Monday, 16 July 2018

Pauline Barclay : Addiction - Kate Rigby

Pauline Barclay : Addiction - Kate Rigby: In this special feature about addiction I am truly delighted to have, Kate Rigby sitting in the hot seat talking about her book, Dow...

Sunday, 25 February 2018

First Person Present - and other presents!

There's little in the fiction world that generates more polarised views than this: past tense vs present tense fiction.

Recently I was in a Facebook Writers and Readers' Group, when one member asked if she was the only one who didn't get on with books written in the First Person Present.

I must say I don't mind what tense a book is written in as long as the writing is good and the book engaging. But present tense does lend a book immediacy. Now I get that it's not everyone's cuppa, that's fine.  But it's an opinion, a taste.  That's all.

However the discussion got quite heated, with one reader becoming quite dictatorial about it.  This veteran reader was doling out advice of 'stick to the past tense...unless you are...' (named authors I'd not heard of). As I say he was a seasoned reader but he had no time for seasoned authors who might not write in his preferred tense or genre.  He then went on to make some comment about 'alienating readers at your peril' but from his comments, I doubt that any of my books would have been of interest to him, since they employ the very devices he doesn't have time for.  I write literary fiction, not commercial fiction, and frequently employ present tense if the story demands it.  If you read and write in the literary tradition writing in the present tense is second nature.  

Another author also joined in the debate with the advice that 'writers should stick to the past tense'. Really?  I tried to debate this by arguing that there was no 'should' about it - that it's a personal preference for a particular narrative style but she wasn't having it at all. She justified her stance with 'Did Stephen King or J K Rowling use present tense?  I rest my case.'

Personally I've not read J K Rowling and although I'm sure her books have adult appeal too, they aren't really my bag.  At the same time I totally admire her success and her ability to tap into an archetype at the right time and turn it into a commercial success.  Kudos to her and anybody who has success on a mass scale.  But, not everyone is setting out to write books with mass commercial appeal. Many of us write niche.

The two reactions described above are by no means unusual. Some readers and authors demand tradition.  However this wasn't a present tense vs past tense debate at all.  It was a commercial vs literally fiction debate.  Literary fiction authors often use first person present.  The author in the above-mentioned debate went on to say how she does a blog on writing tips. This concerned me, that she is telling new authors how to write.

Of course there are rights and wrongs of writing. Some novice authors will often switch between present and past unknowingly. In another part of the discussion tense-switching among inexperienced writers came up, and yes, this is a fair criticism. Unwittingly slipping into past tense when writing a book in the present tense is a mistake of the inexperienced.  The key question is - was it intentional?  Many experienced authors switch tense as a device. Many write in past and present tense in the same book and it won't always be an obvious use of them either.  I have seen accomplished authors write about the recent past in past tense and the more distant past in the present tense. It works. I have seen accomplished authors, not only switch tenses purposefully to great effect, but also switch from first person to third and even to second in the same book.  This is a common narrative technique with literary fiction.

Once again, in this debate, many critics of both first and third person present, tended to think it was unusual or gimmicky or new, because of books like The Hunger Games (I've not read them) or because of WattPad.  However, seasoned readers of lit fic will know it's neither new nor unusual. The following authors have all used present tense in their books - many of them award-winning: Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Jessie Burton, Eimear McBride, Emma Donoghue, Jon McGregor, Hilary Mantel, Wyl Menmuir and many more.

If people don't like present tense, it's their prerogative, just as it's mine not to like Westerns or Paranormal or things with werewolves, as long as they know that it's purely subjective.  But to dismiss all present tense books out of hand, for this reason and this reason only, is a bit like dismissing all pop songs in third person past tense.  

Saturday, 3 February 2018

RIP Mo Foster - A personal tribute to a very talented author, friend and unique character

We met you at Southampton Uni reading poetry at the women's group, over 30 years ago, even though you weren't at the uni, wasn't it typical of you to make yourself at home, the poem was a funny one about men and puddles which I have since learned from your friends on Facebook was called Boggerel. I remember when you read it, those fast words blurring into each other, which I later realised is what characterised your voice, especially when nervous or excited.

