Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Long Drive, an Exam and IBS.



Before I hit you with this charming and hilarious anecdote there are a couple of facts you need to be aware of. Us novelists (get me) call it “backstory”.

1.       In times of stress I suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
2.      .Saying I have a fear of being late is like saying Prince William and Katie Whatsername are going to have a bit of a do next year.

Got that? Then I can begin.

I had an exam this morning.

So there was I congratulating myself on the foresight and frankly excellent good sense of living in a place that gets little in the way of bad weather... when I was considering how to get to the exam centre. Few trains – make that none - were running out to the part of Glasgow I was aiming for – a flake of snow on the line and the rail company gets a bit antsy - so it had to be by car. The roads outside my house were cleaned by a dusting of snow. Nothing to trouble a seasoned driver like myself. I checked all the news web-sites and travel-sites and there was hee-haw (Scottish for “nothing”) to suggest I would have any trouble. Apart from gnawing sensation of worry in my gut that there might still be large gaps in my knowledge, I was good to go.

I calculated – after consulting with Sir Google of the Maps - that on a normal busy traffic day my journey would take an hour. Given that I hate being late and given that I was heading off to sit an exam and given that there might be a trifle more snow where I was going I allowed myself 2 hours for travelling. Then I added on another twenty minutes to give me time to get settled in the exam centre.

The first fifteen – twenty miles were smooth. Like driving on silk. Then the snow appeared. And the traffic ground to a halt. The next fifteen miles would normally be driven – even during busy times in around thirty minutes. Today it took two hours.

Two hours of me going – c’mon, c’mon, come fukin’ on I’ve an exam to sit people.

Then I hit on the mantra of – I’m going to be late I’m going to be late I’mgoingtobelate.

Having an imagination is a curse during these times. A curse I tell you. In that capacious space I call a brain I had conversations with the examining body, my boss, his boss and my colleagues where I say, yes I did leave the house at 7:15 and no I can’t prove it because the CCTV cameras I have above my front door were switched off.

Then I (mentally) argue with the examining body telling them that they are a shower of money-grabbing basturts when they (mentally) tell me I can’t enter the examination room and I’ll have to do a re-sit and the re-sit will cost me £140.

Then I continue my mantra of – I’m going to be late I’m going to be late I’mgoingtobelate.

All this worry is having the usual effect on the linings of my bowel. They are getting irritated beyond any reasonable measure. I HAVE to find a toilet. Anyone who suffers this condition knows that when you need to go, it’s like a switch being flicked and you have to go NOW. The pressure is immense.

As I drive I pray that I don’t sneeze.

Thankfully – as the cold sweat beads in frozen pearls on my forehead – the traffic picks up. I come off the motorway and remember that there is a supermarket a few hundred yards ahead of me. I now have a dilemma. Be even more late that I already am or struggle manfully on and hope that the next part of the journey – which is five miles through several residential areas of the city – is a smooth one and I can arrive in good odour and with my dignity intact.

At this point in the internal debate process I deliberately ignore the fact that I have now joined another huge queue of cars and that the snow is at least six inches thick on the streets around me. And several people have abandoned cars at a jaunty angle to the kerb, in what can best be described as a “fuckit, I’ll walk” gesture.

It’s now a contest of wills. The pressure (and pain) building in my stomach versus my fear of being late.
The supermarket comes into view. I check the time. I have fifteen minutes to travel 5 miles when the last five miles took me just under an hour. Not going to happen, is it? Decision made, the pressure becomes all but unbearable. I swing desperately into the car park, throw open the door and slip/trudge my way through the snow to the supermarket toilets.

Sweet lord, you can imagine the relief.

I feel like doing a snow angel in the car park. I could even kiss the jakey at the door having his buckfast breakfast.

But I have an exam to sit.

I get in the car and drive off with the I’m Late Mantra once again taking up residence in my brain. A mantra that refuses to budge for the next thirty minutes. I spot the exam centre in the distance just as the snow starts to fall again. Big flake time.

