Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Chocolate and other stuff

Looking at this picture,its a shame this isn't scratch n' sniff, innit? Or scratch, scrape from your fingernails and eat.

I was sniffed at in the office this morning. A woman pressed her nose against the flesh of my neck and made appreciative noises. What’s more she had all her own teeth and everything.

I want chocolate.

I’m cheesed off because the Manchester United v Arsenal semi-final is on sat TV and I only have council house sports on my telly. Mind you, the Barcelona/ Chelsea game didn’t live up to the hype. So maybe I’m wasting energy.
A thought, after listening to the commentators the other night crowing about how the EPL was the best league in the world and how 3 English teams had made it –yet again- to the semi-finals of the world’s greatest football team competition. ..there was a total of 6 Englishmen in the starting line-up for all 3 teams. Let me put that another way; that’s 6 out of a possible 33. Man Utd also had a Scot and an Irishman if we want to generously beef up the numbers, but it surely doesn’t make good reading for the caretakers of the English game. Fabio Capello, the Engurland manage was spotted in the crowd at the Nou Camp the other night. Should have saved your cash, Fabio.

Just read Kris Boyd on the beeb website saying he doesn’t regret giving up playing football for Scotland. For those who don’t know/ care he “retired” from international football at the grand old age of 25 after the Scotland manager left him on the bench during a high profile game. Now I don’t care what side of the Old Firm he plays for but I would just like to say one thing to “100 goals for ‘gers” Boydie; grow up, son. It should be an honour to play sport for your country. Take a look at David Beckham. He was ridiculed; effigies of him were burnt in public, he was used as pawn in a crap manager’s power games (Steve McLaren anyone? No, didn’t think so)and still he came back for more. He’s an example to every professional sports person out there. Whether or not you like the hype that seems to surround him, he works hard at his game, at pleasing his fans and at fulfilling his responsibilities as a prominent person in the public eye (Rebecca Loos aside). However, we could do without the adverts with him in his scanties. Nothing to do with feelings of inadequacy, I have to add. I too could stuff a pair of socks down the front of my y-fronts.

I want chocolate. Deliberately didn’t buy any during the weekly shop. 'Cos I would just eat it all.

Back to the sniffing, I can’t say I’m all that effective in an olfactory way. I’ve had the one bottle of aftershave since my 40th birthday (not yesterday, I might add. Nooooo, I hear you cry) and I often read work from female writers and admire their ability to bring their sense of smell into their writing. Is the varying effectiveness of this particular sense part of the whole male/female difference?

Thinking in terms of members of my family I have one sister who could double as a sniffer dog at airports. I swear she can smell a fart before it hits the air. My argument is that particular skill has developed because she expects it to be one of her own. Readers of earlier postings will have already been introduced to my sister, the Queen of Chaos. She’s a size six, four feet eleven with long blonde hair and looks about 15 years younger than her birth certificate states. She is also it is fair to say and without bias, very, very pretty and obsessed with bowel movements. Think Kylie with IBS.

And thinking about this issue from an evolutionary point of view. were the disposable gender sent out to fight big beasties and bad men who came to rape and pillage. An acute sense of smell would have just gotten in the way. I can just see a group of men charging into battle...and pulling up shouting, whoa...get a load of that. Or. You can’t make me fight, sarge, that battle ground is absolutely minging.

The chocolate craving has passed. I should be congratulated. Tomorrow I celebrate by scratching, sniffing then eating a bar of Cadbury’s.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Pear Ice Cream

