for me. That’s two thousand three hundred and thirty three words a day, two thousand three hundred and forty three on the last day to make it a nice round figure. Not impossible, but damned hard.

The main problem would be that I would still want to work on my other two. That means that it has to be a simple but firm idea. I think I know how to go about that. It’s been a while since Frank Vine was on a clean page.

 

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On a different note: I often get asked about earning a living through writing, as though that was some kind of measure of quality. Avoiding bitterness, it really isn’t (Listen to Kanye West’s version of Bohemian Rhapsody). However, it is necessary to do something to earn a crust and we all have different methods. I tend to drift from one unsuitable job to another, earning less than is practical in each case. I guess it’s the Welsh Gypsy in me.

There is a point to this: My son was recently asked, ‘What are you aiming to do with your life then?’ He was stumped. He has a similar work ethic to me: avoid at all costs. But it made us talk about the issue. And I realised that the conversation that used to take place when I was young no longer applies. What do you want to be when you grow up? We all had an idea but now, well, there just aren’t any jobs that would be for life other than the obvious ones: doctor, solicitor, fireman, policeman, paramedic etc. Most jobs now are short hours and often casual with no real contract. Or even worse, a zero hours contract.

It worries me. The loss of stable work for young people gives them no realistic vision of their future. What should they be aiming at? As a young telephone engineer I could work my way up to a Technical Officer, the highest engineering rank before management. What do our young people do now for ambition? They can’t all win X Factor. It will continue to worry me.

Out of my four kids, three have what I suppose would be considered proper jobs: postman, biomedical scientist & CNC Machinist. It is my youngest with whom  I had the conversation. He suffers a creative bent. You can’t even get tablets for it. Nevertheless, he already has many musical performances and theatre performances in the bag. No money but plenty of kudos. I think this is a completely valid way to conduct yourself nowadays. Why stock shelves for forty years? It makes no sense. And we all end up as a pile of dust in a plastic bottle at the end of it all so let’s enjoy ourselves while we’re here.

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Hope you like the seasonal photos. This last one shows where my youngest gets his creativity from. It’s a picture of a cake his mum made last November. All sugar, all edible. Astonishing. She has a proper job, too.

October

I’m not going to moan. I’m not. I promise.

October is the month for Sheffield’s Literary Festival – Off The Shelf, and my writing group will be launching its twenty sixth…

I’m going to say that again… twenty sixth – Anthology.

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It would appear, going by the cover of this year’s programme, that Off The Shelf is in its twenty fifth year. So, almost as old as our Anthology. (I’m assuming that Off The Shelf won’t object to me using their graphic as I am promoting their event)

Our launch will be on Monday 10th October at The Lescar on Sharrowvale Road. Members of the group will read out some of their work and we will be joined by our special guest: Gavin Extence (The Universe versus Alex  Woods; The Mirror World of Melody Black and his new book: The Empathy Problem) It should be a good night. £3 entrance fee which includes a free Anthology. The evening starts at 7.30 and we aim to be away by 9.30. That doesn’t always happen though but The Lescar is a very nice pub so it’s not a terrible sacrifice to stay longer.

I have to produce something to read out at the event. This is always a problem as I write novels. As such, I really could do with more than the three or four minutes that are allocated. However, restriction feeds the creative process (try writing a story in fifty words – a great exercise), so I  will be needing something new. I will heed the recent advice of my friend Conor O’Callaghan and ‘keep it spooky’. October is definitely the month for getting spooky as the dark nights draw in and Halloween approaches…

That’s it, I need some light relief.

I was here only three weeks ago.

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There, that’s much better. I can feel the sun on my face and the beer in my belly.

I’ll try not to digress again.

So, spooky. Where was I? Oh, yes! So, it needs to be short and, by their nature, spooky stories really need a bit of time to build. There’s a problem right there. But I have a solution. Or at least I think I do.

There was a short event in my past that was instantly spooky. I was walking up a lane in Derbyshire, away from a relatively well-off, large housing area. In the distance, I could see a family walking down towards me. Mum, dad and young son. As they approached I noticed that they were rather old-fashioned in the way they dressed. Sort of fifties-ish. The boy wore knee-length grey shorts, a knitted jumper and a cap. In addition, as we were about to meet, I realised that the child bore a striking resemblance to myself in the early sixties (when I would be five or six, the same age as the boy approaching). The gap slowly closed and the boy stared at my face as we passed. A little perplexing.

