Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Dawn (Short Fiction)

Just a bloke running to the station. Not for any reason other than running is faster than walking and I never was one for bikes. Autumn at seven in the night. Mayfair looks just as beautiful as it does in the Summer. Bright lights reflecting off sleek surfaces. Lots of sleek surfaces in Park Lane, a sea of slowly moving cars and big red buses. Sirens fill the air and flashing blue lights. A procession of police cars and ambulances and your mind reaches out. Some poor bastard.

I run through black gates into Hyde Park, turn right and away from the gentle tides of the Serpentine. I'm close to five on the park's clockface, running anti-clockwise. You only see beautiful people running around Hyde Park, I have come to conclude. It's like a montage of every sportswear and cosmetic advertisement that ever contained shorts and trainers. And white iPod cables.

Bikes sweep passed, flashing lights hanging from every place. I pass joggers with L'Oreal hair swishing from side to side. Tanned muscles running in the opposite direction. Brave New World I always think. The blue flashing lights of the Police cars reach through gaps in the trees. I can hear more coming around behind. Something major. That's when it happened.

I'd like to say it went really slow but the truth is I never knew it was happening. Not at first. A flash of light from the same place as the sirens. Not just any flash of light, like Marble Arch is filled with spotlights and they all turned on at the same time. Dazzling, that much light makes you blink. Sending long shadows through the park. I recall orange like the dawn, seeing trees for a millisecond bending towards me. Like you see in pictures of hurricanes. A high pitched sound like demonic banshees charging towards me. Then it hit me. Nothing more than very hot air and a shit load of debris. It picked me up and didn't let go.

It was like I was back wearing a parachute but in that hurricane. Was aware of other bodies rolling with me, dolls with no control, flapping arms and legs at all angles. Just this invisible enemy that threw us all about with no thought for bones. I think back and that must have been me as well, rolling over and over. Leaves everywhere and that orange colour in the sky, the banshees really giving it some.

My head hit hard and I struggled to bring thoughts together. I kept rolling. Hitting something again, this time my back. Not sure if I was breathing anymore. But I kept rolling. Then an impact so hard all my bones felt dislocated at the same time. And so wet I must have been through water. But that was just blood from all the abrasions.

I opened my eyes and was grateful not to be moving. The wind kept coming but even that had lost its vengeance. The world a blurred mess and all wrong. Slowly it stopped being blurred and I was mostly upside down. Like a crucified Jesus, toppled on a mostly rolled over fence.

The body has two hundred and six bones and I had eight major breaks and forty two fractures. Which are smaller breaks. Somehow I turned myself around on that fence. Sat for a while looking back over Hyde Park. Looked like the hand of god got tired with the game and swiped the pieces from the board. Which I think is what happened, if you look at it in a certain way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SRL – Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

The words Mathilda Savitch caught my attention. A first name that contrasted the surname, in time and culture. The front cover showed a picture of a young girl looking over her shoulder and the authors name was distinctly European. And they are a lot more liberated about topics such as coming of age. It turns out Victor Lodato is American, at least he lives there. But this book is still brilliant.

Mathilda Savitch is struggling to deal with the death of her sister, almost exactly one year ago. But Mathilda has plans. Her ceaseless, enquiring mind soaks up information from the world around her. Experimenting through peoples reactions to what she does. Always working towards breaking into her sisters email in the hope she will find who pushed her from the platform.

Mathilda Savitch is a coming of age story that might be compared to books like Lovely Bones. With the story here told from the surviving daughters perspective. But it is not. It's a lot sharper, a lot cleverer. It's not just a story, but the mechanism of a child's mind and how it is shaped by loss and by the world she lives in.

It is tempting having just closed one of the best books of this lifetime, to endlessly wax lyrical. Too tempting in fact, but I will limit myself to just this paragraph. Mathilda Savitch is a book that mesmerises, will make a fictional character feel so real you can almost hear her breathe. A book of this time that is timeless for that very reason. Its peers are classics written by the likes of Nabokov, Bronte, Austen, Fitzegerald et al. It is utterly charming and heartbreaking. Palpably so. It is utterly brilliant and damning.

You should probably read it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

SRL – Underwater by Elizabeth Diamond

I came to this book purely because I liked the cover. Although a woman's attempt to understand dreams that hint at a forgotten past, seemed as interesting a subject as any.

Jane is a woman that lives alone. Her male companions are much older and retained for friendship only. Her husband and son estranged. Recovering from treatment for a lump in her breast she dreams of her brother. Being dragged underwater by him. Dreams that bring her to realise there is a lot about her childhood she cannot recall.

This book runs to 360 pages, with each page written in a great,  very readable style.  By page 50 I was utterly hooked into this woman's world. Soon adapting to the frequent flashbacks as they rarely failed to move the story on. Bringing us closer to a pivotal point halfway through the story.  From which a quite thrilling finale promised to unfold.

But it didn't. Instead of intrigue as Jane chased down her memories we just got more and more exposition. Flashbacks that expanded on what we knew and rarely taking us forward. It was so disappointing because I cannot emphasis enough just how the first 180 pages captured my imagination. The last half here was just as well written but the story a complete contrast. Such a contrast when you consider the first half put me in mind of acclaimed authors like Cormac McCarthy.

Jane herself is an especially strong character. I totally got her, she literally lived and breathed with each turned page. I would certainly seek out  other books by Elizabeth Diamond based on that alone.

Sadly for this the last half really limited my overall enjoyment of a book that for a while glowed as one of the best so far this year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SRL – Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler

Out of curiosity to see what I would think, a reviewer of a previous SRL post suggested I read this, which I had never heard of...

Very occasionally we read a book that seems so in tune with our disparate thoughts it manages to draw them together and a truth dawns as if quietly whispered. These kind of books are rare. In this lifetime it has been Sartre's Nausea for its realisation of the real world, Nabokov's Lolita for a joyous depiction of the despicable. And now Koestler's Darkness at Noon for its gloriously twisted nation state and the noble Comrade Rubashov, forever pacing his cell and ever towards a realisation of humanity.

As Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov paces his prison cell he reminisces. Of his part in sweeping his revolutionary party to power in a nameless country. Of his life as a prominent force within that totalitarian government, working tirelessly and at times ruthlessly in spreading their ideals to other countries. And how over time he became disillusioned with the ideals now twisted out of shape by the evolving needs of the party and its leader: No.1. Which ultimately leads Rubashov to be arrested by the state he helped put into power and tried for revolutionary crimes.

Through the interrogators attempts to make Rubashov confess a crime he is not aware of committing and the relationships he builds with fellow inmates, he recalls the lives he touched and faces the reality of the decisions he has made. How they impacted people and of the countless that died as a result. Coming to a realisation about the meaning of humanity and the value of life.

Although Koestler does not explicitly state, this book is an analysis of the Soviet Union under Stalin in the twenty years following the Revolution in 1917. The absolute brilliance though is its context to any point in time. The problems faced by Rubashov's totalitarian party and its No.1 are the mechanisms of social control and commerce, problems faced by any government. How they dealt with them and the decisions they made may seem absurd, but I lost count the number times this story echoed with news of the day.

To consider this book as political or just about Communism then, is to miss it's point. It is about man's attempts to manage mankind. About pure ideals that turn to poison and shape generations of minds. A book that might even be lost on the young because you almost need to have seen the world and mankind for its ills before someone like Koestler can pull each together to form a singular realisation.

For all its brilliance though it is a hard book to get to grips with initially. It almost expects you to come knowing what it is about, I had no idea. The writing style is also very much of the time, so there are plenty of paragraphs that cover more than a page and long sentences. Which can make for hard reading for the modern reading mind.

Darkness At Noon is a timeless book that is very well worth your time, a book that will allow you to see the world and the mechanism of mankind with new eyes and an additional level with which to filter all that happens around you. Written in German during the 1930's it is widely credited with slowing Communism's spread after WWII and heavily influencing writers such as George Orwell. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Operation Brüno - Introduction

Twenty kilos is not a heavy weight in the grand scheme of things. In olden day parlance it is just over three stone. If I go to the gym I can bicep curl twenty kilos without too much panting. I can leg press three times that much, same for leg curls. It's five times for squats.

But twenty kilos of fat is a different proposition entirely. It's not so much what it weighs, it's about the inconvenient places on the human body it chooses to lurk. Therein lay the problem. Time would tell you my weight can fluctuate, usually in direct relation to boredom and lifestyle. Given my current lifestyle which includes walking and cycling as a necessity for my daily commute, and at work traipsing up and down lots of stairs. My bodyweight loiters between 93 and 96 kilos (fifteen stone). As I am 178 centimetres tall (five ten) this means, despite a relatively broad frame, I can in the wrong light sometimes resemble Paddington Bear.

It has not always been like this. Something weird happened between the age of thirty eight and forty, something changed. I think mostly it was my attitude. Now I am forty two and for my last birthday someone kindly brought me a body mass indicator. I hold it in my hand now, it has just estimated my body fat ratio to be twenty eight percent. Which given all the above means I am currently carrying almost thirty kilos of fat (almost five stone).

Fat is a necessity for most species on this earth, it is padding for internal organs and a store for energy when food is not plentiful. But I probably don't need quite this much, neither do I have any desire to spend the next twenty years as some red faced and portly old duffer. So I have decided it's time for action. And thus is born an idea, a plan to shed twenty kilos and reach a weight of 75 kilos (just under twelve stone). Which this body has seen only once since the age of fourteen. I also want to do it before Christmas, just because giving it a timeline makes it more interesting.

Knowing the worst of weighing 95 kilos is an uncanny resemblance to Paddington Bear and not wanting to put you or me through the trauma of before and after photo's. I have decided to title this quest: Operation Brüno. This way you can immediately conjure some idea of the intended body image destination. I won't be wearing the make-up nor platform shoes of course. I am allergic to cosmetics and can get giddy at height.

At this point a chorus of voices would quite rightly proclaim this is just a mid-life crises, be happy in your own skin, you are what you are. And more importantly – How the hell are you going to do this? Well, that last one is actually simple, quite literally, because losing weight is simple. It's just nobody ever said it was easy.

I could of course lose weight by attending meetings for the binge eaters equivalent of alcoholics anonymous, and go to Weight Watchers. But this mind exists for the detail. I don't want points, I want calories, protein and carb ratios, fat and fibre content, GI ratings. I want to know how I'm going to burn my twenty kilos. Not just have twenty daily weight watchers points I could use to chow down six Mars bars.

Of course typing Diet and Nutrition into Amazon will get you over eight thousand results, mostly get thin quick fixes that rarely work and are very light on detail. As with the Weight Watchers points system, I didn't want quick fixes or to blindly accept a plan. I wanted to know about the human body's need for energy, how it uses it, obtains it, stores it and how to most efficiently burn it.

Which is why I have previously invested a great deal of time researching the human body. Mostly because I have been struck by the number of fad/beach/get a six pack/look good in a bikini/speedo diets widely advertised. And made positively dizzy by the rumour and myths friends and colleagues churn out. Why shouldn't I eat pasta? What is so evil about banana's? What is it about bread that makes you fat? Is Guinness really a good meal supplement?

That research began in 2003 and over the subsequent six years and on/off experimentation I have conjured a essay titled: Losing Weight is Simple, but nobody ever said it was easy.

This essay will be the basis on which Operation Brüno is built. Updates on the mission will appear here over the following twenty weeks alongside the essay, in easily digested chunks. Hopefully along the way body fat will be shed with a good many misconceptions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

When I Grow Up…

Making a wild guess based on thirty seconds of thought as I sit here fingers poised over keyboard, I would say that for every year past twenty years of life, your recollections of childhood become narrowed to the photographs you have of that time and the infamous stories you are repeatedly told by family. To the point you eventually stop thinking about what your childhood was and just puzzle over the validity of those memories. Well that's me anyway. Very occasionally you read or hear something that jumps you right back into your childhood memories, the real ones.

Which is how my childhood memories of career aspirations came to be knocked loose a few days ago. Dusting them off, I took the time to revisit them for the first time in a very long time. Of course they were not career aspirations at the age of eight, they were what you wanted to be when you grew up.