Years ago when I was in the south of France on a camping holiday, I went to a cafe in the town of Cavalaire. Apropos of nothing but a chance to name drop, my caravan was next door to a very young Patsy Kensit and her pals. I reckon that’s where she got her taste for Scots men, but that’s a whole other blog.
One of the things I noticed while I was en vacances was that the fruit was bigger, more colourful and much tastier than anything we got at home. The pears in particular were amazing. And as I am often heard to say, you cannae beat a nice juicy pear. This particular cafe in Cavalaire specialised in ice cream. My pals chose while I studied the menu. One of the English girls in our company asked for a crepe. Stunned silence. She was too nice to be using that kind of language (too nice by far, if you catch my drift). With her southern accent it sounded like she was asking for a crap.
Eventually I chose pear ice cream and a few minutes later a very large glass container arrived holding a light green, glassy concoction that had me slathering like David Cameron over Labour’s latest fuckup (get over it, Davie-boy. You’ll never get the job). The pear ice cream came with a jug of water. Pourquoi l’eau, I asked in my best French. The waiter stared at me as if I’d asked for a crap. I was brilliant at asking for “trois coca” or “trois orangina”. I also had no small talent for asking for “du sel” for “les pommes frites”. Not so good at anything else. The waiter’s expression went through some changes before he considered that I just was one of those dumb Britishers who didn’t bother to learn god’s own language. Eventually pity won over scorn and he explained that the water should be used to refresh the mouth, because the flavour was so rich.
Aye right, I thought. Bring it on. There was a serious amount of ice cream here and I attacked it with gusto. I almost hesitate to use the metaphor – like the beautician faced with Susan Boyle’s eyebrows. The spoon from glass to mouth was a blur. Each spoonful was distilled, melting heaven. Ice cream as art. Then disaster. I noticed that my taste buds were becoming less responsive. The flavours were fading and I was less than a third of the way through. My gob was indeed in need of a rest.
I had a sip of water. My tongue was refreshed and - aaaaaaaah -once again able to cope with one of man’s best attempts at working with nature’s bounty. The next few spoonfuls were glassy green nectar. Chilled ambrosia. Then it was time for another sip of water before once again I lost the ability to fully appreciate the flavour.
This is a long-winded (but fascinating nonetheless as I’m sure you will agree) follow up to my blog on the reading marathon I embarked on at the weekend. If perfection is dished up to you as a constant, your ability to fully take in the achievement becomes tempered. Excellence becomes mundane and I’m too young at just over 21 to be jaded. Who’s that laughing in the corner? In essence it is time for a break from the reading. Besides, I don’t think ‘I haven’t finished my book yet,’ is an acceptable reason to pull a sicky. Nor would the boss believe I had a weekend break in Cancun and as a consequence required bed rest and the gentle ministrations of a student nurse.
...give me a moment to think that one through...
In any case, I’m half-way through Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Angel’s Game and my mind needs a wee rest from Barcelona and the machinations of Carlos’ quirky, wonderful characters. This is one of those occasions, just like the pear ice cream when quality should be taken in delicious spoonfuls, not in a binge.
As for Patsy and her suis un gentilhomme. And as everyone knows they don’t tell tales. Unless of course, suitable motivation is provided.

Monday, 27 April 2009

If I was a twitter....

For gawd's sake! Enough already. I just hope the poor woman makes some cash out of this whole experience and that there's someone there to pick her up when the world's media abandons her and camps on someone else's doorstep.

(mememememe - I've a book coming out)

The headline that went with this picture was "Hairy Angel No More".


Saturday, 25 April 2009

Books, glorious books

The phones are off. The broadband connection has been clipped. The cable to my sky dish has been severed. The fridge is full. The kettle is on automatic re-fill (I wish) the blinds are shut and the door is locked. My razor and soap have been temporarily retired.

The sink will fill up with dishes (what’s new), any crumbs dropped from my distracted mouth will just have to go to feed my friendly neighbourhood mouse - Bob, the clothes I eventually got round to washing will just have to stay out on the line and my emails will go unanswered. If I don’t turn up for work on Monday –don’t worry, boss, I’ll get there – he gives a gallic shrug - eventually.

I’m sorry, but I make no apologies for coming over all bookgeeky. Just what, I hear you cry, is eliciting such a response? The answer is that the good people at Orion have been busy posting me a mystery/ thriller fan’s wet dream of advance copies for review.

