Thursday, June 29, 2006

Deserting my blog

I'm off to Dubai tomorrow for five days or so on business. I've got a very crowded schedule and there'll be no time for blogging. I imagine the ensuing peace and quiet will be welcomed by all, especially the neighbours on West Egg.

While I'm away I will be thinking about the topics I'd like to address on the blog after I get back. Here's a flavour of what's in my mind:

1 What is the natural lifespan of an unpublished writer's blog? Obviously, there is only so much you can say about not breaking into print.

2 How depression affects writers. I've been putting off tackling this subject ever since I started my blog because it looms so large in my life. In the Pundy House it truly is the elephant in the room, almost blocking out the light.

3 The best way to self-publish. Putting up your novel on the net so people can read it from a screen or print it out is not the answer. Most people still want to read a book. What's the best way to satisfy that need if you can't get published in the traditional way?

4 Beyond technique. There is a lot of really good advice and information out there on how to be a good writer but most of it is from a technical perspective. Grammar, dialogue, plotting etc. But assuming you've mastered the basics, what will turn you into a truly great writer? I need to know.

5 How to use your blog to be a better writer

6 Is writing a blog any different from writing a novel?

7 How to get a link to the GOB. Only joking. Given that I'm going to continue to write this damned blog I would like more readers though. How to get them is the question.

8 Is humour funny? I'm not joking. Should this blog adopt a more serious tone if it ever wants to be taken seriously.

Well, the contemplation of those little questions should tide me over my sojourn across the desert. Might even take my mind off the saddle sores.

See you at the back end of next week.

Macmillan New Writing 4

Good news via Petrona, Macmillan are back in their building after the fire which led to their evacuation. Assuming my mss wasn't damaged I should hear from them any day now. Not counting time out for the conflagration they've had the book for six whole days. Which is six days lost sales, around 75,000 copies.

Come on Macmillan, time is money.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Making connections

It's not just bloggers who despair of connecting. Here's my friend John Ahearn on the subject

Hello? Hello?

I’ve never called the chat line before,
but lately I don’t seem able to lose
the feeling that life ought to be something more
than this incomprehensible puppet show.
I’m living a life, I guess, but I wonder whose.
Do you know what I mean? Is anyone there? Hello?

I just thought there might be someone there
who might possibly feel the same way,
who might be fending off the same despair
at being irresistibly jigged along,
a ghost in an Indonesian shadow play,
on for a tattered caper, a mothy song,

before they rattle out the god machine
and kill the agonists and clear the hall.
Are we just another skirmish on the screen,
a flurry of jointed dolls that never meet
except where our outlandish shadows fall
apart, together on a wrinkled sheet?

Surely I’m not the only one to find
the script inadequate, the lines I read
unequal to the pageant in my mind.
Surely someone’s wondering tonight
if anything means as much as a mustard seed,
whether we’re dust in the wind, or lantern light.

Is no one else ever terrified
gazing deep into the frigid night sky?
Hasn’t anyone out there ever cried
to heaven, cried aloud to the endless black
vacuum waiting to take us in? Am I
the last shivering insomniac?

Talk to me. Speak up. The meter’s on.
The house extracts a steady reckoning
for silence, too: my change is almost gone.
Why will you not speak? You’re there, I know.
I can hear you breathing, like a living thing.
Hello? Is anyone there? Hello? Hello?


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs states that man satisfies his basic needs first.

"I need a shag" is preceded by "I need a drink". "I need a drink" is followed by "You need a drink". The act of drinking is followed by "I need a leak". And so on.

My question, therefore, is, what precedes the postulate "I need to write"?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

West Egg Dreams

What an idiot I am. Okay, you already knew that, but this example of my stupidity is an absolute doozie.

The other day I compared the Comments section of my blog with that of the Grumpy Old Bookman and asked to which would you rather belong?

Grumpy's comment section has a sprinkling of quiet, academic types sipping sherry and nibbling vol-au-vents while engaging in serious literary discourse.

Mine is packed to the gunnels with noisy, boozy, disputatious reprobrates having a ball.

I suggested that Grumpy's blog was the place to be. How stupid can you get? Anyone with half a pulse would choose my place, wouldn't they? Don't believe me? Okay, come on over and I'll show you...

Location: Inside the blog, down among the Comments

You: Wow, man, this place is jumpin'!

Me: Told you. It's like this every night.

You (giggling): It's like an orgy in here, man. I've never seen anything like it! Who are these people?

Me: Well, let's see who's in tonight. That guy over in the corner.

You: The guy in the buckskins and the Davy Crockett hat?

Me: That's the one. That's JTA, the poet and writer.

You: He sure is one ornery-looking motherfucker.

Me: Yeah, ugly too. Lives up in the Ozark mountains or somewhere. He's not used to being around people.

You: He looks real mean to me.