Six Million Dollar Man

Steve Austin aka The Six Million Dollar Man, a man rebuilt with modern technology (circa 1975). Half human and half bionic, he could see like you wouldn't believe, ran really really fast and had a right arm that could punch holes in walls. I so desperately wanted to be like him, especially as I was quite ill as a child. So much so I spent quite some time considering accidents I could have that would necessitate someone rebuilding me. I knew having an accident like Steve Austin was off the cards at least for a few years because he was an astronaut.


Desperately wanted to be one of these for all the reasons stated above.

Deep Sea Diver

I used to be fascinated by books and pictures that showed a single scuba diver deep, deep in the ocean, surrounded on all sides by endless clear water. It is a concept that still echoes today with a fascination for models (plastic figurines) that depict characters suspended in the air. I have no idea why.

A member of the Famous Five

At the age of five I learned to read but very quickly forgot again because nobody gave me anything interesting to read. At the age of nine and approaching the summer holidays I still could not read. Placed in remedial my teacher recommended my parents take me to the library and hire a famous five book. I do not remember which of the twenty one books it was but it did spend all summer beside my bed unread. Out of abject boredom in bed one night I picked it up. I knew words because I spoke English but I did not recognise them on the page. I did know the alphabet though so I worked phonetically. It was brilliant. Not only was I learning to read again but this amazing story was unfolding in my mind. Addicted by this wonderful world that I held in my hands, all twenty one books were finished by October, at which point I started on Jaws (which had just come out at the cinema and I was not allowed to see), which I might have convinced the woman in the library was for my dad. I have seldom been without a book since that time.

Looking back at the characters, it is interesting that even then I was in awe of Julian, a little besotted with Anne and wanted to be just like Dick. I might even have become him, I wonder how much of these things do shape our unconscious intention as children?

Caine aka Kung Fu

I really wanted to be like David Carradine when I grew up. His Caine character in the Kung Fu series fed this child mind week over week, I loved it. I remember sitting cross legged on the floor on Saturday nights as the theme tune started up and Carradine climbed some random sand dune with that almost dance like effortlessness he possessed through all his life. Me and my friends used to replicate the scene at the beginning where he dodges spears by throwing practically anything we could lay our hands on at each other, which seldom ended well. When I got older I studied Aikido and Tae Kwon Do and for while I did achieve a kind of grace. But then I discovered girls and alcohol and wanted entirely different things.


I appreciate that Superman is not indigenous to earth which is why he has super powers and therefore was never going to be him, but it was not really his super powers I was interested in. Lets face it, what's the point of being able to deflect bullets with your chest, melt ice with your eyes (my wife can turn stuff to ice with her eyes and she's from earth, I think) and fly faster than the speed of light and time, if a little bit of green rock incapacitates you. What I did want though was Lois Lane, without ever really knowing why. I just yearned for her and simply saw being Superman as a conduit to achieving that.


For the life of me I have no idea where this came from, or what the Genesis of this was. I have always wanted to be an angel and still do, to the point there is barely a fictional story I write that does not contain a thinly veiled angel somewhere. My dream would be to write the books about angels I have long dreamed of writing (I haven't as angels are not currently commercial). Nor by the way would these angels by the temperamental sort you find in the bible or the imp like ones you find in a lot of fairy art. My angels are beautiful (men and women), vengeful, redemptive, very powerful and bloody big. I think it might come from a frustration of being a child, of being ill so much, being intensely frustrated by the whole child parent experience and wanting to be free. Flying might also have been a factor.

Adam Ant

This one from when I was a little older. Mostly because he looked really cool with a white stripe painted across his face and lots of girls liked him a lot. Or appeared to. I wanted some of that.


I was sixteen in 1983. On that birthday I had forty pound which was destined for new gears for my racing bike. Between me and the bike shop was Boots and in the window was a small black and rather sleek looking device called a computer. I never made it to the bike shop. I went though every page of the computers manual that night and very soon after decided I wanted to be a programmer. Which I achieved a few years later, setting this life on its current course, despite the road deviating wildly at times and often running circuitous routes.

Jack Reacher

Not having been a child now for twenty four years does not mean I do not dream and aspire. What would be the point of life if you could not? As such I would very much like to invent a fictional character as charasmatic as Lee Child's Jack Reacher and have the subsequent number of bestsellers Child has achieved with that character. Of cause mine would also have to be an Angel...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Summer Reading - Lockdown by Sean Black

About ten years ago there was a moderately popular computer game called Sin. It featured a wise talking cop called Blade and his sidekick JC. This book was similar in style and depth which lead me to think it might have started life as a script for a game or a comic. Sadly it lacked the visual flair that makes those mediums compelling.

Ryan Lock is an ex British Military Policeman that now heads up a close protection team for a large American corporate called Meditech. When a protest by animal rights demonstrators becomes the scene for an assassination and then carnage, Lock finds himself in hospital and out of a job. With a young boy also missing and his father an ex employee of Meditech, Lock begins to hunt down the kidnappers and finds himself in a world of hardline animal rights activists and a lot more besides.

Which makes this sound like it could be a lot better than it is. The problems start with writing that is sparse to an extreme and a plot, and characters that are two dimensional at best. As a central character Lock is very flat, not even managing cliché. His partner Ty has slightly more of a presence. Half way through there is a kind of twist that anyone paying moderate attention will not be surprised at. With every mundane story thread I kept waiting for the story to turn around and surprise me. But it just ploughed on. I could go on and on.

What did work? The dialogue will very frequently make you smile, Ty the partner has some appeal and the midpoint change was a welcome relief to a plodding story. There is a section just past the middle where Lock spends some time with Mareta, a Chechen rebel fighter called the ghost. It is by far the best sequence of the book. In fact Mareta is by far the most vivid character in the story. The end sequence does show a little promise.

The shame is that somebody will have invested a great deal of time in writing this book but for me it equated to a disappointing Friday night action movie. The themes are so cliché you might think this was written for young adults, if it was not for the severed heads and bleeding eyes etc. In that context it might appeal to some males under the age of twenty five. Parallels to Lee Child are scandalously short of the mark.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Summer Reading - The Solitary Man by Stephen Leather

I would probably never have read this for idly browsing books in Tesco’s and a two for a fiver deal. And I love reading books I would not ordinarily have read.