I've just finished the latest books from Harlan Coben, John Connelly, Michael Connelly and I am half-way through R J Ellory’s The Anniversary Man due out on 3rd September (man, that guy can write) and sitting in my To Be Read pile are Denise Mina, George Pelecanos , Gillian Philip (Bloomsbury) and wait for it...drum roll...Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

As the song goes, how lucky can one guy be?

The Shadow of the Wind is one of my favourite books ever and I’ve been waiting for the next from Zafon since 2004. WTF kept ya, Carlos? And if you dear reader, haven’t read SOTW – give yourself a slap. Call yourself a book lover?

Thing 1 - will The Angel’s Game live up to my expectations? I’ve anticipated this book with so much well, anticipation I’m almost afraid to open the first page.

Thing 2 – Shadow of the Wind was SO good the author must be brimful of talent and AbsolutelyWithoutQuestion capable of pulling it off again.

Cannae wait.

Ps – the reviews will be published by I emerge from my reading cave bleary-eyed, blinking and full-bearded. And hopefully at least a stone lighter.

Friday, 24 April 2009


Nature has compensated for stealing hair from my head (and re-laying it everywhere else) by rarely giving me zits. I think I had two, three tops when I was thirteen and another one on my twenty first birthday and that is it. (And here’s where I take a little time out for the benefit of any non-Scots reading this and give them a new word to play with. Plook. Scots for a zit.)
I digress. Where was I? Ah yes, no hair, no zits.....until today. I have a lump at the side of my nose that makes me look like I’m trying to grow a new nostril. With a nice yellow crown.
My feeling is that fresh air is excellent for one’s offspring so I took my zit for a run in the car this evening. It was parents’ night at the school. My son wasn’t in attendance as he and Supergran had gone to the Braehead arena to see some half-naked men in lycra and tattoos (who knew it would be such an appealing combination) body-slam each other on to a square of canvas while pretending they are in a competition. Yes folks, WWE is in town and Gran and grandson will be whooping it up with the worst of them. Gran is taking her favourite Rey Mysterio mask with her. Works well with the blue rinse. Joking. She doesn’t have a blue rinse, she’s much too trendy for that. It’s purple. (And no, she doesn’t read this)
Before leaving for the school I debated long and hard about squeeze or not to squeeze? That was the question. In the end, because it is nobler in the mind and because of the size of said plook – we’re talking the ability to fill several custard pies – I decided I didn’t have the time to clean up the resultant sea of troubles.
My son has two teachers. They job share. They don’t look old enough to have kids of their own, let alone have spent enough time at college learning how to teach other folks kids. They say you’re getting old when the police look young. Let me add a few other professions to that list – teachers, doctors, dinner ladies.
In any case I needn’t have worried about my singular breakout of acne. One of my son’s teachers was having – how can I put this delicately - trouble with her T-zone. I couldn’t keep my eyes off. I had one mountain peak. She had the Andes in miniature stretching up and down either side of her nose. I was hoping she would unbutton her top two buttons so I could have something else to vie for my attention. I caught her staring at mine and briefly wondered if we should start up a convention. In the end I chose not to. My membership would only have been temporary, whereas she, I fear, would have been a life member.
What is the evolutionary purpose in acne? Eh, Mr Darwin? Bet the turtles in the Galapagos Islands weren’t able to tell you that. The books say that nature is supposed to have a design for everything – what’s acne all about? Maybe the clue is in when it strikes. In the teenage years. I’m nodding slowly as I write this. What else is going on during that time of torment? A storm of hormones. The girls are uber-fertile. The boys are walking erections. That’s it. Drum roll. Acne is nature’s contraceptive. Nothing like a plook bursting over your feeble moustache to cool your ardour.
....and welcome to the School of Half-Baked Ideas and Piss Poor Theories.
It’s getting late and I’m rambling. Off to bed now. To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay there’s the rub, but I hope mini-me doesn’t get rubbed all over my nice clean pillow cases.
ps – the report was great. The wee fella’s doing us proud.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Bad Hair Day

