Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Week That Was ...

Seeing as I have been posted missing (see what I did there?) from this blog for the last week I thought I’d give you a sneak peek into where my head has been at over the last few days...

Diary w/b Mon 21Feb

The media determination to drive us into a perpetual state of fear and worry continued today with the much reported story that parents are limiting the size of their family because of the fear and worry about the state of the economy. Parent’s fret (apparently) that more children will mean existing loin-fruit won’t be able to get designer gear and exotic holidays.

One “expert” posited the view that children are much more brand aware than they have ever been. It (whatever “it” might be) simply won’t do if Tarquin or Emilia are not clothed in designer labels from head to foot. Parents are therefore limiting the number of babies they have so the ones who have already crawled into this mortal coil can get the best of possible starts. One woman said she was desperate (her voice went all plead-y) for a 3rd wean but holidays and brand clothing were just getting too expensive. Which prompted me to roar at the radio – getafeckingrip, missus.

Not that I’m an advocate of violence but some people need slapped till their lobes swell to the size of a melon.

Tuesday 22 Feb

Thing that amused me most today was an article about job applications mess-ups. They included CVs that were accompanied by a photo of someone else – caused all sorts of confusion at the interview. Someone else said in their CV that they were direct descendants of the Vikings (this is the UK - aren’t we all?) Another fave was the eejit who claimed God as his reference, but apologised for failing to provide contact details.

Brings to mind an interview I had a few years back. I got the job and a mate didn’t. My new boss, not realising I knew who she was talking about mentioned a few weeks later that a guy she interviewed the same afternoon as me, when asked why he wanted the job replied – “for the money and anyone who tells you differently is a fucking liar.”

Not quite sure whether to admire the man’s honesty or award him the Numpty Knobhead of the Decade.

Wednesday 23 Feb

I was at the launch of J.David Simon’s book, The Liberation of Celia Khan. David is a thoroughly nice chap and I hope lots of people buy his book. I’ll be reviewing it shortly on this very i-space.

My publisher, Ross was also at the event, cos David is one of his – and I got to meet him for the first time. Again, thoroughly nice fella. Looking forward to working with him.

David’s book is set in 1915 Glasgow and is about a young Jewish girl in a city that is in turmoil over the threat of socialism and feminism while trying to deal with the ongoing effects of The Great War. I’ve only dipped in so far but I am happy to report that David appears to be one of those writers who marry a fine literary style with an ability to tell a damn good story. Really looking forward to getting the time to dive in.

Thursday 24 Feb

Much laughter today at work. Which is nice.

Story in the news that piqued my interest was a shooting incident at a nearby school. Sky News had a good go at exaggerating the whole shebang. But further investigation detailed that it happened round the corner from the school, not at the gates and the weapon involved was an airgun. A pellet from one of these mutha’s is still going to hurt – but a massacre it wasn’t. Thankfully. Just a marriage of colossal stupidity and a slow news day.

Fri 25th feb

While waiting for Treme to come on TV (10:15 Sky Atlantic) I allowed the wee fella control of the remote. (Makes it sound like I ever have control of the remote.) Anywho, he was channel surfing.

First some music channels –  ‘Madonna is so OLD why is she still trying to make music?’

Then it was Jersey Shore – ‘Why do people watch this? They’re stupid.’

Some trailers for an English programme – ‘I find strong English accents annoying.’

Then he hit on a new low in TV scheduling – Bridalplasty. I think I’ve got this right, but it appears that women who are about to be married compete in a variety of tasks to win a plastic surgery procedure of their choice. So they can look their very, very best on their big day. 

How fucked up is this? Let me count the ways.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Memories of a friend

It is my experience that there are occasions – provided you are open to them- when people come into your life at just at the right time. They offer guidance, a sounding board and friendship just exactly as you need it and for as long as you need it.

I was at the funeral yesterday of just one such person. Many years ago she welcomed me into her home and her family at a difficult stage in my life and probably contributed a great deal more to the man that I have become than she ever realised. She offered humour and compassion and expected nothing in return.