Me: He is. That jug of moonshine hanging round his neck? A few swigs and you'll hear poetry flowing out of his mouth, sweet as birdsong.

You: No kidding? Who's the tall, statuesque broad. The one surrounded by all those young men?

Me. She's a beauty, isn't she. That's Maxine. Those young guys, they hang on her every word.

You: Let's get over there!

Me: Not so fast. What those guys don't know is that she's married and her husband...Well, the word on the street. Totally no sense of humour. If he sees those young dudes making up to his wife...look out.

You: Uh...okay. Maybe she's not my type. Who's that guy over there? The down and out. Is he selling the Big Issue or what?

Me: Don't let the raggedy clothes fool you, my friend. That's Skint Writer. He's autographing copies of his next best seller. I'd cut over there and get one if I were you. Few years time it'll be worth a packet.

You: Cool. Thanks for the advice, I will. Hey, who the fuck is that clowning around?

Me: Don't you know nothing, ace? That's the Minx. The life and soul of every party. She's no clown though. Take a peek behind the mask.

You: Let me see? Oh my God, she's...

Me: That's right. You know what they say. Inside every clown...Read her poetry, you'll see what I mean.

You: I will. These people, they're amazing. Not what you expect in a run-down joint like this. Hey, who the fuck is she?

Me: Which one?

You: The one in the middle, arguing with the crowd.

Me: That's Lynne Scanlon, everyone knows her. She's not called the Publishing Contrarian for nothing.

You: She sure is a mighty fine looking woman.

Me: Steady.

You: Strange though. Despite the ruckus I can hear every word she's saying.

Me: She's American.

You: Oh, I understand. Okay, let me see, who's that guy with the onions hanging round his neck?

Me: And the beret? That's Shameless. He lives in France.

You: Another writer?

Me: You got it. A good one too.

You: Crazy. But wait. Who's the sap standing all by himself watching everyone? Wait a minute. I don't believe it. That's not Gatsby is it?

Me: Gatsby's dead. That's the host. I don't know who he is either. Funny though, he does look somehow familiar. He's a bit of a mystery. Supposed to have made his money in oil but no-one knows for sure. Probably some scam.

You: If he's rich why does he look so sad?

Me: I dunno, he always looks like that. The story goes that when he was a young man of fifteen or sixteen he dreamed of becoming a writer. He never did of course, and now he hosts a party every night in the hope that some bigshot publisher might drop by.

You: And do they?

Me: Not to my knowledge. (Looks around). No-one from Macmillan here tonight, that's for sure.
You: That's so sad.

Me: Yeah, well the world is full of sad stories. Let's go and get a drink.

You: Good idea. I could murder a martini.

Me: Oh my God!

You: You've gone white. Are you all right? What is it?

Me: Our host. I know who he is. It'

You: You sure? That is seriously weird.

Me: I didn't recognise myself. The white hair. I look so old. When did that happen?

You: Whatever. Anyway, he's leaving now. Let's go and get a drink.

Pundy leaves the blog and steps out onto the verandah. There is not a cloud in the night sky. He stares up at the moon, the same moon he gazed at longingly when he was a youth, when all his dreams still meant something.

Across the bay, over in East Egg where the writers live, the lights are twinkling in the studies where masterpieces are being written.

So we beat on, he thought to himself, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Still stuck up shit creek without a paddle.

Bugger me

I don't believe it. I really don't believe it. I've just read Petrona (aka Maxine)'s post about the fire and potential explosion near her offices in Kings Cross. Macmillan New Writing is in the same building.

Not only have I now got a useless Easyjet ticket down to the Big Smoke but my mss has probably gone up in flames as well.

Someone up there really doesn't like me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Macmillan New Writing 3

Surprised not to hear from MNW after they've had the chance to read my book A Half Life of One over the weekend.

In the end, I've decided NOT to phone them. I think it's better to go down and visit them in person. They're bound to want a new publicity photo of me for a start (I'm much better looking than the photo on my blog makes me appear. Indeed, when the light strikes me in a certain way I'm almost handsome).

I can't make an appointment because I don't know right now which Easyjet flight I'll be taking. I don't foresee any problems if I simply turn up unannounced at reception tomorrow.

I'll let you know what they say after my visit.

Waiting for gobbo

Long before I started my own blog back in October I used to visit the Grumpy Old Bookman on a daily basis. His erudition, wit, informed opinions and inside knowledge of the publishing business inspired me. I determined that he was the benchmark against which I would measure the success of my own blog.

At the end of my first week’s blogging I realised that I had set my sights at a totally unrealistic level. I couldn’t begin to match this venerable polymath for originality, breadth of learning, professionalism and just about any other metric you care to name.

I changed tack. I decided I would set out, thorough diligent application and dedication, to earn a link from his site. A link would be like an endorsement, an award for services rendered to the literary blogosphere. Equally important, a link from his site would lead a steady stream of visitors to my nascent blog. A virtuous circle would be created.

