Archive | April 2013

Why, I oughta…

…tell you all about a new writer who’s book deserves reading.

Imagine the scene. I review  every book Iread because I read a  lot of indie authors and the review process is important. For fairness I also review books from large publishing houses. So then imagine my surprise when an email landed in my inbox from someone hitherto unknown to me in reference to my review of The Kite Runner. I was out all that day and busy the next two so didn’t read it until yesterday. It wasn’t really about my review per se. It was from a chap named Adam Sharp, telling me he liked my review of one of his favourite books and would I be so kind as to read and review his book as well. He would send it to me for free in my chosen format.

Well, first of all I laughed. The nerve of the guy! Then I thought actually, I really admire that and wish I had the balls to do the same. So I replied and told him that not only would I read and review the book but I’d buy my copy just for his having the guts to email a complete stranger out of the blue and ask. I’m sure I’m not the only one he’s emailed, but doesn’t that take even more nerve?

So I paid my £1.99, downloaded the book and set to reading there and then. I finished it this morning and posted a genuine 5 star review which I’m reposting here together with links to the book:

Memory is a funny thing. I remember my third birthday with clarity. I remember when we sold our house that same year, the couple who bought it were the Radcliffes and he asked what colour the carpet was then explained apologetically that he was colour blind. It was a nice house. I hope they enjoyed living there. I remember digging over the garden myself, in as much as a toddler could dig, before the turf was laid. I also remember why the house was sold and the turmoil that followed.

It took me a long time to resolve my feelings too and Daddy Was A Punk Rocker makes me realise a lot about why, even though I was old beyond my years, it took me a long time to grow up.

From the beginning, I was reminded of Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse. I can’t quote it here because it uses ‘naughty words’. Look it up!

You don’t have to come from a broken or even dysfunctional family to benefit from Daddy Was A Punk Rocker. You maybe don’t even need to be human provided at some point you were born. Through a careful recounting and analysis of Adam’s life, we receive numerous powerful messages, primarily this: Parents don’t often realise how much they define us and we don’t in turn realise how much guilt parents carry for what they do that does define us. We blame our parents for messing us up, but you know what? We mess them up too.

His parents’ drug abuse and subsequent alcohol abuse are, by my reading, not really the crux of Adam’s issues. Abandonment, having the rug pulled out from under his feet time and again and the mistaken, learned belief that you can escape somehow from yourself form the basis of his struggles. It’s clear that in retrospect, used needles on the floor and his baby clothes used as blood rags are traumatic. However to baby Adam, these were normal and inconsequential. What mattered was the attention, the relationship he craved.

His daddy was a punk rocker, yes. That isn’t synonymous with heroin addiction of course. That happens to people no matter what their musical predilections might be. It is synonymous with a belief held onto by Adam that music was the only way for him to reconnect with his father; that if they could share a passion it would give them a basis beyond blood for a relationship.

Most poignant to me and very much key to resolving all those issues is the image of child Adam, clutching his teddy bear, waiting for the father who never shows up. There begins a cycle of pushing away anyone that might let him down, anyone that might cause him to remember so much hurt.

Daddy Was A Punk Rocker is so well written, so illustrative, at times you forget this is not a novel. At times very funny, at times painful, it was an important read for me. Well done, Adam, for putting it down on paper.

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Daddy Was a Punk Rocker is available now from Amazon UK and US.

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Flash!

I have a new addiction. It’s not chemical, which is no doubt a good thing. It’s Flash. Not FLASH! Ah-ah! of the infamous movie that has over the years made it so that whenever I hear Brian Blessed speak, all I can hear is “Gordon’s alive?”. Nor is it the multimedia software, although sometimes I find a game on a website and I’m there a while. No, I’m talking about Flash Fiction.

So am I any good at it? Well, I don’t know. I’m good at keeping to a strict word count – some groups and competitions set a tight limit of 250 words, others 100. But years of writing limericks and haikus as an exercise in word play and certain other pursuits have fine tuned writing within a limit. When I write to a restricted count, I like to be bang on the total; not one word under, not one over and that, I think, is the addictive part.

