Thursday, September 28, 2006
Tidying up a bit too far
I wrote the review of The Blockheads gig for part of December's Scotland's Treasure column. I'll need to write January's column well in advance because December will be a busy month. I might cover the Van Gogh exhibition as well as some up-coming literary shows that are on in Edinburgh. Wouldn't mind seeing a play as well, but money's tight after the holidays and there are some gigs coming up involving The Selecter, Dance Craze and Madness I want to see.
Still got a couple of 'musts-do's' from this month's GDR to complete before Saturday. Not been the busiest of weeks but still found time to apply for a couple of freelance writing gigs.
Last weekend when I was tidying away all the CD's lying around the lounge, I came across an opened birthday card. I assumed it was an old one and threw it away, complete with the year-old cheque it contained, that I just assumed I had forgotten to cash.
This morning Gail asked where it was. I told her. It turned out it was for my birthday in a few days and that my Mum had sent early before going on holiday. Gail had opened it by mistake and hidden it. I called my Mum to tell her and of course, this was the best card she had every bought me because of the Rat Pack picture on the front. Now it's gone, forever. What a week!
Mopsy sat and watched telly with me till late. Just lying there on the ridge of my tummy, legs out-stretched, head between her front feet, eyes slowly drifting to sleep.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Blockheads gig last Thursday at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh was great. It was great to see them again, though a crowd of about 100 was most disappointing. Gail loved it, saying it was in her top 5 of gigs she's been to, which is quite a compliment. The band are so accomplished and entertaining, but Ian Dury is sadly missed as their front man.
Friday I can't really remember. Saturday I sat for three hours in a theatre to see Laura dance on stage (at the back mostly) for 30 seconds in her end of year show. Wonderful return for the money and time spent all fucking year. Rough estimate would be something like 40 weeks at £6, plus £15 costume hire, plus £50 leotard and dance shoes. Over £300 for 30 seconds, or if you like, the finale of the dance season cost £10 per second.
Nice. Nice and cliquey and wrong. It's the same girls every year who get the glory and the good dances. If you happen to know the owner then you're daughter's quids in.
On Sunday I got the train through to Glasgow to see my sister who had got me tickets to see the Blockheads again, this time at the Carling Academy. It was raining as I got to the station and I slipped three times on the red tarmac covering leading down the slope into the station. Oh how the people stared as I slipped and slapped like a sea lion out of water. Then when I got to the actual tiled area of the station, I slipped again because my feet were so wet. Lovely start to the day.
I got to my sisters and we cracked open the bevy and the tunes. As we made pizza for dinner later on, I slipped in her kitchen and got pineapple juice all up her wall. Couldn't blame that fall on the wet floor though!
The gig at the Academy was nearly cancelled due to a poor turn out. When we went through the door, we were numbers 92 and 93. The capacity of the venue is around 3000, which is why the organisers wanted to cancel the gig. The Blockheads said they wanted to carry on, and so they set up on the small stage in the upstairs bar.
Turned out to be even better than the Edinburgh gig, as these things often transpire to do. I also got to shake the hands of Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Dylan Howe (drums) and Dave Lewis (sax) afterwards.
Monday was a day off, rising late and heading back from Glasgow tired as hell on the bus. Today was about trying to raise my spirits and write something.
Might not be back on the blog for a few days.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Tired, but not a bigot
I know I'm tired when I can't find the keys. Normally I have a good typing speed, quite fast through years of practice more than any secretarial qualifications, I think I can manage a fair few words a minute. Never counted of course, but it must be quite high. Anyway, I made loads of errors, my fingers landing on the wrong key, not finding the space or return key and generally ending up with loads of red and green lines on the page. What a mess. But these pieces need a lot of work anyway so I let myself off. Never got it finished though - it's a longer story than I remember!
Did a lot of reading today about various specialities within the freelance writing world. Joined a couple of mailing lists - I left one after about an hour of useless and obscene posts. Why people get a thrill out of full on abuse to other people over the Internet is beyond me. Must be some satisfaction in it for them, I suppose. Total cowards the lot of them. They wouldn't have the guts to say it to me in the street to my face, that's for sure.
I get that a lot. You'd be amazed how many people are intimidated by a large skinhead who frowns a lot. What they don't know is that I'm usually thinking about a story or a poem and not about killing someone (unless it's a crime story), or that I'm actually a bit of a friendly loony who likes things like rabbits and fish and wandering around not hurting people very much.
I've noticed the Gouranga mob spot me, then cross the road to avoid me!
Going to a gig tomorrow night, the same band that I'm going to see in Glasgow on Sunday. I'll be using both of them to form the one article for November's Scotland's Treasure column in The Scruffy Dog Review.
Heard back from one of the freelance gigs. It's a no-go, but the guy was pleasant enough. I should expect that a lot.
Got offered a ticket for the Old Firm match on Saturday. Once upon a time I would have jumped at it. Once upon a time I had a season ticket, but I gave it up for the same reasons I refused the ticket for Saturday - I don't sympathise with Republican or Loyalist terrorists. They're all scum, and I heard enough of it while standing on the Parkhead terraces for over 15 years.
No thanks. I outgrew all that years ago when my priorities changed and I got a mind of my own. Old Firm fans are the most parochial, small-minded, bigoted people you will ever meet. And don't anyone post saying it's the minority that spoil it because I was involved enough to know it poisons board-rooms as much as schools, warehouses, production sites and offices.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Tonight was spent preparing a plan for contracting out my writing as a freelancer. I researched markets, scoured the listings and markets, prepared query and email templates, and applied for 7 gigs.
I should have been this organised months ago. It's all about confidence in my ability. I KNOW I can research and I KNOW I can apply myself to a wide range of things. Looking at my literary CV confirms this. It's when I get to the point of, "Do I actually have this in me?" that I start to waver.
Tonight, instead of pressing the wee 'x' in the typed email and forgetting it, I clicked on 'send'.
No fiction done, except a read-through and edit of Water of Leith. Not sure where this would be suitable for quite yet. Something Scottish but I'll keep looking.
It's cold tonight and I'm tired.