The Solitary Man is Hutch and he is a man that will run from any confrontation. He will run until there is nowhere to run and then he will come at you fighting. Having escaped from a high security prison in England he has run to Hong Kong where he has spent six years anonymous and building a successful business. Now his past has caught up with him and blackmailed into helping a member of the IRA escape from a Bangkok prison, Hutch finds himself a pawn. Not only in helping with the escape but in the DEA’s war on the trafficking of drugs from Burma.

In a world where every thriller now seems to feature the war on terror, Islam and some devious mob trying to undermine western governments (as if our governments need any help doing that), this book was a welcome change. But that is probably because it was first published in 1997 when the war was about drugs and the IRA.

While the characters are sometimes plucked from cliché Hutch is original and dogged and has stayed with me well after the last page of this great, twisting and turning story. Which takes us from Hampshire, England to the clamour and smog of Thailand to the dense jungles of Burma.

Two downsides. Probably the best character besides Hutch is Jennifer Leigh, a balls to the wall reporter who is instantly likeable but sadly gets trapped in a dead end story thread. And during the first half of the book I often found myself lost as the multiple story threads were concocted without context to each other. This was not a problem during the second half or as we neared the rollercoaster end, which was page turning.

In summary, twelve years after first being published this is a great summer read in the style of Frederick Forsyth and for me, earlier Tom Clancy stories.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Reading - Twilight - Stehenie Meyer

It seems everyone these days is reading Twilight or one of its three sequels which are also now making it into the movie format. I had originally put off reading the series because of wide reports they are essentially Christian analogies for morality, sex and marriage. Which Twilight certainly is but it is also a lot more.

Bella is seventeen and has moved to live with her dad in the cloud covered, lush and rain sodden town of Forks. She very quickly falls for the god like Edward and a love affair unfolds. The problem being Edward is immortal and a vampire and also wants to eat her(cue analogies).

At over 400 pages this is written from Bella’s viewpoint and for almost 200 pages it is nothing other than charming. But then Edward and Bella realise their love and quite literally spend the rest of the book staring moodily into each others eyes or breathless waiting for the next time they will meet, while imagining moodily looking into each others eyes.

There are a few story points, a bit of backstory on the nature of these vampires (Edward lives with a family of vampires that have integrated with the local community and don’t eat humans and eat animals instead) and there is some attempt at drama towards the end, but it is glossed over as almost a second thought so we can get back to more staring moodily into each others eyes.

This story has a great concept with classic themes that women of all ages seem to love, although I should mention it is specifically marketed at young adults. The characters have a certain charm that lingers and as a bloke it is an interesting insight into what’s going through my wife’s mind when she looks at me doe eyed.

If you are female of any age then this is recommended reading, if you are male trying to work out the enigma of woman then this is definitely worth a read. If the enigma of woman is already known to you or you are not bothered then skip to the movie, it condenses the moody looking into each others eyes to a ten minute segment and adds drama and tension towards the end.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Summer Reading - Brute Force - Andy Mcnab

Andy McNab revolutionised men’s fiction, being the first author that made action fiction feel real and raw. Mostly because his writing was largely based on reality. His first fictional book was called Remote Control and remains to this day one of the best books I have ever read. But that was in 1997.

Brute Force sets Nick Stone in familiar territory. Starting with the premise of an idyllic Christmas with a beautiful woman and her young stepdaughter. Of course this is Nick Stone and that lasts no time at all. He survives an attempt on his life and begins a search for his would be killers, going from Ireland to England, to Europe and beyond.

Having finished the story and looking back on what happened it did contain a lot of what I love about these books, but cannot escape from the fact I found it verging on tedious a great deal of the time. It was a book I got through and not a story that pulled me through the pages.

The problem being, there is nothing between the beginning and end that gives us any feeling that we are doing anything other than heading towards the next step that will inevitably take us to the showdown where Stone will confront the bad guy, and survive. At no time is there any sense of mystery, threat or urgency to anyone we care about in the story.

That said, the second half was by far better than the first. It is also written in the first perspective and Nick Stone’s dry outlook on the world is often very amusing, particularly at the beginning of this novel.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Summer Reading List

If only Wimbledon’s centre court had a roof years ago, just imagine how rain free all those summers would have been. Which reminds me, anticipation and humidity linger in the air – it is that time of year when we pack up families and jet to sunnier climbs in the expectation of sitting around tables and doing much as we would in our own back gardens.

Cunningly I have managed to avoid such things by sidestepping flippant friendships and not having any children. My family is also very small (in numbers) and aged (and don't travel). So Prideesh and I never feel obliged to go anywhere on holiday with anyone but ourselves. And because of all the above, holidays tend to be about packing a rucksack full of books and throwing in a couple t-shirts and shorts. Well, that’s me anyway. For Prideesh it’s roughly the same except a much smaller bag for books and twelve times the number of shorts and shoes and tops etc.

The key though for this little nugget of non-fiction is the bag full of books. Holiday books are a special kind of beast. They are often not the kind of book you would read while commuting or propped up in bed of a night, or sitting in the conservatory during wet and balmy weekends. Holiday books are like holidays, they are always there tempting you with the promise of something wonderful and different. Sometimes they live upto that promise.

I am a slow reader, which means my record for a single weeks holiday is four books and that was a week in Assos spent entirely on the apartment balcony or seated in a waterfront bar. The downside is my rucksack holds roughly twelve books, which means I have accrued a bit of a backlog of reading material over the past few years.

With bookshelves bulging I have come upon a rather novel idea, why not just read the books and not wait for the holiday? I know, genius! So we come to the purpose of this text, the agenda. The books listed below are a combination of those that have travelled on holidays but have never been plucked from the rucksack or those that have been recommended by friends that I have not yet got around to reading.

The mission is to read them in the listed order, being their current order in my bookcase. The blurb here is nota review, just a taster as to how the book came to be on the list. Once each book has been completed it will be reviewed and that review posted here. I hope you will be at least mildly entertained

Brute Force – Andy McNab
Andy McNab’s Remote Control is still one of the best books I have ever read. He has fallen off the pace over the past few years, to the point I stopped reading his books. So I thought I would check up on this his most recent offering.

