Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Despite my brain still being blank a couple of days ago I got up, rubbed down my buttocks and went off to Highgate Cemetery to cheer myself up.
It was full of dead people. No, that's not true. It wasn't full and a lot of the people weren't dead. According to their headstones a lot of them were sleeping.
Karl Marx was still there, although there has been talk of moving him abroad. He was the only one of the Marx Brothers I could find. And Jeremy Beedle of course, with a rather nice headstone. And a lot of other people I didn't know even when they were alive.
Disappointingly there weren't too many witty headstones along the lines of Spike Milligan's "I told them I was ill" but perhaps that's to be expected. For some people death is a cause for regret, even though we all do it. I suppose it depends on the circumstances. If you're lucky your passing will be a natural one, at a good age. I wonder what a good age is? When you're too knackered to collect your pension? Maybe when even the Viagra Extra Strength doesn't work. Doesn't sound like a very good age, does it? Yeah, I think you'd know when your time had come. Or more accurately, passed.
As I strolled around the bosky avenues of Highgate I got to thinking about what my own epitaph should be. Maybe "See you later." Or how about "He fell asleep - watching Gardeners' World"?
Perhaps I won't have a headstone. My father doesn't. I could get cremated and have the ashes scattered at sea instead. That would be nice. Floating on the wind, cradled by the waves. Sort of poetic.
If I do go that way - and a lot depends on the price - I can see my epitaph now:
He fell asleep and got scattered at sea.
Now he's all over the place.
Oh, and by the way, in case you're wondering, the play got rejected.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Because it turned into a play instead. I'm not quite sure why that happened. It started out as a comic novel - a serious comedy mind, you know me - with lots of ideas in it that were best examined through dialogue. But after a bit I realised there was an awful lot of speech and somehow it would work better as a play. Not that I know anything about playwriting.
After that it went well. I really enjoyed writing it - cramming in more and more ideas, jokes, paradoxes and, finally, tragedy. The funny thing is that when it became a play I could see the characters much more clearly as if they were in front of me on the stage. And as a result it was easy to get into their heads and the words simply flowed out of their mouths. All I had to do was write them down.
After that, God, that was the most fun I've ever had, down in London on my own writing my two act play. Kind of thing I've dreamt of doing since I was a pimply teenager.
Just for a while I could kid myself I was a real writer because that's exactly how I felt.
Once I'd finished the first draft I came back up to Scotland and, after a bit, I sat in my room (right here in fact) and worked on the re-writes. Then last week I launched my baby off into the choppy waters where the theatrical agents swim, like sharks in a pool.
And now I'm waiting for the rejections. Just like I did as a teenager, all those years ago after my first book. Nice symmetry though, you have to admit. Then and now, living in hope.
You'd think I'd know better, at my age.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Been away from the Pundy House. Not far. Just around the corner in fact, in a dark place.
Everything's changed. Miss the old days, the thrill of the new, the buzz. All the laughs we had. What laughs! The parties! My God, the parties. Like Gatsby. Shut the fuck up the mansion and went away. Wandered lost in the real world. Still never found what I was looking for.
Turned off the Comments. Not ready to perform. Need to sharpen up my act. First night nerves and all that. Nothing much more to say really. You can see the difference, can't you. Shame, could have been a pretender. To the throne. Hah! That got you. Didn't it? No? Need to sharpen up the act. Find the old magic. Sing for my supper.
The place is empty, full of ghosts. Draughty too. Smell the dampness, the rotting brains. When Winter comes can the long dark night of the soul be far behind. Open the windows, tear down the dust sheets, put the kettle on, wipe away the tears. I'll be alright, don't worry about me. Oh yes, I'll get there in the end. Nothing surer.
Do me a favour though, don't look for answers here. Not yet anyway. Let me get the sanatorium cleaned out first.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Sunday, September 27, 2009
This is what I've learnt from a long and fairly miserable lifetime of struggle. The accumulated wisdom of waving from the deep end with nobody noticing.
1 I'm not sure of anything anymore
2 Moderate drinking won't do you much good
3 Don't be shy. It's no good asking her when she's old and fat. Especially if you're old and fat.
4 There are no great managers, only a few good ones
5 Clean your teeth regularly
6 Take small steps but take lots of them
7 Don't be afraid to ask.
8 What have you learned? Be brief.
More later, once the medication has kicked in.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Because I expect to be so ill with my impending infirmity I won't be responding to Comments. My eyesight will be so bad I probably won't even be able to read them. No great loss though. My brain was the first vital organ to pack in and as a result my answers probably wouldn't make any sense. Speling was the first thing to go. Followed by earectyle dyisfungsion (deliberately misspelled in case there's any kids reading).
The objective in this futile venture will be to impart the wisdom I've accumulated in my interminable time on this sterile promontory so you won't make the same dismal mistakes I did. That should give me about three posts. The rest I will make up using a combination of imagination and irrational optimism which will be fun to read, albeit less educational. There won't be much time so I'll keep the posts brief but regular. It will be but a pale - pail? - imitation of what went before, when blogging was briefly fashionable. My only regret is that if I still had my own teeth and not this borrowed set it might all have been so different. Not being able to chew is an absolute bugger.
The doctors don't know how long I've got but the nurse said that I shouldn't bother renewing my Sky subscription this year. Of course, as she said, it's not all bad news. Think how much I will save going forward. No taxes, no tips, no food bills, no electricity etc. Just the funeral service and a small wake -whake? No sex either of course. Especially if I don't have Sky.
Because of this deadline imposed by a higher authority I've started converting the novel I've been writing into a play, to save time. Anyone can write a play after all. Odd though, how it changes things when you lose the authorial voice. As I might do at any time.
Anyway, it's getting dark now, harder to see, dimmer. Everything seems fainter, further way.