Monday, September 18, 2006
I don't remember there ever being this amount of scattered days and weeks off when I was at school. No wonder kids don't get time to get into something beofre they are whisked away again. And they say standards are slipping!
It was a slower day today. I had to run some errands in the morning then clean out the animal cages, and give them a wee nail trim. Took about an hour then I got started with some polishing of the stories I've been working on.
I made a few submissions afterwards - to paying markets mostly, where I though that a) the story fit well and b) I will get paid. Money is rather tight after the holidays and it's given me the spur to look for paying markets first, rather than going for the credit to build up the CV.
Something that one of the authors in the Business of Writing seminar I went to at the Book Festival has stuck with me. Writers who are pressured financially in the early stages of their careers, tend to work harder and produce their best work while under it.
Is this true? I'm not sure, but when I think back to what Rankin said to me about his first book, and how he needed the sale just to live one, I do wonder how far away I could reasonably consider myself away from a sale that would break me in. It's not like I am short of ideas, the mentality, flexibility and skills, I just have to get myself marketed positively and follow it through. I need to be more aggressive. The time to switch is coming, and it may be sooner rather than later.
I think, from a financial point of view, I am going to have to resume work on my two WIP's: Hunting Jack and A Friend to Die For. I have to get these pitched as finished bodies of work, and put behind me the fact I want to work on other things. I have to continue to improve my short story submissions, and I have to try and get Fringe Fantastic selling. I get plenty of kudos for it, but it's the green stuff I need now after all I invested, physically, mentally and financially.
So I spent most of the day searching out and organising markets that pay, freelance job opportunities for writing gigs and doing up my CV and cover letters.
I spent the entire day and evening at the PC working on this stuff, so by 9pm I was aching. I stoped to watch Spooks - next weeks; episode airing early.
Also, at the Prince Of Wales Theatre in London recently, a variety show was held in celebration of the life and work of ex-UK poet laureate, John Betjeman. It featured contributions from various famous personalities, including, Ronnie Corbett, Stephen Fry, Judi Dench, Richard E Grant, Prunella Scales, Joanna Lumley, Bill Nighy, Nick Cave, and Jools Holland to name a few.
His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales was in attendance and witnessed a classy performance of readings of John Betjeman's work. Among the tributes, was one by my man, Suggs; lead singer of Madness. Suggs delivered On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man, and I'd like to share it here, because I happen to think it's superb.
On A Portrait Of A Deaf Man
The kind old face, the egg-shaped head,
The tie, discreetly loud,
The loosely fitting shooting clothes,
A closely fitting shroud.
He liked old city dining rooms,
Potatoes in their skin,
But now his mouth is wide to let
The London clay come in.
He took me on long silent walks
In country lanes when young.
He knew the names of ev'ry bird
But not the song it sung.
And when he could not hear me speak
He smiled and looked so wise
That now I do not like to think
Of maggots in his eyes.
He liked the rain-washed Cornish air
And smell of ploughed-up soil,
He liked a landscape big and bare
And painted it in oil.
But least of all he liked that place
Which hangs on Highgate Hill
Of soaked Carrara-covered earth
For Londoners to fill.
He would have liked to say goodbye,
Shake hands with many friends,
In Highgate now his finger-bones
Stick through his finger-ends.
You, God, who treat him thus and thus,
Say "Save his soul and pray."
You ask me to believe You and
I only see decay.
by Sir John Betjeman
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Poet of the Week
There was an amazing fog came down last night, also. I forgot to mention it. It had been cloudy all day yesterday; cloudy and muggy, and as late afternoon moved into early evening, the mist began to fall. By the time darkness had fallen, so too had a thick layer of fog over the entire city. From my window in my office, where I would normally have been able to the see the houses and street lights of Lochend beyond the walkway, there was thick clouds and small circles of orange.
I awarded myself with a small lie-in today. Well, till 10am, anyway. I got up and got ready, cursing myself for forgetting to buy deodorant yesterday. Never mind, the raw smell of soap would have to do. I nipped round to the shops to get some rolls, a paper and wholemeal bread. When I got home I remembered I had forgotten then most important thing I meant to get - coffee!! I've got enough until tomorrow if I ration my cups today between tea.
Sat down to work at about 1pm. I've been having a discussion on a forum - one of those newsgroups with the alt address. Some guy was going on about all the different types of writing software available, ones that prompt your next word when you are typing and organises your thoughts, stuff like that.
I wrote an email asking if it would be able to help me in the actual craft of my writing. There was an element of sarcasm but it was merely to make a point. Boy did I stir it up. He wrote back (publicly), and to cut a long story short, the gist of it was this. He seems to look down on fiction writers because they don't need to do research, don't think about what they are doing, or - and get this - technical writers (like him) "put more effort in a single page than a fiction writer puts in a whole book." Needless to say I replied with a polite, but vehement argument.
Great news!! I am Poet of the Week for today until next Saturday night at the Poetry Super Highway. Go check it out!!! They published National Portrait, Festival TV, and Always the Clown.
I read my pal's latest story inspired by the exercises we're doing. This was a much longer one, but it was so well written I couldn't stop reading. I felt guilty at having read it so fast, so I made a coffee and read it again, only this time, much slower. My original instinct was correct though, the story pulls you in quick and takes you on a speedy journey with twists and turns. The crit I typed up afterwards said more or less the same thing.
I ran through Water of Leith a couple of times and sent it off to my pal for her opinion, also. The next exercise is to take one of the characters from the previous stories and write a new story in first person from their point of view. I'm drawn immediately to DI Lennox, but I need to find a story to apply it to. I'll keep an open mind to the other characters, but he feels most likely and the most enjoyable. I just need to keep him away from Thorne, Morse, Rebus, Taggart et al.
I began typing up a short story I wrote a couple of months ago. Wide Awake is something like 14 pages long in an A5 book, and it is very, very rough. Having been written on a train to Newcastle, it is a poorly constructed story. Main thing first though, is to get it typed up then I can begin moulding it.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
A Full Day's Writing
No dancing (for Laura - not me) this week, so I went up town and headed into Waterstones. I knew what I was after, and found it after a wee browse round the reference, poetry and Scottish book sections. I came away with The Forensics Handbook by Peter Moore. It's a look at crime scene investigation techniques and forensic evidence gathering and analysis. It's not too scientific, and told mostly in layman terms to give me an idea and background for future stories.
