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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Friends


This may be a little confusing to all the lovely American’s reading this page, so I’ll try and explain why I’ve posted it.

The above link should take you to a piece in The Guardian newspaper about a UK kids tv show that ran in the seventies and eighties. 

Grange Hill was children s programme that started in the late seventies in the UK. Back then we only had three channels on TV (and there was always something good to watch, unlike now when we have three hundred!.) Programmes tended to be watched by everyone at once, so they would often be the topic of conversation the very next day, on a much larger scale than they are now (even X Factor.)

Grange Hill told the story of a group of kids starting what would be the equivalent of High School, and the problems they had to overcome being teenagers. 

What made it different from every other kids show was that it was very very “real.”
It wasn’t sweet, or false, it covered issues that kids, especially working class kids like me, really had to overcome every day of the week and because of this realism, it became a phenomenon, to such an extent you’d be hard-pressed to find a Brit of a certain age who didn’t love it.

One of the big stars of the show was a guy called Terry Sue Patt (he is the black kid in the photo) who played a character called Benny Green. 

Terry Sue Patt sadly died a few months back, and wasn’t discovered for a few weeks. His fame had been fleeting and since leaving the show he had dabbled in art, music, and a few other things but he had never reached the heights he had once held. 

Such was the impact of the show on British culture he was still famous, but not with the money that modern fame usually brings so his life had been modest, quiet and almost normal. 

The reason I’ve posted the article (apart from it being a great bit of writing) is I wondered about a particular line in it, and I wanted to know what other people felt about it. 

In the piece somebody mentions that Terry wasn’t lonely because he had a lot of Facebook friends. It started me thinking about Facebook, and how we use it today. 

I’ve always felt that a real friendship is emotionally nourishing, seeing someone you love in the flesh or hearing their voice makes you feel good, whereas Facebook friendship is a different matter all together. 
I spend a lot of my time on my own, it is the nature of what I do for a living, I write, I think, I write, I look out the window, I write… and so it goes on.

I often switch off my phone or ignore emails and sometimes it can be for days that I won’t speak to people. My job has cost me a couple relationships with some wonderful people, but I’m not complaining, I have a career I love, even though it means I am alone at the moment.

I may not have time for relationships, but I will however visit facebook through the day.

What I find though is that I don’t feel the same sense of nourishment from clicking “like” or typing a few lines of comment.

Facebook is like junk food, whereas real interaction is a hearty healthy meal for the soul.

Like junk food Facebook is great in small portions, but it shouldn’t make up too larger part of your diet. We need a human voice now and then… even me. 

Take care everyone, and make sure you speak to someone you love today. xxx

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Mind the Gap.

“Be careful it’s easy to fall through the gap.”

A guy I used to work with once said that to me. We were replacing a ceiling and I was pushing it through into an empty room below, it was a dirty, dusty and tiring job in the days when bottled water came in old lemonade bottles, and health and safety meant a hankie over your mouth and everyone laughing when you fell off the roof.

Labouring was the first thing I fell into when I left school with two O’levels and a degree in indifference. It was 1983, Thatcher was in Downing Street and wages, if they came at all, came in cash. It didn’t take me long to realise I wasn’t cut out for a life shovelling sh*t. I spent longer telling jokes and stories than I did actually working; I was like some sort of POW camp entertainments officer. I think they only kept me around to maintain morale when we were all sitting in the back of the wagon, driving to a job in the rain.

I’ve lost count of the number of places I’ve worked in since then, its well over thirty, I’ve driven forklifts, sold jewellery, been a barman, sailed the seas and even shovelled pigeon poo seven storeys up in the air (the pigeon had left by the time we got there).

The longest job I’ve done was also the toughest, the most rewarding, the most frustrating and the most depressing (until I became a writer).

I was a Policeman in Merseyside for eleven years.

I was working in the town of St Helens, specifically a place called Parr. A tough, deprived working class area that had been hit hard by the decline in the traditional industries of mining and glass making. The vast majority of people were of good stock, genuine and honest, they’d had it hard but bore their burdens with a good humour and fortitude you could only admire. They tolerated a scouse copper in their midst as a necessary evil, and in return, I tried not to take the piss out of their accents too much.