Shouldn't have had that third glass of wine I guess. Especially not in my condition. One foot in the grave and one in the gutter. Some things don't change.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A number of reviews pointed out the numerous typos and the odd inconsistency or two. The realisation that I'd previously been sending out an inferior manuscript to a long list of disinterested publishers made me blush with shame.
I finally bit the bullet last year and paid out £300 to get the mss edited. Not just proof-read, but a full report, suggestions and critique. Reading the corrected mss was a salutary experience. Not that I agreed with everything the editor said, but the flaws were plain to see. To be frank, my writing was rubbish. That wasn't my editor's opinion, that was mine.
Oddly though, a number of people have read the book online and I get the regular email praising the novel. Some people have even bought it. Maybe it wasn't so bad. But how could I tell?
Fortunately I've kept some statistics on the visitors the book has received over the past year. I know, for example, that it averages around 25 visitors a day. Each visitor stays on average for around six seconds, which I guess is the equivalent of someone browsing through the titles displayed in a bookshop.
I figure that if I start feeding the newly-edited version of the book online these stats should improve. In particular, I'm keen to see what difference the new first chapter will make. I can see from my stat meter that if someone reads past the first few pages (or maybe even paragraphs) I've got a good chance of keeping them for the duration. Editing should significantly improve the proportion of browsers who read on.
So, I'll let you know if the edited version of the book turns out to be any more popular than the original. I'll even carry out a cost/benefit analysis on the editing process and see if it was money well spent. Hell, if the feedback is positive I might even send the book out on its rounds once more in the faint hope of finding a publisher. If I'm successful, that really would be money well spent.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I hope you're not hungry or lonely or sad. Not unloved. I hope you have a loving family, alive or dead. Fond memories. Good health. Some kind of faith in something that helps you get by. Love in your heart. A full belly. A roof over your head. Wood to burn. Freedom from fear. Sunshine in your soul.
These are the luxuries of life.
Above all I hope you believe in a better future and can see a way to make it happen.
I hope so. I really do.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Equally deadly is spending your whole life doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. You will still end up with the smell of rotting corpses, dead souls groaning in the blackness all around you. At the end of the road, your path will be blocked by a towering pile of feeble excuses poised at any second to topple over and come crashing down, crushing you under the weight of their futility.
After the fall all you can do is crawl out from the rubble, dust yourself down, put on some Dylan, crack open another bottle of wine, and get back to writing the book as darkness wraps its bony arms around you.
Don't look up. Don't stop to think. You haven't got time. This is all there is. Even though you may still be doing the wrong thing.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
In the previous post I described how I met a character in my new novel who proved to be a most welcome guest at the party because he brought with him a whole new plot line. In fact, it was the only plot because he appeared in chapter two when I was well and truly stuck for direction.
Well, I've moved on since then - I'm now at the end of chapter three - and, as usual, the doubts have set in. What seemed such a brilliant idea a couple of weeks ago doesn't seem quite so clever now. Part of the problem I guess is that I'm already anticipating the rejection slips that will - if the past is any guide - inevitably come winging back to me like homing pigeons with bird flu when I finish the book and submit it for publication. I don't care how often it happens, when someone rejects the child you've spawned as flawed and imperfect the result is devastating. What kind of parent would look forward to that day?
Because maybe the child is imperfect. There is no way of knowing at this stage. I'm only three chapters in but even when I finish the book I won't really know if it's any good until other people start reading it. Fortunately, it's perfectly possible to delude yourself for three hundred pages. If you didn't you'd probably never finish the damned thing.
The current problem of self-doubt (which I'm sure all writers with the possible exception of Jeffrey Archer experience) is compounded by the way I write. I am an inveterate re-writer. Every day I go back over the previous few pages and start correcting and changing. If I'm lucky after a session I'll have advanced the book by another couple of pages - or more often paragraphs - or, sometimes, disastrously, I'll have less than when I started.
I know this isn't a very clever way to write. It would make far more sense I'm sure to map out a plot in advance, to do lots of research, become familiar with my characters in my head and then simply crash on until I'd completed the first draft. And then do the revision.
But I just can't work that way. So I wade around in a miasma of self-doubt and uncertainty that inevitably leads to disillusion and despair. What seemed so fresh and amusing a couple of weeks ago now seems stale and unoriginal. I'm already sick of the book and I've only written three chapters.
And yet. Sometimes you can hate the things you love most but if it's true love the antipathy is only temporary. One good paragraph can change everything. Right now though, writing one good sentence is a challenge.
Why do I do this to myself? That's easy. Because there is no alternative. Writing is the only thing I do in my life that makes me feel remotely human. And I guess I wouldn't be human if I didn't occasionally feel miserable at my own shortcomings.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
When I started the book the only thing I knew was that I wanted it to be humorous, a complete change from by previous novel, the bleak and downbeat A Half Life Of One. I quickly discovered that setting out to make something funny is a bit of a downer in itself. Deliberately creating amusing scenes and sub-Dickensian characters; inventing witty dialogue; while all the while weaving an hilarious plot round this loveable cast of characters turned out to be a pretty depressing business. By the time I'd called myself back after fifteen or so false starts and twenty thousand crap words I was almost suicidal.
After every false start all I was left with was the central character. A misogynist, alcoholic, hapless, feckless, incompetent, selfish, unhappily-married, ageing dreamer. Me, obviously. A subject I know a lot about. And a vague but unlikely plot set in Edinburgh, revolving around the world of publishing. About which I know nothing. I have been to Edinburgh though.
I discovered that I could never get past the second chapter after I introduced the second major character, a young, unpublished aspiring novelist. Each time the old man and the novelist would enter into a conversation designed to move on the plot and each time it would go nowhere. The problem was that I couldn't get into the young man's head and worse, he couldn't get into mine. I was making him up as I went along, trying to lure him into some kind of situation round which I could hang the plot.
I was also trying to make him witty but that was like being at one of those parties when you get stuck with the bore in the corner and try with increasing desperation to liven up the conversation. All you end up doing is getting drunk and falling over. That's what I kept doing in the book, in a literary sense of course.