Apart from the research side, it's a fascinating read and I sat with it drinking my coffee in my usual cafe for almost an hour.
I got home about lunchtime to discover, to my disgust, that even though I had asked for a Steak Bake in Greggs, they had given me Cheese and Onion pastie. I was less than enamoured. Once I had eaten and positioned the new plants in my aquarium I bought on the way home from town, I got to writing.
I did a quick web site update then got to work on number 5 of DE's The Scruffy Dog Review Blog exercises. This is the three article combination into one story.
This took a lot of thinking. I used the white board on my wall to map out various combinations and once I had settled on a good, baseline story, started to link it all together using bubbles and arrows . Slowly it came and then I began to write.
I had to keep referencing the stories and there was a wee bit of research involved as I chugged along, but by half past eleven at night, only stopping for cups of coffee, dinner, PC crashes, and to feed the animals, I finished it. It came in at 4100 words, and is called, Water of Leith.
I suddenly realised when I had finished, that I've written almost 10,000 words of fiction this week alone. Two things about this. Firstly, this is bloody excellent work. Secondly, I've got nothing to fear come November when NaNoWriMo begins.
My head is buzzing from all the concentration and work I put into the planning and execution of this story today, I doubt I'll have any trouble sleeping tonight.
Friday, September 15, 2006
The Number 3
Scotsmen are just naturally hairy beasts.
The nice foreign girl in the coffee shop made my cappuccino today. Normally it's the bloke who does it, but I was in so early he wasn't on shift at the time. I hadn't the heart to tell her I'm not of a fan of the way she makes them. Always too much froth and not enough coffee, and always overboard with the chocolate topping. But she's far too pretty to offend over her coffee making ability, so I thanked her and went on my way.
The reason I was up so early was actually because of these on-going work problems. Early meetings had been arranged and I had to be there to discuss them, as they are having an impact on an implementation happening tomorrow night - that I am supposed to be involved with. It might be pulled now, so the meetings are to see if we can go ahead or not.
I worked through another draft of House Call, The English Teacher, and Only a Bagel. I also finished off my comments on my friend's equivalent stories for the same exercises, in preparation for sending them back to her, which I did later.
I organised my notes into relevant categories about my interviewee and then printed it all off. This way I can learn more about her background, her work, and pull out questions that will be good to ask at the interview. I emailed her back with dates and got to work putting it all together - the interview could be this weekend for all I know.
I re-drafted my new stories again later on, making adjustments and stripping out unnecessary words. Then I did a wee update to my website and began work on exercise 5 - the three in one story.
I stopped to watch Rebus on STV, though I did have my notebook and wrote down notes on how I might approach this latest, and more challenging piece of writing. It wasn't as funny as last weeks episode, more grim and tense. It was about a shooting in a school, which was awkwardly topical given the incident in Canada, as well as the continuing efforts by the families bereaved by the Dunblane tragedy.
Devon tagged me today for a list of profile-related questions to answer - so here goes:
3 Things That Scare me
Moths trapped in coffee machines
Cancer of the willy (well any cancer actually, but anything round that region that could damage my bits)
3 People Who Make Me Laugh
My best mate, Craig
3 Things I Hate Most
Actors/musicians who think they are important because of their trade, and that gives them a right to preach to the rest of us, a la George Clooney, Bob Geldof and co.
3 Things I Can't Understand
Why I can't find anything after my wife has tidied the house
Why my Clown fish sleeps upside down as if it's dead
Why babies stare at me in the street
3 Things I'm Doing Right Now
Writing questions out for a poet I'm interviewing
Enjoying the smell of my wife's baking drifting into my office
Wondering when my wife will be finished baking so I can get in to make my dinner
3 Things I Want to Do Before I Die
Cruise the Arctic in winter
Go on a road tour of the States, West to East
Live in a discrete cabin overlooking a loch, so I can write and fish whenever I want.
3 Things I Can Do
Sleep all day
Approach celebrities and make out that we're old pals
3 Ways To Describe My Personality
3 Things I Can't Do
Run for a bus
Stop getting up at 4am for a pee
Pleat my hair
3 Things I Think You Should Listen To (because you might enjoy it)
Reggae, preferably Jamaican
3 Things You Should Never Listen To
People who know everything about anything
People who say, "There's nowhere open for a drink at this time of night."
3 Things I'd Like to Learn
To be a better writer
3 Favourite Foods
Steak and Kidney pie
3 Beverages I Drink Regularly
3 Shows I Watched as a Kid
Ivor the Engine
Laurel & Hardy
3 People I'm Tagging
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Only a couple of weeks ago there was glorious sunshine and the streets were filled with people. Now with the festivals over, the streets are back to normal and the skies are crying at the end of the party. Soon the falling tears will top, and be replaced by a calm chill, clear skies and full moons.
Took care of a lot of outstanding editorial work for The Scruffy Dog Review this evening; readings, acceptances, rejections etc.
Came up with some ideas for a few stories. Since I started doing DE's exercises at The Scruffy Dog Review Blog, I have begun to see stories everywhere, in places I never would have thought of, and in themes I would never have imagined.
I always had a healthy cut-outs folder from newspapers and magazines, but now the range and type of stories has widened. I'm on several mailing lists that I never early read that much other than the odd article. I've discovered though, some of them can be jam-packed full of story ideas if I just open my mind to the possibilities that they offer. Today in one mailing alone, I pulled out enough ideas for six new short stories.
Ran through the stories I've written so far this week and edited as I went. Tried to make them as tight as possible and ensure that they make sense, keep a grip of the reader, and finish well.
The next exercise as to write a story about the third article I cut out, a bartender who received a $10k tip for a $26 meal in the States somewhere. I turned it on its head and made it about an Australian waitress who lives with her moody Edinburgh-born boyfriend.