I continued up the lane, amusing myself with the idea that perhaps the boy was thinking, ‘He looks just like I will in twenty years time.’ After a minute or two I stopped and turned around. No idea why. At the bottom of the lane the family had also stopped and were trying to urge the boy on. He was standing stiff and resolute, facing up the hill, his stare was still locked onto me.

Obviously, it meant nothing. But it did give me a turn and I’ve never forgotten it. And the idea of Doppelgangers is a powerful one. So that’s where I’m going with my very short story. If it works, I’ll post a link to it on here in November.

DSC01476And now…  a seasonal image more in keeping with Halloween and things that go bump in the night. Only it was taken exactly five hours after the picture above.

 

September

Thursday 22nd.

The first day of Autumn.

Bugger.

I know, I know, negative. But I can’t help it. It’s supposed to be all Winnie the Pooh wind and brown leaves and healthy fresh air… but all I envisage is:

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I mean, the kids are all back at school (I still get depressed about that and I’ve been left forty years) and we’re rehearsing for the panto round the tennis club. The conkers are big on the trees and I see a distinct change from the vibrant green leaves to more of a deathly, sallow yellow.

And apart from all that, this year has been utterly shit: Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, Brexit, Trump, Jeremy C Hunt; an increase in racism that seems to match 1936 Berlin levels; mad bastards blowing shit up and shooting kids that are out enjoying themselves.

I’m making myself feel worse.

All I really want is:

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Is that really too much to ask?

A bit of sunshine?

A ray of hope?

Another holiday?

 

I apologise. I’m just going to leave the room for a moment and have a quiet word with myself…

Right, I’ve sorted that. I’ve had a walk in the sun; I’ve read a poem; I’ve bought two books (Red Queen – Christina Henry’s follow up to the amazing ‘Alice’ and Fellside – M. A. Carey’s new novel); I’ve strummed a song on my guitar (Space Odyssey) and I’ve edited a bit of my own drivel. I also talked to two old ladies, a gentleman in a wheelchair and felt fresh air on my skin for an hour. It strikes me that it’s the simple things in life that keep us sane.

So, enough of all that negative bullshit. The fuckwits of this world are not going to affect my mood (although cold weather might just break through my joyfulness). The daily frustrations and petty irritations can kiss my proverbial. The good things in life truly are free (although the books cost me sixteen quid).

And that’s the point of this post really. It’s all about art. Art is what matters. Whether you’re consuming it or making it, you are contributing to the well-being of humanity as a whole. And it makes me very proud to be in a position where I can produce some of this mind nectar for the masses. You don’t have to like what I write but at least it’s a distraction from all that utter nonsense that we are expected to treat as reality out there.

As if to prove my point, I got so engrossed in what I was doing to distract me that I forgot to even post this until three days later. See you all in October.

August

My intention is to post this blog around once a month. However, I’ve been thinking about stuff (I blame university for that) and there’s something I need to get out there. So the next time will be September and I’ll just count the last blog as a practice. Here’s August’s.

I guess August means  many things to many people: eminent and well thought of; school holidays; swelling conkers (not a euphemism); drinks in the garden as night slowly falls. For me, it conjures only one thought – Cropredy. Or to be more accurate and to give it its official title, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention. A long weekend of friends, family, good music and excessive drinking.

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This is not your average, run-of-the-mill festival. This is probably the friendliest festival on the planet. We took the kids there when they were two and four and it was possible to let them have a run around. There is, in fact, a kids area at the top of the field where tons of them are learning circus tricks and doing craft stuff. This year is shaping up nicely. Our party now numbers somewhere in the region of twenty and is growing all the time. Highlights for me this year will be Ralph McTell, Hayseed Dixie (they have to be seen to be believed) Bootleg Beatles and Madness. Plus, of course, various combinations of the Fairport boys.

I digress. This is meant to be a writing blog.

To put a few things straight: If you’re looking for advice on how to write, you might as well get out of here right now. That won’t be happening. If you want sensible advice on the craft then join a writing group or do a course. If you want to read a how-to book then don’t go any further than Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. You need to know nothing else. It’s excellent.

No, this is almost entirely for my own benefit and your (hopefully) amusement. I plan to post my own problems and difficulties in the vain hope that some wise person out there might point me in the right direction, come up with a solution or just tell me to shut up and get a proper job. (That won’t be happening either) I’ll chuck random stuff in as well because, as I said, it’s meant to be entertaining, too.

So, having admitted that I’ve suffered a complete car crash with my last novel, I’ll try to explain the problem I’m (already) having with the new one. It is, as yet, untitled but is about a homeless guy, Mark.