It’s the Wiki of fiction. But I was struck by something about it that reverberates with the warnings expounded by one of my favourite novels of all time. Fahrenheit 451 by the late Ray Bradbury tells how the world in which books are burned evolved from a world where people demanded ever shorter, more concise versions of everything.

So is flash fiction a good thing, or is it the flash point of the fire that burns our literary heritage? As a warm up exercise, no pun intended, it works for me. It takes far less investment of time and deliberation than a traditional short story. It’s far more throwaway. But that’s the thing that scares me a little about it’s growing popularity. In the world of wikis and tweets, will we soon forsake the book? Or is it all just a flash in the pan..?

On the sadness of light

When nights are still light at 8pm, I get a little sad. They’ll soon be light at 10pm and then they start getting darker again. I want it to be perpetually ‘almost summer’ so there’s always warmer weather to look forward to. It’s like eating the first third of a chocolate bar and knowing that there’s not as much left to enjoy later. The spring flowers, late to arrive this year because we haven’t long left winter, will be just as fragile and just as short lived as they always are. My favourite flowers, those early bursts of colour and life, but they also make me sad. No sooner do they appear than they’re gone again and won’t return until we’ve trudged through another long dark winter.

This is not a post about the weather. No, it’s about the passage of Time. Few things highlight how quickly it slips away than the changing of the seasons. Children growing up, people we don’t see often looking older when we meet and the seasons. We turn them into a rite of passage. Baby’s first Christmas is so soon followed by long summer holidays from school and with the passing of every summer another year’s progress. But that all stops and as adults we carry on less governed by the seasons except to bemoan the impact on traffic or the pain of fitness classes in preparation for the beach. We still all fit our lives around the big seasonal events, women maybe more so than men.

Do we really want to wish our lives away like that? Can’t wait for summer or planning for Christmas already? I looked up this evening and it was still light at 8.15pm and I felt a pang. A grieving in advance for the dwindling days and a grieving for the days passed that will never come back. We can’t store Time and it feels like such a swindle.

No, I don’t want the nights to get any lighter. I want them to pause right here, right now, because I know that what is to come will also pass and fade like the flowers only just appearing in the garden. Tomorrow will be lighter still and the darkness another day closer. I leave it to you to decide what that means.

Empty Pages

Empty pages, let us talk a moment here.
You see, you fill me with a most irrational fear.
You scare me half to death with pristine white.
This isn’t writer’s block, it’s writer’s fright!
I’ve tried to work with you in pastel dress
But find the end results are still a mess.
So what am I to do, oh pages clean?
To scratch my pen upon you feels just mean.
It is your purpose, yes I know, to take the word
And let it live to be re-read, even heard
But I look at you, your perfect paper face
And to sully you with ink seems a disgrace.
Have I the right to write upon such beauty?
There are far less dainty forms to fill that duty.
The electronic page can take your place
And then my foolish marks I can erase
But no, those pages cannot be as good
And leaving you for them is simply rude.
There has to be an answer, pages dear.
Perhaps we ought to wait for an idea
That we can share, that flows from my pen.
Yes that’s the way and maybe… maybe then
We’ll work together gladly my old friend
Your surface alive with words up to The End.
No doubt we’ll start again with something new
And there’ll be this chat again some time with you.
Until then I’ll place you back upon the shelf
To be your unblemished, uncorrupted self
And when my words have the power to compare
To your perfection we’ll say at last fair’s fair.
For now my ache to write must rest complete
Upon the knowledge I can always press Delete!

JAM 16/04/13

Automatic Writing

One minute I was tired but couldn’t sleep, the next I’d written several thousand words and by some subliminal means become convinced I needed an X5 steam cleaner, an X-Hose and an Octaspring mattress. I switched the background TV off when Victoria Principal started trying to sell me something to put on my face. She does look pretty amazing for 63 so maybe I’ll regret that later. In thirty years or so.

I don’t clearly remember what I wrote. It was another one of those sessions of switch off conscious thought and let the story write itself.  Of course it still has to use my fingers to tap out the words but when I come out of it, I feel as rested as if I’d been in a deep sleep. That makes me wonder if it is a sub-conscious thing altogether and while it goes on my conscious mind is indeed asleep. I know I killed people. I should probably hope I was here writing the whole time and not in fact in the throes of some psychotic break brought on by stress and an accidental overdose of pills. I’ll keep an eye on the local news just in case.