She gets a first tip of £100, and he isn't too impressed. When she gets the tip for £10k, he flips and attacks the guy, accusing them both of all sorts of things in his weird, male-weighted macho mind. I had to transplant a character from one of the earlier stories as a wee challenge, so I picked DI Lennox, who nicks the boyfriend for assaulting the man in a cafe. It's called, Only a Bagel, and it came in at just under 1700 words.
Next thing I have to do - as well as editing all these new stories - is to take the remaining three articles and combine them ALL into a single story of no more than 5000 words. Not as easy as it sounds. The three articles I have to work with are:
* Road sweepers in Tranent not picking up litter in revolt against litter louts
* Pope's holy-roller mobile auctioned for £37k
* Support mounting for an independent film agency in Scotland
I'm thinking film shoot in Tranent, funded by the sale of the Pope mobile that was used when the Pope visited Scotland in 1982, and ruined by striking binmen. Something like that.
I've spent so much time doing these exercises - which have been invaluable and very productive - I've let other things on my GDR slip a bit. It's already the middle of September and while my output has been excellent, there are things I need to take a look at urgently.
Top things to do over tomorrow and the weekend:
* Type up and edit Wide Awake
* Work on synopsis for NaNoWriMo project
* Write more poetry
* Design new standard leaflet/poster for Fringe Fantastic
* Make more submissions
* Write next exercise as described above.
Got to keep focussed!
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Another First Draft
Busy at work again. Much busier than I really ought to be or can really be bothered with. I'm just not getting enough quiet time during lunch or else where to think/note/write. I hope it dies down before November, what with NaNoWriMo only 7 weeks away.
Managed to complete the first draft of the next DE exercise from The Scruffy Dog Review Blog. This is the one about the school kid with the home-made bomb. It's called The English Teacher and came in at 1365 words. Made a start on the next one, too, about the waitress who picks up the 10k tip.
Heard back from a poet I made a request to interview for The Scruffy Dog Review. She accepted and I'll interview her sometime before the end of the month. I started trawling the net for previous articles and information about her so I can piece together the format and type of questions I want to ask. She's an interesting woman, and I'm looking forward to meeting with her again.
Read more of Mark Billingham's Lifeless novel. It's superb stuff. I like his style; very easy going and very easy to imagine, though I keep clashing with Rebus and his detective, Tom Thorne. I'll get over it no doubt, the further I get with it.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Bomb Bag (Bum Bag - geddit?)
I brought my lunch with me, and worked through the lot trying to sort this crap out. I was pulling my hair out by the end of it (pun intended) and was about 3 seconds away from ramming my PC out the window and letting it fall onto the street below, when I realised it wasn't worth getting as wound up as I was.
I arrived home tense and with a pounding headache. There was only one thing for it - chilli con carne. I made a large pot of it with basmati rice on the side and although it was from a sauce packet, it really hit the spot. Not too hot, but just enough to make me happy, enliven me, and relax me for the evening.
Which turned out to be a flop. Well, a flop in the sense that I never worked on what I originally intended, but I still got through some work. I prepared and submitted a few poems, some of which I still have to send out this week, and a piece of flash fiction has also gone out into the big bad world to try and find a home.
I also began writing the next exercise from Devon's column from The Scruffy Dog Review Blog. This is a piece of fiction (circa 1200 words) on the second newspaper cut-out. In my case, the story of the 15-year old boy found with a bomb in his school bag!
Oh, the possibilities!
Monday, September 11, 2006
5 Years On
So, have we become saturated in coverage of the incident that we are now desensitised to it? Have we become detached from the reality of what happened, simply because we have seen and heard so much about it, that we feel less of the horror and that, it's not our problem any more?
Yesterday, a writer friend of mine, who lives in New York, said in her blog, Ink In My Coffee, "I think the majority of the world has seen the planes hit the towers so often that its impact is softening. And that's dangerous."
I disagree, and I'll tell you why.
The world in which we live changed that day on September, in many obvious and less tangible ways.
The war on terror began, with the west uniting in horror against the "tyrants of evil and oppression". We invaded other nations and the whole point of why we went to war became greyed out. This is an observation, not a justification, but the point I am making is, we were side-tracked by the media and government spin in their justifying the war on terror, that the spotlight slowly changed from the impact of the Twin Towers disaster, to alleged WMD in Iraq and surrounding Arab states.
The impact of 9/11 hasn't softened, it has only been deflected.
Personally, whenever I see those images, I am thrust back to that day and to the feelings I had. I remember sitting in my office when the news came through, the internet crashing from overload, rushing home to watch the coverage on BBC News 24. It was horrifying and almost unbelievable. I remember sitting there open-mouthed, just shaking my head as they kept on showing it over and over. I felt incredible anger as I watched the celebrations of some people as the news came through, and I felt an intense unity with the people of New York.
Now when I see those images, I feel the same feelings, but anger comes much quicker than it did back then. Maybe I don't have a right to be as angry or emotional about it. I am after all, not a US or New York citizen. I'm British, and if you are reading this then hark back to the London bombings and how you felt that day. It's nothing compared to what happened in NYC, but it is equally as galling and stirs the same anger. In the words of many newspapers on the 12th September 2001, "we are all Americans now".
I am not alone in these feelings, I'm sure. People the world over still feel anger, grief, sadness and a myriad of other emotions when they see those iamges. It's still as hard to take it all in today, as it was five years ago.
I feel a stronger unity with America and indeed the whole of the Free World since 9/11. The attacks of that day brought us all together whether we like it or not, and in the face of constant terrorist threats - and they are constant - we should remember all those who defend our nations, on the front, and behind the scenes, as well as those who died on that day in September 2001.
Here's a poem, written by Mary E. Frye. It might put some of it into perspective.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Translate and apply this as you wish. To me it speaks of rememberance and defiance in the face of terrorism. One thing we do have in common with our American cousins, is that we will never be beaten, never lay down to terrorists, and never wave goodbye to our freedom.
I've tried to say something about unity and express some of my feelings about 9/11 in this post, but I feel I have fallen short. Such is the way when you try to some up something of such magnitude into a few paragraphs; it's simply impossible.