And so it went on until about a week ago. Then the young man said something I wasn't expecting and the scene took off in a completely unexpected direction. To be honest I was a little annoyed at his presumption. And a little scared. I was no longer in control. I embarked on each new session with increasing circumspection. Some sessions I wrote only a sentence, deliberately pulling the guy back. It was like we were fighting each other. The thing is, there's nothing worse than trailing up a blind allet, particularly if it's a hundred pages long. So a stalemate developed.
And then the other night I had a dream. More like a revelation. I saw the young guy talking and I eavesdropped on his conversation. What he said was so surprising and outrageous that I woke up and burst out laughing.
I was still laughing in the morning. As a result of what the young guy said I've suddenly got a plot. It seems that for once, being a dreamer has worked in my favour. It's not a complete plot by any means but it's enough to get me through the next hundred pages or so. After that, who knows? I'm sure I can trust the young guy to take me somewhere interesting. I'm certainly curious to find out. Excited too. God, I love that young man. He's some character. In fact, I'm sitting here just now chuckling with pleasure at what he's about to do next.
Monday, June 09, 2008
The first time was the result of Gordon Brown's mismanagement of the British economy when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It turns out that his long and gloomy interregnum has caused the stealthy devaluation of the once-mighty Pound Sterling abroad. As a result, in Italy at least, a pound is now worth the equivalent of two mouldy lumps of gnocchi against the Euro, and falling fast. We discovered this when we stopped for lunch at a charming tratoria off the Via Dei Gracchi on the way back from Castel Sant'Angelo. A modest lunch for two of sardines and a bottle of white wine followed by several digestifs cost us nearly eighty pounds. After my wife had picked me up from the piano - where I lay feeling like I'd just been run over by one - it dawned on us that her extravagant birthday present to me was going to be exactly that.
For the next three days we wandered listlessly around Rome cursing Brown and envying the free-spending Romanians, Lithuanians and Poles who seemed to be everywhere having a good time. We survived largely on pizza (although once, feeling light-headed with hunger we indulged in spaghetti alle vongole, a few moments of mad prodigality that left us both unsatisfied and appalled at our reckless gourmandising), while we saved up our budget for one final, decent culinary splurge.
That evening on the way to the restaurant - our final night in Rome - we decided first to visit the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, built mostly upon the imposing ruins of the third century Baths of Diocletian. It was on the exit from this enormous building that our second mugging occurred in a manner that was far more professional and slick than any of Gordon Brown's hamfisted attempts to relieve us of our hard-earned cash.
I thought it quaint when - after we had crossed the main transept gawping at the enormous marble pillars - we were suddenly ushered out through a back door in the sacristy by a fag-smoking "caretaker" and found ourselves alone and disoriented in a dusty back alley. "I think it's this way," I muttered when I realised the door back into the church had been slammed shut behind us.
No sooner had we emerged from the alley onto a marginally wider but still deserted road than a car pulled up alongside us. The driver wound down his window and beckoned us. "Where is the main railway station?" he muttered, "Quick, senor, we will miss our train."
I couldn't help even though we'd walked past it a few minutes earlier. I was lost myself. "It's not far but I'm not sure which direction."
"Aberdeen! My wife's from Aberdeen!"
"Really! What a co-incidence." We beamed at him. There was a guy sitting beside him with his nose buried in a newspaper. They were both wearing sharp suits. They looked like businessmen.
"You know who I am?" asked the driver.
"I'm the boss of Armani. You've heard of Armani haven't you!"
"Of course!" My eyes widened. I was impressed. The boss of Armani was someone rich and famous, wasn't he? A jetsetter. Monaco. Supermodels. Fabulously rich. I'd never met a really rich person before. I wanted to curtsey.
"My friend I have a problem. Will you help me?"
I didn't hesitate. It would be an honour. Besides, who knew where it might lead? No harm having friends amongst the rich and famous. "Of course. What's the problem?"
"I've just been at our annual company sales conference. Five hundred of our top guys. My Bentley wouldn't start so I borrowed this car but it's got no petrol left. Of course I don't carry money just like your Royal Family. I must get to the train station before the petrol runs out. Lend me some money for fuel, will you?"
I looked at my wife. Since the first day in that restaurant I didn't have any money. "Give him some money," I said, "Come on, help the guy."
"For God's sake. He's the boss of Armani. Don't be stupid."
She looked confused but took out her purse.
"How much you got?" said the boss of Armani, leaning forward to peer into her purse.
She held out a five euro note.
He looked unimpressed. "Give me more!"
She looked at me for guidance. I couldn't believe she was acting so churlishly in front of such a distinguished and wealthy businessman, one of the richest in Europe. "Give him more," I urged her, mortified.
"Here's ten," she said reluctantly.
"More," he demanded, "Give me all."
"I've only got a hundred," she protested."For Heaven's sake, give him the money!" I exhorted her.
He reached into the back of the car. "Here, look, it's your lucky day." He held up two leather jackets. "Genuine Gucci."
My eyes widened. Real Gucci. They must be worth a fortune. Wait a minute though, didn't he say Armani? Did they own Gucci too? I couldn't remember. Must be. "Give him the money," I implored. I could already picture the envious looks from our friends when we got back home. Maybe he'd even send us a Christmas present or invite us to one of his holiday homes.
Reluctantly my wife handed over sixty euros.
"These jackets are worth five hundred each! Real leather. Hugo Boss!"
"Give him some more!" I said, appalled at her meaness.
She gave him another fifty euros. The driver looked at her, hesitating. "Okay. Good. Take the damned jackets. See you in Scotland!" He flung the jackets at our feet and drove off at high speed.
We stood there looking at the thin, brown jackets. Even to my unpracticised eyes they looked rather shapeless. "Let's try them on," I said hopefully, fighting my misgivings.