Her sons, my oldest friends, spoke eloquently from the pulpit about their mother. The main thing they talked about was how much of a joker she was. Her favourite involved an empty cup and saucer. A first time guest would be offered a cup of tea. She would carry it carefully from the tea tray and pretend to stumble just as she reached them. The cup would fall. The guest would jump back into their seat expecting a lap full of boiling water but all they got was an empty china cup and a slice of laughter. The ice was broken and the mood was set for the remainder of their visit.

It’s easy to almost deify the recent dead but she really was one of the nicest people I have ever met. I never heard a cruel comment from her and everyone who knew her had nothing but good to say of her. Being in her company was a constant joy.

I wrote the following poem – not for her – but for someone else who came into my life just when I needed them – but the sentiment and the appreciation is shared equally between them.

Here’s to all of our guardian angels... may they continue to find us when we need them and may we all be given the opportunity to provide the same service for others.

Father Martin.

The years have cast a haze
over the man who gave me the chess set.
The line of his nose may have been broken
by spectacles, his hair
may have been seasoned grey.

I was so short. He seemed a giant.
He was a giant, but was he tall?
He taught me how to play,
where to find whelks,
how not to abuse privilege.
All of those lonely, convent children
and he gave the chess set to me.

I found it in a cupboard
unopened  after three house moves
and twenty-five years.
One piece missing
its foam outline empty
as the space behind a mirror.

The set is dusted with memory of his voice,
“Guilt and religion should be strangers.”
“We grieve for ourselves, not our dead.”
“Going to Mass weekly, is not the measure of the man.”

I was nine.
I understood every word.

After the funeral family and friends had tea and sandwiches at a local hotel and a wheen o’ blethers (translation – we talked a LOT)

When I got home I had trouble sleeping, my mind full of the day. Just before I turned off the TV, I was channel surfing. I caught the last ten minutes of the movie (based on the book) Tuesdays With Morrie. The old coach on his deathbed offered support and advice to his friend who was grieving in anticipation of the his passing.

The old fella offered this – “Death means the end of a life: not the end of a relationship.”

God bless you, Marie and thank you for everything.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Adele - Someone Like You

Here's an antidote to all the over-produced pap the record industry are serving up these days. An incredible voice, affecting lyrics, emotion by the bucket load - and a piano.


Monday, 14 February 2011

Where Ideas Come From

One of the most common questions writers are asked is “Where do you get your ideas from?” As a writer I can understand why someone being asked this question for the gazillionth time might leak out a groan. On the other hand I can also understand why a reader might ask.

The brain is a like a receptor for ideas you just need to tune it in... and whisper it – with enough practise, anyone can do it.

Remember the last time you bought a new car. Before the moment you got behind the wheel of your new car you rarely saw that particular brand. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons you liked it? However, now that you’ve got on, you see them every frickin’ where.

There aren’t suddenly more of them on the road. You haven’t started a new fashion, dude. It’s just that your awareness has been switched on. Your receptor has been alerted and is working on that particular issue.

It’s the same with ideas.

I went through a writing challenge with a writing buddy a few years back. I moaned to him that I hadn’t written a poem for yonks. He set me a challenge. I was to send him a fresh new poem every day by midnight.
Aye, right, says I. I’ve got a life. How about 1 a week? Naw, says he (in a Canadian accent – on account of the fact he comes from Canadia) how about 2 per week. Awright, says I (in a Scottish accent on account of I come from Scottishland.) And all of this by email! Amazing!

That set off one of the richest writing periods of my life. For 9 months I wrote 2 poems per week and emailed them to MK (on account of that’s his initials). Midnight Wednesday and Midnight Sunday were the deadlines and it was not a rare occurrence that I’d be chewing on my pencil at nine-thirty pm on a Wednesday, wondering just what the fuck I was going to write about. The expletive is necessary because that’s just what I was thinking.