One day I shall visit New York, and when I do, out of duty, I shall visit Ground Zero. Perhaps my feelings are best aired in silence.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Teletext had updated throughout the night and was showing Gail's flight being due in at 0700, meaning she had endured a 90 minute delay. Taking the car picktime -up and drive through from Glasgow into account, I figured it would be around 9am before she pitched up outside. So while Laura watched cartoons and ate breakfast, I snoozed on the couch, while we waited for Gail to come home.
At 9:06 I heard a car pull up outside and we jumped up and stood to attention in the living room. We heard the key push into the door, then the living room door creaked open and a tanned face popped through the gap. Gail was home and we rushed to greet her. Thank God. It's been a long, long week without her.
I made cups of tea and bacon butties for everyone while Gail told us about her holiday. There was much excitement when she went to the loo for the first time, and as she walked in me and Laura waited to hear her response concerning the newly painted shower room. "It's lovely," she said, and followed it up with a million questions about how I'd actually done it.
With order now fully restored to the galaxy, Laura went out to play and Gail flaked out on the couch to catch up on a week's worth of Eastenders and Coronation Street. With Laura now in someone else's hands, I decided to rest my weary eyes for five minutes and lay down on the bed. I honestly only intended it to be for five minutes, but I ended up sleeping most of the afternoon. I woke at 5pm, and after a strong coffee, I felt much, much better. It had been an exhausting week and my body has been crying out for sleep for days.
Recently I have been working on a set of exercises put together by Devon Ellington on The Scruffy Dog Review Blog. These concerned writing prompts using objects, names etc. One, which was a phrase prompt, has given me trouble forming a solid idea, so I went back to the original set of exercises from April, which revolved around writing stories inspired by newspaper articles.
So this evening I dug out some old newspapers and got hunting. Pretty soon I had enough for two dozen stories. I randomly picked six and began with the exercises set by Devon. I'll run both sets of exercises in tandom.
The articles I picked were:
* Bartender receiving a £10k tip for a £26 meal
* 15 year-old boy caught with a home-made bomb in school
* 3 year-old boy found critically ill at a house who then died in hospital. Parents being questioned.
* Road sweepers in Tranent not picking up litter in revolt against litter louts.
* Pope's holy-roller vehicle auctioned for £37k.
* Support mounts for independent film agency in Scotland.
We had to randomly select 3 clippings, then from these, randomly select one to write a piece of flash fiction (upto 500 words) about. The story I selected was the one about the 3-year old boy found critically ill in his home, who subsequently died, and his parents were being questioned by police. The first draft came in at 524 words but needs a lot of tightening, which will bring it down. It's called House Call.
Next thing we had to do was select one of the remaining two clippings and write a 1200 word story about it. I selected the story about the 15-year old school kid with the home-made bomb found in his school bag. I made a start on this one before finally hitting the sack as tiredness, once again, crept up on me like a large sleepy snail.
I feel much better now Gail is back. Balanced. Normal. Happy. When we left the chuirch after our wedding ceremnoy a little over 3 years ago, we did so to the sound of one of Madness' greatest hits, It Must Be Love. The first line of the lyrics to that song explicity reveal my feelings about this past week. They go something like this:
I never thought I'd miss you half as much as I do
And I never thought I'd feel this way, the way I feel about you
As soon as I wake up, every night, every day
I know that it's you I need to take the blues away
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more, nothing less, love is the best
How can it be that we can say so much without words
Bless you and bless me, bless the bees and the birds
I've got to be near you, every night, every day
I couldn't be happy any other way
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Nothing more nothing less love is the best
As soon as I wake up, every night, every day
I know that it's you I need to take the blues away
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
It must be love, love, love
Lyrics Copyright (c) Labi Siffre.
No complaints about the sickly post, please!
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Waiting for Gail
I was shattered when I got up to take Laura to her dance lessons, but struck it lucky when a neighbour offered to take her in the car, since she was already going that way. This meant I could relax into the day then make a start tidying the house. So there was no going up town for coffee and my usual Saturday morning routine, but I didn't really miss it for being too tired.
The rest of the day was all about making the house nice for Gail, keeping Laura occupied and trying not to talk to myself too much, as I seem to have been doing more and more over the last couple of days. It's fine having Laura for company, but with the only adult conversation coming from work, it's been a poor week for chat.
I made pasta with a tomato and herb sauce and prepared some fresh baguettes in the oven for dinner. Very nice, healthy and respectable. I avoided a glass of red wine for fear it might put me to sleep too quickly.
Afterwards, I finished off one last coat of gloss on the woodwork in the downstairs shower room and settled down with the laptop and a good film. I watched Ratcatcher, a film written and directed by Lynne Ramsay. It was acclaimed as the best debut by a British film director in the past fifteen years when it was released in 1999, as well as scooping numerous directorial and artistic awards.
And rightly so. I thought it was visually stunning and very engrossing, with an edge of realism you never get in Hollywood films.It is set in Glasgow in the 1970's during the bin strikes and every scene is loaded with raw human emotion. I wouldn't want to give the plot away, but I would recommend it. I became involved in it almost immediately and didn't get a lot of writing done, but I rarely get to watch a good film and it did give me some ideas for my fiction.
When I fell asleep, I did so with Teletext on at the flight arrivals page for Glasgow airport. Gail would be home in the morning, and her flight number was being refreshed every five minutes to make sure her 0530 landing would still apply. If all goes well, I should see her around 7.30 tomorrow morning.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Once it hits 10pm, no matter how long the day has been, the time shoots by and it's after midnight before I know it. I might get caught up in my writing somehow, or TV, or make a cuppa or something when I should really be sleeping. But I don't, and I feel it the next day.
Like today. I'm sore and feel like I could sleep for a week. I'm splattered with white and aqua blue/green paint on my arms and I wish I could sit down and write for the day instead of having to go to the office.
The journey to work was a nightmare. On the bus I had to sit at the back. A group of junkies; two girls and a guy got on at the bottom of Leith Walk. I sat and listened to their conversation, and once I figured out what the guy was saying, in that nasal slurring voice you always seem to get off these people in Edinburgh, he started telling the girls how hard his week has been because he only managed to get enough money together for two bags of heroin for him and his bird. Gee - tough life, mate.