They didn't fit us. They wouldn't have fitted anybody. We stared at each other. Gradually it dawned on me. "We've just been mugged," I said slowly, a sinking feeling developing in the pit of my stomach.
My wife stared at me, her eyes full of resentment. "No," she muttered through gritted teeth, "I'm the one who's been mugged. By three men. And one of them was my husband."
She was right. I was such an idiot. How could I act like that towards my own wife? A stupid, willing collaborator. I felt so ashamed. Even the slap-up meal I bought her later with my credit card couldn't erase the bad taste in either of our mouths.
I left Rome feeling a lot older. Wiser too. But the wisdom came at a high price indeed.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
On the other hand I'm perfectly content to write - unrevised - entries into my blog after a few glasses of red and I'm usually quite pleased with the result.
Until I read the blog again the next morning, that is. Still, maybe it's better to write something -anything - than drown in wine-filled silence.
I guess I'll find out - somewhat fuzzy-headed - tomorrow.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
As a consequence of my ignorance you can imagine how delighted I was when I came across this frank, not to say clinical, definition of the practice in a book written by John Seymour. In this instance I should explain that Mr Seymour is actually fisting a sheep. He writes: "Fisting is the forcing of your fist in between skin and the dead sheep."
The book in question is called "The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency" and Mr Seymour is revered as the father of self-sufficiency and is a hero of conservationists everywhere. I was initially attracted to the book by the sub-title: "The classic guide for realists and dreamers". You can guess which category I fall into. The book is basically about living off the land. Planting your own crops, rearing (and butchering as above) your own animals, reducing to zero your carbon footprint.
I'm half way through the book and already I'm determined to live my life in a greener way. Equally importantly, I now feel confident that I can safely introduce the topic of fisting next time I'm dining out with my poshest friends, without any danger of being made to appear foolish. I'm sure they'll be excited and impressed with my authoritative grasp of the subject.
Furthermore, I am confident that the benefits to be derived from the book won't end there. I can't wait to get to the bit about sexual self-sufficiency (on which I already consider myself something of an expert). Hopefully there'll be some sound advice in the book that will tide me over when my wife is next away on one of her many conference trips abroad.
I only hope that the suggested techniques for satisfaction when one is solitary don't also include the excessive use of root vegetables. That really would be taking living off the land a mite too far.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The good news is that I managed to insert my first joke by the sixth paragraph. That's one more joke than I managed in the whole of A Half Life Of One. Since it's meant to be a humorous novel you can guess how relieved I was to get that hurdle over with.
The bad news really emanates from the fact that (so far) the central character is sixty years old. He makes an unintentional joke about Gogol. Of course if he (or me for that matter because the hero so far is a thinly-disguised version of myself) was younger and more more in tune with contemporary mores he'd be cracking jokes about Google, not Gogol.
When I re-read what I'd written I suddenly realised how old-fashioned I'd become. My only hope is that the humour really is timeless. To make matters worse I began to experience the unmistakeable feeling that what I might be doing is creating a new fiction genre, one that is unlikely to surpass Chick Lit in the Amazon sales rankings.
Grandad lit, anyone?
Monday, March 24, 2008
A Half Life Of One still attracts readers. Someone called Paula emailed a couple of days ago to say, "Really enjoyed reading the book, found it a fascinating insight into how low a person can sink." Thanks, Paula, for taking the trouble to comment on the book: it means a lot to me. Means everything in fact. God, I love readers.
Then while I was in London the other week someone bought a copy of AHLOO on Amazon. Who on earth could it be and why? I guess I'll never know.
Perhaps I should go to the capital more often because while I was there Scott Pack of Me and My Big Mouth fame gave the book what he describes as a Quick Flick review. I'm not sure if he's actually read the whole book but his description certainly hits the nail on the head. Here's what he said:
"It’s not altogether comfortable reading a novel about a man whose business goes bust. Timely perhaps, but not easy reading at the moment. Bill Liversidge certainly manages to capture all the worry and emotion that comes with the situation and the unnerving way it seeps into other parts of your life.
There is nothing earth-shattering about this book so far, but that isn’t really the point. It is a small, self-published affair but it is a good, solid, no-frills domestic drama told, for once, from the male perspective. However, the Amazon reviews suggest it is all about to kick off if I read any further. It is tantalisingly poised.
The author has an entertaining blog and is doing his best to spread the word about his novel. I would certainly recommend checking out his online activities and if they tickle your fancy then A Half Life Of One may well appeal".
What's interesting here is that Mr Pack used to be the head buyer for Waterstone's and was once described as the most powerful man in British publishing, so he knows what he's talking about. His current venture, The Friday Project, is struggling at the moment so you can see why the book won't have been an easy read for him and why it's so impressive that he took the trouble to give the book some welcome publicity. I hope he survives okay - good people like him deserve a break.
I've said it before but it bears repeating. If it wasn't for the internet AHLOO would now be a yellowing manuscript languishing unread at the back of a drawer somewhere. As it is, it now has a life of its own. A modest life certainly, but hopefully a long one. And in such a dangerous and uncertain world where traditional publishers everywhere are struggling against the onslaught of new technology and general indifference who amongst us could ask for more?
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Meeting other bloggers - other writers - turned out to be quite a profound experience. I've never met a writer in the flesh before, in literary terms I've lived my life in a vacuum. Sitting in the pub surrounded by a covey of writers and performers I felt a bit like an atheist attending a church service, a rather disreputable interloper. I wished I had their faith in art. I wished I shared their humanity. I returned home more than ever convinced of my own shortcomings, both as a writer and a human being.
A couple of conversations after the performances confirmed what I had already begun to suspect. My new novel - a work in progress called Mummy's Boy - is no good. It doesn't work on any level but in particular the voice - that of a five-to-eleven year old boy - is woefully inauthentic. It's funny, because the book is more or less a straightforward transcription of events that happened to me at that age, events that are still vivid and abiding. That's really the problem of course.