I don’t think we spoke to you then but you remembered us - my sister and me - for our colourful hair and punky clothes.

When we went to Bournemouth & Poole Women's Group late 80s you were a mutual friend of Chris, also sadly gone, in fact on the day we told you over the phone that she'd died, was the same day as you had a stroke in 2004, but you survived that and many TIAs. 

After you had your stroke you mentioned how the nurses thought that had caused your hard to understand speech! We did a mean impression of you which gave us confidence in tricky situations. The more animated you got or the more funny you find something the harder it was to follow what you were saying, especially on the phone, but in your presence when you laughed your eyes slitted and your cheek bones went even higher.

We saw you a lot in the 90s when we were in Boscombe and you were in Bournemouth for the weekend seeing your ex husband Sid. You'd come with your dog, Zipper, or Zit, as you called him, on your way to Hengistbury Head, one of your favourite places because you could walk Zit there. One of my favourite places too, those gorgeous beach huts like little houses. I went drumming there with you and your friends there once, Hazel, was it, who had a beach hut there or rented one and you were impatient with Ann for getting all depressed and upset over a shit of a bloke. Your poem Monopoly On Suffering by Mo Cuthbertson (classy - your birth mother’s name, I believe) was blue-tacked on our kitchen cupboard for ages until it curled and kept falling off.

You met our friend Elaine and were quite taken with her and her northern accent. One time we argued with each other on the head as you were annoyed about us wanting to leave Boscombe but we got all teary and huggy afterwards and I think you respected us for standing up to you! 

We once went drumming at Corfe Castle with you and we drummed for money! It worked! Within a few days our parents decided to give us some of our inheritance early towards the purchase of a house.

We went to a cafe in Swanage with you and many other things. Always we joked about the wall of backs at that Pagan Moot in a Charminster pub, how welcoming, not! Before we moved to Wimborne you took one of Ann's old painting which she was going to leave behind, it was the innards of an old Bakelite telephone which you put on your wall and some art dealer took an interest in it years later but you forgot his name (Ann swears you took a picture of a colander so maybe you took a couple).

We moved to Wimborne in 95 and you still came to visit us on your Bournemouth weekends. You lost your Irish ex Micky and were devastated. You met our special friend Carole when she was visiting us at Wimborne. You were enthralled by her Chesterfield accent and her wisdom and what she stood for, what she knew you felt was instinctive, and I lent you one of those long insightful missives she sent us regularly and is probably – possibily? – still somewhere among your stuff. I travelled by public transport to Soton to see a play of yours in a university room (was it?) doubling up as a prison cell because you were mainly a playwright in those days while you were teaching writing classes at Soton. You may have had your latest dog Saffie by now, a border terrier, who we finally met in 2010.

When Diana was killed you called her a dozy C and you said it was the queen who did it, haha! We always said happy birthmass because of your Crimbo birthday – bit of a bummer for you, we always thought.

We kept in touch with you after we moved to Devon in the late 90s. You nearly came to see us there once but it was a too hot July day and so we put you off. You kept in touch by phone and we exchanged writing news. I still have the copy of Diva magazine where you had a story published and in the Oldie you wrote one about Rillington Place and I asked if it was true and you said ‘nah, of course it isn’t’ or words to the effect. We both had short stories published in Skrev’s experimental fiction anthology and you supported my books, Fall Of The Flamingo Circus and Suckers n Scallies. You said you liked hanging out with the bad kids and how working class kids had a lot of physical contact with each other. I was so thrilled to have put you in touch with Pepper Books who later became Paper Books and the rest is history.  Your gritty novel A Blues For Shindig about your life in 1950s Soho was snapped up and a fabulous document of that time.  

You loved new people, outcasts, colourful people, people on the fringes of life, people who were well-read, people from different ethnic backgrounds. You questioned the meaning of life a lot, you went to Quaker meetings at one point, you were an avid listener to Radio 4 and you read the grain. 