Mark is in a bad way. He’s hit an all-time low. He’s decided that enough is enough. But things don’t work out the way he planned them (do they ever?) and he finds himself standing outside Sheffield train station looking at the patch of ground where he’s sat and begged with a black woolly beanie for a long, long time. He knows he will never be doing that again and turns his back on his soggy copy of the Metro and makes his way up into the city.

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The thing is, I like the story but it is all a bit down. You know? A bit depressing and I’ve written three chapters where, despite his efforts to make changes, life still smacks him in the face. The problem is: this is a miserable state that Mark is in and humour (which is what I know it needs) is just ever so slightly inappropriate at the moment. So, the question is: How long can I maintain the darkness of his situation, at the very beginning of the novel, without losing the reader? Presently, I have about 7k words in this vein which I think is too much. Two long chapters or, as I have it now, three shorter ones. And if the answer is that it is already too long, will breaking his narrative and going elsewhere, somewhere a bit more colourful and cheerful, destroy the effect I’m aiming at, that being, getting the reader’s head into the sheer hopelessness of having no home and no support mechanism?

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That’s my problem.

But, for now, I’m going to buy beer. We’re off to Cropredy tomorrow.

The First Go


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Hi there!

Welcome to my new blog. A bit bare at the moment but I’ll get the hang of it.

Not really sure how to start. I guess I should say something about where I am at the moment with my writing.

I’ve been working on a final edit of my latest novel ‘Dying for a Life’ for the past few weeks and, to say the least, it’s not going well. More about that at the end. It was a long time in the making, well over a year, and is something of a departure from what I’m used to. I usually write romantic thrillers or even comedy thrillers. I also have a series of crime thrillers featuring my favourite protagonist, Detective Inspector Frank Vine. This last one is a straight thriller. No comedy, no romance and a lot of swearing. The novel concerns two groups of people who are the victims of human trafficking. The first group are a bunch of men on a work gang in Southern Spain.

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They are treated very badly, hardly ever fed, beaten daily and receive no pay. They are trapped by their own circumstances and no longer hold passports or identification. They are kept in check by the constant threat of extreme violence. Violence that they witness being dealt out to other victims. The gang consists of two Spanish men, two Portuguese and three English. It is the three Englishmen (a Scot, Donald; a Geordie, Pete; and a midlander, Eric – though there are no jokes on that account) that are followed as they become isolated from the others and, after a brutal attack on Pete that leaves him in desperate nee of medical assistance, they make their bid to escape.

The second group are a bunch of girls from England who have been told there is glamorous work available for them in Europe’s nightclubs. They have been whisked away in a transit van and taken to Paris. Most of the girls are between nineteen and twenty two but the one that we follow initially is Rosie, a fifteen year old who has escaped the misery of caring for her mum back in Brighton. The girls are not destined for fancy nightclubs but for the sex workers that exist on Rue Saint Martin.

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All six girls are marched through the streets at night and delivered to the slimy Pierre who
locks them in his club. There they meet the barely believable Helga. A mountainous woman dressed in high heels, basque and heavy, heavy make-up. Three of their number are whisked away to the mysterious ‘Raymond’s’ while the three remaining, Rosie, Tracey and Jade, are kept by the sadistic Pierre for his own sick pleasure.
The biggest problem I’ve had is in drawing these two threads together. They are linked by situation and by actual characters by the end but I feel that the two stories are just a little too separate as the novel progresses. It is this link that I have been struggling to make throughout the course of the re-write. It has, inevitably, messed with the structure of the novel and I have to hope that the disruption pays off with the overall effect it has on the experience. The problem arose through making massive changes in the plot. These changes were undoubtedly needed but created their own problems. The original story was a Frank Vine detective story and the two groups (plus a third) were bit players. The ‘bad guy’ was also connected to the third group, thus drawing all three threads together from the start.

The first thing to go was the detective element. Mainly because it would have been a thousand page novel. Then, the third group, two girls on holiday in Thailand, didn’t grab the attention the way the other two groups did, so off they went. At one point I’d cut over seventy thousand words from the novel. That’s a novel in itself. The two remaining groups are entertaining and interesting enough to carry the story but that was the problem; what was the story? I’d effectively given it a spinalectomy, something that is recommended only to create middle managers.

So, I am where I am. ‘That that is, is.’ To quote the great man. I can’t face another re-write at the moment so I’m concentrating on a new idea about a homeless guy from Sheffield. I haven’t given up on Dying for a Life. I think it shows great potential. But it’s going to need a serious amount of work to link those two strands together. I’ll let my subconscious sort that out itself while I get on with the rest of the summer.