Actually, I'd begun previously to mistrust the book for other reasons. It was in danger of turning into a "misery memoir", a sub-genre I despise. Nor was the writing of it stretching me in any way, other than testing my powers of recall. It didn't feel like a novel at all. It wasn't breaking any new ground. It was, in truth, something of a nostalgic wallow.
I've decided to abandon the book. I'll leave it up on the blog as a potentially interesting failed experiment, an online footnote marking the rubbish bin of my writing ambitions. Naturally I feel pretty gutted but it's not the first blind alley I've ever been down and I don't expect it will be the last.
A week ago, to mark the demise of this work in progress, I went out and bought myself a new laptop, well, a very dinky notebook actually. And then I started work on a new book. This one's meant to be funny and is actually entirely fictitious which must be a good thing in something that purports to be a novel. The trick of it will be to make it serious enough to make the humour work. I'm not sure if I will repeat the experiment of publishing it online as I go. The only reason for doing so would be to get some feedback - but right now I feel like it's best simply to plough my own furrow and see where it takes me.
Oh, the idea for the book came from one of my conversations in the pub with one of the writers. So it certainly wasn't a wasted journey. The very opposite in fact.
It's always nice to meet other writers. Maybe I'll do it again sometime. Perhaps when I've finished the new book and earned my credentials.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
What happened was I missed my train at the appointed time and had to walk. It was a lot further than I thought. Four hundred and three miles from London to Aberdeen apparently, although it felt a lot longer, especially when I got lost in Essex. It took me twenty-four days all told, which isn't too bad considering it was meant to be a three day round trip. The downside is that I wore out two pairs of shoes. And Essex was a real dump. Everything they say about that place is true. Tilbury really was the pits, especially sleeping under that hairpin bridge and getting mugged. East Anglia wasn't too bad though - at least it's flat, which is important when you're walking. Wales wasn't too good either I'm sorry to say - very up and down. Even worse when I realised I was going in the wrong direction. All the road signs are in Welsh, which didn't help.
The lowpoint was when I got chased by a gang of old ladies in Northumberland.
Thankfully, things picked up when I finally got home. It was dark last night when I trudged up the road. I thought there'd be lights on in the old cottage but everything was in darkness. The place was locked up and as I'd had my key stolen in Milton Keynes I had to break in. The kitchen was like a fridge. There was a note on the table from the wife. Not having heard from me for so long she'd taken umbrage and left. That's what happens when you forget to take your mobile phone. We'd been married for thirty-two years so I could understand how she might have wanted a change. The chilli seeds I'd planted before I set out had all come up. The jalapenos looked particularly healthy which really pleased me. Just like the wife the milk in the fridge had gone off.
That's about it really. Nothing of any great significance although I did meet some nice bloggers down in London who I don't expect to see again.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Of which more, God willing, anon.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
In my new home my mum and her sister fought all the time. Literally day and night. For some reason that I couldn't understand I was a cause of much of the friction. As a result I tiptoed round the house on eggshells, never knowing when I would do something wrong. My world had turned cold and grey. I was lost in a barren landscape of ploughed fields and abandoned coal pits.
Fortunately, as well as a few books, we had a black and white television. In autumn of 1960 the BBC started showing the first of twenty-three episodes of The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, a comedy imported from the US that NBC had aired several years earlier. Apparently the programme was based on a novel by Paul Gallico but I suspect the adaptation strayed a long way from the original.
The show starred Wally Cox as a weedy, mild-mannered, nerdy-looking proofreader who through years of secret practice had developed James Bond-like skills in activities as diverse as shooting, rock-climbing and scuba-diving. He was also incredibly well read and an expert on all sorts of arcane arts from horse-whispering to memorising Shelley's poetry. Travelling the world at the behest of his employers he pitted his wits against a diverse collection of evil geniuses. He possessed supreme self-confidence that allowed him to face every danger with equanimity and yet he remained touchingly modest. Against overwhelming odds he resolved every crisis. How I longed to be like him!
Hiram was unremittingly cheerful. He loved the world and all its faults. He found joy in everything. His attitude to life gave me hope even though I knew that at the end of each half hour episode the real world would remain as drab and forbidding as ever.
After all this time I thought Hiram had vanished into the ether but I reckoned without Google. Google has obliterated time, brought the past back to life. I met Hiram again the other day, even watched an episode of his adventures on You Tube in grainy black and white as if I was that twelve years old kid again.
All the old memories and emotions came flooding back as if it was yesterday. The pain, the despair, the bitterness and above all the hopelessness that enveloped me as I tried to cope with my mother's illness. She's dead now of course, finally at rest. Wally Cox too is dead, his ashes scattered, rather bizarrely, along with those of his best friend Marlon Brando, in Death Valley.
Thanks to the internet though, Hiram Holliday lives on. A true hero of our time. Or my time at least. Thanks, Hiram, for coming to my rescue too.
If you're interested you can check Hiram out here.
Monday, February 11, 2008
"Hi Mr Pundy
I am thinking of visiting the Booklaunch you recently described on your blog in the hope of meeting both you and Mr Ahearn as I too am a failed writer who still aspires to literary greatness despite all the evidence to the contrary. I believe I can draw inspiration from the way you have both refused to accept your lack of talent as a serious hindrance on the road to literary immortality. The problem is, I don't know what either you or Mr Ahearn looks like and I have a dread of approaching other men in strange pubs in case my motives are misconstrued. Please can you help?