Then - and get this - he told them his wee girl just started primary school this week and his wee boy nursery! WHAT THE FUCK!?!?!? I don't need to really say it, but people like that don't deserve kids. There is surely a case for preventing drug addicts who aren't willing to help themselves from having children. Castration, perhaps? Or is that a step too far?
What kind of environment are those kids being brought up in? A house full of smack with two junkie parents who couldn't care what they do and when? It's disgusting. It made me want to turn round and belt the guy in the mouth with my size 10's, but he probably wouldn't have felt it due to the junk in his blood numbing all his nerves. Prick.
This, dear readers, is the side of Edinburgh (and Scotland) that Jack McConnell doesn't want you to see. Come to the Capital in August and marvel at the beauty, the art and the lovely scenery by all means. But while you're here, spare a thought for the children living a short bus ride away in slum council flats, who know more about how to score a hit than they do about reading and writing.
These wee people don't get a chance at life, so think about them next time you're in an expensive coffee shop eating a bacon roll and a cappuccino for the same amount of money as they get to buy a bag of chips for the dinner every night of the week. That's the real Edinburgh. It's not all a party in this city. But it's ok, because Jack Flash says so.
After I got Laura from the After School Club (and heard about the boy who had swallowed a 50 pence piece during the afternoon), we headed home. Laura wanted to make a welcome home card for Gail so I sat down and fell asleep on the couch almost immediately. It had all caught up with me. I felt like I was out for hours, but in reality it was only about 20 minutes, when Laura came down and woke me to show me her art.
After dinner, I started to work on the short stories my pal sent me to crit. I stopped to watch Rebus, with Ken Stott playing the main part based on Rankin's The Black Book. Stott is simply superb in the role; funny, sharp and a great portrayal of how I imagine the character to be. This adaption came off much better than the earlier ones, mainly because of him.
My ideas for the Phrase Exercise are sticking and not flowing at all. Every time I get an idea I start writing but it falls flat and I can't continue. Not sure why. Maybe I'm trying to do too much with it or be overly smart, but even keeping it simple doesn't seem to do it any justice. I might skip it to go onto the next exercise then return when a more solid idea hits me. Which it will.
One more day until Gail comes home. I can't wait to see her.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Coats of Paint
I think I must have got a better sleep last night than I thought I might. I woke refreshed (after coffee) and in a great mood. I remember waking up in a daze at about half past three in the morning, wandering through the house to the toilet and wondering why - I didn't need. So I wandered back again, stopping to wrap up the chord of the phone in the hall. Erm - why? Get a grip, Chas!
Dropped Laura off at school and made my way to work to find meetings arranged for first thing that weren't in existence when I left last night. All of them are to do with the recent problems, of course. I wish this particular implementation would end, but the way it's looking this will be a thorn in my side until October 7th.
I bought some lettuce and carrots on the way home for the animals and gave them a wee feed when I got in. I collected Laura and started work on the downstairs shower-room pretty much straight away. The roof took a second coat, as did the walls and all the woodwork, but because of all the fiddly bits it took an age. I finally finished it all at about 10.30pm.
I don't think the walls and roof will need a third coat, but the wood around the doors will probably need another to finish it off. And that'll be it! Hopefully Gail will like it.
I received some crits back from my pal, about the stories I wrote recently based on the TSDR exercises. They came in really handy, pointing out details I never noticed. I worked on those and began reading the one's I've been sent in return.
And that's about it for today. Work has been so busy and then coming home to work straight from the word go has left little time these past couple of evenings to get really stuck in properly. It was worth it though to see the end result, but now it's all but complete, I aim to pack in as much writing and reading as I can before Gail gets back on Sunday morning.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Painting and Editing
I like autumn, so I welcome its impending arrival with delight and gladness. I like the feel of it, the colours, the idea that summer is over and I can be comfortable outside without fear of it being too cold. I like the images it produces in my mind and I like how I seem to become more productive this time of year as we begin the journey towards winter and the Christmas season.
Oh God. Christmas. That'll be the last time I mention it for a while - promise.
The day job eased up slightly today. Partly because I chose to ignore the recent problems and partly because I was working on other things. When I got home I gave the walls, roof, and wooden areas their first coats of paint in the downstairs bathroom.
It took me much longer this time because of all the fiddly bits. All the facilities and decor are brand new so I have to ensure no paint is splashed, and all the edges are accurately painted. I had just done the roof (white), and moved onto the walls (aqua green/blue), when on the first thrust of my brush I forgot what I was painting. Aqua green/blue right onto the roof. Bugger! It was soon cleared up but the whole operation took me a good couple of hours to finish.
By that time Laura was hungry so we ordered pizza and Irn-Bru. Lovely jubbly. Gail phoned for a quick couple of minutes but we didn't tell her about the painting. It's to be a surprise, so if anyone is reading this in Kos, you better keep yer gobs shut!
As I worked, Laura sat in the conservatory leading off the bathroom. She's doing a scrapbook - of me. She has copied my literary bio out of Fringe Fantastic and is using all the leaflets and posters to put together a scrapbook. She has a different page about all my books and e-books. I think she's proud of her old dad.
Once she was in her bed, I finished a re-draft of Amanda and Joe and sent it, along with Regrets to my writing pal who is also doing the exercises. We agreed to swap stories to see what each other came up with.
I thought I was going to get to bed a bit earlier but it didn't work out that way. After I had tidied up and finished my editing it was almost midnight again. Tiredness is beginning to affect my thinking, so I need to get at least one decent night's sleep soon.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Dinner at the MIL's
The working day got off to a controversial start. A meeting had been called to discuss the recent failures and the blame was pushed forward to me. I resisted. Things got heated - very heated - and I told certain people some home truths. I have the support of my direct manager, but I was still raging at being treated in such a manner. In the past few days I've been at the receiving end of ignorance, manipulation, and lies, and it's just not in my nature to take it lying down. I felt better after the altercation, though nothing much has really changed with regards to the actual work and problems.