We saw you last in 2010 when we went back for a catch up with friends on Bournemouth. We thought you wouldn't show but you did. You were usual blunt self by saying we looked older and fatter! Bint is a word I associate with you.  I think you’d met your Russian lover Albertine by then, in fact you did a piece in the graun about it and how happier you were and you went out to Russia and Cuba (I think) and you did seem generally less crotchety and more philosophical but not enough to use your biting edge and bolshie self. That never went. Because heaven forbid that we sanitise you. But your love pressed you to look for your birth mother. We remember you finding your voice after the meeting with your birth mother - which didn't quite go according to plan but another opportunity for a story.

You even found creativity in cancer and wrote your blog and called your tumour Tubby. You kept us all enthralled with your descriptions of the sky on each new day and your neighbour problems and your cat visitor. 

Here is one of those many funny lively gritty down to earth posts:

11th January 2018

Grey again & it was foggy earlier but no nice
foghorns. Can scarcely believe yesterday was
masquerading as lovely spring, fortunately it
is still working as a cheer up factor & it may yet
manifest later. I doubt it!
Reference to yesterday blog: I am not exceptional
in my response to cancer, the only thing that is
exceptional is my own self-absorption & the fact
that I write about the facts as I see them. I should
dislike being in hospital & to some degree this
solitary life suits me very well – chuck me lots of
nosh & the keyboard & I am fine, within limits,
I lack stimulus for sure. Miss the outside but my
tree is there & my foolish jasmine is blushing into
pink buds & next doors’ near continual smoke fest
intrigues my nosey heart – 4am today a lively
conversation was alive! I am fortunate to be able
to afford all I need which is not a lot so cheers

& thanks,

I dreamt of you the night following the news of your passing and you were playing chess, me and another ( a guy) were looking on while you imagined your invisible opponent’s moves but then you made up your own moves and were very excited, one piece was doing a sort of spin around another. That sort of summed you up, playing life by your own rules and rebelling! A friend of the family who passed last year used to say RIP meant rejoice in paradise but for you RIP surely means Rebel In Paradise.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Goals For 2017 mostly achieved!

Well it's already December but I am happy to say I achieved most of my goals for this year by late October!

I tried not to set too many for myself this year so that they'd be achievable and of course goals include many non-writing ones too.

My writing goals this year (some of them carried over from last year or even the year before) were:

- Finish the neighbours' at war story - I first penned this back in 2005/6. As the national and international news as well as the political climate formed a backdrop to the story it was badly in need of an update set as it is in 2012/13. I also wanted to include the austerity years and welfare reform so in a way it was harder to do this than start from scratch. I think this is why it took so long.

- A follow up to my novel Down The Tubes - this has been in the pipeline since 2014 and was calling. I finally got started a few weeks ago.

- Getting another book of mine into paperback, possibly Fruit Woman or The Dead Club - both would be nice, was another goal I wrote on January 1st. I'm thrilled to have fulfilled them both.

Other goals

-   HRT Patches - as I suffer with hyperhydrosis I decided I would try HRT patches. Alas these failed dismally but at least I tried. I have also tried three different medications - one of these I may have started last year. The one that has had the most effect has been prescribed in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, there are big side-effects so I continue to abstain unless really necessary and continue to juggle to find the optimum dose.

- Maybe seeing an endocrinologist or at least some private cortisol tests - As I have Fibromyalgia which is similar to hypothyroidism I have been investigating this link. I did get some private blood tests which aren't routinely done on the NHS. My GP did refer me to an endocrinologist, and the endocrinologist gave my GP some very detailed notes and advice some of which included further tests etc which are still ongoing. At least I will be able to rule out anything else by having these tests.

- Genealogy - Alas I haven't done any more on this, this year. My parents did a lot of work in the 1970s on the family history so they did the bulk of the leg work. And it was literally leg work in those days, as they went to visit towns and to look up old parish records on microfiche for hours! There was no Internet back then so it was a real labour of love and I'm very grateful for all that they achieved.

- Updating iPod and music! - I think this got done pretty early on in the year, but it was one of those small jobs that gets put off and was niggling me!