I dropped my son off at school this morning in plenty of time (this picture is not him, BTW) and congratulated myself on managing to remember everything that I was required to. Lunchbag: check. Homework:check. Matching socks: check. As I leave the house in the morning my head is normally full of the various things I need to achieve that day and it wouldn’t have been the first time that I was halfway to the office, and realising he was still in the car. So the fact that I had even managed to drive the shortest route to the school rather than go via the by-pass was a big tick on the positives. My advice? Try listing the things you do well, rather than the muck-ups of a morning. It makes for a much better day.

So I was feeling good about myself...until I noticed the back of his head as he exited the car. Think toilet brush. Think matted horse hair. Think the worst bed head you have ever seen. In my defence making my own hair presentable in the morning isn’t a task I’ve had to consider for the best part of 20 years. It occurred to me he is now in primary 6. That’s a lot of bad hair days and a nomination for me for the worst father of the decade.

Memo to me: buy a comb.

Talking of hair, this reminded me of an early visit to a barber. I can’t remember what age he was, but he was fairly young as he was still going through that phase of tugging at his penis through his trousers when anxious. (Do we ever grow out of that, I hear you cry?)
It was a typical busy Saturday morning and while we waited in the queue the girls working there were fawning all over him. He was enjoying the attention, but at the same time feeling a wee bit uncomfortable as he really didn’t like the electric clippers. Sometimes when he gets nervous he retreats. Sometimes he gets loud.

When it was our turn, the girl said, with a big grin, ‘Right who’s next?’
My son answered, ‘Not Dad. He’s bald.’ Big laughs all round. Playing to his audience, the wee fella laughed louder than any of them. He was sat in the chair and covered in the brown nylon wrap thing that keeps the hair off his clothes and the hairdresser set to.

After a few minutes I saw that his hand had strayed to his groin under the cover and he was making those unmistakeable movements with his hand. From the look on the face of the girl cutting his hair this was a situation she had never encountered before and she was wondering how to address it. So I thought I would save everyone’s blushes.

‘What are you doing, son?’ I ask.

‘Playing with my willie,’ he answers proudly.

If I thought the first round of laughter was loud...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Introducing...the Queen of Chaos.

My sister was born on the 7th of September 1962 at 3am. I popped out 7 minutes later. There are several differences between us (most notably our gender) Sis is a slender 4ft 11ins to my chunky 5ft 8ins; she has a full head of long, blonde hair and I follow the “moss doesn’t grow on a busy street” styling.
So when we met people and they ask us if we are identical, the answer - what part of the word “identical” are you struggling with – is replaced with a polite smile and a simple no.
One of my favourite occasions when someone questioned the nature of our twin-ness (I’m a writer, I’m allowed to make words up) was when Sis introduced me to a new neighbour.
‘Hi’, says Sis, this is my twin brother. The neighbour and I exchange smiles and shake hands. Her hand hangs from her wrist like a limp fish. At least its dry I think as I shake it.
‘You don’t look much alike for twins,’ says the neighbour, displaying her finely tuned powers of observation.
‘We used to,’ answers Sis totally unmindful that I am standing beside her, ‘before Michael lost his hair and put on all that weight.’

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The last book to make me cry...

When a book wins a literary prize it tends to put me off reading it. Being granted the title of “literature” by the so-called experts is not in my experience a guarantee of a good read. Ever since mankind stumbled blinking from the cave and squatted round the first fire a good story has been one of the ways we have sought entertainment. Let me repeat those words...a good story. List the elements of a good story and one of them you will find is plot and in their quest to concentrate on having the character lead the books the exponents of modern “literature” view the presence of plot as welcome as an untended backpack in an airport concourse.

There are books I’ve tried to read in this category where the prose adorns the page like a beautiful piece of lace; the minutae of the characters’ lives laid bare with all the precision of an X-ray...and yet... and yet... I couldn’t give a toss whether or not they found the family secret, the girl or indeed, their sanity. And bottom line - if your reader doesn’t care about your characters then you’ve lost.

