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Sunday, 9 March 2014

A proper book.

                Someone sent me a link the other day asking me to help save a local bookshop,
     “Could you tweet this? He needs help.” She said and I opened the link, to find that I’d already heard of the guy who owned the shop and quite frankly, I didn’t like him.

Let me explain, just so you don’t think I’m the kind of bloke who spends his life going round disliking people he’s never met for no reason (I am a bit like that but let’s pretend I’m not, just for the purposes of this blog).

I used to drive a cab for a living. One of the by-products of driving a cab (along with junk food retention, a brown right arm, permanent tiredness and an acute dislike of students (there is that dislike thing again)) is you listen to an awful lot of BBC local radio.

I’ll not slag off local radio, I spend an awful lot of time on it as part of my weird life, I like that it reaches out to communities, and it gives certain groups a voice they normally wouldn’t get it the huff and puff of modern media.

Where else can you listen to a pensioner moaning about her bin collection than local radio? Well okay, you could listen to her in the post office queue but that wouldn’t give her much of an audience. Actually, it would in my post office where the queue is as long as the opening ceremony of the Olympics (coincidentally most of the old ladies use the same hair colour as Paul McCartney).

Anyway, let’s just say I like rubbish local radio and when I drove the cab I listened to it a lot. One programme that used to be on was a late night chat and easy listening (is there any other kind on local radio?) show. I was half listening one night, keeping an eye on the guy in the back who had gone suspiciously quiet, when I heard the magic words “local author”.

Now I write for a living, as demonstrated by the fact that you are reading this (hopefully) and by the fact that I wrote an eBook this year and stuck it on Amazon. I’m proud of my book, it’s sold fairly well, got good reviews, and I consider it my baby, and I love it, and like any parent, if you criticise my child, I’ll want to rip your face off.

As a result of writing I’ve built up a circle of friends who are also writers, many of them are local, and many of them struggle to make ends meet as they follow their dream. So if I hear of another local writer I like to try to help them, I’ll often download or buy their book, I’ll try to encourage them, support them and eventually, hate them when they become more successful than me.

So when I heard the local writer guest being introduced as also owning a bookshop I was doubly enthused, mostly because he sounded like a nice guy, but also because he might be able to help me flog some books (I’m being honest here, don’t hate me).

After a while they started to talk about his book, he explained that “it is printed on lovely paper, expensive stuff and it’s a proper book, not like those horrible kindle things.”

A “proper” book.

Those words I hate. 

A “proper” book.

He’d just walked into my cab, looked at me, shook his head and said “My book is better than your book.” Which, as I explained earlier, is akin to walking up to me and pointing at my son and saying “He’s a bit gozzy isn’t he?” (I haven’t got kids, but I’m guessing this would seriously p**s me off, even if my kid was gozzy, I wouldn’t want it pointing out).

The author on the radio then proceeded to explain how much he disliked kindles, about how they were killing small bookshops and how they were the end of quality literature and life as we know it (I might have made the last bit up).

By this point I was seething, I no longer cared if the guy in the back threw up, I just wanted to scream at the radio and not just because he’d called my son gozzy (even I’m getting confused now).

I was angry because he was using the same old rant that independent bookshops use about eBooks and Amazon over and over again... they’re killing local bookshops.

It isn’t. There I’ve said it; the kindle isn’t killing local bookshops. 

The publishing industry is killing local bookshops, Amazon is just part of that industry and I’ll be honest, I quite like it.

Last year I had a meeting with a local publisher who offered to publish my book, we sat in his office, surrounded by boxes of books on two leather couches and he shook my hand and said,

“Let’s make a book together.”

 I came out of that office and did a little jump of joy. I actually jumped into the air because I was that happy.

At the next meeting he told me he’d done the figures and estimated I’d be earning about fifty pence for every book sold, I must have pulled a face because he went on to tell me that he would be the one doing all the work and I sort of nodded and felt a bit daft for doing the jump of joy the week before.

It was only on the way home that I thought “Hang on. He’s not doing all the work, he’s doing some of it, but I’ll be the one trekking around book shops trying to flog it, I’ll be the one writing blogs about it, arranging interviews, paying for petrol, sneakily sliding it to the front of displays when the staff aren’t looking. But most of all... I’m the one who bleedin’ wrote it! The shop will make more money than me; the publisher is making more money than me; why am I the one who is making the least money?”

When I mentioned this to the publisher he huffed and puffed and threatened to pull the plug. So I saved him the bother and did it myself.

I’m daft that way.

I could bore you with figures here so I’ll not, suffice to say, if I sell a book on Amazon for the kindle I make a lot more money, and the person who is buying it pays a lot less.

