Wayward summer breeze

This was a longer post, but that got lost in a computer snafu. The post was good; about Chuck Berry and about poetry, rhythm and blues and country music, and about gathering those things together in a single place. And about shadows cast, and those who sheltered, and who found their own place, protected from the tedious sun.

Alas, that's gone, though. And there's nothing more injurious to the soul than reconstructing your own words. So I'll not attempt that. What I did retain was the tracklisting to the writing. So here it is.   

Some Chuck Berry covers for you.

Here's School Days, covered by AC/DC. 

And now here's Nadine, from Rory Gallagher:

Oh, and here's Roll Over Beethoven, from ELO:

And now here's Bye Bye Johnny, from the peerless Wilko Johnson:

As it's Christmas somewhere, here's Run Run Rudolph, covered by Keith Richards:

Here's Keith Richards and Jerry Lee Lewis having a go at Little Queenie:

Now it's the turn of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, covering You Never Can Tell:

David Bowie, taking a stab at Around and Around:

The Band's Levon Helm, essaying Back To Memphis:

Last, here's The Pirates, rampaging through Johnny B Goode:

That's ten. Not a personal Top Ten necessarily; just ten to be going on with. 

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Books by me:

Juggernaut, a sequel to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (also included in the volume). 

Torc, for younger readers of all ages. 

The Prospect of this City; a novel of 1666. 

 

Torc: the ebook is free from 22 May 2017 to 26 May 2017 inclusive!

Afer last month's ebook giveaway for Juggernaut, I've decided to run another! Torc, my MG/YA-ish (you decide!) Scottish-set timeslip novel is free for download from Amazon between the 22nd and 26th of May 2017 inclusive. Just in time for the bank holiday weekend, if you're in the UK!

Here's the synopsis:  

The west coast of Scotland, present day. Ailsa's world is threatened when the future of the hotel she calls home comes under threat. She's saddled with her cousin Tom for the day while the adults talk, but Ailsa has a plan that might just save their way of life.

The same village, two thousand years earlier. Iona, daughter of clan chief Duer, is given a vital errand; a Roman incursion into their homelands is rumoured, and a scout has not returned. Iona's task is to complete the scouting mission.

The two girls' lives become entangled through time; linked by their shared homelands, their dreams, and an artefact that binds them together across the centuries.

Hope you enjoy Torc - if you get to read the book, then please pop a review up onlne!

 

Juggernaut: the ebook is free 21th April - 25th April 2017!

Juggernaut - my new sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, is free to download from Amazon between 21st and 25th April 2017!

So, pop over to Amazon and help yourself to a free copy. It'll download to your Kindle, or else you can download a free app to your smartphone/tablet/computer for easy reading.   

Don't worry if you've not read the original, as that's included in the download.

Enjoy the book, and don't forget to leave a review for me on Amazon! Your feedback is really useful!  

Big summer blowout, as the kids say these days.

Juggernaut Header.jpg

Register to vote by 22nd May...

You really should register to vote if you're not currently on the electoral register. It's easy and takes only a couple of minutes.

You've only got until 22nd May to do this if you want to be a part of the 2017 general election.

And you do want to be a part of it, don't you? These things are important. Anyway, go here to register: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

And if you're stuck as to why you should bother, here's a few reasons for ya:  http://votingcounts.org.uk/why-should-you-vote-html

Juggernaut: out now in paperback and Kindle ebook

Finally released into the wild is Juggernaut, my sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's [The] Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!

It's out in paperback and in Kindle ebook from Amazon. 

Here's the back cover blurb: 

"A thrilling new sequel to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

1911. London is in limbo between two monarchs. Edward is dead and George not yet crowned. 

Ex-military doctor Toby Latimer is lately installed in private practice after Boer War service. His life is easy, his indolence assuaged by East End charitable work. 

Latimer is summoned to an irascible client. He finds he's been summoned to witness a will reading. The will is that of one Edward Hyde. 

And now, Latimer's life is anything but straightforward... 

Presented here as a chilling double-bill in one volume for the first time: Robert Louis Stevenson's [The] Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde together with Eamonn Martin Griffin's all-new continuation, Juggernaut."

So don't worry if you've not read the Robert Louis Stevenson original as that's included in the book as a bonus for you, though you don't need to have read it as homework before reading Juggernaut

If you're not a newsletter subscriber, please sign up here. There's a monthly email that comes from me; April's edition (sent out on the 1st of the month) will have information about a special Juggernaut-related gift just for subscribers.

Hope you enjoy Juggernaut! Let me know in comments below, or else in online reviews...