This is long introduction to a prizewinner – the Pulitzer no less, that had quite the opposite effect on me. I absolutely loved The Road by Cormac McCarthy from the first word to the last. This book has had the Hollywood treatment and is about to appear at your local cinema, do yourself a favour and read the book first.

A father and son (we never learn their names) are alone in a post-apocalyptic world. They want to get to the sea, towards (possibly) survivable winters. “Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.” Ash falls like snow. The father is coughing blood, which forces him and his son, "in their rags like mendicant friars sent forth to find their keep", on to the treacherous road southward. They push their salvage in a shopping cart, fitted with a motorcycle mirror to keep watch on the road behind. Society has crumbled. There is no economy; no goods for barter. No food. Bands of cannibals patrol the road. The father has a pistol, with two bullets only: his wife, the boy's mother, has already committed suicide. If caught by others they will obviously rape his son, then slaughter and eat them both. He plans to shoot his son - though he questions his ability to do so - if they are caught.
The relationship between the father and son is central to the novel and acts as the engine to drive the story along in counterpoint to the scenes of utter desolation that surrounds them. As the boy and the father interact we live moments of beauty, despair and hope. I was so caught up in the text it felt as if I was observing real people on a quest towards safety. From time to time my worry became so great that I had to put the book down and go do something else.

Terrifying. Heartrending. Haunting.

And at the end I sobbed like a teenage girl at a David Cassidy concert.

Go on spill...what was the last book that made you cry?

If I was a twitter...

Watching the Man Utd/ Everton FA cup semi this afternoon. Got me thinking Marouane Fellaini is probably the first player on the planet who could trap the ball in his hair (a welcome distraction - 'cos that's how exciting the game was). Can you still call it an afro if the wearer is a Belgian of Morrocan descent? A belgo? A morro? A belmo?

I've just taken that too far haven't I?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

If I was a twitter...

Driving home today. Taking a right turn and my eye was drawn to long and low body of a black Mercedes sports car. I could see the driver was female. I checked her out. It would have been rude not to. She was young and pretty and her long blonde hair had been straightened to within an inch of its life. Just as I passed her one more detail caught my attention. Her ear sticking out through her hair. All they needed was a point and she could have got work as an extra in the new Hobbit movie.
Bet she had a nice personality though.

Banned Books and Bad Faith

You know what irritates me even more than grit in my eye? People who try and tell me what I should and shouldn’t read.
Among the numerous books that The American Library Association (ALA) want banned include Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about penguins.

The Kite Runner which is an emotionally charged and beautifully written tale of a 12-year-old Afghan and his betrayal of his best friend - includes a scene where a boy is raped. This particular scene led to the removal of the book from some American library shelves. Other libraries replaced it with versions where the offending scenes had been torn out. What failed to reach the ALA’s attention (whose main ethos is – get this – a campaign for intellectual freedom) is that the Kite Runner is an important book; I would argue a necessary book that highlights the horrors that were forced upon ordinary Afghans by the Taliban. Mmm, I wonder...are there any comparisons one can make between these two organisations? I know I shouldn’t compare a murderous regime that had taken its country back to the dark ages, with a group of librarians, but they are both coming from the same seed of an idea. The ALA has chosen a different method of proving how right they believe they are. So far...

For a detailed picture of life in the west where fundamentalism has run riot why not try the wonderful and critically acclaimed novel by Gillian Philip - a new friend of this blog - called Bad Faith. I’m guessing that Ms Philip is hoping the ALA take a dislike to her books.

For the third year running the book that most offended these “guardians” of our morals was Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell's, And Tango Makes Three, a children's picture book about two male penguins who bring up an orphaned chick. This book was based on a news article the authors came across about a zookeeper who noticed two of his penguins trying to hatch a stone. The book offended the quest for intellectual freedom by being – in their withered opinion - pro-gay and anti-family. I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on the veracity of this claim, but I really don’t care to. The authors felt it was a worthwhile story to tell and readers have agreed with them in their droves. That’s good enough for me.

