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Burble

I was going to post a serious blog about giving to charity and how dreadful I felt having to choose just one to vote for only this afternoon. But that would no doubt make everyone reading feel dreadful too and I don’t want to do that any more than I want to vote for one worthy cause among many equally worthy causes.

So instead, because it’s a dreary October weekend and the cold weather is really kicking in, I thought I’d share a bit of silly fiction instead. All new and expecting parents should take note:

Burble

“Aren’t you getting big?” Yes, but there’s no need to shout. I’m young, not deaf. You only hear baby burble when I tell you. I’m bigger than I was, yes. Still not exactly big though. Unless you’re comparing me to, say, this rusk.

“Shall we go for a nice walk in the park?” Well, really that’s more fun for you than for me. You’ll be walking and I’ll be lying there in the pram with nothing to look at but the clouds and that stupid smile you put on whenever you look at me. Then you’ll meet someone you don’t even know and they’ll ask if they can hold me and you’ll say yes. I’ll scream and squall because I really don’t want to be pawed at by strangers. They might have all sorts of germs! Then you’ll say you’re sorry, poor baby must be tired.

I’ll be tired alright. Tired of being treated like a baby. Okay, so I know technically I am a baby and I haven’t quite mastered the controls of this body yet, but I wish you’d realise that just a few months ago I was the greatest mathematician in the world who happened to get hit by a bus. Perhaps I should have calculated its speed better. You know that thoughtful look you tell everyone about? That’s calculus that is. Calculus in my head. And according to the contract I’ll forget it all before I can talk. Next time I’ll be ready for the bus.

JAM 2013

The charity vote is here in case you’re still reading. £50,000 pounds for the winner. I voted MS Society because I know them well, know they’re often forgotten and know every penny counts.

Enjoy the weekend!

Taking literacy to a whole new level

It’s not often a project comes along that captures my imagination quite so much as the one I’m about to describe. I’ve recently had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Steve Monosson, Creative Director at Borne Digital, based in New York. Now, Steve’s a nice guy, very talented, makes me laugh and then I asked about the project he’d mentioned in another context.

Stylus screeches across the vinyl, my eyes grow wide and I think “whoah”.

This is not some little creative venture. This is ground breaking stuff taking literacy education to a whole new level. Borne Digital produce books for reading on a tablet. eBooks. But these eBooks are created with multiple layers of content and the level of difficulty adapts to individual learning ability. Kind of like a level-up when you reach a certain stage in the game.

Read MSNBC’s article about this and vote for Borne to get a very important chance to be heard.

We all know how kids thrive in an interactive environment. We all know they’d rather be on the iPad than reading a dowdy old paperback. And quite importantly it is now known that many people with dyslexia are better able to read from eBooks. What Borne have done, are doing, combines all of these factors and more.

Imagine if, when you were learning to read, your books had adapted to meet your ability. Imagine how much less pressured that would have made reading aloud to the teacher. Imagine how rewarding it would have been to see how far you had come in the space of just one book.

Now put yourself in the place of the teacher who, with Borne’s technology, is able to focus more on what matters and less on how to make reading fun and engaging no matter what level individual children are at. Have you breathed a sympathetic sigh of relief yet?

Key quotes from founder Daniel Fountenberry carried in the MSNBC article:

“We want to use technology in ways that empower teachers and that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

“Reading is fundamental to learning, and learning is fundamental to human development. Reading is the basis of all learning, and we all know the impact of not being able to read–what it does to a person’s self-esteem.”

I urge you to read the article if you haven’t already and see what this is all about. And check out the Borne website too.

There are so many benefits to Borne’s work. Most importantly, it changes reading from something children feel they ought to do into something they love to do. That has lifelong positive repercussions. And as if that wasn’t enough, Borne Digital seek to bring reading to the most impoverished areas where it can be of most benefit.

But there are so many potential applications beyond the classroom too, which I’ve no doubt Borne have already anticipated. This is brilliant, potentially world-changing stuff. I can’t help but be 100% behind it and so much hope it finds its way to the UK.