I notice a sign for a car park. I follow said sign. The sign leads me to a car park with a steep entry slope. An old man goes in before me. He gets half way before he gets stuck. Silly old man, I say. He allows himself to slide back down in reverse and shame-faced he rejoins the traffic on the hunt for another place to park.
I turn into the car park, thinking this is a dawdle. Easy peasy. Just before a wee warning light comes on in my dashboard to tell me my traction is gubbed. I can’t go any further. I’m stuck half-way up. I allow myself to slide back down in reverse and shame-faced I rejoin the traffic on the hunt for another place to park.

The snow is getting really heavy.

I remember the warning on the exam paper work that says the invigilator will refuse entry to you after the official start time of 9:30. It is now 9:52.

I find a sort of legal parking space. For residents only. But I reason, who’s going to see me in this whiteout? Then the imagination kicks in. If this snow continues I’m going to need someone to dig me out of this car park.

I phone the examining body and explain my situation. The very nice lady on the line says I have a choice. Given the circumstances they will allow me to come back another day and they wont charge me a fee. Or, they will order the exam invigilator to allow me to sit the exam because I had travelled so far.
I look out of the window. Huskies would struggle in these conditions. But the next exam date was in February.

Nope. Not going to happen. I had put in the work and I needed to get this one over with.

I trudged through the snow for the mile or so to the exam centre.

I entered the building like an extra from Nanook of the North. A movie would have had me in slow-mo shaking my head with bits of snow flying from me in all directions.

A very nice wee invigilator man guided me to the exam room and  got me settled in. On reflection I was still a wee bit agitated. It’s fair to say, as we say in these here parts that I was up to high doh.

The very nice wee man kept saying, relax just calm down. Mate, he said, gonnae relax?

He must have wondered who this feckin’ mentaller was that had just walked in. I managed to get the breathing under control and set to the questions with relax, calm down echoing in my ear.

There was about seven or eight other people in the room hard at it, faces fixed on their exam papers and as the time progressed – because I had started late – I could hear more and more of them whisper an anguished “shit” when their result came up on the screen. Everyone was failing.

Which distracted me somewhat.

Did I tell you I have an imagination? I paused in the answering of question 34 to (mentally) tell my about boss the entire escapade. Then I answered the questions he (mentally) forwarded from his boss – ie, what do you mean you failed?

Anywho, the clock was ticking. Time is one thing snow doesn’t muffle. I eventually got to the end with 3 minutes; 45 seconds to spare and the legend “PASS” appeared in front of me.

I looked again. And again. I checked again.

Those four letters were gigantic on the screen. PASS. I swear choirs of angels were singing. A child laughed as it passed on the street below. A brass band charged up and down the corridor. Well done you, said the nice wee invigilator man, you’re the only one who’s passed this morning.

Ah cannae fuckin’ believe it, I said. Then I apologised for my bad language. I don’t normally swear, sir, I said, but ah cannae fuckin’ believe it.

Suffice to say, when I got back to my car the wee traction warning light was on and I had to clear the snow from my wheels before setting off on the return adventure home.

By contrast to the snow-laden streets I had just left, when I drove into my hometown I was sitting at traffic lights outside a school. It was playtime and a wee boy was down on his knees just inside the school railings, gloves to one side, scraping at the tarmac with his fingernails in a foolhardy and desperate attempt to collect some frost into a snow ball.

Now that’s what I call determination.

Laters,
M

Oh – and by the way – Happy St Andrew’s Day.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Word from the frozen north...



...he says with irony cos here in Ayrshire we don't have any snow.

Where's it gone? The news is full of the white stuff and my environs (I'm a writer, I can use words like that) are clear of it. Well, that's not quite 100% true - there was some frozen powdery stuff sprinkled on my back step this morning - if there was a collective pronoun for this event it would be called an embarrassment of snow. It was as if someone with heavy dandruff was standing there while furiously saying no to something.

Probably saying no to the royal wedding. As in "NOOOO, gonnae stop talking about it."

The news here is full of it. What's it like elsewhere across the globe? I gather you Americans are loving it.

No?