As a writer my take on this is very different. Free speech and all that. Also, I hope and pray that future publications of mine are banned. When it comes to book sales nothing is more enticing than the public disapproval of a puffed-up, self important group like this. Controversy gets the attention of the media and as any free-thinking American might say; readers eat this shit up, man.

Immediately upon publication of my next book I will be sending it by registered post to the American Library Association. While hoping fervently that they hate it. It will be an emotionally-charged and beautifully written tale about a boy who is betrayed by his best friend and then raped by the big boys - and who just happens to have been brought up by a pair of same-sex penguins.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Celebrate the Differences

Driving to work this morning and a wee black bird flew across my path, with a twig as long as its own body gripped in its beak. As it sped across my vision a spot of white splattered on to my windscreen. Ah hah, methinks...while building his new home he manages to save time and have (how can I put this tactfully?) a dump while still on the wing. I say “he” deliberately, to demonstrate that the male of the species can indeed multi-task.
I can’t stand sexual stereotypes. Just because I happen to have been born with a penis any partners I’ve had (both of them) have expected me to be handy with a screwdriver. Bollocks to that. I’m unashamedly crap at doing any of that kind of stuff. If I was in the scouts I’d have a “Cannae Be Arsed” badge and frankly I’d rather pierce my scrotum with a fishhook than do D.I.Y.
And if I hear accusations of “man flu” at the next guy in the office with the sniffles, I swear I’m going to lose it. Women can be equally as pathetic when they’re not feeling well, so get over it ladies. Anyway, back to the wee bird and the multi-tasking. Which reminds me of something else that sets the GRRRR reflex on maximum – clichés like “multi-tasking”...
...the action of performing several tasks similtaneously is something we men can do with ease. Let me prove it to you. The other morning while I was on the toilet, I read a chapter of a book. Other things I can do while I’m on the throne...cut my finger nails...wipe dust from the shelf that holds my aftershave...pluck my nose hairs. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. Although with the last action timing is something you have to be very wary of. It’s difficult to (how can I put this tactfully?) squeeze and pluck at the same time. To be avoided while in public lavatories. Passing strangers may be alarmed at the sound effects.
Still on the issue of stereotypes...while I was watching some TV the other day with my 11 year old son he asked a question. ‘Dad, why is it that in these adverts the man is always being made a fool of?’ His face was screwed tight with indignation. ‘It’s just not fair, Dad. How would women like it if it was them?’
This got me thinking and got me alarmed. I don’t want my son to grow up with that sort of mind-washing. Next time you’re watching a channel that shows adverts, count the ones that go for “humour” where the man is the butt of the joke. Now I fully understand and agree where in the past the powers that be stopped the portrayal of women as sex objects in this very medium. Women quite rightly were concerned at the mindset this might engender. So why is it okay to repeatedly portray the male as a buffoon? In these adverts the woman is always strong, assertive and capable of making the right decision (and why not?) but the counterpoint to this is a male who is inept, idiotic and feeble.
Advertising is an amazingly powerful medium. One that companies budget a spend of billions of pounds each year to entice us to spend our hard-earned on their product. If it didn’t work they wouldn’t spend a penny.
One of my “favourites” is one for a company that sells spectacles (Oh, lets name/ shame them: Specsavers). The “action” culminates with every member of the family turning to the man, who has been set up as the idiot who has lost his village, and saying in that tone, ‘Oh, Daaaaad.’ Makes me want to track down the clown that came up with it and multi-task a screwdriver up their arse.
...and breathe...
In any case, why can’t we just dispense with all this sex war nonsense? Colour me purple and call me naive but surely after thousands of years of evolution we can learn to live together without bunging our brains up with all that crap?
If sexual stereotypes are your thing you could argue that women (in general) watch crap TV, follow the blue line on the map (ie the river) and wonder why they got lost, and when it comes to parking are shite. Men (in general) can’t multi-task, are crap at housework and end up trashing their baby son’s new cot because they don’t know one end of the screwdriver from the other.
I say we’re different. Get over it.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