There was an entire sub-plot that I didn’t like which I think I completely deleted and replaced with something totally different. So I killed three minor characters there too. Well, they served no real purpose. I can remember writing their pitiful part in proceedings and remembering is never a good thing. Remembering means I had to try too hard to write it. Not remembering has its own inherent problems of course. I have a lot of reading back to do before I go on or I won’t know what’s going on in my own story. Might be pleasantly surprised or might be horrified. Although if it’s supposed to be horrific and it is, that’s a good thing, right?

The more I think about it, it has to be a sub-conscious thing. I didn’t so much as move except to type in all that time. I’m someone who always has to have a drink to hand, usually a cup of tea, and not only did I not take a sip but there was more than half a cup of stone cold lapsang souchong beside me when I stopped. Wasn’t aware of any aches and pains but it turns out my back is killing me and I didn’t notice. I was in effect not really here.

I’ve read about automatic writing as a means to contact the hereafter. To do it you must enter an altered state of consciousness. How different then is it from this? And if it isn’t any different, which of these is true: that people for hundreds of years have scribbled from their own sub-conscious believing it to be a spirit, or that I am not in fact writing this novel but am channeling the spirit of a writer?

Now I must make breakfast before my state of consciousness becomes easily defined as ‘un’.

The Northman is free!!

For a limited time only. Today and tomorrow in fact (10th & 11th April 2013).

The brilliant J.D. Hughes has organised a free download extravaganza on his fantastic novel Northman.

To quote from my own review, Northman is a “tense supernatural thriller steeped in history with some interesting perspectives on life, existence and the meaning of it all.” Even time itself has no power over the Northman. “Hughes writes with intelligence, knowledge and skill to weave a tale that fills many shoes. Decide for yourself whether I mean fits many profiles or makes you that afraid.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Some bites (bytes?) of what others are saying about it:

“The ending is stunning, something I hadn’t predicted at all – isn’t it great when that happens?”

“A delightful work, and I could gladly read it again.”

“The prose reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, John Masters and other writers of the first half of the 20th century, while the explorations of life’s meanings brought to mind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.”

“A scarily good thriller that deserves a place on your Kindle.”

“If you want to read a good thriller then this is for you! Loved it.”

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Read J.D.’s blog about the giveaway or head on over to Amazon UK / US and get your copy. How else will you know how to watch out for and survive the Northman when he comes?!

Why I won’t smile that Thatcher died

I’m no fan of Tory politics or beliefs, but when I hear that an 87-year-old lady has died suffering from dementia, I can’t celebrate that. It’s a complex situation and yet utterly simplistic.

I can see why so many are waving little flags of triumph as though they went out and killed her themselves. Particularly in the North of England a lot of bitterness toward her still exists. She did a lot of harm here once upon a time, some of which still hasn’t recovered. Once upon a time, a long time ago.

But. And this is a very big but. Margaret Thatcher was the strongest leader Britain had seen since Churchill. She was not only the first woman Prime Minister but she changed the face of British politics on both the national and international stages. Mrs Thatcher truly believed that Britain was still Great Britain and did not need to rely on its former glory for respect. She went out there and she took on the world, standing tall next to leaders that have dwarfed each one of ours since.

Few people can claim to have the courage of their convictions to the extent that Thatcher did and she stuck to her principles no matter what. One does not have to agree with her beliefs or actions to recognise the sheer strength of the lady and for that alone she is to be admired.

Her eleven year tenure of Number 10 made its mark in so many ways that people are quick to forget about. I read in the Guardian the words of President Obama that echo my own sentiments:

Here in America, many of us will never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply carried along by the currents of history—we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will.”

He added that her premiership was “an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered”.
The Guardian

Women of Britain, whatever their political beliefs, should be celebrating the life of someone who opened so many doors for us by her very existence.

At the end of her life, what I saw was a lady shattered by the loss of her husband. Without him she rapidly declined and that tells me that whatever else she might have been, she was a human being who in her own way knew great love. There can be no celebrating the loss of such a person. Today, 8th April 2013, she was a frail old lady suffering dementia and having had numerous strokes finally succumbed to one. She was a wife, mother and grandmother.