I don't have a problem with William and Kate. They seem like a nice couple, if you like that kind of thing and I wish them well. What gets my goat is the way it is reported. Our media have a tone that is so obsequious - see earlier for note on big words - I half expect them to offer sick-bags with their news bulletins.

One BBC reporter I heard - just before I turned the TV off by throwing a brick at it - was talking over an African view and how the couple visited this place on holiday and how Wills might have proposed.

Now I'm paraphrasing here because I'm getting old and my memory isn't what it was - but said reporter was talking about how they were in this beautiful spot on safari - the camera pans across the african veldt - and in soft tones that were aiming for respect and admiration, but stumbled over cloying before crashing headlong into vomit-inducing, said something about the billions of people who would watch the royal wedding while there was no-one here to witness the proposal apart from perhaps a group of curious wildebeest.

We then get a view of a bloody big African cow, vacantly chewing on some African grass. It wouldn't know curious if it jumped on the back of a lion and shouted YUHOO, I'M GONNA EAT YA.

The reporter thought she was being cute. I thought she was being an arse.

Meanwhile, apropos of nothing really apart from my wish to talk about ME. (It's all about me, frankly.) On my publisher's blog  - get me, I have a publisher - they are talking about names - and mine in particular. Have a wee read HERE. Leave them a message and tell them you are going to buy SO many books.

Laters

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

James Lee Burke on Radio 2 with Simon Mayo



To my mind this is like a broadcast from god. James Lee Burke is awesome. If you haven't read him,
get to it lickitysplit. In the meantime click HERE to have a listen to what he has to say.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

NEWSFLASH


NEWSFLASH:

I have just signed and returned a publishing contract for my debut crime novel “Blood Tears”.

WUHOOOOOOO.

Can you feel the excitement? Can ye? Can ye? Can ye?

The release date is June 2012.

It is taken a looooooong time to get to this stage, a lot of energy, a lot of writing, reading and re-writing, a lot of prayer, a lot of sweat, a lot of frustration, a lot of close calls, more frustration. I can’t overstate how good this feels.

And yet it also feels a bit surreal at the moment - I’m sure it won’t feel “real” until I hold the book in my sticky paws

The publishing house with impeccable taste? Five Leaves Publications are an independent publishing house based in Nottingham, England. They have an eclectic catalogue with radical and literary roots. Their main areas of interest are fiction and poetry, social history, Jewish secular culture, with side orders of Romani, young adult, Catalan and crime fiction titles.

“Crime” is where yours truly comes in. They have a stable that includes Allan Guthrie, Russel D. McLean, Ray Banks, John Harvey and Rod Madocks (great name for a crime writer) who’s “No Way to Say Goodbye” was shortlisted for the ITV Crime and Thriller Awards. So I’m in good company.

I’ll keep you posted as I work myself into a pitch of frenzy not seen since Wills proposed to Katie.

Laters,
Michael

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A Wee Joke....



I "borrowed" this from another site - Under an Outlaw Moon - cos it tickled me purple.


The Pope and Sarah Palin are on the same stage in Yankee Stadium in front of a huge crowd. The Pope leans towards Mrs. Palin and says, “Do you know that with one little wave of my hand I can make every person in this crowd go wild with joy?”
Palin replies, “I seriously doubt that with one little wave of your hand? Show me!”
So the Pope backhands her.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Look Ma, no hands...





It’s that time of year again – when the Literary Review announces its longlist for the not so coveted Bad Sex Awards. While everyone else in the world sighs and says, “so what”, our media like to pounce on these things and make the authors squirm.

Normally, the judges go for what is normally considered the more meritorious pieces of literature so they can say Booker Schmooker.  This year however we were almost “rewarded” with the efforts of our ex-Prime Minister, Tony “Love Me Do” Blair. 
Ultimately they decided he was holding back and therefore didn’t merit inclusion on a list which was really intended for fiction.

I hope you are shoe-less when you read this. Then you can watch your toes squirm. It adds to the pleasure of the moment.

You ready?

Here goes...

"That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me," he wrote in A Journey. "On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct..."