I want to take this opporchancity to highlight a must read website for fans of mystery/ thriller books. If you are ever at a loss for an idea of what book to buy next then visit the site at
By way of a taster, I've added here a review "wot I wrote" for the site, for the excellent book shown here (one of my favourite reads for last year) which is now available in paperback.
A Simple Act of Violence by R J Ellory

It’s modern day Washington, murder capital of the USA and serial killers are passé. However, when the Ribbon Killer slays a fourth woman and his actions are detailed in the media, it is decided that he can no longer be ignored, particularly given that in this city of politicians, the mid-term elections are looming.
Detective Robert Miller is tasked with finding the killer before more women are murdered. As experienced as he is, he had never come across a case quite like this. He can find no trace of the most recent victim in the system. Then they find her social security number, but it is linked with a different name. The name of a mountain range in Nicaragua. Miller tracks down the earlier victims and finds out that none of them officially exist either. Clues mysteriously appear and Miller can’t help but feel that he is being led by the nose. He also can’t help but feel he is being watched every step of the way. What is the significance of Nicaragua? Who is watching and just who is setting up the trail of clues?
The more Miller uncovers, the more complicated and unsolvable the case of the Ribbon Killer appears.

This is a book with everything that a fan of modern mystery fiction could hope for; a labyrinthine plot, unbearable tension, controversy and a social conscience. R J Ellory has come up with a meaty book where he takes a serial killer novel and shapes it into a barbed comment on American foreign policy and a criticism of the God complex of the CIA. That he does this while never dipping on the entertainment value is a compliment to this writer’s consummate skill.
Talking of skill, Ellory’s is never more evident than when he is turning his charged and hugely effective prose onto his bad guys, in this case his sacred monster, Jon Robey. There is one scene where Ellory is writing from Robey’s perspective that almost had me in tears. I’m saying nothing more. You need to read the book.
For many readers R J Ellory might have just arrived with A Quiet Belief in Angels, this book proves that he is here to stay.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Starting Off

I think ever since I first held a book in my hand I wanted to produce one of my own. I didn’t know what kind of book it should be – just that it should be a book. I first had a go when I was around 10 years old. I wrote my version of Tarka the Otter and made a couple of my pals read it. The bribe as I remember was half a crunchie between them and my best marble. Mercifully I have forgotten their reactions and the actual story is somewhere in the cemetery of lost jotters.

When I was a teenager there were lots of movies about people falling in love and on the brink of death. All of these people were unfeasibly attractive and only days after the wedding ceremony one of the lovebirds would be run over and killed/ fall off a cliff and killed/ or suffer a dread disease and die a horrible but cinematically attractive death. This got me thinking. So aged 14 I wrote two chapters of a novel where somebody was diagnosed with leukaemia, fought it bravely, fell in love and while out walking with their lover fell off a cliff. And died. How pale and beautiful they would be in their death scene…

And then there were the early poems where everybody was in love or dying. Sometimes they managed both simultaneously. Having very little experience of the love side of things (for very little read none whatsoever) these poems were usually based on the lyrics of whatever pop group I was into at the time (mainly Earth, Wind and Fire). I console myself at the thought of my lack of originality by the idea that we learn best by imitating others. Perhaps my career might have had a better start if I had chosen to copy somebody like Bob Dylan or Lennon and McCartney.

Time, wearing great big hobnail boots and taking gigantic strides, moved on and I found myself in my early thirties remembering my early passion for the written word. “When I retire…” became a mantra for me, as in when I retire I’ll write a novel. Daydreaming was a favourite past time of mine around this time. Oh the novels and poems I penned in my head. And how publishers would fall over themselves for my books. When I retired. Then it occurred to me that I was wishing my life away. If I wanted to do it, I should just do it. See me and Nike? Where do you think they got their logo? I should sue someone.