... something always turned up. I saw a poem EVERYWHERE. Other writers’ writing would set off a chain reaction of thought – a couple in a cafe – an old man hunched over a newspaper in a library – the sound of kids laughing outside my window... the sound of kids crying outside my window... for much of that nine months I went about in a creative daze and the world was my muse. Sounds a bit wanky, but that’s the way it was.

Until work got a bit horrible and drove any thought of being creative from my mind. 

And the jolly nice thing was that most of the poems wot I wrote in the period were jolly good. Even if I say so myself. Most of them even got published. So there.

Then crime writing kinda took over and my receptors were dialled in to the darker side of the human mind.

One day, a number of years back, I was on a London train making my way to a poetry event run by the afore-mentioned MK. The carriage I was in was full. We’re talking arms pinned by your side; someone else’s bad breath fouling your ear space kinda full. To my left, by the door was a group of American tourists. Four girls in their early-twenties; shiny with an un-lived life and pink with promise. They were completely un-mindful of anyone else, totally locked in to the importance of their own existence. One of them said something. Another shouted, “Shut up!” They all giggled.

A man to their side edged closer. Leading with his groin. He was tall, gaunt, face angled in shadows and he studied the girls as if they were the meat and he was holding the knife and fork. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a look on another person’s face. There was no sign of humanity. These girls were things. Porn, with their clothes still on.

My mind started racing. This man would hurt these girls as thoughtlessly as I might throw a chocolate wrapper into a bin. I wanted to warn them. But how? I couldn’t reach them. I was seriously penned in. And what if I alerted them and this was all part of an over-active imagination? Camera phones weren’t as prevalent then as they are now, or I would have taken his picture and sent it to the Met with the tagline – don’t know who he is but he’s got to be guilty of something.

He fixed his gaze on the loudest girl. She had long, black shiny hair, her skin looked freshly poured. His look wasn’t sexual. There was no hint of a leer. It was even more predatory than that. I couldn’t wait until the next stop. The plan I hit on was that if none of them got off I would pretend I was leaving, then do a big dramatic tut as I realised I was making a mistake and then stepping back into the train I would position myself between the man and the girls.

No mess. No fuss.

The train reached the next stop. The mad rush of passengers on and off began. I made my move... to  find the girls had stayed on and the man had vanished.

Did I imagine it? Was this man some sort of predator or a projection of a mind set to seek out the dark side?
Who knows, but it’s going to make a good scene in a future book.

So, where do YOU get your ideas from?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bob and my Kindle

The Great Kindle experiment, for me at least, is over. For now. Why, I hear you chime in response?

Because the dog ate it.

I’ve not had to say that since I was ten and a teacher asked me where my homework was. 

Yes, like many other people’s dogs, our Bob has a taste for the written material. I could just about handle it when he ate Lee Child’s latest hardback. Next up for a gnashing was Jim Butcher’s “Changes” and that earned Bob a swift rebuke. For “rebuke” read a loud voice, a skelp on the bum with said book and being ejected into the back garden.

The wee fella was watching and said, ‘Dad, you over-react. It’s only a book.’

Only a f~/&*ing book? Luckily, I had finished both books. (BTW, Jim Butcher is very, very, very good. You like vampires, wizards and fast violent action? JB is your man.)

Next up for use as a teething toy was myKindle. I was in the middle of Bill Kirton’s The Figurehead as well. i was reading into the wee hours, eventually went up to bed and yes, I left it in the wrong place and yes, it is now gubbed. Bob was satisfied with a chomp at the top right hand corner of the machine so the bottom half of the screen is perfectly readable. I just have to guess at what Bill is saying for the first ten lines of very page.

See me? Not a happy chappy.

If any of you kind people at Amazon are reading this and you would like to donate a kindle to the May Contain Nuts community leader – i.e. me – please don’t dilly dally. First class should get it here before Sunday.

To be honest though, my reading habits hadn’t really changed that much. I bought the thing early December. I downloaded about half a dozen books and read one and a half. (The half read piece being the afore-mentioned The Figurehead. Bill, I’m trying to give you as many mentions as possible; is this ok?)