Let me say right away - and after a great deal of thought - and despite the moral minefield that surrounds the subject - I determined to tackle the issue of identifying people you have never met head on. Here's the rather courageous reply I sent Mr Lurkio:
"Hi Mr Lurkio
Do not despair. The problem you have described is surprisingly common, even though it is rarely spoken about in public. There is no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Indeed, so common is the affliction that that it's little wonder that the world is full of strangers. I believe this is especially true in London, due in part to the high population density, to say nothing of the widespread occurrence of public houses.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to pre-cognitive stranger recognition, as the illness is more properly known. Freud, in particular, was especially gloomy about the likelihood of finding a reliable palliative since, in his opinion, every stranger presented a different challenge to the cognitee (ie you). Jung, on the other hand felt that certain facial distinguishing strategies were worthy of consideration especially if the target could be fulsomely described.
Your particular case is made more difficult by the fact that I too have not met John Ahearn. However, being a fully-trained (and successful) self-published author I am able to deconstruct John's writing by means of acute textual analysis and reconstruct the resulting signifiers into something which is - I am confident - an accurate word-picture of what the man actually looks like. Here then - based solely upon his published oeuvre - is his description:
1 He is male
2 He is American
3 He speaks largely in Arkansas rhyming slang
4 He is over six feet tall
5 He has a lazy right eye
6 He has a very furrowed brow due to all the agonising he endures trying to find the apposite bon mots for his poems
7 He is bow-legged
8 He has a large white droopy moustache
9 He may or may not be wearing glasses
10 He'll be swilling corn whiskey from a small barrel balanced on his shoulder
If you are still unable to spot him in the crowd from this description look out for a guy wearing a Stetson with a sixgun strapped to his waist standing beside a horse tethered to the bar. This may not be John but he'll likely be an American who will at least buy you a drink.
As far as my own appearance is concerned the problem is altogether different. According to my wife - who I have to admit I haven't seen for some time - I have absolutely no self-awareness. This makes describing myself extremely difficult. To help me I asked my two friends to describe me but the best they could come up with was the following list of adjectives: "humourless", "dull", "mean", "thick", "bitter", "envious", "snobbish", "touchy" (but not feely) and - a little unfairly I thought - "extremely unsociable". Physically, I am six feet tall, balding, multiple-chinned, gap-toothed, short-sighted, hard-of-hearing and I wear a permanently mournful expression on my face.
If all else fails, look for the guy standing alone in the corner. That'll be me. Unless, of course, it's you - seeing your reflection in the mirror next to the Gent's lavatory.
See you there!!!!"
Friday, February 08, 2008
Stendhal and Lord Byron
Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens
Rainer Maria Rilke and Rabindranath Tagore
W B Yeats and Christopher Isherwood
Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein
W B Yeats and Ezra Pound
Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Iris Murdoch and John Bayley
Markx and Engels
Marks and Spencers
Burke and Hare
Anthony and Cleopatra
Antony and the Johnsons
George Burns and Gracie Allen
Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham
Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere
Shirley Temple and John Agar
Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley
John Wayne Bobbitt and Loreena Bobbitt
Homer Simpson and Marge Bouvier
The Lone Ranger and Tonto
Roy Rogers and Trigger
Ben and Jerry
Lennon and McCartney (suggested by John Baker)
Robert Allen Zimmerman and Bob Dylan (ditto)
Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler (suggested by Matt)
Cleopatra and Me or John (suggested by the incomparable Minx)
Pooh and Piglet (suggested by Absolute Vanilla, who needs a cuddle)
Bill Pundy and John Ahearn.
Be there and watch history happen.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I sailed through your novel with pleasure, the pleasure of reading a well-written, carefully plotted story with a logical, intelligent ending.
In my notes to myself about A HALF LIFE OF ONE, I wrote: This was a well-written, smoothly moving, stinging portrait of a seeming everyman, who is decent and willing to work hard, but within himself lurks a self-centered selfishness that enables him to be startlingly cruel. At the same time, there is an element of guilt and the fear of being caught that is his sentence to a torturous life.
Your ending was as unforgettable as Edgar Allan Poe’s THE CAST OF AMONTILLADO.
Thank God for the internet so that works like yours can be made available to readers.
All the best,
This struck me as an interesting take on the book so I asked Mr Crowe to tell me a little more about himself. Here's his biography:
Kenneth C. Crowe’s latest book is the free on-line novel, THE DREAM DANCER, which may be accessed at www.kennethccrowe.com.
Crowe was a labor reporter at Newsday and New York Newsday from 1976 to 1999. He is the author of COLLISION/HOW THE RANK AND FILE TOOK BACK THE TEAMSTERS. Published by Scribner's in 1993, COLLISION tells the story of the Teamsters' rank and file reform movement, culminating in the election of Ron Carey as president of the union.
Crowe won an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship in 1974 to study foreign investment in the United States. In 1978, Doubleday published AMERICA FOR SALE, Crowe's book on foreign investment in the United States.
Crowe was a member of the Newsday investigative team whose work won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal.
Definitely an interesting guy. Certainly enough to make me want to pop over and take a look at his online novel. Oh, and Scribner's were Scott Fitzgerald's publishers too, a connection which sent a little shiver down my spine.
Amazing who you meet on the web, isn't it? So much better than being stuck alone at home in the Pundyhouse without any kind of access to the outside world.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
As a kid I was a big library user. But it's nice to own books. So I started buying paperback books big time in 1964 when I was sixteen. I can't remember now but I must have suddenly become affluent - maybe I got a paper round - because I used to buy half a dozen books or more a month right up until the time I went to university in 1966.
The first book I ever bought was called something like "Kennedy: the first 100 days, a skeptical analysis" from the Paperback Bookshop in Edinburgh. I still have it although - because we have the builders in - I can't put my hands on it right now.
Next, in July 1964 I bought Henry James' "Washington Square". It cost 3/6 in old money which is 17.5 pence today or roughly 35 cents. Now, amortising that over 43 years and taking into account the fact that I've read it twice that equates to a written down value of around 0.00056 pence for the price of the book. In other words, that's what the book has really cost me given the length of time I've owned it. Since the book has around 60000 words that's a download equivalent to 10cc of fresh air per word (my calculator just can't handle such a small amount). Or half that already infinitesimal amount if I read it again within the next six months. Even less if my wife reads it too since she didn't buy it in the first place (we hadn't met back in 1964), and assuming I hire it to her at the going rate based on the current replacement value (which is standard practice in the hire business). I wouldn't hire it to my son though, because I wouldn't get it back from him.