An animal,Tony? Get you.

I think it’s safe to say we are all wishing he had held even more back. Here’s a joke someone left on a website about the TB Sex God

“Blair is at a big state dinner with Bill Clinton and he looks really miserable. He confides to Clinton that he always gets hell from Cherie when he goes home after one of these "dos" and she hasn't been with him. "Tony", says Clinton "I used to have the same trouble with Hilary 'til I hit on a sure fire way to stop her. I get home and she's in bed. I make as much noise as I can getting upstairs. I slam the bedroom door, shed all my clothes on the floor. Take the presidential dong and whack it three times against the bedhead and loudly proclaim "I'm in the mood for it tonight". She rolls over and pretends to be asleep. Never fails". 

So Blair goes back to No.10, makes a lot of noise getting upstairs. Slams the bedroom door, divests himself of his clothes and whacks the prime ministerial dong three time against the bedhead. And Cherie says "Bill? Is that you? You'll have to hurry - Tony'll be home any minute!"

Blair’s former press secretary also unintentionally gets in on the Bad Sex act with his second novel, Maya – the judges quoted a passage which climaxes thusly "the walls were going to fall down as we stroked and screamed our way through hours of pleasure to the union for which my whole life had been a preparation".

That’s just bad writing, dude.

The judges were unimpressed by the hype surrounding this autumn's standout fiction title, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.

You ready for this? You’re not munching on some Scooby snacks while you’re reading this are you? If so put it to the side and grab a bucket.

“ One afternoon, as Connie described it, her excited clitoris grew to be eight inches long, (here the blogger paused and said, EH?) a protruding pencil of tenderness with which she gently parted the lips of his penis and drove herself down to the base of its shaft.(here the blogger paused and said, EH?) Another day, at her urging, Joey described to her the sleek warm neatness of her turds as they slid from her anus and fell into his open mouth, where, since these were only words, they tasted like excellent dark chocolate."

Man, that is just gross.

That’s how the supposed literary greats do it. How do you like your literary sex?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Lazy Blogging 1o1

hat tip to meandmybigmouth...and thanks for giving me a laugh.

(How quickly you get it will tell you how much of a movie-geek you are.)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

blog award



Thanks to the lovely Rosemary over at http://romygemmell.blogspot.com/ for the above award. I shall be showing it off whenever I get to feeling I can't be arsed blogging.

So sue me. Or her for that matter.

laters,

M

p.s. It's late, Bob is sleeping at my feet (and farting up a storm) and the wee fella is in his room slaughtering a few imaginary aliens AND I am looking at a review copy of Orchid Blue by Eoin McNamee. Wish me happy reading.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

While we are on the subject of zombies...

here's proof that Glasgow produces the very best kind of nutters...it's the Zombie Walk, Halloween 2010 through the city of Glasgow.




My favourites are the polite zombie that says, "Oh, sorry." when she walks into the person filming the scene, and the ones that take time out from their state of perpetual terror to send a text to their buddies.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Walking the dog and The Walking Dead


Here’s a strange thing: I was up and dressed and out the door with the dog at 7:30 this morning. Quick. Somebody get a doctor. I can’t remember the last time I was up this early on a weekend. I guess that’s what happens when a dog comes into your life.


To call it a walk would be to invest it with a deal of ambition. Bob sniffed lampposts. Then I dragged him on the lead. Then he tried to drag me. I’m hoping one say soon he’ll associate the horrible choking sensation with walking too fast.

Given that the world was such a bright, crisp place this morning I took Bob a longer walk than normal, round the local woods. And that’s when I got to wondering where the body was. You see it on the news on a daily basis dontcha? Man out walking dog finds dead body.

There’s one reason not to get a dog right there. Any parents looking to put their kids off from getting a dog use that excuse. It’s a doozy. Can’t get a dog, kids, you’ll be knee high in corpses before you can get the lead on him.

Which brings me rather neatly to my viewing last night. Anybody else see The Walking Dead?