Had someone said that to me a few years ago I would have accused them of witchcraft and thrown them in a pond. 

But it is true, I make more and you pay less. 

And that, I’m afraid, is what local bookshops large and small are going to have to come to terms with. The market has changed and adapted and they will have to change and adapt or die.

It’s no good chucking in a few wicker chairs and a coffee pot, if you are charging £10.95 for a book someone can get off Amazon for £4.00 you are going to end up with a lot of stale coffee.

The world is changing into the World Wide Web. And it’s no good being snotty about “lovely paper and proper books”, it’s time to hop off the tram and get on the bus because this is a real revolution and the workers, i.e. the writers, are fighting back.

This month it was announced that eBook sales have overtaken “real” book sales for the first time, a few flakes of snow have become an avalanche and people are reading and discovering new authors.

Granted, a lot of it maybe fifty shades of sh** but it proves my point, the publishing world has changed and the writers of the world have a platform on which to unite.

When the dust settles I hope there is a place for independent bookshops, especially for the little one my friend sent me the link about; I don’t want to see anyone lose their job.       
All I want is to be paid a fair wage for doing mine.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Monday, 24 June 2013

Stephen Lawrence and the shame of a police service.

I joined the Police in 1997. I wasn't one of those people who wanted to be a policeman all their life, I joined because I needed to pay my mortgage and it had a good pension. Plus, I'm a little ashamed to admit, I fancied being able to have car chases every so often followed by the odd punch up.

My first day “in the job” I shuffled around a classroom, balancing a terrible cup of coffee, wearing a tie that was worse than the coffee and a suit that I'd bought for my sister's wedding about five years earlier. It was a bit tight and the trousers were shiny from when I'd ironed them on the wrong heat setting.

I effectively looked like I was cut out to work in CID for the rest of my life.

In my intake of thirty odd Bobbies all were male and white, except for, I seem to recall, five women, and out of those five one was black. Not that I paid much attention to that sort of thing, to me it didn't really matter, I was too worried about the button bursting on my pants.

In 1999 I completed my training and became a "proper" Bobby. My probation was over, I'm a little proud to say I did pretty well, I'd felt like a copper long before I was told I could go out on my own and be one.

I'd got over the thought of car chases and punch ups, I worked with good people who behaved like a copper should. They took care of people, they were honest, they worked hard and were proud of the community they protected.

I once walked through the local town centre with an older bobby called Colin, we were on foot patrol and an old lady stopped us for a chat, nothing more, she just wanted to give us a sweet each and have a chat.

After she went on her way and we carried on walking Colin said to me,

"Do you see how important this is? How we made her feel safe? How she was happy to see us?"

I looked around at the odd one or two people who were smiling and nodding "hello" to me and I realised, I realised that the uniform I was wearing was important, I had a responsibility to behave in a manner that set an example.

I wasn't working in Dock Green, but I wanted to try to be George Dixon.

I realised this around about the time I was branded a racist, or rather, the organisation that I was in was branded institutionally racist.

At the time I was angry, I felt angry because I wasn't a racist (I wasn't even institutionally racist), I felt angry because I believed the people I worked with weren't racist either. I was angry with the Met for casting a shadow on me, and the force I worked for, with a taint that I didn't believe to be true.

I felt that I was being led by good people, I felt that I personally was led by honest people, I felt that the organisation I was part of was essentially a righteous one.

I'm not daft enough to think that there weren't bad apples, I had my suspicions about some people who I knew vaguely. There was one guy who I reckoned might be a bully, but I never saw him do anything untoward. I just heard rumours, and I believed, wrongly, that I couldn't act on rumours.

People don't believe me when I say that I only ever heard one racist comment in the Police, and it was during a riot, literally during a riot when a bobby from another shift called someone a "black bastard." The bobby who said it never apologised, but I do believe he was ashamed by what he'd said.

Whether he was ashamed for saying it, or ashamed that he had been exposed as being racist I don't know, but I do know it was the one and only time I heard something like that.

We were assailed on all sides by courses and literature training us about anti-racism and the equal rights of all. I'll be honest, I was a little fed up by it all. I didn't think I needed it, but I didn't complain, I just went along with it, it was part of the job, after all, we were institutionally racists.

I had good bosses and I had bad bosses, but I always believed them to be honest. I never had cause to doubt them until one day I was slung in a cell for eight hours as a result of a baseless allegation.

While I sat in that cell I honestly believed that right would prevail, I was scared, but I had faith in the system, I was part of the system and I'd done nothing wrong.

The right thing would be done, and the right thing would eventually happen.

I honestly believed that right up until I was taken out of the cell and interviewed.