But how to earn his approbation? I decided to build a temple to literature. A quiet place where learning and contemplation could flourish. Within the temple the air would be cool and still. Laughter would never disturb the tranquillity. Only the occasional smile might be permitted, a brief shadow across my acolytes’ furrowed brows.

So. Knob jokes were obviously out. Likewise swearing. References to Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown were also banned – they lowered the tone. The tone of the blog was all-important if I was going achieve the authoritative aura I craved.

As my model I decided to create a twenty-first century online version of the Bloomsbury Set. As the host I would be both a male Virginia Woolf and a female Roger Fry (most members of the Set were bisexual. Not that I am, I hesitate to add. Definitely not. Anyone more rampantly heterosexual than me you would go a long way to find. Not that I have anything against bisexual people either, of course. Far from it in fact. Homosexuals too, they’re fine by me. I don’t actually know any but I’m sure they’re just like the rest of us. Better probably. Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it, I always say.) The glitterati would drop in on a daily basis for aperitifs and a cucumber sandwich.

Rarefied opinions and brilliant apercus would spew forth from my blog like a tidal wave of effluent from a badly maintained sewage farm. The GOB couldn’t fail to notice my presence on the blogosphere.

The weeks passed. I checked my stats hourly looking for traces of the GOB in the ether. (GOB is his acronym; I like to imagine that in Antipodean literary circles – if that’s not a contradiction in terms – he’s known colloquially as GOBBO). Tragically, the great man was conspicuous only by his absence.

And then things started to go wrong. I made a fatal mistake. Gobbo, like Zeus, never descends from Mount Olympus. If you leave a comment on his blog he never responds. Sadly, I did not exhibit similar lofty restraint. I gave way to temptation. As a result a rumbustious dialogue between me and my readers developed all too frequently. Chaos ensued.

Dear readers, and I intend no offence with this observation, it is undeniable that the tone of the blog slowly and inexorably went downhill. In stark contrast, if you read the intelligent and authoritative Comments appended to Gobbo’s blog you are left with the distinct impression that he has garnered to himself a coterie of readers. Sadly, after even a cursory glance at my Comments section the epithet rabble leaps inescapably to mind.

It’s okay, dear readers. Don’t feel guilty for my demise. It’s not your fault. A blogger gets the readers he deserves. That’s the way the world works.

In the end, the sad fact is I set out to build a Harvey Nicholas department store to house my literary blogging ambitions and I ended up with a Matalan. My Neiman Marcus erection turned into Kmart. Aldi took the place of…oh fuck, that’s enough of the retailing metaphors. You get the idea.

It is apparent to me that if Gobbo has ever visited this blog – and surely he must have stumbled upon it from time to time in his wanderings around the literary blogosphere – the sight that greeted him must have filled him with dismay. Raucous, unruly, foul-mouthed, ignorant ruffians. More like a borstal than a temple.

No link ever materialised.

So, no hard feelings Gobbo. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you anyway. Stay well clear. I’ve been an outsider all my life and that’s how I’ll stay. As you trudge wearily back up Mount Olympus I’ll settle down for the night, alone and neglected on my sterile promontory, resigned to my fate.

I might have guessed it would end this way. Me and failure are frequent bedfellows. Perhaps I should have heeded our old family motto:

If at first you don’t succeed – give up.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The world is a dangerous place

Just taking a break from doing the hoovering - it's my turn this weekend.

It's been a funny old week hasn't it? Everything seemed to be going so well as we basked in the sunshine under a cloudless Blogland sky. And then out of nowhere some unpleasant black clouds drifted across the sun.

It seemed to start over on the blog of The Publishing Contrarian when someone took exception to receiving an e-mail that the PC routinely sends out to announce her latest posts. The objection, in comment form, contained the most abusive language imaginable. Even I was shocked.

Then, just yesterday, I learned that a fellow blogger was being bombarded with nasty e-mails and comments. I'm glad to say her fellow bloggers rapidly rallied round in her support. Shit happens of course, but it's no joke when it happens to you.

Of course the world is a dangerous place and the veneer of civilsation is very, very thin. Whether its genocide, or racism, sectarianism, paedophilia, rape, torture or a million other acts of cruelty, the evil goes on. We can win wars, civilise continents, build our nuclear deterrents. It makes no difference. There will always be evil people out there.

Oddly enough when you enter Blogland you step right out into the front line where the barbarians are waiting at the gate. And because bloggers routinely expose their very souls to the world and his wife they are peculiarly vulnerable. Anyone and everyone can fire a hate-tipped arrow at their heart.

Actually, I think this is no bad thing. We in Blogland shouldn't live in a make-believe castle surrounded by an unbridgeable moat. We're part of the real world and just like in the real world you can't always cross the road to avoid trouble. Helps to put things into context too. There are many things worse in the world than receiving the occasional rejection slip from some fusty old publisher.