"The source material for this series is a graphic novel. Wikipedia talk thusly...The Walking Dead is a monthly black and white American comic book series published by Image Comics beginning in 2003. The comic was created by writer Robert Kirkman[1] and artist Tony Moore, who was replaced by Charlie Adlard from issue #7 onward,[2] although Moore continued to do the covers until issue #24.[3]


The story chronicles the travels of a group of people trying to survive in a world stricken by a zombie apocalypse. The series won the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series at the San Diego Comic Convention. A television series was announced to be in production on August 11, 2009 and premiered on October 31, 2010 on AMC."


If you didn’t see it here’s the premise. The Sheriff from a small town, just outside Atlanta wakes up from a coma - to find the world has gone to the dogs. Well, the dead actually. (See what I did there?)Yes people, the world has gone Zombie.

So far, so blah. Man wakes up from coma to find a world full of horror. 28 Days Later anyone? Zombies are one of the staples of the horror genre, but unusually this is a TV series. What can a story filmed for the small screen do that one for the large screen can’t?

The clue is in the word “story”. Two hours of a movie is enough to give us a basic story with the gore that zombie lovers expect, but if the opening episode is anything to go by in this series we are in for a much more interesting ride. In a zombie movie people die. So what? In this when people die, the director is going to wring every emotion out of you.

The scenes where we see the changed world through the eyes of the cop, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln acting out of his skin) are truly horrifying. Another well considered scene was when Rick is found by a man and his son. They take him in, somewhat warily and hide from the night and the zombies in a house where the man’s wife died. She caught the fever and is now out in the dark with the other zombies. We see her walking up to the door and trying the handle. Is there a real human under that vacant stare? The boy sobs at the state of his mother and you the viewer get your emotions well and truly tweaked. The next day, the father gets his sniper rifle and takes out a few of them from an upstairs room. (The wee fella sitting beside me cheered loudly every time a zombie head exploded) The shooter knows the sound of the rifle attracts more zombies and he is trying to attract the one who was his wife so he can put her out of her misery. She comes in to his vision. He has her in his cross-hairs. You can see she must have been a beautiful woman once. She looks like she is mouthing some words as he curls his finger round the trigger. Could she be saying his name? Is she still in there? Tears sting his eyes. He blinks. He can’t shoot. He tries again.

What do you think happens next?

Would you get that depth in a movie? Don’t think so.

But fear not gore fans. The blood splatter count is high as are the special effects. The production values – he says like he knows what he’s talking about - in this programme are as good as anything you’ll see on the big screen. There’s a particular zombie Rick comes across – cast your peepers across the picture here.



 She looks like she’s been eaten by other zombies from the hips down and drags herself along by her arms. This is as convincing a special effect as I’ve seen. Disturbing and fascinating. Rick follows her to put her out of her misery and again the director takes a moment – a moment he couldn’t have been afforded in a movie – to suggest the human beneath...a look...a grasping hand. What does she want? To eat him? Mercy? Or release from her torment?

Then there’s the final scenes in this opener – as tense as anything I’ve seen on the small or large screen – where Rick is cornered by a mob of zombies, his horse is eaten (awwww) and you’re thinking, how the feck is he going to get out of this one?

There is such a strong canon in this genre that the start up to this series does have a few “been there done that” moments but I was able to see past that thanks to the odd clever touch and the genuine connection I was feeling for the characters. I’m not a giant fan of the zombie genre. I can take or leave them but The Walking Dead gets a big thumbs up from me and goes straight to number one on my must watch list.



Now you’ll understand why I was looking for dead bodies when I took Bob out for his walk this morning.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Some Friday music...

What tunes are you  listening to these days, I hear you ask. Well , at least one of the voices I hear did.

A recent purchase for my ipod is a certain John Legend and the Roots. I love RnB music people and I'm bored with the directions it's going in these days. It's all over-produced - pick out an instrument I dare you - and the songs are all about humpin'. What ever happened to musicians playing real instruments? And singers singing thought provoking lyrics?