I can’t celebrate that someone passed, no matter what they did in life. I definitely can’t celebrate the passing of a frail old lady who once held the world in her thrall. No, I will gladly say that to me this is a sad day because such a remarkable woman has gone from our midst. It makes nothing better that she has gone, repairs none of the hurt that she did, augments none of the good.

I will not smile that Thatcher died.

Thank you William Walker!

Yes, he’s a fictional character and one of my own creation, so technically a figment of my imagination, but think he’s my new best friend.

I knew where I was taking things. I knew who would do what. I just didn’t know where the key point would fall. Now, William is a favourite of mine and I was reviewing his thread because I thought there needed to be more of him, and wouldn’t you know but he told me what to do.

Whatever I’ve done in my life, whichever field I was in at the time, I’ve always written. Only recently have I started to share what I write, but I think I’ve explored all of that in past posts. Never, in all the years I’ve spent scribbling away at one thing or another has a character ‘spoken’ to me like William Walker.

Maybe I’ve just never been quite so close to insane before. Maybe it took being broken right down in myself to come back with more clarity. Maybe it’s just time. Whatever the cause, I’m very glad of the effect.

Now, I can almost hear people saying I’m in reality thanking myself, because Walker only exists in my head. But I’m not so sure. When I’m writing, especially writing Walker, I’m quite apart from myself. I don’t know what’s coming next. I certainly don’t know what anyone will say next. I’m nothing but a conduit for the story and if I didn’t know better, I’d say William had tapped me on the shoulder and said “Look, here, this is where you hide the key.”

I’ve heard that other writers have these experiences sometimes and that makes me feel somewhat less inclined to call the doctor. In fact I’ll probably not mention it to him at all. I don’t want the phenomenon to go away. Walker is a good influence, quite clearly, and I’m oh so thankful because now I see the way clearly and nothing can stop me finally finishing this piece.

Inkredible was initially a Max Markham novel, but I think it just became a William Walker novel. And he’s an older guy. There’s room for a thousand prequels in his life and a couple of sequels before he retires. I’m so happy he gave me the answer!

Do we still need daylight saving?

My sleep pattern is as messed up as it gets so it really shouldn’t matter to me, but my body clock is still very confused. I seemed to remember being taught that it was something to do with agriculture so I typed into Google “why do we have BST?”. This article from the museum at Greenwich came up explaining it.

So basically, some guy named Willett a long time ago now liked to ride his horse early in the morning and didn’t like that people were still asleep. I bet those people didn’t much like his horse clip-copping by while they were trying to sleep either! It appears he was a builder and businessman; an employer who no doubt wanted his employees up and at it as early as him. Did he not overlook that when mornings are lighter, so are nights? And if everyone was up and working to earn money for him, did he not lose his treasured horse rides?

These days, though, with a 24/7 world and the whole planet lit up all the time, do we really need to change the clocks? Life doesn’t stop when the sun goes down anymore. In fact I’ve noticed when I’m up through the night that there’s only a gap of about two hours – those between 3 and 5 in the morning – when there’s no-one up and about. Otherwise, I see people online, I hear traffic on the roads and the railway is also only silent for those two hours.

I’ve heard it said that, come October when we fiddle with time again, it’s much safer because it means the lighter part of the day happens when people are heading out. So they were heading out anyway, light or dark and besides that, October shifts us back onto GMT where we moved it from in the first place. No-one relies on the cockcrow to wake  up anymore. We all have alarm clocks, most of us on our mobile phones.

So does it still come down to agriculture? Does it still take from sunrise to sunset to bring in a field of harvest? We have huge armies of machines now that make short work of these things. And we have portable lighting. I ask because I’m not sure, being a townie with abnormal sleep patterns. We survived a hell of a long time without clocks never mind changing them backwards and forwards. We’ve since way surpassed the need to follow the sun, so can we not survive again without messing around with the measurement of time?

I suspect there’s no need for it; that it’s just another attempt by humanity to control their world and of course to make every last penny out of it.

Now all this has put me in just the perfect mindset to write all day. Or at least until the next overwhelming daylight sleeping time. Mr Willett would no doubt be appalled!