The war between good and evil will always go on. The good news is, we'll win in the end. If we stick together.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Macmillan New Writing 2

Didn't phone MNW about A Half Life of One after all. Although they've already had the mss for four days now it occurred to me that maybe one person alone couldn't take the decision to publish the book. I imagine that a whole raft of senior editorial directors will be poring over my masterpiece this weekend. That's good. The more people who are behind the book in Macmillan's the bigger the promotional budget it's likely to get.

If I don't hear from them on Monday am I'll give them a call in the afternoon to check out the form on signing the contract, the drinks party launch etc.

Solitary pleasures

The house was empty. My wife was at work. I was alone in my study ogling the computer screen while having a wwwwwwwwwww...

Solitary pleasures (interrupted)

Sorry about that. The keyboard got jammed. It's all gummed up. As I was saying. The house was empty. My wife was at work. I was alone in my study ogling the screen while having a w...

Voice in the ether: Excuse me.

Me: What the fuck!

Voice: Excuse me!

Me: Who is it?

Voice: One of your readers.

Me (groans): Which one? Not the Minx?

Voice: No. I'm anonymous.

Me: Oh, the other one. I know you. What do you want?

Voice: I can smell something fishy.

Me: That's not fish.

Voice: There's something wrong with this post.

Me: It's not the grammar thing again, is it?

Voice: No. This post is not in its correct chronological sequence. Blogs don't work like that. What you're writing about hasn't happened yet.

Me: Yes it has. Read the previous post.

Voice: This is a joke!

Me: I resent that. This is a deeply serious middle-brow literary blog. Even the jokes aren't funny.

Voice: This is a blog not a novel. You can't do this!

Me: Fuck off.

Voice: Oh, there you go again, resorting to...ooof!

Me (having punched the voice in the mouth): Now where was I? Oh yes. As I was saying:

The house was empty. My wife was at work. I was alone in my study ogling the computer screen while having a wholemeal egg mayonnaise sandwich when I had this brilliant idea for my next post.

And just as soon as I clean all this mayo out of the keyboard I'll paste it up for you both to admire.

Unless of course there has been a timeshift as Anonymous alleges. In which case you've probably already read it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Eats, shoots and fucks

I yield to no-one in my respect for the English language.

In fact, I would go so far as to opine that the proper use of grammar is the fundamental basis of a civilised society. Like Lynne Truss I have a particular sensitivity to the correct use of apostrophes. That's because it usually only requires a little effort to understand how and where they should be applied. Bee's knees, for example when there's only one bee. Bees' knees when there's a swarm.

If I ever have a problem, a few repetitions of the word or phrase usually clearly signposts where the apostrophe should go. Yesterday, however, in this blog, I found myself in some difficulty with the phrase "For fuck's sakes". I tried a number of variations but none of them looked right. Indeed, I've been turning the phrase over and over in my head ever since. A number of people have commented on how preoccupied I looked.

At first I thought the problem was simply a grammatical one. If I slipped the phrase into a sentence the answer should be obvious. "For fucks' sake, stop picking your nose," for example, doesn't look too bad. Unfortunately, "For fuck sakes, put it away," looks equally correct. Or incorrect for that matter. In the end I decided it wasn't a problem of simple hermeneutics or syntax.

For a start I think the etymology of the phrase may come into this. I have a feeling, for example, that Americans usually say "For fuck sake, gimme the money" thus rendering redundant the need for an apostrophe altogether. Here in the North of Scotland, "For fucks sakes, gonna no dae that" is considered more acceptable usage. In this latter instance I have no idea where, if anywhere, the apostrophe should go.

In the end I suspect this is more of a problem of symantics rather than syntax. We need to work out the real meaning of the phrase, where it came from and how it developed, before we can correctly insert the apostrophe.

So, if there are any grammarians, or experts in syntax, synchronic linguistics, morphology, dialect or semantics out there who can help me with this most delicate problem I would really appreciate your help.

I simply can't risk embarrassing myself or my readers by employing faulty grammar any longer.

Noisy Neighbours

Gee, what's going on here? I log on this morning and my in-box is full of Comments from the blog.

Seems like while I've been asleep you guys have been having a party!

Just make sure you clean up afterwards, that's all.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Macmillan New Writing 1

STILL no response from MNW. They've already had the mss for two days now.

Just how long does it take to recognize genius, for fuck sakes (fucks sakes? fuck's sakes? fuck sake's? fucks' sakes?). For heaven's sakes. Sakes? Is that a word? Suddenly it doesn't look like one.

Jeez (Geez? Geeze? Jeeze? Geze?), I think I'm cracking up.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Here's another poem from John Ahearn. The only reason I'm putting it on the blog is because it's absolutely beautiful. I'm rapidly becoming a big fan of his, as you can guess.


by John Ahearn

The old abrasions still somehow obtain;
the old assertions and the old replies
become less conversation than refrain,
chipped, fragmentary sentences
eroding in the tidal silences
where everything and nothing signifies,
coffee, afternoon, threat of rain.