I don't remember being this busy in here for a long time. At least it's making the days fly in until Gail gets home. Speaking of which, she called the office at around half past two. She sounded good, telling me how the weather is in Kos and what they'd been up to. It was all crammed into two small minutes, but she said she would call the house tomorrow evening so she could talk Laura as well. It was so good to hear her voice.
I forgot to mention the annual fireworks display at Edinburgh Castle on Sunday night to mark the official end of the Edinburgh International Festival. Even from my house you could hear the explosions like they were right overhead. There's some images here if you're interested.
I took a rest from the writing this evening for two reasons. They're good ones, as they would have to be for me to justify it to myself.
First, I was invited to my mother-in-laws for dinner. I think she is worried that I don't know how to look after myself or that I'm a bit lonely stuck in the house by myself. She's right about the second bit, but that doesn't worry me. It was great to turn up at her house to a home-cooked meal. She made me lamb chops with a huge Yorkshire pudding (6 inches square!), roast potatoes, veggies and gravy. I was totally stuffed! And then came pudding: treacle lattice cake with custard followed by coffee. I had to sit on the couch for a wee while before I could even life my stretched gut to walk home!
When I got back I made a decision that will hopefully earn me some Brownie points for when Gail came home - my second reason for not writing tonight. The downstairs bathroom, which is more or less complete after its renovation, still needs a lick of paint. So I threw on my painting breeks and got to work with the undercoat. It took me an hour to finish it off - it's only a shower room - but by that time it was after 10 o'clock and I still had to clean out Milly's hutch.
By the time I'd finished that I really had nothing in me to start writing and all I wanted to do was chill out. So I did - in front of the telly.
I saw this over at Java Diva. It's a wee quiz about books so I thought I'd have a go.
1) A book that changed my life
Hand to Mouth by Paul Auster - it showed me the light and moved me from wannabe writer to actually doing something about it.
2) A book I've read more than once
The Outsider by Albert Camus - read twice this year alone. It's an addictive book because it's short but compelling on so many levels. I've yet to fully appreciate it, I think.
3) A book I'd take to a desert island
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
4) A book that made me laugh
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller - took me a while to get into, but the humour and style is very funny both standalone and in the fuller context.
5) A book that made me cry
Yet to happen.
6) A book I wish had written
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh - it's the book all Scottish writers wish they'd written - look what it did for Welsh!
7) A book that should never have been written
Porno by Irvine Welsh - just shouldn't have happened. Welsh is in a trap now and resorted to this work by pressure. It's not badly written or anything, he should just have left the characters where they were. They've lost something now.
8) A book I'm currently reading
Lifeless by Mark Billingham - still getting into it, but he's a witty and entertaining man so I'm expecting the same from this crime novel.
9) A book I'm planning to read
Don Quixote by Cervantes - an inspiration for Auster and so many other writers, I want to read this classic soon, mostly to see what the fuss about, but also to see if I can reach the end of what is a mammoth read.
Monday, September 04, 2006
The whole thing was a nightmare and I was delighted to finally leave. That's the good thing about having to collect your kid after school; nobody can argue with you.
I was knackered and pissed off by the end of the working day. To make matters worse Laura has developed a bad cough and she eventually had to be put to bed early with some medicine and warm covers. I'd been so looking forward to seeing her as well, but I found myself on my own again for the evening.
I ate my pasta bake-for-one with some bread and milk, thought about what Gail might be up to at that moment, then opened up the laptop. I've moved all my vital writing equipment into the lounge for the week (dictionaries, laptop, pens, pads etc.) while Gail is away. It makes me feel closer to civilisation and it means I can have the TV on for some company. I even brought the rabbits in so I could talk to someone. Better than talking to yourself - right?
I completed Amanda and Joe, but I really don't like it that much. The idea is good, I just seem to be unable to click with it in any real way; unlike when writing Regrets, now that was a hell of a feeling. The characters are poor and the connection just not believeable. Maybe I'm just not in the right frame of mind for it, but I'll keep at it. There's still other exercises to work on anyway.
I worked on the poems for Poolside Poetry. I found some exciting ways to approach the re-writes of the more problematic ones, but a few are still struggling. I don't think they will make it into the book to be honest, they are just too poor and unsalvageable.
Sunday, September 03, 2006
Quiet and Lonely
There was no way I could oblige, so I got her Coco-Pops sorted and went back to bed leaving her to watch Spongebob Squarepants on her own for a coulpe of hours. She was quite happy and came up to lie with me for a bit later on.
Her Gran picked up her up at lunchtime, which gave me the entire day to myself. This does not sound quite as good as you might expect, for being in the house alone all day, meant the absence of Gail was accentuated more - and I began to miss her.
To take my mind off of my loneliness, I went round to the local supermarket and bought some milk, Irn-Bru and a newspaper. For the first time in about seven years, I also bought myself some ready meals-for-one to cover myself over the next two days; Beef cannelloni and pasta bake. Ah the memories!
Pretty soon the novelty of having an empty house to myself, had totally worn off. Yes, it was quiet and yes, it gave me time to sit and write, but something was missing. I suddenly realised that all the joking around me and Gail do, saying things like "being single was much more peaceful," and "thank God our life insurance is up to date," is pretty much a load of bolshi nonsense.
The truth is, I couldn't live without her and here was the proof. She's only been gone one day and as much as I like to think I could, should the worst ever happen, I have no idea how I much her absence would impact my life. And this all hit me today, with no way of contacting her and nothing to do except write, I saw a glimpse of what my life would be like had I never met her. No woman, no kids and not a lot else. Just me and the animals.
I fought through the boredom by eating and writing. I eat more than I should have; mostly nibbles of bread, soup, the cannelloni-for-one for dinner, biscuits and a 2 litre bottle of Irn-Bru. Procrastination was a serious possibility but I beat it by saying to myself, "good writers just get on with it." Whether that's true I'm not 100% sure, but it was enough to get me moving.
I worked on Amanda and Joe mostly, with some diversions made to the blog and to the website. I've tidied it up a lot and made it a 3rd person site. It's not live yet, but will be tomorrow. By late on, although I had made progress with the story, I knew I was struggling to concentrate from the lack of sleep of last night. I went to bed but was too tired to sleep, so I ended up watching Rob Roy until after midnight.