Twilight – Stephanie Meyer
Parent’s love it because the story analogises morality and sex with marriage. Kids love it because Harry Potter is now over and they need something interesting to read. Looking forward to reading this.

The Solitary Man – Stephen Leather
Picked this up in Tesco’s in a two for a fiver deal. It seems to be a story along the lines of Batman without the bats or Bruce Wayne. But it starts in a prison and the main character breaks out and all sorts of mayhem ensues, allegedly.

Diaries Into Politics – Alan Clark
I read the first of these diaries back in 2004 and loved it and I mean it was just fantastic considering I have no time for politics or politicians. Alan Clark is just a great diarist with a devious mind. Had been almost afraid to read this sequel just in case I am disappointed.

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
I am not sure whether my colleague Jan is German or Dutch or something between But that is his name and he recommended this to me, this being a fictional account of a man’s experience of the Dresden bombings by the allies at the end of WWII. The tatty copy Jan held in is hand had Vintage Classics written on the cover so I guess it’s considered to have some worth.

Deadly Intent – Lynda La Plante
I know the author is a bit of a legend but have never read any of her books before. That is going to change this summer it would seem. The blurb on the back mentions a fatal shooting, drugs and a female Detective Inspector.

Summer Things – Joseph Connelly
I picked this off a table in Waterstones a good five years ago with the ideal of finding out all those things trendy people get upto in the summer. But then when I got it home I saw the picture of Joseph Connelly on the back with big bushy beard and smile that spoke of pompous. I might be wrong, we will soon find out.

Excession – Iain M. Banks
I do not ordinarily read Sci Fi but this comes highly recommended by another colleague and I have learned that reading outside of comfort zones can be hugely rewarding.

The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
Another recommendation from a guy at work, this one South African but without the guttural accent. I think he said he moved away when he was young. Mr Dick (author) will be well known to many people as someone who’s books subsequently become movies. Sadly for him not while he was alive. This book is a fictional look at a world where the German’s won WWII and share America with the Japanese. The story being about characters that theorise what it would have been like if the English and American’s had won the war. So I am told.

Absolute Friends – John Le Carre
Just before Bush Junior got elected the second time I watched an interview with John Le Carre where he stated Bush getting elected a second time would be a very bad thing for the world. But if he did we should try our best to retain some kind of world dignity. I somehow believed this book was on that theme and immediately brought it, but, recall reading the back made me think it might not be. Guess I am about to find out.

Dark Horse – Tami Hoag
Another Tesco’s two for a fiver special. This about a washed up female cop that befriends a child in need. I love contrasted stereotypes, so this looks promising.

The boy in stripped pyjamas – John Boyne
I love friend recommendations and this is another one, from my bestest friend. I always thought of this as one of those books people say they own but can never actually tell you what it is about. A bit like Time Travellers Wife. In my defence I found Time Travellers wife overwritten and I only brought boy in pyjamas June this year.

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee
I quite admire Christopher Lee from what I have seen and heard of him. Brought this in 2005 because someone also said it was brilliant.

Scarred Hearts – Max Blecher
Brought this while looking for an insight into sanatorium life and promptly forgot all about it because my focus shifted.

The Watchman – Robert Crais
Tesco’s special with a cool title. All that was needed for it to land in my basket.

ILIUM – Dan Simmons
Supposed to be a re-telling in Sci Fi terms of a Greek classic. We will see.

No peace for the wicked – Adrian Magson
Got this at the same time as Boy in Pyjamas. This was recommended by a guy in Waterstones Birmingham. It’s got a cover that looks like it might be self published (i.e. simple and pretty rubbish) but it might not be.

Blood Brothers – JA Kerley
Got this via Amazon’s Vine program early 2008, read the first five pages and thought it cliché and popped it back on the shelf. Then Dexter came along and this book became popular. I believe it is based on a similar theme to Dexter.

Schools Out – Christophe Dufosse
Picked this up because European authors tend to be more liberal with their analysis of childhood innocence. And innocence is something I have a particular interest in, in literary terms of course. This is the english translation.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
One of those books I read at school and loved and meant to read again during each of the twenty six years since.

Snatched – Mandasue Heller
Tesco’s special on a theme close to my heart, despite the authors first name sounding like a computer username.

Sinai – William Smethurst
In 2002 I almost got a job working for the UN based in Sinai supporting their technologies while they monitored the Isreali and Palestinian conflict. I brought this at a jumble sale while on standby in case the guy they chose decided it was not for him (you spend two years on base). They never called much to my huge disappointment.

The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks
This is supposed to be a great love story and I have aspirations of writing a great love story one day.

Life of PI – Yann Martel
Recommended to me in a pub almost a year ago and then found it on my desk at work the next day. No idea who recommended it or who left it on my desk. Keep waiting for someone to ask for it back and thought it about time I read it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


This book writing journey began in 2002 for a lot of reasons I will not cover here. I also realised in 2002 that a vivid imagination does not a book make. So the objective became about writing anything and everything to an online journal. In 2006 I tried writing another book but failed again because a book needs a story not just an idea and characters. That led me late in 2006 to start writing short stories and most of 2007 was spent making up for my shortcomings in grammar. It was also spent writing lots of dialogue because I heard that was important too.

As 2007 came to a close I was about as ready to write a book as any parent is for their first child. I had failed in 2002 because I did not know how to write and failed again in 2006 because I knew not what a story was. But I persevere and I studied.
The Story
It was a cool overcast day in October 2007 and I was standing in the high street waiting on Prideesh, who was loitering in Smiths. It was busy and I was people watching. I think most people do but especially people that write, hunting mannerisms and creating backstory for the unaware. I watched a girl of about ten emerge from Boots and amble alone along the high street wearing what girls that age do. She also wore a tired pair of emu boots, a white boots bag swinging from her hand.