Does The Guardian need to sort itself out?

I'm a lifelong softie leftie of sorts; a do-gooderish type who tries to think well of everyone and occasionally donates a little bit of money to the right kind of causes. Harmless enough, really. I spent a few years volunteering on Saturdays in the local Oxfam, sorting out the books for a quarter of my weekend time off from the day job. I spent a decade doing trades union advocacy stuff in an FE college for members and more than the odd non-member, just because. Naturally, I read The Guardian.

Well.

I was brought up in a home where The Guardian was the paper of choice. So maybe I don't know any better. As long as I can remember, the paper's been a part of my life. Dad would bring it home at lunchtime from his stonemasonry job; he picked up his copy on the walk to work. I'd read it backwards in the broadsheet days. Sports to arts  - I'd skip the stock market and finance stuff - through to the news, first foreign, then domestic. A little window to a world beyond the working-class but informed little house where the ratio of kids to bedrooms meant that we all privileged the free space in our heads.    

My Dad bought The Guardian till his dying day. A complacent young Tory who'd been converted to the ways of socialist activism by my Irish mother (I never asked the details; a mistake in retrospect), the paper was an essential aspect of his routine. At least partly off the back of the paper, he stood as a Labour councillor, was a chair of governors for the secondary school I went to, and refused an invitation to become a magistrate on moral grounds because he wouldn;t stand in judgement over someone else. He was secretary of the town's Labour party for an age.

In his latter years, after retirement, the paper was a key element to his socialisation; the walk to the shop over the road to the Costcutter to pick up his copy got him out and about before breakfast. The only reserved copy of that paper on a stack of Suns and Mails.

After he was diagnosed with the brain tumour that ended up doing for him, the paper persisted. Fetching his Guardian and bringing it to various hospitals, then the nursing home, was part of the evening visit ritual. A little signal of normality, even after he was past being able to hold it, let alone concentrate for reading.    

So the artefact has meaning for me. Not just the brand, the website, or the liberal values encapsulated within the print or in bits (but not all) of the website. The physical print copy represents a seam through my childhood and my family. The Guardian, in all its forms, has significance. 

And this isn't just me, neither. My siblings are the same in their own ways. 

Which kinda gets me to the point of this blog post. The Guardian's a big brand; one of the largest media presences in the UK, and one which stretches beyond the scope of the impact of the paper in its print-only days. Maybe third in terms of news-related hits behind the BBC and the Daily Mail.

The Mail's an interesting point of comparison. I see the print version only occasionally; a desperate and frightened collection of iffy-looking mobility device adverts and news articles that read like a sitcom parody of a racist nan. The online version, though, is a thing of dark wonder; a circus of right-wing propaganda, overtly racist crime reporting, and celebrity trolling, with a side-order of soft child pornography for those who like their teens fifteen, bikini-clad, and related to the famous. That, and its fascination with women's clothing, and the various bumps and round bits of their bodies, makes it an odd place indeed to visit.

And so has The Guardian. The website sprawls, like cities in William Gibson novels, trying to be all things to as many people as possible. Yes, there's a core of hard journalism, and some very respectable political reporting. Some of the lifestyle stuff is fine. But too much of the paper is other. Alt-Guardian. An online behemoth serving up scarcely-pretending clickbait and opinion pieces of deliberately argumentative hogwash. Part of this is to service its comments sections, which fester like the juice in the locked Biffa bins round the back of Waitrose.

I can bear the hip lifestyle accessorising, because it's amusing in small portions. Some of it I'm attracted to because of its combination of banality, irrelevance, and smugness; there's a germ of a point being made, even if it's negatively reinforcing. But too much of the paper's content in its online iteration is actively counter to the paper-as-conceived. And it's killing The Guardian as an entity.

Yes, I understand that this is an online world, and I'd better get hip to that, daddio. Yes, I'm aware that a chunk of this post is culturalist nostalgia, as though  a half-arsed Hoggart or Williams had gone all bloggy. But the point stands.         

At some level you need to have some integrity about what it is that you do. And for decades, The Guardian has been the voice of centre-left rationality in a media landscape dominated by left and right-wing populism, and by conservative tradition. And that voice was smaller, but more distinct.

Its voice carried.

Now, though, it threatens itself. In part by diluting the aspects of the paper's position which made it distinctive, in part through ubiquity, and in part through its need to raise revenue. Print papers don;t make cash in the UK, and the puzzle of how to make money with a website hasn't been unlocked. Advertising revenues are falling for print, and are small for online only. Not enough to run a major media organisation on, and certainly not one which tries to make a move from a significant but not mainstream print media voice to a global online real-time broadcaster.