Now, I've never met Jeff Bezos but I know he's a formidable businessman who must have done his sums on this venture. Even so, I'm prepared to take him on. If he can convince me that I can buy his little gizmo and download novels for less than the price I've been paying up to now, then I promise I'll go online right away and give him all my credit card numbers and he can take them up to their limits and beyond. Which, unfortunately for Jeff, is not very far. That is to say, I'll never buy another book.
Don't know what I'll put on my bookshelves in future though.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Production values this year were high. The costumes in particular - all made by Ms Pat Jennings, who also wrote, produced and directed the show - were magnificent. The plot - after numerous scary twists and turns - had a suitably happy ending. This was the first night of a three night run and I have no doubt that by Saturday everyone will reliably know their lines, or even whether they have lines or not. The backstage side of the operation was supported by fourteen people, while over twenty-five actors brought the plot - and the audience -to life.
Acting honours were shared equally by Neil Thomson as the thoroughly Wicked Wizard and a troup of under-fives as the Northern Lights Fairies. The biggest laughs of the evening were garnered by the veteran performer Robbie Marshall - who must be at least sixty- playing the parts of the Tyrone Turtle Dove and Basil the Tattie Bogle, although not at the same time. A Tattie Bogle is an old-fashioned Scots word for a scarecrow. Robbie Marshall is Scots for an old-fashioned farmer.
And it was the laughs that Robbie Marshall got that set me thinking.
Mr Marshall looks like Fred Flintstone after a rough night. Dressed in the full plumage of a turtle dove he looked deliciously ridiculous, notwithstanding a pair of fine-turned calves. The sheepish expression on his face added to the effect. His very appearance, then, raised a smile. But what made people really laugh out loud was whenever he opened his mouth. Mr Marshall you see speaks Doric. Doric is an old dialect native to the North-East of Scotland which is a sort of cross between Gaelic and Scots and it can be pretty impenetrable. Thirty years ago everyone round here spoke Doric, especially the farming community. Anglified Scots was their second language. Now the dialect is a rarity, especially amongst the young. Even young farming lads don't talk like that now. That's not the way they're taught, nor indeed the way the world works.
Of course the world has changed. Farming now employs many fewer people. The village itself is full of commuters. There are many more incomers. Many are English. Thanks to the motor car, and televison and the internet we are no longer isolated. People come and go all the time, especially the young. On the whole this is a good thing, this is progress. But not entirely. Something has been lost.
When you take away a man's language you take away part of his soul. Mr Marhall's grandsons and grandaughters are educated in a foreign language: Scots. They don't talk the way he does. I was born English - working-class English - and I too was educated in a foreign language: Middle-class English. I didn't talk the way my parents did. And of course with the imposition of a foreign language comes the adoption of foreign values and an alien culture. But it's not just the Education System that is foreign to indigenous minorities. The legal system, government, the BBC, most of the Establishment in fact belong to another culture.
I used to get pretty worked up about this state of affairs, what I saw as a massive injustice, this oppression of the minority by the majority, this denial of statehood.
Maybe that's the wrong reaction. Like everyone else in the audience last night I laughed loudly at Robbie's anachronistic accent. Even Robbie laughed good-naturedly at the way he sounded, albeit somewhat sheepishly. I guess he's had sixty years to get used to other people's reactions.
Either that, or he's been educated well in the new ways. Or weel learnt, as they still say up here.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
"What?" I muttered defensively.
"Haven't you got enough dictionaries already?"
It was a good question. I already own The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (Revised Edition), Bloomsbury Dictionary, Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, The Oxter English Dictionary and several others which I can never find when I need them. Like now. Oh, and there's half a dozen Encyclopedias as well, but they don't really count.
My all-time favourite dictionary though is called - I think - The Penguin Paperback Dictionary. It's about five years old. It's full of words , just like the others, but what distinguishes it is the excellent way it illustrates how they should be used. Or it did. Unfortunately, because it's a paperback I managed to break its spine in two. My wife took it away to get it re-bound. That was a year ago and I haven't seen it since. I really loved that book. Unfortunately, so does she. I can't seem to locate a replacement and I suspect it is now out of print. This latest purchase is okay, but it's not perfect so I guess the hunt will continue.
The new dictionary isn't completely useless though. Later that same night my wife was leafing through some notes pertaining to her Contract Of Employment. Her employers have been looking at the way their organisation is managed and have decided they need to implement some fairly radical structural changes. As a result they intend to "Allocate staff from departments to new divisions and issue proleptic contract changes to take effect 31 July 2008." Now, I've been in management for over thirty years and I've studied its workings in some considerable depth but this word is a new one on me. I hauled out the newly-purchased dictionary. "Proleptic: The representation of a thing as existing before it actually does or did so."
Wow. I can't decide in this instance whether the use of this word is Orwellian or more like something out of Alice In Wonderland. Either way, I'm glad I've got enough dictionaries to build a stout defence around me against this sort of management gobbledegook.
Monday, December 03, 2007
The first one was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Somewhere recently in my wanderings around the blogosphere I'd stumbled on a review of the book on one of Maxine's many blogs and it made me wonder why I'd never read the book. Forty years ago when I was still at school I was addicted to Hemingway but I stopped reading him, mainly, I guess, for two reasons. Firstly, I felt I was being somewhat disloyal to my great hero (and Hemingway's occasional friend) Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway's reputation at that time was huge and growing. Fitzgerald, while popular, was somewhat in decline. I knew Hemingway was good, but not that good. To tell the truth I hadn't really enjoyed the last two books of his that I had read: For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. The latter, in fact, I rather disliked. It seemed contrived and stagey. False, even.