Some part of what struck me was her grace, a poise that was almost woman that stood her from the crowd. It is hard to describe what then happened in my mind but it was like every neuron fired at the same time. Everything I had thought and experienced through these writing eyes suddenly connected and illuminated like a a giant oak with every limb decked out in lights. I had the basic concept for a whole story.

The idea grew and grew and before Priddeesh emerged onto the high street I had imagined specific scenes and the key characters. From that night on I have been listening to the characters talk, their conversations and imagining their actions that would lead them through the story. Daydreaming has been a strength of mine for as long as I can recall. Although it was not often thought as such during my largely fruitless academic years.
Still a little cautious after my previous book writing attempts and having studied the structure of the sort of book I wanted to write I started creating a plot outline. Some people say you do not need them and some say you do. I know not all people are the same. I would use the outline much as a director does a storyboard. It would be a framework for the story but not the whole story. It would point in the right direction but not be a road map that was diligently followed for want of better paths.

So that is what I did and it took me to the beginning of 2008 to finish the outline. It was a hugely rewarding process and I have to say for me vital. It also showed to me later while I was writing how naïve I was in my imaginations for what the story was and how short the outline fell. But it was still useful for the first half of the book.
You do also hear that some writers nail everything about their characters before they get going on the story main and I did ponder a great deal on character profiles and did start writing them. But the characters were so distinctive in my mind I knew what they were if not exactly who. So I decided to let them become who they were as the story evolved. I am very glad I did that now with hindsight. At the time I did not write more than a few paragraphs in character development prior to writing and what I did write only served to enforce the image in my mind and were never used in the story main. It was a huge amount of fun defining who they were as the story unfolded.
Which brings us to perspective. I have written a few first person short stories and they are quite easy to write if you have the narrator’s mindset in yours. I am not saying a first person perspective book would be easy to write because you are narrowed by the fact you only see from one person’s viewpoint and stringing that out in an entertaining way for over three hundred pages must be difficult. But I wanted a book that had lots of characters, one of them is a child and I wanted to see things from her point of view and from the main characters: a woman. From all perspectives. So I went omnipresent. The decision was easy doing it was very hard.

So January 2008 arrived and I began writing. And before we go any further I want to make a few statements least you jump to the wrong conclusions. First and foremost this is not some glorious march towards a published finale. The book was finished at the beginning of April 2009 and I am one month into waiting for my first agency reply. Neither is this essay meant to be instructional or written from a point of authority. It is simply my experience during a stories genesis from desire, concept and creation. This is written mainly for me least my perception of this greatest experience diminish with the effort required in getting it published. I hope you find it entertaining and if you have written or tried to write a book then you will probably see a lot here that will echo. I hope the experience shared is a problem halved, or something like that.
Day Dreaming
So with that said it was January 2008 and I began writing. Well I made the mental decision to start writing having spent months dreaming endlessly, and dreaming some more and then dreaming a lot more. In some part I would have been happy to just dream about the story more than actually bring it to life. But this life used to be littered with failed projects started enthusiastically which drives me these days to finish them. The problem then though was that I had no idea how to start the story.

So after some deliberation I did what I often did with my short stories, the very first thing I wrote was the end. Well actually it was the epilogue which was finished as January turned to February of 2008. It was a useful process (writing the end) because it set in my mind what I was heading towards. The very next thing I wrote was the prologue. So in the very first two chapters I had created the beginning and the end. And in doing so created a vast canvas onto which to paint the drama.

Even then I still struggled to get going. A feeling I can only correspond to accounts I have read of stage fright. Would the promise of the book outshine the reality. And how the hell by the way do you start the first real chapter of a book?

So I spent endless hours at home reading the first chapters of my favourite books. And then in Borders and Waterstones reading the first chapters of current best sellers and notable classics.
Eventually I got going and wrote that first chapter. Then I re-wrote it, wrote it again, then edited and then re-edited, then re-wrote. Then edited, then cut and then re-edited. The second chapter took longer because I went back and re-edited the first chapter again. The third chapter took longer because I went back and did chapter one and two again. Repeat as above for the first six chapters which took me to sometime in March. At which time I sat down and calculated my daily word count and realised it would take me seven years to write the book.

So I just got on with it. Well I got to 30,000 words and something occurred to me. 30,000 words is a benchmark. It is 100 pages of a novel. Priddeesh and I celebrated, went out for a meal and then sat down and read the 100 pages as a whole. The story was there but the narrative was confusing, it changed basically from one chapter to another. Sometimes in the middle. I had still been struggling although not lingering so long on re-writing chapters. Eventually I realised I had no idea who I thought would read the book!
Realising the obvious
It is stupid I know but I was looking at the writing process from a reader’s point of view, not from the business point of view. Which essentially meant I was writing the book for myself. And because my reading expectations change with the books I read. The narrative of my story was a reflection of the books I was reading. It was a difficult problem to realise, being like looking at yourself in a different mirror each day and trying to work out what is different. Eventually you realise it is the mirror. So I stopped and really started thinking about who I really thought would read the book and more importantly, who might publish it.

I found that adult fiction falls into two different categories: literary and commercial. The later stands a lot more chance of getting published but it focuses on the story and not on literary writing style. I had assumed that a good story well written would be enough. It is not.

My goal is not to achieve literary greatness or a Nabokovian reputation for imagery, accolades or heaps of cash. I think anyone that knows creative writing knows that is very unlikely anyway. Above all I wanted to write a story that would be read and by that measure, I would need to write another. That was the beginning and end of the initial remit. The problem was in my audience viewpoint, which was constantly changing because I had been the audience. I needed a consistent voice and for that I needed to know who I was writing for. Just as you adjust your word selection and voice and attitude between conversations with a grandparent, a child, a mother or father, a young woman or young man, your peer group. I needed to adjust the story’s voice accordingly and keep it there. I made that adjustment based on the fact I wanted it to be commercial. I imagined my audience reading on beaches or on trains.