It was during that interview I realised that the people who were in front of me weren't interested in the truth, they were more interested in what looked good for the organisation. They tried to make falsehoods into facts, they tried to twist me into a situation that had never happened. I knew they were lying, I told them they were lying, but it didn't matter.

They didn't care, they were doing their job, trying to close a matter in a manner that made the job look good.   If it wasn't for the honesty of one other person, someone who wasn't a police officer, coming forward I reckon I would have ended up in court, or maybe worse.

That incident changed me.

I left the police a couple of months later. I resigned with a clear record, proven to be an honest man I walked away with my head held high. 

I was holding my head high, but I was also shaking it sadly. I'd seen the other side, I'd seen what lengths the organisation would go too to get its own ends, I'd seen the rules bend, I'd seen the lying in statements, I'd seen the covering up, I'd seen the closing of ranks and the closing of cell doors and I'd seen I didn't want to be part of it ever again.

What has happened over Hillsborough has depressed me, what has happened recently regarding the Stephen Lawrence family has depressed me, what has happened over undercover officers in various organisations has depressed me.

But what has depressed me the most is that none of it has surprised me.

Every week that goes by it seems that we are discovering that organisations and individuals are essentially operating for the own nefarious ends, organisations and individuals whose sole intent is the protection of their own power to the cost of truth, fairness and most importantly justice.

People have no confidence anymore, like a chalk cliff face we are being eroded by constant waves of revelation, and like an eroded cliff everything at the top will eventually have to come tumbling down.

They can't keep shoring it up for ever.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

It's just my name.

I know my name.

It's just a bog standard any-old name. I've seen it around for years and although it took me a while to learn how to spell it (ch... not k...), I'm used to it now.

It fits me, sits around me, follows me and sometimes gets there before me.

It never surprises me, when I hear it I don't look around unsure, I know it's me they want.

It's me.

I know my name.

I’m used to it.

It does a job, gives me a label, makes it easy for others to get my attention.

My mum chose it, I don’t know why she picked it, I was there at the time, but I wasn’t really paying attention.

It’s my name, just my name.

I’m used to it.

So can anyone tell me why every time I look at it on the side of the book in front of me I can’t stop smiling?

Why don't you buy it and see if it makes you smile too?

I think it might, in fact, I'd stake my name on it.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

We deserve better...

Do you remember when you could trust? When you could take things for granted? When if you looked at things they seemed solid, defined, unwavering and true?
There was a time when the pillars of Great Britain held up the country like great English oaks, sturdy, squat, warm to the touch and everlasting. Reassuringly un-bowing in the winds of change they stood for centuries, and would stand fast for centuries more.
If a criminal or a terrorist was released on appeal we would shake our heads and talk about "Some bad apples" or even worse "no smoke without fire" and the people wronged would get some compensation (minus the rent the Home Office took for their incarceration, which always struck me like Terry Waite paying council tax to the owner of the radiator he was handcuffed too) and go off and be bitter for the rest of their all to short lives.
I used to drink in a bar where Charles Connolly was a bouncer. Charlie had been convicted and served time for robbery in the fifties after being implicated in the notorious Cameo Cinema murders in Liverpool. This big bear of a man would once propped up a bar with me for a night telling how he had been forced by the police, by his barrister and by the prosecuting barrister to admit to something he hadn't done on pain of death. He told us how the police and prison services had abused him, worn him down and broke him on the broken wheels of justice to lie in court. And how those lies had snatched his neck from a tightening noose that claimed his co-accused, a man he'd never even met before.
That night it was hard not to believe Charlie, he rung his big bruiser hands and positively ached with honesty, but I'm afraid my doubts still remained. I'm afraid as we walked home I thought "Well you would say that wouldn't you? They wouldn't have arrested him for nothing."
Charlie died a long time ago now, I hardly knew him at all, but I wish I'd believed him that night, because now I've no doubt he was telling the truth.
I'm sorry Charlie.
Then there is Ricky Tomlinson, Jim Royle, who appears to have been abused royally by the Queens's government and judiciary. Tomlinson, convicted along with Des Warren on charges of conspiracy to intimidate. Both men were incarcerated almost as freedom fighters, wanting only the right to a fair wage and safe conditions in which to earn it, both men languished in jail, often held in solitary confinement, naked, wrapped in blankets with women folk camped outside the jail protesting their innocence. As Warren told the judge on the day of his sentencing:
 "The conspiracy was between the government, the employers and the police. When was the decision taken to proceed? What instructions were issued to the police, and by whom? There was your conspiracy."
It now appears Warren was right, for his were the only honest words spoken under oath that day.
Like some banana republic our great offices of state have conspired to cover up, both for themselves and for others, be they greedy bankers, claiming MP's, fiddling Lords, kiddie fiddling priests and corrupt top cops they lived in a hall of mirrors and we trusted them, like fools.
Even the BBC was drawing a shell suited veil over the disgusting deeds of one of its stars, allowing him, and possibly many others, to roll like pigs in their own filth safe in the knowledge that while Auntie spoke peace unto nations, she wouldn't say squeak to Lady Justice.
How about the church? I'm almost loath to give mention to an organisation whose founder said "suffer the children".
Because suffer they did, and suffer they do, while their abusers live out pensioned retirements surrounded by a warm cocoon of conspiracy. While one walks out the door it appears one of his cardinals has fell out the closet, who'd have guessed?
So we find ourselves unable to trust that and those which we held dear, George Dixon was a lie, Horace Rumpole was a lie, George Mainwaring was a lie even Hugh Grant in Love Actually was a lie.
Justice is a word heard a lot around Liverpool of late, it's a small simple word, easy to understand, easier to implement. Truth and justice are often mentioned together like bangers and mash, fish and chips and war and peace. But unlike the others, they can't be had separately, you can't have justice without truth.
I was a policeman, I've seen people lie, seen, I once gave evidence in court about an offence I'd witnessed with my own eyes, the defendant beat his breast, frothed and flustered, rolled his eyes and sighed and the jury acquitted.
A guilty man walked, justice opened the door for him and let him pass, he was one who got away and lived to fight another day and I was upset and saddened. I couldn't look the victim in the eyes afterwards, I was ashamed and felt like a failure and I still do.
But had I lied to Lady Justice to secure a conviction, had I exaggerated and bended my story to fit onto her scales and then tipped them when she wasn't looking, I wouldn't have been able to look at myself in the eye, and I would have been more ashamed and felt more of a failure than I do.
This country, its institutions, its leaders and enforcers should feel that shame, Lady Justice should lift up her blindfold and level her sword at ones we once trusted and now doubt, lest we should start to doubt her.
We need to start again, we need truth, we need justice, we need honesty and we need to believe in it, because if we don't, we will come to expect, and accept, exactly the opposite.
And we deserve better.
Don't we?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Big Daft Dog.