- Ann's art - The idea was to help my sister set up a website for her art work. This is one of those goals that keeps getting postponed, and alas did again this year. But I'm sure I did offer during the year, but it has to be the right time for us both!

The hall, and moving towards getting a cat! - This refers to the hall units installed with a space for a cat litter box! These got completed in January - no cat yet but a cupboard filled with Xmas 

I also have a separate 'to be read' reading list but Goodreads will keep me posted on that, I'm sure!

I hope all of you who have set goals for yourself have achieved them too or as near as damn it :)

In the meantime, all good wishes for the festive season and 2018 and thanks for dropping in to my blog.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Sculpting A New Novel

I have to confess I've never done anything closely resembling physical sculpture unless you count the scrappy pieces that aspired to be pottery in the first year art classes at secondary school.

But I imagine the process is very similar to creating a  novel.  Especially a novel that has been waiting some time to take shape.

So, like the sculptor, I'm now in the process of gathering all the raw materials together - the ones I think I'll need for my latest creation. These will be things like notes I have been making for the last three or four years, diary entries, information gathered online etc, ever since this novel has been in the pipeline.  The gathering can take a while as I search and sort through my available materials.  Invariably some of them will have to go once the piece takes shape.  But there is something fresh and liberating - if a bit daunting - about starting a new piece of work, even though this one isn't like starting quite from scratch. It is a follow up book and therefore many of the characters are already in existence.  

I've never been of those to throw all the materials in a messy heap and see where it takes me, hoping that it will all come together. I need a vision as to how my finished sculpture will take shape.  I have to have some design and structure as I'm sure most novelists do. In fact, this process will have been going on subconsciously for some time, and that is part of the gathering exercise. You could say ideas are the raw clay that need shaping and moulding into a story or novel.

Chances are the sculpture won't end up as envisioned. But the shaping takes place from the off.  Then more shaping and moulding and scooping bits out that don't work or look clumsy.  The refining and reshaping is the hard part - the time when you have to get ruthless. Filing down sentences, remodelling characters and chiselling away at paragraphs or whole chapters. But also introducing new dimensions. This is the time when surprises can occur.  Maybe the finer details will open up new possibilities and directions. Maybe you will spend more time on parts that you thought were mundane or straightforward.  It is an organic, living, evolving thing.

It will become part of you, so much so, that maybe you won't know when it's finished - if there can ever be such a thing as 'finished' with creative work.  I have known artists who stare at their work too long and can no longer stand back and see it objectively. That is where others can come in and suggest some more essential sculpting.

Until voilĂ  - your new sculpture is ready to be let loose in the world and then you start the process all over again!

How about you?  Maybe for you it is more of a song analogy, working away at notes and chords, lyrics and harmonies until it is ready to go public. 

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

My review of Rock Paper Slippers by Tony Shelley

I first met this book and its author, Tony Shelley, on the Harper Collins authors' site 'Authonomy' when it was very much still a work-in-progress.

Fast forward seven years and it's now published.  It's a real gem of a book, witty, incisive and a social document of my era, covering the author’s love of music, TV and football. The book begins with Shelley’s 50th birthday - ‘middle age hit me hard. I wasn’t expecting it and it certainly wasn’t invited. It just showed up...’ Something we can all relate to when we hit the middle years. As you may have guessed from the title, music plays an important role in Shelley’s life. Says Shelley ‘ Music is the lover and friend that has always been there when I’ve needed it and even when I’ve been foolish enough to think that I didn’t’. It is Shelley’s 50th birthday bash at the beginning of the book, and he discusses the importance of playlists (in relation to deciding on the playlist with his band reunion in honour of his 50th birthday). Each chapter in the book is also part of a playlist of Shelley’s life – usually with the title of a well-loved song or a line from the same.

Shelley then takes us on a tour of his childhood and his earliest memories, those same Watch With Mother programmes – Andy Pandy, The Wooden Tops and Bill & Ben (the Flowerpot Men) that signposted all our childhoods back them.