Please vote for Borne to have that all important opportunity and spread the word. Share this blog, share the article, do what you can to make this project the enormous success it deserves to be. If you are, or have contacts that could be, of influence in education, in literacy organisations, in government, in big business that might like to support the project, please let me know and I will pass details on immediately. This is huge. Let’s make it huger!

Bitten

A little flash fiction for your Friday frivols 🙂

I woke up yesterday morning with a bite mark on my neck. Not a tiny mosquito bite, not a flea bite. No, this is a full human-sized bite with a whole lot of teeth. I suppose it could have been the cat, but she has very sharp teeth and would not only have drawn blood but woken me up.

All day I spent trying to figure it out. I mean, the window was open all night but locked in position and no-one could get through without making a hell of a racket. It’s a mystery.

I can’t find anything online about blood disorders or infections, even of the nasty fungal sort that would cause this pattern of bruising. Imagine you’ve bitten an apple and rather than leave puncture marks, you’ve left little bruises. That’s my neck.

So I went to bed deciding not to worry about it, window open just a crack, and drifted off quite happily. I’d probably been asleep about an hour when I woke up with a start. Something was biting my neck! I shrieked and twisted away.

My attacker jumped back looking rather embarrassed. He stood there, in his black cloak with its standing collar and red lining, white frilly shirt, one hand clamped over his mouth. He pointed at something on the bed and I thought he might burst into tears. A set of dentures had dropped to the coverlet as I pulled away.

“They’re jutht temporary until the cuthtom thet ith ready,” he wailed.

JAM May 2013

The big bang theory

Nothing at all to with TV shows of the same name or indeed astrophysics, fascinating though it is. I need to make a big bang (on paper) and know nothing of the theory.

For some time I’ve had an idea for a story largely inspired by my Granddad. I wrote a quick thought down when it first came to me, intending to come back to it when other projects were complete. It’s one of those ideas though that won’t be quiet and since late yesterday has been taking shape.

Initially I’m writing it as a short story but can see that I’ll come back to it and take it much further. It has the scope to cross decades and continents and it would be a shame to leave it at just a handful of pages. There is one small problem possibly leading to a far bigger problem if I don’t watch what I say and where. I need my main character to blow up a building.

Not so easy for one man who, although he possesses the know how, is travelling from England to Antwerp in 1953. I assume he knows how to make a bomb because I don’t. Perhaps foolishly, I typed it into Google before I even thought about what such Internet activity might trigger. My sane and rational side says at the most my other searches might be looked at by some poor sod somewhere. My highly imaginative side envisages black helicopters, snipers at the neighbour’s attic windows and masked men abseiling down the chimney to arrest me at gunpoint. Please let it be coincidence that my Internet connection slowed right down after the fact. Please let it be that the entire North East only just logged on after the sun went down and volume of traffic is to blame.

What kind of world do we live in now where I find these things occurring to me whether by dint of imagination or not? I mean when my Facebook account browses my cookies and tries to sell me more of the things I already bought (surely self-defeating, Facebook if you think about it), should I not be slightly paranoid that everything I do is scrutinised if not by the authorities by marketeers? Will someone now try to sell me a bomb making kit via social media? I wouldn’t be surprised!

I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who knows about these things (in a licensed and responsible way) because I really am that irrationally concerned about who might get their hands on my search data and although it would all be a terrible misunderstanding, what would happen in the meantime? While it might in itself provide a plot of topical interest, I don’t especially want to be the main protagonist! And if they took a search to be indicative, what of the writing? Would they dig up my yard in case I really did kill Phil? Would they make sure my gas meter had never gone missing?

As far as I’m aware my Granddad, God rest him, never (intentionally) blew anything up. That is not how he came to inspire this story. It touches upon certain aspects of his life and I think he would really like where I’m taking it. That is if he were watching me as well. I wouldn’t be so nervy about that though!

Call me crazy, call me paranoid. My big bang theory is sometimes they really are watching you and there’s no telling what you might spark in the most innocent of circumstances these days. Now I’m about to make a phone call and if there’s a crackle on the line, I’m grabbing the cat and running!

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.