The voice took a while to level but it did and then with a consistent voice I found it easier to weave words and paragraphs, pages and chapters. And finally I was enjoying myself.
Having shrugged off the burden of inexperience and actually started writing I realised my imagined ideal of book writing was way wide of the truth. In my imagination writing a book would be a matter of pondering scenes and dialogue and then furiously tapping away and producing pages and pages of prose. I laboured to 60,000 words with the expectation I would soon hit my stride and would begin flourishing my writers wand, deliriously creating my masterpiece at a blur. But the reality slowly dawned on me. This labouring lark was how it was. Apart from some brief moments of inspiration, writing was actually more like being half awake and late and trying to squeeze the last out of a tube of toothpaste. That is how I would best describe the actual writing process.

I had given up my job at the end of March 2008 because I was in serious danger of falling asleep on the 60 mile stretch I drove home along, a desire to sleep which was the net effect of the interest I had in the job. From May through to August I did not write a single word while finding and then acclimatising to the new job. And then in September we moved house and I juggled writing with decorating and commuting. As Christmas 2008 arrived I was up to 90,000 words and considered myself to be on the home stretch. Which was naïve because the story was only two thirds completed.
But I was now writing and more importantly loving it. By the middle of the book I really knew who the characters were and had abandoned the plot outline. Because the characters and the situations now dictated what had to happen. Not in a predictable way but as you might freeze frame a video never seen before and discuss likely outcomes. I distilled the multiple possible paths to the ones I felt made the story the most interesting. And then I pressed play again and started writing. Although of course you always doubt yourself and there is always the temptation to just daydream.

The end of the year was a turning point. You do not write 100,000 honest inventive words and not learn a lot of lessons. I had learned a lot. If I was ill equipped to write a book at the beginning I now knew some of what it took. At least to get the story onto the page in a rough approximation of creative. So 2009 started and I left behind all the fears about the story and its worth, batted away the need to daydream, gave myself time and got into a routine. Thinking on creative ways to climb out of each rut or dilemma.

I typed the last paragraph of the story at roughly 19:30hrs on April 9. I had finished the book, draft one and 155,000 words. Which I now know was only two thirds of the book writing process completed.
Having finished the story I quickly came to the realisation I had a great big mess on my hands. Not that there wasn’t a great story in there somewhere, it just needed the fat trimmed off. Welcome to the editing process.

Most of the fat came from two sources. Firstly in large chunks of the story that were more about me explaining to myself what was going on during key points, whole pages of dialogue and exposition explaining dilemmas and points of view that the reader did not need, would fall asleep reading. Maybe even worse.

The other source for unnecessary chunks of story were either born of my occasional leaning towards over description and from trying to make points of philosophy that I leveraged into the story to serve my own agenda. Ultimately the edit showed them for what they were and nothing that wasn’t part of the story or the characters agenda survived the first edit. That left me with 145,000 words and was completed May 7.

Then after a brief pause I began the second edit which worked at the word level. Was every word part of the story? Was every sentence saying something that drove the story forward. You might think that might have been covered in the first edit. But the editing process has been like peeling away layers. You only see a fault or problem when you pull away the previous layer, then when that problem is fixed and that layer is pulled away it reveals more problems. But with each layer the problems narrow and you eventually have a finished product.

In the last two paragraphs I have detailed what is essentially a very painful process. Having poured heart and soul into every word, deleting words or paragraphs is tough. Especially when you can recall the creation of those specific words took hours of sweat and juggled meanings and context. A really tough process. But in the end for me it became all about the story and the people that were part of the story. If it served neither then it had no right to be there. Once I got over the initial trauma and started seeing the benefit, the editing became a hugely liberating experience.

That is where I am now, post second edit. The whole story now sits at 142,000 words and hangs together with no rucks or mishaps that I can see. That is not to say it is finished. There are lots of rough edges, grammar and spelling mistakes and a few hiccups in flow. But I almost can’t see them now for being drawn to the story. But it is out now with five people that are a good cross section of the intended audience. It is being proofed.
The gap between edit one and edit two was spent writing a letter to the agency of choice and the synopsis and polishing the first three chapters.

The first and only agency at this time is Darley Anderson and I spent a lot of time researching their crime/thriller agent: Camilla Bolton. She apparently likes a covering letter on one page and a synopsis under 1500 words.

Writing the synopsis was a really interesting exercise. As I had never written one before I studied the art. And it really is an art. As a consequence it is also very difficult because what makes a book interesting is the detail. In a synopsis you only have words enough for the essence of the characters and the story’s bare bones. And then you have to imbue it with some of the book’s writing flare - bloody difficult. What the synopsis did force me to do was revisit the plot and in doing so I realised a few omissions. And from that I realised a key story thread which was actually very pedestrian. Nothing earth shattering but a few key details that needed switching about and then mixing with a little extra creativity. These really added to the depth of the story I think and required just a little bit of work. So the synopsis was a very beneficial process if taxing.

I also knew Darley Anderson only signed three new authors last year and the world is entirely different this year. My chances were very slim, but they are looking for someone!

But not me. The letter came back during the time it took to write this essay. It contained words like: ‘Enjoyed reading’ and ‘talented writer’ and ‘strong literary style‘ but Camilla also broke my heart a little. Because it also contained words like: ‘not fit into our highly commercial framework. Good luck.’

I have not yet re-read those first three chapters to see what she saw – too painful right now.
The End
We live and learn and we move on. The next agent has been identified and this essay is almost at a close. I wanted to finish on a note that you might have been wondering about. Why was writing the book one of this life’s greatest experiences?

There is something magical about the creative process, in all the scope of creativity. By the time I got to the middle of the book I had intermittently enjoyed the process but it was so dogged by uncertainly it had been more a labour of love. The revelation for me was in focusing the audience and just embracing the process. Enjoying it for what it was. I knew I had a really good contemporary and ageless story because its themes resonate almost everyday. I had also created characters that I could almost reach out and touch. It is hard to explain. Finishing the book became about telling their story, I felt almost obligated on their behalf. People say writing is a lonely experience but it was not, it was brilliant. I walked with these characters for eighteen months and spent eight of those months carving their story into words. Their voices are silent now and their story is told. I miss them but can revisit whenever I choose.

In the mean time this mind has already turned to the next book and his voice is already chattering away, although he will have to wait until this autumn before he can breathe.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

50 Things


Yes, dead relatives


I cry all the time but seldom about real life anymore


It’s ink and functional, what’s to like?