Will no surrender, yours or mine, suffice?
Can we never hope for thaw, to weather
like the sea’s cupped ivory dice,
wholly factual and unredeemed
until they tumble down spring streams
to lapidary sand, to lie together,
forget the etched exertions of the ice?

Between us is a bowl of polished stones,
trophies of our summers in the light,
mostly quartz, some agate, a few unknowns,
and one frozen scrap of ancient shale
intaglioed by a fish without a tail,
the patterned absence of an anchorite,
house from which the visitant has flown.

Why do we preserve this remnant clay,
these baubles from the necklace of the sea,
if not to hold their million yesterdays,
save the vestige of a winter mountain in
the seaglass sheen, spine of fin,
see our long, burnishing complicity
revealed, like theirs, as we dissolve away?

Me and William Shakespeare

Poor old Bill Shakespeare. You've got to feel sorry for him, haven't you. I mean, dying when he did he just missed out on the blogging phenomenon.

Imagine how much better he would have been as a writer if he'd had his own blog and had the benefit of shedloads of sagacious advice and comments from all his readers. Oh, don't bother, I've done it for you. His blog is called The View From The Summit (wonder where he stole that from?). Here's a selection of comments from his readers:


Hi Bill

Went to see Hamlet last night (couldn't get tickets for The History Boys, all sold out unfortunately). Not bad. But your hero - what a sap. Give me George Clooney any day.


Yo Bill!

What is it with you and those extended metaphors? Kiss! Kiss!! (Keep it simple stupid!)

stay cool



Hi Mr Shakespeare!

Doing Macbeth at school. Not bad! Don't give up your day job though! (What is your day job incidentally? I've got to write an essay about you at school and I can't find out ANYTHING about your early life. E-mail me with details. Thanks!)

Banger (Form V)


Hello there Mr Shakespeare

Have you really met Queen Elizabeth? Does she really have a wig? And is Prince Charles as daft as he looks?


Doris (73)


Greetings Mr Shakespeare

I am reading Julius Caesar as part of my first year course at University. I have to say I am finding it a bit dull. History doesn't have to be that way you know. Look at the Da Vinci Code. That's incredibly exciting AND it's well written too.

kind regards

Janice Puddock


Hi there Mr Shakespeare

I have read and admired your works for many years. Your use of language (especially metaphor) is breathtaking. Hamlet is one of my favourite plays.

I wonder if you would mind taking a look at the first three chapters of my novel A Half Life of One and giving me your opinion.

Many thanks in anticipation.



You're the man Bill!!!

Take a look at my video production of Romeo and Juliet over on Myspace!! That's my girlfriend playing the lead. I've had to edit her part to make it more prominent but I think you'll agree it's a big improvement.

Keep on writing!

Marlon Twitt


Hello Mr Shakespeare

Did you really write Titus Andronicus? Honest answer please. I have a big bet on with several of my colleagues in the Senior Common Room.


Ron Snot


Hello there, William

Why so coy? I've been reading those Sonnets of yours and believe me I know exactly where you're coming from (pun intended!)!!!

Loosen up, Willy, this is the 21st century. Come out from behind that arras! And I do mean come out! You won't be alone!!!




Hi Bill

Love your blog! If you suffer from penile dysfunction take a look at my site I guarantee you'll find something there that will put the lead back in your pencil!

John Thomas

Hi Will

Read your play Hamlet last night after Big Brother finished. Great, but there is a typo when Hamlet says "Oh that this too too solid flesh should melt". Should be "sordid".

Stiff letter to your proofreader I think.

Best wishes

Hazel Smirk


Yep, no doubt about it. With bloggers like us to help him he could have made it big time.

Why are you telling us all this?

Because I'm at that delicious stage in my next novel, near the beginning, where I've got masses of material, tons of it, and I'm sifting through it, trying to make sense of it all.

One of the things I've realised a blog is really good for is trying out ideas. You know how it is with a novel - you have a great idea, it blows your mind, but when you come to write it down on the page it falls flat, doesn't seem a fraction as good. You feel deflated, the book is useless, you've suffered a major setback.

A blog doesn't work like that. You get an idea, half-formed, put it out there, people comment, you think about it, modify it, develop it and, hey presto, it's ready to go into your book. So the blog is like a nursery of ideas, a nice safe place to try things out, where they can grow safely. Or you can strangle them at birth, if need be.

A blog also helps to concretise your ideas. You're forced to think. To communicate. To connect. It's good discipline.

Yeah, on the whole we like blogs.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Me and my mum

I've scoured my memory long and hard to come up with some happy reminiscences of my mother but I can only come up with one, which I'll come to later.