Like Shelley, I too was excited about the Top 20 every week, eagerly awaiting what had risen and fallen in the charts, and sometimes writing out the chart lists too, though probably a lot less fervently than Shelley. A couple of years younger than me, we mostly shared the same influences. But when you’re young, those two years are gigantic, so unlike Shelley’s female contemporaries, in 1972 I’m proud to say that I also sneered in the face of those foolish girls who swooned over Donny Osmond or David Cassidy! It was David Bowie and Alice Cooper all the way for me! So I was thrilled to see Mr Bowie got a good mention in the book as Ziggy Stardust was my first album and Bowie the first concert I went to.

Like Shelley, too, a group of records charting around the same period instantly transport me back to a time, like the period in early 73 he refers to when records like Killing Me Softly and Hello Hurray were in the charts. What’s more, someone else other than myself has written more than a few lines about those unhipsters; Gilbert O’Sullivan, Leo Sayer and Dean Friedman! In fact, it was no doubt our shared conversations about Gilbert - featuring in both our books on Authonomy - that sparked our authorial friendship. 

In 1974, Shelley became a bit of a Sparks fan while his father looked on at Top Of The Pops in horror (my own father, on the other hand, was quite fascinated by Ron Mael!) But Shelley felt it broke an unwritten rule of buying pop records when his father bought the same record as him and that was very true of that time, though I have to say that my own father bought pop records before us children so I liked it when my dad enjoyed a record on Top Of The Pops rather than wearing a scowl!

Next we have Shelley’s dalliance with 10cc and I love his shameless confession. The first song I ever heard from 10cc was ‘Oh Donna’ which I felt would have – should have – deterred any self-respecting pop connoisseur right there and then. A bit like Gilbert and Leo, first impressions are hard to shake, which is a shame as Godley & Creme did have good songwriting skills and I do admit to liking many of their hits myself (although not so much as the guilty pleasure of falling in love and out of love as Shelley describes in the chapter aptly named ‘I’m Not In Love’). That hit has for me, mostly lost its magic, due to mass overplaying but can in rare moments take me back to that long hot dreamy whoozy summer of 1975.

In discussing his liking for Queen, Shelley even mentions something that I dine out on – the fact that I saw Queen as the support band to Mott The Hoople! Most people these days haven’t heard of Mott The Hoople, so it was great to see that tour get a mention. In fact, Queen had come to my attention a few months before that tour as I recall with ‘Keep Yourself Alive’.

But a lot of the book is dedicated to Shelley’s love affair with The Beatles which he didn’t properly discover until the 70s, an alien concept for someone such as myself in Liverpool during the 1960s at the height of Beatlemania, absorbing the music osmotically during my infancy. Some of my earliest memories are of hearing records recommended by Mr Epstein himself when my father would buy records from his record shop, pre-Beatlemania. One of my earliest memories is of singing ‘She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah’. The song Eleanor Rigby is so embedded in the time for me, I can’t imagine it otherwise: those strings, that autumn, our family name. Yellow Submarine is also so tied up with the moving away from Liverpool to an alien place. But he who becomes a Beatles fan last becomes one longest. This is certainly the case with Shelley. None more than when he finally gets to meet his hero, Paul McCartney. Shelley’s metaphors to describe his relationship with music are simply brilliant. ‘...if an album’s worth getting to know, it’s worth allowing it to flirt with you, tease and touch you, until you fall for it completely...’

Still with The Beatles, there is a chapter with a lot of hilarity describing imagined scenarios of having to make love to music – say to a favourite album like Sgt Pepper – and the various problems one might be faced with. ‘What if, miracle upon miracles, I actually made it to the end of side one? Then what? Stay exactly where I was, in a blissful silence, or waddle uncomfortably to the turntable, trying desperately not to trip over the trousers around my ankles…?’ And there’s plenty more where that came from!