It's not an easy one to unpick, but The Guardian runs the risk of alienating the very people who are - or, perhaps, were - at the core of its readership. The comments sections are to a significant degree poisonous, and too much of the online content is geared to driving clicks and retweets than engagement with meaningful issues. Sure, that kind of socially-mediated interaction is an aspect of contemporary media, but too much of a focus on the immediate blinds us to what's around the corner.

The Guardian wants revenue; each page seemingly comes with a subscription plea. And yep, good journalism - be it serious political analysis, book reviews, make-up guidance, and/or travel writing - costs. And people don't mind paying for content they like and respect. This is how Sky has persisted, and how Netflix makes money. This is how Private Eye works; by being true to itself.        

But you've got to have something distinctive. And that means something that doesn't have to be smaller, but it does have to be more focused. And then, by all means, charge for it.

Paywalls are problematic, not least when what you're offering is disposable. The Sun found this out the hard way, when it had to abandon its paywall for the website version of its paper. The Daily Mail will never do this, because it appreciates its ephemerality. A susurrus of bigotry and intolerance while its readers scowl at their neighbours.   

And The Guardian is in every danger of going that way. Not necessarily a right-wing lurch at all, but a mix of needling and neediness alongside the reportage. 

What would I do? I'd play about. Kill the overwhelming majority of the comments sections; let Facebook and Twitter handle that. Focus on news and perspective. Offer clarity. Don't chase clicks. Don't make the print version feel like a redacted version of the website from the day before last.  

Think about the kind of limited free-access model used by US papers. Become necessary again. If the paper is part of the wallpaper of people's lives then sooner or later they ignore it, take it for granted, or they can paint over it.

If it's part of the fabric of their lives, that's different. Like with my Dad. Fabric offers warmth, and reassurance. Cool in summer and warm in winter. All that sort of thing. More than that, it provokes identity. It needs caring for, and in return, it offers you distinctiveness. The paper meant something to my Dad. 

Me? Yeah, but not so much these days. In a petty statement of what passes for activism in my middle years, I've unfollowed The Guardian's Twitter feed. That'll show 'em, eh? But it's indicative. The paper's becoming annoying. Petty. Wheedling. An addict after bored daytime office worker hits.  

In chasing possible profits through ubiquity, The Guardian's becoming increasingly disposable. I'll be sad to see it go if it fades from me completely. Not for what I'm missing, though, but for what might have been.   

The Judge: a short story response

This isn't something I'd ordinarily do. As part of the cut-and-thrust on Twitter earlier today, I mentioned that the idea of an openly gay, ex-Olympian fencer who was a judge sounded like top superhero material. An old-school costumed vigilante in the Detective Comics-era BatMan or Zorro mould. Maybe a flash of Baroness Orzy's The Scarlet Pimpernel. A couple of people commented that it sounded like an agreeably daft idea. 

And I had a couple of hours free. So here it is. The Judge. Some caveats here. It's a 2800 word single draft piece written in a single sitting. I'm likely never to go back to it ever. And it's a work of fiction. No real people are meant to be inferred etc. We clear? Good. Just an afternoon's writing amusement. 

Anyway. The story's here, it's free for you to read and enjoy/comment on/disparage, and can be downloaded as a pdf file

The briefest of notes...

Been a touch quiet on the blog side of things, but that's only because there's been plenty of behind-the-scenes-ery going on.

If the sacrifices made to the harvest gods are accepted though, there'll be a flurry of stuff in November, including two (two!) new publications, and the Word Process podcast's first offerings.

Hopefully, November will launch with cover previews for the two publications mentioned above, with release dates for the end of the month.

Now, to arrange a suitable offering...    

A new podcasting venture: Word Process

I'm starting up a writing-based podcast in November. It's called Word Process and - as the name might indicate - it's about the writing process, from the POV of individual interviewed authors. Though I'll link to new podcast material as it goes up, the main site is at www.wordprocesspodcast.com - there's an introductory post up there now, with some more detail to follow over the next couple of weeks, including the inevitable social media links.  

Tsundoku

I've come down with a disease. I've been harbouring the symptoms for years, but it's only recently that side-effects of the problem have become properly noticeable. I've caught tsundoku. And the thing is, you've probably got it too. 

Tsundoku is a Japanese slang term for buying books and having them pile up around you. Those shelves of unread paperbacks? Thrillers on your Kindle happily displaying 0% read? The teetering stack of novels on the bedside table? All known signs of the contagion. 

I blame society, of course. Not my own poor impulse control, the cheapness of books in general (they've never been more inexpensive, and never represented better value against other forms of entertainment), one-click online buying systems, next day delivery options, the eminent browsability of charity shops and new booksellers alike. And that's before we get the inestimable bounty of libraries simply brimming with books, all of them free at the point of use, like an NHS of the imagination.

None of that's to blame.

Nor is my wholesale abandonment of portion control. At present I read in full a book or so a week; maybe two if I'm lucky. Push that to three if I've a longish train journey or two coming up. So, by the laws of one-in, one-out, you'd have thought that this would regulate my purchasing and borrowing.

Behind me, in a corner of the kitchen.

Behind me, in a corner of the kitchen.

Yeah, right.

I think I'm on about a book a day at the minute. The postie has long since given up on sardonic commentary about the parade of slightly-battered padded envelopes from online secondhand purveyors of lexical drugs. My collection of red "While You Were Out" cards would provide sending-off artillery for the entire Football League if so appropriated.  

 But I can handle it. So what if I can barely sit down for Jenga-like constructions of reference material, or see out of the kitchen window (the window-ledge long since been overtaken as a source of ad-hoc shelving)? 

I can handle it. And besides, like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone story, I'll never want for reading. 

If only I could find my glasses. They were here a minute ago. I swear it. Hmm...

---

My novels Torc and The Prospect of This City are available via Amazon (in ebook and paperback), Kobo (ebook), and Smashwords (ebook).  

A few wise words from Stephen King

Apparently, today (21st Sept) is Stephen King's birthday. Happy birthday! I'm about two-thirds of the way through King's latest UK paperback, the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which is well up to his usual standard. 

Anyway, the infographic below was posted on King's UK publisher Hodder's @hodderscape Twitter feed earlier today. A collection of handy hints taken from his excellent On Writing, which really should be on every wannabe writer's bookshelves. And on their audiobook listening device of choice. As King narrates the audiobook himself, it really works, and is well worth the purchase, even if it's additional to the book.

I've blathered elsewhere on this blog about the usefulness of On Writing, so I'll not labour the point here, except to note that the first half of the book acts as an early-years autobiography (and tells us why King's a writer) and the second half is craft-focused (the how part).

Here's the promised infographic:

Yeah, it might be a bit of a thinly-disguised advert, but it's a good book. And we're all about the good books here, so we'll give this one a pass.  

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My novels Torc and The Prospect of This City are available via Amazon (in ebook and paperback), Kobo (ebook), and Smashwords (ebook).  

On reviewing/opinionating about books

In a former blogging life I used to a bit of the old book-blogging; that is, reviewing novels (and non-fiction). This grew out of doing a PhD. I needed to record what I was doing research-wise, and as I was working in the fields of creative writing and historical fiction, making notes on the reading seemed only a sensible thing to be doing. That blog's gone now, faded into the suspended animation of deactivated Blogger accounts. Somewhere along that way, I'd lost the utility and also the pleasure in making short-ish notes on what I'd read. Plus, to some extent, there was a feeling of being leaned on a little.  

I'd got onto the lists of a few book publicists, who were understandably keen to get notices for their wares. The old free-copy-for-an-unbiased-review trade-off didn't seem overly burdensome, especially as I was largely being offered work that I'd have got round to reading anyway. And besides, who doesn't like a free book? I'm not genetically predisposed towards hardbacks, so I didn't even mind if the ARC (advance reading copy) was a shop-ready tome, a proof edition with provisional artwork and as-yet-unfinalised interior matter, or else access to an e-book through NetGalley.

But, over time, I lost the urge. Partly because the course was coming to an end and I didn't need the raw material, and in some degree because there were instances of pushiness. And, like, most folks, I don't care to be jostled.

Reading a novel takes a few hours. Let's call it eight. Add an hour or two for writing something up and posting it; a book review is a day and a half of someone's time. And that's time that I could have been spending doing other stuff. Writing, for example. Or reading things other than those I was being offered. So I backed away from the whole cottage industry of book blogging.

Cut to the present. I'm writing reviews again. Short ones, because of time, and because all I'm doing is recording an opinion; essentially putting a few scraps of meat on the bones of the five-star systems used by the likes of Amazon and Goodreads.

So why go back to posting reviews? This comes out of self-publishing a couple of novels myself. I can see the usefulness in reviews to authors in a fresh light, being in my own little working-off-the-kitchen-table way one myself. A review is a little note in a bottle washing up on the writer's shore that says "Hey, I read your book. And you know, it wasn't totally sucky." That can mean a lot. 

Even if you spend a morning with a stick trying to lever that scrap of paper out of the neck of the bottle before smashing it apart on a rock to get to the feedback only to read "Hey, asshat. I torrented your piece of crap and it wasn't worth the bandwidth. Screw you and your offspring for seven generations!" then at least you've got an emotional reaction. Even if the reviewer's taste is obviously in their mouths; someone noticed what you were doing. That's worth something in itself. Not much, but something.

So., as I've come to acknowledge the usefulness of reviews for my own output, it's only right that I look to myself again and do the same for others.

If a book sucks, though, I'll reserve the right not to comment, or else note only that it wasn;t for me. Folk commenting on the net are, after all, invariably not offering a review, but presenting an opinion. There's a difference between the two that needs to be understood and respected. 

Reviews will be posted on the site where I got the book from (or the online equivalent of the bricks-and-mortar store) as well as Amazon UK and on Goodreads. Though the latter are the same company they don't cross-reference reviews; largely, it seems, because of nuances in the ratings system between Amazon and Goodreads. Three stars on Amazon is a tad less positive than the same score on Goodreads. Who knew? I'll probably stick at least some up on this blog too (or links to them). 

The upshot of all this is that I'm learning again the value of an opinion, so it's only right that I pass along those that are mine, in the hope that they'll be of use in some tiny way to others, both other readers, and to writers. Sounds fair, right? 

---

My novels Torc and The Prospect of This City are available via Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords

   

Books now available through Kobo and Smashwords

Have finally got around to uploading both Torc and The Prospect of This City to both Kobo and Smashwords, which means that they're available for all e-readers and mobile devices. This means that those who prefer not to buy their books from Amazon can join in the fun too. 

In future, if there's stuff that I self-publish, I won't do it exclusively through Amazon, but will release simultaneously across multiple retailers. At present, though, the paperback versions of both books are only available via Amazon. Am still investigating alternatives, though the economics of self-publishing on my modest scale don't lend themselves readily to anything but a print-on-demand option (which is what Amazon do).

Anyway, you can find me on Smashwords, and on Kobo for all your ebook needs, in addition to Amazon.     

Me, psychogeography, and the importance of a pleasant sit down

This was originally written as an accompaniment to a potential print version of my blog Benches of Louth. I've since decided not to go that way, but that's no reason not to waste a piece of writing. It's part of a wider attempt to explain and contextualise what informed the project; there'll be some more on this over the next couple of weeks on this blog.

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London’s perhaps too easy. Any fool can wander the capital’s streets and perceive the ghosts of the past, be they in architectural mismatches, faded Victorian signage painted onto brick, or else in imaginings of what Johnson or Defoe or whoever might have thought when stalking the cobbles. London’s busy with the past; histories grand and quotidian, native and migrant, obscure and in-your-face. That’s not to say that there isn’t a deal of fine writing about the city and with contemporary engagements with its earlier incarnations. There’s a lot to be said about the way that our urban environments are palimpsests; culturally layered like the strata of the geology underneath the asphalt and between the abandoned lines of the Underground.

Then again, subjective response is always interesting. The different senses folk make of the same thing, be it London or whatever. You can take the practical-to-mystical approach of an Alfred Watkins, whose notion of ley lines, straight tracks connecting places of significance or its opposite, weaving the kind of magic that too often has a letter K at the end of the word, as folk seek for deeper truths in the banalities of the alleyway between Rymans and Greggs, can be inspirational.

You can look to the prescience of writers such as JG Ballard, who saw, a generation before its time, the displacement by the automobile of the people from the city. Folk hutched up in gated communities or in high rises, linked by motorways to malls and car parks to other car parks. People who’d forgotten how to walk, or why it might be important to do so. Women and men driven to private violent extremes by their dislocation to the suburbs, sent mad by consumer technology and modernist building materials.    

It’s good to get out and walk a bit. I’m no hiker, and not a natural driver. I’m asked why I don’t drive, and I say that I don’t need to. Which I don’t. Part of the problem with driving is that it gets you from this place to that and there’s no in-between except what’s going on in the car. The radio, the conversation, the bickering kids in the back seats. Plus, car travel tends to be purposive. You travel when you need to, not because it might be fun, or distracting, or a way to ventilate your mind for thinking reasons.

I’ve made no attempt to draw lines of power between these benches, or to suggest in a Lud Heat / Hawksmoor kind of way that they’re points of pentagrams anchoring occult forces over the town. 

Nor yet a Situationist-style reaction to late capitalism; a derive, in the sense of a random walk, a drift through urban space. Not even a Guy Debord-ish appreciation of the senses of the city, the way different parts of an urban whole might be said to have differing attitudes or personalities.

Then again, there’s something of the notion of a walk without purpose. Trips to benches are non-journeys in the sense that I’m not going to the shops, for example, or visiting a friend, or commuting to or from work. Instead, I’m going to places to stop. The map that I derive from that – or more accurately, the set of points on other people’s maps – might re-map the town, or at least suggest other mechanisms for travel and for not travelling.  

Coverley (2010) defines psychogeography in Situationist terms as “the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals”. Now then. There’s something in that. The different ways in which parts of Louth might make folk feel. And the ways in which the view proposed by any particular bench might suggest emotional responses.

Or maybe they’re just places to take a breather.

And if they are, then why are they sited where they have been? Reasons for placing a public seat in a particular place might include:

1.       That there’s something to see here

2.      That this is a likely place that people might need a rest

3.      That there’s something to wait for

4.      That this place is deemed recreational

5.      That this is a place to be seen to be at

6.      Combinations of the above

The first option’s straightforward enough; there’s a good view to be had. So why not take a load off. Okay. I’ll buy that.

The second option on the list suggests perhaps the top of a hill, or partway up a longer or steeper incline. It suggests perhaps distance from the town centre, and people returning with their purchases. Going beyond that, it suggests folk being on foot. No-one gets out of their car to have a sit down on a public bench, do they? So the spread and location of benches may indicate both directions of movement and historical walking patterns. This is where a rest might have been welcomed – even campaigned for, and the council petitioned for a bench to be erected – from wearying returners.

There’s a whiff of social class involvement here also. The working class have always been walkers; have always been those for whom walking was the default mode of transportation. Cars are status symbols, as is ownership of any vehicle, as were horses and coaches and carts and penny farthings in their time too.  I know people – fools, bless them – who won’t even take buses on grounds of class superiority, and affect not to understand timetabling for the same reasons. The urban bench is, in its way, not only a signifier of movement and rest, but of labour and of mobility.

This leads to the third. There’s seating galore at bus stations and on railway platforms. The wait for scheduled services necessitates a bench. Even the most exposed high-angled stool as a leaning post is better than nothing, and acknowledge the minor inconvenience of waiting for your transportation to arrive. If you know it, try the waiting area above platforms thirteen and fourteen at Manchester Piccadilly railway station and you’ll see just what I mean. So, benches can be anticipatory. Places for waiting. Way-stations. Nodal points. 

As for the fourth, it might depend on your understanding of the word “recreation”. Parks and green spaces are often festooned with seating; somewhere to eat your packed lunch, to pretend to supervise children’s play from, to read in the sun. But so are town and city centres; people-watching, being still in the pacy throb of the High Street, licking the milky dribble from the cone of your melting ice cream. All of these are improved by taking a moment on a bench.

The fifth reverses some of the above. Who does not want to be seen to be basking, to be reading, to be a family man or an active woman, about their stretches before another couple of miles of FitBit-monitored exercise? It’s good to be seen out and about; where else might we spontaneously engage with others these days? So pick your seat with your audience - intended or opportunistic - in mind.  The nineteenth-century notion of the flaneur, the self-conscious stroller of the city, at once observant and being observed by others, pops into view here.       

Or, at the last, some of the above together, either simultaneously or selectively. One man’s fag break is another woman’s meeting point is another fellow’s chance to flex his palms where the carrier bag handles are cutting into him on the way home.   

The Situationists - a bunch of French mid-twentieth century surrealism-inspired Marxists, more or less - wrote of “detournement”, which might be interpreted as meaning to use pre-existing items for new and subversive uses. In such terms, psychogeographically-informed walking might be subversive, as you’ve not necessarily using the urban space for commercial or business reasons. You’re not obeying the road traffic laws or paying overmuch heed to rights of way.   

You can make a bench your own by the way you use it. To someone else, it may well be a wonky amalgamation of metal and wood on a scrubby corner of council land. Let them think that. But it can be a paradise. It can be a study carrel. It may be a confessional booth, a snack bar, a restaurant, a pub. It might be a bed. A place for assignations and for the swapping of secrets. Somewhere to lurk and to mooch and to ponder and to fret.

Sit on the top of the backrest and put your feet on the seat.

Lie down on it.

Pull backflips off it.

Or just take a few minutes to yourself. Don’t move until a yellow car passes by. And then, when it does, carry on. Or go home.

It’s up to you.  

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Benches of Louth is here.

If you're so inclined, my novels The Prospect of This City (a historical thriller set in the days immediately prior to the 1666 Great Fire of London), and Torc (a Scots-set children's novel of time-slips between the present-day and the 2nd century AD) may be found here.   

On cliches

Cliches (or, if you prefer, clichés, because though the accent's a bit old-fashioned, it points the way towards pronunciation) aren't all that bad.

Not all the time, anyway.

Because they're well-known, a cliche can convey meaning directly in ways that are mutually understood. They're fast, and to some extent ready-made, so we don't have to think about them. These pre-assembled language chunks are ready to go. When we're speaking they can be useful for all of these reasons: immediacy, intelligibility, efficiency.

If you were a lexicographer, you might refer to cliches as being examples of lexical phrases; pre-prepared language for easy insertion. Not all lexical phrases are cliches (there's polywords such as "at any rate", and sentence heads and tails like "Could you just..." and "...if yo don't mind", that are raring to go to start off or complete an enquiry) but all cliches are lexical phrases.

That's why we use them. Over time, the individual words within a cliched phrase have become fused together into a single entity. The phrase "avoid like the plague" might once have been funny, because the Black Death is best skirted around for all kinds of health-troubling reasons, so there's an amusing and perhaps jarring exaggeration to a social or other situation that one might not want to get involved with. Through over-use, though, any novelty or invention associated with the phrase has been worn away. All that's left is the base meaning of "avoid".

In everyday speech then, cliches have their place. Heck, in drama or fiction, a character using cliched terms might be useful, either for reasons of immediacy or because it tells us something about that character (their lack of imagination, for example).

However, someone who can only converse in cliches, whether that person's real or fictional, is going to get boring to be with sharpish. And if you're the writer, and cliches infest your writing (both dialogue and descriptive) then it's you that are boring. And boring writers don't get read.   

So here's what I do. Maybe it'll work for you. Perhaps you've got a different approach to cliche; if so, share!

In the first draft, I don't worry, but I'm mindful of the potential for cliche. If one appears in a sentence, and it's immediately apparent that it's there (not as easy as it may appear because if I'm writing, then I'm often too focused on getting the words down than to fully appreciate what words are actually appearing on the left-hand side of the cursor) then I'll sort it out.

How?

I'll tell you in a minute.

If I can't operate straight away, then I'll flag the sentence up. I'm a Word user, so I'll use the comments facility to leave myself a message. Then I keep writing.  

Between the first and second draft (and usually the day after writing the first draft, as my routine is to re-read the previous day's work, and then sort out any typos and vivid language no-nos before getting on with the fresh day's word count. I remove the comments as I work, to tell myself that the issue's been seen to. 

Now, there'll doubtless be over-used phrases that'll get by a first or even a second draft, but with a little distance from the words, some focus, and a thimbleful of creativity, then cliches can be eradicated. 

My way of approaching cliches is to look for a way to twist the original slightly; just enough to retain the intended meaning, but with something - anything - that makes it different. Here's an example:

Ist draft: as pretty as a picture

2nd draft: as pretty as a photograph/landscape/portrait/cameo/mugshot

Not very creative perhaps, but there's a few options to select from, and I'd argue that each of them is better than the over-used "picture". And that's just from playing with one word. Can we do better than "pretty"?

And of course, the phrase "as pretty as a picture" is a simile. Any form of modifying word or phrase (adjective, adverb etc) should be scrutinized also. If it's needed, fair enough, That's your justification to use it. If not, and it's just an easy word that's inveigled its way in during first-drafting, then there's an easy edit to be made.

And does the sentiment even need to be there? Cliched writing can be filler. Stuff you write as you're working out what it is that you're really trying to say. Can it be cut? If so, then delete.   

So, a) I try to be aware of cliched phrases, and b) leave myself notes to act on them later if I'm not going to do that work immediately. Then c) I make a change small enough to keep a relationship to the original, but sufficient to keep the language as fresh as I can.

If I can, I cut.

The best cure for cliche is to read more. If you read other people using particular phrases, either repeatedly or jarringly, then that's something to remember for your own practice; not to use those constructions yourself.  

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Books by me are here, by the way: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eamonn-Griffin/e/B00XJEK2PC

 

Time flies by, when you're writing on a train...

I've probably mentioned this before, but there's no place finer for writing than on a train. Now I know that some of you will be commuters, and will have torrid tales of there being no seats and of being squished up against faulty doors between Hither South and Yon Central, and all for the price of a gajillion pound season ticket, but I don't have to ride those kinda trains.  

Most of my train travel is east-west across the middle of the country, on the train equivalent of the M62, the service run by the aptly-named Transpennine Express. It's pretty quiet, at least between Cleethorpes and Doncaster. Donny's where the action is, you see. Change for London and points north. Keep an eye out at the western end of platform 4 for the gaggle of what Network Rail somewhat coyly terms "rail enthusiasts".

Sometimes there's a few on board; in the run-up to Christmas and those making their retail pilgrimage to Meadowhall shopping centre; a portal to Hades, except with a Debenhams and a Nandos. Football will put a few on board too, generally stalwart fans of non-league teams with a pleasant sense of ironic distance from their obsession. Otherwise, it's holidaymakers. Yep, we've got our own little airport, but there's plenty who take advantage of the direct rail link to Manchester Airport to start or finish their vacation in style, with a few cans on the train, the way God intended.

Time your journey right, though, and it's pretty blissful. A bliss punctuated by the remnants of the industrial north; Grimsby Fish Docks, Scunthorpe steel works, former collieries throughout South Yorkshire. Meadowhall itself is built on old mining land; locals reckon they dug too deep, and had to cap the shaft with something worse than anything Old Nick could come up with himself; and that's why Meadowhall's where it is. 

These are flatlands for the most part. Reclaimed land, silt-rich soil clawed back from the Humber and the Trent. If there are growth industries around here, then they're in crumbling warehouses on the edges of conurbations, and wind farms. When coal was king, this was where the country generated its power. Now we claw back what we can from the sky, but it's not the same.

Only three stops, most journeys, along this bit. Habrough, Barnetby, Scunthorpe. That ghostly works is a titanium dioxide plant; the white filler they put in toothpaste and Polyfilla. 

It gets busy around Doncaster. Busy for Lincolnshire folk, anyways, blinking our eyes in metropolitan wonderment at the paved roads and the kids with shoes instead of clogs. Doncaster to Sheffield is a through-line past the backs of Virgin Actives, Tesco warehouses, and the friendly-looking Big Red Shed, which might wholesale booze. There's a chirpy-looking gurdwara, and some not-bad graffiti. Keep an eye out as we zip unstoppingly through Mexborough and you'll see Conisborough Castle.

Meadowhall is an arrogant surge of Thatcherite brick, red as City slickers' braces, a Loadsamoney fuck-you to them who don't have much from them who took it from you.

Five more minutes and we're into Sheffield. This is not a point to be locked to your screen or huddled into the fictional arms of your paperback; check out the evidence of some glimmers of the old ways. Cutlery workshops. The English Pewter Company. The run into Sheffield station is sheathed in tall brickwork on both sides, but this time it's the soot-grey of honest work that keeps you close till you get stationwards.

There'll be a kerfuffle here. Those hopping from Donny or Meadowhall will be off, and those commuting to Manchester crowd on. Now's the time to relish your seat, to give yourself a little power-up for having the foresight to have booked.

Sheffield's behind us now. There's a chance of a brew. The trolley gets on at Doncaster; no drinks between there and Cleethorpes, so come prepared. The coffee they have these days has fancy new lids. A straining contraption to keep you filtered from the grounds in the cup. Puzzling as heck first time out. It's not bad, but it's not the same as a brown spoonful of Nescafe from a catering drum of the stuff into a polystyrene beaker.

Civilisation cuts out, and you've got a good twenty minutes of the middle of nowhere. Forget your 4G, phone boy. Watch the clouds over the hills. Count the sheep in the upper fields. Then what it would be like to be that woman hauling hay from the back of a Land Rover for a day.

Manchester comes up on you slowly. Places you'll never get off; Hazel Grove. Then Stockport; the pyramidic Co-Op building, the hat museum. A brace of pleading signs on the outward surge; office blocks from a previous generation pleading with you. Low rents. Ample parking. Anything.

Pack your stuff away. Manchester in less than ten minutes. Again, the backs of industry. A cemetery, an old cinema, long-since converted to other use. Cash and carries, breakers yards. Up ahead its skyscrapers and stadia; Manchester's an ambitious city. Here, though, the railway line remembers what got it there.                   

It's two hours twenty minutes Grimsby to Manchester Picadilly. That's maybe 1500-2000 first draft words if I'm on a roll. A hundred and fifty pages or so if I'm reading. A thousand words if it's a commission. You can get a lot done. But that's no reason not to keep a check every now and again on where you are.