     The big daft dog, bounced and flounced into my life in 2002. My life, such as it was, was very different back then. But the big daft dog wasn’t, he was the same then as he was yesterday. Age had not withered him, he still loved to play, he still loved to bounce, he still loved to flounce.

     If I looked at him in a certain way he'd be off the couch and next to his lead reading my mind before I’d thought the thought. He knew me better than I knew myself, he knew me like a shadow knows a shape, he knew me better than anyone who’s ever met me, he was my best mate.

     He saw the highs, he saw the lows, he saw my deepest depths and my highest highs, he knew when I needed a cuddle or when I needed to play.

     The big daft dog wasn't so daft after all.

     We went through a lot together; there was a time, a dark time, when we lived in a car together, long winter nights sharing a blanket. He didn't complain he just kept me warm, all he wanted was to be with me, to be my mate, and he was.

     We loved the beach, he loved the sea, dancing and hopping through it, his paws buffed puppy-soft by a million granules as he ran in figure of eights, tongue lolling, the joy of ears flapping, in the only space where a big daft dog could stretch those big daft legs completely. Happy to be alive, running with his best mate... I knew how he felt.

     He loved the forest, sniffing and snuffling autumn leaves, that’s how we spent yesterday,  walking on our secret lane, he saw a squirrel and stopped and stared then looked at me,

     “Did you see that?”

     I did, and I smiled, and I ruffled his ears, and he forgot all about it and got back to sniffing and snuffling.
I stopped at our bridge, and he hopped up on those big long back legs and looked over it with me, enjoying the sound of the water below, watching the silver splashes as it broke over rocks, happy to be alive.

     He sat with me on the couch last night, he had a dream, a dog dream, he ran and twitched for a minute until I rested my hand on his head and scratched his big daft ear. He sighed, stretched and farted.

     And I loved him, he was my big daft dog.

     I hope he is still running in those dreams tonight, now that he is gone.

     Goodnight Boo, I love you and I’ll miss you, you big daft dog.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Hurricane Sandy.

After watching the coverage of Hurricane Sandy over the last couple of days I've decided to promote any profits I make from my New York Trilogy of short stories to the International Red Cross via their international donations page. This enables the ICRC to send the money where they think it is needed most, be that Haiti or be it Atlantic City.
I'm guessing it won't be much, but every little helps and I'd appreciate it if you could like and share this post.
Thank you!

The New York Trilogy of short stories can be found here.