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

Not such a good night’s work

Oh dear. Maybe it was the medication. It gives me a fever and I have some very obscure ideas. Wrote that short story I was thinking of yesterday, the “Go to Hell” one, and I really hate it. Twee is just not me! It came out at nearly 4,000 words of unoriginal, Disney-movie drivel that I’ll never allow to see the light of day. I’ll have to delete the whole thing so that no-one ever finds it accidentally and thinks I usually think along those lines. It has to have been a hallucination. There is no other plausible reason.

I suppose there is one good thing to come out of it and that is that I was so absorbed in that maudlin rubbish that I didn’t spend any money under the influence of the evil fever. The Internet has the ability to draw me in to shopping sprees at these times, especially Amazon and that “Buy now with One-click” thing. The nemesis of bank accounts everywhere.

It’s always disappointing though when you read something back and your only reaction is a facepalm. Really saps your confidence and makes you wonder whether everything else you ever wrote was that bad but you were blind to it at the time. I suppose it’s necessary to have off days (or nights as this mixed up sleep pattern demands). If you only ever had great days of blindingly good creativity, you’d be so full of yourself you’d burst something vital. So I should be glad I wrote a load of awful rubbish and step away from the keyboard at least until I’ve had another good sleep. I think. I might still be hallucinating though.

I remember once, I had a raging fever and thought there were pigeons on the coffee table, and I talked to those pigeons for some reason in an American accent. Pigeons make me smile to this very day because of that ridiculous figment of my imagination. But should it then be good or bad for my writing to be consciously working from my sub-conscious? Is imagination conscious or sub-conscious? When I write, whatever it is I’m writing, I have no concept of time. I don’t hear anything from outside my own head. It can go on for hours and I won’t eat, drink, move until it lets go of me. Is that not on some level the same as hallucinating? Why all these questions?

Sometimes I do have a thought without asking a question. Just not very often. Zen and the art of writing rubbish. But I did right 6 pages of piffle, no question about that. What an embarrassing waste of time. Of course, no-one would know if I hadn’t said anything but it feels like the universe is pointing down, laughing and won’t let up until I confess it to anyone who’ll listen. Maybe I should speak to the doctor about the side effects of this stuff. It clearly makes words come out that should have been kept firmly locked in. Still, it won’t give me back all that time wasted on a terrible night’s work.

Good night’s work!

And a very geeky one too. Spent the time building a website and uploading a few short stories. Having done that, I added some more pages to this site and linked the respective pages to the download files. So imagine you’re on an aeroplane and some dolly bird is giving you the safety talk: To your right is a list of pages. Each page gives a taster of a short story. If you like the taster, to read more, click Download. A PDF file opens in a new tab or window, which you can save, print, transfer to your e-reader, make into a place mat for your cat or dog or indeed just read there and then.

I’ve also updated the Short Stories page to make things nice and tidy and consistent. If I could do my housework with a bit of html, I’d be so much happier but then I might lose the bloodthirsty streak and the will to channel my annoyance into writing.

There are some completely new stories there and some that had languished as snippets for far too long.

Killing Phil is brand spanking new, written, umm, the night before last and when told, the victim laughed. He should really be quite worried. That’s him on the cover and I’ve written eight pages about how he’s driving me crazy and I’m going to kill him and bury him under the back yard. But then, if you read it, you’ll see he does a lot of that. Laughing. It’s why I’m going to kill him.

I hope you find something you like among the new uploads. Leave your comments on the pages here or drop me a line. I love to hear what readers think. Even when you laugh when you’re not supposed to. I don’t know where (most of) you live so you don’t need worry that when I snap I make you part of the blood-fest.

There’s a new short trying to write itself in my head right now. It begins with the words “Go to Hell” and was inspired by my neighbour’s kid yesterday. The look on his little face as his mother said “You’ll do as you’re told!” set the typewriter in my brain away, so that’ll be getting an airing shortly, no doubt.

Inkredible is also clicking away in there and I hope to get a lot more written while this nocturnal pattern lasts. I don’t know what it says about  me that I write and create so much better at night when all is dark and hidden. Well, I have my suspicions but I’ll keep them under my hat for now. It’s a nice hat. All bright colours. I made it myself one night.

I do so love the night!