The talented Mr Legend's latest album is a throwback to the sixties and seventies  and hits on all kinds of strands of RnB music, with spiritual, soul, blues and reggae all getting a spin. It's the best album I've spend my hard earned on in ages. 'Nuff said. Shake a leg to this here sample...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Reader Loyalty



I got to thinking about reader loyalty at the weekend and just how much a loyal reader will put up with if the author’s work takes a dip in quality.

Over thirty years ago – I were just a lad, bless - I came across The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson and I was head over heels captivated. I read those books through the night, while walking to school – yeah, I was that nerdy - and I counted out the minutes, days and months until the next book in the series became available.

To say I loved the books is like saying David Cameron enjoys the view in his mirror.

Fast forward a few decades, Donaldson revisits his past and I am the middle-aged man all but skipping with delight in the middle of the bookshop.

The third book in the series The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is now taking up space on my creaking bookshelf and heaven help me, but I am SO disappointed. I’m not sure if I can even finish it.

It’s called Against All Things Ending and comes in at a door-stopping 743 pages. Which is fine. I like a BIG book. However a BIG book that should have been cut in half...if this had been written by anyone other than Donaldson I wouldn’t have got past page 2. But there’s that pesky reader loyalty dragging me on well past the middle of the book. I skipped a feck of a lot of pages.

Donaldson (perhaps alongside Terry Brooks) is in my humble opinion the daddy of modern epic fantasy. He created a fascinating world and a cast of characters to hang your heart on.  He scripted adventures that held me in their thrall for years of my life. So what’s gone wrong?

I remember reading an article a few years back that said JK Rowling had filled notebook upon notebook upon notebook with details of her characters and their world and their backstory  before starting to write the Harry Potter series. Then – importantly - are you paying attention people? - she used only a fraction of it in the books. So immersed was she in the culture she had created, the books had an incredible feeling of reality.

Perhaps our Stevie D also filled notebook upon notebook before putting finger to keypad and in the earlier series he only used enough to flavour the story and convince us of the land’s reality – but now my impression is that he has decided as he is coming to the end of the series he needs to throw everything at it... and bugger me if it doesn’t slow down the story to the drip of an over-turned jar of treacle.

It takes about 130 pages for something to happen. During that period the characters are all hanging around arguing and debating the implications of the end of the previous book. Something does happen and then the remaining characters spend the next 50 pages debating what just happened...something else happens and then we have another 50 pages of debate.  Getting the drift? If the book wasn’t so heavy, and therefore likely to cause an injury to my delicate frame, I’d have chucked it against the wall.

Then there’s the dialogue. The characters from The Land speak in faux-Shakespearean. Here’s a line for ya... “This power defies both augury and foresight. Assuredly it surpasses the cunning of a-Jeroth, who knows no fealty which is not derived from possession of other mastery.’

Eh?

Donaldson has a prose style that demands he uses six syllables where one might do and his characters, who, let me tell you possess AMAZING powers, are so inept with them that I want to bitch slap them till their ears bleed. Sure, when power of this scale is available to a character the writer needs to make life difficult for them, but here they make incredibly poor errors in judgement. As if in that moment of decision they are taken over by George W. Then there’s the self-pity. And the self-hate. SO wearing. A change of emotional pace now and again would work wonders.

In past books I could overlook the purple prose and the heavy dialogue because the stories were so freakin’ exciting and the characters so engaging. This time, I’m not feeling it, dude.

Normally if I don’t like a book I stay schtum. Anyone who actually creates a novel deserves respect in my view and if it’s not to my taste then someone else will like it – and who am I to trash someone else’s hard work? But Stephen...buddy... you who formally walked on water...WTF?

DISAPPOINTED.

So what’s changed? Undoubtedly my reading tastes have grown over the years, but was I that easily pleased as a yoof? No, it can’t be that.

I’m thinking the editors working for SD’s publisher are scared of him? A wee hug, an arm over his shoulder and a few words in his shell-like could have saved 300 pages and turned this book into the work I was so looking forward to.

Now –those of you who haven’t read any Stephen Donaldson, I demand you forget everything you’ve just read and buy the earlier books. They are wonderful. The stuff of literary legend.

The latest book? Not so much.