But the real reason I stopped reading Papa was that his style was so infectious, like typhoid. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Vigorous. Masculine. And frequently portentous. You couldn't read Hemingway and not write like him. Or at least a feeble parody. That voice was so hard to get out of your head. Fatal for a young writer.
Fortunately the voice is subdued in A Moveable Feast, barely a whisper in fact. It's an interesting memoir of his time in Paris as a penniless writer in the Twenties. It's well-written and atmospheric. It's plain how much his art - especially the search for truth - means to him. That search - about which he wrote extensively over the years - was the one that inspired me as a young man. As a writer he was a powerful role model, someone to look up to. As a person, less so. In the book he's kind and generous in his portrayal of Fitzgerald and praises The Great Gatsby highly which I found rather touching. Especially since he had long before fallen out with Fitzgerald big time.
I read A Farewell To Arms again a couple of years ago and I thought it stood up pretty well. Very well in fact. Indeed, I'd say it was one of the great novels of the twentieth century. Despite his apparent bravado and manliness Hemingway suffered terribly from depression. He died at the age of sixty-one on July 2, 1961 in Ketchum, Idaho when he blew his brains out with a shotgun. Reading about it at the time it seemed a shocking ending to an extraordinary career.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Michael Allen stood head and shoulders above his peers in the world of book blogging. Witty, informative, opinionated and original. Productive too. He reckons he's pumped out more than a million words on his blog since he started. That's a formidable achievement, almost a full-time job. I don't know when we'll see his like again.
I was lucky enough to conduct several e-mail coversations with him over the past couple of years. I was shamelessly plugging my blog and my book A Half Life Of One. I knew it. He knew it. And he knew that I knew it. It didn't matter. He always responded to the bait with good-natured kindness and plugged the blog and the book on several occasions. It was with mixed feelings that I realised that my book was the final subject on his final proper post. On this occasion I hadn't even asked for his help. Kind and generous to the end.
I hope he still inhabits the blogosphere and not just in spirit. If he does, and drops by here and reads this I'd like him to know just how grateful I am for all his advice, kindness and tacit encouragement over the years.
Gone maybe, forgotten, definitely not. Not for a long time.
Monday, November 26, 2007
There was confusion the following day at the hotel when Pundy discovered that his Press Conference had been double-booked with the Australian Society Of Sewage Engineers. The issue was resolved when the two bodies agreed to share the hall and alternate questions. The Conference Room on the fourth floor of the prestigious Rits Hotel was consequently packed at the appointed hour with financial analysts, agents, booksellers, TV executives and sewage engineers. Wally Ackerman, the Australian-born Director of the Society Of Sewage Engineers agreed to chair the meeting. A handout was given to each attendee explaining that because some delegates at a previous presentation had had trouble understanding the mellifluous tones of Mr Pundy, a translator would be employed to convert the publisher’s thick Scottish brogue into Received English.
At a little after 11.00am Mr Pundy and his assistant entered onto the stage and the excited hubbub in the room immediately died down. Mr Ackerman rose to greet the speakers.
“G’day,” he intoned with a smile, extending his hand in greeting to the rapidly advancing figure of Ms Malyszbienczy.
“Gdansk,” she corrected him coldly, brushing past.
Mr Pundy wore a large salmagundi-patterned bonnet with a plaid scarf wrapped round his face as protection against the Autumn chill, leaving only his eyes visible which gave the somewhat disconcerting impression that he was wearing a tartan burka. Ms Malyszbienczy for her part wore a black corduroy suit with a skirt so brief one delegate later described its virtual non-appearance as “a salutary and deeply-moving experience”. All eyes followed her as she took a seat on the podium beside her boss.
Mr Pundy wasted no time in launching into his speech. “Weel lads, it’s guid tae see sae mony weel-kent faces,” he tintinabulated through his scarf.
“Well boys, eez goot to zee zo meny well-knowed faeces,” translated Ms Malyszbienczy, smiling sweetly at the audience as she spoke, a number of whom felt quite faint at this point.
“Ony questions?” continued Pundy.
Ms Malyszbienczy stared at her boss for several seconds with a puzzled expression on her face. “’Ee is aksing you eef yew ‘ave eny questions,” she announced eventually, a look of triumph on her face.
“How are sales of A Half Life Of One holding up?” enquired a pin-striped analyst.
“Guid, laddie. Aye, canny complain.”
Every eye turned expectantly upon Ms Malyszbienczy. The auditorium was so quiet you could have heard a toilet flush in the adjoining Gent’s lavatory, especially if you had a trained ear like many of those present. “’Ee says ‘Goot’,” Ms Malyszbienczy explained eventually.
“Any new marketing initiatives?” enquired one of the Sewage Engineers, a young man in his late twenties who appeared particularly keen to catch Ms Malyszbienczy’s eye.
“Weel, chappie ye ken aboot ‘Buy One Get One Free’,” responded Pundy, “Weel, wer gonna blast that scheme richt oot the watter. From Monday wir launching ‘Buy one get five free’. Sales will gang through the roof” He turned to Ms Malyszbienczy and awaited her translation.
Ms Malyszbienczy’s eyes widened as she struggled to make sense of her employer’s speech. She shifted uneasily in her seat, swivelling her long, unsheathed legs from one side of her chair to the other. Two hundred pairs of eyes on the floor below swivelled in unison.
At that moment there was a commotion outside the doors of the conference hall. A stream of newly arrived sewage engineers was flooding into the atrium outside. Pressure quickly built up as the engineers jostled for space. Suddenly the doors to the hall burst asunder and a tsunami of cloacal experts surged into the room like effluent bursting out of a blocked storm drain.
As he disappeared beneath the seething, flocculating mass of humanity Pundy was heard to scream out, “Help ma boab!”
“Dobry wieczor,” translated Ms Malyszbienczy, on this occasion incorrectly.