Anyway, I did. I got on with it. The novels, of course. Litigation is such hard work and anyway, who would have believed me?

Then I spotted a poster for Ayr Writers’ Club and armed with the total output of 10,000 words of a novel and half a dozen poems I joined the club in 1996. That first night I was terrified. I expected everybody to be way too intelligent for me, so erudite that they’d have huge foreheads and they’d all be wearing cravats or bow ties. Even the women.

How refreshing it was to realise that they were all just ordinary folks like me, with the same artistic insecurities but armed with a world of experience that they were only too happy to share. Oh and I’ll always remember the time I met my first honesttogod published writer. I swear I was drooling.

So, I attended courses, workshops, read how to books, read lots of novels and poems – basically studied and learned as much as I possibly could about the craft of writing – a process that I hope never ends.

I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of the best pieces of advice I have received/ read over the years with you.

- Take yourself seriously as a writer, if you don’t no-one else will – Catherine Czerkawska.

- Read a lot, write a lot – Stephen King.

- Don’t give up your job and take a crap job thinking that you’ll have more time and energy to write, cos you’ll just end up skint and terminally worried about your finances – Sally Evans.

- Establish a regular work pattern and space – and stick to it – Hugh C Rae (Jessica Stirling).

- Just do it – Michael Nike Malone.

The Optimism Crunch

While watching the news the other day it occured to me that we had entered a different form of "crunch", one where optimism was in as short supply as new jobs in the banking world.

When was it decided, in our quest to be kept informed of world events that the concept of “news” was exclusively meant for BAD news? Should we be renaming all those news programmes – Sky Bad News, Bad News at 10, Bad Newsnight? Because apart from the finishing funny at the end of the programme the news is unceasing, unremittingly BAD. Yes, we are living in “difficult times”, but if I want to wallow in shit I can just watch ITV2 for twenty four hours. Katie Price/ Colleen’s Real Women/Paris Hilton’s New Best Friend...I rest my case.
Just the other week on the BBC’s Bad Breakfast Show they had a slot where they were discussing the wonderfully alliteratively named credit crunch and wondering how parents should be discussing this issue with their children. Dear reader, I swore. I used the f-word. And then chucked my crunchy nut cornflakes at the screen. Can I just say milk on LCD – not a good idea? Cleaning aside (two days later. Long story. Don’t ask), it was a cathartic moment.
Now I watch Everybody Loved Raymond in the morning before going to work - while eating porridge. Healthy mind, healthy body. If you haven’t watched ELR, its a gem of a programme. Sends me off to work with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The First Post

I've been arguing with myself for some time now that I should be writing a blog. Arguments against: everybody's doing it - I might come across as an arse - I might run out of things to say. Arguments for: everybody's doing it - I might come across as an arse...and you get the picture.
The last straw that broke the camel's hump (I suffer from an uncommonly common condition called Malaprop Mixedmetaphoritis) was a comment from a friend I hold regular email conversations with. You should write a blog, he says. So I am.
Now I've run out of things to say.
Kidding. I've got one eye on the footie. Liverpool are playing catch up with Chelsea. Who'll win? Who cares? Don't you think all that money has taken the fun out of the game?

Anywho...I'm a writer, so I write and this gives me an excuse and allows me to exercise that particular muscle. Why not pop in now and again for some blethers and I'll try and keep you entertained. Sometimes it will be truth and sometimes it will be fiction. Often it will be a mix of them both, for as the man said, don't let the truth get in the way of a good blog. (Or he would've if they'd been about at the time.)

...haud me back, Liverpool have just equalised...


ps. Don't you love the wee guy in the picture? This was taken in a friend's garden - a wonderful place in the north of Scotland called Cliff Cottage, owned by an amazing women called Elizabeth Garrett.