I am not a goat, I don’t have children either.


I am probably too much hard work but we’d meet up occasionally and have a laugh.


Seldom, it betrays a need to be superior. I do try to be funny.




Why ever for?




No although you have to get the knot just right. Buy slip-ons




Women: Body, breasts, hips, legs and face in that order. Men: Roughly the same. Your eyes and brain do this before the information ever makes it to your conscious, I sometimes look again.




A tendency to judge without any substantiating data. It is a nurtured instinct.


Nobody, I have many fond memories.


No … it is verging on tedious.


None – its the weekend and its the summer: shorts.



Mnnnn, now let me think long and hard on this insightful thought!


Cooked Chicken


I seldom talk on the phone anymore, I have a Blackberry


Less with every question.


American Football playoffs, Soccer quarter finals onwards.


Mousey ish






Chicken or Pizza Express Polo Ad Astra


Happy endings with a twist


Sentinal – nice title not very good movie


Blue t-shirt


Summer and winter for different reasons, who thinks up these questions?


Oh come on!


Vanilla ice cream - didn’t we cover that already?


Are they meant to?


Who cares


Gone Tomorrow, Lee Child and Wuthering Heights, Emilly Bronte


My hand and mouse


I don’t watch TV much, not last night


Is this too much cleavage?


Neither – never was much into that kind of thing


Jeesus - Bali


Yes - perseverance


In a hospital on earth, I’m indigenous


Jesus, can I pick the questions?


We were in the same geographic location at the same time. I said Hello. She said
Hello back. She then got married, I waited a while.


I have a beaker.


Jesus, mostly because I want to see whether he really was white with a beard considering he was born in Palestine. I’d quite like to confirm he really was just a man, which seems obvious to me but lots of people disagree. Paul (the guy that Jesus apparently appeared to on the road to Damascus), I’d quite like to know what really happened with him and whether he ever gave any thought to the consequences, did he ever imagine it would become anything like the Catholic church for instance. I’d invite god but of course he wouldn’t show up. I’d invite Pete because he invited me and for his cracking upside down one liners, which are funny and not sarcastic, I think. Lee Child because I aspire, Nabokov because I’d really like to know what drove him to write something so beautiful and so socially contentious. Did people look at him differently after. I’d also like to know whether Hitler ever thought his concepts would ever become what they became. Or did it all just snowball, was he misunderstood and misrepresented, that sort of thing. I suppose Moses would be quite interesting, but then he’d not show up either. How many is that?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Cracking Christmas

The first hint that all would not be well came when I got off the train. It was Monday 22 December. I got on my bike at Paddington and was caught unawares by one hard rattling cough. Thinking that was strange as my chest has been fine for several months, I pedalled off and thought nothing of it. The air freely into and out of my lungs.

Tuesday afternoon the same happened. A single rattling cough in a day of healthy happy breathing.

I had christmas eve off. My first of five days without a commute. But of course I had a chest infection. Well it was actually an upper respiratory infection. Or so I was informed by the conveniently co-located nurse. Coolio I thought. I also had a savage cold but that was half a day from showing its face.

Christmas and Boxing were spent doing all you know humans do when they have upper respiratory infections and colds. The weekend came and the cold faded but my lungs still sounded like weary old maraccers.

Monday I had to go to work because I was the only person available to care for computing and co-workers. It was not even that cold as I free wheeled into a practically deserted station. A taxi had illegally parked right outside the front entrance so as I negotiated the speed bumps I considered whether I would pull in behind or in front of the car.

The next thing I knew I was doing an impression of a 747 landing without undercarriage. Except where wheels should have been my elbows were bouncing along the tarmac. ‘That’s going to hurt later.’ I thought as my ribs and then hips crashed into the road. No idea where my bike was. It just was not there anymore. My blackberry skidded passed me.

Working without thinking I crawled forward on the road to reclaim my Blackberry. Realising that a car had been the cause of my brief moment of free flight. It had been parked and despite being lit up like a christmas tree (me and bike) had not seen me. All that I recall of the car was it being small and silver and not dissimilar to Priddeesh’s. It then reversed and then drove around me and then out of the station at pace.

The force of the blow had been strong enough to buckle the chainwheel on my bike and completely turn around handlebars that would never previously turn. I knew my elbows had taken a beating but I climbed to my feet as the train entered the station. I could move all limbs without any screaming back at me. So I got on the train.

By Reading I had blood consistently dripping from both arms onto my jeans so stuffed some tissues up my sleeve. My trusty first aid colleague at work then applied bandages to both elbows and I applied plasters to the scratches and the like.

I have been cycling 25 years and have never worn a helmet. Over confidence I suppose and from being witness to people that do. Who universally seem to think a hat makes them safe and proceed to bike about without a care in the world. But you cannot plan for chance, so now I considered was the time for me to get one.

There could be some detail here on what a nightmare finding Selfridges was - this is abridged: The only department store on Oxford street without a pulsing one hundred foot high sign declaring the stores name is Selfridges. Which has a sign that is four foot by two, metal and two foot of the ground. So I walked past it and got to centre point through the post christmas shopping frenzy before realising. And then walked back through the same frenzy.

I purchased a crash hat that looks like a world war two german infantrymans hat. Mostly because if I am going to look like a arse on my bike I might as well look like my kind of arse. I also replaced the front light that disintegrated that morning and brought two extra. Mounted and fitted I now look like something from Close Encounters cycling down the street.

The bike did still work after a fashion - the chain would keep coming off but I kept putting it back on. But wearing my new crash hat and with all lights fitted I got off the train at the local station and the bike fell to pieces. I almost did a few seconds later.

The bike is now being looked after by the local bike doctor and I was cared for very well by the very attentive Priddeesh who had returned from the local NHS bandage warehouse (NHS Trust to lesser people) with all but a CPR machine with which to care for her wounded soldier.

The stock check of injuries is the loss of five inches of skin, bruised ribs, arms, back and thigh. I suppose I was lucky. I am still struggling with the slowly diminishing upper respiritory infection.

My journeys to the station are by foot these days and spent looking meaningfuly at anyone with a small silver car and a bike shaped imprint on their front bumper.