My first memory of her, though, is when I was around seven or eight and going to visit her in a huge and very frightening psychiatric hospital rather a long drive away from where we lived in Tilbury. My dad only had a bike and we were taken there by Chalky White, a guy he worked with who drove an old Ford. Going in a car was exciting.

I must have known her earlier than that first visit - even though she did spend much of her life in hospital, especially after I was born - but I simply can't remember her clearly. I wish I could. At that time she was diagnosed as a schitzophrenic, although later that was changed to a manic depressive. The devastating effect on everyone around her was the same whatever her disorder was called.

When you are unfortunate enough to be afflicted with severe mental illness it's not your fault of course so I don't attach any kind of blame to her. All the same I was painfully aware that she made my father's life a misery. It was almost as if she blamed him for what had happened to her.

As the years went by and the drugs dosage increased there was less and less chance that she would ever make any kind of recovery. She died a couple of years ago and it was a blessed release for her I'm sure, as much as for the rest of us. I always tried to be a dutiful son towards her but this wasn't easy when she was out of hospital - especially when she was living with us. In fact I would say those periods were like Hell on earth. It felt like a cruel trick that she lived so long - especially since my father had died so young.

I guess the real tragedy is that she was a very intelligent woman. Her parents were Irish - her father was a shale miner. He couldn't read or write and he signed her Birth Certificate with his mark - a cross. She was brought up in abject poverty and not a little familial tragedy. In those days there was no real way out for a woman like her, no access to decent education. It didn't help that there was a history of mental illness in the family and other members of the family were affected also. It won't escape you that there's a genetic component at work here too. I'll be talking about depression - from a writer's perspective - at greater length in future posts.

I've seen photographs of her as a young woman - she was extremely beautiful. My father must have thought he'd got a fine catch.

My happy memories revolve around the time we lived in East Lothian with my aunt. Once a week I would run a bath and lie back in it for hours, dreaming of the future. When she was there my mother would always come up and insist on washing my back. I remember her as being normal then, the kind of mother I had always longed for. I used to fantasise about owning a big house and being happy. My mother didn't live in the house with me. Somehow she'd disappeared from the scene.

Well, you don't need to be a genius to see that there's some pretty fertile ground here which I can cultivate and harvest for my new book. Don't worry though, it won't be depressing I promise. It might even have a happy ending (it'll be fiction after all). The truth is that kids are amazingly resilient and in may ways I had a very happy childhood.

The problems came later. And I think that might provide me with another book altogether.

Someone else's dad

In an earlier post I wrote about my dad and how much I loved him. Not everyone is so lucky. John Ahearn, the poet, told me once that his dad was so ornery and mean that at his funeral people queued up to piss on his grave. I assumed he was speaking metaphorically but I still felt really saddened and sorry for John. Now I discover he has written a poem about the funeral and I have to say it absolutely cracked me up. I just couldn't stop laughing. See what you think.

Dear Dad

by John Ahearn

The line to mark your grave was long,
but it was worth it for the songs
the vagabond musicians played.
The drunky standup comic slayed.

The acrobats went on a bit,
although we got to dip our beaks,
and then when everyone was lit
we took our long-awaited leaks

in all directions, pissing free,
pissing easy, women and men:
your grass will never grow again.
Wasted piss, it seemed to me:

“People! Folks! Decorum, please.
Urine’s toxic to the trees--
his face is there, let’s aim for that.”
We hit the spot I pointed at,

and were rewarded for our pains:
each of us could plainly hear
your whingeing, crapulent remains
condemning the diluted beer.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Dixie Chicks

I'm sitting her listening to the Dixie Chicks for the first time thanks to John Baker who reminded me of their bravery in speaking out about George Bush and the way they were subsequently vilified. This in the land of free speech, a supposed democracy.

It's great music, Taking The Long Way, and deserves to be widely heard. This is exactly what we should be fighting for.

Gone but not forgotten

Well, that's it. Tonight I sent off the revised mss of A Half Life of One to Macmillan New Writing. I'll let you know what happens.

Now, time to get on with the next one. Can't wait really. Great to be doing something fresh. A chance to live again.

I don't know what the question is, but this is the answer.

Me and my dad

I was born in 1948 into a working class family in Essex, England. Just over a hundred years previously a report titled The Moral and Physical Conditions of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester revealed that the average life expectancy for "mechanics and labourers" was 17 years.

My dad started his working life at 14 in the coalfields near Sheffield. A few years later he joined the Merchant Navy in search of a better life. When war broke out he enlisted in the Royal Navy. By the end of the war he was a leading stoker down in the ship's boiler-room. In 1942 his ship was torpedoed and sunk off Crete. Later on, the destroyer he was on was sunk by a mine during the D-Day landings. Early on in the war he signed up for escort duty to Murmansk because you got paid a few shillings extra for danger money.

