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:








Thursday 3 August 2017

The Most Misunderstood Genre

I have done a piece about the L Word before on my own personal blog.  L is for literary, as in literary fiction.  Actually it’s not a genre at all, but that is rather the point. It is a non-genre.  It is rule-breaking.  It is not formulaic in the sense that most other genres are.  This is not a criticism of genre fiction, in any way.  Hell, genre fiction is the most popular, it’s what sells in shedloads, hence it is also known as commercial fiction.  But for a writer of such fiction there will be stricter rules about word length, there will expectations about so many aspects of the book, about content, plot, resolution and endings.
But hang on a minute, you might well ask, aren’t these important for all books?  Well, yes.  But with non-genre or literary fiction, you are freer.  You can explore beyond the boundaries. Many readers like to know what the boundaries are and that’s fine too. Publishers like it because it taps into this appetite. But as a reader and writer, I don’t like to know the kind of ending or formula to a book. I want something a bit less predictable which is why I prefer to read – and write – literary or non-genre fiction. With this fiction you can push back the frontiers, you can experiment with form, style, language, structure, viewpoint.  It is often more driven by character, than plot.  It is often more poetic than the prosaic.  But this is also what makes it less popular, more niche and vulnerable to accusations of pretentiousness, even though all art is artifice, it’s just the best examples will not appear to be so.  It has perhaps, at times, more in common with poetry and fine art, than commercial fiction.
But so many people close themselves off to good books because of devices that have been used in literary fiction for years, yet seem strange to readers who aren’t used to them.  How many times do you hear readers say they don’t like a story because it’s written in the first person present?  Or because a story has multi-narrators or viewpoints?  Or no quotation marks?  Maybe some people think they are gimmicky when in fact they are not uncommon in literary fiction.
Literary fiction has always been at the cutting edge of fiction and the best of its kind will be award-winning. If you have read wonderful books that defy genre, then chances are they are literary fiction.  Of course, many genres crossover into others and this is also true of non-genre fiction. Kate Atkinson is an example of an author who successfully crossed over into literary crime fiction.  I recently read The Miniaturist. If it had been marketed as historical fiction I may not have had the pleasure of reading it but I’d describe is as literary historical.   Think of such classics as Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time or The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Think of all Toni Morrison’s books. These books and so many of our cultural masterpieces defy genre.
But as I said in my previous blog on this subject – the L word is often misunderstood. People think literary must mean highbrow. It might be but it is just as likely to be raw and gritty.  This is why authors of such work prefer to find another category. Some of us prefer to use include edgy, contemporary, gritty, retro, coming-of-age or popular culture.  A few of us who have enjoyed such books set up a Facebook Page – Edgy Paperbacks – where we recommend such books, mainly indie ones. But too often our writing is homeless – and desperately seeking a home. But maybe it should stop trying.  Maybe finding a home will compromise its very genre-defying existence.
This blog was originally published at:

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Remembering Wimbledon 99

Well here we are again. Another Wimbledon moves inexorably towards its climax and I find it hard to believe that it's already 18 years since I first penned 'Break Point' while watching the 99 championships, and forty one years since I first got addicted to Wimbledon! I was a teenager in 1976 and Bjorn Borg was a rising star, Nastase - a falling one.  I remember the first matches of what have now become household names and legends - John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Boris Becker, Chris Evert.

In fact, I saw Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert play live at Wimbledon in 1989 (not against each other).  It was a perfect sunny day as myself and a London friend attended.  It was Ladies Quarter Finals Day and we had tickets for Centre Court. But Navratilova's match was over in two sets as was Steffi Graf's.  But we managed to get onto Number 1 Court with a bit of sleight of hand (literally!) where exciting things were happening in Chris Evert-Lloyd's last ever win at Wimbledon. She had been losing but she turned the match around in one of the most exciting three setters. I was able to draw on this experience for Break Point.

By 1999 I'd been following Wimbledon for 23 years and had, maybe a year or so before, decided to write a fictional story with Wimbledon as the backdrop, weaving in bits of the development of the Championships throughout the story.

I decided the main female protagonist - Bobbie - would be gay since some of the women players were gay icons, particularly Martina Navratilova who'd led the way. By 1999, women's tennis was becoming a lot more exciting and less predictable.  Back in the day it was usually the Number 1-4 seeds who played in the semis, year upon year. By 1999, it had opened out and the Williams' sisters and many others were new on the scene.  In fact, in 1999, Venus Williams hadn't yet won Wimbledon, but Bobbie predicts her future win with certainty.  

So who were the main figures in the 99 Wimbledon Championships? There was Anna Kournikova. Martina Hingis (the then Number 1 seed knocked out in the first round), Dokic, Seles, Rusedski, Henman, Agassi, Graf, Sampras and many more. In 1999, there were no challenges for controversial points and no roof on centre court. And of course it rained during the Ladies' Final.

But I didn't want to just write about Wimbledon.  Rather, I wanted the game to become a metaphor for the other psychological matches taking place at the house of Bobbie's latest job where she cares for a peevish old woman by the name of Gwen. In 1999, there were no civil partnerships in the UK, let alone same-sex marriage, and this is reflected in the attitudes of that time.

As Wimbledon is a knockout tournament, I also wanted this to be reflected in the story.  For instance, just like the players on court, the players off court come and go - the carers of Gwen, the relationships - but will any of them survive to the final?  The conclusion is always unknown until the last player is knocked out.

Break Point was published in paperback by Skrev Press in 2006.  I had written a short version, a medium version and a longer version.  Skrev went in for the sparser book, so it's a very short novella that was published in paperback.  That is now available as an e-book.  But maybe one day I will release the full version!

Break Point is available from here

Or free from Smashwords all through July.