Most of Parr was made up of small Victorian two up two down terraced houses, thrown up to shelter the masses that had arrived to serve the industrial revolution. Inside they were cosy and warm, many still had coal fires, and winter night crime statements would often be written against a background of popping crackling coal and ticking clocks. Jack Russell’s would eye me suspiciously as I took their place on the couch, china cups of tea balanced on chair arms with best biscuits on parade.
But it wasn’t all “Lowry land”, St Helens had once been home to Rainhill Hospital, in its day the largest “Mental Hospital” in Europe. It was long closed, and it’s many patients had long since been discharged to be “cared” for in the community. Taking Tebbit’s advice they had got on their bikes and instead of looking for work, they’d gone looking for help.

Some of them hadn’t made it very far.
In one of those terraced streets was a boarded up house. Like a bad tooth it sat rotten and decaying and when I first started working in the area I’d assumed it was empty and waiting for redevelopment. That was until one evening I was called to attend a report of “youths causing annoyance”.

On arrival at the scene all was quiet, so as a courtesy I knocked at the informant’s door. An old lady answered and invited me in to chat. Pots simmering and washing drying, the lady told me that she had rung because the local kids “were terrorizing Tommy”. I asked who Tommy was and where he lived and she pointed to the boarded up house opposite, I was amazed somebody actually lived there.

She explained that Tommy had lived there with his mother and father all of his life until “He went t’upt Rainhill as a young lad.” As she said this she tapped her head, then looked up and left in that old fashioned way of not mentioning mental illness. She told me that Tommy had never worked, and that since his mother had died years before the house had gradually slipped further into disrepair.

“He comes and goes out back down t’entry for his bits o’ shoppin, poor beggar has kids kickin’ football ‘gainst boards all times, day and night, it’s a bloody shame."

I listened and nodded and then promised to speak to Tommy to offer him some help. I finished my tea, then walked across the road and knocked on what passed for Tommy’s front door.
“Who is it?” eventually came from within
“Police, can I have a quick word?”
“Go away.”

Was all I got as way of reply. All these years later, my notebook lies open before me now, the words written down moments later, to the point, short, but not very sweet. I posted my card through and a note asking him to ring.

He didn't.

About a year later, myself and a colleague where working night shift. It was cold, wet and it was windy as hell. We received a report of “Suspicious Circumstances” and attended at the address, and it was only on arrival that I realised we were back at Tommy’s.
An early morning passing motorist on his way to work had noticed that the front door of the house was hanging off, and had phoned it in.

We got out of the car and true enough we found the door had fallen backwards into the hallway, it was difficult to tell whether it had just given up trying to be a door, or if it had been forced. I reached into the hall way and tried the light switch, it didn’t respond.
No electricity.

My colleague Steve fetched a powerful lamp from the car and I drew my torch and in we went. The short hallway was a mess, newspapers and bin bags were piled on the floor, once white paint work was thick with years of dirt and dust laden cobwebs hung from the ceiling like Tim Burtons Christmas decorations.

I had to push the living room door open such was the weight of detritus behind it. A narrow path led through piles of waste some of which was stacked head height. A solitary chair stood surrounded by rubbish and before it a small portable tv sat on the floor. We called out Tommy’s name but he never answered.
We moved through the kitchen, and along with the smell a sense of foreboding grew around us.

The kitchen was, unsurprisingly a tip. Rotten food lay about and empty tins littered the floor and worktop. I noted an old water boiler and cooker that George Stephenson would have recognised. No glass was in the kitchen window, and the rain and wind blew in to rustle the chip shop papers that littered the floor, like leaves in the autumn.

It’s a horrible feeling climbing stairs in a house like that; you are praying you will hear a reply to your shouts as you tentatively sniff the air for a whiff of deaths aftershave.

Tommy didn’t reply.

Two doors, two Bobbies. Russian roulette and you are praying you won’t lose. I got the toilet, except it wasn’t a toilet, it was a back bedroom that had assumed the duties. It was horrendous, I’ll say no more.

Steve got the bedroom, “Shoey! He’s here” came the shout. I entered, Tommy lay on the bed, all I could see was the top of his head. He was buried under coats, blankets and dirty old clothes. It looked like he had piled them on top of him as he had gone to bed. Rubbish was everywhere, the wind whistled around the room from both the ill fitted boards on the windows, and the partially collapsed ceiling above.

It was as damp and as a depressing sight as I had ever seen.

“I’ll radio it in, we need to get the Sarge and the doctor out,” said Steve, the standard procedure for finding someone in this condition.

I reached down and as Steve held the lamp I gingerly pulled back the bed sheets to have a better look at the deceased, who opened his eyes and screamed.

He wasn’t dead.

Although I nearly was, from shock.

“Who the f**king hell are you!” Tommy shouted as the lamp shone into his eyes.

“We are the police!” I yelled back, more in shock than certainty.

“What? Let me put my hearing aid in.”

Tommy scrambled about in some rubbish and pulled out an old fashioned hearing aid that whistled when he put it in.

“What are you doing in my house?”

“Your door was broken we were worried about you”

“Get out! Get out of my house now! I don’t want your help! Leave me alone!”

He got up from the bed and angrily backed us down the stairs, I tried to explain that we were there to help him but he refused all excuses, he even wouldn’t let us help place his broken front door back into its frame. As soon as we crossed the threshold he grappled with the rotten door and pushed it back, ending any further conversation.

Me and Steve stood in the street dumbfounded. We eventually started to laugh, more in shock than anything and we climbed into the car and left.

Later that night I compiled a report for social services detailing my real concerns for Tommy. I told them what we had found in the house, and my belief that he wasn’t in a suitable position to look after himself, and that he needed help from social services, from society.

Weeks later I received a call from a nice lady who told me that Tommy had refused all offers of assistance, and that social services were powerless to help him if he wouldn’t let them.

He’d fallen through a gap.

It’s easy to do.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Want to be a Writer? Forget Spelling, Learn Selling.

I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life, seriously, a lot of things.

There was the time I fell into a rubbish skip when drunk.

The time I jumped off a bus that was doing twenty miles an hour and hit a lamppost that wasn’t.
Or maybe the time I confronted fifteen teenagers vandalizing a wall (I came off better against the lamppost.)

Trust me I could go on all day, so let’s just agree: I’ve done a lot of things wrong in my life.
One of the few things I have done right (eventually) was managing to get a deal with Harper Collins and having my debut novel “The Darkest Hour” published in the USA and UK.

Finally, I did something right.

Except I didn’t.

I made a ton of mistakes as a debut author, honestly, a ton of them, so I thought I would list them here, just in case you are ever in my position and you want to avoid being as big of an idiot as I am:

      1.       Twitter.

I love twitter, but I don’t use it properly. I joke around on there, chat, make friends and occasionally plug the book.

Sounds like I was doing it right?

I wasn’t.

I should have created more of a pre-book buzz. I should have been sharing more of my journey to publication with other writers and those all too elusive readers. I should have made more use of hashtags than just sticking them on occasional tweets. I should have been searching for them, reading them, re-tweeting them, and engaging with others who were using them. I should have been forging links, having conversations, helping people with their launches and then getting people onboard for the big push when mine came along. The one thing though, the one thing I should have been doing most of all: I should have been sharing and learning with the Twitter community at least thirty minutes a day, every day.

So you should be doing that right now, go on, do it.

       2.       Facebook.

Remember when facebook was fun? Before it got all political and pluggy? Back when your friends would talk about their cats, and then pictures of their cats, and post videos of their cats, and then tell you when their cats died and they got a new kitten?

Remember that?

It was fun (unless you were allergic to or hated cats, or even worse, a dog.) Back before Facebook became worth billions and started going through your garbage and leaving secret messages for you (facebook may not actually do that) I set up a facebook writers page. I got my sister to go there, and two of my friends, and I put up pictures of a cat (much to the disgust of my dog). One day Harper Collins came along and waved a magic wand (money) and I suddenly had a lot more people looking at pictures of the cat.

Every day I would go there and put another picture of a cat (who knew there were so many cats?) and then the book came out and I said: “Here is another cat, please buy my book or I will kill it…” (I was joking, I like cats). Time went by and I kept pretty much saying this over and over. Occasionally people would send me messages saying “I like the book” and I would say “thank you so much…” and that would be it. What I should have been doing is shouting “tell the world about my book please I need your help!”

But I didn’t because I am English, and polite, and an idiot.

I should have engaged with other pages, I should have commented on them, I should have been talking to writers groups, book clubs, offering them advance copies, I should have been in every nook and cranny that even smelled of book on Facebook in the run up to publication, and every day after that.

And I should have posted more cats.

      3.       Honesty.

I wasn’t honest about myself and my work.

I have a terrible habit in interviews and blog posts of using the phrase “I just banged it out…” when talking about my books.

I did it again this week on BBC Radio:

Interviewer “How long did it take you to write the book?”

Me: “I just banged it out in about six months I think…”

I didn’t, I lied.

I did write it in six months, that much is true, but I didn’t “bang it out” like some guy in a bucket factory. I sweated, I had sleepless nights, I thought about it hour after hour, day after day, I lived it, I dreamed it, I became it, I suffered, my relationships suffered, my life suffered and other people’s lives suffered.

I didn’t bang it out, it banged me out.

I don’t know why I play it down so much (any psychoanalysts out there?) but I’m going to try to be honest about it from now on, and so should you. Writing a book is damn hard work, be proud of your hard work and tell the world when it asks, and tell the world when it doesn’t.

You deserve praise.

      4.       Blogging.

Don’t just blog, BLOG! I have three blogs, Wordpress (I find it complicated and it’s been so long since I used it I think the password is in Latin), Blogger (nice and easy, even for me) and Medium (so shiny and new, it looks like one of those modern kitchens you see in brochures, even I can’t cock it up.) Blogging is great, it is fun (honestly) it helps keep your writing punchy (brevity is king), and it builds your audience if you do it right.

I don’t do it right.

There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of people out there blogging about books. Those people buy books; you are selling books, why are you not talking to them?
Sounds simple doesn’t it?

WHY WAS I NOT DOING IT?

Blogging is a lot like the other things on this list, it needs to be based on the principle of sharing, give and take, help and be helped. You need to reach out to people and praise them if they deserve it, critique them if they don’t, but again, you need to be honest in what you write, be it a comment on a review, or a blog post about a film.

Be honest in your writing and be honest in your interactions.


There you go, some of what I did wrong (well about half the things I did wrong, there are another five things on my list, but give me a break, I’ve got a book to write!)

When I started this piece it wasn’t going to be a blog post, it was just going to be something I was going to stick on my wall for my own reference (my paperback is out in June and I was determined to learn from my mistakes.) I figured that seeing as I was writing a list I might as well share it in the hope it might help someone else.

In looking to help others, I think I’ve hit on the one of the most obvious ways to help yourself, and that is this:

You are part of a community, you are a writer, you will get nowhere, honestly, you’ll get nowhere being selfish and trying to shoulder people off the road.

It just won’t work.

Enjoy the community, work with it, learn from it, and try to help it. Be honest with it, and with yourself, but most of all share, share your work, share the work of others, and you won’t make the mistakes I have made.

The Darkest Hour a Novel

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

WordBasket: Nazis on the Knightsbridge High Street

When I'm writing, when I'm struggling and the book seems so long and I feel like I'm nowhere near the end... I like to read this review of The Darkest Hour.



WordBasket: Nazis on the Knightsbridge High Street

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Questions Questions Questions...

If you’re reading this I’m guessing you can write? I mean one normally tends to follow the other, unless there is some weird affliction and I just insulted you or someone you love.

If I did, I’m sorry.

If I didn’t, I’m guessing when I said “I’m guessing” I guessed correctly, and you can write.

I’m now going to go a step further, and say that if you are reading something a writer has written (this article and me in case you hadn’t noticed) in the books section of the Huffington Post you either:

           1.      Like books.

           2.      Are thinking about maybe writing them.

Working on the above assumptions, I’m now going to advise you to stop reading this article and to start writing.

Go on.

Stop.

What are you still doing here? You’re like a stray following me home; shoo… go away… start writing!

Alright, we both know I don’t really want you to go away, otherwise I would have just stopped writing and gone and made another coffee.

Truth is, I’m writing this because I want you to start writing and to stop reading about it, so, in direct contradiction of what I’ve already said, please read this, and THEN stop reading about writing.

With me? Okay, I’ll begin.

Since I became a writer I keep getting asking, and I mean I: KEEP GETTING ASKED!

 “How do you become a writer?”

So, although I love talking to other writers and aspiring writers, I’m going to answer this question right now and once and for all.

Get ready, here is the answer, the only answer you will ever need regarding what you need to do to become a successful writer… have you got a pen? Okay… here it comes… brace yourself:

Start writing and stop looking for ways to not write.

There, that’s it, you can go now.

You’re still here?

Okay, I’ll elaborate.

This morning when I got out of bed and had my first coffee of the day (alright it was afternoon, I’m a writer, it’s allowed) I read a message on my facebook page that went:

 “Hi, I’ve going to buy your book (why they are always going to buy it? Why have they never actually “bought” it?) I was wondering, how do you approach writing? Do you plan, do you use charts, do you use character sketches and then write it long hand before typing? I’m worried about grammar and spelling, should I hire an editor or should I review each page as I go?”

Now like I say, I sincerely am always delighted to chat to readers and writers, but this message made me a tiny bit angry because I really wanted to scream “JUST WRITE AND STOP MAKING IT SO HARD!”

Honestly, if I see another tweet for a writer’s workshop, or one with #writingtip at the end of it, I’m going to get very, very, cross indeed.

Writing isn’t hard.

There, I’ve said it.

Writing just isn’t hard, and if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

Writing is about ideas, thoughts, imagination, it should be a waterfall, not a canal.

It should flow and splash and make noise and be beautiful and ferocious.

It should be unstoppable, exciting, a torrent travelling so fast you can barely keep up.

It should be a case of you clinging to your keyboard as you’re swept towards… well anyway, you get the idea.

Writing isn’t hard; honestly it isn’t; just write, stop putting obstacles in your own way. Take it from me, this industry can make life difficult enough without you helping it stop you.

Just get a pen (if you’re reading this in 1983), get a keyboard, get some time… and write.

You’ll thank me for it.



Sunday, 18 January 2015

It's all in a name.

When I was a kid I never liked my name.

It's not that Anthony or Tony are bad names, I've kind of grown into them if I'm honest. There is also the fact that I've been lucky enough to have two names to choose from, which can be handy, depending on my mood, or where I am at the time of asking.

I shouldn't complain really but... I just never really liked either of them when I was a kid.

My parents are no longer around to ask why I ended up with Anthony/Tony. I never thought to ask when they were here, and now it's too late. I’ve hunted around for clues, I’ve looked at family trees but try as I might, there are no Tony's to be found.

It appears I'm a one off.

My Mum and Dad had form for original names though, my brother was nearly burdened with Perry, until my Dad realised the lifespan of a Perry in working class Liverpool was likely to be limited.
So Philip, Philly, or Phil he became, and still is.

He suits Phil, he was always a "Phil". Phil's are cool, Phil's can fight, Phil's get the girls.

Anthony's have bad hair and untied shoelaces.

Or maybe that was just me?

I was lucky with my first book, the lead character name was there before I even had the story.

I saw it one day on a street sign, cast iron, tough, and weathered.

Rossett.

Which grew into John Henry Rossett.

A name you can trust, a name that will get you were you want to be and god help anyone who tries to stop him.

Derek Smith just wouldn't have cut it I'm afraid.

Jack Reacher, Nick Stone, James Bond, and Harry Bosch, tough guys with tough names. These guys would never have sold perfume on a cruise ship like I used to do. Those guys would have been driving the ship, or doing something in the engine room with big wrenches and sweat covered brows.
They’ve got names that fit, no nonsense, stare you in the eye names, take you outside and rough you up names.

Names you remember, and look out for again.

Now I’ve just started my third book, it’s a week old, taking shape, and taking time but finally underway.

The problem is, I’m only a few thousand words in, and the lead character has had four names already. I keep changing them like hats in a mirror, I put a new one on, frown, adjust, shift my position, think, decide, make certain.

Then change it again.

And every time it changes, so does the story.

I don’t know why, it seems such a little thing, but as soon as the name changes, so does the atmosphere, the location, the year, the whole book.

Who’d have thought?


It’s all in a name.



Tuesday, 13 January 2015

It's a Long Road.

It’s a long road.

I’m not sure where it started.

Maybe it was my mother reading me a story?

Maybe it was playing with toys on the floor?

Maybe it was teacher, a visit to the library, kicking a can down the street?

Maybe it was all of those things?

All I know for certain?

It’s a long road.

There were trips and stumbles aplenty; there aren’t many roads that are straight.

I know mine wasn’t.

It took a turn at school, when my dreams crashed around me, ripped apart as I ripped open the envelope with my exam results.

I wasn’t going to be a writer.

So I took another turn and became a roofer, then a jeweler, then a thousand dead-end jobs on a thousand dead-end days.

Moving down the road.

Another turn.

I became a cop.

I got married.

I got a house.

I got unmarried.

I got un-homed.

I got un-copped.

I slept in a car with nothing but a dog who would die for me, by a river that called my name on inky black nights that almost pushed me in.

I stayed in the car; I stayed with the dog, and he stayed with me.

Winter went and I got back on the road.

I drove a taxi.

I picked up a pen for what felt like the first time it had been so long.

I started to write.

It was a long road.

The dog didn’t make it.

A little part of me died with him.

But I stayed on the road.

I carried on writing.

I got better.

I got rejected.

I got better.

I got rejected.

I got better.

I got accepted.

I sat with my book, the ink nearly dry as my cheeks were wet.

It’s been a long road, but I’m nearly there.


Come with me.