I know these things because I researched his life on the internet. I had to - he died at the age of fifty when I was eleven and I hadn't really got to know him. When he died he was a labourer in the dockyards in Tilbury in Essex. He used to take me aboard some of the ships in dock - right down into the engine rooms. I can still remember the smell of diesel and oil that permeated his clothes. Holding his hand as he led me up the gangway onto an ocean liner I've never been happier.

I loved my father, no question about it. I have so many happy memories of him. The day he died was - and remains - the saddest of my life. I still feel the sense of loss. I guess you can figure out why I want to write about him in my next novel.

Much later I asked my mother what he had died of, but she couldn't remember. I used the internet to get his Death Certificate and started to find out more about him. His illness was hereditary. I've got a 50% chance of dying of the same thing. I got myself tested a few years ago and I was clear at the time. I didn't resent the legacy he might have left me. Not at all. I'd be rather proud to go that way - glad that we had something in common.

I've already lived eight years longer than he did but no matter how long I live I'll never be half the man he was.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Me and my wife

It can't be easy being married to me.

Even a casual reader of this blog will quickly sense what a gloomy bastard I am. Tortured too. Funnily enough though, my married life isn't like that at all. Probably because my wife and I are such very different people. She's an eminent scientist, highly esteemed in her field, a world authority in fact. She's pretty down to earth, level-headed, sensible and laughs a lot at my jokes. I guess that last bit is the key. Somehow or other I make her laugh a lot. Well, you've got to, haven't you.

I don't think she's ever looked at this blog. I mean, I could ask her but, somehow I'm a little embarrassed. It feels like it's my dirty little secret. And if I thought she was reading this (and she knows I'm doing it), I'd surely feel inhibited. Or, just possibly, I'd go the other way and become totally outrageous.

Actually, if she was the one writing a blog I'd be peeking at it all the time. I'd tell her I wasn't, but I would. It'd be like reading her diary. Sadly she doesn't keep a diary. Maybe I'll get her one for her birthday.

If only I could remember when that was.

Here's the plan

So, this weekend I'll finish off the re-write to A Half Life of One. A mixture of readers' suggestions, fresh thoughts of my own, and judicious editing that should have been done before.
Then I'll send it off to Macmillan New Writing to see if I can interest a conventional publisher. Getting the book published is the only way I can get it out to a wider audience and I do want as many people as possible to read what, if I may be immodest, is a minor masterpiece.

Then next week I'll be free to resume work or my new novel, provisionally titled "Mummy's Boy".

At the same time I'll continue the process of selling my business interests so that I can write full time. This isn't as easy as it sounds. As well as the legal and fiscal morass I have to wade through I need to protect the lives of the people who work in my companies. The dynamics are tricky, sometimes painful. The whole process will probably take a year, maybe longer. Still, during that time I'll be able to work on my new book, hopefully even get the first draft finished.

Well, sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Might even be fun. Especially if I can get A Half Life accepted. Boy, wouldn't that be something.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

On fishing

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I'm a little bit ambivalent about fishing as a sport.

I first went fishing when I was eleven. Up to that time I'd lived in Tilbury in Essex. I've heard Essex described as the armpit of England. Well, Tilbury is the arsehole of Essex. When my father died in April that year my mother as always couldn't cope on her own. We fled up to her sister who lived on a farm in East Lothian with her husband, the cattleman. This change of scene was quite a culture shock for me. I was used to being in a gang and roaming the streets at night and roller skating and playing cricket in the street and falling asleep to the sound of the ships' horns down in the nearby docks where my father had worked.

The country was something strange and a little bit frightening. Living on a farm was lonely. I took to going for walks down to the river in the evenings. One night I saw fish rising, made myself a rod out of a piece of willow and, eventually caught my first small trout on a worm. It wasn't just the fish that was hooked.

I fished seriously until I went up to University seven years later. I joined the school angling club, learned to tie my own flies, became a very proficient fly fisherman. I only ever fished for wild trout and everyting big enough I killed and took home for the pot or gave to neighbours. I wasn't really fishing for sport, it was much more primitive than that. The fact that it got me out of the house and away from my mother and my aunt was a bonus. I fished the River Tyne in East Lothian and it's hard to picture a more beautiful setting.

Where I have a problem is the idea of fishing as a sport. My unease is simple. Who told the fish that they were playing in a lethal game? How can they win? Against me they can't. Flyfishing is the only thing I do at which I'm truly expert.

To assuage my conscience I now only fish for two weeks a year. In the Spring for trout and in the autumn for salmon. Once I've caught enough for the pot I stop. In the autumn that's one salmon.

I wouldn't deny though that fishing is exciting, addictive, bloodthirsty and deeply satisfying.

And yes, sometimes they do get away. Not often though.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Me and Muriel Spark

I read in one of her recent obituaries that Muriel Spark had once said that all her books were really fictionalised accounts of her life. That cheered me up immensely because that's exactly what my books are. Until that moment I had considered this aspect of my writing a weakness. Not any more. If it's good enough for Muriel Spark it's certainly good enough for me.