The bed just isn't the same without Gail in it. It's going to be a long week.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
The usual Saturday morning activities were observed: coffee - book shop - aquarium shop. I had a slight hangover from the night before, so was pleased when my cappuccino was piping hot and pastry fresh. It took a while for my head to clear but the rain soon helped to clear away the cobwebs.
In Waterstone's I was on a mission to spend some of the book tokens my mother gave me for my birthday last year. I wanted to buy books of some of the authors I went to see at the Book Festival last month, and so with that in mind I came away with Flesh and Blood by John Harvey and Lifeless by Mark Billingham. I also bought another Paul Auster novel, The Brooklyn Follies, and a rhyming dictionary for my own reference.
At the aquarium shop I bought some new fish: two beautiful deep red Swordtails and half a dozen Zebra Danio's with silver and blue stripes along its body and the tendency to swim in a unified shoal. They should help to make the tank look a bit more active, something it's been lacking of late.
After a Gregg's lunch - ok, not the healthiest but great post-bevy stodge - we waved Gail and her pal goodbye as they left for the airport. A week in sunny Kos awaits them, and a week of work, child-minding and missing my woman awaits me.
I tidied the house (so I won't have to do it again before Gail gets back), then logged onto my work laptop to take care of an implementation from home. This is the one that's caused so much grief at work this week, as well as the past four months, and it didn't disappoint. My work went as expected, but when the phone rang at midnight, all that changed.
Before that, however, some sad news came through from my online writer's group. At first it was just a despicable rumour, the latest in a long line of terrible things said about the group's founder. Within a couple of hours the rumour was turned on it's head and became a reality. Roy had died earlier this week.
It was a shock, to say the least. I only ever knew Roy through the World Wide Web, but when he set up our group, he did so with a vision that it be one of friendship and for a love of writing. It was an oasis of respect among writers and friends from all nationalities, creed, beliefs and religions. It is as a result of his vision, that I came to know him and make many other friends.
Over the last three years we had spoken over e-mail extensively about life and about writing. He wasn't a conventional writer, some of his writing was quite close to the bone, but he wasn't afraid to write about anything, to raise issues head on, and to approach them empathetically. We had swapped stories and critiqued each other's work many times, and most recently, he had been offering help and advice for the anthology idea I came up with for the group. Not once, did he suggest he was ill.
I'll miss his emails and I'll miss his frankness. I want to publicly send my thoughts and wishes to his family and to everyone who was close to. Rest in peace old friend, for you shall be greatly missed.
As a result of my midnight phone call, any chance of sleep became a distant dream (eh?). Inept decision making, rude project managers, and a lack of technical understanding contributed to me getting no sleep until 7am. I wasn't the only one working from home and being kept up all night, and it was all totally avoidable. They want me in for 8am on Monday morning so they can talk about it. They can go and f**k themselves.
Friday, September 01, 2006
September's GDR and Podcasting
I've been in a Pink Floyd mood all week. It comes and goes in waves - as do all my tastes - and this week has seen me work my way through a lot of my favourite albums, from The Wall, to Atom Heart Mother, to Delicate Sound of Thunder and of course, Dark Side of the Moon - surely a contender as one of the greatest works of musical art ever to have been created.
With Gail off today to get packed for her week in the sun, it was left to me to get Laura ready for school. I don't see what all the fuss is about. If I can do it without loads of shouting and panicking, why can't everyone else? We'll see what the rest of the week brings.
And so it was off to work. There's a lot of shit happening in here just now, a lot of needless backstabbing and people making problems that needn't exist. And who's left picking up the pieces? Me and my colleague, that's who. We told them months ago there would be big problems if they didn't take precautions, and like randy little 15-year old boys who'll stick their wick into the first willing girl at a party, they've got themselves into trouble, and are now wishing they'd listened to our advice at the start.
PODCASTS: Downloadable/streamable content for playback on PC's, mobile devices and iPods. Can be in any form of multimedia i.e. mp3, mpeg etc.
What do podcasts have to do with me?
Very soon, I'll be making podcasts of my poetry and short stories available from my website. I have the software and hardware available (t all came with the PC), and so why not use this new form of media to promote my work? I've been browsing a few performance poet's websites and a fair few of them have this facility available and it makes for interesting listening. Stay tuned for more on this n the coming weeks.
After work I met Tom for a quick Guinness. Dave joined us later on, and before long it had turned into several. When I got home I was feeling rather, shall we say, merry, and there waiting for me was my prize from The Scotsman; the anthology for the 2006 Scotsman & Orange Short Story Award entitled, Work.
I flicked through it quickly before heading to bed. It looks like a great book with stories from some well-know writers and the shortlisted entries from this year's competition. It looks like it will be as educational as it will be entertaining.
September's GDR List
* Type up and finish edits for Wide Awake
* Follow up on Stella submissions
* New round of Stella submissions to publishers, e-book sites etc.
* Finish editing Regrets and send out to targeted publishers
* Finish writing and editing Amanda and Joe and 'maybe' send out to targeted publishers
* Complete editing A Friend To Die For to point where left off [read/edited to end of ch.17 (30740/40000 words)]
* Work on synopsis for NaNoWriMo novel, Slick
* Keep on top of submissions list
* Work on new chapbook, Poolside Poetry
* Write more poetry
* Check listings for performance poetry nights
* Work on Scotland's Treasure for November column - Blockheads gig? Van Gogh exhibition?
* Set out a plan for actively seeking work in specific markets
Marketing and Promotion
* Create new standard Fringe Fantastic leaflet and poster
* Reanalyse promotion of FF based on new information gained at Book Festival
* Complete cross-promotion with Fife B&B for Fringe Fantastic - books waiting to be sent out
* Keep website up to date
* Follow up on PR received - pending. Will combine with new PR from the Fringe
Reading and Research
* Read more poetry
* Read more short fiction (web/mags)
* Stay on top of editorial work for TSDR
* Work on ARS Anthology - May need to postpone work on this due to other committments