Shelley moves on from there to punk. He embraced it late (not as late as I did, though in secret I embraced it much earlier), but you couldn’t be 17 or 18 in 1977 and not feel its influence. Shelley’s account of buying a Sex Pistols record in a suit reminds me of my own experience of buying a Boomtown Rats record in Bootle Strand in my Civil Service garb and being told ‘you don’t look like a Rats fan to me’. Something inside me balked. I should look like one, I wanted to look like one, I was going to look like one. For Shelley it was the influence of Dave The Punk in Asman’s record shop (who he saw some time later on Top Of The Pops in The Ruts). And synchronicity would have it that another friend of mine just happens to have been at that same Dave’s 50th birthday party bash recently!

Like Shelley, I have the same feelings about The Clash. I feel I should like them more than I do, I do like them, but I wasn’t in love with them. But where Tony and I diverge is in our attitude to the 80s. While we both agree on the miserable politics, musically I loved all those early/mid 80s bands, emerging from punk/new wave into New Romantic, ska, dub reggae and gothic. But I guess it all depends what you were doing at the time. I can see why Shelley has a downer on the 80s as he was struggling with a young family and a mortgage and didn’t have any spare dosh for records so he largely missed out. But for me they were exciting times, having moved down to Bournemouth from Liverpool in the spring of 1981, and the music from that time is so evocative, coinciding as it did with a vibrant scene.

For Shelley, Live Aid was the pinnacle of the 80s, as he was part of it, whereas I saw it as another of the very noble causes kicked off by Bob Geldof – beginning with Band Aid, to Live Aid and continuing to this day with Comic Relief (which started out as Red Nose Day in the late 1980s). But Wembley Stadium just doesn’t do it for me. Unless you’re in a good position, the artists are remote. Maybe it’s just that the only time I went I had a particularly bad experience, but I always prefer small intimate venues.

But on the subject of live music, like Shelley, I’m not a fan of the live album either. In fact I hate them, by and large. Although I was probably the last person during the initial Compact Disc era to actually buy one, Shelley put up a bit of a resistance too but eventually relented so he could buy his record collection all over again in high fidelity. About CDs he says, ‘What was actually happening was Thatcherism for records, right there in my front room. What I was doing was no better than what she did to the miners.’ And another chapter follows on the importance of your listening equipment. Of today’s equipment Shelley states: ‘speakers are so brazen these days, they don’t even have the modesty of the black gauze covering their ample woofers.’ He concluded that magazines about them should be on the top shelf as ‘unadulterated hi-fi porn.’ I don’t know about the top shelf but those lines had me rolling on the floor laughing or ROFLing in today’s parlance (along with so many of Shelley’s turns of phrase).

Of course, Shelley not only takes us on a musical journey through his favourite records and bands, but also on his progression playing with various bands, beginning at the age of 16 when he bought his from his first drum kit, to various other incarnations including The Fabulous Heseltines, So Last Century and Strongbox.

So, by the end of the book, Shelley has reached 50 and is a little lighter on the head: ‘I have come to terms with my bald patch – you could say I’ve taken a shine to it.’ See? There’s always some of Shelley’s sparkling self-deprecating wit to be had.

It’s hard to do this memoir justice and I could have equally picked a thousand other quotes. But better to buy the book yourself and see what resonates with you. I can assure there will be lots! A must-read for all ages. 

Rock Paper Slippers is available to buy at Amazon as an ebook or in paperback.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Redesign for cover of the Unhip Guide!

Earlier this year, Book Life, the digital arm of Publishers' Weekly, were offering authors to submit a book of theirs for a cover uplift.

I had, at that point, wanted to do one for Little Guide To Unhip, so this offer came at just the right time.  I submitted it and was delighted to be one of the authors selected.  My redesign was scheduled for July but Deborah from Tugboat Designs, got in touch early in the year, to ask me for my ideas for the cover.  I had quite a clear idea for the design so submitted my ideas and Deborah produced the mock ups in June. She had three possibles and it was hard to choose between two of them, so I picked the brains of my nearest and dearest as well as fans from the days of Authonomy where the book was first showcased on their site back in 2010.

So here it is!  It needed a few tweaks and we had a lot fun getting the right shade of socks under the sandals and the right unhip briefs to hang on the line!

If you'd like to read more you can by following the link below:

Little Guide To Unhip is available from the following places: