This is raw first-draft stuff, so please excuse any typos and missing moments. Anyway, it's part of a longer autobiographical piece about, among other things, cancer and its impacts in and on my family. And as the header indicates, World Cancer Day is as good a reason as any to start thinking about this again. And if it prompts you to donate a couple of quid to Macmillan Cancer Support along the way, so much the better.
Thanks for reading
We were going for a curry. That was the idea. We hadn’t been to the Raj Mohal for ages, and it was Dad’s birthday. I can’t remember who had the idea. Anyway, there it was. A curry.
I got the call mid-afternoon. Dad had a medical appointment on his birthday. We’d been chiding him gently for a while now in our own different ways to go to the GP and get himself checked out. He’d been little on the forgetful side for a few years. Nothing dramatic, but it was noticeable, and he had been like that since way before Mum had died back in 2008. Then, it just seemed part of the getting old process, along with the arthritic aches he got in his hands and the blood-pressure medication that he’d been put on a few years earlier.
The forgetfulness had been more recently accompanied by unsteadiness on the feet. There’d been couple of tumbles that I’d known about, and probably a few more that I wasn’t aware of. Along the way we’d got Dad a walking stick, and after a few half-hearted attempts to resist adopting it, the stick and he had become somewhat inseparable. To some of his grandkids, he and the stick were as one. He liked having the stick brought to him. He took pleasure not just in the Octonauts stickers that decorated the shaft of the stick, but also in pointing the various Octonauts – Captain Barnacles, Kwazi, Peso Penguin and the rest of them – to other oldsters.
Stairs were becoming a part of the problem. The staircase at his house was an anti-clockwise winding set; wider to the left than the right as it went up. Not the easiest to navigate.
Worse, though, were the three steps up to and down from the door to the Boars Head pub.
We’d started going to the pub when I moved back to Louth from Grimsby in 2008. Moving back was part of the process surrounding Mum’s death. Louth was the right place to be; Dad needed some support and I could help with that better if I was closer to him. My younger brother was also in the town with his new wife and their firstborn. We’d muddle through somehow.
A new routine established itself. Sunday lunches up at Dad’s house, plus I’d go round at least one mid-week evening. Wednesdays or Thursdays, usually depending on football on the telly. One of us would cook something, and then we’d go to the pub for a couple of pints.
There are two pubs within easy walking distance of Dad’s house: The Brown Cow and The Boars Head. The Cow is the closest, so that’s where we went. Wednesdays were good in there. The pub tended to quieten down after a teatime flurry of trade about half seven, which is when we’d turn up. We’d stay for a couple of hours, and leave about nine thirty, by which time the place would be getting a little busier as folk came out for a couple of drinks before bed.
Wednesday night was a regulars’ thing. The same faces in their own orbits. Barry, who’d been there since early doors, and who would fuss over the Sun crossword. He’d have a carrier bag with four cans of Carling with him. These were for later. He’d leave nine-ish, like as not buying a glass bottle of lemonade for his wife - “Good lass, she is” – and sometimes with the takeaway fish and chips that the pub did, for his supper. Barry would keep himself to himself in the main, though would nick into conversations sometimes, especially if his bellowed South Yorkshire was invoked. Barry had a Sheffield Wednesday tattoo on his arm and, the way he told it, had pretty much single-handedly built the M62, the M1, Meadowhall shopping centre and the Tinsley viaduct. Barry drank Carling; three or four pints.
Barry left; John would come in. A dapper gent, retirement age, with the cropped precision of a weekly haircut that probably had settled into a preferred style sometime around him completing his National Service. Dad and John would needle each other about Manchester United. Dad would scoff at the big-city team, and about fair-weather fans. John would relish any and all of their successes.
Dad drank bitter. He favoured light, dry, hoppy ales. He seldom went over four per cent ABV. In the Brown Cow, Dad drank Adnams, though there was usually a guest alternative that would be just as acceptable.
He’d flirt ironically with XXX behind the bar, swap bits of local lore with XXXX who did a couple of shifts a week in there, and who’d been doing bar work in Louth since Adam was a lad. Landlord Nigel would…
The pub started getting busier; it was picking up a reputation for the quality of the food and the beer, and was being seen in town as a viable alternative to the more well-heeled town centre pubs. The Cow is a small place; it’s full when there’s more than a dozen people in there. At some point it became clear that Dad wasn't enjoying going so much. He’d chunter about the noise, about not being able to hear himself think. There was a TV in the corner showing Sky Sports or ITV if they had a game on. The telly had been upgraded from a perfunctory little flat-screen to something more dominant. This would have been in preparation for one of the football tournaments; maybe the 2012 European Championships.
Where we’d usually have been able to while away an hour or so picking through the local paper, this was less possible. Too many people, too much noise. The Louth Leader – which comes out on Wednesdays and offers the usual small-town diet of court reports, primary school class photographs and rumours of chain stores opening a branch nearby – would have to wait.
A decision was taken. Time to knock the Cow on the head for a while. One of us – I think it was me – suggested that we give the Boars a try instead. Heck, there was a sign in the window that said they did fish and chips for a fiver on Friday teatimes.
That was a done deal.
Half of Louth has their own story about the time they got kicked out of the Boars Head. It was once of those kinds of places. You either fitted in, or you didn’t. It’s closed now; the pub went dark in the summer of 2015. The building’s marked for demolition as part of wider improvements for the adjoining cattle market. We’ll get to that in a bit.
The Boars Head had been a pub for two hundred years. A solid, uncompromising bit of Georgian brickwork, it’s been open since about 1800, and is quite the oldest building on that stretch of Newmarket. The street name refers to the cattle market, which by now has been there for hundreds of years. The local council has been trying to move the market onto the industrial estate on the other side of town for years; they want to sell the land for supermarket development.
The Boars is where the farmers drank. The pub would open at 9am on Thursdays – cattle market day – and serve up Full Englishes and liver and onions to increasingly pissed-up country boys. The Boars was a Bateman’s pub; XB and XXXB were the bitters on offer. A cider. Sometimes a guest ale, sometimes not. Guinness came in cans. Pleasingly, there were both pickled eggs and onions available, and in a concession to the sweet-toothed, a box of Kit-Kats was always on standby.
The steps up to the door were no challenge; the same steps back down were always an issue for Dad. He’d be reminded of them on the walk down Newmarket. They would become, over time, a signal to him, and to others as well, of his slow decline. Like all such things, they were treated as a bit of a running joke, but nevertheless those steps didn’t just make him uneasy at times.
You had to earn your place at the Boars. Signwork outside said that this was a community pub. This was not intended as a welcome. A repository of good old-fashioned British insular bigotry of the old school, the Boars could be the stage for some remarkably reactionary views. The clues were there on the walls; the 2012 Red Arrows framed crew picture, signed by pilots and support staff. The Lancaster bomber pictures. The omnipresent Daily Mail on the bar, often as not underlined and annotated as though scripture was being studied by Barbara behind the bar. If she wasn’t checking the small print, she’d be on her laptop doing word searches or having some crafty bingo.
Then again, the food was good. Plain, but good. The menu system at the Boars was simplicity. On Sundays, they did a roast dinner. Five quid. Pork or beef. On Fridays, fish and chips. Tuesdays there was a choice of curry or sweet and sour chicken. In the summer they’d do a salad. Vegetarian choice was you could have crisps or fuck off.
The Boars had kept its rooms; the place was subdivided into three rooms. One was reserved for meetings, a poky little cold alcove with a begrudgingly-lit coal fire. As it had the accommodation, all kinds of clubs and societies would meet here. The Film Club. The hospital radio people. The Green party. Dad remembered coming to union and to Labour Party events here in the 1970s. The room to the right of the bar - wallpapered over with overlapping beer posters - was sometimes used by the Young Farmers for their fortnightly get-togethers, but as the gents was outside in an old public toilet that had been part of the cattle market before being annexed by the brewery, that meant that sometimes you’d cut through a talk being given to them by the St John’s Ambulance or whichever civic or charitable organisation was hitting them up for donations that week. Trailing cables for portable projectors were an ever-present hazard.
Clientele were local; faces from down the street. A couple of local notables. A boorish Alderman who fancied himself a raconteur. The fella that has the carpet warehouse. A former engineer whose principal topic of conversation these days was motorcycles of the 1950s and/or models of traction engines. We slotted right in.
As long as you kept the conversation off the political, and that wasn’t hard to do, the evenings went well. A cheap meal out, a bit of socialisation, some local innuendo, three or four drinks. Sometimes tongues were bitten; that was as rowdy as it ever got.
It was clear in the Boars’ that you were Barbara’s guests. Her house, her rules. Fair enough. Just don’t get her started on anything contentious.
Dad started to drink less. He’d never been a wild boozer at all, but he was having trouble with the sheer amount of liquid involved in drinking beer in a pub. In 2012 he’d have a couple of pints, and then switch to halves. He started to drop this back to having one pint first, then halves from that point on. As a point of pride, the half pint was poured into the pint; he never drank from a half-pint glass.
He started to dread leaving. Exiting a pub is an understandable traumatic experience for anyone, but those steps started to take on a mental life of their own. They represented something more than a means to ground level from the elevated floor of the pub.
Three steps. Painted red. Dad had difficulty judging distances. His depth perception was out somehow. He’d struggle on though and a way would be devised to get to the asphalt outside without tottering over. The steps would loom however.
The unspoken assumption was that there was something lurking in the background. Dementia. Alzheimer’s. That sort of thing. The kind of getting-on-a-bit illness one might expect.
Still, the symptoms were developing, and even Dad couldn’t put it off anymore. So off to the GP he went.
I’d made the decision to move back in with him late in 2011. Remote support was good, but it needed more than phone calls every other day and midweek and weekend visits. Besides, though in his 70s, Dad had been working, keeping a small business going. That business was unravelling.
At some point I started making lunches. Part of the routine teatime chitchat was the question – what did you have for lunch? – and sometimes Dad couldn’t answer. I wasn’t sure if this was because he’s forgotten it as his short-term memory wasn’t there, or because he’d forgotten to eat at all.
New routines began to establish themselves. I’d put out breakfast things and his pills as an aide-memoire to have his Puffed Wheat and his blood-pressure stuff. Lunch would be in the fridge; I was making sandwiches for myself anyway, so knocking another round or two of ham-and-cheese was no hardship.
Dad had usually taken on midweek teatime duties, but these slid over to me.
It worked pretty well, though I found myself worrying about what Dad was doing in the daytime.
Once, he got conned. A bloke was poking around door-to-door and Dad got it into his head that this fella was from the landlord. The man seems to have jumped on the idea and let him think that. Somehow the conversation came around to buying logs for the fire for Winter and the fella agreed that he could have a load of wood brought round for fifty pounds. Naturally, the wood never came.
I don’t think he ever went into town and got lost, or anything like that, but the potential was there. Slowly, Dad’s radius contracted. He’d given up driving a couple of years previously when he’d got into the habit of taking right-turns at roundabouts. Sensibly, he saw that his focus was going, and that he couldn’t trust himself to concentrate behind the wheel of a vehicle.
I’d walk him into town sometimes. Sometimes we’d get the local town circuit bus; it stopped only a few yards from his house anyway. We worked out that walking either to or from town was fine, but doing both was too much. And besides, we rationalised, taking a taxi home from the town centre was only a flat two pounds fifty. Better pay that and have your shopping carried home for you than struggle up Aswell Street with a full bag.
There were intermittent contacts with various social services. Age UK arranged some things: handrails for the stairs as well as the steps up to his front door, a hydraulic lift for the bath. We signed up for an on-call service. He wore an alarm pendant to press if he fell that would a message to a responder.
The afternoon phone call on his birthday was a bit unnecessary. Yes, he’d been to his appointment, yes he had some news, no he wouldn’t say what it was over the phone. Right. The lesson in mystery received, the rest of the afternoon crawled by.
He’d had by this stage a couple of scans. An MRI and a CAT, if I remember right. The assumption remained that he’d copped for one of the above-mentioned conditions I associated with growing old.
It was a bit of a surprise to have him tell me that he had a brain tumour.
We went for the curry anyway.
Hi all. First up, here's the call to action: my new novel East of England is crowdfunding now via the fine folks at Unbound, who are experts in this kind of thing, and I'd love for you to help make East of England a reality. You can do so by following the link to Unbound's site, where you can find out more about the book (there's a video, a synopsis, and a sample from the beginning of the novel) and about how you can support it.
If you don't know much about crowdfunding, here's how it works.
First, the book's written. Don't worry about that bit. I've taken care of that for you.
Second, fine people taste and distinction - very much like you, dear reader - decide if they want to support the project. As the Unbound site shows, there are different levels of what they call 'pledges' - essentially, pre-orders - (ebook, paperback, special editions with mentions in the book, even the chance to have a character renamed after you, and so on) - at different price points.
When the funding target is reached - the amount of cash needed to edit, proofread, and copyedit the book by salty professionals, plus marketing and promotion to get it into bookshops and so on, as well as printing, cover artwork and all the behind-the-scenes stuff - then the book becomes live, gets finished off and sent out to you.
Johnny-Come-Lately can, of course, then buy East of England from Amazon / Waterstones / HIve / your friendly neighbourhood independent bookshop / the supermarket / WH Smiths, but what he and his similarly tardy chums won't get is a) to be the first and to have an active hand in bringing the project to life, and b) the chance to brag that you are now a patron of the arts.
Remember, if the book doesn't reach its funding total - progress can be checked on Unbound's website - then the book doesn't get published, and everyone who's pledged to support it gets their pledge money back. So there's no risk to you from that point of view.
How long all of this takes is up to the public. Some projects get funded in days, some take a few months. Some, it has to be said, never reach that point. And I don't want to be in that category. And you don't want that either. Do you?
Here's how the book came to life.
I've had the idea for the opening - it's the scene used as the sample which you can find on the Unbound site - for years. I tried writing it as the beginning of a screenplay, but never quite had a story to go with it.
Early last summer (2017), I was struggling with a different piece of writing - my long-gestating novel about Francis Walsingham which will get finished one day, oh yes - and I went back to this scene. Sat down. Wrote. Got to about 15,000 words, and took a break. It didn't read too badly, and it was quick in comparison because I was working with elements that I had in my head - a more-or-less contemporary setting, locations familiar to me - rather than cross-checking everything in history books. I took a break, because of moving house.
At about this time I saw a tweet. A call for submissions from a chap called Simon Spanton at Unbound. Send us a sample of your work etc. So I tidied up the first 10K words and sent it through. Nothing ventured, and so on. I carried on boxing up stuff. I heard back a few weeks later. Simon said he liked the sample. Is there more?
Nothing engages the sweet spot between creative endeavour and harnessing a bum to a chair than someone saying they'd like to see a full manuscript that you haven't got yet. So, that was October and November taken care of.
And here we are. The book's written, though in its raw state pending the full quantity of pledges being received. I really like it, and I really enjoyed writing it. The folks at Unbound have been both incredibly supportive and professional in ways that makes you realise there's more to this publishing lark than tall afternoon drinks in swish hotel bars over industry gossip about so-and-so at such-and-such.
The next bit is over to you. Have a look at the details about East of England. Hopefully, you'll see - like Simon and his colleagues - that there's something worth supporting, and a book that's worth reading, and you'll make a pledge.
Thanks for reading. And for reading.
So, you can download Juggernaut - which also includes the full text of the Stevenson original - free from 24th to 28th August inclusive. Here's the link again. There's a paperback version available also, if that's your kinda thing.
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:
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 - 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.
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
Finally released into the wild is Juggernaut, my sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson's [The] Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde!
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...
Something new to read, coming soon...
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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...
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:
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?
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).