In fact I think I'll call my next book The Prime of Mr Bill Liversausage. I'm sure no-one would guess it was all about me. Be a pretty short book though. Might be better as a short story. Set in the future.

Publishing on the net

When I started this blog I sort of had the idea that I would use it to build up a readership base which would then go on to read my novel A Half Life Of One. I guess I hoped that after a while a traditional publisher might notice the interest I had stirred up and subsequently offer me a block-busting three book contract.

I received an e-mail yesterday from Octavia Randolph which I have to say rather undermines my faith in that particular business model. Here's what Octavia has to say on the subject:

I'm Octavia Randolph of, and my first novel The Circle of Ceridwen had the privilege of being the subject of two entries in your "International Book Reader Awards".

My site receives over 50,000 readers a month, from more than 60 nations. On it I have three complete historical novels, a novella, and scores of essays - over 500,000 words of text. Everything is free.

Readers find my work from sites like Ms Armstrong's Free Novels Online (who sends me hundreds of new readers each month), book groups, blogs, and simply using search engines.

I'd like to speak to the fact that conventional publishers live a parallel universe to those of us who publish on the WWW. It wouldn't matter to them how many readers download or access free novels on the internet, because that is just not how they decide their lists. If huge readership on the WWW was a factor in deciding what they pick up, a few of us out here would have heard from them. In fact I have heard from them - and still been rejected, having nothing to do with my existing readership. I have had a number of close encounters with large US and European publishers interested in my work, all to nought.

The most recent was in June 2004 when out of the blue a fiction editor from a respected publishing house in Hamburg contacted me about The Circle of Ceridwen, which she had come across trawling the 'net. She was interested in acquiring foreign and translation rights, and requested a hard copy of the MS. After two readings and 12 months she decided the cost of translation would be prohibitive and decided to pass. Never did they inquire as to my existing fan base - either in an attempt to ascertain how much of a "buzz" I would carry with me into a conventional book deal with my existing readers, or if I had already "eroded" my potential sales by having had so many hundreds of thousands of readers have access to it for free over the years.Every publishing house has its own criteria for establishing any given season's list.

On the face of it it seems rational and logical that free books that have large fan bases are ideal or even obvious candidates for publication on paper. Not so.

wes thu hal (be hail and hearty, in Old English)

Octavia Randolph

So, there you have it. A successful website, lots of readers and still can't get a traditional publisher. Hm. That really is a downer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Seeing butterflies

While we were in Prague we went to visit Terezin. I’d never heard of the place before. The bus going there was packed with tourists, mostly young people.

Terezin was a small concentration camp set up by the Nazis in the Second World War. Nothing special, just a footnote in history.

Formerly a fort, the Nazis turned the barracks into prison cells. It’s a small, neat, nondescript sort of place, not especially threatening. The buildings are perfectly preserved and must have looked exactly this way the day the war ended. Even the dust on the rows of wooden bunk beds seems original. The complex is laid out in a very logical way, starting with the reception rooms, delousing centre, barracks and cemetery.

140,000 men, women and children were deported there from Czech lands, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Slovakia and Hungary. The place wasn’t designed as a slaughterhouse and only 34,000 people died there. Mostly from starvation, brutality and disease.

Between 1942-44 87,000 people passed through the camp on the way to Auswitz and other death camps. 83,000 of these transportees died. It is estimated that 15,000 of them were children. Around 100 survived. One of the survivors wrote the play “I never saw another butterfly”.

In the middle of the camp is a beautiful sylvan valley with a tiny stream running through it. I stood on the spot where around three hundred people were shot and stared back at the place where their executioners took aim, beneath a small shelter on the other side of the stream. Behind me the walls were pockmarked with bullet holes. Swifts dived overhead. I have never stood in a more peaceful, beautiful spot. While I stood there time froze.

Three inmates escaped from the camp. As a reprisal the guards selected three other inmates at random and stoned them to death in front of the other prisoners. Two escapees were later captured and the scene repeated. The theatrical brutality of these two acts somehow shocked me more than anything else.

From some of the cells it was possible to see the outskirts of the adjacent town. In full view of the occupants the guards had had built a swimming pool for the use of themselves and their children.

Surrounding the prison wall was another world, as far away as the moon, dreamlike in its ordinariness.

I’m glad I didn’t see any butterflies while I was there.

All over the place

Since my last post I've been all over the place, both literally and metaphysically.

In search of Spring sunshine I went to Sicily for a week or so. Chilled out on a beach. Admired the sunsets. Tried to figure out what to do with my life.

Back home again I went fishing. Up to Huntly in Aberdeenshire. Fishing for big trout miles from anywhere. Solitude. Trying to figure out what to do whith my life.

Today I got back from Prague. Went there to a Czech wedding with my wife. Fantastic wedding. Beautiful city.

Back home in the Pundy House. Trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life.