In comparison, over the same period of time I have read, oh at least a dozen novels. True, most of them are free, but still.

Conclusion? I’m never going to go full-on-digital with my reading material. I LOVE browsing in book shops. I LOVE holding the weight of paper in my hand and flicking through the pages.

However the e-book debate rages on with the media desperate to tell us that the paper book is dead, long live the e-book.  We’ll see. The only thing that’s for sure is that the times they are a-changing. And some “mid-list” – gawd, what a horrible term – authors are seeing their books sell in previously unimaginable numbers. Which is nice.

Allan Guthrie, one of the finest crime-writers in these here shores has a blog where he talks about e-books that sell. Go HERE   for a wee read.

Friend of this blog, all-round good-guy and wonderfully talented crime-writer Declan Burke is selling his e-book. Got a spare pound or two?  click HERE Give him a try. Guaranteed enjoyment. Word.

What do you guys think? Have you made the switch to E? 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Friday, 4 February 2011

Smiling with Rabbie.

I had my annual dose of Burns the other night. Let me re-phrase... I was at a Burns Supper last weekend.
300 men in a large hall, eating haggis, drinking whisky etc, listening to Burns’ poetry and the guest speakers’ dirty jokes. What’s not to love?

For an evening all of these men are kept enthralled by the great man’s work, but the shame is... and I’m making a guess here, but I would think the bulk of the audience then forget about him until next year’s Burns’ Supper. As for looking at other poetry? Fuggedaboutit.

Also... I’m all for being proud of our national bard, his work is known throughout the planet and brings a gazillion visitors to our shores every year, but can he not be the be-all-and-end-all? Scotland has a host of fantastic poets and authors and guess what? Lots of them are still alive!!!! And what’s more lots of them could do with making a living at it.

Don’t get me wrong, Burns deserves his place, but too much attention on the dead guy gives no room to the peeps who could turn out to be the nation’s future literary stars.

Just sayin’.

Anywho, back to the Supper. The speakers and performers were, to a man, brilliant. As usual I spent the night laughing at the anecdotes and jokes and thinking; I must remember that, I must remember that, I must remember that.

Here are a couple I managed to store in the old gray cells.

One speaker tried to give a definition of poetry in comparison to prose.
He said, “There was a young woman from Madras.
Who went in to the water up to her knees.
This is prose. If she had kept on walking it would have been poetry.”

Another speaker talked about young Johnny who was asked a question by his teacher. There are 8 crows on the wall, the teacher said, if the farmer shoots one how many are left?
None, said Johnny. Because the sound of the gun would have made them all fly away.
The actual answer is 7, said the teacher but I like the way you’re thinking.
I’ve a question for you, said Johnny. There are three women on a park bench eating an ice-lolly. One is licking, one is biting and one is sucking the lolly. Which one is married?
The one who is sucking, said the teacher.
No, said Johnny, it’s the one wearing the wedding ring. But I like the way you’re thinking.

Another guy talked about visiting his old stomping ground (a local small seaside town that has a bit of a rough rep) when he still worked in the local police force. He walked along the seafront to a public convenience. He was delighted to recognise the caretaker from his time there all those years ago. ‘Howzitgaun?’ he asked the ol’ fella.

The ol’ fella mashed his guns before replying. ‘Know what? With all these dope-heads, junkies and homosexuals, it’s a breath of fresh air when someone comes in here for a shite.”

And on that note, I’m offski.


If any of the jokes I've replayed cause offence you can register said offence at

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

and the winner is....

Everybody who left a message made me smile. See how easy it is to get a response like that from me? Just leave a message.

Anywho - instead of a judgement being made on the width of my grin I decided to do it the old-fashioned way and draw the names out of a hat. Well, a coffee mug actually.

So, the winner of a copy of Dennis Lehane's latest novel, Moonlight Mile is...


Send an email to, Ricky - with your address - and I will get the book to you in the post. Just as soon as I get my fat arse down to the post office.